§ [SIXTH 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.
§ 3.53 P.m.
§ Sir Hugh Seely
I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add the words:But regret that, although deficiencies both in military and civil defences are admitted by Your Majesty's Ministers as well as serious delay in the execution of the programme of re-armament stated to be necessary by the Service Departments for national safety, no mention is made in the Gracious Speech of the creation of a Ministry of Supply, both to secure efficiency and prevent waste and profiteering.The Amendment we move is no new one brought up by the recent crisis. We have moved it before, because we believe it is essential to the security of this country. It is not on party lines that I move it. I want to make it clear that any strictures that we may make are because of the extreme national emergency, as we see it; that is why we are asking for this to be considered and accepted. In another place, in which a Debate on this matter took place, party lines are not so direct or acute and there you certainly had a difference of opinion, much of which was in favour of our Amendment. Both Lord Trenchard and Lord Swinton have spoken in favour of it, which proves, I think, that it is not purely on party lines that I move it.
What is the present position? Is it satisfactory? Has it survived the test to which it was put, and would the system stand up to war? Those are the important things, and there is no doubt, whatever view you like to take, that the present system has not succeeded. It is not only that the two strongest services 1088 are affected on this question of Supply, but that the newest service is also affected, that relating to the air and to anti-aircraft defence. The newest is often the most important. In this matter no one can say that Supply has been adequate or proper for the defence of this country. On the question of prices, whatever view we may take, there has been a great eye-opener as to what would happen if we had war. There is no doubt of the deficiencies which were brought out, and which would have been very serious if war had come. They could not have come out until we had a crisis such as we had, and which was practically the same as war conditions. One can, therefore, say that the present system on which we are running now will not stand up to the conditions of war; but surely now is the moment when you might consider a change in the system.
I am not going entirely to blame the Departments or the Ministers responsible for them. The whole thing has grown to an enormous extent. The Secretary of State for Air said that this year we were going to spend £200,000,000 on the Air Force, whereas in 1934 the figure was £19,000,000. That merely expresses in terms of money the enormous weight of responsibility which rests upon that Minister. If he did not succeed fully when the amount was smaller and if he was working then to full capacity, as I have no doubt he and other Ministers were, there is reason for saying that the man must be overworked now. When I say that, I do not want anyone to think that I am trying to say that the Air Force is in a bad condition, because that is not my view, or that if war had come we should not have found that the Air Force, with all the difficulties and novelties with which it might have had to contend, would have fought and won against an opposite force. Of that I am certain. Although we have our own deficiencies there may be many joints in the armour upon the other side.
Why have we those big deficiencies? When we ask for this new Ministry we are not asking for a Ministry of Munitions or putting forward the idea that we wish to change the present position in regard to that question; we are saying that we believe that the people who ought to have been fighting during these years for the necessary machines in the Service and for the anti-aircraft guns should have been 1089 the Ministers who were responsible. They should not have had to act in many cases as a cloak to what was happening in that Ministry. It should not have been left to people outside to say: "You have not got those guns. Those machines are obsolete. We want new machines immediately." That should have been done by the Minister who was being urged on by the Services and the people in them. He should have been the pleader in that demand for better machines; instead of which he was placed in the position of having to defend the fact that those machines were not coming forward. But I believe that with the change taking place in the air to-day, the need for changing from one type of machine to another very quickly, it is wrong that the Minister who is responsible for the safety and security of this country and who relies on the Service to tell him what they want, should always be hampered by being the person who is responsible for Supply.
In the Debates that we have had I have mentioned a point which Lord Baldwin first brought out, namely, parity with other countries. I shall not enlarge on it now, but, after all, the parity which was laid down has now been whittled away to the idea that it relates not merely to the number of machines but is also morale, anti-aircraft defence, the balloon barrage and various other things. I am certain that the reason why we are now trying to whittle down the word "parity" is that we failed on the production side to get what we meant at the time by parity. On the production side I am not at all happy, nor can anyone be, with the statements made, particularly by the Air Ministry. If we take what was then the scheme, we find that it was to produce 1,750 first-line aeroplanes by March of next year. That was Scheme F. We said that this was not going fast enough and that we needed more planes. The Minister told us the other day that Scheme F would be finished, not by March as promised, but by May. He gave figures about extra production, but anyone knows that we shall be fortunate indeed if by May we have completed Scheme F. All these months people have thought that we were getting stronger and going forward with Scheme A, but we are really in the same position as we were in when the scheme was brought out at the beginning of last year.
1090 On the question of production at least we need not hide from ourselves what we are building against, for that must be clear to everyone. Last May I gave the German figures, which I had taken the greatest care to get. Those figures were not contradicted and I am interested now to see that they have been corroborated to a very large extent in the Italian paper "Ala d' Italia," an air journal. It published recently an article, obviously inspired, which dealt very carefully with a great many of the figures of the German air force. It is perhaps one of the most complete sets of figures obtainable and it corroborates the figures which I gave in May as to what we are facing in Germany. Germany is now able, without doubt, to produce 5,000 first-line aircraft a year. That is when working on one shift. On three shifts Germany can produce about three times as much.
§ Sir H. Seely
The Germans have built up this enormous force from the very beginning. They did not start as we did. They started from absolute scratch, and yet in a very short time, from 1935 to 1938, they have been able to reach these enormous figures. The article gave a reason why they had done it. One must stress it again. It is there stated—it is the difficulty here—and relates to the question of types. I feel sure that we shall get no proper production in this country as long as we have types multiplied. Nor shall we be able to get the required efficiency in the Air Force. Only yesterday, when the Minister was asked the number of types of aircraft in use, he said that the number was still 23, and he added:Some half are types for specialised training and the like."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th November, 1938; col. 866, Vol. 341.]The right hon. Gentleman hopes to get down the number of types. In Germany undoubtedly they have got the types down to very few indeed, and although at the Air Ministry efforts have been made to reduce the types, they still number 23.
What is the great harm which the multiplicity of types causes? It is not merely the difficulty of production. There is a further difficulty in the Service. I am not giving away any secret in saying what I am about to say, because anyone 1091 who goes along the roads near aerodromes can see things for themselves. There are now in groups, in bombers particularly, this large number of types. In one group, a bombing group, you find it has four different types, which means four different types of engines and crews. Yet those aeroplanes are supposed to be acting as one. If the Service had asked for this arrangement perhaps we could say that it was all right, but every report from the Service points out that this variation of types is doing immense harm in the training of the crews and is weakening the whole Force from a bombing point of view. Such reports keep coming in. That is the danger now in the Air Force that the people who use these planes cannot become as efficient as they should be, because of the multiplicity of types that are being provided. We are told that the types are now being restricted. There is another aspect of the matter. If a machine is damaged, such as a Heyford or Harrow—and particularly the Heyford, of which there are a great many instances—the machine cannot be repaired at the station, but goes back to the original maker, who may then be making a new type of machine. Men have to be taken off the new type in order to attend to the older type, though it may then be considered obsolete. That is happening throughout the manufacture of aircraft to-day and is one of the serious reasons why we are not getting delivery of the new types.
I see the Under-Secretary of State for Air present. It is no secret that when the time came that bomber squadrons would have had to act recently, as many as two-fifths of them were unable to operate; two-fifths of our air bomber groups were unable to operate if called upon, because of the system that we have. It is that difficulty which one hopes the Minister is fighting against instead of sheltering. There is one further small point which I would mention again because it illustrates my meaning. What is happening because of our not having a Ministry of Supply? Take the new types which have come into operation. The men who have to be trained in gunfire, especially front gunfire, from these new types, want a target at which to shoot. There is to-day no target carrying aeroplane which can fly at more than about 110 miles an hour. None of the new fighters, none of the 1092 Blenheims, have had any target practice of the right kind because there is not in this country any aeroplane which can turn at the speed of our new fighters and new bombers. I asked a question on this subject over a year ago. I was told that the machines required were coming along. I have asked the question again several times since, and I have been told, "Oh yes, when the Henley, which is a new machine, comes along, that will be all right." But I do not believe that the position will be satisfactory then. Again, you have the difficulty that the new target, which has to be towed and is a specialised one brought out at Farnborough, is not suitable for being produced in great numbers and for use at the schools. The definite fact remains that during last year at the new and modern aerodromes none of the personnel have been able to get the most elementary and most necessary target practice because of the absence of the one necessary machine, which I should have thought that the Minister, if he had been merely responsible for the efficiency of his Department and the satisfying of the Service's need, would have demanded from any source. I do not care whether such a machine comes from abroad, as long as we get it.
There is one other point to be mentioned. It relates to the buying of aircraft abroad. This buying again comes under the Ministry. In our opinion it would have been better done by a Ministry of Supply. Yesterday the Minister told us that the Government had come to an agreement with Canada as to what is to be built there. I want to ask one or two questions on that matter, which is causing a great deal of unrest. We know that in the United States the Minister is buying 400 machines. He has also said that he is going to set up a factory, Lord Nuffield's factory, for Spitfires, to produce 1,000 machines. But when it comes to this Canadian proposal the answer that the Minister gives is, that it would not be in the public interest to disclose the number of aeroplanes ordered. I want to know why. What they are going to manufacture, as the Minister says, is the Hampden. The Hampden is practically out of date now and will not be the machine that will be needed in 1940. But they are going to produce a certain number of that type
1093 I feel that everyone in this House, on hearing that we were going to set up factories in Canada, felt that it was very largely for strategic reasons, so that, should war come and should an attack be made here on our centres for the production of aeroplanes, we should have in Canada a safe place where the greater numbers which would be necessary could be produced. But I do not understand that to be the system. I do not want to criticise the composition of the Hardman Lever Committee, but it will be remembered that that committee was composed of Sir Hardman Lever himself, Sir Edward Ellington—who was not there except for a very short time when he came from Australia—an official from the Air Ministry, Mr. Self, and Mr. Handley Page. I am not going to say anything against Mr. Handley Page, but here is a man who was asked to go out and report on the building up of something which was going to compete against him here. It may be said that his patriotism was such that he would not report against putting a large factory there, but there is information that it was very largely due to his views on this question that we only got the very unsatisfactory result which we have on the question of Canadian production. It is no good thinking that you can just produce a few machines between now and 1940, and then, when you really need your Canadian production, which would be in a war, you could extend it in a single day. It has got to be on a big basis of Imperial defence, and not merely a basis that Canada is to carry the advantage, and perhaps, if disarmament should come, share in the disadvantage that might follow from the stopping of those works. It has got to be for Imperial safety.
I cannot believe that the decision which was read out yesterday in the House is one which the House really wishes to accept, because, as I have said, the question of Supply is a question of national needs, and not merely one of producers. Of course, it must be for the Minister to decide the types of machines that he wants from the point of view of the national policy, and it must be for him, perhaps, to change them if he thinks there is reason to do so. But I do not believe that that is going to work satisfactorily under the present system. An extraordinary change was announced by the Secretary of State for Air in his 1094 speech the other day when he said that we are now going to rely on from 5,000 to 6,000 fighters. This is a distinct reversal of policy, and of an air policy which, after all, is common to all countries. The idea that you can merely rely on your fighting force to prevent attack is in my opinion a defeatist policy, and one which is very dangerous. It is very insidious. People may think that, if we have plenty of fighters, we shall be quite safe, whereas the only way to stop the bombers coming through is to attack the bombers in their homes, where they start from. That has always been the air policy of the people who know in every country. One is alarmed at this change, and wonders whether it is political, or whether it is being made because of the present times.
Do not let us tie that up with the production side. Let us be clear as to what we want and what the Air Force says is right for defence; and let the Minister fight the battle for the Service, and not merely cloak it in so many ways because of the other side—the production side. As I said at the beginning, what would have happened if there had been war? We are told that, as soon as war broke out, we should have had a Ministry of Supply by the mere pressing of a button, but I am quite certain that to try to bring into being at the beginning of a war something which would help, especially in the air, where speed is going to be paramount, would be to throw into chaos the existing system. Now is the moment when we should consider, especially on the question of the air, whether we shall change the system and have the Minister in this new Service responsible merely for the Service itself, and not for production. The easy answer is that you would apply this to the Navy or to the Admiralty; but, although it is obvious that their demands in wartime would be different, the value of a Ministry of Supply to the Admiralty then would be immense; but it does not follow that it would be decided to upset the whole Admiralty principle because a Ministry of Supply was brought in to deal with these two very important new arms, the air and anti-aircraft defence. Both have failed under present conditions. [Interruption.] It is no use thinking that they have not failed. I am certain that, if the people who would be responsible in a time of need could be told that they 1095 could say whether there had been a failure or not, they would give only one answer to this House or anywhere else. They have given it in their papers; they have given it in their reports; they have given it all through to their Ministers. They know how serious these deficiencies would be; they have been the ones who have been pushing, and not the Minister, who really should have been fighting for them. One hopes and prays that this time is not going to be merely a breathing space, but that the peace we have now is going to be lasting. But that may not be so. Here is an opportunity really to review the question whether, if trouble came again, we should have an efficient Service for the defence of this country. I am certain we shall never get that until we reform our ideas, and this is the reason why we beg to move the Amendment.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Major Owen
I beg to second the Amendment.
The demand for a Ministry of Supply, as my hon. Friend pointed out at the beginning of his remarks, is not a new one, but it has become much more important and much more general since the Government started their rearmament programme. For two and a-half years the plea has been advanced by all parties in the House that, since we are going to increase our armaments on a large scale and to spend an enormous amount of money, an efficient machinery should be set up to organise the rearmament programme, to superintend its carrying out, to decide questions of priority, and to ensure that the decisions take effect. The case for a Ministry of Supply is in my opinion overwhelming, and I think so for three reasons. In the first place, the demand for a Ministry of Supply is supported by common sense. In the second place, it is supported by the practical experience of the Great War, when we had to undertake our last great effort to place this country on a safe basis so far as munitions were concerned. Thirdly, it is supported by the recent experience of the delays, blunders, waste and inefficiency that are accompanying our present effort, owing to the lack of such a machinery.
It is common sense for this reason: To-day we have a country whose highly developed industrial capacity is ordinarily devoted to the arts and manufactures 1096 of peace, and which suddenly decides to spend hundreds, if not thousands of millions of pounds in a huge increase in its weapons of war. We are spending to-day, in peace-time, far more on arms in a single year than the total cost of the South African War. The total cost of that war, which lasted three years was only about £230,000,000 and now, in one year, we are spending anything from £350,000,000 to £400,000,000. Three service Departments, or, if we include A.R.P., four Service Departments, are turned loose on the industrial community, with pockets full of money, to scramble for the arms that they require. For such a switch-over of our manufacturing capacity and man-power to be effective without waste or confusion, without futile competition between the Departments for the available plant and men, without delay, and at the same time without needless disturbance of the normal industry of the nation, it seems to me to be clearly essential that the whole effort shall be organised centrally, watched, controlled and guided by a Government Department whose essential business it is that the Defence Departments get the goods.
If common sense dictates the setting up of a Supply Department with this object, so does past experience. In the opening months of the War, as most of us remember, the Service Departments landed us in much the same kind of muddle and failure as we have discovered to our horror to exist to-day. There were only two Services then, but they nearly succeeded in losing the War through failure to organise the production of munitions. Fortunately, there was a Liberal Government in power at that time. [Interruption.] I would point out that, while the muddle then lasted for nine months, under this Government it has lasted for over 2½ years, and is still continuing. The Government of that day at least learned the lesson quickly, and a Ministry of Munitions was set up. What followed, of course, is familiar history. The confusion was cleared up, and the munitions were produced.
If I may be permitted to say a few words about my own personal experience, I remember the first day I happened to be in the trenches with my company. I was attached to the Second Battalion, Irish Guards. On the first morning, just at "stand-to," the colonel of the Irish Guards sent for me, and said, "I have 1097 sent for you because I am very concerned about you and your men. To-day, for the first time, our gunners are going to strafe the German front line, and, as sure as fate, they will retaliate. I thought I ought to withdraw you and your men from the line." Then he proceeded to say, "This is the first time since we have been out in France that our gunners have actually started to strafe the German front line. Time and again I have gone to the gunners and asked them to retaliate on the German front line: I have gone on my knees and begged them to retaliate; and the invariable reply has been, 'I am very sorry, but our quota of shells has been fired already.' With the advent of the Ministry of Munitions, all that has changed." I was one of the fortunate ones who went out to France when that change had actually taken place and the shells were available.
The Ministry of Munitions showed more foresight than the Service Departments possess, and planned for and obtained many weapons which the general staffs at the time declared they did not want, but which were of decisive value in the War—big guns, tanks, Stokes trench mortars, and other things. The system of national factories was set up in order to deal with the defects of the ordinary munitions supplies. By the end of the War there were 216 of these factories, making every kind of munitions, as well as tools, optical instruments and other things.
The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary the other day deplored the profiteering that has taken place in Defence equipment. Let me remind him and the House that the war-time factories were a valuable check on profiteering. Munitions were turned out at a less cost than the contract price paid to private firms, and this enabled that price to be successively brought down. Savings effected by these factories more than compensated for the loss incurred when they were sold off at the end of the War. The Ministry of Munitions was undeniably a great practical success in the last War, despite the fact that it began without any background of experience to guide it. A Ministry of Supply, to superintend the carrying out of the rearmament programme, would be a still greater success to-day, as it would be able to utilise all the experience obtained by that war-time Ministry, and it could thus avoid its errors and improve on its methods. The 1098 teaching of common sense and the lesson of past experience are both confirmed by our present experience. The frank admissions recently made by the Ministry of War and the Home Secretary and others in the House as to the defects and muddle and lack of preparation which were revealed by the recent crisis, in spite of years of effort and the spending of hundreds of millions of money, show that we are still deplorably unprepared in defence.
The Government have not been hindered by the House; they have a large and submissive majority, which backs them even when it knows them to be wrong. The programme has not been held up by finance. Everything that has been asked for has been lavishly given. If they have suffered from lack of brains they have nobody to blame but themselves. There is plenty of ability in the country upon which they could call; but we have the example of a great industrialist like Lord Nuffield who offered his services at the beginning of the programme, and it took a long time for the Government to accept them. Yet, with all their power, their untrammelled freedom to carry out their rearmament projects, they have so muddled things that they can plead lack of preparation as one of the pitiable excuses for the shame of the Munich Agreement.
The Prime Minister the other day gave us certain excuses for not instituting a Ministry of Supply. He pleaded that it is not easy to get compulsory powers for such a Ministry. "Compulsion" is not a word which is liked in this country, and before you can bring compulsion to bear you must make out a proper case for it; but once the country realises the need it will not be slow to grant any Government in office the powers to bring compulsion to bear. But much can be done without compulsion. There need be little interference with normal freedom. The Ministry of Munitions, in fact, on its establishment laid the foundations of its work on a basis of consultation and agreement£not of compulsion. The first compulsory powers it obtained were for the taking over of factories where necessary, in order to utilise them for munitions manufacture. If a Ministry of Supply is set up and it finds that in the carrying out of its task the nationalisation of the whole armaments industry is necessary, we on this side of the House will not quarrel 1099 with that conclusion; we have been urging it for years. If armament production is nationalised, the Ministry will be able to control it and mobilise it with real efficiency. It could eliminate profiteering, and keep costs down to the minimum.
It is ridiculous to come and tell this House that this nation, with the longest engineering experience and the highest engineering skill in the world, is incapable of producing the weapons of defence vital to its safety. Of course, we can if it is organised efficiently. The reasons advanced by the Prime Minister the other day for his refusal are, to me at any rate, completely unconvincing. It may be that the Prime Minister is unable to find a suitable man for the post, as all the ablest among his supporters are to be found criticising his policy. It is useless to create a Ministry of Supply and put a dud in the job.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggest that none of those who criticise would take the job if he were asked?
§ Major Owen
I am merely making a statement of fact. All I say is that the best man for the job is ineligible, because he dissents from and criticises the Prime Minister's policy. But, whatever may be the real reasons which account for the Prime Minister's disinclination to set up a Ministry of Supply, the fact remains that it is the one sensible and practical course to take to meet the present national emergency. The nation recognises the fact, and is increasingly impatient with the excuses made to fob off the demand. Its insistence will grow in force and urgency. This House may postpone the matter, but it cannot silence the demand, and sooner or later it will have to meet it. While force continues to be the sole instrument of government in totalitarian States, a Ministry of Supply is not a luxury: it is a necessity.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ The Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence (Sir Thomas Inskip)
When the hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely) had concluded his speech I thought that there was one point of agreement which I could register with him and his party, and that is that this matter of Supply is by no means a party question. The arguments to be advanced on 1100 one side or the other never, so far as I know, coincide with the ordinary divisions between the various parties or groups in this House. I should have been very happy indeed to have tried to deal with the subject on that footing. It is still my desire and intention. But I am bound to say that the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Carnarvon (Major Owen), however much he enjoyed himself, was not the best model of a nonparty speech.
§ Major Owen
I think the right hon. Gentleman is making quite an uncalled-for attack on me. After all, I am only repeating what right hon. Gentlemen on that Bench have been saying themselves within the last few days. They have been acknowledging that they have carried out their own work inefficiently. I am putting the point of view of the country generally. If they are so wonderful that they must not have any criticism at all, we might as well be in a totalitarian State.
§ Sir T. Inskip
I am sorry I ruffled the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I much prefer him in his ordinary benign mood than in the less benign one in which he appeared before the House five or ten minutes ago. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman charges me and the Government with lacking brains, I must say that, even if the charge were true, it is not what I would call on the best nonparty lines to say so. But, indeed, this is an issue of wise administration, which I do not regret for a moment should have been raised this evening. The Prime Minister and the Government have constantly considered it. It has been raised repeatedly in this House on every occasion, as the hon. Gentleman truly said. The words that have beer, addressed to the House have been well weighed before they were framed; the subject has been most carefully and elaborately considered after such debates have taken place. The Government have, of course, to take the responsibility for their decisions, but they have had the benefit of a great deal of advice not confined to political or even to official circles.
Although it is quite true that there is a difference of opinion not only in another place but in some other circles, I believe I am justified in saying that in industrial circles there is substantial agreement 1101 that a Ministry of Supply, at any rate without compulsory powers, is not one which they would desire to see in the public service. I myself have had to consider this question, and I have turned it over in my mind again and again, and I think the House will understand me when I say that I have thought of it with a lingering hope that perhaps the balance of advantage might be in favour of a Ministry of Supply, for that would relieve me of a very good proportion of my duties. It would be delightful to hear somebody else made the target for the attacks—I must not say the attacks, but the criticisms that come from the Liberal party opposite. The first time upon which my attention was called to it in discussion was when my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) was good enough to hand me a Memorandum which he had prepared for my benefit, I think, in May, 1936, or any rate at Whitsuntide of that year. Two years later my right hon. Friend published the Memorandum with one or two unimportant notes which he had added in the public Press.
§ Sir T. Inskip
Absolutely, fully with my consent. My right hon. Friend was good enough to tell me that he was about to do it and I gladly assented, because it was a useful array of some of the arguments which were used in support of the proposals. There is one passage in it which I may cite, not against my right hon. Friend, but only to show what the scope of the proposal has been in the last two years. My right hon. Friend said then:It is neither necessary nor possible to take war-time powers and apply war-time methods.Others have gone further than that and have said that they certainly would not include in their proposals the exercise of any compulsory powers. It is, no doubt, the case as the hon. and gallant Gentleman said, that if war were unfortunately to come there would be a change in the existing system. The essential difference in the conditions when comparing war with peace is that in war there is an amount of wastage which sets up an entirely new scale of demand. We are not this afternoon dealing either with war conditions or with war wastage. I think I am probably right in saying that the 1102 attractiveness of the proposal for a Ministry of Supply largely depends upon memories of the gigantic organisation that was in existence during the War, but I may remind the House, lest they forget it, that in its inception the Ministry of Munitions, as recorded in the Official History of that institution—I quote from the History—wasa bold attempt to solve the problem of the control of labour.And a further sentence says thatit was an illustration of the sacrifice of private liberty to public interest.It will be realised how different the scope of the present proposal is from that institution. We have not, I think, any proposal before us to-day which calls for the compulsion of labour or of industrialists in this proposal for a Ministry of Supply. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), of course, applied himself to a task which was congenial to him in the organisation of munitions. Reference has been made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman who seconded the Amendment to the shell shortage in the Great War. I may tell the House what they probably know very well indeed, that there is no difficulty at the present time in the production of shell and cartridge cases and the like, but the most ample provision has been made both for propellants, that is, explosives, and for the cases and the various parts that make up the shell, and nobody can suggest, and nobody has suggested at the present time, that there is any necessity at all for a Ministry of Munitions to increase the output of shells or munitions. Fortunately, that is something which the present system has provided in plenty.
§ Sir T. Inskip
For the Forces—I presume my right hon. Friend refers to the land Forces—which have been decided by the Government to be the Regular Army in peace time, with, of course, the Territorial Army behind it. I am not suggesting that the shell production has been in advance of the necessities of the occasion, but it is a part of our munitions programme which has never caused any difficulties. The number of firms that are able to produce unlimited supplies of munitions is very large, and we have already very considerable supplies of 1103 munitions of all kinds and descriptions, sometimes even in advance of the weapons which will use them.
The Amendment, with which I am bound to say the hon. and gallant Member seemed to deal very lightly, refers to admissions of deficiencies in military and civil defences. He chiefly dwelt upon mistakes, as I think he supposed them to be, of the Secretary of State for Air in the types of machines that he orders, and in the general policy of his Department, but really, with great respect to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, arguments of that sort, while they may be an attack upon the political wisdom and efficiency of the Secretary of State for Air, are not arguments in favour of a Minister of Munitions, because a Minister of Munitions would be directed to carry out still the policy of the Secretary of State for Air and his advisers in the Department. Whatever criticisms can be directed against my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air, as these criticisms were deployed by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, they were not arguments in favour of the establishment of a Ministry of Supply.
I want to ask the House to distinguish between admissions of deficiencies that have been made with regard to military and civil defences. Some words which I used in this House when I was speaking on 4th October, I think, have been responsible for these references to deficiencies. Other references were made by the Home Secretary and some by the Secretary of State for War. As far as those made by the Home Secretary are concerned, they really have nothing to do with a Ministry of Supply. I think I am right in saying that, broadly speaking, there are only two things wanted in enormous quantities for air-raid precautions. One is gas masks, and although there may have been local deficiencies they have been supplied in enormous numbers for the whole of the population of this country. The other requirement is sandbags, which, again, have been produced in many millions adequate for our necessities. Apart from these two articles, the deficiencies in civil defence are matters largely of administration, but it may be that criticism as to the date on which the defences should have been begun should be addressed to the Government.
1104 I am not dealing with air-raid precautions at this moment, but I may remind the House that the Act of Parliament itself was only passed in December, 1937. The Government were not altogether masters of the situation. They had to deal with local authorities and public bodies many of whom are autonomous, and questions of finance had to be settled. Speaking for myself, I am not surprised that the stage at which air-raid precautions had arrived was only what it was at the crisis in September, 1938, but again it was the fault, if there were a fault, of the Government on a side which would not be transferred to a Ministry of Supply if a Ministry were established.
It is much more relevant, of course, to refer to the second type of deficiencies, namely, military defence. I am afraid that I must repeat what a few hon. Members may have heard me say on 10th November as to the essential facts to be borne in mind. We were engaged on a definite programme that was intended to be spread over a term of years. The House is aware of this, and all Members, at any rate of the Government, and their supporters consented to the plan, which indeed was probably the only plan which could have been devised, having regard to some matters which I will mention in a moment. The Defence Loans Act was passed which enabled the Government to borrow money up to 31st March, 1942. The White Paper in 1937 and that in 1938, each of them, reminded the House and the country that it is probable that the level of expenditure for the next two or three years will be much heavier than in the current year. In other words, it was a programme of a progressive character which was never able to reach its peak until a certain date, let alone run its complete course. If the criticism of the hon. and gallant Member who seconded the Amendment means anything, it is a criticism that the programme had not been completed in September, 1938.
I will give an illustration to the House of the progressive character of the programme, of how it grows and increases, and will increase until the last year in which it will reach its completion. In 1935 the Air Ministry showed an expenditure of £27,000,000—I leave out the odd figures—in 1936, £49,000,000; in 1937, £82,000,000; and the Estimates for the present year are £126,000,000. As the 1105 expenditure is growing it is obvious that the programme is developing, as it was intended to develop. As long as this essential fact is realised, it will be fully appreciated that whatever faults this Government or its predecessors may have confessed as to the late date at which the programme was begun, nobody can have expected the programme to be complete in September, 1938. I would ask the House to consider what were some of the reasons for the slow starting of production. For a long time all defence preparations by Parliament had been made difficult, if not impossible, by the formula on which the then Government based their decisions that there would be no major war for 10 years.
§ Sir T. Inskip
It was the policy which was adopted—I am not familiar with the exact date—substantially soon after the end of the Great War, but instead of the 10 years running out by the natural effluxion of time, it was advanced from day to day until, I believe I am right in saying, by 1929 a major war was still 10 years off according to the formula approved. It is an idle inquiry at the present time, but it is the fact that it explains why the whole system of preparation for armament production was much slower than it would have been if we had kept alive the whole of our armament production system. In other words, productive capacity was allowed to fall into arrears.
There was another effect of this diminution of productive capacity. We have had, in the last three years, under great stress, to grapple with the problem of producing up-to-date designs for many parts of our equipment. Design is a long process. It is a task which has to be discharged with due regard both to safety and efficiency. This alone was an obstacle, and there was no possible way of reducing the time that design took, or ought to have taken, by the establishment of a Ministry of Supply. I am assuming that the task of design would have been separated from the work of the user and that it would have become the pure task of production. The delay in designing many of the instruments that we required undoubtedly left us with an obstacle which could not be overcome until those designs were completed. Substantially, 1106 I claim at this stage of my argument that the programme upon which we entered, with the advice of the most competent persons to whom we could refer for advice, has been completed up to its present stage. Hon. Members may criticise those who initiated and devised it, and may say that it was started too late, but they cannot say that the programme laid before the House in the White Papers prepared by the Government has been delayed in its execution.
One further word about the shortages, of which complaint has been made. It is said, particularly in regard to aeroplanes and anti-aircraft guns, and possibly instruments, that the Government have shown great lack of foresight in their failure to anticipate the requirements of the programme. That criticism, if made, is wide of the fact. The Government have foreseen in all these things the necessities which we should meet. It may be that they have been inadequate in their planning or in the scope of their imagination, but they have undoubtedly acted in advance of the measures necessary to provide for the types of equipment which fall in to the requirements of the Defence Departments. Anybody who is familiar with engineering production will know that there is now a practice of employing what are known as production engineers, whose business it is to keep a perfectly balanced programme in every shop which they control. It is not easy to keep everything exactly in time so that it can flow into the process of mass production at the right moment, to play its part; but the Government have, month after month, by progress reports and exact examinations, tried to ascertain and foresee any delays that seemed to be showing themselves, with the result that, broadly speaking, we have been able to keep in time and step the various preparations of this complicated instrument.
May I give an illustration as to the necessity of timing your supply? We speak of anti-aircraft guns. The boring is an important part, but the mountings are equally important and equally indispensable. It is not everybody who appreciates the nature of these mountings. I dare say some hon. Members, who may think that they do understand it, have not had the opportunity of seeing the mobile mountings of the 3.7 guns, a very difficult and elaborate piece of work, requiring the highest skill on the part of 1107 the British workmen. Even more so are the instruments by which the gun is to be fired. Again, anybody who is familiar with these instruments knows that they are not to be obtained by a Minister of Supply just walking into a shop in the Strand. They must be produced by craftsmen who require a particularly high degree of training.
It is true that we have had to go to other countries, particularly America, for some of them, but that is not due to any want of foresight but because the supply of trained labour, which takes a period of years to train, was not adequate to keep up with the production of the guns and the gun mountings. That is an illustration of the necessity for keeping these different processes in step and parallel with each other. I suggest that no hon. Member who has experience will be able to challenge by actual facts the statement that I have made.
There is one feature which, undoubtedly, to some extent delayed, or rather regulated, the completion of the programme. For that I take blame with other members of the Government, if blame is to be attributed to us. The White Paper of 1936, which was issued before I took my present post, although I fully accept the statement, said that the programme was to be carried out without impeding the course of normal trade. My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping has criticised this statement more than once. It has been long departed from, and for this simple reason that we have found that it was an undoubted impediment to the progress which should have been made in producing armaments. But do not let anybody think that all the arguments are one way. There is a great deal to be said for the argument that we ought not to impede the normal course of trade more than is necessary. The House is familiar with the rejoicings with which they read statements about expanding exports, and they rejoice with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that this means both prosperity and revenue. If, however, there was to have been a complete substitution of armaments production for the export trade, we should have had possibly a temporary prosperity but nothing like the same revenue, and little assurance of work or prosperity either for the workman or the country. That is an argument well 1108 worthy of the attention of the House. At the same time I say that we have in many fields substantially interfered with the normal course of trade, because we have been so impressed with the necessity of obtaining the equipment upon which we were relying.
I hope that I have exposed to the House some of the reasons for the long time which the full production has taken. I am not here under the necessity of standing as an apologist, but I am quite ready, if it helps anybody, to bear my responsibility for the years that are past. Like St. Simon Stylites I am ready to receive the shafts of scorn and ridicule that may be aimed at me. I hope that no hon. Member will think that it has been a waste of time to inquire into the responsibility for the years that are past; I am inclined to think that if the supporters of the Amendment will look into their own record there will be none who will be able to cast the first stone at me or the Government. The chief interest of the House is as to what has been done since the crisis in September—two months ago. A very full and complete review has been made, and it is sufficient for me to say that immediate action has been taken with the completeness and celerity with which any Ministry of Supply could have taken it. Action was taken by those who were in a position to issue the executive orders both to accelerate and increase the rate and scope of our armaments.
I must try to deal, although I am not fully capable, with some of the points which the hon. and gallant Member made in moving the Amendment. It is true that the Under-Secretary of State for Air would be better qualified to meet them, because they have nothing to do with a Ministry of Supply but are reflections upon the administration of the Secretary of State for Air. I must try to deal with one or two of them. He charged the Secretary of State for Air with having relied in the Debate the other day upon 5,000 or 6,000 fighter machines. That really is not an accurate statement of my right hon. Friend's speech. Let me quote the two passages in question. My right hon. Friend said:It is upon this fighter force that we shall rely to deal directly with the bomber, if he ever comes.Is there anything wrong in that? It is quite true he also said that the fighter 1109 aircraft will amount to 5,000 or 6,000, but in the next sentence he said:We also propose to increase the reserves of our counter offensive force, which is an essential component in any system of defence."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1938; cols. 351–2, Vol. 341.]I think that meets the hon. and gallant Member's criticism, which was that the Secretary of State for Air was placing undue reliance upon the displacement of the bomber squadrons. Another criticism was as to the reasons for choosing the Hampden as the machine for production in Canada. I apologise to the House for dealing with matters which are rather technical, but charges have been made, and I can give immediately the answer. There is not very much aircraft skilled labour in Canada at the present time. The hon. and gallant Member will bear me out in that. What is the best way of enabling the necessary labour force to be built up? It can best be done, as skilled and competent advisers state, by placing an educative order for machines of a type in production, and when that educative order has produced its proper effect in building up the necessary labour force, it will be possible to produce in sufficient quantities the type of machine for which the labour will be competent. Is there anything wrong in that as a conception in beginning a big industry in Canada, of which up till now they have had very little experience?
We shall be requiring Hampdens up to 1940, and in 1940 those machines will not be the product of an educative order but an important supplement to the strength of the Royal Air Force. It has this further advantage, which is not to be sneered at, that it can be flown straight across the Atlantic immediately upon delivery. The hon. Member was right when he spoke of the advisability of building up productive capacity in Canada. Canada is practically beyond the range of any bomber of a hostile country, and if we can establish there a wealth of experience, both of management and of labour, which can build machines which can fly across the Atlantic in never-ending streams, from a country beyond the reach of the enemy bomber, we shall have established a range of power for which we shall be extremely grateful if the emergency should arise.
The hon. Member fell into error about the number and types of machines. 1110 I share with him, as the Secretary of State for Air shares, the desire to reduce the number of types as far as possible. It is much easier to produce 12 types than 50 types. The hon. and gallant Member is in error in saying that the number of German types is below the number of our own. He said that our types were 20—
§ Sir T. Inskip
That is substantially correct, but it is a complete misconception to suppose that the number of types in production and in use in Germany is below that; it is substantially above that number.
§ Sir T. Inskip
All the types being produced and in use in Germany, some of them no doubt like our own obsolesent, some more than others, and some more modern, are in excess of the number of our types, that is, military machines for the German air force and for our own Air Force. It is the result of an examination only within the last few weeks, an examination which I myself asked for and the results of which I myself have seen. I do not hesitate to give the House the assurance that the hon. Member was inaccurate on that point.
He made a criticism of the Minister which, if I understood it, was of some importance. He said that the Secretary of State for Air should accept the advice of the Royal Air Force and not be hampered by conditions of supply. I can assure the hon. Member that although the Secretary of State for Air takes, as all Ministers must, full responsibility for his decisions, he acts with the full advice and co-operation of the expert advisers and officers in the Royal Air Force. He would not desire, I am sure, to suggest to the House that there is any conflict between the Minister and his advisers who tell him what types of machines ought to be studied and produced. It is too delicate a subject to make it possible for any Minister to give details, but I should deprecate any suggestion, if it were intended, that there is any conflict between the Minister and his advisers.
As far as I know, the only other criticism of the hon. Member was that there were obsolete towing machines. I 1111 think I am right in saying that the present machines used for towing are of a slower type than those which are coming into the Royal Air Force for this purpose, and which will be produced in future. The Air Ministry does not accept the view that the present type of machine is at all unuseful. It may be that it can be improved, and will be improved, by the faster machines which are now being used in increasing numbers.
§ Sir T. Inskip
Then the hon. Member's hope is fulfilled. These are the statements I have to make in reply to the hon. Member's criticism, but we have for ourselves examined the programmes which have been laid down with a full desire to follow the policy which the House approves of providing adequate defence forces for this country. I doubt whether the full extent of my right hon. Friend's statement on l0th November has yet been realised. A little while ago a statement of so stupendous a character would have been received with surprise, almost with sensation, but the other day it seemed to pass through the House with a far smaller attendance than its character deserved, and I hope that this omission will be repaired by hon. Members reading the statement and seeing the nature and the extent of the latest plans for supplementing the Defence Force as it already exists.
So far as the Navy is concerned it is common ground, I understand, between the hon. Member and myself that the Admiralty would not like a Ministry of Supply, but that has not prevented an examination of the Navy's needs by the Government since the crisis. It would be really absurd to suppose that even the Navy with all its efficiency and freedom from criticism did not reveal on actual mobilisation some matters which required 1112 attention and addition. That is important to recognise, because it has a bearing on the fact that gaps have been observed, not only in the other Forces, but in the Navy. They were relatively minor matters, as we now use that term, running into millions of pounds, but on actual mobilisation it was shown that previous calculations were not borne out by actual experience. I will tell the House that the proper authorities have considered them, administrative decisions were taken and executive action immediately. followed.
As far as the Army is concerned, a decision was immediately taken to increase not only the programme of anti-aircraft production but the capacity of gun manufacture; and these decisions have been put into immediate effect. If I were in the position to tell the House the simple facts about gun production, my task would be so much easier if I could say that in August, 1937, there were so many and in August, 1938, so many more; if I could tell the rate of production, the places where the guns are to be put and the nature of the defences they are intended to represent. But is there any hon. Member who would desire me to give details of that character for the information of the world? Of course not. But it is not to be supposed, for that reason, that the numbers of guns which have now come into daily production are insignificant. We have not got all that we shall get, and we have not got all that we have planned to get, but we are getting them literally day by day as additions to our existing defences.
§ Sir T. Inskip
That is quite true, but production began earlier than to-day. I gave some figures the other day about the 3.7 gun which I will not repeat, but if the right hon. Member for Epping will do me the honour of reading again the statement I made, he will see that it is not accurate to suggest that we have only now begun, after three years, to produce the 3.7 gun. They have been produced for months past, together with the necessary equipment for their proper use. I hope the House will allow me, with great respect, to say one word about a tendency, which I regret, to depreciate the efforts that are being made and to magnify what are said to be sad deficiencies which exist. I do not care a rap 1113 for myself. I do not mind attacks or criticisms which may be made upon myself, but I care supremely, as do all hon. Members, for the safety and defence of my country. I respectfully suggest to hon. Members of all parties that while it is proper that any defects of which they are aware should be given to the House, if they think it their duty to do so, we should preserve a proper balance in these matters and let the whole world know the fact that whatever deficiencies there may have been we have gallant and efficient Defence Forces which are certainly today, although incomplete, able to give an answer to any aggressor which he would not expect, and which he would certainly rue. These observations are addressed to the House in no censorious or critical spirit, but with a desire to promote that unity of opinion which, in spite of our party differences, it is important to preserve.
One word about the Bren gun—particularly in view of what the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs said the other day. He said that the Bren gun was only now coming into full production after three years of an enormous expenditure of money. Let me give the facts about this interesting and valuable weapon. Any Service Member knows that it is different from all other machine guns by reason of the fact that if it is perfectly made it has the invaluable quality of never stopping, whereas everybody who fought in the last War knows that these horrible guns were always stopping. The whole efficiency of this gun depends on the perfection of the engineering effort which is applied to its structure. It is a gun which comes from Czechoslovakia. We acquired the model that had been used by the designers in 1935 after lengthy trials had taken place.
The standard gun, of which we had only one specimen, had never been put into production in Czechoslovakia. The standard gun had to be modified. Agreements were made, and in May, 1935, the manufacturing details were worked out with the Czechoslovakian firm who had not themselves put the gun into production. The plans were completed, the necessary work at Enfield started, and the drawing offices set up in January, 1936. Machine tools had to be ordered, many of them from foreign sources. Deliveries on a small scale began in September, 1937. No bad achievement when 1114 I tell the House that the gun has 160 pieces, it involves 1,800 manufacturing processes, for which 8,000 detailed drawings had to be made, and the body alone goes through 265 different machine operations before it reaches completion. It is not at all a bad achievement that between January, 1936, and September, 1937, the planning and construction of the necessary jigs and tools should have taken place. I do not believe that any Ministry of Supply could have improved on that record over the Bren gun. Again, the House will not expect me to give details, but I may say truly, keeping well within the limits I have always tried to observe, that it is literally true that the numbers we already have of this gun run into thousands. That is a fact which I hope hon. Members will appreciate, including the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs.
There is one form of preparation which was notably the business of the Ministry of Supply during the War and which has been almost completed, or is on the way to being completed, by the present system, and that is the erection and equipment of the many factories upon which we are dependent. Propellants, explosives, fuses, all sorts of minor equipment, cartridge cases and all the rest, have to be produced in enormous quantities in war time. We have now substantially passed the peak of these Government erections, some of them being finished and in production, and some of them being well on the way to production. Last week I mentioned Chorley, which will begin production in December of this year. All this is a part of the re-equipment of this country which no Ministry of Supply could have improved upon.
The other day I referred to the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition about the scramble for materials. There has been no scramble for materials. I gave the facts about the alloys used by the Royal Air Force and the steel required by the Forces. There has been a properly-devised system of priorities which has enabled all of them, with the help of the trades in question, to be provided with their requirements. As to priorities, let me quote what I have been authorised to say by the Director of Contracts at the Air Ministry as to his experience. He can remember no occasion on which the Air Ministry has been unable to get its 1115 requirements through any difficulty of priority with other Departments. That is enough, I think, to show that the preparations and plans existing in the Government Departments for priority of material and of production are adequate for the necessity. I need hardly say that the same is the case with the Admiralty. The Admiralty have had vast operations, the modernisation and re-equipment of their battleships, as well as the construction of new vessels; but with the Navy, the Royal Air Force, and I can say also with the Army, no question of priority has been left unsettled. There is just as much machinery for settling these questions as there was during the War under the Ministry of Supply, when General Smuts was Chairman of the Priority Committee and disposed of any difficulties that might occur.
We heard from the hon. Baronet who moved the Amendment a recital of some of the matters which seemed to him to require attention in the Royal Air Force. With all respect to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, I submit that we have heard no argument to show or to cause us to think that a Ministry of Supply would have discharged these duties better to-day than the Government Departments-mind you, a Ministry of Supply without the compulsory powers which such a Ministry would undoubtedly have in war time. The fact that the establishment of a Ministry of Supply would not only be not helpful, but would be definitely harmful, is admitted and is stated by such industrialists of undoubted integrity and practical experience as I have consulted within the last few days. I am in constant touch, as the Ministries are, with business men, and steps have lately been taken to increase the closeness of the connections between the representatives of the industries and the Supply Departments. The fact that a Ministry of Supply is, in the estimation of the Government, an unnecessary interference with supply at the present time makes a sleepless and unfaltering examination of our necessities and our programme, with the help of the industrialists, the plain duty of the Government. That duty we are trying to discharge. There was once a great imperial government whose watchword at a critical stage in its fortunes was "Delenda est Carthago"—Carthage 1116 must be destroyed. I prefer a less warlike motto for us to follow and adopt, and that is ''Great Britain must be safe."
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Attlee
I regarded this Amendment as an opportunity for discussing a very serious question of administration, but I do not think the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence has really given us any arguments on the question of whether that particular organisation known as a Ministry of Supply is desirable or not. I do not intend to follow the right hon. Gentleman in the rather mixed ideology in which he indulged, or in his special pleading, which seemed to be that if there are any faults, they are not the faults of the blind, but faults of policy, which go back some years ago to the White Papers on Defence. Even if that be so, I must remind the House that the country was never told the truth with regard to Defence, and we had not one programme, but a series of programmes. The programmes had to be altered constantly. I am not dealing with this matter on the basis of whether the Government reached this programme or that programme. When the various White Papers on Defence were issued, I criticised them on the grounds that they did not seem to me to offer any clear Defence policy or programme. I remember very well that when the first of those White Papers was issued, I said that it seemed to me there were three programmes loosely joined together; and very often, in the House, I have stated my contention that we should have got over a good deal of the difficulty if we had had a Ministry of Defence—and I have always considered that a Ministry of Supply is a necessary part of a Ministry of Defence.
We have now had a very large number of discussions on the question of a Ministry of Supply, and it is noticeable that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence is practically the only Minister with any practical experience of the subject who has endeavoured to reply to the overwhelming consensus of opinion of those people who actually did the job during the Great War. In the Debates in another place, there was very remarkable testimony by such men as Lord Addison and Lord Mottistone, and it was noticeable, as the discussions went on, that they were joined 1117 by others, among them Lord Milne, Lord Trenchard, and finally Lord Swinton. I have read those Debates with very great care, and I must say that the arguments for a Ministry of Supply were strong. In this House, we have heard the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and the Junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter).
These arguments require some reply, for these people were successful, and I do not think the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence has been successful. I do not suggest that he has not done his best and worked very hard, but many of us contended at the time when he was appointed that he was being given an impossible job and that it was not fair to give him the job of co-ordinating Defence, making him responsible partly for strategy and a good deal for munitions, without giving him the necessary powers. There is a prima facie case to be answered with detailed arguments on the question of organisation. I do not want to make a speech exposing this and that shortage, and I have tried as much as possible to avoid doing that; but I am bound to say that what disquiets me is the speeches of the Ministers themselves. I do not know what effect the speeches of those Ministers have on any potential enemy of this country, but they make me afraid. There are those confessions, and I think it is right for us to look very carefully into this matter.
The next point I want to make is this. We are told that a Ministry of Supply will be needed if war should come. That was said more than once in another place. There seems to be an assumption that an easy transition can be made from one system to another under the conditions of modern war, but I think there is a consensus of opinion that a feature of modern warfare, if it should come, would be that we should be in it all in a moment, that we should not have any time to wait, and that we might have, if there were an air attack, a position in which it would be extremely difficult to reorganise. It has been stated that if war should break out the Government have plans for a Ministry of Supply, but I should have thought that that would be an extraordinarily difficult process. It 1118 reminds me of what the Prime Minister said about increasing our food supply—there were plans all ready to be put into force directly war broke out, but unfortunately they would not have any effect for two or three years.
I suggest that the problem that we have to face is not merely the problem of carrying out a certain programme, but also the problem of having a certain war potential. When we first began to discuss the question of air forces, we were given a formula about parity, and as long as that seemed to satisfy people, it was worked pretty hard; but eventually parity, instead of being the number of first-line machines, was changed, and it was suggested that we had to consider a great many other factors, in particular, the war potential, and that in any comparison with another country it was obviously necessary to think of both the volume of and speed with which they could replace the casualties of men and machines. I suggest that the essential difference between the method which was in force in this country before the Great War and which was resumed after the Great War, and the position when we are near a danger of war, is that in one case we think of just keeping things going with only very remote arrangements for expansion, while in the other case we must be considering the immediate possibilities of expansion.
The worsening of the world situation which has taken place with ever-increasing rapidity and has brought this country into such great danger, means that we must look at the war potential. The old method is roughly this. There is a group of manufacturers who are on a regular list and who are employed, and there may be a little expansion here and there; whereas when the country is engaged in war, we have to consider the whole economic possibilities of the country and to throw the net far wider. I suggest that what we have had hitherto has been an endeavour to expand the ordinary peace-time methods with certain additions, such as the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence; but, broadly speaking, it is the old method of the Departments working separately, connected together by sub-committees of the Committee of Imperial Defence, and so on. What is contended is that the Ministry of Supply means something entirely different. It means the setting up of an organisation which will be the 1119 supplying agency, according to the demands of the Service Ministries.
There is one point here with regard to compulsion. I think it a great mistake to suggest that such a Ministry of Supply as we require to-day is to have all the powers that a Ministry of Munitions had at the end of a four years' war. The degree of compulsion which is wanted is something far less than that. In particular, the Ministry of Munitions did not work with compulsory industrial labour and great powers. It worked successfully by acting with the trade unions, and the only way it could have worked successfully was by working with the trade unions. It is one of the mistakes in connection with this whole programme that an earlier opportunity was not taken to get together with the trade unions. But there was nothing like any conscription of industrial labour in the other case, and the amount of compulsion actually brought to bear on industry was not really very great. The compelling power, I think, was less in the power of giving orders than in the concentration in the hands of the Government of effective demand, and their utilisation of that effective demand to get what they wanted in the way they wanted.
What one was enabled to do in the War—I am taking this from what has been said by those who had to do it—was first to have economical use of resources and, secondly, to have proper control of priorities. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has told us that there has been no trouble about priorities. I wonder whether that applies all through. I wonder whether that extends, for instance, to the question of getting a proper allocation of machine tools. I wonder whether it extends beyond the range of immediate contractors. Does it extend to works which might be taking part in this programme but are not—because complaint has been made by many people in this House and outside it that there is an immense number of industrial establishments which might be working on this programme, but are kept outside because they happen to be outside a particular group or ring?
§ Mr. Attlee
I will explain. The point is that if you get an organisation such as your machine-tool organisation, and the supply of that article is practically in the hands of a small number of firms, other people cannot get in to take part in this effort, because they have not got the machine-tools. The complaint is made with regard to some machine tools, that they were unobtainable when wanted by people who would like to be working on the programme—that they were being produced for the shadow factories. I hope that complaint will be investigated. It may or may not be true, but I doubt whether under the present system you do get an effective control of priorities. The next point also arises out of that question of machine tools. I should like to know whether under this method—and it is a very typical method of working—we have effectively secured real potential manufacture of machine tools in case of war. I understand that there is an organisation which is controlled by a certain number of business men, some of whom are manufacturers while others are importers of machine tools; that we have had a pretty heavy import of machine tools from abroad, quite a large proportion being from Germany; that there are vital machine tools which we should need in the event of war which are not being made in this country, and that there is no provision for making them in this country. It has been suggested to me that that is because some importers make better profits by importing them from abroad than by manufacturing them here. I suggest that that is an extremely serious thing, because it shows that those concerned are really not considering their double task, which is that of, first, fulfilling the programme and, secondly, building up a war potential. If we are getting these things from abroad we are not doing a job which, I think, is essential—that of seeing that all the machine tools which we want in this country can be made in this country.
That is only one example. I will give others. I am not satisfied that during the last two years we have taken any proper steps with regard to the location of industry from the point of view of the danger of attack. When I hear Ministers speak of what is being done it always appears to me as if, in most cases, we were merely adding further rings to the great 1121 targets of the London area and the Midlands area. I think there has been some work in other areas, but I do not think that we have taken the power that we ought to have regarding the location of industry. I believe that we need to control the location of industry, apart from any question of Defence and from the point of view of the re-organisation of the country, and I certainly think that a Ministry of Supply would be able to influence the location of industry better than it is being done under the present system. Further, I should like to have seen more direct production under a Ministry of Supply, and here I will say that my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) produced some figures in this House which showed immense profits being made in the aircraft industry, and there was no reply to them. I am not satisfied, and I do not believe that the country is satisfied, that it is getting proper value for the immense amount of money that is being spent, or that there is any adequate check on profiteering.
Therefore, I think it is not enough for the right hon. Gentleman to come down here and say to us, "Please keep quiet about what has been done in the past. Do not say too much about the things which we want." We do want to be assured that things are really going better than they have been going. We have had a great many assurances in the past few years. One of the troubles about the discussions in this House on this question has been that, again and again, we have been told that everything was going on all right. When questions have been raised about these matters we have had ambiguous phrases, such as those of which the Secretary of State for War is a master, to the effect that things were coming through all right, and that we should soon have all the production that was necessary, and so forth. But the House is becoming very suspicious as to whether we really have now working a satisfactory machine for production. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the elaboration and complexity of modern guns and how careful we had to be not only in regard to the guns themselves but also in regard to the mountings, instruments, and so forth. We all agree, but that is precisely the point on which the Secretary of State for War showed that there were deficiencies.
1122 The right hon. Gentleman made a most remarkable statement and at the end of it he said that there were certainly a few deficiencies in the Navy which might run to a few millions, but that that was absolutely nothing when compared with others. In that case the other deficiencies must be enormous. I suggest that from the point of view of efficiency, from the point of view of economy, from the point of view of building up an organisation which will not only operate in peace but which will, if war should come, operate smoothly and effectively for the country, it is necessary to have organisation now. I submit that you cannot have a sudden change over. I have read very carefully speeches made by Members in both Houses who have had great experience in these matters, and I have read the replies—and obviously the replies given in the other place, were given by Ministers who did not know anything about the subject and were answering on a brief. The right hon. Gentleman here has confined himself mainly to trying to refute certain charges and to prove certain inaccuracies against the Mover and the Seconder of the Amendment, but he devoted no time whatever to an examination of the problem as a whole, and we shall, therefore, support the Amendment.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Wing-Commander James
I was particularly glad that the hon. Baronet who moved this Amendment to the Address did so in a non-party spirit, and that his example has been followed by the Leader of the Opposition. A time so grave as the present is not a time for party quarrels and any suggestion for assisting rearmament ought to be considered earnestly, from whatever part of the House it may come. The hon. Baronet took the instance of the recent crisis and argued from certain weaknesses which then became apparent, particularly in relation to the Air Force, that a Ministry of Supply was needed in order to correct those weaknesses and supply deficiencies. It seems to me that during the last year or more successive Secretaries of State for Air have a very much better case to present to the House than they have in fact presented to it. I may put it the other way round, that successive Air Ministers have used arguments which were not the particular arguments I should have used, had I been in that position.
1123 I think there are certain factors affecting rearmament which are not fully realised. First, I suggest that a great part of the responsibility for our weakness rests on the shoulders of this House, and that it is no use the House trying to shift that responsibility back on to the unfortunate Ministers. We refused to authorise rearmament until too late. When we take into account the time factor in relation to rearmament, and particularly in relation to air rearmament, it is obvious that it takes infinitely longer to build a modern machine, to equip a modern Air Force and to train the personnel for a modern Air Force, than people suppose, because they so often think in terms of the last War. They forget that for years, in fact up to three years ago, our Air Force was cut to the bone, that squadrons were on a peacetime establishment, which was an establishment for purposes of economy and meant that they were quite unfit for war purposes. They were almost on a care and maintenance basis. So it was not even a question of expanding an existing number of squadrons. Those squadrons themselves had not been completed before they could, so to speak, be filled out.
Again, the training of personnel for a modern Air Force or for its modern ancillary services is an infinitely longer job than is commonly supposed. I often hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) making demands for air expansion which suggest that he thinks of the training of the personnel of a modern Air Force in terms of the training of 4th Hussar troopers in 1892. There is no possible comparison when it comes to training in flying, in navigation and in engineering; present requirements are not comparable even with what we had in the last War. When we come to the question of machines, we have to remember that throughout this long period of acute financial stringency we were not building experimental types, and the production of experimental types is again an infinitely slower process than is commonly allowed. That brings me to the remark made by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Sir H. Seely), when he complained that there are now in some bomber groups four different types of machines. Admittedly, but why? Because when this sudden demand for expansion came, the Air Ministry was 1124 obliged to place orders for such types as were available, and in the emaciated state of the industry this meant ordering types that the industry could supply quickly. The number of types is, as we now know, being reduced, but it is not the fault of the Air Ministry, but of this House, and, above all, the lack of experimental building that delayed the production of later types.
When I hear the demands made on the Defence Ministers, particularly the Air Minister, for the production of figures in this House, my hair very often stands on end. It is one of the terrible weaknesses of our democracy that we demand to know facts and figures which every dictator State wraps up with the utmost secrecy, but I think there are one or two things that the Under-Secretary of State for Air might tell us this evening without danger, and which would be illuminating. Could he give us approximately the number of man-hours required to build a machine of the Royal Air Force in 1918 and the man-hours required to produce a machine in 1938? That would give the House a very striking illustration of the extra length of time required. Could he also give us some idea at the length of time taken to train a crew of, say, the biggest bomber of 1918, and the number of hours required to train the crew of the bomber of 1938? Such figures, which could be given without giving anything away, would, I think, bring home to the House some idea of the time required to build up a modern Air Force.
I followed very closely the arguments of the hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed, but I could not see that any of the things that he complained about could or would have been remedied by the existence of a Ministry of Supply. He referred, as did the Leader of the Opposition, to the old questions of parity and of first-line air strength. I hope we are going to get away from those two dangerously misleading phrases. There is no possible basis of comparison, no fair basis of comparison, between the first-line air strength of, say, for example, ourselves and Germany. The strategic requirements of the two countries are totally different. Germany, with immense land armies and a great many divisions, has and needs a great many army co-operation squadrons, and our very small army needs very few such squadrons. They have their Eastern front to think of, and we 1125 have no comparable responsibility. We are a great sea Power, with overseas possessions, so that our requirements in that sphere of the air are quite different. It is not possible to compare unlike with unlike. Air strength is much more a question of strength in ability to keep machines in the air for long periods than merely to have vast numbers of machines. One semi-European Power has in the last few weeks given us a very striking illustration of the weakness of mere paper numbers. It is as impossible to compare the British and German Air Forces machine by machine as it is to compare my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air with General Goering, except perhaps that each has a saving grace of humour.
The hon. Baronet referred to the remark of the Secretary of State for Air on Thursday last about the relative proportions of fighter and bomber strength, and I am glad the Minister for the Coordination of Defence answered him to-day, because I was never able to read into the remarks of the Secretary of State for Air the inferences that were drawn in many quarters. It is, of course, wholly unsound strategically to think in terms of defence primarily. An overwhelming counter-offensive force is the best deterrent to attack. I could see nothing in the Secretary of State's remarks which led one to suppose that that sound doctrine was in any way being subordinated for political purposes.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon
Did the right hon. Gentleman not say definitely that he was giving priority to defence?
§ Wing-Commander James
I have looked up the OFFICIAL REPORT, but I am un-able myself to read that meaning into it. I think a good many people are over pessimistic about the present state of our Air Force, relative to, say, the German Air Force. Things may not be too good, but they are not by any means as bad as some would have us think. We have, for example, certain very marked and definite advantages. We all see our own defects more clearly than other people's, and that applies in the air especially. Over and over again during the European War we got a totally false impression of the speed and performance generally of German aircraft, and on more than one occasion it was not until we were able to 1126 fly and handle German machines that we learnt how comparatively low their performance was, as compared with what we had thought from meeting them in the air. You always think the other man has a better machine than you have yourself when you are in the air. It is a curious phenomenon.
To go back to the question of rapid expansion—and I would address this remark particularly to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill)—it must always be remembered that expansion, while it is taking place, can only be at the expense of efficiency. If you make one squadron into two squadrons, you have to take a nucleus from the one you are budding off from, and to the extent that you take that nucleus away, you reduce the efficiency of that squadron for the time being. That is one of the principal reasons why expansion has to be a slow process. You can produce great results on paper, but to keep your fighting force efficient you have to expand slowly. I submit with respect that the difficulties that have confronted the Secretary of State for Air have derived from sources outside his possible control. The House of Commons has been one, and there has been another one, namely, the Committee of Imperial Defence. The right hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) referred to them the other afternoon, I was glad to see. At last, I believe the House is becoming, what you might call co-ordination conscious.
We have had in times past expansion schemes put up to the Committee of Imperial Defence by the Air Ministry, sat upon, brooded over, and then, when political panic ensued, promoted probably by the right hon. Member for Epping, suddenly thrown back to the Ministry with orders to get on with it quickly, with the result that you have had hurry without efficiency. It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence has never tackled the strategic side of the problem. I have been a most infernal nuisance to him over a period of years, and he has met me with a courtesy and a patience that have been as exemplary as they have been exasperating. The Secretary of State for Air must have support, not only from the House of Commons, but from the Committee of Imperial Defence. They have to settle priorities, they have 1127 to settle differences arising between the Services that cannot be settled by the Minister of any one of them. There have been the question of priorities, the question of the Fleet Air Arm, the controversy ships versus aircraft, and other problems, which have been outside the control of the Secretary of State for Air, but without a ruling on which he could not possibly frame his programme, and hitherto, thanks to the lack of a joint General Staff to settle these problems, they have never been settled for him. Time has been wasted by the Air Ministry, the Air Staff, and the Secretary of State on these side lines which should never have been wasted; but none of those difficulties would have been wiped out by a Ministry of Supply. They are strategic problems. On Thursday last we had this admission from the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, when he said: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.''—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1938; col. 433, Vol. 341.]A truer word he never spoke, and I wish he had said it two years ago.
There is a very much brighter side to this question. We have an absolutely first-class Air Staff, and that is admitted by every European Power. We have a first-class higher command. The Air Force have taken the question of staff training seriously, and they have taken the use of the Imperial Defence College seriously—in contradistinction to one other Service—and have sent their best men to it, and when they have got them back they have employed them. The Service has a competent, capable Staff, the highest morale, and a standard beyond every other flying training in the world. Given support by the House and given time to develop on natural, sound lines—I do not mean given many months, but merely not rushed—I say that we can produce an Air Force, that we have an Air Force now, which is nothing like as weak as is commonly supposed. So far as the Air Force is concerned, some further improvement upon the Supply side of the Committee of Imperial Defence might help. Do not let us go in for stunts. A large of the unrest in the country at the present time is due to the fact that the country is longing for a 1128 vigorous lead. All over the country there are thousands and thousands of men who are longing to put their shoulders to the wheel. In the last week or two I have had numbers of letters from old men like myself, men who served under me years ago, asking if I could not get them back into harness in the Air Force. We want a lead, even, if necessary, a compulsory lead, but without compulsion, and except probably in war, I cannot see that a Ministry of Supply will in any way support the improvement that is so generally desired.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Churchill
I confess that I find some difficulty in making another speech in favour of a Ministry of Supply. I have used all the arguments of urgency and I have endeavoured to explain many of the processes of detail, three years ago, two years ago, and, finally, only six months ago. I have pleaded this cause in good time; I have pleaded when it was already late; and perhaps my right hon. Friend may remember I have even adjured him not to be deterred from doing right because it was impressed on him by the devil. But neither reason nor persuasion nor coaxing has had the slightest effect against the massive obstinancy of the powers that be, the powers that have led us to where we are now. This Debate, however, differs from others we have had on the same subject. It is possible to vote to-night upon a perfectly clear issue. We are indebted to the Liberal party for having brought the House of Commons squarely up to the fence. The House must jump that fence or swerve ignominiously away from it and, in the result, as I believe, lose a race upon which the stakes not only comprise the safety of our country, but also affect great causes of world significance.
I am going to address myself particularly to hon. Friends of mine above the Gangway who sit behind the Ministers. I cannot believe that many of them do not share the anxieties which are pressing upon the thinking majority of their fellow-countrymen. I appeal, therefore, to these gentleman, but I do not appeal in suppliant terms; indeed, if at all, it is in minatory and comminatory terms, I say they have a grave responsibility for our present plight. The history of England is still to be written and un-folded. History will disentangle individual responsibility and will lay the 1129 blame on the shoulders where blame should be, but hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway—pledged, loyal, faithful supporters on all occasions of His Majesty's Government—must not imagine that they can throw their burden wholly on the Ministers of the Crown. Much power has rested with them. One healthy growl from those benches three years ago—and how different to-day would be the whole lay-out of our armaments production! Alas, that service was not forthcoming. We have drifted on in general good-natured acquiescence for three whole years—not for three whole years of ignorance or unawareness, but for three whole years with the facts glaring us full in the face.
We have drifted on and we have drifted down, and the question to-night is sharply, brutally even, whether we shall go on drifting or make a renewed effort to rise abreast of the level of events. I put it as bluntly as I possibly can. If only 50 Members of the Conservative party went into the Lobby to-night to vote for this Amendment, it would not affect the life of the Government, but it would make them act. It would make a forward movement of real power of real energy. We should get our Ministry of Supply no doubt, but much more than that we should get a feeling of renewed strength and a prestige outside this country which would be of real service and value. I think it right to put these points at the outset of my observations. They are not meant in any spirit but that of one who shares with hon. Gentlemen the perils of the country in which we are all involved. This is no party question. It has nothing to do with party. It is entirely an issue affecting the broad safety of the nation.
In examining the Amendment which the Liberal party have placed upon the Paper and which has been laid before us in lucid speeches, there are three main issues which require examination. First, is the present system a sound workable system? Second, has it succeeded and is it succeeding? Third, whatever may be the difficulties in private Members making constructive proposals, we must consider what improvements are possible. Let me take the first of these issues—is the present system succeeding? Undoubtedly much of the preliminary work has been done. Very large sums are being earned and will be earned by the contractors— 1130 [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I regard the large sums which are earned by the contractors as a sign of progress. I am not dealing with the question of profit. Very large sums are being earned by the contractors, which will now emerge in the shape of weapons rather than of bricks and mortar, which necessarily occupy a part of the first year, at any rate—not the second, but the first year of expanded munitions production. Large deliveries of all kinds of important war material are now approaching and have now begun. I do not challenge that. I rejoice in it. I certainly should not attempt to submit this case to the House by arguing on false premises.
My submission is that, broadly speaking, the original programmes, when they were conceived, were less than one-third of what was then needed, that the original programmes have been expanded by a series of after-thoughts which would not have occurred if a firm view had been taken at the outset of the need and scale of our rearmament, and that the deliveries of these programmes, both original and supplementary, are in many cases at least 12 months lagging behind what might reasonably have been expected. Further, I submit that these evil tendencies, this lamentable lag, will continue, and that the friction, the hitches and the local and sporadic confusion will be aggravated as the scale of the business grows, unless new efforts are made to lift the whole process to a higher and more efficient basis of organisation and production. That is broadly what I venture to submit to the House. The Prime Minister told us the other day, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence dwelt on the point in his very patient and persuasive speech this evening, that we were engaged on a five-year plan of rearmament which had only now reached its third year. There is something in that, but it is by no means a complete and satisfactory answer. What relation has this British five-year plan to the facts of to-day? That is the question. Do the Government suppose that other nations are not expanding too? They say we are in the third year of our five-year plan, but the Germans are in the third year of their four-year plan.
What is the relevance of these plans to our actual needs? They are no guarantee of safety or adequacy. It is no use comparing what we have actually got at any 1131 given moment with what a plan says we ought to have. It is only useful to compare what we have got with what other people have got and of what we may need. So the only test which can be trusted is our ability from month to month to meet the dangers to which we are exposed. Everything is lagging many months behind. Consequently the entire situation for which the original plan was prepared, even assuming that it was properly measured against it, is now altogether changed. More than ever there is a need to establish without delay one supreme controlling authority over the whole field of Supply and over the whole process of interweaving munitions supply with the vital trade of the nation.
I explained elaborately to the House in May the existing machinery as it was unfolded to us by the statement of the Minister, and particularly by that of Lord Zetland in another place. It is a plan, a method, a machinery of which we can only say that it is fearfully and wonderfully made. There is the Admiralty with all its establishments and activities; Admiral Brown's Department of the War Office which comprises the old department of the Master General of Ordnance; the enormous system of committees working under the Committee of Imperial Defence; the Principal Supply Officers' Committee, which supervises Sir Arthur Robinson's Supply Board; the Board of Trade Supply Organisation, which works parallel with Sir Arthur Robinson's Supply Board; beneath Sir Arthur Robinson's Supply Board, as we were told by the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence nearly two years ago, there are seven main committees, and no one knows how many subordinate and subsidiary committees. There is a tangle, a jungle of deliberative and advisory committees, amid which gape many rifts and amid which many conflicting departmental rivalries, stretching far below the Ministerial sphere, grow luxuriantly.
Perhaps I may explain, in answer to a retort to me some time ago, the difference between these advisory deliberative committees and the council committees under the Ministry of Munitions which were found effective during the War—at the end of the War. The Munitions Council presided over 70 branches of munitions supplies, divided into 10 or 12 1132 groups, each of which was represented by a councillor. Consequently, it was possible to deal with any problem of production, any demand, expeditiously merely by creating four or five of these chiefs of departments into a council committee. They were not advisory or deliberative personages; they were the men who actually had under them the organisation and the control of those particular branches of supply, and consequently, joining together, they could in a week or even shorter produce a workable scheme for submission to the Council for the approval of the political authorities which had been at every stage prepared by the men who knew they would be answerable in their particular departments for carrying it into concrete and effective practice. It is simply darkening counsel to mix up deliberative and advisory committees, "passing the buck" from one to the other, going round again, and so forth, with the grouping of executive functions in their proper sphere, with full plenary powers to carry out plans for making what is required.
I do not think there was ever any comprehensive plan on a scale appropriate to the foreign programme. We have had many half-measures and many afterthoughts as different courses have emerged from successive shocks to our efforts. I have always had sympathy for my right hon. Friend, the Minister for the Coordination of Defence. On public grounds, at considerable personal sacrifice, he accepted nearly three years ago an office for which his high gifts and lifelong specialist training had in no way fitted him, but as the House seemed to realise at the time, although it could not shake off its inertia, the office itself was framed in a manner so curious that he really never had a chance of discharging it successfully. It was a compromise which bore in every paragraph the imprint of inter-departmental interests and rivalries.
I know how hard my right hon. Friend has tried within the limits to which he unwisely submitted himself, and I have no doubt that his tales of praiseworthy activities is a very long one and a very creditable one. He has told us to-night of some of the things he has been doing and I have no doubt there is very much more to tell, and that he has played a 1133 very solid part in pushing this great process of production forward, but I continue to ask, Why was it that an office so irrationally conceived was devised by the Government, and why was it tolerated by the House? It could not have resulted in a smooth or abundant or rapid supply, it could not have resulted in clear definitions of our strategic needs. The mixture of these two opposite spheres and functions was sufficient to vitiate this administrative appointment from the very outset.
Such a system as I have described, with its strangely-appointed, strangely-shaped departmental functions, was on the face of it bound to give results which are less than satisfactory. Prima facie you would have expected a breakdown. What has been the result? I say that there has been a very great falling-short of what we might have had even in the life of this Parliament, and in spite of all that has been achieved and all that is coming forward, I say that you cannot to-day claim that this system has succeeded. I will offer some proof of that statement. Some proof can be found in the decision referred to by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Welling-borough (Wing-Commander James) to substitute adequacy for parity in the air. Parity was the Government's own pledge. First-line strength was the Government's own measure. That was not invented by their critics; that was put forward by the Air Ministry, and adhered to rigorously and vehemently as long as it afforded a satisfactory line of defence. But both are now abandoned. Why are they abandoned? I say because of the lag and failure in supplies. That is the reason why this definition and this standard have both been abandoned.
Now we have "adequacy." What is adequacy? Adequacy is no standard at all. It is simply what His Majesty's Ministers at any given moment, surveying what they have got, choose to say is adequate. I shall be asked, Have you no confidence in His Majesty's Government? Sir, I say "Yes" and "No." I have great confidence that these hon. and right hon. Friends of mine will administer faithfully and well the Constitution of this country, that they will guard its finances in a thrifty manner, that they will hunt out corruption wherever it may be found, that they will preserve the 1134 peace and order of our streets and the impartiality of our courts—and keep a general hold upon Conservative principles. In all these matters I have a sincere and abiding confidence in them. But if you ask me whether I have confidence in them execution of Defence programmes, or even in their statements as to the degree to which those Defence programmes have at any moment advanced—there I must beg the House not to press me too far.
I am making some criticisms of a disparaging character upon some aspects of our defences, but I take this opportunity to say that in my opinion not only is the British Navy stronger relatively to the dangers it may have to meet than ever before, but that the Royal Air Force constitutes one of the finest and most magnificent bodies of men and scientific attainment that exist in the whole field of modern military progress. No criticism must give the idea that we have not got great and powerful air forces in this country, and nothing that I can say shall detract from that, but if an opportunity were given in secret Session I should, I think, be able to bring forward a very large number of matters of detail, and important detail, which would show that there are defects in the organisation quite apart from the defects in materiel. But I do not intend to go into these matters about the Air Force in public, for reasons of which we have been reminded by the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence and which readily occur to everyone here. I should very much like to see some of these matters discussed in a secret Session, but not in public, because—
§ Mr. Churchill
Certainly. I should ask to have discussions upon these matters not necessarily of an extremely secret character but without the opportunity of being over-heard or having the reports read afterwards in various quarters, to some of which my hon. Friend has alluded. I have spoken about the air, and I say that we have come to adequacy instead of parity because the system of production is ineffective. How stands the question of Anti-aircraft Defence? It is now two and a-half years, nearly three years, since I mentioned to the House that Germany had formed 30 regiments of mobile anti-aircraft artillery of 12 batteries each, aggregating 1,200 or 1,300 1135 guns, and that they had several thousand other stationary guns for the same purpose, already manned, and I have no doubt to-day that there are modern antiaircraft guns, that is, guns manufactured in the last four years in Germany, totalling not less than 7,000. I believe that to be so.
What is our position? We are vulnerable, in some ways more vulnerable to air attack than any other country—once we can be reached. What is our position in anti-aircraft artillery? Here, again, I am not going unduly into detail, but the Secretary of State for War dilated, in his customary style, months ago upon the rapid production of the 3.7 modern gun, which, as everyone knows, is incomparably superior to the modernised 3-inch weapon of 20 years before. The right hon. Gentleman even went so far at one moment as to deprecate the danger of anything in the nature of a saturation of guns. But how many were available at the moment of trial? After all, it does not take three years to bring guns into being. With vigour guns can be created and deliveries begin in 18 to 20 months. I say that the Germans, no doubt with careful previous preparations, have been making guns on an enormous scale, 6,000 or 7,000 guns every year, for four and a-half years past.
How many were there available at the moment of trial here—how many which had all their appliances, without which they are useless? I am not going to answer those questions, but has the House of Commons no responsibility to satisfy itself, by methods which are open to it, and which have often been adopted in the past, upon the truth, upon the facts, in regard to this extremely important item in the defence not only of London but of our munition factories and ports throughout the country. Would any House of Commons except this one not have demanded a searching and secret inquiry into these matters? In the days of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Parliament would have chosen a certain number of Members whom it trusted for their discretion and would have asked them to look into the matter, and they would have reported—not the facts but whether a further effort had to be made or not. Why have we not done anything of that kind? I do not believe that any House but this would not have done it, and I 1136 do not think any Government except one which is so politically powerful as this, so beyond all political challenge, would not have conceded such a request.
Now the Secretary of State for War, I will not say incorrigible, but impenitent, tells us the new Bren gun is being produced at a maximum. What does that mean? What is the maximum? The wit of man, of a man in a fix, could not devise a more vague and misleading phrase. He also told us last week that our requirements in the matter of 3.7 guns could be met by June, perhaps even sooner. But what are the requirements? The Army List shows—and the Army List is published promptly—that an establishment of anti-aircraft units would require not more than 600 guns all told, and of these a large part are the old three-inch; so that one can see, within certain limits, what might be the requirements which are to be satisfactorily met by June.
Perhaps such a figure could well be realised by June, but what relation has it to our need? What relation has it to this figure which I have given of what is happening elsewhere? There is the 4.5-inch gun. We have read in the newspapers almost every day of how they are bringing out a tremendous new plan of defending the country which, they say, has been decided upon, and how the new 4.5-inch gun is the finest thing in the world. It may well be so, but where is it? When are we to have 1,000 of them? One thousand is the kind of figure and the kind of terms in which you most think in these days. When I spoke to the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence when we went on the deputation two and a half years ago—I have looked up my statement and it may be remembered that I claimed the full right to use anything that I said myself, if necessary, afterwards, subject only to discretion in the public interest and that that right was conceded by the late Prime Minister, Mr. Baldwin—we talked in thousands. These figures had to get into very large proportions if you are to get anything comparable in this country to what exists abroad. I am not attempting to quarrel with my right hon. Friend; on the contrary, all my remarks are couched in the most amicable sense, so far as he is concerned.
I say there is a lamentable delay attaching to this 4.5 gun. A committee of the House in a morning, with the 1137 attention which a committee can give to these matters, would discover the reason, if the House used its authority. Why does not the House use its authority? After all, if disaster comes it will not only be Ministers or Members of Parliament who will be smashed up but it will be our long history that will come to an abrupt and melancholy end. In the anti-aircraft artillery not only was matériel short, but we are told of a whole host of failures to organise such materiel as was available at the time. The Secretary of State has confessed that there were guns lacking in predictors and dials, guns without munitions or with the wrong munitions, dumps of munitions for which there were no guns and small items which could have been readily procured but which were lacking. Many others might be mentioned, but I am not wishing to add to this catalogue.
Take the astounding admission that modern guns available for the defence of London would have been doubled in number but for the bankruptcy of a small firm charged with an essential part. I beg the Prime Minister to face the force of that admission. He is a busy man of high competence himself. Is it not shocking that such a thing should have happened? We do not want to blame the Secretary of State for War and I am not making a case against him, but if there had been a Ministry of Supply I cannot believe that the arrangements would have been so obtuse that there would not have been a follow-up department in the Ministry to see exactly what was the state of production in the different firms concerned in this very vital matter of the 3.7-inch gun.
Of course, you must have a follow-up department in any Ministry of Supply; that is to say, a little organism in the Department which, when a decision has been taken, goes two days afterwards and says: "Where is that paper? What have you done about it?" You say: "Well, I am held up by this," and they say: "We will go and find out what the matter is." In a week it reports every hitch and failure to take action, according to the label which is put on that paper as to relative priority and urgency. Such an institution, working in a Ministry of Supply, would have detected that that firm was going bankrupt and you would have had double the number of guns. 1138 You ought to be thinking of these things, and they ought to be woven into our organisation.
I am going to continue with the assembling of my facts to prove that the present state of affairs is not satisfactory and ought to be amended. I turn to the Army. I can speak with a little more freedom about the Army because, after all, we have the Navy which is, I believe, in a very good position, although no doubt capable of improvement. We have the Air Force, of which I have spoken. The Army is not a vital weapon. England will not be saved or cast away by the condition of our armies, although every effort must be made to improve them. I say that the equipment of the Regular Army is deplorable. I think it is almost unbelievable, after three years of rearming, that it should be in the present condition. I am not attacking the Secretary of State but I am stating the facts. Take the mechanised cavalry. Take the first mobile division—the only mobile division. The establishment of that division should be 700 light caterpillar vehicles and tanks. How many have we got? I should like the Secretary of State to be able to assure us that we have one-tenth or even one-twentieth in serviceable condition, with guns, gun mountings and all appurtenances. Mark you, all these regiments have been mechanised for over three years. They have been mechanised in a sense; that is to say, their horses were taken away from them. Yet their condition the other day in the crisis was such that it is no exaggeration to say that they were very largely unarmed. Take the battalions of the Guards, too. The establishment of a battalion is 52 light machine-guns and 24 anti-tank rifles. How many have they got? I am not going to mention figures. I content myself by saying that they have only a fraction of this equipment.
If these wretched conditions prevail in the leading and most famous units in the Regular Army what do you suppose is the state of the line regiments? What do you suppose is the condition of the Territorial Force? Why, two-and-a-half years ago, when the expansion plan was announced and the rearmament plan was begun, I said—and I was not contradicted—that the equipment of the Territorial Force with modern weapons was planned not to begin until 1940. Nothing 1139 was done to rectify that position. Recruiting for all branches of the Army has greatly improved. As the danger threatens this country, so the patriotic spirit of its young men revives. The weeks of crisis are the weeks of the best enlistment; but how scandalous, when men are coming forward, this rich country is pouring out its money, and this vast and flexible British industry is waiting at the service of Ministers, that the Government, a National Government above all, as Mr. Baldwin once said, is unable to provide them with modern weapons and fighting equipment. The whole business of supplying the British Army is a petty operation compared with the strength of the country and with its industry, yet, in the face of this lamentable failure, after three years, it is represented to us that there is no need for a change in system, that all is proceeding according to plan and that the only possibilities are that a few readjustments may be made in the committee system on which we are proceeding.
I regard this question of the Ministry of Supply and the general issue now raised as a supreme test of the earnestness of His Majesty's Government to rearm on a scale equal to our danger. There are not wanting those of influence in this country who say "We are already left behind, and, as the task of repairing past neglect is greater than we can face, let us make the best terms we can for ourselves and accept for ourselves a position of inferiority and subordination." Those doctrines have only to be brought to the light of day to encounter the severest repudiation of the whole country. I plead this case for a Ministry of Supply in the interests, at this moment—and I come to this phase of my argument—of the Defence Ministers themselves. I address myself to them.
The Admiralty stands by itself. In its long-established and vast circle of supply plants it is really not a matter which will complicate the argument, but the Secretary of State for Air, the Secretary of State for War and the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence have more interest in the creation of a Ministry of Supply than any other three men in this country. The Secretary of State for War is an energetic, active Minister who has made many improvements in the organisation of the Army. He has improved its 1140 recruitment and given great benefits from the Treasury to the officers and men of the Regular Army. If he should be brought into discredit it will be because of the failure of Supply and not because he has not been exerting himself in every direction. I do not wonder at all that he should have been tempted to break out at Cardiff the other day and to say that there can be no appreciable expansion of production under the present system. As for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air, he told us of this enormous new programme he is planning; how can he possibly organise the Air Force and think out its strategic problems while, at the same time, he is responsible for running round to hundreds of firms and making sure that not one of the thousand items, each of which is indispensable, has been overlooked? I warned Lord Swinton again and again, not only publicly, and he has only now been converted. If he had had a proper Ministry of Supply in 1935 he would to-day be the respected head and chief of the Royal Air Force.
I say to my right hon. Friend, whom I have known for a long time, in terms of friendship, let him take warning by the fate of his predecessor. Let him devote, discharge and apportion responsibilities which he cannot discharge himself, and which are quite unsuited to the functions and character of any military Department. In time of peace, when you have a very small production of munitions, merely turning things over year by year for practice purposes, you can work upon military Departments, in Supply, and Enfield and Woolwich will do their share for the Army, but you have reached a position in which Estimates for many hundreds of millions of pounds are being devoted and spent each year and where the whole industry of the country is being increasingly drawn in. To leave that job under the management of Service Ministers is unfair to the country, unfair to the job and most unfair to the Ministers themselves.
Let me look at this matter from another angle, the public angle. At present the Defence Ministers are, perforce, apologists for their own failures in Supply. My right hon. Friend the Air Minister has not been long enough in the office to grow a guilty conscience. They try their best, but, when failure comes, naturally they are concerned not to be in too great a 1141 hurry to have it thrust out to the public or to the House, and they are bound to minimise it as much as they can. By making the Ministers for Air and War responsible for their own Supply, and by making the harassed Minister for the Coordination of Defence responsible for helping them to get their Supply, you get a tight combine, which cannot deliver the goods in time but which can offer any amount of concerted explanation of why they have not been delivered. If there were a Ministry of Supply the Minister of Supply would be the poor devil who would be in the box, and the Service Departments would bring their reproaches against him. He, in his turn, would go to the Cabinet and would say: "Here, I did not get financial sanction for this. This was late. We had not had the funds for this. We had not had the powers for that. There has been this difficulty with labour," or whatever might be the case. Tension, pressure and activity would be increased and stimulated by this very natural and reasonable division of functions. You would get a new energy from the very friction that would result—an energy which is vastly needed. Only the other day the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence was arguing against a Ministry of Supply because, as he explained, there was so much importance in keeping strategic considerations and supply in harmony and in close relation. Would he not be in a far better position to procure this harmony if he presided not only over the three Defence Services but over the three Defence Services plus the shop from which they buy their goods? He would sit with his strategic functions on the top of a natural, symmetrical organisation, instead of being at one moment a co-ordinator and at the next an executive producer. There would be complete harmony. Then indeed he would have had a chance of success and we should have had a better chance of safety.
This part of the Government's argument does not appear to be greatly hampered by undue respect for logic. The Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence declared that you cannot have a Ministry of Supply because it would divorce strategy from Supply. Other Ministers say it would hamper individual production. In the same breath we are told that on the outbreak of war it would be immediately necessary and that a plan for it has been made out. In war why should 1142 you divorce strategy from Supply? Supply will dictate the strategy of most of the wars that are to be fought in the future. We have been told on the highest authority that a Ministry of Supply involves dislocation of the normal business of the country, including especially the important export trade, upon which we depend for our financial strength. I am sorry sometimes to hear Government speakers trying to ward off a Ministry of Supply—we know how evenly the question is balanced—by prejudicing the Labour party and the trade unions against it. They have dilated upon the evils of compulsion. They have appealed to all those forms of particularism which, if not overridden and uplifted by a higher patriotic impulse, may well be injurious to national Defence. Whoever said that a Ministry of Supply in time of peace would involve the conscription of labour? Whatever advocate of that Ministry ever said, in the words of my right hon. Friend, that it involves a complete substitution of armaments for normal trade? The word "complete" slipped in. Who had ever suggested anything of that kind? To talk like that is putting up an Aunt Sally to knock it down again.
I will run the risk of setting forth precisely the scope of the measure which should now be introduced. That measure should have two parts. The second part would come into operation only if we were involved in a major war and the House of Commons so decided. It would, of course, take very wide and sweeping powers based upon universality of national service at a time when we should be fighting for our life. In this second part I hope and trust that there would be provision for what is called in the United States, where the study of this part of the problem has been carried very far, taking the profit out of war. We hear a lot about the conscripting of wealth. I prefer the salutary principle of taking the profit out of war. If we should be involved, unhappily, in a war, let us make sure, by elaborate and carefully considered legislation beforehand, that no one is going to come out of it with private gain while others are dying for their country. All that belongs to the second part of the Bill. So far from keeping these things secret you ought to bring them out now. Now is the time. You want to get as much support as you can. Bring out your proposals for taking the profit out of war. 1143 The United States have published in great detail their war organisation. Nothing but gain will come.
The first part of the Bill, which we want now, would require provisions of a compulsory character to enable the Minister of Munitions Supply to control, as the Leader of the Opposition has indicated, the whole of the materials of all kinds needed for national Defence and to assign the priorities of their distribution not only between the different Departments of the Government but in respect of the entire trade of the country. Secondly, he should have the power to direct firms of all kinds that may be involved, to transform their production from commercial products to munitions or any such portion of their production as may be judged expedient. Thirdly, he should focus and concert, with the aid of a council of leading manufacturers, who will each preside over different spheres of the national industry, the whole process of munitions supply, and should be able to sit at the job from day to day without any other distraction.
In practice these legislative powers, which are compulsory powers, would not involve any violent overriding of customary right. The Prime Minister the other day dwelt on the invidious effect of such powers upon individual firms and said that one would be needed and another would not. But that is not the way that it would work. Take, for instance, the cycle trade, which is a very complicated trade. A Minister of Supply ought to have power to say to the leaders of the cycle trade: "I require a half, or a third, or whatever it is, of your full capacity for the production of machine guns or light tanks, or whatever it may be that they are suited for. Go away and make a plan amongst yourselves. Consider carefully what is just and fair. Consider carefully the interest of the export trade, to which we attach the greatest importance, and come back in a fortnight and let us have your plan." That seems to me a perfectly reasonable way of dealing with it, and there are other great branches of industry which you could approach in a similar manner. I should like the Minister to have the legislative power to make that request for though, no doubt, it would be proudly met by the trade, at the same time it is 1144 only right and reasonable that Parliamentary responsibility should lie behind it and that he should have the power if difficulty arose. If you are not able to get everyone in, if there are laggards who stay outside, there should be power to say: "If you are unable to make plans, I shall have to try my hand at it myself." Why is not that a perfectly reasonable and practical step? Once it was seen that the great capitalist undertakings were conforming to the national need in a generous spirit and on a great scale, I cannot believe that organised labour, as expressed through the great craft unions, would not be ready, if convinced of the justice of national policy, to make the fullest contribution in their power.
There is one further point that I must mention which arises out of the Prime Minister's speech the other day. I was very sorry to hear him make a reflection upon the preparations of 1914. I thought it was rather ungracious in him to do that. No doubt, there were mistakes, as there will always be mistakes, but nevertheless the Navy mobilised 537 ships out of 542, the ships on the sea were at their war stations before the declaration of war and we assumed command of the seas at that moment, and for 18 months 1 per cent. insurance risk added to the ordinary risks of the sea was sufficient to equate all the risks of a war with the second naval Power of the world. Such a command of the sea has never been seen in the history of the country, certainly not after Trafalgar. As for the Army, within four weeks of the declaration of war six divisions fought and—it is no national vanity to claim—played a decisive part in the Battle of the Marne, and their mobilisation and transportation proceeded with perfect smoothness and punctuality. It was a most remarkable feat and performance, the result of long and careful study of men like the great War Minister, Lord Haldane, and that great Staff Officer, Sir Henry Wilson. Before Christmas, 1914—let the Secretary of State turn his mind to this—there were 14 British divisions fighting in the line in France, and that with Army Estimates a half of what they are to-day, even making allowance for the different purchasing power of money—an extraordinary achievement. I hope my right hon. Friend will not cast reflections upon the achievements of the past, even although we have 1145 all lived to see their fruits largely frittered away.
§ The Prime Minister
I rise to protest against the suggestion, if that was intended by the right hon. Gentleman, that I cast any reflection upon the performance either of the Navy or of the Army in 1914. It is quite clear from the context that what I was referring to was the foresight of those in authority. I was not casting any reflection on the fighting qualities of the Forces.
§ Mr. Churchill
I agree, but it was due to the foresight of those who organised these matters that the Army and Navy were able to display the admirable qualities to which my right hon. Friend referred.
I have done, and I thank the House very much for listening to me, especially those hon. Members who do not like what I have to say. I would add this further word. This issue is not a mere administrative issue. The vote we have to give on it is in some ways a symbolic vote, going far beyond ordinary questions of administrative rearrangement. The question which we have to vote upon, in my opinion, is little less than this: Are we going to make a supreme additional effort to remain a great Power, or are we going to slide away into what seem to be easier, softer, less strenuous, less harassing courses, with all the tremendous renunciations which that decision implies? Is not this the moment when all should hear the deep, repeated strokes of the alarm bell, and when all should resolve that it shall be a call to action, and not the knell of our race and fame?
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Sir Arnold Gridley
I should not have ventured to intervene in this Debate but for the fact that I myself served under the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) in the Ministry of Munitions during the Great War. I do not agree with the proposal that there should be a Ministry of Supply. I propose to give my reasons in due course as shortly as I can, and to suggest an alternative plan. I well remember the day when the news came of the right hon. Gentleman's appointment as Minister of Munitions. It rather disturbed a few of us who were heads of departments in that Ministry, and who—and this may perhaps be a little unknown 1146 history to the right hon. Gentleman—gathered together in a state of perturbation that was perhaps not justified, in order to decide whether we could really carry on under a new Minister whose troubles in other political activities had been causing some comment in the country.
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman got wind of this through his Intelligence Department, but he had not been very long in his office before he summoned to a conference the heads of all the Departments, when he made an appeal to us, after explaining how critically matters stood on the various fronts, how difficult was the task he had undertaken, and how much he was going to be in the hands of the technical experts who were there to assist him. I think the House can quite well imagine the oratory of the appeal which he addressed to all of us in his matchless way, and to which we listened intensely moved. At the end of his appeal to us we broke up, or rather, I should perhaps say, we were dismissed by the Minister; and as I left the conference room one of the malcontents with myself, whose anxiety had been entirely removed, said to me, "Well, what are we going to do now?" I replied, "After the appeal that has been addressed to us by the Minister, there is only one thing we can do, and that is, if possible, to redouble our efforts and help him in every way we can."
I pay my tribute to the right hon. Gentleman as Minister of Munitions. He succeeded, I think, Dr. Addison, and his electric influence was such that one only had to go into the hotel, which for the time being might have been the headquarters, to know whether the Minister was indoors or out, because, if he was in headquarters, everybody moved about more briskly, and it was said that even the lifts moved up and down faster when the Minister was in his room. But is he right now? That is the question to which I propose to address myself. The Ministry of Munitions finished up with a magnificent force of something like 5,000 executive officers. Do we want anything approaching such an organisation as that to-day? I think we should first consider the different conditions with which we had to deal in 1914, as compared with the conditions to-day. In 1914, we had to provide all the aeroplanes, and no fewer than 85 departments 1147 or sections of the Ministry of Munitions were engaged on that responsibility. There was no Air Ministry in existence at that time. To-day we have an immense and thoroughly well organised Air Department. We had also to deal with all labour questions. At that time there ws no Ministry of Labour, with the wealth of experience which that Ministry now has at its disposal.
We had to deal with all transport problems, and difficult they very frequently were. There was no Ministry of Transport in existence until after the War. To-day we have a Minister of Transport who has the most valuable associations and contacts with the railway undertakings and the road transport undertakings, which he can call to his aid whenever transport services are required. We had also to deal with mines, which there was no separate Minister to supervise at that time. We had to provide a constant supply throughout the War period to a force of 2,000,000 men maintained on all fronts. We have no such task before us to-day. We had also to provide immense supplies for the various Allies who were fighting with us, including Russia and, later, America. At home here we had to double the electrical supply capacity of this country, and in the four War years we saw a development equal to that of the previous 32 years. Is there any need for electrical expansion to-day? We have all the power that industry may require for its munitions expansion.
These are all very material differences as between 1914 and 1938. But there is more than this. The then Ministry of Munitions started on what was practically a green field. There was little or no organised production. We had to collect a huge staff, mostly of outside experts. Now there is an immense mass of munitions—aeroplanes, guns, explosives—ordered, designed, and in various stages of manufacture, and I cannot conceive, as an ordinary business man, how it would be possible to transfer all this immense programme, much of it so far advanced, without creating delays which might be vital at a time when every moment's delay is a matter of the most serious consequence. If ever there was a time for not swapping horses while crossing a stream—and swapping horses when you know that you are running the risk of an imminent flood coming down upon 1148 you—I should have thought that that time was now.
What is the vital need of the country at this moment? I think it can be summed up by saying that what we require is the most rapid delivery of the goods and materials we have on order. More must be done, undoubtedly, to accelerate production if the anxiety and impatience felt by the public and by Members in all parts of the House are to be allayed. I think we all realise that the position in which we find ourselves is not to be described either as a war or as a period of normal peace, but rather as an intermediate state, which I would describe as a state of national anxiety. That state of national anxiety has one serious effect, in that it checks the flow of business in this country—of business outside that of armaments manufacture. What, then, is the practical alternative to the Ministry of Supply which we have heard advocated, I think not too clearly, to-day? I think we want a half-way measure between leaving things as they are at the moment and a full Ministry of Supply of which, in war time, I should certainly, of course, advocate the immediate setting up.
What I would do would be to establish what I would call a Munitions Executive Supply Council, of some 10 or 12 members, the chairman of which would be a technical expert from outside the Service Departments and outside politics, whose name would bring confidence at once to the country, to the House and to the Departments. On this council would sit one technical expert from each of the Defence Services and from the Ministry of Labour, and it would include also one or more representatives of the trade unions, the rest of its members being technical experts drawn from the big, munition industries themselves. I think that the labour question is probably one of the most difficult problems with which the Departments are now faced in securing acceleration of the programme. I hope the House will notice that, when the Secretary of State for Air gave us a few days ago his long statement of the position of aeroplane production, on no fewer than seven occasions during the course of his speech he safeguarded his promises, or prophecies, as to the rate at which the programme would proceed, by saying that that was provided always that labour is 1149 available, is sufficiently forthcoming, and so on. I will not trouble the House with any of them except the seventh, and last, reference he makes: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 this is a formidable task, I believe that the steady application of the methods we are already adopting—for example that of taking the work to the labour—and in other ways, we shall obtain the necessary additions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1938; Vol. 341, col. 353.]I feel confident that if we had one or more trade union representatives on the Munitions Executive Supply Council we should obtain great assistance towards the solution of the problem of skilled and semiskilled labour. What must be the council's main duties? As I see it, they will be, first, the securing and acceleration of the performance of contracts delivery; secondly, it should foresee and remove obstacles and delays; and, thirdly, it should report obstacles beyond its control direct to the chairman of the Committee of Imperial Defence. That it should exercise priorities towards the manufacturers is inescapable. I think those who know the difficulties under which many manufacturing firms are labouring to-day will agree that the existence and functions of such an executive body of experts as this council would be, would encourage contractors to come forward to that council, composed mainly of outside people, with their troubles, their difficulties and their grievances, including grievances against some of the Departments from which they have received orders, and in respect of which, under the present organisation, they do not care to create trouble for fear they may lose business. This will be an advantage the value of which it is quite impossible to over-estimate. I submit this plan as an alternative, as a result of my experience both in the engineering business and in Government Departments; and in the hope that, perhaps, instead of proceeding to a Division to-night on a subject on which, I think, there ought not to be any difference of view in this House, we shall all be able to accept what I suggest is a reasonable and sound compromise.
I want to say in conclusion—because I think it ought to be said—that I think it is folly to ignore, or to pretend to ignore, the widespread anxiety generated 1150 by the facts that came to light during the crisis in September, an anxiety which has been fanned by recent events in Germany. We owe it—and this is a point which I think has never been referred to before—to those who may have to fight at sea, in the air or on land, that if they are called upon to fulfil their national duty, they will not be obsessed by the worry and anxiety which they will feel if they are wondering the whole time how their homes and their families at home are being protected in a time of terror such as has been unknown in any previous war. Our troops and our Navy will be fighting henceforth with an added worry—something they never knew before—and it is up to us to see that every possible step is taken to remove that worry from them. The country is thirsting to-day for signs of greater activity and leadership in making our defences sure, for leadership which is strong, active and vigorous, and which can be buttressed by expert help in the way I have ventured to suggest to-night. I am convinced that the general fear is that unless this further activity and evidence of strong leadership are forthcoming, we shall defer that peace and security in the realm for which we in this House daily pray.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
If the hon. Member will allow me to do so, I should like warmly to associate myself with the remarks at the end of his speech. His earlier remarks deserve most careful reading and analysis by those Members, of whom I am one, who are endeavouring to study these matters. The House, and, through it, the country has to-day listened to another grave warning from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). The right hon. Gentleman's advice appears to be invariably ignored by the Government, and I perceive a certain analogy with the fable of the Sybilline books. The advice of the right hon. Gentleman, of necessity, becomes graver each time he gives it to the Government; it is always ignored, and the cost of ignoring it always becomes greater. The hon. Baronet who moved the Amendment is not in his place, but I would like to pay tribute to the service he has performed. I cannot myself say that I entirely share his optimism in regard to the Air Force had hostilities broken out. I think his own optimism 1151 on that point was rather contradicted by his statement that in that event only two-fifths of our bombers could have operated. I notice that there is another hon. Member, who was lately among the Government supporters, who also does not feel much optimism, because we read to-day that the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) is declining the Government's whip; and he says:Nor in the matter of aircraft supply do I see any signs that adequate action will be taken to make an end to methods which have already wasted enormous amounts of public money and appear likely to lead to a serious munitions scandal.There is not much ground for optimism when we hear such reasons as that given for refusing the Government whip. I would invite the House to compare the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping with that delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence. The Minister, during his period of office, has been mainly concerned with Supply, and the measure of the need for a Ministry of Supply is the measure of the right hon. Gentleman's failure in carrying out his task in relation to Supply. He has not shown that our preparations were in anything like the state of forwardness they should have been in; and, that being so, can it seriously be contended that there is not room for an addition to our defence machinery in the shape of a Minister of Supply? In his statements the Minister always shows himself to be the Dr. Pangloss of Defence. All is for the best in what is since his appointment, of course, the best of all possible worlds. When he rises from behind the Treasury Box on these occasions, I always think that the Government, like London, have their balloon barrage, which is sent up when Opposition raiders are signalled. The balloon barrage, as we know, does not soar to any great height. It is rather cumbrous and unwieldy and is frequently a source of embarrassment to those who have to operate it, and it has not yet been proved of any great value.
The right hon. Gentleman is very satisfied, as he has shown in his speech to-day—but he always has been very satisfied since his appointment. As far back as June, 1937, he addressed the London Chamber of Commerce, and he then said that 1152the supply of aeroplanes was now generally satisfactory.He spoke at Havant in January of this year, when he said thathe saw nothing to regret or deplore in what had been done or left undone in the last few years.Doctors would describe that as almost a morbid condition of self-complacency. He spoke again to the Constitutional Club in April this year, when he said thatthe plans for the country's protection were substantially complete.And again, during the crisis, he spoke at Gravesend, and said thatthere was nothing unready about the Air Force,which he followed up with the very remarkable statement thatit was always safe to tell the British public the truth.The case for a Ministry of Supply is as strong as ever it was. The speech of the Prime Minister rebutting the proposal a little time ago did not discuss it from the point of view of whether it would be a good thing or not; he merely said that such a Ministry would be no good if it were not given compulsory powers. I remember the present Home Secretary saying that the position as regards a Ministry of Supplywas fluid, and a decision could be rapidly taken and implemented.The recent crisis threw a vivid light on the remark that such a decision could be rapidly taken and implemented.
It is very often forgotten that a Royal Commission has reported thata Ministry of Munitions or Supply was greatly to be desired.I am sure that we want to build our present defence organisation around the idea of a Ministry of Defence and a Ministry of Supply. Some far more compact and efficient defence organisation is required than we have at present. Now it takes, I think, nine Ministers to propel the unwieldy carcase of defence across the Parliamentary stage. It takes only two men to make a stage elephant. The Ministry of Supply would certainly riot require in peace time the compulsory powers that would be required in time of war, and I think that it is through confusing war-time necessities with what would be wanted in peace that some confusion has arisen in regard to compulsory powers. I agree, however, that some 1153 powers certainly would be necessary in regard to priorities, especially as to the supply of certain raw materials. As regards labour, I have not heard it seriously contested anywhere that proper co-operation with the trades unions would not suffice, and that given that, no compulsory powers would be necessary as far as labour is concerned. In looking at one or two aspects of the case for a Ministry of Supply in detail, I certainly agree with what has been said this afternoon that shipbuilding should be left to the Admiralty, but there are a certain number of other Admiralty requirements which could come under a Ministry of Supply with great advantage to the Navy.
I want particularly to say a word about design which has been touched upon already to-day, in relation to the duties of a Minister of Supply. I would like to take the argument back one step by saying that the ideal organisation to aim at is that a Plans Department should allot to each defence service its functions in war arid that those services should then decide what weapons and equipment they require in order to carry out the functions allotted to them by the Plans Department. I consider that a Minister of Supply should have powers not only in regard to design, but also in regard to research and invention, which necessarily precedes design. While I do not envisage a Minister of Supply controlling a department in which all research, invention and design are centralised, yet a Minister of Supply should have powers of supervision and of co-ordination wherever these activities are being carried on, and, proceeding from invention, research and design, through specification and manufacture, our Minister of Supply would finally hand over to the Defence Services the completed article. I am certain that centralisation, especially in regard to the whole work of specifications, would be of enormous value and result in great savings of time and money.
Another great advantage of a Ministry of Supply would certainly be that it would largely prevent overlapping of orders. I know that already a great deal is done in that direction by existing machinery, but there remains much more which could be done with great advantage to the Defence Services. In this direction I think especially that there would Te great advantages gained by some 1154 centralisation of sub-contracting work under a Ministry of Supply. There are many firms at the present moment which are capable of doing far more useful work for rearmament than they are doing, but are kept employed on bits and pieces in sub-contracting work. Sub-contracting should be centrally controlled. By that I do not mean that a Minister of Supply should allot the sub-contracting work, but that all contractors should be compelled to notify a Minister of Supply of the allocation of their sub-contracts. This would enable a Minister of Supply to be satisfied that all firms capable of doing valuable sub-contracting work were, in fact, fully employed, and also that subcontracting work was fairly and equitably distributed between such firms.
I want also to refer to the all-important question of machine tools. I am sure that there are many Members in this House who would welcome a clear and precise statement from the Government Front Bench on that subject. For instance, have the Government any advisers of their own in regard to machine tools or do they rely entirely upon outside advisers? If they do, who are those outside advisers? It would be of interest to know also if any of our tool manufacturers are at the same time agents for the import of foreign tools. That is a most important point, because it is not saying anything derogatory to such firms or businesses if that state of affairs does exist to point out that they must naturally find in some cases that they can make equal profit on the commission made by importing the foreign article as by making that article themselves. Has the right hon. Gentleman examined the question of a national machine tool factory? I believe that quite possibly a national machine tool factory might be of the greatest value in executing these gigantic programmes with which we are concerned, because there is no doubt that great delay and irritation, and increase of costs flow from difficulties experienced in regard to machine tools.
I particularly would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, who it is advises the Government as regards supplies of optical instruments. I have had some correspondence with the right hon. Gentleman and with the Secretary of State for Air on this subject, and I would like to take the opportunity of thanking the Minister for the courtesy of his replies, but those 1155 replies seem to me to reveal a very unsatisfactory position. It is of importance to know whether there are any factories depending upon German or American supplies for essential optical instruments, and if that is the case—it may be necessary, possibly, as a temporary measure—are any steps being taken to develop a British supply of these essential optical instruments?
The question of the Bren gun has been referred to this afternoon by the right hon. Gentleman. A short time ago there was a phrase used in regard to it by the Secretary of State for War, who said that we were achieving the "maximum production" of the Bren gun. Does that phrase mean we are producing as many Bren guns as anybody could possibly hope to produce, or does it mean that we are producing the maximum number that our production potential is capable of turning out at the present moment? The two things are very different indeed. What was meant by the phrase that we were achieving the "maximum production" of the Bren gun? These deliberately ambiguous phrases ought not to be used. The one question above all which arises in my mind in regard to the Bren gun is, why had we to get another foreign gun? It is very difficult indeed for me to believe that the British gun manufacturers have been given a proper opportunity to produce a satisfactory machine gun and that they have failed. Why is it that yet another foreign machine gun has had to be adopted? Also, how many machine guns are there is existence in the Services? I understand that the Indian Army has the Berthier gun. The British Army is to have the Bren gun, and I believe that the Royal Air Force employs yet other types of machine guns and that the Navy has also a foreign machine gun adopted or under consideration. I cannot understand why so many machine guns of foreign manufacture have to be employed, nor do I understand why it is that so many different types of machine guns have to be employed by the three different Services.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
A foreign invention—and I accept that—is a foreign machine gun. I think that the information given by the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon did go to show that the 1156 Bren is an extremely difficult gun to manufacture.
§ Sir T. Inskip
It is a difficult gun to get into production, but once you have all the necessary tools and jigs and a great number and variety of processes, it comes out very quickly indeed, as it is doing now. That is what I meant by saying that it is not difficult of production now.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that explanation, but I think there is no doubt at all that it has been extraordinarily difficult to get this gun into production, and in that respect I would like to ask whether, when Enfield tests a gun and reports upon its performance, it also reports upon the question of the ease or difficulty of bringing the gun into mass production? I cannot help feeling that there has been something lacking in that respect. The right hon. Gentleman tells us that "very large numbers of the gun are being made week by week," but the essential question is, how far has the equipment of the Army with the Bren gun proceeded? What is the degree of progress which has been made in that respect? That is the important question and not, how many are being produced a week? It is an expensive gun. I understand that the Bren guns which are being manufactured in Canada cost £76 each, which seems to be an extremely high price. As regards the performance of the gun, I can only quote the opinion given to me by an expert in these matters who says that the Bren gunmay be of possible use to spray bullets more or less in the direction of the enemy.I want to say a few words, in conclusion, on the subject of profiteering and costs about which so much has been said. Of course, we cannot expect the Government to proceed any distance in the direction of the nationalisation of the armaments industry, as we on these benches would wish. But I would ask whether they have considered the possibility of grouping the armament firms to some extent, and of appointing Government directors upon the board of each of the groups? I believe that the presence of a Government director on the board in that way would do a great deal to satisfy the public on the question of profiteering and costs.
We are now launched upon a policy which brings us face to face abroad with 1157 men who know their own minds, who work on a planned foreign and economic policy and who plan their armaments to support that policy. What is happening to us, both in foreign policy and in regard to armaments, is what always happens to men who do not know their own minds when they meet men who do. The vital lesson to be learned is that decisions on foreign affairs must not be made on the basis of forces that do not exist and of preparations which have not been made. Above all, let us remember that the time factor, which used to be our greatest friend has now, under modern conceptions of the practice of war, become our greatest enemy. We are far astern of our potential enemies. It will be a desperate race against time to catch up.
§ 7.59 P.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon
One does not always agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher), but on questions of Defence I always find him pungent but extremely interesting. He put a lot of questions which I cannot answer. They are questions for the Front Bench to deal with, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman will, I hope, excuse me if I do not address my remarks directly to what he said. I think that we owe a great debt of gratitude to-day to the Members on the Liberal benches for having raised this particular question. I should have liked to have seen it debated and voted upon strictly upon non-party lines, but, of course, we have this Debate on one of the most party points that can arise during the whole Session, because the defeat of the Government on the Address would really be a knockout blow. Consequently, I find myself in somewhat of a difficulty. I might, as has happened before, find myself in a Division with which I did not agree.
In my place in the House of Commons for the last 20 years I have preached in vain the importance and the necessity of air armament. I am a type of Cassandra, who prophesies always right, but is never believed. That becomes rather tiresome. What I say to-night will be probably true and may be scoffed at and nothing done about it. In the recent crisis the country woke up, at last, to the fact that the supremacy of the air by a foreign Power dominated the situation. They woke up to that fact in a way in 1158 which they had never realised it before, and it is a matter of sombre satisfaction to me to be able to say, "I told you so."
I should like to say a few words in reference to what has been said about the armament firms. I am not interested in any way in aviation work. The name of Handley Page has been mentioned, but in fairness to the hon. Members who have mentioned it, I may say that their references have been to the company and not to the individual. People like Handley Page, Short, De Havilland, Roe and Fairey, when they started to make aeroplanes, dreamt of quite a different state of affairs from what is happening now. They meant to build aeroplanes for the general advancement of civilisation, and it is quite an accident that they have come to be what are spoken of as armament manufacturers. That the politician and mankind have prostituted the gift of flight is not their fault. It may well be the fault of the Government that because they did not depart from the 14 approved firms these firms have had vast orders piled upon themselves, until it does not want a very great business man to make enormous profits. I should not, however, like the House to look upon these men, whose names I honour and who are my friends, as racketeering profiteeers on armaments. That is not so.
We have come to a time when careful planning and care not to waste money must be considered if we are to survive as an industrial country and also from the point of view of armaments. History does not repeat itself in war. New wars are never like the old ones, and anyone who speaks in terms of the old wars is going to mislead the country very much. Let me deal first with the Army. The Maginot Line and the power of resistance to-day practically puts offence out of court in Europe. No one would ask us to pour into France in any future war great Divisions of our Army. The Navy, too, is now not an instrument which can compel its will upon an enemy. There is the power of blockade, but that takes a long time. Again, defence is so enormously powerful that really the Navy cannot operate. Then we come back to the instrument of the air, against which there is no defence. We are considering the making of machines to deal with this situation, but it is unfair to the country to pretend that there is a defence against aircraft. All that you can say is that 1159 there is a partial defence. You can supply the country with millions of balloons. Those balloons will act as a slight deterrent and probably a good deterrent against what is known as dive-bombing.
Then we come to another form of defence, namely, anti-aircraft guns. I hope the country and the Government will not be led away by trust in antiaircraft guns for defence. The conceit of the gunner is one of the most curious things. Everybody is asked to believe that where the gunner points his weapon the projectile is going to go. I have told the story before of the arrival in France during the last war of some enormous howitzers. They started firing, fondly imagining they were shooting accurately, till Major Harvey Kelly sent down in clear to all batteries this message: "If any battery is firing on the middle of the Bellevarde Lake, they are hitting it." That message did more to co-ordinate aircraft and artillery than anything else. In recent times we have heard of the Fleet sending up an aeroplane directed by wireless, and they thought that it was going to be knocked down in no time. All the Fleet anti-aircraft guns were turned upon that aeroplane, but not one of them hit it. Eventually, the machine had to be flown into the sea for prestige purposes. We know how difficult it is to hit a partridge. To hit an aeroplane 20,000 feet high and flying at 300 miles an hour is practically impossible.
There are one or two essentials that can be provided for our protection. We must get our values right, and our values are our manufacturing resources. It would cost too much to try and protect the whole community, and it would be useless. There is no military value in the West End, except from the point of view of some of its personnel, but there is military value in our industrial centres. The great body of unemployed in every district ought to be making the people who work in factories safe now by digging trenches and making bomb-proof shelters. Should conflict arise, the contest will be between one set of manufacturing resources and another. The physical destruction will be immense. The actual loss or life can be very much looked after if proper precautions are taken from the point or view of protecting the men, but the actual physical destruction will be 1160 colossal. There is no reason why immediately something should not be done along the lines I have suggested, to look after the men, because they are the people and our industrial resources that will pull us through.
In all these questions of Supply and Defence there is one thing that the Government seem to have forgotten, and of which they should be reminded, and that is that if war should be thrust upon us it will be a very good plan to win it. We are concentrating on the organisation of A.R.P. We are supplying balloons up and down the country. We are making an enormous number of antiaircraft guns. So far as the Army is concerned, I have pointed out that it cannot operate, and I have shown that the Navy cannot compel terms upon the enemy. Fighters are only for defence. With what are we going to win the war? That seems to be a very pertinent and very nasty question to answer. The only real answer is that the long-range bomber is the only offensive weapon that we have to deal with an enemy; yet the Secretary of State for Air told us that he is going to rely upon the fighter. He said: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.''—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1938; col. 351, Vol. 341.]I do not know whether that means that the proportion between the fighter and the bomber is to be changed. Hitherto, it has been laid down that the only way of defence was offence against enemy squadrons and aerodromes. If anybody should change that policy they are going to take a very grave responsibility upon their shoulders. It has never been proved, nor can any expert in the world tell us, that the fighter is a defence against the long-range bomber. Consequently, if you are going to turn your energies to fighters only, you are gambling, and nobody is entitled to gamble in such things. There is no precedent for it. I should like to know whether our fighters are equipped with cannon, or only with machine guns. The long-range bomber equipped with cannon is better equipped than the most powerful fighter equipped with machine gun.
Coming back to the question of Supply, there is a good deal of reference to what are called first-line machines. I do not 1161 know what a first-line machine is, but I do know that what will occur if a conflict is forced upon us will be tremendous wastage. Consequently, the question which emerges, and it is the right one, is, what are your potential powers of manufacture? What can you manufacture in aircraft? A very curious position arises from the point of view of trying to get details of the bombers of the great Powers of Europe. The old spy system has broken down. If any secret information comes from a country, those who send it are almost invariably found out and their heads cut off. But if you go to a country as an expert technician, they will show you everything. It is most extraordinary. I never can understand it. Visits have been paid, not only by our own technicians but by technicians from other countries, to places where otherwise it is most difficult to get. I know of an American, who is one of the heads of a great firm in America, who toured this country, France and Germany, and he gave us at a private dinner the other night some most astounding things. He said that if England could treble her output to-morrow she could not catch up to the output of a certain country in Europe until 1945. That is a very serious thing, yet the Air Minister told us that he is going to increase our air capacity by only 30 per cent. I hope it will be more than that. There are 70,000 people working on aircraft in this country, while one of the great foreign Powers has 200,000 people similarly engaged. How can we attempt to catch up with them unless we make a greater effort than that?
On the question of supply, from the point of view of aircraft the time has come when we must think in quite different terms from those in which we are thinking at present. At the present moment we are using the great manufacturers of aeroplanes to supply all our needs. I cannot see why the idea of great national factories is debarred. The case has been given away. We have national factories for constructing our ships, the dockyards at Chatham and Portsmouth, and I cannot see that there is anything wrong in having national factories for the construction of aircraft. I do not mean that they should be given the special task of designing—I have little confidence in the civil servant technician—but I cannot see why the actual turning out of machines should not be 1162 done in big national factories, say one at Glasgow, another at Liverpool, and another on Tyneside.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon
There would, no doubt, be a scramble. I do not believe that we can go on under the present system with the profits which must automatically come to the great armament firms. The thing is going right off the rails. It is not their fault. They cannot help making enormous profits, and you cannot disguise the fact that a workman who is making armaments for private firms is dissatisfied if profits are too big. That is only human nature. I notice that in the great firms in Germany 6 per cent. on physical assets is the limit which is allowed to be paid. They can write off an enormous amount of their profits for amenities and facilities for employes, and can write off a lot for training, but only 6 per cent. is allowed to be paid by firms engaged on armaments, and I think that something of that nature would be welcomed, surprising as it may sound, by many of the great manufacturers of aircraft in this country. I think, also that we should get an enormous acceleration if the thing was viewed from a new angle altogether if we realised that we cannot catch up with our foreign rival on the present basis. The Secretary of State for Air the other day told us of a project which I look upon as most important—the Canadian project—and said that we were still in the process of forming a committee. Since then, by way of question and answer, he has given us further information.
I come back to where I started. I hope the House will realise that terrible physical destruction will occur to works in this country, and I hope that we shall be able to destroy enemy works in the same way. Ultimately victory must come from our being able to tap the great geographical advantages which we are lucky enough to possess by virtue of the industrial resources in our Dominions. I hope the Secretary of State will press on with this development as soon as possible. After all, we are not in a state of complete peace in these days, peace for many years to come, as we should like to be. At any particular moment we may be threatened. It seems to me that the problems of air defence alone are big 1163 enough and important enough to take up the time of the right hon. Gentleman, and to put the burden of the question of supplies on to him would be intolerable in view of the fact that the building of machines is a very complex and extraordinarily difficult matter. The ramifications of one factory are enormous. When we built an aircraft carrier of 30,000 tons at Birkenhead it was completed before the aircraft were ready to put into it. That shows the complexity of this question. I end as I began, feeling very nervous that a new outlook is not being taken on this vital question, and unable to vote for what I want because of strict party discipline.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Sir Arthur Salter
I was rather sorry that the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) who speaks with such great authority on matters of aviation, commented adversely on the Government's recent decision to increase the proportion of interceptors as against bombers. He said truly that it would be a great mistake to give up bombers and rely only on interceptors. But the Government are not proposing that by any means. They are only making some correction of what has hitherto been a tremendously greater effort on bombers than on interceptors. I should imagine that the proportion at present is as 10 or 12 to one. By that I do not mean that they are making 10 or 12 bombers to one interceptor, for to compare bombers with interceptors is like comparing battleships with destroyers. The bomber is much bigger and more expensive in money and material than an interceptor, but allowing for that I think I am right in saying that the proportion in effort has been 10 or 12 for bombers compared with one for interceptors. The Government are now doing something to correct that proportion, and personally I am glad they are doing so. I am glad, however, that the right hon. and gallant Member does plead very strongly not only for an increase in numbers but for a change in methods, and that in fact he is in favour of a Ministry of Supply. I sincerely trust that he will not express a different opinion in the Division Lobby.
One of the difficulties we have all felt in discussing this problem is that the definitions of the scope and powers of 1164 the proposed Ministry of Supply have been somewhat different, not I think mainly because the opinions of those who advocate such a Ministry differ but because in the very nature of the case a Ministry of Supply needed at a particular time and under given conditions is very different to what will be needed under other conditions and at other times. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) has proposed a Bill in two parts, one giving extreme powers only applicable in time of war and another part in which it would have considerable powers but more limited ones in time of peace. I agree with the division but I should like to make this comment. I think that even these more restricted powers for a period of peace would only be exercised to a very limited extent, and that they would only be fully used if the situation became of such gravity that there was great strain of personnel and material in many directions. It is well to remark that even in the last stages of the last War the compulsion which was exercised was nothing like the conscription of industry and labour. The powers of the Ministry of Munitions were mainly by means of their control over materials which were then very short in relation to the competing demands of the different services. This was the kind of power they used then, not what is ordinarily spoken of as industrial conscription or the conscription of labour. Even at that stage of the war the compulsion was short of what was suggested the other day as being necessarily associated with a Ministry of Supply. Of course, in present conditions, the actual exercise of any powers of compulsion, such as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping suggested in the first part of his Bill, would be very limited indeed. I would go further, and say that you would get great benefits from a Ministry of Supply even if there were no compulsion whatever except over Government Departments.
I ask the House to consider what a Ministry of Supply could and would do in the first instance. Far and away the most important thing would be to deal with the needs which now exist for an immense increase in the production of aeroplanes and anti-aircraft guns. For this it would attempt, first of all, to carry standardisation as far as possible, which would mean, of course, the limitation of 1165 types and generally ordering in such a way as to facilitate something as near mass production as is possible. Secondly, it would try to bring into the job of making these things which we now most need industrial resources that have not hitherto been used for the purpose. For both of those objects, a fighting service, as such, is not well qualified either by its personnel, its traditions or the associations which it has formed with the firms with which it has been working in the past. I know that the Ministry of Air and the present Minister have done something and taken certain steps in both those directions, but the Minister has had to act under a considerable handicap. A fighting service, as such, is not well qualified for that kind of task.
I am not sure that the House realises how completely different, not merely in degree but in kind, is the work that falls upon a service which has not only to increase implements of warfare but to multiply them several times, in the way in which the Air Ministry now has to do. I consider that it is perfectly right and proper that in normal conditions of peace each of the fighting services should buy and arrange for the construction of its own implements of warfare. Naturally, in doing so, it is accustomed to deal with certain firms which specialise in the work and which are accustomed to the methods of the Department; and if the Department has to increase only to a limited extent, it merely asks the firms to increase their plant or possibly to sub-contract. But when one gets beyond that stage and is in a situation such as that which exists at present, the task is quite different. It then becomes imperative to keep the experimental changes in design confined to a relatively small number of firms or aero-planes, and separate from them the main stream of production so that standardised methods can be applied. When, too, it is necessary to adapt industrial processes hitherto engaged on other work to making implements of warfare, the experience, the qualifications or the traditions of the fighting service are not what is wanted for the task.
A fighting service as such is a very good judge as to whether an aeroplane or ship is good, but it is not conversant normally with the methods of production and the conditions in which it is possible to get a great increase in supplies. For that purpose a different sort of Ministry, 1166 staffed with people who know what industrial organisation is, as a fighting service does not, is really essential. That is particularly true of the Air Ministry because, unlike the Admiralty, for example, it has not any experience comparable with that which the Admiralty has acquired through the great dockyards. Therefore, for a Ministry such as the Air Ministry, it would be of specially great value to have a Ministry composed as I have suggested. Such a Ministry, while taking its designs from the Air Ministry and pressing the Air Ministry to limit its types, would itself take over the whole task of arranging with the industrial resources of the country to organise themselves in such a way as to bring about production on a much wider scale and by methods which would conduce to much quicker results.
In discussing this subject on a previous occasion, the present Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who was then speaking for the Air Ministry, explained to us at some length that one could not produce aeroplanes as one produces Ford cars, that one could not standardise them to that extent. That is true. But I at once asked him two questions—first, whether we were standardising as far as was technically possible, and secondly, whether we were going as far as our principal competitors. To neither of these questions could he give an answer, because it was perfectly obvious to all of us what the true answer would then have been, and I am afraid still would be, although I hope the situation has improved to some extent.
In the Debate to-day, and in many Debates that have taken place in this House, in another place and in the country, I think that any detached and impartial obsrever would feel that the weight of argument, both in authority and in substance, is overwhelmingly in favour of the creation of a Ministry of Supply. Take, first, the authority. We have two great ex-Ministers of Munitions in this House, and whatever may be the views of hon. Members as to their political opinions, no one will dispute that they are both men who, when they were in that office, showed a constructive energy which is precisely what is lacking in our present arrangements and which is certainly not equaled—I do not think the Secretary of State would contend it is 1167 equalled—in our Defence Ministries at this time. There is a third ex-Minister of Munitions in another place, where also there are two people who speak with particular authority concerning matters of the air, Lord Swinton and Lord Trenchard. Hon. Members know what are their views. Practically everybody, whether he was a Minister or, like myself, saw matters from the rather different angle of an official in a central part of the supply system in the last War and therefore knows what really intensive preparation means and the conditions in which we must produce if we are to produce on a big scale is of the same opinion. This consensus of authority, surely, gives the strongest presumption that a Ministry of Supply is needed at a time such as this, when it is imperative rapidly to increase the supply of the vital instruments of war. And if the authority behind the argument is overwheming, I suggest that the intrinsic merits of the argument are equally decisive.
I have again listened, to-day, to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence with a sense of deepening despair. He seemed to me to-day as before, not really to have seen his task, or what we should like the task of a Minister for the Coordination of Defence to be, in its proper perspective or on a proper scale. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping said that his repeated requests for a Ministry of Supply had encountered the "massive obstinacy" of the Government. I wondered, when the right hon. Gentleman used that phrase, whether he was visualising the Government generally or in the person of the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence. But I should not use that phrase if I were criticising the Minister. I should rather refer to the way in which he always seems to take the wrong standard, the wrong perspective, and to look to the wrong test in judging whether what is being done is right or sufficient. What is the use of turning to the Opposition and saying that in 1924 or even in 1929 they were not very anxious to have an increase in armaments? Armaments are not wanted as things in themselves, but in relation to a national danger. The present German régime came into existence only in 1933, and intensive German armament 1168 began only in 1934. Any opinions expressed by people as to the need of aeroplanes before that time are quite irrelevant to the problem of what needs to be done now.
So, too, are the Minister's laboured explanations about how long it takes to produce this and how long it takes to produce that, and the way in which he takes as his standard a programme which was made some years ago, as if what mattered was to keep to the programme, rather than to adjust your programme of supply to changing national needs and the changing competition of your rivals. If Germany, starting a long way behind, has been able to do what she has been able to do in four and a-half years of intensive rearmament, is it tolerable that we, with our industrial resources, should be content with the continuance of a system which has produced—I will not attempt to give the exact proportion but a result which we all know to be miserably inadequate and is likely to continue to be miserably inadequate unless we change our methods?
I have only one or two minutes left in which to comment on some of the objections which are made to this proposal. The Minister for Co-ordination to-day talked of his desire not to interfere with the exports of this country. It is a complete fallacy to argue that the creation of a Ministry of Supply, as such, would affect exports. It is true that if you have to increase your armament production tremendously that increase will tend to have some adverse effect upon your exports, but it is the increase of armaments which has that effect. It is true that if, by means of having a Ministry of Supply, you double your production of armaments your exports may be rather more affected than if you left your armaments as they are. But the exports are only affected because of that increase in the armaments.
As far as the effect of a given production of aeroplanes or anything else is concerned, exports would be helped rather than hindered by the fact that the increase was achieved through a Ministry of Supply. The House will remember that early in 1917, when the Ministry of Munitions was in full operation and when it was very important, just before America came into the War, to maintain production the Ministry arranged to give specific priority to 1169 export industries over certain of the less important industries which were making for the home demand. Therefore, granting that you are going to have a larger number of aeroplanes or whatever it may be, it is better and not worse for your exports that these should be made through a Ministry of Supply.
I think we shall have a Ministry of Supply—not to-night—and I think we shall have it in a time of peace unless war should come before the end of next year. The reason for my belief is this: It seems to me that the Government have reached a perfectly recognisable stage in the development of their attitude towards this kind of demand by Parliament. I have for two years watched the way in which, in one after another of the defensive preparations, the Government have first shown what the House has realised to be inexcusable inertia; then there has been a growing movement of indignation and the Government in answer to the demand have said, "Never, never"; then the protest has continued and a few months later the Government have said, "Not yet." In yet another few months they have admitted in principle the demand of the critics and then they have acted, but even then done much too little and done it much too late. This is equally true of evacuation; of their attitude to reform of the Air Ministry, in which I admit they have now gone a considerable way. It is also true of their decision as to the proportion of interceptors to bombers. It is equally true of the question of food storage; for two years the Government did nothing and then admitted that the critics were right in principle, while buying only a fraction of what was needed. Lastly there was general demand for a Minister for Civilian Defence, and again the Government have acted—and made an excellent choice of Minister—though again after a long delay.
In this matter of a Ministry of Supply the Government have got to the "not yet" stage and the other stage will follow. I hope it will because, even now, such a Ministry could be of immense service. We all recognise now that it would have been immensely better if the Government had done what the House asked them to do about evacuation a year earlier. The same remark applies to all the other matters I have indicated. If the Government wait another year in this case also, we shall have lost a great and it may be 1170 a decisive advantage through that further delay. Surely it is fantastic for the Government to urge as simultaneous answers to this demand, first, that it would take some time before such a Ministry could give its full results; and secondly, "We admit there is a great deal to be said for it and we will set it up immediately on the outbreak of war." Surely it is better to set up such a Ministry now and to arrange for it to set about its work, as it easily could, in such a way as not to disturb current orders and current production. There is no reason why current production should be interfered with unless you have a tactless and foolish Minister and jealous obstruction on the part of other people. Let such a Ministry start in the first place by exercising compulsion only over the Departments in the way I have suggested, while having power to go further. Let it exercise its further powers only so far as the need requires, but let it be there and ready to extend its power and the scope of its work as required, whether in peace or war, and as competently and quickly as possible. It can be done and it can be done even now.
I would end on a rather different note and say how greatly I welcome the action which the Government have taken in another sphere which has been much discussed, in appointing a Minister to deal with Civilian Defence. I have had the privilege of working as a colleague for years, both before and during the War, with the present Lord Privy Seal, and I am sure that if his colleagues in the Cabinet give him the necessary powers and the necessary money, and if others give him the necessary time, he will transform the situation in that sphere. Granting those conditions—I do not know yet whether they will be fulfilled—I think an enormous advance will be made. If we could now have complementary action to secure through a Ministry of Supply an increased production of those implements of war, particularly aeroplanes and antiaircraft guns, which we know to be grossly in deficiency by comparison with our present needs, we could, I think, look on the whole of our national problems with immensely greater hope than we can do to-day.
§ 8.43 P.m.
§ Mr. Granville
I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) because he 1171 speaks with great authority and very convincingly upon this question. But having listened to the hon. Baronet who introduced this discussion and also to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), I am still not convinced that it is necessary to have a Ministry of Supply at the present juncture. In 1935, when rearmament began, many of us thought that a Ministry of Supply would be the best method of carrying out that enormous programme, involving an expenditure of £1,500,000,000. But I think that, to-day, when the harvest of supply which was then sown is beginning to come in, it would be inadvisable for the Government to swap horses, especially as the consequence would be a certain amount of dislocation of trade. However, in the light of the recent crisis, we are anxious to ensure an adequate supply of armaments, aircraft and equipment now and in the future, and I believe that failure in that respect will not be accepted in the country.
It seems to me that the problem of the Government, and particularly the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air, is that of choosing the method which is best suited to this country at the present stage of the programme, to get what is considered to be an adequate supply. To my mind, there is no doubt that the spearhead in the foreign policy of power politics has been the threat of great numbers in aircraft, and undoubtedly a war of quick decision in the air has been the nightmare of general staffs in Europe for years. But I think that the money spent on more permanent defences, such as the Zeigfried line, and so on, has made a great difference, and if one reads the views of the strategists, it seems that a war of quick decision is, to say the least of it, unlikely. I should imagine that the policy of our own Government is now one of defence and counter-offence, and, therefore, it seems to me that it all revolves around our air programme. It seems that, in conjunction with other Services we should aim at two things—first, a swift and concentrated attempt to repair the deficiencies in our air programme, with our antiaircraft guns and with air-raid precautions, by the method which the Government and their advisers consider is best calculated to get the quickest results, in 1172 a matter of months. The second thing, which is parallel with that, is the development of a war potential on an elastic basis capable of adjusting itself quickly to the lessons of the first actual experience in war of enemy attack and defence.
With regard to the first, the speed-up, I do not think that by allowing for a change-over from the present system to a Ministry of Supply you could achieve the success that proponents of this hope for in a matter of months, and I believe that strategically this matter of months is vital for the future. In any event the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Air, in a speech which he made in this House last week, announced the method of extending the sub-contract group, and, frankly, I think that at this stage in the Government's programme of production and of the organisation of industry, that is the best method that the Government can employ at the present moment from the point of view of reality, provided the right hon. Gentleman, in the great efforts that he is making, is able to use production to the full. I believe that if he is to be completely successful, he must extend the number of these groups rapidly, but I suggest that he has still to deal with the question of what is called the S.B.A.C., the Society of British Aircraft Constructors, the organisation which, under two successive chairmen, has, in my view, been something of a bottleneck and, in the policy of the restriction of numbers, has retarded the expansion of the Government's programme; and that is why to-day we are behind.
It is true that countries like Germany have only a few large firms producing, but they have regimented and mobilised industry, and we have not done it here, and cannot do it and at the same time maintain our export trade. Therefore, if we are hoping to follow a policy which still adheres to the restriction of the number of selected aircraft firms, we shall not get the aircraft programme that the right hon. Gentleman envisages. In my judgment, with some knowledge of the matter, the Minister has selected at this juncture the right method, but I believe that he will find, when his new programme gets under way, that he will be better served if he can extend this system to all the main contractors who are supplying aircraft, armament and equipment for the 1173 Government's deficiency programme, and I hope that if it is extended and carried out, the right hon. Gentleman will extend it to those sub-contracting firms which have never been wholly within the ambit of what I have heard called "the millionaires' monopoly." I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give them some status in the Society of British Aircraft Constructors, or use his influence to that end and give them some security for the future. So much for the first point, of the speed-up of the Government's programme, without a Ministry of Supply, and by this method of extending the groups of sub-contractors around the main contracting firms.
The second point that I want to touch on is the creation of a war potential for the future, and I believe that it is perhaps one of the most important things, if not the most important thing, that the Government and their advisers have to consider. This is essentially a question of adjusting technical development to dovetail into potential production, and it is an unfortunate thing that the great aircraft firms of this country, which have patriotically and loyally responded to the call from the Government to forget the past and make their complete resources available to the Government, should have had to place the whole of their resources on quantity production to the neglect and detriment of technical development. There again I think that speed is the essential factor, and I would like to quote a few words from a speech which was made from this bench by the right hon. Gentleman the present Home Secretary as long ago as March, 1936, words which, I think, are true to-day. He said:Let me suggest to the House, in a very few sentences, what I believe to be some of the main considerations in the problem. First and foremost, the predominant factor in any programme of defence is the factor of speed—speed, speed, speed. It is speed that has revolutionised the world. It is speed that has made the difference between war conditions to-day and war conditions before the War. It is speed that is incumbent upon all of us if in time we are to free this country from the dangerous position of insecurity in which we find ourselves. It was not so before 1914. Before that year there was the British Navy predominent in the world, and with a predominant British Navy and no development of air power, there was no risk of imminent attack. The British Navy gave the country an opportunity for preparation and for remedying defects when the war had actually broken out. The weakness of the Navy and 1174 the advent of air power changed the situation appallingly to our detriment.Then this last sentence, which is, to my mind, so important:The main factor of speed in making our counter preparations is more urgent than ever, particularly when we remember that it is in the most swift of all the instruments of aggression—air power—that the totalitarian States, and particularly Germany, have chiefly developed.''—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th March, 1936; col. 1866, Vol. 309.]I hope the right hon. Gentleman still holds those views, but I believe that when he made that speech he meant speed in adjusting your production in time of war, and I believe that it can be done by drastic and intensive efforts now in the fields of technical development, intelligence, planning, and co-operation with industry. It is essential now to limit modifications in the aircraft that we are producing wherever possible. It is equally important—and I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Air will hear this in mind in the great task that he has in the future—to have planned your counter-measures to enemy surprises. By that I mean it is essential to have an experimental nucleus of machine tools, design staffs and factories ready if wanted, to begin production and embody modifications which cannot be used today, as well as to replace reserves and wastage. From a technical and production point of view real power in the air is in planned preparations to switch over the production in the light of war experience. I believe that it is possible to do that. I would like to see, instead of a Ministry of Supply, the Society of British Aircraft Constructors widened and strengthened in their power and responsibility to include men like Lord Weir and Lord Nuffield.
New blood and young men are wanted in the aircraft industry. I would like to see representatives of all the engineering and aircraft industries on that Society's council, including designers, organisers and technicians. In addition, I would like to see representatives of the Robinson Supply Board attending the Society of British Aircraft Constructors and meeting also representatives of the Air Ministry. If we are not to have a Ministry of Supply, which I think would be wrong at this juncture, it would be a good thing if the Robinson Supply Board could be reconstituted. I would like to see it presided over by one of our great industrialists who could give it drive as well 1175 as co-ordination. The panel of advisers which the right hon. Gentleman has at the Air Ministry consists of very able men, but they cannot give their drive, and it is drive which is needed in this respect, as well as initiative and cooperation.
I would advocate the formation of an Empire air council with somebody like the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor at its head. I would like to see the spread of technical knowledge throughout the Empire. I believe that the Dominion and Empire countries have a contribution to make to this problem. After all, it was the Dominions which produced Kingsford-Smith, Hawker, and men like Colonel Bishop. We should use some of the younger men and the newer brains in these countries on this great problem which we have to face in the future. I would also like this Empire council able to consider by first-hand visitation the Defence problems in the light of the criticism which General Smuts made yesterday, and to review the problems of civil aviation in the Empire. I hope there will never again be a famine of British machines in South Africa so that we have to witness the purchase in that country of German machines, and that it will never happen anywhere else in the British Empire.
As I see this problem, this is not the moment to swap horses and change over to a Ministry of Supply when we are beginning to get supplies from our previous plans slowly but surely. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman must continue to speed up if he is to get those 6,000 fighters. He must use all the subcontracting firms possible. I have no doubt his advisers are considering the question of war potential for the future. The real power in the air, however, is to be able to switch over production in time of war when we know what the enemy have got and have learned the first lessons of the fighting. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on what he has done since he has been in office. He has not had much time yet, but he has shown drive and energy, as is recognised throughout the industry. I wish him every success.
I would also like to congratulate the Under-Secretary on the work he has put in and for his courage. It needs a little 1176 courage to get into a Spitfire or a Hurricane and fly them. He is an old Royal Air Force man, and he has given a great deal of inspiration to those men who will probably give their lives in time of war—the pilots of the British Air Force. I congratulate him, too, and I hope he will not run too many risks, because his presence is needed in the House. To the Minister for the Coordination of Defence I would say that achievements in defence are not a shop window; they are the efficient and effective organisation of the defence of this country in war. We emphasise our faults in this country whereas other countries emphasise their achievements. Without a Ministry of Supply I believe that we can achieve what we are trying to do. We shall need new men, new machinery and new methods. I am convinced that not only will this country show the right national spirit, but that British industries, engineers and skilled men and the finest brains of British industry are ready to respond.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Duff Cooper
In the interesting and constructive speech to which we have just listened, the hon. Member has put forward various suggestions with a view to improving the machinery of our Defence Services. Having listened to nearly every speech in this Debate, I think the note that has been running through it is one of general agreement. I do not find any great division of opinion. Certain points of view have been emphasised more strongly than others by different speakers, as is natural, but the general view has been, I think, that the merits or demerits of a Ministry of Supply are a subject of interesting inquiry and debate which naturally produce differences of opinion, but that the creation of a Ministry itself is not a matter of very first-rate importance. There has been a general feeling going through every speech I have heard, except the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, that all is not well and that if the Ministry of Supply is not a solution there are other forms of improvement. The hon. Member who has just spoken made some interesting suggestions. The hon. Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley) made other suggestions. They all indicated the same profound feeling, which I think is present 1177 in the House and in the country, that reform is required and that the machine as it works at present is not wholly satisfactory.
It is unfortunate that we should be obliged to debate this subject of Government machinery, of administration, under the auspices of a three-line Whip. It is quite possible to be a more loyal supporter of the National Government's policy, even than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), to believe profoundly that they are a very good Government, to support their internal and foreign policy, and yet to think that a Ministry of Supply might possibly help them to carry out that policy. But if anybody evinces that opinion to-night—and the only way the majority of Members can evince that opinion is by going into the Lobby against the Government—he has immediately committed a crime against the party, the Government and his constituents, and renders himself liable to all the pains and penalties that inevitably ensue. I do not say that this is the fault of the Whips. I know that it is a matter of Parliamentary procedure that any Amendment to the Address must always be regarded as raising a matter of first-rate importance and treated as a matter of confidence.
Though nobody is to blame it is regrettable, and for two reasons. In the first place it would be impossible to explain to anybody outside this country unacquainted with our Parliamentary procedure and Parliamentary institutions why it was necessary to have a three-line Whip on the question of a Ministry of Supply. Imagine trying to explain to a Frenchman, or an Italian, or a German, how a man may sincerely believe that a Ministry of Supply would be a good thing and yet is, under our Parliamentary procedure, forced to vote against it, because otherwise he would be showing himself a disloyal supporter of the Government which he desires loyally to support. Secondly, anything that brings Parliamentary procedure into disrepute at the present time is to be deplored. Of course many hon. Members will find themselves in a difficult position, for I believe there are hon. Members who are sincerely convinced that a Ministry of Supply is urgently needed and would be a very good thing, Members who wholeheartedly support the present Government, and they 1178 will be in the unpleasant position of either voting against their Government or against what they think to be desirable. I shall not blame any of them if they support the Government, because, after all, when you are presented with a conflict between two loyalties, loyalty to your own opinion and loyalty to the party and the Government which you wish to support, it is a matter of conscience which every man must decide for himself. For that reason also it is most regrettable, even though it is inevitable, that a question like that of a Ministry of Supply should form the subject of a three-line Whip.
Fortunately for me, I find myself in none of these conscientious difficulties over the question. I can wholeheartedly and conscience-free give my support to the Government this evening. The question of a Ministry of Supply is one to which I have devoted a good deal of attention and thought. I have held positions which enabled me to form some opinion, but, quite frankly, my mind remains open on the subject. I have listened to the powerful arguments this evening from both sides of the House in favour of and against the proposal, and I still think there is a great deal to be said upon both sides. When I was at the War Office I thought there was much more to be said for a Ministry of Supply than when I was at the Admiralty. I think it would help, or it might help, the War Office and the Air Ministry, whereas I do not think it would be of any service to the Admiralty.
After all, in a question of administration surely, if you have any opinion of the administrators, you can leave the decision to them. If you are shown over a factory as an amateur, and a bright idea strikes you as to how efficiency might be improved or economy effected, and you put it to the person who is showing you over, and he says, "We have gone into that very point, we have thought it over and we have decided, on the whole, against it, because we do not think it would produce the results you suggest," the ordinary humble amateur immediately dismisses the subject from his mind. He assumes that those who are running the factory are better qualified to form an accurate opinion as to the use of the new machinery or the value of the reform he has suggested than he is. Equally, surely, those who have any respect for His 1179 Majesty's Ministers must feel that they are the best judges of whether this suggested reform will assist them in carrying out their task. We have in the Secretary of State for Air and the Secretary of State for War two exceptionally able Ministers. If it is their considered opinion, and I am quite sure it is—at any rate we shall see by their votes this evening—that a Ministry of Supply cannot help them in the task in which they are engaged, then who am I, or who is anyone else, to take a different view? I am quite content to abide by their decision.
The only reason why I regret that that decision has been taken is one not really connected with the merits of a Ministry of Supply at all. I think it would have been useful from another point of view if the Government had decided to set up a Ministry of Supply—providing, of course, that it would have helped—because it would have been useful in helping to convey to the people of England and the peoples of the world that we are really seriously tackling the problem of rearmament on a new basis. We are apt in this country—I think it is an English characteristic—not to indulge in advertisement or propaganda to the same extent as other countries. We spend insignificant and negligible sums yearly upon propaganda. Countries far poorer than us spend much more. It is a pleasant quality, perhaps, in the Englishman to run himself down: the expression used by the Prime Minister the other day was, "fouling one's own nest." I am afraid it is a habit which Englishmen very naturally acquire.
I do not think the Leader of the Opposition could justly be accused of fouling his own nest if he criticises the Government, because, after all, that is what he is there for; but the speech of the Secretary of State for War at the close of the last Session describing the lack of preparations for dealing with air raids was, I thought, as pretty a piece of self-nest fouling as ever I listened to. I have no doubt that he was quite right to take the line of a full confession. He could easily have taken a different line if he had wished, and concealed and camouflaged and defended the deficiencies that were present; but I was glad afterwards when the Prime Minister said that our preparations in 1938 were probably in no way inferior to those of 1914. I think the attack made upon him this afternoon 1180 by the right hon. Member for Epping was not merited. I did not take the Prime Minister's remarks upon that occasion as criticising in any way the preparations made in 1914. All he said was that if instead of the tragedy of war there had been a sudden demobilisation in 1914 it would, of course, have been followed by an inquiry, and all the organisations that were bad, everything that was missing and lacking, would have had the full limelight played upon it. It would have been found that so far from our preparations being worse in 1938 than in 1914 we were very much better prepared. I believe that to be profoundly true.
Fortunately, we won the War started in 1914, and after four and a half years the country was not in a mood to go back to the preparations that were made so long before. But we know the kind of inquiry that would have taken place. We remember the Dardanelles, Mesopotamia, the South African War, the Crimean War—always great deficiencies, great lack of preparations. This country, no country would ever be found completely prepared for war if there were ever again a case where there was some partial mobilisation followed by sudden demobilisation. All the lack of preparations would appear. It is only the things that are not done that are ever noticed. It is difficult for the Government adequately to defend themselves in such a matter, but I can assure the House that there were preparations on a scale which were really unthought-of in 1914, preparations for eventualities, which fortunately never arose, that had never been contemplated before the Great War. The stages were not reached in which certain operations would have come into being and certain preparations would have shown themselves. During the three years in which the Government have really dealt with this subject I think they made tremendous strides, and great credit is due to the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, rather than the jeers to which he is usually subjected, for the part he has played in perfecting these preparations.
I am particularly glad that the Prime-Minister took that line, particularly glad that the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence said what he did in his speech to-day about our preparations, about the strength not only of our Army and our Navy but also of our Air Force. These 1181 are facts of which there has been a great danger of losing sight.
The hon. Member who seconded the Motion said that there had been given, as one of the reasons of the policy that culminated at Munich, our lack of preparation for war. He is not in his place at the moment but I do not think that it is true to say that any responsible Minister has ever said in public that that policy was forced upon us owing to our lack of preparation for war. I think it most important that it should be known in this country and in Europe that that policy, whether right or wrong—I have given my reasons before to the House of Commons for thinking that it was a wrong policy—was not dictated by fear of war and that the Government were confident, although they were horrified, rightly and naturally, at the prospect of war, and although they foresaw great suffering in the early stages of the war owing to the inferiority of our Air Force and of the French Air Force, in comparison with that of our potential enemy—of ultimate victory, had we been driven to war.
I would also say—and this is equally important—that that was the view of the General Staff in France. They were not afraid to face the issue, had they been driven to it; in fact, so far as I am aware, the only people who were afraid of a long war and doubtful of victory were the German General Staff. It was not cowardice that persuaded His Majesty's Government or the Prime Minister to adopt that course, and it is folly to talk of their policy as a coward's policy. The question of cowardice or courage does not come into it when matters of this calibre, of general world significance, are being decided by statesmen. They think of the welfare of their people and of the ultimate objectives at which they are aiming. The main qualities, the outstanding qualities of the Prime Minister, with whom I have worked, I am proud to say, for three years in the Cabinet and a year-and-a-half in the Treasury, are courage, consistency and logic. And it is because of his consistency that some people are in doubt as to how the Prime Minister interprets the result of the Munich policy. He is not like some of his more thoughtless supporters. Having cheered themselves hoarse over the Munich Agreement they cleared their throats and said:
1182 "That was a great victory. Now we must rearm so as to make sure that it never happens again." I do not think that the Prime Minister thought that it was a great victory. He is much too clear-sighted. I think he thought it was a satisfactory outcome of a very difficult situation and also that it was the beginning of a more hopeful period and that he would be able to settle other questions in the future. Being a reasonable man he thought that the head of the German State was a reasonable man like himself, with a limited ambition. Thinking that, and being logical and consistent, he said: "Why, therefore, should we impose on the country an enormous burden of taxation and ask for fearful sacrifices from the people in preparation for a war that I do not honestly believe is ever going to take place, if that can be avoided."
The first important statement after Munich from a Member of the Government was a remark from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who said:A vigorous, complete, urgent and remorseless survey of the whole position is demanded. We must not wait until a crisis occurs; we must do it now.Has that complete, remorseless, urgent survey of the whole position taken place? If not, I want to know why. At the same time the "Times" wrote:The task of the Government is nothing less than the organisation of the resources of the country to meet the needs of a new age.When are we going to get it, either the remorseless survey carried out, and if so by whom, or the Governments attempting to meet the needs of the new age?
What has happened? We have had a new Minister who is to take sole charge of Air-Raid Precautions. I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman will carry out that task with the efficiency with which he has carried every task that has been allotted to him throughout a most distinguished career. The Air-Raid Precautions gaps were somewhat exaggerated, and great credit is due to the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary of State for what they have already accomplished in the short time in which they have been engaged on their task. I have no doubt that the Lord Privy Seal will complete that task and it is a very good thing that he is doing so. He has also been en-trusted to deal with man-power. His ability to do so will depend upon whether 1183 he is given certain powers. If he is asked to waste his time trying to register all the people who now feel voluntarily inclined to do something in war I suggest that he will accomplish nothing at all. If he is given the power, which the "Daily Express," often so curiously well-informed about Government plans, announced to-day, that he is to be given power compulsorily to draw it up, that will be a most important and useful step, that we all desire.
My own view is that the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence and his colleagues—I speak not without prejudice, having been one of them so long—have carried out, and wisely carried out, a rearmament scheme which was laid down and prepared in 1935, and, as the Prime Minister reminded us, this is the third year of the scheme. A great deal has happened since 1935, which was only three years ago. Then the League of Nations was still a power in the world. There was no civil war in Spain, Italy had not invaded, occupied and established herself in, Abyssinia, the Rome-Berlin axis was not dreamt of, Japan was not closely connected with Rome and Berlin, and had not invaded China and conquered half of it. Our relations with Japan and the Japanese Government were far better than they are to-day. Then Germany had not marched into the Rhineland, militarised it and fortified it, Austria was an independent country outside the German orbit, and the Czech Republic was still something to be counted with in Europe, with 30 or 40 of the best fighting divisions, better armed, perhaps, than any other divisions, behind a line of defence almost as strong as the line which protects France. All that has gone. In three years the situation has deteriorated enormously at the expense of Great Britain and what was recommended three years ago is now antiquated, rotten and out of date.
It is high time, surely, that new steps were taken to meet a new situation, and that that survey, remorseless, vigorous, and urgent, called for by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, should take place. I do not want, as some people have suggested, a Parliamentary inquiry. I believe that would be waste of time, but I suggest that the same officials who were asked in 1935 to recommend what they considered necessary for the defence of 1184 the country should be asked to make further recommendations, in view of an entirely altered situation. A week ago my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) made in this House a speech which I believe produced a profound impression upon all who heard it. Since then the Press has been full of suggestions as to what he meant. It was the opinion of many that he wished to create a new party. I have not discussed this question with my right hon. Friend and I am no more in possession of his mind on the subject than any other Member of the House. But it did not seem to me that his words bore the construction that has been put upon them. He was not asking for a new party. He was not anxious to increase parties but to diminish them. He did not want to stir up political faction. He was pleading for unity. He was facing the new situation in which the world finds itself. He was asking for a new, national, united effort to meet the threat which is now menacing not only the British Empire but the whole civilised world.
As I listened to him, I wondered what could be done to carry out the desire that he so eloquently expressed. I felt that, if there had been a war, all that he was asking for could be accomplished in a moment. This House, instead of being a centre of party politics, would have become a true council of the nation and matters like a Ministry of Supply would be discussed and voted upon on their merits and not at the crack of a three-line Whip. A National Government on a broader basis would have been forced within 24 hours. Rich people would have put their houses and their property at the disposal of the State and poor people would have given up their jobs and risked their livelihoods and those of their families in order to join the Forces Rich and poor would have laid down their lives for their country "and said twas but their duty." Of course, in peace time we cannot accomplish anything on those dimensions, but is it not possible under the menace of war to make an effort towards some similar sacrifice?
The hon. Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley) said he considered that we were not living either in peace or in war but in a period of anxiety, something between the two. Anxiety has been the note of 1185 every speech, whether critical or supporting the Government, that I have heard to-night. Is it not possible in a period of national anxiety to make a national effort to accomplish something which would be able to preserve our lives and our liberties? The lead must come from the Government. Private Members can only make suggestions. The Prime Minister has, I believe, the gratitude and the confidence of a majority of the people of the country to-day. These are invaluable assets. With them there is almost nothing that he could not accomplish. Those people have gratitude and confidence in their hearts but they also have deep anxiety. They are looking to him for a lead. If he gives it now, he will have behind him a people united as they have never been, divided on no great political issues as they were in 1914. If he fails to give that lead I believe he will miss one of the greatest opportunities in English history.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Sir Archibald Sinclair
I do not pretend that I can address the House on this subject of national Defence both with absolute sincerity and with a complete avoidance of criticism of His Majesty's Government. But I am impressed, as the House must have been, by the eloquent and powerful speech of the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, and I shall certainly endeavour to approach this subject of the Ministry of Supply from that standpoint which he chose of the interest of the country faced, as I agree it is, with such grave perils at present. The result of this Debate has been to build up a powerful case for a Ministry of Supply and, although the right hon. Gentleman disclaimed any strong opinion on the subject, and declared that he at present was on the whole content to leave the matter to the judgment of the Prime Minister and his colleagues, although he saw great advantages in the adoption of the proposal, the effect upon my mind, and I cannot help thinking on that of the House, was that on the whole his speech supported the case that we have urged for a Ministry. Even now I hope the Government will at last concede the aim that we have made, and in any case I am sure hon. Members will not grudge the Prime Minister the hour that he requires to answer the case that has been developed.
1186 May I briefly summarise the case that we have made. It does not rest upon any assertion that Ministers have grossly betrayed the trust that Parliament has reposed in them. My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick (Sir H. Seely) made it perfectly clear that it does not rest upon the assertion that we have no defences, or defences so weak that we are at the mercy of any possible opponent. On the contrary, we fully realise that our Navy is strong, and even supreme at sea, our Air Force is formidable, our Army and our air defences exist, even if they are insufficiently equipped, but we assert that our Air Force and our anti-aircraft defences were in such a condition that the right hon. Gentleman was undoubtedly right in saying that if there had been a war, although undoubtedly we should have won it—I agree with him—yet in the meantime terrible injuries would have been inflicted upon the people of this country.
That is the first assertion that we make. The second is that we are not catching up Germany in the air. It is now three years since Lord Baldwin said that any Government of this country, and most of all a National Government, must insist that we have an Air Force not inferior to that possessed by any Power within striking distance of these shores. I assert—and by asserting it I give the Prime Minister an opportunity of contradicting it if it is not true, and as it is being asserted outside I am performing a public service by asserting it in the House—that the gap between the air power of Germany and that of this country is now wider than it was when Lord Baldwin gave that pledge on behalf of His Majesty's Government.
Thirdly, I say that our diplomacy in the recent crisis suffered from a knowledge of the gaps and deficiencies which we can and must promptly repair. I do not think these things can be denied, for, as the right hon. Gentleman reminded us, it was the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself who referred to the necessity for vigorous, complete, remorseless and urgent inquiry into the state of our defences as revealed by the recent crisis. Therefore, I say that we must urgently grapple with this problem, which in our opinion is in large part due to a faulty system of supply. I described to the House in the summer the quagmire of committees and sub-committees in 1187 which executive responsibility for supply is swallowed up, and through which the current of supply now so sluggishly meanders. It is vain for Ministers to argue, as the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence attempted to do this afternoon, that the Government's programme is developing according to plan. In the first place, that argument misses the point of the argument which we have been putting to the House this afternoon. He read out the increases in expenditure upon the Air Force—in 1935, £27,000,000; in 1937, £82,000,000; in 1938, £126,000,000—and he said:Our plan is developing as it was intended to develop.It reminded me of the story that was told of the Chinese coolies who came over to France with the labour battalions during the War. A British officer who was with them when they landed at Marseilles looked up and saw an aeroplane, and he said to a Chinese: "Look, an aeroplane." The Chinese looked, and said "Yes." "Is it not wonderful? It is flying," said the officer. "Yes," said the Chinese, "isn't it meant to?" When the right hon. Gentleman comes down to us with his programme and says, "Look, we are actually increasing our aeroplanes from £27,000,000 worth to £126,000,000 worth," I say to the Government "Was it not meant to? Was it not meant to do a great deal more than that? Was it not meant to catch up with German air power?" It is in that respect that the Government are failing at the present time.
His Majesty's Government have always been behind the needs of the time. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) was first developing this case, he was told that his figures were hopelessly exaggerated, and then the Prime Minister of that day, in the last Parliament, had to come before the House and say that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping was right after all. But, even when they caught up with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping, they did not even then dare to tell the country how serious the situation was, and when they fought the last Election in 1935, it was on a pledge that there would be no great armaments. That was the pledge which Lord Baldwin gave at that Election, and he repeated it in different words three times in the 1188 course of the Election. Then we had the admission that the situation was much worse than we or the country had been led to expect, and we had a programme of which Scheme F of air expansion was the main feature. Then we had the Anschluss in Austria, and we were given Scheme L of air expansion. Now we have had Czechoslovakia, and we are promised an urgent, ruthless inquiry into the situation; or, as the Minister said this afternoon, a competent, thorough, searching and resolute review, and, he said, action to increase the range and scope of our armaments. Why, if in fact we have been getting all that is necessary under the present system all the time?
When the Government are challenged as to whether we should have a Ministry of Supply, they say, "In war-time"; and when they are pressed further, and are asked whether we should not have one in peace-time they reply, as the Secretary of State for India did in the summer, "Sooner or later, perhaps." The Prime Minister has told us in similar words that the time may come when we have done everything possible on voluntary lines. Mr. Speaker, the time has come. It came in September. The present system was tested then, and found wanting. We are told that the programme of anti-aircraft production and the productive capacity as regards guns are both to increase. That is what the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence told the House this afternoon. He said:We have not all the guns we had planned to get.In view of that statement, it is useless to tell us that the present system is working efficiently and satisfactorily.
Do not let us be caught unprepared again. We must change the system now. Nor must any hon. Member think—and here I must part company with the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down—that he can throw his responsibility on to the shoulders of Ministers. We in this House are all responsible to our constituents for the defence of the country, and, indeed, the Home Secretary, speaking only a very few weeks ago, said that we must all share the responsibility of Ministers for the condition of the national defences, because, he said, the country as a whole was anxious that the rearmament programme should not hold up the normal course of trade and business. Of 1189 course, nobody in their senses would wish the rearmament programme to hold up the normal course of trade and business more than is necessary, but the responsibility rested in the past upon Ministers for telling us what was necessary. It now rests upon us, in my submission to the House, to say that, in the light of the experience of the past few weeks, it is necessary to make the change now. We on these benches have, indeed, constantly urged the need for a Ministry of Supply. Do not let the Government be afraid that, if they asked the country to support them in stronger measures to put our defences on a satisfactory footing, they would be refused the powers that they need. We are always being asked to trust foreigners—foreigners whom we do not know, and with whom even the Prime Minister has only a very slight acquaintance. I would say, let the Government trust the British people, and ask them for the powers which are necessary to provide adequate defence. They need not fear the response.
The Government tell us that we shall want a Ministry of Supply in time of war; indeed, they tell us that the plans are all ready for establishing a Ministry of Supply, and that all that is necessary is to press the button. But, they add, to do that now would throw everything into confusion. The transition, they say, from one system to another, would cause, not acceleration, but delay. Then why, in the name of common sense, do it on the outbreak of war? Surely that is the worst moment to choose for such a transition. Do it now. Do it, incidentally, in winter time, when war is much less likely, and when there is a lull in the international situation. Surely every argument shows that the time to press the button is now.
If I am asked what powers I would give the new Minister, I would answer, "Very little at first." The first essential is to bring the responsibility for the Supply of almost all the Defence services under a single Minister. I would have claimed "all the Defence services," but I realise the special position of the Admiralty and how efficient their Supply system works; and whether or not the Admiralty should be excluded would, I recognise, be a matter for detailed discussion. But, in fact, during the War the Admiralty did consent to certain important parts of their Supply being provided by the Ministry of Munitions. Then, 1190 I would say, bring the great industrial leaders and business executives into the heart of the business, in the new Ministry. Have your local committees of industrialists and commercial men in the different centres of the country, surveying the potentialities and possibilities of industry in every part of the country, and being able to link it all up with the main central system of Supply in time of emergency. Then, I would say, give the Minister this power certainly, of insisting on priority for such orders, whether of raw materials or of manufactured produce, as he considers vital for the needs of national Defence. He should have that now; and after that, if he needs more powers when he has had a few weeks' experience of the new Department, let him come to Parliament and I have no doubt that if he makes his case they will be granted.
Shall I be told that this means great interference with our trade and commerce, and would cripple our export trade? My answer to that would be twofold. First, Germany can do it, although she is making a far greater armament effort at the present moment than would be necessary in our case. She has to supply an enormous Continental army. She has to face up to that problem, which the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for the Coordination of Defence was pointing out to us we did not have to face—the problem of providing artillery and shells for a Continental army on a vast scale. In spite of that, she is increasing her export trade at the present time. Secondly, my answer is this: it would not be due to the Ministry if interference took place with our export trade. The Ministry would be largely manned and staffed by men experienced in business and industry, who would be alive to the necessities of our trade and commerce, and would be sensitively anxious not to interfere with it more than was necessary. If there was interference, it would be because we could not get adequate defence without some interference with trade. Although I am afraid not all the doctrines of Adam Smith are as popular, although they are all as sound, as they once were, I believe that the people of this country believe with him that "Defence is more than opulence."
The main danger against which we have to defend ourselves is what was called in the controversies about disarmament six 1191 or seven years ago, the danger of a knockout blow. Therefore, preparations must be made in peace-time for the effective mobilisation of all our resources—not six months, one year, or two years after war starts, but immediately on the outbreak of war. The administrative machinery must be in being in peace-time so that it can be geared up to full speed the moment war breaks out. There is another consideration which fortifies the case for a Ministry of Supply, to which we have made reference in the Amendment on the Paper. Our duty is to see that we get full value for the enormous sums of money which Parliament is voting for Defence. In that speech from which I have already quoted, which was delivered by the Secretary of State for the Home Department a few weeks ago, the right hon. Gentleman said:I deplore this profiteering. We must do our best to prevent it happening again.Of course, he was then referring to the profiteering in the provision of equipment for air-raid precautions. The Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence said that civil defence needs had nothing to do with the argument about the Ministry of Supply—that only the provision of sandbags was affected. But there are a number of other things affected. There is fire hose, for example; and the Estimates Committee of this House discovered that there was a ring among the fire-hose manufacturers, and that the country was being held up to ransom. There are spades, steel helmets, material for lining trenches—all were lacking in the last crisis; and there was profiteering in all. I know the Government do not want to have profiteering, and I am sure that they are doing their best, within the limits of the present system, to prevent it; but it is my conviction that you will not prevent it until you have the control over industry that the establishment of a Ministry of Supply would give. Two years ago we in the Liberal party moved an Amendment to the Address calling upon the Government to adopt the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Manufacture of and Trade in Arms. If those recommendations had been adopted we should have had our Ministry of Supply by now, and effective measures would have been taken to stop profiteering and waste. In the Great War the Ministry of Munitions had a gigantic task 1192 to cut through the growth of profiteering that had sprung up. Give the new Ministry of Supply, which the Government admit will be necessary in time of war, a chance to get a firm grip on this profiteering now, in peace-time.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's (Mr. Cooper), in that part of his speech in which he rather depreciated the case for a Ministry of Supply spoke about it as "a bright idea"; and he used the metaphor of somebody going to an industrial plant and being struck by a bright idea, putting it before the directorate of the company, and being content to abide by their judgment—and so, he said, he was in this case. But this is something more than a mere casual bright idea which has occurred to my hon. Friends and myself and other hon. Members, including the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping. This is an idea the case for which has been argued certainly for three years at least. It is an idea which commands the support of every single right hon. Gentleman who was in charge of the Ministry of Munitions during the last War. Everyone there who had the great responsibility during the War of making the necessary arrangements for supply—the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping, Lord Addison, Lord Mottistone—all, from their great experience of this problem, assert that a Ministry of Supply is necessary, and that it is necessary to bring it into being now, in peace-time.
It may be said that to the cobbler there is nothing like leather. Perhaps to the ex-Ministers of Munitions there is nothing like a Ministry of Supply, but they, too, are supported by an enormous amount of experienced opinion. First of all let me mention Lord Baldwin who, as Prime Minister and Chairman of the Committee of Imperial Defence, was the supreme authority responsible for all those committees, sub-committees, and sub-subcommittees of the Committee of Imperial Defence. He has declared that he would mobilise industry to-morrow, and that, obviously, necessarily implies the adoption of a proposal for a Ministry of Supply. There is Lord Milne, who so recently was Chief of the Imperial General Staff and speaks with a great experience of that position, and since then, I have no 1193 doubt, he has been in close touch with the situation. There is Lord Trenchard with his great experience at the Air Ministry. There is, too, Lord Swinton who was at the head of the Air Ministry as recently as this year. He has recent practical experience of all these difficulties. He declares outspokenly for a Ministry of Supply. The right hon. Gentleman who has just resigned the position of First Lord of the Admiralty has experience which, at any rate, has not brought him to the position of deciding against a Ministry of Supply. Then there is the Secretary of State for War, I must claim him as a supporter whether or not he votes for our Amendment in the Lobby to-night. Speaking at Cardiff, he said:Under our present system nothing can guarantee an appreciable acceleration of the present programme, nor can there be an appreciable enlargement of it in a given time.Therefore, every vote cast to-night against our Amendment will be a vote against acceleration and against the enlargement of a programme which leaves us in an inferiority to Germany in the air. I ask the House, by passing our Amendment to-night, to assert the will and to provide the means which are necessary to defend our honour and freedom.
§ 9.58 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister
Before the right hon. Gentleman began to address us we listened to an eloquent speech from my right hon. Friend the Member for St. George's (Mr. D. Cooper), and I thank him for the very generous reference which he made to myself and to the long association between us in the work of administration, though I must add to them that I do not altogether accept his account of the conclusions which I drew from the Munich Agreement. My right hon. Friend deplored the fact that, owing to the procedure of the House of Commons, it was impossible for supporters of the Government to vote in favour of the Amendment, even though they believed in it, without being disloyal to the Government. As far as the discussion of this Amendment is concerned I deplore that too, because it is quite true that we cannot accept an Amendment to the Address. But I do recognise that, as the Mover of the Amendment began by saying, this is not a question which divides the House on party lines. It is a question of ad- 1194 ministration on which it is quite possible for there to be different opinions without reference to any political or partisan preconceived opinions. It is in that spirit that I have myself considered the question, and it is in that spirit that I want to consider it this evening.
The sole object in the minds of all of us, I think, is to satisfy ourselves that we have got the best machinery for the most speedy completion of our programme of rearmament, but I must say that, while some of the speakers who have advocated the setting up of a Ministry of Supply have informed us that they have built up a powerful case in its support, I myself have failed to find a powerful case in any of the speeches to which I have listened. The Debate has seemed to me, while a great deal has been said about the failure of our existing system to produce the results that hon. Members would have liked to have seen by a particular time, to convince nobody that the setting up of a Ministry of Supply would have produced any better or different results. If one is to form a reliable judgment on this matter one must, I think, analyse rather carefully what you mean by a Ministry of Supply, what purpose would you entrust to it, what scope it should have and what powers should be entrusted to it.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), whose speech, like many others, was more devoted to a criticism of results than to an explanation of how those results might have been avoided by a Ministry of Supply, observed that if only we could have a secret Session he could a tale unfold of various defects which he did not consider it proper to speak of in public. Indeed it we had a secret Session the Government, too, would welcome most warmly the opportunity of telling this House many facts which we did not feel able with propriety to make public, because everybody knows that, though you might call it a secret Session, it could not possibly be secret.
§ The Prime Minister
If anybody has attended meetings of Committees upstairs, as I have done so often, and heard them begin by an observation of the 1195 Chairman that it was understood that no word was to be said in public as to what transpired, he must have known that accounts, accurate or inaccurate, of what has taken place there, have invariably appeared in the Press, if not the same evening at any rate the next morning. Therefore, I am afraid that a secret Session is not a practicable proposition, and we must put up with the disadvantages which necessarily are involved in the fact that we cannot speak to one another without at the same time speaking to the world. Whilst nobody would desire to suggest that the Government should be immune from criticism for anything that they have done or omitted to do, I would say, do not let us hastily assume that the defects, the admitted defects, are the greater part of the picture. Although there may be many things that might be improved, there is a great deal of which we can be thoroughly satisfied and of which we may well be proud in the development of our Defence services.
I must again traverse a remark of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping when he sought to read into this Amendment something very much wider than it contains, and to try and put upon it the interpretation that the Amendment was a test of the Government's earnestness in its desire to prosecute the work of Defence. That is a fantastic interpretation to put upon the Amendment. Surely, the Government's earnestness of purpose cannot be in question. We, more than anybody, must know what our weaknesses are, and must know what risks and dangers we run so long as those deficiencies are not made good. We, who have to be responsible for the safety of the country, must surely, before all, be anxious to take every measure that we can think of to make good what is wrong, to accelerate where it is necessary and to complete it as soon as possible.
My right hon. Friend was kind enough to pay some compliments to His Majesty's Ministers. I gather that he laid special weight, as one would expect from him, upon the fact that they have a general hold upon Conservative principles, but he said that if he were asked whether he had confidence in them, he must answer both "yes" and "no." I have the greatest admiration for my right hon. Friend's many brilliant qualities. He 1196 shines in every direction. I remember once asking a Dominion statesman, who held high office for a great number of years, what in his opinion was the most valuable quality a statesman could possess. His answer was, judgment. If I were asked whether judgment is the first of my right hon. Friend's many admirable qualities I should have to ask the House of Commons not to press me too far.
In considering the subject of the Amendment, I think the first question that we have to ask ourselves is, what could a Ministry of Supply give us that we have not got now? When I turn to the Amendment for guidance I find there two things mentioned which, presumably, are what hon. and right hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite think are the advantages that we should get from a Ministry of Supply. The first is efficiency. That is a very wide term. Perhaps I might interpret it as meaning less delay and greater output. The second is the avoidance of waste and profiteering. Those are the only two purposes that are specified in the Amendment. But there is a third, which is often mentioned, and which was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair). He suggested that a Ministry of Supply would control materials and the allocation of priorities. I think that completes the list of the advantages which are proposed to be obtained by setting up a Ministry of Supply. I should like to take them in turn and see what they really mean.
I begin with priority. I wonder whether hon. Members have a very clear idea of what happens now about priorities. Of course, there are priorities of different kinds. There are broad questions of priority, questions as between supplies for one Service or another, between the Navy and the Army, and between the Army and the Air Force. Again, there may be questions of priority between arms of a somewhat similar character but used for different purposes by the same Department. As an instance of that I might mention the supply of guns for anti-aircraft purposes or field guns for the Army. These priorities are settled in the Committee of Imperial Defence. I think the House is already aware that in the case of guns full priority has been given to anti-aircraft guns, which are recognised as being of 1197 more urgent importance than the rearming of the Army with field guns. Then you come to what I might call the lesser priorities, where you are dealing with what I think the right hon. Gentleman had in mind, that is to say, the supplies of materials and parts of a finished article which are wanted by more than one Department at the same time, or alternatively which might be wanted either by the Government for armament purposes or for trade and industrial purposes. Then the necessity for the allocation of priorities depends on one thing, and that is whether there is a shortage of the supplies or not. If there is no shortage there is no need to allocate priorities, and, as a matter of fact, I will tell the House that up to the present we have not been faced with any shortage in these various supplies. If we were, then the procedure would be the same as it is now in the case of another question of priority—namely, priority in labour. There may be only a certain reserve of a particular kind of skilled labour which is required by more than one Department. Without some allocation of priorities one Department may get the whole supply and leave the other bare.
What happens in that case? I have on a previous occasion told the House about the Principal Supply Officers Committee. If a Department finds itself short of some particular kind of labour because that labour is being taken by another Department, it can come to that committee and make its representations. There was a case of this kind only a few days ago. The Air Ministry complained that there was a shortage of welders, who were being taken by the Admiralty. The two Departments put their heads together and in a very short time they were able to come to an agreement as to the allocation of the supply of labour for this purpose. If the two Departments had not been able to agree, we had this organisation set up which has the power to make the allocation. Therefore, I hope the House will understand that really this question of priorities is adequately dealt with now and that there is nothing that a Ministry of Supply could give us which would in any way facilitate the progress of rearmament so far as it has been retarded by any difficulty about priorities. The right hon. Member for Epping gave an example. He said that he would give a Ministry of Supply power to go to the cycle industry 1198 and demand of them that they should give up one-third of their manufacturing capacity—
§ The Prime Minister
It does not matter whether it was one-half or one-third—for the purpose of some armament work. It was not a very happy instance, because the machinery which is useful for making cycles is not useful as it stands for any armament work we have to do. All you can ask a cycle factory to do would be to clear out its machinery and put in the machinery we want, and, not at once but gradually, train the labour which has been accustomed to making cycles to the making of the new article. The right hon. Gentleman says that they would proudly undertake that work. I am not prepared to say that they would not undertake the work because, in fact, our experience has been that whenever we have found that commercial work was interfering with the progress of our rearmament work, and have made representations to that effect, we have always been met by a readiness and a willingness on the part of the firms to sacrifice their interests to that extent, and to adapt themselves to the needs of the country. But I think it is a good plan in peace time that we should never attempt to take by force that which we can get by agreement and good will. That is the rule by which we have hitherto been guided. When the right hon. Gentleman quoted me a little while ago as saying that it would be time enough to talk about a Ministry of Munitions when we found that we could no longer get what we wanted by voluntary agreement, of course I meant in that case a Ministry of Munitions which would be armed with the powers to take by force what we had been unable to get by agreement. I confess frankly that I see no necessity to take such powers at the present time, and if we do not require the powers, then I think it would be a great pity to try to take them.
I come now to the question of waste and profiteering. I wonder why it should be assumed that the mere setting up of a Ministry of Supply would put an end to profiteering, if profiteering is taking place now. I think that many of those who have been talking of a Ministry of Supply have been thinking in terms of the Ministry of Munitions during the War. 1199 I think that is a mistake, because conditions now are very different from what they were then. But did the Ministry of Munitions put an end to profiteering? I seem to remember many alleged cases of profiteering being done on a stupendous scale during the War, and certainly when the War was over we did see wealth appearing in unexpected quarters, a fact which a large number of people attributed to operations carried on during the War in the manufacture of munitions.
§ The Prime Minister
I was a manufacturer at that time, and I saw something from the other side. Although the Ministry of Munitions did its best to check profiteering, I know from my own knowledge that excessive profits—I do not say profiteering, because I do not want to use a word which carries a particular significance-were made. We have profited now by the experience of the Ministry of Munitions, and the system which is in force to-day is far more effective than anything which was applied at the time of the Great War. Let me remind the House once more that these arrangements which are now in force were very carefully investigated by a Select Committee of the House in 1937. This is what they said:The Committee are satisfied that the methods followed are soundly conceived and are fair both to the taxpayer and to the contractor, and they are of opinion, so far as an estimate can be formed, that they have been effective up to date in preventing profiteering at the taxpayer's expense.
§ The Prime Minister
When the hon. Member sees anything in the newspapers, he says "Why does not the House of Commons look into it?" When a Select Committee of the House of Commons inquires into it, then the hon. Member prefers the newspapers.
§ The Prime Minister
The report to which I have just referred was made in 1937, but they re-examined the matter in the following year and in their report, which was published on 11th July last, they say: 1200Your Committee thought it advisable to examine the subsequent experience of the Defence Departments and the Treasury in the light of the first report of the Estimates Committee of 1937. Nothing that has since transpired suggests to them that it is necessary now to add to the recommendations in that report.… Your Committee are glad to learn that manufacturers and contractors in general have shown themselves ready to cooperate fully with the Government Departments in the steps considered necessary. The three Defence Departments and the Treasury appear to be fully alive to the importance of keeping a continuous and detailed watch upon costs and profits and of improving and strengthening their methods, as experience dictates.In view of that testimony of the Select Committee, I submit to the House that there is no reason to suppose that you could improve upon the present arrangements merely by transferring them to a Ministry of Supply. Let me come to what I think is the most important of the three purposes which I have described, namely, efficiency. When we come to the question of efficiency we must begin to consider what powers it is suggested that this Ministry of Supply should have. There seems to be a wide divergence of views as to the proper powers to give to that Ministry. The Leader of the Opposition on 1st November said that he arid his friends did not accept for a moment the idea that it was necessary to have compulsory powers. But that was not at all the view of the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), because he said on 25th May that in his view a Ministry of Supply should have the same powers as the Ministry of Munitions, over all stages and processes of manufacture, from design at one end in inspection, testing and delivery on the other. Those are very wide powers, indeed, but as I understood the Leader of the Opposition to-day his present view is that the Ministry should have those powers—he will tell me if I am not stating correctly what he said—but that there would be no need to use them.
§ Mr. Attlee
I was pointing out that, as a matter of fact, the Ministry of Munitions did not have compulsory powers in regard to labour. I was referring, to a speech made by a very experienced man, Lord Addison, in the other place, in which he explained just what powers they had and how far compulsion was necessary, and I was pointing out that in peace time we did not need very wide compulsory powers.
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman is mistaken as to the powers which the Ministry of Munitions had. What powers it used is quite a different matter, but it did have very full powers over labour, as I have mentioned on previous occasions—powers of dealing with strikes, dilution and a number of other questions. It is my point that we do not in peace time desire to use such powers, because what we desire to do is exactly what I understood the right hon. Gentleman wanted us to do, namely, that we should make our arrangements with the voluntary agreement of the trade unions so far as labour was concerned. The Leader of the Opposition spoke as if we had held the trade unions at arm's length, but I can assure him that that is not so. It is true that we have not read reports of meetings between the trade unions and the Government taking place continually in London, but that is because that is not really the most convenient way of dealing with these matters. These questions of the best use of labour for the purpose of armaments are local questions, and they are left to be decided between local employers and local trade unions, and so far I think those arrangements have worked extremely well. We have no reason to complain of any unwillingness to co-operate on the part of either side. I am not saying that if you had actual powers over them, you could not get your reserves more quickly than you can if you have to talk things over, but whether the results would be equally satisfactory is quite a different matter. In my opinion, they would not.
Therefore, I think we must take it that the Ministry of Supply which the majority of Members are advocating is to be a Ministry of Supply without the powers of the Ministry of Munitions, a Ministry which has got to work exactly as we work now, by conciliation and by agreement. If that be so, we may get the difficulty put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping, who did desire that the Ministry of Supply should have power even over labour, at any rate over firms. May I point out to him that a power of that kind, used afterwards to direct one particular firm or one group of firms and to put them in conditions which certainly would be very injurious to them from the point of view of trade, while others were left untouched, would be one which would certainly be a 1202 source of continual friction, and I submit again to the House that until you find that you cannot get what you want with the willingness and co-operation of firms in the work of rearmament without such powers, it is very much better not to take them.
Then let me assume that this Ministry of Supply is not a Ministry armed with special powers, but that it has to carry on its work in the same way as it is carried on by the Service Departments at present, but that it has to take out of the Service Departments the whole business of supply. When you work on that assumption, you very speedily have to go a step further, and you have to consider the question of design. May I take the hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter), whose speech I unfortunately did not have the pleasure of hearing to-day, but if he spoke in the same sense as the article which I read in a newspaper this morning, he has faced the question very boldly. He is prepared to take design out of the hands of the Service Departments and put it into the hands of the Ministry of Supply.
§ Sir A. Salter
What I said was that the Minister of Supply would press for the elimination of types, that he would then accept the designs for each of those types that the fighting Services desired, and that he would then arrange for their supply by standardised methods as far as possible, but I did not suggest that he should take the designs away from the Departments.
§ The Prime Minister
The hon. Member will find that his distinction is not a real one. Indeed, the hon. Member who moved the Amendment really took the same view as the hon. Member for Oxford University. He complained of the number of types of aircraft, and if there was any logic in his argument what he had in mind was that if there was a Ministry of Supply you would immediately cut down the number of types. What does that mean but putting into the hands of a Ministry of Supply the question of design of aircraft? I venture to say that the only person who can satisfactorily decide on what is the proper relation between the number of aircraft and their efficiency is the Air Minister, as advised by his technical advisers. Does anybody really suppose that a Minister of Supply 1203 can be the authority for the standardisation of destroyers, tanks and aircraft? Those who have seen this difficulty have suggested that it is to be got over by associating with the Ministry of Supply some representatives from each Service Department. If that means anything, it means only that you are pushing the question of the decision about design one stage further back. You would have two people to consult instead of one. Surely that must mean that there must be a delay in design, and of all delays in an armaments programme, delay in design is the worst.
§ Mr. Attlee
Was not that precisely what was done in the War? As a matter of fact, design was transferred to the Ministry of Munitions. Representatives of the Service Departments were in the design department there, and they did not have these delays. The opinion of those who ran it was that it was the only way it could be done.
§ The Prime Minister
We have to remember we are not in the same condition as in the Great War. In the first place, the Admiralty were outside the Ministry of Munitions. They were only inside for certain small items in Royal Ordnance Factories, but for the design of ships, and the getting of ships, guns and equipment, they were outside the Ministry of Munitions altogether. The greater demands upon the Ministry of Munitions during the War were for the Army, and that condition is not likely to be reproduced if another war should occur. We are in a very different position now, and I would like to remind the House of the view of the Committee known as the Weir Committee, which was set up in 1922 under Lord Melchett, who was succeeded in the chairmanship by Lord Weir. They were given the following terms of reference:To make definite proposals for amalgamating as far as possible the common services of the Navy, Army, and Air Force, such as intelligence, supply, transport, education, medical, chaplains, and any other overlapping departments, in order to reduce the cost of the present triplication.They said in their report:In the case of all highly technical requirements and even in regard to requirements of a more common nature, the user and the technical authority must be most intimately associated; so closely in fact that no definite line can be drawn between them. For example, almost all the members of the 1204 Board of Admiralty are immediately concerned with the technical details of a warship. The chief of the Air Staff must retain the right to alter or modify the material involved in a contract for aeroplanes, and, similarly, the Master General of Ordnance, while responsible for the design and supply of a fighting tank, must necessarily conform in his everyday work to the policy of the General Staff … A single Supply Department under any one authority, having on its council as members the Third and Fourth Sea Lords, the Quarter Master General and Master General of Ordnance, the Director-General of Aircraft Supply and Research, representing the users, together with the heads of branches of the supply departments, would suffer severely on account of the dual responsibility of the Service members. We are of opinion that an amalgamation and co-ordination of supply could only be a practical proposition as a concomitant part of a Ministry which controlled a defence force in which the identity of the naval, military and air services had been merged.That brings us very close to the point of view of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who said that he had always been in favour of a Ministry of Defence and had always regarded a Ministry of Supply as an essential part of it, and this appears to be, in the opinion of this very expert Committee, two parts of a single whole.
§ Mr. Attlee
The right hon. Gentleman will recollect that that Committee was appointed under the express provision that no major war was to be expected for 10 years, and that part of the line on which they worked was reduction to a very small force. It was not an expansion period like the present.
§ The Prime Minister
The general principle was laid down in the Report which I have just read to the House. I may also remind the House that when the Ministry of Munitions was established it was at first thought that the Government's consideration was to keep the designer and the user in one department, and that the supply function only should be transferred to another department, but in practice it was found that such an arrangement could not work. The interference with supply and its retardation were so serious that supply could not be carried out properly unless design was associated with the same Ministry, and that change was very soon made. Therefore, as the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland plainly saw, I think, design, inspection and supply must all go together. If you are going to transfer to a Ministry of Supply, then you are going to separate design 1205 from the user of that design, and thereby you must create very grave difficulties, and I think one must be satisfied that there are real and substantial advantages to counteract them before that is done.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
Would these difficulties apply to war time, because we are told it is the policy of the Government to create a Ministry of Supply in war?
§ The Prime Minister
I was coming to that point, but I will deal with it now, as the right hon. Gentleman has raised it. It is quite true that we had plans made for the setting up of a Ministry of Supply in war, but I do not think we ever committed ourselves to the view that the moment war started we should press a button and the Ministry would immediately come into being. It would be possible to do it whenever we thought the circumstances demanded it, but I rather agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the considerations I am putting before the House against a Ministry of Supply, in view of the great developments that have taken place in the organisation of the Services, do make it doubtful whether, on the outbreak of war at any rate, one would desire to make a great and sudden change in the situation.
I want to deal with one other point which was made by the right hon. Gentleman. He spoke as though one of the objections which have been made to a Minister of Supply was that he would interfere with our export trade. That is not, I think, an accurate statement. Interference with export trade does not necessarily arise out of the appointment of a Minister of Supply. It all depends what he is going to do. Of course, if he has power, and exercises the power to put a stop to all commerce in the country, and turns every factory into a munitions works, then he is going to interfere with export trade; but I think the right hon. Gentleman would agree that we do not want to do that until we are sure that it is absolutely necessary. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence has said this afternoon that we have already interfered very considerably with export trade, but that we have not done so more than could be avoided. We may have to do it still more in the future, but do not let the right hon. Gentleman run away with the idea that we consider that the setting up of a Minister of Supply necessarily means that he would have 1206 those powers or that he would have to turn the whole country into a munitions factory.
I think it is agreed that even if a Minister were set up he would not have to deal with the Admiralty. The Admiralty would be left outside and that is, I think, natural, because the requirements of the Admiralty are highly specialised. Their needs are filled by a limited number of firms who have had a long experience in the work and who can be trusted, from their close connection with the Admiralty over so many years, to know exactly what is wanted. It can hardly be said that that arrangement could be bettered. Broadly speaking, it may be said that the aircraft industry is also highly specialised and one that does not compete with the other Services. There has been a suggestion that now that the work of the Air Ministry is expanding at such a rapid rate it is not to be expected that men who have been simply trained in the Air Service should be able to get a grasp of the methods of business production which are current to-day in well-equipped concerns. Anyone who makes that objection cannot be aware of the changes that have been made by my right hon. Friend in the organisation of air staffs. We have got now a considerable number of business men actually in the Air Ministry.
For instance, there is a Director-General of Production, assisted by a Deputy-Director, who has under him a Director of Aeronautical Inspection, on one side, and on the other a series of directors who are responsible for various aspects of aircraft production. There is a Director of Air-Frame Production, another of engine production, another of armaments and equipment production, another director is responsible for raw materials and another for a new departure in connection with sub-contracting. A sixth is responsible for the general supervision of all Air Ministry factories. Then, outside of those main production directors, there is a director of war planning, who is responsible for plans for meeting the war requirements of the Air Force, and a director who is responsible for co-ordination and who will have general charge of seeing that the components that are required for a complete aeroplane are delivered at the right place in right quantities and at the right time. Those directors are nearly 1207 all business men who have been brought in from outside. They are people who understand, from personal experience and from their life histories, the very latest processes of production and who are thoroughly competent to see that production is speeded up and carried out in an efficient manner. Besides that, of course, production has been organised in such a way as to secure the full benefit of full production from the outset and so that a number of firms can all concentrate on the same type of aeroplane.
In the War Office there has been a somewhat similar although not so elaborate reorganisation. The criticisms that have been made about the production, for example, of anti-aircraft guns are not criticisms of the Supply Committee. Really, they are criticisms of the policy of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping said that we ought to have ordered thousands of guns long ago. Perhaps he is right, but that is not the business of a Ministry of Supply. It is the Government who have to decide what guns are to be ordered. If there has been a mistake it is not the mistake of not having a Ministry of Supply; it has been the mistake of not realising soon enough the necessity for some of those armaments—[Interruption]—a necessity which has been so prominent in the minds, speeches and votes of hon. Members opposite.
Once the 4.5 gun was decided upon it is really not true that there was undue delay in its production. Hon. Members must remember that the design was only approved in December last year and, when you consider that we had to get a new factory and new machinery, and had to train labour in this very special kind of work, I do not think it is a bad record to have got the factory into production and to be turning out these guns at the rate at which we are turning them out today. My right hon. Friend was very indignant about the fact related by the Secretary of State for War that we would have had more guns in place recently if it had not been for the failure of a particular firm. That is really one of those accidents that happen in the best regulated families. This particular firm was making dials for the guns. A comparatively small number had to be made. Of course, the steps that were taken as soon as it was known that the firm was going 1208 to cease production were immediate to find an alternative source of supply. I do not think a Minister of Supply could have done any better. It was unfortunate that this gap occurred at that particular moment, but I can assure the House that it was very speedily filled and it was only an accident that it happened at that particular moment.
There are other things that I should like to put before the House if I had a little more time to show how in fact it would be altogether a mistake to paint a picture of inefficiency either in industry or in the main Service Departments, but let me say this, that the original programme was a long-term programme and a flexible programme. Over and over again we have stated that, as conditions change—and no one will deny that they have changed—we shall have to modify our programme from time to time. The original programme, broadly speaking, has been attained. If the modifications have not been completed, that is because, at the time when we began, conditions were different and we have had to alter our programme to meet alterations elsewhere. But already I think the House must realise that we are not far away from that sum, approaching £1,500,000,000, which is what we originally spoke of in February last year. The most striking instance is the case of the Air Ministry, to which I think rightly hon. Members attach more importance than they do to the work of the other Departments, which has grown from £27,000,000 in 1935 to something like £200,000,000 next year, so that the 1939 figure will be 12 times what was the level of our Air Estimates in the years 1929 to 1934 and double the total of our Defence expenditure in 1932–3. An increase of £80,000,000 in a single year, which has come upon a succession of previous increases, is more than the whole Defence Estimates in 1913–14.
When hon. Members speak of not getting value for money, they must remember that it is always a long time before a building rises above the hoarding that surrounds it, when men are excavating foundations and doing work which is a necessary preliminary to the ensuing construction. In May next, the rate of output of our aircraft will be between two and three times what it was in May last, and by May, 1940, it will be four times as great. And I can tell 1209 the House that arrangements have been made which will enable the increase to be continued still further.
My right hon. Friend put two questions to me. He asked, Is our present system sound? I believe it is. He also asked, Is our present system succeeding? Yes, Sir; in spite of some delays, disappointments and checks, it is in my opinion succeeding. Finally, he asked, Is there not anything that we can do to improve it? I agree with my right hon. Friend that we must never stop trying to improve, and I have been trying to think whether, short of a Ministry of Supply—which, on its merits, I have come to the conclusion is not justified—there is anything we can do to improve our present arrangements. It has been clear to me, listening to the speeches here, that there is a certain impression among hon. Members that, by the ordinary working of human nature, a Minister in charge of a Department would naturally try to defend his own failures, or his failure to get all the results he has expected, and that perhaps sufficient attention is not always paid in Departments to the necessity of removing all causes of delay. I do not accept that view myself, but I think it is important that the public should have confidence, and I am, therefore, in conjunction with my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, arranging for another Advisory Committee of business men, independent of any Depart-
§ ment to whom a firm can come if they feel that their work is being held up by something which they think is unnecessary, or that too much attention is being paid to routine or red tape, and they will he able to call the attention of this Advisory Committee to what they consider to be the fault. The responsibility for correcting the fault must remain with the Service Minister, who is responsible to this House.
§ I undertake that, if that Committee feel that not sufficient attention is being paid to any representations that they may make to the Service Minister, there shall be a direct right of access to the Prime Minister. That will apply, not only to firms who have contracts and feel that they are not getting the opportunity of carrying out those contracts with due speed, but also to other firms who feel that they ought to have contracts, or could have contracts, and do not get them. They, too, will have the right to go to this Committee and lay their case before it, and then the Committee will be the judge whether their case is good. I believe that in that way something may be done to correct any impression that due attention is not paid to these matters, and I believe that it will be better than setting up a Ministry of Supply.
§ Question put, "That those words be there added."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 130, Noes, 326.1213
|Division No. 3.]||AYES.||[11.0 p.m.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Evans, D O. (Cardigan)||Kelly, W. T.|
|Adamson, Jennie L. (Dartford)||Evans, E. (Univ. of Wales)||Kirby, B. V.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||Kirkwood, D.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Foot, D. M.||Lathan, G.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Frankel, D.||Lawson, J. J.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Gallacher, W.||Leach, W.|
|Banfield, J. W.||Gardner, B. W.||Lee, F.|
|Barnes, A. J.||Garro Jones, G. M.||Leslie, J. R.|
|Batey, J.||George, Major, G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Lunn, W.|
|Bellenger, F. J.||Graham, D. M. (Hamilton)||Macdonald, G. (Ince)|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W.||Green, W. H. (Deptford)||McEntee, V. La T.|
|Benson, G.||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A||Maclean, N.|
|Bevan, A.||Grenfell, D. R.||Macmillan, H. (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|Bracken, B.||Griffith, F. Kingsley(M'ddl'sbro, W.)||MacNeill Weir, L.|
|Brown, C. (Mansfield)||Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Mainwaring, W. H.|
|Cape, T.||Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Mander, G. le. M.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Groves, T. E.||Marshall, F.|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S.||Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Mathers, G.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Milner, Major J.|
|Cooks, F. S.||Hayday, A.||Montague, F.|
|Collindridge, F.||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)|
|Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)|
|Daggar, G||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Muff, G.|
|Dalton, H.||Hollins, A.||Nathan, Colonel H. L.|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Hopkin, D.||Naylor, T. E.|
|Day, H.||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Oliver, G. H.|
|Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)||Owen, Major, G.|
|Ede, J. C.||John, W.||Parker, J.|
|Parkinson, J. A.||Shinwell, E.||Walkden, A. G.|
|Pearson, A.||Silkin, L.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.||Silverman, S. S.||Welsh, J. C.|
|Price, M. P.||Simpson, F. B.||Westwood, J.|
|Pritt, D. N.||Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)||White, H. Graham|
|Quibell, D. J. K.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)||Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)|
|Rathbone, Eleanor (English Univ's.)||Smith, E. (Stoke)||Wilkinson, Ellen|
|Richards, R. (Wrexham)||Smith, T. (Normanton)||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Ridley, G.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-ls-Sp'ng)||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Riley, B.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Ritson, J.||Summerskill, Dr. Edith||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)||Thurtle, E.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Salter, Sir J. Arthur (Oxford U.)||Tinker, J. J.||Sir Hugh Seely and Sir Percy|
|Sanders, W. S.||Tomlinson, G.||Harris.|
|Sexton, T. M.||Viant, S. P.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Cooper, Rt. Hn. A. Duff (W'st'r S. G'gs)||Gunston, Capt. Sir D. W.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G.||Courtauld, Major J. S.||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Sir D. H.|
|Albery, Sir Irving||Courthope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L.||Hammersley, S. S.|
|Alexander, Brig.-Gen. Sir W.||Cox, Trevor||Hannah, I. C.|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. L. C. M. S.||Cranborne, Viscount||Hannon, Sir P. J. H.|
|Anderson, Sir A. Garrett(C. of Ldn.)||Craven-Ellis, W.||Harbord, A.|
|Anderson, Rt. Hn, Sir J. (Sc'h Univ's)||Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page||Harvey, Sir G|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Crooke, Sir J. Smedley||Haslam, H. C. (Horncastle)|
|Apsley, Lord||Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.||Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Cross, R. H.||Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.|
|Astor, Viscountess (Plymouth, Sutton)||Crowder, J. F. E.||Hely-Hutchinson, M. R.|
|Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.)||Cruddas, Col, B.||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.|
|Baillie, Sir A. W. M.||Culverwell, C. T.||Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan-|
|Balfour, G. (Hampstead)||Davidson, Viscountess||Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)||Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)||Higgs, W. F.|
|Balniel, Lord||Davison, Sir W. H.||Hoare, Rt. Hon. Sir S.|
|Barclay-Harvey, Sir C. M.||De Chair, S. S.||Hogg, Hon. Q. McG.|
|Barrie, Sir C. C.||De La Bère, R.||Holdsworth, H.|
|Baxter, A. Beverley||Denman, Hon. R. D.||Holmes, J. S.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Denville, Alfred||Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.|
|Beauchamp, Sir B. C.||Despencer-Robertson, Major J. A. F.||Hore-Belisha, Rt. Hon. L.|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm h)||Dodd, J. S.||Horsbrugh, Florence|
|Beechman, N. A.||Doland, G. F.||Howitt, Dr. A. B.|
|Bennett, Sir E. N.||Donner, P. W.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)|
|Bernays, R. H.||Dorman-Smith, Major Sir R. H.||Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southpert)|
|Blair, Sir R.||Dower, Major A. V. G.||Hulbert, N. J.|
|Blaker, Sir R.||Duckworth, Arthur(Shrewsbury)||Hume, Sir G. H.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side)||Hunloke, H. P.|
|Boulton, W. W.||Dugdale, Captain T. L.||Hunter, T.|
|Bower, Comdr. R. T.||Duggan, H. J.||Hurd, Sir P. A.|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Duncan, J. A. L.||Hutchinson, G. C.|
|Braithwaite, Major A. N.||Dunglass, Lord||Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir T. W. H.|
|Brass, Sir W.||Eastwood, J. F.||James, Wing-Commander A. W. H.|
|Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Eckersley, P. T.||Jarvis, Sir J. J.|
|Broadbridge, Sir G. T.||Eden Rt. Hon. A.||Joel, D. J. B.|
|Brocklebank, Sir Edmund||Edmondson, Major Sir J.||Jones, L. (Swansea W.)|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)||Elliot Rt. Hon. W. E.||Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)|
|Browne, A. C (Belfast, W.)||Ellis, Sir G.||Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.)|
|Bull, B. B.||Elliston, Capt. O. S.||Knox, Major-General Sir A. W. F.|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Emery, J. F.||Lambert, Rt. Hon. G.|
|Burghley, Lord||Emmott, C. E. G. C.||Latham, Sir P.|
|Burgin, Rt. Hon, E. L||Entwistle, Sir C. F.||Law, Sir A. J.(High peak)|
|Butcher, H. W.||Errington, E.||Leech, Sir J. W.|
|Butler, R. A.||Everard, W. L.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.|
|Caine, G. R. Hall-||Fildes, Sir H.||Levy, T.|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Findlay, Sir E.||Lewis, O.|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Fleming, E. L.||Liddall, W. S.|
|Cartland, J. R. H.||Fremantle, Sir F. E.||Lindsay, K. M|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Fyfe, D. P. M||Lipson, D. L.|
|Cary, R. A.||Gibson, Sir C. G. (Pudsey and Otley)||Little, Sir E. Graham-|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Llewellin, Colonel J. J.|
|Cayzer, Sir H. R. (Portsmouth, S.)||Gluckstein, L. H.||Lloyd, G. W.|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C.||Loftus, P. C.|
|Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)||Gower, Sir R. V.||Lyons, A. M.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. N. (Edgb't'n)||Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral)||MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.|
|Channon, H.||Grant-Ferris, R.||M'Connell, Sir J.|
|Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Granville, E. L.||MeCorquodale, M. S.|
|Chapman, Sir S. (Edinburgh, S.)||Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. M. (Rees)|
|Chorlton, A. E. L.||Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J.||Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight)|
|Clarke, Colonel R. S. (E. Grinstead)||Gridley, Sir A. B.||McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.|
|Clarry, Sir Reginald||Grimston, R. V.||McKie, J. H.|
|Colman, N. C. D.||Gritten, W. G. Howard||Maclay, Hon. J. P.|
|Conant, Captain R. J. E.||Guest, Lieut.-Colonel H. (Drake)||Macnamara, Major J. R. J.|
|Cook, Sir T. R. A. M. (Norfolk N.)||Guest, Maj. Hon. O. (C'mb'rw'll, N. W.)||Macquiston, F. A.|
|Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Guinness, T. L. E. B.||Magnay, T.|
|Maitland, A.||Reid, Sir D. D. (Down)||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F|
|Makins, Brigadier-General Sir Ernest||Reid, W. Allan (Derby)||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Manningham-Buller, Sir M.||Remer, J. R.||Tasker, Sir R. I.|
|Marsden, Commander A.||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)||Tate, Mavis C.|
|Mason, Lt.-Col. Hon. G. K. M.||Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Maxwell, Hon. S. A.||Ropner, Colonel L.||Thomson, Sir J. D. W.|
|Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Rosbotham, Sir T.||Thorneycroft, G. E. P.|
|Meller, Sir R. J. (Mitcham)||Ross, Major Sir R. D. (Londonderry)||Titchfield, Marquess of|
|Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)||Touche, G. C.|
|Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Rowlands, G.||Train, Sir J.|
|Mitchell, H. (Brentford and Chiswick)||Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.||Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.|
|Mitcheson, Sir G. G.||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Moore, Lieut.-Col. Sir T. C. R.||Russell, Sir Alexander||Turton, R. H.|
|Moreing, A. C.||Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)||Wakefield, W. W.|
|Morgan, R. H.||Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)||Walker-Smith, Sir J.|
|Morris, J. P. (Salford, N.)||Salmon, Sir I.||Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan|
|Morris, O. T. (Cardiff, E.)||Salt, E. W.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Morris-Jones, Sir Henry||Samuel, M. R. A.||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)|
|Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)||Sandeman, Sir N. S.||Warrender, Sir V.|
|Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)||Sanderson, Sir F. B.||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Munro, P.||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir P.||Watt, Major G. S. Harvie|
|Nall, Sir J.||Scott, Lord William||Wayland, Sir W. A.|
|Nicholson, G. (Farnham)||Selley, H. R.||Wedderburn, H. J. S.|
|Nicolson, Hon. H. G||Shakespeare, G. H.||Wells, Sir Sydney|
|O'Connor, Sir Terence J.||Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)||Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)|
|Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)||Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|Palmer, G. E. H.||Shepperson, Sir E. W.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Peake, O.||Simmonds, O. E.||Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Peters, Dr. S. J.||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Petherick, M.||Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's U. B'lf'st)||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir A. T. (Hitchin)|
|Pilkington, R.||Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut. Colonel G.|
|Plugge. Capt. L. F.||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Ponsonby, Col. C. E.||Smith, Sir Louis (Hallam)||Wise, A. R.|
|Pownall, Lt. -Col. Sir Assheton||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)||Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount|
|Prooter, Major H. A.||Smithers, Sir W.||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Radford, E. A.||Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir Donald||Wood, Hon. C. I. C.|
|Raikes, H. V. A. M.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)||Wood. Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.||Southby, Commander Sir A. R. O.||Wragg, H.|
|Ramsbotham, H.||Spens, W. P.||Wright, Wing-Commander J. A. C.|
|Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'ld)||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Rawson, Sir Cooper||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Rayner, Major R. H.||Stourton, Major Hon. J. J.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Reed, A. C. (Exeter)||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)||Captain Margesson and Mr.|
|Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)||Strickland, Captain W. F.||Furness.|
|Reid, Captain A. Cunningham||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-(N'thw'h)|
Main Question put, and agreed to.
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.
§ To be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of His Majesty's Household.