HC Deb 16 December 1942 vol 385 cc1915-22
47 and 48. Mr. Granville

asked the Minister of Production (1) whether he will indicate the extent of the duties of the Minister for Supply Resident in Washington; and whether they will cover all the supply and purchasing Departments;

(2) whether he can make a statement with regard to arrangements so far made with the United States of America to co-ordinate plans for war supplies between this country and the United States of America?

The Minister of Production (Mr. Lyttelton)

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for deferring his two Questions from last Wednesday. With Mr. Speaker's permission, I will make a full statement after Questions.


Mr. Lyttelton

As the House is aware, plans for war supplies and their production are made by a number of Combined Boards in Washington, in the field of production, co-ordination is secured by the Combined Production and Resources Board, the three members of which are Mr. Donald Nelson, Mr. Howe—the Minister of Munitions and Supply in Canada—and myself, and the Combined Raw Materials Board. The Combined Production and Resources Board was set up during my previous visit to Washington last June. My recent visit was not concerned with the machinery for co-ordination, but with a number of concrete problems which had to be solved in combination at this moment. The reserves of man- and woman-power that can be drawn into the Services and munitions industries in this country in 1943 are still considerable, but they are not sufficient for all our purposes. In order that they should be assigned to the most effective use and that our production plans should be fitted in with those of the United States, a series of very clear-cut decisions were required.

I should like at once to tell the House that the President gave me the greatest help, and that I found the most friendly and co-operative attitude on the part of the members of the United States Government and their advisers with whom I discussed these matters. I should like in particular to refer to the way in which Mr. Hopkins and Mr. Harriman helped me during the four weeks I was in Washington, and to the very sympathetic co-operation I received from Admiral King on Naval Supplies, General Marshall and General Somervell on matters of ground equipment, General Arnold on matters of Air equipment, and from Admiral Land and Mr. Lew Douglas on shipping matters.

The subjects discussed were, first, the merchant shipbuilding programme in the United States and in this country. The two programmes will substantially exceed 20,000,000 tons dead-weight in 1943, I might remind the House that this colossal total of shipbuilding in a single year represents very nearly twice the mercantile tonnage controlled by the United States before the war. Secondly, the utilisation of American shipping on British account in order to secure the balance quantities to make up our import programme to the United Kingdom in 1943, the maintenance of our Armed Forces abroad, and the essential supply for the British Empire, or in other words, shipping measures to secure the maintenance of the total British contribution to, the war. Thirdly, a combined programme for the building of escort vessels and their allocation to the two Navies. Fourthly, we asked the United States to make, as far as war contingencies permit, a firm allocation of finished munitions of war for use by our Ground Forces. Fifthly, we asked for assurances that the raw materials and components for which we rely upon the United States for part of our own production would be forthcoming, and lastly, we arranged a definite allocation of aircraft of various types including transport aircraft to complete the operational resources of the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm.

I can tell the House that on all these matters definite arrangements were reached. Thus, as concerns shipping, the most important single matter upon which agreement was reached was upon the need for a certain minimum import programme for this country for the period ending in December, 1943. Subject to the unforeseen emergencies of war, the Government of the United States have undertaken to supplement our own shipping resources and to allot to us out of their expanding production of merchant ships the tonnage needed to achieve that programme. On escort vessels there is a combined programme and an allocation based on the tasks of the two Navies has been initiated. Through the Combined Raw Materials Board the necessary flow of raw materials is secured under the general policy laid down by the President; nearly all major items of Ground Equipment have been settled on a combined programme, and an allocation of, for instance, tanks and anti-aircraft guns has been laid down. I cannot naturally give the figures of indi- vidual weapons, but in order to give the House some idea of the size of the transactions involved, I might say that a rough calculation shows that the assistance we should receive from the United States, both in materials and equipment, will enable us to achieve an effective increase of as much as a third on the British effort otherwise obtainable.

Lastly, the United States will make both to the Royal Air Force and to the Fleet Air Arm large monthly deliveries of aircraft of various types, so as to balance the striking power of our two Air Forces. I may mention in passing that the allocation of aircraft for 1943 is substantially higher than any figure previously discussed.

The object of all these arrangements is to secure the optimum impact upon the enemy during 1943 and, secondly, as I have said, to enable the pattern of production and the allocation of man-power during that year to be settled in accordance with the theory of impact having regard to the different nature of the production in the two countries.

I have already mentioned the Combined Production and Resources Board and the Combined Raw Materials Board, but there are, of course, other Combined Boards, such as the Combined Shipping Adjustment Board and the Combined Food Board. The development of a combined organisation of this character presents a series of new problems of Government, and it was primarily to ensure that these promising arrangements are fully developed on the British side that the decision was made while I was in Washington to create the post of Minister Resident in Washington for Supply, in order to provide a focus for the British representatives in the United States concerned with Supply.

The terms of reference which His Majesty's Government have agreed should be given to the Minister Resident are broadly as follow:—He will become my Deputy in the United States. He will, in harmony with His Majesty's Ambassador, consider questions of policy or procedure arising out of the work of the civilian Combined Boards or Committees established in Washington and deal with matters of common interest to the various British Missions in North America. He will also be responsible for seeing that action is taken on all Anglo-American economic and supply problems which are not covered by the existing machinery. He will not, however, be burdened with detailed work in connection with any one of the Combined Boards, and he will therefore not serve personally on the Combined Production and Resources Board or Combined Raw Materials Board, but the various British members on the Combined Boards or Committees in Washington will, of course, keep the Minister informed on the activities of the Board or Committee on which they represent the British Government.

In order that the Resident Minister may fulfil his functions he will become Chairman of the British Supply Council. This body will continue to deal with questions from the British point of view which concern more than one Board, the relationship between the British members of the various Boards, and joint action on common subjects to be taken by British members. Thus, without derogation from the responsibility of the British representatives on the Boards to their several Ministers, it will be the Minister's function to secure the requisite co-ordination between the activities of the various British representatives on the Boards. Mr. R. H. Brand has during recent months been acting as Chairman of the Supply Council as well as fulfilling his duties as Head of the British Food Mission, but experience has shown the burden of these double duties is too heavy.

Finally, the Resident Minister will keep closely in touch with the Ambassador and with Field Marshal Sir John Dill, so that the civilian activities of the British representatives in Washington may be properly co-ordinated with the heads of both the political and military representatives of the Crown. I regard this new post as one of the greatest importance and I welcome the appointment of my right hon. Friend the former Minister of Aircraft Production to fill it. I feel sure that he will carry out his duties with distinction and with tact, and I think the House will join with me in wishing him every success.

Mr. Granville

While thanking my right hon. Friend for his full and important statement, may I ask whether he is satisfied that the Ministerial status accorded to our Resident Minister in Washington will be sufficient to enable the Minister to carry on those very onerous duties; and whether he will make it clear whether the Minister Resident will report direct to the War Cabinet, or to the right hon. Gentleman or to His Majesty's Ambassador in Washington; whether any post-war discussion is going on by those bodies, and whether any commitments have been made on behalf of His Majesty's Government?

Mr. Lyttelton

There are three questions I can answer. First, I think the status of Cabinet Minister will be quite sufficient to enable him to carry out the duties in Washington. Secondly, he will report through me to the War Cabinet. Lastly, no commitments have been taken on post-war matters.

Mr. Shinwell

As to the shipbuilding programme to which my right hon. Friend referred, he will appreciate that the figure of 20,000,000 tons dead-weight is likely to be somewhat misleading. Can he give the figure in British registered tonnage? Can he say also whether it is proposed to build ships, merchant vessels, of greater speed than we are now building in this country, or whether we are likely to get supplies of them from the United States?

Mr. Lyttelton

If my hon. Friend will put down a Question, I will look into the matter of making the calculation, which is one of great difficulty, because it concerns American practice. With regard to the ships, the United States are now discussing and working out a scheme for building a higher proportion of faster vessels.

Mr. Shinwell

I can appreciate my right hon. Friend's difficulty in getting the right calculation in regard to dead-weight tonnage, but it is desirable to clear that point up. We ought not to mislead anyone about it, and we ought to know what we are to get. Is it not important also to know whether, if the United States are going to build faster ships, which are so important to our war purposes, we are to get a proper supply and not get ships that were built under the Liberty programme and which are of lower speed?

Mr. Lyttelton

We get an allotment of carrying capacity, but I could not answer my hon. Friend's question on that point. It is presumed that we shall get our proportion of faster ships. With regard to the other question, it is something in the nature of 14,000,000 gross tons.

Sir H. Williams

The right hon. Gentleman said that the Minister Resident would be his deputy, and later on he referred to that Minister as a Cabinet Minister. Have we ever in the past had a Minister who is both a subordinate Minister and a Cabinet Minister? In the case of a Cabinet Minister there is direct access to the Prime Minister, but in this case the Minister will not have direct access because he is a subordinate Minister. Will he also have the power to examine the swollen staff now employed in the United States by His Majesty's Government?

Mr. Lyttelton

The reply to the second part of the Question is, "Yes, Sir." I did not say that the Minister Resident in Washington would report to the Prime Minister. I said he would report to the War Cabinet through me.

Sir H. Williams

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Minister as his deputy. May I have that point cleared up? It is in conflict with my right hon. Friend's earlier statement. Is the Resident Minister the Deputy Minister of Production or a Minister with independent status?

Mr. Lyttelton

I can clear up only part of that matter. He is my deputy in exercising the functions which I exercise in Washington, but there are functions which I do not exercise and in which he acts as a Cabinet Minister.

Mr. Simmonds

Can the right hon. Gentleman say that nothing in the arrangement announced reduces the grave responsibility falling on this country to increase to a maximum extent war production in 1943? Are we to understand that there is a plan between the British and American Governments whereby sufficient men and women will be left in British industry to fulfil the Government's requirements?

Mr. Lyttelton

We are to make all we can, and to get such help beyond that as the United States can give us.

Colonel Arthur Evans

Will the Resident Minister in Washington be responsible also for supervising the work of the Colonial Supply Board in Washington and, if necessary, negotiate on behalf of that Board with the American authorities, in view of the utmost necessity of having negotiators on the British side enjoying the same prestige as the American representatives?

Mr. Lyttelton

The duties of the Minister are those of general co-ordination. He must not cut across the responsibility of those other bodies to their Ministers in London.

Mr. Bellenger

The right hon. Gentleman made reference to the supply of transport aeroplanes; are we to understand, in view of the large proportion of American output that is devoted to transport aircraft, that we shall receive a substantial allocation?

Mr. Lyttelton

I can assure my hon. Friend that there is a substantial allocation, and that the general matter of the production of transport aircraft is still being studied.

Mr. Maxton

Can the Minister say whether, in the very complicated and I have no doubt efficient machinery which he has described, a place has been found for the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport, who has now been in the United States for a considerable time?

Mr. Lyttelton

I can assure my hon. Friend that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport is doing a most excellent job on the Combined Shipping Adjustment Board and that somewhere in this structure we shall find him sustaining a very useful part.

Mr. Kirkwood

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the same conditions prevail in America as those which prevail here as regards this programme? Is shipbuilding there supervised by the admirals, or have they a different method of organising it?

Mr. Lyttelton

Shipbuilding is under the United States Maritime Commission.

Mr. Granville

Would the right hon. Gentleman make it clear which committee is responsible for co-operation with the United States in the matter of supplies to Russia, and will the Minister Resident be responsible for that?

Mr. Lyttelton

Supplies to Russia are co-ordinated in London by the Allied Supplies Executive, of which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is chairman.