§ 47. Brigadier-General Sir Henry Croft
asked the Prime Minister whether the duties of the Minister for Co-ordination of Defence are still as defined in paragraph 47 of the statement relating to defence presented to Parliament in March, 1936 (Cmd. 5107); and generally for information as to the Minister's present duties?
§ The Prime Minister
As the reply to this Question is of some length, I propose, with my hon. and gallant Friend's permission, to circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
§ Following is the reply:
§ The peace-time duties of the Minister for Co-ordination of Defence, as set out in paragraph 47 of the Statement Relating to Defence, presented to Parliament in March, 1936 (Cmd. 5107), were mainly concerned with the work of the Committee of Imperial Defence. In order to explain the Minister's present duties, it is therefore necessary first to explain certain important changes which were made on the outbreak of war, and to describe in broad outline the machinery set up for the supreme direction of the war.
§ In war a system is required which combines rapid executive action with the maintenance of Cabinet responsibility and control. As the House is aware, the Committee of Imperial Defence is an advisory and consultative body whose findings on all-important matters must be 1263 approved by the Cabinet before they can become effective. Such a system is clearly unsuited for war conditions and, at the outbreak of war, the Committee of Imperial Defence was therefore merged in the War Cabinet organisation, a step which was also taken in the Great War. A number of committees of the Committee of Imperial Defence which had been required for peace-time preparation were likewise either suspended, or merged into other organisations.
§ Most of the committees of the peacetime Cabinet and of the Committee of Imperial Defence which have been retained as part of the War Cabinet organisation, together with the new committees set up since the outbreak of war, are now organised in five main groups, each comprising a main ministerial committee and a number of other committees. These five main groups are as follow:—
- (1) Military Operations and Intelligence.
- (2) Home Policy.
- (3) Civil Defence.
- (4) Economic Policy.
- (5) Priority Questions.
§ As regards the four last groups, the House has already been informed of the setting up of a Home Policy Committee under the chairmanship of the Lord Privy Seal; of the existence of a Civil Defence Committee presided over by the Minister of Home Security; of the Ministerial Committee on Economic Policy presided over by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and of the Ministerial Priority Committee under the chairmanship of the Minister for Co-ordination of Defence.
§ The main committees in the Military Operations and Intelligence group are:
- The Standing Ministerial Committee on Military Co-ordination, and
- The Chiefs of Staff Committee.
§ The Ministerial Committee on Military Co-ordination was set up by the War Cabinet in October, 1939. Its members are:
- The Minister for Co-ordination of Defence (Chairman),
- The First Lord of the Admiralty,
- The Secretary of State for War,
- The Secretary of State for Air, with
- The three Chiefs of Staff as Advisers.
Its terms of reference are as follow:to keep under constant review, on behalf of the War Cabinet, the main factors in the 1264 strategical situation and the progress of operations, and to make recommendations from time to time to the War Cabinet Os to the general conduct of the war.The terms of reference of the Chiefs of Staff Committee are:to advise the War Cabinet on any matter affecting or affected by the military aspect of the conduct of the war, and to investigate and consider in common all matters referred to the Committee by the War Cabinet.
§ The Chiefs of Staff Committee consists of the three Chiefs of Staff, and is served by the joint Planning and Joint Intelligence Staffs, which are in continuous session.
§ The existence of the Military Co-ordination Committee does not, of course, alter the normal channel by which the Chiefs of Staff Committee submit their reports direct to the War Cabinet. It is, however, sometimes found convenient for such reports to be referred to the Military Co-ordination Committee for detailed ministerial examination either before or after presentation to the War Cabinet.
§ From the above outline of the machinery that has been set up for the supreme direction of the war it will be seen that the duties of the Minister for Co-ordination of Defence include the chairmanship of the Military Co-ordination Committee and of the Ministerial Priority Committee. As before the outbreak of war, my Noble Friend's time is not fully occupied with the work of specific committees, but he deals from time to time with a number of matters which though not susceptible to precise definition relate to inter-service co-operation. It is, of course, an essential feature of the War Cabinet organisation that it should comprise a certain number of ministers who are in a position to devote their special attention to the special problems which arise from time to time.