§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Churchill (Woodford)
As this matter concerns both our country and the United States, I hope I may have your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, if I say, I think on behalf of all parties and every hon. Member, with what deep regret we have received the news this morning of the death of Senator Vandenberg, a great American statesman whose sure balance of mind and lofty disinterested pursuance of large purposes won him the respect of all parties in his own country and of all parties in our island here.
Now I come to the business of the afternoon, and I hope the House will permit me to range rather widely over this extensive topic. In the event of war with Soviet Russia, two dangers would menace the defence of free Europe and our own life here. The first is the large number of U-boats, far more than the Germans had at the beginning of the late war, of an improved German type and of vastly increased underwater speed and endurance. The second is, of course, the mining peril at all our ports and all free European ports.
This mining attack required from us in the late war nearly 60,000 men and more 2018 than 1,000 vessels, sweeping and watching ceaselessly under hard conditions. Every kind of device was tried, and, in the main, mastered by us, but now we must expect ever more subtle scientific inventions to prevent detection and clearance by sweeping or explosives. There is no doubt that the whole of this process is being studied and developed by the Soviet Government, aided by German science and German brains. Our means of keeping alive, and the power of the United States and of ourselves to send armies to Europe, depend on our mastering these two problems.
I am sure that no one knows so much about dealing with U-boats in the Atlantic and the mine menace around our shores and harbours of any kind as the British Admiralty, not because we are cleverer or braver than others, but because, in two wars, our existence has depended upon overcoming these perils. When you live for years on end with mortal danger at your throat, you learn in a hard school. "Depend upon it," said Dr. Johnson, "if a man is going to be hanged in a month, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."
During these two recent wars, as First Lord of the Admiralty or as Minister of Defence, I studied from week to week the hopeful or sinister curves upon the charts, and nothing ever counted more with me than their movements. It is the kind of experience, prolonged as it was, which eats its way into you. The late U-boat war lasted nearly six years. I say that to take the control of this process out of Admiralty hands would, I am sure, be a grave and perhaps a fatal injury, not only to ourselves, but to the common cause.
I would begin by asking where, in fact, did this idea of a Supreme Commander for the Atlantic originate. What were the reasons for the acceptance and enforcement of so radical a change from the system which had proved itself in the recent long years of war to work effectively? What would be the powers, apart from the imposing title, of the American Supreme Commander of the Atlantic? Our coastal waters and the English Channel are not under him. It is in the White Paper. He could not move warships and flotillas from the Eastern Atlantic Zone without disrupting or changing all the intricate business of receiving convoys and keeping the ports open.
2019 Then, what about merchant ships? The Prime Minister told us the other day:That is really another matter altogether. The allocation of our merchant fleet is, of course, under the Government of this country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Feb. 26, 1951; Vol. 484, c. 1767.]Well, the merchant fleet can no more be considered apart from the escorts than the escorts can be considered apart from the merchant fleet. What powers will the Supreme Commander have over the American Navy Department? Can he transfer ships from the Pacific to the Atlantic? Surely not? He might make representations, but they would be settled by the American naval authorities, no doubt after consultation with the British Admiralty. Could he move naval forces from the North Atlantic to the South Atlantic? Is, in fact, the South Atlantic under his command at all? Could he take ships from the South Atlantic or from the Mediterranean and bring them into the Eastern or the Western Atlantic Zones?
It would be quite impossible for him to settle any of these matters, even if he had the authority on paper, except after consulting the United States Navy Department and the British Admiralty. We are told that his appointment is necessary to avoid the ocean war being conducted by a committee composed of 12 Powers, such as the Committee set up under the Atlantic Pact. But who ever imagined that the intricate handling of the U-boat and mining war could be entrusted to a committee of 12 Powers, most of whom have contributed little or nothing to the common stock?
It would not be fair to a distinguished and capable officer, like Admiral Fechteler to cast all the nominal responsibility upon him when, in actual practice, he could not have real power. There is no doubt whatever that the business of bringing in the convoys safely to Europe can only be settled by an officer, whatever his nationality, seated at the Admiralty, and having immediately under his orders the executive Officer Commanding the Western Approaches and the merchant shipping which is the object of the enemy's attack, and whose safety is the whole object of the operation.
Reading the White Paper, which I had the time to do, one finds that Paragraph 25 is strange reading. It says: 2020The Atlantic command will include an Eastern and a Western area. The Eastern area, which is obviously the more vital so far as this country is concerned, will be under the command of a British Admiral in association with Coastal Command of the Royal Air Force. This British Admiral will be the Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet, an appointment at present held by Admiral Sir Philip Vian.But what has the Home Fleet got to do with the U-boat and mining menace? It has very little to do with them. Of course, when it comes out from its harbours into the ocean it has to look after the convoys and protect them against U-boat attack, and, of course, when it stays in, sometimes it lends the flotillas of the Western Approaches some flotillas of its own. But the Home Fleet, in war-time, dwells mainly at Scapa Flow, and only comes out to deal with enemy surface raiders.
In this imaginary war, to which I am addressing myself, we have, of course, to look at the facts with which one is confronted. The Russians have some modern cruisers, but they have no fast capital ships like the "Scharnhorst," the "Gneisenau," the "Bismarck" and the "Tirpitz," and they can have none in the next two or three years—two, anyhow. How is it then proposed that the Commander-in-Chief of our Home Fleet is to control the movement of convoys in the Western Approaches? The routes to be followed by convoys entering or leaving Britain must be arranged from the British Admiralty. Are the merchant ships sailing from British ports to be given their orders from America, and, if so, how can the American Commander be informed of all that is going on from hour to hour? Fancy presenting us with a plan whereby an American admiral, seated in Norfolk, Virginia, has the supreme command of the Atlantic, although the business of the reception of the convoys and bringing them in through the U-boat and mining attack, must be mainly over here and is vital to us all. I repeat that the Supreme Commander of the Atlantic, if there is one, whatever his nationality, should be situated here.
Of course, since the war stopped, changes in military science have been continued. The power of the air grows ceaselessly. Even at the end of the war, it was at least equal to that of the naval forces at sea. But the movement of convoys on the sea is a matter for naval directions, and in Great Britain the air 2021 forces allotted to their defence must conform to a comprehensive plan prepared, in the first place, by the Admiralty. This important fact was recognised when, from the outbreak of the last war, the operational control of the Coastal Command of the Royal Air Force was vested in the Admiralty.
It is not clear from the White Paper whether this policy is intended to be applied in the future. Paragraph 25 of the White Paper says:The Eastern area…will be under the command of a British Admiral in association with Coastal Command of the Royal Air Force.Is there then to be no American air contribution to this Eastern Zone? Surely, information of this might have been given to us. It is a serious omission on the part of those who drew up this document.
Let me return to the first point I am making, that there is no need for a Supreme Commander of the Atlantic. That is the point which I submit to the House, and, not only to the House, but to the Committee. The overwhelming weight of British naval opinion supports the view that there is no need to appoint a Supreme Commander of the Atlantic.
§ Mr. Churchill
I will affirm and sustain my statement. Admiral Andrew Cunningham, a very great sailor—
§ Mr. Churchill
I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman might, at any rate, lay off his sneering snarls when naval officers of great distinction have their names mentioned in the House. Admiral Andrew Cunningham used the expression that it would be "a fifth wheel on the coach." Admiral Tovey, who commanded the Home Fleet for a long time, and had a very important action at sea, and Lord Cork and Orrery have spoken in the same sense. I have here a letter, which I am authorised to read, from Sir Percy Noble, who has not hitherto expressed himself in public, but who has unequalled credentials, because he managed the business himself with success last time. It says:My dear Mr. Churchill, From experience in the last war—first in command of the 2022 Western Approaches and then as one of the Combined Chiefs of Staff—it is my opinion that there is no need for a Supreme Commander in the Atlantic at all. In 1942, when I was at Liverpool, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound discussed this very question with me, and we agreed that such a form of command was not only unnecessary, but might (and probably would) impose an undue strain on the already very complex system of wireless and other communications.When I was in Washington in 1943 the whole of our machinery for controlling the North Atlantic convoys was again re-examined by Admiral King and myself with Admiral Sir Henry Moore, who was at that time the Vice-Chief of the Naval Staff in London. Had it then been considered wise to introduce a change in the system, it is probable that a British officer would have been selected for this Supreme Command as Britain and Canada were providing almost the whole of the escorting forces in that area. However, we decided that no change was necessary.Great Britain is the 'receiving end' of the Atlantic life-line and the jumping-off place for forces entering Europe.In view of certain statements to the contrary which have appeared in the Press, I feel it is worth mentioning that in my experience no serious confusion ever arose in regard to the exercise of control by the methods we employed in the last war.That is not an opinion which should be dismissed in contemptuous terms. It is not an opinion which should be ignored, and I am sure our American friends with whom Admiral Noble worked so intimately will give it full weight in considering this matter now under discussion between us. My first submission, therefore, to the Committee is that there is no need for the appointment of a Supreme Commander in the Atlantic.
Let me now approach the question from another angle. We all rejoiced when General Eisenhower was appointed Supreme Commander of the Armies of the Atlantic Powers. There is no man in the world who can do that job so well. Although the American troops under his command will only be a fraction of the whole of the European Forces which are needed—and far less than the French Army which, if France and Europe are to live, must be reborn—yet everyone was contented, and have been more contented every day since his appointment. It was a great shock however to most of the 50 millions in our island when they learned that a United States admiral was also to be put in command of the Atlantic and of a large proportion of our Fleet employed there.
2023 During the war the life-lines across the Atlantic fell in an overwhelming degree to the care of the Admiralty. We were always most anxious for the Americans to extend their zone eastwards towards us, even during the first two years of the struggle when we were alone and they gave us magnificent help. But in 1942, after they had come into the war, their major theatre in that war—I say that war—was, inevitably and rightly, in the Pacific. They suffered terrible losses in the massacre of shipping through their own inexperience of dealing with the U-boat. The "U-boat paradise"—the Germans called it—took a terrible toll of their own Eastern coast in 1942, and hard pressed though we were ourselves, we were very glad to send them all the help we could in creating their convoy and escort system. They did not suffer to any serious extent from the mining danger.
But the climax of the U-boat war was reached in 1943, and during this struggle nearly the whole Business was managed and the burden borne by Britain and Canada. In fact it was by agreements reached between the British and American Governments, the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, and between the Admiralties, that Britain and Canada assumed full responsibility for the protection of all trade convoys, apart from American troop convoys, in the North Atlantic, and the American naval contribution fell by agreement to a little more than 2 per cent. of the total. This was the period when the U-boat attack was decisively broken by all the means that were available.
We have become relatively, I regretfully admit, a weaker Power since those days—not only on the seas. Nevertheless, we have the experience, we have the art. Our latent resources in trained sea-faring personnel are out of all proportion to what we have presented in recent years. We need, of course, American aid. So does the whole world. We need aid particularly in the air at the reception end, but I can find no valid reason for surbordinating Great Britain in the Atlantic Command. The responsibility should be shared on equal terms and with equal status between the two chief naval Powers. That is my submission.
2024 We are told we are to have the sole command of British coastal waters and the English Channel. We are not told what "coastal waters" mean. The First Lord of the Admiralty in another place spoke of the Americans "commanding in deep waters." What does that mean? Does that mean up to the 100-fathom line, or what? I had better give way if the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence wishes to answer.
§ The Minister of Defence (Mr. Shinwell)
I am very anxious not to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman because I am intensely interested in what he is saying, but he must take into account what appears in the White Paper about the control of the Eastern Atlantic.
§ Mr. Churchill
I was coming to all that, but I was talking of the coastal waters. I ask what that means because the Eastern Atlantic like the Western is under Supreme American command. It is the coastal waters alone that are reserved for Great Britain and I am asking if they end at the 100-fathom line. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Minister does not know."] In any case the area is severely restricted round our own coast, and the line that is drawn, be it the 100-fathom line or not, like the line that will be drawn across the Atlantic in no way corresponds to any boundary which applies to U-boat attack. The English Channel is reserved to us. It is surely not more vital to the integrity of the reception of convoys than the Bay of Biscay or the waters between Iceland and Ireland, or the North Sea, or the Arctic approaches to and from North Russia. It is all one story, and one story that can only be intelligently told from one place.
Let me turn now to another aspect—sentiment. Sentiment should not rule in war, but neither should it be forgotten or overlooked. I am sorry that the Prime Minister is not here and still more sorry for the cause of his absence, but I must state the case. He plays too important a part in it to be omitted from any coherent discussion. He certainly does not understand British sentiment about the Navy. Going back a long time, I admit, to 27th March, 1936—it was on the same subject and in the same discussion—the Prime Minister said, accord- 2025 ing to the "Daily Herald"—from which I take the report:We shall have to give up certain of our toys—one is 'Britannia rules the Waves'.This was certainly a misquotation. As has been often pointed out, it is, "Britannia rule the Waves"—an invocation not a declaration of fact. But if the idea "Rule Britannia" was a toy, it is certainly one for which many good men from time to time have been ready to die.
No one can doubt that it was a great shock and even an affront—quite unintended by the United States—to the whole nation when, following on an American general's supreme command in Europe, which we all welcome, we were told that an American admiral would have the supreme command of the Atlantic. It was also a shock to see that our Prime Minister had so little knowledge and even less feeling in the matter. However, the United States themselves should consider the sentiments of others in executing their great mission of leading the resistance of the free world against Communist aggression and infiltration. It should not be possible for their enemies to say that they are grasping the supreme command everywhere—on the land, in the air, on the sea. Moreover, it is not true; that is not their wish or their desire.
To create this superfluous supreme command of the Atlantic would be a psychological mistake, making things harder than they are already. Of course, it plays right into the hands of the Communist propagandists and their fellow travellers who declare, in their lying fashion, that we have all been bought up by Wall Street and the almighty dollar. Why make them this present in the discussion when the matter is not, as I have said, of real and fundamental importance? It would, I think, have been a natural thing in sentiment, and also on practical and technical arguments, to have shared the Atlantic Command with equal status between the Admiralty and the United States Navy Department.
I am quite sure it was not the wish of the American people or their government to treat us roughly in this matter, or to make an issue of it at all. When I made my protest I received most active and sincere and widespread American support. It is a trouble into which they have been brought, not at all by their own decision 2026 or desire but through other reasons which I will presently indicate.
I have heard the argument used—and it is even suggested in the last sentence of paragraph 28 in the White Paper—that we shall get much more out of the Americans by letting them have the command, even though it is mainly nominal. That, I think, is a train of thought unworthy of the dignity of both our countries. It implies that the Americans are willing to be fooled by being flattered and that the British have no pride if they can get more help. We should dismiss such arguments from our thoughts. But still we can see the traces of them on the last page of the White Paper. The issue, I think, should be settled between comrades and brothers in common danger and on a self-respecting moral basis, and with the sole desire and resolve to find the best way of winning victory and salvation from our dangers.
It is true, no doubt, that the United States has a larger fleet than we have—double, we are told—in ships in commission, and a great preponderance in the air. Also, they have wisely and carefully kept in "mothball" many scores of war vessels which we have improvidently scrapped, sold or given away. Thus, they have a larger material reserve. Broadly speaking, it can be said that the Supreme Command in war goes naturally with the size of the forces involved, and I accepted and affirmed that rule in the late struggle.
§ The Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. James Callaghan)
It may be quite true that the Americans have a much larger material reserve, but I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that they do not possess a proportionately larger material reserve than we have, compared with their active fleet.
§ Mr. Churchill
It is rather difficult to work out these rule-of-three sums. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite laugh at that; that is all they are fit for. Why should they laugh because I am not prepared to argue that question of whether it is a proportionately larger reserve? It is a grave and foolish thing to cast away valuable ships at the end of a war. It is much better to keep them, even if you do not want them, in care and maintenance, and then you can never tell when they will turn out to be 2027 useful. I have not worked it out in proportion, but at any rate the Americans have a far larger material reserve than we have.
I was saying that, broadly speaking, the supreme command in war goes naturally with the larger forces. I think that may be taken as the rule. Nevertheless, in the campaign of Tunis we did not hesitate to allow our armies to remain under General Eisenhower's command, although we had 11 divisions in action to the Americans' four. On the other hand when, later in that year, the United States asked for an American supreme commander to have control both of the "Overlord" campaign in France and also of the Mediterranean, I refused to agree, and although there were tense arguments the matter was settled agreeably, as so many other matters were settled between us, and it was settled without any ill-feeling.
How was this accomplished? It was accomplished by the personal relations between the Heads of Governments and, of course, based upon the continued comradeship and intercourse of our Combined Chiefs of Staff Committee. I shall come back to this institution before I sit down, but the conclusion I now draw is that commands in particular operations and in various theatres are not necessarily regulated merely by the size of the forces locally involved.
In estimating the size of these forces one must not only consider the relative naval strengths of the fleets and flotillas and aircraft squadrons as they now stand. I know we are in a temporary eclipse, but we are capable of a far greater and more rapid development of strength in the naval sphere than almost any other country. Besides the warships of all kinds, there is the Mercantile Marine. We must not forget them, or the sacrifices the merchant seamen made in the struggle?—many of them sunk three or four times with their ships, but always going back. We may have let our Navy down, but it can be revived. We have not let our Mercantile Marine diminish. On the contrary—
§ Mr. Callaghan rose—
§ Mr. Churchill
The Parliamentary Secretary is a subordinate Minister of the Government and he should not interrupt 2028 from the Front Bench. We have not let our Mercantile Marine diminish. On the contrary, here are the figures. [Interruption.] I think I have the right to put forward the case for the potential contribution which Britain can make to war and transport on the seas. The United States have 12,400,000 tons of merchant shipping in use and 14 million tons in reserve. They have 250,000 tons under construction. Great Britain has 16,600,000 tons in use, or 19,600,000 tons if the Commonwealth and Empire are added, and two million tons under construction, some of it for foreign account. Moreover, we have far larger reserves of merchant—
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and East Perthshire)
On a point of order. Is it in order for an hon. Member to refer to the right hon. Gentleman as "a damned old fool"?
§ Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas (The Wrekin)
May I call attention to the fact that this whole incident arose from—
§ The Chairman
It was within the hearing of all Members of the Committee, and there is no point in calling attention to it now.
§ Mr. Thomas
On a point of order. Is it in order for the right hon. Gentleman to refer to an hon. Member of the Committee as somewhat subordinate to another—[Laughter.] Let hon. Members wait for the whole of it—and, therefore, not entitled to the same consideration as a Member of the Government? Are not the rights of every Member on the Floor of the Committee equal?
§ The Chairman
I do not think any procedural objection can be taken to the right hon. Gentleman's reference to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] But it is, of course, true that the hon. Gentleman is the chief Minister of the Admiralty in the House.
§ Mr. Churchill
Well, I understood that the Minister of Defence was going to take responsibility for the case today; and everything is relative in importance, and consequently, compared with the Minister of Defence, the hon. Gentleman must accept the position of being subordinate; although let me make it quite clear that this is the first time that I have ever heard the word "subordinate" regarded as un-Parliamentary or even as almost an obscene expression. However, the "damned old fool" has accepted the apology.
I was saying that, moreover, we have far larger reserves of merchant seamen than the United States; we have a much larger merchant fleet; and I say that that is not a negligible contribution to the solution of the problems we have to settle between our two great, friendly countries.
This very serious mistake arises from the fault of planning from the bottom instead of planning from the top. When the top are incompetent to plan or give guidance, the process naturally begins from the bottom. We suffer from the fallacy, deus ex machina, which, for the benefit of any Wykehamists who may be present, is "A god out of the machine." There are layers of committees and super committees, and the business is passed upwards stage by stage to a decision. When all the process has been gone through, the machine speaks, but what one gets at the end is not truth or wisdom or common sense: it is a White Paper. All that comes out of the machine is unreal and meaningless formulae expressed in official jargon and accompanied by fatuous grimaces.
Now let me tell the Committee, so far as I know the facts, the procedure by which an American admiral was appointed to the Supreme Command of the Atlantic. I have been looking into the workings of the machine, which, I hope, will interest the right hon. Gentleman. Here let me say and let me emphasise that I have no doubt that Admiral Fechteler is a most capable and 2030 competent officer. Although he has no special experience of the Atlantic theatre, he is, I am sure, a naval officer of the highest quality. But so far as I have been able to ascertain, this is how the decision was taken by planning from the bottom.
The original proposal came at a meeting in Washington some time last year, and was made by the Canadian representative. So I ask the Minister of Defence, when he replies, to tell the Committee whether this was agreed or was, at last, a matter of consultation beforehand between the British and the Canadian Governments. If it was not, it would seem it ought to have been. All the other Powers present supported the proposal. The British representative, Vice-Admiral Schofield, who has been very vocal in the recent discussions, felt that the best he could do was to ask that the Supreme Commander's deputy should be British. Now I ask the Minister of Defence, did he have instructions to take this course? Surely on a matter of such high importance of this character, he should have had definite instructions from above. If he had none, he should, in my opinion, have said that the matter was too important to be decided without reference to higher authority, and asked for an adjournment. But all passed off very pleasantly with unanimous agreement. The matter then slumbered for several months while the machine was grinding away from day to day, until the decision leaked out from Copenhagen.
§ Mr. Churchill
Let us look at some of these countries whose subordinate officers—I beg the pardon of the Committee for using that word—settled the matter. I may say that they are all countries for whom I have the strongest regard and from whom I have received many compliments and honours. But let me take four of them—Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Holland. Though we accept the statement that the American Navy is double as strong as the British, the British Navy, even in its present phase, is more than 12 times as strong as all these four put together. Even if France be included, their combined strength is less than a quarter of ours.
These four Powers I am speaking of have between them one aircraft carrier, acquired from Britain since the war, and 2031 15 destroyers and 16 frigates, many of which have been purchased from Great Britain. Yet the voting strength of each round the table was equal to ours, and also, of course, to the United States, whose Navy is larger than everyone's. Everything went off smoothly, and the American representative, no doubt with a becoming blush, accepted the supreme command for his country.
All this is happening far below the cognisance of statesmen, premiers, presidents, and leading people—even, perhaps, Ministers of Defence—who manage our affairs. But it went on steadily up to the higher levels—the committees of greater status—until we reached the present situation.
Since the disclosure was made to Parliament, the Government have become conscious that the policy to which they had been bound by the workings of the machine was neither sensible nor—what is, perhaps, for the moment more relevant to their preoccupations—popular. Why have we been waiting so long for the White Paper, and now have only an interim incomplete document? It is because His Majesty's Government suddenly became aware of what was going on and that it was bringing them into discredit, and they have tried to find some counterpoise to restore the balance and help them out of their scrape. Then the happy thought came: "If we have given up the command of the Atlantic, let us try, as a sop to placate our people to keep or gain the commander-in-chiefship of the Mediterranean. That would make things more even."
Though I have no definite information, I presume that most active discussions have been proceeding on the basis that as Britain has given up the Atlantic she must at least have the Mediterranean. But here again there is a great difficulty. This is the cause of the delay in our getting the full White Paper. The Mediterranean Powers, whose Governments have now been brought into the matter—not a mere committee of medium officials sitting round a table—want to have the Americans in command of the Mediterranean. There are almost as many powerful arguments in favour of the United States having the command in the Mediterranean as there are against them 2032 having the over-riding command in the Atlantic.
§ Mr. Shinwell
At this stage I want to be quite clear about the statement the right hon. Gentleman has just made. Do I understand him to say that Governments who are concerned in the Mediterranean zone have decided that there should be an American commander, or have suggested that there should be an American commander? If so, will the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to let me have the evidence on this?
§ Mr. Churchill
I will say what I have said and what I am going to say. I say that, since all this matter became public in discussions on the American command of the Atlantic, there has been a very great deal more attention paid to the discussions about the command in the Mediterranean; very much more.
§ Mr. Shinwell rose—
§ Mr. Shinwell
The right hon. Gentleman need be under no illusions. He will be surprised, and probably disagreeably surprised, at how much I have to say in replying to him. I want to put him right about the facts, because I think that is very desirable, and all I say to him now is that the discussions about the Mediterranean and the discussions about the whole command have been taking place simultaneously.
§ Mr. Churchill
They may have been taking place simultaneously, but one ended before the other. That sometimes happens in horse racing. I am certainly not seeking to gain personal popularity by what I am going to say. On the contrary, I am saying only what I think is right and true, and should be considered and weighed by the Committee and the Government. I say that there are almost as many powerful arguments in favour of the United States having the command in the Mediterranean as there are against them haying the over-riding command in the Atlantic.
Personally, if I had to choose I should prefer, on nigh military and national grounds, the United States having command in the Mediterranean. I am sorry to have to trouble the Committee with 2033 details, but it is better that the matter should be understood. A powerful fleet—and this will interest hon. Gentlemen opposite below the Gangway—of American carriers can be and is being placed in the Mediterranean which, working in conjunction with the air bases America has obtained from France and in Tripoli, would bring a tremendous potential attack with the atomic bomb upon the most vulnerable parts of Russia, including the oil fields, in the event of war, and this fact constitutes an immense and precious deterrent against another war.
The United States can, if it chooses, have by far the most powerful fleet in the Mediterranean, and a fleet suited to the actual task which might have to be performed if the worst came to the worst. I think we should be ready and proud to be the hosts of our American allies and comrades at our famous and vital Mediterranean bases at Gibraltar, Malta and, presumably, Cyprus. I would much rather the British offensive atomic base in East Anglia were not the only major deterrent of this kind upon Communist aggression.
§ Mr. Churchill
This is rather up the hon. Gentleman's street. It is right to spread the risk of reprisals. We at home should be safer, and the United Nations and Atlantic Powers would be stronger.
Therefore, I do not oppose the United States taking the command, if that is their wish, of the Mediterranean on the practical and strategic merits. Moreover, there are far-reaching political arguments. We are no longer strong enough ourselves to bear the whole political burden we have hitherto borne in the Mediterranean, or even to take the leading part in the diplomatic control of that theatre. But the United States and Britain together, aided by France—which in the Mediterranean makes a very different contribution to the common strength than it is possible for her to do in the Atlantic, with her bases and her ships—we three together would be in a most powerful position to deal with, say, the Egyptian problem and the whole question of the defence of the Suez Canal. We and the United States ought, to act together there and in these matters.
2034 I am always looking out for something to give the Government a good mark for, and I read the papers vigilantly every day, and I was very glad to see that about the Persian oil, the Government are already working with the United States. That is right and wise. The same combination will enormously relieve our difficulties in Egypt, the Levant and throughout the Middle East. After all, the United States are now looking after Turkey, and have taken over from us the salvation of Greece. These countries would welcome the United States in the Mediterranean, and would gladly accord them the supreme command there.
What are the Government trying to do? Having let the question of the Atlantic command go largely by default, they hope to put themselves right with the public—this is my guess—by claiming the Mediterranean. It is as if a man had put the wrong shoe on his right foot should say: "I will put the other shoe on my left foot, and that will be a compromise which will make it all right." Such absurdities have no part in the grim realities of warding off war or of war itself.
I ask that this matter should be reconsidered from the beginning. I ask that the command of the Atlantic shall be agreeably divided between Great Britain and the United States on equal terms. In the war the line was eventually drawn at the 26th Meridian—quite a different thing from the 38th Parallel. But wherever the line is to be drawn, it would be easy to arrange for the taking over of the convoys and for their air defence; and the adjustments, sometimes almost daily, can be made quite easily, and can only be made, between the Admiralty and the Canadian and United States Navy Departments. If it is a question of large transfers of forces from one side to the other, that is really a matter first for a Combined Chiefs of Staff Committee, if they exist still, and in the ultimate issue for settlement between the Prime Minister and the President, who together control 90 per cent. of all the effective air and naval forces involved in this whole business.
Now I come to the existing organisation for the Atlantic Pact. The costly error was made when the Combined 2035 British and American Chiefs of Staff Committee was dissolved, of sweeping this away, of breaking up this organisation. It was a disaster. We speak the same language; we have many other ties. What a pity it was to let go that organisation which served us so well, and which carried the direction of war between allies to the highest and most smooth-working efficiency ever reached in history.
The Prime Minister told us that he regretted the abolition of the Combined Chiefs of Staffs Committee. But why did he not put up a fight about it? Surely this was an occasion when he might have crossed the Atlantic and had a personal talk with the President on the top level. Keeping the Combined Chiefs of Staffs Committee in existence need not have prevented a co-existent instrument with other powers on it for the purpose of executing the Atlantic Pact. Half the misunderstandings which have been so dangerous to Anglo-American relations during the Korean War would, I believe, have been avoided had there been a regular and constant meeting, as there were in the bygone years, between our two Chiefs of Staffs Committees. We cannot afford, in the dangers in which we now stand, to make mistakes like this. By mismanaging these affairs the responsible Ministers may bring untold miseries upon the hard-working, helpless millions whose fate lies in their hands.
What organisation have we got now to replace the contact between the President and the Prime Minister and the continued daily intercourse of the Combined Chiefs of Staffs Committee? We are told of a standing group of Powers under the Atlantic Pact. This group which deals with the forces deployed under that Pact consists of three men—a French general, a British airman and an American vice-admiral. There is not a British sailor on it at all; not at the head of the Fleets not in this higher organisation. But surely the carrying of food and supplies from which Britain lives, carrying the armies of the New World to Europe, and maintaining them there across the broad oceans and through the narrow seas—surely that is a business in which sailors and merchant seamen and ships of all kinds, and naval skill and knowledge have their part.
2036 I hope that the House will carefully consider many of the arguments that I have ventured to put before them, and I hope that we shall not allow this matter to rest as a thing definitely settled. I hope myself that the mistakes that have been made will be recovered.
This White Paper, so long withheld, is mainly a repetition of the one we got over a year ago. It has the addition of the names of various officers appointed by General Eisenhower in his Continental Command. But it gives us no real information. It is only a painful exposure of the paralysis of Cabinet mentality. If the Minister of Defence is not able tonight to make a genuine contribution to our knowledge, I shall feel it my duty to move a nominal reduction of his salary as a protest against the manner in which these grave matters have, so far, been handled by him and by the Government as a whole.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Shackleton (Preston, South)
The surprising thing about this debate is the fact that the Opposition have decided to raise what, according to the words of the Leader of the Opposition, seems to be an important matter and have allowed only three hours for the debate. They propose to devote the remainder of the day to discussing Post Office charges. The right hon. Gentleman has in fact continued what he started about six weeks ago when he proceeded to extract from the question of the appointment of an American Admiral the maximum amount of party political advantage and, of course, to cause the maximum amount of doubt and discussion on the subject of this appointment.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman has done the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and this country a real disservice by the tone of his speech today. I am equally certain that there are many hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House who do not share his views or his general approach to the problem of the organisation of North Atlantic defence. [Interruption.] It is a pity that the right hon. Gentleman has not allowed a little more time for hon. Gentlemen behind him to speak on this matter. He has been complaining that the information contained in the White Paper is inadequate. He knows perfectly well that the negotiations are going on and that the picture 2037 is still incomplete and that the fact that the supreme commander for the North Atlantic area has not yet been appointed is largely due to the tactics which he himself has applied in raising the matter as he did a few weeks ago.
The right hon. Gentleman blamed the Prime Minister for the way in which the announcement was first made to the House. It is within the knowledge of all Members of this House that in fact the first news about the appointment of the Supreme Commander of the North Atlantic area did not come from this country but came through a leak from American sources, subsequently confirmed from Copenhagen. It is not surprising that the negotiations were incomplete, and I would point out for the benefit of hon. Members who may be under the impression that Admiral Fechteler has been appointed that no appointment has been made to date.
I think that it is our duty to examine seriously and objectively the purpose which the N.A.T.O. organisation is intended to serve. I do not think that it is helpful to such an examination to start off without looking at the aims, objects and first principles, and the right way to build up the command. It does not help to point out all the difficulties that lie in the way of building up such a joint organisation.
There is no question that there are such difficulties. I think that we should see whether these difficulties are not outweighed by the greater advantages. It seems to me that we are not concerned today with the broad purpose of major policy. That has been agreed. The purpose of the North Atlantic Alliance has largely been confirmed and accepted by all the countries taking part in that organisation. But we do need to know whether the system of defence, the military committee, the Standing Group and so on are in fact necessary, both politically and military.
Here we come to one of the most important aspects of the whole organisation—the system of the military committee and the Standing Group—and it is rather surprising that the right hon. Gentleman, in making his precise survey of the set-up, did not name the Standing Group in the course of his speech. [HON. MEMBERS: "He did."] Then I can only point out that it was very inconsistent—
§ Mr. Churchill
I did, indeed. I said that it had a French general, a British airman and an American admiral upon it, but no British admiral.
§ Mr. Shackleton
Then it is all the more surprising that the right hon. Gentleman suggested that in fact the command of operations would be in the hands of a military committee of 12 nations, which is what he did say. It is made clear in the White Paper that the Standing Group is a body comparable to the Combined Chiefs of Staff in the last war.
§ Mr. Shackleton
The major set-up is quite obviously only in the broadest outlines, and some consequential arrangements that still have to be made are not yet apparent. The right hon. Gentleman asked how the Home Fleet and subordinate commands would operate, but these details can be worked out as they were during the last war. This organisation is an embryo of what will be necessary in the event of war, and is a satisfactory peace-time arrangement. It must be made clear that it is an arrangement only for peace-time purposes, and it must be of a kind that can be evolved into an effective body for conducting a war if war should come.
On the political side, it is clear that the position today is different to that of the last war. There are 12 nations today linked together in the North Atlantic Alliance, and we should be grateful and pleased about that fact, which is something of importance. It is something that must be taken into consideration, that these various nations should take part in the set-up, planning and conduct of any defence organisation.
If we are to have a system of military committees, if we are to have a system under which all these different countries are represented, then it is an absolute essential corollary that there should be beneath the Standing Group some kind of joint headquarters or Supreme Command, or call it what you like, to carry out the orders of the Standing Group or the Combined Chiefs of Staff. The political necessity, as well as the military necessity, of the present situation makes the establishment of supreme commands 2039 in the different areas of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation absolutely essential.
I cannot accept the view that the situation in the last war was entirely satisfactory. It was my experience in the last war, in taking some part in the Battle of the Atlantic, that the set-up in regard to the pooling of resources, co-ordination, tactics, intelligence and so on was anything but complete. When the right hon. Gentleman refers to the line of distinguished retired naval officers, he must bear in mind that the whole weight of present-day naval opinion is against him. The Board of Admiralty and the Chiefs of Staff do not support this proposal.
It has been made clear in the House that it is the wish of the naval, military and Royal Air Force officers of the Ministry of Defence that this set-up should be achieved. It is not something that has been reluctantly agreed to, but something which they have advocated. In the last war, we ran into the most tremendous difficulties in the North Atlantic over a number of problems. There was the problem of signals procedure which was difficult enough between the Royal Air Force and the Navy, but it became much more difficult when we had to take into account the American methods. Gradually some of these difficulties were overcome.
It is also a point of some interest, in view of the tenderness of certain people in regard to the idea of British forces being under an American commander or under the command of any other country, that whereas we in the last war in the North Atlantic played a predominant part in fighting the U-boats, there were also present some naval and air forces belonging to the United States operating from our aerodromes as part of our patrol organisation which were not technically under our command.
The reason was that the American Admiral King refused to allow the American naval squadrons to come under British command. It was suggested in a letter that was written from Admiral Sir Percy Noble that the question of a supreme command was discussed in the last war and that if such a supreme commander had been appointed he would have been British. That is a most unlikely outcome in view of the fact that 2040 on one occasion I know American naval squadrons refused, under orders from Admiral King, to escort a British convoy for which escort was absolutely necessary. I do not blame the commander of the squadrons, because his orders were such as to impose on him the responsibility which should have been imposed on him but should have belonged to the commander in the theatre. The escort was provided by the American Army, which was more willing to accept British orders. That was the sort of position which was not at all satisfactory during the last war.
I find it difficult, when under this arrangement we can see American forces in the Eastern Atlantic and in the areas in which our forces will be operating under our direct operational control, to do anything but welcome the arrangement which is a marked improvement on the situation in the last war. Again I ask, who is the Standing Group to pass its directives to unless there are supreme commanders? Either we have one Supreme Commander of the North Atlantic or a lot of little ones. But at some point it is necessary to provide a combined centralised control where tactics, signals procedure and all the other things necessary for common action in war can be sorted out in the way in which they should have been sorted out at a Joint Allied Headquarters during the last war.
It is a strange thing, in view of the obvious need in the present defence picture for such a command, that an attack should be made on the appointment of an American admiral. What makes it so surprising is the fact that the right hon. Gentleman accepted the position during the last war of British naval forces being under the command of the Americans in the Pacific, while the Americans refused to put their forces under our command in the Eastern Atlantic. It is surprising, despite the infinitely greater experience at that stage of the war in military operations, when most of the fighting in Tunisia was being done by British forces, that the right hon. Gentleman accepted the necessity for an American supreme commander. Surely the need for a co-ordinated command is just as important today. It was not a serious difficulty to the right hon. Gentleman, as Minister of Defence and wartime Prime Minister, to accept these proposals during the war. I cannot see 2041 why, if he was able to swallow this camel during the war, he should be so concerned about this difficulty at the moment.
The essence of a joint headquarters and joint command must be that a proper measure of friendly co-operation is established between the representatives of the different nations that make up the command. I see no reason why that should not be satisfactorily achieved with regard to a supreme commander in the North Atlantic. It was done in other areas in Europe in the case of land operations. What has been said by the right hon. Gentleman today, and on previous occasions, has not helped towards that desirable end. He may say that there has been sympathetic reaction and response to some of his ideas among Americans, but friends with whom I served in the last war tell me that it is all very strange, that they never thought we bothered, and they ask whether the British are now not prepared to serve under an American commander where that is necessary.
One is forced to accept what has been said in the House of Commons was the result of an emotional outburst calculated to strike at the very deep feeling in the people of this country. There was a great deal of sympathy on both sides of the House when the right hon. Gentleman made this point. It is all the more necessary for us now to look at it objectively, and when we can look at it objectively I believe the arguments, which are strongly supported by our Chiefs of Staff and the Admiralty, are overwhelming.
It would not be the first time that the right hon. Gentleman has possibly been right and the experts wrong. But on this occasion I am afraid that the whole weight of evidence is against him. What we are trying to do today is to build up in peacetime something which has never been attempted before, the framework of co-operation for defence, which will deter an aggressor and place us in a state in which we will be ready to go into immediate action to deal with any situation that might possibly arise.
An American friend of mine said—it has been said, too, by other people—that the real secret weapon in the hands of the Allies during the last war was Anglo-American co-operation. I believe that in the military field, if such should be 2042 necessary again, the Anglo-American co-operation of the last war would have to be extended into a much wider area—into the field of the North Atlantic nations generally. I believe it is possible to achieve that provided we bring goodwill to bear on the matter, but we will only do it if we can look at it objectively and seek to achieve the sort of set-up which existed in North Africa during the last war.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) had some experience of the difficulties to be encountered in a joint headquarters, and during the war he played a decisive part in overcoming some of those difficulties. The man in supreme command must be determined not simply on the question of whether a nation's pride demands it, but on a number of factors. I believe in this case it is our duty, in making our contribution to a new world set-up, to take the lead, if necessary, and show our willingness to surrender part of our sovereignty if it is in the interests of the common good.
Under the proposals of the White Paper, incomplete though they are, and hoping as we do that we may have command in the Mediterranean, the British, in proportion to the strength of the forces at our disposal, have, in fact, been given adequate representation. I hope that hon. Members from the other side of the Committee, who will speak on this matter, will not follow the mischievous line taken by their leader today.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Surgeon Lieut.-Commander Bennett (Gosport and Fareham)
I have not found very much to bite upon in the speech of the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton). He came to the rescue of his party and Government quite briskly, and pointed out that certainly the controversy over this question of an American Admiral being appointed was one that has stirred deeply the emotions of the country. He seemed to think that there was a reason for condemning the attitude of the Tory Party in that the country was stirred adversely to his party. I think I am right in saying that although it was not necessarily stirred towards my party, it certainly was stirred in a sense very adverse to the party of hon. Gentlemen opposite.
2043 One thing seems quite evident from the preliminary stages of the discussion of this matter in this House, and that is that the issue has been deplorably handled by the Government. Nobody I feel in this country—and I should like here to declare a certain interest in the Royal Navy from several points of view—least of all in the Royal Navy, is inclined to envy the Americans their prospective appointment, which is now somewhat hesitant and suspended. There are no hard feelings here against America. It is an extraordinary thing that this country was confronted so bluntly and with such complete insouciance by the Prime Minister with the apparent appointment of an American naval officer to the Supreme Command of the Atlantic.
The way it was handled in this House was the worst thing of the lot. It was done tersely and casually, and in a way which seemed to be quite ill-informed. I cannot say that I am surprised at the feeling in the country boiling over. I can assure hon. Members opposite that the feeling on this subject in Portsmouth and in the naval ports, including Gosport where I come from, was explosive, again not against the Americans but against the slight and the apparent devaluation of our Navy which the Government brought about.
Personally, I question the necessity for this Supreme Allied Commander in the Atlantic. Is it necessary to have one? The reasons set forth in the White Paper seem to me to be absolutely shallow and inadequate. Was there any great fault in the organisation that existed during the war? We never seemed to hear that there was any gross disorganisation nor that there was in any way a wrong structure. Many of us in this House saw the last war from the Atlantic Ocean, and it seemed to most of us that the organisation, considering the different arms of the Services involved, was well coordinated. It struck me more than once that the problem of co-ordinating air and sea was a far more difficult problem than co-ordinating the Americans and the British. I think it is still.
What was wrong with the existing structure? Why should it not be used now? It seems to me that there is no reason against it. I think I am right in saying that some 12 nations are mentioned in Paragraph 27 (b) of the White 2044 Paper as being involved in the Atlantic. If that is so, will they not be quite relieved to have the British Admiralty take over the Eastern side of the Atlantic Ocean and run the war there in that way, with the American Navy taking over the running from the Western side?
Is it advisable to break up the existing organisation and build up this new scheme? Is there any great need to refer to the disparity of the naval forces and the air forces of the two countries? If there is any great disparity, the boundary line which was formerly fixed at the Meridian of 26 West, could be moved appropriately either way in operational circumstances. If there is a boundary of that kind with the existing naval structures, which have got the experience of years behind them—I am not advocating them necessarily on that account alone—surely they would be far better at handling all the subsidiary departments involved, rather than some new structure located on the wrong side of the Atlantic dealing with matters which are certainly not under its own direct notice.
How does the air come in under this new structure? We see in the drawings at the back of the White Paper the genealogical tree of this organisation, and there is another "command organisation (not yet decided)." Could the Minister of Defence tell us about this other command, and whether it is on a geographical basis or in respect of Strategic Air, or of air warfare of all kinds? We have not seen anything about air, and it is my firm opinion—I think I shall have most hon. Members with me when I say this—that the air is going to play an ever-increasing part in the war on the Atlantic, and we shall need to have co-ordination of the air in the sea war as well as a strategic air force under independent command.
Are we going to have the air under the command of a Supreme Allied Commander of the Atlantic? Is he going to have what we might call a tactical or anti-submarine air force confined to Coastal Command and the Fleet Air Arm, and will the Supreme Commander only be able to call upon the strategic air command for larger forces with longer range to carry out strategic attacks? If we have that, we must make it clear that that air command is likely to grow and to 2045 outstrip all-the other commands of this organisation. That is the one thing on which I want to have much more enlightenment.
If we have this Supreme Allied Command of the Atlantic, I, and I think many men in the Navy and many citizens in this country, do not think it is at all bad to have an American in charge. We have no animosity against the Americans. Far from it. I myself speak as a descendant of a certain John Paul Jones, so I do not mistrust the Americans. But if we do get an American, I hope he will be one who knows this kind of work.
If we happen to have this distinguished officer, Admiral Fechteler, what evidence have we that he has had a lifetime of antisubmarine work, which is what this command involves? We know that he has been a great man in task force work and in the Fleet Air battles in the Pacific, but has he had a long and rigorous training, a lifetime of endless training, in antisubmarine warfare, such as is possessed by every admiral in the British fleet, without exception? If he has, or is capable of getting on top of the subject in quick enough time, I am sure that we can be satisfied that he is a good man for the job. I am sure there is no animosity against the idea of having this admiral, or an American, and the fact that there has been a violent outburst of feeling in this country and in this House of Commons has in no way impaired Anglo-American relations.
Something was said by the hon. Member for Preston, South, about his friends, who had told him that they were surprised at the way in which there had been an explosion in this country on this subject. My own belief is that throughout America the explosion was very largely interpreted as a welcome sign of vitality in a country which they largely suspected of becoming a pensioner upon them. They are proud to have their supreme Ally showing signs of life again. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, and I certainly feel that we have done no harm in questioning this thing and that we shall do a great deal of good by bringing it into the open and hammering it out instead of doing it in committees whose proceedings might not otherwise see very much of the light of day.
If this command is set up, what is the position of the Admiralty going to be? It will be utterly ludicrous if the 2046 Admiralty is to have the privilege of providing the ships and absolutely no say in what is to be done with them. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The orders will not go through the Admiralty, and how can it possibly take that? The Admiralty should run its own ships. [HON. MEMBERS: "It will."] No Supreme Commander will have the organisation for doing so that the Admiralty has. Furthermore the Admiralty has a function known as "Sea Transport." It is the organisation of the trade routes and merchant shipping. Is that sea transport department of the Admiralty to be internationalised too? If so, is the shipping which it controls to be internationalised? If so, we shall be losing control of our merchant shipping, in spite of all the fair protestations of hon. Gentlemen opposite.
We must have a lot more information about this matter. I am sure that it will invalidate our control—not that I am speaking as a Little Englander—but we must have some control as a nation over our own food and drink, even if there is not much of it. I feel that the whole of this project is very ill-digested. It is of very doubtful use, and I shall need a great deal more persuasion, and so will many of us, before we can accept it. I should like to hear a great deal more about this conception in the White Paper by the Minister of Defence.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Commander Pursey (Hull, East)
The hon. and gallant Member for Gosport and Fareham (Surgeon Lieut.-Commander Bennett) said that he did not find much to bite on in the speech of the previous speaker. I must say that I cannot find very much to bite on in his speech, except to say that he is obviously thinking in water-tight compartments and working in parochial front gardens, instead of looking at the things collectively. But, this afternoon, I am after bigger fish.
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) is not in his place. I warned him that I was going to deal with him. [Laughter.] I am told that he never is. He just arrives as a prima donna, does his part, and then fades away. The right hon. Member the Leader of the Opposition has made one of the most deplorable speeches that he has ever made, of the many which he 2047 has made, as regards both its content and its time. As he has done often during the last six years, he has crashed into a subject like a bull in a china shop. He had his Children's Hour at Question Time and then he forced an untimely debate with a lack of knowledge and understanding which is incredible in a politician of his past standing, with no consideration whatever—[Interruption].
The hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head), who has just arrived in the Chamber, on a previous occasion said that if hon. Members on this side of the House wanted to quack they could go into St. James's park and quack. I suggest to hon. Gentlemen opposite that if they want to quack they can go into St. James's Park. There are only three hours for this debate. The Leader of the Opposition has taken an hour, and I do not want to waste time with unnecessary and nonsensical observations. I shall make my speech in my own way, irrespective of what happens over there. Now, to take up what I was saying previously:
The Leader of the Opposition has done it without any consideration whatever for the effects of his ebullitions on either national or international affairs. International affairs are the one thing that we should be concerned about in this House. The only explanation is that he has reached the stage when he is never happier than when scoring goals in his own net, or even fouling his own nest, so long as he is attacking the present Prime Minister and the Labour Government and denigrating his own country. Whatever the real reasons for his criticisms on the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation which we are discussing this afternoon, this was the one week not to have voiced those views in public, for several reasons which should have been apparent to all, and more particularly to him, as a previous Prime Minister.
First, the United States Government at this moment have quite enough trouble on their plate with the aftermath of the dismissal of General MacArthur and such reactions as might be tied up with this country, without the Leader of the British Opposition causing them more trouble. Secondly, and more important still, it should have been obvious to the right hon. Gentleman, with the structure of this organisation still incomplete, that 2048 delicate discussions are still proceeding to complete the picture, among our United States Allies, our other Allies and ourselves, and that this was the time when no irresponsible person was required to throw a spanner in the works, which is just what he has done. Thirdly, as the White Paper is not complete, the right hon. Gentleman should have waited until it was. There was no urgency for this debate. There is no question of having had to wait because of the Government. [Interruption.] The organisation is international and is not complete, and the stupid irrelevant interruptions from the other side are just typical of their ignorance of what is going on. That was suggested to the right hon. Gentleman, but I understand that in spite of advice even from his own side, he persisted in forcing this debate on the House to try to find a subject on which to attack the Government and the Prime Minister.
§ Commander Pursey
The main reason is that the one thing that the right hon. Gentleman did not want before this debate was the complete picture. He has no real case today with only part of the structure to discuss. He knew full well that once the full picture is produced everyone will realise that British interests have been amply provided for and that the Government are in an unassailable position and able to justify their actions up to the hilt as regards both the Organisation and the British commands. Now let hon. Members opposite laugh that off.
The trouble with the right hon. Gentleman is that at 70 plus he is still thinking of the horse era of 50 years ago—he himself referred to horses, but he does not know one end of a horse from the other—instead of the guided missile age of today. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the Wars of the Roses?"] The right hon. Gentleman is still thinking of containing a non-existent fleet in the North Sea and of dealing only with a couple of Allies instead of a dozen.
The most important question to ask this afternoon is: What is wrong with this Organisation? [HON. MEMBERS: "Everything."] The answer is, "Nothing." The second question to ask is: What is wrong with the White 2049 Paper? The answer again is "Nothing, with one exception." [HON. MEMBERS: "What is wrong with it?"] You just wait for it. The only argument—and this is peculiar to the Leader of the Opposition and his one-track mind, though he has not said so in direct terms—is that three letters have been omitted. Any suggestions? No? Well, the letters are W.S.C. taking care to include the "S"—the right hon. Gentleman's own initials. If he had been the Prime Minister—fortunately for this country and the world, he has not been, otherwise we might have been at war with Russia—more than likely we should have had practically the same Organisation, and practically the same White Paper.
What the right hon. Gentleman fails to appreciate is that, whereas he previously dealt with two Allies in war, which was comparatively easy—[Laughter]. Hon Members opposite are just advertising their own stupidity. While the military effort is far more difficult in peace, the political effort is far easier in war than it is in peace. So you should not laugh so stupidly. The present Government has to deal with a dozen Allies in peace, which is far more difficult—
§ Commander Pursey
Let me say to the noble Lord, the Member for Horsham, or whatever his present constituency is, that I do not want any help from him in making my case.
§ Earl Winterton rose—
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
Order! I do not think that that remark was called for. I was paying particular attention to everything that was being said.
§ Commander Pursey
In making that remark, naturally I did not wish to reflect on any action by the Chair. As the noble Lord has only just come into the Committee and has seen fit to join in the barracking—
§ Earl Winterton
I indulged in no barracking. When the hon. and gallant Gentleman addressed you, Sir Charles, and said to you, "You should not laugh so stupidly," I called out, as I was entitled to do, "That is not the way to address the Chair."
§ Commander Pursey
I think we shall get on much better this afternoon in view of the mood of the Opposition, if the noble Lord will leave matters concerning the Chair to the Chair and mind his own business.
What is the position about the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation? It has the unanimous support of 12 nations, no small triumph in itself, because nothing like it has ever been achieved before, not even by the Leader of the Opposition in his long career. It also has the full support of our chiefs of staff, the full support of the Admiralty and the full support of the Navy, in spite of statements quoted from officers who are now on the retired list.
§ Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite (Bristol, North-West)
Is not the hon. and gallant Gentleman on the retired list?
§ Commander Pursey
There is no misunderstanding about the list that you are on, so the hon. and gallant Gentleman had better not make any interruptions.
§ Commander Pursey
I apologise. Sir Charles, for using the word "you" instead of the expression "the hon. Member."
What more does the Leader of the Opposition want? It cannot be that everyone else is wrong and he is the only one right. If he had been in power, he would have had the same advisers producing the same plans. What his argument boils down to is this: the same experts giving the same advice and producing the same scheme to him as Prime Minister, would have been right; but the same experts producing the same plan for a Labour Prime Minister is wrong. In other words, the only thing wrong is that the right hon. Gentleman was not in the position to announce the scheme, and that, 2051 to say the least, is just plain nonsense. "The Daily Telegraph," a newspaper certainly not favourable to the Labour Government, yesterday stated in its second leading article:The debate in the House…may well bring out further points of criticism, but the general impression must surely be that national susceptibilities and practical requirements have been harmonised with considerable judgment.That is a very good summing up, of the position.
The real position of the right hon. Gentleman is therefore clear for all to see, both at home and among our Allies overseas. This synthetic controversy is not a question of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation or of commands; it is purely and simply a question of internecine party politics in an attempt to belittle the Labour Government and the Prime Minister both at home and abroad. The right hon. Gentleman realises, as do his colleagues, that as a result of the Chancellor's success with his Budget, the Labour Government has batted itself in for a good second innings this year, if not longer. Consequently, the synthetic furore about the Organisation and the commands today has simply been, as it was from the start, a Tory Party electioneering stunt which has now largely recoiled on himself and discredited him, as have other recent actions, both at home and abroad.
Furthermore, the question of joint and allied commands is no new one. To give only one example: the Leader of the Opposition had a better sense of politics when he was a Liberal and the most destructive critic of the Tory Party. He was the First Lord of the Admiralty in August, 1914, when the Liberal Government decided, as stated in the "Naval History of the War," Volume II:By the Convention of 6th August, 1914, France was to have the general direction of operations in the Mediterranean.This was after the war had started, and if there is any misapprehension as to what that meant, the point is put even more cogently in "The Life and Letters of Lord Wester Wemyss," an Admiral of the Fleet, who wrote:By a Franco-British Convention, the Commander-in-Chiefship, Mediterranean, had at the outbreak of war devolved upon a French Admiral.2052 Apparently, the Leader of the Opposition today, having said that he would be prepared to throw away the Mediterranean in order to get command of the Atlantic, is in precisely the same position as he was in 1914 when he did the same thing.
But what is the position about the Mediterranean? As the eminent historian Sir Julian Corbett, said in the first volume of the Naval History of the War:In Great Britain, the instinct that our position in the world was in some way bound up with the strength we could display in the Mediterranean was even stronger. It had become a canon of British policy—consecrated by repeated experience—that our Mediterranean Fleet was the measure of our influence in Continental affairs, and the feeling had only increased since the road to India lay that way, and Egypt and Cyprus had become limbs of the Empire.Where does the Opposition stand on that statement? With all their arguments about Commonwealth and Colonial policy, do they throw that statement completely overboard? No answer?
The general position is far different today. There is no Russian Fleet to compare with the German Fleet of 1914 or 1939 to be contained in the North Sea. Consequently, for reasons which should have been obvious to all, including even the Leader of the Opposition, the Mediterranean is the most important naval theatre to Britain today, and that is where we should exercise the Supreme Command. Unfortunately, due to the short-sightedness and the pig-headedness of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition in forcing this debate on the House today, we cannot now discuss the Mediterranean Command, because the appointments have not yet been made and that area, therefore, has to be considered as sub judice while the discussions are proceeding. With the Eastern Atlantic zone and our home waters under the Command of British admirals, the Western Atlantic Command and the post of Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic should obviously be held by American-admirals, our position being further safeguarded with a British Deputy Supreme Commander.
This country in particular, and the world at large, ought to know what is: behind all this phoney shadow-boxing in naval affairs by the Leader of the Opposition with his own imagination. Since the end of the war the right hon. Gentleman has tried to impress on this House; 2053 and the country that he has a greater knowledge of naval affairs—not only than those here but also the Sea Lords of the Admiralty, who have spent a lifetime in the Service. It is high time that this idea was completely debunked.
The right hon. Gentleman is a landlubber who has never really understood the sea or sea warfare, and he has certainly never understood admirals. In 50 years the admirals cannot all have been wrong and himself, the amateur, the only one right. Generally speaking he has nearly always been in opposition to the admirals, and often at loggerheads with them, but his head has usually been the loggerhead. Apparently, he would now like to stir up dissension among the admirals against the Labour Government, as he did when he was First Lord of the Admiralty in a Liberal Government before the first war, and have the Tory Party exploiting this dissension as he did at that time. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nonsense."] If so, he has been unsuccessful, because the Navy realise that they have never had more consideration from any Government than this present Labour Government.
A long memory is necessary in politics, but long experience in a fighting service is a much greater asset. I happen to have both as far as naval affairs are concerned. Indeed I am probably the only one in this House with a longer connection with the Navy than the Leader of the Opposition, so I know what I am talking about.
§ Commander Pursey
No, I am giving way to nobody. I am one of the hon. Members—I take no credit for it—who is invariably prepared to give way, but this is only a three-hour debate, of which an hour has already been taken by the Leader of the Opposition and I am not prepared to give way. The first intervention of the right hon. Gentleman in naval affairs was to oppose the Admiralty in the building of two battleships which afterwards he regretted had not been built. He picked out one admiral, if not more, because he was good on a horse. HANSARD carries a melancholy story of his controversy with the admirals from 1911 to 1914. I have selected numerous examples 2054 but I will not inflict them on the Committee on this occasion because of the time.
In the early days of the first war the right hon. Gentleman was defending Antwerp as a soldier—no doubt with a pair of spurs in his pocket looking for a horse—instead of being at the Admiralty taking charge of the Navy. Again I know what I am talking about. [Laughter.] This is the best public meeting I have had, because I get all the applause before hon. Members opposite hear what I have to say. Again I know what I am talking about—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—because I was in one of the ships which used to take the Leader of the Opposition on those banshee trips across the Channel getting mixed up with the military. His, errors during the First War were written by other people—he would not admit them in his own books. His errors of the Second War have yet to be written. We are then likely to know more of the self-appointed Minister of Defence, with no limitation of powers or duties, barging into the fields of experts, often with disastrous results.
The Leader of the Opposition has had a good innings, with a long time in the outfield when all his stumps have been knocked down. He was particularly kept in the outfield by the Tory Party.
§ Captain Ryder (Merton and Morden)
On a point of order. Sir Charles. May I ask what this has to do with the White Paper we are discussing?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I understand that the hon. and gallant Member is criticising the Leader of the Opposition.
§ Commander Pursey
As the hon. and gallant Member has challenged me about what this has to do with the debate, let me say this. When someone comes here and poses as the one and only expert on naval affairs, when in fact all serious naval opinion has been mainly against him, any Member of the House has the right to challenge the credentials of the right hon. Gentleman for his statements. He claims to be a great patriot. Perhaps this will interest the Opposition. His, greatest patriotism now, at this difficult period of international tension, would be to be pro-British and not anti-British. In the interests of this great nation—and we are still a great nation—
§ Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
Surely, Sir Charles, it must be out of 2055 order for an hon. Member to impute that my right hon. Friend, or any other Member, is anti-British.
§ Commander Pursey
If we do not do that here, Sir Charles—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] There is no question of the Opposition taking charge of the debate. If there is any question, Sir Charles, in deference to your remark that we do not say those things here, I will qualify the statement—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."]—that the right hon. Gentleman should be pro-British and not anti-British, by saying that he ought not to take up an anti-British attitude.
In the interests of this great nation, and we are still a great nation—in spite of having to carry the Leader of the Opposition with us among the ullages—he should give someone else the chance to quote him from his own book, "The World Crisis," Vol. I, in the chapter "Admirals All," in reference to the First Sea Lord, Sir Arthur Wilson, whom he sacked:I could not help thinking uncomfortably of the famous Tenniel cartoon 'Dropping the Pilot,' when the inexperienced and impulsive German Emperor "—the right hon. Gentleman is putting himself in that category—is depicted watching the venerable figure of Bismarck descending the ladder.It is high time that the right hon. Gentleman was "piped over the side." He would be far better engaged in backing horses than in baiting Prime Ministers and Admirals. The times are too serious to have him at the helm or even in the crew rocking the boat. He should be discharged with the corner of his Service certificate cut off, indicating "Services no longer required."
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
I shall not take up the time of the Committee for more than a few minutes, but I certainly do not intend to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey). The reputation and position of the Leader of the Opposition, whatever our views may be regarding politics, will remain untouched. I was rather disappointed—and I think I am 2056 expressing the opinion also of other Members of the Committee—that the Minister of Defence did not get up to reply immediately at the end of the speech of the Leader of the Opposition. There may be an explanation for this, but we would have preferred to hear straight away the reply of the Minister and his answers to the questions that had been put to him; and we are still awaiting his reply.
The one matter which is concerning us all, and upon which we are all anxious, is what is the best form of organisation that can be devised for the defence, not only of this country, but of all the free nations now combined together. That is the first and main question to which we desire an answer.
The White Paper has been criticised by the Leader of the Opposition, who spoke from his tremendous knowledge, dating back to before the First World War, when he was First Lord of the Admiralty. Speaking for myself, I know little about these matters and am prepared to be guided by those who have had the wide experience of the right hon. Gentleman. His first question was: Is there any real reason why we should have one Supreme Commander? On turning to the White Paper, one finds that in dealing with this matter it starts by saying:A single unified command for the whole North Atlantic Ocean is regarded as essential by the Chiefs of Staff of the various North Atlantic Powers.Does that mean one Commander, or merely that there should be the unified Standing Group, which covers all Commanders, and which will have, I take it, a supreme position over everybody and every Commander, wherever they may be? Does it, in fact, go even further and mean that the conclusion has been reached that there should be one Commander and two deputies, one in the West and one in the East? If so, I should like the Minister to give an explanation, because the Leader of the Opposition, with his vast experience, quoted admirals who had served throughout the last war—which is, after all, very recent experience—as saying they did not think that that was necessary. We want an answer, therefore, to the question of whether a single Commander is necessary.
When that is established, surely the right thing then to ask is, Who is the best 2057 Commander? Unfortunately, in looking at the White Paper, it appears as if the first question which was put was to ask: To what nationality shall he belong?
§ Mr. Shinwell indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Davies
I am only quoting from the White Paper. That is why we wanted to hear the reply of the Minister. Perhaps I may refer the Committee to paragraph 28, which begins:In deciding upon the nationality of the Supreme Commander a number of factors had to be taken into consideration.Having read that, it appears that the first question which these people put to themselves was, What should be the Commander's nationality? If that is the approach which was made, it is the wrong one. The right question should have been: Who amongst us all would be the right person to appoint?
From that stage, we come to another matter to which the Leader of the Opposition referred. As he said, the question of sentiment cannot be ignored. This old country, with all its faults—of course, there have been many—has been marvellous in the last 300 years, largely due to the fact that it kept the seas of the world open for all and maintained the freedom of the world, standing alone against all kinds of dictators. That is something that cannot be brushed lightly aside or which should cause anybody to say: "Now, they are second in power. The main power is on the other side." I agree that size, as the White Paper says, is a matter to be taken into account, but it is not the only matter.
We are anxious to know how the decision was arrived at, and whether it was a right decision that there should be one admiral and that he should be of American nationality, without actually naming him. That goes back to the decision that he should be an American, instead of a decision that he should be a particular person because he held great qualities making him so superior to everyone else that we were agreed that he was the man. That is what happened in regard to General Eisenhower and in regard to General Foch in the First World War. It was not a question of a Frenchman fighting on French territory; the question was put to the Allied Governments and they decided that Foch was the best man for that job. That was 2058 not because of the weight of material or numbers in the Army. That is what we are anxious to know about in this connection.
If war comes, we shall be in a more vulnerable position than any other country. We shall be a beleaguered island as we were in the last war, and everything will depend on our being able to keep the sea lanes open to get food. We have only food for two-fifths of the population and the food for three-fifths has to be brought to this country, and raw materials have to be brought. This will be the danger spot. It is from here that we can best see what is happening—not from America. They will not be in anything like the danger in which we shall be. Look at the enormous size of America. It is a greater distance from the Atlantic Ocean across to the Pacific than it is from New York to this country.
We are a small island with 50 million people in it, only 20 million of whom can be fed from our own resources, and there will be the danger, of which the the right hon. Gentleman spoke, of an enormous fleet of submarines. It is here that this Supreme Commander should be. Surely he should be here on the spot in charge of the whole matter and able at once to take such steps as are necessary. Those are the matters about which we are anxious to hear. The question which concerns us all, in all parties and all countries, is whether, for the maintenance of freedom, the best organisation and the best method have been adopted. Have we chosen the man, not on the ground of nationality, but because he is the best man for the job?
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Captain Ryder (Merton and Morden)
As many other hon. Members must have found when speaking towards the end of a debate, I find that many of the arguments I intended to deploy have already been dealt with amply. The heavy artillery has opened fire and I find myself more in the position of the officer spotting the fall of shot. But, if I may add a few humble parting salvoes, I would say that I feel we have many lessons to learn from this White Paper. Not least is the manner in which a great alliance of this sort is to be negotiated.
I should have thought that in matters of such enormous magnitude and significance to this country the broad outlines 2059 of an agreement would first of all have been a matter of personal discussion between the Prime Minister of our country and the head of the United States of America, leaving the subordinate committees to fill in the details after the main agreements had been reached. But, as far as we can gather, what in fact happened was that the agreements on the main points were reached by the subordinate committee and it was then left to the Prime Minister to adopt the inferior role of filling in the details. Surely, when this process is looked at in retrospect, it will go down as a classic example of how not to do it.
We are told that this arrangement was recommended by the Admiralty, or recommended by the Chiefs of Staff. There is a great difference between being told, "This is a splendid arrangement which we strongly recommend you to accept," and being told, "This is all that we can achieve for you; we therefore recommend you to take what is left." When the waiter recommends a humble dish of Woolton Pie, if I may take a non-controversial dish, that does not mean to say that in his considered opinion it is better than the roast beef of old England, but it probably signifies that that is all that is left. Just as we would take that with a pinch of salt, so when we read that this proceeding has been recommended by the Chiefs of Staff, we are entitled to do the same.
Then we read in the White Paper that it was "unanimously agreed." That implies a policy of self-effacement on the part of the British Admiralty who presumably did not put forward the name of any admiral in this connection. The Admiralty, with all their great record, have not always been wise in their occasional excursions into politics. There were the well-known cases of the Irish Ports and of the Anglo-German Naval Treaty and sometimes there are more technical questions, such as the institution of the convoy system, which in the event have not proved wise decisions.
In this policy of self-effacement on the part of our Admiralty, I question very much whether, if it is so, it is indeed a wise policy, or whether it is indeed the correct way to carry out the office of Admiralty, and whether it is what the British public expect of the Admiralty. 2060 I will quote from a letter I have received from a man who served with me in the war as an ordinary seaman and has now left the Service, but works in one of the dockyard towns and hears what people have to say. He says:All my conversations since I last met you have confirmed the opinions I expressed at the time. There is very little said in this matter and the new type of officer these days seems to have been brought up in this 'second rate power' atmosphere and assumes automatically that America calls the tune these days.Hon. Members will see the demoralising effect it will produce in the Service if the Admiralty do not adopt a more robust attitude than appears from the remarks in this White Paper.
We must realise at once that we are facing a far harder task in reaching a system of joint command amongst 12 Allied Powers than we had to face in this particular respect when working together with the United States of America during the last war. We would have been well advised therefore to retain the Chiefs of Staff Committee as a nucleus on which to work, but, that having been jettisoned, we see the emergence of the Standing Group Military Committee amongst this welter of committees as the one really good feature of this White Paper.
When I raised the matter of the composition of the Standing Group, it seemed to me that there was no naval representation at all on that group. There was no seafaring officer, but I am glad to say that this has now been remedied. The American representative is now a naval officer. But we now have no general; we now have no soldier. Next time we make an inquiry perhaps we shall find that there is no airman, but in due course let us hope that this Standing Group will settle down into being a really representative and effective body. It is surely on this small, but, let us hope, efficient group of three officers that we should build our hopes in the unfortunate event of a conflict coming upon us. I suggest to the Committee that that is the one solid gain in this White Paper. Let us therefore recognise it and pay due tribute to it.
If I may work in an upward direction, there is the North Atlantic Council, the Council of Deputies and the Defence Committee. My suggestion is that these three committees should be reduced to 2061 two or eventually one, and that in that event our representative on that committee should be either the Foreign Secretary, or our permanent representative or the Minister of Defence, according to whatever is on the agenda. The advantage of that would be that it would greatly reduce the possibility of any one project being tossed from one committee to another with all the corresponding delay. It would greatly reduce the paraphernalia of all the secretariat which inevitably grows larger and larger round these committees. I put that forward as what I hope will be taken as a constructive suggestion for the improvement of the arrangement which we are discussing.
Turning in a downward direction, we come to the level of the Supreme Commanders. I wish to associate myself with the remarks that have already been made about the appointment of General Eisenhower, which was so much welcomed in this country. I feel that that is one matter about which we are all agreed—that this distinguished officer, under whom many of us have served, has, since he has taken up his appointment, added to the confidence which we all feel in his ability by the way he has gone about his difficult task. We are surely all very grateful indeed for the service which he is rendering to this country and to all the other free countries of the world.
Before going on to the more controversial matters, I wish to deal with two points. There is no mention in this White Paper of any air commander. Perhaps when the right hon. Gentleman replies he will make some comments on this important omission. Are we to understand that a decision has been reached that there is to be no supreme air commander either for the Treaty Powers or for the North Atlantic Ocean area?
There is no mention either of any organisation for the control of our merchant shipping. This was referred to by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition but I am not quite sure what was in his mind. An important point which I should like to bring forward is the fact that there is a big and important difference between the defence of our shipping and the organisation of the convoys on the one hand, and the allocation of tonnage on the other. It is very important to realise that whoever controls the allocation of tonnage it should not be one of the principal users. The Standing 2062 Group here will, of course, be one of the principal users. If we allow the control of shipping to come under such a committee as the Standing Group it will be an unfortunate and disastrous arrangement for allocating our merchant shipping. I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether we can have some assurance that the allocation of our merchant tonnage will not be subordinated to the purely military command.
I come now to the question of the sea command. In my view, the test that we must apply to this controversial matter is whether the arrangements which are set out in the White Paper are calculated to increase or decrease the operational efficiency of our naval forces. It is from that aspect that it should mainly be judged. There is, of course, the purely British point of view that this arrangement will mean that the main Home Fleet will no longer be under the operational control of the British Admiralty. In that respect it is to many of us a wholly unacceptable arrangement for this country.
But I wish to dwell chiefly on the purely Service test of efficiency. In carving up the oceanic commands, as this White Paper seeks to do, there is a danger in applying the same measures and methods to this process as would be applied to a similar arrangement on land. That is a mistake. The whole set-up at sea is quite different. I confess that I find it difficult to explain exactly why, but I am sure that anyone here who has served at sea will agree with me when I say that these arrangements look quite different from the bridge of a ship from the way they look at say, Versailles or some headquarters, or even in discussion on the Floor of this House. If one were on the bridge of a destroyer off the Faroes, I think one would feel very remote if one's movements were controlled, even indirectly, from some far-off headquarters in Washington. We have a well-known naval song which would describe the frame of mind thus engendered, but I do not sing, and that song would undoubtedly be out of order, but it may well be known to some in this honourable House.
We are told in the White Paper, in paragraph 27, that the outstanding lesson of the Battle of the Atlantic is that the Atlantic Ocean is now one battle area. That is a very sweeping statement. It 2063 looks very convincing when one reads it, but it is a statement which might equally be applied to the whole surface of the world. But when one comes to look at it from a purely practical point of view, I suggest that it is very unwise to base the foundation of our naval command on it.
We are told in this White Paper that what has been arranged is that there are the British coastal waters and Continental waters on the one hand, by which might be implied either the territorial waters up to the three-mile limit, or else, as has been suggested, out as far as the edge of soundings. That area is to be under British Admiralty control. On the other hand there is to be the Western Atlantic, which is of course to be under American control, and in between, a peculiarly shaped stretch of water, the Eastern Atlantic, which is the command of our Home Fleet.
There we have the Admiral under the operational control of the American authority. When I intervened to suggest that this meant that the Admiralty would no longer have operational control of the Home Fleet, I was contradicted from the Government Front Bench. I see that the Minister of Defence nods his head. Has he ever seen an Admiral receiving contradictory orders from two different authorities?
§ Mr. Shinwell indicated dissent.
§ Captain Ryder
The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. May I suggest to him that he should try the experiment on the present Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet and see what is the effect? I can assure him that it has a peculiar effect on admirals. It is very bad for them. It is very bad for the Fleet; and it is fatal for the flag-lieutenant. I would seriously suggest that we cannot in any circumstances maintain that under this arrangement the Home Fleet will be under the operational control of the Admiralty. I look forward to the comments of the right hon. Gentleman on this vital matter.
What in fact we have achieved by this arrangement of two operational areas, one on the British side and the other the rest of the Atlantic, is that we have drawn a line of demarcation—which is always difficult to draw—down the edge of the 2064 British and Continental coastal waters. But if we study the history of the U-boat campaigns in the last war, we find it was in this very area that the main U-boat campaigns usually took place. It is true that at one stage we drove them out into the middle of the Atlantic; but with the advent of the "Snort"-fitted submarines, there is every reason to suppose that they will come once again into the focal areas leading into the ports, which may also very well be the subject of main mining operations.
Under those conditions, to try to conduct operations in those areas from the far side of the Atlantic seems a poor arrangement indeed. If we look at it from this side of the ocean it seems it would be just as difficult and dangerous for us to intervene in a difficult situation arising off the entrance to New York harbour. I feel that to draw this major line of demarcation right down through what, in the event of a war, we would expect to be the main U-boat area, is indeed the worst possible arrangement.
Let us look at this from the point of view of the air, and consider ourselves in the position of the Air Officer Commanding Coastal Command. He has his base in the British area and is operating his flying boats partly in the Eastern Atlantic and partly in the British coastal waters; flying his patrols, it may be, off Tory Island, well-named no doubt for its recognition in the minds of every mariner. He will be operating from this country and receiving his orders, so far as we can see from this White Paper, from the other side of the Atlantic. Well, they may also have in the R.A.F. a song for that, to conjure up the state of mind that it is likely to engender, but surely we have reached an absurd arrangement which should be roundly condemned. Surely the natural place to draw this line between the two systems of command would be down the middle of the pond where aircraft operating from each side would normally expect to meet at the limit of their patrols. That is what I suggest we should restore, or attempt to restore, when this White Paper is discussed, as indeed we hope it will be from now onwards.
There is considerable merit in the suggestion of having a Northern Command, corresponding somewhat with the 2065 area in which the Home Fleet operated in the last war, an area very much similar, I would suggest, to what was called the Western Approaches during the last war; so that as soon as a convoy comes within this half of the Atlantic it is retained under one single command until it comes right into the port of discharge. The Prime Minister, who stressed originally that the outstanding lesson of the Battle of the Atlantic was that it was to be one battle-field, would find it hard to quote any example where the system of passing convoys from one command area to the other, across what came to be called the chop line, failed, once it was properly established.
I reiterate that the test which we must apply to these matters is whether it will lead to an increase or a decrease in the operational efficiency of our naval forces. The Government by the inept way in which they have handled this affair, have greatly shocked the country. But that is not the main issue which we have to consider at the present time. We have to consider whether this will lead to an increase in efficiency or not. I am absolutely convinced that the present system, as set out in this White Paper, is fundamentally unsound. Either the Government have been badly advised on this matter or they have put a wrong interpretation on the advice which they received. I cannot recommend this to the Committee in any way from my own personal experience—having operated in this area—and I earnestly hope that the Minister responsible will see his way to make the very necessary alterations I have indicated.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Reid (Swindon)
I have only a few minutes allotted to me so I shall be brief and abrupt. The right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) has argued that there is no need for a Supreme Atlantic Command; that the advice given was bad. I would like to read from the White Paper, paragraph 27(a):A single unified command for the whole North Atlantic ocean is regarded as essential by the Chiefs of Staff of the various North Atlantic Powers.These are the experts of all the North Atlantic Powers, and their advice is contrary to the advice of the right hon. Gentleman. I would put this question to 2066 the Opposition: Is the Opposition prepared to disregard the advice of all the experts of all these countries? It is no use going round the country condemning this White Paper and these arrangements if they are not. Is the Opposition prepared to disregard that definite advice of the present military experts of the countries concerned?
The right hon. Member for Woodford told us that the U-boat menace must be controlled from Britain. That may be so, but is there anything in this scheme, as in all big administrative civil or military organisations by delegation, which would prevent the U-boat menace from being controlled from Britain? There is an Eastern Atlantic Command under a British admiral there, and if any powers and responsibilities have to be delegated—[Interruption.] I may tell the right hon. Member for Woodford that I love interruptions and if he likes to go on he can. There is nothing in this scheme to prevent the control of the U-boat menace from Britain.
Then the right hon. Member for Woodford asked, that because of our great and glorious experience in the past in controlling the U-boat menace, that should be left to us, and that the Commander in the Atlantic should be a British admiral. Then he jumped to a contradictory conclusion. In spite of our war-time experience and bases in the Mediterranean, he recommended that the Mediterranean area should be handed over to the Americans. That is quite contradictory.
The right hon. Gentleman quoted the experience of Admiral Cunningham, a very great sailor, and others in the last war. I would say to hon. Gentlemen opposite that the last war is a false guide for any coming war which may occur. The protagonists will be utterly different. The Forces engaged will be totally different. The geography will be totally different. It would be a wider thing from the start next time. The Russians impinge on the Pacific, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean and the war would be in the two zones from the outset—the Pacific, the Atlantic, and perhaps the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. The protagonists are different, the weapons are different. I do not pretend to know what the new weapons are, but at least they are totally 2067 different. The strategy and tactics which may have been of use in the last war may be of no use in a future war. Are hon. Members opposite going to rely on the statements made by retired admirals in preference to the advice of the naval experts of today? If they are, they will not get that over to the country, I can assure them.
When this information about the appointment of an Atlantic American admiral leaked out at Copenhagen, I cannot understand why the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford rushed down to the House and, at a few hours' notice, asked a Private Notice Question of the Prime Minister and badgered him at the Despatch Box. Why did he not go and discuss the matter with the Prime Minister, as he had a perfect right to do, instead of using this as a vehicle for Tory propaganda? I am convinced that this debate, which did not arouse much enthusiasm among the ranks opposite, is nothing more than a propaganda stunt, and that it will have nothing but a detrimental effect on the Opposition.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ The Minister of Defence (Mr. Shinwell)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), in solemn tones, informed the House that if I failed to furnish a genuine reply to the case submitted, he would move a reduction in my salary. It is true that he qualified what he said by suggesting that it might be merely a nominal reduction, for which I am most grateful—in these hard times, necessarily so. But a reduction in my salary—and indeed my personal position—is, I say sincerely, of very little consequence in this setting.
What is of consequence is the maintenance of the most friendly relations between the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Any criticism, any suggestion, any utterances calculated to exacerbate feelings and relations, would render a great disservice not only to both countries but to all the countries concerned with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am not complaining about the tone and temper of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. Nor indeed 2068 am I complaining about the tone and temper of the debate. It might have been very much worse, and no doubt if it had extended beyond the hour of seven, which is I understand the arrangement agreed through the usual channels, feelings might have been aroused. Heaven forbid that they should in this particular context—I must emphasise that.
It must not be assumed that there is complete unity in the Conservative ranks about this matter, in spite of the moderate ovation the right hon. Gentleman received. Of course, that is common form in this House. The right hon. Gentleman's supporters are impelled, even compelled, to cheer in order to keep their courage up. After all, they have had a very rough time in recent months—The best laid schemes o' mice and men Gang aft a-gley.Things have not turned out as they intended, so that we can understand these foibles and this modified enthusiasm for the right hon. Gentleman's utterances. Therefore, I make no complaint.
But as I say, it must not be assumed that there is complete unity in the Conservative ranks. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey), quoted from the "Daily Telegraph" of all papers—no supporter of the Labour Party or of the Labour Government. This quotation—[HON. MEMBERS: "The right hon. Gentleman cannot find it."] Hon. Members had better listen. If they do not read the "Daily Telegraph," we do. [Interruption.] May I at this stage beg hon. Gentlemen opposite to understand that I intend to make my speech in the time allotted to me? These interruptions and interjections have no effect on my mind whatever. My withers are un-wrung, so I shall quote from the "Daily Telegraph" leader:…the general impression must surely be that national susceptibilities and practical requirements have been harmonised with considerable judgment.That is their comment on this scheme. The right hon. Gentleman can put that in his pipe and smoke it, or he can put it with any other form of tobacco in which he indulges. But it is not only one newspaper that has come to the rescue of the Government in this connection. Even the "Evening Standard" has commented 2069 favourably on the scheme. I suspect that there are hon. Members opposite who are not too happy about the case presented by the right hon. Gentleman.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) asked me a pertinent question. He asked why it was that I did not rise immediately the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford sat down. It was no act of discourtesy on my part.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I sometimes do not hear the utterances in which the right hon. Gentleman indulges, just as sometimes he does not hear what we say. Can we let it go at that, and call it quits? I beg of him not to interrupt any further. He is going to get it, whether he likes it or not. I want to reply to the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery upon just why it was I did not rise. The reason is that I wanted to hear the views of the Committee in the limited time at our disposal. I am not prepared to rely exclusively on the views expressed by him. There are other Members of the House who are subordinate to him, but who, nevertheless, are entitled to express an opinion.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am very grateful to the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery for addressing certain questions to me on this very important matter. In my view, the issue is one that can be simply expressed. It is this. What is it that we want in relation to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation on its military side? Surely, it is common to every hon. Member, no matter in what quarter he may reside politically, that what we want is the most efficient and the most effective organisation in preparation for war, if it should unhappily occur. We want to present, in short, a most formidable deterrent in the form of an organisation in readiness for an emergency. That is our purpose, and the right hon. Gentleman will naturally agree with that.
In the situation in which we found ourselves, which was none of our making, we had to enter into negotiations and protracted discussions, as it happened, with 11 other countries—the United States and the others—some of them, perhaps, not so important numerically, but, though subordinate—that is not my 2070 language, but the language of the right hon. Gentleman opposite—nevertheless entitled to express their opinions. Nations, whether large or small, in this democratic context, are entitled to express their opinions.
In view of these protracted discussions, it was—and I confess it quite frankly—difficult to reach a complete solution. What we aimed at was to finalise, so far as practicable, some of the command organisations. We had succeeded as far as the West was concerned. I regard that as a considerable achievement. As the result of discussions, and, indeed, considerable pressure, we were able to persuade the United States President to appoint General Eisenhower to take the command of the West, and, when that was achieved, we succeeded, as a result of our discussions, in securing the appointment of Field Marshal Montgomery as Deputy Supreme Commander, and also the appointment of a Deputy Supreme Air Commander, working in close conjunction both with Field Marshal Montgomery and General Eisenhower. On the whole, we have been very successful as the result of our negotiations in regard to the West, and I have noted that no complaint was made on that score in the speeches to which we have listened, so that there is no blame attaching to the Government in that regard.
Then, as regards the naval aspects, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that he has got hold of the wrong end of the stick, and that, in fact, these negotiations were not originated by some subordinate admiral. He is quite wrong about that. I do not know where he got the story, but he gets a lot of stories and he has a lot of contacts, but sometimes they do not give him the best information. He ought to be careful, and have it checked and cross-checked. As a matter of fact, these negotiations have gone on for a considerable time, and our Chiefs of Staff, with the American and other Chiefs of Staff, have been in at all the discussions. No appointments of this kind, quite obviously, could have taken place or even have been suggested unless our Chiefs of Staff had been in complete agreement; equally, the American Chiefs of Staff must have been in complete agreement, as well as the French and the others equally concerned.
2071 As to whether we originated the idea of an American Supreme Commander in the Atlantic, that idea was not originated by us at all. It emerged as the result of planning discussions, which were quite proper in the circumstances; and here I would like to make this comment. The right hon. Gentleman opposite spoke about the last war, and, of course, nobody is more entitled to speak about it, with his vast experience, and, if I may say so with great respect and sincerity, his high qualities. Of course, we have a barge with the right hon. Gentleman now and then, but we never seek to depreciate his high qualities. [Interruption.] No, certainly, as regards the last war. He surely must be the first to admit that many mistakes were made in the last war, and that many defects occurred. I was not in the Government in the last war. I sat on those benches. It was not the fault of the right hon. Gentleman, who asked me to be—
§ Mr. Churchill
I should like to confirm that. The fault, if fault it was, lay among the leaders of the right hon. Gentleman's own party.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I assure the House, in parenthesis—and this is all in parenthesis—that the right hon. Gentleman has said that to me many a time, but, really, it is quite inaccurate. It is a matter between him and me, and we will forget it now. No doubt, it is recorded in history in more subdued form.
§ Mr. Churchill
I really fancied the right hon. Gentleman, when he was an hon. Gentleman, as he was then, as Minister of Fuel and Power, but it was one of those mistakes I made.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Now, it will be noted that we have arrived at this position. The right hon. Gentleman admits that there were mistakes in the last war. So far, so good. There were mistakes in regard to the hunting of the U-boats, and there were, moreover, huge losses, which we deplored. There were protracted discussions between ourselves and the United States, after the United States came into the war, which only occurred many months after the war had begun.
Let the right hon. Gentleman not forget that France was out of the war not long after it began, that there were many 2072 mistakes, and that those mistakes only began to be corrected towards the end of 1943, when we began—and only began—in a modified form to build up a unified control, which is, after all, what the right hon. Gentleman desires. It is precisely a unified control at which we are aiming now in this White Paper. That is the position, and, after all is said and done, it is far better to plan before the trouble occurs than after it has happened, and that is precisely what we are doing.
I am not blaming the right hon. Gentleman, or the Government which he blamed many times before the war, when he sat over there. I am not blaming the right hon. Gentleman, but if Governments before the war—and perhaps all parties are to blame in this regard—had planned as we are planning now, perhaps the war would not have occurred. [Interruption.] I agree, it is a matter of speculation. Who can tell? At any rate, the right hon. Gentleman will agree, and I am sure I have the whole House with me in this, that it is far better to plan, first of all, in order to provide an effective deterrent, and, if we fail in providing an effective deterrent, we are then ready to give a good account of ourselves. That is the purpose of what we are doing.
I want to deal now with what I think are the more substantial arguments. Naturally, I do. That is what hon. Gentlemen of the Opposition want; certainly, the right hon. Gentleman opposite asked for it, and so did others. I will not attempt to enter into a discussion with the right hon. Gentleman on strategic matters. He is much better informed than I am; I am a mere layman, except that I would say that he is not the only naval expert in this country. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] There are many naval experts of high quality outside the House upon whose advice we are bound to rely, and, with great respect to the right hon. Gentleman and to the naval advice he offers, if I have to choose between his advice, with all his experience, and the advice offered by my military advisers, I accept their advice, and I should not be surprised if I am doing the right thing.
What is the argument? It is that no Supreme Commander is necessary. The right hon. Gentleman not only told us that no Supreme Commander was required, but also that a war cannot be 2073 conducted through committees. Of course a war cannot be conducted through a Standing Group, and it may be that a war could not be conducted through Combined Chiefs of Staff similar to those in the last war, and I will tell the right hon. Gentleman why.
As I said a moment ago, America did not come into the war early enough, and France went out too early. We were left to conduct the operations ourselves for a long time. But the situation today is different. There are 12 countries involved, and that being so, obviously some form of organisation has to be set up. That form is the Standing Group, and the Standing Group—perhaps this will illuminate the minds of some hon. Members who have been confused about it—consists of representatives of the Combined Chiefs of Staff. It consists not only of representatives of the Chiefs of Staff of the United States and the United Kingdom, but all the countries concerned in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
As I pointed out in the White Paper, which the right hon. Gentleman said he had read—I hope he has—there is a Military Representatives Committee in Washington. The three members of the Standing Group, who were Lord Tedder, General Ely, and, before the appointment of Vice-Admiral Wright, General Bradley, were themselves members of the Military Representatives Committee, who are the permanent representatives of the various Chiefs of Staff sitting in Washington, and who are in constant consultation. That is the position. How does that react on the Supreme Command question? It is obvious that there must be a body responsible for strategic policy, that is, the Standing Group, taking the advice of the Chiefs of Staff of this country and the others. The execution of that policy must be vested in a Supreme Commander, and, therefore, I put it to the Committee that if the right hon. Gentleman says that we cannot operate through committees and boards, then obviously the right way to do it is to appoint somebody in whom is vested the power to execute the strategic policy determined by those in higher authority.
It may be, of course, that all this planning—after all, it is all conjecture; mere planning—may be quite useless if war occurs, and it may be that we would have 2074 to adopt the system as in the last war, of Prime Minister and President. It may be that a similar arrangement to that which took place between the right hon. Member for Woodford and the late President Roosevelt might have to take place again. But the essential thing is to plan now, even if we have to modify our plans when the time comes to engage in operations.
The next question is: if there is to be a Supreme Commander, should he be an American or a British Commander? There is the problem. The right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery asked: Why not appoint the man with the highest qualifications? I must confess that I am in a difficulty there, because it is very difficult to determine at a particular moment who is the man who possesses the highest qualifications.
§ Mr. Shinwell
A man may be appointed in peace-time, but he may not be the proper person to command in war-time. The right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery, I agree, is on a fair point, but it must be remembered that General Eisenhower was an American Supreme Commander.
§ Mr. Davies
Does the right hon. Gentleman really mean that it has been decided that whatever happens, the Commander shall be an American, and that if No. 1 fails or dies, then No. 2 must, again, be an American?
§ Mr. Shinwell
I take the Committee, as I must do—and I am not being at all condescending about it—into my confidence on the matter. We had to consider what was the most effective arrangement. We had to take into account a vast number of considerations, one of which was that the United States would have very large forces. However, I must qualify that by saying that the fact that one country has overwhelming forces is no reason why it should claim the Supreme Command. But, at any rate, it is one reason, and a reason which cannot be ignored.
There is another substantial reason. In the plan of command which we were exploring—I have some maps here, and perhaps hon. Members would like to see them after the debate because they might 2075 help to explain the matter—it was decided that the whole of the Eastern Atlantic running from the southern tip of Greenland down to Cape Finisterre should be under the control of a British admiral. It was our view—I am merely expressing the expert view, and, as a layman, I cannot compete with it—that that was likely to be the main operational area. The point was that the main operations would take place in the Eastern Atlantic. Of course, there would very likely be submarine chasing and the use, to some extent, of a carrier task force under the Americans, because they have many more of these vessels than we have, but we expected that, if war occurred in the Atlantic, it would be in the Eastern Atlantic where the main operations would take place, and there is to be a British admiral there.
Let me deal with the command in coastal waters. The right hon. Gentleman put a technical question to me, but, after a little while, I began to understand what he meant when he talked about 100 fathoms. What he was after was this. We have the exclusive control of our coasts. There is no question about that, and I only mention it in passing. There is an area which, for the sake of simplicity, might be called the southern part of the North Sea. It has not yet been determined who is to command that area, because we are not the only country concerned. France, Belgium and other countries are concerned in that area. But there is one thing I can say—this is an answer to some of the questions that have been put—and it is that this very important area will not come under the control of the American Supreme Commander. That is another reason why we accepted the arrangement. I will explain it at greater length if there is any confusion about it, but I presume that the right hon. Gentleman has followed what I have said.
The next reason is this. Let us assume that war occurs and that we have to face a substantial enemy attack in the Atlantic. It may be necessary for the Commander in the Atlantic to ask for the deployment or re-deployment of forces in the Pacific. The Pacific is entirely outside the North Atlantic Treaty area, we know, and out of the command. But it may well be—I would not rate it too highly, but it is 2076 a point which cannot be ignored—that an American Supreme Commander would have a more direct and speedy access to an American President than would a British admiral sitting in Whitehall, and that was one of the points we had to consider. I said I did not rate it too highly but it was a point we had to consider. Finally, as regards an American Supreme Commander we got agreement that the Deputy Supreme Commander should be a British admiral.
What are the relations? What is the picture? First of all, there is the Standing Group on which we are equally represented, the Supreme American Commander, the deputy—a British Commander—a British admiral in control of the Eastern Atlantic, command of our coastal waters. After all, I do not think we have come too badly out of these negotiations. As to the rest, I have not very much time to deal with all the points.
§ Mr. Churchill
We are in Committee. We hope the right hon. Gentleman will take all the time he needs to deal with this very important matter.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am extremely obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, for he will see that this is a matter that cannot be disposed of in a few minutes. I have not prepared many notes and I have to follow the line of the debate and therefore, perhaps, I can take a little more time.
§ Brigadier Head (Carshalton)
Would the right hon. Gentleman explain to the Committee what was meant by the definition of "coastal waters"? I, for one, could not understand it and I still do not quite understand.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I thought that was understood—the Channel and a strip of the coast. I am not quite sure of the technical description. Right round all our coast was always regarded as Home Command. [An HON. MEMBER: "HOW far?"] I said there is a strip. If there is a strip outside coastal waters which juts into the Southern part of the North Sea, the decision as to who should command has not yet been determined, but at any rate it will not be under the control of the American Supreme Command. That is my answer.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am sorry, it is quite impossible. I gave the reason why I cannot go into minute detail on these matters. Negotiations are still proceeding about the varying nature of the command and about the precise details of all the commands. It has not been finalised, and indeed that is one of the reasons why I begged Opposition Leaders not to press with this debate today and to give us an opportunity of finalising the arrangements.
I come now to the question put to me of whether the Admiralty will have control of its vessels. I am surprised that question is put. Of course, the Admiralty will have control of its vessels. Certainly there will be no question of handing over control of naval vessels to any other commander in peace time. As to what will happen in war time, that is surely a matter for consultation between the various countries concerned, through their Chiefs of Staff. Surely that is the right thing, and indeed that is exactly what would happen. I need say no more about that.
The right hon. Member for Woodford looked at the White Paper—and he made a little fun about it—and said, "There it is, very grandiose but it is a layer of committees." There is no layer of committees. I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman indulged in such comment. If I may say so, it seemed to me a complete extravagance of language. We have the Military Committee of all the Chiefs of Staff and our Chiefs of Staff have a representative on the Military Representative Committee permanently in Washington, and three Chiefs of Staff constitute the Standing Group. What else is there? Where is the layer of committees?
The hon. and gallant Member for Merton and Morden (Captain Ryder) asked me a question about merchant shipping. We are not discussing that today but nevertheless I can give him the answer. There will be an Allied shipping control to determine the allocation of merchant vessels. That follows the line taken in the last war, although it may be improved on. It depends on the circumstances. There is a Defence Production Board. We must have some organisation to deal with those matters. But in the military sphere there are few committees, and in order to avoid a multiplicity of committees we appointed a Supreme Commander. I should have thought that that was right 2078 up the street of the right hon. Member for Woodford, but he appears to object to it.
Some reference has been made to the Mediterranean. I am extremely sorry that I am not in a position to give the Committee full information about this matter because this is still the subject of discussion. [Laughter.] This is no laughing matter I assure hon. Members, for the reason I am going to give. I say with great respect to the right hon. Member for Woodford that I hope he has not thrown a spanner into the works.
§ Mr. Shinwell
A spanner. No doubt he could afford to throw a few planners into the works but not spanners. No formal announcement has been made about the appointment, and people are disturbed on both sides of the Atlantic. It is a pity. The right hon. Gentleman could have done something other than he did. He could have accepted the offer I made before the last defence debate to come and talk the whole thing over.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The right hon. Gentleman will recall what I said. I said to him that this matter of defence and the organisation of defence is above politics. I do not detect any politics in it. Of course politics and prejudice can be brought into it. One can make political capital out of it and one can use it as a stick to beat the Government, but defence is not built up in that way. One only creates embarrassment. I know that in his heart the right hon. Gentleman does not want to do that; and who would accuse him of doing that in the sphere of defence?
I offered to discuss the matter with him and to give the Opposition all the information they wanted. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why should you give it to them?"] I can give the reason. The reason is that it has been common form in this House for many a long year for the Government of the day to meet the Opposition and disclose matters, which are not ordinarily disclosed to the public, relating to defence and foreign policy. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] Never mind the reason; I did not make the traditions of the House of Commons, though I have been here longer than 2079 many hon. Members and, what is more, will be here longer than some hon. Members on the other side. But do not provoke me into interjections.
I wanted honestly to discuss the matter because it would have been helpful to have their constructive views and it would have assisted us in our negotiations. But the right hon. Gentleman was afraid to disarm Opposition criticism. But what does it matter about Opposition criticism? What we want is to do the job effectively. In his remarks he sought to denigrate the British Navy—not traditionally, of course. He did not do that. One would not expect him to do that. But he sought to denigrate it numerically. He talked as if we had nothing at our command. We have a very strong Navy and if anybody tried any tricks they would soon discover that. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the Suez Canal?"] Somebody is asking about Egypt. Hon. Members opposite are peculiar. In the last election they did not want to spend any money on defence, but now they are asking us to go to war with Egypt. We are not going to war with anybody if we can help it.
We are building up a defence organisation, not in isolation and not, for that matter, only in association with the United States of America or France. We are building up a defence organisation in conjunction with 11 other nations, and we believe that is a formidable achievement in peace-time. I can only hope that feelings between ourselves and the United States will not be strained as a result of this debate and that very shortly we may reach complete finalisation of this command organisation to the advantage of all the countries concerned.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Churchill
We are obliged to the Minister of Defence for having laid his side of the case so plainly and agreeably before the Committee. I intruded for a long time upon the indulgence of hon. Members in my speech today and I am very glad and interested now to hear the answer made by the Government to it. I hope those who listened to the debate will carefully reflect on all that has been said on both sides, and I am certainly not going to endeavour to renew the arguments which I have already submitted to the Committee.
2080 I must, however, say this: that I think in all the present circumstances one would be running a great deal of risk if one were to accept offers from the Government to impart all kinds of secrets on defence matters to one outside this Chamber. If we were still left in sharp difference on the merits of the course to be adopted and a debate arose here afterwards, one would run a great risk of being accused of giving away confidences which had been imparted, and a number of difficult lines would arise.
As I saw no possibility of our being agreed on the merits of the policy at all, I declined the right hon. Gentleman's offer, which he made to me in confidence, although he did not hesitate to use for public purposes the fact that he had made the offer and that it had been refused. These are not really the times for discussions of that kind. We differ very much on broad questions of principle, even in the military sphere. We wished to put our case. The right hon. Gentleman, with all the advantages of the official knowledge that he and his advisors have, is able to put the alternative before us, and the Committee can judge very correctly and shrewdly.
Personally, I still think that the best method would be to settle these matters between the Admiralty and the American Navy Department, as they were settled in the last war, subject to the guidance of the Combined Chiefs of Staff; but other views may have their place. Of this I am quite sure—that there is no new fact which requires the creation of a Supreme American Commander-in-Chief of the Atlantic at the present time, and I regret that the Government have found it necessary to take that step. I believe it would have been very easy, had they maintained a proper influence and contact with the United States, to have procured a different solution.
I do not at all complain at the tone of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks, except that I thought he devoted 20 minutes to jocular debate, which he does very well and which carries the Committee along with him, but which deprived us of the opportunity we no doubt otherwise would have enjoyed of hearing a masterly, clear-cut, coherent and massive argument on the grave issues which lie before us.
2081 In those circumstances, I feel bound to move a reduction, especially as he said that there was so much division on these matters on our side of the Committee. I should be very glad indeed if I could do it without impoverishing the right hon. Gentleman. I took some advice on the matter and I understand that in a Vote of this size perhaps I ought to move for a reduction of the subhead for salaries by £1,000. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]
§ But I have relented and I find that I should not be out of the bounds of order if I contented myself with moving to reduce the Vote by £100.
§ I therefore beg to move, "That Subhead A.1, Salaries, etc., be reduced by £100."
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 280: Noes, 291.2085
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ Motion by leave, withdrawn.