HL Deb 16 October 1946 vol 143 cc277-340

2.37 p.m.

LORD CHATFIELD rose to call attention to the White Paper on Central Organization for Defence and in particular to the lack of adequate Imperial organization in defence matters; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Motion which I am to move to-day is slightly different from that which has stood on the Order Paper for the last two or three months I owe it to those whom the change may have inconvenienced to say that it was due to the introduction of the White Paper on Central Organization for Defence so recently. After consulting with the Leader of the House, it seemed desirable that a debate on that Paper, which would be inevitable, had better take place on the same occasion as that on which I moved my Motion, and that thus a day would be saved for the business of the House. I hope that I have not inconvenienced anybody by this sudden decision to debate the White Paper. This White Paper is, in my view, one of the most important Command Papers that have been issued in my time in your Lordships' House. It is divided (apart from the introduction) into four sections. Sections II, III and IV deal with the administration of the United Kingdom defence, and the last section deals with imperial defence, or, as it is called, "collective defence."

I should like, briefly, to run through the early sections. As regards the last section, I shall have a good deal to say, but there is also something to be said on the first three. I should like to express my humble congratulations to the Government for those sections and for the new plan for administering the defence of the United Kingdom. I think that it is an able attempt to improve matters. I have moved in this House, as your Lordships know, many Motions on the subject of defence in the course of two or three years, and I have made, I hope, what were considered practical suggestions as to how we could avoid the disasters into which we fell seven years ago. It is very satisfactory to me to note that, in their analysis of deliberations on the problem, the Government have come to very much the same conclusions as those to which I came myself and which I have explained to your Lordships on one or two occasions. As regards the historical review, which is contained in Section II of the White Paper, I should have nothing to say if it were called a "General Review," but when the State writes history it is necessary to be a little bit more particular about the wording of what is to be passed on to the future. An example of what I mean occurs in paragraph 7 on page 3, where there is a desrciption of how the Defence Committee (Operations) and the Defence Committee (Supply) were set up "when Mr. Churchill became Prime Minister."

The actual facts are a little different. Those Committees did not come suddenly into existence in that way. In 1939, the Committee of Imperial Defence set up what was called a Policy Committee. It was a first attempt to separate for the studies of the C.I.D. matters of high policy and strategy from those of supply and production. Shortly after that, when the Policy Committee had sat to discuss very long and many-paragraphed reports of the Chiefs of the Staff on what we should do if we went to war with Germany or Japan, we found that with the Prime Minister in the chair, as he was, the work was too laborious for even the Policy Committee. So we set up a sub-committee which consisted of the Minister for Co-ordination, the three Service Ministers, the three Chiefs of Staff and the Foreign Secretary. That was in very much the same position as the Defence Committee which is referred to. It was the duty of that Committee to review all these war plans, and then report to the main Policy Committee what they recommended should be done and whether the Chiefs of Staff's action was satisfactory and complete. When war started and the C.I.D. was abolished, of course, this Committee went with it.

In October, 1939, exactly the same position arose in the War Cabinet. The work that had to be done was so enormous, there was so much detail to be considered on military questions as to how the Army should be composed and equipped, its strength and so on, that it was again suggested to the Prime Minister that we should set up the same sort of Committee that we had had in peace, and that was done. It was on that basis, and with that Committee in existence in 1940 that the final Defence Committees, which only differed by having the Ministers of Production and Supply on them, came into being in 1940 when Mr. Churchill became Prime Minister.

There is another point to which, for historical accuracy, I would like to refer. Paragraph 6 states: The Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, who had been appointed in 1936 to assist in the task of overseeing the rearmament programme, at first remained in office as a member of the War Cabinet …. In point of fact, the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence was by means set up merely for that task. He had an enormous amount of work put on his shoulders. He was Deputy Chairman of the Committee of Imperial Defence, with a vast amount of work of all kinds devolving on him, and he was also Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee in certain circumstances—in fact the same circumstances as I envisage from the Paper which we have before us to-day.

Paragraph 8 also states: … the Chiefs of Staff in their corporate capacity became the authority which issued to Commanders-in-Chief united operational instructions and strategical guidance on the conduct of the war. I would point out to your Lordships, however, that the Chiefs of Staff always had been the authority for these instructions. When the Abyssinia crisis arose in 1935 the Chiefs of Staff issued instructions to the Commanders-in-Chief and indicated their wishes for their guidance after, of course, they had been approved by the Cabinet. I have nothing else to say about the historical section, and I mention these points only in the interests of extreme accuracy in a State document.

I turn next to Section III, the Commentary, where paragraph 11 says: This part of the work of the Committee of Imperial Defence had been well done, and the transition from peace to war was smoothly made. I am very glad that that has been said because it is a tribute to the remarkable Secretary of the Committee of Imperial Defence, at that time Sir Hastings Ismay, to whom an enormous amount is due, following the wise lines set by his predecessor, Sir Maurice Hankey. A similar tribute is also due to many others. In paragraph 12 there is a rather remarkable, almost astonishing, statement, that Qualitatively our Navy and Air Force were not badly equipped, … I am not speaking for the Royal Air Force—judging by the Battle of Britain the Royal Air Force were very well equipped with certain types of aircraft—but the Navy was certainly not well equipped qualitatively. Only three of the fifteen capital ships of which the Navy consisted had not fought in the previous war, twenty years before. That was hardly good quality; at least, it was ancient quality. There was only one modern aircraft carrier in the Royal Navy at that time. I think, therefore, that it is an exaggerated statement to say that "qualitatively our Navy and Air Force were not badly equipped." There are many other things to which I would like to refer. I mention those two only, as examples.

In paragraph 13 there is another rather remarkable statement: This failure to equip our Forces on an adequate scale was mainly due to the political and economic circumstances of the decade before 1939, … There, one is skating on rather thin ice. Those few words would have been better left out because you cannot describe the situation which led to the subsequent state of affairs as: postponing until far too late the start of an effective programme of rearmament. Actually, it was not economic circumstances which had anything to do with it. There was nothing wrong with the economic circumstances. It may have been due to financial circumstances, in that the delay in rearming was due to the nation and Parliament not wishing to spend the money in that way. There was plenty of money. After all, four years later, in 1936, Parliament passed the Defence Loan for £1,000,000,000, and it was subsequently increased to £1,500,000,000. When the war started, we had plenty of money to build up great Armies and Navies without any difficulty. I submit, therefore, that economic circumstances had nothing to do with failure to rearm. I do not know much about the political circumstances. Perhaps there is something in that. If it were due to political circumstances, I can see nothing in this White Paper to ensure that exactly the same political circumstances may not occur in ten, fifteen or twenty years time. I have urged in your Lordships' House that we should take defence, just as we take foreign policy, out of political Party strife. When I made that proposal two years ago it was refused by the National Government. I am sorry that that strife exists, but as long as we have uncertainty we can never be very safe.

With the rest of paragraph 13, and paragraphs 14, 15, 16 and 17, I am in entire agreement. They are all very wise and sound. Paragraph 15 is an important one. It concerns the complete amalgamation of the three Services, which "could not and should not be taken here and now." With that I fully agree. Whether we ever amalgamate the three Services remains for a younger generation to determine, but I do say that everything short of complete amalgamation should be sought by the Government. Then we come to paragraph 16, which deals with a "Combined General Staff"—a subject on which we have had some interesting and important debates in this House, as several noble Lords here this afternoon will remember. I never believed that a Combined General Staff was very practicable, for the reasons given in the White Paper and for the reasons I have mentioned before. You cannot have one set of men planning operations and another set responsible for carrying them out. You must have the same people responsible for both. That is my opinion.

May I turn next to Section IV of the White Paper, which is headed: "Proposals"? I will deal with these only in a very sketchy way, as I want to leave time for subsequent discussion on Imperial defence. As regards the proposals, I think I agree with them all. They are good; they are sound. The new post of Minister of Defence is one which is of the utmost importance, and one which I have always recommended should exist. It is interesting to note in paragraphs 25 and 26, in which some of the duties of this Minister are described, that he is to be a senior-Minister. That, too, I think, is of the greatest importance. If you are to combine the fate of the three Services largely in the hands of one man, it is absolutely essential that that man should be a strong man—a man who will be able to stand up against all the many and the necessary and proper fights that he will have, for money and so on, in sticking up for the three Services. A good strong Defence Minister may save the defence situation. A weak one can ruin the whole of the three Services. Therefore, I welcome the statement that he is to be a senior Minister, which can only mean that he is to be a Minister of great experience and one whose word will carry the greatest weight in the Cabinet—not less than that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Another paragraph of great importance is paragraph 27 which describes the arrangement for what is called "The Apportionment of Resources." I do not like that expression. It is difficult to see what it means. Does it mean apportionment of the money that it is convenient to spend? Or what does it mean? I do not know. It looks very much like the old ration plan when the Treasury said: "There you are. There is so much money for the three Services. Take it. Scramble for it and divide it between you." Is, that what is meant? I hope that the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, when he conies to reply, will be able to say something on the question of what is meant by the "apportionment of resources."

The functions of the Minister are described in paragraph 26 (a). The part: of paragraph 27, dealing with the means of forming Estimates for the three Services, of reviewing them in the Defence Committee with Service Ministers and Chiefs of Staff, and then presenting to the Cabinet their combined advice is absolutely right and sound. It will prevent any idea that the Services are fighting each other for the money, and will ensure, as it says, that the expenditure is that which will give the country the forces and the equipment in a properly-balanced proportion, based on the advice and the strategic ideas of the Chiefs of Staff. That is absolutely right and sound. The Defence Minister, in his general duty of representing in Parliament everything of a combined nature between the Services, will present the Finance Bill for defence in the House of Commons.

The only other thing on the proposals to which I wish to refer is the position of the Chiefs of Staff, which is mentioned in paragraph 31. I think that is a very satisfactory paragraph. I am glad that the position of the Chiefs of Staff is satisfactorily regularized. The old position was never a happy one. As those former Service Ministers who are here to-day will remember, the Service Ministers were divorced from strategic problems. It was rather a touchy point if the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence went to approach the Chiefs of Staff together and the Service Ministers were not included. It was really for that reason that we introduced in 1939 what I call the pseudo-Defence Committee, to bring the Service Ministers into the picture, and give them an opportunity of knowing what their own Chiefs of Staff thought in combination. That is now regularized and it is made quite clear that the Chiefs of Staff are to have two sides to their work. First, they are to have their collective responsibility as a joint inter-Service body to the Defence Minister; and, secondly, they will retain their individual responsibility in their Departments as members of the Board or Council to which they belong, and for which they are responsible to their Service Ministers. This makes it quite clear where they are. There can be no doubt it is perfectly sound and logical, and, in fact, the best arrangement that could be made when you want to get the three Services together.

I come now to Section V, dealing with "Organization for Collective Defence." I am sorry that the term "collective defence" has been given to this paragraph. To me the term "collective" has an unhappy past. It reminds one of "collective security" and all that that stood for, uncertainty, lack of organization, no planning, no forces and disaster when the time came. I am very sorry that that name has been given to it. Why not call it Imperial Defence or if you do not like the term "Imperial," why not call it "Organization for Defence of the Dominions and Colonies"? I do not like the term "collective defence." I think it is a pity that we should come back to that old term, which has such an un-savoury past. I feel the bad point in this section is that it separates too markedly the defence of the United Kingdom from the defence of the Empire. I do not mind actually changing the Committee of Imperial Defence to the Defence Committee, but I think it is a misfortune to do away with the word "Imperial." Of course, as it says in paragraph 35, the Defence Committee mainly deals with the responsibility for organizing the defence of the United Kingdom, though it says that we cannot view our defence problems in isolation. We must be ready to play our part in any measures which may be organized under the ægis of the United Nations; and we must maintain and develop our machinery for collaboration in the defence of the British Commonwealth and Empire. So far as I can see in the White Paper, we have neither maintained nor developed that machinery.

I feel the connexion with Imperial defence in this paper is weaker than it was, and it was never very strong. There is no mention of the High Commissioners who, in peace, used to play some part in the Committee of Imperial Defence, so that they could keep their Dominions in touch with our own thoughts on defence and give us their ideas. They are not mentioned at all. Instead, we are to have liaison officers. "Liaison officers," I think, has an unsatisfactory implication. What is to be the rank and position of these officers? Are they to be young Service men or are they to be civilians? What are they going to be? There must result a general weakening of the Imperial link. If I may refer your Lordships to paragraph 40, which is called "Colonial Defence" and which is to be found on the last page of the White Paper, in the middle of that paragraph you will see these words: The security of the Colonies rests mainly upon the maintenance by the Imperial Forces of command of the sea"— please note the words "Imperial Forces"— and air approaches and of the freedom of the lines of communication between the different parts of the Empire. If the word "Dominions" is substituted for "Colonies" the statement is equally true. Why not state it also with regard to the Dominions?

I feel that the whole of Section V is very casual and unconvincing. Let me refer you to one or two other points with regard to paragraphs 36 and 37. There we read that co-operation has always taken the practical form of promoting the closest possible touch between the Staffs. There was not the closest possible touch between the Staffs in peace. Very often there was no touch at all between the Staffs of some of the Dominions. When we came to discuss in the Committee of Imperial Defence certain matters of a really secret nature, you could not have the closest possible touch. As I have said in your Lordships' House before, you could not discuss very secret things, such as your war plans, or some new secret weapon which you were developing, even with a High Commissioner, whose Dominion, as far as you knew, might not come into the war with you. You could not do that. It was impossible and we did not do it. So to say that there was the closest possible touch in the past is incorrect. There was not. In the same way in paragraph 37 your Lordships will see that it says: In this way, it was possible to make common plans for military action"— that is referring to the war period— for the co-ordination of munitions production … But in peace there were no common plans in the past for military action. That was our weakness. There were no common plans. It led to anxiety. I do remember the anxiety always felt by the Dominions as to what the Mother Country was going to do about defence and the extent to which they could rely on the Mother Country to come and help them in certain unpleasant situations that they dreamed about.

Then, in the communiqué issued by the Governments of the Commonwealth which appears in the middle of the page, this sentence occurs in inverted commas: The existing methods of consultation have proved their worth. Well, I think that will not bear examination. And so we come to the last paragraph in that communiqué, which begins: They are peculiarly appropriate to the character of the British Commonwealth, …"— and goes on to say: while all are willing to consider and adopt practical proposals for developing the existing system, it is agreed that the methods now practised are preferable to any rigid centralized machinery. Now the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, speaking in a debate initiated, I think, last March by Lord Croft, when he referred to what I had myself proposed, used very much the same words as to the undesirability of having a rigid machinery. But there is no need to have a rigid machinery. There is a great deal of space between rigidity and no organization at all. Nobody wants rigidity. What we want is organized consultation and planning in peace on a high level. There can be no rigidity in that. Whatever is decided has to go to the Parliaments of the Dominions for approval and ratification. It is not issuing orders to the Dominions by some centralized body sitting in Whitehall. It is merely organizing ourselves by agreement, by talking things over and going back to the Dominions and discussing what has been said, and coming back again and getting some mutual agreement. Surely that can be done without rigidity.

I am glad the Government did say that all are willing to consider and adopt practical proposals. I am sure there is a great deal that can be done. I realize, of course, the Government's difficulties. They are not in command of the Empire. It is quite natural, perhaps, that there should be a wish in the Dominions to get the best of both worlds—to be free and yet to be safe. What we have to consider is whether it is possible. Surely Imperial defence must be recognized to-day as a combined operation. So long as the world remains in its present state of disorganization we cannot be sure that wars will not return. While we can hope that the United Nations Organization with their machinery will delay the next war as long as possible, if they endeavour to find possible solution to the international rivalries, grievances, and ambitions they will do well, but that is about all they will be able to do.

Imperial defence remains a serious problem. The present fear of war which one hears everywhere is much better than the complaisant attitude that we got into in 1920 and 1920 when we were told that there was never to be another war. If everybody is expecting war it is the most hopeful chance that we do not get it, because the aggressor will not start a war when everybody is expecting it. He starts it when he hopes everybody has gone to sleep and he can steal a march on them—as Hitler did. The true position is that the British Empire has proved to be highly vulnerable, liable to attack by every weapon and difficult to defend. The main responsibility for the defence has lain on the Mother Country. If Great Britain was destroyed, as she so nearly was, then the whole keystone of defence would crash and bring the Empire to the ground. The Dominions know that. Every unit of the Empire depends upon the strength of the United Kingdom Forces and their efficiency. The burden on the British taxpayer is immense and affects his standard of living. If you want to improve your standard of living, and you ease the defence burden to do it so as to provide money for other purposes, then not only the United Kingdom but the whole Empire runs into danger, and yet no part of the Empire can do anything to save that situation or to change it.

If Imperial defence is to be recognized in principle, it must bring confidence with it. If there is no Imperial defence organized in peace, no planning how the responsibility is to be shared, then the Empire will collapse in a future war as it nearly did in the last one. The problem as I see it is this. Can the people of this country, even if they are willing to do so, continue to bear such a giant's share in future of the cost of Imperial defence? Do the Dominions recognize their dependence on the Mother Country at the present time? The balance of responsibility between the United Kingdom and the Empire is not a wise or business-like or satisfactory one. It can be said that, even if there were no Empire at all, the United Kingdom would have to spend just as much, or nearly as much money on its own defence because of our economic situation and the way in which we live. But the fact is that the world nature of wars has changed our combined defence problem, and it has increased the difficulties and the cost of Imperial defence. In the old days the United Kingdom Forces were sufficient to control the Seven Seas and the air routes, and to garrison all our bases all over the world, but the United Kingdom Forces alone cannot do that to-day. The security of the Dominions is not what it was, and parts of the Empire depend far more now on their own exertions which must, consequently, be far more considerable than in the past. Moreover, a future war may be won in an instant or won in the first round, so we want to have immediate readiness.

Surely the Empire must make up its mind afresh. Is it going to prepare to defend itself as an independent whole or as a series of independent forces which may or may not join together in time of war? I know it is a delicate question. Some people think it best not to talk about it, but I feel it is right that we should. That very weakness tempted Japan to attack us in the Pacific in 1941. There is, of course, the sovereign freedom of action given to the Dominions by the Statute of Westminster, and we all recognize that this freedom of action is the basis of the unique and wonderful spirit upon which the Empire is constructed. We must keep that spirit, but it is no good having a strong soul only. It is worthy of a strong body, and such a marvellous spirit as we have in the Empire is surely worth some sacrifice. As regards defence, freedom of action is absolutely incompatible with full Imperial security today. It is no good talking about regional defence in a world war. One unit of the Empire might, by being too weak, or by standing aside in war, vitally endanger the strategical security of the remainder. If even one large unit remains neutral when war comes the loss of military forces, productive capacity, sea, air and land bases may be of vital consequence to all. Ireland is one historic example, though we luckily avoided the greater disaster of having alongside us a country whose ports and aerodromes had been made available to our enemy.

Take the wonderful part played by South Africa in the war. South Africa is a country where I have many relations and, therefore, I am closely in touch with all they did. If it had not been for that wonderful man Field-Marshal Smuts, a kind of godfather to the British Empire, South Africa might have been neutral. What would have been our Imperial position in 1942 if that had happened, with the Mediterranean closed to shipping and the Suez Canal full of mines? If the friendly bases in South Africa had not been available to our convoys there would have been disaster not only to our home fortress, not only to our Armies in Africa, but to India, Australia and New Zealand. We hear of the development of making munitions in our Dominions, but how can yon afford to trust to munitions supplied from the Dominions if we do not know whether in war those supplies will be available?

It is easy to understand that the Dominions in the past did not wish to be tied to British foreign policy and to wars which might lead from that policy. But we do not live in those days. Times have changed, and future conflicts, so far as we can see, will not be national conflicts but world conflicts brought about by great world issues which will have defied the efforts of the United Nations Organization. It will not be national but international policy that will have failed. British and Dominion foreign policy are alike tied to U.N.O., and we have all pledged our Forces to support U.N.O. and its decisions. So long as U.N.O. succeeds there will be no war, but if U.N.O. fails it will be because of disunity between the strong nations. Can it be doubted that in such circumstances all parts of the Empire will have the same outlook in what would be a world grouping of nations on irreconcilable principles, ideologies and ambitions? If such a calamitous possibility can be envisaged, it will not be a matter of regional action but a moment for combining our full Imperial strength together. Surely, then, we should organize for that possible danger; organize that strength and broadly agree on what is to be the general strength of the important units of the Empire and the Forces of each of the Dominions and of the United Kingdom. We need confidence that our Forces will be adequate and properly composed, and that the Mother Country will not have to bear a burden which she may be unable to fulfil. It is not enough to say in a blithe way: "All will be well. We shall be in the ranks again together." That is not sufficient. It will not all be well unless there is agreed strength based on realities and study, unless there is a common strategic plan, common tactics kept up to date year by year and a supply of weapons well assured.

All thinking men know that if collective defence, as it is called, is to be a reality then it must, in the days of scientific warfare, with new weapons always being developed, be an organized defence. I see no assurance whatever from the White Paper that there is to be any organized Imperial defence at all; it is all left in an uncertain state. I ask the Government: Is there really no hope of getting greater planned unity in defence in peace? Certain we must be that most of us will have to join in a common task. In the past Great Britain seemed to be the only danger point, but now any unit, however far away, may be in danger and will need the help of the others. It is a consequence of the new international road that all parts of the Commonwealth are journeying along together. We cannot afford to muddle along as before, hoping that all will be well. We ought to make up our minds now how we shall act together, the Government of the United Kingdom giving a lead, so that if war comes again we shall act in loyalty to each other and organize our combined strength, ready if need be to meet such a world misfortune. I beg to move for Papers.

3.23 p.m.


My Lords, I think the whole House will be grateful to the noble Lord who has just spoken for giving us the earliest possible opportunity for this debate in a House where there are many who can speak with great and responsible experience on the subject of the organization of defence. I agree with the noble Lord that in the welter of White Papers which we have received there has not been one in recent months, or perhaps since the Government came into office, of more importance than this White Paper covering the whole organization and machinery of defence. I happen to recall that just over ten years ago it fell to me in this House to announce the measures which we were then taking to try to make effective plans for co-operation. So much that is regarded as obvious and much that is accepted as axiomatic to-day was then tentative and contentious. The campaign for co-operation as against self-sufficiency was a very hard-fought one, and it is indeed agreeable to hear to-day my noble friend who has just spoken, who was in those days the chief apostle of autarchy, confessing with such obvious and deep sincerity the full creed of co-operation. We mere mortals may presume to share in the joy in heaven. But to-day we all so much agree that co-operation is the accepted rule and practice, and we have all the war-time experience to build on. The result is that the Government give us this White Paper.

I think I speak for most on this side of the House when I say that we find this White Paper very sound in many respects. First and foremost, I have no doubt at all that the continuation of the office of Minister of Defence is absolutely necessary; all war experience reinforces that. The growing interdependence of the Services and of all strategy makes it a necessity—a necessity which is so obvious to-day that we are even coining new and not very pleasant words to describe this new trinity in unity. I have no doubt at all that there must be a Minister of Defence, and that that Minister must have effective powers to ensure that strategy and planning are the best that the combined organization and the combined mind can produce, and to ensure also that those combined plans are made effective in action. I shall have a word to say in a moment about the relationship of the Minister to the Chiefs of Staff. The Minister must have the necessary powers and he must exercise the necessary powers, but I entirely agree that he should not have the detailed responsibility—the administrative responsibility—for the three Services. He should be a planning Minister. It is important that he should have time to think, just as it is most important that a Chief of Staff should have time to think. He must not get his table littered up with things which ought to be done by a general manager. Therefore it is absolutely vital that this Minister, who is to evoke the best from this organization, should not find himself cluttered up with a mass of administrative detail.

There is another thing. If you gave to this Minister the responsibility to Parliament for the three Services by making him the responsible Minister for those three Services in all respects, thereby making the Service Ministers in effect, if not in name, Under-Secretaries of State or Deputy Ministers, I am quite certain the result would be this. Inevitably—and I think rightly—if that Minister was responsible to Parliament for everything which went on in those Services, Parliament would insist that the responsible senior Minister should take part in almost every debate. I believe his position would become quite impossible and I am sure it is right that he should not have that detailed responsibility.

Given a Minister of Defence, who should he be? In war, I am quite certain that that Minister can be nobody except the Prime Minister, and I am inclined to think that even in peace that would be the ideal. Certainly I am sure—and I think the Leader of the House will agree with me—that nothing can relieve the Prime Minister of his very special responsibility for defence policy. That is closer—and must be closer—even than his supervision of foreign affairs. It is essential—and I am glad it is provided here—that the Prime Minister should be the Chairman of the Defence Committee. I regret the departure of the name and of some of the reality of the old title, the Committee of Imperial Defence. He must be, I think—and I hope the Leader of the House will assure us that he will be—not only the Chairman in name but the Chairman in fact. If the Prime Minister is not to be the Minister of Defence himself—and I can quite well see that with so much upon his shoulders the position would be difficult—then the Minister of Defence must really be his alter ego; he must be completely in his confidence and he must be working to him with much more than what we ordinarily call collective responsibility. There must be the most intimate daily partnership between the Prime Minister and the man who is in fact his deputy Minister of Defence.

Then the combined organization. I have no doubt at all that this must centre upon the Chiefs of Staff Committee—the Chiefs of Staff in their corporate capacity. I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Chatfield—and I have always maintained this—that it is impossible to divorce the responsibility for planning strategy from the responsibility for carrying it out. The Chiefs of Staff, the professional heads of the Services, must have a dual function. In their corporate Capacity they are the supreme General Staff and in their individual capacities they are the professional heads of their Services. The joint organization—joint planning, joint intelligence and the like—must work to them in their corporate capacity.

When I was speaking for the Government ten years ago I emphasized that, and that was when suggestions were, I think, more current than they are to-day that what ought to be done was to set up some organization working in parallel with the Chiefs of Staff. I am sure that is impossible. I was sure of it then and I am sure that all war-time experience, whether it be our own or that of the Germans, bears it out. You cannot escape from the position that the supreme advice given to the Government must be that of the men who are going to carry the responsibility. I am perfectly certain that no other system will work. I am sure we all agree that the success of co-operation—of joint planning—depends upon two things. It depends on the right form of organization and on the right frame of mind. I am not sure that the right frame of mind is not even more important than the right organization—indeed I am sure. Unless you have the right frame of mind, the best organization will fail; but if you have the right frame of mind and the right approach, that will ensure that the organization is the right organization to give effect to its faith and purpose. I believe the right organization is laid down in this White Paper, and I believe that the right frame of mind—the really combined mind—has been so present in belief and practice in the war that that is assured. What do we mean by the right frame of mind? Surely we mean the combination of the individual experience of each Service, together with a collective outlook. I am sure we are all delighted to see the Imperial Defence College in being, with officers, from the Dominions there again. That is most important, because the Imperial Defence College is all the time breeding that right combined frame of mind.

What should be the relationship of the Minister to the Chiefs of Staff? He will be the Chairman of the Committee. I think it right that he should not preside always, but I think it equally right that he should preside not only when they want him to but when he thinks he ought to. I am sure that that is right. What is his function? As I see it, it certainly is not to dictate strategy to the Chiefs of Staff, but to evoke the best from them and to make quite sure that what emerges from their deliberations (in the course of which there will be divisions of opinion) shall be the highest common factor of efficiency and never the lowest common denominator of compromise. I believe that the Chiefs of Staff themselves will be greatly helped to give of their best, greatly helped in their corporate capacity and greatly helped vis-à-vis their own individual services, where particular views may be rather strongly held, by an association with an experienced and impartial Minister.

I am very glad there is a paragraph in this White Paper which deals with the collaboration of the scientists in the strategy and planning of defence research as a whole. It is so important that these scientists should be used in the right way, and I do speak here from very close personal experience. I am sure you will not get the best out of the scientists unless they are really at the heart of operational planning. They must not be men to be consulted when it is thought desirable; they must be at the very heart of the business. When I went to the Air Ministry there was nothing new in using scientists. All the Ministries were using them, and they were associated with the Committee of Imperial Defence. They themselves told me that what was new was that they were treated from the very start as an integral part of the operational staff and were at the heart of operational planning. Within a few weeks the problem was put: What would be the greatest revolution that we could make in the air? Somebody said: "If we only knew where an aircraft was a quarter of an hour before it got here." The imagination of the Air Staff and the scientists together was seized by that. We said: "Gentlemen, there is your problem." There was the deliberate approach, the strategical problem which put the scientists in at the birth. They deliberately set out to find the solution of Radar, which in an incredibly short space of time they found. That solution would have come sooner or later, but I am quite certain that it would not have come half as soon or have been half as effective. Thank God England was ringed with the whole system before the war came. Unless there had been that intimate association between staff and scientists, and they had been as much part of the General Staff as the most senior officer, that would not have come about. I am sure the Leader of the House and the Government will not dissent from that.

May I say a word now about finance? I think that is to be found in paragraph 27, to which the noble Lord, Lord Chatfield, referred. I do not think I am as frightened of that paragraph as he is, but perhaps we read it rather differently. Personally, I do not believe that the Services will suffer individually by the formulation of a combined defence, and a carefully considered and co-ordinated plan or plans as to how it should be carried out. I think the Services are much more likely to suffer—and I speak from some experience of this—if each of them presents unco-ordinated demands. If some Department—do not let us specify too minutely—in order to defer the necessary expenditure can say: "Look at these Fighting Services, they are not agreed, this has not been co-ordinated and that has not been completely thought out." Sometimes this kind of delaying action may come from Ministers who have their own particular projects, not related to defence, and want to have their hand in the till, and they think of how they can defer expenditure. I do not mean their personal hands in the till but their professional hand! They will think that they will have a better chance if these Defence Services, are not dealt with by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am quite certain there will be a better chance for the Services if there is a real considered plan. But again the approach must be right. Of course finance is very important and it may be that you cannot always be 100 per cent. insured at every point, although it is going to be easier, cheaper and more efficient to get defence under a co-ordinated plan.

I am sure the fatal attitude would be—and this is what the noble Lord, Lord Chatfield, was nervous of—that the Cabinet or the Chancellor of the Exchequer should say: "This is the amount of money which we are going to allow to defence. Now you, the Minister of Defence, and the Defence Committee can say how it ought to be shared out." That would be a fatal approach, and I would like to have an assurance from the Government that that will not be the approach. The approach, of course, should be that the Minister, the Chiefs of Staffs and the Defence Committee formulate what is the right and necessary defence and translate that into terms of cost. Of course, that has got to come before the Cabinet, but in that way the Cabinet will be fully informed. It will have the most carefully considered plan of what is necessary and will take a heavy responsibility if it turns it down.

From what I have said it will be clear that there is much that I and my friends will agree with in this White Paper. I am less happy about paragraph 35, relative to collective defence. I do realize the difficulties, which are very great. Decisions must be taken by Commonwealth Governments individually, whether it is the Government of the United Kingdom or the Government of each of the Dominions. A central executive authority is, I believe, impracticable. I do not know any responsible statesman who has had to deal with these matters in practice who has ever suggested that, and I think it is very important when we plead for closer co-operation that it should be made plain beyond peradventure what we are not asking for when we try to get at closer co-operation. The decisions of each Government must be individual decisions. The central executive is impossible. I think this is also true, that a Prime Minister, whether in this country or in the Dominions, will probably want to take his decisions in and with his Cabinet.

But take another side of it. I am sure you cannot divide strategy and planning into watertight geographical compartments, any more than you can divide the three Services or the combined strategy of the three Services. I do not believe that that has been possible for many years past, and less than ever is it possible to-day with the flexibility of the air and with the infinite variety and range of modern weapons and of weapons yet to come. A Defence Committee cannot possibly review strategy in watertight compartments, Home and Colonial, Commonwealth and UNO. The whole thing is a contradiction in terms. It must be a comprehensive review. I attach much more importance to the value of the Imperial Defence Committee in the past than the noble Lord, Lord Chatfield, has. I think it was of infinite value that High Commissioners and visiting Cabinet Ministers from the Dominions regularly attended meetings of the Committee of Imperial Defence. They were not committed nor were His Majesty's Ministers here committed in the Committee of Imperial Defence. The decisions were taken by the Cabinet. Lord Balfour to whom we owe the creation of the Committee of Imperial Defence, with extraordinarily wise foresight, saw that decisions had to be taken by the Cabinet. But here was a strategic planning committee; it was not an executive body; it was an advisory body.

As I say, those attending its meetings were not committed. They were in at the heart of things, continually acquiring and continually contributing knowledge on the highest plane. Of course, decisions must be taken by Governments, but these decisions should be taken in the light of the fullest information acquired at first hand, on an agreed assessment of that information and, so far as possible, on agreement as to what is the right defence, what is the right action and what are the right plans in the different contingencies, whoever accepts the responsibility for putting them into action. I cannot think that, in this respect, the proposed new liaison is a good substitute even for the old, and I hope that on Imperial co-operation this is not the last word.

3.43 p.m.


My Lords, one could imagine some detached observer listening to this debate, or to a similar debate, such as one of those which are taking place in other Parliaments in various parts of the world, taking a somewhat cynical and sceptical view of the whole of these proceedings. He would say: "Here is the greatest war in history only recently over; it has caused immeasurable suffering and incalculable loss and it should have been a sufficient lesson in itself to all the peoples. Here are the aggressors utterly defeated, completely disarmed. Here are all or almost all the nations of mankind agreed on a world-wide organization for the guarantee of peace, with its Security Council and International Armed Force. And yet, at the same moment, they are all busy looking to their own separate armaments."

Here in the British House of Lords, two days ago, we had a discussion on how to secure a sufficient number of recruits for the Fighting Services. To-day we are discussing future organization for possible wars. Next week, on one day, we are to discuss the atomic bomb, and, on another day, terms of service for the Armed Forces. It reminds me of what was said about a Government of France in the earlier part of the nineteenth cen- tury: "It is not a Government of liberté, egalité, fraternité, it is a Government of infantry, cavalry and artillery." But it must be obvious to all of us, that, unhappily, the time has not yet come when we can regard as unimportant questions of armament, strategy, overseas bases, Government organization for defence and the like. The time has not yet come when, with simple faith, we can put our trust absolutely in the United Nations, for the experience of the League of Nations and its Disarmament Conference shows that that would be utterly unsafe. Particularly is this so now that the veto in the hands of any one of the major Powers would enable any one of them to immobilize the activities of the United Nations altogether. Britain cannot stake her all, including the security of her own people, on the success of the United Nations, and be irretrievably ruined if it should fail. And all other nations are in the same mood and recognize the same necessities.

Lord Pakenham, two days ago in what, if I may be permitted to say so, seemed to me an exceedingly able speech, transcended the immediate questions at issue and put the matter then under discussion, the means of recruitment to the Forces, in relation to broad national policy. He said that the old controversy between those who might be called the militarists and the non-militarists was now a thing altogether of the past, and that the present Labour Government had adopted definitely as their policy the maintenance of adequate armaments for this country, armaments adequate, that is, to all probable needs. But the Government have also stated, and stated very emphatically, on many occasions that the keynote of their policy is loyal support for the United Nations. These two aspects of policy are not inconsistent with one another. They are, in fact, complementary. It is a dual policy, but duality does not imply duplicity. This dual policy of complete support for the United Nations, on the one hand, and adequate armaments of our own—at all events in the present stage of international affairs—on the other, is a policy which can be, and has been, adopted by all three of the principal Parties of this country, and can be regarded as the national policy of the British people. But the same reasons which lead us to see the absolute necessity of maintaining adequate armaments must also lead us to realize the necessity of our Government at the centre being sufficiently well organized for the purpose which it is to perform.

For my own part, speaking on this Motion to-day, I shall not venture to follow into many of the questions which have been dealt with by Lord Chatfield and Viscount Swinton, because they have been into many questions dealing with the relationship between the three Services and questions of somewhat technical organization, matters on which they have intimate and long experience such as I cannot claim. I shall limit myself, in the observations I shall make—which I hope will not be too lengthy—to the more political aspects of this matter. In the first place, this White Paper marks an exceedingly important and valuable development in the evolution of the Cabinet system. Now, the three Service Ministers are no longer to be normal members of the Cabinet itself. They will hold Cabinet rank, they will, of course, be Privy Councillors, they can be summoned to attend meetings whenever necessary. But the week-by-week, month-by-month spokesman in the Cabinet for the three Services will be the Minister of Defence. That, of course, is adopting the plan which was set out in the Haldane Report as long ago as 1918. That is, perhaps, to be expected, for our experience is that a period of from twenty to thirty years is about the time that usually elapses before something that is obviously right is put into practical effect in this country.

Now this system of a smaller Cabinet, several members of which represent grouped Departments, is, apparently being adopted more extensively by the present Government. I observe that the New Statesman, which is a newspaper in close touch with the present Administration, towards which it displays an uneasy balance of devoted loyalty and stringent criticism, has pointed out that such groups of Departments are now in process of formation. That paper has written that Ministries dealing with economic planning are all being co-ordinated by Mr. Morrison; those dealing with social services by Mr. Greenwood; those dealing with external affairs by Mr. Bevin; and now the Defence Services are to be brought together by Mr. Alexander. I think that that is a very advisable and correct development. A Cabinet of over twenty, such as we have, is too large for effective government and with our more complex system of government a somewhat larger number of Ministries is inevitable. This enlarged Cabinet is apparently now going through a quiet and silent chrysalis stage; later it will emerge into a fully developed and brilliant butterfly of the Haldane species.

This proposal to make permanent the war-time expedient of a Ministry of Defence is one which has received the approval of the noble Viscount and the noble Lord who have preceded me, and it is one which we on this Bench strongly support. Speaking from these Benches for the Liberals of your Lordships' House, in a debate on this subject a few months ago, the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, propounded a plan which was almost precisely the same as that embodied in this White Paper. He rejected the alternative of the Combined Staff and advocated a Ministry of Defence and, in general, the proposals contained here. We on these Benches, therefore, have announced in advance our approval of these proposals. The noble Lord, Lord Rennell, pointed out a very significant and interesting fact, that the other plan, that for the Combined Staff, was the one which had been adopted in Germany and had failed. That is also pointed out in the White Paper. Germany, the militarist country par excellence, which had for generations concentrated its mind and thought on the subject, had attempted, at the very heart of its organization, a plan which failed. We British people, who take pride in not being military and who do things in a much less methodical way, have happened upon the right course, one which proved eminently successful under test and which helped this democracy to join in bringing victory over the militarist countries.

In the past there have been frequent arguments in this House as between the proposal for a Combined Staff and a Defence Ministry. A decision has now been given—and I think rightly given—in favour of the Defence Ministry. Whether the Defence Ministry should be permanently separated from the Premiership is a matter which I think that it would be a mistake to determine too definitely beforehand, one way or the other. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, has just said that in war-time he thought the Minister of Defence must also always he the Prime Minister. I am not quite so sure as to that. It must depend very largely on the personality of the Prime Minister. If he were a Chatham, a Palmerston or a Churchill, no doubt that would be so. If he were a Peel or a Gladstone, or any one of the Prime Ministers who held office in the years from 1922 to 1940, it might be very inexpedient. It would also not be the right alternative to say that such a Prime Minister must necessarily resign, and give place to somebody else who also has the aptitudes and the temperament and the interests—as Mr. Churchill had—of a war leader. It might be that the political situation would demand that the Prime Minister should remain, but that the actual conduct of the war should be in the hands of a colleague. I think that it would be better to wait for the occasion—which I sincerely trust will never come—to decide what would be the proper decision in the circumstances. We have an elastic and adaptable Constitution which can fit itself to whatever the circumstance of the time may be.

The only observations which I have to make, other than those which I have already offered, relate to the supersession of the Committee of Imperial Defence by the new Defence Committee. I do not demur at that, but one wants to be sure that the virtues of the old system are carried on into the new. The White Paper recalls the history of the C.I.D. as it was generally known. It was created in 1904, mainly on the initiative of the then Prime Minister, Mr. Arthur Balfour, who thereby rendered one of the greatest of the many services which he rendered to the State. It was welcomed by the Ministry that came into office immediately after, by Mr. Asquith (as Prime Minister), and Mr. Haldanelas Secretary of State for War) and perhaps I may be allowed, in pious memory of that Administration, to quote the words used in the White Paper now before us. Paragraph 4 says: In the decade before the war of 1914–1918 the Committee of Imperial Defence was engaged ill formulating the principles to govern our defence policy and in planning the transition from peace to war. These tasks were accomplished with success; and at the outbreak of war in 1914 we had well-laid plans for the transition from peace to war and better machinery than we had ever had before for concerting the actions of Government Departments in war. This declaration of 1946 with regard to the years between 1906 and 1914 may perhaps be allowed to stand as an epitaph to that Administration.

There are two questions which I should like to put to the Government in this connexion. Amongst other things the Committee of Imperial Defence was designed to ensure continuity when Party changes brought about a change of Governments. It was the vehicle which allowed consultation between the Government of the day and the Opposition Party or Parties. That machinery was used by Mr. Balfour himself on not a few occasions, when he was Leader of the Opposition, and he attended meetings of the Committee of Imperial Defence when grave matters of State were under discussion. I do not find any suggestion in this White Paper that similar consultations could be continued; yet it is of very great importance that matters of defence should be regarded as national, and not Party, matters. If that is to be so, then the leaders of Opposition Parties must be kept informed of the state of affairs, and must be brought into consultation on the proper occasions. No reference is made to that in this White Paper. I find in paragraph 24 only that persons outside the Government service altogether may be asked to attend meetings of Sub-Committees of the Committee of Imperial Defence. That paragraph, however, appears to relate solely to Sub-Committees, and also to people on what is usually known as the official level. I should be grateful if my noble friend the Leader of the House, to whom I have given notice of this question, would say something today on this question.

Let me say, in regard to the new Committee of Defence, how glad I am to see the new position given to scientists. It is stated that among the Sub-Committees to be formed under the Committee of Defence is one for Research with a scientist of the first rank as Chairman. That is a very welcome announcement. In the old days, war was a matter of the Army and the Navy, for them and for them alone. The War Office and the Admiralty conducted it. Then came the third Service, the Air Force, which had almo4 to fight for equality of position within that hierarchy. Then it was realized that questions of supply were as important as any question of the Fighting Forces themselves, and the Ministry of Supply—so belatedly brought into existence before the last war—has been given almost equal status. We now have four factors—the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and Supply. Science is really a fifth factor not less important in the long run than any of the others, for the achievements and developments of science really, in the long run, determine the whole course of military operations.

My other question with regard to the Committee of Imperial Defence is one to which attention has been drawn by both the previous speakers. As one of its main purposes, the Committee of Imperial Defence was also designed to bring all the elements of the British Commonwealth together. That purpose is expressed in its name. It was called the Committee of Imperial Defence for that very reason. But I find no suggestion, or very little suggestion, in the White Paper that such functions are to be continued by the new Committee which is to replace it. We all understand the feelings of the Dominions with regard to their political independence and we most cordially sympathize with them, approve of them and would do nothing in any degree to detract from that position on any occasion. And of course, the Dominions do not wish to be committed in advance to support any particular policy, as it might be they would disapprove of some policy in some part of the world which was being adopted by His Majesty's Government in Great Britain. As has been shown in recent diplomatic conferences, they are entirely free to form their own views on all matters of international policy. Therefore, they do not want to be tied up with the British administration of defence for fear they might themselves be committed in advance to certain measures. They want to retain their freedom.

That is the position on the one side. On the other side is the fact that, of the white population in the whole of the British Empire, one-third is now in the Dominions. For every two white members of the British Commonwealth in this island there is a third somewhere in the Dominions. No doubt, the United Kingdom has more than two-thirds of the wealth of the Empire but certainly less than two-thirds of the resources, and in a global war the fact that our geographical area is almost insignificant compared with the Commonwealth as a whole is a factor of immense importance, for geography now determines the situation. Therefore, whether it is from the question of manpower or the question of finance or the question of geographical planning, the unity and simultaneity of action of the whole Commonwealth is of the very first importance, and we are entitled to point out to them that the people of this country, heavily burdened as they are, and heavily pressed in many directions, cannot, without assistance, bear the burden of the immense armaments which still appear to be necessary.

Then there is the question of military training. We had a debate in this House a few weeks ago on the retention by the War Office of very large areas of land in many parts of the country, of land which is of a particularly desirable character from the point of view of amenities, of national parks, holidays and the general aspect of this island as a place in which to live. All those considerations no doubt must give way, if it is necessary, to the purposes of national defence, which is superior and which must be given a higher value than any of those. But is it necessary that all this training with long-range weapons, in artillery, aircraft, tanks and so forth should be conducted within this small island? I ventured to suggest in that debate, as did other noble Lords, that the precedent in the last war by which the Air Force was trained mainly in Canada was a very desirable one, and might be extended in other directions. However, the Government replied very curtly that it was not intended to conduct any training of the military forces in the Dominions. A brief statement was made. I forget whether it was in that debate or a statement in answer to a question asked in another place.


I am sorry to interrupt the noble Viscount, but I should be very glad if he could give me a reference.


I am afraid I have not got it with me. I ought to have looked it up, I agree. I felt personally rather hurt that a flat negative was given. Some other noble Lords may remember it. I cannot recollect whether it was in this House in that debate or in answer to a question in another place. But I am quite certain of the fact that that answer was given, that there was no intention to continue military training in the Dominions. However, if that is not so, I shall be only too glad to hear the fact from the noble Lord. I usually do verify my references but I must confess that on this occasion I neglected to do so.

With regard to the last section in the White Paper, I very fully share the view that has been expressed both by Lord Chatfield and Viscount Swinton that these paragraphs are somewhat disappointing. They are somewhat disappointing. I know how difficult and delicate the position is. I do not press the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, to make any definite statement to-day if it would be inexpedient to do so. I know that discussions are still proceeding with the Dominions. Everyone knows that on this side there would be no unwillingness to have the closest and most continuous consultation with the Dominions on all these matters. We recognize to the full our obligations to ensure the security of the Dominions, even as our own security, to the very utmost of our power, and conversely no doubt the Dominions share in spirit that position, and, whether through the Committee of Defence or through some other means, I have no doubt that opportunities will be found for adequate consultation. Perhaps if the noble Viscount could give us a little reassurance on that it might remove the impression that has been left by the somewhat limited phraseology of the last section of the White Paper. So long as the will is there, the means will be found. Certain it is that the combined strength and influence of the whole British Commonwealth as a unit is not only essential to its own security and welfare, but it is valuable and indeed indispensable for the peace and tranquillity of that one world of which we are all members.

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, every speaker in this debate, from Lord Chatfield onwards, seems to be in a conspiracy to take the wind out of my sails; and they covered the ground so fully that I am going to abstain from any detailed comment on the first thirty-four paragraphs. It is sufficient to say that, in my opinion, up to that point the scheme as a whole is impressive, though I do reserve my right to make a few comments possibly on some future occasion. I especially welcome the principle of "steady evolution" and no drastic break with the past as laid down in the first paragraph. I shall, therefore, turn at once to the question of co-operation with the Dominions on defence on which I make four main criticisms.

First, the principle of "steady evolution" is departed from, and there is a "drastic break with the past"—more drastic, perhaps, than Ministers realize. My other criticisms provide illustrations of this. My second criticism is the change of title from Committee of Imperial Defence to Defence Committee. That is a black blot on the White Paper, and on the fine Empire record of the Party in office. It is not good administration to change titles affecting works of reference all over the world, directories, and so forth. It irritates public servants, including Service staffs. It will irritate many people in the Dominions. Speaking of Service staffs, their aim is to serve all Governments equally well, and it will strain their loyalty. It will not appease those people—who, I believe, are not unfriendly people at the bottom—across the Atlantic who like to twist the lion's tail every two years or so. It will not increase our prestige abroad where, as is constantly borne in on me on my bi-monthly visit to Paris where I meet people of all nations, the reputation of the Committee of Imperial Defence is extraordinarily high. It is an invitation to the Government's eventual successors in office, whoever they may be, to change the name back again. It destroys a living monument to Lord Balfour, our greatest Empire statesman, who founded the Committee as a focus of Empire co-operation, and watched over its destinies for nearly thirty years.

My third criticism is that the Dominions Secretary is not included in the permanent nucleus of the Defence Committee, as he always has been in the past. In conjunction with the absence of any provision for continuous high level Dominion representation, that is an extraordinary omission. The Dominions Secretary, of course, cannot represent the Dominions, and would not pretend to, but he knows infinitely more about the Dominions than any other member of the Cabinet. Whether the Dominions are represented directly or not, there is to question that in peace-time the Committee ought to have his guidance in order to avoid mistakes. Fancy taking right out of the Defence Committee the Minister who sees all the Dominions' High Commissioners pretty well every day and discusses foreign policy with them. The two subjects of foreign policy and defence are inextricably intermingled. The Dominions Secretary must be fully on the inside of defence. You might as well withdraw the Foreign Secretary from the Defence Committee. I am sorry the Lord Chancellor is not here. I cannot appeal to my noble friend, the Leader of the House, on this subject because he is Dominions Secretary, but I should have liked to have appealed to the Lord Chancellor to beg the Prime Minister to reconsider this point. I hope that the approbation of many of your Lordships will be noted.

My fourth criticism is the weakening in the availability of the Committee of Imperial Defence in the future for continuous Commonwealth co-operation. These criticisms, I am afraid, I can only develop by telling you the true story of the foundation and development of the Committee of Imperial Defence in relation to Empire defence, hardly any of which appears in the White Paper. The quotation from the Esher Report in paragraph 2 of the White Paper gives the key reason for the Committee's foundation. It was founded because, as the Report says, The British Empire is pre-eminently a great naval, Indian, and Colonial Power …. and lacked any means for central co-ordination of defence. Now the Dominions were not mentioned because Dominion status had not yet been reached, and they were still described as self-governing Colonies.

There is not the slightest doubt it was Mr. Balfour's hope to include them eventually, and that is shown by the following prophetic passage in his speech introducing the Committee to the House of Commons in 1904: I think that this is specially valuable from a point of view not yet touched upon—namely, the relations between the Defence Committee and those self-governing Colonies of the Empire over which no office in this country has any control at all. I hope that when any problem of defence which touches them comes up, and even when they take a closer interest in the problems of Imperial defence as a whole, we may have the advantage of their assistance in our Councils. But I am certain that the self-governing Colonies will never allow any representatives of theirs to come to the Defence Committee if the Defence Committee, with that addition, had the smallest authority to impose obligations, financial, political, military or naval, on the Colonies which they represent. That explains the title of Committee of Imperial Defence. The Committee was to cover the whole Empire and provided eventual co-operation with the Dominions if they wished to co-operate.

Incidentally, that passage gives one of the main reasons for the advisory character of the Committee, which is omitted from the historical summary in the White Paper. The Dominions' co-operation came slowly, as Mr. Balfour expected; it was only after seven years during the Imperial Conference in 1911, when the German threat to peace was obvious, that the first big advance began. Advance always comes when there is danger, and the position always recedes when the danger recedes. On that occasion the Dominions' Prime Ministers attended the Committee to hear Sir Edward Grey's famous statement on the foreign situation and Mr. Asquith's account of the Committee. At this meeting also, and I think few people realize this, an important resolution was passed giving the Dominions the right to send representatives to the Committee of Imperial Defence when questions interesting them were under consideration. Now that resolution, according to C.I.D. practice of that day, was not published at once, and indeed, it was not published until Mr. Baldwin mentioned it in the Imperial Conference in 1926. However, although it was not published, the Dominions at once began to exercise their right because from 1912 Sir Robert Borden, who had taken Sir Wilfred Laurier's place, attended the Committee with several colleagues, and, as a direct result, in 1914 he designated Sir George Perley, Canadian Minister, as his permanent representative on the Committee of Imperial Defence. Other Canadian Ministers came over in 1913, as did the New Zealand Minister of Defence, and I think I am right in saying that two representatives from South Africa also attended the Committee on various occasions before the first war.

Our defensive arrangements were communicated to the Dominions and they, of their own volition, prepared war books somewhat on the same lines. Actually the first gunshot of that war was fired from a fort at Port Phillip Heads, Melbourne, in execution of one of the C.I.D. schemes which Australia had adopted. During the first half of the Great War, as in the recent war, there were no Imperial gatherings, although one or two Prime Ministers came over and attended either the Cabinet or the War Committee. In the second half, however, the C.I.D. system reached its zenith in the Imperial War Cabinets of 1917 and 1918 and later at the British Empire Delegations of the Paris Peace Conference and the Washington Conference On Disarmament.

Immediately after the war there was the usual slight slump in the development of Empire co-operation in defence Nevertheless the principles of Empire co-operation were concerted and the larger issues on defence policy were discussed at the Imperial Conferences of 1921, 1923 and 1926. And between those conferences many important matters affecting the Dominions, notably the revision of their coast defences, were referred by the Dominions themselves and dealt with by the Committee of Imperial Defence and its sub-committees, often with Dominion representation. Exchanges of documents increased and we had many useful suggestions on our reports from the Dominions. The Statute of Westminster of 1931 did not interrupt this steady evolution of co-operation on the lines I am describing, and in the 1030's, as the international situation became threatening and Imperial Conferences less frequent because all Governments were so busy, the pace was increased. There was no need then, and there is no need now, of any rigid uniformity of method. The key-note of the C.I.D. system has always been adaptability and flexibility.

At the Imperial Conference in 1926, Mr. Baldwin had invited each Dominion to use the facilities of the Committee to whatever extent and in whatever manner they considered appropriate. That is just what they did. The more distant Dominions made too per cent. use of their right of representation by sending their High Commissioners to a high proportion of the meetings of the full Committee, while subcommittees were attended by Dominion liaison officers. And, of course, all this time, as there is to-day, there was a tremendous transmission of documents by the Dominions Office, which included those of the Imperial Defence Committee; and all the Dominions had mutatis mutandis some central council, committee or department for co-ordination of defence. The result was that in matters of defence policy and preparation, all the Dominions were fully informed on what we were doing at all levels to meet the growing threat to peace, and in the case of most of them that knowledge was enlightened by the comments of a representative—Mr. Bruce, for example—who had taken part in the proceedings and could cross the t's and dot the i's and draw his Government's attention to points of importance.

I only wish I were free to indicate some of the really outstanding results. All I can say is that when I visited the Dominions in 1934, and was everywhere consulted by the authorities responsible for defence at all levels, although I had no official capacity, I realized how valuable these contacts had been in establishing a common doctrine and outlook on defence. The Dominions had influenced us and we had influenced the Dominions, and we all spoke the same language in more ways than one. Between meetings of the Imperial Conference or of Empire Prime Ministers that system fulfilled exactly the same function in relation to defence as did the invaluable meetings of the Dominions Secretary with the High Commissioners in the political field, and it is vitally important that both should continue because they are complementary.

I digress for one moment to say that I think my noble friend Lord Chatfield took rather too low a view of the extent of the knowledge of the Dominions. He was there for a good part of the time, but I was there all the time from 1901 to 1942—I was in the background, at any rate, and inside mostly. Lord Chatfield spoke of the value of Capetown and the ports in South Africa. Why had the South Africans made those big docks at Cape-town, and why had they defended their ports and made all the provision they could? The reason, of course, was that they had been over here to attend the Committee of Imperial Defence and had discussed these things and been given a picture. Why did South Africa come to Central Africa, Abyssinia and Egypt? They came because they knew. They did not know the detailed, intimate, secret plans, perhaps, but they knew the appreciation, and they knew that because of this system. Why did Australia and New Zealand come to those places? Why did Australia build a Navy? Why did New Zealand make a tremendous contribution to Singapore? They made the contribution because they knew; they had been in those consultations and they had made their own representations. They knew, as I say, everything except absolutely secret plans. I was there and I kept a record. I cannot say what the record was, but it is obvious what the reason was. Those are just two examples that come to my mind as I stand here. It is quite obvious that that happened as a result of the system. Even the suggestions in the White Paper for future progress in Commonwealth defence—namely, the direction of regional association, and United Kingdom liaison officers in the Dominion capitals and the Dominions' liaison officers in London—increase the need to preserve the system I have described.

I have been reading Mr. Chifley's report on the meeting of Prime Ministers to the Commonwealth Department, dated 19th June, 1946. These Australian reports are usually more revealing than ours and I always get them if I can. This reveals that these suggestions were Australian in origin, having been put forward by Mr. Curtin at the Prime Ministers' Conference in 1944, although in 1946 Mr. Chifley, in renewing his predecessor's proposals, was very careful to say that opinion in the United Kingdom and Australia had been moving along the same lines in this respect. But please note that Mr. Curtin's original proposals for regional defence and liaison officers were preceded by the following principle: It is fundamental to future arrangements for co-operation in defence that appropriate machinery should be created to provide for an effective voice by the Governments concerned in policy and in the higher control of planning on the official level. Of course it is fundamental, because the different regional arrangements, admirable in themselves, will give rise to all kinds of questions of priority within the larger scheme of Imperial defence—priorities for reinforcements, supply, transport, escorts, communications, air forces and so forth. They only render more important the continuous high level contacts such as existed before the war.

I am not quite sure that everyone agrees with this, but I think there is much to be said for the statement quoted in paragraph 37 of the White Paper to the effect that the existing flexible methods of consultation—meetings of Prime Ministers, continuous exchange of information and so forth—are preferable to any rigid centralized machinery. I do not ask for any rigid centralized machinery; it is the last thing I should ask for. But visits of Prime Ministers are unfortunately rare, fleeting and overcrowded with urgent business and hospitality, so that in between them some continuous high-level personal contact on defence, such as already exists in foreign policy, is necessary. All I ask, then, is the revival of the infinitely flexible system that existed for nearly thirty years before the war. All I ask is that the Dominions, who already have free access on the Staff level to the Service Departments and the Imperial Defence College, may again have the same free access as in the past on the high level, to such extent as they like to use it, to our Central Organization for defence. In conclusion, I would add that surely at a time when the power of the British Commonwealth of Nations and Empire is relatively less than it was before the war, it is most undesirable to weaken, or to give any appearance of weakening, our machinery for that unity of thought and action which staggered the world in two successive wars.

4.34 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say at once that I welcome this White Paper on Central Organization for Defence. It is certainly a move in a direction which has been advocated in this House two or three times before. There are, however, one or two points which I wish to mention. I will not go into the historical survey except to say that to me there are three great dates. The first one is 1904, when the C.I.D. was set up under a Treasury Minute. The second one is 1923 when the Salisbury Committee reviewed the whole question of defence owing to the coming of the third Service, and as a consequence of which the Chiefs of Staff Committee was set up in 1924. Those are two great dates, and I think a third is the year of issue of this White Paper.

There is one point in the White Paper which I would like the Government really seriously to consider. In paragraph 30 reference is made to the question of what the Minister of Defence is going to take into his Ministry and it is said: A study is being made, however, of the possible advantages of drawing together certain administrative services which are now provided separately for each of the three fighting Services, e.g., the medical services, and forming a combined organization which would provide those services in common for all branches of the Armed Forces. If I read that correctly, it means that one day this Minister of Defence will take over some of these administrative services.


Would the noble Viscount give me the precise reference? I cannot find the passage.


Page 9, paragraph 30. If the Minister of Defence is going to take over services such as the medical, supply and dental services, he will be cluttered up with a whole lot of administrative work and that will detract from the real object of setting up this Ministry. I think it is frightfully dangerous. I have been in the Service for a very long time. I will not go into all that I saw, but I do remember the Committees which were set up to see if it would not be more economical to set up a combined medical service, combined spiritual service, combined supply service and everything else. It was always proved—and proved by capable business men outside the Services—that it would be uneconomical and inefficient. I say that if you collect all those services in this Ministry of Defence you will wreck this very great step forward which you are taking to-day.

Then I come to another point. I am a little frightened lest the organization set out here should prove to be a little too rigid, although it is not meant to be. It talks about a lot of Committees being set up. The great advantage of the Committee of Imperial Defence is its flexibility. If you put down on paper that a Committee is going to be started again and is going to function, I suppose you will not be able to alter that without coming to the House and explaining the position, but I feel you ought to have the freedom to set up half a dozen Committees, if you like, and to knock them on the head the next day, if necessary. I am really frightened of this becoming a great bureaucratic Ministry in the same way as some of the others have become, instead of being a really good Ministry with a head man free from a lot of these restrictions. I ask the Government to reconsider this and to make it plain that they do not want to set up a rigid organization.

There is one other point which I should like to mention. It is implied in the White Paper, and it is certainly said in the Services a good deal—although I personally disagree entirely—that you must have an organization in peace which will carry straight on into war. A very great man said to me in the 1914–18 war: "It does not matter what organization you have; the man who is put in charge of it"—either the Commander-in-Chief or the Minister, whether it is a Winston Churchill or anybody else—"will alter it. It must be so flexible that it will not break down when it is developed and altered by the new man responsible for the conduct of the whole war." All these organizations depend on the man and it is no good using cheap phrases about an organization which can carry straight on into war.

There is one question which I would ask the noble Viscount specifically. Paragraph 31 refers to the Chiefs of Staff committee and says that it will continue as at present, together with the Joint Staffs for strategic planning, intelligence and administrative planning. On the same page, paragraph 30 says: The Minister of Defence will assume control of inter-Service organizations such as Combined Operations Headquarters, the Joint Intelligence Bureau. … I would like to ask whether that is not a little contradictory. It seems to me that it may be so. Are the three Services each going to keep their Intelligence Departments, and is there in addition going to be a Joint Intelligence Bureau under the Minister of Defence? Again, it all depends upon who is the Minister of Defence. In war there is no doubt it may be the Prime Minister. There is a great deal in the point the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, raised, that you may not always get a Prime Minister who would be capable of being the Minister of Defence in war, and I am perfectly certain that that is correct. Therefore, I would ask the noble Lord to remember that it is essential to keep your organization flexible so that the position may be filled by the Prime Minister or someone else. It also depends upon whom you choose as Minister of Defence. I feel that he has a very difficult task in dealing with the argument and contention about what are the best weapons and their order of priority. Friction nearly always arises on the best weapons and their priority. This is a point which I feel will come again and again to the Cabinet from the Minister of Defence, and that is the time when I feel that the Chiefs of Staff must be able to put their views straight to the Cabinet.

In conclusion, I cannot do better than quote the words of General Arnold in America who wrote in The National Geographical Magazine in February of this year, amongst other things, this: Air power for peace. It is our obligation, now and in the future, to organize our Armed Forces with the most modern weapons to secure the most powerful striking force at the least expense to the taxpayer. We must do this not to prepare for another war … we must do this to prevent another war—to perpetuate peace. I say that that is the task of the Minister of Defence.

4.43 p.m.


My Lords, it is two years since I had an opportunity of addressing your Lordships' House, because I have been absent in Australia on the staff of the British Pacific Fleet. I should like to pay a tribute to my Commander-in-Chief, Lord Fraser, under whom I had the honour of serving during those two years. I am very delighted to see him in his place to-day. It is perhaps because I have been residing in one of our Dominions for the past two years that I feel possibly more strongly than anyone, that insufficient emphasis has been placed on the Imperial aspect of events in the White Paper. I feel with the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, that that grand title, "The Committee of Imperial Defence," which has meant so much throughout the Empire, should remain. I know that His Majesty's Government may have had difficulty at the present time in getting real decisions on defence matters from our Dominions Govern-merits and, in particular, from the Dominion where I have been serving, which has been in the throes of a General Election and which has been very fully occupied, like all other Governments, with internal matters such as housing. I feel that if His Majesty's Government had pressed strongly enough, and there had been sufficient propaganda, this Imperial aspect could have been much more emphasized.

If we want universal support throughout the Empire for an Imperial scheme of defence we should do something dramatic, something that would capture the imagination not only of the Governments but of the peoples of the Dominions. I have asked myself if anything can be done now, and I think the answer is undoubtedly "Yes." I then asked myself where we should begin, and I think the answer is in the area where I have been serving, the Pacific. I wonder if your Lordships realize how vast an area it is. I certainly did not do so until I went to serve there two years ago. I well remember our Chief of Staff at the first Staff Conference asking us to transpose the theatre of war to the other side of the world. He mentioned that our main base would be at Aden, our defence base would be at Gibraltar, the fuelling area of the Fleet would be near the Azores, and we should be fighting the enemy in the St. Lawrence River of Canada.

My proposal is that as a first step to real Imperial defence in that area we should form our Forces in that area into a body known as the Empire Pacific Fleet, and that we should invite the Dominion Navies of the three Dominions whose shores abut on the Pacific, Canada, Australia and New Zealand—while naturally they would wish to keep the separate identity of their Navies—to become part of that great Empire Pacific Fleet. That is something which I imagine would capture the imagination of the Empire, and from time to time one would hope that an officer from one of these Dominions would command that Fleet. There are a number of officers in the Australian Navy who are already nearly senior enough, and one would hope to see the other Dominions commanding it later on. I put to His Majesty's Government that consideration should be given to forming an Empire Pacific Fleet.

4.48 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Swinton has already spoken from this Bench, and the noble Lord, Lord Croft, is going to wind up the debate on our behalf. I feel, therefore, that I am making rather a heavy draught upon the patience of the House by intervening. I would not have intervened at all had it not been that I feel very deeply that I would have been false to the convictions of a lifetime if I had not risen in my place in the House to-day to say what I felt about the Commonwealth aspect of this White Paper. Like everybody else, I welcome it in so far as it deals with the organization and control of defence in the United Kingdom. But like many other speakers, and not least like my noble friend Lord Gifford, who spoke with such freshness and inspiration after his recent experience in the Pacific, I feel very strongly that the White Paper is a definite reaction and retrogression, having regard to the progress which has been made over a period of thirty years. That feeling should be registered in this House, and I hope that suitable correction will be made before this organization is completed by His Majesty's Government.

Reading this White Paper one constantly comes upon the phrase "national defence." To my mind, "national defence" is a reactionary phrase. We are concerned not with national defence, but with a much wider thing of which national defence is but a part—the defence of the Commonwealth, the association of the regions vital to the defence of the Commonwealth, and the working out of the regional organizations which are necessary for the ultimate success of the United Nations Organization, as laid down in the Charter and stated there to be very desirable in the interest of world security. Not only is there this insistence on and repetition of the phrase "national defence," which, as I say, I regard as reactionary, but there is also—and in this I agree with my noble friend Viscount Trenchard—a most unfortunate tendency in one part of the Paper to turn the Minister of Defence, not into a directing Minister, but into a man at the head of an Administrative Department. That, it seems to me, would be a disaster. It would be grotesque that the man who is going to be responsible for the over-all planning and strategy necessary to our security system throughout the world, should be at the same time asked to administer what are really going to be minor departments. Surely some other means can be found of dealing with these things, even if it is sound, as may very well be the case, that they should be common to all three Services. But to hamper the Minister by giving him administrative duties of a secondary order instead of leaving him absolutely free to cope with one of the most responsible tasks in the higher ranks of the Cabinet, does seem to me a most unfortunate suggestion.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, I regret deeply the change in the name of the Committee. Why has it been changed? It is still the Committee of Imperial Defence. Why is it not to be so called? That mere fact of the change will be noticed all over the Empire and it is possible that it will be supposed that we are becoming an isolationist nation, falling back on ourselves at the very moment when our standing in the world depends more than ever on the associations which we have and must keep. Everything in connexion with our world influence depends, as I am sure noble Lords opposite will agree, upon our kinships, our friendships and our associations. To appear to degrade the tradition of this great Committee seems to me to be most unfortunate.

Let me add that, like other speakers, I too greatly regret that the Secretary of State for the Dominions should not be named as a regular member of this Committee. How can that have come about? I know that it will be difficult for the noble Leader of this House to speak very freely upon that subject, and I wish that the noble and learned Lord Chancellor were in his place in order that representation might be made to him and that: he might be asked to deal with this. I hope that the noble Lords opposite will report our very strong feeling on this question. I believe that it is shared intensely in all quarters of the House.

Now what is the meaning of the words "regular members"? That, in itself, seems to be a departure from the tradition of the Committee of Imperial Defence. It appears to indicate a change in its character to that of an ordinary Cabinet Committee. The great principle was that there were no regular members except the Prime Minister but, if there are to be regular members now, then surely the Secretary of State for the Dominions ought to be one of them. Why should the Foreign Secretary be a member and not the Secretary of State who deals with and is responsible for the other great branch of our world policy, that branch which is a vital element in our standing as a Great Power—just as vital as anything for which the Foreign Secretary is responsible? I is a branch of our policy which has been responsible, by reason of the friendships which it kept for us, for our survival to-day. Where would we have been if those friendships had not been true and deep? It is a branch of policy which exemplifies that relationship between sovereign nations upon which the future of the whole of the United Nations depends. Really it is an incredibly reactionary idea that if there are to be regular members of the Committee the Secretary of State for the Dominions should not be one of them.

Incidentally, I think we are entitled to ask who is going to represent this Committee upon the Bench opposite in this House. We surely are entitled in this House, where we do not lack authoritative experience of these great questions of defence, to ask that when the great responsibilities of this Committee are debated in this House the debate should be dealt with by a member of the Cabinet who has been in regular and constant touch with the deliberations of the Committee. I think that we are entitled to insist on that, and I hope that that feeling also will be conveyed very strongly to His Majesty's Government.

Nor is that all. I profoundly regret—though I admit that I do not quite understand the paragraph concerned and hope that I have misread it—the apparent decision that representatives of the Dominion are no longer to be free to attend sittings of this Committee when and if they choose to do so. The language which is used is not very clear about that. I should like to be quite certain what is meant by paragraph 39 which, after dealing with the general liaison officers and all the rest of it, seems to suggest that the arrangements are still flexible. I do not know whether that applies to participation in the deliberations of the Committee of Defence. I should like to feel that there is going to be no alteration in that matter. It is, after all, for the Dominions to choose whether they wish to attend meetings of the Committee or not. It has always been so; it has always been at their discretion.

Now paragraph 39 states: There is reason to suppose that in the main they will prove acceptable,"— that means to the Dominions— and that they will pave the way for machinery which, while giving full play to the independence of the Member States of the Commonwealth, will be effective as a means of consultation and collaboration. I do not know why they should be paving the way for new things when they are abandoning something which already is most effective. I do not in the least understand why there is apparently to be a throwing away of a means of collaboration and consultation which is most effective and an announcement about paving the way for something or other which apparently is not going to be equally effective, and the character of which is not indicated. I say that it must always be a question for the Dominions, it must always be left entirely to their discretion to what extent they take part in the deliberations of this Committee. It would be lamentable if any Dominion were excluded which was anxious to maintain its old connexion with this body. The invitation should always remain open to those who desire to avail themselves of it. Let us welcome them in the future as we did in the past.

I notice that in the White Paper, regional organization is actually used as an argument—or it appears to be so used—against participation of the Dominions in the deliberations of the Defence Committee. I am totally unable to understand how such an argument can be advanced. Regional organization is not an argument against participation of the Dominions but a strong argument for it. After all, we are going to play our part in regional defence. No system of regional defence in the different parts of the Commonwealth would be of much avail unless we took a considerable part in it. And the part which we are able to take in it—in the Pacific, the Middle East or elsewhere—must depend on the general strategic concept accepted by the Committee of Defence and on the allocation of resources based on that concept. If the Dominions are to understand fully why we cannot do more in a particular region—and this is pretty sure to be the main ground for argument—it is far better that the representatives of the Dominions should be able to see the whole picture, as presented to the Committee of Defence. They will then be able to understand why it is that our world commitments prevent us from doing more than a certain amount in a particular region.

I would echo what the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said about training. Of course, there should be training in all parts of the Empire. I hope that we shall have a contradiction of the statement which he quoted on that matter—without giving his authority—and which surprised me profoundly. I hope that we shall have an assurance from the noble Viscount who leads the House, and who is to wind up the debate, that the High Commissioners of those Dominions who wish to attend the Committee may still always do so, and that visiting Ministers from the Dominions may, of course, do the same. There may be some Dominions who do not desire to attend, but why have a rigid uniformity? There is no necessity for it. Let those who want to participate do so; and let those who do not, abstain. There is no reason for putting a damper on those who are keen, because others are less enthusiastic.

The argument is sometimes used that members of the Commonwealth will be sufficiently united in defence affairs if they all regard themselves as loyal to the United Nations. It is suggested that somehow loyalty to the United Nations should supersede loyalty to the Commonwealth as a higher loyalty, but I am sure that you will all agree that that is a profoundly misleading conception. In the years between the two great world wars we were perpetually told that the British Empire could rely on the League of Nations. What did the war prove? It proved that the League could survive only if the British Empire were behind it. It was not the Empire which relied on the League, but the League on the Empire. That has been proved to be true, and it is still true in the world to-day. Let us be realists, and recognize that this argument, that there is in some way a conflict between loyalty to U.N.O. and loyalty to the Commonwealth, is grossly inconsistent with realities. Field-Marshal Smuts himself, who cannot be regarded as inadequately enthusiastic about the ideals of the League, has quite recently warned us against too much reliance upon the United Nations in the earlier stages, and upon the vast importance of the kinship of the Commonwealth and the proper development of regional organization for security. The truth is, that the Commonwealth relationship between sovereign States is the model for the United Nations; the United Nations will get nowhere unless that model is proved successful. We must not weaken it. Still less must we dissolve it prematurely; and we must never seem tepid about it here, or in the Dominions we shall be regarded as indifferent.

There was a passage in the speech of my noble friend Lord Hankey which I thought may have given an impression which he did not intend, that there should, of course, be no secrets between those attending the Committee of Imperial Defence. I do not think that the noble Lord quite meant to suggest that, when he said that the whole of the plans were not communicated to South Africa in regard to the defence of the northern parts of that Continent. Of course derailed plans are matters for the technical staff; what must be fully assured, without withholding anything, is the broad over-all appreciation, the strategic appreciation, of the strategic plans.


The noble Lord has exactly interpreted my intention. I had to improvise that point because of something that the noble Lord, Lord Chatfield, said.


I am glad to hear that, as I was certain that the noble Lord did not mean what he appeared to say. If our maximum collaboration is never to be more than the minimum to which all would agree at any given moment, will that not always fall far short of what the keenest and the most right-minded among us would desire? There is an old saying that you can calculate the strength of a chain by its weakest link. That is not true of the human or political chain. The strength of that chain is based on its strongest link. If the strength of the British Empire were that of the weakest link what would its position have been, judged by the part which Eire played in the recent war? In these things, it is the man with enthusiasm and spirit who should be followed, and not always the man with doubts and hesitations. The right principle is to arrange for each Dominion to do what it desires, whether other Dominions desire it or not, and not always to decline on the lowest common denominator.

5.8 p.m.


My Lords, we have had so many well-informed speeches, of such great interest, that I do not propose to detain your Lordships for more than a short time. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Chatfield, is pleased with the effect of his tabling of this Motion, because I am sure that he will agree that the debate which has arisen has been worthy of this House. I hope, indeed, that the speeches may be very widely read, not only in this country, but throughout His Majesty's Dominions. The noble Lord may congratulate himself that he has the support of practically every subsequent speaker in his commendations of the White Paper, and he also had the support of practically every other speaker in his condemnations of one of the concluding paragraphs of that Paper.

I think I am speaking for others on these Benches—as has been said so well by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton—when I say that, broadly speaking, we welcome the proposals of the White Paper with regard to the future system of controlling defence. I think we all realize that what His Majesty's Government have done is to make permanent the supremely successful machinery which saw us through to victory. The machinery then set up, which included the Chiefs of Staff, with the Minister of Imperial Defence, who in an emergency imposed himself on this country in the dual capacity of Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, is to be made permanent. There is this difference: that the Minister of Defence is now to be part of our permanent machinery. I think that that is right. The only thing about which I have a little doubt is whether he should not hold a position more similar to that of the Minister of Defence in the last Great War. I am rather nervous of building up under him a big Ministry which will cause him to deflect his mind from the supreme purpose of this vitally important duty to be carried out by him in the future, of representing as their spokesman in the Cabinet all the combined Services.

I have only one very minor comment to make as to the possible effects of this scheme. We have got to realize that under the new scheme there will only be one statesman in the Cabinet speaking for the defences of this country, instead of three as heretofore. Some of us may regard that new arrangement as somewhat dangerous, because unless you have a Minister of Defence of great personality—and here I need hardly say that I am not making any reflection on the Government's choice of Minister of Defence; from the ranks of the Party which is now controlling the destinies of this country, I think no better choice could be made—the pressure of peace conditions with the almost inevitable pacifism which comes after a war, and the war weariness which we know has followed almost every war that one can remember, is brought to bear upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer to cut down at the expense of the Defence Services. That has happened again and again. We can only hope that the Minister of Defence will be a Minister of authority and persuasiveness. I am sure we all realize that it will be more important than ever in these somewhat changed circumstances for both Houses of Parliament—your Lordships' House in particular, because it can speak with such great authority—to assist the Minister in seeing that matters of high importance are always brought to the notice of our countrymen.

I promise to be very brief, but I want to say that I most cordially agree with that part of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Chatfield, dealing with the last part of the White Paper, which is so encouraging and so hopeful for all of us, but which peters out in the platitudes of the last few paragraphs. I have never hesitated to declare that we could not have won the war of 1914–18 without Dominion, Colonial and Indian help—which just turned the scales—and I am again prepared to declare that we could not have won the last war without the marvellous contributions in man-power, material and foodstuffs from all the Dominions overseas. Every Dominion and Colony in the same way swill realize that they could not have survived without the immense determination, power and strength of the people of this old Island, and all they did to support them. Who can doubt that but for British determination, grit and courage in holding the fort one or two Dominions—almost certainly India and several of the Colonies—would have fallen into the hands of the conqueror and have suffered the ruin and misery which, alas! was inflicted on Malaya and Burma? That being so, it makes me sad to read these concluding paragraphs of the White Paper, and every noble Lord who has spoken seems to share this feeling.

I am distressed to see that we have actually gone back on the machinery of the past. Like my noble friend Lord Altrincham, who has just asked the question, I ask why have we abandoned the name "Committee of Imperial Defence"? It was understood by the people in every part of the British Commonwealth. The mere removal of the word "Imperial" surely indicates that you are narrowing the machinery and deliberately getting: more and more to the position described—rightly, I think—by the noble Lord, Lord Altrincham, as one of isolation apart from the Dominions and Colonies overseas. If we are wrong about that I do hope we shall be corrected. It seems from what one reads in the White Paper that, in fact, the Dominions in the future will not be so closely associated with us as they were in the past by the fact of their High Commissioners being able to attend the Committee of Imperial Defence. If I am wrong—and I hope I am—I trust that the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, will correct me. If I am right, I can only say, it is a most disturbing factor.

I want to say only one or two words with regard to the future. We all desire more and more collaboration and co-operation between the three Services in this country. Throughout the war the Chiefs of the Imperial General Staff hardly ever put a foot wrong, and our strategy was supremely successful. We set up certain machinery, and that machinery, apparently, is not now to be at the same free disposal of the Dominions as it was in the past. We have seen a marvellous comradeship in the field. I suppose there has never been anything like it in the history of the world. There has never been anything like the spirit shown in Alexander's Army, and Montgomery's Eighth Army. It surely is an example for all humanity as to how people should get together. It was truly marvellous. In every theatre of war, in the air, on the sea, indeed everywhere, you found this truly remarkable comradeship in arms. Then the War Council hold a conference in London and for some mysterious reason we have no more the words "Committee of Imperial Defence," and apparently a diminution in the degree of co-operation which formerly existed.

Speaking for myself, I cannot help feeling that we should be wise if we gave a lead to the Dominions. Surely, the young nations of the British Commonwealth were looking to us for a lead on defence? In the past we have never been very much worse for having great alliances. We have had great alliances; we have had ententes with other countries. Here was the greatest alliance we have ever had, proved in the field of battle, in the air, and on the seas, and suddenly it is suggested it would be almost immoral to advocate a continuance of that system. I say deliberately this evening that mere consultation and liaison is not enough. If we realize the menace of affairs owing to the scientific advances of the nations, it is surely our bounden duty to do everything in our power not to get weaker in our co-operative methods than we were before, but to get stronger and to have something as nearly as possible approaching a defensive pact between all parts of His Majesty's Dominions, so that each one knows definitely that, if one is attacked, as in recent wars, the whole Empire stands absolutely together.

I have only one other word to add, and that is with regard to the Colonial Empire. When I went to the War Office at the time of Dunkirk I remember it was impressed on my mind that: man-power was going to be the absolutely decisive factor in this war. As one who has had great interest in the Colonial Empire for some thirty-five years, where I have had contact with native peoples, I cannot understand why we did not set up the machinery for a far greater expansion of Colonial troops than was extant at the time when the war broke out. Now none of us can hope—unless a miracle happens—that India, with the best will in the world, is going to make anything like the same stupendous contribution that her people made in the last war. Her volunteers numbered, I think, in total something like three million men. They were a very decisive factor in the last war. We cannot quite hope that India will make so great a contribution. I hope very much the spirit may move India along Dominion co-operation lines. I trust that may be possible, but we can hardly hope for anything like that again.

It may be that we shall not have the same vast resources of in in-power to rely on in time of possible trouble as in the past. If that is so, we should surely do everything in our power to recognize the contribution of the African natives and natives in other parts of the Colonial Empire, and to give them the opportunity of being associated with the defence of their countries. I cannot help thinking that if we had faced up to this subject—I know there were political reasons why we did not at that time, but I believe these political reasons do not hold now in any section of the country—had we had the power and the expansion and the organization of the native regiments in Malaya and in Burma, we very likely might have saved those countries which were ultimately liberated only after so much bloodshed and suffering by the full power of all arms of the British service.

In conclusion, I hope that the concluding paragraphs of this White Paper do not represent the last word of His Majesty's Government's opinion for the future. In size of population we are only a small people now amongst the nations of the world, and our small country can only survive if we go hand in hand with the great brotherhood who stand round us. I hope the Leader of the House will be able to give us some encouragement to believe that we have these wretched paragraphs at the end of this admirable White Paper because they have not come to any final decision, and that there is yet hope for something more appropriate to the situation of the world as we find it.

5.24 p.m.


My Lords, before the Leader of the House replies may I intervene for a moment to give him the reference for which he asked earlier in the debate, with my apologies that I did not have it at the time. The statement was made by Field-Marshal Viscount Montgomery, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and formed part of the statement issued to the Press prior to the conference of General Officers which he held at the Camberley Staff College. It appears in The Times of August 7. After referring to the training of the Regular Army for some time to come in Germany, Lord Montgomery said: There is no intention—and there never has been—of training British troops in the Dominions. Basic training and such unit exercises as are needed to practise the use of weapons and the co-ordination of services will continue in this country.

5.26 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we have had a very valuable and encouraging debate, although the criticism has, for the most part at all events, concentrated itself upon the concluding portion of the White Paper. Before I come to some of the criticisms made in respect of that part of the White Paper, I might perhaps say a little from the inside as to the production of the White Paper, and the deliberations which accompanied its production. Before I do so, I should like to associate myself with what the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said as to the strange position in which we find ourselves of doing everything we can—and quite rightly and quite sincerely—to support the United Nations Organization, and, at the same time, spending time, as we have done, in close deliberation upon how we should improve our own defensive arrangements. There is, as he very clearly and properly pointed out, no contradiction whatever between these two. It was to the end that we should secure that our own defence arrangements, as a quite necessary and proper national safeguard, were as well established and as perfect as we could make them, that the prolonged consultation which went on with the Staffs, and which went to the production of this White Paper, were initiated.

In view of what has been said by some of the speakers, I do not know that I need go over the history of the development of Staff co-operation as set out in the White Paper, but I would remind noble Lords of one or two points with regard to the Committee of Imperial Defence. When it was established in 1904 the state of the British Commonwealth was very different from what it is now, and our general outlook was clearly very different. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, as one who has had intimate acquaintance with the machinery and work of the Dominions Department, realizes very clearly that the central control, or the measure of central control in these matters which might have been possible or acceptable in 1904, has for long been out of the question in the way the British Commonwealth has developed. There were very substantial developments after the C.I.D. came into being as a result of the very important Salisbury Report in 1923, and I would like to associate myself with what the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, said about the importance of that Committee's work. I am in full accord with all that noble Lords have said as to the high value of the developments which took place, and which have been explained to your Lordships by mare than one speaker, and particularly by Lord Hankey, who has an unequalled knowledge from the inside of the whole of the development that took place.

Nevertheless, I must ask your Lordships to look at paragraph 12 of the White Paper, which contains a very vital statement and with which those of us who were concerned with the discussions of a very intimate character which led to the formulation of the White Paper were confronted. It states: In many respects, however, we were in 1939 dangerously unprepared for war. That is notwithstanding all that had happened and all that had been fashioned. Qualitatively, our Navy and Air Force were not badly equipped … But I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Chatfield, did not quite accept that statement with regard to the Navy. He thought it was badly equipped, at all events in some respects, which only reinforces the point I am going to make. The paragraph continues: but there were serious gaps. We were dangerously short of destroyers and other escort vessels. We were inadequately supplied with aircraft and anti-aircraft artillery. Our Army was small and badly equipped"— and so on. That was the position which we had to recognize, and naturally we had to ask ourselves how it came about and how we could fashion arrangements which would, so far as humanly possible, prevent it happening in the future. That is the reason, to a great extent, for the form of proposals which you find in the White Paper.

Paragraph 13 of the White Paper refers to a central defect in our machinery. It refers to political and economic circumstances. I have nothing to say on the political side, but it also deals, as has been pointed out, with the lack of sustained supervision by somebody or some organization with authority, having in view the needs of all the Services. In the first great war, as Lord Hankey and I both know from intimate association with it, a War Cabinet was instituted, although it had not at that time any machinery to help it, as is here suggested, or as was developed later on.


If I may interrupt for a moment, there was enormous machinery. There were about 160 committees, some very important ones and some going right down to details just as they did in the late war. There was huge machinery. I had not time to pick up that historical part, but it is full of omissions.


I am well aware of the size of the machinery, but I am discussing its effectiveness. You may easily be cluttered up with too much machinery. The point is that it was true at that time, and it was true in 1939, that we were not provided with a standing organization which took account of the needs of all the Seri ices, which married that up with the plans of the General Staffs and presented the considerations arising out of it to the responsible Ministers. There was no machinery of that kind.


I am very sorry to interrupt again, but if the noble Viscount will have the records of that day searched he will find exactly the same sort of joint reports which came from the First Sea Lord and the Chief of the Imperial General Staff—that is the Chiefs of Staff of those days—as you have had in the late war from the three services; and I think in a later part of the war from the three Services.


I am sorry to differ completely from the noble Lord. I was in it just as much as he was, and I know, fur example, taking the question of the supply of munitions, the character of munitions and those who would require them, that there was not any adequate provision for sufficient foresight, and it was because of that that many of our disasters occurred. I do not want to enter into controversy with the noble Lord on those things, but my statement as to the absence of effective machinery to have foresight over the whole of our requirements, in the light of the advice of a Combined General Staff, is correct, and it was also correct at the beginning at the last war. That is why the paragraph which I read is there.

We had to consider—and noble Lords who know much more about it than I do said a word about one or two of them—all the methods which were appropriate to try and improve our machinery for meeting national requirements. It is pointed out in the White Paper that one possibility which was explored was the unification of all the three Services. If you look at paragraph 15 you will see that that is referred to. As more than one noble Lord has said, I think we took the right course in deciding against that expedient, at all events for the present. However, it is said that His Majesty's Government do not wholly reject this conception, and it may be that at some stage in the future amalgamation it will be found to be desirable. It has been decided, however, that this is a step that should not be taken here and now, and that, I think, is agreed to by everyone.

Another expedient was the expedient adopted by the Germans with their Combined General Staff; and more than one noble Lord has pointed out the difficulties of the German system whereby you had a higher staff dissociated from those who had the responsibility for conducting operations, with resulting disaster to the Germans. Then there is the possibility of expanding and developing our own system, associated with some central planning authority, and that is how it is that the Defence Committee which is set out in the White Paper was proposed.

I would just remind your Lordships of the summary of the form of the new organization in paragraph 20, set out there under five headings which are of course very carefully drawn up. I shall come later on to the organization in a little detail, but let me just say a word as to the membership of the Defence Committee. I entirely agree with more than one noble Lord who have said that the responsibility of the Prime Minister cannot be diminished. He finally must be fully responsible. It is, however, clear that the Minister who is to be responsible for the combination of Services, set out under the functions of the Minister of Defence in paragraph 26, must be a Minister of very high standing. Here I would like to give the assurance that more than one noble Lord asked for, that that Minister, who will be the Chairman, will be a Minister of very high standing and next to the Prime Minister so far as this part of the work of government is concerned.

But it must be remembered that in these days, as war has developed, we have to take into account that modern war involves not simply the equipment of Services but the life of the whole nation. You have to take account of the complete dislocation of the life of the whole nation, and the need for the co-operation of the whole nation in the event of this terrible misfortune. Therefore it is necessary to marry up to the Service considerations which would come before the Ministry of Defence those Departments which would have to take account of the civil requirements which would emerge on the onset of war. That is why it is that, after the Chancellor of the Exchequer (whom you must have because he has to provide the money) and the Foreign Affairs Minister, the Lord President of the Council, under whom are collected the Departments particularly concerned with civil affairs, must be a member of the Committee. Here I would like to say how interested I was in what the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said as to what this indicates as to the development of the Cabinet system of government. I agree with him that at long last some notice has been taken of some of the recommendations of the Haldane Committee. Speaking as one who has had a fairly long experience of Cabinets, this is, I think, a development entirely of a wholesome type. The major responsibility relating to the defence question will be dealt with by the Defence Minister, and he will present the work of that Committee and reports to the Cabinet. In addition, as this Paper sets out, he will have responsibilities to Parliament.

Here, if I may remind the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, is a very substantial and vital difference between this organization and the Committee of Imperial Defence. This is a body which is intimately concerned with plans affecting the whole life of the nation and with a Minister responsible to Parliament for certain functions which are set out here. That is clearly something much beyond, and entirely different from, the original conception of the Committee of Imperial Defence, which, after all, was an advisory body with no executive powers at all. It was a completely different conception, so far as this particular department of defence is concerned, from this effective ministerial body which will have certain responsibilities to Parliament.

May I say a word regarding one or two questions which were asked of me as to the relationship of the Minister of Defence with the Service organizations, particularly because I think the House will be very interested to know of certain developments which have taken place. The Minister will have with him on the Staff side the inter-Service organizations. There will be the Combined Operations Headquarters. That is not new, and I am glad to say it has been developed and continued in the light of war experience. There is now a joint Intelligence Bureau, which has been established since the end of the war and which is formed by an amalgamation of the different bodies which grew up for the collection of intelligence and information during the war. That is another Department which has recently been brought into being to serve the Staff side of the work. As the House is well aware, we are redeveloping the Imperial Defence College. Let me say here—as I think the noble Lord, Lord Croft, and perhaps other noble Lords have lost sight of the fact—that as a part of the new plan of development, high Dominion officers will regularly be at the Imperial Defence College.


They always were.


And they are in fact there to-day. Arrangements have been set on foot for increasing and extending those facilities. In addition to that, I am glad to say that a new branch of this work which has been continued or reorganized as war experience indicated is the establishment of the Defence Research Committee. We have a scientist of very high authority already there as Chairman—close to the Minister of Defence and complete]y in the confidence of the whole staff organization, as more than one noble Lord has suggested was necessary. If you look at paragraph 34 of this White Paper you will see that a very important observation is made there to which attention has not hitherto been drawn but of which I would like to remind your Lordships. It speaks of the Minister of Defence having as his principal advisers a Permanent Secretary, a Chief Staff Officer, the Chairman of the Joint War Production Staff and the Chairman of the Committee on Defence Research Policy. Those are the four principal officers of the Minister, so you will see that we have brought research right into the forefront of the whole scheme of operations.


Will the noble Viscount tell us the name of the scientist?


I think I had better not. I am sure the noble Lord would welcome his name, and is well acquainted with him. In addition to that, another thing connected with the Defence Committee is the establishment of the Joint War Production Board, bringing the requirements of supplies right into the inner councils of the Committee, and with them, of course, the Minister of Labour, who supplies the necessary labour, and the Minister of Supply, who supplies the goods. The establishment of a Ministry of Supply was one of the things which some of us here, I remember, contended for more than once at the beginning of the last war. It seems very strange that one should have had to recall an elementary fact of that kind, but there it was; we were some considerable time, as we well remember, before that elementary requirement was provided. Now, however, as you will see, in this scheme of operations the specification of supplies, the whole planning of the staff to submit requirements and all things related thereto are an essential part of the duties of the Minister of Defence, and the supply organization is an integral part of the whole scheme.

Now I come to some of the other criticisms. Perhaps it will be more convenient to your Lordships if I go as well as I can through the notes I have of the points made by different speakers before I deal with what seems to have been the chief ground of criticism of this Paper and which is, I am quite sure, founded to a great extent on a complete misconception of what is being aimed at. The noble Lord, Lord Chatfield, did not like the word "collective." So far as I am concerned, I do not mind his objection to that word. So long as we get the thing we want—namely, a collective effort—I do not mind in the least what he calls it. That is the thing we are aiming at.

I think the noble Lord made one or two observations, whether unwittingly or not I do not know, which seemed to me to be the main justification for the scheme we are now discussing. He said that there was not in existence prior to the war that close contact between the Staffs which was necessary. Owing to Mr. Churchill's efforts that was brought about during the war, and established by him, and he was very anxious that that should be secured. Well, I think this plan does secure it. I would also like to reassure him that the financial provisions—and the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, made this point to some extent—will not be dealt with, shall we say, by the statement of a sum by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with the consequent haggling as to how much each individual is to get out of it. It will not be approached in that way at all. It will be approached by the presentation of an analysis and reports by the Defence Committee to the Cabinet, and we shall see at the same time how they relate to our financial ability. But those will be presented in the first place in the form of a statement of requirements in the proper way from the Defence Committee.

Most of the other speakers referred to co-operation with the Dominions. I would like to associate myself with what the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, said about the danger of cluttering this Ministry up with too many detailed departments. I entirely agree with him. It was one of the purposes we had in mind when we discussed this at great length, to keep the functions as restricted as we could to avoid that very danger. It is a danger which will have to be guarded against. We do know how apt it is for a Department to gather to itself a few more functions, which means more officers, more details and more papers. I entirely agree with the noble Lord that it is a danger we should guard against. I have not a word of criticism there, because I agree with him absolutely. The same applies to his observations warning us against it being too rigid or unadaptable. I am quite sure that that point is equally borne in mind.

Although I did not hear the whole of his speech, I would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Altrincham, for his very helpful and friendly remarks. I would also like to say this—and this relates to the comments of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel—that arrangements will be made no doubt from time to time as necessity arises, to take into counsel members of other Parties and to receive visitors from our Dominions. There is nothing to preclude the continuation of the kind of conferences which have been our practice for many years past, and the value of which every Party recognizes. There is nothing in any of this, either intentional or otherwise, to leave out that sort of thing.

I think it is fair to say that the statement in the Paper, in paragraph 37, about which the noble Lord, Lord Croft, was rather severe in his comments, was put out deliberately by the meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers after the most careful scrutiny of the texts which we had submitted to them. It was, as you might well imagine, a deliberate statement, and it is a true statement. They came to the conclusion, if you look at the last paragraph, that the methods now practised are preferable to any rigid centralized machinery. The Dominions and their point of view are in a different world from that in which they were in 1904. The Dominions have their own problems, different, some of them, from ours. I would ask your Lordships to notice that we do not pretend that this is the last word, and we deliberately say so in the Paper. We deliberately say that it is being developed, and I can assure your Lordships that we are now busy and anxious developing on the widest possible scale, and in the most intimate possible manner, the consultation and co-operation with the Dominions. I should like to say that I do not think that ever in the history of the British Commonwealth—and I am not saying it on my own authority but on the authority of the men who were at that meeting—has there been more intimate and continuous consultation with the Dominions, or with the members of the Commonwealth, than there is to-day. It is absolutely intimate from day to day, not only on general problems but upon all the kind of problems that are related to the issues in this Paper.

May I for example point to three indications of the way in which things are developing? You notice that the Chief of the Imperial General Staff has been visiting the Dominions, and whilst I am sure we all hope that he derived physical benefits from his visit, you may be sure that he went as a serious visitor, anxious to get in touch with the Staffs in the Dominions and to do what he could to promote and improve co-operation with them. It is a very significant event on which I need not comment any further. You will also have noticed, because it has been in the papers, that we are discussing arrangements with Australia for the carrying on of certain experiments on a large scale in that country for which this country is not suited. That is only another indication of the practical co-operation which is being developed. I received only yesterday a very high tribute for what had been done in Paris during the recent Conference. There we have a group of officers from the Dominions Office whose business it was to establish close liaison all the time between the Dominions representatives and our own. They have succeeded beyond my best expectations, and the tributes to them are very high indeed. That is not a thing you put on paper, but it is actually happening.

Then there are the regional problems which have developed completely differently since 1904. For example, the experiences and methods of modern warfare clearly make certain problems affecting, say, Canada, of a very special character. Nor does this apply to Canada only. Similarly we have groups of problems which require, and are receiving, special attention, in the south of the Pacific. I am not going into details, for it is not desirable that I should do so. But we are well aware of them and are doing all we can to deal with them in the most intimate and practical fashion. These liaison officers, who, quite mistakenly, are spoken of rather scornfully, will be officers of high standing and it will be their function to promote daily contact between Staff officers from the Dominions here and our Staff officers as a very vital part of that close consultation and collaboration which we are developing. I can assure noble Lords that so far from going back we are going forward in the promotion of this collaboration.

I sought, the other day, for an expression of opinion as to how the thing was working. Now this is not my opinion, it is the opinion of an exceedingly experienced Staff officer as to how we are developing the new machinery for consultation and collaboration and how it is succeeding. He says: Provided the Dominion Governments confirm the arrangements drawn up at the recent meeting of Dominion Prime Ministers in London the resultant tie-up on the military plane will be very much closer and more effective than that which existed in the prewar Committee of Imperial Defence. I am quite certain that that is true. To noble Lords who have expressed—they have done so quite properly, I do not blame them—serious misgivings in this respect, I am happy to say with complete confidence that they need not entertain misgivings. Matters are developing exceedingly happily and there is the most complete confidence between us. I am sure that the present scheme—recognizing as it does that the British Commonwealth is made up of a number of independent nations—is well adapted to the changes of our time and to the interests of the Commonwealth.


My Lords, before I reply may I ask the noble Lord if he will give an answer to one question, of which, amongst a great many others, I gave him notice? That is the question as to whether anything is to be done to regulate on a better footing the sharing of the cost of Imperial Defence.


I must tell the noble Lord that I purposely did not answer that question. It is not for us to say how much Canada, for instance, will pay. That is for Canada to say. Similarly it is for Australia to say what she will pay. But I will tell the noble Lord this. At the recent conference in London the view was volunteered—indeed I may say that an anxious desire in this direction was expressed—that the Commonwealth countries would pay more in the future.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask for information on one point which I mentioned in my speech and with which the noble Viscount has not dealt. I put a question about representation of the Committee of Defence in this House. I pointed out that, after all, debates in this House on these topics are of some importance, and that they should be dealt with, in my view, on behalf of the Government, by a member of the Government who is in constant touch with the deliberations of the Committee of Defence. It may not be possible for the noble Viscount to reply to that now but I hope that he will bear it in mind.


I must admit that I have not discussed that particular point with the Prime Minister. But perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to say that I think that very likely the Minister will be myself.


That is what I suggested.

6.6 p.m.


My Lords, I am going to withdraw my Motion, after the interesting debate which we have had. I am sure you would all wish to thank the noble Viscount who has replied for the Government for the great effort which he has made to convince us that all is well. I hope that it is, but it is a strange thing that seven or eight noble Lords who have spoken on this White Paper have all felt very considerable disturbance in their minds as the result of reading the last section—the section which deals with collective defence. None of them seems to think that, judging by the wording of the Paper as it is written, the proposals are going to give the Empire the organization and the security which we all want it to have. The noble Viscount, Lord Addison, tells us that all is well. Then either we have misread the White Paper or the White Paper has not expressed itself in the way which was intended.

There is only one other point to which I wish to refer. It was made in the debate, I think by Lord Croft, and as it is a matter of some interest I would like to say a few words about it. I refer to the question whether or not the Prime Minister should be Minister of Defence in time of war. That question arose only at the beginning of this war. At that time the three Service Ministers were in the War Cabinet. They had behind them the whole of their vast organizations. At their sides sat the Chiefs of Staff. The Minister of Defence, therefore, had no position, no Ministry and no information. He was, in fact, unnecessary and, at my suggestion, he was abolished. In these circumstances, the Prime Minister took over the duties of Minister of Defence, because there was no one else who could do it, and he was the obvious man to co-ordinate discussions and make decisions in the Cabinet when the three Service Ministers and Chiefs of Staffs were there.

This White Paper makes a change. It does away with the Service Ministers in the Cabinet, and, therefore, the Minister of Defence in the Cabinet will have an entirely enhanced and authoritative position. There is no earthly reason why, so long as the Minister retains that position in the Cabinet, he should not remain Minister of Defence in war as in peace. In the Proposals section of the White Paper paragraph 20 (a) says: The Prime Minister will retain the supreme responsibility for defence. It is just as easy in war-time for the Prime Minister to retain supreme authority for defence and to have an energetic and knowledgeable Defence Minister under him, if necessary, to organize defence machinery and conduct, as it is for him to do so in peace-time. You can have it either way—whichever you like. That is all I wish to say and I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.