HC Deb 03 April 1963 vol 675 cc424-6
4. Mr. Wingfield Digby

asked the Minister of Defence whether, under his scheme for a reorganisation of the Services, each of the three chiefs of staff is to retain the right of direct access to the Cabinet.

Mr. Thorneycroft

The position of the chiefs of staff in fulfilling their traditional duty as professional military advisers to the Government is defined in paragraphs 5 and 17 of the 1958 White Paper on Central Defence Organisation (Cmd. 476). As was made clear in recent defence debates no change is contemplated in this respect.

Mr. Healey

Is the Minister of Defence aware that many hon. Members on both sides of the House feel that this reorganisation will seriously weaken the effective political control of the three Services if the individual Service Ministers are downgraded in their status while the heads of the Services retain the right of access to the Cabinet even without consulting the Minister of Defence?

Mr. Thorneycroft

Clearly, any effective reorganisation of the central organisation of defence was bound to have a marked effect on the political control of the three Services.

Mr. Healey

It weakens it.

6. Mr. Wingfield Digby

asked the Minister of Defence whether, under his scheme for a reorganisation of the Services, it is now proposed to abolish the Board of Admiralty, the Army Council and the Air Force Council.

5. Commander Kerans

asked the Minister of Defence what consideration he is giving to the co-ordination of the intelligence departments of the Admiralty, War Office and Air Ministry in the new defence structure, in order to ensure reductions in present staffs.

11. Mr. Dempsey

asked the Minister of Defence what estimates he has now made of the reduction in manpower and the financial savings that will result from the proposed reorganisation of the defence departments.

Mr. Thorneycroft

As I have told the House, the details of the reorganisation are being worked out and I hope to place them before the House later in the summer. The proposals then will cover the various matters raised in these Questions, but I should prefer not to make any statement on them in the meantime.

Mr. Digby

Before deciding on a system of complete uniformity will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the advantages of the Board system as it has worked in the Admiralty, which differs considerably from that of the Army Council system in the War Office? Before deciding on uniformity, will he hesitate to destroy a system that has worked very well throughout the years?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I am well aware of the distinctive features of the Admiralty, and I will bear these and all other relevant considerations in mind.

Mr. Dempsey

Would not the Minister of Defence agree that by employing the techniques of applied accountancy he should be able to give the House a general idea as to what savings in finance and manpower could be accumulated until such time as he makes his precise statement?

Mr. Thorneycroft

There will be ample opportunities for discussing that at a time when we can see the whole picture.

Mr. Paget

Is it not really pretty scandalous to come forward with schemes of this sort without having thought out such elementary considerations as this or without having really considered whether the Services are to be controlled by the political Ministers or by irresponsible chiefs of staff, as apparently is now considered?

Mr. Thorneycroft

If the hon. and learned Gentleman considers the matter, I think that he will realise that all these matters would require very careful and detailed discussion with large numbers of people, which would certainly become public, and that therefore there is some advantage in announcing decisions in principle in advance of the discussions.

Mr. Shinwell

As the right hon. Gentleman has not yet made up his mind, would he object if some hon. Members helped him to make up his mind on this very important matter of the reorganisation of defence? Does he realise that, if he retains the Board of Admiralty, the Army Council and the Air Force Council in their present form, the reorganisation of defence will be just a façade?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I would not object in the slightest. Indeed, the advice and counsel of this House are of inestimable value in a reorganisation of this character.