§ 48. Mr. Henderson Stewart
asked the Prime Minister whether the Advisory Panel on Rearmament will furnish a report to Parliament upon its activities or in what other manner it is intended that Parliament should be kept informed of the adequacy of this body in speeding up rearmament, improving efficiency, and spreading work fairly over the country?
§ The Prime Minister
It was not my intention that this panel should make reports: it was set up to give practical assistance in the furtherance of the Defence programmes. I have, however, received a letter from the panel, the text of which I propose to include in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I may, perhaps, inform the House that as a first step the panel have acquainted themselves with the actual state of progress of the rearmament programme, including Air-Raid Precautions, and they have for that purpose held 15 meetings.
The panel state that they are of the opinion that the Service Departments, supported by the Treasury, are rapidly accomplishing a most difficult task of 365 great complexity, with efficiency and foresight even to the extent, in some cases, of establishing practically new industries in the country. They add that they feel that the magnitude of the effort which has been and is being made is altogether insufficiently realised by the country as a whole. It is pointed out that the results obtained up to the present time could not have been achieved without the wholehearted co-operation of industry operating, it must be remembered, on a peacetime basis. The panel are satisfied that this co-operation has been generally forthcoming and quote as an example the close collaboration between the Air Ministry and the aircraft industry as a result of which there has been so marked an increase in the rate of production of aircraft.
The letter further states that in view of the comparatively short period that elapsed between setting in motion the rearmament programme and the events of last September, it was inevitable that certain gaps in the Defence equipment of the nation should have been found to exist at that time, but the panel feel on the evidence submitted to them that most of these gaps either have been or are being filled as rapidly as possible.
I should like to take this opportunity of expressing my appreciation of the energetic way in which the panel are co-operating with the Defence Departments.
Will full information be tendered at regular periods to the small parties who continually support the Government although they are not members of the Government?
§ Mr. Garro Jones
Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the statement that he has just read consists of the same large number of equivocal and meaningless reassurances that have caused such disquiet throughout the country?
§ Following is the text of the letter:
§ Offices of the Cabinet,
§ Richmond Terrace, S.W.1.
§ 31st January, 1939.
§ Dear PRIME MINISTER,
§ We were constituted by you last December as your Advisory Panel of Industrialists to receive representations as to any delays, defects or difficulties in supply or production under the rearmament programme and to suggest remedial action in such cases, and 366 also any general improvements in regard to the execution of the programme or any measures in regard to the position of industry in time of emergency which our knowledge of industry might dictate to be desirable. Labour questions were excluded from our purview.
§ We have now made a preliminary survey of the rearmament and allied problems and of the progress so far achieved, and we have endeavoured in this letter to provide you with some account of the work that the Panel has so far carried out and to acquaint you with the general impression which it has formed as to the position in the various parts of the field covered.
§ You will recollect that you met the Panel on the 20th December and explained to it the objects which you had in mind in setting it up, emphasising particularly that you desired that it should settle its own method al approach to its task and that you did not wish to fetter it in any way by laying down any method of procedure. We subsequently turned our attention to the scope of our problem and to the course of action we should follow in tackling it. Our first conclusion was that we must make, as a preliminary step, a general examination of the whole field of rearmament and of such other defence measures as fell within our terms of reference and that we might, with advantage, firstly consider the items which in our opinion seemed of more immediate importance. In this category we included such matters as the supply of anti-aircraft equipment and air-raid precautions in relation to industry.
§ Work so far carried out.—We were impressed at the outset by the need for urgency in starting our investigation and therefore held our first meeting on the 30th December. Up to date the Panel has held some 15 meetings and has covered the following subjects, in connection with which it has had discussions with, and received memoranda from, the officers and others whose names are also indicated.
§ Supply of Anti-aircraft equipment:
§ Vice-Admiral Sir Harold Brown, Director-General of Munitions Production at the War Office.
§ Air-Raid Precautions in relation to industry:
§ Sir John Anderson, the Lord Privy Seal, and Mr. Eady, Deputy Under-Secretary, Air-Raid Precautions Department, Home Office.
§ The supply of Fire-fighting equipment for A.R.P.:
§ Mr. Dixon, Home Office; Mr. Leitch and Mr. Arnot, Office of Works.
§ The Naval Programme:
§ Admiral Sir Reginald Henderson, Controller of the Navy and Third Sea Lord.
§ The Air Ministry Programme:
§ Air Marshal Sir Wilfrid Freeman, Air Member for Development and Production; Mr. Lemon, Director-General of Production, Air Ministry.
§ The Aircraft Industry:
§ Sir Charles Bruce-Gardner, Chairman of the Society of British Aircraft Constructors.367
§ The Creation of War Potential:
§ Sir Arthur Robinson, Chairman of the Supply Board and Mr. Whitham, Director of Industrial Planning at the War Office.
§ The Scientific Instrument Industry:
§ Sir Frank Smith, Secretary to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.
§ Production of Synthetic Oil:
§ Sir Frank Smith, Secretary to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.
§ We have in all our contacts with Government Departments and others stressed our desire to assist them by our knowledge and experience of industry, in any way that may be found possible and we would like to place on record our appreciation of the way in which our offer has been received and of the way in which those with whom we have come in contact have co-operated with us, both in providing us with the information and facilities which we have asked for. A noticeable feature of our work has been the desire of Departments to bring cases of difficulty to our notice and to enlist our help. In certain instances we have been able to offer advice which we think may have a beneficial effect. We are satisfied that no information or evidence of material importance has been withheld from us.
§ We have also been approached by a number of firms and individuals putting forward suggestions or complaints regarding matters connected with rearmament or defensive measures generally. We have given, or are giving, these individual consideration.
§ The position as we find it.—We are not in a position at this stage to report to you in detail, but the Panel anticipates that you would wish it to record the general impressions that it has formed up to the present time. Bearing in mind all the circumstances surrounding the problem of rearmament and the urgent need for rendering the country safe against aggression in the shortest possible time, the Panel is of the opinion that the Service Departments, supported by the Treasury, are, as far as circumstances permit, rapidly accomplishing a most difficult task of great complexity, with efficiency and foresight, even to the extent, in some cases, of establishing practically new industries in the country. We feel that the magnitude of the effort which has been and is being made, is altogether insufficiently realised by the country as a whole, nor is it possible to convey this to them without divulging figures, which would be detrimental to the national interest.
§ The results obtained up to the present time could not have been achieved without the whole-hearted co-operation of industry, operating, it must be remembered, on a peacetime basis. The Panel is satisfied that this co-operation has been generally forthcoming and would like to quote as an example the close collaboration between the Air Ministry and the aircraft industry, as a result of which there has been so marked an increase in the rate of production of aircraft. Notwithstanding this statement the Panel holds the view that there still may be untapped resources in 368 industry which could and should be utilised on the same basis of voluntary co-operation as has hitherto obtained. The Panel is at present directing its attention to this question, and, in this connection, is making a comprehensive approach to organised industry for its assistance in discovering ways in which performance could be improved or progress expedited.
§ In view of the comparatively short period that elapsed between setting in motion the rearmament programme and the crisis, the Panel considers that it was inevitable that certain gaps in the defence equipment of the nation should have been found to exist at that time but it feels, on the evidence submitted to it, that most of these gaps either have been, or are being, filled as rapidly as possible. The Panel is glad to note that the principle of sub-contracting and of taking work to labour, rather than the reverse process, is being widely adopted and it considers that the use of this principle should be extended wherever practicable. It desires to emphasise that, despite the very marked improvement in production during the last three months of last year, and the snowball effect of having diverted large sections of industry to the task of rearmament, no relaxation of effort should be allowed to take place.
§ The Panel has reviewed at length the question of Air-Raid Precautions in relation to industry, and is of the opinion that no useful purpose would be served by commenting on the situation at this stage, as it has had the advantage of a discussion with the Lord Privy Seal and, as a result, feels assured that he has the whole problem in hand and is fully conscious of the desirability of expediting his programme. We would like to stress most strongly that in our opinion the fullest co-operation and good will on the part of all concerned will be required if Air-Raid Precautions schemes are to be made really effective in the immediate future. We do not in any way minimise the magnitude and complexity of the Air-Raid Precautions problem and in consequence we urge that the Bill which we understand is shortly to be laid before the House of Commons, should be placed on the Statute Book as early as possible in order to clarify the position. We feel that every assistance should be given to the Lord Privy Seal in his most difficult task and that industry and local authorities and the nation as a whole should treat the question as an immediate and vital one.
§ The Panel has also made certain recommendations to the Lord Privy Seal which it hopes may lead to the stimulation of the carrying out of Air-Raid Precautions by industrial undertakings. He, on his part, has expressed the wish to keep in the closest touch with the Panel and avail himself of their advice wherever possible.
§ Future Work.—We have laid down a comprehensive programme of future work to which we propose to address ourselves. We intend to survey other parts of the field and to carry out investigations into particular items that may be brought to our notice by Government Departments, organised industry or individual firms.369
§ In conclusion, we venture to hope that the foregoing information may be of value to you.
§ We are,
§ Dear Prime Minister,
§ Your obedient Servants,
§ (Signed) J. H. M. GREENLY.
§ PETER F. BENNETT.
§ GEORGE BEHARRELL.
§ J. O. M. CLARK.
§ GEOFFREY CLARKE.
§ J. S. ADDISON.
§ Rt. Hon. Neville Chamberlain, M.P.