§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty as followeth—
§ "Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."
§ LORD ADDISON had given Notice of an Amendment—namely, to add at the end of the Address the words: "but we humbly represent to Your Majesty that this House regrets that there is no reference in Your Majesty's gracious Speech to any intention on the part of Your Majesty's Ministers to propose the formation of a Ministry of Supply in order to ensure the rapid, efficient and economical provision of arms and equipment for Your Majesty's Forces."
The noble Lord said: My Lords, it will be within the recollection of your Lordships that on May 23 this year a Motion similar to the one now before you was moved by my noble friend Lord 40 Mottistone, and was debated at length. I would not have ventured to go back to the subject had it not been for the character of the discussion which took place in your Lordships' House last week, and for the very critical events which have supervened and have shed a fresh, and in my judgment a very significant, light upon the circumstances. First may I suggest what a Ministry of Supply should not be? It should not be a Ministry of Defence. I am not quite sure as an interested onlooker what the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence has been doing all this time, but one assumes that he has been engaged with matters affecting strategy, matters which would arise between the high commands, matters affecting the disposition of the different branches of the Fighting Services, their correlation with one another, and, so far as air defence is concerned, the correlation between fighting squadrons and the supply and allocation of anti-aircraft guns, and with a hundred and one other matters of a similar kind, all of great importance and all to be determined by the military chiefs. I rather suspect that he has to some extent been meddling with supply, although his office is not constituted either with powers or personnel to make it able to do so effectively.
Something else that a Ministry of Supply need not be in times of peace is a body with extensive compulsory powers. Here I would refer to the words of the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, last week, because they betray, I suggest, a real misunderstanding of what the proper functions of a Ministry of Supply should be in time of peace. The noble Earl said that
it is quite useless to set up a Ministry of Supply unless you give it compulsory powers.…
I suggest that that is an entire misconception of what is required. A Ministry of Supply would not require compulsory powers, so far as I understand it at present, other than those which are properly possessed by the Service Departments whose powers it would take and for whom it would operate. They have fairly extensive powers there. It would certainly not require the kind of powers which the noble Earl has suggested—namely, to compel this or that work to be undertaken in any particular factory, to take over works, and things of that kind. The programme of the Government, large as it
is, is really trivial in comparison with our manufacturing resources, and I am quite sure that if our organisation were on the right lines we should find a complete willingness and a complete ability in our manufacturing industry to supply all that was required without compulsory powers.
That is the first point. Another suggestion which has been made, although it was not made by the noble Earl, was that it would require compulsory powers with regard to labour. That again is a misunderstanding. Even during the War we had no compulsory powers in regard to employment. We had what were called the War Munition Volunteers, who could be moved about in accordance with the undertakings they entered into when they volunteered, but they were a very small body, and, as it was, we found ourselves able to move only a very small proportion of them, because they were wanted where they were. Apart from that, except with regard to disputes and so forth, we had no compulsory powers even then over labour. The kind of powers which were exercised related to recruiting questions. During the War it was within our power to grant certificates of exemption from recruitment, and that kind of thing. I suggest that we are now supplied with an organisation which we did not possess at that time. I would remind your Lordships that there was no Ministry of Labour then. There was the old Labour Department of the Board of Trade, which was brought into the Ministry of Munitions, and out of that has since grown the Ministry of Labour. The Ministry of Labour is a highly efficient and extraordinarily well-informed Government Department, and I suggest that it could supply with very little difficulty not only the numbers but also the whereabouts of the types of craft that ought to be exempted. No time should be lost in arranging your schedules of exempted occupations, otherwise we shall have the same kind of trouble as that to which reference was made last week.
Those are things which need not be, but which it is often represented ought to be, done during peace time, and such representations, I suggest, very much prejudice the issue. May I say that I am not moving this Amendment—and I hope I may be given this much credit—in any Party spirit at all. This matter now 42 entirely transcends all Party considerations, and men of all Parties support this proposal. I am only undertaking it because it happens that in my life I have had to do some Party work. The organisation we require in the Ministry of Supply should, I suggest, be dictated by what we want to do. In the first place we clearly want a programme. But the provisional programme of requirements is not the business of the Minister of Supply; it is the business of the Service Departments, which say what they want. The business of the Minister of Supply is a much humbler—shall I say a manufacturing business? It is to supply what is required, to get it manufactured, to place orders in accordance with the capacity of the industry to meet them; to arrange for designs, specifications and other matters, to which I will return. Its business would be to arrange for delivery in a properly-planned order of priority; to arrange for complete assembly, inspection and approval, so as to deliver the completed goods in the form they were asked for to the Services which wanted them.
In the light of that summary of what we ought to do, may I just direct your Lordships' attention to the present methods as set out by the noble Earl last week, and to some of the deficiencies which are only too painfully present in our minds? The present methods were described by Lord Stanhope last week in these words:
You go to the industry itself, to the Engineering Employers' Federation, and say to them, 'We wish to place such-and-such an order. Which is the best place to send it to?' They"—
the Engineering Employers' Federation—
have an organisation spread over the whole of the United Kingdom, divided into areas. They can tell you, 'If you go to such-and-such an area they are already full up with orders. We suggest that you should go to such-and-such an area where we think they can do it for you.'
The noble Earl went on to explain that 92 per cent. of the engineers are in the Federation, and that small firms can be brought in to do various parts of a big order, and he said:
I suggest that that is a far more effective way of doing it than by a horde of officials in Whitehall.
I will return to that expression directly. But let us take that as an exposition of
the method that is now being pursued. I do not suggest that in any circumstances whatever would this business be undertaken by a horde of officials in Whitehall. I cannot imagine anybody who knows anything about it ever making a suggestion of that kind. I am afraid that, in prejudicing the case a little by the introduction of phrases of that sort, the noble Earl has allowed his rather prejudiced imagination to be unchecked by his reason.
Let me just analyse the argument. Of course in any case we should have to work, and should work, and everybody would be glad to work, on the most friendly terms with all the employers' associations, and there would be no difficulty whatever, whether you have a Ministry of Supply or not. But the Engineering Employers' Federation, in the first place, do not know, and cannot know, the state of the order book of the different members. They do not know what the orders are which the different firms have on their books, how their machines are employed, what their spare machine capacity is, what their spare labour capacity is. The Engineering Employers' Federation know in general terms, but of course they do not have details of the internal business arrangements of their constituent members before them in that way. Even if they did know, that would not cover the field by any means.
This is a very complex business; it extends far beyond any one organisation. One might have thought, listening to the speech last week, that you simply went to an engineering firm and said, "Make me an engine," or to somebody else and said, "Make me a 'plane." It is not that at all; it is much bigger than that. Take, for example, engineering instruments: not one group only but whole groups of industries are concerned in the provision of engineering instruments. They are in a separate federation altogether; they are not associated with the Engineering Employers' Federation. Take optical glass: it intrudes itself into three or four different industries quite separate from engineering. I pray your Lordships that you will not think I am mentioning the federation in any disparaging terms. They do their job splendidly, but this is not their job; it never was, and they 44 would not undertake it if you wanted them to. Take the whole branch of manufacture of scientific instruments. All kinds of non-ferrous and other metals are made use of in highly specialised ways which are quite outside the ordinary knowledge of any federation. Then there is the whole range of trades and industries relating to telephones, and another group connected with material in one form or another. It is useless to expect that any employers' organisation, with the best will in the world, can put you in touch with the whole of these trades and industries. It cannot do it, and it is not to be expected that you would achieve success in that way.
Then there is something else which no organisation of this kind can do. It cannot arrange your priority. It has not a knowledge of the programme. If you say that you want 1,000 aeroplanes of a particular design, of course it would be for the industries and manufacturers which are involved in your programme to supply them, but it is not their business to know your programme. It is the business of the Department or Departments which want the supplies provided. So far as priority is concerned, I will quote one or two instances of the lamentable results of the complete inability of your system to provide the priority which is necessary. There is nothing new in what the noble Earl said last week. I see that before the Public Accounts Committee on May 14, 1935, three and a half years ago, the Secretary of the Ministry for Air said that they were using the Aircraft Manufacturers' Association in the very way described by the noble Earl, and he said:
The forthcoming orders will require the whole maximum output of all the firms in the industry.
I suggest to your Lordships that if this system of obtaining supplies had been sufficient and successful we should not, three and a half years afterwards, have been in this position.
It clearly has not succeeded, and it is not difficult to find out why. Let me take one or two matters in which it is admitted there is a deficiency. There is a big shortage, it is not denied, of antiaircraft guns. Nothing can be more dramatic than the revelations of the shortages as set out by the Secretary of State for War in another place only a few days ago, and it does not need any one on this side of the House or anywhere 45 else to invent others. We have a very striking list provided for us. Some of the guns were sent without the associated equipment, and we know that without the proper equipment a gun is of no use as a gun. That means there has not been proper organisation, priority and assembly. The gun manufacturer may have delivered the gun to time, but all the other things were not there, as the Secretary of State has told us. Some were sent without dial sights and predictors. Indeed, a goodly list is supplied by the Government to show that this system is not working efficiently, and the fact is particularly manifested in regard to the supply of instruments and ancillary equipment, which have not kept pace with the guns. Somebody ought to have known of that; but the man making the gun would not know of it, nor would the man making the telescopes know whether the man making the mountings was up to date. It could only be known, or ought to be known, by a central department, which should have appropriate powers to see that these were keeping pace with one another.
Then he tells us that one small firm—I think he must refer to dials—was not keeping its contract, and that if it had been he could have supplied twice as many guns. That firm would have come under the methods of which we were told by the noble Earl last week. I have a vivid recollection of a special difficulty which occurred in the War, and which bears exactly on this point. We were likely to have great delay by being held up by the provision of scientific apparatus—range finders—and the ordinary manufacturing capacity of the country was insufficient. At that time we had not a Ministry of Labour, with its splendid catalogue of competent mechanics, as we have now. We found that amongst the people employed in trades allied to branches of the jewellery and clock-making trades, there was exactly the kind of skill which we wanted. That meant that orders were placed with firms quite unaccustomed to these things who were asked to turn over their machines and men to making them. It shows that the system is wrong if the whole of this business is dependent upon one firm, and if, because one small item of supply is short, it is impossible for the proper number of guns to be put into service. It must be wrong, because it does not ex- 46 plore your manufacturing capacities or anything like it.
In another case the Secretary of State for War said that there were two kinds of ammunition for two kinds of gun, and that they got the wrong type of ammunition, which did not fit. We know as a matter of fact that in the case of the Browning gun for some reason one Department had changed their propellant from nitro-cellulose to cordite, and that with the nitro-cellulose propellant it was a rimless cartridge, but with the cordite a rimmed cartridge was provided and it stuck in the breech. A system which has these results must be defective.
Does the noble Lord suggest that this Ministry of Supply should take on the question of design as well as of supply?
§ LORD ADDISON
I am coming to its functions. I was trying to analyse the defects of the present system, but I will answer the noble Viscount in advance, and will say "Yes, I do." It would be responsible owing to the multiplicity of Departments which are concerned with design, and quite rightly use would be made of the designers of all the firms. At the present time we have no fewer than fifty different patterns of bomb racks. How confusing it must be to the unfortunate man who has to use them. I could, if necessary, multiply illustrations of unnecessary duplication of this kind, which must mean delay in manufacture and supply, must mean confusion in assembly, and must mean difficulty in inspection.
The noble Earl tried to suggest that three and a half years was not such a very long time, and he said it took three years to make big guns. I direct your Lordships' attention to the fact that he said "big guns." I ventured to contradict it, and I have looked up the facts since then; but I knew at the time I was right, and I was. The gun programme in May, 1915, was a very small programme indeed, and the big-gun programme—6-inch, 8.2 and 9-inch howitzers—was not formulated until June and July, 1915. Therefore when the noble Earl said that those guns were not in the field three years afterwards, in 1917, he was a year wrong, because that is only two years. But long before that 47 there was an abundant supply of lighter guns—the anti-aircraft guns of which we were talking, in which we were so deficient the other day, perhaps still are—and the guns required against low-flying aircraft are light guns. There was an abundance of them in the last War long before three years had expired.
As a matter of fact, I looked up the facts relating to that particular time, and I found a letter from Field-Marshal Haig saying he was getting two million rounds of field ammunition a week, and asking us not to send any more at that time because we were blocking the quays on the other side. And that was why Sir Eric Geddes had to go across and reorganise the rail arrangements over there. We were told to hold our hands because we could not get the shipping for fifty thousand tons a week across the Channel. So the noble Earl was wrong as a matter of history when he said that the supplies of this kind took three years to supply. There was an abundance of them before two years were out. I suggest that a review of these difficulties shows that the excessive delay, the multiplicity of designs and the confusion in the assembly are traceable to the absence of unified direction of these important branches of supply.
Now I come to the matter about which the noble Viscount asked me—the general control of design and the function of a Ministry of Supply. The Services will tell you what they want, and of course they have to approve the design, and that is the main reason why the reports of the heads of the different Services must be in your Ministry of Supply. The designs must be married to the provision of specifications which arise out of the design. They cannot be separated from one another: we had great difficulty for a long time in the last War because for a time they were. It was admitted in another place by the Secretary of State for War that the orders for the anti-aircraft gun were not settled till the middle of 1937. That is more than two years after this programme had begun. The words of the Secretary of State for Air were "to fill the manufacturers to their utmost capacity." And it was nearly two and half years after that before you settled the design of the main anti-aircraft gun. It shows that the system is not 48 working efficiently and with speed, as it ought to do.
There is another defect which could be remedied by the bringing together of these different Services, that is, that you can explore manufacturing capacity. One of the main reasons for the shortage of these dial sights, for example, is that we have not explored manufacturing capacity. Let me give an actual quotation. I will not give the name of the firm of course, but it is a very responsible firm. This is a quotation from a letter from that firm:We have had to discharge many of our men.… Apart from a very small machining order, we are unable to find anything to do. We applied to the Air Ministry Director of Contracts for further work. We were told to apply to the Society of British Aircraft Constructors. They sent us a list of nineteen or twenty firms. We applied to them all. Many of them were in need of work themselves. The others had no work to give out. We are definitely short of aircraft work. We have now only half the number of people employed on this work, compared with six months ago.That means that you are not using your manufacturing capacity because no group of persons has before it the record of what the manufacturing capacity is.
I well remember that when the local munitions committees, that is, employers in the different districts, were got together in wartime—and I cannot see why you cannot copy that now; I am sure they would help you with entire good will—they discovered a wealth of manufacturing capacity in every district, which had never been tapped. And it exists now, I am quite sure, and could be discovered. Then again, local machinery of that kind, somewhat akin to the munitions committees of wartime, would enable us to discover quite quickly where skilled labour was not being sufficiently employed. I have a report here from a very responsible accountant in which he says that in one of our shadow factories in one particular week, out of £3,000 paid in wages £1,000 was for unaccounted time because there was no synchronisation of delivery, and therefore the men were hanging about, so much so that the unions protested and asked for work to be given to their men. While that kind of thing goes on you cannot expect the unions to be willing to accept what they call dilution, because they know perfectly well that there is a great amount of unused skill, owing primarily to the fact that we have not got a system by which we can 49 inform ourselves of our manufacturing capacity.
I could enlarge upon this, but I will not weary your Lordships by doing so at any length. But take just one other illustration of the need for, and the value of, a central organisation—material supplies and machine supplies. It is very often the case that, owing to the deficient supplies of some material or other, work will be held up, and even more so by the absence of machine tools. Our machine-tool industry is probably the best equipped of any machine-tool industry in the world. The machine tools required for this programme are really a bagatelle compared with our capacity to produce. There would not be a shortage if the capacity had been properly surveyed, and there had been a proper schedule of machines, and we knew where they were—the Ministry of Labour could tell us where the skilled men are—so as to secure a proper beginning of every process of manufacture—jigs, gauges, special machines, and all the rest of it, provided for, and ordered, in proper places and at the right time. This cannot be done by the system of sub-contracting.
If you place a big chunk of an order with a big firm, and they arrange to supply by letting it out to other firms, the sub-contractors cannot arrange amongst themselves with the expedition that could be secured if the thing were dealt with by one contracting organisation. They cannot arrange to get their machine tools and all the rest of the things they require in proper time and proper order. It is beyond the capacity of any small sub-contractor. He goes to his supplier and waits his turn, sometimes he has to wait a long time, and as long as he waits the work is held up. A system of sub-contracting working like that cannot give you priority in any case. You cannot get priority of assembly by subcontracting. Sub-contracting can be used as part of your machinery, but it must not be left blank to a firm to do the best it can for itself by sub-contracting. That system cannot give you priority, it cannot give you assembly in due order, and it is because we have not done these things that these gross and dangerous defects are existing.
I do not think I could condemn the system more tersely and more truly than the Secretary of State for War himself did only a few days ago, when he said: 50Under 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.I believe that the noble Lord, the Lord Chancellor, is going to reply, and I hope he will be good enough to give an explanation of what his colleague meant when he said that. I am sure it is true. If a system is censured like that by the responsible Secretary of State for War, who is in a better position than anybody else to know how it is functioning, surely it is not unreasonable to suggest that the system should be changed, which is what I am suggesting.
I will not enlarge on that, but will for a moment return to the point made by the noble Earl. He spoke of "hordes of officials." That is a favourite phrase of his. It occurs twice in his speech. I have seen that sort of thing in the Daily Mail, but I have never been very convinced by it. Let us just have a look at the matter. How many Departments do you think you have now doing different bits of design? There must be several even in the Air Ministry. I am sure there are several in the War Office, and they must be all over the place. Then, too, manufacturers have their own designers. There would not be more people employed in making designs. The chances are there would be fewer. You would, of course, I have no doubt, have to utilise your existing accommodation by having the design department in one place and somebody else who had to survey the requirements in such things as non-ferrous metals in another. You would not employ more. They would be assorted differently. It is not hordes of officials, but the most competent people who are wanted. What is wanted is to see they are employed in a rational way and that the work is directed properly.
The noble Earl also suggested—this I do not understand—that it would interfere with our overseas trade. He drew a picture of one firm in a district flourishing by having good orders from overseas, and a firm near-by sacrificing itself by executing orders for the War Office. Assuming that to be true, this system is not going to operate against it. The association of employers would not come and interfere with the firm, which has orders for overseas trade. The criticism that the Government make does not apply 51 at all. What the noble Earl suggests is merely camouflage. It does not mean anything in relation to this scheme at all. I am sure that if this thing were properly sorted out, seeing that the capacity of our engineering and allied trades is infinitely beyond anything that this programme involves, it would mean that those engaged in these trades would have orders, they would know where they were, they would know what was expected of them, they would have a timetable of manufacture, they would be better able to undertake overseas orders, and they would be in a better position than they are now under the existing scramble.
Finally, I would entreat the Government to reconsider this matter. Certainly the House and the public are entitled to very much better reasons for adhering to the method which is attended by these lamentable results, than the reasons advanced by the noble Earl. I suggest that a Ministry of Supply can be set up by bringing together proper powers from the different War Departments. It would not need to touch the provision of steel for common purposes, but it would act for the supplies that were required to be provided and that necessarily overlap in their manufacture—internal combustion engines and the like. You could extend its range as experience required. You would unify manufacture and all the principal types of munitions required. I suggest that it would avoid confusion, and would lead to more effective and more economical designs and specification. It would lead to a better placing of orders, and it would certainly prevent the overlapping of orders, because it is unreasonable that no body of persons should know what all the orders are. Now your right hand does not know what your left hand is doing. That must be wrong.
Then it would enable us to obtain proper priority, it would lead to the more effective and economical use of material and machinery, and it would lead to a great reduction of costs. I do not know what we are spending now. Perhaps the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman, knows; but it is not far short of £1,000,000 a day. That is probably within the mark. Absence of method of this kind must be attended by price inflation which we cannot possibly control. Nobody wants any- 52 body to work without being properly paid, and it may be that the system suggested by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, last week might operate fairly. All I say is that I am sure an efficient costing system, reasonably applied—and I am sure it would not be applied in any hard-hearted way by the present Government—would lead to immense economics. It would save us millions; that is a very moderate statement. The organisation I am suggesting would lead to proper arrangements for assembly, for inspection of your completed supplies, for orderly deliveries, and, finally, it would make a much better and more effective use of our splendid resources in machinery and labour. I beg to move.
At the end of the Motion insert ("but we humbly represent to Your Majesty that this House regrets that there is no reference in Your Majesty's gracious Speech to any intention on the part of Your Majesty's Ministers to propose the formation of a Ministry of Supply in order to ensure the rapid, efficient and economical provision of arms and equipment for Your Majesty's Forces").—(Lord Addison.)
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
My Lords, I naturally support my noble friend who has moved this Amendment to the Address, because it is couched in the same terms as the Motion which I moved last Session. I support it all the more in view of two entirely new facts which have emerged since the noble Marquess, Lord Zetland, made his reply for the Government and this House rejected the Motion I then made, which was identical with the Amendment we are now considering—namely, that we ought at once to set up a Ministry of Supply or Munitions Supply—the name does not matter. We ought to have a Ministry similar to that which we found it necessary to set up during the last War. I will not go into all the instances of failure of co-ordination, because in his extraordinarily simple and exhaustive statement my noble friend has shown conclusively that these failures on a great scale were revealed by what took place recently.
The first of the two new facts to which I refer is that we have had what is called a dress rehearsal, of which I happen to know a great deal, because in one of my capacities, that of President of a Territorial Association, I had to know about what was taking place when the Territorials were mobilised for the purposes of 53 anti-aircraft defence. It is quite unnecessary to dwell upon what occurred. The Secretary of State for War has announced the failure to keep pace with supplying the predictors which were necessary to make the guns of any use. That sort of thing seems to happen in every war. But this was a very bad case. The result was that the expenditure of tens of millions of money was rendered absolutely useless by this failure to co-ordinate the efforts for the supply of anti-aircraft guns. It was no use to have the gun sights and mountings and ammunition unless the predictors were also available for service. I am here to say that the arguments that we ventured to address to your Lordships some three months ago have been proved to be absolutely sound. In opposition to His Majesty's Government, who stated that what we advocated was not necessary in peace time, we replied that we were quite certain that these things were happening. It is not necessary to refer to them in detail, but I can prove that the things that my noble friend and I myself said are true. We knew that they must be so from our experiences at the Ministry of Munitions at the end of the War. We knew that these things were happening, that there was no unity of direction and therefore no co-ordination of effort.
It was possible for His Majesty's Government then to say: "We do not think you are right." They added: "Of course we have the plan to put this machinery in motion when war comes." To my noble friend, the noble Marquess said in effect: "We can press the button when we like." We said "Why not press it now?" He replied: "It is not necessary." I submit that we won this little battle of wits and I do not think the Lord Chancellor when he comes to reply will deny that. We said that there were these failures of co-ordination, and that the Government ought to press the button at once. We were told that that was not necessary in peace time; that the Government would not press the button now; that they relied on the Minister for Co-ordination of Defence and other efforts to ensure all that was required being done. But it has not been done. We failed, and failed lamentably. We are a great and powerful nation—no one doubts that—but we failed lamentably. Now let us try the plan which worked so well in 1915, 1916, 1917 and 1918.
54 I need do no more than point out that really the history of that period shows that what we respectfully put forward must be true. The men who directed the Army, Navy and Air Force in 1914 and 1915—the Air Force was then not separate, but there were separate Departments within the War Office and within the Admiralty—were not fools; they were exceptionally able men. They were very efficient people, yet in spite of that there was failure. My noble friend Lord Mersey reminded me only a moment or two ago that at the Dardanelles', where he was serving, they found that they had some admirable guns, which they badly needed in their desperate fighting against the Turks, but the munition which was sent out was no good at all because it would not fit the guns. Of course those things were put right by the Ministry of Munitions. I can assure the House that when I went to the Ministry of Munitions at the end of the War, I was astonished and amazed — these words are not too strong — at the efficiency with which the former unco-ordinated efforts had been co-ordinated into a whole. To go to the Munitions Council and hear a point like that raised—that the munitions did not fit the guns or that a mathematical instrument that was vital was not there—and to see the rapidity with which it was put right was a revelation. But anyone who has had to do with the great Fighting Services in administration, as I have, will agree, I think, that it has been absolutely proved that that is actually what did take place. Although I know there are technical difficulties in accepting an Amendment to the Address in reply to the gracious Speech, I hope that we shall hear from His Majesty's Government that in view of all the facts the case for a Ministry of Supply is proved.
The other new fact, which some may think does not tell so strongly in favour of this Amendment, is nevertheless one of importance; indeed, as it seems to me, it is one of the most important things that has happened during the last hundred or five hundred years. I refer to the joint declaration of two great Powers, made by our Prime Minister on the one hand and the German Chancellor on the other, that the two peoples hope never again to go to war with one another. That is one of the most extraordinary facts that has happened in the lifetime of anyone now 55 living. To suggest that it is of no value is childish. No one who has had to do with the ex-Servicemen like my noble friend Lord Cavan and myself can deny that through the organisations of ex-Servicemen in France, Italy, Germany and England, we do know that the peoples of those four countries passionately desire to avoid war, and it is probable that their rulers do so too. In my opinion it is an epoch-making declaration, which undoubtedly reflects the opinions of all those who fought in the last War and probably the opinions of all of us.
The peoples who were brought up to the precipice saw what it looked like; they saw the swirling waters below, and all decided that war was not much fun. No man can think that a future war is going to be much fun. Seeing that these defensive lines, especially now with the introduction of high-velocity bullets and quick-firing machine-guns have made defence so much more powerful, there is not much fun in war. The phrase, "Women and children first," or as it is put in German "Zuerst Frauen und Kinder," will be reversed, seeing that we are not going to be hurt in a jolly old war for weeks and weeks, but the women and children will be, especially the little ones, because they will die in thousands. The whole thing is so mad that I quite agree that it will probably come to an end, and let us hope that it will be so. You cannot say these things at by-elections apparently, but we in this House can say that if we go on—and I agree with my noble friend that his estimate perhaps is not very far out—spending so much money in unproductive ways, we cannot do so without the standard of living being brought lower and lower. At by-elections, of course, you have to say that the Social Services will be maintained. I am here to say that, even if my noble friend Lord Snell were Prime Minister, he and all his Party in such circumstances could not prevent a rapid diminution in the standard of living, no matter by what method of taxation they tried to avoid it.
Down must go our standard of living and comfort unless we arrest this armaments race. For Heaven's sake let us take every method of arresting it, and it seems to me likely that we probably shall do so. If that is so, I can imagine the 56 Prime Minister, to whom the whole world owes so much, saying: "Yes, there is a prospect that we may arrest this mad race to misery and poverty, so where is the need for a Ministry of Supply?" I answer that there is all the more need for it for two reasons. First of all, we cannot arrest it now. We have got to have some sort of agreement before we begin to arrest it. Then for Heaven's sake let us do the thing on an economic and sensible basis as long as we have to go on doing it. The second and more hopeful reason is that when that happy day does come, as I am sure it will come, because men are not going to commit hari-kari, you will have an immense advantage if you have this machinery ready to your hand. You will save hundreds of millions of pounds as you arrest the process, and what is much more important you will mitigate to a surprising degree the hardships to the individual who must switch over from making munitions to doing other work.
I would not have ventured to say that to your Lordships had it not been that I have perhaps exceptional knowledge of it, for at the end of the Great War, in the absence of Mr. Churchill, I was charged with this function as the senior man for the job. The fact that we had an extraordinarily effective Munitions Council to help enabled me, when I had to go to meet Marshal Foch, to decide what to stop making and what to do with the people thrown out of work. It was due to the Ministry of Munitions, as I am sure my noble friend will agree, that hardship was mitigated and that no less a sum than hundreds of millions of pounds was saved. So, for both those reasons, I expect the Government to say that the new factors which have arisen show that Lord Addison's proposal was really all the time for the best and they accept it.
§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
My Lords, the reason I am supporting this Amendment is that I support the Government's policy which has been publicly stated to get on with the defences of this country as quickly as possible. I think that supporting the establishment of a Ministry of Supply means supporting the Government's policy. Last week, when a Motion for an inquiry was introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, this subject of a Ministry of Supply was debated 57 at some length by some of your Lordships, particularly by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, the late Secretary of State for Air. I only touched on one point at that time—the Government contention that it would cause delay—and I only very briefly touched on it. I would like now to supplement my remarks on that point. In the Great War it was quite well known that the Fleet made us secure and therefore we could proceed in our own time to set up all those offices that became necessary in the War. I do not think the Government realise that the next war is not going to be like the last War, and I would ask the noble Lord who is going to reply for the Government to answer this question: Were the Government going to set up a Ministry of Supply the next morning if war had come? If that was the intention, would it have been so easy to set it up? Without exaggerating the effect of bombing from the air, and without accepting the extravagant claim that London might be laid flat, it is possible that a bomb might have hit one of the Cabinet offices or even the War Office. In that event, even if all preparations had been made for setting up a Ministry of Supply, it would not have been so easy. Certainly the delay then would have been very great. Even if the telephone exchanges were not knocked about it would not have been easy to set up a Ministry of Supply. I say again that conditions are very different to-day. If the Government were going to have a Ministry of Supply On September 26 or 27—which I doubt—would it have been possible?
My next point is this. I am a great believer, as I hope many of your Lordships are, in first things first. Why are there these innumerable discussions about defence? It is because of the air. Does anyone think that we should have these crises and emergencies, or that we should be digging trenches in Hyde Park, except for that? What had we actually prepared to meet the emergency when it came? The Navy. I am saying nothing against the Navy having its guns and searchlights and munitions and having its ships mobilised, but the noble and gallant Lord who sits on the Cross Benches told us last week that what the Navy could have done was to have cut the rations of the aggressor in the future. The Army was short of searchlights and guns. It is admitted by the Government that they were short 58 of those things. But yet they were to my belief the more important. Can anybody deny that there was an even more urgent need for searchlights and guns for the Army than for the Navy to be prepared? If you can do both those things so much the better.
The noble Lord who introduced this Amendment this afternoon referred also to anti-aircraft guns. It is stated that we have the 3-inch gun, which is the old gun that was used in the War, modernised, and is very good; now we have the 3.7-inch, or are getting it, and for the Army we are making a 4.5-inch gun, and the Navy have a 4-inch gun which is very good. I am not talking about the mountings, which must be different, or about the low-flying aircraft which may be met out at sea, but of the anti-aircraft gun firing at aircraft at 20,000 feet or more. Why can they not be the same?
Two years ago, when this matter was discussed, we were spending in the neighbourhood of £150,000,000; now we are spending over £400,000,000. Surely this is an argument which should be considered, and the sum will be larger still if what I see in the newspapers and hear talked about is true: that a new programme is going to be introduced. I have also heard, as the noble Lord has heard and other noble Lords must have heard, that many factories which are willing and keen to work on these deficiencies are not being employed, for some reason, or no reason at all. I do not want to go into stories of the last War, because we are talking of setting up this Ministry in peace, but I cannot help thinking that what I have in mind is just as likely to happen in peace as it is in war. During the last War I happened to go into an hotel in Paris, where I found 150 aeroplane engines, which had been lying there for three or four months. I wanted them very badly. I was in the Army then—there was no Air Force. They were lying there waiting for the machines, which were not going to be ready for another three or four days. Are not there some of these appliances, some of these guns, some of these searchlights, of which we are so short, lying in the possession of other Services?
Now I come to the reasons which we have heard against the Ministry. I have only heard three. One is that it is no use without drastic powers. I dislike that word "drastic." It is always used by 59 people who do not want to set up something: they say that they could not do it without drastic powers. But I would refer to what the Government have done now. They have appointed the Lord Privy Seal to deal with air-raid precautions and National Register with no compulsory powers, and yet they say that the Ministry of Supply would be no use without compulsory powers. It beats me how anyone can say that, although you do not need compulsory powers for a National Register, you must not set up a Ministry of Supply without powers to deal with those points which I have mentioned, which require no powers whatever to deal with. It must not be assumed that the Government are going to put into the Ministry of Supply a man who would act as a bull in a china shop and upset the export trade of the country. I agree that that is a most important point, but he would certainly remember it. Why should he not, six months after he is appointed, report what powers, if any, are necessary, as I understand the Lord Privy Seal will do in regard to the National Register?
My last point is this. The noble Earl the Leader of the House is not here, and I hope I am not misinterpreting him, but I think that in his reasons against the Ministry he referred to the fact that it would be dotted all over London and said he knew from his past experience that this would be very inconvenient. My experience, not in that capacity but as subordinate to the Minister, was perhaps ever greater, and certainly I lived for fourteen years under a system by which the Departments have always been split up. They are split up to-day, and it is essential in these days. That argument makes me feel that the Government do not realise what this new war is. It is essential that Departments should be split up and not in one building. I ask the noble Lord, when he replies for the Government, to consider earnestly this question of setting up a Ministry of Supply without these drastic powers, and to see what can be done. I hope we shall not be told that if the Government were on the Opposition Benches and the Labour Party on the Government Benches, they would be demanding a Ministry of Supply and it would be refused. I support with all the power I 60 can the setting-up of a Ministry of Supply.
My Lords, it is rather difficult for me, a layman, to follow Lord Trenchard, Lord Mottistone and the former Minister of Munitions, and to take an opposite point of view from that of these noble Lords who have such great and intimate knowledge of the subject on which they have spoken. I feel that I must intervene in this debate to-day because last week, when the question of air-raid precautions was discussed in your Lordships' House, I ventured to oppose the setting-up of a Ministry of Supply. This afternoon, I confess, we have heard very potent arguments in favour of a Ministry of Supply, but at the same time some of the arguments that have been used are not altogether analogous to the conditions under which we are living to-day.
The Ministry of Munitions and Supply in the Great War was set up at a time when some 2,000,000 or 3,000,000 men had to be kept in the field and in reserve in France. It was set up particularly for the supply of materials for those men, and for the supply of shells, which, if I remember rightly, was the immediate reason for its establishment. To-day I can conceive of no war—and I think the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, will agree with me—in which a similar state of affairs will arise, in which we will have to send 2,000,000 or 3,000,000 men across the Channel to sit in their trenches for two or three years. On the other hand, to-day we have very specialised sets of services. We have the aircraft, which requires very special consideration in the way of design and so on; we have a mechanised Army, which requires similar careful consideration of design; and the Navy is practically in the same position to-day, with a large number of electrical contrivances, such as you may see on any man-of-war. That, surely, has set up a very different set of conditions to the set of conditions on which Lord Addison was arguing in his speech, and it was for that reason that I ventured to intervene, and to ask him whether he meant that the Ministry of Supply should cover design as well as supply.
My noble friends Lord Mottistone and Lord Trenchard did not deal with that point at all, and I think it is a most important point in connection with a 61 Ministry of Supply. If you are going merely to hand over supply to a Minister who will be given designs of what is required, I do not see great difficulty, but I do foresee very great difficulty if you are going to take your designing departments from the three War Departments, and hand them over to the Ministry of Supply, and let that Ministry do what it considers right in connection with those designs. That is where delay is going to arise, and it will take probably a year before you can make your arrangements under which the designing departments of the different War Departments will function properly and smoothly in a coordinated position. Indeed, I am not quite sure, and I would like to hear it argued, whether it would be a wise thing at all to hand over your designs to a Minister of Supply, under the very special conditions in which the Departments are operating to-day. In any case the delay which must take place owing to the handing over of designs to the Ministry of Supply, in my judgment, militates against the setting up of a Ministry of Supply to-day.
I am not theoretically against the setting up of a Ministry of Supply. Indeed, I believe that possibly you would have to have a Ministry of Supply if it came to war, but to set it up at this moment, when we are engaged in speeding up armaments as much as possible, would, I submit to your Lordships, be a wrong thing to do. I venture to suggest that if the Employers' Federation is not considered to be adequate for giving the advice which they tender in connection with priority, and so on, to the various factories, perhaps the Government might consider the setting up of an expert Advisory Committee of manufacturers and business men drawn from the various trades to which Lord Addison has referred. If that were done you would obtain, I believe, immediate results towards the speeding up of production. I have no objection, in fact I would like to see the Government set up an inquiry into the possibility of establishing a Ministry of Supply along the lines which have been advocated with such powerful voices in the House to-day, but I feel that it would be a great disaster if, this afternoon, your Lordships were to agree that a Ministry of Supply should be immediately instituted, because it would have no other result that that of holding up 62 and delaying the whole question of the manufacture of armaments in this country.
My Lords, I intervene only for a few minutes to support my noble friend Lord Addison in the Motion which he has moved. I believe I am right in saying that it is only the third time in this century that your Lordships have been invited to make an addition to the humble Address, but I think that fact marks the importance of this subject. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone—I, and I am sure your Lordships, thank him very much for the interesting speech which he has delivered—said there were technical reasons against accepting the Amendment. I think the noble Lord, if he will allow me to say so, is allowing his mind to hark back to his old battles in another place. There, an Amendment to the Address would involve the resignation of the Government. I do not think the noble Marquess, Lord Zetland, who is on this occasion leading the House, or the Lord Chancellor, would maintain for a moment that this Amendment, if carried against the Government, would in the ordinary course mean the resignation of the Government. If that had been the case we should have had their resignation several times during the passage of the Coal Bill a few months ago, and unfortunately it did not happen. When the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, said what he did about the ex-Servicemen not wishing to fight each other again I agree with him. It is true about the general public also. As I have said on every platform when I have addressed public meetings there is no ill-feeling in this country against the German people or the German nation, as such. They have nothing but our sympathy.
As Lord Addison has said, we have had a most extraordinary example of what I call political Buchmanism by the Secretary of State for War. He stood up in another place last week and bared nearly his whole soul. Nearly, because he left out many things some of which I could fill in, but he told us sufficient to show that the present system is not working, and that, as Lord Addison has shown, with a wealth of detail and experience, it cannot work. I am going, if I may, to give your Lordships a case which came to my personal notice quite recently. I have a friend with an extensive engineering business with whom I do business, 63 outside munitions altogether. He came to me a few days ago and told me the following. He had been attempting to obtain orders to make a certain article of vital equipment for one of the great Fighting Services, and he could not get orders. When the crisis came in September there was a tremendous shortage of this vital article of equipment. Immediately afterwards he was given a very large contract, and he has now had to extend his factory and get very busy. Then he found he could not get certain metal forgings anywhere. It so happened that I had another friend in business who is a very great maker of these particular metal forgings, and I said: "Very well, I will take you to my friend." And my friend who made the forgings said to my first friend: "Under ordinary circumstances I should have to say to you at once, 'No.' I am doing a lot of Government work, I have a big export business, and a large home trade, and I could not look at it. But it so happens that Lord Strabolgi is a friend of mine and you are a friend of his, and I want to help you. So I will tell my manager to-night to get extra machinery and extra men, and we will do this." And this was an article of equipment of the most vital importance for one of the great Fighting Services. That is the way things are being done now. Just by chance the one man came to me and I happened to know the other. But what a condemnation of the system. How appalling it is that that should have to happen—and there are many other examples of the same kind.
Reference has been made to the defects in equipment experienced in the last Great War. At the beginning of the last Great War the Royal Navy found itself very short of optical lenses for the telescopic gun sights, and we had to use bribery and corruption to get them from Zeiss of Jena and other foreign makers through Switzerland, that is, from the German optical glass makers. I am going to put it to the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India as a member of the Committee of Imperial Defence—have we got enough optical glass now for the gun sights? The answer is "No." You have not got the necessary manufacturing facilities even yet, twenty-four years afterwards. This morning a friend of mine, a member of another place, who represents 64 a great city, a great manufacturing centre, told me that in his constituency there are twenty engineering firms of efficiency and repute who cannot get work from the Government on munitions, and they are having to get rid of some of their skilled men. That is the sort of thing that is going on. The case is overwhelming for this Amendment of my noble friend.
I am not sure at all that the Government yet understand the gravity of the position. I shall be very interested to learn from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack whether he really understands what we are up against. We want parity in arms, we want such power that we can speak on equal terms in the diplomatic counsels of the world. This is the Prime Minister's own policy. Very well, what does that mean? It means the expansion of the Air Force to provide a striking force at least equal to the greatest Air Force within striking distance of us, that is, Germany. I think that will be admitted. It is no use going in only for passive defence—digging yourselves in and piling up anti-aircraft guns, you have got to have a striking force.
The noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India, who is a great follower of the drama, will remember a play called Richard of Bordeaux. Does he remember that the King, at the height of his power, was asked by one of his nobles what was the secret of his power. He said, "The secret of my power, my Lord, is two thousand archers, paid every Saturday." What is the secret of Germany's power? Two thousand long-range bombing aeroplanes, instantly ready for use—that is the secret of German power to-day. Well, we have got to have 2,000 bombing aeroplanes ready for immediate use, and we have not got them. The present German air strength is between 3,000 and 3,500 first-line machines, as far as I know. It is being expanded, according to the reports that we have had, to 6,000 in 1940–1941. Our strength last September, so far as I know—I think this is right—was about 1,700 as against 3,000. We have to expand to about 6,000 first-line machines in 1941. It cannot be done under the present system. But that is not all. We have to have 6,000 first-line machines by 1940 to carry out the pledge of the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, in 1934 that we would have parity with the strongest Air Force within striking reach. You cannot do it under our present 65 system, and every one of your Lordships knows it, including the Lord Chancellor.
So much for air expansion. But there are many other things to do as well. We need many more anti-aircraft guns, and searchlights, and mere balloon barrages. We have to continue the naval expansion. We have three great sea areas to look after to-day—the Pacific, the Mediterranean and the waters round these islands. We cannot cut down our naval programme. We have got to complete the equipment of the Regular Army and the Territorial Army with modern weapons. They are not equipped now, and they must be equipped. Then there are the oversea defences which are very neglected. I again ask the Secretary of State for India—I am betraying no secrets—would he please look into the case of the defences of Trinidad. That is our great independent source of oil supply from the Atlantic. Our Mediterranean route might be cut for the time being, and supplies from the Gulf might be stopped by the Neutrality Law of the American Congress. And remember, Trinidad is now within flying distance of the Canary Islands, or it could be reached by a fast enemy cruiser which might escape our naval net.
All these things have to be done, and done quickly, and they cannot be done without some system such as my noble friend Lord Addison has outlined with such knowledge and ability. The final and overwhelming argument for this Amendment is this. It is admitted—and this, I find, is what is swaying the Service Departments themselves, for those Departments are seriously alarmed—that if war should come you would have to have a Ministry of Supply at once. Then you would have chaos and confusion. Why not set it up now even in skeleton form? We could get over the temporary confusion now—though I believe that is exaggerated. If you need extra compulsory powers, take them, though you probably do not need them yet. From what I know of the manufacturers and the trade unions of this country you will need precious little compulsion. The whole public is awake and alive to the urgent need of to-day. They only need to be told what is urgently required of them, and they will do it.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD MAUGHAM)
My Lords, I do not propose 66 to inflict upon your Lordships any views of my own in answer to the points raised during this debate, because I conceive I have only to deal with a much more limited matter—namely, the proposed Amendment to the Address in reply to the gracious Speech. In dealing with that, I should like to begin by paying a tribute, if I may, to the mover of the Amendment, and to say that I gladly acknowledge that he has raised the question in a completely non-Party spirit, and I would add that in the whole of his speech he stuck to the point which is before us. I should also like to congratulate him on having brushed away some matters which really have been mixed up with this question of the proposed Ministry of Supply. We know now that within the meaning of this particular Amendment a Ministry of Supply does not mean a Ministry with compulsory powers such as the Ministry of Munitions had in the War. It means a voluntary organisation so far as regards the persons employed, the firms, and the men, and the power to get the necessary materials, and so forth. But the contention in support of the Amendment is that with such a Ministry there will be a more convenient and more effective organisation for supply of the articles needed. That is the point and, as I apprehend it, it is the only point we have to consider.
Will the creation of such a Ministry, gathering together the different people and the different organisations from the Fighting Services into such a Ministry, help in obtaining the required goods at a better rate? Will your Lordships give me three minutes while I tell you what the history of this matter is, and how it came to be in existence? Before the Great War there was a separate organisation for supply in the Army and another organisation for supply in the Navy. They were quite distinct, and there was at that time, as has been pointed out, no Air Force in any proper sense, at any rate not as a separate Service; it was part of the Army of the time. It is true—and anybody who knows the history of the last War will admit—that the magnitude of the struggle in which this country came to be engaged was not foreseen by anybody, and that the two organisations for supply of these two Services had no proper arrangements for the gigantic scale on which munitions were required in France and elsewhere all over the world. 67 It was never understood that a gigantic organisation of the whole labour power of the country would be needed in order efficiently to carry out what was necessary for the purpose.
In May, 1915, the Ministry of Munitions was formed, and the noble Lord who moved the Amendment himself has the advantage of having been in charge of the Ministry of Munitions from the end of 1916 to July, 1917, and he was also Minister of Reconstruction. I freely admit that his view on the matter is a view entitled to great weight, and I would not for a moment try to brush aside what he has said to-day. The Ministry of Munitions was formed to take over the engineering and allied industries, on the one hand, but it is notable that it had nothing to do with naval material, and that is one thing which the noble Lord, Lord Addison, has not told us, whether the Ministry of Supply he wants is to take over naval material because, if he does say so, according to the information I have, the Navy would be overwhelmingly against any such proposal. They say they want certain things, they have to have certain plans and designs, they have to be in constant touch with the supply of these particular articles, and it would be hopeless from their point of view if a separate organisation is to be in charge of the construction of a warship, big or small, or of the particular armaments which they need for the purpose of naval warfare. That is by the way.
It is true that the Ministry of Munitions carried out its duties with great success. In 1920 the supply duties of the Ministry of Munitions were handed back to the Departments from which they had originally come, and in 1921—after Lord Addison was connected with the Ministry of Minitions—the Ministry was closed down. Then it became necessary for the Government to consider what should be done in future in relation to supply, and in 1922 a Committee was appointed, a very strong Committee which was afterwards known as the Weir Committee. It was first under the Chairmanship of Sir Alfred Mond, but later it became the Weir Committee. An enormous amount of work was done by that Committee, and I have here its Report—in substance mainly a Report on the question of whether there should be something of the nature of a Supply 68 Ministry and certain allied or associated questions as well.
Bear this in mind, my Lords. We were then at peace of course. This Committee consisted of Sir Alfred Mond, Lord Weir, Sir George L. Barstow, Sir Arthur Durrant, Lord Forres, the Hon. F. S. Jackson, and Major-General Sir P. A. M. Nash, and they examined officers who were in charge of the Supply Services both when they were in separate forms and when they were connected with the Ministry of Munitions. They came to the conclusion quite definitely that:The complete amalgamation of the Supply Departments of the three Services into a central Amalgamated Supply Service would diminish the efficiency of supply of the individual Fighting Services,and would not be warranted unless—and this "unless" applies to something that nobody has proposed here—there was a complete amalgamation of all three Fighting Services. Nobody suggested that that should be done, and this strong Committee perfectly definitely decided it would diminish the efficiency of the Fighting Services to do it. If your Lordships choose, you will find their reasons in this Report, and you will find elsewhere the evidence and matters of that sort. They explained, as I think quite clearly, why they came to that conclusion. They pointed out that there would be a dual responsibility on the part of the Service members if you joined together in one Supply Department the people whom they called in this Report the "actual users" of what is wanted—that is to say, in the case of the Navy, the naval people who were going to be in the ships and fight the guns, and the heads of the branches of the Supply Departments.
It is in a sense an impossible job in their opinion, because the users of the articles in question—the competent branches of the three Services—have got to be in constant touch with the matter of design and the matter of supply. It is a mistake to suppose that when you have made your design for a particular ship or—to go into the aeroplane business—have decided the way in which the engines are to be fitted, and the guns and all the other things, you can hand the matter over to somebody else and say, "Work on this design and carry it out." That is not what happens. In practice what happens is that the people who want them have got to be there watching the 69 work, you may almost say, day and night, constantly altering it in little particulars which do not require a complete remodelling of the design, and attending to details which have to be carried out. It was on account of that fact, and on account of the objections that would be experienced by a dual responsibility on the part of the Service members, and for some other reasons which I really cannot recount to your Lordships now—they are rather long and some of them are rather technical—that the Weir Committee reported, I think unanimously, against the proposal of what was in effect a Ministry of Munitions.
It is quite true that this question is not a very easy one to decide. As I have already said, Lord Addison has put forward very strong reasons on one side in accordance with his view for the proposed Ministry. But what happened was this. The Weir Committee did propose that there should be certain amendments made with regard to the scheme or system of supplying the necessary needs of the Departments. In particular, they thought it was requisite that the supply organisation should be made fully adequate for the purpose, and that a Principal Supply Officers Committee should be appointed in order to see that there should not be trouble with regard to priorities, and that there should be no difficulty in getting the right people to carry out the work. Now that organisation had been set up. It had been in existence for several years when the rearmament programme was approved by Parliament, and it had done a great deal of work in connection with preparing plans for war supply on the basis of the demands made by the Committee of Imperial Defence, which, of course, has done an enormous amount of work. The munitions capacity of over 7,000 firms up and down the country has been carefully gone into, and it is very largely with that knowledge that a suitable allocation of firms to Departments for their respective war supplies has been made. That was done.
I do not say it was perfect—nothing human is perfect—and in particular in a matter so complex as this of supply, it is inevitable that you cannot be certain that the machine will work until the wheels are actually going round and being tested under the strain. That strain came at the recent crisis. Before the crisis it 70 was known that a rearmament programme on a vast scale was desired, and once more the Government proceeded to consider whether, having regard to the fact that £1,500,000,000 worth of articles were going to be supplied, it would not be desirable once more to appoint a Ministry of Supply with a Minister in charge of it to deal with this vast operation. The whole thing therefore was again considered, and it was determined that the finding of the Weir Committee against the Ministry of Supply still held good.
Now let me just put this to Lord Addison, who, I am sure, is perfectly fair and just in dealing with the matter. You must understand that the Government of the day have got no parti pris, no prejudice in favour of one side or the other in regard to this topic. When the Government had to make up their mind that they would spring upon the country this enormous expenditure on rearmament, they were more interested, I think, than any other body in the country in getting the best system for carrying it out. It must not be supposed that there are no people in the Government who have experience of business. I know quite well that my own opinion on certain matters is of no value; my training has been that of a lawyer; but those who are in the Cabinet include members who have spent large parts of their lives in business. They understand this problem. Do you suppose that the Minister for War and the Minister in charge of the Air Force, and the Prime Minister have not got enough knowledge of business to be able to form an opinion on this matter? And I am sure Lord Addison does not suppose that they do not do their best to consider the question whether the Weir Committee finding should stand or whether it should be scrapped and some other plan adopted, though not, as the noble Lord tells us, a plan of setting up anything like the Ministry that existed in the War, because it is not to be a Ministry with compulsory powers but simply a Ministry of Supplies, which is going to group together these existing departments, with the power to order the articles which their particular part of the Service requires, and joining them, I suppose, in one group, and separating them—for this is the trouble—from the actual fighting Services to use their experience in another Department altogether.
71 I invite your Lordships to pay the greatest attention to the short history that I have given you—I am afraid it has taken longer than I thought—and to the fact that the whole thing has been reviewed by the Government and the Weir Committee Report is adopted by them as still being a sound view. I, for my part, cannot understand how it is that great weight should be placed upon the opinion of anybody upon the other side as against the Weir Committee view. If there had been a Committee appointed on the other side which had departed from the Weir Committee, and it had been pointed out where they were wrong, then that would be high time to say, "Well we must seriously take this into account." But most of the arguments that are put forward, and that have been put before your Lordships to-day, have been arguments to show that when the crisis came, when the strain was put upon the machine, defects were exposed. That is true, but who is going to tell us that the defects would not have been equally as great or even greater had there been just this amalgamation of powers which is called a Ministry of Supply?
I cannot travel through all the precise examples that have been given, but let me take one or two. Take this question of optical glass which two noble Lords on the Opposition Benches have dwelt upon. This is true. Optical glass instruments are required for certain gun sights, and accordingly when the War Office were ordering guns—and amongst others, antiaircraft guns—proper optical sights were needed. It is not denied that the orders were properly placed with proper people, but what has been established is that unfortunately the firms in question, who had had a rather bad time—chiefly, I think, owing to German competition—had not got a sufficient supply of skilled labour to keep in step, if I may use the phrase, with the firms who were manufacturing the guns. Accordingly in regard to gun sights—and in respect of anti-aircraft machines the same thing is true—the supply of optical glass was behindhand.
One noble Lord asked, can you imagine such a condemnation as that of a Ministry of Supply? Well, I can. I can imagine that exactly the same thing would have happened if there had been a Ministry of Supply. You order your guns, if they are not made in Government arsenals, from 72 firms in the country. You go to other firms who can supply optical glass, and you order from them the necessary things which are composed of that material. What else could a Ministry of Supply have done? You do not mean to tell me that a Ministry of Supply would have stopped or delayed the turning out of guns as the manufacture of guns had got ahead. Why should that be stopped? It is true that you should do all you can to expedite the work of the glass manufacturers, and that is being done, but anybody who tells me that with a Ministry of Supply, when you are ordering over a hundred different things—for all I know many hundreds of different things—from different manufacturers, you can prevent one of them being a little bit quicker than the others, or that you can prevent some of them from dropping behind in the performance of their contracts, is telling me something which seems to have no real good sense behind it. It has nothing to do with the problem we are concerned with. That is not a bad example of the sort of comment that is made with regard to the deficiencies or the shortcomings of the Supply Departments in the recent crisis.
It is not correct to say that there is nobody to deal with questions of priority. There is, as we know, a Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, and his organisation has been definitely charged with the responsibility of disposing of all competing claims for priority which cannot be settled between the parties themselves. So far as I know, there has been no evidence put forward to show that priorities have occasioned any delay in the carrying out of the various matters with which these bodies are concerned. It has been asserted again and again that there is a test of the inefficiency of the present system, because, it is said, performance under the rearmament programme has lagged behind the needs of the country, and it is added that profiteering has been rampant and labour has not been properly used. Well, to that the answer of the Government is that it is not really substantially true.
The rearmament programme was one which was laid down to be carried out over a period of years. The true fact is that the execution of the programme in the supply sphere—I am using very cautious language—is, broadly speaking, up to date. There are here and there 73 matters in which there have been some delays, where occasionally people have had a difficulty in complying with their contracts. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Addison, knows perfectly well that contractors are an optimistic body of men, and often promise to do various things and find they are unable to do them in time. But, broadly speaking, that rearmament programme is not behindhand, and we are going, I think in regard to various steps that have been taken, to get in front of it in many particulars. Let me say something about profiteering. The arrangements for accounting and for the technical checking of costs have been reported as satisfactory by the Select Committee on Estimates of the House of Commons. The work is done with the greatest care and skill and there is no reason to think that there is going to be any improper profiteering in connection with the rearmament programme.
Those are, I think, the main matters on which it has been suggested that there is evidence that the present system does not work. Another example was given in respect of two types of ammunition, and it was said that cartridges on some occasion or other stuck in the breech. Accordingly it has been said the system must be defective. I quite agree that any system which provides cartridges that will not go into the gun must be defective, or at any rate that there must be somebody employed in working the system whose care and skill may be defective. But how are you going to prevent that by a Ministry of Supply? A clerk in a Ministry of Supply is just as likely as a clerk sitting in the War Office to make a mistake in regard to some detail of the business he carries on. How are you going to make it better by having a Ministry of Supply? This was, of course, a grave blunder, but if it is asserted that there were no blunders committed by the Ministry of Munitions in the War, all that I can say is that the information I have from people who were actually in the fighting line at the time is to a different effect. Noble Lords who served in France would, I think, give a somewhat different account of the supplies which they got.
Then, my Lords, a criticism was made in the noble Lord's speech, on a passage in the speech of the noble Earl the 74 Leader of the House which I do not think was quite fair. It was suggested—I probably have not got it down exactly—that the phrase used by the noble Earl was that no system can increase the delivery of the goods. I understood the noble Earl to mean in his speech that you would not, by changing from the present system to the system of a Ministry of Supply, get a single gun or a single shell more, or anything else, in addition to what you had already. But he did not mean that the maximum production of the country was being achieved on the present system. He made a comparison between the present system and the Ministry of Supply—no more than that. I think Lord Addison really owes a mild apology to Earl Stanhope!
Then there is another phrase which may or may not be quite a happy one: that which refers to "hordes of officials." I think it was not unjustifiable, when the noble Earl was comparing the advantage you could get by leaving to such a body as the Engineering Employers' Federation the business of selecting persons to carry out particular contracts, with that of trying to get that work done by a number of officials in Whitehall. That was what was meant by the expression "hordes of officials." I can remember, however, and I believe it was done after the Ministry of Munitions had come into existence, seeing a contract for the supply of some articles during the War, and my recollection is that it was absolutely covered with initials of various clerks in the War Office—or some other office, I am not sure which. I think I counted eleven of them, and it was quite impossible to find out from the appearance of the contract who was responsible for giving that order: so many people had seen it and had initialled it because somebody else had put his initials on it. In my belief that is the sort of thing which you have to stop as far as possible, and what you want is a single responsibility, as far as may be, not dual responsibility, for placing a particular order so that a particular person shall know that it is for him to satisfy himself that the form, nature and circumstances of the order are in the public interest. Therefore I do not think that the phrase about "hordes of officials" can be regarded as improper in the context in which it was used.
Now there is another argument which I think is a sound one. It was said that 75 when war breaks out—and we all hope it will not—great care will have to be taken that persons who ought not to be taken away for military purposes from a very important occupation are not taken away, and that is the sort of thing that such a Ministry would do.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Prima facie I should have thought that it was not for them to do it at all. In any event, there is actually in existence a scheme for preventing that. If war should break out, people are not going to be taken from the most important occupations and put into the front line. Lists and arrangements are being made; they have largely been made and are still continuing, and any disaster of that kind is going to be prevented. The noble and gallant Viscount who sits on the Cross Benches, Lord Trenchard, made a point with reference to the great difficulty of setting up a Ministry of Supply on a declaration of war, and he said, probably with great truth, that when compulsion is needed and the whole industrial powers of the country are being used for the one purpose of carrying on war irrespective of the interests of the ordinary manufacturer of articles in peace time, there will have to be a Ministry of Supply. But I hope nobody will think that that has not been considered by the Government. There is a skeleton arrangement being made for that purpose, having regard to the knowledge that was obtained in the recent crisis. Your Lordships will remember that the question of the place where it is to carry on its business—a very important matter, of course—is not so difficult as your Lordships might at first sight suppose. You all recognise the unhappy necessity which Lord Trenchard mentioned. A large amount of evacuation from this City would be needed, and a Ministry of Supply, when formed, would not operate either from London or from its immediate neighbourhood. Therefore in any case people would have to go to the place which no doubt has been considered and thought of by the people in charge of this matter, and start operating as soon as they could.
I have endeavoured as far as I can to cover the ground. I am afraid it has taken me rather longer than I had intended, and that even now I have not 76 dealt with all the points which were raised. If I may say so, that was not from any lack of courtesy, but the truth is that sitting up here, when the noble Lord turns round and addresses the clock, I cannot hear what he says! So I must apologise for any shortcomings in what I have said. I will conclude by remarking that the Government are not in the least satisfied that this precise question of the best, most convenient and most effective organisation can be settled by a drastic alteration of the present system. It is quite possible that certain amendments of the present system may from time to time be thought proper, and they will be made. But until something very striking comes to the attention of the Government to satisfy them that there is some real advantage to be obtained from the formation of a Ministry of Supply in times of peace, they propose to continue on the present system.
§ LORD ADDISON
My Lords, I will not detain you for more than a minute or two, but I think it is right that some comment should be made on one or two of the points raised by the noble and learned Lord. He said, quite properly, that we should not do everything for the Navy. That was no objection, because we did not do things for the Navy in the War, but only did those things which it was of advantage should be done for the Services in common. For example, there was the provision of steel and nonferrous metals, and mines for the Admiralty, and guns for merchant vessels. These were all made through the common Supplies Department, which was in fact under the Ministry of Munitions. Many other things were done for the Admiralty by the common Department, and so the fact that it would not do everything for the Navy is no objection to its doing what it ought to do.
The second point is that the Lord Chancellor bases his case upon the findings of the Weir Committee, appointed in 1922. I would point out something of which the noble and learned Lord is probably not aware, but of which I have obtained verification from the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone. It is that the Weir Committee in 1922 had this governing instruction, that they were told that they need not consider the possibility of a major war for at least ten years. That was an instruction—one of the things 77 most prominent in their minds. I wish we could say that now. We are considering this matter in completely different circumstances, and the prospect before the Weir Committee, and the reasons which governed them in their considerations, are not now applicable at all. I wish they were. If they were I am sure this Motion would not have been made. So I do not, with respect, pay much attention to the findings of the Weir Committee, which had this governing instruction at the back of their minds.
May I also refer to one other point? The noble and learned Lord said we made lots of mistakes. No one was more conscious of them than we were. That brings me to the reference of the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, who I see in his place, to the way in which priority is now dealt with. He said that there is a Supplies Committee of the Imperial Defence Committee, and he added:Let me tell the House that that matter is dealt with by that Committee … but the number of cases which have come before that Committee for settlement is extraordinarily few.That is the very complaint we are making. It is easy enough for the Committee of Imperial Defence to lay down the principle of priority, but the point is that you must have some machinery for using these principles and giving effect to any working out of your supplies; and that we are complaining is absent.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (EARL STANHOPE)
Did I not go on to say that the only reason it did not come before the Committee was that almost invariably the principle of priority was settled departmentally and therefore it was unnecessary?
§ LORD ADDISON
The point I made was that owing to the separateness of the different Departments you cannot give effect to priority, because you are only leaving it, by your system, to the Employers' Federation.
§ LORD ADDISON
That is my case. The noble Earl was not here when I made it, but I will ask him to read my speech. I believe the present system is inherently incapable of effectively dealing with priority.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Will the noble Lord allow me to ask him this? It is not in any Report or instruction, that I can ascertain, that the Weir Committee were told that they need not consider the possibility of a major war for at least ten years.
§ LORD ADDISON
I referred to Lord Mottistone to confirm it. It may not be in the Report, but that is what they were told. Moreover, on the point about the divorce between expert and supplier, may I say that the system suggested not only does not invite divorce but necessitates a marriage? All that trouble which we had about "dud" shells was overcome because the military experts—the late General Sir F. Bingham was DirectorGeneral—who designed in the Ministry of Supply were in that Ministry, as they would be now. There would be no divorce between expert and supplier. This would necessitate their working in common, and the result of their working in common laboriously for several months was the reason why we were able to overcome the "dud" shell difficulty which had been so troublesome and so disastrous. It was because of those blunders that the necessity for this close working was established and was justified. I will not go into any further point, but I think the two governing objections which have been raised should be replied to, and beyond that I leave the matter to your Lordships.
§ On Question, Whether the said words shall be there inserted?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 17; Not-Contents, 46.79
|Crewe, M.||Trenchard, V.||Holden, L.|
|Ker, L. (M. Lothian.)|
|Carlisle, E.||Addison, L.||Marley, L.|
|Berwick, L.||Rea, L.|
|Exmouth, V.||Clwyd, L.||Snell, L.|
|Mersey, V. [Teller.]||Glenconner, L.||Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]|
|Samuel, V.||Hare, L. (E. Listowel.)|
|Maugham, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Wicklow, E.||Hutchison of Montrose, L.|
|Kenlis, L. (M. Headfort.)|
|Devonshire, D.||Bertie of Thame, V.||Mancroft, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Monkswell, L.|
|Aberdeen and Temair, M.||Elibank, V.||Newton, L.|
|Dufferin and Ava, M.||FitzAlan of Derwent, V.||Palmer, L.|
|Zetland, M.||Goschen, V.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Halifax, V.||Redesdale, L.|
|Birkenhead, E.||Rennell, L.|
|Cavan, E.||Aberdare, L.||Shute, L. (V. Barrington.)|
|Fortescue, E.||Charnwood, L.||Stewart of Garlies, L. (E. Galloway.)|
|Lucan, E. [Teller.]||Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.)|
|Midleton, E.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Munster, E.||Doverdale, L.|
|Onslow, E.||Fermanagh, L. (E. Erne.)||Teynham, L.|
|Plymouth, E.||Gage, L. (V. Gage.) [Teller.]||Wardington, L.|
|Scarbrough, E.||Greville, L.||Windlesham, L.|
|Stanhope, E.||Howard of Glossop, L.||Wolverton, L.|
On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and the said humble Address ordered to be presented to His Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, perhaps you will allow me to refer to a remark I made during the debate in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Addison, because I find I was wrong, and the Report of the Weir Committee does contain a statement, which had eluded my vigilance, such as it was, that they were to report on the footing that no major European war was contemplated for ten years. I am sorry I interrupted the noble Lord. I thought I was right, and it turned out I am wrong.