HL Deb 11 July 1940 vol 116 cc933-57

6.40 p.m.

LORD BARNBY had the following Notice on the Paper:—To ask His Majesty's Government if the limitations originally imposed from this country on procedure with regard to our purchases of war supplies in North America which hampered the activities of the British Purchasing Mission there have now been effectively corrected. Also if with regard to both the United States of America and Canada responsibility for the assembly of demands in this country and for their execution in so far as this lies under British direction in North America is confined to individuals who have been previously familiar with conditions in the United States and Canada respectively; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the output of auto-trucks in the United States is reputed to be about four million per annum. In this country it is about 450,000—just about one-tenth of the productive capacity of the United States. Canada has a population I think about 40 per cent. greater than in 1914. The productive capacity of Canadian industry is appreciably greater than the relative proportion of that population. There is a tendency when assessing the population of the Dominions to regard ten millions of population in Canada or six million in Australia as being some indication of their relative importance, compared with that quantity of population in other parts of the world—for instance, in Europe. It is as well to bear in mind that if you take as a standard of measurement their value in annual production or in foreign trade, their relative importance is very much greater than their populations indicate. That is particularly true of Canada. It was understood that this war would be a war of material, and that results would be determined very largely by the products of industry and not by numbers of man-power. The capacity of the North American Continent is therefore—with a view to focusing it right on your Lordships' minds, I quoted those initial figures—of predominant importance to anybody who chanced to reflect about it at the beginning of the war: he would have immediately seen that the. potential capacity of the arsenal of North America was of predominant significance.

I chanced to be in the North American Continent at the outbreak of war, and in the few weeks succeeding the outbreak of war I was circulating in Ottawa and Washington, as well as being in touch with industry in general. As indeed anybody would have been, I was surprised at the apparent tardiness with which we began to supplement the productive capacity of this country with orders on the other side of the water. So big an automobile industry obviously indicates a terrific engineering industry. The capacity of the United States was therefore great in machine-tools, and one would have thought that there would have been an instant move, not only to obtain supplies from the existing machine-tool output either in the United States or in Canada, but also to take immediate steps to expand that industry.

That brings me to the first point on which I want to focus your Lordships' minds: the perplexity as to whether there was a long-range policy thought out from the start of the war: that if we were going to embark upon big expenditure in the North American Continent it should predominantly be anchored to British soil; that we should develop the Canadian industry in priority to expanding the American industry. There is a very definite belief that the policy which was upheld did not adequately either have that in mind or, if it did, in its management of it carry it out. It is said that conservation of exchange was one of the causes that retarded our buying in the United States, and that Canada and the United States are from the exchange point of view the same. I respectfully submit that it is open to argument that, whatever may have been the risk of strain on the exchange, at least subsequent to the passing of the neutrality legislation, the risk of losing everything by defeat is greater than the risk of imperilling the exchange by over-purchases. After all, the placing of orders does not require immediate payment. I see Lord Addison sitting over there: no one knows better than he, as a Minister of Munitions in the last war, the difference between placing orders and getting deliveries. I submit that a more adventurous spirit would have at least made sure that we harnessed that tremendous productive capacity, of machine-tools first and of various items of standard military requirement afterwards, and that, even if up to £100,000,000 sterling were not wanted at once, it should be brought over and be sitting on the quays of the North American Continent ready at any moment to expand the industry of Canada and the United States, rather than that we should risk the shortages which have occurred.

Those are the sort of views which actuated me when I returned at the end of October, and I took some trouble with responsible people in Whitehall trying to put them forward, appealing that there should be a forward perspective and adequate realisation. But, to put it bluntly, those in charge had either insufficient imagination or insufficient knowledge of the North American Continent, and I found little sympathy and gathered that there was no response. I want at once to say, in fairness to those at whom I propose in a minute or two to level criticism, that I realised how difficult this problem was from the start. I take it that the Fighting Services were in difficulties in indicating what they wanted, and that they in turn would be subject to the disadvantages of rapid changes of aim and of national policy. In these circumstances I can quite understand some bewilderment on the part of members of co-ordinating committees of the Service Departments in knowing exactly what to order or the scale on which to order it. Your Lordships are all fully aware of that, for your Lordships' House has provided debates which have clearly enough signified the rapid changes of aim; and change of aim makes difficulties of supply, as we shall quickly recognise.

If you take the Canadian trade returns and look at the exports of manufactured goods, you will see that the increases since the beginning of the war over the previous year are negligible. I am given to understand that all the military supplies are included for Customs purposes in the records of exports. Take the case of the United States—I specifically exclude aircraft. The total exports were again very small—and in dealing with purchases from the United States I want at once to put all raw materials and foodstuffs in a different category entirely from that of manufactured goods. There is a very deep-seated belief that much of the reason why greater supplies have not been available from the North American Continent is that those responsible here had an insufficient knowledge of either the United States or of Canada; and I refer particularly to those civil servants on whom the decisions seem to have been reposed.

I am going to risk intruding on a tradition respected both inside Parliament and outside. I think that any member of your Lordships' House would sooner stand up under fire than risk saying or doing anything which directly conflicted with tradition in this House. I want to say something, however, which I myself believe to be true, and in the ten days which have elapsed since I returned from the United States and Canada I have found that belief confirmed in conversations which I have had, and I have seen it widely expressed in the Press. This belief—and it is a strong belief—is that, possibly owing to the rapid extension of the bureaucracy in the last two decades, the availability of civil servants has resulted in their coming to occupy a position of executive responsibility rather than being confined to administrative work. This is a delicate matter to which to refer, and I know that it is against tradition to criticise the Civil Service; but I am going to go still further and say this. In this particular matter of purchases from the other side of the Atlantic for the Armed Forces, the Ministry of Supply was largely responsible. Since I left this country, the Government have changed, and I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, sitting on the Front Treasury Bench. I propose to refer to aircraft later. We can at least be relieved that so far as it is humanly possible to do anything, in one branch at least it will be done.

There has been a change of Minister, but one cannot but believe that responsible civil servants bear a great measure of responsibility for what has and has not been done, and one does not gather that there has been a marked change in the administrative heads there. I have heard it said this last winter, that the Ministry of Supply was run as a political and not as a commercial department. That may be unfair criticism, but I would ask for the indulgence of your Lordships if, as one who at an early age had an important position of control in the Ministry of Munitions towards the end of the last war, and who happened to be thrown in close contact with the administration which Lord Inverforth set up, I state my honest belief that the system was more efficient in the Ministry of Munitions in the last war than it has been in the Ministry of Supply in this war. I base that on personal experience. I will go further and say that one particular phase of the activities of the Ministry of Supply, of which I have intimate knowledge and on which I am qualified to speak through a long commercial experience, has been deplorably done, and it is the civil servants and not the business men who have been brought into it. Bluntly, in the last war Lord Inverforth arranged for the executive decisions to be taken by business men, and for the administration to be carried out by civil servants; and the work was well done.

My experience at that time—I say this with all humility—has taught me a great deal. It taught me a profound respect for the Civil Service; and since the last war I have never hesitated, in the House of Commons and elsewhere, to eulogise the Civil Service. I did so continually in the course of my commercial experience, as for instance when I was President of the Federation of British Industries. There is nothing like our Civil Service in the world—but as administrative personnel, not as men responsible for rapid executive decisions. Why? I ask you, my Lords, to reflect for a moment. The life's training of a civil servant is based upon time for decisions, upon taking no great risks, upon making sure that a long career will be dignified, that there will be no record of opportunities not taken, but that at least no serious mistakes will ever be made. I have been departing from a tradition, but I have explained to your Lordships that I am not criticising civil servants in their proper function. The Government in this country have undergone a material change since I went away, and perhaps it was the practice of those who have been at the top to put the civil servant in an unfair position. In any case, what I do want to say is this, that we did not get the stuff that was necessary, and which could have been obtained in bigger volume in another way.

If I may now turn to the question of purchases in the United States, I have prefaced what I want now to say by my remarks about the Civil Service because, so far as North America is concerned, it is no secret that a very curious system was adopted, with everything going by the route London-Ottawa-New York and New York-Ottawa-London. That must inevitably have slowed things down immensely. Before the American neutrality legislation was altered, that was perhaps justifiable, but it was surely maintained long beyond the time when it had been useful or had borne any fruit. The result was that an inelastic peacetime formalism was imposed, with results with regard to the size of contracts, conditions and terms of payment, and various other matters, which had a vital effect upon the speed of production. There is a disposition to dismiss criticism coming from North America as originating from disgruntled contractors who have failed to secure the orders they expected. I do not believe that that is a fair point of view. On the other hand, I know that anyone who seems inclined to advocate greater consideration for the United States of America will be criticised for being too considerate of America. I do not hesitate to admit that I went to the United States at an early age—it may be called an impressionable age—and I became very intimate with the methods, habits and practices over there. I speak, I think, with full knowledge when I say that had larger orders, dispersed more widely, been placed there at the beginning of the war, it would have had a marked sentimental effect, and would have got rid of the allegation that we were not doing very much over here and that the war was not being taken too seriously—an unfortunate belief entertained in some quarters.

Having said what I have about the Civil Service and administration, I should like to emphasize that from all quarters in the United States—industrialists, bankers and legislators at Washington—one heard nothing but admiration for the head of our Mission, Mr. Arthur Purvis. I have, like other members of your Lordships' House, known him for a great number of years, and I do not believe that any man could with more brilliance, more energy, more self-sacrificing devotion and more swiftness of decision, have carried out the work that he was charged to carry out, provided he had complete liberty of action. I believe, too, that he would be prepared to pay tribute to the assistance he had from M. Jean Monet. It was a unique instance of a French head of an Inter-Allied Committee who worked very effectively in London and who was in a position to give, and did give, the greatest assistance. I am sure that M. Monet contributed very much to what was achieved.

So much for the other side. There is a belief that, however slow the production, it resulted very largely from the deficiencies on this side. By that I mean that the necessary work was hampered by lack of co-ordination at this end, that the machinery of collection and preparation of demands or indents from the different Departments lacked the guidance of people familiar with North American conditions, who could visualise at this end what they are aiming to attain over there. I specifically exclude aircraft for, with Lord Beaverbrook in the team now, thank goodness, there is going to be no lack of the necessary knowledge under that heading. I would like to add here that I gathered in Washington and elsewhere in the United States that nobody could have achieved under the circumstances better co-ordination than Mr. Arthur Purvis has secured, and now that the American preparedness programme has got a greater move on, and Colonel Frank Knox and Mr. Stimson have joined the Administration, this will contribute greatly to the happiness of Mr. Arthur Purvis at the head of our Mission.

Turning to Canada, there I intend to limit my remarks, for again, Lord Beaverbrook being in the picture with his intimate knowledge of Canada, what necessity is there to say anything? But it is only fair that something should be said in this House because of the criticism that Canadian manufacturers were dilatory or selfish, for no one could have believed the sense of indignant frustration and bewilderment that one found among manufacturers in Canada at the paucity of orders placed up to that time. That finally culminated in the Canadian Manufacturers' Association taking action and appealing to Ottawa. I would like to read to your Lordships a few sentences from the communication that was sent by the Association to Mr. Mackenzie King, which has been published. They say: Unfortunately only a small fraction of Canadian industrial capacity has been utilised. The Canadian Manufacturers' Association has a deep-rooted conviction that there exist some definite causes that are responsible for Canadian plants receiving orders for only a small percentage of their capacity, and respectfully urges the Canadian Government to take steps…to clear away misunderstandings presently existing in order that Canadian industry may be speeded up immediately and take its full share in the defence of our Empire and country. The Association advocates the mobilisation of the entire personnel, skill, experience, equipment and resources of Canadian industry in order to comply with all requirements of the Canadian and British Governments. There was a melancholy tale as regards Canada, which has all been ventilated either in Parliament at Ottawa or in the Press, that orders were only given on a small scale, that there was an absence of blue prints, constant changes of design and so forth.

With regard to aircraft I realise that aircraft production and the training of air personnel are extremely intricate matters, and any subject connected with aircraft is so technical that it is dangerous for the layman to deal with it at all. But since I put this Motion on the Paper I have received a very great number of messages, telephone calls, requests for visits, all emphasizing the restlessness and perplexity which exist with regard to purchases from the other side. I do not exclude aircraft, but I do know that some of those who within the past ten days have had access to Lord Beaverbrook have had evidence of the determination and approachability with which he is dealing with this matter. But there is still in Canada no explanation of why, last October, the offers of the Whitney Company and the Curtiss-Wright Company to erect factories in Canada for the production of aircraft were turned down. The feeling is widespread that there could have been a greater development of war industries in Canada than in the United States.

I want to turn for a moment to the problem of export from the United Kingdom to North America. I was asked by the Export Council before I went out to give such assistance and investigation to this matter as I could offer. As will be known, the Pavilion at the World's Fair is very properly being used as a current spearhead. We are spending a vast sum in purchases from the United States. Would it not be natural to see that fullest mobilisation of possible advantage of this to assist export, current and future, should be made? I understand that little has been done. I know that Mr. Arthur Purvis is fully alive to the possibilities and is of course expeditious and co-operative. That, however, is not his function. It may be replied that it is the function of the Commercial Counsellor. I would like to picture the position of the Commercial Counsellor in Washington. Whatever his desire is, he is overworked and under-staffed. He cannot possible circulate, as he would doubtless like to do. There is undoubted need for assistance and this is no reflection on the existing staff, who are achieving so much.

I now want to turn to another point, the long-range rôle of Canada. What is the British Government's policy under changed conditions of a possibly protracted war? Must we not contemplate a naval struggle involving gradually dispersed so-called home bases and so edge gradually to greater dependence on the North American Continent? One can learn of no evidence of determination rapidly to develop bases which would have to be on the Nova Scotia coast. There are plenty of good natural harbours. It may be assumed the Dominion Government would be co-operative. Surely prudence requires envisaging Canada as the second line of industrial and naval defence. Why not aim at the development of plants there and negotiate for expansion to include transfer from the United Kingdom of selected plants or parts of plants, with necessary technical personnel? In brief give evidence of the commencement of a planned drift from industrial concentration in this island to expansion in the Empire in North America.

I realise, from the wording of my Motion and the fact that there has been notification that reorganisation is in progress, that there may be difficulty in reply. I ask your Lordships' indulgence for having detained the House so long, but so wide have been the references to this subject that I have been encouraged to believe there is an intense interest in it. I have a good many examples here which, if I had had time, I should like to have quoted, but I think I have made clear what in the main is the nature of the complaint from the other side. However, I believe that so much change has taken place, and I am given to understand that so many of the restrictions have been removed in the last two or three weeks since I have been on the water, that it would be better to assume that the whole matter is in process of reorganisation. There has been some suggestion that a statement was to be made—for all I know it may have been made to-day—in another place, which would indicate that the whole thing is subject to reorganisation. I hope that is the case.

I recognise that this general question is intimately wrapped up with difficult technicalities on the aircraft side. I see my noble friend Lord Beaverbrook here, and while I cannot expect him to say anything in detail, I know that, the thing being in his charge, everything that can humanly be done will be done. I would just say this to him, that after the approaches I have had and the comments I have heard and learned on the other side, particularly in Canada, there is much anxiety about what was done in the past. At the Ministry of Supply we may have confidence that Mr. Herbert Morrison will introduce great changes in the régime of his predecessor and will take advice on matters connected with the United States and Canada. The terms of my Motion, particularly the second part, cover what appears to be the cause of much of the uneasiness which has existed and which appears possible of correction. With regard to the future, there is assurance that those responsible in the lower executive positions, both in Whitehall and on the other side, will have more knowledge of American conditions. I beg to move for Papers.

7.12 p.m.


My Lords, I intervene for two or three minutes only to ask the noble Lords (Lord Beaverbrook and Lord Woolton) whom I see opposite, one or two questions. I am sure we all realise the enormous importance of this subject, and I only regret that it should have been raised so late owing to our other proceedings, and that the House has not had an opportunity earlier of hearing the statements which I am sure will be made by the two noble Lords opposite. We have all heard—it is inescapable—the vast volume of complaint that has arisen from time to time as to the dilatoriness and inadequacy of the proceedings of our Purchasing Commissions overseas for many months. I only hope the noble Lords opposite, as I fully expect, will be able to give us an indication that the procedures are being greatly simplified. I remember the difficulties we experienced in the last war when finally the arrangement which worked very well on the whole was that we had our Purchasing Commissions over there, well staffed, and with considerable authority to give effect to a programme. Within the limits of that programme, reference to and fro on all manner of details was not required. There was a governing and overriding control in respect of ultimate price, but our costing department was represented on the Purchasing Commission over there and, as a matter of fact, except for very major questions affecting either programme or prices, reference to and fro in detail was frequently not required. I gather that what has been happening in the past has been that you have had a continual reference to this side on all manner of detail—specifications, changes, types, size of orders, prices, and all the rest of it.

I was rather dismayed at what the noble Lord said. I hope it does not represent the truth. It was what he described as the power of the Civil Service in this matter. I well remember the organisation that worked before, and it is quite unthinkable to me that we should ever have been in the position whereby the Secretary of the Ministry of Supply should have been able to exercise a dead hand on this business. If that ever was so, I can trust the noble Lord opposite (Lord Beaverbrook) to alter that. I hope also that he will keep sufficient control of the dead hand of the Treasury, of which some of us have had a good deal of experience. I dare say that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack was partly responsible for its performances from last September onwards. I only want to ask the two noble Lords, whoever may reply, to give us an indication of what the machinery now is, how it is proposed to work, how you remit your programme.

I am not asking what the programme is, for that would be improper. I take it that the objective is to obtain from the splendid manufacturing resources overseas what we urgently need and cannot make ourselves for the successful prosecution of the war. We cannot afford to waste much time about it. At all events, there is a programme. Subject to the programme, what measure of authority is remitted to your purchasing organisation over there? How do you exercise your supervision, so far as you exercise it, with regard to specifications, types, and prices? I know from long interviews I had with those concerned with the Ministry of Supply in the last Government that arrangements were cumbrous and unworkable, and one wants to be assured that we have got something that will work more expeditiously and effectively now. I should like to express my unmixed pleasure at seeing the two noble Lords opposite, from whom we expect a statement, and to express once again my sincere regret that this question has had to come on so late in our proceedings that a fuller House is not present to hear what they have to say.

7.18 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to take the opportunity of congratulating my noble friend Lord Barnby on his very interesting remarks on this all-important question. He had a very wide range of experience, as your Lordships know, in the last war and since, and has just returned, as he told us, from the United States and Canada. It is clear from what he said, and also from what has been said by my noble friend Lord Addison, that this matter has an importance that cannot possibly be overstressed. Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to submit a few remarks in regard to the aircraft aspect of this matter, and I am emboldened so to do because I was privileged in 1918, together with the late Sir Sefton Brancker, to be aeronautical adviser to the American Government of that date. Since then I have maintained very close contact with all phases of American aircraft design, production, and use, whether for Navy, Army or civil purposes.

Already it has been a privilege on another occasion in your Lordships' House to express appreciation of the value of the work that has been done so effectively and rapidly by my noble friend Lord Beaverbrook, the Minister for Aircraft Production. That work has been really fine, and has been most useful, and his reorientation of the British aircraft industry by devoting to specific channels all fighter and bomber production materials and labour has been a good and effective one. Perhaps your Lordships would allow me, as a brother pilot of his son, whose record we all of us saw the other day, to congratulate his Lordship on the wonderful performance of his son in the air against the common enemy. The value of the work of the Ministry of Aircraft Production is considerable viewed from the standpoint of the Fleet Air Arm and the Royal Air Force, and there is every evidence that improvements in different directions are taking place rapidly; but the absolute need of obtaining all possible materials from the U.S.A. is admitted on all hands.

Even those of your Lordships who follow these matters fairly closely will have been surprised and disappointed to hear some of the remarks of my noble friend Lord Barnby and, if I might suggest the reason why all is not well at the moment, it divides itself into two or three phases. Firstly, the consideration of technical specifications by our representatives over there takes far too long. There is far too much of a desire to make American machines British machines, and that does not work without a tremendous amount of delay. The American aircraft industry is one of the finest in the world, and is well capable of turning out effective aircraft for whatever purpose they may be required. It is not my privilege to speak at all for the Royal Air Force, but so far as the Fleet Air Arm is concerned we want and urgently require more aircraft, and there are certain types of aircraft being made in America to-day which we would have right way without any single modification beyond the national identification mark. That is exactly what our view is on those matters. The other reasons have been referred to by two noble Lords who have spoken already. They are in relation to the administrative arrangements. Those arrangements which may be suitable to a Victorian England in peace-time are certainly not suitable to America in these very desperate days, and should be changed most definitely. These problems are serious, and I am quite sure are well known to my noble friend Lord Beaverbrook, who is working to put them right with all possible speed.

There is one other aspect if I might just refer to it, and that is in regard to American national opinion. It is most important that the nation of America should be well-educated with regard to our cause. Our cause is a great cause, and we want the American line of thought out there to travel along the same lines as our own. Not enough is being done in respect to that. It has been left primarily to people over there. We cannot surely leave our friends there alone to fight the German-American Bund, which has vast sums of money and is very powerful. We have the greatest of causes, and I think we should present it far more actively ourselves than we have hitherto done. I feel sure that my noble friend Lord Beaverbrook would agree with me that when American thought travels along the same lines as British thought in regard to the ideal for which we strive, then the American programme will attain to productive efficiency far more rapidly than it has done. Therefore I think we should change our policy, and ask America to show by productive effort that she is doing all she can to give rapid effect to those words of Senator Pitman, spoken but a few days ago, that a British victory will be an American victory.

May I, with your Lordships' permission, read a paragraph only from the letter of an old friend of mine in America, one of the leading figures in service and civil production who has been concerned with these matters for some twenty-five years, just to illustrate the points which have been made by your Lordships who have spoken in this debate and myself? He says: There has been a great deal of confusion in the whole set-up in regard to the Allied Procurement Missions…The question of just what armament the Allied Missions desired seemed to change every day.…The Mission has not been particularly helpful to the American industry and a great deal of criticism by our industry has been directed towards its attitude which gave the impression that the American industry was attempting to rob the British. Now, it is entirely wrong that that should be so and I am perfectly certain it is not the wish of your Lordships' House or of anyone in this country that such a false impression should get abroad. The American aircraft industry is very fine. There is no finer in the world. They can teach us a lot and no doubt we can teach them things too, but now we want them to turn out all the American naval and military aircraft they can, the only change being the alteration of the national identification mark. If I may do so in conclusion, may I suggest that my noble friend Lord Beaverbrook, in thinking of these questions should consider the motto of that great Admiral, Jackie Fisher——


Jackie Fisher's motto was "Sack the lot."

7.28 p.m.


My Lords, my right honourable friend the Minister of Supply has asked me to reply to the Motion which the noble Lord has brought before the House. The Motion raises issues that affect both the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry for Aircraft Production, and I shall, of course, confine my observations to matters for which the Ministry of Supply is responsible, and leave in the much more competent hands of my noble friend Lord Beaverbrook, the task of dealing with the questions with which he is particularly concerned. My right honourable friend the Minister of Supply is glad to have the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, and welcomes an opportunity of hearing at first hand from someone who has just come from North America observations on the position there. I was glad to hear Lord Barnby say that he thought things were probably better now than they were earlier on. Of course they ought to be, because we have had several months of experience.

I think that it might be useful if I adumbrate the arrangements that exist for obtaining war supplies from the United States of America and Canada. Shortly after the outbreak of war, Colonel Greenly, the chairman of Messrs. Babcock and Wilcox, himself a distinguished engineer, was selected by His Majesty's Government to proceed to Canada and the United States of America as the head of a British Mission. At that time the United States Neutrality Act had not been altered. The Mission was, therefore, established at Ottawa in the first instance, but as soon as the change was effected in the United States Neutrality Act, arrangements were made which extended the activities of the Mission to the United States. The organisation adopted was that of a British Central Supply Board for Canada and for the United States of America, with Colonel Greenly as Chairman. Mr. Purvis, who took charge in the United States, was a member of the Board and all the other members, who were technical, financial or contracts officers, were sent out from this country. Subsequently arrangements were made for the co-ordination of French and British purchases in the United States and an Anglo-French Purchasing Commission was set up in New York with Mr. Purvis as Chairman. Since he continued to be a member of the British Central Supply Board, co-ordination between these two bodies was thus effected.

That was the position whilst France was in the war. It has now been arranged that British supplies should be obtained in Canada through the Munitions Department of the Dominion Government, and in the United States of America through a separate British Mission under the chairmanship of Mr. Purvis—again assisted by the necessary technical, production and financial assistants. I should wish to take this opportunity of paying, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, a tribute to the services rendered by Colonel Greenly who, before his return to this country, did a great work in organising in the early stages the production of munitions in the Dominion of Canada. At the same time, I should like to express, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, our sense of the great services rendered by Mr. Purvis, and I was glad to have the support of the noble Lord in his remarks about Mr. Purvis. He has been Chairman of the Anglo-French Purchasing Commission in the United States, which organised in addition to other things the great joint scheme on aircraft construction in the United States, the benefit of which, owing to the lamentable disaster to France, will now accrue to this country. The labours and responsibilities of Mr. Purvis grow steadily greater, but His Majesty's Government are fully confident that he will be found equal to every call that may be made upon him and they will not fail to vest in him the powers, and all the powers, necessary for the purpose of carrying out his work.

That gives an outline of the organisation. The noble Lord, Lord Barnby, asks whether the limitations which origin-ally hampered the work of this Mission have been effectively corrected. My right honourable friend cannot accept the suggestion contained in this question. The Mission was spending vast sums of money. I observe that the figures are well over one hundred million pounds, and it was obviously necessary that some control should be exercised on this side over the activities of this Mission for which my right honourable friend is responsible to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was necessary, in cases where capital expenditure was involved in order to provide new capacity, that there should be reference back to this country. From the experience that I had, when I had the privilege to be a member of the Supply Council, I can assure the noble Lord that there was no delay on this side in arriving at conclusions and conveying them to Colonel Greenly.

Moreover, the Board in Canada had wide discretionary powers in negotiating price.


Is that in Canada only?


I said in Canada; and the financial allotments for each purchase were invariably based on the Board's own recommendations. The noble Lord has asked whether the responsibility for the assembly of demands in this country and for their execution under British direction in North America is confined to individuals who had previously been familiar with the conditions in those countries. I am sure that Lord Barnby would not expect me to be able to answer this question literally, and to say that all the people engaged in the assembly of demands in this country were technical experts. It would obviously be impossible to staff the whole of the production department with individuals acquainted with the conditions in the United States of America and in Canada, but I can assure the noble Lord that the Ministry of Supply Controllers of the various raw materials are men of wide business experience, both here and abroad, and the noble Lord will, I think, know from the intimate acquaintance that he has of those subjects, that, on the whole, the raw materials that are being used by the Ministry of Supply and purchased on the other side, have been purchased through normal trade channels; but the significant and important fact is that the purchasing procedure has, from the start, been worked by persons actually situated in North America, all of whom had special qualifications for their work and have been in close touch with the industry' both in Canada and in the United States of America.

I must, I think, make one other observation. The noble Lord, Lord Barnby, has suggested that decisions have rested on the shoulders of civil servants. Surely it is the business of the Minister to take the responsibility of all his civil servants. I can only say that when I was a member of the staff in that Department I was one of the business men brought in to equip the Army with its clothing and other things, and throughout the whole of that time I had complete power in my own Department. I only went to the civil servants when I wanted advice. I went to the Minister when I wanted instruction and direction. But I can assure the noble Lord on that intimate personal experience that I at any rate never found anybody getting in my way. I must maintain that Ministers, and Ministers only, are responsible to this House and to the country for administration of their Departments.

7.38 p.m.


My Lords, I shall address myself particularly to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, in relation to aircraft, but first I would like to join in praising the Commission in America and in praising Mr. Purvis, the head of that Commission. They have spent a great deal of money and I think they have done it very well. They have given the supplies demanded of them and that seems to me as much as could be asked of the Commission. The question was asked whether the Government here have made full use of the Commission and availed themselves of all the opportunities and advantages of that kind. I cannot say that I rank myself with those who believe they made full use of the Commission within the limits of Government policy, but perhaps Government policy is somewhat extended now and under my right honourable friend Mr. Herbert Morrison, I am sure, experience will be very satisfactory. Mr. Morrison has a more difficult task than falls to my lot, but he is discharging it extremely well. In fact, when I sometimes look at his work, I get advantages and benefits in the discharge of the task that falls to me.

So far as my Ministry is concerned we have our own representation, in America at any rate. We do not rely upon the Commission at all. We have appointed a very useful man in Mr. Morris Wilson, the President of the Royal Bank of Canada. I may say that when that appointment was made by me it was received with universal acclaim in Canada and by those who know Mr. Wilson in the United States. That appointment has redounded to my credit. He works without salary, he gives his services freely and they are worth while. He spends three days a week in New York. The whole business of the Ministry is in his hands. He can take decisions, he can spend money subject only to the responsibility of the Minister. That responsibility of course I keep always before me, and I do not propose to relinquish it on any account. The Commission in New York, of course, is made use of in dealing with our affairs, but we are making use of it under our system by which Mr. Morris Wilson is the agent of the Ministry, and the Commission facilitates our transactions.

I may say that the Commission in that respect is entirely satisfactory to us, and I must praise Mr. Purvis, the head of it, for the patient endurance he shows when he is dealing with the many troublesome issues that arise. Of course, there are plenty of criticisms of the conduct of the Ministry's business in New York, and these criticisms I accept and listen to with attention, because I have now been in the Ministry some six weeks, and if there are troubles and difficulties in America I must take responsibility for them. First of all we are told that the technical people we have out there in America are not quite satisfactory. The size of the staff ought to be satisfactory, anyway, because it is very big indeed. We are adding to it and strengthening it, so that perhaps we may be able to take from it also after a little while! As I have said before, the decisions in America, which are another subject of criticism by my noble friend Lord Barnby, can be taken instantly by Mr. Wilson.

Then, again, I have heard that our representation in America—and I may say this is directed against the Commission and not against the Aircraft Ministry, Mr. Morris Wilson—is too English. Well, Mr. Wilson and Mr. Purvis are Canadians, and it seems to me that the criticism might well be that the Commission was too Canadian rather than that it was too English. We are told that the inspectors are a nuisance and that we ought to have American inspectors; that is another point of criticism. My noble friend Lord Sempill will agree with me in sticking to the present system of English inspection, and therefore I do not need to make any departure at all.

The fourth point of criticism concerns the modifications which it is said are continually being put forward, thus delaying the progress of delivery. In the aircraft industry there are not any modifications; we buy types, we simply purchase a type of aeroplane. We must give an instruction as to the arms, the armouring and the radio, but the principle of the order is the type. The arms, the armouring and the radio are done to some extent sometimes in America, but usually over here. Whether they are done here or there, there must be some delay on account of the difference. It would be impossible to adopt the arms system of America, and the armouring system there has not yet reached the development that it has attained in this country. The arming and the armouring work must be done and must constitute some delay, here or there, and it is here that we get the information as to our requirements, for we must have that knowledge from the men who fight; it is not to be got elsewhere. The organisation of our American Department and the Aircraft Ministry here is under the direction of a gentleman named Mr. Westbrook, a very forceful character, and I am prepared to stand on his work. He has a very big job, because, of course, when the aircraft from America reaches this country it has to be assembled. It comes in bits and pieces, and the task of assembly is a very big job, requiring an enormous amount of labour and a great deal of space.

The noble Lord, Lord Addison, asked me about our programme, and here I can tell him our programme. I will not be disclosing any secrets to the enemy, or telling anything to the Americans they do not know. Our programme is perfectly simple: it is to buy everything we can get. In the pursuit of that programme I may say that, including the purchases we have been taking over from the French, which constitute just as much labour and consideration as any other purchases, we have spent 10,000,000 dollars a day for every day that the Aircraft Ministry has been in existence.


This is very important, when my noble friend says that we buy everything we can get; that is the best thing we have heard for a long time. Does that apply only to aircraft, or also to other munitions?


Oh, I speak only for aircraft, as I told my noble friend. In aircraft the sky is the limit: buy what we can get. As I say, since this Ministry was set up we have spent 10,000,000 dollars every day. I do not know whether that will be as pleasant to the taxpayer or the wealthy citizen as it is to those of us who buy in the Aircraft Ministry; but altogether, with the French purchases, we have spent over 600,000,000 dollars on the purchase of aircraft that would have gone to France if the French collapse had not taken place. As the whole programme is something over 1,000,000,000 dollars, you can see that we have been very busy to have spent as much as 600,000,000 dollars in the last six weeks. No time has been wasted in spending money, at any rate, and if it is wisely spent it is well done. As I say, the business is constantly receiving our attention because of the changes and the variations that we must necessarily deal with on account of the enormous expansion of the programme.

I should like to say one word about the Treasury, and here I stand, a member of this House, defending the Treasury and yet not part of it! We have had to get out of that ancient institution these large sums of money that I have just mentioned to you, and we have had no delay, no procrastination and no obstruction. As far as we are concerned, it has been quite easy all the way. We have made our explanations and made them very fully and very completely, and never have we suffered one moment of worry, never have we sustained one hour of delay on account of the Treasury. As for the Americans, I have praise for them too. They are up-to-date on their programme, they have delivered to us so far everything they have promised, and they are a little bit ahead of time. I can also give the news to the House that the imports from America in this month of July will be very considerable—a very handsome programme. My noble friend Lord Barnby referred to the difference between placing orders and getting goods, and I am aware of that difference, perfectly conscious of it; but some of the aircraft now being delivered to us in the month of July were actually purchased by me. Of course the explanation is, again, the French collapse.

I am sure the House would like me to say a word about our programme at home. It is not raised in the Motion of my noble friend, but perhaps I could have your Lordships' attention, or perhaps you could be patient with me, if I spoke of that programme. Our production here is limited, most severely limited. We are doing everything we can to expand it, and it is a difficult and heavy task, but we are facing it with all the ingenuity that we can develop. We have no shortage of aircraft at this moment, but of course we shall need more aeroplanes every day, and we must go on developing that programme as fully as possible. That is why I have been asking for aluminium. We want as much of it as we can get, for we have full use for it in the expanding programme. For such expansion as we have been able to get so far, I must give very grateful thanks to the masters and to the men, to the managers and to the directors of the aircraft plants. They have really done the work. The lines for production have been organised by me, but they have kept things moving. They have done the rest of the job, and they have done it wonderfully well.

Another problem which has confronted us is the defence of our factories and of the airfields attached to the air factories. For that we put ourselves in the hands of Admiral Evans, and we could not have made a better choice. It was a remarkable selection. If your Lordships go to one of our aircraft factories and fields, you will there see the work of Admiral Evans, marvellous and magnificent. I could not get on in my office at all without the support of Sir Charles Craven. Mr. Hennessy and others. We owe a great deal to the Service officers—Sir Wilfrid Freeman and his organisation.

My noble friend Lord Sempill raised a question concerning the Fleet Air Arm, and there I may say that we are on the very best of terms with the Admiralty. In order to get on the very best of terms with the Admiralty under Mr. Alexander, the First Lord, you have to give them what they want; and so, since I can claim to be on good terms with the Admiralty, I must have been giving them what they want. My noble friend asked a question with regard to a particular type of aircraft which he thought ought to be available to the Admiralty. I can assure him that I regard that suggestion as having great force, as I have already carried it out. At the same time, I am glad to feel that his mind is moving in the direction in which I have been acting. The noble Lord, Lord Addison, asked me about the machinery for the future. I can say that that machinery will want constant attention, and will be watched always and changed frequently. There will be no permanency at all so far as we are concerned. We, of course, acknowledge that the Air Force give us our inspiring example. They are the torch that lights us on our way, and we give them the fullest credit and confidence in the handling of the machines that we try so hard to supply for their use.

7.54 p.m.


My Lords, I should like before the Motion is put to intervene to express my unbounded gratitude to Lord Beaverbrook for his encouraging statement, but also to say to Lord Woolton that the very correct Departmental reply which he read out filled me with complete dismay, and that, therefore, I shall take an early opportunity of calling attention to the subject again.

7.55 p.m.


My Lords, the words which have just fallen from the lips of the noble Lord, Lord Addison, dispose of anything which I was going to say on that matter. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Woolton for the considerate way in which he has replied to my Motion. We well know that his participation in the Ministry of Supply resulted in a signal success in procuring the requirements for which he was particularly responsible, and that signal service is one which has been admired and appreciated. I feel encouraged by his reassurance with regard to the administrative points which I raised. I want to repeat that nothing unfair should motivate any departure from tradition. With regard to any insinuations of where responsibility lay, the motive which actuated my remarks sprang from the belief in this country that the production for which the Ministry of Supply has been responsible has not been adequate. It is on those grounds that the country looks to see where responsibility may lie.

The future is indeed encouraging, because I gather from what has been said that there has been a definite change since the present Government took over. I am sure that we can feel confident that Mr. Morrison, with his brilliant record of achievement and of administration behind him, will bring about great changes and be responsible for great drive and great achievements. I cannot refrain from commenting on the remarks which my noble friend Lord Woolton made with regard to the original Mission which went out to Canada, which he described as having special qualifications for their work and intimate previous contact with Canada and the United States. Thanks to the hospitality of a distinguished civil servant, I was able to meet them immediately on their arrival in Canada, and I want to say that the impression which would have been given to any one of your Lordships would not have been in accordance with the description which Lord Woolton has given. Lord Woolton did not refer to two points I made. One was with regard to exports from this country—the mobilisation of this tremendous expenditure for the purpose of trying to help our exports. Perhaps he will draw the attention of the President of the Board of Trade to this matter. The other point related to the long-range picture of Canada, and there again I hope that he will convey that to the proper quarter.

I am sure that we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook. I shall feel that my putting this Motion on the Paper has at least afforded an opportunity of giving great encouragement to the country as a whole by the statement which Lord Beaverbrook has just made so frankly and with such businesslike lucidity. The remark which he made with regard to the absence of any handicap from the Treasury is, I am sure, an astonishing tribute to the new-technique of persuasiveness which he has introduced into Governmental activity, and that remark will give rise to great confidence in the country. I am very much obliged to the noble Lord for the way in which he has replied to the points I raised, and I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.