HC Deb 12 November 1959 vol 613 cc657-75

6.14 p.m.

The Minister of Aviation (Mr. Duncan Sandys)

I beg to move, That the Service Departments Supply (No. 2) Order, 1959, a draft of which was laid before this House on 2nd November, be approved.

The Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)

I understand that it would meet the convenience of the House if, with this Order, we discuss the following Prayer: That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Service Departments Supply (No. 1) Order, 1959 (S.I., 1959, No. 1827), dated 30th October, 1959, a copy of which was laid before this House on 2nd November, be annulled.

Mr. Sandys

I think it would be very convenient were we to discuss the two together.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister explained to the House, the new Ministry of Aviation is being set up and the Ministry of Supply disbanded in order to bring under one Minister the Government's responsibilities for civil aviation and for the supply of aircraft both civil and military. In coming to this conclusion, the Government have taken account of the numerous suggestions made by hon. Members on both sides of the House over a long period.

The Ministry of Aviation will also be responsible for the supply of guided weapons, including ballistic missiles, radar and other electronic equipment and of nuclear weapons. The bulk of the other procurement functions of the former Ministry of Supply will be transferred to the War Office which will then be responsible for the supply of stores and equipment needed by the Army, such as guns, ammunition, tanks, uniforms and so forth.

The War Office will consequently take over fourteen of the sixteen Royal Ordnance factories. The remaining two are concerned wholly with the production of items for which the Ministry of Aviation is responsible and they will therefore be retained by that Ministry. Where appropriate, arrangements may be made for the Admiralty and Air Ministry to supply themselves with certain stores and equipment previously procured from the Ministry of Supply, and for which the Ministry of Aviation will no longer be responsible. Responsibility for such stores and equipment used by more than one Service will usually rest with the War Office which in many cases is the largest user.

In order to effect these changes three Orders in Council are necessary. The Ministry of Aviation Order, 1959, grants first to the Ministry of Supply the functions in respect of civil aviation of the former Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation. At the same time it changes the title of the Ministry of Supply to that of Ministry of Aviation. The Service Departments Supply (No. 1) Order restores to the War Office the supply powers transferred from the War Office to the Ministry of Supply in 1939. Similarly, it restores to the Air Ministry the supply powers, with the exception of those relating to aircraft, which were transferred from the Air Ministry to the Ministry of Aircraft Production when it was formed in 1940. These powers were transferred to the Ministry of Supply m 1946. No similar action is necessary in the case of the Admiralty which never lost its procurement powers.

The Service Departments Supply (No. 2) Order preserves to the Ministry of Aviation the powers of a supply Department which it would otherwise have lost through the transfer of those powers to the War Office and the Air Ministry under the No. 1 Order. This arrangement gives to the Ministry of Aviation the latitude necessary to enable it to supply the Army and the Royal Air Force with weapons and equipment, such as guided missiles, radar and other electronic apparatus. These changes should not involve any additional expenditure. Some formal adjustments of the Votes approved by Parliament for this year's expenditure will be necessary. The token, new or Supplementary Estimates required will be laid before the House in due course.

As I have explained, this and other related Orders will bring about the end of the Ministry of Supply. I well remember, as will the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell)—he was representing the Seaham constituency at that time—the debates which we had in this House before the war when many of us repeatedly pressed Mr. Chamberlain's Government to set up a Ministry of Supply. We regarded the creation of such a Ministry as essential for the effective and rapid rearming of the country to meet the growing danger of war. Many of us, too, regarded this as a test of the Government's determination.

During two years of the war I was myself Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply and later, in 1951, I was for three years the Minister. I should not, therefore, like this occasion to pass without paying my tribute to the outstanding work of this great Department, both in war and in peace, and to the high qualities and fine spirit of all those who have served in it—civil servants, scientists and technicians, as well as members of the Armed Forces. They have established a splendid tradition which will, I am sure, live on under the new names and the new organisations.

6.21 p.m.

Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)

I wish to refer to the Prayer standing on the Order Paper praying that the Service Departments Supply (No. 1) Order be annulled. We on these benches do not wish to make a party issue out of this matter but we wish to raise in a preliminary way, at any rate, the very important issues that are involved and which the Minister of Aviation, indeed, has emphasised are involved by this reorganisation of Government Departments mainly concerned with the supply of the Armed Forces.

As the right hon. Gentleman said, what we are being asked to do is to approve the break-up of the Ministry of Supply. As he further said, the Ministry of Supply was set up at the beginning of the last war as a new, and in that period untried, system for the supply of the three Services so that the great demands on industry and the productive power of the country should be co-ordinated and such of the military supplies as were needed should be ordered in bulk with great economies in efficiency.

Of course, it would be true to say that the system was never fully developed The Admiralty never came under it fully. There were always exceptions. Then at a later stage there was the Ministry of Aircraft Production which was a greater exception still, perhaps, though that was a temporary one and in the post-war phase that again was altered.

As the Minister has said, there were great hopes for this system. It was felt that this was a far superior system to the older one under which the three Service Ministries ordered their supplies separately and, perhaps, in competition with each other. It was felt that there were advantages in such a centralised system. On the other hand, it would be true to say that no one with firsthand experience of this system—and mine is quite brief—can be unaware of its disadvantages. It separated the customer from his supply. It put a link in the chain between the two. I see the Secretary of State for War here, and I imagine that he, for one, will be very glad to go back to the older system in which he orders direct from his suppliers. There are advantages and disadvantages in the two different systems.

What we are exercised about is—and the Minister of Aviation did not say very much about it—that the new system is not going back to the older pre-war system of each Service Department ordering direct from its suppliers. It is a curious mixture of the two systems. The War Office goes back to that old system almost completely. The position of the Admiralty is not clear to me. The Admiralty has always maintained its independence in respect of warships. What will be its position now in respect of aircraft?

Again, there is the enormous exception of the Air Force, which will now order its supplies not direct under the prewar system, not through the Ministry of Supply, but through the new Ministry over which the right hon. Gentleman presides, which will be concerned partly with defence and also with civil aviation. Therefore, the new system will be no more tidy or logical than the old. It will be a curious mixture of the two.

This evening we are taking up this issue in a very preliminary way, but in the defence debates, in the Service Estimates debates and as we go on in the New Year, we shall want to know a great deal more about it. We shall want to know how the naval aircraft are to fit into the arrangement. We shall want to know how the not inconsiderable number of aircraft for the use of the Army will fit into it. We have no picture of that so far.

Then again, there is the very interesting and difficult question of the organisation of the Government—perhaps I should say the reorganisation—which this will entail. What will be the position of the Minister of Aviation? Is he to be a member of the Defence Committee? Is he to be a Defence Minister at all? It may be said that he is not to be a Defence Minister at all. But how can that really be when his responsibilities in matters of defence are gigantic, when the whole provision of aircraft falls within his responsibilities, to say nothing of missiles? There is this enormous new defence field. He is, of course, a member of the Cabinet and, therefore, there will be a second Minister of equal Cabinet rank to the Defence Minister closely concerned in practice—whether in theory I do not know—with defence matters in the Cabinet. I repeat, is he or is he not to be a member of the Defence Committee? It may be that this new arrangement has advantages compared with the previous one, but it certainly does not appear to be a logical or complete solution to these very difficult questions—and I should be the last to deny that they are very difficult.

Going back to the main theme, we have this dilemma either of failing to centralise our orders for the three Services or of injecting a link in the chain between the customer and the supplier. The only way in which we could have the advantages of both systems would be if the Services could be to a large extent unified. If the Services were effectively unified as one Service, though they might still wear different coloured uniforms, the Services in their unified form could order direct through a centralised buying agency. That is the only way in which the advantages of both systems would combine. But that, no doubt, is still a long way ahead, even if we are moving, as I for one would imagine we are, inexorably in that direction.

We on this side of the House wish, on tills the first occasion when the new arrangements have been before the House, to raise these questions and we give notice that we shall want to hear very much more about them in due course. We cannot feel that these arrangements, which are put before us in a preliminary way in these Orders, represent any final solution whatever to the very difficult problems involved.

6.30 p.m.

Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)

Occasionally, Mr. Speaker, when a death is announced, the public or the friends of the person who has passed away are informed that the funeral is to be private. On this occasion, you, Sir, are officiating at the interment of the Ministry of Supply. There are very few mourners present. It is appropriate that I should be here on this melancholy occasion because, for several years, I have demanded the abolition of the Ministry of Supply. Mine has been almost the sole voice requesting the Government to make an end of this unweildy and wasteful Department—frowned upon by members of Her Majesty's Government and, I am bound to say, frowned upon by my right hon. and hon. Friends, some of whom thought that they had a vested interest in the Ministry of Supply, either in the past or in the future. Now, it is to disappear, lock, stock and barrel. What remains? Before I come to that, I must dilate a little upon the history of this adventure.

It is perfectly true, as the Minister of Civil Aviation—I beg his pardon; he is not only civil but he is also military—as the Minister of Aviation has said, that I was associated with the demand which was made before 1939 for the creation of a Ministry of Supply. Our demands fell on deaf ears for some considerable time. Eventually, the Government, like all Governments, responded after a delay to the quite logical and essential demands which were made by back benchers. The same applied to the Ministry of Production. I well remember that during the war, when from the Opposition Front Bench I asked the Prime Minister to create a Ministry of Production, the Government then thought it quite unnecessary. They said that we had a Minister of Supply. Why should we have a Minister of Production? Eventually, after eighteen months, they created the Ministry of Production, and Mr. Oliver Lyttelton, now Lord Chandos, was appointed as the first Minister. I remember, also, that he invited me to come up to his Department to discuss what ought to be done, since I had ventured to suggest that such a Department should be created. But, in the end, it disappeared. It served its term.

I do not for a moment deny that during the war the Ministry of Supply performed a very useful and, indeed, essential service. I indulge in no disparaging or derogatory remarks about anybody associated with the Ministry of Supply. It is just that the conception itself, once the war had passed or, at any rate, not long after the post-war period had begun, was no longer necessary. There has been considerable delay in deciding about its abolition.

What is to happen now? I confess that after listening to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite and, I am bound to say, with very great respect, after listening to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), I am as confused now about the priorities, about categories and about the precise details of this new venture as I was when I first read about it in the newspapers. It will require a great deal of interrogation and analysis before we discover exactly what is intended.

One thing I do know is that a wrong step has been taken. Nobody knows it better than the ex-Minister of Defence, now the Minister of Aviation. We all recall with what a great blast of trumpets the Prime Minister thrust upon the then Minister of Defence, now the right hon. Gentleman opposite who is the Minister of Aviation, the task of integrating the Defence Departments or co-ordinating the Defence Departments, integrating policy and vesting in the Minister of Defence the need for co-operation among the Service Departments. It was a fine concept, heralded on all sides as a most desirable venture.

However, when the proposition was first announced some of us on this side of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West, I think, along with others, asked for a further step in the direction of co-operation, if not integration, namely, that there should be placed under the aegis of the Minister of Defence all the functions which were associated with the Minister of Supply, except in respect of civil material. In so far as the Minister of Supply was responsible for research, design, development and production—not necessarily through the Ministry itself but through private firms throughout the country—it was thought desirable that they should all be brought under the umbrella of the Minister of Defence, thus creating a Ministry of Defence responsible for defence policy, responsible for strategy and responsible also for standardisation in respect of all the material required for the purposes of defence.

That is a reasonable concept. It is by no means original. It is in operation in many other countries. Why not in this country? This has not happened. Instead, we have—I say this with very great respect, but I can think of no other term—a kind of dog's breakfast. It is a curious mixture. It is very difficult to determine who has authority, where the priorities are, and all the rest. What I understand from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman is that he is now responsible, as Minister of Aviation, only for co-ordinating activities in connection with civil and military aircraft. This in itself is understandable and, indeed, very desirable.

As Minister of Defence, I had myself experienced great difficulty with the aircraft companies because of the lack of co-ordination, the delays, the frills and furbelows associated with the production of aircraft, because of modifications which occurred from time to time and which delayed the production of aircraft, particularly aircraft regarded by the Minister of Defence as urgent. It is desirable that the Minister should now have the function of pressing on with all the power at his command for the cooperation that is essential if the aircraft industry is to be of real value either to itself or to the country. I was however, surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman say—I think this requires a great deal of consideration—that he is to be responsible for the production of missiles, ballistic missiles and, presumably, rockets.

I am not clear where the Air Ministry comes in. It would seem that the Air Ministry is left out on a limb in contradistinction to the War Office, which is now reverting to the old concept of the Master General of the Ordnance, which was the case in my time in 1929 when I was Financial Secretary to the War Office when we had the Woolwich Arsenal at our disposal. We were responsible for a number of depôts and we produced our own material. We were then about to produce tanks. We produced a variety of army vehicles and ammunition.

If we cannot have the scheme for which I wish and which I have demanded in many speeches in the House when discussing defence matters, namely, integration under the Ministry of Defence, not interference in any way with the administrative functions of the three Service Ministries—I have never suggested that that should happen—but co-ordination which enables the Ministry of Defence to keep the whole of the purposes of defence under its supervision, then I have no objection to the War Office reverting to the old function of running the show.

It may be that I am prejudiced in the matter, having been Secretary of State for War, but I regard the Army as one of the most efficient vehicles of organisation in this country. We may disagree with the Army occasionally about policy matters, but in respect of organisation it is supreme, and, in my judgment, is much better than the Royal Navy. The trouble with the Navy, the Silent Service, is that it gets away with murder. I remember that when I was Minister of Defence and had to preside over the Defence Council the Navy hardly said a word. It always got its own way without saying anything, whereas the Army and the Royal Air Force had to fight for what they wanted. There the Navy's representatives sat, with all the gold braid at their command. Even the present supreme authority at the Ministry of Defence, Lord Mount-batten, never said a word, but the Navy always got what it wanted.

The Navy is like the Russians. It does not have to go to war because it always gets what it wants without a struggle. The functions of shipbuilding and ship repairing were transferred to the Admiralty, and when I argued in this House that the Admiralty knew very little about these matters I was told that I was wrong. What happened? At long last, in the last few weeks, shipbuilding and ship repairing have been transferred from the Admiralty to the Ministry of Transport. It takes a long time to get anything done in this House.

I think that I am entitled to say, therefore, that a mistake has been made. Another false step has been taken, but we must make the best of it. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will believe me when I say that I have not said these things because I am opposed to defence organisation. It is not because I am opposed to the existence of a Ministry of Defence and the three Service Departments. I want them to be efficient. I do not want them to be wasteful. We are spending vast sums of money on defence, far more than we can afford. We have spent more than £12,000 million since 1951 on defence. I do not know how much we shall spend next year. The Minister of Aviation said that there would be no change in expenditure.

I should have thought that as the Ministry of Supply is being abolished it would be possible to save some money, but apparently we shall not save anything. In addition to the £1,500 million or £1,600 million which the Ministry of Defence has been spending with the three Service Departments, the Ministry of Supply has been spending on an average about £270 million a year in the past seven or eight years. The repetition of research operations is not good enough. The Admiralty is doing it. The Air Ministry was doing a little of it, The War Office abandoned it, but left it to the Ministry of Supply, and the Ministry of Supply was doing it. This is not good enough. We must run our affairs in a much more efficient fashion.

There is no partisanship in this matter. There is nothing political in it. It is a question of running a business in a sensible fashion. That is all I am asking for, but I am not getting my own way. I got my own way with regard to the Ministry of Supply and to the Ministry of Production, and even in the creation of a Ministry of Shipping which the Government originally rejected but eventually agreed to. I have been saying that the Ministry of Defence should run the whole show, but I have been told that that will not do. I therefore accept the position in the hope that in 18 months' or two years' time it will be discovered that this scheme does not work very well and that the functions transferred to the War Office will be handed back to the Ministry of Defence and those of the Ministry of Aviation transferred to the Ministry of Defence. The right hon. Gentleman will then find himself transferred to another job in the Government.

This is fun and games, but we are spending at far too great a rate and I do not like it. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West that when we come to the defence debates we shall have to ask a few more questions, all in the interest of the nation and without any party spirit, in the hope that the Government will at long last develop a defence organisation along common sense lines.

6.47 p.m.

Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett (Croydon, North-East)

I do not wish to detain the House for more than a minute. I will certainly not be drawn into following the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) in his strictures on the Admiralty.

Mr. Shinwell

Why not?

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

Because I do not think that it is in order in this debate to do so. However, like him, I think he will admit that I have advocated, although in a much humbler way, the winding up of the Ministry of Supply, and, like him, I have always advocated, and I still confess that I would prefer to see, that the military supply functions of the Ministry of Aviation should somehow be brought within the scope of the Ministry of Defence. However, to be perfectly fair to my right hon. Friend, I know that he has always consistently opposed that point of view. He did so when he was Minister of Defence. He has always been straightforward in giving the reason why he did not favour an arrangement of that nature, and I admit that there are solid arguments against it as well as in favour of it. But one must be frank and confess that there is ground perhaps for a little uneasiness about this arrangement.

It was always said, rather scurrilously, that the reason why the Mesopotamian campaign was fought in the First World War was that the Quarter Master General was senior to the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and he sent a lot of food to Mesopotamia and the Army had to be sent there to eat it.

The fear that one has now is that the operational parts of the three fighting Services, particularly the Royal Air Force, which is chiefly affected, may perhaps not always get the equipment that they want, because we have a senior and powerful Minister independent of them in charge of the provisioning and supply arrangements. I can understand that the aircraft industry at the moment faces a position of great difficulty which has arisen from the policy imposed, quite rightly in my judgment, by my right hon. Friend when he was Minister of Defence in 1957. We know that the falling off of orders for military aircraft has produced a position of great difficulty.

There is the added complexity of the change-over of some of these firms from the manufacture of aircraft, on the one hand, to the manufacture of missiles on the other, which is now needed. I can therefore see, and I am sure it will be admitted on both sides of the House, that there may well be a case for the time being to have a strong Department, and a strong Minister in charge of it, responsible for the supply duties which are now entrusted to the Ministry of Aviation.

The question which I should like to put to my right hon. Friend is perhaps rather a leading one and I dare say he will not answer it. Are these arrangements regarded as more or less permanent or as something which is transitional and, after a few years when the new pattern of defence becomes more established, they may be modified? A second question I wish to ask him—to which I hope he will reply because I think he should answer it—concerns the 1958 White Paper on the Central Organisation for Defence. That White Paper in certain respects is rendered out of date by the Orders we are discussing tonight. I wish to ask my right hon. Friend whether or not it is intended to bring out a revised version of the White Paper. If that were done, many of the anxieties expressed by the two right hon. Members opposite who have spoken might well be resolved.

Finally, I must admit that I share the regret expressed earlier in this short debate that my right hon. Friend the other day, in answer to a Question, said he foresaw no redundancy as a result of this change-over. J had hoped that he would have foreseen redundancy. One hopes, indeed I think we are entitled to expect, that when a big reorganisation of this kind takes place it should be accompanied with at least a certain reduction in the staffs of those administering the supply of warlike equipment.

6.52 p.m.

Mr. Sandys

I shall do my best to answer the various points which have been raised. Perhaps, first. I could say a word in reply to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett). He asked me a very difficult question—it was not really a very difficult one but a very simple one—whether these new arrangements would be permanent. I think it very safe to say that they will not. It is not that I am suggesting that the Government have any plans for changing them, but one has to consider the changes which have taken place in these arrangements since I have been in Parliament. First, the Service Departments were responsible for their own supply, then the Ministry of Supply dealt with War Office supplies, then the Ministry of Aircraft Production took over Air Force requirements and then it was merged with the Ministry of Supply. Now the Ministry of Aviation is responsible for various duties connected with the Services. I am not saying that we have any arrangements or proposals for altering them after a given period of time.

My hon. and gallant Friend asked me whether we were proposing to publish a new White Paper on the organisation of defence. I cannot see that the 1958 White Paper is very much out of date. The only thing which I can see is out of date is a reference to a Minister of Supply, who no longer exists. I do not think we could justify publishing a new White Paper. I see no need—and I think I can speak for the Government as a whole, because this matter has been considered—that the changes which are now being made should involve any alteration in the central organisation of defence, or the sharing of Ministerial responsibilities.

I do not know what my hon. and gallant Friend has in mind but I have made it clear that the division of responsibility between the Minister of Supply and the Minister of Defence and the Service Ministers will, under the new arrangements, remain as it was previously, except, of course, that as Minister of Aviation I shall no longer be responsible for certain aspects of the procurement programme, namely, those transferred to the War Office.

I made it quite clear that I have no intention, as some newspapers have suggested, of trying to do my old job from my new office as well as fulfilling my new responsibilities and the headaches which have been entrusted to me. I should like to make it quite clear that there is no change in the broad set-up, nor even in responsibility. I think that needed to be said because there have been people who suggested that either there were going to be changes, or alternatively, there would be friction, between the Minister of Defence and myself. So far we have worked very happily together and I cannot see any causes for friction or difficulty. The responsibilities were fairly laid down in the White Paper to which my hon. and gallant Friend referred and they stand completely unaltered and unaffected by the changes we are now discussing.

The right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) made another of his breezy speeches which we all enjoy. They were not so breezy when he was at the Dispatch Box. I always remember that he was then very much bound by the official brief he received. It is a great joy to us to hear him let himself go with that ease with which he now delights the House. He advocated today that the functions of the Ministry of Supply should be transferred to the Ministry of Defence and he has advocated that on a number of occasions. I have no doubt, although I have not consulted my right hon. Friend, that the present Minister of Defence thinks exactly as I did when I was Minister of Defence. I should not be surprised if the right hon. Member for Easington thought the same when he was Minister of Defence, but it is such a long time ago that I do not think he can remember. I should have thought he would have done something to get these powers if he thought that necessary.

Mr. Shinwell

Let me make this quite clear. It is a rather interesting point. This is a disclosure, but I do not think it is any violation of the Official Secrets Act. I actually went to the Prime Minister, then Mr. Attlee, and suggested that we should abolish the Ministry of Supply because I felt at the time that if we were to handle the production side—the materials and the rest—at the Ministry of Defence we must have some supervision over that side of the Department's activities.

Mr. Sandys

The right hon. Member has made a very interesting disclosure. It seems from what he has said that the Labour Government, in turning down the proposal made by the right hon. Member, felt the same as Her Majesty's present Government that it was undesirable that the Minister of Defence should assume these additional responsibilities. The reasons I have always given, which I am sure are sound ones, are that one of the great advantages of the present set-up is that the Minister of Defence, who has very heavy responsibilities for the formulation of major strategic and other defence policies, really has the time to think.

As anybody, including the right hon. Member and the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), knows, anyone who has a large administrative department with a fearful lot of day-today problems finds great difficulty in giving his time and his attention to the things which are most important. Again and again, one finds that whilst one has some very important issue of policy to settle which requires a great deal of thought and discussion, some far less important question, but one which needs to be settled today, has to be dealt with immediately, and the more important problem is put on one side for the time being.

I thought, after having been in various Departments, that when I went to the Ministry of Defence I could for the first time settle down to discuss and give whatever time was necessary to thinking out the solutions to really major issues of policy, without being interfered with and interrupted by extraneous administrative problems. I have no doubt that if we were suddenly to hand over to the Minister of Defence a Department with about 30,000 civil servants, non-industrials, and some 50,000 industrials to deal with on top of his policy making, we should swamp him and seriously handicap him in considering the major issues of policy. I shall be very surprised if my right hon. Friend thinks otherwise.

The right hon. Gentleman and also my hon. and gallant Friend referred to the questions of savings and redundancies. Of course, we should all like to see savings in staff and expenditure, but savings are got by reducing the work, not by changing the title of the Ministry or by transferring the work from one Minister to another. The same work has to be done; the same work which was being done by the Ministry of Supply on tanks and shells and ammunition will have to be done now by the War Office, and I have no doubt that the same people will be doing it, sitting in the same offices, and that they will be paid the same salaries. Therefore, there is no reason to suppose that because we make these transfers from one Department to another we shall automatically achieve any saving of expenditure.

Mr. Shinwell

Why do it then?

Mr. Sandys

The reason for doing it is not expenditure or savings.

Mr. Shinwell

Why, then?

Mr. Sandys

I will come to that. I have already said a good deal about it. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman did not sufficiently follow me.

Mr. Shinwell

Oh, yes, I did.

Mr. Sandys

As I say, naturally the changes which are being effected will not of themselves produce savings. I should not like the House to think, however, that the Government will not continue as they always do to scrutinise at all times the expenditure, whether of Service Departments or Civil Departments, over the whole field to see how, and where, and when, savings can be made.

Already very considerable reductions have been made in the staffing of the Supply Departments as a result of the reduction in the programme, in one way or another; but in the end, unless there is great inefficiency, we can reduce staff and expenditure only as the result of reducing the work and the jobs to be done.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West said that these new arrangements for Service procurement were something of a mixture. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington said the same. It is perfectly true; they are something of a mixture. I will say a word about that in a moment. But the right hon. Gentleman asked one or two specific questions.

He asked how much the Admiralty was affected. As usual, the Admiralty will not be affected; for the simple reason that it never lost its procurement powers during the war and, therefore, there is no change to be made in that direction. As for aircraft, which was another matter the right hon. Gentleman inquired about, the Admiralty's aircraft, like the aircraft for the Air Force and for the Army, will continue to be provided under a single system, as before. It will now be done through the Ministry of Aviation.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West said it was an illogical mixture, and suggested it would be more logical to transfer all the procurement powers of the Service Departments, or alternatively to maintain the old Ministry of Supply as it was in its entirety, while adding to it functions of the Ministry of Civil Aviation. I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that I have already recognised that this is not a clear-cut logical arrangement. However, I think the criticism which is made arises from the fact that, perhaps, hon. and right hon. Members making this criticism are looking at it from a standpoint different from that from which the Government have approached it. If Service procurement had been the sole or overriding consideration, either of these two courses proposed by the right hon. Gentleman, which are more logical and more tidy, might have been adopted. But I say quite frankly that the reorganisation of military procurement is not the main reason for this change in the distribution of Ministerial responsibilities.

The principal reason for creating the Ministry of Aviation is to enable the interrelated problems of the aircraft industry and the airlines to be tackled together by a single Minister. Both these industries, as the House knows well, are going through very difficult times, and critical decisions have got to be taken and taken quickly. The urgent solution of these problems is of great importance to our national economy and to the livelihood of a very large number of people in this country. It is, therefore, most desirable that the Minister concerned should be able to concentrate his time and thought upon this task, and not have to divide his attention between those and other responsibilities of an unconnected character, such as the provision of tanks, guns and shells, and things like boots.

The development and procurement of those items, of which the Army is the largest user, will, I am sure, be carried out just as efficiently by the War Office as they have been by the Ministry of Supply. Therefore, what I would say to the House is this. I would ask the House to look at these arrangements, look at this change, not in the light of the question, "Will they produce some dramatic improvement in the procurement and supply arrangements of the Services?" I believe those arrangements have been pretty efficient, having regard to the very difficult problems involved, and that they will continue to be efficient under the new arrangements. I see no reason why these arrangements should reduce the efficiency of the supply system.

There are those who think that the War Office, when it will be able to deal directly with its suppliers, may be able to improve arrangements. There are two views on that. I am unable to say one way or the other, but we shall have experience of both systems. I would ask the House to look at these changes not so much in the light of a reorganisation of the supply arrangements, but rather in the light of the urgent need for a single Minister to look at the problems of civil aviation and of the aircraft industry as a whole, and to try to help that industry—both those industries—arrive at constructive and realistic solutions to the extremely critical problems which face them, and which, if there is no solution, will have very serious consequences for our economy and, as I have said, for the livelihood of very many people who are employed in them.

Mr. Shinwell

Could the right hon. Gentleman clear up one point which so far he has failed to do? Before this decision was reached the Ministry of Supply, among other functions, was responsible for research. The Ministry of Defence had a research department, as he well knows. Now I understand the position to be this. The Ministry of Defence will continue its research department—unless it is to be transferred to some other Department: I do not know. The Ministry of Aviation, his own Department, will engage in research. The Admiralty will as heretofore continue its research. Is that a satisfactory arrangement? Is it not desirable that research in all matters pertaining to military forces should be under one umbrella?

Mr. Sandys

The Ministry of Defence has no research department. It has a Chief Scientist, but it does not do any research. It is quite simple to explain the changes where research is concerned. The effect will be that those elements of the research programme which relate to items which are being transferred away from the Ministry of Aviation will go with the items to which they belong. That is to say, for example, the transfer of responsibility for tank production to the War Office will carry with it responsibility for the Fighting Vehicle Establishment at Chobham, and so forth.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Service Departments Supply (No. 2) Order, 1959, a draft of which was laid before this House on 2nd November, be approved.

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