§ 4.15 p.m.
§ The Minister of Defence (Mr. Peter Thorneycroft)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the White Paper on the Central Organisation for Defence (Command Paper No. 2097).The debate will give the House an opportunity of commenting on a piece of administrative machinery which is of interest to all parties. I propose to open the debate as shortly as I can. Then, because I have given a good deal of personal thought to this matter, with the permission of the House I should like to wind up shortly at the end of the debate and try to answer any questions which are asked by hon. Members.
Last March, we had a defence debate. I said then that we would reorganise the central machinery into a single Ministry of Defence. I make no claim that this is an original idea. Indeed, everybody thought of it before I did. Both sides of the House of Commons, Field Marshal Montgomery, and everybody, have had this idea. It is one thing to have the idea. It is another thing to translate it into legislative form.
What we, the House of Commons, are engaged upon today is a consideration of these proposals. It is more than a party issue. It is a bit of machinery which all of us would have to use if we were in office. Therefore, it is right that all of us should look at it as a House of Commons matter. I promised a White Paper in the summer. This I have been able to produce. Our programme would be, subject to this discussion and the views of the House, legislation in the autumn and a vesting day next April. On any count this is a major administrative reorganisation involving historic Ministries, boards and offices. It merits close examination. I am sure that it will receive close examination.
I want to start by setting it in its historical and political contexts. Defence cannot be considered in isolation. It is 466 central to our foreign and overseas policy. It should be the servant and not the master of events. As long ago as 1888 the Hartington Committee recommended that there should be a co-ordinating committee for defence to examine it in these rather wider contexts. In 1895, the Defence Committee of the Cabinet was established, in what might now appear to be a rudimentary form. Those of us who have recently been studying the life of Arthur Balfour will recall the part he played in that Committee in those days at the turn of the century.
Following the Esher Committee, the Defence Committee was strengthened and established on a formal basis in 1904 as the Committee of Imperial Defence, as it was then known. The Committee of Imperial Defence had a long and great history, and some very distinguished men have served on it. To mention but one, all of us would pay tribute to Lord Hankey. It was reviewed again after the First World War when the Chiefs of Staff Committee was created in 1924 for the purpose of providing Ministers with co-ordinated military advice.
The next really important development happened under the pressure of events. That was in 1940, when the Chiefs of Staff worked directly under my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) as Prime Minister and Minister of Defence and advised him on strategic matters. The House will no doubt agree that something happened then which never really altered afterwards, namely, that inevitably, at that stage, the Service Ministers assumed responsibilities which were concentrated more on the provision of men and materials. These were very great and important responsibilities. They were different in kind from the responsibilities that Service Ministers had adopted in the previous periods.
In 1946, the Ministry of Defence was established but, in the main, it was a co-ordinating body and in 1958 it was felt that it should be strengthened in some way. Its functions were redefined 467 and the House will remember this from a White Paper that was published in that year. It was to decide major matters of defence policy, size and shape, organisation and disposition of the forces and it was to take a leading part in decisions on weapons and warlike equipment. That system, which I emphasise was mainly co-ordinating, was essentially based on four separate, independent Service Ministries. Indeed, it can be supported in argument, and other arguments can be adduced, for maintaining that system. However, I believe that only those, of whom there are quite a number in the House, who have tried to work it or who have seen it at close quarters can recognise the nature of its shortcomings.
I do not say that everything was wrong with it, or that great achievements were not made with the system under all parties. But there were, and there remain, three main criticisms. The first is the control of defence spending. One can say that under the existing system this is not fully effective. A separate, independent Ministry may reveal the strength of its arguments to the Ministry of Defence, but it is unlikely to reveal the weaknesses.
Central responsibility is not enough unless one has heard the conflicting arguments in the early stages, before the policy has been defined. One has, if one is to judge properly, to see an idea when it is growing and not the sort of final, polished object with all the flaws suitably obscured, which normally comes about if it is being worked out by a fully organised Ministry—and I speak in the hearing of right hon. and hon. Members who have had experience of the way in which Ministries work.
There is, secondly, apart from money, the formulation of an integrated defence policy. I say this meaning no reflection upon anyone, but one is hampered by the very natural tendency of three proud and great Services to consider problems of national defence from separate, individual points of view. This is natural and, indeed, inevitable, but it is quite easy to end up with three different kinds of policy being pursued simultaneously.
Thirdly, there is the great and difficult problem—and this will probably be discussed a lot during the debate—of 468 managing the defence research and development programme. No fully satisfactory solution has so far been found to the consideration of operational requirements on a defence rather than a single Service basis or the putting into operation of cost effectiveness studies.
Attention was drawn to these defects by the Select Committtee on Estimates in its Eighth Report of 1961–62. I am grateful to that Committee for pinpointing the need for investigation. As often happens in relation to Estimates Committees, they have a rather prevaricating answer in the first place and later we tend to carry out in rather more detail what they recommend. In a way, they have got rather resigned to that treatment. In this case, the main thing was that something should happen. No one should underestimate the contribution which the Estimates Committee has made to these things being worked out.
Towards the end of 1962 my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister asked that a major review of defence organisation should be instituted. In this review I received most valuable assistance from Lord Ismay and Lieut.-General Sir Ian Jacob. Following a decision on principle, which was announced in March of this year, we have been able to go into these matters in considerable detail. I would like, at this point, to express my thanks to my right hon. Friends the Service Ministers, their staffs and the Ministry of Aviation for all the help that has been given to me in what is a difficult and, inevitably, a somewhat controversial sphere of administration.
The best way for me to approach this is to say something about three main aspects. The first is the principles involved; what they are and how they have guided us in these reforms. The second is how we propose to fit this new organisation into the Cabinet structure, including the wider context of defence in relation to overseas policy and the rest. The third is to outline, as shortly but as concisely as I can, the structure that we suggest to the House.
There are really six main points of principle to which I shall refer. The first principle which has guided us is that we should have a single, unified Ministry of Defence and that we should not bring a lot of separate units under one roof and 469 call it a new organisation. My right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch), who always puts some point into his speeches, has pointed out that if there were four quarrelling barrow boys one did not necessarily bring their quarrels to an end by moving them to the same pitch. There is something in that approach.
Certainly, the first principle we have followed is that we were determined to have one, single, integrated Ministry. We have established this Ministry under a single Secretary of State with clear lines of authority and responsibility throughout. He can intervene at any point he wishes, whether on policy, administration or finance, but he is not compelled to intervene. In other words, it is a matter of judgment.
This brings me to the second point of principle. It would be easy to work out a system by which one could have all power and responsibility centralised, but in doing so one might place such an overload of work at the top—not just on the Secretary of State but on his principal advisers—that one would bring all useful consideration of major policy to a standstill. For this reason machinery must exist to enable decentralisation, particularly that of day-to-day administration, to be quietly and smoothly carried out.
This leads me to the third point, which concerns the Ministry of Aviation. I have had some experience of this, for I have had the honour to serve in both the Ministry of Aviation and the Ministry of Defence. Let me say at once that there are very good arguments for either bringing it in or keeping it out. Here again, I have tried to take what advice I could. I have had some useful discussions with a very great public servant, Sir Frank Lee, who is one of the most experienced administrators in Whitehall. I felt that discussions with someone who had left Whitehall for a little while, and could look at us from the outside, might be useful.
There is a good case for separating the two. The Ministry of Aviation has close links with both the civil and the military side of aviation in aircraft and in electronics. The research which it does benefits both. An enormous amount of detailed research into problems of laminar flow, solid state physics, and the rest goes on. It may be said that 470 it is very difficult to run this from a Defence Ministry. Against this, of course, it can be said that by far the bulk of its money at present is really defence money. The Ministry of Defence is far and away the largest customer of the Ministry of Aviation today.
I say, frankly, that the argument which influenced me most is that, if one brings aviation in, one will put an enormous extra load upon the Secretary of State. I shall come to what his job will be in a few minutes. It really is quite a big job to accept ultimate responsibility for three Services and three Service Ministries. Adding on top of it the whole of the Ministry of Aviation side would put a tremendous further burden upon him. There is the European Launcher Development Organisation, the supersonic transport, and so on. It has been done in America. They are centralised there. On the other hand, let us remember that we are two years ahead of anyone else in the world with the supersonic transport. I wonder whether we should have been if an overworked Minister of Defence had had to add all the thought on this side to the other thoughts which normally occupy his mind.
As I say, there is no perfect answer to this question. There is no tidy administrative answer. One has to decide one way or another. On balance, after listening to the best advice I can and after taking into account what is, at least, I suppose, as much recent personal experience on it as any Member of the House has, I have come to the conclusion that the Ministry of Aviation ought to be maintained as a separate Ministry. I am sure—Sir Frank Lee was most emphatic to me on this—that we must secure much closer co-operation between the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Aviation.
I am sure that he is right, in particular, in expressing to me the view that the Minister and his top staff who arc principally concerned with military projects must be sitting right in with the Secretary of State for Defence and his top officials in the same building. We must have even greater interchange of staff. There must be full access to research establishments. While this is not the perfect solution, I think that it is the 471 best solution we can come to, at least at this stage.
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the aspects where the Ministry of Aviation and the Ministry of Defence are likely to be concerned is research and development? Will he say something about what the Government's views are about the part which would be played in this matter by the Minister for Science?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
There are all sorts of possibilities opening out for the future in how one organises the whole of the technological side of Government, but I think that one of the great principles in the reorganisation of administration is that one should proceed at a pace which is manageable. One has to keep the shop open while all this is going on, above all in defence. I think that my task is not only to keep an eye on the horizon, but to keep my feet rather firmly on the ground and to make proposals which I think are practical in the existing circumstances. I think that this is the right and practical answer in the situation in which we find ourselves today.
The fourth point of principle is that any organisation we set up should be flexible. We are bound to change as we grow. We must create machinery whereby we can identify fields in which we think that rationalisation could be carried further and in which we can make alterations in that direction as and when we think necessary. In other words, one must build into the organisation the necessary machinery to enable the fields of growth to be identified and the impetus to be put into them.
Fifthly, in defence we have to be careful to keep a proper balance between the military, the administrative and the scientific. This branch is quite different from most branches of Government. There are the three quite different types of men involved, the military, the administrative and the scientific. Particularly in these days, when the scientific is becoming ever more important, it is necessary so to lay down the lines of administration that one gets co-ordinated advice at every level from the soldier, sailor or airman, the administrator and the scientist. This is more easy to say than to do, but, in a few 472 moments, when I come to the lay-out of the organisation, I shall describe how we seek to do it.
Sixthly, and by no means least important, one must preserve the individual loyalties and traditions of the fighting men themselves. Look at it how one will, when men are on the field of battle they do not have too high a regard even for the local staff, and very few, I am sure, are thinking about the War Office, the Board of Admiralty, or anyone else like that. Their loyalties are very much more to their ship, their regiment or their squadron. Men have done very great things for loyalties of that kind. We have, therefore, been at great pains to demonstrate throughout all this that in the central organisation we do not seek, and we shall not attempt, in any way to cut across these loyalties and traditions. Indeed, we should seek in every way to fortify them.
So much for the principles which we have followed. I turn now to how they fit into the Cabinet structure. As I said earlier, defence is the servant of foreign policy and defence policy is closely linked with the work of the Foreign Office, the Commonwealth Relations Office and the Colonial Office. I have already sketched in the history of how this developed through the Committee of Imperial Defence and the like. What we now propose—it is in paragraph 16 of the White Paper—is to establish a new Defence and Overseas Policy Committee, which is really a merging of two Cabinet Committees.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
Surely the right hon. Gentleman is wrong there. The supreme authority has always been the Cabinet itself, responsible for policy. The Defence Committee consisted of a number of members of the Cabinet, the Chiefs of Staff and the several Ministers for the Services being brought in from time to time. The Defence Committee was constituted in that way and it dealt not only with policy and carrying out the policy and with general administration, but also with all matters relating to overseas policy.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
No. There were two Committees. One was for defence and one was for overseas policy. What we now propose is the merging of these two Committees. This new merged Committee will be ministerial and it will 473 consist of the small fixed membership, which is set out, under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister.
The right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) is quite right, of course, in saying that all these matters are subject to the ultimate authority of the Cabinet. Other Ministers can be called in as necessary. The Chiefs of Defence Staff and Chiefs of Staff will be called in as the nature of the business requires; they are not members. Other officials such as, for instance, the permanent under-secretaries and the Chief Scientific Adviser could be called in to attend as required. This Committee will be served, as is natural in these circumstances, by an appropriate official committee, not from the Ministry of Defence, but from the Cabinet Secretariat.
The Chief of the Defence Staff and the Chiefs of Staff, under this set-up, remain the professional military advisers to the Government. They retain their traditional right of access to the Prime Minister, which I am sure is right. But, even more important, they retain their position as heads of their Services. I attach importance to this because I believe that we require advice on this matter from men who have the responsibility of being heads of their Services and who speak not in some detached way, but with personal experience of what that Service represents.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
The right hon. Gentleman has ignored one point which I regard as being of major importance. The old Committee of Imperial Defence was advisory in character. I always thought that it gained enormously from that fact and from the fact that hon. Members of the Opposition could serve on it. Balfour was a member of the Committee. Perhaps I misunderstand the right hon. Gentleman, but it seems to me that he is talking as if what is proposed in paragraphs 15 and 16 is a legitimate heir to the Committee of Imperial Defence, whereas I think that there is a fundamental difference in approach.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
The hon. Gentleman is right about that; there is a difference. I took it in chronological order. Balfour was a member of the Committee of Imperial Defence, or the Defence Committee as it was originally, 474 when he was a member of the Opposition. That is an absolutely accurate statement of fact. While we should value the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) as a member of any committee, our proposal is that this should be a Cabinet Committee. I know his views about the organisation for defence, but I am merely describing the present proposal, which is that the Overseas and Defence Committees of the Cabinet should be merged into this new Committee. If the hon. Member would like to develop his point further. I will try to answer it later.
§ Mr. Wigg
I hope that we will have a serious debate. To make the thrust back at me that I was thinking in terms of my membership—[Hon. Members: "Oh."] That is what the right hon. Gentleman said. I am concerned with the much wider issue. I have always been impressed by the fact that before the First World War we managed to get some value for our money. It is my belief that Lord Haldane was able to do what he did because there was an advisory committee.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
We all respect the hon. Member's interest in and knowledge of these matters, and I hope that he will have the opportunity to develop his point. As I said, I am willing to reply to him at the end of the debate, when I will try to deal seriously with his points, which are important.
I turn to the outline of the organisation, which is shown in skeleton form in the chart at the end of the White Paper. On the ministerial side, the Secretary of State is assisted by three Ministers of State. The point that I want to make is that he has no Under-Secretary or deputy peculiar to himself. These three Ministers of State are responsible for the whole of the defence field. Their task is to answer on any aspect of defence, not simply a single Service, and to represent the Secretary of State whenever he so desires. They will also have a responsibility for the Royal Navy, for the Army and for the Royal Air Force and they will be assisted, as now, by three Parliamentary Under-Secretaries.
§ Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
Suppose that one of the Ministers of State is in the other place. How will the matter of answering Questions in this House be 475 divided between the two Ministers of State in this House?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
We manage to do this with the three Service Ministers at the moment. This is so in the case of the Admiralty. I do not think that we have any difficulties. If my hon. Friend will develop that point later, I will try to answer it when I reply.
On the professional side, the Secretary of State will have three advisers—the Chief of the Defence Staff, the Permanent Under-Secretary and the Chief Scientific Adviser. The Chief of the Defence Staff, with the Chiefs of Staff, heads the military staff structure of the Naval, General and Air Staff. I ask hon. Members to note particularly paragraphs 32 to 41 of the White Paper which indicate certain changes—for instance, in the form of greater integration in the formation of a Defence Intelligence Staff, a Defence Signals Staff, a Defence Operations Executive, and a Defence Operational Requirements Staff.
The Chief Scientific Adviser heads the scientific side, which is of growing importance every year. Apart from anything else, he has the responsibility for bringing some outside advice into the Ministry and to try to tap outside technological, scientific and academic opinion. I think that some ideas from outside are of real value if they can be brought in and, of course, tested against the professional opinions which are now widely available in the Ministry. The chief scientists of the various Departments are, of course, responsible to him.
I ask the House to note particularly the formation of two Committees. One deals with research in its purer forms and the other with the more advanced stages of weapon development. Both are under the Chief Scientific Adviser and have a strong representation from the Ministry of Aviation on them. The Permanent Under-Secretary will be assisted by four Second Permanent Under-Secretaries for the Royal Navy, for the Army, for the Royal Air Force and for the Defence Secretariat.
Among the responsibilities of this last-named official will be the job of identifying areas of administration which may be dealt with better on a defence rather than a single Service basis or on the 476 basis of one Service acting as an agency for the others. The Defence Secretariat is the main co-ordinating body incorporating civilian staffs from the present Service Departments and bringing the whole of this expert knowledge into the closer central decision-making point.
I draw particular attention to finance. The key here is the Deputy Under-Secretary of State (Programmes and Budget), who will be the centre from which the costings will be drawn up and will control programmes and resources, or the general cutting up of the cake. Finance can be divided into the central control of the main programmes, on the one hand, and the accounting, on the other. We have centralised and strengthened the central control of finance. We are decentralising the accounting into four accounting officers, who will be the four Second Permanent Under-Secretaries. They will account for how the money has been spent, which is an important sanction for effective management.
It is necessary to break this down into manageable blocks. A budget of something in the neighbourhood of £2,000 million is involved here and it is a bit unrealistic to pretend that one man will be able to account in detail to the Public Accounts Committee for the spending of £2,000 million. I believe that this arrangement of dividing it into four blocks will be the more effective. But the Permanent Secretary will, of course, have the general supervision and control of these activities and will be the clear administrative head of the whole Ministry. The Second Permanent Under-Secretaries will be subordinate to him.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
The Secretary of State will accept responsibility for the Defence Estimates, but the procedure will enable the House to have separate debates, as we do today, on the Navy, Army and the Royal Air Force. However, I should like to make a few suggestions as to how we may deal with the matter in the House. It is not for me to decide; it is for the House.
There is one other aspect which I 477 might mention, and that is the question of security, which is referred to in paragraph 88, and which, of course, must be the final responsibility of the Secretary of State. As indicated there, an officer has already been selected from the security services and has been appointed to the Ministry of Defence to start carrying out these functions.
On the committee structure, the Board of Admiralty, the Army Council and the Air Council all disappear and their powers are vested either in the Secretary of State or in the new Defence Council, the membership of which is shown on the chart. The Defence Council will, of course, properly allocate certain responsibilities, particularly for management and discipline, to the three Service Boards, the Navy Board, the Army Board or the Air Force Board, but they will be in all repects subordinate to the Defence Council, and the Secretary of State will be chairman both of the Defence Council and of each of the Service Boards, although obviously he will normally delegate responsibility to a Minister of State for taking the chair at the Service Boards. These reorganisations have involved the loss of a number of distinguished titles, but we have kept the First and Second Sea Lord, and Her Majesty the Queen has graciously consented to assume the title of Lord High Admiral.
The problems are obvious. The problem is to strike a balance between the mere grouping together of great independent bodies, on the one hand, and, on the other, a centralisation so monolithic as to be unworkable. I hope that the House will not underestimate the scale of this reform. There are 25,000 men and women engaged in four Ministries and all of them are in some degree affected by this, and many of them will move. To suggest that we can turn the whole lot over by a stroke of the pen from a Service to a functional basis is utterly unrealistic.
The task of an administrator with a turnover of £2,000 million and with 800,000 people within his ambit is, in any event, not an easy one, and I think that he is entitled to ask his critics to consider carefully the speed at which he can move or the number of moves that he can accomplish at any one time, bearing particularly in mind that during the 478 whole process he has to keep the policies in action, the programmes developing and the men housed, fed, clothed, and paid. It is very easy to say that some reforms do not go far enough, but I think that the critics are under an obligation to state not only in what respects they want to go further, but how they propose to keep the whole show going during the transitional period.
I am satisfied that these proposals, which have not been altogether uncontroversial, are the right ones. They present in themselves a massive reform in structure, they greatly strengthen the administrative control, particularly financial control, and they give the centre an access to knowledge hitherto denied it. What has been done in this machine is to build into it machinery for smooth development and further change, and we certainly intend to use this machinery.
Of course, all machinery is an instrument of policy, and Mr. Speaker indicated yesterday that we might perhaps touch on policy if only as an illustration of what we were doing in organisation. I hope that no one will protest if I do so, because I am doing so mainly to give the Opposition spokesman a chance of doing so, too.
The British defence policy is based, as I have often said, on the deterrent, upon the rôle in Europe and upon military presence east of Suez. These are rôles of the first importance, all of them, and they have markedly increased our influence in the world and enabled us to play a very important part in the world, including the recent participation in the nuclear test ban agreement. They are based on a balance of forces, nuclear and conventional, land, sea and air. But these forces are increasingly interdependent and this is a major reason for reorganisation at the top. The announcement yesterday, for example, of the adoption of a common aircraft for the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force is a significant indication of the new approach in which all Services play a rô1e, the Navy with carriers and Polaris submarines, the Army with Chieftain tanks and new equipment and the Royal Air Force with a vertical take-off strike fighter aircraft, the tactical transport, and, importantly, the TSR2, which the right hon. Gentleman sought to ask me about yesterday.
479 The TSR2 plays an essential part in our strategy. It is intended to complete its development and to bring it into service with the Royal Air Force. It offers every prospect of being a fine aircraft and a worthy successor of the Canberra. It recently passed a milestone in its development when an initial production order was placed, as announced by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation on 29th July. It is our intention to place production orders for aircraft for the squadrons at the appropriate stage, which will probably be towards the end of this year. So policy and organisation proceed together, in the main upon a Service basis.
But it is increasingly apparent that emphasis for the future will be partly on the Services but increasingly on missions, on the inter-relation between Services on common activities, and on interdependence, and it is a matter of judgment about the areas which one selects for deciding where we want closer integration and the speed of advance, but the general direction, I think, can no longer be open to doubt and, indeed, in the outfields in all the commands overseas, has already been adopted.
In all this the House of Commons has a very big part to play. One must be guided by what are the wishes of the House of Commons on some aspects of this matter. At present, hon. Members themselves are organised in the House upon Committees divided upon a Service basis. We have our debates. The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) said the other day that we have our debates on the Army Estimates, then on the Navy Estimates, and then on the Air Estimates. I am not saying that this is wrong, or should be stopped, but I would say that if we could have a debate on the deterrent, on our rôle in Europe with all Services, on the whole problem of all the Services, on what our defensive position is in those great areas of the world between Aden and Singapore—matters which merit a major debate in the House—it might attract a somewhat larger attendance than some of the defence debates that we have had in the past. In any event, these are matters for the House of Commons to consider, but this organisation is certainly a prelude to any 480 reform and I hope that the House will give it general approval.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)
When Ministers in the present Administration introduce new steps of policy to the House, I have noticed that they tend to follow one of two patterns. One is to recount the historical series of events which led up to the decision and to assume that the conclusion of a temporal sequence is as good as the conclusion of a rational argument—and I thought that when the Minister of Defence started his speech, he would adopt that pattern. He adopted, however, the other one of presenting an abstract argument in general principles, with which nobody, on either side of the House, can disagree and then simply asserting that the proposals which he was making illustrated the general principles which he was putting forward.
What one missed in the right hon. Gentleman's speech was any indication of the almost inexplicable tangle into which our defence organisation and policies have fallen and how the precise proposals which the right hon. Gentleman was putting to the House will help to get us out of it. Indeed, we are still in some confusion and uncertainty as to why the Government produced the White Paper at this time.
When he went through the historical sequence, the Minister of Defence might have reminded us of the last White Paper on defence reorganisation which was presented to the House in 1958 on the same glowing assumption that it would lead to a correction of all the mistakes from which our defence policy had suffered since the present Administration first came to power.
Six and a half years ago, the then Minister of Defence, who is now Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and Secretary of State for the Colonies, told the House that he had been given a directive by the Prime Minister and that it read as follows:Subject as necessary to consultations with the Cabinet and Defence Committee and with the Treasury, on matters of finance, the Minister"—that was, the Minister of Defence—will have authority to give decisions on all matters of policy affecting the size, shape, organisation and disposition of the Armed Forces, their equipment and supply (including 481 defence research and development) and their pay and conditions of service. He will similarly have power of decision on any matters of Service administration or appointments which, in his opinion, are of special importance.It is clear from that that since 1957 Ministers of Defence have had all the powers which they could conceivably require. The question to which we want to know the answer is why they have used these powers so badly, or failed to use them at all, in the last seven years and how the proposed reorganisation, which does not increase the powers of the Minister of Defence, will lead to better decisions being taken and a more proper and intelligent use of the powers which Ministers have possessed for the last seven years.
One other point that the former Minister of Defence made in 1958, when he told us about those powers which he had been given, was that he thought it a great mistake for the Minister of Defence to take over responsibility for the day-to-day administration of the individual Services, because, he said—incidentally, almost five years ago to the day:The Minister of Defence is responsible for formulating the policy which determines the spending of about one-third of the whole of the national Budget. I would say to the House that he needs all his time and energy to discharge that task. It is, therefore, quite essential that he should remain free from the time-absorbing preoccupations of Departmental administration."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th July, 1958; Vol. 592, c. 955–6.]I will come later to my own views about the statement by the then Minister of Defence, but it seems to me to have been an important and a plausible one which he was making.
The essential change proposed by the Minister of Defence today saddles the holder of that office with the type of Responsibilities which, in the view of the present Commonwealth and Colonial Secretary, were bound to make it impossible for him to fulfil his primary rôle of the formulator of defence policy.
The extraordinary thing is that as late as last November, the present Minister of Defence, when asked to accept the recommendation of the Estimates Committee for the consolidation of the headquarters of the higher staff of the three Services, rejected the proposal. As late as 18th December, 1962, 482 the former Secretary of State for War poured scorn on the proposal of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) that there should be an integrated headquarters for the Ministry of Defence, by saying:He seemed to think that we should have an enormous great Ministry of Defence to run our organisation. I want to ask him one practical question….I do not know where else in London the hon. and learned Gentleman thinks we might house such an enormous organisation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th December, 1962; Vol. 669, c. 1206.]Of course, the Minister of Defence knows the answer now. It shows, however, a lack of liaison in the present system if the Secretary of State for War could give that answer to a proposal last December and three months later the Minister of Defence, his boss, says that he is prepared to do precisely what the Secretary of State for War and he himself had rejected a month or two before. The result is the White Paper which we are today considering.
Of course, we have the answer to the question in paragraph 5 of the present White Paper, where the Minister of Defence states:The arrangements set out in the 1958 White Paper…have not in practice secured the degree of central control over defence policy which is necessary in the national interest. A unified Ministry of Defence is essential if the defence budget is to strike a proper balance between commitments, resources, and the rôles of the Services.We have not had a convincing answer from the Minister of Defence to the question which must be perplexing us on both sides: that is, what happened between the middle of December last year and the middle of February to make the whole Government decide that a system which, it was said, was working admirably for the previous five years had suddenly become totally unsuitable, and a major revolutionary change in the whole organisation of our defence was therefore required.
When the Minister of Defence first put that proposal forward, many of us on this side suspected that it was a smokescreen to divert attention from the total vacuum of policy revealed by the White Paper which he presented to the House. The answer, however, is clear enough. The Government have come to a complete dead end in their defence policy. Over 11 years, they have spent £18,000 million, 483 but we simply have not had value for money. We still fail to produce forces adequate to fulfil the commitments which we have accepted. We have failed to formulate a strategic policy which makes sense.
If the right hon. and hon. Members opposite will not accept this from me, let me quote the words of the defence correspondent of the Sunday Times, who is certainly no friend of my party and whose newspaper is very friendly with the party opposite—[Interruption.]—Mr. David Divine. I am surprised that the Minister of Defence does not know his name, but it is typical of the ignorance of the present Administration of the facts of life. Nobody tells anybody anything.
In commending the White Paper to the public a few weeks ago, the defence correspondent of the Sunday Times said:The total inadequacy of the existing system is widely ignored and it is hoped that the gigantic task of bringing order to the present chaos of overlapping, duplication and inherent inefficiency will begin this week. The necessity for this dynamic change has been apparent to inquiring laymen for some time.Those inquiring laymen, incidentally, can include many right hon. and hon. Members of this side of the House. He went on:It is implicit in recent military history. The record of weapons and material demonstrates the total inability of the existing system to keep pace with technological advance. Evidence of muddle, duplication, and inefficiency is abundantly available. The position of the British forces in the field of missiles alone is more than sufficient to justify the proposed reorganisation. The qualitative state of the Navy is profoundly disquieting. Army re-equipment is unsatisfactory, both in quality and quantity.This is the real background. These are the concrete facts of the national situation to which this reorganisation of the defence institutions has to be proved relevant if it is to justify itself to this House, and the question to which we have to have an answer, and which the Minister of Defence has not answered, is whether this new machinery is going to put it right. Of course, the answer is "No"; because the basic responsibility for what the correspondent called the chaos in our present defences is that of Ministers and Ministers alone. It is the responsibility of the Prime Minister, the responsibility of his Cabinet as a whole and, of course, 484 the responsibility of the man who holds the office of Minister of Defence.
I put the Prime Minister first because I think his is the major responsibility, in that it is due to him that there has been no continuity of office in the Ministry of Defence during the last 12 years. We have had nine Ministers of Defence in the last 12 years. Each of them presented at least on new strategic concept, and some of them more than one during their periods of office, and may I say to the right hon. Gentleman that, whatever we think about him, and we do criticise him, we hope that there is not to be yet another Minister of Defence before this Administration collapse into their grave.
As the Minister of Defence—was it the fifth or sixth before now?—said in 1957, the Minister of Defence has had for the last six years all the powers he needs to decide what should happen about the Armed Forces. The trouble is that the only one to use those powers was the one who presently is Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and Secretary of State for the Colonies, and it was a misfortune that he used them wrongly in almost every case, but he did at least, while he was still there, take decisions and use his authority given him by the Prime Minister and later confirmed by decision of this House in 1958.
I believe myself that behind the failure in organisation and control of our Armed Forces there is a more fundamental failure on which the right hon. Gentleman touched in his speech, and it has been the fundamental failure to relate our defence policy to our foreign and colonial policy, to have the sort of integration which is required between the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence, the Colonial Office, and the other Departments concerned with overseas affairs.
We had, incidentally, an interesting example of this only two days ago. There was a big earthquake in Skopje in southern Yugoslavia last Friday. The following day, on Saturday, the United States army flew in an armada of 27 planes with a 170-bed hospital, 19 doctors, 30 nurses, 209 other staff, X-ray equipment, a laboratory, their own water and petrol for their ambulances for 30 days. In addition to that, the Americans sent in 20,000 tons of medical supplies, 5,000 tons of blankets and 40,000 lb. of 485 Red Cross supplies and 25 ambulances. This is a major military operation carried out for purely political and humanitarian purposes. The British offer—we will not discuss this now—in the view of hon. and right hon. Members on this side of the House is totally inadequate—£10,000, two tons of baby food and a few hundred weight of blankets.
The point I am trying to make here is that when the Lord Privy Seal came to the House and announced this on Monday, three days after the earthquake had taken place in Skopje, he did not know whether in fact the supplies had been flown out or would be flown out. All he was able to say was that the Foreign Office was still trying to arrange for the Royal Air Force to fly out those two tons of baby food.
We had another example a few weeks ago when the right hon. Gentleman told us that we had spent £6 million on building an Army base in Kenya, although all hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House knew, and nearly all the European inhabitants of Kenya knew from the word "go", that this base would never be used, and all the right hon. Gentleman could say in reply was that it would be a nice thing if we could always predict the future. But if this future was not predictable by the Colonial Office and the Foreign Office, what sort of future is? There is absolutely no excuse whatever for the sort of lack of liaison and co-ordination of policy revealed by the waste of money in building a base in Kenya.
Much more important than this is the continuing failure of the Government to relate their major programmes in the field of defence with their major programmes in the field of foreign policy. I think that many of us on both sides of the House felt it almost impossible to understand, for example, why the Prime Minister should have made the Nassau Agreement for the supply of Polaris weapons and to provide for the continuation of the independent British deterrent just at the very moment when the negotiations for Britain's entry into the Common Market had reached what everybody knew to be their most critical stage. Opinions may differ as to whether General de Gaulle would have vetoed our application in any case, but I do not think that anybody who has followed 486 events could have doubted that it was certain that he would veto our application once we had made this particular agreement.
Or, to take another example, in 1956 the Soviet Government accepted the proposal made by Her Majesty's Government for general and comprehensive disarmament, and Her Majesty's Government were compelled immediately to withdraw their proposals because it turned out that the Chiefs of Staff had not approved them and that if in fact those proposals had been carried out in practice they might have involved serious damage to our defence position.
This sort of lack of co-ordination between our defence and our foreign policy could be particularly disastrous at the present time, because all of us hope—and I do not think there is disagreement between the two sides on this—that the test ban agreement which has recently been made in Moscow marks not the end of a process but the beginning of a new process. Indeed, I go so far as to say that the test ban agreement, limited as it is, will be worth very little unless it leads to a basic shift in the policies of the major Powers, and I believe that there must be increasing co-operation between the West and the Soviet Union to achieve military security by co-operation to halt the arms race rather than by competition to win the arms race, and for this; reason co-ordination of our defence policy with our foreign policy is going to be particularly urgent and important in the years ahead.
Many of the extremely formidable problems now facing N.A.T.O., particularly facing our own troops in B.A.O.R., could be made much easier to solve if there were effective agreement between Russia and the West on preventing surprise attack on the ground and to limit the forces on each side of the Iron Curtain under some effective form of inspection and control. Indeed, my impression is that there is no other way than such an agreement with the Soviet Union to give B.A.O.R. the 72 hours it needs at present to reach its forward positions in case of war.
If we are moving, as, I think, all of us must hope, into this new period in which we try to solve our defence problems by co-operation with our political opponent rather than by competition 487 with him, it is going to place a great strain on our alliance, and yet the maintenance of the solidarity of our alliance will be the precondition of success both in reaching a political settlement with the other side and in reaching a more suitable basis for our mutual security.
Here I think the Government must begin to think again about their policy towards the independent British deterrent. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that there is no chance whatever of getting lasting German agreement to measures which are required to stop the spread of atomic weapons if the United Kingdom refuses absolutely, as it has done so far, to consider putting itself on the same level in this field as Western Germany.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there is a real choice here which this House and the country should debate—the question of whether Britain should continue to attempt to maintain an independent nuclear deterrent. It is possible that when this debate is carried on in the House and in the country the House and the country may opt for the Gaullist policy. I do not believe it will, in that there is evidence that even the French people are turning against that policy if we are to judge by recent opinion polls in France.
I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman—I make this suggestion very seriously—that it is no good Her Majesty's Government using Gaullist slogans for electoral advantage in this country if they are not prepared to show Gaullist will. My own belief is that by playing with the vocabulary of Gaullism in the nuclear field, Her Majesty's Government are doing damage which may prove irreparable to the basic aims of their foreign policy, with results which will be catastrophic to the United Kingdom and to the alliance as a whole.
§ Brigadier Sir John Smyth (Norwood)
We hope that the hon. Gentleman is going to say something about the White Paper before he sits down.
§ Mr. Healey
I am sorry. I had hoped that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman would be able to hear what I am saying. It is clearly evident that he was not able to understand it.
488 I pass now from the question of what is basically wrong to the question of whether the changes in organisation proposed by the right hon. Gentleman will help to produce the integration of our defence and foreign policies which he regards, as I do, as absolutely essential. I think we might as well be clear about one thing at the start, and that is that no changes in the machinery of the Civil Service are a substitute for Ministers in the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence who have the ability and will to work together.
I believe that the proposed new Committee on Defence and Overseas Policy should work better than the Defence Committee of the Cabinet set up in 1958 because it is smaller, but I doubt very much whether it will, in fact, work better unless it is very much better serviced than the existing Committee. I deplore very much the fact that there is no suggestion whatever in the White Paper of strengthening the staff of the Cabinet secretariat in order to produce the right sort of agenda for this Cabinet Committee on Defence and Overseas Policy to discuss.
I am not suggesting—I think it is far past that—that we should go back to the old sort of Committee of Imperial Defence. I think that if we are going to make a reality of co-ordination of our defence and foreign policies, this new Defence and Overseas Policy Committee of the Cabinet will require servicing by a staff of the calibre and quality which Lord Hankey produced to service the Committee of Imperial Defence. I hope that in reply the right hon. Gentleman will be able to say something about how it is proposed to provide the type of expertise behind the new proposed Cabinet Committee which will enable it to perform the rôle which, frankly, the last Committee has not performed, and I have given examples of how it has not.
The second thing which I think this Committee will have to do is to make a far more rigorous study of the real economic and political importance to Britain of the overseas commitments she carries at the present time and of the cost of protecting those commitments by force rather than by protecting them exclusively by diplomatic means. This is an extremely difficult problem. Again, I doubt very much whether at the present 489 time there is an adequate machinery inside the Government system to provide Ministers with the evidence on which they will have to take decisions. Besides integrating policy as between the Ministry of Defence and other Government Departments, there is the equally important problem of integrating British defence policy and organisation with that of the allies, without whom our own efforts have little meaning. Again, there is no sign here of any machinery which will enable us to co-ordinate our own efforts with those of our allies and avoid the appalling chaos in some fields of allied co-operation which we can see everyday in N.A.T.O. and other alliances at the present time.
The main concern of the White Paper is the decision to integrate the three Services at the top, and, quite rightly, the right hon. Gentleman devoted most of his time to discussing how it was proposed that this should be done. There is no doubt that it is very badly needed, especially in the field of evaluating and producing weapons and weapon systems, because at the present time competition between the Services has produced one bad decision after another: the choice of the wrong weapons, particularly in the field of deterrents, for example. First, we had Blue Streak, and then Skybolt, because the R.A.F. wanted to prolong the life of the V-bombers, and the Navy, Although Polaris was the better weapon, did not really want to accept this for fear of losing its appropriations in fields which it regarded as more fruitful and important. Then we had the choice of two weapons where one should do: the R.A.F. wanted the Bloodhound and N.A.T.O. the Hawk. The Army wanted the Thunderbird and the Navy the Sea-Slug. The Navy has now got the Buccaneer, and the R.A.F. is now getting the TSR2.
I do not feel totally convinced by what the right hon. Gentleman said to us on the subject of the TSR2. The impression that many of us have is that this project has already cost well over £200 million and that it is falling further and further behind schedule. Many of us have the nasty feeling that on this issue, as on so many others, Her Majesty's Government will fail to take a clear decision to cancel the project when cancellation is clearly necessary, because they are frightened to 490 take the political consequences of such a decision, and that this, as with so many other things, will be a mess which they will leave to be cleared up by the Labour Government when they come into power next year.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I know that it is part of the hon. Gentleman's policy largely to phase out the R.A.F., but I think he ought to make it plain whether it is part of his party's policy to cancel the TSR2.
§ Mr. Healey
There is a very strong case so far as the TSR2 is concerned for a committee of inquiry to investigate the cost of the project so far, and what it is likely to cost if it is carried to completion, and what the actual value of the weapon will be when carried to completion in the light of present knowledge. I myself certainly would not be prepared to take a decision on such a matter without having the information of this nature which is already available to the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
The hon. Gentleman asserted that the TSR2 had fallen behind schedule. Would he explain on what that view is based? Is he aware that at the moment the Australian Government have sent people over here to investigate this aircraft? I believe that some progress has been made. Surely he ought to weigh his words before deprecating an aircraft which some of us believe is going along reasonably well.
§ Mr. Wigg
Would my hon. Friend give this undertaking on behalf of a Labour Government which may come into power next year, that if when we come into power it is discovered, after investigation and in the light of the full knowledge, that it was only for political reasons that the Conservative Government have carried on with the project, the Labour Government will consider impeachment?
§ Mr. Healey
I should be unwise to to give a firm undertaking on that matter, as on the one raised by the right hon. Gentleman earlier.
§ Mr. Healey
I think it would be a good idea if I got on with my speech.
These are the questions to which we want to know the answers. I suggest to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen that it is, frankly, quite impossible to discuss the relevance or efficiency of proposed changes in institutions unless we know whether or not they are likely to correct mistakes from which our policy is at present suffering.
I raise these matters now because I want to deal with the question of precisely how the proposals the right hon. Gentleman is making will affect these issues. No one in the country or the House should care a damn about the institutions as such. The only thing that matters is whether they help to produce the weapons and forces we need and the sort of policy the country requires. The right hon. Gentleman failed in his duty to the House when he completely failed to relate the information he gave us about the institutions to the problems of policy and organisation and military strength which are their only justification.
§ Mr. Healey
No, I will not. I have given way far too much already. I should be allowed now to get on with my speech.
I suggest, in addition, that at present we are wasting money by trying to produce two weapons where one will do. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman, as I did yesterday, on having at last persuaded the Navy and the Air Force to accept the same aircraft as a replacement for the Vixen and the Hunter. But the Army still lacks the air and sea lift it needs, because provision for it is not carried on the Army Vote but on the Votes of the other Services. There is still waste in training separately technicians of the various services who could do at least some of it together. We still have separate organisations to do what are essentially the same jobs in far too many cases, although some progress has been made in this case.
I ask these questions because we must now consider whether the proposed reorganisation will help to answer them. In the Press, and, I think, among most people who have studied the reorganisation, the general feeling is that it is something that is a move in the right direction 492 because it is one in the direction which the United States followed many years ago, when it put its Services together in the Pentagon.
There is no doubt that the present American system does seem to be producing the sort of results which the Minister hopes to produce by his reorganisation. The American Secretary of Defence, Mr. McNamara, was able to tell President Kennedy a few days ago that, in the last two years, he has cut defence expenditure by £360 million while increasing combat ready divisions by 45 per cent., tactical air squadrons by 30 per cent., air lift by 60 per cent., and anti-guerrilla forces by 200 per cent.
If we could expect this type of improvement in value for money from the reorganisation here we would welcome it unreservedly. But it is important to realise that these achievements in the United States were not produced by setting up the Pentagon. Indeed, the civil war between the American Services went on if anything more fiercely after they were put into the same building than it had earlier, and the joke of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) about four barrow boys on the same pitch has very great relevance here.
The breakthrough to efficiency in the American organisation first came four years ago when President Eisenhower decided to have single accounting throughout the Services. But much more came of it when President Kennedy appointed as Secretary of State a man of immense energy and organisational skill, assisted by outside teams, and when this man had the strength of character to impose his will on the individual services.
Quite frankly, there is very little sign of this type of change in the White Paper. Indeed, it is not even clear whether the organisation proposed will produce a Pentagon or a penthouse. What is quite clear is that the battle continues over these proposals. As the right hon. Gentleman himself said, this is a compromise proposal and everything depends on whether it is the first step towards further co-operation between the Services or whether, like so many other reforms in the past, it simply produces a new framework to which the vested interests which obstruct progress very quickly adapt themselves.
493 I want to say something about the dangers of that unpopular word "integration". Very often it is taken to mean that the three Services should lose their separate identities, that we should have one single Service, and that everyone should wear a uniform of the same indeterminate grey colour. I do not feel convinced by the arguments for a single Service. On the other hand, if anything would convince me that those arguments have sense, it would be the argument against a single Service in paragraph 10 of the White Paper, which says:…all experience shows that the fighting spirit of the individual man in battle derives largely from his loyalty to his ship, his unit, or his squadron. The traditions and battle honours of the individual Services are a vital factor in morale and fighting efficiency. This must be preserved.Certainly. But this has nothing to do with the question of whether or not we have three Services or a single Service. The right hon. Gentleman was quite right in saying that soldiers fighting in a war are inspired by loyalty to their unit or to their regiment. They do not give a damn about the War Office or whether they are commanded by a thing called the War Office or a thing called the Ministry of Defence. The essential loyalties, on which the morale of fighting men depends, are loyalties to those men with whom they directly serve. One cannot inspire this type of morale by putting units against one another from different Services. It is competition from other units of the same Service of the same type which build up morale.
No Army has had its morale increased by the thought that it was doing better than an Air Force or a Navy unit, even in combined operations during the war, of which I have experience. But I do not think that that argument has anything to do with the question of whether or not we should have a single Service. The problem is to try to persuade the men in the Services to think and act together, and here the problem boils down, in the end, as much as anything, to the problem of joint training.
I have been enormously impressed by the impact on officers of all three Services of the training they do together in combined institutions like the Imperial Defence College and the Joint Services Staff College, and I believe that the same is true of some of the new joint organisa- 494 tions like the Joint Warfare Establishment which was recently set up.
I have never known, in my experience, any difficulty whatever in officers and men of different Services acting as one when they are able to act together. The problem here is entirely at the top among the senior officers, who have vested interests in the size and rôle of their own Services. This is a problem in which younger, more junior officers are very little involved. The problem arises when future promotion or, indeed, loyalty by a senior officer to the interests of his Service, begin to take precedence over loyalty to the conception of defence as a whole.
The question is whether the proposed reorganisation will help to overcome what is essentially a psychological problem among senior officers of the three Services. This is where, I confess, that the more one looks at these proposals the more they seem like a penthouse than a Pentagon. They seem to consist much more of putting a new bureaucracy on top of the existing ones than of really combining and integrating the three Services at the top.
Although, unfortunately, we have to rely for these things on leaks from the Cabinet, I understand that there is likely to be a substantial increase in total headquarters staff as a result of the early implementation of these proposals. Many of the joint organisations to which the White Paper refers are, as far as one can tell—I refer to paragraph 34—not so much an integration of existing organisations as the creation of a new organisation, perhaps parallel with, perhaps on top of, the existing structures.
I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to accept an initial increase in headquarters staff hoping to effect a reduction later by streamlining, but he must be as aware as I am that this has rarely happened in the past. Indeed, I believe that Professor Parkinson first formulated his law on the basis of a close study of what had happened in this respect in the British Admiralty. What we have seen ever since the Second World War—and, I suspect, ever since the First World War—has been a steady increase in the number of civil servants in the Defence Ministries against the number of military and, among the Services themselves, a steady 495 increase in administrative tail personnel as against fighting, teeth personnel. In 1498, we had only 128,000 civil servants along with 1 million Service men, but now that we have only 400,000 Servicemen, the number of civil servants has risen to 134,000. There are 8,171 civil servants and 634 Royal Navy personnel in the Admiralty Headquarters staff to look after only 273 ships, most of them pretty small.
It might be possible to justify this trend were it not there there is continued evidence of appalling waste as a result. We had a new instalment of evidence of this waste in the extremely interesting and impressive Report of the Estimates Committee published yesterday—more than £46,000 to produce a house for the Admiral at Aden and £6,000 each for flats as married quarters in Malta and continued heavy expenditure in Malta on projects which were later abandoned. I do not think that any of us can be happy with this trend to increase the tail at the expense of the teeth, civil servants at the expense of the military, when it is obviously accompanied by this type of waste.
Have we any real grounds for believing that the proposed reorganisation will remove this? To take a phrase used by the Minister of Aviation the other day, we have what might be called the propinquity fallacy—the idea that if people are made to work in adjoining rooms, they are more likely to agree than if they are working in rooms a mile apart. As the right hon. Gentleman has confessed, there is nothing in this. One of the oddest examples of the propinquity fallacy is the attempt to justify doing nothing about the Ministry of Aviation by putting some of the staff in the same building as the Ministry of Defence, although not in any sense under the Ministry of Defence. The old argument that barrow boys will quarrel as much if they are on the same pitch has meaning in this connection.
We have a lot of combination at the level of headquarters staffs, but, unfortunately, in most cases old staffs continue to exist alongside the joint staffs. The right hon. Gentleman put his finger on the central issue when he said that what we really needed in our defence organisation was a switch from a Service to a functional or mission basis for the organisation and financing of our defences.
496 There is no sign of that in the Defence White Paper. So long as the essential power in the Services themselves lies with the Chiefs of Staff—as is clear from the White Paper, because not only do the Chiefs of Staff continue to maintain their right of access to the Prime Minister, but each of them can compel the Chief of Defence Staff to transmit his views to the Defence Council if he does not agree with his colleagues—the old battles are likely to continue. There may be a new building and new institutions, but it is likely that senior officers will achieve progress by the old system of log rolling—"You back me on this, and I will back you on that". The result is that we never get that essential singleness of contact and control which it is ostensibly the purpose of the White Paper to produce.
I should feel happier about the White Paper if it had some sign of a purposive attempt to move towards a functional from a Service basis in our organisation and accounting, and I hope that the Minister of Defence will be able to give us a little more information on this subject when he winds up than he did in his opening speech.
What seems to be implied in this new organisation is a tremendous concentration of power at the top of the three main pyramids in the New Ministry of Defence—the Civil Service, the military and the scientific pyramids. Parallel with that is a great weakening of the possibility of Ministerial control. This is the issue on which many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have the most serious anxieties, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to do something to allay those anxieties.
I readily admit that the concentration of power at the top depends very much on the personalities of the individuals who hold the top jobs. If there is a weak Chief of Defence Staff, he will be the tool of his Chiefs of Staff and not their master, if it is intended that he should be their master. The same is true of a weak Permanent Under-Secretary. So long as these posts are held by people like those who now hold them, enormous power in the Civil Service and military side of the Ministry of Defence is held by the Permanent Under-Secretary and the Chief of Defence Staff and the Chief Scientific Adviser.
497 There is a real danger that if these three men agree, the Minister will have no alternative but to agree with them. The Minister accepted in his own speech that of all aspects of organisation and policy, it is in defence that it is most important that alternatives should be offered for decision to a man who is politically responsible to Parliament and to the people. He said himself that it was very important that the Minister of Defence should be aware of divergencies of opinion right from the word go. Under the reorganisation as set out in the White Paper, there is no guarantee that alternatives will be put forward unless they are alternatives which happen to raise the old traditional differences of interest among the various Services. I do not think that it is desirable or necessary that differences of opinion should be institutionalised in the old Service framework, because more and more disagreements will tend to cut across Service boundaries, or certainly should.
I am not at all clear how it will be possible for the Minister to be aware of the possible different courses which might be followed if the Chiefs of Staff agree and the Chief of Defence Staff puts forward their common opinion for the Minister's decision. There is still room for argument as to whether it is wise to have the Chief of Defence Staff with his present position and power. There is a case for arguing that a person with the sort of function which Lord Is may used to perform, interpreting Service opinion and putting alternatives, would be better than a man whose main job was to prevent alternatives from being put and to put forward a single Service viewpoint.
I confess that one must have similar reservations about the post of Chief Scientific Adviser, because all the experience of the last world war points to the grave dangers when only one single source of scientific authority is available to the man who is Minister of Defence. There may not be complete unanimity on this, but I am sure that most hon. Members do not want to see another man with the sort of rôle and functions which Professor Lindemann performed in the wartime set-up.
Perhaps at this stage, in spite of these reservations and doubts, there is a case for this type of centralisation on the 498 military and Civil Service side to make the problem manageable at all. The most serious doubt that we have about these proposals is how the Secretary of State will cope with this colossal weight of new responsibility which will fall on him when he is deprived of any effective ministerial assistance. It is proposed to downgrade the three Secretaries of State to Ministers of State, and yet leave the Chiefs of Staff with a right of access to the Prime Minister. In spite of what the right hon. Gentleman said, it is inevitable that under these circumstances the three Ministers of State will become public relations officers and welfare officers for what is left of the three services. The right hon. Gentleman may give them jobs outside their Service responsibilities, but we all know how little weight Ministers of State carry with civil servants in the Departments for which they are responsible, and I am sure that the Secretary of State for War will bear me out on this.
I do not blame the Minister of Defence for dodging the problem of the Ministry of Aviation at this stage, because, whatever one's view may be about the ultimate rôle of the Ministry of Aviation, it is far too big a business to cope with that—and I agree with the right hon. Gentleman here—on top of the other tremendous new responsibilities which fall on him in the three Services. I think that the same goes for the Ministry of Works. There is a strong case for putting the works services of the Services under the Ministry of Defence and taking them away from the Ministry of Public Building and Works where they now lie, but whether that be so or not, in principle, I do not think that the Secretary of State can cope immediately with this responsibility on top of all the others.
The real problem is the one to which the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations referred when he spoke in 1958, and I shall quote the right hon. Gentleman's words again because they are very important, and in many ways go to the crux of the whole question. He said:The Minister of Defence is responsible for formulating the policy which determines the spending of about one-third of the whole of the national Budget. I would say to the House that he needs all his time and energy to discharge that task.499 I think that is true. He went on to say:It is, therefore, quite essential that he should remain free from the time-absorbing pre-occupations of Departmental administration."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th July, 1958; Vol. 592, c. 956.]That is not necessarily true, but what is true as that if we put the Services under the Minister of Defence and make him responsible for their administration and reduce the standing of the Ministers who have direct Service responsibility, we must lighten the load falling on the Secretary of State to enable him to carry out his policy function at all. We must give him the time and energy to think.
I do not believe that the Ministerial structure proposed in the new organisation will give the Secretary of State this time, and the result is that policy is liable to be made by the arbitrary play of power between the chief military and Civil Service advisers of the Minister. The Minister will not have the time or the energy to take the basic decisions. There may be a case for retaining the existing rank of what I call Service assistants to the Minister of Defence, but it is no answer to this problem simply to upgrade the Ministers of State back to Secretaries of State if their functions remain as envisaged in the White Paper.
The real problem about the whole reorganisation is the one to which I referred earlier, that of ensuring that this reorganisation is the first step in a continuing process; the transformation of Service organisation towards co-operation on a functional basis rather than the old Service institutional basis. This can be achieved only if we build into the new machinery some sort of institutional pressure for continuing change, otherwise the new system will rapidly petrify and we shall be left with something very much the same as we have now.
At present, the only responsibility which is clearly allocated in the new set up for continuing pressure for change is vested in the Second Permanent Under-secretary who is supposed to identify fields where further integration will be useful. I suggest that this is not enough. We must have a senior Minister under the new Secretary of State for Defence whose job it is to continue to try to cut out overlapping between the Services and 500 to promote common services on a functional basis wherever possible.
I believe that the most useful way of performing this function is to make this senior Minister responsible to the Secretary of State for the preparation of the defence budget, because it has been shown in the United States that budgetary control is the most powerful instrument of integration. I should like to see a senior Minister—I should not at the moment like to pronounce on his title or rank, or whether he should be in the Cabinet, but above the rank of Minister of State who would be a sort of Minister of the Defence Budget, with a rôle and responsibility rather analogous to that of the Assistant Secretary Defence (Comptroller) in the defence system under Mr. McNamara in the United States. This would help to take care of one of the major fields of policy for which the Secretary of State is responsible, and a field of policy which I believe is bound to require continuous Ministerial attention.
The other weakness of the new proposals is the lack of institutional pressure for the integration of policy with other Ministeries concerned with overseas affairs, security, foreign affairs, Commonwealth relations, and disarmament, and for the integration of British policy with allied policy. It seems that there is a strong case for having another senior assistant to the new Secretary of State, who will be primarily responsible for what we might call the international policy aspects of British defence organisation and policy, a man with the type of responsibility which in the new American system is carried by Mr. Paul Nitze.
I would not be dogmatic about the rank or title of this Minister, but if the changes proposed in the White Paper are to be meaningful, they must be seen as a first step in a continuing process, and they will not lead to further action along the same lines unless there is some built-in Ministerial pressure for continued movement. Unless there is, I think that this great juggernaut which is being created in this White Paper will slowly grind to a halt. Unless the Secretary of State has Ministerial assistance in integration, he will be so overloaded that policy will emerge as a result of arguments and struggles for power, and perhaps as a 501 result of bargaining among senior officers and senior civil servants.
Unless those who control this tremendous machine which is being built up have the physical capacity to remain effectively responsible to the people, one of the things which distinguishes our democracy from totalitarianism and military dictatorships—which are developing all over the world, in Europe as well as elsewhere—will disappear. It is essential in this new organisation to assert and strengthen this political responsibility. Unless we do, this vast, costly, complicated, apparatus which the Minister of Defence proposes to build to preserve the political and social values on which our society is based may prove to be the instrument of their destruction.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Watkinson (Woking)
I shall not detain the House for long. I hope that the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) will forgive me if I do not follow the first half of his speech, which may have been a great contribution to the party political arguments which go on, but was not addressed to the particular problem in front of us, which is a very important one, which the people—and, I hope, hon. Members on both sides of the House—feel is one in respect of which it is in the national interest for us to get the right answer.
When the hon. Member addressed himself to the White Paper his main complaint was that it was some kind of quickly hatched out plan with no special reference to what had gone before. My contention is that it is a logical growth of defence policy. It is part of the kind of silent revolution which has been going on in defence policy over the past years, which has gradually grown towards the point where, in my view, the present proposals are not only right but logical, and are the necessary next step to giving this country the kind of defence which it has had, which has kept the peace, and which, on the whole, has been very good value for the money spent on it.
Looking back to just a few of the things which led up to this, one can see what a logical development this is. I am not saying that it is perfect. I do not imagine that my right hon. Friend would claim that nor—