HC Deb 11 June 1940 vol 361 cc1136-8
Mr. Watkins

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Supply whether he has considered the arrangements in the Ministry for the production of tanks?

The Minister of Supply (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

Yes, Sir. On the 29th May I announced that, in consultation with my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for War, I had decided to constitute a Tank Board to consider the whole situation regarding the production and design of tanks and to advise me as to the action required. The board was to be composed of independent members and of members representing the War Office and the Ministry of Supply. We thought it advisable that, before the full board was constituted, the independent chairman and independent members should review the existing position as rapidly as possible. They have done so and both I and my right hon. Friend are deeply indebted to them.

They have, in addition to suggestions as to various matters of less importance, made two major suggestions, first, that, in order to secure quick production in these times, control of the organisation of the Tank Department in the Ministry of Supply must be in the hands of civilians now engaged in rapid commercial production methods, and, second, that the Army must state its demands unequivocally through one focal point, and that there should be, therefore, appointed in the War Office, a General Officer of high rank and recent fighting experience with tanks, to perform that function. My right hon. Friend and myself are agreed in principle that these suggestions should be adopted and they will be carried out as expeditiously as they can, always having regard to the fundamental necessity of expanding current production to the utmost.

Mr. Hammersley

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman two Questions? First, has the Director-General of Tank Production agreed with this report of the Tank Board; and, secondly, if he has, is the House to understand that the Director-General of Tank Production, who for so many months has protected and defended the delinquencies of officers with whom he has been working, has now decided that it is right and proper that they should go and that he should remain?

Mr. Morrison

On the first point, it is for the Minister to decide whether the report should be adopted or not. It is the responsibility of the Minister and not of officers of a State Department. Secondly, I think it is perhaps quite wrong that individual attacks upon officers of a State Department should be made across the Floor of the House, and I think it would be wrong for me to debate the qualities of officers of a Department.

Mr. Hammersley

Arising out of that answer, I beg to give notice that I will raise this matter at the earliest possible opportunity.

Sir Joseph Nall

May I ask whether the civilians who will now be engaged on this work will be men who are conversant with this type of heavy industry and not persons drawn from other industries?

Mr. Morrison

That is certainly a material consideration which I will bear in mind.

Rear-Admiral Sir Murray Sueter

May I ask whether we are working with the French Government in the design of tanks? Do we consult their experts before we.get our designs out so that we get the very latest types?

Mr. Morrison

The hon. and gallant Member will appreciate that the existing designs were made some time ago and we must not interrupt the output. We must get the best we can in the circumstances. The hon. and gallant Member will be glad to know that there is close collaboration between the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Armaments in France, but we must be a little careful in this matter. You may get so much consultation that you do not get on with the job.

Mr. Woodburn

In connection with the present production of tanks, is the right hon. Gentleman looking into the question of the complaints that railway workshops and railway engineering shops are not made sufficient use of in the present production programme?

Mr. Morrison

That matter is being investigated.