§ Mr. Stephen (Glasgow, Camlachie)
I wish to raise a point of Order. There is an Amendment on the Paper to add at the end of the Motion:but urges that a further review should be undertaken of our military commitments so as to reduce the burden on our manpower and financial resources.It might be for the convenience of the House if you would indicate, Mr. Speaker, if and when you intend calling it.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am obliged to the hon. Member for drawing my attention to the Amendment. Actually, it is out of Order and, therefore, it will not be called.
§ 3.51 p.m.
§ The Minister of Defence (Mr. A. V. Alexander)
I beg to move, "That this House approves the Statement relating to Defence (Cmd. 7042)."
This Motion stands in the names of the Prime Minister, myself, and other of my right hon. colleagues. It has been a matter of great regret to me that this Debate did not take place, as originally planned by the Government, before the discussions of the Estimates for the three Service Departments. Its postponement was due to the view of the Opposition, which they were quite entitled to put forward, that other urgent Parliamentary Business should have priority. I would make it quite clear that we welcome the opportunity afforded by the Debate of expounding the policy contained in the White Paper, the implications of which have been freely criticised already in the House during the Debates on the Economic Survey Report and the Fighting Services Estimates. I hope to be able to deal with some of those criticisms, which are based no doubt on views sincerely held by many hon. Members. I would ask them to consider that our views are submitted with equal sincerity in the light of the responsibility which rests squarely on the Government for the proper defence of our country, for the prevention of war, and the building of international security and peace.
Last autumn Parliament as a whole welcomed the White Paper on the Central Organisation for Defence. The permanent structure of a Ministry of Defence then approved has only been in existence for two or three months. My own appointment dated from 19th December, and the 599 Department was formally constituted on 1st January. The White Paper now before the House was presented in mid-February and represents, therefore, the first public presentation of the activities of the new organisation. In the light of the previous Debates I have mentioned, which impinge on our discussion today, I think it would be more satisfactory to the House if, instead of embarking on a lengthy and comprehensive exposition of the contents of the White Paper, I concentrate upon certain of the main issues to which attention has been drawn in more than one quarter since the publication of the White Paper.
Before I do so, however, I should like to refer once more to the special importance which the Government attach to research and development, on which the Admiralty and the Ministry of Supply expect to spend more than £60 million during the coming financial year, which sum is included in the total estimate in this White Paper. During the Debates on the Service Estimates, I was very glad to note that this policy commanded the universal support of hon. Members. I can assure them that this requirement will continue to take first priority in the allocation of funds, and that our first care will be to see that the research establishments are kept up to strength, and that their staffs have the highest possible qualifications. Sir Henry Tizard and his Committee will be in general control of policy and priorities, and will concentrate their energies on stimulating research in the fundamentally new fields which scientific discoveries have opened up. It is not too early to say that their work is already bearing fruit, but we should not expect anything revolutionary from them yet awhile.
In the discussion on the Service Estimates, I found a great deal of criticism from all sides of the House of the lack of information contained in the Estimates compared with what appeared in the Estimates of prewar days. I think, therefore, the House will expect me to say something on that point, and briefly to explain the reasons which led the Government some time ago to decide that we could not yet return to the wealth of detail given in prewar Estimates. First, our experience during the war showed quite clearly that some of the details published in prewar Estimates were dan- 600 gerous to us, and were of the utmost value to our enemies. Examination of a single year's Estimates before the war would have provided a valuable indication of the state of our defences and our ability to wage war, and a continued examination over a period of years would have provided, and no doubt did provide, much more definite information.
The fact was that the British people and Parliament, having expended very considerable efforts in money and work on defence Forces, impaired to some extent the result of those efforts by publishing accurate and authoritative information concerning them without receiving similar information from other Powers. Secondly, the fact that we published so much information ourselves, removed the only bargaining factor we had for obtaining similar information from foreign governments. If a foreign government limits its own published information to the minimum, it is most unlikely to impart further information unless it is given something additional in exchange. If we publish everything unconditionally, we get nothing whatever in exchange.
There is now a new consideration to be borne in mind. The United Nations organisation has for some time had under consideration proposals by the United States and Soviet Governments for the disclosure of the strengths of armed forces of the various Powers. No agreement has yet been reached, and the Government feel that until a policy of free exchange of information has been internationally agreed, it would be a mistake to revert to our prewar practice. I hope, therefore, that for the present the request for more information than appears in the Estimates will not be pressed. But this does not mean that the Government are opposed to publicity of this kind. It has always been the policy of this country to support maximum publicity by all countries, and our efforts will continue to be exerted in the United Nations towards that end. It should not, therefore, be assumed that the Service Estimates will continue indefinitely in their present attenuated form. The Government are fully aware of the anxiety of Parliament to receive the fullest possible information which is compatible with the public interest on a subject which causes such immense expenditure of public funds, and of our manpower.
601 The next point with which I will deal is the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Coventry (Mr. Cross-man) and others that no thought is being given to the correct long-term policy to be pursued in matters of defence by this country. That is quite untrue. The White Paper itself said in paragraph 43 thatsight is not being lost of the need to plan our postwar Defence policy, and an examination of the fundamental issues is already in hand.Certain of my hon. Friends and those outside the House who speak and on occasion write on such matters appear to me to over-simplify the task, and to imagine that it would be comparatively easy at this stage to determine our future defence requirements. Some of them have been, shall I say, especially daring in their personal forecasts of the shape of things to come, usually on the basis that in an atomic age we shall no longer have any use for forces of the traditional kind, equipped with conventional weapons, even though they are of the most modern type.
During the Debate on the Economic White Paper, my hon. Friend the Member for South Cardiff (Mr. Callaghan) quoted Sir Henry Tizard to the effect that future wars between highly organised nations may depend more on science, education, and industry than on numbers of fighting men. He said that, but in turn I should like to quote another remark from Sir Henry Tizard in the same context, which was as follows:The ordinary man had better be careful not to rush to conclusions if he has not the data to consider the matter in all its bearings.So the House will not be surprised if I say that the Government, together with the expert advisers of all kinds whose skill and experience are at our disposal, find rather more difficulty at this moment in seeing clearly the answers to these questions. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the time is not yet ripe to answer them. These difficult problems are being studied with great thoroughness by all concerned, and the product of their studies will become evident in due course.
One of the first tasks which I undertook as Minister of Defence was to begin an examination of the long-term problem. I took the view that it was essential to consider as rapidly as possible our long-term defence policy together with the shape and size of the Armed Forces under that policy. Each of the Services is faced 602 with a substantial run-down, more especially in trained men, and each will be involved in a reorganisation of a fundamental character. hey must know where they are going and how they are going to get there. Ideally, one would have liked to see the necessary long-term decisions taken before, or in parallel with, the settlement of the 1947 Estimates, but for reasons of time alone that was quite impossible. Moreover, the process of evolving the best scientific and technical developments is not one which can be settled in a few weeks or months, and for that reason alone I consider that we cannot rush our fences in framing our future defence policy. None the less, although time was so short, I was able, after a series of consultations with my Ministerial colleagues and with the full approval of the Prime Minister, to give our Chiefs of Staff by the middle of February a general memorandum for their examination, and, incidentally, in view of some of the things which have been said in previous Debates, my memorandum incorporated a definite indication of the kind of financial ceiling within which a study of long-term policy should take place.
While I am not in a position to discuss the various issues involved in the memorandum, and still less to forecast the result of the studies which are proceeding, I should like to remind the House of some of the far-reaching questions which are involved. We have to assess to the best of our ability the likely development of international relationships in the next 10 or, maybe, even 20 years. We have then to determine the essentials of our defence policy. Some of them, such as the security of the United Kingdom, the safeguarding of our communications, and our obligations to the United Nations have been touched upon in the White Paper. Against that background we must take decisions upon the size and composition of the Armed Forces that will be needed to implement the requirements of the United Kingdom defence policy in the world of the future as we see it. We have got to relate our production programmes for these Forces to changes in their shape and needs, and above all we have to approach each one of these problems in the light of current and prospective scientific developments.
Inquiry into all these questions has been launched without any delay whatsover, 603 and work on them is proceeding as quickly as possible. At the same time I must emphasise that we cannot expect rapid results until we can see more clearly the shape of things to come, still less must we think that the problem of 1947, to which I now turn, can be solved on the basis of our long-term policy. The House will have seen that the White Paper emphasises, and in my view rightly emphasises, that the problems of the financial year 1947–48 are essentially transitional in character, and it is against that background that the proposals made by the Government must be judged.
The crux of the Government's proposal for the forthcoming financial year lies in the manpower demands of defence, and more especially in the proposition that the size of the Forces should still exceed one million men and women at the end of March, 1948. That proposition has been criticised in the House, in the course of our recent Debates, on three main grounds. This is how I analyse the criticisms made. The first criticism, which finds expression in the Amendment standing in the name of my hon. Friends—and although the Amendment has not been called, as being out of Order, I had it in my mind when I wrote this—is that the defence commitments themselves are too onerous and ought to be reduced. The second criticism is that the Services, as represented by the Chiefs of Staff, have asked for more men than are really required to carry out those commitments, and that a weak Government has allowed them to have their way without the imposition of a ceiling on finance or manpower. The third criticism is that there is, in any event, a serious waste of manpower in the Services, and that no effective steps to check it are being taken by the Government. I think I have fairly summed up the criticisms. It has always been my practice to see what I am up against.
I will deal with each of those criticisms in turn. First, as regards the commitments themselves, I would remind the House of the detailed list set out in paragraph 10 of the White Paper under the broad headings of current and long-term commitments, respectively. I propose to reverse the order in which they are stated in the White Paper and to deal with the long-term commitments first, since it is those which will determine the shape and 604 content of our Armed Forces in years to come, when we may hope that many of the difficult responsibilities falling upon this country in the present year of transition will have been liquidated. The defence White Paper rightly places at the head of those long-term commitments the defence and security of the United Kingdom. Our memories are indeed very short if we have not a vivid recollection of the defence position of this country in the summer of 1940, in the month following Dunkirk, when we stood alone along with the Dominions in arms against Nazi Germany and Italy, and when it was not too much to claim that the whole issue of the war and the preservation of civilisation as we know it, turned on the safe keeping of this island against the German threat of invasion. The broad strategic requirement has not fundamentally changed. This country still remains the base for the organisation and training, as also for the administration, of our Armed Forces. Its defence must be secured by the collective efforts of the three Services.
I come back again to those critical months of 1940 to illustrate my second point under this heading of long-term defence commitments. The embattled United Kingdom, standing alone, might have preserved itself from the threat of the German infantry, but we could not have survived to carry on to eventual victory in the war if we had not been able to maintain our sea communications. That task fell in the main to the Navy and the Air Force. It is not only in war that the security of the communications of the Commonwealth and Empire with the United Kingdom is vital; it is important also in peace. We must be able to ensure that those far-flung shipping lines upon which our overseas trade depends, and which are therefore so vital a part of our national economy in these present years, are safe for the lawful occasions of our seamen and traders. Since naval Fleets and Air Force squadrons must have local bases from which they can operate in different parts of the world, so we must maintain forces at certain points in British territory overseas if we are to be able at need to keep the seas open to our commerce.
I have left to the last of our long-term defence commitments those which in the not too distant future will fall to this country in respect of its share of the defence 605 responsibilities and international obligations of a general world organisation against aggression under the aegis of the United Nations. What precise commitment this will involve we do not as yet know, but it is clear already that in its early stages such a United Nations organisation will not enable the great Powers of the world to dispense with all their separate armed forces. Indeed, the charter of the United Nations envisages the need for countries to maintain forces—and here I quote from the Charter itself—to implement the inherent right of individual or collective defence if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations until the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.I would ask my hon. Friends who have put their names to the Amendment whether there is any one of those three main defence commitments of this country which they would choose to ignore. Are we to leave this country undefended? Are we to leave any of the sea routes for our commerce unprotected? Are we to be incapable of our contribution in due course to the United Nations defence organisation against aggression? I think I can confidently anticipate the answer; it is that those are the three main requirements underlying our future peace time defence organisation.
Let me now deal with the current commitments, which tend to loom large in our view at the moment, but which must never obscure those fundamental defence policies which I have just described as our long-term commitments. The largest of these present day commitments in terms of numbers is that of the occupation of ex-enemy countries in Europe. We have an extensive zone of Germany in which we are responsible for good government and the maintenance of law and order, and the fact that the German population has thus far given us little trouble from the point of view of security may perhaps have obscured, in the minds of certain Members, the potentially large commitments for maintaining public order which may fall to British forces thinly spread over a very large territory. It is only quite recently that the Foreign Secretary told us in the course of a speech that we had been reminded of the considerable possibilities of civil unrest and disturbance which might at any time 606 threaten public order in Germany if Nazi doctrine revived to any large extent, Hon. Members will recollect that it is only a matter of about four weeks ago that there had to be a very large round up indeed of prominent members of a vast and growing underground organisation working in that direction. I think the supporters of the Amendment would hardly suggest that we should reduce our forces of occupation in Germany to a point where the policies of the Control Council could not at need be carried through.
It is natural to pass from Germany, and of course the somewhat similar problem of Austria to a consideration of our defence problems in the Middle East and the Mediterranean theatre. Matters relating to places such as Venezia Giulia and Greece I do not propose to discuss at length this afternoon, because the House will share the Government's hope that our troops will be out of those territories shortly, at any rate from all of them before the end of the coming financial year.
Palestine is a different problem. There a heavy burden continues to fall on our Forces through those mandatory responsibilities which are a legacy to us from the earlier great war and which have been so heavily complicated by the policy of Nazi Germany and the consequences of its uprooting out of the European order. My right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Colonial Secretary have done their best to find a solution acceptable to the peoples of Palestine. It has proved impossible. The future of that country has been placed before the United Nations. A pre-requisite for the successful administration of any policy is to preserve law and order. Since the mandate for Palestine is ours, it is our responsibility. Our armed Forces at the present time have to remain strong enough to assert the authority of the administration, to provide for the safety of our nationals and those Palestine nationals who do not support the campaign of barbarity and terrorism, and to guard British interests. It is a difficult and delicate task which I am sure everyone will admit has been fulfilled with a dignity and forbearance which speaks well for the discipline of our Armed Forces. It is not therefore a mere question of pouring units into Palestine but of assessing what is required against likely events in that country, pending the time when the United Nations organisation decide upon a future for that country.
607 Palestine is not the only part of our defence commitment in the Middle East. Our main line of Commonwealth communication still runs through the Mediterranean and through the Suez Canal. On the flank of that line lies Egypt, with whom this country freely made a Treaty' in 1936, in the provisions of which both sides recognised those special defence interests of the British Commonwealth in that part of the world. Until that Treaty is superseded by another freely negotiated between the two countries we must continue to place our reliance upon the 1936 Agreement. Those stations where we have maintained a garrison during the last 60 years, to the no small advantage of Egypt on several occasions when circumstances have threatened that country, have now been given up or are rapidly in process of evacuation. But the Middle East remains a vital link in the security of the British Commonwealth, and our legitimate defence requirements must be safeguarded in that area.
Our Forces in India have been drastically reduced since the end of the war, but until the transference of authority to Indians takes place within the next 16 months, we have a responsibility in India which will require the continued presence of British Forces. We are not therefore prepared to contemplate the total withdrawal of our Forces from India in the short intervening period before that transfer takes place. In the Far East, again, we have commitments, particularly in regard to the occupation of Japan, although the number of United Kingdom troops which it is proposed to retain there will, in future, be comparatively small. In the Netherlands East Indies there is an example of one of those commitments left over from the war which is now happily completed and from which all our Forces have been withdrawn. In places like Hong Kong and Malaya, British troops must continue to be located in numbers sufficient to guarantee security and reconstruction after the catastrophic period of Japanese occupation. In addition, there are a number of other Colonies which require to be garrisoned.
In closing these remarks about our defence commitments, I want especially to emphasise one consideration—if it needs any emphasis in the face of what is happening in so many parts of the 608 world at this moment. The British sailor, the British soldier and the British airman are major instruments in the maintenance of peace and order in all quarters of the globe. In many places, they are the main safeguard against the horrors of civil strife, and they provide a guarantee of safety for the common man and his family, in a world which, after six years of war, is one vast armed camp. This in itself is no small justification for wishing to see this job through of preserving peace until ordered government can take over in the countries concerned.
We have a further interest, in that this country can never hope to restore its economy and its export trade, raise its own standard of riving and keep its industries fully occupied, in a world deprived of ordered and peaceful conditions for development. Let us make no mistake in these matters. The United Nations organisation is itself a recognition that defence against war is a world problem and not a concern of this country or that. Equally, the economic development of every country is in these days bound up with that of the others. The speedy reconstruction of overseas countries which were devastated by the war is one of the conditions of restoring our industry and our standard of living. In that supremely important task I say that the Armed Forces of this country are playing a most important and honourable part.
The Government have these commitments constantly under review. They have given them long and earnest consideration both in the light of the professional views of the Chiefs of Staff and of their Service advisers, and against the background of the general foreign policy of this country. The plain fact is that the war against Nazi Germany was fought and won by three great Powers in alliance. Each of those three great Powers found itself on the morrow of victory inextricably involved in commitments all over the world. Those commitments are the result of six years of total war and the overthrow of a totalitarian State, which, in the height of its power, controlled nearly all the European Continent outside Russia. In those circumstances there can be no clean cut, no separating our country from responsibility for preserving order and for rebuilding the world, which results in those defence commitments which I have been expounding today.
609 Complaints were often made between the wars of the United States' policy of withdrawing from extraneous commitments after the war of 1914–18. Should not we be much more open to criticism, if, with our much closer geographical and economic link with Europe and the Middle East, we had shirked our share of the responsibility falling to us after victory was achieved? I think the answer of the thinking man is plain. I share fully the desire of the hon. Members who have put their names to the Amendment that our defence responsibility should be reduced at the earliest possible moment, but because of the great dangers which would follow the abandonment of our part in preserving the peace and order of the world I am afraid that I cannot subscribe to their views.
The second criticism is that the overall assessment of the numbers required for the Services and for their immediate supply needs has been largely dictated by the Chiefs of Staff against the background of wartime conditions, when the Armed Forces had priority in their manpower demands for all their needs. Despite the formidable nature of the defence commitments of this country, it is suggested that we cannot afford so many men for the Armed Forces and their maintenance, at a time when this manpower is so badly required to restore our civil economy after the years of war. In this connection it might be helpful if I gave the House a general indication of the procedure which was actually followed in the preparation of the Government's defence proposals for 1947. The House will recall that in paragraph 27 of the White Paper on the Central Organisation for Defence, published last October, the following was stated:A beginning was made this year with a new procedure for determining Service Estimates in total, which it is proposed to develop so as to enable provision for Defence to be dealt with as a single problem in the light of the economic position and strategic requirements of the country. The Chiefs of Staff will advise the Defence Committee on our strategic requirements from year to year. It will then be for the Service Departments to translate these requirements into terms of men, money and supplies, and for the Minister of Defence to co-ordinate the results, with the help of the Chiefs of Staff and the Committee of Service Ministers described in paragraph 29 below, and to present to the Defence Committee a coherent scheme of expenditure which will give the country forces and equipment in properly balanced proportions.610 I invite the attention of hon. Members in particular to that quotation, because it summarises what the Government believe to be the only profitable and logical approach to defence problems each year, and because it is in fact the procedure which has been followed in all main respects in framing Service Estimates for the coming financial year.
At the direction of the Prime Minister, the Chiefs of Staff in the autumn prepared their considered appreciation of the defence requirements of this country. They put forward their detailed Estimates of the manpower requirements of the three Services as the minimum necessary to implement the defence commitments. The Chiefs of Staff—I want to emphasise this point strongly—did not produce their considered proposals without relation to considerations of the available manpower resources of the country and of all the realities of the manpower situation. They presented to the Government a severely practical statement from their point of view of the manpower requirements of the Services, not based on the numbers ideally required to carry out those commitments satisfactorily, but upon an appreciably lower scale on which they thought they could manage—
§ Mr. Alexander
Will my hon. Friend allow me to finish this statement? Then I shall be very glad to give way to him. To put the matter in a sentence, I would say that the numbers required by the Armed Forces to carry out the defence commitments of this country have been very carefully screened by the Chiefs of Staff in their report to the Government. Those proposals were, in turn, considered in relation to the realities of the economic position. The report of the Chiefs of Staff was scrutinised with extreme care and in great detail. So was the initial sketch estimates prepared by the Service Departments on the basis of that report, and of the production programmes put forward by the Joint War Production staff. The main burden of that examination fell on myself and my Service colleagues assisted on the production aspect by the Minister of Supply. Discussions subsequently took place in the defence committee and in the Cabinet. As a result very substantial reductions of the original proposals were achieved, with the 611 full co-operation of the Service Ministers and of the Chiefs of Staff. The Estimate, in its first form, as submitted to me, envisaged a total expenditure of £1,064,000,000 and that figure was eventually cut to £899,000,000, involving a reduction of £165,000,000, or more than 15 per cent. of the original proposal. Substantial reductions were also achieved in the manpower figure for the Services themselves and for their production. In particular, the size of the Forces, already put by the Chiefs of Staff below which they regarded as necessary for our commitments, was fixed at a still lower level. I am bound to say that I find little relationship between this actual course of events and the suggestion that the Government have failed to carry out a realistic scrutiny of Service demands or to fix a ceiling for the manpower and the financial provision to be made available for the Services in 1947.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I am very much obliged to my right hon. Friend for giving way. I only wanted to be sure that I had followed his argument correctly. Is the House to understand that the hard realities in this matter, against which these figures were examined, were the hard realities as known in the latter part of the autumn of last year; and are we to infer that the hard realities that we were debating in the House for the first time last week were known to the Government last autumn?
§ Mr. Alexander
I think the position is that the Chiefs of Staff had a great deal of general information at the end of last year as to what the position of the country was in the economic sphere, and they had, from that point of view, reduced their Estimates considerably. By the process we followed—and which the House agreed should be followed in approving the previous White Paper—we secured an additional saving of £165 million on that Estimate and a considerable reduction in manpower. I am only answering my hon. Friends who were saying in the House the other day that we had taken no realistic view, whether on short-term or long-term policies.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South)
I should like to remind my right hon. Friend that I have never taken that view. But in the White Paper itself the Govern- 612 ment quite clearly impose a rate of release upon the Services. The question I should like to ask my right hon. Friend is: Are the Services covering the same commitments with this reduced number of men and reduced expenditure as they were covering beforehand, when the original Estimates were put in?
§ Mr. Alexander
They are, I think, covering practically all the commitments as at the date of the original Estimates, but some of the commitments to which I have been referring are running down. Some reductions have been made possible in the Forces in certain places.
§ Vice - Admiral Taylor (Paddington, South)
Were the original proposals made by the Chiefs of Staff in any way influenced by the financial position, or did they put forward their proposals on what they considered necessary, quite apart from financial considerations?
§ Mr. Alexander
I should think any wise body of Chiefs of Staff take all the national circumstances into consideration before they undertake anything, in order that they may plan their programme realistically and in the best possible way.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
The Debate is becoming very irregular. We cannot conduct a Debate by the process of question and answer. I think it would be to the advantage of the House if the right hon. Gentleman were allowed to continue his speech.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
In my view the Debate is becoming very irregular; the right hon. Gentleman should now be allowed to continue his speech.
§ Mr. Alexander
I do want to impress on the House that the formulation of the requirements of the Services against the background of the far-reaching defence commitments inherited from the war years was not effected in a vacuum of self-delusion as to the resources available, but with the real and pressing realisation of both the overall stringency of the nation's manpower and the primary need for getting the civilian economy of this country restored to something like its prewar 613 efficiency. I know the demand on the country's manpower by the Armed Forces in 1947 is still large, especially in relation to the grea task of rehabilitating the civilian economy of this country. Why, then, must the Forces still have such numbers as the Defence White Paper states as the requirement? The first and foremost answer, especially as regards the Army lies in those commitments to which I have already referred. I will not elaborate that point further at this stage, except to emphasise once more, that in the view of the Government those commitments must be met, and that, subject to any internal manpower economies that may be possible, the number of men required for that purpose has not been overstated.
The second answer lies in the vast problem of re-organisation and training with which each of the three Services is confronted. The release scheme has resulted in a run-down from the Forces of all but a fraction of their wartime personnel; and the trained men who will remain are, by and large, of progressively shorter service, and less likely to bring trade skill with them into the Services. This process reflects itself in the increasing shortage of that technical skill which is essential to maintain the efficiency of the modern highly specialised fighting Services, and, in particular, of certain arms of those Services whose tasks require technical skill. The training of the replacements for the trained personnel, increasingly lost to the Services by the rundown, due to the release scheme, imposes a heavy burden on the Forces, and means that they must maintain a large-scale training organisation to turn men coming to them straight from civilian life into efficient and, in a very large proportion of cases, technically experienced Servicemen The volume and technicality of training involves an immense burden on all three Services. About 15 per cent. of the Army, 25 per cent. of the Navy, and 33⅓ per cent. of the Air Force are either engaged in training or undergoing training.
The third answer lies in the ever growing complexity of the Armed Forces, in which, contrary to experience in civil life, increasing mechanisation and modernisation requires not fewer but more men. In the past few years—and especially during the war—phenomenal advances have been made in the technique of warfare. New weapons and devices 614 have been introduced, and completely new arms of the Services have been created. We must ensure that these new techniques—and those coming forward in the future—are maintained and developed at a high peak of efficiency. All this requires the maintaining of many specialised units in all three Services.
What does it mean in terms of manpower? It certainly means a great many more men than it would have done before the war. In the Navy the development of radar and of armament—especially the anti-aircraft armament and signals, and not least of Naval aviation, to say nothing of their new commitments in combined operations—requires many more men than before the war for the operation of Naval equipment. In the Royal Air Force, to name only one example, the four-engined bomber needs a crew twice the size of that of the two-engined bomber of prewar days; although, thanks to the efforts of the Air Ministry's research units, the number of maintenance crew has been cut from twice to one and a half the size of that for the prewar bomber. In the Army similar developments in signals, anti-aircraft, transport, fighting vehicles and airborne equipment have been such as to require many more specialised units, and many more men. The distinction between the "teeth" and the "tail" to which the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) loves to draw attention, and on which he often used to hunt us all through the course of the war, is really almost out of date. In these days our Armed Forces must resemble that most ferocious of all animals, the crocodile: they must have sharp teeth and heavy armament; but they must have a powerful tail as well.
In what I have said so far I have explained to the House in considerable detail why, in the view of the Government, the numbers proposed for the Forces in the forthcoming financial year are reasonable, in the light of the tasks which those Forces will be required to perform. That does not mean that I am contemplating the retention of Forces of this size for an indefinite period. We are justified in thinking that the more rapid progress which, we all hope, will attend the conclusion of the outstanding treaties with enemy nations, and the consequent improvement in the international situation, will result in a progressive lightening or a termination of the occupation commit- 615 ments of our Forces. For this and other reasons, I consider the House can look forward to appreciably lower manpower demands in the future.
It would, however, be fatal to depart from the ordered progress which is the Government's policy, and to substitute instead a further precipitate and immediate reduction in the size of the Forces, since such a step would not only cripple our Forces to the extent of making them largely inoperative now, but would inflict serious long-term handicaps upon them, from which it would take years to recover. Moreover, it would mean that we should still be spending immense sums of money on a Navy, Army and Air Force, ill-equipped for the tasks which lie before them. That is a result which the Government do not think we ought to contemplate.
I should now like to, turn to the third criticism, that there is a serious waste of manpower in the Services which, if properly tackled, would produce substantial reductions in their size, as well as enabling men to be used in the directions most suited to their particular qualifications and abilities. The last point, of course, is not a new one. The Navy, the Army and the Air Force all came under considerable fire in the first year or two of the war on that same account, of misuse of men—and especially of men with trade skill. In the end they were able to tackle this problem under wartime conditions with a considerable degree of success. To some extent we are now faced with the reverse of that wartime problem. It is not now vast and increasing intakes coming into the Army which are causing the trouble; it is the enormous and rapid run-down of all three Services, due to the release scheme, which is the main factor working against the proper use of special skills and aptitudes in the Services.
The Service Departments cannot go through the lists of men in particular units or formations and pick out a nicely balanced table of releases which would preserve a due proportion of those skilled men upon whom depends operational efficiency, and allow for the replacement of those key men as and when others can be taken in and trained. On the contrary, the Government have rightly adopted as a basic principle of the release scheme from the Forces, the age and ser- 616 vice group system. No ether basis but this stood any chance of acceptance by public opinion. But it does mean that it is the older men of longer service who, quite rightly, go out of the Forces first. Those groups contain the bulk of the skilled tradesmen and specialists in the various arms of the Service.
The resultant problem of reorganisation which faces each of the three Services, if they are to retain a degree of operational efficiency, is very great. Under such a condition of flux it is all too often quite impossible to ensure that every individual has a job in the Forces appropriate to his special aptitude or experience. Similarly, under the current conditions it is far from easy to ensure that there is no wasting of manpower in terms of numbers. What I can say is, that we are taking, and will continue to take, all possible steps to check that situation. In answering a Question in the House some 10 days ago I gave a number of indications of the measures which each of the three Service Departments had undertaken to set its own house in order in this respect. For the purposes of record, I think I ought to go over that ground a little more fully, dealing with each of the Services in turn.
The Admiralty recently revived a standing permanent complements committee, with large scope and modernised terms of reference to review and settle where necessary details of the complements of His Majesty's ships and shore establishments. Associated with the work of this committee, the normal rules of assessment of the complements of ships are being examined and revised in order to make the maximum saving of manpower. The developments of naval warfare in the recent war have meant a great increase in the proportion of technical and specialist ratings in the Navy, and of qualified engineer and electrical officers under whom they are employed. A close comparison with civilian work is hardly possible, since in a fighting ship a man is required to fill more than one job. But the rapid programme of demobilisation of highly skilled ratings and the general stringency in regard to manpower has led the Admiralty to undertake a comprehensive review of the organisation and manning of the technical branches of the Navy, so that the maximum benefit may accrue from a closer definition of the field of employment of each specialist.
617 In the Army a War Office committee is constantly revising all unit and other establishments. Units are in the process of reduction from a war establishment to the appreciably smaller peace establishment. Training schools and establishments are being carefully reviewed to effect the maximum saving of staff. In particular, those ancillary activities of the Army which bear the closest comparison with civil activities are being overhauled. As the House was informed on the Army Estimates, an experienced accountant is conducting an examination into Army storekeeping and accounting methods, and at the moment a special inquiry is being carried out, with advice from outside the Service, into the processes and methods in ordnance establishments, with a view to saving manpower.
§ Mr. Alexander
Yes. There is a representative of these establishments committees in each main area.
In the Air Ministry there is an establishments committee like that in the War Office, comprising both civilian and Service members. This committee has permanent sub-committees in all overseas theatres to review establishments on the spot. A standing committee, with representatives of the Air Staff and of the organisation, training and manning branches, is charged with advising on the most advantageous disposition of the manpower available to the Royal Air Force, in view of the special difficulties of the release scheme, and the difficulties of regular recruiting and re-engagement. The Air Ministry, as the Secretary of State announced on Monday, have also recently appointed a manpower economy committee with very wide terms of reference, and comprising serving members a representative of the Ministry of Labour, and outside experts of standing in the industrial world, one of whom is nominated by the Trades Union Congress. The task of the committee is not so much to cover the detailed work, as to review manning policy, training policy, and the methods of work, together with the methods of establishment control.
I have dealt with the measures already taken and initiated in that detail, because I want to make the point that these far reaching inquiries into manning and 618 manpower were either standing arrangements or additional measures initiated by the Service Departments themselves in full realisation of the need to make every man in uniform pull his weight. But the alleged misuse of manpower in the Services is clearly a matter which is disturbing the minds of Members on both sides of the House.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
Could the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the committee includes civilians, scientific advisers, as well as Army, Navy and Air Force personnel?
§ Mr. Alexander
I think that can best be answered by my hon. Friend when he replies at the end of the Debate. I want to finish this statement. It is no less the preoccupation of the Government at this time, when the country has need for making the maximum use of all its manpower. Therefore, I have been consulting with my Service colleagues, to see what other steps we may take, either within the resources of the Government, or with expert assistance from outside, to reinforce the extensive machinery in this province which I have already detailed. The conclusion at which we have arrived is, that the scope of existing manpower inquiries should be enlarged, and that to those conducting the inquiries there should be added representatives from among civilian employers and employees. The Air Ministry have already embarked on this course. The Admiralty and the War Office have now agreed to follow suit.
In the case of the Army, which has, of course, the biggest problem my right hon. Friend proposes to concentrate, at the outset, on those establishments which have the greatest affinity with civilian organisations, notably the supply and ordnance branches, and the engineering establishments concerned with the repair and maintenance of equipment. These special committees will not be limited in their activities to consulting those from within the Services. They will cast their net as wide as possible, to bring to bear upon the problems of Service manning outside experience and assistance, and not least from quarters which have been critical of the manpower policies of the Service Departments. Indeed, I hope that Members of the House, who have a special contribution to make in this respect, will contribute their views. The 619 reports of these special committees will be forwarded to me from time to time by the Service Ministers, and I shall make known to the House the broad results of their activities. It is my hope that with this additional machinery we shall be able, not only to avoid waste of manpower in the Services, but also to convince those who have expressed some anxiety on this question that all reasonable steps to that end have been taken.
It may be thought strange that, in a White Paper dealing with defence, no reference is made to the situation of the British Commonwealth. This is quite deliberate. The object of the White Paper was to set out the commitments of the United Kingdom in the field of defence, and to indicate the manner in which His Majesty's Government propose to meet them. It is first and foremost a United Kingdom document, and is, therefore, not the appropriate place for any reference to the views of other Governments, which, it must be remembered, are entirely independent, with their own responsibilities to their own peoples. It should not be assumed that the omission of any reference to the Commonwealth in the White Paper means nothing is being done to develop the closest and friendliest cooperation in matters of defence.
§ Mr. Driberg
Could my right hon. Friend say, then, why information about the Dominions was included in last year's White Paper?
§ Mr. Alexander
There was no such information. We made no entry in our White Paper last year so far as I remember. In the Debates in this House and in another place on the White Paper on the Central Organisation for Defence full reference was made to the new machinery for liaison which was being developed as a result of the meeting of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers held early last year. The proposals we made were welcomed in principle by all the Dominions, and detailed machinery for promoting closer contact, at which we all aim, is in process of getting to work. We believe this will afford practical and realistic methods of exchanging information and views, for developing closer study and understanding of problems of mutual concern, and for ensuring that the technical background of information is freely and 620 rapidly made known. This greater flow of information will enable, we hope, the other Governments concerned, with whom decisions of policy must rest, to take their decisions, having before them the fullest knowledge of one another's views. This regular contact on the Service level, I hope, will be supplemented by frequent contact between Service Ministers, and I, for my part, shall lose no opportunity of discussing with my colleagues in the Governments of the Dominions all questions of mutual concern.
Commonwealth co-operation in defence can grow and flourish only if it is recognised that the Commonwealth is a free association of independent, sovereign countries, that all decisions that have to be made must be taken by those Governments on their own responsibility, for which they will be answerable to their own Parliaments. No system of delegation to any central authority is possible under this system, and the more clearly and universally this is understood, the more likely it is that co-operation will be effective. Talk of sharing burdens and spreading loads is rather beside the point since, speaking quite frankly, discussion of Commonwealth co-operation on such a basis would do far more harm than good. We have no prescriptive right to ask the self-governing Dominions to assume responsibilities simply because, in the opinion of some people, the United Kingdom can no longer afford to bear them. What we must do is to see that the Dominions are fully informed of the facts of the situation, so that they may consider for themselves, in the light of all the relevant circumstances, what their own defence policy is to be. As they grow in power and responsibility so their role in matters of defence is bound to grow.
Though, at the present time, the House and the country are, not unnaturally, chiefly interested in what I may call the internal aspects of our defence policy, and the impact of it on our general economy, I feel I should spend a short time in stating our policy against this international background. I feel that the supreme object of British policy must be to prevent war, and the biggest factor in the prevention of war will be the successful development of the United Nations Organisation. The Foreign Secretary said in this House last June:I am still wedded to Litvinov's famous phrase, used in Geneva before this last war, 621 that ' Peace is indivisible.' It is for that reason that the basic aim of His Majesty's Government in their foreign policy will be to make the United Nations Organisation work effectively; all international questions which arise must now be dealt with in relation to this new world fabric which we are bent on weaving and ultimately making effective, and which some day—I do not know how soon—will draw its power direct from the will of the people."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th June, 1946; Vol. 423, c. 1825.]Within the United Nations organisation we are striving to develop an efficient system of collective security. The Government are determined to make whatever contribution that may be called for, in order to make collective security an effective instrument of peace, and the Forces we contribute must be fully efficient. We trust that the Forces which, under Article 43 of the Charter, are to be put at the disposal of the Security Council will be organised as soon as possible, and the United Kingdom representative on the Council is pressing for swift and decisive action. If we do not want to have total war we must have total peace, and for total peace we must have total confidence. Nothing will do more to promote this confidence than a declaration by the Security Council of its determination to establish under its control a fully effective system for preventing aggression.
Linked with the question of collective security is that of disarmament. Here, again, I would remind the House that that matter was dealt with very fully by the Foreign Secretary in his last speech to the House. I am sure, for my part, that vague expressions of hope will get us nowhere, and that our best hope of progress is to concentrate on practical problems. The first step is to establish an effective system of collective security. In parallel with this must come the working out of a water-tight system of international supervision and control of armaments, and I am glad to see that the United Nations have recognised that this must be an indispensable prerequisite to any effective measures of disarmament.
In the meantime, while all these great problems are being examined, we must look to our own defence. Nor in so doing shall we be acting in any way contrary to the objects of the United Nations. There is nothing incompatible with the Charter in providing our own military organisation. In fact, it requires us to do so, so that we may make our contribution to the United Nations security forces as effective 622 as possible, and so that we may exercise the inherent right of self—defence until the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to maintain international peace. When the ground has been properly prepared we shall be more than ready to play our part with the other great Powers in seeking practical measures of disarmament, and in seeking to relieve the world of the heavy burden of expenditure on instruments of war. No one will rejoice more than this country when that time comes. We have so many other things to do with our men, money and materials. But, until it does come, we cannot afford to reduce our Forces below the level required to ensure our defence, below the level required to meet our commitments, to maintain our legitimate interests, and to provide support for our spokesmen in the councils of peace.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Oliver Lyttelton (Aldershot)
The right hon. Gentleman has made to us a very serious speech, and it has been delivered in tones which, I must say, I found rather more soothing in their nature than those on the last occasion on which I had the privilege of listening to him. His speech was also relieved by a diverting interlude in natural history, and I learned something about the defences of the crocodile. May I begin my own contribution, which will be much shorter than I had intended it to be, for reasons the House will realise, by expressing two hopes? The first is—and the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned it—that we should like an assurance that, in future, Debates on the Ministry of Defence will precede, and not follow, Debates on the Service Estimates. I think we are all agreed that that is desirable, but I would like to extract from the Government, if I could, a definite assurance that that will be done. I do not want to labour the point, but, if hon. Members will look at one or two paragraphs of the White Paper they will see that I need not waste their time in reading it to them. They show that this year the Services Estimates, which are the cart, have been put in front of the horse, which is the right hon. Gentleman, if he will forgive the bucolic nature of my reference.
§ Mr. Alexander
I thought I had said yesterday and today that we had fixed the date, through the usual channels, for the discussion, and that it was entirely 623 on the submission that there were more urgent questions that the Opposition had asked should be discussed that that was done.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
Quite so, but I asked the Government to give an assurance that, another year, they will so arrange the Business that they will place the horse in front of the cart.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Will the Opposition then give an assurance that, if the Government make a proposal next year, they will accept it?
§ Mr. Lyttelton
The Opposition can give no such undertaking, because they did not make the crisis in coal.
I will now come to the White Paper, which is a thoroughly unsatisfactory and unsatisfying document, and I would express the hope that, in future, White Papers should be written in the King's English and not in Cherokee, or whatever language is employed in this document. I express that hope after wading through the swamps and cutting my way through the jungle of Whitehall verbiage, a phrase which I, personally, prefer as being a little more elegant than the more robust "piffle and poppycock" of the right hon. Gentleman's outburst in a recent Debate. Really, the jungle of this White Paper is almost Burmese in its luxuriance.
In Paragraph 9, we read:but the necessity for the retention of adequate strength … remains undiminished.Certainly, that is a weed, not a flower.
Then in Paragraph 10:In the long run, therefore, the size of our armed forces will be governed by the degree of disarmament actually achieved.Is it thus that our darkness is to be lightened? Later, in Paragraph 36—and I draw the attention of the House particularly to this passage—But numbers of sailors, soldiers or airmen, as such—a delicious qualification—do not make a Navy, Army or Air Force. The personnel of the Services have to be trained and organised.A Solomon come to judgment! Lastly, I draw attention to Paragraph 13, which, as a student of these matters, I consider touches the all-time low in official English. I think the House would perhaps forgive me if I read it. 624With the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, the problem is somewhat different.How odd! Since they operate—on the sea and in the air—they are different from the Army, which, as hon. Members know, works on land.It follows from the fact that the occupational commitments of this country as described above mainly affect the Army, that the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force can give greater prominence in their current defence plans to the problem of the preparation and organisation of eventual post-war Forces of the necessary composition. Despite the demands made by current defence commitments all over the world, however, it may be anticipated that in the absence of any unlooked for worsening of the international position, each of the three Services will be increasingly concerned with planning the permanent postwar organisation, distribution and composition of its own forces.I think this is slightly insulting to the House of Commons, and it used to be known when I was at school as mere padding. I hope that my plea for an occasional use of the King's English in the place of this sort of stuff will not be disregarded.
I must say that a study of the Debates on the Service Estimates and of the White Paper itself gives a very confused picture of our organisation for war. I have the impression, and I hope very much that it is an incorrect one, that there is no mobilisation plan whatever and no order of battle of a very precise kind. If, for example, a Supreme Commander was appointed tomorrow in the event of war or in an emergency, could he be told in a few minutes what fighting forces were at his disposal, how they could be deployed, what reserves were going to come to the colours and what the mobilisation plan is? I doubt it. I saw nothing in the Debates on the Service Estimates, and nothing in this White Paper, to lead me to suppose that such a plan exists. In some particular instances, for example a study of the Debate on the Navy Estimates leaves us in the dark about the size of the Navy, and the right hon. Gentleman put up the best defence he could by saying that, in the past, the detailed information about the size of the Navy had been of use to the enemy. We can accept that, but that is not an answer to the complete silence which is maintained about the Navy and the size of the Fleet in the present White Paper. There is a middle course, and I hope that, in future, the right hon. Gentleman is going to see 625 that more information is given to the House.
We have no idea of the number of divisions in the Army, which are, so to speak, active and which could be changed into divisions on a war footing quickly. The number of operational squadrons in the Royal Air Force remains unknown. Hon. Members, and not only from this side of the House, have raised these matters in the Debates on the Services Estimates, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken), my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) on the Navy Estimates, the hon. and gallant Member for North Blackpool (Brigadier Low), on the Army Estimates, and the non. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) on the Air Estimates. In spite of that, we are left very much in the dark. I have the impression, from a study of the Estimates Debates and from wading through the White Paper, that everything is very vague. Surely, things like a mobilisation plan come under the category of "First things first," to which the Government pay the genuflexion, to which we are accustomed, in paragraph 4 of the White Paper.
In the matter of national defence—and here I am not sure that I am not following the very points the right hon. Gentleman mentioned; I think there is some similarity of thought—the House looks to Lie Government in these days of economic crisis for three things. First, to keep our military commitments, in the widest sense of the term, to the minimum consistent with our written and moral obligations, and that, of course, is not primarily the concern of the right hon. Gentleman, but the concern of the Cabinet as a whole. Secondly, the House wishes to know that these commitments are covered in full, but are covered with the greatest possible economy in manpower, and this is particularly the province of the right hon. Gentleman. Thirdly, we expect him to subdivide the national resources in men, money and equipment, so as to keep in tune and in time with the changing theme of modern war. I propose to devote a few minutes to the study of these three subjects, upon which this White Paper, if not entirely silent is at least very reticent. The White Paper is really a sort of Strachey Pie, to which we have become accustomed. It is nearly all veg. and the exploratory knife and 626 fork take a very long time to find any meat in it at all.
The first question is: Is the total of our commitments more than they should be today? I do not want to labour the points which were put by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. I believe there is more general agreement in the House than there appears to be on the surface about these suggestions. First, there is our huge and barren commitment in Palestine. Men are taking part in a service which brings no glory, even if it brings sympathy. It is now to be extended for an indefinite period, while U.N.O. is looking round for a policy which has so far eluded His Majesty's Government, even though the Foreign Secretary pledged his political reputation on finding a solution. That is not a defence matter primarily, but a matter of policy. Then there was the suggestion that we should employ some of our Polish allies far from the Russian zone to help us in our occupation of Germany. The right hon. Gentleman in his speech dealt with the German question and pointed out to the House the dangers of civil disturbances. That danger cannot be ignored, nor can the Government escape from criticism of their policy of trying to run the whole of Germany, which is the one most likely to cause distrust and civil disturbances in Germany. Again, it is not the fault of the Army that this large commitment is necessary in Germany, but the fault of the policy which tries to govern Germany directly instead of devolving much more greatly the responsibility on the German people themselves.
I now turn to the second matter upon which we look to the right hon. Gentleman—economy of force. I confess here that I found the White Paper not only unconvincing but also positively alarming. For example, and after making all allowances for the flaccidity of the official language, we get very little encouragement from the first sentence of Paragraph 19, which reads:The need in the unhappy event of a future war will be for large numbers of reserves available at short notice for the immediate tasks of defence.But will it? At least, the point enunciated with such dogmatism requires some support by argument, but it certainly does not receive it. We are not prepared to accept it without hearing the reason. 627 Might it not be said that war, if it unhappily comes, will come suddenly from the air, and, for example, from aircraft carrying atomic bombs. If that were a correct assumption, would not some such paragraph as this be more appropriate than paragraph 19 in the White Paper:The need to keep our defences in the air in a permanent state of preparation is paramount, whether those defences fall within the responsibility of the scientific research organisation, of Anti-aircraft Command, of the Royal Air Force itself or of a combination of all three.I appeal to the Government to look again at this sentence in paragraph 19, and to search their hearts, to see whether it is an imaginative approach to the subject and particularly to examine the phrase "the immediate tasks of defence." Be that as it may, it appears to me that this sentence, unsupported by argument, puts the emphasis in quite the wrong place. I do not believe that the words hit the nail on the head at all. I think that for those who study war and tactics, it often seems as if there were something inherent in war which makes the tactics of one side or the other obsolete.
The elephants of Hannibal—I am now going to match the hon. Member's crocodiles—broke the Roman Legions just as Guderian broke the French front with tanks, the tactics of the revoluntionary Army of Italy under Napoleon were based on a new conception, and confounded the set tactics of his enemies. There are some hon. Members, and I am one of them, who carried a sword in 1914, and I must say that I am haunted by the fear that this particular sentence is the outcome of conventional and ossified thought, which is not an uncommon thing in dealing with Service problems. Again, I say, whether that is true or merely rude, that this sentence needs expansion and argument. It requires argument to make us swallow it with equanimity, and it has received none. I think that the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Austin) dealt in his speech with some of these problems. Before I leave the aspect of the economy in force, I think we are entitled to more information than has yet been given on the relations between the teeth and the tail.
§ Mr. W. J. Brown (Rugby)
As we are having animal comparisons, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he does not 628 think that it is just about as difficult to ossify thought, as it is to fill a vacuum with self-delusion?
§ Mr. Lyttelton
Some two or three days' study of the White Paper would, I think, dilute the pure English stream of even a professor of literature, let alone my own. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Blackpool gave some interesting figures, which I do not think have been controverted, showing that the strength of the fighting men in the Army, in relation to the total strength has radically altered. He said that, before the war, there was one infantry battalion in the Army to every 1,500 men, and that the proportions are now one infantry battalion to 5,373 men. That is a very striking change, and an explanation is clearly due to us. I think that to a soldier it will seem simpler than to a layman, and I readily concede that the increased power and complicated nature of modern weapons, and the increased fire power of the infantry have a lot to do with it. Nevertheless, the changeover from one battalion of infantry to 1,500 men in prewar days, to one battalion to 5,373 men in the postwar Army, is sufficiently striking to deserve of an explanation.
There is always the great danger of over doing the rearward Services at the expense of the fighting man. During the whole of the war, the right hon. Gentleman and I were kept, as were other Ministers, under continuous pressure by the Prime Minister, the present Leader of the Opposition, on the subject of teeth and tail. It is not possible to keep the teeth and the tail in their proper relations by an occasional memorandum or by a quarterly review, or by looking at the subject now and again. It can only be done by a continuous and rather niggardly and parsimonious eye being turned every day upon this matter.
In the Royal Air Force, the percentage of men actually fighting in the air must, necessarily, be extremely small, in relation to the whole Force. It always has been, and it would not be far from the truth to say that, in the last war, never more than 5 per cent. of the Royal Air Force were fighting men in the strict sense of the word, although in the remaining 95 per cent. were included the air crews and pilots in training. I believe that those proportions are not very far out. I have the impression that this vigilance in achieving the size of the rearward Services 629 is not being maintained now. The right hon. Gentleman has only been in his present office for quite a short time, and I ask him to take a leaf out of the book of the Leader of the Opposition and learn the technique of continually pressing that the rearward Services should be maintained on a ratio which can be defensible by argument and common sense.
I now come to the third point—the distribution of Forces. I think I must tread carefully on matters of Order when I refer to paragraph 31 of the White Paper, because the Service Estimates have been debated and passed. But I think I can make my points by couching them in terms of the future. We shall certainly require from the Minister of Defence much more information than he has yet vouchsafed, about the allocation of resources between the three Services. Great changes have passed across the face of war, and the effect of air power on land forces and naval forces has been sweeping. I think it was the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) who made a valuable contribution—not all of which I agree with—to this particular aspect of the subject. There have been great changes.
The German and the Japanese Navies are no longer afloat. The possibilities of Fleet action between battleship and battle cruisers are much mare remote than they were, I think, more remote than during the lifetime of anyone in this House. But, on the other hand, the function of the Royal Navy remains the same, as the hon. Member for Hereford was saying on Tuesday. The Royal Navy has to keep open and guard our lines of communication. That may well involve a larger deployment of Naval forces than before the air intruded its unwelcome attention upon warfare. I do not know. But, nevertheless, objective and scientific study of the relationship between the various parts of the Fighting Services is what we expect from the Minister of Defence, and from his White Paper, but we do not get it. We only get what I have already described. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to accept, as he is fitted by temperament to do, the fact that there are always risks in defence, just as there are in war. One cannot be safe all over the place. In a country like ours, which has been so hard hit economically, it is more than ever necessary to concentrate the largest sums of money upon that part of the Armed Forces which is likely to yield 630 the best, and, possibly, the first, results if we are attacked, and if we again become involved in war.
There are two other matters upon which I wish to touch very shortly before I sit down. The first is that I should like to elicit some information about the change described in paragraph 7, under which the charges for production of equipment for the Armed Services are to be borne on the Votes of the respective Service Departments. If this means—and I do not suppose that it does—that there has been a change of policy, then I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman comes to reply he will tell us. As right hon. Gentlemen opposite know, I have always expressed doubt as to whether the best organisation for war was for the Ministry of Supply to act as the purveyor of weapons, and, in particular, such weapons as aircraft and tanks, for the Army and the Royal Air Force. My hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald) made some interesting remarks from the Air Force angle during the Debate on the Air Estimates. This subject is one of the vital matters in defence, as was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan).
I have always been impressed—and here, I have no doubt, I shall earn some praise from the right hon. Gentleman— by the Admiralty system whereby the Admiralty itself is responsible for the design and production, that is the placing of orders direct for ships and equipment. We all remember that the Controller of the Navy at the beginning of the war was Sir Bruce Fraser, who afterwards became Commander-in-Chief and had himself to fight in the ships for the design of which he had been responsible earlier in the war. I believe that there is great danger in having a civilian department interposed between the producers of weapons, on the one hand, and the soldier or airman who has to use them, on the other. The civilian producer, on the one hand, tends to become quite out of touch with the development of tactical thought or with modern tactics, and, on the other, the soldier and the airman do not realise either the wide possibilities, or, indeed, the limitations of modern science and modern production in relation to war, and thus they do not frame military plans so as to take full advantage of the industries which are to serve them.
631 This is not a political matter, and opinion is certainly divided on it. If we are going back on the previous policy, we should like to be told. I think that there would be a lot in such a change of policy. In the other case we get into a very curious hybrid sort of system. The Ministry of Supply is to be responsible for the production of weapons—that is to say, if there is not to be any change of policy—ordered by the Air Force and the Army. But since the cost of these weapons is to be borne on the Votes of the War Office and the Royal Air Force, the House will not always have the opportunity of calling in question the Minister who is really responsible for any waste or inefficient production which may have taken place. Indeed, the Army and the Royal Air Force will themselves be in the embarrassing position of defending the villain of the piece who will be passing his time in his office while they are being questioned about his misdeeds on the Floor of this House. That is only one instance of how the alteration of a perfectly sound system has put the Government into difficulties. I hope that, when he replies, the right hon. Gentleman will enlighten us as to whether there has been a change of policy, and, if there has not, how he is going to secure that Parliamentary supervision over this highly important policy will not be impaired, and how we are to avoid the playing off of Parliamentary questions by one department against another, a form of sport of which they are very fond.
My last point is to applaud—and it is about the only thing I do applaud in the White Paper—the prominence given by the Government to research and development. But I would like to make one point about it. Not only do research and development go a long way towards keeping industrial and military thought up to date, but, if properly used, they save money. There are many items of equipment in modern Forces which become obsolete with almost the same rapidity as women's fashions. The radar of 1945 is now completely out of date, and the same is true, to a lesser extent, of aircraft and tanks. I am sure that everyone in the House feels that development and research into weapons and equipment should be one of the first preoccupations of His Majesty's Government—I think the right hon. Gentleman agrees—and £60,000,000, even in these days of inflation, is no mean 632 sum. This is one of the ways in which we can avoid manufacturing weapons which are obsolete almost the moment they come off the production lines. We must keep down the production of current weapons to the very minimum required to train the troops and Forces who are to use them.
I would also urge that a considerable part of this research and development expenditure should be devoted to planning the actual production of the weapons, and, if necessary, to ordering the specialised machine tools and putting them into places where they will be used, even if they are not used to capacity during peace. Anyone who, like myself, has had some knowledge of production in war, can hardly under-estimate the advantages to a belligerent of having not only the latest designs of weapons and equipment, but also a plan, thought out in advance, for tooling the factories which are to make them, and a plan for selecting the contractors who are to be made responsible for their production beforehand. I think that this is common ground.
One of the abiding weaknesses of democracy is the desire for retrenchment and for a reduction of the Armed Forces in times of peace. We are all agreed that our defence Forces should be cut to the minimum required, but to carry the idea beyond the realm of safety and into the realm of danger, because of an economic crisis, is quite nonsensical. We, on this side of the House, will at once support His Majesty's Government in keeping the Armed Forces at such a size that they can fulfil our commitments, and will join with His Majesty's Government's own followers in criticising them for the inefficient way—if it should prove to be necessary—in which those Forces are subdivided for the tasks which are necessary. That is all I have to say on the White Paper. It is a sorry document, and I hope we shall get a better one. If I were to discuss the things which are not in it, I should detain the House nearly as long as the right hon. Gentleman did. I beg him to try to pull things together. Where we expect a clear decision, we meet with generalities; where we expect firm crisp English we meet with jargon and circumlocution; where we expect a taut and muscular organisation and an imaginative division of national resources we only find evasion.
633 We are told that first things must be considered first. I am now descending to one of those glimpses of the obvious which are so numerous in the White Paper when I say that the first thing in preparation for war is to have a fully worked cut plan of mobilisation. I suggest that we have not got one. We are not at all sure where the right hon. Gentleman stands in this matter. I think that no one reading the Defence White Paper, or after reading the Debates on the Service Estimates would really gain the impression that we are in any state of preparation for war today. It is no use the right hon. Gentleman making the excuse that war is not imminent. It certainly is not, but that is no excuse for not keeping all our Forces in a state of preparation as though war might break out the day after tomorrow.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Major Vernon (Dulwich)
With such a great wealth of examples from both sides of the House, it is not easy to select points which a back bencher can conveniently put within the few minutes at his disposal. I would refer to three points raised by the Minister in relation to our commitments. He spoke of three main commitments. One was the defence of this country, the next was the defence of our communications, and the third was our commitments to the United Nations Army. He referred to 1940 to make our flesh creep with the idea of the danger and with the need for great powerful defences for this country. Some of us can remember the period between the wars and we realise the great difference between the circumstances then and now. Those of us who were students watched the rise of Mussolini, the preaching of force as something right, and of bullying as a justifiable occupation. We saw Hitler slowly coming into power, we read his books, he told us what he was up to. We realised the growing danger at the time, but there was not sufficient thought in this country to make the realisation of that danger powerful in the preparation of our defences.
We still have the students who are watching world affairs, but they are reinforced by the whole population, who have been taught, not through books but by experience, one of the great lessons of the last war—that aggression does not pay. Hitler and the Nazis and the Fascists have been beaten on their own 634 ground at their own game, and the encouragement that potential aggressors can get from their history is indeed meagre. As I see the world, the danger of aggressive action against these islands is very small. As to our communications and their defence, who is the enemy? The only big navy in the world is the American Navy. Does anyone think that we are likely to have to defend our merchant ships from the American Navy, or that we could do so if we wanted? The only possible enemies are pirates here and there, and as the United Nations gets down to its job in providing for the defence of all the nations of the world, odd pirates here and there will not seriously trouble anyone.
The next item was the United Nations Army. It was spoken of as if our commitment to the United Nations was something which should be added to our other commitments. They are not things to be added together, they are alternatives. The United Nations Army can only come into existence if there is effective agree ment between the great Powers. That would mean that the need for great armies so that the great powers could fight each other would cease to exist. Every man who goes into the United Nations Army will save ten, 20 or 50 men from going into our national Army. It is wrong to add that commitment to our other commitments. We have been specially interested in the thought behind the White Paper, which has been rein forced to some extent—
§ Mr. Alexander
I did not say that I was adding to the total of our Forces by making the requirements of the United Nations a new burden. I did say that I am not exempted, by the existence of the United Nations, from the need to look to our own defences as well as to provide something for the United Nations organisation. The size of our separate defences will, of course, depend to a large extent on how the United Nations organisation is conducted.
§ Major Vernon
I am glad that we are more or less in agreement on that point, but the way in which the commitments were stated in the White Paper perhaps justified my assumption that they were intended to be added together.
As to the ideas behind the White Paper I have not, like the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton), a prize 635 sentence to quote from the White Paper itself, but I have two quotations from the Memorandum which accompanied the Army Estimates, and one from the White Paper. These three quotations, together with one of the last sentences which the Minister used, give us a picture of the minds behind the White Paper, that is, what is concealed by the verbiage to which reference has been made. The first quotation is:Conditions are not yet stable enough to permit the reorganisation of the Army into its final peacetime form…The essential words there are "the Army into its final peacetime form," the idea of finality which indicates the state of mind of the person who wrote it. The second quotation comes from the paragraph on research and development, where it is stated:In view of the increasing importance of technical supremacy in modern warfare it is obviously essential to devote the greatest possible effort to research and development. In particular it is necessary to devote special effort to long term fundamental research even though the results may not become apparent for a number of years. When the results of this fundamental research come to fruition it will be necessary for them to be applied to the design and production of weapons and devices for the re-equipment of the Army.Here, again, there is the idea of a very long-term programme ahead in the minds of those who wrote this. The final quotation is from Cmd. 7042, in the section devoted to production, research and development. It states of the Defence Research Policy Committee:Through its close link with the Chiefs of Staff, the Committee will be continuously aware of the latest concepts of strategic and operational thought, and will itself be able to influence those concepts by reason of its knowledge of future trends in the field of defence science. From this collaboration will emerge a unified and comprehensive view of the probable nature and methods of future warfare, on which His Majesty's Government's defence policy can be firmly grounded.The sort of picture that comes into mind as a result of reading those passages is that those who drew up this paper look forward to a vista of years during which our researches would follow the ever-receding mirage of technical supremacy over an enemy who never guesses what is coming to him, but presumably goes on with his own programme of long-term technical research leading to his hope for technical supremacy. All these things go on together, all the nations pursuing this 636 Long-term policy, trying to get technical superiority. They seem to forget that all the time this technical superiority is increasing the speed and devastating effect of weapons of war, and the obvious thing, when we are in that condition is for one of them to strike first, before the others strike at him. The nature of the development is such that it can never lead to a condition of stability. The temptation to rapid, treacherous attack is tremendously greater.
The sentence from the Minister's statement to which I would draw attention was the one in which he said that one of the purposes of our Armed Forces was Lo strengthen the hand of our spokesmen. This conveys the idea that the old time diplomacy still goes on—[Laughter]—it gives away the notion, if that is regarded as more correct, the idea of the pistol under the table as well as argument and reason being open and above board. This is just a picture of the state of mind which is behind the White Paper. It is something with which I disagree fundamentally. I might be asked what I would suggest. I would say that we should make our words match our deeds. What are our words? We hear Ministers praising the United Nations and its aims in the future. Every speech of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary contains a eulogy of the United Nations, praise for reason and consideration and confidence rather than suspicion—all these noble virtues have been advanced.
These words, these sentiments and notions have been held forth before the world. How do they compare with our deeds? As set forth in the White Paper we are aiming at a large Army for many years, and research is to go forward over a long term. There is to be this perpetual search for technical supremacy over some imaginary enemy. The two things do not match up at all. I may be asked what I propose. I would say that our deeds should be made to match our words. If we really believe in the United Nations and feel that the Security Council will be a safeguard against treacherous attack; if we believe that the Atomic Energy Commission will produce a practical scheme for the control of atomic energy; if we believe that the Commission set up for the reduction of armaments and the abolition of weapons of mass destruction really can, and will. 637 work, then we ought to adjust our own armaments policy on the assumption that they will be a success. If our deeds show that we believe they will be a success, that will be one of the greatest factors contributing towards the success.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Major Gates (Middleton and Prestwich)
The hon. and gallant Member for Dulwich (Major Vernon) has made some very telling points. I merely want to raise one point which has been concerning me throughout these Debates and which does not seem to have been fully touched upon from the aspect which is worrying me. I want to make a plea on behalf of the men who will be carrying out the short-term commitments to which the Minister of Defence has referred. His Majesty's Government have announced that in future compulsory military service will be imposed on the young manhood of this country for a period of 18 months. I want to call the attention of the House to the fact that there are a great many young men, generations of British manhood, who have come to maturity and have been called up, who will have spent three or even four years of compulsory service in peacetime.
What I want to emphasise is what a tremendous difference there is between wartime compulsory service and peacetime compulsory service. I think that this House is in grave danger of perpetrating an injustice in this matter which has escaped the attention of His Majesty's Government in the White Paper. When a nation goes to war, every able bodied man in that nation takes it for granted that he may be called upon to render service in a military capacity for an indefinite period. The period of his service can only be terminated by the achievement of victory and then a further period thereafter for such time as it takes for the physical process of his demobilisation.
When the whole nation is in peril and danger, compulsory soldiering, in spite of its hardships and personal danger, can, and does, become tolerable for many years; but I emphasise that, in peacetime, compulsory soldiering can, and does, become rapidly intolerable. At the moment, there are thousands of young men carrying out the commitments of this White Paper who are finding that these conditions are intolerable. They are suffering from frustration and the knowledge of wastage. That feeling has been 638 further complicated and brought to a head by the knowledge that further generations of British manhood only a few months younger will serve in the future for a definite period of only 18 months. It is quite clear from the OFFICIAL REPORT of 18th March that a man in group 62 in the Army will not be demobilised this year, if the forecast is correct. Many of the men in group 62 were called up in 1944. Fortunately for them, they did not see any war service, but they will have served from 1944 until 1948 in conditions of peacetime service. I receive a great many letters from them, and on their behalf I want to emphasise that the carrying out of the commitments of this White Paper can become intolerable from their point of view.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Mr. John Paton (Norwich)
I am glad to have the opportunity of intervening in this Debate and to speak on this matter purely as a layman. Unlike the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Alder-shot (Mr. Lyttelton), I have never worn a sword, neither have I ever served in any branch of His Majesty's Service. In a discussion of this kind I do not find myself at any disadvantage for that reason. We are discussing defence policy, which is something that must be determined on purely political considerations. It is a matter in which military knowledge and experience may or may not be an advantage. I had no hesitation in endeavouring to speak in this Debate even though I cannot talk with technical experience of the Forces themselves.
I listened to the Minister of Defence with very great interest indeed. I like listening to the Minister of Defence. I rather like the rounded periods and the rotund sentences—I am sure he will forgive me for putting it in this way—in which he utters what really sound like mid-Victorian sentiments even when he is talking about the atomic bomb. Having listened to him today, I must say I got the impression that somehow in all this discussion of modern weapons, current commitments and long-term policy, there was a total effect of entire old-fashioned ness. In fact, I got the same kind of impression from much that was contributed by the right hon. Member for Alder-shot, who had what I thought was the audacity to talk about the "ossified minds" that he pretended to see on this 639 side of the House. Although I listened with great interest and intentness to the speech of the Minister, at the end of it I remained completely unconvinced and extremely unimpressed.
I believe that the proposals made by the Government in this White Paper for our current commitments and long-term policy envisage an intolerable burden that this country can not be expected to bear. I do not take the view that they are merely onerous, difficult and heavy for us to bear in our current economic difficulty. I believe that, in their very nature, they are completely intolerable and that, if they are persisted in, they will bring into extreme jeopardy the whole of the plans for social betterment on which this party founds its power in this country. I believe it will make impossible the economic recovery of Great Britain, upon which those things depend, and that, sooner rather than later, if the Government persists with this they will be compelled by the harsh logic of circumstances to change their minds.
We cannot afford, as a country, to bear the burden of 1,500,000 men and women immobilised in the service of our Armed Forces and their maintenance. It is a completely staggering thought, is it not, for people in this country to reflect upon, that at this moment in proportion to the population, we are seeking to maintain twice as many men and women in our Forces as the United States maintain? It is a staggering thought that we propose to spend on our national services this year as much as the remainder of the American loan. It is a staggering thought that while we are proposing to impose, for the first time in our history, military conscription upon the people in peacetime, the United States abandon it. Great Britain, alone among the nations of the world at this time, is proposing to make this great new departure of compulsory military service in peacetime for its population at a time when throughout the world the opposite tendency is prevailing.
I cannot detain the House for very long, because many hon. Members want to speak. I want to survey, briefly, what is involved in the question of our current commitments. When we discuss the question as set out in the White Paper, in relation to the Armed Services involving over one million men and women, we are 640 not discussing current commitments in peace terms. These are not the figures or the commitments of peace. In fact, what we are considering are current commitments based by the Government on a semi-war footing. I believe that what is wrong with this policy, and the whole of the conception of the Government with regard to these problems of national defence and security, is that they have a fundamental misapprehension of the conditions of the world in which we live. We were told, of course, that the Government make their final decisions in regard to military commitments on the advice of their Chiefs of Staff. But the final decisions are the decisions of the Government. When we are asked to accept current commitments of this order, the first thing which we must ask ourselves is, "Against which enemy are the Government proposing to guard themselves by maintaining forces of this order of magnitude?"
Why is it that we always talk in terms at this particular juncture of dangers to our security and of some perils, hidden from the common man, that loom large in the eyes of the statesmen who govern our affairs? Where are these perils? I suggest an answer. No Chief of the General Staff nor any collection of Chiefs of the General Staff attempts at any time to make an assessment of military needs without using what the scientists call a "working hypothesis." That is, he assumes the potential enemy. I will say straight out here today: What is the inevitable conclusion one must draw from these commitments? If there is an assumption here of a potential enemy, that potential enemy can only be the Soviet Union. It is not the least bit of good trying to disguise or cover up that ugly fact. The working hypothesis upon which all this working out of current commitments is based is that the potential enemy is Soviet Russia. Soviet Russia will know perfectly well by what standard of value to judge that statement, because they, of course, do exactly the same thing. That is how military assessments are worked out by any Power. It does not necessarily, of course, imply any unfriendliness with Russia—I want to make that clear—but nevertheless the fact is there, that the working hypothesis of the potential enemy is that Russia is that enemy and that, therefore, the current commitments to which we must give our attention are of this vast kind we 641 have in the White Paper. There is no escape from that conclusion.
Does anybody in this House, on the Front Benches or on the back benches, knowing anything whatever about the facts of Russia's situation, actually imagine that Russia can have any kind of aggressive notions whatsoever? That country, as everybody in this House ought to know, had whole provinces devastated in the war; the whole of her economic system was intolerably strained and distorted by the war; and she has an immense task of reconstruction before her which will probably occupy her for at least 10 years. It seems to me to be utterly fantastic to conjure up bogeys of any likelihood of aggression from that source as a determining factor in the settlement of the strength of our Armed Forces at this time.
The conclusion we should draw is that for current commitments, with the two exceptions of Palestine and Germany, where conditions of quite an exceptional nature at this moment prevail, we ought to have our military Services back now on a peacetime footing. If one examines the list of current commitments we have in this White Paper, we find that every single one of them, except for Germany and Palestine, were commitments we had before the war; and in peacetime conditions we garrisoned with far fewer troops than seem to be contemplated now.
What in Heaven's name is the purpose of a huge Army in Malaya now? Why must we have a considerable Force in Hong Kong? Cannot we slim these outposts of Empire? Cannot we reduce these strains on our manpower which come from this quite impossible conception of setting our military Forces on a wartime footing in peacetime? For reasons we all know, Palestine probably does demand a heavy commitment, but I am not at all certain that the vast Army we maintain in Palestine now—I do not know the figure but I have seen it stated as about 120,000 men—is justified. That Army is doing a job not so very different from a job that was done by a British Army of between 5,000 and 6,000 men several years before the war broke out. After all, the Arab insurrection in Palestine was crushed with quite a small number of British troops. I concede the special position in Palestine and Germany, but if we allow 200,000 men for the preservation of order at those two points, could not we do all the rest 642 with 200,000 men? Surely that would be ample to satisfy the most voracious military appetite in these times when our former enemies lie prostrate and shattered, and we have, in fact, no real enemy at all in the world? So much for current commitments.
I want now to talk briefly about the long-term problem. I really began to wonder as I listened to the right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House whether we lived in the same mental world. It is all very well to say that nobody can foresee what will happen to the whole science of military tactics and even military strategy as a result of the happenings of the last war and the development of the new technical weapons. It is true, of course, that all these things are yet in their infancy. Nobody but a dogmatist would attempt to prophecy what will happen in 10 years' time, but there is one central thing I want very particularly to draw to the attention of the House on which there is a concensus of expert opinion. For us in this island it is the factor of sole importance. The one thing upon which every expert is agreed is that if this country becomes involved again in a great war, there can be in these islands no kind of military preparedness which will save this country from being completely devastated and ruined—
§ Brigadier Mackeson (Hythe)
Might I suggest to the hon. Member that I for one entirely disagree with him?
§ Mr. Paton
I am grateful to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but I was not aware that he was ranked among the atomic experts of the world. If he disputes it, I can quote Lord Alanbrooke in my defence. Lord Alanbrooke has himself most directly drawn attention in this country to the fact that in the new conditions of warfare that may be expected this country is in a most vulnerable position. Everybody knows that is true. What we have to face is the central fact of importance that if we allow ourselves again to be involved in a great war we in this country shall be extinguished. That is what it means. That is quite possible—[Interruption.] An hon. Gentleman opposite mumbles disapproval. He will have an opportunity of combating these arguments when I sit down.
What I am pointing out is this. If anybody imagines that this country of Great 643 Britain would be tenable it we were involved in a great war in which a powerful foe was using atomic weapons against us, it seems to me he is living in a world of complete illusion. In that I am supported by the general concensus of opinion of the experts who have studied the subject. Remember, please, that in talking about the long term programme we are not thinking of atomic bombs, guided missiles and aircraft ranges of the type we saw in existence at the end of the last war. All that, as the Secretary of State for Air said on Monday, is now completely out of date. What we have to face if there is a new war are technical devices of a horrific kind and a devastating quality that we cannot now even imagine. I repeat that in those circumstances this island, frankly, is untenable. It seems to me, therefore, that it is our business as a people, and it is the Government's business as a Government, to cease thinking in terms of defending the indefensible and to turn our minds in other directions. It is true that we must honour our police and preventive commitments, and the commitments we have to U.N.O. That need not involve us in any heavy commitments. Those are police requirements, and the Government should definitely make up its mind now entirely to reorientate its policy and its outlook on policy.
I was astonished by the way the right hon. Member for Aldershot, after referring to what he called the "ossification of minds" on these benches, mentioned that it was his view that in future the function of the Navy would remain the same. Frankly, that made me gasp. When the Minister of Defence talks about the maintenance of order and communications and the right hon. Gentleman opposite talks about the Navy's functions remaining the same, what in fact are they talking about? Is it true that human memories are so short that we have already forgotten that it was proved in the last war that with aerial weapons in a stage of infancy we could not maintain our lines of communication in the Mediterranean? Has everybody forgotten the months of agonising suspense we endured in this country watching that frantic struggle to maintain those communications and failing in the end? We could not do it.
644 Does anybody imagine now that with the new developments which will take place within the next to years it will be possible to keep any kind of waterborne traffic going through the narrow seas of the world? Anybody who thinks in those terms is unfitted to have responsibility for decision on these matters. We have to face the fact, unpalatable though it is, that the old position of Britain based on dominant sea power in all the seven seas of the world is an epoch which has passed. We have to face the realities of our situation. That kind of world domination will no longer be effective and we have, therefore, to think in new terms.
I must finish. [HON. MEMBERS: Go on."] I am sorry to have been led away, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I want to conclude by saying that all these things I have been putting before the House are things that lead me to this conclusion: that Great Britain, in the circumstances of the new warfare, in the circumstances of the new economic situation of the world, and in the relationship of the nations in an economic sense; Great Britain, in her geographical position, is no longer in a position to dare to engage on the huge gamble of joining in another great war. If we do, the end is destruction finally, and so it seems it may be Hobson's choice if you like—but for me it is not Hobson's choice. We have to make, as the Minister for Defence said in the concluding passages in his speech, the United Nations Organisation work. There has been a very great deal of disillusionment expressed as the result of the failure over the last year. I think that disillusionment came from the fact that people underestimated the difficulties of the task that lay before us in creating that world organisation for collective security. No one in their senses, surely, could have imagined that an immense task of this kind could have been completed in a month or two, but completed eventually it must be.
I am convinced that it has been largely because we have approached this United Nations organisation with divided minds, operating at the same time dual policies—one a policy of idealism through the United Nations, and another of hard materialism in our practice, and dual action in the expression of power politics. You cannot combine these two things, and so, what I am asking the Government 645 to do now is to have faith, to take the element of risk that is involved, and abandon warlike preparations that are futile, concentrating our power and influence single-heartedly and single-mindedly on the great task of making those United Nations a working, living reality of inestimable value for the future of the world. It is because I believe that kind of dynamic leadership would evoke the right kind of following among the nations, that I want our Government to have the honour of giving that lead. So I ask them, even at this late stage, to abandon the folly of the course that they are embarked upon now, and which they will inevitably be compelled to abandon before very many months have gone, and turn their thoughts and their minds in this other direction which I have been indicating.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Sir Ralph Glyn (Abingdon)
I do not propose to follow the hon. Gentleman the Member for Norwich (Mr. J. Paton) in all that he has said. I want to dissociate myself entirely from some of the remarks that the hon. Gentleman made, because I believe that we are in just the same difficulty in foreseeing the future as those of us were who were in the Parliament that succeeded the last war. I heard exactly the same kind of speech made in 1918 by hon. Gentlemen who had within them that real desire that we all have, that some organisation should be set up to make war impossible. We all believed in the League of Nations; we all tried to make it succeed, and I think we must remember—[An HON. MEMBER: "All?"] All, I think, but I am only speaking for myself. I believe what is necessary is the combination that you must bring to those ideals of practical realism at 'work. There is one other matter which the hon. Gentleman mentioned with regard to Palestine. I happened to be in Palestine at the time he mentioned, when we had a very small force there. The hon. Gentleman surely cannot compare the present situation in Palestine today with organised forces carrying arms in immense numbers, and if he knew the severe strain of duty that falls on British troops now in carrying out their duties, he certainly would not recommend any reduction.
§ Sir R. Glyn
Whatever it is, we all want to get out of Palestine as soon as we can because we are put in an impossible position there, and the sooner we get out, the better. It was the Mandate we had forced on us—
§ Mr. Zilliacus (Gateshead)
I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon but the Government of this country assumed the Mandate of its own volition. There was no, forcing upon this country of the Mandate.
§ Sir R. Glyn
I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that the original Mandate was to be held by the United States of America, and was accepted by them. However, I do not want to go into that; it is much more important to deal with the White Paper and the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman, the Minister of Defence. I listened to the speech which was read by the right hon. Gentleman with very great interest and I want, before he leaves, to tell him how much I agree with all he said in regard to research and the necessity for expending that money. I want to mention this fact also, that I happen to be, with other hon. Gentlemen, a member of the Estimates Committee which is now enquiring into the expenditure by the Services, of which we have had much detailed evidence. I beg the House—and I am speaking with some sense of responsibility—I really was astonished during the whole of the Debates on the Army, Navy and Air Estimates at the concensus of opinion on all sides of the House that more information should be published. We have to evolve something in the machinery of this House which will prevent us giving information to a potential enemy—[An HON. MEMBER: "What enemy? "]—which is of the utmost benefit to them.
We know, from information we have had since we occupied Berlin, that the German general staff used to look upon Debates in the House of Commons on the various Estimates as infinitely more valuable to them than anything they could get through their Secret Service. It is surely foolish to spend money on the one hand and then throw away the advantages you are going to get from it 647 by making facts public at a time when they certainly should be kept secret. Therefore, I hope the House will give consideration to this fact: that I believe a system will have to be evolved whereby they will delegate to certain of their colleagues in the House, either on the Estimates Committee or elsewhere, the responsibility of going into these matters in such detail and reporting to the House, and thus making it unnecessary to make facts public which quite obviously will endanger the lives of our men should, unfortunately, a conflict occur. I therefore beg the House to realise that it is no sort of foolish secrecy and being mysterious, but it is a danger to our position to publish facts of that kind.
There is one other matter. At the very end of the right hon. Gentleman's speech he gave lipservice to the British Commonwealth. I rather agree with the right hon. Gentleman, and I believe that the vulnerable position of the United Kingdom, of this island, in any future war is something which is utterly impossible to appreciate at the present time until we know more about the weapons of the future. I am fairly confident that to maintain bases in Great Britain and Ireland will, under certain circumstances, be almost impossible. I do not believe it is possible to envisage the evacuation of the whole population from those centres on which we rely for production, and I do not see how we can maintain our Forces, in the air, or on the ground, or on the sea, without a sufficient war potential behind them. Therefore we have to face the fact—it is not our fault—that this island is, in my view, the most vulnerable portion of the world's surface today. There is no question about it. Surely, therefore, we must look outside the bounds of this island to something which is infinitely more important, which is the dispersal which is given to us by the fact that we have the whole British Commonwealth. Nobody under modern war conditions wants concentration of force and we have in the British Commonwealth natural dispersal, and it means we must have these zones of defence in different parts of the world.
This is the first time the Minister of Defence has had an opportunity of making a speech to Parliament for his new Department—which many of us have wanted to see established for a long time. I want 648 to say to the right hon. Gentleman—I have known him over a good many years—that I hope it is the last time we have a speech read which could just as well be produced in a White Paper. It seems to me that what is necessary now—I know it is important that every word should be weighed—
§ Mr. Alexander
Instead of dealing with the ordinary exposition of the White Paper, I deliberately picked out the three main points of criticism uttered in previous Debates, and confined myself to replying to those.
§ Sir R. Glyn
I quite agree, and I did not want to express myself in any way which the right hon. Gentleman could think discourteous. I meant that I do not think the White Paper in its present form is an ideal document, and I believe that if the right hon. Gentleman would in future see how much more of what he expressed in his speech today could be added to the White Paper and circulated well before the debates on the Service Estimates, we would have a really comprehensive idea of what we are at.
The House knows that we cannot possibly present to Parliament and the country a comprehensive view of defence unless the Minister of Defence is in a position to say on behalf of the War Cabinet that he is satisfied that contacts between the United Kingdom and the Dominions and the Colonies are satisfactory. I am so convinced that the future depends on these zones of defence—the Pacific zone, where we must work in with Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaya, probably—
§ Sir R. Glyn
Then you have the Canadian position completely tied up with the United States, and you have South Africa. I am not satisfied that in this period after the war, after all that was done by the Dominions in co-operating with us, that it is right for us to have the first Debate by a Minister of Defence and simply say, "As regards the Dominions, we cannot be expected to say anything definite." There ought to be a Council of Defence for the whole Commonwealth. It ought to be a definite and real Imperial Staff. We have to look outside this island, because you cannot rely on this island in another war, as the hon. Gentleman said, and I believe that we must look—
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
May I interrupt my hon. Friend because he is saying, and repeating what an hon. Member opposite has said, that this island will be untenable in case of another war? If that is true, is my hon. Friend suggesting we should now begin the evacuation from this country of our basic industries, perhaps to Canada? That is the logical corollary from what he is saying. If this island is untenable and cannot defend itself, it means the wholesale massacre of the entire population.
§ Sir R. Glyn
I do not think it would mean the massacre of the entire population, but I think you cannot fight a war now unless you have your industry keyed up to make that war possible. It is only a matter of common sense. Can we maintain under what are modern conditions a large population turning out the nation's war potential? All I am saying is that there should be a Council of Defence for the Commonwealth which will discuss where it is necessary to manufacture either in Canada or Australia or elsewhere. But it is ridiculous to pretend that the situation in any other conflict will be anything like the position we were in even at the end of the last war.
I am sorry that my remarks have caused such concern to both sides of the House, but I feel that it is an occasion when one has to say exactly what one feels. I have perhaps been longer in the House than many—it is no merit—but it gives one a fairly long memory. I believe that after the war of 1914–18 we thought we knew a great deal. After this war, at any rate, I hope we realise we know very little, and I still do not believe—and I have listened to all the Service Debates—that this House appreciates that the situation has changed so completely that I think a lot of these Estimates in the form in which we are looking at them are absolutely impossible to justify.
I have never been one who has voted against the Estimates in my life, and I do not propose to do so, because the Chiefs of Staff, with all the information available, are the only people who can really advise His Majesty's Government. But I feel that the old title of Chief of the Imperial General Staff, which was borne by Lord Alanbrooke, and is now borne by Field Marshal Lord Montgomery, is a misnomer. He is Chief of the General 650 Staff of the United Kingdom; he is not Chief of the Imperial General Staff. I wish he was, and the sooner the Minister of Defence can create something of the sort so that that title will mean something, the better it will be.
What have we done for the Colonial troops who fought with us in the last war? What are we doing to help them either in the West Indies or in West or East Africa? They fought with us, some were given commissions, and they did admirably. Do we expect them to go back to their villages and live under old conditions? What organisation is there in London other than the Colonial Office? When the United States troops went to West Africa in order to open up the transit of aircraft route across Africa, what did they find? British troops in bell tents; no protection against mosquitos. Every single American was put in a mosquito-proof hut. That sort of thing is simply forethought. Why did the United States Government do that? Because they had the experience in the Panama Canal, they would not let their men go into poor quarters, nor should we. Therefore, I believe that what is lacking, and what I hope the right hon. Gentleman will do when he next comes before Parliament with another White Paper, is to see that there is far more cohesion within the British Empire, and that we recognise the fact that these zones of defence must be built up both in regard to garrisons and the use of personnel. There are a good many of the Colonial troops who would be only too anxious to serve in the zones of defence, and only too anxious to be given the treatment and conditions they had in the war.
Then we have the position in Hong Kong. Someone said we had too many troops there. What about the position of the troops? We have not too many troops there to keep order, because we have the most astonishing situation there. The whole of Hong Kong is being filled up by Chinese over whom we have no control. We have to pay for all the Services and we cannot tax them. I think the House will agree that whether a man is serving in the Army, Navy or Air Force, he is always the best ambassador we can have, as has been said frequently.
What I think is lacking is appreciation of the new situation. We in this House of Commons are talking about defence, but 651 how can we talk about defence in these islands? We should be talking about the British Commonwealth. Unfortunately the right hon. Gentleman is not in a position to talk of the defence of the Commonwealth because it consists of free and independent nations. But under the Statute of Westminster there is nothing to prevent an approach being made much more closely than is now being made so that the Dominions realising that we cannot bear this burden financially or otherwise, either in cash or in men, will themselves share—and they are more than willing to share it. I believe that if that is done this Debate will not have been in vain. But whatever happens if we do spend money on research and development, and having spent it do not give away the benefits which would neutralise the value of spending that money. I think it is absolutely vital that our scientists and everybody working with them should keep well ahead of all these problems because if we do not keep absolutely up to date the risk of war is very much greater, and our contribution towards the common pool of the United Nations and the Security Council would be so much less.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
I would like to follow the argument that the hon. baronet the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) was pursuing in which he was demonstrating that one really cannot have an Army unless there is an industrial war potential behind it to maintain it. Since the White Paper was presented to Parliament, we have had a coal crisis and President Truman's speech, and we have had three days' Debate on economic affairs, all of which have sharply focussed the attention of the country on the necessity of making the best use possible of every available man, whether in the Forces or in industry. We on this side of the House appreciate the great difficulties of the Government in reducing the size of the Armed Forces in this period of the aftermath of war and with so many things still unsettled in the world.
It was our desire when we first put down the Amendment, which you have ruled out of Order, Sir, to make as many constructive suggestions to that end as we could. Very few of us associated with that Amendment are against the Conscription Bill, or the principle of conscription in- 652 corporated in that Bill. I personally believe we need an Army of something in the neighbourhood of 400,000 men for a number of years to come, a Navy of 130,000 and an Air Force of 220,000 which would make a round total of 750,000. We certainly cannot get that number of men into the Services, particularly if we get a period of full employment, unless we have some element of compulsion. But the position today is that in all three Services at the begining of this year we had under arms a total of 1,427,000 and we are to have 1,087,000 by 31st March next year. Before the war, we never had more than 450,000 men in all three Services together.
So, at the moment, we have a million more under arms than we had in 1939, and in 13 months time we will have 650,000 more men than we had before the war. Also, we have some 450,000 people looking after them, engaged in munitions and making equipment for the Armed Forces. I think we have heard the argument of the Minister of Defence before, as we have heard the arguments advanced against him before. His argument was that we have so many additional commitments that we cannot possibly get back to anything like the prewar level immediately. But, the other night, in the Debate on the Army Estimates, I made a few suggestions to the Government as to what our additional commitments really amount to. The Government did not in any way deny the figures I gave on that occasion—I do not want to weary the House by going into details—but I would repeat that a careful analysis of the information one can get shows that our additional commitments only amount to 250,000 men in countries like Germany, Austria, Greece and Italy. So, we have three quarter of a million more men in areas where we always had commitments for generations before the war.
The Government, by promising that as from 1st January this year no man will have to serve more than two years, and also by the declaration that no man will be demobilised after any one call-up of 1st January, have committed themselves to the proposition that in a very short time, at any rate soon after the beginning of 1949, they are going to come down to a figure like 750,000 men in the three Services, because the call up will 653 only give them from that date 175,000 men a year. We cannot maintain a force of more than three quarters of a million unless we have more than 175,000 men coming in compulsorily every year, As the Government agree that there is no immediate prospect in the next year or two of being at war there seems no logical reasons why we cannot come down to the figure we shall have to come down to at the beginning of 1949, instead of waiting for this interim period to finish. If it is agreed that there is no war in the immediate offing what have we got these forces for? The most obvious reason is to keep up appearances, at peace conferences.
Indeed, we are getting into the position of a gentlewoman who tries to keep up appearances by having lace curtains at the windows, and a bottle of Maderia wine for visitors, while starving herself for the necessities of life until eventually she has to be carried off by an ambulance to a sanatorium for resuscitation. That is precisely what we are doing now, because, in order to keep up appearances at peace conferences, we are not admitting the fact that we will only be able to maintain the forces at three-quarters of a million men and we try to say that we can continue to defend the country with a million and a quarter. But in any case the numbers in the Armed Forces bear no relation to the opinion that other countries may have as to our fighting potential. That depends, as the hon. Baronet the Member for Abingdon said, on our industrial potential. For instance, America has in proportion to her population run down her demobilisation far more than we have, yet no one thinks America is a. country to be lightly reckoned with, because it is known that she has a great potential. The French had a large number of men under arms, and yet no one paid any attention to them because they knew her war potential was not very great.
We are told we have an overall shortage of manpower in industry of 600,000. We were told that by the Government spokesman in the Debate last night. This shortage makes all the difference between our getting the coal and the exports we need, and not getting them, because the balance is so delicate. Already the Government have said that they intend to demobilise 340,000 men by March, 1948. If one agrees that the major number of those demobilised men will come from the 654 occupied countries, that will leave us with over one million men in our Armed Forces doing what 450,000 men used to do before the war. The bulk of these are divided between the United Kingdom and the Middle East.
Why have we got large Forces in the Middle East now? The Mediterranean route, as has already been proved, is indefensible in war, and we should have to use the route round the Cape again if there were another war. It may be said that these Forces in the Middle East are there as a deterrent to stop any other Power from exercising too much pressure and so interfering with our own interests in the Middle East. That may be quite true, but we only need a token force to do that, because, if infiltration does take place, the first moment there is a clash or conflict of arms, even if it is only with a few platoons, then it is an incident of a major character which must be taken to U.N.O., and which brings in its train all the implications of an attack by one Power on another. It really does not matter whether that first clash is between token forces or forces of a couple of divisions. So, if we were to undertake a very substantial reduction and rely on being able to take incidents to U.N.O., there in the Middle East we would find our first big reduction.
Secondly, at home there are now at least 380,000 to 400,000 men in the Army, quite apart from the men in the other Services. Everybody agrees that we must have some reserve in the Armed Forces at home, but we could have arranged some time ago for an Army Reserve, as I tried to point out on the Army Estimates last week, but even without that Army Reserve, surely we could do something to get more cuts in the present home establishment? This is a matter which comes up in one form or another on all sides of the House, and every time it comes up we are told, as we were told again this afternoon, that there are committees sitting and that a lot of people are carefully considering this, and we are asked, "Do you imagine that we do not know exactly what you mean? Of course, we are trying to save manpower," but we never hear of any substantial results coming from these committees.
There are a number of ways in which we could reduce the manpower in the Forces at home. For instance, why could 655 not men who are called up for training be sent to their units earlier? They could be sent away from the training depots much earlier than they used to be during the war, and finish their training abroad, perhaps in Germany or one of the occupied countries, because they do not need so much basic training now before joining a unit. In wartime you must be fit enough to save your own life at least before you are sent to a fighting unit, but today your life is in no immediate danger, except perhaps in Palestine, and we could save a lot of manpower in training depots and units at home by cutting out some of the elaborate training.
Another point which always strikes one as one reads these defence Service Estimates and defence White Papers is, what exactly is the Minister of Defence doing to co-ordinate the three Services? What actually is happening in co-ordinating the three Services? Surely it would not be a far flight of imagination to say that as at home we have to have a number of base troops doing things which are common to all three Services we should combine the essential services such as medical, supply, and ordnance into one whole? In that way basic supplies, equipment, clothing, medical supplies and even signals could be organised and worked on one basis. Pay offices in particular might be amalgamated, and be improved in their speed of operation. It is that sort of imaginative step which is not being taken at all by the Minister of Defence. If it were it would get a very good response from this side of the House.
If this type of action were undertaken at home and in the Middle East I firmly believe that we could demobilise an extra 250,000 men by 3rst March, 1948. Our problem at the moment is to get something like an extra 600,000 men into industry. We talk about the importation of foreign labour and all kinds of other devices, but those 600,000 men are there in the Forces at the moment, and if an extra 250,000 were demobilised by 31st March, 1948, that number, taken together with the 340,000 already planned by the Government to be demobilised and the corresponding reduction in the 450,000 people doing nothing but turn out munitions for the Armed Forces, would give more than the figure of 600,000 which is 656 in fact the shortage. It is argued very plausibly by the Government that so drastic a cut as that would cripple the efficiency of the Services, but have they forgotten that last January they demobilised as many as 420,000 men in one month? Even as late as June they demobilised 220,000, and even now they say that in the quarter from April to June they propose to demobilise from the Army an extra 50,000. All I am asking them to do is to keep up that extra 50,000, or slightly more a quarter until 31st March, 1948.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Bellenger)
I gathered the other night when my hon. Friend spoke on the Army Estimates that what he was asking for was the immediate demobilisation of an extra 250,000. Do I understand that he now wants them spread out over the year?
§ Mr. Wyatt
I think my right hon. Friend must have misunderstood me; I do not think I ever suggested that 250,000 men should be demobilised tomorrow morning. I may be considered extreme in my suggestions by some of the Service Ministers, but that was one that never occurred to me. In the period that immediately faces us, if there is not going to be another war—and I think it is agreed on all sides that there is not going to be a war—it does not really matter if there is a cut in the efficiency of the Services, because they are not now at the moment fighting. If we must come down to a figure of 750,000, as we must eventually because of the Government's own provisions and because of the internal situation, why not come down to that figure now, as soon as possible? That in itself will stimulate the Chiefs of Staff, if they have to be stimulated, to get a little more efficient and adapt themselves to the new situation. At the same time it would increase the industrial potential of the country and give a firmer basis to the forces we can maintain.
Nothing lost us more prestige abroad in America, or even in France or Russia, than the fact of the coal crisis. They do not care a hoot if we have 1,500,000 or 2,000,000 men in the Army, but if they see our industrial economy is failing, that is a matter which is very indicative of weakness. Any slow-down on the domestic front next winter or the winter afterwards would have the same effect on our prestige, and it is much better to pocket a little pride on the military front and make 657 it up on the home front. It may be said that with India becoming independent we are going to lose the use of the Indian Army as a reserve force. We have always had a reserve force in the Far East because of the fact of the Indian Army's existence, but what are the Government doing at the moment to replenish these reserves from Colonial sources? There is a tremendous opportunity at the moment to obtain large numbers of Ghurkas from Nepal to serve in our Army. They are excellent soldiers, and their main industry is fighting. They do not want, I am afraid, to serve with Indian officers, but they do want to serve with British officers, and I think it is a great pity that we do not take advantage of them.
What are we doing about West Africa and East Africa? After all, before and during the war the Indian Army has been a great educative force in India. Whatever the motives, it has been a great educative force, and the people who have gone into the Army have benefited from it considerably. The same thing could be done for West Africans and East Africans as well. Perhaps if we cannot undertake our Colonial development from motives of disinterestedness, we may be able to persuade the Government to undertake it from motives of self-interest. If we have this force of 750,000 men, which is what we are going to have—whatever the Government may say today, that is in fact what our total forces are going to be before long—that, plus a Colonial Force, would be strong enough to operate as a deterrent to anybody, and at the same time it would not take away so much from our industrial economy. It would enable us to balance it. We are short of 600,000 men, and there they are in the Armed Forces.
In any case, it is manifest that we cannot go on supporting more than that figure very much longer, and if we are going to have to cut down it is much better to do it now. For instance in Normandy during the campaign there some battalions had a complete turnover in a strength of 1,000 men. Their entire strength turned over, and though they were perhaps decreased in efficiency they were not so greatly decreased as all that, and today nobody is likely to be called on to undertake such arduous activities as we had in Normandy. If there are no other arguments which can persuade the Government that our resources simply do 658 not allow us to maintain these forces any longer, if they cannot be persuaded on manpower grounds, I should have thought the fact that we are going to spend, as my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. J. Paton) has pointed out today, three-quarters of the amount of the American Loan in one year on maintaining this force, would have been sufficient to make them see the light. After all, we only spent £580 million on all three Services in 1939, when we were desperately trying to re-arm and were afraid of the Nazi menace. We were re-arming at breakneck pace then, but at the moment we are to a large extent living on our fat as far as equipment is concerned, and it is fantastic that we are going to spend this year on the defence services a sum of money larger than is spent on all the other services put together.
If we could only persuade the Government to reduce by 31st March, 1948, to the figure to which they will have to reduce by 1949 or 1950 at the latest, of 750,000 men, that Army itself in 10 years' time would be far more efficient than it will be on the present basis, because there will have been time to work out the most efficient and modern methods, new techniques and new weapons. Although you have not seen your way to call the Amendment, Mr. Speaker, I do urge that the Government should at any rate accept its spirit, and do what they can to meet us on the matter.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Brigadier Low (Blackpool, North)
The hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt), as he always does, has put his case most clearly. Most of it, I think, calls for an answer from his right hon. Friend rather than from this side of the House, but I would like to refer to one small argument which he and his hon. 'Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. Paton) used earlier this afternoon. It was that because, in his opinion, this island and the Mediterranean route are indefensible, we should not even try to defend them. If that really is his argument I do not see how you can ever start to fight at all. It is, as the hon. Member for Norwich said, very regrettable that we in this House should still have to consider the possibility of war, but it is still a possibility, and surely the ability of this country to defend this island or to defend the Mediterranean route depends on—
§ Brigadier Low
Will the hon. Gentleman let me finish my sentence—depends upon our own efficiency and power on the one hand in relation to the efficiency and power of any enemy we may have on the other. To say that the Mediterranean route is indefensible and therefore it does not matter, is a travesty; the Mediterranean route was used during the last war after we had been able successfully to conduct counter offensive operations to close it. That is the way these things are done. If I may carry on my argument in so far as this country is concerned, if hon. Gentlemen opposite really are convinced that this island is indefensible, then, as some one on this side interjected when the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) was speaking, we must take some steps now, at once. I do not believe that it is absolutely indefensible, but in certain circumstances that might come about. I may be able to deal with that argument later.
My trouble in considering the point of view of the hon. Member for Aston is that we are short of information. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon that it would be contrary to our duty to ask right hon. Gentlemen opposite to produce information which would immediately go to anybody who might become an enemy and would be of advantage to him and thereby a great disadvantage to us. We have to balance on the other hand that it is the duty of hon. and right hon. Members of this House to watch over and to control Government expenditure and policy relating to the defence Services. I agree also that it may be that we, as a House, will have to invent a new form of procedure to deal with this matter. Anybody who sat through the Estimates Debates will have realised what an atmosphere of unreality there was in which we conducted our Debate. I believe that that condition of affairs applies today. When the right hon. Gentleman was making his speech I hoped that though he obviously had to deal with the attack which he expected from the benches behind him he would give us some objective and scientific study of the main problem which faces him in the task of allocating the resources of the country to the three Services, for the purpose of the defence of this country and the Empire. He did not do that, but I hope he will do so in the 660 future, and that the Secretary of State for Air will enlighten us on the point if it is his intention to wind up the Debate.
I feel disappointed both with the right hon. Gentleman's speech and with the White Paper. There are a number of things which disappoint me. That which has disappointed me most is the lack of any reference to the problems of imperial defence as a whole. The Minister of Defence told us that he did not set out to deal with anything but the defence of the United Kingdom. He informs us in paragraph 3, that it is the intention of the White Paper:To give a picture of defence policy and provision as a whole, and to afford the opportunity for Parliament to consider and debate the problems of defence in a general context.I am bound to say that I took those words to mean that we must discuss the whole problem of imperial defence. Surely it is accepted by all Members on all sides of the House that to talk of the defence of the United Kingdom without bringing in the defence of the whole Commonwealth is, to use the right hon. Gentleman's own expression, "piffle and poppycock." No one has ever yet tried to consider the defence of this country alone. If it was not possible to consider it alone in the past, it is still not possible to consider it alone now. The other argument which the right hon. Gentleman used in connection with imperial defence was one that raises the question of the status of each member of the Comonwealth. We all recognise that the Dominions are independent members with rights equal with ourselves, and that they may have defence and foreign policies of their own, but I would put it to hon. Members that at this moment the will to have an imperial defence policy throughout the Commonwealth has never been more healthy.
I propose to detain the House for a short time by reading a sentence or so from the remarks of leading statesmen throughout the Commonwealth in order to back up my argument, but before I come to them I would like to take up the right hon. Gentleman on something else that he said. He remarked that discussion of this matter might do more harm than good. That is patronisation of the very worst order. To suggest that Dominion Governments will be offended if we discuss in this House the need for an imperial defence policy and the need for all of us 661 to play our proper parts, is patronisation of the worst order, and I hope the Government will stop it. There is no reason why we should not say what we think the answer should be. If the Dominions do not like it they can put up another answer.
I would like to begin my quotations with what Mr. Casey said after we had had a discussion in this House on the Central Organisation of Defence. He was speaking in Melbourne on 20th November to a large audience. I know that he is not a member of the Government at the present moment, but his words must carry weight. He said:One of our (Australia's) tragic mistakes in the interim period in the 1920s and 1930s was the fact that we all failed to recognise that Britain had ceased to be strong enough to defend the whole of the British Commonwealth from attack.He said also that Britain was much less able to carry the burden now than she was in the 1930's. That was recognised by that right hon. Gentleman in Australia, who is well known both here and in that country but who is not a member of their Government. It was also recognised by Mr. Evatt, on 20th February. He is reported to have said:The members of the British Commonwealth are fully grown and ready to take over in an increasing degree the responsibilities formerly borne by the mother country alone.I may add, incidentally, with reference to the machinery that will bring this collaboration about, he said:There may be ways in which machinery for consultation and common action could be improved.Actually, provision that Australia should take part in the defence of the Commonwealth to an increasing degree was included in the speech of the Governor-General.
There have also been references to this matter by leading statesmen in Canada and South Africa. In Canada, in the course of discussions, a member of their House stressed the importance of cooperating with members of the British Commonwealth, which he said wasthe greatest team for defence that the world has ever known.He is actually a member of the Social Credit Party. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I thought perhaps some hon. Members would like to know that. In South Africa, as I am sure hon. Members 662 do not need to be reminded, Field Marshal Smuts has always stressed the importance of a proper share of the burdens of imperial defence being spread throughout the Commonwealth. It might be worth adding that Colonel Stallard, speaking on 16th June, 1946, said:If the Empire had played a united game in past years and had pooled their resources, and decisions, had linked up in joint responsibilities and in their defence Forces, they might have avoided the war. Let them take warning from that, and let them with the other Dominions state in emphatic and plain terms to the Government at Whitehall that they were prepared to work to a plan and make their contributions and bear their share of the expense.Naturally there are other members of the Dominions of other parties who may disagree, but there is a strong feeling running in the British Commonwealth today that help should be given, not only in the full-grown Dominions, but also in Southern Rhodesia.
I believe that the Dominions could make some increased contribution to our peacetime and current commitments, particularly those to do with occupation and policing, following the end of the war, which are referred to in the White Paper as "current commitments." They could also play a great part in building up the necessary bases and places from which we could properly defend our communications as part of our long-term policy. My hon. Friend referred to the system of zones. Quite obviously, Australia and New Zealand are interested in the Pacific Zone. Could not both these countries contribute to the garrisons of Malaya? In East and West Africa there is another zone and the third might be Canada. Cannot we get on with this? Not only would it mean that we could be relieved of some of our burdens which are not properly ours alone, but we could also, by these means, increase the efficiency of the Imperial defence policy. I believe Imperial defence really means defence of the Empire by the Empire, for the Empire, and it is about time we had some reality in these words.
My hon. Friend also said it might be necessary to disperse our industrial effort throughout the Dominions and to disperse some of our population. Have all these things been thought about? If they have, why have the Government refused to give any information in this House? Is information of this sort going to help an enemy, and if it is, we must find some place where we can discuss it in secret, 663 because it is the responsibility of all Members of this House to see that this House is providing the most efficient and least expensive method of defence. The British Commonwealth, as has so often been said, did manage to win two wars, but it prevented neither. I hope the defence policy, largely led, we hope, by our Minister of Defence, so long as he sits on that Bench as the Minister of Defence, will so improve that we shall be able, as an Empire, to prevent any future war. That should be our aim.
Let me refer for a moment to Colonial manpower. I agree with what the hon. Member for Aston said when he spoke about that. The Government should publish to the House and to the world a statement as to their intentions as to the use of the Ghurkas, and the manpower in East and West Africa and elsewhere. We want to know their intentions and their conclusions, and we want to discuss them. The White Paper raises large issues, 'but it raises no larger issue than this question of Imperial defence. There are many other things about which other hon. Members will ask, but in my opinion, we are entitled, and I hope we will get, some further information about Imperial defence from the right hon. Gentleman who replies.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Zilliacus (Gateshead)
I will not attempt to follow the hon. and gallant Member for North Blackpool (Brigadier Low), although I agree with one point he made, upon which I will touch in the course of my discourse. I want to address myself to the demand that the Government should earnestly consider the necessity for drastically reducing our forces and considering as our first commitment our commitment to the people of this country. The criterion we should apply is the need of this country for manpower enough to carry out its reconstruction programme, for it will not profit us to have large forces abroad if we go bankrupt at home. I want to take up one by one the objections of the Government to a further reduction of our Armed Forces.
The first objection is that this would constitute unilateral disarmament. Well, after a war, every ex-belligerent nation disarms unilaterally, and at the present moment, we have done less unilateral disarmament than either the Soviet Union or the United States. In relation to their 664 populations and resources, those two countries have done more unilateral disarmament than this little island.
§ The Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker)
Could the hon. Member give us any figures for the Soviet Union?
§ Mr. Zilliacus
Certainly. In the last year of the war, the Soviet Union spent 60 per cent. of its total Budget on defence. The year after, it was 43 per cent.; then 23 per cent., and, in the Budget introduced recently for 1947, there is only 18 per cent, for defence, as compared with 28 per cent. in the Budget of this country.
§ Mr. Alexander
There is an extraordinary difference as to what constitutes a Budget as for Russia and for ourselves. One should examine each of the Budgets for the years concerned.
§ Mr. Zilliacus
Is it the right hon. Gentleman's argument that we should measure our armaments and arms budget against those of the United States and the Soviet Union?
§ Mr. Alexander
No; but the hon. Member has charged the Government here with not carrying out disarmament with other countries and I should like to see his figures.
§ Mr. Zilliacus
I have produced one lot of figures which have not been refuted. But I will proceed with the next point of my argument. On 18th November last, the Prime Minister stated in this House:no one is foolish enough to suppose that this country can measure up in armaments against either Soviet Russia or the United States of America.That being the case, we should not attempt to use the armaments of either of these countries as a yardstick for measuring the armaments of this country. We should be governed by our own needs. We should apply an economic and a manpower ceiling, and a financial ceiling. Above all we should have a political ceiling on the extent of our armaments. By that, I mean that the Government should apply the ten years' rule. It has been mentioned twice recently, but nobody has yet mentioned its political significance.
I would like therefore to draw the attention of the House to how the ten years' rule was described on 10th March, 1936, 665 by Sir John Simon, the then Home Secretary:For the purpose of framing Service Estimates some assumption has to be made, and in August, 1919, the assumption was adopted for this purpose that the British Empire would not be engaged in any great war during the next ten years …. That was the origin of the ten years' rule …. It is important to mark the division of responsibility. The responsibility rests with the Government. The Chiefs of Staff were not responsible for the ten years' rule… It is the responsibility of the Government which adopts it. Whether the Government is too sanguine in one case or too anxious in another is a purely political responsibility.Have the Government taken the political responsibility of making this assumption? Have they told our Service chiefs to draft their Service Estimates on the assumption that we will not be engaged in a great war for the next ten years? If the Government have not made that assumption, nature abhors a vacuum and they are allowing the Chiefs of Staff to work in the belief that we shall be engaged in another world war within the next ten years. That is a horrifying assumption. It is the responsibility of the Government to take a political decision on this matter. So much for the unilateral disarmament argument.
I now come to the collective security argument. The Government are very fond of stating that we need a large force in order to be able to make a worthy contribution, under Article 43 of the Charter, to the forces to be put at the disposal of the Security Council. The short answer is, that the Security Council can only take a decision to use its forces against a disturber of the peace, or because of a threat to peace, if and when all the permanent members of the Security Council are agreed on taking that action. The moment the permanent members of the Security Council are agreed on the necessity for coercing a peace breaker, or would-be peace breaker, their joint forces today are roughly 100 times as much as is needed to keep any conceivable peace breaker in the world in order. We could cut our forces drastically below the present level and still have plenty in hand for doing our share by putting our contingent into the collective security kitty, which can only be operated if and when the permanent members of the Security Council are in agreement.
§ Mr. P. Noel-Baker
Does the hon. Member suggest that no action should ever 666 be taken against aggression unless all the permanent members are in agreement?
§ Mr. Zilliacus
Is my right hon. Friend suggesting that there is any obligation in the Charter to take action against a disturber of the peace unless the Security Council enjoins that action with the agreement of all its permanent members?
§ Mr. Zilliacus
I am coming to that in a moment. I rather hoped my right hon. Friend would produce that argument.
Let me come to the second point, which is the meaning of collective security as between the permanent members of the Security Council. The Charter contains no obligation by which the permanent members of the Security Council are ever obliged to fight with each other. In no circumstances can the Charter impose an obligation on the United Kingdom to join with the Soviet Union in fighting the United States, or to join with the United States in fighting the Soviet Union. On the contrary, the Charter contains the obligation on the part of all the members of the United Nations, including the permanent members of the Security Council, in no circumstances to use force or the threat of force in their mutual relations, and to settle all their differences by pacific means.
It is perfectly true that Article 51 of the Charter says that there is the right of individual or collective self-defence in the case of attack, and pending action by the Security Council. It adds, however, that such acts of self-defence should in no way impair the authority of the Security Council. It is perfectly obvious that if this Article or the succeeding Article concerning regional agreements, Article 52, be seized on as a pretext for building up, shall we say, an Anglo-American entente and arms tie-up to build up a balance of power against Russia in the name of self-defence, then we have reduced the Charter to the rôle of an ideological figleaf on an Anglo-American balance of power, and we have destroyed 667 the United Nations. That is what I call a crypto-Fulton foreign policy, and not a United Nations foreign policy. The net result of the fact that there is no obligation in the Charter on the permanent members of the Security Council to coerce each other, and that, on the contrary, they have a duty under the Charter to settle all their disputes by pacific means, has been described by the Secretary- General of the United Nations, Mr. Trygvie Lie, in his report to the General Assembly. He said:The Charter was founded upon the basic assumption that there would he agreement among the permanent members of the Security Council upon major issues. The fact that the Charter gave the right of veto to each of these permanent members imposes upon them an obligation to seek agreement amongst themselves. I should be failing in my duty in presenting this report if I did not emphasise the absolute necessity that the powers should seek agreement amongst themselves in a spirit of mutual understanding and a will to compromise, and not abandon their efforts until such agreement has been reached.That means that so far as the permanent members of the Security Council are concerned, collective security under the Charter means that they must acquire such a degree of confidence in each other's will to peace that they do not apprehend the danger of war, and can neglect the need for preparing for war, against each other, and should be ready in their mutual differences to appease each other.
Fortunately, the Government have already twice said that they possess this degree of confidence with regard to both of our great permanent fellow members of the Security Council. On 21st February of last year, the Foreign Secretary said in this House:I cannot conceive any circumstances in which Britain and the Soviet Union should go to war … I cannot see about what we have to fight. Certainly it never enters my mind, and I am certain it does not enter the mind of any of my colleagues in the Government. I approach America in the same spirit. I would never think of, and I never could see—and I am sure no party in this House ever sees—the possibility of war between us and America. I do not think of it in the other case either. I say this very emphatically that in considering in our minds all organisations or States there can be no policy or anything else which will lead to a conflict with either of these great Allies."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21St February, 1946; Vol. 419, C. 1356.]If that is really true, if all we need for our collective security to reduce arma- 668 ments further is confidence in the peaceful intentions of both our great permanent fellow members, and if we already have that confidence and do not dream of measuring up in armaments against either of those States, then what on earth are we waiting for to get on with disarmament at once? There is certainly nothing whatever in our collective security obligations that stands in the way, if the Government mean what they say—and, of course, I cannot assume that the Government do not mean what they say when they make official statements in this House. This statement of the Foreign Secretary of 21st February, 1946, was confirmed by the Prime Minister on 6th March of this year, in answer to a question which I had the honour to ask him.
The next objection to further reduction is that of commitments. "Commitments" means the same thing that it meant when I had the honour to address the House on this subject on 4th March of last year, in the course of the Defence Debate. If these commitments are genuine world peace commitments we should be able to share them with other countries through the United Nations organisation, and we should make proposals for doing so. That goes for the Middle East and Palestine, for the Suez Canal, for communications, and for other parts of the world. It certainly goes for organising defence, together with our fellow members of the United Nations organisation, the Dominions and now independent India in the Far East, and for some kind of Pacific council, or other regional arrangement. Defence of those areas is not our sole job, and we cannot do it. That is where I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for North Blackpool; it is physically impossible for this country to take on the job of Empire defence alone.
As regards defence, the Minister of Defence has himself stated the essence of the matter, when on 18th February, 1937, he said:… if you are really trying in this polio to arm this country on a unilateral defenc basis, and suggesting that we can vote the money and organise to defend the British Empire, all that I say is that you are exceedingly foolish. You have never fought a major war yet without allies, and powerful allies, and you have no hope of defending the whole of the far-flung stretches of the British Commonwealth with unilateral defence."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th February, 1937: Vol. 320, C. 1411-2.]669 The real question is: Against whom are we preparing to defend ourselves? Upon whom are we looking as our allies, and upon whom are we looking as our potential enemies? How do we relate our defence arrangements to our collective security based on the United Nations, and on the Government statement that we can neglect, in our defence calculations, both the Soviet Union and the United States?
The plain truth is, if the Government mean what they say, if their policy is based on the United Nations organisation and its Charter, and within the U.N.O. on equal friendship, co-operation and confidence with regard to both the Soviet Union and the United States, then there is no sense whatever in our present military establishments, and our defence arrangements are out of all proportion to our necessity, as well as being out of all proportion to our means. The only thing that makes plain and sinister sense of the Government's Defence White Paper is the assumption that the Labour Government today have got into the same position as the Liberal Government between 1906 and 1914, and are saying one thing in public and to the back benchers, and doing another. The Liberal Government were striving to smuggle through an entente with France in preparation for the first world war.
In those days there was no alternative: there was nothing but isolationist power politics or entente power politics. But today there is the alternative of a policy based on the United Nations. I accuse the Government of not genuinely basing their policy on the United Nations organisation, and still less on friendly and equally close co-operation with both the Soviet Union and the United States of America within the United Nations organisation. I accuse them of basing their policy on an Anglo-American entente and an Anglo-American arms tie up against the Soviet Union. We know what the purpose of that Anglo-American arms tie up really amounts to, because President Truman has made that perfectly clear. Balance of power politics are not only a crime because the balance of power always ends in war. An Anglo-American balance of power is a mug's game for the Labour Government, because America will supply most of the power, while we shall have to provide the conscript cannon fodder for policies determined in Wash- 670 ington, as we are doing in Greece today. Big business and reactionary America wants things in the world that are not in the interests of a Labour Britain, and if we make ourselves wholly dependent on the United States, for defence or anything else, the end is going to be that they will crack down on the Labour Government's home policies.
Finally, I accuse the Labour Government of conducting a foreign policy today that is based on systematically deceiving and misleading the people of this country, and flouting the pledges on which this Government was returned to power. I accuse the Government of becoming the make-weight in an Anglo-American balance of power run from Wall Street and Washington and designed to use the threat of war as an instrument of national policy against the U.S.S.R., against Socialist reconstruction in Europe and against the movements of social and national emancipation in the Middle and Far East. I urge the Government to base our foreign policy on Labour's election pledge to back Socialism as essential to the restoration of democracy and political freedom in Europe, and on the United Nations organisation and equal co-operation with the other two great Powers, and to cut down our armaments before it is too late to make head against our economic difficulties.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Brigadier Mackeson (Hythe)
The hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Zilliacus) will forgive me, I know, if I do not follow his speech in detail. It will be for his right hon. Friends to deal with the irresponsible and disgraceful reference he made to the U.S.A. by calling that great and generous Ally reactionary.
§ Brigadier Mackeson
I meant it seriously. I want to make two or three points which I hope will be constructive. I listened with great interest to the speech—the eloquent speech, if I may say so—of the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. Paton). I do not, however, think that we should assume that if there is another war human life will be automatically terminated on this island. We all pray and hope sincerely there will never be another war. None of us in this House, with the possible exception of right hon. Gentlemen 671 on the Government Front Bench, have really any detailed knowledge of the technical possibilities of the future; but I do believe, as one who has had to read a little about war, that military thought often makes the wrong deductions.
I do suggest that technically the word "defence" is one of great importance, because it is not simply a question of manpower and armaments; it must, surely, be a question of mankind defending itself against wholesale destruction from a minority, which is what we may well come to. Therefore, the point I want to make to the Minister of Defence is, to impress upon him—indeed, he must be well aware of it—how absolutely essential it is he should have the very best scientific brains at his disposal. I know how difficult it is to obtain them, because of the great demand there is for scientific advice. Difficulty must, undoubtedly, exist in allocating the technical knowledge and advice we have in this country between the demands of defence, industry, medical research, and the many other bidders for such services.
I should like to point out to the House that for many years this question of defence and offence has been one on which the military mind has very often been wrong. We can go back to the days of the armoured knights and Cressy; and, without wearying the House with a long recital of evidence, I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the machine gun made the defence the dominant factor in war in 1914–18 for a short period; that then armour overcame the machine gun, and that this immunity had a great effect, and gave the offensive an advantage. The French assumed that linear defence would work in this war, and assumed it wrongly; and, unfortunately, they made a similar error in the first Great War, when they thought that l'attaque à l'outrance would work. When this war started, many people held most exaggerated ideas as to what the effects of bombing would be, although, God knows, the results were bad enough.
There is very often a technical answer to technical inventions and production aimed at destroying life. I believe the task of the Minister of Defence is to use as many of the best brains available to obtain the answers to the two questions which face civilisation, and which worry 672 us who have young children growing up; and these are long range projectiles and atomic bombs. I do not believe—and I speak with no expert knowledge, although I was involved in the development of the Armoured Corps—I do not believe it impossible that technicians will produce an answer. A great deal of the effect of bombing was reduced by the invention of radar. We must for the sake of our children try to think of the word "defence" as defence, and not necessarily as a process of building up vast armaments in accordance with the last war.
I do so appreciate the difficulties which face the Government or any Government in this matter. I believe myself that the time has now come when the questions of defence and foreign policy and also Colonial policy must be taken out of party politics. I have always believed that. I do not know whether the solution would be for defence and foreign policy to be discussed in the Privy Council or in Secret Session in the House. I appreciate that the Government must have responsibility, but I do believe that right hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Front Bench and right hon. Gentlemen on the Government Front Bench will have to exchange information, if they expect those of us who sit behind them, who have responsibilities to our constituents, to vote these large sums of money on expenditure on armaments. I do not think hon. Members opposite would be surprised at someone who has served in the Forces adopting this attitude. We must realise that this is a question of survival. Of course, we must hold our political views and be party politicians sometimes and have our rows, but this is a question of a struggle for survival which rises above party politics.
There is one point which is worrying me a good deal. I have ventured to mention it in this House before. It is the appalling number of men in the Services involved in writing. I said when I made by maiden speech that we cannot economise in staff unless we economise in paper work—for which another word is used outside this House—and that only if we decentralise shall we save a large number of officers and men sitting on seats writing papers. That can only be solved by a Ministerial decision. Although I welcome the organisation of the committee the right hon. Gentleman described, I do not 673 believe that the attitude of setting up committees to deal with every difficult problem that arises is the real solution. As I have been serving in the chain gang on the Transport Bill Committee I was not able to be present during much of the Debates on the Service Estimates, but if I am right we have got something like one civilian in the Army to every three or four soldiers. That is a staggering figure.
I do not deny that that is necessary. It may be, but I have not the relevant facts on which I can pass a considered opinion. I can appreciate the difficulties of the Secretary of State for War in the enormous technical developments taking place in the Army, but I suggest that, somehow or other, we have to recast our accounting system and decentralise responsibility in order to save total overheads. I am quite certain that, if he can do that, he will have done a great service to the Army and to the country. I have no doubt that the same criticisms could be advanced in respect of the other Services, as far as unnecessary paper work is concerned. The decisions involved will not be easy, because it means this House surrendering a certain amount of its detailed financial authority and is not a simple matter. The Government should however, be thinking about it seriously. Our task as an opposition is to criticise and I am trying to put forward broad and constructive criticisms and suggestions.
My third point is one which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) and was also mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Blackpool (Brigadier Low). It is one on which I feel very strongly, and one which I have made on previous occasions in this House, it is the use of Colonial manpower. We have reduced our Colonial Forces from about 300,000 to 90,000 in one year. That is out of all proportion to the reduction accepted for British troops where in fact, the reduction has been far smaller. I think that, if any hon. Member will look up the figures, he will find that our Colonial Empire has about one man in every 600 or 700 of working age serving in the Forces, whereas in this small island we have one in every 18. I am suggesting that we must recast our ideas, and allow, not compel, such Colonial volunteers as wish to serve His Majesty to do so. I 674 have made careful inquiries, and, when in Malta recently, I found complete agreement with that suggestion. I believe that we should do nothing but good in inviting more of His Majesty's Colonial subjects to volunteer to serve in the Armed Forces.
I believe hon. Members opposite will agree that the Indian Army has been a great example to the world of how a few officers can build up a great organisation, which we are now going to hand over. Surely, it is wrong to take the attitude that a Colonial subject of the King is not allowed to serve outside the Colony concerned? He can, I think, enlist in certain cases in the Forces of the Crown, but it is not easy. I am thinking not only of infantrymen but also of the men who are required to man the aircraft and aerodromes, the nursing orderlies, the teachers and the hundred and one other jobs involved in defence. I believe that, if they are properly handled and given good chances of promotion, these men could be of great assistance and would go back to the Colonies as good friends of this country and better citizens. I have been very disappointed up to now to see that we have discharged so many Colonial soldiers without giving them the opportunity to continue to serve should they wish to do so.
Those were the points which I wished to make, and the most important of all was the first. Somehow or other, we have to study this question of technical defence. I believe the time is rapidly coming when hon. Members of this House will have to be assured that either they themselves or their leaders know the facts before they vote these vast sums. It may be that, if the hon. Member for Gateshead had known certain facts, he would have spoken quite differently to the way he has spoken today, but, at the moment, we have inadequate knowledge of the facts. Personally I am not prepared today to press the Government to make them public; but I do feel that we must know more before we are again asked to vote such vast sums.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
No one in this House at the present time, unless there be hidden somewhere a Colonel Blimp, which I do not believe, would wish to maintain the large numbers of our Forces at their present level. The question is entirely one of how we are 675 going to cut down that level, and, quite frankly, I do not think that, by merely saying we shall reduce by so many men, we can achieve our object. We must show how it can be done, and the whole thing must be properly thought out.
We must have rather more new scientific advice, and, in this connection, I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Member for Hythe (Brigadier Mackeson) has forgotten that Sir Henry Tizard, who was appointed Chief Scientific Adviser, is one of the most eminent scientists and one of the most experienced in this particular direction. We must get more of that kind of advice and co-operation from all classes of people who are able to give advice. I was particularly interested to hear from the Minister of Defence about the committees which are now examining very carefully certain branches of the Services, and the services within them, in order to see what can be done to improve efficiency and also reduce their numbers. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to say something about the composition of those Committees.
What is the proportion of Service to civilian personnel upon them? Is there any reason why a certain number of Members of Parliament should not belong to these committees, to bring this House into very close and intimate contact with what is going on inside the Services? It is possible by appointing such a committee—and I am chairman of the Medical Priorities Committee, which is precisely that kind of committee—that co-operation between civilian and Services personnel is obtained, to make substantial economies in the Services, as has been done with the medical services in the different Commands. That was in a small and limited field, and it does not affect the general question of manpower very much, but it shows the method.
There is another way in which I think we could get a substantial reduction of the manpower which we use and which we recruit in this country, and that is by using Colonial Forces to replace them. I see no reason why we should not use a very large number of Colonial Forces indeed. The House no doubt is aware that there are, at the present time, Colonial Forces being raised in Malaya, Ceylon, and, no doubt, in West Africa. 676 Why should not these Forces be very greatly increased so that they might replace the British troops in many of the areas which represent a very serious part of our commitments? In that way, we might get 100,000 or 200,000 men, which would mean a very substantial addition to the manpower of this country.
How much further we could take it 1 do not know, but, of course, there is the Indian Army, and the Indian Government have given notice that it is to be withdrawn from the areas in which it is employed outside India, and that is going to throw an extra strain on our commitments. Therefore, I urge particularly that this question of engaging more Colonial troops and using them, if in no other way, in replacement of the Indian troops who will shortly be withdrawn, should be considered as a useful means of reducing the numbers of British troops. We cannot afford the manpower which is required to do all these things out of our own narrow resources.
Then we come to the question which has been raised several times by the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. Paton)—whether this country is tenable in any future war. I think one may safely and fairly say that no part of Continental Europe would be safe from complete devastation and destruction. If one looks at Europe from a general point of view, from the standpoint of density of population, and if one takes Cologne as the centre, one has around it a very densely populated area with a very large number of industrial establishments very close to each other. There are great establishments in Belgium, and vast establishments in different parts of the Continent. In this country, there is, of course, an enormous industrial potential, probably greater than in any other corresponding part of the world's surface, and much greater than the industrial potential of the Soviet Union, which, I think, is rather an interesting point.
We must examine the question of what our strategy is going to be. We must throw overboard any idea of national boundaries, of nationalities, and of national frontiers, and consider how it is possible that the people living in these islands may defend in some way the ideals, the kind of life and the organisation that we have in the future. I simply do not believe that we could, by any form of 677 defence known at the present time against the atom bomb or bacteriological warfare, or the other weapons now available, defend ourselves in these islands alone. It is no good not recognising that situation, and admitting frankly that we are unable to defend ourselves, and that our defence must be achieved on Commonwealth lines. We must deploy our resources over the Commonwealth, and begin to deploy our industries in the same way, now or in the near future, and draw on the resources of the Commonwealth in order to have the necessary Forces at our disposal.
That is, of course, a very large order, and one which makes us all think again. I hope that it will make us think very much indeed. It is quite clear that in our interim period—as our present time of history has been called; it is really an interim between the end of the last war and the coming in of the National Service Act of 1948 or 1949, or whenever it comes in—we must apply an interim philosophy, which must be, I think, to try to reduce our Forces as far as possible, and to make use of some of the suggestions put forward by various speakers, including some which I myself have put forward. But we must begin to think, and to think without any ties with the past, of what are to be the lines of our permanent policy.
Here, again, I come to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence in which he laid emphasis on the fact that we must lead up to the time when our Forces will make a contribution to those of the United Nations. There is no possible solution to the world's difficulties, and no possible solution to the military problems, other than organisation through the United Nations. There is no reason to think that we must do this all at once. It is no secret that, when our troops evacuate Italy, the Trieste region is to be garrisoned by troops, partly of our own and partly of another nation, who will be at the disposal of the Governor of Trieste and under his command. That is to say, it will be a United Nations commitment. I believe that the very serious difficulty in the Near East should be referred to the United Nations. Palestine has already been referred to the United Nations. Greece would, I think, be very much better dealt with by the United Nations than by any single nation. I also believe that the 678 question of Egypt would be better referred to the United Nations, than dealt with in any other way.
I wonder whether hon. Members know—probably they do not if they have not been in Egypt lately—that the effect of the war on the world is making a great many nations desire to increase their military forces. Egypt, at the present time, is increasing its Army, is doubling its Army, and, as long as the coming into effect of a real United Nations organisation is delayed, the more fear and trembling there will be in many countries of the world. It has been my fate lately to travel very widely in the Middle and Near East and Far East, and I found no country in which there was not a sense of abiding fear of the possibility of a future war. I think that a clear-cut policy enunciated by this country, and implemented by suggestions leading more quickly than at present to the raising of the United Nations forces, to which the United States, the Soviet Union and ourselves would have to be the chief contributors, would bring a breath of relief to the whole world, from West to East.
Everybody is afraid of what may happen in the future. Everybody is wondering what these new terrible weapons are. After all, the atom bomb is only a high explosive. There are other weapons more terrible than the atom bomb; there are bacteriological warfare and chemical poisons, which are far more deadly, and which, by the way, can be used with much less technical equipment than is required by the atom bomb, and can, therefore, be used by people with smaller resources, though with equally deadly effect. I hope that, as a result of this Debate, we shall be able to get a clear-cut statement of the Government's intention with regard to making the Armed Forces of the United Nations the real vital defence forces, not only of this country, but of the whole world.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Commander Noble (Chelsea)
I wish to intervene for a very few moments, if only to reassure the Chair that, with regard to the length of my speeches, Naval Estimates come but once a year. I agree very much with what the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest) has just said, but there is one point on which, if I may, I should like to correct him, 679 although I feel sure that the hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn) would do it better than I. It is in connection with his description of the atomic bomb. The atomic bomb is something much more than a high explosive.
I was under the impression that I knew something about the atomic bomb. I think it is correct to say that it is a magnification of the high explosive. Perhaps, if the hon. and gallant Gentleman wishes to correct me, he would tell me what is the difference.
§ Commander Noble
While I feel sure that the hon. Gentleman knows a lot more about it than I do, I believe that the radiological effects of the atomic bomb are of far greater importance than its explosive effects.
I was glad to hear the Minister of Defence say that, on other occasions, the normal programme for this Debate would be that it would take place before the Service Estimates, but after they had all been published. I was also very glad to hear his assurance that His Majesty's Government were attaching the greatest importance to scientific research, and that this research was now bearing fruit. I have said a certain amount about that on other occasions, and it has been said today by practically every speaker, including my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hythe (Brigadier Mackeson). I only hope he is right when he says that he thinks that defence against these weapons will come easily. I believe that, until we are absolutely certain about that, every possible effort has got to be made in that direction.
I would like to say a few words on the importance of Paragraph 22 (b) and Paragraph 27 of the Statement, which state the importance that is attached to the planning of the distribution of equipment. Within each Service there must be many competitors for the same equipment, and it is good to read in the statement that Sir Henry Tizard's committee is dealing with this matter for all three Services. I would also like to say a few words about atomic warfare. When I spoke in the Debate on the Navy Estimates earlier this week, I quoted from a report written by the President's Evaluation Commission at Bikini. The part I quoted referred to the possible changes in the design of ships.
680 I would like to quote again, from the same paragraph, but from where I left off:Such changes can offer increased immunity to flash and blast effect, but protection from catastrophe by deadly gamma and neutron radiations lies rather in wide spacing of task forces and decentralisation of Navy yards, repair and loading facilities of ships within ports, and amongst all available harbours. We are convinced that distance is the best defence.In this connection I would like to make special reference to the security of the United Kingdom, and to the collective defence of the Empire. I do not think it is right that the people in this country should be allowed to believe that these weapons, which have already been used, are too much weapons of the future. People seem to think that they are really too terrible to be talked about. It is rather like saying, "Do not look round, I think we are being followed," and savours far too much of the ostrich. These weapons have already been used, and we have to accept the fact.
I am very glad that the Minister told us today that we are doing everything we can to plan to combat these dangers, but we must take advantage of what five atomic bombs have shown us. At the same time, we should thank our lucky stars that since it was a German who, in 1938, made the discovery which led to the atomic bomb, it was the Allies who first used the bomb, for test, in New Mexico, in 1945. That is a point which is often forgotten by many people. We know that about 120,000 people were killed by the two bombs in Japan, two bombs in the very infancy of atomic warfare. We ought to remember, as has already been referred to by the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. J. Paton) and my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn), the concentration of our cities, of our ports, dockyards and repair yards. I agree very much with what the hon. Member for Norwich said, but I rather preferred the solution put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon, and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Blackpool (Brigadier Low), that is, of course, dispersion within the Empire. There is an old saying:Twice blessed is he who bath his quarrel just;Thrice blessed is he who gets his blow in fust.That is most appropriate to atomic warfare, though perhaps the blessings there 681 should be multiplied by a figure greater than three. An American general is reported to have said that the only defence against the atomic bomb is not to be there when it goes off. That is quite true. What he means is what I think all hon. Members who have been speaking have tried to imply—dispersal.
§ Commander Noble
During the recent war our force was not necessarily always in one place, it was widely dispersed. We should get the same dispersal with new weapons and concentration within the Empire.
That brings me to the United Nations. I would like to quote again from the report from which I quoted just now. That Commission went on to say:To us, who have witnessed the devastating effects of these tests, it is evident that if there is to be any security or safety in the world, war must be eliminated as a means of settling differences among nations.I very much hope that His Majesty's Government are giving every assistance to our representatives in New York, and are urging them that progress has got to be made as soon as possible on the Atomic Energy Commission, and also on the Military Affairs Committee. I think that the Atomic Energy Commission has already covered a lot of ground, but the Military Affairs Committee, so far as I know, has covered none at all. It seems wrong on the one side to be going quite a long way towards disarmament and on the other to be coming to no agreement. All I would like to say, in conclusion, is that I hope that our efforts on these bodies will mean, to quote again, that war is indeed eliminatedas a means of settling differences among nations.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Paget (Northampton)
There seem to be really two views with which one can approach the subject of the Debate today. Either one wants an Army or that one does not want an Army. The logical conclusion of the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Norwich (Mr. J. Paton) and Gateshead (Mr. Zilliacus) seems to me to be that we do not want an Army. That is not the line which I intend to pursue. My view is that this is a Debate on strategy, and that we should proceed on 682 the hypothesis that we want to put ourselves in a posture of defence. I want to concentrate upon how we can best put ourselves in a posture of defence. It is not necessarily by having a big Army, for no single factor has led to the destruction of nations more often than the maintenance of too big an Army in peace time. A big peace time Army can be the most insidious form of weakness, a weakness which steadily exhausts an economy. One can search through history, and one will find that far more nations have met disaster through being too armed than through being too unarmed. Indeed, the last example was France. Between the wars, France maintained too large an Army, with the result that she had exhausted herself and left herself defenceless when it came to the fighting. She had expended her reserves before she got to the fighting. Our traditional policy has been precisely the opposite. We have started every war unarmed, unprepared, and we have always won the last battle. That has not been just coincidence; it has been cause and effect.
The fact that we were unprepared meant that we had used peacetime to build up our industrial strength. Our industrial strength was the measure of our potential reserve. By the time we got to the last battle that potential reserve became conclusive. We fought the last battle with the weapons which the enemy's victory in the first battle had taught us were necessary, but he was left with the weapons with which he started. That was a very happy state of affairs. It will not work now. It was a state of affairs which depended on a balance of power and, substantially, upon us having somebody else's Army on the Continent to lose the first battle and to keep things going until we got to the last battle. That only could exist in circumstances of a balance of power. But to go to the other extreme would be even more fatal. To say that because we have to maintain our strength in a far higher degree than we did before the war, we should completely reverse our traditional policy and maintain forces which are beyond our economic power, would be equal folly.
There is no doubt today, and nobody in this House will dispute it, that the Army that we have is far larger than our economic power can support. What are we to do about it? I would say to the 683 Minister of Defence, and to the Service Ministers, that they are responsible for our defence and one of the essentials of our defence is that we do not immobilise too many people in peacetime by putting them into the Armed Forces. One of the essentials of our safety is that they should keep the Forces smaller. They are not merely in the position of solicitors to the Chiefs of the Armed Forces. It is not their job simply to present the case of Field Marshal Montgomery and Admiral Cunningham to the Cabinet and to the House. They are not just the spokesmen of the Service chiefs. That may have been a position which worked all right before the war when we had small Forces. In this set-up today, we want Service Ministers who will rule the Services, and who will make it quite clear to the Service chiefs that they shall not have more men than the security of this country can afford. The security of this country requires an adequate economy. They must also say to the Service chiefs, "You shall run these Forces which you are given as we require." It is not a question of waiting for reforms until the Service chiefs think they are a good idea. They must be told what they are to do by the Service Ministers, who must dominate the Service chiefs. Since the Minister of Food went to his present job, we have not had quite that feeling about any of the Services.
I also want to say a word in regard to what has been said about our commitments. First, we are told, there is the defence of Britain; second, we are told that we must keep our sea communications open; and, third, we are told about U.N.O. I entirely agree that U.N.O. is a negative commitment. If we get a U.N.O. Army, then it means that we shall be able to reduce our other Forces; and that is a negative. Those are our permanent commitments. In the course of the Debate on the Navy Estimates, I said something about the distinction between the securing and the exercise of sea power. One secures power by dominating the enemy's battle fleet. That is the job of a battle fleet. The exercise of sea power is the job of the auxiliary ships. Whatever may be said today, there is no conceivable job for a battle fleet. No possible potential enemy has an ocean-going fleet of any sort, so there is no enemy fleet to dominate. Our auxiliary ships can do 684 everything a surface ship can do with regard to security, without a battleship in the background, because there is no fleet to dominate. It never will be any use, because, if there comes a fleet to dominate, it will be a fleet that is built in the future, and against such a fleet our present ships will be hopelessly obsolete. In these circumstances, it really is quite outrageous to maintain 190,000 men in the Navy. What we want there are more scientists and experimental men. We must build up our prototypes and the instruments we want in the future. We should not immobilise this mass of men in obsolete ships doing nothing We cannot afford the men or the money. There is an occasion for economy.
Then there are the temporary commitments. The first is Germany. In regard to Germany, I would say that there is an Army being used solely as a police force. It points inwards, it is organised inwards, and it is neither in a posture, nor has it the organisation, to resist an enemy who comes from outside. It must be realised that it is not there for that purpose. It is there to police Germany. With things going as they are in Germany, the only really surprising thing is that there is not yet a resistance movement operating. If a resistance movement is organised, the one thing which will be utterly hopeless will be a large Army. All that a large Army can do is to provide a magnificent series of targets for the enemy. What would be required would be a police force with very small mobile units which can dash in. We must not make a large spread out target for an agile enemy. The all-essential thing to do before they get their resistance movement going—and it is only a question of time—for God's sake put the police responsibility on the Germans. If Germans have to shoot Germans then their resistance movement will not be nearly so popular. We must organise the police in Germany with a small striking force to deal with anything serious. That is all we need. We could have great economy in that.
The next commitment is the Middle East. I say here that there can be no greater strategic error than the idea that it is to our strategic advantage to maintain positions in the Eastern Mediterranean. That would simply mean that we would be committed to engage our Forces with our communications fully 685 strung and vulnerable. We would be committed to engage our Forces upon the wrong sides of deserts and narrow sea bottle necks. To talk about doing this in order to maintain an essential artery, an imperial communication, the Suez Canal, is lunacy. The hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Commander Noble) provided the answer to that. It is dispersion. Nobody will take their communications in the next war and bottleneck them in a canal. Our only security will be to spread them across an ocean. Dispersal is the only defence against the atom bomb.
The next fallacy about the Middle East, is oil, it is said, and that we must maintain the position there in order to maintain our oil supply. The Middle Eastern oil is not strategic oil at all. The strategic oil is American oil because our communications in wartime with America are far shorter and infinitely safer than with the Middle East. How much Middle East oil was ever brought to this country during the last war? I have not the figures but I believe that it was practically none. Middle East oil was very useful for defending Middle East oil in the same way as the Suez Canal was useful for defending the Suez Canal, but our Mediterranean communications were cut.
For defence in that area, for heaven's sake let us pull our enemy out across the desert. Cyrenaica is important. We captured the place and I do not see why we should give it away when we come to a peace conference. The Sudan is important. The Gulf is important. These are areas where we can draw the enemy across the desert and so spread out his communications and fight him. We want a forward base at Mombasa, we want a base at Aden, and we want to hold a strong position in the Sicilian Channel for the Western Mediterranean. In that way we pull the enemy's communications out, and do not spread out our own communications for his benefit and get our big military commitments at the wrong ends of the desert. We should look on this Mediterranean-Middle Eastern problem with a bit of realism. Our modern Army requires more and more in the way of supplies, and the problem of supply becomes more and more vulnerable. These are the ideas upon which we have to think about this.
I want to say a word about wastage of manpower. The trouble with this Parlia- 686 ment is that we have far too many poachers turned gamekeeper. Lack of knowledge of the facts of life seems to be almost confined to the Front Bench. We know that when one is given a job in the Army, if one can do it with 10 men one is a lieutenant, if one can do it with 20 men one is a captain, and if one can do it with 100 men one is very nearly a colonel. That is the way it works. I knew one man—I wrote about this to the Minister of Defence, who may remember my letter, during the war—and this gentleman described himself as the Director of Equipment for Auxiliary Craft. His actual job was swinging compasses for drifters. He got himself a brass hat and an organisation of 70 men, and the total job which he and his 70 assistants did could have been done by one secondary schoolboy with three weeks' training. We all know that sort of thing happens.
I can add a perfectly good personal note. I was sucked into one of these organisations. My job was to go into one room and to observe some tallies, and then to go to another room and put the tallies in corresponding places. It did not matter where I put my tallies—nobody looked at them. I had already been marked down as unfit for sea by the medicoes and I had had offered to me a job as the managing director of an engineering firm engaged in making pressure gauges for aircraft, on the very highest priority. I applied for relief. Hon. Members have no idea of the battle which was put up to keep me in that service. I offered to find a relief and said that I could train a chimpanzee to do the job in three weeks, but the battle continued and the Service won. That is the background, and knowing that background, we take a terrible lot of convincing that there is a proper economy of manpower in the Forces.
Another thing which has been a great difficulty from the point of view of the efficiency of the Forces is the age and service group demobilisation scheme. From the point of view of Service efficiency, nobody could have designed a worse scheme. I agree that it was necessary politically and that we had to do it but nothing removed efficiency from the Services more effectively than always taking the most experienced men. Yet that is combined with a system of maintaining a whole series of units for which there are no replacements and which must 687 run down eventually. Keeping the experienced men staffing units which are going to run down eventually assures the worst of both worlds. Under this system we should reduce our units to the minimum number we shall eventually require, and even let them be grossly over strengthed while we are running down. We shall then have an organisation and an Army which can fight. Now we have a whole series of inefficient understrengthed units. At one and the same time we have far too many men in the Army and we have not an Army which can fight. I do not think the present Army is as efficient a fighting unit as we had at the beginning of 1914. What we had then was little enough but it was organised to fight.
For Heaven's sake let us get on with the prototypes. We have a breathing space here. Attention is given to prototype in the White Paper, but nothing like enough was devoted to it on the Estimates. The main function of the Army now is to get its arms well in front of everybody else's.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Erroll (Altrincham and Sale)
We on this side of the House have much enjoyed the strictures of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) on his own Front Bench. We have felt for some time that the greatest shortage of manpower is on the Front bench opposite. We were also interested to notice that Field-Marshal Montgomery recently went to the Prime Minister for his dressing-down and not to his Service Minister. We would strongly endorse what the hon. Member said about the Service Ministers dominating the Service chiefs—
§ Mr. Erroll
It is apposite at the present time. I would like to follow some of the other points made by the hon. Member. Surely, the Middle East oil was of strategic importance to Australia and New Zealand and latterly for the development of the Pacific War at a time when the Far Eastern oil supplies were no longer in Allied hands but in Japanese hands—
§ Mr. Erroll
I was trying to think of our commitments as an Empire and not only from the point of view of the home country. With regard to weapons for the defeat of Germany, the hon. Member for Northampton suggested that Germany started with more up-to-date weapons than we had and that she did not change her types very much, whereas we copied her and improved on her ideas and ultimately defeated her. That is not quite an accurate picture of the weapon development which took place between these two great combatant Powers during the war. The German weapons were very remarkably developed during the war in their own particular way. The latest designs for German fighters were a remarkable technical improvement on the early designs, and the same applied to their fighting vehicles. The Panther and Tiger tanks were outstanding technical achievements and something quite different from those with which they started the war. We proceeded on our own lines without copying the German designs at all and beat their tanks in the end partly by studiously avoiding copying their plans—
§ Mr. Erroll
There is one other point I would like to touch upon from the hon. Member's interesting speech—the size of the Navy. It seems a luxury to have to maintain a large battle fleet, but when the hon. Member stresses the need for prototypes, it is rather difficult to construct a prototype battleship without constructing a fully working battleship of the line. The idea of constructing just prototypes does not apply when you will probably make only one or two off of a particular prototype, so if you are to have a continuous naval development, you must always have at least a small battle fleet in being and in full running order. It would be better to do that than rely on some scientists to devise prototypes in laboratories and hope to build the perfect battleship in a hurry when the time comes.
§ Mr. Erroll
Yes, I will. Now I turn briefly to what has been referred to by several other hon. Members tonight, the use of the Colonial Forces. I was a Member of the Parliamentary Delegation which went to West Africa early this year, and we were most impressed by the African ex-Serviceman. He is a fine fellow and is very well respected in all the four West African Colonies. The Army has done him a great deal of good and he is settling down well in his native village once again. We learned that he had done a good job of work in Burma—that I knew from personal experience—not only as an ordinary soldier but particularly in supplying his own West African divisions. The West African makes a good motor driver and lorry driver and a passable mechanic. Furthermore, he does not easily get in a flap when things are rather hot. I am delighted to see that the Colonial Secretary is here because I am sure he will endorse what I am saying about the West Africans. I feel that we ought to make further use of West African manpower, not just for raising fighting units, but in order to supply the men who will be necessary for the administrative tail of the Army today. I do not see why we should not raise R.A.S.C. motor companies and service units to supply British front line troops, and thereby reduce the numbers of—I was going to say white men as distinct from black men—the numbers of white men employed on administrative and supply duties between the lines.
There is one immediate suggestion I would like to throw out. For these ex-Servicemen who have returned, surely it would be possible to keep some of their service experience alive in their minds by means of some modified Territorial Army service arrangements. It could not be operated on the British model, but we could have perhaps a training scheme for them every two years whereby they could come from their native villages and have a fortnight's training of a simplified character at selected centres in the West African Colonies. It could be voluntary or they could be paid a small sum for it, and it would enable our Colonial administration to keep their tabs on the ex-Servicemen before they disappeared back into their native farm life and lose all 690 contact with the British Army and its methods.
So much for the Colonial Forces, particularly those which could be obtained from West Africa. I now turn to the strategic importance of West Africa. The hon. Member for Northampton referred to the dangers of our getting too tied up in the Eastern Mediterranean in view of the vulnerability of lines of communication through the Mediterranean. Of course, we learned a good deal about that during the war when the Mediterranean was closed, and then West Africa and its bases came into their own. These bases and installations were built up rapidly and very extensively; now, of course, as is our way, they are in grave danger of falling not only into disuse but into complete decay as well. I hope a positive decision will be taken on whether these bases are to be maintained on a care and maintenance basis, or whether they are to be allowed to return to bush. It would be a thousand pities if they fell into decay, without any clear decision one way or the other being taken. I would refer in particular to the installations at Bathurst, both the aerodrome and the seaplane depôt. There is a very fine seaplane hangar there which cannot last much longer unless something as simple as painting the structural steelwork is carried out. It might be a useful installation to maintain. I will not weary the House with details of the aerodrome at Bathurst because I have already mentioned that on the Civil Aviation Supplementary Estimates, as no doubt the Parliamentary Secretary will remember. There is, of course, also the question of naval installations at Freetown. There is a danger of them falling into decay if they are not put on to a care and maintenance basis. I hope a positive decision will be taken in regard to them. We were all glad to see that the deep water quay which was projected during the war is being proceeded with, and will shortly come into commission for peaceful purposes.
There is also the question of the military air route across the Upper Congo—Nile divide, that was very extensively used during the war for flying fighter and other aircraft across from the port of landing in West Africa to the Middle East fighting zone. An extensive chain of airfields was developed, and also an interlocking system of ground transportation. 691 It was developed for a special purpose, and is at the moment no longer required. It would be very easy, far too easy, for it to fall into decay when, by the expenditure of quite a small sum of money on essential maintenance work, that vital line of communication could be maintained and kept in a reasonable state of working order.
Now I turn to paragraph six of the Statement relating to Defence, and would mention one or two points in connection with research and development. It is a big subject, on which one could dilate for some time, but I am particularly concerned with armoured fighting vehicles on page 8, paragraph 24. Development is roughly to be concentrated and continued on the most up-to-date types of armoured fighting vehicles. We do not seem to be making very good progress, however, from what I hear. There is inevitably a slackening off after the immediate push and drive of a war. There is not the same sense of urgency, there cannot be, and civilian firms have other problems to solve. It is only too easy for the Service Departments concerned, and for manufacturers, to say, "Armoured fighting vehicles can take a back seat." I do not say that is what is necessarily happening at the moment, but it is a real danger which ought to be watched.
§ Mr. Alexander
The hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that we should keep orders for armoured fighting vehicles in a great range of firms? We want to be able to use the largest part we can for our economic recovery, but we are maintaining a proper production for several factories.
§ Mr. Erroll
I naturally fully endorse what the Minister of Defence has said—we do not want to maintain a lot of unnecessary, useless production; on the other hand, we do not want necessary development work on armoured fighting vehicles to take a back place, of which there is a real danger. There is in that connection a certain measure of duplication between the War Office and the Ministry of Supply in regard to development and testing work. I will not refer to that matter in public in detail, but it requires attention.
I am glad to see that the White Paper refers once again to the importance of research, but the House must realise that 692 design is just as important as research, and what is required is real good design just as much as real good research. I am sorry to see no reference made to the importance of the design engineer in the section on research and production, because it is only the design engineer who can bridge the gap between design and production. I think it is most desirable that engineering firms should be brought into the picture at the earliest possible stage. I do not know how many of the representatives of the engineering industry will be present on the Research and Policy Committee, but I submit that it is not too early a stage to bring in one or more reputable engineers, particularly those who had experience of design and development of military equipment during the war.
Finally, as regards Section VIII, Conditions and Service in the Armed Forces, I would like to conclude on a local matter. In my constituency of Altrincham a primary training centre has arrived. It is the first time that the inhabitants of Altrincham have been faced with the prospect of a permanent peace time military camp, and being Northerners they are not expressing their views too quickly one way or the other, except that they do deplore the loss of what was a useful park in the centre of the town. But as the primary training centre is at present only housed in temporary war time huts the question of having permanent buildings is a matter for the future. The unit is making a very good impression and if this is typical of what is outlined in Section VIII we in the North think a great deal of it.
The commander of the training centre has gone to extraordinary trouble to interest the people of Altrincham in the work of the training centre by means of getting the mayor to attend functions and having photographs in the local papers of what the troops are doing and by other means. I think he means to make Altrincham as proud of its training centre as it has always been proud of its hospital. I think this is a fine development in the postwar Army. But I regret to say that in the stuffy staff headquarters they adopt a different attitude in dealing with the council in regard to the site, and I cannot say the same satisfactory thing about that aspect of the matter. The individuals concerned are determined to make the primary training centre an asset to the district and for that I have the fullest praise.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lipton (Brixton)
I will not attempt to follow the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) in all the points he has endeavoured to raise, which covered a very wide area not only of this country, but some of the most far-flung outposts of Empire. I hope this is the last occasion on which this House will be asked to consider general questions of defence after the Service Estimates have been submitted to us for our consideration. It places the House in a difficult position if we are asked to approve the Service Estimates before being given an opportunity of dealing with more general questions involving all three Service Departments. It is all the more important at the present time to avoid the slightest miscalculation in the deployment of our limited human material. That is why I should like to make what I hope will be regarded as a constructive suggestion for the consideration of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence.
It is regrettable that in the actual presentation of the Service Estimates there has not been that uniformity of presentation which we hoped would be one of the results of the establishment of the Defence Ministry. For that reason it is not possible for me to give very accurate figures relating to the general provision of cadet training in this country. So far as I have been able to ascertain the position, it appears that during the next 12 months—and I am going to limit my remarks to short term considerations in the time at my disposal—we are aiming to have somewhere in the neighbourhood of 300,000 men in the three cadet services, the Air Training Corps, the Sea Cadets and the Army Cadet Force. That is going to entail an expenditure of about £900,000. The point I would like to submit for consideration of my right hon. Friend is this. The cadet movement provides one of the cheapest methods of providing that basic training without which none of the three Armed Services can be made into an efficient machine. We hear a lot about incentives. In this connection I think an incentive could be provided which would be of advantage to the cadet movement, and serve the interests of the country as a whole, both from the point of view of defence, and from the point of view of its economic prospects.
The suggestion I should like to make is this. It was borne in on me with special 694 force when the terms of the National Service Bill were announced. The Government are reserving to themselves by Order in Council the right to shorten the period of service from 18 months to a lesser period, if they think fit. The point I should like to emphasise is, if a successful cadet organisation is to be encouraged in this country, that one way of encouraging it is to provide those who join the cadet movement with some incentive. The incentive which should be offered, is that all those who in a period of 12 months' cadet service reached a certain standard of efficiency, should be guaranteed in advance that their period of compulsory service in the Armed Forces should be reduced by a period of six months. That would enable a considerable amount of training to be put in by those young fellows and stand them in good stead later on. It would be very much cheaper for them to do their training in the cadet movements, and make it unnecessary to retain them in the Armed Forces for the total period at the moment envisaged. For that reason, it would be to the advantage of the country as a whole.
In his speech, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence dealt, as well as he could, with one of the criticisms that have been made in regard to our commitments, that they were too onerous. In this connection, I must say I heard with some disquiet, which was shared by other hon. Members of the House, the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War in presenting the Army Estimates. In his remarks on that occasion he permitted himself these general observations on the methods of the assessing of the numbers required for the Armed Forces. I quote his actual words. He told the House:It may surprise my hon. Friends to know that what the Chiefs of Staff have asked for has not been acceded to in numbers, and that those figures for which the generals have asked—which I am told I should repudiate—have had to be cut down. I assure the House that possibly by next year the requirements of the Army will not be met, and we shall have a shortage of manpower in the Army in relation to the requirements which the Chiefs of Staff have set out."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th March, 1947; Vol. 1643–4.]That represents a very serious position. It means that the Minister of Defence has embarked on commitments which he knows and the Service Ministers know they will not have an adequate supply of 695 manpower at their disposal to carry out effectively. If we are faced with that situation, surely the time to adjust our commitments is now and not in 12 months' time. According to the statement I have just quoted we shall then be faced with a shortage of manpower in the Services which will not permit us efficiently to discharge the commitments set out in the White Paper on Defence.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give careful consideration to the two points I have ventured to make. The first is the better utilisation of the cadet forces of this country and the provision of some incentive to enlistment in those forces. I would also ask for very serious consideration of my second point, namely, the anticipated inadequacy in 12 months' time of our manpower in the Services to deal with the commitments which are set out in the White Paper as our short-term commitments on Defence which we are asked to approve tonight.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Swingler (Stafford)
I hope my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not follow him in the points he has made. I promise to be extremely brief, as there is only one point I wish to bring before the House, but first I would like to endorse one of the things other hon. Members have said. I hope the Minister of Defence has been impressed by the serious concern of many hon. Members about the gigantic size of the Armed Forces we are called upon to maintain, the disproportionately large burden falling on this nation by comparison with other nations, and the feelings of many on these benches that we are over-straining our economic strength in this policy.
I wish to turn now to the question of the presentation of the facts to this House. I was very glad that subject was dealt with by the Minister of Defence this afternoon in reply to some criticism that had been made during the Estimates Debate, because I believe it is vital in regard to Parliamentary control over the Estimates and the Armed Forces. The Minister of Defence argued in reply to many hon. Members that after considering the history of the disclosure of these facts in the past the Government thought it was too dangerous to disclose them now because of what they gave away to foreign powers, and they desired to retain them as secrets 696 so as to be able to bargain with foreign powers about them. I perfectly appreciate that there are some things about which bargaining has to take place, some things which should only be disclosed by international agreement all round, through the United Nations, but surely two particular things of which some hon. Members have made criticisms in the Estimates Debate, two kinds of information are required, in order that hon. Members may be able to make effective criticism regarding the maintenance of the Services, the distribution of manpower, and the meeting of commitments. Without them we are just talking in a completely generalised way.
The first subject is the distribution of manpower by arms of the Service within the Services. The second is the disposition of the Armed Forces which we maintain. I want to ask the Minister of Defence why it is possible—it is a decision of high policy, presumably—for the Secretary of State for War to give the distribution by arms of the Service of the Army intake when it is posted after primary training to the different Corps, and to give the percentages? I received them only a couple of days ago from the Secretary of State for War, for all the men called into the Army during 1946. Why it is possible to give the numbers posted during 1946 to the artillery, the engineers, signals and so on while not giving figures for the Army as a whole? Obviously certain deductions can be made from those annual figures as to trends, the numbers in the mechanised forces in relation to infantry, the supply services and so on. That is one point on which I would like a definite reply, because otherwise we cannot effectively criticise in this House the maintenance of a proper balance and a proper standard of efficiency within the Forces. This analysis of the distribution of men by arms of the Service has always been given previously, in 1920 for example.
Next is the question of disposition; it was referred to in the Debate on the Army Estimates, when it was stated that the Secretary of State for War in the year 1920, for example, after the first world war, was able to give the numbers of men in Hong Kong, Mesopotamia, Palestine and so on. The actual dispositions or some of the dispositions of the forces of other nations like the United States of America are also given today. This is the second 697 kind of fact which is required if hon. Members are to be able to make effective judgments in regard to the meeting of commitments and the necessity or otherwise, or justification for having such large forces.
We in this House are not given the facts, but some people outside get them, and some things are published outside. We have a right to ask what the position is in that respect. I want to draw the attention of the Minister who is to reply to an article which appeared in a Sunday newspaper last Sunday by a journalist who had been sent to Gibraltar to inquire into the situation there and report on it to the readers of this paper. In the course of the article, which appeared in the "Sunday Pictorial" last Sunday, was this statement:Meanwhile, I know the figures of troops on the Rock. I personally see no reason why I should not print them, but since so many officers apparently have not been told the war is over, or are still unnecessarily security-minded, I have agreed to keep it a dark secret. However, it is at least 2,000 too many. They are there to train, and that is precisely what they cannot do because there is no room.That was published in a newspaper by a journalist who had been given facilities to go out to Gibraltar to look at the situation and meet the military men in control. That was what he wrote, but we in this House have not the facts on which to assess whether that statement is justified or not, or whether he is correct in saying that there are 2,000 too many. The article certainly discloses some facts about the position in that part of the world.
As I said at the beginning, there may be certain things that have to be kept secret, or which should only be disclosed by international agreement, but I would like to know where the line is going to be drawn and who is going to draw it. If this is a decision of high policy taken by His Majesty's Government, how in future are we to maintain effective Parliamentary control and criticism of the Estimates of the Service Departments, or of the distribution and use, wastage or otherwise, of the manpower in the Forces?
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilkes (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)
I have been given five minutes, very graciously, so the House will I hope forgive me if I rather hurry in what I have to say. The thing that worries me 698 most is that in our arms policy in relation to manpower we are getting the worst of both worlds. We have been having our arms increasingly standardised with the United States of America during the last 12 months, which may be a good or a bad thing. I suggest that it would be a very good thing if it resulted in great economies of manpower, yet we shall have at the same time as an arms standardisation policy with the United States of America some 500,000 people producing armaments next year for the Armed Forces. I should have thought that that policy only made sense if in fact America was going to become the arms producing centre, instead of wasting precious manpower in this country as well.
Here I want to address one question to the Minister who is replying to the Debate. What steps are we taking throughout the whole of the Empire to see that Commonwealth arms manufacturing potential is being maintained, so that we do not become the sole armoury, or the main armoury, in our present critical manpower position? Similarly with regard to the atomic bomb. I think you can just perhaps make out a case for the policy of the last year. The British and American Governments have a policy for the atomic bomb, but unless the result of that atomic policy is to enable us to economise on our arms here at home, what is the point of retaining the atomic bomb? What is the point of having one atomic energy policy in relation to atomic weapons which spreads widespread distrust, fear and suspicion, if it does not allow us at least to feel so secure that we can afford to economise in manpower at home? So our policy does not make sense, and we get the worst of both worlds.
I do not believe in the policy of seeking scapegoats. I do not think establishments are very much swollen; I do not think there has been any great amount of waste; I believe the Chiefs of Staff have done a good job. I believe, however, that we cannot afford—even though there has been no waste—one million men under arms and half a million men in Army production next year. I suggest to the Cabinet that on an issue so fundamental they might first of all have made their manpower calculations for home industry and civil production of this country. They might have found out-what was wanted in that direction, and have given 699 what was left over to the military chiefs, who would then have had to alter their dispositions according to the manpower ceiling that had been given to them.
I want to end upon a constructive note. I hope that we shall get an answer to the points we have raised. I was glad to hear the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for North Blackpool (Brigadier Low), whose contributions are well above the average of what we have come to expect from that side of the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If the hon. and gallant Member cares to reciprocate the compliment I shall have no objection. The point about the speech of the hon. and gallant Member was one which I hope the Minister will bear in mind. At least eight speeches today have stressed the need for making the most use of the people in our Colonies for defence purposes. Some Members in another place have suggested that those Colonial people would give their services only upon a pioneer basis, but that is not so. If we are to make the best use of our Colonial manpower we must remember that the people in our Colonies, and the Africans generally, are not the same as they were 20 years ago. I am convinced that we can do it, without any colour bar such as exists today, if we offer long, Regular service commissions to the Africans. Even though there are practical difficulties in the way we ought to make the attempt.
If the R.A.F. can give way on the colour bar, why cannot the War Office? I am certain that if the African is allowed to play his full part, not in a menial or subordinate capacity but as a fellow soldier with us, we shall have an immense increase in our manpower which will give us great help in keeping our Mediterranean bases secure. The old idea that the Colonial people could be used only on a pioneer basis is finished, and the story of the career of Major Anthony, who is now known throughout the African Continent as "The Black Montgomery," rather proves it.
When the Minister said he thought it was worse than useless to urge the Dominions to share the burden of defence I think he was living in the past. He cannot have read the recent statements of Mr. Casey or of Dr. Evatt, or the constant calls that have come from the Dominions in recent months for the set- 700 ting up in London far some kind of consultative committee or secretariat to enable all parts of the Empire to keep in touch in order to formulate policy, not after but before decisions are made.
§ Mr. Alexander
I have read all those matters to which my hon. Friend has referred. When he reads my speech tomorrow, I think he will not get the deductions from it which he is now making. I know that the Commonwealth are willing to help. I want to prevent their being turned aside from it by having people dictate to them what they ought to do.
§ Mr. Wilkes
I quite agree. Nobody wants to dictate. Action must be on the basis of complete fellowship and comradeship. The Minister of Defence will know about the proposal for the defence liaison officers to come to London to represent the Dominions so that we do not deal with defence problems on such a long distance telephone and cable basis as we have done in the past. Can we know how that system is working? Is it working now, and how many liaison officers are there in London, and what proposals has he to extend that system of consultation in London?
My last point is this. We are a great nation, and whether we become a third rate, or a fourth, or fifth grade Power, in purely material terms does not alter the fact that we are a nation with a great and urgent contribution to make. And the greater the material power of Russia and America becomes, the more the world will need us. The more will the world need us to guide and show the smaller nations of the world the road to sanity. I am extremely anxious, and I think hon. Members on all sides of the House are extremely anxious, that by attempting to play the futile game of pretending to be a great Power in material terms we shall so injure our economy that we shall be unable to play our true role of conciliation, mediation, and showing the nations a better way of life than power politics. It is on that note that I want to end. We do not want to repeat the history of France. France to some extent deceived herself as to the state of her economy with a swollen army. She deceived not only herself, but us. We do not even deceive ourselves, and I hope that when the Minister replies he will be able to give some answers to the 701 points raised on this side of the House, especially with regard to the use of Colonial troops, the retention of the colour bar, and improved methods of Imperial consultation.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Brigadier Head (Carshalton)
I do not know how the hon. Member for Central Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Mr. Wilkes) views my average in this Debate in comparison with my hon. Friend who has just left the House. There was much of his speech with which I was in agreement until I found my brain had to move very fast indeed to enable me to follow him. Although I believe the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) is known as "Hansard's Joy," the hon. Member who has just sat down must surely be known as "Hansard's Peril." I have felt, listening to this Debate, that it has been important, and, I believe, useful. Part of the reason for that is that both the White Paper and some of the original documents given us before this Debate suggested that it would range largely over manpower and money, but it has in fact ranged over defence policy as a whole. That is a very healthy sign and makes for a worthwhile form of Debate to hold in this House. It is a healthy sign that by and large there has been no real sign of party conflict; nor has there been any strong feeling between one side of the House and the other. I should like to reinforce the feeling which has been expressed at any rate, on this side of the House how glad we are that we have among us once again a Minister of Defence and not, as one might have said previously, an offensive Minister.
During this Debate on the White Paper we have, to some extent, been playing "Blind Man's Buff," because of lack of information. My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) said that it is right and proper that a great deal of information should have been withheld from the House because that information is of benefit to the enemy. It is a difficult thing to know exactly where to draw the line. But I cannot help feeling that if we are too decorous and too tender in these matters, then these Debates in the House on defence and Service Estimates will become a farce. I believe there is a tendency when the word "defence" is mentioned to treat the matter almost too decorously. It reminds me of the Victorian days, when very long skirts were 702 all the fashion and when, I believe, the most puritanical of all used to put little skirts round the legs of billiard tables. I feel that we are rather apt to do that with defence. Although I understand a great deal of the right hon. Gentleman's argument for withholding information, if it goes too far I think it will not only do no good service to defence but will absolutely stultify any contribution the House has to make towards it.
I do not wish to repeat what has been already said. But hon. Members will perhaps appreciate the fact that it is not always easy, when speaking at this stage of a Debate, to avoid doing so. On the whole, I agree with the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) that the White Paper was a disappointing document for those who are interested in, and wish to know more about, defence. I understand and appreciate the difficulties of the right hon. Gentleman and I realise that he, with his background of knowledge, probably reads into the White Paper a lot of things that we do not. However, from my point of view the way I saw the White Paper was this. I got the impression that there was no plan for the future, and that whereas there was a constant repetition of the word "transition" I felt that in some cases it should be read as "indecision." Furthemore the three Services and the Ministry of Supply appear to be passing the buck one from the other. Also we should know a little bit more about long-term plans and the future shape of our defence forces. I hope this document is not typical of the great and new Ministry which the right hon. Gentleman leads. When Field-Marshal Montgomery went to the War Office he instituted a badge, so that the officers and men who worked in the War Office should have more esprit de corps towards that august Ministry. I do not believe or think that the right hon. Gentleman contemplates having such a badge. But if this White Paper is typical of their policy and the way he will run that Ministry—although I do not believe it is—I should like to make a suggestion as to the badge he should have. He should have as his emblem a buck passant; I suggest, furthermore, that for his motto he should have the two simple words, "ad hoc."
It has been obvious to the whole House tonight that there is a great desire for and realisation of the absolute necessity for economy throughout the Armed 703 Forces The hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) made, if I may say so, an extraordinarily able analysis of the situation. I did not agree with everything he said, but I thought it was a very able analysis with the limited data he had. There are certain aspects of this problem which naturally disturb hon. Members—and I include myself I believe it to be impossible to quarrel entirely with the ultimate size and shape of the Armed Forces, because we do not know enough about them. But it does seem to me that we know one thing. namely, that in March, 1949, the approximate size of the total Armed Forces will be about 750,000; in March, 1948, they will be 1,087,000; and now they are very much more. Therefore, we have as data a very considerable decline in numbers between now and March, 1949. I presume that decline will take place through a decrease in the policing forces and in our policing commitments, especially in places like Germany. I know the difficulties of troops in Germany now, with large commitments. and I know the necessity for their being there. It is almost impossible for a Minister in a high position to achieve anything to reduce these police forces unless he is rather ruthless and makes arbitrary cuts. It may be that those cuts are impossible; but I do recall certain things. If one has responsibility, there is a tendency to put something slightly on the safe side so that one's own responsibility is reasonably safe. Add it up over a number of areas, and it may come to something fairly big in numbers.
In Germany we have, or should have, modern equipment, trucks, aircraft, truck borne and airborne troops, armoured cars, etc.—and thus great mobility. Is that mobility allowed for in full, bearing in mind the power it confers of concentrating troops in any area where security is threatened? I believe this is important: are we quite certain everything has been done to ensure that our policy in Germany, and the situation there, are such as to promote maximum economy in manpower? It was said during the war, especially at El Alamein and after, that the sight of Field-Marshal Montgomery's beret amongst the forward troops was worth two divisions. I believe that that dictum is equally true in reverse, and that if his hind quarters and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster were 704 somewhat altered, and a responsible Minister was resident in Germany, we should have economy in the number of troops required in that unlucky country.
I now come to a point made in several speeches to which I listened with great interest. I believe it is important, and that it has not received sufficient attention either in the White Papers or in speeches from the Government Front Bench. My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon and the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. Paton), and several other hon. Members spoke about the increased vulnerability of these Islands. I believe that the majority of hon. Members interested in defence matters will agree, that success in war in the future will depend more and more on our ability to maintain a high wartime production throughout the war. Failure to do so will stultify the creation of our defence forces. I think we were shown this by the immense weight—one might almost say spate—of American production towards the end of the last war. It was also shown by the deadly effect of Bomber Command and the American bombers when they continually bombed German fighter production, and thus really made the invasion of France possible. Furthermore, I think the last red light we saw, apart from the atom bomb, was when the V/'s were coming into London, and there was little or nothing that could be done, from the point of view of air defence, to stop them. At the moment, so far as I know, that situation persists today. Air offence has outstripped defence.
Bearing the matter of production and this fact in mind, I believe it to be wrong completely to ignore the vulnerability of these Islands at the present time. I do accept and realise that never has there been a more difficult time for our whole economy and production than the present. I also accept and realise that it is a peculiarly bad time to have to face this subject, from the point of view of economy, and of natural reluctance to make plans which would halt or hinder our recovery. But it seems to me that, unless we look this problem straight in the eyes, we shall find ourselves recovering in an economy which may be indefensible and, furthermore, render us unable to keep supplied with the sinews of war the Forces for which we give this large amount of money.
705 I do not suggest that it would be practicable or even desirable that there should be large-scale evacuation of industry from this country. I do not think that would be in any way possible, but I do suggest that the Government has an obligation to look very carefully at this whole matter and see what could be done. So far as I know, there are no signs or indications that any close examination by experts has yet been made, but I believe that it is time to start thinking about it. In these aspects, above all, a stitch in time may well save nine, and I remind hon. Members of the wonderful dividends paid by the shadow factories, which, at the time they were created, were opposed in many quarters. Although there are many difficulties, there are, at the same time, certain aspects which might be harnessed to achieve it.
I think it is obvious that, both in this country and in Europe, there are many people who wish to emigrate to the Dominions or to other parts of the Empire. That is a fact of which anybody who has studied the question is well aware. I think it is also a fact that, in many parts of the Empire, industry is setting up factories, and there is great activity in starting new enterprises in the Dominions, and we know full well that the Dominions themselves are very anxious to increase their industrial capacity and further industrial expansion. Taking these favourable factors, and studying the question of what essential key industries are appropriate and suitable for gradual transfer—and only a few of them—and taking the Dominions and the Empire as a whole into very close consultation, could not a start be made with something which might eventually confer upon us not only added strategic security, but might lead to very much more?
My final words concern that "very much more." Several hon. Members have spoken about the question of intimate association throughout the Empire regarding defence matters. I respect the argument which the right hon. Gentleman put forward in his speech as to why this was not touched upon in the White Paper. Nevertheless, I think it would be wrong if hon. Members did not speak on this very important matter, because in my opinion, and I think in that of other hon. Members, it should be brought out into the fresh air at the moment. It is obvious 706 that the battlefield of any future war is going to be the world, but it is not going to be on the same map of the world to which we have been so accustomed, with the equator running round the middle and the world spread out above and below. The kind of world in terms of which we should consider the situation is that illustrated by the air map of the world. I do not know how many hon. Members have had a look at it, but it is a very remarkable map. The countries round its extremities are so very misshapen as to be hardly recognisable, while there is a network of air routes of the world which intersect somewhere near the North Pole. If we take 1,000 miles, and that is about the average future two-hour run of a bomber, and take that distance on the map, we make some very surprising discoveries. I can commend this sport to any hon. Member who is a salt-cellar pusher and amateur strategist.
One finds that the position of these islands has undoubtedly deteriorated, but yet, by some incredible and unforeseen chance, the general defence pattern of the Empire as a whole is very good. One finds that the defence of the Empire as a whole seems to be divided into four zones—Canada, Africa, Australia, and, lastly and still important, in spite of what has been said about the Mediterranean, the Middle East, though it is not within the Empire. I have not time to go into all these questions of the relative importtance of these zones, but what I do feel is essential at the moment, is that we should look upon defence, not as defence of these islands, but as defence of the Empire in zones, for which each zone should take its fair and increasing share of responsibility.
There is at the present time a certain diffidence about approaching the Empire in any matters of defence. I think that the Minister of Defence has told us quite clearly why that is. But I cannot believe, at the moment, that that view is right. It puts me slightly in mind of the time when one was a small boy and one's nannie said, when one went to visit a relative, "If you are a good boy and do not ask for a sweet, you will probably be given one." That is probably good counsel in some ways, but, in this matter, I think the time has come to ask for the sweet. This Government should say to the Dominions, "At the moment "—and 707 in my opinion only temporarily—" we are very hard up. These Islands are becoming increasingly vulnerable. We have within this country some very vigorous and would-be emigrants. We have also a certain urge within industry to set up additional factories within the Empire. You yourselves are very anxious and keen to get going, and to expand your industries. Cannot we get together and formulate some plans whereby we, by sponsoring these various movements within this country can benefit you, and whereby you, in return, will take added responsibility for your zonal defence? "
Such a course would need much thought and working out, and, maybe, it is impracticable. But I think that it is worth very serious consideration. It is worth examination by experts, and, if there is anything in it, maybe, in the far future, we shall eventually achieve something which not only gives us strategic security, but does much more. I feel that we should also achieve that gradual development and expansion of the British Empire along which path the future greatness of this country truly lies.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker)
I am very conscious of the difficulty of the task which faces me, and of the impossibility of dealing, in half an hour, adequately with the important speeches which have been made today in all quarters of the House. I cannot hope to emulate the charming speech to which we have just listened by the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head). I will try to answer as many of the points as I can, and I hope that hon. Members will forgive me for not answering them all, but there will be other occasions for Debate in times to come.
The first thing I want to say is that I doubt whether hon. Members in some quarters of the House have fully realised what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence meant when he said that we still regard this year, 1947–48, as a transitional year. He meant many things. Firstly, he meant that we cannot now foresee the future defence problems which we must solve. We are confronted by two unsolved riddles. What are going to be the methods of warfare? I listened with great interest to my hon. Friend the Member for North Islington (Dr. Haden Guest) who 708 spoke about bacteriological warfare, which is certainly much cheaper, and may even be much more effective, than atomic warfare, which is itself cheaper in man hours than any other kind, in proportion to the destructive effect which it produces. We cannot know now. Of course, we have our Chiefs of Staff and our scientists constantly on the job, but they are always saying to us that they cannot give us any clear picture, at the present moment, of what the years ahead are going to hold. That is the answer to the question which is often put to them, and on which much of their times is now engaged. Secondly, we do not know whether we are to have an ordered or disordered world, a world broadly united for order and peace, or a world disunited, waiting for war. We do not regard any figures or any policy laid down now as being applicable to anything beyond the year 1947–48.
In this year we have to do two things. We have to meet our present commitments, and we have, so well as we can, to endeavour to reconstruct our defensive forces on a solid basis in the difficult circumstances in which we live today. So transitional do we regard this year as being that, for my part, I would be far from accepting what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) that we must look forward to having an Army of as large as 400, 000 for many years. Who can tell? I think that that is quite open to doubt. The second thing I wish to say is on commitments, and I will say it as briefly as I can. I think that a number of my hon. Friends underestimate the immense dangers of the situation which existed in the world when the fighting stopped 18 months ago, and the situation as it still exists today. In Western Europe nations had been divided by Goebbels' devilish propaganda. International and national rivalries and hatreds still existed, and they were in many ways keener and more terrible than ever before.
The world was full of arms. There has never been such a quantity of lethal weapons in existence as now. There is almost no control of the traffic of any kind. Any terrorist in any country can get what he desires. I remember the story of how a sergeant was brought to trial and court martialled in Cairo. They found in his bank balance £25,000 which he had made in a year selling arms. This is a very dangerous situation. On top of that, 709 in almost every country, people have been trained, either as Hitler's thugs or as underground resisters. They have been trained in the secret use of armed force and violence. They have been inured to violence. They were starved. After the war, in many countries, the Governments had, and in many of them still have, much less control than we should desire. In the East there was the new and rising nationalism with which each one of us has so much sympathy. There was also, in some places, the bestial racialism of the Japanese militarists which we all condemn.
In that situation, further fighting was a grave and present danger. Many good judges in the matter thought that there would be civil and international wars for years after the main war ended. Every day that there was fighting or civil instability was a grave injury to our economic situation in this country. It retarded the pace at which we could have export markets to which we could send our goods; it retarded the date at which we could buy supplies in currencies which are not called "hard." That being so, I venture to think that hon. Members must consider this business of commitments with a generous appreciation of what British troops, in the Navy, Army and Air Force had to do. There were three instruments by which we could control the dangerous forces in the world. The first was U.N.R.R.A., and I say with great confidence, having had a lot to do with the work, that what we paid to U.N.R.R.A. as our contribution has given us a handsome dividend.
I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Mr. Zilliacus) that through civil affairs, through U.N.R.R.A., through the Import-Export bank and other ways, the United States have sent thousands of millions of pounds out into the world for relief, of which they will never see a penny back, and to which they have tied no political strings of any kind—more money for Yugoslavia than Greece.
§ Mr. Zilliacus
Would the Minister say that more was sent to Yugoslavia when the United States have just stopped wheat going there and diverted potato ships although the country is starving? If that is not "political strings," I do not know what is.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
The United States have sent more money to Yugoslavia than they have sent to Greece. They have sent it to Poland, Byelo-Russia, Czechoslovakia and the Ukraine. I hope my hon. Friend will recognise that the first of these three instruments has, in fact, done its work. Secondly, we rely on the Allied Armies of occupation. For my part, I would not deny credit to all the Allied Armies of Occupation for having prevented civil war. I remember the, I think, three elections held under the occupation of Soviet Armies in Hungary and Austria. I believe our own Armies, and it is of them that we are talking now, have made a magnificent contribution. We used to be accused of Imperialism in Indonesia. I was told in a private meeting only a fortnight ago that His Majesty's Government had imposed Dutch imperialism on Indonesia. I do not think anybody will say that in a week from now.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I will tell the hon. Gentleman afterwards. The truth is that there were in Indonesia the possibilities of a fearful tragedy of war between the Dutch and the Indonesians. There was the possibility of a great area being devastated—a food producing area of vital importance to us and to the world at large—and rendered perhaps desert for a considerable time. Our troops, I believe, stopped that, and I rely very largely on the great tribute which Mr. Sjahrir, the Prime Minister of Indonesia, paid to them when they left. I would argue, if I had the time and if it was what hon. Members wanted, at great length that wherever we have done this police work, in fact we have been making a great contribution to, the economic reconstruction of this country.
Our third instrument is the United Nations. I do not want to speak at length, again because it is not what hon. Members want to hear about tonight. I believe that the United Nations has done something up to now. Hon. Members opposite thought I was exaggerating a year ago when I said that I thought the discussions in the Security Council on Persia had done more good than harm. I think that is the fairly general opinion today. I believe myself that the United Nations Commission of Inquiry in Greece is doing 711 good. The Security Council is the organisation which has begun the least well in my view. It is the most important. I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. J. Paton)—and it is the result of 30 years of bitter experience—that no international organisation can succeed unless it can solve the problem of armaments and aggression. It certainly cannot solve the problem of aggression unless we can get collective force behind the international law.
I lived all through those disarmament (discussions from 1919 in Paris, through the tragedy of Geneva from 1929 to 1933. I knew what happened inside, and I knew what happened outside. I say that all the technical work was perfectly good. It was Lord Simon, then Foreign Secretary, who said that every technical problem of disarmament had been solved and that only political decision was needed to put it into force. Why could we not get that? It was because there was no great power ready to put its strength behind the Covenant against aggression. We will never make any international instrument work until that is done. Our Government mean to do it. They mean to say that, with any other Government that will work with them, through Article 43, and through Article 45—which was proposed by Russia and which deals with the collective international Air Force—we will put our armed strength behind the United Nations and we will make it succeed. Again I say—the motive with which I speak will not be suspected by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich—that with this object in view the manpower we ask for in this White Paper is not by one too much.
I turn to the commitments on the technical side. What can we do to make economies in the manpower which we are using. The hon. Member for Aston, in what so many hon. Members have said was an admirable speech, asked us to accept the spirit of his Amendment. I think we do. I wish I could tell him everything we are doing that is in the spirit of his Amendment, I will mention one or two things. The other day, I think it was, and not today, he proposed that the R.A.F. should be used to help the occupation forces overseas. It is so. We are doing that. A quarter of the Royal Air Force is on occupation duties. He said: 712 Could we not train our soldiers overseas and use them for a double purpose, both training and occupation? That has been considered. I believe—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War will correct me if I am wrong—in a certain measure that is being done or will be done in the Army. In the Air Force it is absolutely impossible; it would be wasteful, costly, and would give no results. In the Navy it would certainly be wasteful and costly.
With regard to a reserve, a reserve of the Army is being organised. It is not what we regard as very urgent because it does not give us what we need now. The two things we need now are men for the occupation Forces and instructors for the new people who are corning in, and a reserve gives us neither of those things. I can understand my hon. Friend's argument as a short-term argument against the National Service Bill, but as a solution to the problems of 1947, it really does not stand. He asked us to he imaginative. He asked whether we could not have common branches among the three Services in such matters as the medical branch, signals, pay, chaplains and so on. That is being considered now. So far it is not extremely encouraging—it does not appear that very large economies will result—but the thing is being gone into very thoroughly, but if the hon Member will let us have his views on the subject in a memorandum we shall be delighted to see that they are fully considered. As to Colonial troops, we are using them in some places, and we will use them more, where we can.
I now come to what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) about Paragraph 19 of the White Paper, the passage on the need for a reserve. He spoke, if I have it correctly, of the "products of ossified thought "on this side of the House which he said needed to be developed and expanded. When I re-read the paragraph, I found myself wishing that the right hon. Gentleman had re-read it. No doubt he and I might agree that some of the English could have been improved, but nevertheless I thought it crystal clear. What it said was that if we have another war it is extremely unlikely that we shall have a long period of "phoney" war in which we can train reserves. On the contrary, it will be a 713 blitz war, and therefore the reserves must be ready when the operations start if we want to make any expansion at all of our peacetime Forces.
I now come to the important and interesting business of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) about cutting off our tails to sharpen our teeth. The question, in my view, is whether a tail is a better instrument to sharpen teeth with before or after it has been cut from a living body. An increase in the tail is, of course, inevitable as we develop these highly complicated machines of war. If you have a tank or a bomber or a jet plane, with a pilot and crew, which needs all sorts of technical aids and preparations before it can go into battle, the service and supply must be immensely important, and if you have not only service and maintenance but the supply of ordinance, signals, control, and all the rest that is now needed, I think the right hon. Gentleman must see that the process of increasing the tail in proportion to the teeth is one that cannot be avoided. Let me take his observations about the proportion of infantry. He said that now we had only one battalion to 5,000 men and we used to have one battalion to 1,500 men, or, some such proportion. Besides infantry, however, we have armoured fighting vehicles, we have a lot more artillery than we used to have, thank God, we have flame throwers, we have engineers and sappers who are quite as important as the infantry themselves.
§ Brigadier Low
May I interrupt? I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does not mean to mislead us. In discussing this last week the spokesman for the War Office told us that, whereas over the total of the fighting branches of the Army prewar there were three fighting men to one tail, now there was one fighting man to two and a quarter tails. That gives an even higher swing over than the infantry battalions.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Of course there is always the question, What is the tail? Even so, I myself would not think it at all unexpected or wrong that the proportion should have changed in the way in which the hon. and gallant Member for North Blackpool (Brigadier Low) says.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I do not wish to interrupt, but I think the right hon. Gentleman is putting words into our mouths 714 that we did not use. The point I made was that if the proportion had swung over so much, it requires constant pressure and also constant expansion if the tail is not to run away with the fighting troops altogether. He is really trying to make out that we do not think there should be any increase in the tail at all; that is not our point of view.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am sorry if I have misrepresented the right hon. Gentleman; I had no intention of doing any such thing. I only want to make the point, which I think all hon. Members will agree is valid, when they think that with mechanical warfare the tail must be larger than it was before and, indeed, I could almost go so far as to say that, with the artillery, the less infantry you have the better—
§ Brigadier Low
Does the right hon. Gentleman not know that in the last two years of the war an enormous number of artillery and other units had to be transferred to the infantry, and that a large number of naval men and airmen had to be transferred to the infantry? Does he not know that?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Yes. Of course, it depends very much on the country in which you have to fight, where the war is, but the point I was greatly overstating was that a high proportion of artillery and soldiers may give you, in fact, a much greater effective fighting power than a high proportion of infantry. However, I do not want to pursue it further. May I look at the second point of this question of the teeth and the tail, that is the training point?
Let me take the Air Force. In the Air Force our present job is not, as we conceive it, to have the maximum number of operational squadrons ready for war at the present time. Our job is first to take part in the occupations of which I have spoken; secondly, to build up a new Air Force which shall be as high in quality as that which we had before. Now a quarter of our Force is overseas, a third or more at this moment is engaged in training, and if you think of the immense complexity of the modern Air Force; if you think of the fact that no crew can take 715 a modern high speed aircraft up unless they have had experience over years; that no ground crew can let it go up unless there are men there who have had experience of years—I do not say all of them, but some; if you think that we have released nine out of 10 of the trained men in the Air Force since V.E. Day; that we have to release—a little while ago the figure was up to the end of 1948–200,000 more; that we have at the present time something like only 2,200 officers who had permanent commissions in the Air Force before the war, I think hon. Members will see that the task of remaking the Air Force is a very difficult one.
We must accept the kind of gibes that used to be made against the right hon. Member for Woodford and Lord Trenchard after the last war when people talked about the "Royal Ground Force." We must concentrate on building an Air Force of high quality in every way. That makes the proportion of our Forces who go for training far higher than it will be in a year or two, when we have settled down to more normal times. I want to elaborate what my right hon. Friend said about bringing down the figures of manpower. I do not think the House has done justice to the proposals he put forward for Committees on each of the Services to examine what economies of manpower can be made.
Perhaps the House will bear with me if I repeat what I said on the Air Estimates. Before the war, the Air Force did not think very much about the scientific use of manpower—they did not have to. In the war they were forced to; Coastal Command was given a job it could not do with the servicing and maintenance crews at its command. It adopted a system of planned servicing, and planned flying, suggested by a civilian, a "Boffin," and that gave in a period of less than 18 months for the whole of Coastal Command an increase, for the same amount of servicing manpower, of 61 per cent. in flying hours. That was a big result. Since the end of the war, Transport Command has tried planned servicing and planned flying, and other new ideas of their own. They have pushed up the intensity of flying from 100 hours per aircraft per month to 163 hours. That is a big result. There are many other matters in which our manpower committee is now making the 716 closest investigation. They are such matters as whether it will pay us to put down a lot of heavy plant costing a million or two, but saving a lot of men in years to come; whether we can centralise repairs in one job; whether we can introduce the methods of industry, time and motion study, the scientific management of labour; whether the jobs themselves can be reduced by better design of the aircraft, so that we can remove and operate with much less labour than it now takes; the balance of our Forces, whether we have too many administrators, too many people paying, posting, transporting, administration generally, those who fly and service the aircraft—all that is being examined by our manpower committee. I was asked what kind of committee it was—
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am coming to that in a moment. Perhaps I will finish describing what the committee is like. It has one of the ablest men in the Air Force as its chairman, Sir Norman Bottomley and other Service members, and an industrialist, who understands the large-scale movement of motor transport. It has a representative of the T.U.C. and it has a scientist, and it is making it a whole-time job. It is not only visiting Air Force stations and maintenance units, but it is visiting industrial establishments of every kind. It is going to travel overseas, it is going into every single department of the Air Force, it is going to issue an interim report on servicing and maintenance personnel because that is our greatest shortage, and later it will deal with everything else. That is really a very serious effort to see if we cannot save men on this total for which we ask.
We are of course carrying on with all the normal reviewing machinery of which my right hon. Friend spoke, but I think my hon. Friend will have noticed this evening that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence said that it had been decided that similar committees, similarly composed and with a similarly wide mandate, taking the job as seriously as our committee is, are to be established both for the Navy and for the Army. The whole range of the Services are to be included in these committees. They will not only take evidence from industry and 717 from the Services, they will take it from anybody who cares to give it. They will take it from hon. Members of this House, and I think it very likely that hon. Members on both sides of the House with service experience may have proposals to make to help us economise on manpower. I am not going to say that this will produce a big reduction in the current year. Actually, in the Air Force, I hope it will help us to make some reduction before March, 1948; I cannot say how many, but I do believe that in times to come it will lead not only to a big reduction but to a great increase in the efficiency of the Force as well. I hope therefore that my hon. Friends who raised this matter will consider that by this new measure which the Minister of Defence has proposed, and which I know the House will approve, we shall have made a real effort to meet their views.
One word, before I end, about the British Commonwealth. Of course I agree with the hon. and gallant Member who said that there was nothing in the Statute of Westminster to prevent us from having closer co-operation with the Dominions. We may desire any kind of co-operation, but hon. Members in all parts of the House will agree that we can only co-operate with the Dominions in the ways in which their Governments desire to co-operate with us. That is the fundamental and limiting factor. Already the liaison missions are arriving. Some of them are here; the thing has begun to work extremely well. We have of course co-operation in equipment, we have co-operation in methods of training, we have the exchange of officers, and Dominion officers come to the Imperial Defence College. An Australian general is in command of our occupation forces in Japan. That is co-operation, and I believe that if we leave it to the free will of the Dominions to co-operate with us as they wish we shall find, in times to come, if the need should ever again arise, that they will stand by us as they have done in times gone by, and will be more ready than they have been before.
I end by saying this. I know that, for the Dominions, the common membership of the Dominions and ourselves in the United Nations is an important link between us. The more we can found our defence and security policy on making the United Nations succeed, the more 718 they will work with us. We intend to make the United Nations work. We mean to defend this country. We mean that Great Britain shall play as great a part in world affairs in the future as she has played in times gone by.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That this House approves the Statement relating to Defence (Cmd. 7042).