HC Deb 20 April 1939 vol 346 cc496-9
46. Mr. White

asked the Prime Minister whether he is now in a position to make any further statement with regard to the policy of His Majesty's Government in relation to a Ministry of Supply?

The Prime Minister

His Majesty's Government have decided that a Bill should be introduced as soon as possible to set up a Ministry of Supply under a Minister who will be a member of the Cabinet. The Bill introduced to give effect to this decision will be so framed as to enable a Ministry of Supply in the full sense to be set up. For the time being, however, the scope of the new Ministry will be confined by administrative action to the following matters:

  1. "(1) It will deal with the problems of Army Supply, considerably expanded as they have been by the recent decisions to increase the strength of the Army;
  2. (2) The Ministry will take over responsibility for certain stores of general user which the War Office at present already supplies to other Government Departments, including certain Civil Defence requirements. It is intended that this system should be progressively extended as found desirable;
  3. (3) The new Ministry will also take over responsibility for the acquisition and maintenance of the reserves of essential metals and other raw materials required in connection with the Defence programmes."
The branches to be transferred from the War Office to the new Ministry will include the branches responsible for research, design and experiment, production and inspection, and the Royal Ordnance Factories.

The Bill to be laid before Parliament will, among other things, include provisions designed to secure priority for Government orders.

It is proposed to establish a Ministerial Priority Committee on the lines of the committee which towards the end of the last War performed the duty of settling questions of priority resulting from demands from the several Services.

With the approval of the King, I am able to announce that the Minister in charge of the new Department will be my right hon. Friend the present Minister of Transport.

Mr. Attlee

Why is it not proposed to extend the activities of the Ministry of Supply so as to deal with other Departments than the War Office, seeing that it was the question especially of the rivalry between the Departments on priority schemes which was dealt with by the Ministry of Munitions in the War, and which caused so much trouble until the Ministry of Munitions was set up?

The Prime Minister

The reason is that at present the arrangements for supply in the case of the Admiralty and the Air Force are working extremely well, and it is felt that to interfere with those arrangements at the present time might have the effect of reducing rather than increasing output. But, as I have explained, the powers in the proposed Bill will enable a Ministry of Supply, in the full sense, to be set up if at any time we think it desirable.

Mr. Attlee

Will the Title and scope of the Bill be such that this House will be able, if it so desires, to extend it by Amendment, in order that it shall cover the full provision of a Ministry of Supply which has been urged so often from all parts of the House?

The Prime Minister

Yes, I think it will.

Mr. White

Why will not the Minister of Supply under this Bill, have a general power of deciding priority for the three Services from the start?

The Prime Minister

It is necessary, I think, to have a superior authority. In the first instance, this Minister will be particularly concerned with Army supplies, so it is necessary to have a superior authority to attend to the needs of other Departments.

Mr. H. Morrison

Is it intended that the Minister of Transport should continue to hold his present office, as well as the new office; and is it proposed to protect the needs of local authorities as to their requirements in relation to Civil Defence?

The Prime Minister

In reply to the first part of the question, obviously the Minister of Supply could not also carry on the duties of Minister of Transport. I said, "the present Minister of Transport." I meant to imply by that that he would have to give up that office. With regard to the second point, that, no doubt, will be kept in mind.

Mr. E. Smith

Seeing that the question of production is at stake, can the Prime Minister give an assurance that, before anything is done that will affect the men's conditions, the appropriate organisations will be consulted?

The Prime Minister

Perhaps we had better discuss that when the Bill is before the House.

Mr. H. G. Williams

Is it intended to set up in the new Ministry a priority committee similar in character to that which operated at the Ministry of Munitions?

The Prime Minister

If my hon. Friend will be good enough to await the Bill, that will be the time to discuss all those matters.

Mr. Williams

Will my right hon. Friend consider consulting the considerable numbers in the House who served on that Committee, before the terms of the Bill are finally settled?

The Prime Minister

No doubt my right hon. Friend will consult them.

Mr. Mander

Would it not be a good thing to appoint some Government supporter who has always been consistently right, instead of one who has been consistently wrong, on foreign policy?

Mr. Edwards

Will the new Ministry have powers to accumulate essential materials abroad, and thereby prevent them from being sold to aggressor countries?

The Prime Minister

Perhaps the hon. Member will await the Bill.

48. Sir A. Gridley

asked the Prime Minister whether, having regard to the approved and increased contingent commitments to other countries, the expansion and accelerated production of equipment thereby needed in this country, and the necessity for the careful allocation of manpower for military service and industrial production, respectively, he will request the Industrial Panel to make a second report immediately, with recommendations as to the wider use or expansion of industrial plants for the manufacture of munitions and as to the necessity for establishing some authority to settle the priority of the arms manufacture for the three fighting Serviecs and the Civil Defence Department?

The Prime Minister

I think that most of the objects which my hon. Friend has in mind will be secured by the decision of the Government to set up a Ministry of Supply to deal particularly with the problems arising out of the expansion of the land forces.