HL Deb 01 November 1938 vol 110 cc1507-52

LORD STRABOLGI rose to move to resolve, that an independent Committee of inquiry be set up to examine into the state of the national defences, with particular reference to air-raid precautions. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should like to take the opportunity of congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, and your Lordships' House on his assumption of the office of First Lord of the Admiralty. I think I can congratulate the Government even more. I have always expressed a personal view that there should be a Defence Minister in your Lordships' House, and that does not mean that he should be immune from criticism, as I see one of the organs of the Press suggested; and I am sure there are plenty of my noble friends here who will see that that does not happen. I should also like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, on the very important post that he has been good enough to accept. I dare say, like myself, he has often despaired of the present generation, but at any rate he can do something with the children, and I hope that his tenacity and his years will enable him to resist any cuts in the Education Vote in the future.

This Motion is not put down in a partisan spirit, though I did put it down in agreement with my noble friend Lord Snell. I will not attempt to make Party capital out of the state of the country's defences. The times are too serious for that. If I may be allowed to say so, I am addressing your Lordships as a Council of State, and with very few exceptions I think there is unity in your Lordships' House on the need of strong armaments for the defence of our liberties and the causes we hold dear. Nor have I any intention of introducing foreign politics. Although armaments and foreign relations are interdependent, I wish to keep clear of foreign affairs. That matter will be discussed by my noble friend Lord Snell on Thursday, when we debate the Anglo-Italian Agreement. Therefore I do not propose to examine the theory that our recent or present policy in foreign affairs is best served by weak armaments. I only remark in passing that that theory appears to be gaining support. I take it that our policy on armaments and foreign affairs generally—I do not wish in any way to misrepresent the Government here—is to trust the Leaders of the dictatorship States, and at the same time to keep our powder dry. I do not think that is a misrepresentation of the Government's policy. We are to trust Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini and General Franco and the Japanese Generals, but we are to keep our powder dry. Before I altogether leave this part of what I have to say to your Lordships, I must say that weakness in armaments may have been an explanation of the series of events from March to the end of September of this year—an explanation, but not an excuse.

The Motion calls for an independent Committee of inquiry, and of course I would mean it to be a secret Committee, sitting in secret, taking evidence in secret, and reporting in secret. I need hardly say that I do not suggest that it should be any excuse for procrastination or delay, because I think it will be generally agreed that we are now in a period of emergency. In what I submit to your Lordships I shall try as far as possible to confine myself to facts that are generally admitted. Your Lordships will notice that the Motion urges an inquiry into the whole subject of defence. The noble Lord, Lord Strickland, placed an Amendment on the Paper drawing particular attention to the defences of Malta, and I took the opportunity of pointing out to the noble Lord that the whole included the part, and he was good enough to withdraw his Amendment because, needless to say, such an inquiry would examine into the defence of so important an arsenal and naval base as Malta.

In recent weeks, and particularly since what has come to be called "The Crisis," several Cabinet Ministers and, what is perhaps more remarkable, permanent officials, have admitted weaknesses in our Defence Services. It is common ground, apparently, that there have been certain deficiencies, weaknesses, and gaps. At the same time I wish to avoid the dangers of exaggeration. It is possible to exaggerate our weaknesses, which I think would be a mistake and would do harm. We were not, last September, and we are not now, defenceless by any means. It is reported that whereas the colleague of the Foreign Secretary, Herr von Ribbentrop, said in September that in no circumstances would this country fight, now he is saying that in no circumstances can we fight. I think that is wrong. At the same time there is obviously something wrong somewhere in the methods and system of government itself where defence is concerned. I see my noble friend Lord Hutchison of Montrose present. I wish his advice, given to the other House and to your Lordships from time to time with regard to a Ministry of Defence, with real powers, had been followed. If anyone can claim to be a prophet whose prophecies came true, the noble Lord can make that claim.

The excuse, I suppose, will be that we could not have done more in the past without disturbing normal trade. I am going to traverse that excuse, and my argument against it is that at the present time we have approaching two million workpeople unemployed, including many skilled workers, especially in the North-West, and there is at present slackness in the steel industry and in the shipbuilding industry too. At the present time there are many engineering firms of known efficiency and good standing who cannot obtain orders for defence work. On the other hand I see a statement by the Secretary of State for War a few days ago which is remarkable. I am going to quote the words of Mr. Hore-Belisha: Under our present system nothing can guarantee an appreciable acceleration of the present programme, nor can there be an appreciable enlargement of it in a given time. If anyone should know, it is the Secretary of State for War. If "under our present system" we cannot get this acceleration, why keep our present system? Why not change it?

What makes the matter so serious is that the Government have had plenty of money for defence—all they have asked for. In the last twenty years, since the end of the Great War, the effective Votes, leaving out Pensions, have amounted to £3,000,000,000, and in the last six years the Government have had, and spent, £1,000,000,000. I notice that the most reverend Primate has come into the House. I have heard him declare that we had disarmed. If we disarmed, what happened to the £3,000,000,000? What have we got for this expenditure? First of all we have got a very strong Navy. Compared with anything in the Western hemisphere, apart from the United States Fleet—and the stronger that Fleet is the more we are all pleased; the more ships they build the better—we have an overwhelmingly strong Fleet, which has made good, I believe I am right in saying, the weaknesses disclosed in 1935 when we had the trouble with Italy. We have a small—too small—but efficient Army, one nevertheless not fully equipped with modern weapons. Indeed last August, after all the efforts for recruiting—lowering the standard, raising the age, and all the special inducements—we were 2,000 men fewer on the strength than in the previous August. We were 2,000 men down in August, 1938, compared with August, 1937. If that is wrong, I shall be glad to hear it, but that is my information.

With regard to the Air Force, I believe I am right in saying that the Air Force, especially as regards personnel, is highly efficient. Thanks to the foresight of the noble Viscount on the Cross Benches, Lord Trenchard, we have plenty of pilots for present needs. The noble Viscount foresaw the position, if he will allow me to refer to him in this way, and he did arrange for a great many pilots. Our pilots are the most efficient in the world both as regards training and natural aptitude. But the Air Force is not big enough for its job. There has been an extraordinary slowness in increasing it. May I give your Lordships one example? The latest Spitfire fighter made its appearance nearly three years ago at the air display at Hendon. It is only just getting into production. What a difference it would have made last September if we had had 1,000 Spitfires! These are not weapons of aggression, they are weapons of home defence. They can be used for winning the command of the air over armies or fleets, it is true; but we need them for home defence most of all. While I am speaking on the subject of equipment of the Air Force, I would beg the Government once again to re-examine this question of the heavy machine guns known as the quick firing cannon in aircraft. There seems to be something wrong in the position that whereas the French, Germans, Italians, Americans, and Russians are all going in for the heavy cannon, we for some reason are not. It may be right—I do not know—but I suggest that the question should be re-examined.

I will return in a moment to the strength of the Air Force, but now I want to draw attention to the woeful deficiency of the anti-aircraft defences of this country. I refer to the active defence—guns and searchlights. The statements made, and not denied, are most disturbing, and I cannot see any excuse for this. It takes three years to make a 16-inch turret mounting and guns for a battleship. It is a very long process; you have to plan a long way ahead for heavy guns; but it does not take comparatively nearly so long to make these light guns for antiaircraft work of which we are so short. The searchlight shortage is most extraordinary. So much for what I may call the active aircraft defence—the fighters, the guns, and the searchlights. There is a shortage of all three.

Speaking now with regard to the general position of defence and its defects it is not necessary for me to say very much in your Lordships' House. It is an extraordinary business, and it cries aloud for attention. There was a muddle over air-raid precautions. The air defence of the country was, three years ago, turned over to the Territorial Army, and yet the Territorial Army is still woefully short of modern weapons. They have not got enough modern weapons to train their men and yet you wonder why they cannot get recruits. With regard to air-raid precautions I want to be perfectly fair. I have had something to do with these matters and have reasons to know what has been going on. There was a small, a far too small, staff in the Home Office. I think that staff did wonders for its numbers and considering the small powers that it had, but what can you expect, my Lords, when you try to build up a service covering the whole country and base yourself on the enthusiastic work of spare-time volunteers and well-meaning but unpaid amateurs? What else can you expect, especially when you have, as I am afraid I must state was the case, neither political leadership nor decision. But no doubt that will be put right.

What is most disturbing is the Air Force weakness. In 1934, more than four years ago, on March 8, the then Prime Minister, now Earl Baldwin, made an important statement. I notice that during the spring the National Government always become rather bold and optimistic; always in March we get these rather encouraging statements. We had one last March to which I have referred before in your Lordships' House, and shall refer again. But this one was very important. May I read to your Lordships the words? Any Government of this country—a National Government more than any—and this Government—will see to it that in air strength and in air power this country shall no longer be in a position inferior to any country within striking distance of our shores. Your Lordships are familiar with that declaration; it was made a cardinal principle of policy. I am going to suggest to your Lordships that to-day we need more than equality, and, apart from anything else, we need more than equality because of our new territorial commitments on the Continent to safeguard the future boundaries of Czechoslovakia. We were not proposing to safeguard them before; we are now committed to do so; and I say that for that and other reasons you need more than parity to-day.

My information, so far as I have been able to gather it—I do not pretend to have had access to secret information and if I had I would not use it—I will give to your Lordships. From the general information I have been able to ascertain we had in the Metropolitan Air Force last September approximately 1,700 machines, and the German Air Force was about 3,000. I am ignoring the propaganda efforts of certain prominent Americans; I am stating what I believe are the facts. My noble friend Lord Addison, who will be addressing your Lordships on this subject tomorrow, gave a very clear warning in the early summer of what to expect.

Whenever we come to examine the causes of these delays and non-fulfilment of programmes we come up against what are known as "bottle-necks." Apparently a whole programme is held up because, for some reason that I cannot understand, certain important essentials are missing. I do not want to go into details of this, but may I give your Lordships an analogy? Suppose we were all shareholders in a company producing motor cars, and suppose our board told us at the annual meeting that they were very sorry they would have to pass the dividend this year, and in fact have to face liquidation because the whole programme had been thrown out of gear. Suppose they told us that while they had been able to produce engines, chassis, wheels, bodies and other components, they could not get tyres, and suppose that the next year they told us: "We have the tyres but we cannot get the carburettors." This is an analogy, but it is the sort of thing that has happened with regard to guns, searchlights and other weapons. I need not labour this. I have never seen so damning an indictment of a Government as was contained in two articles in The Times newspaper—The Times of all organs, which has given the most faithful support to the Government in recent months. Their military correspondent wrote these articles which were published on October 20 and October 23, 1938. Your Lordships must have seen the articles. I cannot imagine anything more serious than the statements therein made.

I desire to come back for a moment to air-raid precautions. Your Lordships are aware that efforts were concentrated on precautions against gas, and I believe our gas-mask policy is in advance of that of any other country in the world. I know they had no gas masks for the public in Paris last September nor in Berlin. I give the small Committee working on these things all credit for that, but now it is discovered that it is necessary to guard against the results of high explosives. Well, I understand that the authorities are alive to that, and I will not labour it. I am now going to give the noble Marquess, Lord Zetland, who I understand is speaking as a member of the Committee of Imperial Defence, an opportunity to look into the following matters. You have still a very great danger that has hardly been guarded against at all. I refer to the use of the blistering gases, such as mustard gas. These gases, in their modern form, are more terrible than some your Lordships' experienced in the last War. Your present gas masks only cover a part of the face, and they would not prevent the casualties that would be caused by mustard gas. Furthermore, mustard gas is not easily detected, and when you have it on your skin you may not know for some hours that you are affected. I believe that this gas has a blinding effect on the eyes. It is being used—I say "being used" for the benefit of the Foreign Secretary—in Abyssinia to-day by the Italians with considerable effect in the villages. It is sprayed from the air and it is difficult to detect. The way you combat it is by decontamination. You use chloride of lime to cleanse the area from this danger, but you must have proper apparatus for doing it. The present bucket and brush system is totally inadequate. What you need is a special pump, which will make the correct colloidal mixture of chloride of lime in water and spray it efficiently, such as they have in use abroad. The French have it and the Poles have it.


We have it too.


No doubt we have it in this country but it has not been issued. It has been tested out by the Home Office. The Home Office may have the pump but it has not been distributed. Does the noble Earl wish to say something else?


No, except to tell you that I know that you are wrong.


I am glad to hear it, but none of these pumps have been distributed amongst the local authorities and railway companies and others, and they are the people who must have them. Perhaps the noble Earl means that I am wrong about mustard gas, and if so, I am glad to hear it, because it has a very great moral effect and can be very dangerous. I would only ask the noble Marquess, as a member of the Committee of Imperial Defence, if he will look into the question of defence against mustard gas spreading. Fresh brains are needed to meet this whole problem. We cannot turn out the Government at present, so that remedy is denied to us, but I am thinking of the precedent of the Esher Committee after the South African War. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, will correct me if I am wrong, but I think the Esher Committee made an independent inquiry into defects disclosed in the Army. That Committee did very good work, but of course it was a slow-moving Committee. I want a Committee that will work much more quickly. How it is composed I do not mind as long as it is independent. It might be a Select Committee of one or other of the Houses of Parliament, but I want it to be able to examine the Chiefs of Staff of the three Fighting Services and ask them what were the defects and weaknesses, how they were caused and how they can be remedied. I want them to report as quickly as possible their conclusions to the Committee of Imperial Defence. Of course permanent officials of the Board of Trade, the Home Office, the Ministry of Transport and other Departments concerned should also be examined.

I have hopes that the Government will accede to my request, because in another place on October 3 the Home Secretary made the following statement: We do not fear investigations of the position as far as air-raid precautions are concerned. We shall welcome them. Then, on October 13, the Chancellor of the Exchequer went to Sheffield, where he made an important after-dinner speech in which he said: The Government are entering on a vigorous, complete, remorseless, urgent survey of the lessons of the crisis. May I ask the noble Marquess when he replies to be good enough to tell us who is conducting that inquiry, and how it is being conducted? Is it being conducted by the people responsible for the present state of affairs, or by whom?

In the debate on my Motion I shall be disappointed if some noble Lord from the hinterland does not put all the fault on the Labour Party. That is the usual excuse made on the soap boxes at election time. I want to reply to that in advance. It is perfectly true that we in the Labour Party up to 1933 were hoping and working for an all-round limitation of armaments by agreement, and we shall have to go back to that in the end or else there will be all-round bankruptcy, or war. Up to 1933 we were hoping and working for that. We had a suspicion—we still have—that the money voted was not being spent to the best effect. But the complete answer, of course, to that attack on us is that since the autumn of 1931 the present Government have been in full power with large majorities in both Houses of Parliament. I do not really see how they can declare the fault to lie with the Labour Party. I must also make some other observations in reference to that. The workers of the country who support the Labour Party have for some years now had a deep distrust of the Government's foreign policy. They still have. We do not think it is weak but we are coming to the conclusion that it is sinister. I do not want to develop that; I am only stating the fact. In any case, during August and September, as noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite know, we offered our full support to the Government if they would pursue an honourable foreign policy.

May I be permitted to conclude with a few general observations? I am not sure that the Government as a whole yet realise the seriousness of the problem with which we are faced and our worsened position since last September. I do not want to question the Prime Minister's policy of appeasement, but it might fail, and if it fails this is the result of the policy of appeasement on our strategical situation. We have lost a Czechoslovakian Army of half a million soldiers, and I would remind your Lordships that they count two on a division. We have lost in Czechoslovakia a great munitions industry, 700 first-line aeroplanes and 350 second-line aeroplanes. I believe our own Metropolitan Force consists of 1,700 machines, as I said earlier. This policy of appeasement loses us also a very large Russian Army and 4,000 Russian aeroplanes in Europe, not counting the Siberian force. Then there is the final ruin of the system of collective security under the Covenant, and again, following the policy of appeasement, Germany will be provided with Colonies overseas as bases and recruiting grounds. Still following the policy of appeasement Spain will be in potentially hostile hands. I will not speak of the loss to this country of something which counts more than weapons—our prestige and our moral strength.

I want now to speak on a rather delicate subject, and I want to do it with as little offence as possible. I believe the greatest War Minister we had in this country in our time was the late Viscount Haldane. He certainly produced the finest Army which ever left these shores. He never left his desk. There was no showmanship about him. There is too much showmanship now, far too much. There is too much of Ministers who do not know anything about it wasting time inspecting barracks and canteens, reviewing the armed forces, attended by large bodies of cameramen and cinematograph photographers. I do not think that the noble Earl opposite will fall into that temptation, his position is far too secure, but there has been too much of that sort of thing. There was the nonsense of the display of the balloon barrage in London last month. Then, in September, there was the mounting of three modern antiaircraft guns in Hyde Park where they had no field of fire—they were only for show—while on the Embankment we had an anti-aircraft gun of 1914 vintage. I hope I have not given too much offence, but I have to say these things. We have to tackle this matter in a different way altogether.

At the same time there is no ground for undue pessimism. We have our weak points, and I am going to mention the two weakest points. We have to-day some ten million people, counting children, living below the minimum income on the Rowntree scale, and therefore undernourished, and we have the growing problem of the unemployed and the distressed areas. That is our weakest point, from the defence point of view. How many recruits do you reject? What percentage of the men who offer themselves for the Army do you reject now because of their poor physique? You have to have a well-nourished people, and a people in good heart, to face the perils which some of us think may confront our country. On the other hand, we have great advantages. First of all, technically, starting our maximum effort late we can have the most modern weapons. That is very important. We can start right away now and have the most up-to-date air fleet, and our other weapons can be of the most modern. Secondly, the Fascist States are, if I may use an athletic term, "stretched." They have made their maximum effort; they are feeling the effects. Our resources are barely scratched. We have great wealth, the resources of a great Empire; and, most important of all, our shores are surrounded by a liquid Maginot line. Our Maginot line is the Atlantic Ocean, the North Sea and the English Channel, and so long as we have a Fleet in being—and the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, from his previous service in the Admiralty, knows exactly what I mean by a Fleet in being—that Maginot line is impregnable, much more so than any of the systems of the Continent. It can be flown over it is true, but so also can any of the other Maginot and Siegfried lines.

Moreover, we have a genius for improvisation, and that is very important. We have ample skilled workers and, as I think, the finest working-class in the world. We have great traditions and a great cause, morally, for which we can rearm. The only thing lacking is leadership. My Lords, I have been told by soldiers that sometimes a battalion of brave men can become panic-stricken and they will run, but if you can rally that battalion, they will fight like tigers. I believe that is true; you cannot run away at sea, so I do not know from our point of view, but I believe that is true on the land. Our nation is like that. We have been panic-stricken, we can be rallied, and we shall be stronger than ever spiritually. Well, I only hope the leadership that we need just now will be forthcoming, and I hope that we shall be able to draw on fresh brains in our thinking department. Hence this Motion. Once again, there is no time to lose, and a day may soon come when a demand will be made upon us to stop rearming. For those reasons I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That an independent Committee of inquiry be set up to examine into the state of the national defences with particular reference to air-raid precautions.—(Lord Strabolgi.)


My Lords, I think that in all quarters of your Lordships' House we feel a debt of gratitude to the noble Lord who has moved this Motion for giving us so early an opportunity of debating matters of the first consequence. May I join with him in the congratulations which he has given to the Government Front Bench, and may I add—I am sure it was only by inadvertence that he failed to remember Lord Runciman among those whom he wished to congratulate—that we are all absolutely delighted to see that Lord Runciman has taken up service again.

In his Motion the noble Lord asked for an inquiry: authoritative, independent and, as he rightly said would be necessary, secret. I take it that the object of that inquiry is first of all to ascertain facts, but still more, if I followed the trend of his speech aright, to ensure that rapid and effective action is taken wherever further action is required. He said he would like the Chiefs of Staff to give frank evidence before such an inquiry. I make no doubt that the Chiefs of Staff of the Services would be not at all unwilling to submit to an authoritative tribunal the appreciations which they have given from time to time, and the plans of those proposals which they have put forward. But I doubt very much whether, if the object be, as indeed is, I think, the common object of us all, to take such effective action, an inquiry is the best way of fulfilling it. This debate gives us the opportunity and indeed, I think, the duty—and there are many persons of experience in your Lordships' House who can discharge that duty—of putting forward constructive suggestions, and none other is of any value, as to what should be done.

In the last debate in this House I ventured to say that I believed the country would now not only accept but insist upon their passing through Parliament every measure which was necessary to give the Government of the day power to put immediately into force any plan necessary in time of war, and would insist on being satisfied that those plans were complete to the last item so that the country, if it were ever called upon, would not only function in the three Fighting Services but in every department of life the second the war started. That was not the time to elaborate that theme, but this is, I think, an appropriate occasion. The reason behind what I said then is, I think, apparent to us all. We have all a pretty good idea of what the character of a major war would be if we ever became engaged in it. There would be no question of being able gradually to move forward with increasing momentum until this country had organised and mobilised its resources, as we were able to do in the last War. The position would be very different. In modern war there is no time to improvise or plan once the war is afoot. It does not move towards a climax. If to say so be not an Irishism, it probably starts with a climax. What one may be quite sure of is that in an aggressive war it would be the aim of the aggressor to make the greatest, the most immediate and the most sustained effort during the first few weeks of war. If that be true, every phase of war organisation must be ready to operate. That is not making war more likely or talking of war. Indeed, the more prepared we are for instantaneous action, the more unlikely are we ever to have to use those preparations.

I want to-day to deal in the main with two subjects which are closely related: the first, National Service, and the second, Supply. I pass over in a sentence or two air-raid precautions, of which the noble Lord spoke so eloquently and effectively, not in the least because I under-rate their importance—indeed, the passive defence of air-raid precautions is an absolutely essential counterpart of active defence on the ground and in the air. Others, I am sure, will cover that ground. I have only one definite suggestion to make in regard to air-raid precautions, and it is this. If those precautions, assuming them to have been prepared centrally and locally, are to be effective, they must be brought into operation in every place, whenever the need arises, rapidly. In an air raid warning will come, but in the nature of the case, though perhaps it may be a longer warning than some think, it must be a relatively short warning, and if you are to avoid panic and save life, action must be taken rapidly. I believe that you can only get such rapid effective action in each locality if there is one person charged with the duty of putting all these precautions into effect. There should be a definite responsibility on one officer in every region and in every place where steps are to be taken for setting that action promptly in motion. There must be one person. I am not talking now of the details of the plan. I do not want to go into that question now. But, assuming your plans are ready, there must always be one executive officer who has the power and duty to put those plans into effective action. I hope that when my noble friend replies he will be able to tell us that that is a definite part of the Government's plan—that there will be some person so charged with that power in every place where it is to be exercised.

On the defence side I would only say this. No one realises more than I do the importance of the fighter aircraft, though they are only part of the defence, but I am sure my noble friend Lord Trenchard will agree with me that you must be able to undertake the counter-effective as well. You must not be content to remain upon the defensive. Perhaps we always underrate our own efforts and overstate our own difficulties, but I think the noble Lord will find upon inquiry that no aircraft in any country has been turned out in large scale production without a very considerable period intervening between first design and full output. You must aim the whole time to get that period as short as you can. What I wanted to say about air defence was this. All the modern developments and all the great work which the scientists have been doing—and we owe them a deep and lasting debt of gratitude—are making the possibilities of air defence very much more effective all the time. It is not very long ago since, with perfect good faith, Lord Baldwin said "The bomber will always get through." That is not true to-day. Some bombers will always get through, but to-day I make no doubt at all that very heavy casualties would be sustained by an attacking force. What modern science has shown, and has contributed to, is the increasing value of every element in defence—more efficient guns, more efficient fighters, and more effective balloon barrage, and if I were able to disclose to the noble Lord certain secret facts he would, I am sure, form a rather different opinion of the value of balloon barrage.


I did not want to infer that I did not believe in balloon barrage. What I meant to refer to was this showmanship in the middle of London at the time of the crisis. I believe that the balloon barrage is good.


I am not dissenting from the noble Lord as to the showmanship, but my point is that all these scientific discoveries have not only proved the increased value of these individual elements of defence, but have emphasized their complementary character—the balloon barrage, the aircraft guns and the fighters all working together—but none of these things and certainly neither guns nor fighters, can be effective at night, which is the most dangerous time, unless you have a complete network of searchlights which can illuminate their operations, and I am sure that where all is important first place should be given to making certain that searchlights will be forthcoming in adequate numbers.

There will be very little disagreement on these matters. There is less unanimity among us and in the discussions outside about the organisation of National Service and on the question of Supply. I take it we should all agree that it is axiomatic that in war it would be necessary to have a Ministry of National Service and a Ministry of Supply. It was necessary in the last War. We came to both after a good deal of muddling through, and if that were necessary in the last War it would certainly be necessary in another war, and it would be necessary at the start. If that be so, then the organisation of both must be complete, and not only complete but in operation before any war starts. Let me take National Service first, and say a word or two about the requisites of National Service. It so happens that after I was invalided out of the Army in the War I became chief of staff to Sir Auckland Geddes, and was able to see at first hand one of the most remarkable pieces of work done by Sir Auckland Geddes in regard to National Service. He brought to that task great personal qualities of organisation and of driving power—qualities, if I may say so, which are very well typified in Sir John Anderson, who I hope will undertake that task in the future.

If Sir Auckland Geddes succeeded I am sure he would himself say that he succeeded not only by reason of his personal qualities but perhaps more because he always insisted upon certain considerations, certain factors. In the first place he insisted before he took on the job on having full power, that is to say, that his jurisdiction should cover the whole of man power, civil and military. There were one or two sectors outside I think. There was the Labour Supply Department of the Admiralty, which remained slightly outside, although co-ordinated, I believe, was the blessed word. I think that to-day everybody, either inside or outside the Admiralty, is agreed that there could be no exception of that kind, and that man power must be one and indivisible. That was the first condition as a pre-requisite of success. The other was this. He always insisted that the great principle of National Service was to find men and women for jobs, and not to find jobs for men and women. That is really terribly important for us to appreciate to-day, when everybody in the country is wanting to do something and there is great risk of people being turned on to the wrong thing, and masses of people for whom you cannot find jobs. Sir Auckland Geddes made National Service a complete success because he had before him a precise picture of every job that had got to be filled in the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, in civil life, and in every factory in the country. The job of National Service was to allocate the man power of the nation, men and women, to do those jobs, and the basis on which that work was done was a National Register which covered the whole of the population.

I hope I am not criticising, and I should not venture to be speaking unless I were prepared to make definite, concrete suggestions as to what I think we ought to do. What then is the action in regard to National Service which I submit should be taken now? I know that the Government have framed and kept up to date plans, based on past experience and changing needs, of how a Ministry of National Service might be run and ought to be run in war. But the time for action is now. We cannot risk the loss of time; indeed if war came, time would not be given us. I doubt whether we should even in the first forty-eight hours of war be sitting in Parliament passing Acts of Parliament. Everything must have been done and prepared in advance. I therefore say that the first thing which should be done is that the National Register should be formed and completed now. In forming that Register we should not, I suggest, take only the precise information which one had on the National Service Register in the last War, but in framing that Register—and there would, I assume, be a questionnaire sent out to people to fill up—I would suggest that all persons should be asked to say what are their particular qualifications for any job—it might be experience they had gained in the last War, it might be experience which they have acquired since—and what particular aptitude they have for any form of work, and what would be their willingness to undertake it either in their own locality or outside. If you have a Register of that kind you will know whether you have on the spot where you want them the people required to do the job.

I think I am right in saving, but the noble Marquess, Lord Zetland, will correct me if I am wrong, that not only is a National Register necessary for National Service and the use of man-power, but I believe it is also almost indispensable for effective food administration, which of course would be equally necessary in war. In addition to forming the Register, it surely is necessary that there should be earmarked all through the country all the staff which is necessary to administer a Ministry of National Service. That does not mean taking in a vast new set of functionaries. A large part of the Ministry of National Service would no doubt come out of the staff of the Ministry of Labour. But they must know to what job they are assigned, and how to do that job, and be adequately trained in advance.

Lastly this—and it is just as important as the formation of the Register. Recruiting is now going forward for every Service, not only for the Defence Services and for a variety of organisations within those Defence Services, but for the whole of Air Raid Precautions and the vast amount of civil work. It seems to me that it is most necessary that in collecting and canalising all that great mass of voluntary effort the greatest care should be taken to conform to the general manpower plan which it would be necessary to operate in war. If we do not do that, when thousands of people are anxious to volunteer and do a job, we might easily be filling our Services, whether Defence Services or the voluntary Air Raid Service with people who, as it was found in the last War, when war came were not most needed there, but were needed in some vital form of employment which they had left, or were better suited for some particular job somewhere else.

Such an organisation of National Service as I have indicated does not imply in the least any form of conscription, military or industrial. I doubt myself indeed—though perhaps this is not very relevant—whether in the kind of war that we might be involved in, where a tremendous effort was required at sea and in the air, and probably a more limited effort on land, apart from air defence, great conscript forces in this country would be necessary. I am not at all sure that they would. I think it well might be that the forces would be readily filled and more than filled. They would have to be discreetly filled—by "discreetly" I mean not taking a man from his job who ought not to be taken, because after all it will all be a front line next time, if there is a next time. I doubt whether even in war that kind of conscription is necessary. But what is absolutely necessary, whether it is in the organisation of peace or of war, is to make quite sure that people do the job that is best fitted for them and that you know with precision exactly what jobs you want men and women for. That is not a form of conscription, that is merely a nation perfecting in peace the organisation which would be vital in war.

Now I want to turn to the other subject, the question of Supply. I have come to the conclusion, after such careful reflection as I can give to it and in the light of my own experience, that you ought to create a Ministry of Supply now.


Hear, hear!


The noble Lord laughs a great deal.


I do indeed.


He has one great merit: he never changes. Whether he is right or wrong, he never dreams of changing his mind. I do not profess that kind of consistency, thank God. If I think that a change is necessary, or if I think I have been wrong, I am perfectly prepared to say so. But I think there was great force in the argument that in the early stages it would have been unwise to create a Ministry of Supply. I take my full share of the responsibility for that decision. I always said that I could not conceive of anybody having a biased mind in this matter. At the beginning, when you were making a great expansion in the Services, with depleted staffs, with industry which had run down and had little war experience, when you had to have the very closest connection day by clay between the operational staffs of a fighting Service and its supply side, I think on the whole it was probably right that supply should be conducted at that stage by each of the three Services. As the Prime Minister said on more than one occasion, to change at that time would have made for a great deal of dislocation, and would probably have obstructed work. I think that was so.

But to-day you have a very different situation. The plans are laid. I know there have been delays, and things have been slow here and there in some quarters, but vast orders are out, factories are filled up with orders which it will take eighteen months or two years to execute to the full. Therefore, so much of this planning having been done, orders on a vast scale being out in the factories, you could make this transition to-day from the Supply Departments of the three Services to a Ministry of Supply with the minimum of dislocation. It is not very helpful merely to say that you are in favour of a Ministry of Supply unless you are prepared to say how you would constitute it and what its powers and functions should be. I think it should embrace the supplies for all the three Services. I suggest that it should be formed by taking the Supply Departments in each of the three Defence Ministries and brigading them together under a special Minister. It does not therefore mean the creation of a vast new Ministry. It would mean the amalgamation of the existing Supply Departments under a single chief.

I realise that it is highly important, if you create a Ministry of Supply, that you should maintain the closest contact between that Ministry of Supply and the operational staffs. That I believe you would do effectively by keeping as members of their respective Service Councils the Members for Supply who were transferred to the Ministry of Supply or the Ministry of Munitions. Something of the kind, I believe, happened in the last War. I rather think that the Director of Air- craft Supply in the Ministry of Munitions remained a member of the Air Council, and I would suggest that the three Service Members of Supply who were transferred and became the chief officers of the Ministry of Supply should retain their seats on the Board of Admiralty, Army Council, and the Air Council, thus retaining that complete link between the operational side and the supply side. I have said that the function of such a Ministry should be all supplies. There must be one responsibility. If you make exceptions you will encounter increasing difficulty over questions of priority and the relative urgency of this or that work. You will only get that effectively solved if one Minister and one Department are responsible for supplies for all the Services. To make an exception to that principle would require a very strong case indeed. The General Staffs co-operate in strategy so well and so thoroughly to-day that I do not believe there would be any insuperable difficulty in the amalgamation and the working together of the Supply Departments.

There remains but one other matter in this connection, one other question that one is bound to put. It has been said that we cannot establish a Ministry of Munitions or a Ministry of Supply to-day because we cannot give it all the powers the Ministry of Munitions had in the last War. That is quite true, but I do not think it would be either necessary or desirable to give a Ministry of Supply in peace anything like all the powers the Ministry of Munitions had during the War. In war these powers could easily and rapidly be grafted on. I would give the Ministry of Supply only such powers as are necessary to get the work clone as quickly as possible and on fair terms. Defence requirements must have priority. I admit gratefully that organisations like the Machine Tool Makers' Association have been most helpful in giving voluntary priority to defence work, but there will always be cases of delay. There will always be somebody here and there who does not want to play the game as the majority of people do, and it may well be that that voluntary co-operation which has been so often forthcoming would be strengthened and sustained by the existence of compulsory powers.

I would therefore give to a Ministry of Supply the following powers and, as I see it at present, only the following powers:—Power to require any firm in the country to do any particular job of work that was required. The first call on industry—that seems to me to be right. I would give the Ministry power to require such priority as was necessary, and I would take powers to fix prices in contracts and in sub-contracts by arbitration where agreement was not reached. That is not an experiment. When I was at the Air Ministry I came to an agreement with all the great aircraft firms who had to engage in work for which you could not fix a price in advance, because we were dealing with wholly new types of machines which had never been made before, and nobody had the least idea of what they were going to cost, that if we failed when sufficient facts were known to agree upon a firm price or basic price with a share in savings, the price should be settled by arbitration; and Sir Hardman Lever, who was Financial Secretary for Munitions in the War, presided over the arbitration tribunal and everybody felt that that was a very fair arrangement. The power to fix prices by arbitration in the default of agreement is simple, intelligible, and fair to the taxpayer and to the contractor.

If I may sum up what I have ventured to put forward, I would say that now there must be an organisation of National Service and the creation of a Ministry of Supply. Our present needs make both these things desirable and indeed necessary. I believe the country would most readily support both. But even if I did not think that our present requirements made that course desirable, I should think it necessary because, if it be true, as I am sure it is, that you must have a Ministry of National Service and you must have a Ministry of Supply in war, you must have both of them organised in peace.


May I ask the noble Viscount, in connection with that valuable synopsis of powers, would be give the Ministry power to acquire and hold and arrange the distribution of materials and machinery?


I think that would follow because, as I said, I should give power to the Ministry to require any firm to do any work. If the noble Lord means, supposing you had machinery, for example, in one aircraft factory which could be more usefully transferred to another—yes, I think on fair terms it would be quite reasonable to use that machinery in the factory where it was most needed. I should not like to answer further offhand about that. I found as a matter of fact by experience when I was at the Air Ministry that one was able to get that kind of thing arranged, but I would give any power which was really necessary to get the work effectively done. That is what would be my broad ruling as to the matter. Organisation on these lines it seems to me is not in the least in the nature of any panic measure or warmongering. On the contrary, I believe the effective organisation and operation of those Departments which would be absolutely necessary in war are the best insurance that you will never be required to use them in war.


My Lords, I cannot attempt to follow my noble friend who has just sat down in the very authoritative speech he has made on those two important subjects of man-power and supply, but I do feel that there are two things about the Motion which the noble Lord opposite has proposed which are not quite right. First of all, I refer to the suggestion that another Committee should be put to work to deal with the matter. The time factor is the governing factor in all our preparations for war, and at present the time factor is much more urgent in this country, being a democracy, than it is in the countries ruled by Dictators who have to consult nobody. For that reason I feel very strongly that this is not the time for the setting up of a Committee. Furthermore, I believe that this is no time for a Committee because so many of the problems are so obvious and depend not on the deep thought of a Committee but on a large number of small people in different Government offices attending to their own business.

The noble Lord opposite suggested that the Committee should have special reference to air-raid precautions. That, to my mind, is rather a question of psychology, and I think that just at the moment we are running a slight risk of emphasizing too much matters like air-raid precautions, which are static forms of defence, and that if we are not careful we shall begin to get the idea into our minds, and still worse into the minds of the public, that static defence consisting of air-raid precautions and of evacuations is sufficient of itself, whereas I believe in fact that it is worse than useless unless it is accompanied by vigorous measures of active defence. Without active defence it is no more than a prelude to defeat, and we must not, I think, run the risk of singing our song of national defence in any minor key.

But I would not have got up this afternoon were it not that I thought the time might have come to say a word or two about the Army, which has not been discussed at any length in your Lordships' House for I think quite two years. Those people like myself who have spent a long time in the Regular Army since the War, and have, therefore, done a good deal of duty in connection with the tattoos at Aldershot and elsewhere, well know that when a bright light is thrown on one part of the arena the effect is to produce an intense black-out in the other parts. The public knows what is going on in the lighted up part, and only those responsible for the show know what is being concealed within the black-out. That I think is not an altogether unfair description of what we and the public are being told about the Army at the present time.

Three or four years ago—and I put the date more like 1935 than 1933, which the noble Lord opposite gave for the conversion of the Labour Party—the Army had had very little done for it, because no one thought that it was going to be used, and there were two tasks to which it was necessary for the Secretary of State for War to apply himself. The first was the conditions of the men who were in the Army at that time—and that is the ordinary task of the ordinary employer—and the second was the readiness of the Army for war, which depends on Government policy. Now may I say straight away that I feel more has been done for the welfare of the soldier and the officer—the individual in the Army—in the last eighteen months than has been done during the last sixty or seventy years. One of the reasons is that the present Secretary of State has applied himself to the task of making the Army conditions stated on the recruiting poster come true in real life. The men are now getting much more than they did before; they are getting the pay which they are supposed to get, they are getting the full free rations which they are supposed to have, and they are living under conditions which more approximate to those which the Ministry of Health is laying down for other sections of the community. But when we come to the equipment side and the organisation side, we are out of the limelight and we are still in the black-out.

Before the Recess there was what was called in another place I believe a sandstorm, and the sandstorm has died down, but the gloom is still there, and the main questions, as far as I know, are still virtually unanswered. As I see the position regarding equipment the wheeled vehicles and signal equipment are reasonably well advanced, but the track vehicles and the weapons are not nearly so well advanced, and one begins to ask why. Is it the fault of the trade from which these things have been ordered, or is it a question of the Supply Departments or the Royal Arsenal? I ask that particularly because some short time ago a great deal of publicity was given to the reorganisation of the personnel of the higher commands of the military side of the Army, and nothing was said at that time about any corresponding reorganisation in those branches which deal with supply. I only hope it is not necessary, but one feels that possibly some similar corresponding reorganisation might well have taken place on that side, and that what was sauce for the red-coated goose might equally well have been sauce for the gander elsewhere.

But it is not merely a matter of equipment; there is also the question of organisation, and one of the other things in the black-out is the question of our field force. There was very little talk of the field force at the crisis, but I fancy that the need still remains for a field force, and it is still uncertain, I think, in the minds of some of us whether or not there is a field force now in existence which would be capable of going to the required spot in the very short time that would be available for it under present conditions. That field force requires mobilising and bringing up to strength with reservists. Up to date there has been no training whatever for reservists, either of officers or of the rank and file, and that notwithstanding that since many reservists left the colours the equipment of their units has been changed basically. For example, a very large proportion of the cavalry reservists are trained in horsed duties, whereas an overwhelming proportion of the units at the present time are equipped with mechanical vehicles. I do not wish to weary your Lordships with small details of that sort, but I think those I have given are important enough to be worth mention even in a debate of this scope. What I would like to ask is that we should be given some more precise indication of what steps have been taken in these directions and that so much of the preparation of the Army for national defence should not be left in the blackout.

I feel fairly certain that considerations of secrecy will be alleged as the reason for not producing such information. These considerations are bound to weigh heavily, but I think it is possible to argue that you can easily reach a degree of secrecy where everybody knows the answer except those people whose business it is to know it and who have a right to know it. Therefore I would suggest to the noble Marquess that perhaps a little more information might be given on the subject, even at the risk of a little sacrifice of secrecy. When that information is given I am certain that there will be no difficulty in recruiting the balance of men required for the Regular and Territorial Armies, but until that information is given and until the date of the re-equipment can be forecast in the minds of intending recruits I do not think they will ever come forward in the numbers required.


My Lords, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to one or two special points in connection with home defence and air-raid precautions. It would appear that any suitable protection for the population in large urban districts will involve very large expenditure, and in fact I believe the figure of £400,000,000 has been mentioned by one authority. I propose to try and indicate a method by which the Government might be able to receive some return on capital expenditure. The earthworks and trenches which we have seen constructed in various parks and open spaces during the recent crisis would appear to be inadequate, because they can only be used as temporary shelters, overcrowding would certainly arise, and there would also certainly be difficulties of drainage. I would suggest that to meet these defects permanent shelters should be made available, and that the Government Department concerned should seek Parliamentary powers to excavate beneath any open space which is deemed desirable. Underground areas such as squares, commons, parks, playing fields, etc., could then be offered free of ground rent to private enterprise on condition that the underground buildings which would be constructed would be built in accordance with what was required by the authority for air-raid precautions.

In order that this plan should be a commercial proposition it would be necessary for the Government either to advance such a sum to the private enterprise as would compensate for the increased cost of underground construction or alternatively to advance the whole cost of construction and charge a low rate of interest on the capital expenditure. This interest would have to be calculated so that it would provide an inducement for private enterprise to build underground rather than on the surface where it is well known very large ground rents prevail. I would suggest that there are many trades which could avail themselves, and would be willing to avail themselves, of this financial scheme. They would have the attraction of obtaining premises at a cost less than that which would be payable on the surface, and the Government would acquire permanent protection for the civil population. I think the important point to note is that the Government would receive by that method some return on the capital expenditure. I would suggest that such trades as cinemas, car parks, public garages, furniture depositories, etc., and also shops, might avail themselves of this scheme. We have already seen some shops underground, but they could be put deeper, and I feel that if the public became accustomed to shopping underground it would inspire great confidence in times of emergency. Perhaps the noble Marquess who is to reply to the debate to-day would inform your Lordships it there is any long-term policy for air-raid protection for the public.


My Lords, I should like first of all, if I may, to join with the noble Lord who began this debate and with other noble Lords in congratulations to my noble friend the Leader of the House on having become head of one of the great Fighting Services. If I may say so, I am in a better position even than the noble Lord opposite to realise what an advantage that is going to be both to His Majesty's Government and to your Lordships' House. Not unnaturally, the debate to which we have listened has ranged over a rather wider field than that suggested by the actual terms of the Motion of the noble Lord who initiated the discussion. I would like before I make a few observations on wider subjects to deal with the actual proposal which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has placed before us. Let me say at once that there is no difference whatsoever between the noble Lord and His Majesty's Government so far as the object which the noble Lord has in view is concerned. We are as determined as he is to take the utmost advantage of the experience which we have derived from the recent emergency. We are determined to make good such shortcomings and deficiencies as have displayed themselves as a result of that experience. But having said that, let not the noble Lord suppose that we are in equal agreement with him as to the method by which the object which we both have in view should be achieved. The producers of a drama on the stage would never dream of putting their performance before the public without adequate rehearsal. The object of that rehearsal is to enable them to see for themselves what shortcomings there may be in the performance and to decide on what measures are necessary to meet them, but they do not call in some outside body to cross-examine them and to cross-examine the performers and to advise them what they should do. It is their responsibility; and in the same way the defence of the country is the responsibility of the Government.

I do not always agree with everything that falls from the lips of the leaders of the Liberal Party, but I agree profoundly with the observation made by Sir Archibald Sinclair in the course of a speech a few days ago, in which he said quite frankly that that responsibility was the responsibility of the Government and of the Government alone. The Government have already taken steps to review the preparations which they have made for defence. The noble Lord asked me who were undertaking this review. It is the Ministers in the different Departments who are responsible for the adequate dis- charge of the functions of their Departments. That review is in an advanced state of progress, and if we were to adopt the proposal put before us by the noble Lord it would mean, as one of my noble friends behind me pointed out, a great waste of time, a reduplication of work. The chiefs of the staffs have already given to the Ministers concerned their views on the various questions submitted to them. They would have to give them all over again to an outside Committee, and when that Committee had familiarised themselves sufficiently with the details of the Defence programmes—and after all, there is an immense mass of detail to be assimilated when you are considering these great Defence programmes—they would, I suppose, report to the same authority as that to which the Ministers concerned are reporting at the present time.

Of course I realise that, since this is the course which the noble Lord is recommending to us, it is the course which he and his friends would pursue if they were in our places. Well, it is one of the paradoxes inherent in the Parliamentary system that those who have not been entrusted with the responsibility for Government always know much better how that responsibility should be discharged than those who have actually been charged with it. That is not merely true of one Party at one time, it is true of all Parties at all times; and if the noble Lord opposite at some, shall I say, remote period—though opinions may differ on that point—finds himself sitting on this Bench he will, I have no doubt, discover that the Opposition of that day will be as certain as are the Opposition of the present day that they know much better how the Government of the country should be conducted than those who are in power, and are as anxious as my noble friend opposite is to teach them their business.

Meanwhile, of course, the constitutional method for bringing about what the noble Lord would no doubt regard as a salutory change of Government is open to him. He can put down a Motion for a vote of no confidence, and if he and his friends can persuade a sufficient number of members either of your Lordships' House or of another place that they are right in the views which they hold, then that change of Government will be brought about.


That is a new constitutional doctrine!


You are quite safe in this place.


Does the noble Viscount say a new constitutional doctrine? I assume that when the Government is beaten on a vote of confidence—


In this House?


I said in this House or another place. Nevertheless we need not dwell upon that point, because, since the view appears to be fairly widely prevalent among members of both Houses that if the noble Lord and his friends had been in power six weeks ago, we should now be involved in the awful throes of a world war, I do not think it very likely that the noble Lord would be successful in persuading a number of persons to support him sufficiently large to achieve his object.

Let me turn for a moment to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, and let me say at once that I recognise the sincerity with which he holds his views, and bear testimony to the moderation with which on this occasion he has placed them before your Lordships. The noble Lord in one portion of his speech said something about loss of prestige by the Government. I am not going to argue on this occasion about the truth of that charge, but I would venture to say that if the prestige of the Government has been damaged, it has been damaged by the speeches of those persons in this country who, when the danger of a cataclysmic war was once over, turned round and accused the Government of a pusillanimous surrender to the Dictators.

There is always the danger that speeches of the kind which the noble Lord necessarily had to make in support of a Motion of this kind may give a very false impression to countries abroad. When you are necessarily collecting all the examples of weakness and all the shortcomings and stringing them together, you naturally give a picture which is very far from the whole picture. In order that I may balance the picture a little, let me remind your Lordships that there were many respects in which during the recent emergency the defence plans of the country worked with extreme smoothness and success. Very little has been said about the mobilisation of the Fleet. In spite of the fact that there has been no occasion for the last twenty years to mobilise the Fleet, the whole process was carried through with extraordinary rapidity and smoothness. It may interest your Lordships to know that, in addition to mobilisation of the active service ratings, 13,000 Royal Fleet Reserve men were called up automatically by the Proclamation, and a further 16,000 pensioners and members of the Royal Naval Reserve, the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and other reserves were called up individually. The men arrived very quickly on the day on which the Proclamation was issued. The first man arrived at 6 a.m., at one depôt 200 men arrived before 8 a.m., and over 4,000 in the first day. The men were passed through the complicated routine of the depots very speedily, and it was estimated that at one depôt a large proportion took only fifteen minutes before they were completely prepared for service at sea. That is a matter of which we may not only be very proud but very well satisfied.

Then let me take one or two other examples in passing. Reference, of course, has been made to the anti-aircraft defences of the country. I would like to pay a tribute to the way in which the Territorials, upon whom devolves the greater part of the duties of the air defence of the country, turned out when the call came. The order to deploy was actually issued at 2.30 p.m. on September 26. Within nine hours 80 per cent., and in some cases upwards, had reported at the drill halls, and by the morning of September 27, 80 per cent. of the guns and 70 per cent. of the searchlights were in site. Then let me remind your Lordships that throughout the country something more than 30,000,000—


Does the noble Marquess say men or searchlights?


I said searchlights, and presumably the crews were with them. They would not be of very much use without their crews. Then within the space of a very few days more than 30,000,000 gas masks were dis- tributed from the regional centres to the local authorities, 1,000,000 feet of trenches were dug as shelters against blasts, and although the Three-Party Committee under the chairmanship of Sir John Anderson had reported only at the end of July, plans had been concerted between the central authorities, the officers of the railways, the officers of the local authorities, and the teaching staffs of the London schools, for the evacuation of children and, if necessary, of a considerable part of the adult population. Arrangements for temporary financial aid in billeting areas had been made, and two days' emergency rations were provided at the railheads for every refugee.

I make these observations in passing to show that there are two sides to this picture, but having to some extent redressed the balance let me admit at once that there were weaknesses and deficiencies. I have no desire whatsoever to minimise that, and it would have been an extraordinary thing, I think, had there been no gaps in the armour, because after all we were preparing against a form of war of which we have had no experience, for, brutal though many of the instruments of war were which were employed in the last War, the Governments of that day possessed only in embryo the kind of instruments of defence which are at their disposal at the present time. Moreover, it must be remembered that we were working on a programme—on a five years' programme—and it is really a little too much to expect that the whole of a five years' programme could be completed in half the time, however much you may endeavour to accelerate it. More particularly is that the case because in the earlier years of a great programme of rearmament, after a period of unilateral disarmament, which had practically bereft us of armaments of all kinds, during the earlier years you must expect time to be spent, as I think my noble friend Lord Swinton pointed out, in planning, designing, collecting your productive capacity, and so on, and it is as a matter of fact only now that we are beginning to reap a real harvest from the seed which has been sown.

Let me give to your Lordships one or two examples which will illustrate what I mean in that respect. For reasons which are apparent to all of us, I am not prepared to give specific figures with regard to guns, equipment, searchlights, and all those things—we do not think it would be in the public interest to do so—but I can give your Lordships some indication of the increasing rapidity with which delivery is now being made. Let me give you one example in the case of personnel. On October 1, 1936, the strength of the formations of the air defences of Great Britain was 663 officers and 8,798 other ranks. On October 1 last, or two years later, those figures had increased to 2,027 officers and 45,223 other ranks, a very appreciable increase in the time. Then, with regard to material. Everybody who is familiar with technical details of guns and gun mountings is aware, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, and other noble Lords have pointed out, that it is the gun mountings of big guns which take the time to produce. That is profoundly true, and in the case of the 3.7 and the larger anti-aircraft guns more than twice as many gun mountings were turned out in the four weeks which immediately succeeded September 26 last as compared with the four weeks which immediately preceded that date, showing a very rapid rate of progress. The antiaircraft guns themselves are being delivered at the present moment at three times the rate at which they were being delivered six months ago, and searchlights are being delivered at four times the rate that they were six months ago. That is an indication of the truth of what I said with regard to the delivery of material under any vast programme of rearmament such as that which we have in hand.

Now let me touch briefly upon the shortcomings which were disclosed. These may be said to have come under two main heads: in the first place, shortages in the actual delivery of materials, and, in the second place, the organisation of the people for dealing with air attack. It will be obvious to your Lordships from some of the speeches which have been made this afternoon that in each of those cases the question arises as to whether we can carry out adequately our programme of defence on a voluntary basis, or whether some measure of compulsion is desirable. Let me touch first of all on the question of the delivery of material, a point which was brought to your Lordships' notice by my noble friend Lord Swinton. We had a discussion in this House some little time ago on this very question, and it fell to my lot at that time to explain to your Lordships why the Government had come to the conclusion that the establishment of a Ministry of Supply was undesirable. It was generally agreed, I think, that if you were to have a Ministry of Supply it could do nothing effective unless it was furnished with the sort of powers which were furnished to the Ministry of Munitions during the last War. I have discussed this matter with those who are much better qualified to form an opinion with regard to it than I am myself, and their considered opinion is that to set up a Ministry of Supply when our programme of rearmament is bearing fruit, far from having the effect which the noble Lord desires, would have the opposite effect, and would slow down production instead of increasing it.

It is just worth remembering that the Ministry of Munitions which was set up during the last War took eighteen months to provide for the Army the shells which it was set up to produce. It also undoubtedly interfered seriously—though in time of war that was a matter which could not count—with civil trade and industry. And I was interested to see a a few days ago a letter in The Times by Sir Alexander Roger, who was himself very closely associated with the Ministry of Munitions during the last War, and on that point of the interruption of civil industry I find that Sir Alexander Roger confirms entirely what I myself said to your Lordships in the course of our previous debate. I remember also he said, writing on this very question, that Its activities"— that is, the activities of the Ministry of Supply, or the Ministry of Munitions as it was called in those days— resulted in a rude interruption to the flow of trade and in a disturbance of industry, which temporarily lowered rather than increased the volume of production, both civil and military. That is a serious consideration, and, as I have said, the Government have come to the conclusion that, far from the establishment of such a Ministry aiding the object which they have in view, it would in present circumstances probably retard it.

Then let me come to the question of the organisation of the people under what is compendiously known as A.R.P., or Air Raid Precautions. There again the question arises, Can we organise the people adequately on a voluntary basis, or is some measure of compulsion necessary? Should we, for example, arrange for a compulsory National Register? One thing is quite certain, as the Anderson Committee point out, and that is this, that if you are to continue to organise the people on a voluntary basis—and that I understand is certainly the desire of the Labour Party, at any rate that is the view expressed in the Labour manifesto which was published a few days ago, and with which, I suppose, the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, associates himself—


Does the noble Marquess want me to reply?


I was only asking the noble Lord if he associated himself with the Labour manifesto.


I associate myself with all our manifestoes, and naturally with this, because I helped to draw it up. But a great departure of policy like that could not be decided even by the Parliamentary Labour Party or by its executive. We can only do these things in a democratic way.


What I was saying was that if we are successfully to organise the people on a voluntary basis we must have their whole-hearted co-operation. Perhaps one of the most valuable lessons of the recent emergency was the lesson which the public themselves received that you must volunteer, if you desire to volunteer for public service, in time. Throughout last summer my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, who was then in charge of the Air Raid Precautions arrangements, constantly appealed for a million volunteers. Throughout the summer the response was singularly disappointing; but when the emergency arose the offers flooded in—hundreds of thousands of offers from people of all kinds; but of course it was too late. Moreover, they had not been trained. Well, my Lords, you may say that this apathy on the part of the public prior to the emergency was largely due to the fact that the public did not know what was wanted of them, that they did not know the different purposes for which they were required to serve, that they did not know where to enrol themselves. We are very conscious of that aspect of the case, and steps are being taken to deal with it. It is essential, I think, that information on many points should be made widely known to the public. The different purposes for which volunteers are required should be set forth concisely and explained. The age limits of those who are required to volunteer for particular services should be stated. The qualifications which will be required of them should be made known and also the places where they should make inquiries and enrol.

There is one further important aspect of that case which was raised by a noble Lord in the course of this debate—I think it was by my noble friend Lord Swinton—and that is that there are many services in which there are at present people engaged from which it would be disastrous to take them. We have provided against that danger. Provision has been made, and in the event of persons in particular services and occupations volunteering for other services they will be informed they are doing better service to the country by remaining where they are.


How are you going to stop them without compulsory power?


You can prevent them from enrolling for particular services if they are required in other ones.


I did not gather from what the noble Marquess has said whether the Government are or are not proposing to adopt a National Register.


The Government are not proposing to adopt a compulsory National Register at the present time.


It is very important to get this clear. By "compulsion" does my noble friend mean conscription, which nobody, I think, wants at all? What I meant by a National Register was that there should now be established a register upon which everybody is to be registered. What is the Government attitude to that?


The Government attitude to that is that they are not at present prepared compulsorily to register every person in this country. They have a voluntary scheme which is about to be put into operation first. But if the Government find that on a voluntary basis they are unable, either so far as industry is concerned or so far as service by the people at large is concerned, to attain the results that they want, then they will certainly be prepared to take a different view.


The point at issue appears to me to be whether people are to be compelled to register for what they are suitable for as against the point whether people are going to be compelled to do what they are suitable for. The two things are totally separate. Are we going to provide ourselves with a register saying what people are suitable for, so that when compulsion comes they will know they have got to do this or that?


I do not think there is much difference between the noble Lord and myself. We are asking for people to register voluntarily, and then we shall see what response we get. When we once get a register voluntarily, then will be time enough to decide whether compulsion has got to be used for them to perform the services for which they registered or not.


May I ask whether the Government appreciate that time is the essence of this affair? How many weeks, how many months, how many years, have we got to wait defenceless against sudden attacks, and liable—


Order, order!


The noble Viscount appears to be making a speech rather than asking a question, and no doubt he will have the opportunity of putting his views before your Lordships to-morrow. As I said, that is the present conclusion of the Government, that compulsory powers are not necessary. Of course, if we are to change entirely our conception of what is necessary for the defence of this country, if we are to embark upon a vast programme of rearmament over and above what I may briefly describe as the £1,500,000,000 programme, which is the programme on which we are working, though it certainly is going to cost a good deal more than the original estimate of £1,500,000,000—if we are going to embark on a vast programme over and above that, then that will be an entirely different matter. If we are going to devote the whole of the energy of the country to the production of armaments irrespective of the effect of such action upon the civil industry and the trade of the country, and regardless of the effect of it upon the financial structure of the country, then that is a very different matter.

If there be those who demand that, they must be prepared to submit themselves to measures which will certainly be necessary to carry out such a scheme, but I would ask your Lordships to consider this aspect of the case. After all, our financial structure has always been one of our great assets. What is going to be the effect on our financial position of vast increases of that kind? How are they going to be paid for? No doubt noble Lords opposite will say, "Oh, increase the Income Tax." Very simple, but, after all, there is such a thing as the law of diminishing returns, and I am not at all sure we have not very nearly reached that point so far as Income Tax is concerned already. Your Lordships will bear this in mind also, that if you are going to interfere with the civil trade and industry of the country, the income of the country is rapidly going to decline. That would not make it easier to finance schemes of that kind. I hope myself that vast additional programmes of that kind will not prove necessary.

It is natural, in view of the experience through which we have passed, that our minds should be concentrated upon the question of rearmament; but there is another and, as I believe, more hopeful aspect of our international relations which should never be lost sight of if we are to view the whole picture in proper perspective. For myself, I looked upon the Munich Conference and the joint declaration signed by the German Chancellor and the British Prime Minister as the beginning of a return to sanity on the part of the people. I say that for this reason, that as I have viewed developments in different parts of the world during the past three or four years in the light of all the information which has been available to me as a member of the Government, I have been profoundly shocked at the spectacle they present. On all sides of us we see scientists devoting their genius to the perfecting of instruments for the destruction of human life. We see Governments—some of them at any rate—devoting the whole of their energies, absorbing the whole of the wealth of their peoples in a mad piling-up of weapons of offence; and as I have tried to project my imagination into the future and to picture the end to which civilisation is inevitably doomed if this exaltation of brute force is to continue and if the law of the jungle is to prevail among civilised men, I have asked myself in all seriousness whether these things are not signs of an incipient madness, not on the part of a few individuals here or there, but on the part of peoples.

As I have pondered all these things it has seemed to me that man's progress on the physical plane as exemplified by his astonishing achievements in the domain of physical science during the past half-century have completely outstripped his progress on the moral and on the spiritual plane, and the growing need of the times is a re-orientation of outlook on the part of mankind at large to the end that those cultural values, things of the spirit rather than of the flesh, may find once more their rightful place in the life of man—values which alone raise man above the animal kingdom. But any such changed outlook will only become possible if this menace of arms which broods like a poisonous miasma over the world is removed so that man may lift his gaze once more to the stars.

I believe that the ovation which was given to the Prime Minister by the people of Germany, and the fact that the name of Chamberlain is to-day a household word in many a humble dwelling in many a country, are indications that the peoples, as distinct perhaps from their Governments, are becoming instinctively conscious of the nature of the abyss towards which we are speeding, and of the supreme necessity of crying a halt. Let us take every precaution that is possible to render ourselves safe against attack; but, while doing that, let us not lose sight of the supreme need of bringing appeasement to a tortured world, a need which the Prime Minister has seen with a greater clarity than is perhaps given to all men, and a goal which he has pursued and is pursuing with a tenacity of purpose which is born of true insight and sustained by an abiding faith. Never perhaps through all the long centuries which have passed away since they were first uttered is there more significance than there is to-day in the words: "Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God."


My Lords, the House has just listened to a very remarkable speech. Had it not been for the noble Marquess's peroration I should have said that I had listened to his speech with profound disappointment. I cannot say that now because the noble Marquess has in his closing words used expressions and risen to a height which must have touched every one of your Lordships. But having said that, I feel entitled to remind your Lordships that, as we all understand it, coupled with our policy of appeasement is our policy of armament, and the noble Lord opposite who initiated this debate was careful I think to limit his remarks to the armament side of our policy and not to the appeasement side of our policy. I came to your Lordships' House to-day with my mind undecided as to whether I should support the noble Lord or not. I thought his statement of the case for an inquiry was presented, if I may say so, in a very admirable manner, and with great respect to the noble Marquess, I do not think that the arguments that were put forward received the attention which they deserved.

The question before the House is whether an inquiry should be set up into the Defence Services, with particular reference to A.R.P. May I remind your Lordships of some of the reasons the noble Marquess gave us why such an inquiry was unnecessary? He said the mobilisation of the Fleet was successfully carried out and that one man arrived at his headquarters before six o'clock. What did the noble Marquess expect? Did he not expect the mobilisation of the Fleet to be successfully carried out?


I did.


It is very satisfactory, but I do not think it is an adequate reason for refusing an inquiry into things which were not perhaps so satisfactory. The noble Marquess paid a tribute to the Territorials who turned out when the call came. So they did, but the question is whether they have the necessary equipment or not. The noble Marquess said that 80 per cent. of the guns and 70 per cent. of the searchlights were available. I hope the Leader of the House will tell us when he replies whether that means 80 per cent. and 70 per cent. respectively of what they had got or 8o per cent. and 70 per cent. respectively of what they needed. If it is against the public interest to tell us, well that is a very good reason for the inquiry which the noble Lord opposite has suggested. The noble Marquess told us of the increase in man-power of the anti-aircraft crews and the great increase in the delivery of gun-mountings and of guns in two four-weekly periods. The noble Marquess was prudent enough to deal in percentages. He said where the number was fifty in one period it was 'co in the next. But when you deal in percentages the vital thing is the actual figure. If you are only getting one in a period of four weeks it does not comfort us very much to be told it was increased by 100 per cent. in the next period of four weeks.

What the noble Marquess overlooks is that there is a feeling of profound disquiet in the country on these questions at the present time. The only reason he gave, I think, directly to negative an inquiry was that it would be a waste of time. I cannot conceive a better use of time if it is going to reassure the country about the past and about the future. Of course the past does not matter anything like so much as the future. What we are all concerned about is the future. Nobody wants the washing of dirty linen in public, but what we do want is to be reassured of the prospects of the future. The country knows that a great deal of money has been spent—I am not going to estimate or try to estimate the numbers of hundreds of millions that have been spent—and there is undoubtedly a very uncomfortable feeling in the country that we have not got value for money. When you are going to make some purchase very often it is good policy to go to the most expensive shop and give carte blanche. Sometimes that results in getting the best value for money. But there is nothing more annoying, as all your Lordships must know, than to pay top price and then feel that you have not got value for money. I think the people in this country are entitled to be reassured as to whether they have got value for money, and, more than that, whether any defects which may have crept in have been, or are in process of being, eliminated.

The noble Viscount below me made some suggestions about a Ministry of Supply and a National Register. I do not propose to say anything about the Ministry of Supply, because I am quite incompetent to do so, but on the question of registration it seems to me there is all the difference in the world between the noble Viscount and the noble Marquess. The country is asking to be told what to do. There is the greatest amount of good will and willingness to serve which you could possibly have. What the country wants is leadership. It wants to be told, every man to his own job. The best example of that which I can give to your Lordships occurred a few days ago at the offices of the local authority in the area in which I live. A well-dressed woman went into the office and said to the town clerk: "I cannot drive a car, I cannot write shorthand, I cannot do typewriting, and I do not know how to work a telephone switchboard. But one thing I can do. I can scrub floors. If you will tell me what floors want scrubbing I am willing to scrub them from morning till night." I believe that is entirely representative of the spirit of the people to-day.

Then may I suggest that what is wanted is an inquiry as to the organisation for production of the three Defence Services. The War Office, the Air Ministry and the Admiralty are staffed by officers and by civil servants. They are not experts in the organisation of production of things like aeroplanes. It seems to me—I think it is almost common knowledge—that it is in the production departments that there must have been overlapping and lack of direction. I think the inquiry might very well take the form of an overhaul by business men who are accustomed to organise production. I hold no brief for the business man as such particularly in reference to policy—that is not his forte at all—but the business man does know how to organise production, and the overhaul of the Service Departments by business men with the specific object in view of the elimination of overlapping could not fail, I personally am convinced, to have very excellent results.

One word on the question of the passive side of air-raid precautions, as the Motion directs attention to that. The evacuation of civilians is a very important part of that, and the Report which has just been published by the Anderson Committee is of very great value. In passing I would like to say that they seem to have gone astray about the number of persons per room. They take a non-parlour house with three bedrooms and say that on the subsidy standard it should accommodate not more than five persons, say one per room. That is not one per room. It is five persons for four rooms. It is rather like the judge whose judgments were always right and whose reasons were always wrong. But the Report does give valuable information about the number of people who could be evacuated, and everything ought to be done to organise that in advance of the emergency.

But there is another very important side of the question of evacuation which must not be neglected, and that is the question of premises. It is just as important to make arrangements for carrying on the business of the county as it is to evacuate civilians. Many businesses—it is referred to in the Anderson Report—are arranging for accommodation outside the danger zone in which they can carry on with their work in the event of war. There is a danger that should the crisis again arrive such businesses may find that the places to which they had intended to go are being requisitioned either by a Government Department or by the local authority. That actually occurred a few weeks ago in the case of a great institution in London. I understand that the Government Department concerned regard it as so secret that no more details may be given. A great deal of this secrecy, it seems to me, is overdone. Naturally every Department thinks it is the most important Department of the Government and that it will be the first target for enemy bombs. For myself I do not quite see how they will be able to function when the time comes without letting people know where they are, but let that pass. This institution made arrangements to transfer itself to the country, and was about to do so in the crisis, when instructions were received from a Government Department that the premises were not available. That institution was forced to cancel its arrangements at the last moment and the state of that institution was worse than if it had made no arrangements at all. Consideration of that aspect of the question must be a part of evacuation organisation. There must be set up some place in which businesses can register their intentions to go to a certain district, it may be to a particular house or set of houses, and they must be allowed to keep a claim on those premises which cannot be overridden in the emergency by any Government Department or local authority.

I regret very much to have to criticise my own Front Bench. But I do feel that at this moment national leadership is what is wanted. The atmosphere of complacence which seems to me to pervade so far the Government reply in this debate fills me with alarm, and if the noble Lord is going to press his Motion for an inquiry to a Division then, unless we get something much more potent from the noble Earl the Leader of the House, I for one shall certainly go with the noble Lord opposite.


My Lords, I came to the House this afternoon definitely opposed to the proposal for an inquiry, but I am bound to say, having listened to the noble Lord opposite and to my noble friend on the Government Front Bench, that I agree with my noble friend Lord Balfour. To my great regret I must say that the Government have failed to convince me that they are alive to the seriousness of the situation. The concluding part of my noble friend's speech dealt with disarmament, and no one can fail to hope that he was right. He hopes for great results from the declaration at Munich, and we must all do the same, but it would be more satisfactory if one saw in the German Press some kind of response to that hope. I read only this morning a report of a speech made by the local Nazi leader at Essen—no small or unimportant place—in which he said: We realise perfectly well that Mr. Chamberlain did not agree to sign the Munich Agreement because he felt an irresistible compulsion to help the Sudeten Germans to attain their national rights. No, he was influenced by two quite simple considerations. First, he saw that the Führer and a nation of 80,000,000 people were determined, if necessary, to fight sword in hand for the vital rights of our Sudeten German brothers. Secondly, he realised that this determination would not be expressed merely in negotiations and words, but that it was backed by an Air Force which, under the leadership of Field-Marshal Goering, was ready to show the English nation in a few days that its splendid isolation had ceased to exist for all time. That is not a solitary example of the kind of thing that is being said in the German Press.

Surely it behoves us, having been extremely grateful—because I think everybody was—to the Prime Minister for having made a very good best of a very bad job, to realise that we were caught napping to a degree to which we are not accustomed in this country, and that we shall not be safe until we can prove to a gentleman such as the Nazi leader of Essen that his remarks do not reflect the situation—that is to say, that we are so well prepared here that no one from abroad is coming across to attack us. I think we are bound to accept that as the situation that has to be met; and, while doing everything possible to work for and cultivate appeasement, do not let us worship appeasement in the same way as some people worship collective security, because if we do it is bound to let us down. There is no reason at all, so far as I can see, to reject the proposal of my noble friend Viscount Swinton, who speaks with unparalleled experience both as the head of a Service Department and as having served under Sir Auckland Geddes in war time. I suggest that we cannot afford to go on, as my noble friend below me appears to think, waiting until this thing has proved to be a success or not. We do not know how long we have to wait, whether it is a day, a week, or a month.

While we must hope that the negotiations between my noble friend below me and the Germans over the many difficult questions that have to be settled will come to a happy and successful issue, we must realise that we are now handicapped as we were when we obstinately held to Free Trade in dealing with countries which were protected. Just as we have found it necessary to protect our industries in order that they may enjoy the advantages which were fought for by the noble Lord opposite and his friends, of work which cannot be had if we pay the foreigner to do it, so let us tumble at last to the fact that there is nobody who can provide security for this country except our own people.


My Lords, I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned.

Moved, That the debate be now adjourned till to-morrow.—(Lord Strickland.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.