§ 2.5 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN rose to call attention to the Statement Relating to Defence, 1948, (Cmd. 7327); to ask His Majesty's Government, what progress has been made during the past year in matters relating to defence; and to move for 864 Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, very often of late our debates have been so harmonious that they might almost have been mistaken for meetings of a mutual admiration society. It is with some regret, therefore, that I have to say that my remarks may not be quite so un-controversial as those which have recently been made by some of my noble friends on these Benches. But it is no part of my business, or my wish, to bring defence matters unnecessarily into the realm of Party conflict, and if I do make some observations which seem to have that effect, then it is only in the hope that I may succeed in opening out a road towards the common ground which we all wish to reach in this matter.
This Motion was put down on the Order Paper before the Defence White Paper came out, and we put it down in terms which inquired what progress had been made in national defence during the past twelve months. I may say that we put it down because, from what we could gather, the progress made had been very little. When the Defence White Paper came out we saw no reason to alter the terms of our Motion, and merely added to it that we wished to draw attention to the contents of the White Paper. The 1947 White Paper said this:
1947 will, however, still be a stage, and perhaps not the final stage, in the transition from war to peace, and the immediate preoccupations of post-war settlement and revival of the national economy have inevitably taken pride of place. But sight is not being lost of the need to plan our post-war defence policy, and an examination of the fundamental issues is already in hand.
Now we have the 1948 White Paper. The word "progress" does not seem to be used very much. There is a section which is called, rather diplomatically, "Developments since the publication of the last Statement"; and the developments include the National Service Act, the outline of Civil Defence and the withdrawal from certain countries where our presence is now unnecessary or unwelcome. If I may, I will deal with the first two of those developments later.
§ With regard to the last development I would say merely that if it is progress that is referred to there, it is progress in what we usually regard as a reverse direction. Leaving out the marked defects of editorship and the patchwork state of the White Paper (caused, apparently, by the fact that 865 a number of different Departments put forward their contributions and there was no one possessing a sufficiently strong hand to iron them out), and also leaving out what my noble friend Lord Rennell—when referring to the Economic White Paper—called "the critical exegesis"—and there certainly is some exegesis needed in this matter—it is difficult to find, either on the lines of the 1948 Paper or between them, any sign or manifestation of our policy for post-war defence. There is no sign that I can see—and I think my noble friends here agree with me—as to whether His Majesty's Government have decided what are the fundamental issues to which they refer in the 1947 White Paper, or that they have based on them any plan for the composition of the Forces in regard to man-power, material or location which can be translated into action. We all know perfectly well that there have been a number of violent changes in the distribution of our existing Forces, but surely the withdrawal from India was foreseen and cannot be prayed in aid as a reason why no scheme has yet been produced.
§ I am not going to deal with the Estimates in detail. There have been debates on the Navy Estimates, both in your Lordships' House and in another place. Mr. Churchill threw some doubts on the accuracy in all respects of the Navy Statement. The Air Estimates do not tell us what is to be the size or the shape of the future Air Force. We have a little more guidance from the Army, but it comes from no official source, unless one may regard Hansard as such. Our only information is still derived from the New Statesman and Nation and, so far as I understand, has not been confirmed or denied, either here or in another place. The figures given were two divisions, one armoured division and one parachute brigade. We are still very much in the dark. We have no reason to think that anything has been happening. But I put it to your Lordships that security can be overdone. My own feeling, with regard to security is that the fog in this country is much blacker among the people who are entitled to know than it is in the intelligence services of foreign Powers—who probably know anyway. Scarcely anyone in this country really knows—for it has not been clearly brought before the public—why we want a defence organisation, why we want not only an over-all national 866 effort but also personal efforts on the part of our people.
It was only this morning that there came into my hands a copy of a resolution which, I am informed, was passed by a section of the Labour Party in one of the counties. This resolution states that:
In view of the serious economic situation with which this country is now faced and as it is imperative that the utmost precautions should be taken against economic collapse, the military considerations must not be allowed in any way to affect he production drive. Therefore, the Party calls upon the Government to cut all sections of the Forces to the lowest possible level, thereby releasing tens of thousands of personnel to improve production and drastically reducing current expenditure.
§ THE MINISTER OF CIVIL AVIATION (LORD NATHAN)
Would the noble Viscount permit me to ask him whence that quotation derives?
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
My informant was asked to go to a meeting of a county Labour Party to discuss this resolution.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
Oxfordshire. I am simply giving that resolution as a sample of what is going on in the country, and of what, in my view, is bound to go on unless the matter is clearly put to the people. No greater damage can be done to national defence than by drawing the veil of security too closely over it, or by making the problem of national defence a Party matter. After all, the affairs of our Forces and the careers of the people in them are matters of far too long a term for the question to be allowed to become a Party one. No machine, no tank, no weapon, no aircraft which goes into production now will appear until 1950, and we do not know who will be in the Government then. A young man who joins the Forces now will, perhaps, reach the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel or Wing-Commander in fifteen years' time, and no one knows what will be the composition of the Government of our country then. Ships, regiments, and squadrons of the R.A.F. are not made in a day, though it is true that they can be broken in a week, and you cannot suddenly raise Armed Forces overnight in the way that some people who took part in the debate in another place seemed to think.
867 I think that the suggestion in the Defence White Paper—certainly it is so in the passage devoted to works—is that economies, if they have to take place in one year (this year, for example), can be made good and the lost ground regained by a double dose of expenditure in the following year. I put it to your Lordships that that is sheer wishful thinking—it cannot often happen. You will never recover the years that the locusts have eaten; you will never make up for a year of unreasonable economy any more than if you starve a horse one year you can make up for the harm done in his life by double-feeding him the next. However, here we have the White Paper, and we must try to deal with it on the information available. I do not think we have any quarrel with the sentiments expressed in paragraph 62 of the Paper, but when we come to consider what appears in the Estimates we see very little sign of those sentiments being put into practice. The whole White Paper is written in a tone of what one might call apologia—apology for failure to produce results. It almost appears that the Ministry of Defence is taking up the line that it ought to be on the defensive, just as the Opposition ought to oppose. This White Paper is on the defensive, and its whole theme is that, the economic position being what it is, and so little money and materials being available, therefore, little can be done. I put it to your Lordships that that is a major fallacy.
The Minister of Defence, speaking in another place, seemed to be at pains to relate defence measures to what he called a healthy national economy, and, of course, defence must occupy a proper place—we cannot take it out of context in one direction or another. But, surely, a more important angle, which is hardly mentioned in the White Paper, is the angle of Commonwealth and foreign policy. I do not want to say much about our policy in regard to the great Dominions. That is a subject upon which a good deal is best left unsaid. Therefore I will content myself by saying that my impression is that the conversations which Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein has had at Staff level have been successful. But the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, in the foreign affairs debate a few days ago, said that without Armed Forces not only was it impossible to have 868 an effective foreign policy, but it was impossible to have any foreign policy at all. If that is true—as I am sure it is—and if it is also true, as it says at the end of the White Paper, that we wish to be a great Power, then if we are to be a great Power not only on White Paper but in fact, we must have two things: we must have a certain minimum strength at a high state of readiness at sea, on land and in the air, and we must have power to expand quickly, in man-power and material, to war-time strength. If we do not have those things, then surely we are in exactly the same position as the man who finds himself in financial difficulties and decides to cut down his insurances. People who do that in national affairs are entitled to the same amount of praise or blame as those who do it in private life.
So much for the White Paper. There is no evidence to show that any minimum standard of Forces has been agreed upon. Our withdrawal from Palestine does not answer the question. The Forces in Palestine, I understand, were originally a striking force, diverted to these duties. We have no knowledge whether any striking force is to be reconstituted when the troops are withdrawn from Palestine. We do not even know whether the Chiefs of Staff have at their disposal sufficient Forces to deal with disturbances such as have happened lately in British Honduras and British Guiana. We just do not know. Of course, everybody knows what strong arguments there are against producing ships, tanks and aircraft in peace time, but surely the moral to be drawn is not that, because we cannot have the best we should have nothing at all. Yet that is what is happening; and that, I believe, is entirely wrong. Until the right moment comes to produce the best, we should keep the second best and not send it for scrap. To do as we are doing now, scrapping everything and putting nothing in its place, is going the way which led to Munich.
History has been written since then and everybody can read in history what has happened. I feel very strongly that if those who are responsible will compare their administrative actions with the administrative actions which took place before Munich, and led up to it, they will find the resemblances far too great for the issue to be shirked. That is what is happening. "Priority" in 1948 has 869 exactly the same meaning as "priority" had ten and fifteen years before—which meant that the Forces were getting practically nothing. No one has answered the question as to what is meant by "priority" in the White Paper. Does it mean anything is being produced, or that nothing is being produced? The White Paper does not tell us. Some people may say that we are quite all right, because plans for research and the atom bomb are going ahead well. I wonder. I wonder very much whether "research" is not another way of saying, "We should have given you enough money to spend on real men and equipment, but if we say ' research' you cannot say we are wrong, though you do not know what is happening."
In 1939 some people thought that infantry and battleships would be obsolete—that tanks and gas and other things would do the trick. But when the time came, gas was not used; and when Lord Montgomery made his final advance, the infantry were still there. Therefore, so far as we must still maintain a minimum Force, the proper criterion is not simply the sum we can spare from subsidies for food or social services, but what is the minimum Force required to make our Foreign policy reasonably realistic and not: something which, in the end, cannot be achieved because it cannot be enforced. In saying that, I should perhaps add that I realise that the Estimates are very big—£692,000,000, all told, or £592,000,000 without civilians, compared with £243,000,000 for all three Services in the 1938 Appropriation Account. But it is possible to spend a lot of money and yet fail to achieve anything. I do not want to go into small items, but I would mention the £4,295,000 in the Army, and the £1,956,000 in the Air Estimates—both entirely for the Poles. That may be covered by appropriations in aid, but I do not think so.
The "teeth to tail" ratio was talked about in another place. We have a lot of soldiers and a lot of airmen, but are we producing the maximum number of field units? It is not probable, unless the plans for the expansion of the Forces have been decided upon. I do not wish to reopen the vexed question of National Service. Time is too short this afternoon, and I would merely say that in my belief, and in the belief of my noble friends, it 870 is absolutely vital to maintain the principle of National Service. We cannot lay on National Service in a hurry. Either we have it on the Statute Book now, or we wait until it is too late. I do not want to intrude my own personal experiences in the last war, but one of my most vivid recollections is of September, 1930, when I went to France. Soldiers were coming out who had been attested only four days earlier; before that they had never worn uniform. It was expected that they would have to deal with dive bombers, gas and paratroops—things that might have happened then, but did not happen until later. What hope had these men, and whose fault was it that they were sent out? It was the fault of the people who had decided that National Service was unnecessary. And there history has been clearly written.
Without National Service we cannot convince our Allies or our partners that we are in earnest. In spite of that, I am not saying that the present arrangements for working the National Service Act are right. Everything seems to show that the present method of working the Act is ill conceived. It has never recovered from the change to twelve months, which has never been worked out properly. It is heavy enough to make a serious draft on our civil resources, but it is not calculated to meet present Service needs. The obligations and emoluments of National Service men, as compared with volunteers, are out of line; and this has the effect of making volunteering for the Regular and Auxiliary Forces unattractive in comparison with what it might have been. Furthermore, the staggering of the age of call-up will produce far more trouble than noble Lords opposite may think. If time were longer, I would go into it in detail. As it is, I will merely point to the difficulties of the Territorial Army—a subject on which we hope to have a debate after Easter—to the bad accommodation for single and married Regular troops and to the lack of real provision of married quarters. I will only mention the failure so far to produce a proper scheme for the employment of Regulars after Colour service, which has been asked for from these Benches time and time again. Others may speak about this, either in this debate or later.
There is another rather more important point. I am very much surprised in reading the White Paper to find that so little 871 connection appears to exist between the plans for National Service and the plans for Civil Defence. We want a high state of readiness in home defence and the plans for training National Service men do not seem to bear much relation to the possibility of a number of them being employed in home defence, whether they are in reserved occupations as civilians, or whether they are in the Forces. After all, if manpower problems remain the same as they did in the 1939–45 war, then a great deal of our part-time man-power and woman-power will be wanted for part-time service in national defence.
I do not think the Civil Defence scheme which has just been announced is very convincing. It does not seem to be treated as an operational matter. The Service adviser appointed comes from the Indian Army. One would have thought that there were plenty of officers from Fighter Command of the Royal Air Force, or from Anti-Aircraft Command, with the operational experience necessary for those who are to build up the scheme. It looks as though Civil Defence were now being treated, very largely, as a departmental Home Office matter, with mentally defective children next door and prison reform down the passage. We shall never get it right unless we treat it as an operational matter; and we shall never get it right if the Home Office, or any other Government Department, are allowed to walk into the muddle of man-power between Civil Defence, fire watching, the Fire Service and the Home Guard, which, as I well know, existed for three years in the last war.
I would ask what is happening at the Ministry of Defence, if all that I think is going on outside the Ministry of Defence is true. We do not hear much: a few noises behind the iron curtain, or perhaps the plaster board partition which separates the outside from the inside of the Ministry of Defence. How much time have we left to sort these things out? Not very much. The Russian line has now been advanced to include Czechoslovakia, a line which geography tells us is accessible to our own strategic effort and in which history tells us we have made strategic effort. I leave the matter there. The moral of this story is that these are no days for making any assumption—if, by any chance, such assumption is being 872 made—that we have any length of time during which we are likely to be immune from war. I see my noble friend Lord Chatfield in his place, and I hope the words in his book, and the title of that book—It Might Happen Again—will be remembered.
We have a clear lesson of history before us; indeed we have something more tan a lesson of history. We are now responsible in a way, as never before, for the welfare of the people who live in the Western Zones of Germany. Presumably—though I do not know—those people, who are just starting to build their lives again, are looking to us to see whether, having helped them to reach a certain way of life, we are going to help them retain it. What of the Benelux countries? How can the negotiations, which seem to have gone on so successfully, be a reality unless the part which we are prepared to play in defence matters is also a reality? It is not a convincing picture. The reason why is not that the sentiments in the White Paper are ones with which we disagree—that is not so—but that there is no evidence that effective steps are being taken to make them good, or that the Ministry of Defence is fulfilling the functions of co-ordination, leadership and direction for which Parliament established it last year.
I do not wish to be unconstructive. There appear to be certain directions in which we should go to remedy this state of affairs. We should settle or, if they are settled, we should announce, the plans to be carried out and the objects in view. Let the Services and the people who are in them know where they are. Unless we know where we are, and perhaps take a little chance on security, the men and women in the Services will no: know what to prepare for and the public will not be convinced that they have to make the sacrifices which, for my part, I am convinced are necessary. We must take administrative action which, judging from the Estimates, does not seem to have been taken yet, to remedy the obstacles to voluntary recruiting and the operation of National Service. We should put a stop to what seems to me to be a bad case of departmentalism in home defence; and we should not use research or planning as an excuse to conceal the absence of concrete steps and real measures which ought to have been taken, but have 873 not been taken, and yet must be taken before it is too late. I submit to your Lordships that all this can be achieved if we have a strong Ministry of Defence backed, as I am sure the Minister is, by harmonious and unanimous Chiefs of Staff. My noble friends on these Benches will certainly support any measures to that end, and will welcome concrete signs of progress. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 2.36 p.m.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, thirty years ago, improbable as the outcome may have looked in March, 1918, this country, with its allied and associated Powers, triumphed in a war which we were confidently assured was to end all wars. Being in those days young and credulous, we believed what we were told. Twenty-one years later we found ourselves embarking upon a second war, although perhaps those of my generation, being then older and more sceptical, had not cherished quite the same innocent faith in the power of our victory to regenerate mankind. Yet even three years ago there were surely few—and those only the most tenaciously pessimistic—who would have expected that to-day we should be discussing the question of defence against a background at once so sombre and so obscure. I say "sombre," because it would be futile to pretend that the policy of one Power, so recently our admired and invaluable Ally, does not now cause perturbation and misgivings. Surely never was so much good will so swiftly and so wantonly thrown away.
We, to whom democracy is the touchstone of freedom, cannot but be appalled at the stealthy advance across Europe of a grim and militant brand of self-styled democracy—a sort of democracy in perverted commas, which passes for the genuine article behind the iron curtain. The situation is sombre, too—though to a lesser extent—because of recent Antarctic antics which we have witnessed; they are not wholly comic, they are also symptomatic—symptomatic as yet one more evidence of that nationalist malaise which is the prevalent disease of so much of the world, and the great source of international ill-will. And it is obscure because, over and above the manifest uncertainties of the future, pervading and dominating the whole scene, there hangs 874 that vast question mark of the atomic bomb, incalculable, inescapable. Just because we know so little about it, there must attach even to our discussions to-day some considerable element of unreality. That element is fortified by the absence of any concrete information in the documents with which we have been presented by the Government.
We have had a White Paper, to which the noble and gallant Viscount has referred. When the Ministry of Defence were inaugurated, the step was widely and warmly welcomed. It was hoped that the Minister would not merely essay the difficult task of co-ordinating defence, but would himself assume the direction of policy, after consultation with the Services concerned. There is in this document little enough evidence of such a course. It appears to bear all the imprints of something in the nature once more of a symposium, a contribution by the three Services to which the Minister of Defence has acted as editor. It is not an unremarkable example of the art of taking evasive action when called upon to produce concrete information.
This House; as part of the Legislature of the country, has not only the right but also the duty to obtain information as to what the real question may be. Those who have to think on the problem of defence should not, of course, anchor themselves to the precepts and the practices of the last war, but should look ahead. Yet there would be few, however prescient, who would be prepared to say that in any future operations the combined activities of the three Services, which were the outstanding achievement of the last war, will not once more play an important part. Army cannot function without Navy, and neither can perform its rôle without Air Force. We find in the While Paper mention of a Join: Services Staff College. I would like to know: Is there a Joint Services Staff? If there is, is it confined merely to a small planning section attached to the Ministry of Defence, or is some real attempt being made to weld officers of the three Services: into one homogeneous Staff, so that they will be able to study and solve the many problems, not only operational, but what our American friends taught us to call "logistical," which are at once so complex and so vital to the success of modern war?
875 Again, on this particular aspect of the matter, is there study as to whether it is possible to produce a little more in the way of standardisation than is indicated in the White Paper? The White Paper talks about remote plans for the amalgamation of the administrative sides of the Services. That is probably a far distant goal, and in the sense of amalgamation it may well be right that it should be. But without going so far as that, is it really necessary to limit the experiment so narrowly as merely to the medical, educational, and chaplaincy Services, which are singled out for comment in the White Paper? Could not this principle at least be tried over a far wider inter-Service field? Could not some effort be made to see whether some real standardisation between the Services in the purchase, manufacture and distribution of arms, equipment, ammunition and stores is possible?
No one who has seen anything of a modern army in action can fail to be startled at the immense tail that drags its unwieldy length behind the fighting men of to-day. I remember going one day during the last war to a large Ordnance depot and being shown round by the officer in charge. He exhibited to me, with great pride, an immense shed filled with a multiplicity of trays, racks, and shelves of every kind, each containing numberless different types of spare parts for different makes of vehicle. He was as pleased with that as a schoolboy with his first stamp album; but I must confess that it appalled me to think that not only was there this immense waste of labour on the manufacture of all these divers parts, but of the tremendous absorption of man-power on the collection, sorting, issue, replacement and fitting of all these separate articles. In some of these fields—and particularly, I suggest, in the very wide field of vehicles, for it is a very wide field nowadays—it is surely possible to attain some greater standard of uniformity and, by that means, to save more men from the business of trailing behind an army in order to perform the real work of an army—that of engaging the enemy.
It is no good having a striking force, unless that striking force is properly maintained and equipped. But is there a striking force? There is nothing in the White Paper to indicate that such a force exists 876 at all. This is a White Paper on Defence, but the most elementary acquaintance with principles of defence makes it clear that defence cannot be merely static if it is to have any chance of success; there must be at hand a striking force, efficiently equipped and up to strength. If a striking force does exist, is it a nucleus, or is it a force? Is it equipped on a skeleton basis, or is it fully equipped? Has it got its vehicles? Has it got its armour? Has it got its ammunition? And has it, incidentally, got its men? There is one other aspect of the striking force. We read in the papers this morning of exercises carried out between the Home Fleet and the Royal Air Force. It would be interesting to be told how closely the training of that striking force—if it exists, and if it is in a condition to undergo advance training—is combined with the training of the Royal Air Force: and not merely the Royal Air Force in general, but the particular tactical group which will be allotted to it in the event of actual operations taking place. In that almost complete integration of Air Force and Army, I suggest, lies one of the great secrets of the success of the present Chief of the Imperial General Staff as a Commander in the field.
I said something in passing about armour. We are told in the White Paper that the Services are to be a balanced force. It would be not uninteresting to know, from that point of view, what is regarded as the correct balance between infantry and armour in such divisions as do exist; and, whatever that correct balance may be, whether the armour is in fact in existence, and with the people who are going to use it. That leads me to say one thing, and one thing only, about the Territorial Army, because it comes more into the general picture than into the special one with which we may deal in a later debate. Are the authorities now quite satisfied, after reflection, that they have been wise in laying upon the Territorial Army the burden of trying to raise, equip and operate armoured divisions? Is that a possible task for men who accept the obligations of the Territorial Army, and especially for those living in big towns? It is not only a question of keeping your vehicles somewhere outside and going at weekends occasionally to try them out; you have to keep in close touch with the maintenance of vehicles from every point of view. I do not want to 877 labour that point now; I will return to it, if I may, when we come to the later debate.
One of the difficulties of armour is that it requires large spaces in which to manoeuvre. The country has been asked to give up those vast spaces, sacrificing thereby not only amenities but a considerable amount of valuable agricultural land and not a few dwelling-houses. Is advantage being taken of those areas which have been thus appropriated? In particular, is opportunity being given to general officers who would be likely to hold high commands in the field, now, in peace time, to keep their hands in and to educate their successors in the not too easy matter of manœuvring large bodies of men and of armour in the field? One day during the last war I asked a senior general officer a question. I asked him what opportunity he and his colleagues had in the years before the war of handling substantial bodies of troops actually on the ground. He shrugged his shoulders and said very bitterly, "Oh we came together at Camberley for a fortnight once a year and did some exercises—on paper. Then cub-hunting began, so of course we all went home." Not on that basis will you train an Army to confront the mechanised armies of the future. The late war produced a number of highly skilled tacticians and admirable leaders of men. They must be given the opportunity to keep themselves up to date in the recent developments of war.
One more word—and my last—about officers. I apologise to your Lordships for returning to a theme which I have raised before. I received no answer to it last time, and I shrewdly suspect that I shall receive none to-day. Can nothing be done to give a little encouragement, and incidentally a little knowledge, to the numberless officers who go on the Reserve at the end of a war and wait, neglected, ignored, until another war occurs, when they are asked to turn out again? For twenty years between the two last wars there were many officers on the Regular Army Reserve and the Territorial Army Reserve who never received a pamphlet, never heard a lecture, never attended a demonstration. They were, in fact, nothing more than names on the outside of a jacket of a file in some cellar of the War Office. But when the time comes not only are they needed but they are expected to be up to 878 date and to know their job. It is unfair to them to put them in that position, and almost more unfair to the men whom they are expected to command. No one can read with a light heart the recent White Paper on the economic situation. Quite obviously, the amount of money available for the Services is not what the circumstances of the moment actually require. But it is a spendthrift policy to dole out too little money into too many hands. The more you are under the necessity of husbanding your resources, the more you are under the necessity of concentrating them. Therefore, so long as we have the Services, let them at least be fit for service; and they will not be fit for service if, during the period of organisation and: raining, they are stinted and starved of the essential tools of their trade.
§ 2.58 p.m.
§ LORD NATHAN
My Lords, this is a timely and important debate. I trust it will be to the convenience of your Lordships if I intervene at this stage. My noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty will answer points that may be put during the later course of the debate. We have had the opportunity of listening to two important speeches, one from a member of your Lordships' House who has given a lifetime of service in the Regular Army, and the other from a member who, from the lime of his youth to this day, has not spared himself in his efforts on behalf of the Auxiliary Services. They both speak with great knowledge and experience. Your Lordships will not expect me to give a great deal of detailed information about the Forces; because so much has been given already in the Defence White Paper itself, in the Service Estimates, and during the debates in another place. I do not think your Lordships will desire that I should cover that ground again, and I propose to deal only with the broader aspects of the defence problem, with particular reference to the general framework within which the problem has to be considered.
Let me first attempt to give your Lordships a picture of the existing situation. The Forces are still in the throes of the extensive reorganisation which is inevitable at the end of a great war. The enormous temporary element which constituted the great bulk of the strength in 1945 has had to be released as speedily as possible, and at the same time the much depleted Regular element built up. During 879 such a period of drastic reorganisation, the Forces cannot use their man-power to the best advantage. Personnel in units are constantly changing. Trained and experienced men have to be replaced by untrained men and, as a result, a disproportionate amount of man-power and time has to be allotted to the training of individuals. We are now at the moment of transition, and obviously that must inescapably be a most difficult time for the Services. All this reorganisation has had to be clone within the framework of the large-scale redeployment of the Forces overseas, due to the constitutional changes in India, Burma and Palestine, and to the effective withdrawal from Egypt. And throughout the period, it has been necessary to meet heavy commitments on the Continent of Europe. Your Lordships are all too familiar with the fact that, concurrently with this difficult situation in the Forces, the country as a whole has had to face the economic crisis, so that we have had to concentrate the maximum amount of man-power and resources in maintaining our life-line.
In addition to all these factors, and in the midst of a swiftly changing political scene, scientific developments, particularly (as the noble Marquess has emphasised) in the use of atomic energy, have suggested that considerable changes may be called for in the shape and the size of the Forces in future, and in the implements to be placed at their disposal. In the light of that, it is claimed in some quarters that military Forces are no longer needed; in others that we must concentrate mainly on Civil Defence. The Government consider that we must have efficient defence Forces, both military and civil. In the light of present difficulties, it would be natural that your Lordships should seek some assurance that the plans of the Government are developing in an orderly fashion and that they have as their objective the provision of adequate means of defence. I give that assurance.
As to progress to date, let me tell your Lordships something of what has been done. The run-down of the war-time temporary Forces has largely been completed. Nearly 5,000,000 men and women have been released from the Forces since June, 1945. The last of the war-time entrants will have left before the end of this year. At the same time, the Regular 880 Forces have been building up, and they have already been built up to a figure of upwards of 350,000, which tops the pre-war figure. The creation of new reserves on a large scale has been provided for by the National Service Act of 1947. The men coming forward under that Act will be far better trained for war than were the members of the Territorial Army between the wars. The various Auxiliary Forces have been re-established on a voluntary basis. A start has already been made and nearly 43,000 recruits have been obtained to date. On the whole, in all the circumstances, I do not think that that is too bad. In the Territorial Army in particular, it has been necessary (as certainly the noble Lords who have already spoken and as other noble Lords who are yet to speak know well) to build up slowly, pending the provision of accommodation and other facilities. This has been particularly difficult. But let me say to your Lordships that the Government are determined that facilities shall be made available as and where the need arises, and appropriate steps will be taken to achieve that end.
So far as man-power for the Forces is concerned, I think we can fairly say that the ranks are being filled, in line with the deliberate plans already laid down by the Government. The future naturally depends on the continued success of recruiting for both the Regular and the Auxiliary Forces, and I am happy to say that recent recruiting figures again show an upward trend. It must not be forgotten that in the interim, pending the build-up of our new Forces, our readiness in emergency is assured by the existence of a vast reserve of well-trained man-power from among the men recently released. We must face the fact, of course, that these men will gradually become older and I suppose they will become "rusty," but the plans of the Government ensure that new reserves of young newly-trained men will be built up before that time arrives. It is the object of the Government to be on with the new before they need to be off with the old.
Noble Lords who have spoken referred to the question of re-equipment. No large scale re-equipment of the Forces has yet been undertaken. In the view of the Government, this has been neither necessary nor desirable. We have used what equipment we had, rather than impose an extra burden on the industrial machine in this present period of special difficulty. 881 However, production has been maintained at a sufficient level to enable the Forces to meet their current commitments and, in certain more important fields—notably aircraft—to provide for a measure of re-equipment. Apart from the reasons which I have outlined, we should have hesitated to undertake a large-scale re-equipment of the Forces at this time, having regard to the possibilities suggested by recent progress in scientific developments. The noble Marquess referred to the "over-hanging question mark." Up to the present, in order to preserve the immediate readiness of the Forces in the event of an emergency, the Government have been pressing on with the rapid re-establishment of the Forces along fairly conventional lines. That is merely common prudence in the light of the changing political situation. However, the Government are fully alive to the fact that an entirely new conception may be called for, because of the development of scientific weapons and, in particular, the possibility of atomic warfare.
It has sometimes been argued that the Government must choose between developing new Forces available in, say, ten years' time, without adequate defence in the interim, or maintaining adequate Forces on the existing basis which will be out-of-date in ten years' time. The Government do not agree.
§ LORD NATHAN
I think it was by the Economist. I do not know whether the noble Viscount would suggest that the Economist is not responsible.
§ LORD NATHAN
In the view of the Government, however, the keynote of the present policy must be flexibility. While the Government are, of course, prepared to change the Forces as may be required to meet new technical developments, they are determined to maintain in the interim compact, well-trained and well-equipped Forces, on a basis sufficient for our commitments in peace, in support of our 882 foreign policy, and capable of rapid expansion in war. For this reason they are not attempting at the moment to lay down rigid directions governing the detailed composition of the Forces and their complete re-equipment for many years to come. Full advantage cannot yet be taken of the lessons of the last war. Scientists and research workers are not yet ready with the answers to some of the questions which have been raised.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord, and I do not suppose he will be able to answer this question. When he said that no firm direction is going to be laid down about the composition of the Forces, does that mean that there is, or is not, to be an order of battle for the striking force?
§ LORD NATHAN
I will deal with the question of the striking force in a moment. Meanwhile, let me say that the fundamental principles governing the structure of the three Services now and in the immediate future are stated in the Defence White Paper in paragraph 60. Admittedly the composition and dispositions of the Forces are not given in the White Paper, although a good deal of information has since been published about the strength of the Royal Navy. In the case of the other two Services, it has been considered contrary to public interest to make a unilateral disclosure about formation strengths and dispositions. This point was raised recently in another place, and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has promised to consider whether any further information can be given. The matter is still under consideration. That is as far as I am able to go on that point at this moment
My Lords, in the preparations for the future, research and development have rightly been placed in the forefront. This is an essential prerequisite to the production of new vessels, aircraft and equipment of types markedly superior to those now in use and coming off production It is also essential to the determination of the ultimate shape of the Forces. But at the same time, we are not neglecting any opportunity of taking advantage of results already achieved. For instance, I need only refer to such items as jet-propelled aircraft, gas turbines for the Royal Navy, and the "Snort" device for submarines.
In opening this discussion, the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, suggested 883 that the money provision for the Forces has been based upon what we can afford rather than on what is necessary for adequate defence. But surely it is essential in all circumstances in peace-time, and particularly so in the situation in which we are now placed, to have regard to our financial position when framing our defence Budget. It has been stated in the White Paper—and I doubt whether any noble Lord will contradict it—that a sound economy and a flourishing industry are prerequisites of any successful system of defence. Without them there can be no defence. Our economic system is at present under a severe strain, and it is only common sense to align our defence programme to our general needs. The paramount importance attached by the Government to defence, despite the present economic difficulties, is clearly evidenced by the substantial provision made for 1948 and 1949. The Estimates allow for the orderly development of our plans, and for such re-equipment as is practicable and wise at the present time. Your Lordships will have noticed the substantial amount allotted to research, to which the Government attach the greatest importance. The main limitation in this connection is not money; it is the lack of qualified personnel.
The noble Viscount raised a question with regard to the provision in the Estimates for Poles. That is there, in one sense, as a matter for form, in that the Estimates must necessarily make provision for all expenditure for which the Service Departments are administratively responsible. That is the reason why the cost of the Polish Resettlement Corps is included. The noble Viscount referred at some length to the National Service Act. It is unnecessary for me to say that the Government attach the greatest importance to the continued operation of the National Service scheme on the lines laid down in the Act of 1947, and especially to the maintenance of the principle of universal service. But during the present period of reorganisation, it would clearly be unwise to ask the Services to take and train more National Service men than they can manage, having regard to their total commitments. It is for that reason that the intake of National Service men will, for the time being, be restricted to 150,000 a year. The method of limitation decided upon 884 (that is, increasing the age of registration by three months), was selected as the fairest to the men concerned, and as being the most flexible from the point of view of the Services.
The allocation of the 150,000 men between the Services in the forthcoming year is based on the current capacity of each Service to provide training and useful employment under the conditions now ruling. It is not necessarily the normal allocation. It is the intention that each Service should build up an appropriate Reserve of National Service men according to its needs. Naturally those men cannot be absorbed to the same extent in the highly technical branches which will require long periods of training, although every effort will be made to employ them over the widest possible range of duties.
Reference was made by the noble Viscount to Civil Defence. No defence planning can ignore the importance of Civil Defence and the need for completely adequate arrangements in that field, no less than in the field of military affairs. The Military and Civil Defence plans are one, but the Defence White Paper naturally dealt only with the military aspect. It has been contemplated in all our Civil Defence plans that the Army has an important part to play. Your Lordships may be interested to know that since the end of the war there has been no interruption in the study of the many and complicated problems in the field of Civil Defence. The Prime Minister made a statement in another place in November in which he gave an outline of the plans which are being made for a new Civil Defence organisation, which includes provision for reinforcement of the civilian services by military mobile columns. The matter has been brought to the attention of the local authority associations and, in the near future, conferences are to be arranged with those associations on that part of the plans which concern local authorities.
In the meantime, important changes have been made in the planning organisation of the Government with a view to securing closer integration of civil with military planning, and improving coordination of the plans of the numerous Government Departments concerned over the whole field of Civil Defence. The central feature of this organisation is the establishment of a Civil Defence Joint 885 Planning Staff, centred in the Home Office, under the Chairmanship of Major General S.F. Irwin. This planning staff will include representatives of the Service Departments and of the Civil Departments concerned and will have access to all sources of information which they require for their work. At the same time consideration is being given to the preparation of schemes of training, and Sir John Hodsoll will have special responsibility for this. Discussions are already in progress as to the training to be given to the Army in this regard. It has also been decided to create a new post of Scientific Adviser to the Home Office. That officer will serve as a link between the planning staff and the scientists engaged on research of various kinds connected with defence problems. It has been arranged that Doctor E.T. Paris, shall shortly be transferred from the Ministry of Supply to the Home Office for this task.
The Government are satisfied that these arrangements will greatly increase the efficiency of the planning organisation, and will enable all the Departments concerned to take more effective measures than have hitherto been possible. The answers to the numerous questions involved can be found only by co-operation between all Services and all Departments; there has never been any doubt as to the desire to co-operate, and the new machinery will greatly facilitate this.
The noble Marquess, Lord Reading, with his long experience of the Territorial Army, mentioned the importance of the questions which arise in regard to it. I understand there is to be separate debate—I think just after Easter—upon a Motion which stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, on the subject of the Territorial Army. I think noble Lords will agree that it will be far more convenient if I deal with that matter then, rather than attempt to deal with it now. The noble Marquess also inquired about the integration of Service Staffs. The training of Staff Officers of the three Services in the doctrines and methods of the other Services, and in the functions of an integrated Staff, is carried out principally at the Joint Services Staff College—as the noble Marquess is aware. In answer to the specific question which he put to me, let me tell him that there is a Joint Services Planning Staff, and the work of training is 886 carried out principally at the Joint Services Staff College; training is also included in the work of the three individual Service Staff Colleges. In peace time, the Staffs of the Commanders-in-Chief Overseas are integrated wherever their responsibilities make this essential. At the present time, for instance, the Commanders-in-Chief Committees in the Middle East and Far East are both served by integrated Staffs. In this country, the Chiefs of Staff themselves are served by an integrated Staff in the central organisation for defence. The principle of a Supreme Commander or a Commanders-in-Chief Committee being served by integrated Staffs is accepted as essential both in war and in peace, and all training of Staff Officers is directed towards giving them an inter-Service outlook and the maximum experience is given in their employment in such integrated work as the number of such Staffs allow.
Another point raised by the noble Marquess, and also I think by the noble: Viscount, related to the training of an Expeditionary Force. At present, it cannot be foreseen what formations will be allotted to any particular Expeditionary Force. All depends on the strategical position prevailing at the time. No separate training, as a Force, is, therefore, given, but in the case of the small all-Regular formations available in this country to meet sudden emergencies overseas, their location is planned to provide them with opportunities for the special training which is required.
The noble Marquess also inquired how the numbers in the actual Fighting Arms compared with the numbers employed in the Auxiliary Services—I think he put it as the proportion between "teeth" and "tail" in the Army. The whole problem of maintaining an appropriate balance between the "teeth" and the "tail" is a matter which has long been the subject of close and continuous examination in all three Services. I agree with what the noble Marquess has said about the difficulties which arise, but every effort is being made to achieve the obvious objective of keeping down the size of the "tail." The problem becomes increasingly difficult as mechanisation develops, and as weapons and equipment become more varied and complex. In peace time, however, it is usually possible to keep the "tail" within 887 reasonable limits; in the Army at the present time the ratio is about fifty-fifty.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
May I ask the noble Lord if he means the ratio between the "teeth" and "tail" or the ratio between field units and non-field units.
§ LORD NATHAN
Between "teeth" and "tail." But let me amplify that a little. By "teeth" I mean the Royal Armoured Corps, the Royal Artillery, the Royal Engineers, the Royal Corps of Signals, the Infantry and the Anti-Air-craft Command; and by the "tail" such branches of the Service as the Royal Army Service Corps, the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and the like. The proportion at the present time is as I have said. In time of war it is impossible to maintain so favourable a proportion between the "teeth" and the "tail," since the Forces must be self-supporting to a much greater extent in war than in peace, and the Auxiliary Forces have to be expanded substantially to take a greatly increased administrative load.
The need for building up a small but highly efficient Regular Force, ready to proceed overseas at short notice, is fully recognised, as indicated by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for War, speaking in the debate on Army Estimates in another place on March 9. This policy is being implemented. It would be inadvisable, despite the pointed questions put by the noble Marquess, for me to say what proportion of the active Army will be allotted for service in such a Force. At the present time, a large part of our active Army (both Regular and National Service) must necessarily be employed in dealing adequately with our overseas commitments. The need for the concentration of our maximum strength in emergency is, of course, kept fully in mind.
My Lords, let me, in conclusion, say this. In recent months there has been from time to time a certain amount of suggestion, in rather general terms, of disorganisation and waste of man-power in the Services. I am not at all certain that I did not find certain reflections of that tendency in the speeches which have already been made in this House to-day. I hope that what I have said to-day will 888 do something to dispel the impression which has been thus created. The Government have, of course, no wish to avoid or discourage criticism, but allegations of the kind to which I have referred, continually repeated, are liable to have effects which cannot be other than detrimental to the country and the Services. I will not attempt to discuss the effects on foreign Powers of a general impression of disorganisation in our Armed Forces. Noble Lords are well able to appreciate that for themselves. I should, however, like to put in a word for the actual serving members of the Forces. The Forces are going through a difficult period, as I have explained; but, notwithstanding that, they are fulfilling all their commitments, many of them both difficult and dangerous, with their traditional efficiency and bearing, and are at the forefront of scientific progress in their post-war development. We all like to feel that we are part of a well-managed and up-to-date concern, and are putting up a good show. If we are constantly told that we are in a bad show, we become disheartened and our efficiency naturally suffers. Let us give the men of the Forces their due, recognising the magnificent part that is being played by all ranks and the substantial progress which has been made in rebuilding post-war Forces.
§ 3.31 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
My Lords, I am sure all who speak in this debate to-day will do so with a deep sense of responsibility, imposed alike by the importance of the subject and the gravity of the times. I am certain that nearly all of us would wish to give the same support to the Government in their defence policy that we gladly give to them in their foreign policy. But if we are to do that, we must know what that policy is. The noble Lord who has just sat down told us that we would find it in the White Paper and in the speeches made in another place. Frankly, his speech, interesting and courteous as it was, did not add materially to our knowledge of the plan. So I turn back to the White Paper which I, in common with all your Lordships, have read and re-read. It contains a number of cliché s and aphorisms, some admirable and some not quite so admirable, but it seems to me to arrive at no conclusion. I am reminded of the observation which Mr. Churchill made on a certain famous Foreign Office despatch 889 during the war, that although they had used every cliché known to the British language bar two—which I will not specify—they had arrived at no conclusion. I am bound to say that the White Paper is rather like that.
And so, as directed by the Minister of Civil Aviation, I turned for further particulars to the speech of the Minister of Defence (Mr.A.V. Alexander) in another place, and I was rather amazed to find at the very beginning of that speech these words:In a great administrative and organisational development of this character"—that is the Ministry of Defence—some years must elapse before wide results can be expected to mature.That would be a period of gestation excessive even in an immature elephant. One might suppose from that that the Ministry of Defence and the whole Combined General Staff and joint planning organisation were the personal conception and creation of the present Minister. They are nothing of the kind. The Minister inherited a going concern and a concern that was going very well. The whole joint planning organisation, the Combined General Staff and Combined Intelligence, which had been developed and forged and tempered by Mr. Churchill into a fine and effective instrument of war, was established and the functions of the Minister were agreed some years even before the war started.
If I venture to quote two passages from a speech I made in this House fourteen years ago, it is not from any reminiscent pride, but because the principles and the practice which were then laid down received at that time the whole-hearted endorsement of such men as the late Lord Salisbury and Field-Marshal Lord Milne, with their extraordinary experience of the whole of Service administration, and of every experienced member of this House who had been concerned in matters of defence. Those principles were completely reaffirmed not much more than a year ago in the debates we had on the White Paper and the Bill setting up the Ministry of Defence. On February 27, 1936, I said this:But there must be no risk of failure or of our not getting the best. I want to speak as frankly as others have spoken. Are there not two risks that we have to guard against? The first is the risk that in this combined Staff work men may sometimes come to sit 890 with sectional and preconceived views. The second is the risk lest there should be any failure or disinclination to face up to a situation in which there might be a difference of opinion….The difficult case is not the case where there is a great deal to be said on the one side and very little on the other. The difficult case, as we all know who have been engaged in this work, is where there is an enormous amount to be said on both sides. The worst way you can approach that kind of question is to approach it in the spirit of thinking that you have on your side all the knowledge, and that there really is nothing to be said on the other side at all.Then, with regard to the duties of the Minister of Defence, I said:It will be the duty of the new Minister to ensure that the combined Staff works to the best advantage. I conceive that it is not part of that man's duty to dictate policy but to ensure that every problem and every aspect is fully considered, and that difficulties and differences are frankly faced. He should evoke the best that each Chief of Staff can give, secure agreement, and where there is a genuine difference of opinion which cannot be reconciled, then he should present the whole case fairly to the Committee of Imperial Defence and to the Cabinet. I believe it may be much easier for Chiefs of Staff to agree and indeed for Chiefs of Staff to differ—and there are occasions when they ought to differ, when you do not want the kind of compromise which is the least common denominator of agreement—under the guidance of a wise and unprejudiced chairman.I do not believe anybody differs from that, and, if that be so, then surely to-day the primary duty of the Minister of Defence is to formulate with the Chiefs of Staff the best plan for meeting the situation now and in the immediate future. The Minister said that we should create an Expeditionary Force when we knew who was attacking us, and how. I should have thought his duty was to meet that situation now. In planning there must be the closest consultation with the Foreign Office. In the old days, the Leader of the House will remember, there was a ten-year rule. Probably it went on too long, but if stopped a long time before the war. There certainly cannot be a ten-year rule to-day, but is there any equivalent of that rule, and, if so, what? Generally I would ask for an assurance on this question: Is the present plan, whatever it is, a plan based on the Foreign Office appreciation of the situation?
The noble Lord spoke much of research, and the White Paper mentions it a great deal. I am the last to under-rate research. 891 It was the integration of the scientists in the higher operational staff of the Air Ministry which gave us radar, far ahead of any other country in the world. But, valuable and essential as research is, it does not supply our present need, and it does not and cannot excuse or justify the failure to provide a present effective strength. I am rather fearful of the statement made by the Minister of Defence in another place, that all but the minimum must wait on research. In all sincerity, I would say to the Government: Do not let the better be the enemy of the good. The minimum must be what is effective as a deterrent, and what is effective as an offensive, defensive force. Again, great stress is laid on the economic situation—on what we can afford, and what should be the relative priorities between Service and civil demands. What can we afford? There is a measure of defence—call it the minimum if you will, but the effective minimum—which we cannot afford not to have. That is our vital, indispensable insurance. There the Service priority should not be relative; it should be absolute.
The White Paper lays down—and none of us would dissent from it—that our main object is to maintain world peace. To that our contribution must be twofold. First, there must be a wise foreign policy. That, thank God, I think we have. I am sure the vast majority of people in this country are behind the Foreign Secretary and the policy which he is pursuing, and we shall join in congratulating him upon the new Treaty which he is, I suppose, at this moment signing with the Benelux countries. The second essential to maintain world peace is preparedness in defence. That, as my noble friend who leads the Opposition said in his remarkable speech on foreign affairs the other day, is the counterpart of foreign policy, and without that foreign policy cannot exist. The White Paper itself says:The best deterrent to war is tangible evidence of our intention and ability to withstand attack.It wisely goes on to emphasise that the right form of defence depends upon a correct estimate of the form of a future war, should it come. Those are principles to which we all subscribe. Our anxiety is: Are they being carried out in practice? If we are anxious, it is not because of any carping criticism; it is due partly to lack 892 of information (the White Paper itself stops short at the crucial point) and partly because such evidence as we have must make us anxious. I cannot honestly exclude from that reason for anxiety some of the information, conflicting, indeed, as it has been, which has been given by the Government.
Our anxiety is threefold. First, are the plans the right plans to meet a future war, if it should come? Secondly, are those plans being made effective? Thirdly, are we getting value for our money? The seriousness of our economic position makes it the more important that we should be right upon these vital matters. In war the Services have the first priority for everything. The concentration of industry on the war effort makes it relatively easy to meet all demands; and he concentration of the Chiefs of Staff, working together daily on the conflict on which they are all engaged, evokes and enforces the highest common factor of combined efficiency. In peace it is much more difficult; and to-day it is more difficult than ever, because of our economic position and the enormous export drive which we have to undertake. But just because of that economic difficulty, because of the kind of war which will be the war of the future, if we have to face it, and because time is not on our side, it was never more important that the plans which are made now should be right, and that the Minister of Defence should put first things first.
Nothing could be worse than a sort of rationing system for those in the queue, where everyone gets something but nobody gets enough. That, indeed, would be the lowest common denominator of compromise, which is fatal. Such a compromise would be wasteful—wasteful in money, wasteful in man-power and wasteful in material—and would be dangerously ineffective as an offensive and defensive insurance. May I, very briefly, test that in two Services? Of the Navy I speak with diffidence; others will speak with much greater authority on that Service. But there are certain considerations which are general and not technical. The White Paper lays down that the Navy, with its naval air arm, must control sea communications. I would also add to that, "with the long-range aircraft of the Royal Air Force." Surely, it must be obvious to us all that the menace which will have to be met is the menace of the submarine. There are no great battle fleets which 893 would be likely to be ranged against us; but there are submarines. Can we be assured that we are in a position to counter long-range modern submarines on all sea routes?
On the air side I would venture to speak with a little more particularity. In the air, in a future war, the emphasis will be greatly changed. From 1936 to 1939 we were right to place the principal emphasis on the fighter and on radar. We were right to order our Spitfires and Hurricanes off the drawing boards; we were right to circle Britain with the great line of radar stations; and we were right to train every fighter and all the ground defences in this wonderful new technique. As the Battle of Britain proved, that was the right conception then of the war of the future, and of the first and most vital need. But to-day, I think, the emphasis has changed. No doubt we shall need the most up-to-date fighters, both for defence and for the escort of bombers; but with the new weapons which would be used against us, surely the most important defence will be the offensive bomber striking force. The front line of defence will be the destruction of enemy bases and vital sources of supply. We must be ready to paralyse before we are paralysed ourselves. The late Lord Baldwin once said: "Our frontier is the Rhine"—though I rather think he meant the Meuse. To-day our frontier lies further East—very much further east.
The noble Lord, Lord Nathan, said that we are spending a great deal. I agree. We are spending £173,000,000 on the Royal Air Force. I do not begrudge a penny of it, if it is well and wisely spent. But, without asking for actual numbers, if the Government are against that, I would ask these questions. Have we to-day a bomber striking force of sufficient size? Are there the ground personnel, adequate in numbers and efficiency, to maintain that force in action? Are the bases from which that force must operate equipped and organized? For organisation is just as important as equipment.
There are two more critical problems which must be faced in planning for what the White Paper calls "the form of a future war." The initial stages—and this, I think, is axiomatic—would be more rapid and more devastating than ever before. War would be total in a new sense. The character and range of new 894 weapons may involve widely separated areas from the very start. All these are additional reasons for planning wisely in your operational plans, and in the dispersal of equipment and training. The march of events and the abridgement of time and space, the common danger to what is left of a free world, if they must needs divide the world, will unite the Commonwealth even more than it is united to-day, as they are uniting the whole of free Europe. Every decision as to the part which Commonwealth countries will play rests absolutely and entirely with each of our fellow Dominions.
But the Minister of Defence, with all the combined Service organisations, reinforced, as I rejoice to think, by senior experienced officers from the Dominions, must pool with the Governments of the Commonwealth the full appreciation and basic plans upon which the Dominion Governments will have to take their decisions, and without which they will not know what decisions they have to take. In this there is no question of dictation or of interference. It is a duty we owe to them, and to each other. In the wide range of our defence structure, the Colonies of the Crown play a great part, both in the Fighting Forces and in the strategic location of bases. In the last war their troops—every one a volunteer—came forward in great numbers; and they had a gallant record which they would be proud and eager to match again should need arise. The Colonial lines of communication and bases proved invaluable; they were indeed the lifelines upon which we lived.
I have only one other thing to add, a final aspect of the universality of a future war. Before the last war the Germans had developed a new weapon, the Fifth Column. In some countries it had a great success. Where it succeeded, it was largely because the preparations and operations of the German Fifth Column were secret, or at any rate were not recognised for what they were; and the Governments and their peoples were taken by surprise. The technique is varied and comprehensive. On the spiritual side it seeks, by insidious methods, to sap and undermine the morale and resistance of a people. On the physical side it conducts a system of espionage, before and during war, and it is the instrument of sabotage, both by actual destruction and by the less crude— 895 though often more effective—method of fomenting industrial unrest and holding up production. The essence of a successful Fifth Column is that, while it is directed and controlled by the external enemy, the operating column is composed of citizens of the country against which it is directed. As perhaps some of your Lordships know, I speak with a first-hand knowledge of how the Nazis operated all these activities in many countries during the last war. But because the Germans were singularly unsuccessful here, let no one suppose that we run no risk in the future or, indeed, to-day. Hitler was up against one great obstacle. In most countries outside the Axis very few people were attracted by the Nazi creed or way of life. Even so, because of lack of knowledge and counter-preparation, the Nazi Fifth Columns had considerable success.
I hope and trust—indeed I feel sure—that the Government do not underrate the danger and will be fully prepared to meet it. Propaganda is the more insidious the less it is recognised. Whatever form propaganda may take, the answer is to expose the lie and the motive, and to tell the truth—as many trade union leaders are doing to-day. If the British know, they will take care of themselves. But other matters are not so simple. Science provides the expert and ingenious saboteur with new weapons—for example, bacteriological warfare, which might be used without warning. Espionage is not less deadly if it is volunteered by a democratic pervert and not bought from a hired traitor. These things ought to be said, but not in any mood of alarm or despondency. Forewarned is fore-armed. The deterrent and preventive of total war is preparation against all contingencies. Defence is indeed the supreme national interest, for it is the insurance of peace. Our one desire—and I think I speak for everybody on this side of the House—is that the Government should give us, over the whole field of defence, a policy we can follow and a plan we can support.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ LORD CHATFIELD
My Lords, I am glad that the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, has moved this Motion this afternoon, and he did so in a speech which was most interesting, probing and, if I may say so, well delivered. In the 896 rather anxious days that the world is passing through, I think it is of considerable value that we should hold debates here on defence. I have frequently expressed the view in this House and elsewhere that Parliament has in the past neglected its duties in defence matters, and it is encouraging to-day to see Parliament in both Houses keen on defence matters and cross-examining the Government on their policy. These debates are sometimes referred to as criticisms. I do not think that really is the right word to use. They provide an analysis of the situation and afford an opportunity to put questions to His Majesty's Government and receive from them answers which will satisfy doubtful minds.
But I feel that these debates should be most welcome to the Service Departments and to their Boards and Councils too. I am sure that all the Ministers fight hard for their Services; I am sure that my noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty has fought like a tiger for the Navy, and got what he could for it. I was at the Admiralty for twelve years in the 1920's and 1930's, and the thing that used to depress me most was the deadly silence of Parliament, including the Opposition, when the Defence Service Estimates came before another place and before your Lordships' House. If the silence was broken, it was probably to move that the Estimates should be reduced. Never in my time at Whitehall did I hear a Motion moved that the Service Estimates should be increased beyond what the Government proposed. After all, criticism does show a watchful interest and is an encouragement to the Departments. It strengthens their hands in the inevitable struggle they are bound to have every year for finance to carry out their responsibilities.
I did not speak in the useful Naval debate initiated by my noble friend, Earl Howe, last week, because I preferred to speak from the general defence point of view. I am not speaking for the Royal Navy to-day, and I do not intend to follow the remarks of the noble Viscount who has just spoken in regard to battleships, submarines, bombers and such things. To my mind, that is not what we want to do to-day. I feel that when the armchair critic criticises military policy he is a great danger, and the danger is 897 almost greater when longshoremen, such as myself to-day and the noble Viscount, start to talk about technical things which we really do not understand.
I was interested the other day to pick up a book which was written by an American airman, a scientist, called There Will Be No Time. I think those were the words used by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, in his speech and referred to by the noble Marquess, Lord Reading. I opened this book, and in the middle portion I came across these words:Navies are not obsolete.I thought it was worth reading, so I went through the book very carefully; and I was delighted to find, to my surprise, that this American airman was strongly in support of our putting atom bombs in warships and sending them all over the oceans, so that if we were attacked unexpectedly by atomic warfare, and our aerodromes were blasted with radio-active material, retaliation could be made from our ships in different corners of the world.
However, as I said, I have not come to talk on those matters and I will not pursue that intriguing argument. I think your Lordships will give me credit for looking on the work of the three Services as one great task, a combined problem, and I am just as anxious that the Air Force and the Army should have all the money they want as I have been in the past that the Navy should have the money that it needs. In the debate on the Forces moved by the late Lord Croft last October, I said that if one Service is let down by the Government, then the other two Services are let down also, because the strength of our defences is that of the weakest link. It is useless for the other two Services to be adequately equipped; all three Services must be equally efficient and well provided for. I asked the Defence Minister to let that absolutely vital truth sink into his mind.
The Defence Minister, in a speech last Autumn, gave particulars of the Services' priorities. I said that we accepted priorities and I was sure that all the Services would do so. The Air Force had, of course, the greatest responsibility. But you cannot have a strategic defence policy based on priorities. Fixing priorities is like trying to give a first, second and third prize in a three-legged race; it is impossible to do it. The new White Paper which we are really discussing to-day has 898 caused in people's minds some disappointment which has been clearly expressed this afternoon. I never expected that all the evil spirits of defence could be exorcised in a day; it must be a gradual process, and to me the White Paper has given encouragement. We must take it broadly and must consider two things: Is it a better White Paper than the last one; and is the defence barometer going up or down? I have often said in this House that if you have the national income of a Balkan State you must have the defence and therefore the foreign policy of a Balkan State. But admitting the difficult financial circumstances, the White Paper shows a slight but quite definite rise in the barometer, at any rate administratively. It is a better Paper than we have had before, and it gives recognition to defence principles that I, for one, have long presumed to express in your Lordships' House and in the country.
Last October, in the debate to which I have referred, I strongly opposed the priority system. I said:We want to have two definite statements from the Minister of Defence. The first statement which we want is a statement as to what is our defence policy, how are we going to build up our strength and or what principles. There is one other thing which we want the Minister of Defence to tell us, and that is, how he is going to restore our strength in time, because in the pre-war years we allowed our means of arming to decay.Having said that, I must say that I view with the greatest gladness paragraph 60 of the new White Paper. It is so important that I would like to quote from it. It says this:… the Government have decided upon the following principles. The Royal Air Force must be maintained at a level sufficient to preserve its essential structure and its initial striking power. The Royal Navy, with, its air arm, must be enabled to perform its vital röle in the control of sea communications and to execute such tasks overseas as are laid upon it. The Army must be in a position to meet its overseas commitments and to provide the organisation needed for training its National Service intake.This is the first time in our defence history that a Government have given each Service in peace a definite responsibility. I have previously pointed out to your Lordships the great difficulties which the Air Ministry and the War Office faced in the peace years in the past, in that they had no definite responsibilities allotted to them. Therefore, as I said, they were 899 easy game for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Navy were fortunate in that they had inherited a standard of power with which they could argue and fight against the financial pundits.
Now there are three responsibilities. Each Service is given its task, and each Chief of Staff can seize hold of that task, and firmly make his financial claims on the national income. He has never been able to do that before. That is a great advance. The only point about it is this. If no responsibility is laid down, it is pure estimation as to what that responsibility is to be. But, if the Government lay down responsibilities for the three Services, then what they say becomes of great importance. One has therefore to consider whether these three statements are good. Is it sufficient to say that:The Royal Air Force must be maintained at a level sufficient to preserve its essential structure and its initial striking power"?That does not seem to me to be a full definition of what the Royal Air Force responsibilities will be in war. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, mentioned the importance of the long-range support that should be given to the Navy. What about the support of the Royal Air Force to the other two Services? Surely that is a very important part of what is described as "its essential structure." But if you have to do more than one thing, yet have the money to do only one thing, you have not enough to meet your responsibilities. There are many other duties that the Royal Air Force have to perform. They have to protect this island against bombing attack. What about Fighter Command? Where should we have been in 1940 if we had not in 1938 and 1939 built up our Fighter Command?
So far as the Navy is concerned, I accept the broad and general statement. As regards the Army, the Army responsibility does not seem to me to be based on what the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, referred to in our last debate (not to-day) as "strategic principles." It seems to me much more like a statement of the Army's peace duties. The Army must be in a position to meet its overseas commitments. I agree that later on in the White Paper, half-way down paragraph 62, these words are added:The forces which we maintain in peace must be sufficient to provide an adequate 900 nucleus for expansion in war, to meet the need for garrisons overseas, including those engaged on occupational duties, and to furnish our contribution, when needed, to the United Nations Armed Forces. All these duties are the inescapable responsibilities of a great Power intent on preserving peace.Of course, that makes the matter clearer, but I agree with what the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, said, that the whole White Paper, good as it is in parts—I have mentioned some other good points in it—does not read like a master Paper. It looks to me more like a Paper that might have been issued by a Minister for Co-ordination of Defence. But we need now, as Defence Minister, a man with a powerful mind; he has a powerful position and can obtain the best military advice and strategic ideas. And he should then put these ideas into powerful and effective Parliamentary language to explain to the public what is meant. Somehow or other, I feel that however hard the Minister may have argued on this it is not quite a satisfactory statement.
Perhaps I may refer again to the last debate on defence, when the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, was summing up for the Government at the end, after the First Lord of the Admiralty, had spoken. He used these words:So I may answer the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Chatfield, by saying that the reorganisation is not primarily based on a money basis, but on a strategic basis.He also said:On the question of the size and shape of the three Services … the latter"—that is, the shape—is under close examination, and a scheme will emerge having as the underlying object that the Forces will be able to meet their commitments.I want to ask the Government this. What do they consider to be a strategical basis for the state of our Forces? It would normally mean that they would examine the standing responsibilities of the Services in peace, whatever they may be, whether as occupational forces or doing police work all over the world. They would add the responsibilities envisaged for the three Services in what seems the most likely war they will have to face. When the Minister has taken that advice and analysed it, it is his duty to give the Forces the money required for that strategical need, according to when they imagine it will arise. If the 901 Government can see it a long way off, they can give the Services less money and plan in time. But, if it is an instant danger—this year, for instance—then they cannot take that risk. The money must be given at once, for whatever that responsibility is.
But do we do that? Is that how the Government have provided for our defence to-day? Or have they said "There is £600,000,000 or £700,000,000 available"—and £600,000,000 or £700,000,000 seems an immense sum of money to me—"Now take it and divide it between yourselves the best way you can." That is the wrong way; and that is not planning on a strategical basis. At any rate, I am happy that in the last two lines of paragraph 60 these words are used:In this process of selection and concentration, the varying length of time which would be required by each Service in order to re-equip it to full efficiency at the outbreak of war must be given due weight.That is a valuable and wise statement, and it is followed in paragraph 62 by another valuable, and indeed historic, statement—namely:It remains the firm intention of His Majesty's Government to maintain the Forces which are needed to support its international policy, to ensure the security of the United Kingdom, to maintain its interests throughout the world, and to enable it to play its full part in the preservation of world peace.All this is of great importance. I almost feel I might have written that last sentence myself. Anyhow, Parliament has now two statements to grip hold of.
Paragraph 60 states the decision about responsibilities, and paragraph 62 the firm intention of the Government to meet the needs of defence. With those two new statements, there is no excuse for Parliament if it fails to press the Government to do their duty at all times in defence matters. I think the defence barometer is definitely rising. Let us hope that fine defence weather will follow in the years ahead. But we had better keep our eyes on the defence horizon.
There are two smaller points in the White Paper to which I would like briefly to refer. Paragraph 52 states:In the present situation, where the United Nations Organisation is not yet able to enforce peace, the best deterrent to war is tangible evidence of our intention and ability to withstand attack. Whether it is a question of self-defence or of support of the United 902 Nations, it is necessary to maintain British Forces in peace time to deter aggression which might lead to war.Those are brave words, and all I want to ask is: Are we giving-tangible evidence of that statement?
I had nothing to say the other day, in principle or technically, about the scrapping of our ships. Everybody knows that the "Queen Elizabeth" class ought to have been scrapped and replaced with other ships fifteen years ago. Ships of that age cannot be kept, not because they cannot be modernised but because they are so old that their bottoms get thinner every year and finally fall out. By the time a ship is thirty years old, the plating of her bottom is only about one-twenty-fifth of an inch thick instead of half an inch. It wears away. I would make one small criticism. I think it is a great pity that so much publicity was given to that scrapping, because there are many people in all countries, including politicians who make the wars, who know nothing whatever about Navies or Air Forces, and whose only idea of the strength of nations is formed by taking a Navy List, or an Air Force List, and adding up the number of battleships, cruisers, or air squadrons each side has, and saying: "He has the larger number; he is bound to win. We had better not go to war with him." When you advertise the fact that you are going to reduce your Navy by so many ships, it does not bear out that splendid thesis of giving tangible evidence of your strength.
With regard to our Air Force, I dare say—I do not know—that it is wise not to announce what our strength is. If its strength is said to be a deterrent, then it seems to me that we are assuming that the enemy knows what that strength is, whereas we ourselves do not. I do not want to labour the point, but I rather doubt whether our recent actions have, in all senses, been following out the excellent principle laid down in paragraph 52.
There is one other point, and that is in regard to paragraph. 36. It is rather an important point, because this paragraph deals with our ability to get ready for war. I will not quote the whole of the paragraph but in one part it says:Fortunately, however, those basic industries of the country on which war potential ultimately depends are in a healthy and flourishing state, though difficulties are likely to be experienced in certain highly specialised fields.903 I wanted to ask the First Lord whether he could give any assurance about the state of our armour firms.
I know so well that in the middle of the 'twenties—the peace years—when I was Comptroller of the Navy, I had to deal with the dreadful problem of how we were to maintain the armour production of our country. There were five firms and their maximum production was something like three times the amount we could use in peace-time. What was to happen to that extremely valuable plant and its wonderfully trained and skilled men, its professors and scientists, who were working on the production and continuous improvement of armour? That was the question which exercised our minds then. Eventually a plan was produced by which we scrapped two of the armour firms and kept the other three. In order to keep them in being, they were given a higher rate for their armour than it really cost them to produce. When war approached and the Air Force began to consider putting armour plate into their bombers, and the Army began to demand vast quantities of armour for tank production, the fact that we had taken even those moderate steps ten or twelve years before was of the utmost importance. I ask the First Lord whether he can give us some general assurance that steps have been taken to preserve, so far as possible, our important armour productive capacity.
To-day we are naturally all wondering whether war is years distant or whether it is close at hand; that thought is bound to exercise our minds at this moment, as the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, said. Are we to have, or is there some possibility that we may have, some enormous new commitment which has not been allowed for, suddenly thrown upon our Army and Air Force? That is a very unpleasant thought. It is something against which we may not perhaps be able to provide in our present financial circumstances. I cannot help feeling that those who are interested in the safety of this country will be anxious in regard to the responsibilities which are being placed on us, or will be expected of us, in regard to the Five-Power Benelux Pact. Are we expected to provide our Forces to save Europe again; and, can they be ready in time? Can we hope that our wonderful friend the United States will support us and underwrite 904 some of those responsibilities for us? Either we must take some steps to meet this new commitment, or we must change our foreign policy—and that would be highly regrettable.
I do not want to ask the Government any impossible questions or to embarrass them in the slightest degree, but I cannot help feeling that this debate would be insincere and incomplete, now that events affecting defence are rushing at us at such a rate, were we merely to discuss the White Paper as it was written possibly two or three months ago. That is all I wish to say about that point. On the whole, I shall give my good wishes to the White Paper, as it has much in it that is good. I regret that it is incomplete and that it leaves out much that I should have liked to see in it; but, as I have said before, in defence matters we must take things gradually, and, on the whole, I think the Government have not done too badly.
§ 4.29 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
My Lords, I have listened to the debate so far with the greatest interest. I would like to say here and now that I agree with practically every word that the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, said. I felt that he was dealing with the present time, and I myself shall deal with the situation which exists to-day when I put before your Lordships two points which I desire to stress. I am not going to shut my eyes to present-day conditions; and I am assuming that our foreign policy is to be as outlined. I have read the White Paper with great concern. I cannot find anywhere in it—and for the last six months the situation has been well-known—a satisfying reassurance that we are now preparing our defences on a sound basis. Whilst I agree that it would be unwise for the White Paper to give details, it ought to show that the Government are thoroughly seized of the vital importance, even in these days of economic crisis, of ensuring that the country has at its disposal a Force which by its very existence would help to prevent war, or which, if war were unfortunately forced upon us, would give us time to bring into early play all our potential power. The Government must make up their minds now on a clear-cut policy. There is no time to be lost. The Government must decide what act of hostility or aggression by a foreign Power would be considered sufficiently dangerous 905 to constitute an act of war, calling for an appropriate response at once on our part.
May I look for a moment at the lessons of past history? From the time when the German menace first became plain in 1933, we allowed acts of aggression to continue unchallenged, one after another. First there was the reoccupation of the Ruhr; nothing was done about that. Next came the absorption of Austria; nothing was done then. The incorporation of the Sudeten territory into the Reich followed; nothing was done. Then, in spite of the pledges which she had given, Germany took over the whole of Czechoslovakia. Once again, nothing was done. Then, at long last, the British Government suddenly made up their minds and took a stand. They startled the world a good deal by declaring that any act of aggression against Poland would bring about war. That declaration was made, I believe, with little or no consultation with the Chiefs of Staff of the Services of that day. Shortly afterwards we were plunged into war, and we had no means of hitting the enemy in his own country—none at all. Nor could we reach Poland to help her. Recent events in Eastern Europe make me wonder whether history will be repeated; and that brings me to the question of the type of strength of the Armed Forces which we should have to-day.
I know full well the great economic difficulties in turning any more men on to war production, or into the Services to strengthen them, when the vital need is to increase our exports. It is essential, therefore, that the Government should consider what form and type of military force would make the minimum demands on our resources and man-power, and, at the same time, make any potential enemy realise our power to hit, and—if need be—to hit hard and quickly. I feel there is only one power in existence to-day that can fulfil these requirements, and that is air power. Air power to-day is even more powerful than it was in the last war. The noble Lord, Lord Nathan, has spoken about the use of atomic power and the atomic bomb in the future. I think that atomic bombs were dropped twice from aircraft in the recent war. This strengthens what I have said, that air power is even more formidable to-day than it was in the last war. It is also the only power at our disposal at the present moment which might tend to 906 restrain an enemy from hostile provocation, or which—if it did not succeed in preventing war—would enable us to mount an offensive while we were developing our resources.
If the Government decide to place their confidence in air power, we must then have a strong force of long-range bombers, long-range fighters and interception fighters. That is essential. Then we must choose the location of our air bases throughout the world. If we have not already chosen them, the proper course is to organise these bases throughout the world without delay. In the past, when our security depended on big navies, what did the Admiralty do? They rightly decided to insist on having efficient overseas naval ports. So, in the same way, we must be certain that we have our air bases throughout the world. I hope that this matter is being taken into consideration now, in the conferences which are taking place in Paris and Brussels in connection with the Plan for a Western European Union.
To digress for a moment: I have recently read the Despatches of Field Marshal Lord Wavell, Field Marshal Auchinleck, General Percival, and Air Marshal Maltby. These all show our failings with regard to the organisations of bases. Although it was decided in 1933 or 1934 that air should be the chief means of defence at Singapore, those who have read Air Marshal Maltby's Despatch will see that the organisation was not ready. Nothing was really done to organise and prepare the base. The headquarters of the different Services were as much as twenty-five or thirty-five miles apart; there were not sufficient runways; there were no buildings or operational rooms, or any of the detailed organisation required. I say, emphatically, that to neglect air bases now is asking for disaster in the future. There is another consideration with regard to air bases and the choosing of them. I hope they will be chosen as near to the sea as possible. They must, if possible, have a sea approach within reasonable distance so that a good sound system of supply can be maintained. These ports must have up-to-date equipment for all the innumerable small vessels that ought to be able to use them with ease.
Besides the Air Force we must have a small up-to-date Army, well-equipped and trained, ready for transportation by air 907 to any base necessary, so that it can be used, when opportunity occurs, for landing in any particular theatre. This would require the provision of adequate air transport, and would need careful organisation in respect of supplies, bases and defence. All provision of ammunition and the like, without careful organisation, is useless. With regard to the Navy, I feel that we must have (and I know that I am saying this in the presence of a number of noble Lords who know the Navy from A to Z) a large number of small vessels and submarines. I am talking of what is needed to-day and not what we should have ten years hence.
In short, what we want is an Air Force of long-range bomber squadrons—say thirty, forty or fifty squadrons, though the Chiefs of Staff, of course, must decide the actual numbers—long-range fighter squadrons and interception squadrons. We need an Army comprised of a certain number of small airborne forces and (this is especially important) enough air transport squadrons to move them to any base necessary. For the Navy, it is vital that there should be a large number of fast naval vessels and submarines, and, in addition, fast merchant ships for the transportation problems bound up with the use of a mobile force such as I have described. This I believe would be the force which was most economical in manpower and materials, capable either of preventing war or tiding us over until we could mobilise all the resources of the nation.
As there are so many speakers, I have cut down my remarks to the essentials of the Forces required, omitting all details and discussions with regard to Reserves. I have probably oversimplified the matter, but I believe that I have outlined a framework which would prove eminently serviceable and could be added to in detail—if necessary, without alteration in substance. I believe that if it were stated that that was the Government policy it would help to prevent war. Therefore, I hope most sincerely—I am sorry the noble Lord who is going to answer is not here—that the Chiefs of Staff Committee have (as I feel sure they have) made their recommendations on the type of Forces required now. But have the Government given their decision? I know that it is harder 908 to obtain agreement in peace than in war, and I do not blame the Government more than I blamed Governments in the past when they did not give rapid decisions. The Chiefs of Staff, if they are great men, will decide on certain points and the Government have to grasp that nettle themselves and not hand it back with the instruction: "Discuss it again." I made a speech in your Lordships' House in 1935 saying how many times Chiefs of Staff decisions were burked. Like the Government, I naturally do not want details disclosed in the answer, though I think they are being over-secretive. Unless they disclose that they are to have a force of bombers and fighters, they will not prevent war. The more I read the German papers of 1934 and 1935—and I have more time than many of the noble Lords who sit on the Front Bench to read these papers—the more certain I am that showing the strength of the Navy doubles that strength.
I want for a short time to deal with my second point; this is the longer-term problem of man-power. The backbone of all defence measures, even in these days of scientific development, is still man-power. I understand that there is a great shortage of man-power for the Regular Army and for the Air Force, and also for the Navy. Voluntary recruits do not come forward sufficiently. Why should they? I have on three or four previous occasions addressed your Lordships on this matter. The more I have looked into it (and in discussing it with others I find that they have reached the same conclusion) the more I think we shall never get a solution to the recruiting problem unless we adopt some such system as the one I have indicated before. Our strength to-day comes, first, from men who join for Regular long-term service and hope to make it a life career and, secondly, from the youth of the nation who have to do a year's conscripted service. This latter does not add anything to the overall strength of the Forces, and in fact, since the small force of Regulars are called upon to provide instructors for the conscripts, it depletes the Regular Forces. I think there should be a third way of increasing the man-power of our Forces. In this I believe that I am supported by many more of your Lordships than some noble Lords on these Benches realise. I am convinced that many noble Lords on 909 the Labour Benches believe there is something in this. We should try to get men to join for three, four or five years. If they knew that by joining they would be certain of employment after their period of service was ended, I feel we should get them.
I would like the Government to initiate an inquiry. I have asked the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, three times, and I have asked the noble Viscount the Leader of the House whether they are looking into it. I know what is being done, and it is not being looked into. I would like to know whether an inquiry could be started to see whether a short-service system could be instituted, whereby every man who joined for three, four or five years would be automatically absolved from the National Service Act call-up; would be allowed to count the time spent under the short-service system towards a pension in any branch of the Civil Service, local government service, or nationalised industry; and, additionally, provided that they had sufficient academic qualifications, would on leaving the Services have first priority in the Civil Service, medical service, the reaching professions, and in all the nationalised services. All this, of course, would be subject to their not having shown themselves unworthy during their short-service term. This subject might take a two-days' debate, and I do not want to detain your Lordships. I would merely repeat: all those whom I have asked, who have had to do with these questions of defence, are greatly concerned with the present state of affairs. I doubt whether the Government have mapped out a decided policy, and feel rather that we are drifting along with the essential problems untackled. I trust the Government can give us some assurance.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ LORD MANCROFT
My Lords, more than one speaker in this debate has asked whether the lessons learned in the last war are reflected in this White Paper. I should like to develop that idea for a few moments, and would like to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, when he drew attention to the recently published Despatches of the Commanding Officers in the Far East. It is a great pity that the restrictions on newsprint prevent these Despatches reaching a wider publicity than they have had. I hope the Government 910 and their Service advisers will give them every possible attention. To my mind there are two main lessons to which every Commander drew attention. The first was the difficulty into which we fell through not being able: to make up our minds whether foreign policy was to dictate strategy or strategy was to dictate foreign policy. The second was the difficulty we met when we confused in our minds the sum we could afford to pay for defence and the minimum sum we really required for defence. Every Despatch mentions those points.
I turn, in particular, to the despatch of Air Vice Marshal Sir Paul Maltby, Air Officer Commanding in Malaya in 1941. He draws one deduction which I think is particularly important to-day. He points out the danger, when a potential enemy has the initiative, of basing strategy on political considerations which may at the last minute be completely reversed, thereby nullifying the whole of that strategy. That point is particularly important to-day, since we, as a democratic power, will never be the aggressor, and we shall always lack that initiative. I think the last six months have shown that we shall never again have the opportunity of a few months in which to pull ourselves together at the beginning of a war. That opportunity was luckily granted to us in the last two wars, but it will not be granted to us again.
Turning to the Despatch of General Percival, I would remind you that he makes this point. He says that in the past we have relied too much on a strategy based on bluff. The danger of that plan, particularly in the Far East, was that we did not bluff our enemies, and we did, unfortunately, bluff ourselves. We bluffed ourselves into thinking that we had built a fortress in Singapore. We planned a fortress in Singapore, and General Dobbie started to carry out those plans. But what happened? His financial resources were disastrously cut, and we, the British taxpayers, are accordingly to blame for the abuse thrown at General Dobbie for the failure of those plans. The whole world knew that we had planned a fortress at Singapore, but only we, the British taxpayers, forgot that we had taken away the money whereby the plans for that fortress could have been put into operation.
911 I would draw attention to the work of some of the armchair critics, whom my noble friend Lord Chatfield mentioned a little while ago. In 1942 the armchair critics—not all of them outside of Parliament—levelled some harsh abuse at our unfortunate commanders and men in Malaya. Those critics were not in full possession of the facts. We are now in full possession of these facts from the Despatches which have been published. I have not seen anybody recant their accusations, or apologise for the harsh and unjust things that were said at the time. Mud sticks, and I think it is about time we started to scratch a little of that mud off. Many commanders, many gallant men and their next of kin, are smarting under the great injustice that was done to those gallant men who did their best in appallingly difficult circumstances. If Field-Marshal Wavell is big enough a man to come out in his Despatch and publicly confess that he made certain major errors of judgment, surely these small armchair criticis can take their cue from him and apologise to the men whose reputations they have so unjustly besmirched. The taxpayers are the people who were really to blame—not the soldiers.
Mention of Singapore brings me to my next point, which is this: What is our future policy and strategy in the Far East? Since the fall of Japan, we have heard little about Malaya and Hong Kong. All we know is that domestically and economically Malaya is enjoying a standard of prosperity which we can all envy. Mr. Malcolm MacDonald is there, earning for himself a high place in the ranks of British pro-Consuls. What is to be our future policy about Singapore? Are we to make it a major base? What about Hong Kong? Hong Kong is probably the most prosperous place in the British Empire to-day; and it owes its prosperity largely to the initiative and resource of the civilian and Service staffs who, after the fall of Japan, set to work so promptly to reinstate the Colony. Surely in the last few weeks we have learned a lesson from events in the Falkland Islands, British Honduras and Gibraltar. We see envious eves being cast at various parts of the British Empire. Envious eves have also been cast at Hong Kong, and only a few weeks ago there was trouble and rioting on the mainland. There will be trouble there again from 912 Chinese hotheads whose activities will not be discouraged by certain other foreign powers who would like to see us out of Hong Kong. The inhabitants of Hong Kong are very anxious at the moment. Let us say what is our policy there. Are we going to maintain it as a major base in the Far East? Are we going to develop it, economically and strategically? Let us come out and say that we are not going to be "cheeked and chivvied" out of Hong Kong, and we intend to develop it as our base in the Far East. So far as I can see, there is little indication in the White Paper that our whole defensive and strategic policy is being planned on a Commonwealth basis. There are only casual references to this subject here and there throughout the White Paper. There is a mention of a great base to be planned in Kenya, but the reference is tucked away in the paragraph about Works, rather like the threepenny bit in a Christmas pudding. In the Air Force Estimates we see a mention of Aden, and the trouble that occurred there when a detachment of the Royal Air Force Regiment was sent to quell the riots. We have seen trouble recently at Accra, and we find the disgusting situation of ships having to be sent all the way from Capetown, and a company of the Cameronians being held at Gibraltar. All those things should show to us how widespread our commitments still are. There is a tendency, too much encouraged nowadays, to think that, because we are living in an atomic age, all our old Imperial commitments have gone by the board. They have not gone. They are just as urgent now as ever they were, and they demand just as much of our attention.
I do not wish to press the Government to produce information which it would not be in the national interests to reveal. We know that the C.I.G.S. has recently completed a series of important tours, and we understand that they have been successful. I think the country would like to know as much as it is possible to know about those tours, about the discussions and how we are progressing with our talks on Commonwealth defence. There seems to be very little said about that important matter in this White Paper. I do not press the Government to say anything which, in their opinion, would be prejudicial to public safety. Here I would say that I cannot entirely agree with the views that have been expressed 913 by one or two noble Lords on the subject of security. I think the Government are being unjustly badgered in this respect. I would be the last person to ask them to produce one single piece of information which they, knowing the full facts, thought was not in the interests of the country. I think we should be doing a disservice if we asked them to produce that information.
But I would, in all humility, ask them whether they are quite certain that they have a clear idea in their minds as to what is and what is not in the interests of national security. Certain information produced in the Naval Estimates concerning new ships of the Navy, and certain information which was let out concerning the size of the Home Fleet, makes one think that a proper appreciation of what is and what is not genuinely in the interests of security is overdue. I would repeat that, if the Government say that they are not prepared to produce certain information because it is not in the public interest to do so, I think we should be doing the nation a disservice to badger them. I hope they will stick firmly to that point.
In conclusion, I have one question to ask, and I think it is the chief question that we should ask in regard to this White Paper: Are we getting value for money? I calculate from the figures given that by this time next year we shall have something like 700,000 men and women under arms, and we shall be paying something like £700,000,000 for them. The chief accusation that has been levelled at the Government during this debate—and I am afraid I must join in that accusation—is that there is no overall defence plan. I would go further and say that the reason there is no defence plan is that there is no appreciation of the factors upon which that plan can be drawn up. Those factors are available. A year ago the situation was much more obscure. But in the last year, as has been stated by more than one noble Lord, the situation has been clarified a great deal. We know more clearly now who are our friends and who are our potential allies, and we certainly know who are our potential foes. It should be possible, therefore, to draw up an appreciation upon which a plan can be made. This White Paper, so far as I can see, is an unco-ordinated statement of the resources 914 which the various Service Departments have squeezed out of a grudging Treasury and a grudging Ministry of Labour. It is certainly not, I am afraid, a statement in relation to defence.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ LORD DOUGLAS OF KIRTLESIDE
My Lords, when I sat down to prepare what I was going to say this afternoon, I found myself in some difficulty because, as your Lordships know, I am a newcomer to this House, and I was not quite clear into how much detail one could go in a subject of this character on a White Paper entitled Statement Relating to Defence. I was somewhat put out by the noble Lord, Lord Chatfield, who took the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, to task for mentioning battleships and bombers.
§ LORD DOUGLAS OF KIRTLESIDE
At any rate. I noticed that before the noble Lord finished his speech he treated us to a dissertation on battleship bottoms. I do not see how you can discuss defence without mentioning the various parts of defence. After all, what we are really discussing now is defence policy, and that policy must result in the end in the provision of certain weapons.
The problem with with I shall try to deal this afternoon is whether the weapons that we are now planning to produce are, (a) sufficient and, (b) of the right character. There seem to be two problems, the long-term problem and the short-term problem. The long-term problem, with which we are faced now, has already been alluded to this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, and others. That is the problem of atomic energy, the atom bomb, pushbutton warfare, rockets and all the horrible inventions with which we shall be bombarded in the future. It is obviously of the greatest importance that research into those weapons should be pushed on with the greatest speed, and that all necessary finance should be made available for that. I am not particularly worried about that aspect of the problem, because I have a great confidence in British scientists, from Sir Henry Tizard downwards. Before the last war they were certainly ahead of scientists in the rest of the world in almost every field of research in connection with defence, and I see no reason why they should lose that lead now. I am not, therefore, going 915 to deal with that aspect of the matter, although I do not want your Lordships to think that I am in any way unmindful of it.
The short-term problem, on the other hand, is this. Pending the results of this all-important research, what is it that we require now or shall require, say, within the next two years, should war come? That is the problem about which I am afraid and worried. We have nearly a million men under arms, and what have we to show for it in terms of defence? In the first place, what have we with which to strike quickly; and, in the second place, what have we for immediate defence? I do not pretend to be able to answer that question myself, because I do not know; and I am very anxious that the answer, if it can be given, should be the right one. There is another problem linked with this, and that is whether the Forces which we have are of the right pattern and the right balance. Take the Navy, for instance. The Admiralty, I think wisely, have adopted a personnel policy for a long-service Navy. They are gambling that a major emergency will not arise in the very near future, and that within a reasonable space of time there will be a properly manned long-term Navy. The question I ask myself is: Will the right sort of ships be in commission when the manpower is fully trained?
I am not worried, like the noble Lord, Lord Chatfield, about the scrapping of the old battleships. What I feel is that the threat at the beginning of the next war will surely be the submarine. We look at our most probable enemy, and see that he has not a strong surface fleet, and that he is a specialist in submarines. Therefore, it seems to me that the ships which we have in commission should provide for that. I also ask myself: What was the greatest naval battle in the last war, and what was the greatest victory that the Navy won? I would answer that by saying that it was the battle of the Atlantic. It was the one naval battle which, if it had been lost, would have finished us. One looks with pride, of course, on actions such as the River Plate and Matapan, but those actions were not vital in the sense that the battle of the Atlantic was vital. My memories as the Commander-in-Chief of Coastal Command tell me that for this battle—that is 916 the anti-submarine battle—we want fast escort vessels in large numbers and some destroyers. I would like to know, before my anxiety can be relieved, how many such vessels should we have ready if war came to-morrow.
Let us take next the problem of the R.A.F., which has already been discussed at some length by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, and by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard. I agree with practically everything they said. We need, first of all, a striking force to act as a deterrent to aggression. We also need fighter defence for the United Kingdom and for our overseas bases. I do not quite agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, when he says that a fighter defence is perhaps not so important as it was. I cannot see that. It is true that in time, when this push-button age comes upon us, fighter defence as we know it now may well become obsolete.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
I never suggested that it would become obsolete. I said that I thought the emphasis had changed, and that the most vital thing was the bomber striking force. I did say that it was essential to have up-to-date fighters, both for defence and for escort.
§ LORD DOUGLAS OF KIRTLESIDE
I am sorry; perhaps I misunderstood the noble Viscount. As I say, the ordinary air force which we should have to meet to-day, still equipped with the orthodox type of bombers, is one for which the fighter defence (on somewhat the same pattern, only with much faster aircraft than we knew during the war) would be effective. I ask myself: What do we possess in this, and how many aircraft can we actually put and maintain in the air to-day or next year. We have 270,000 men—that is over a quarter of a million—in the Air Force, and the operational effort which it is alleged by some that they could produce would not seem to justify that number of men. I think the answer to that is, of course, the question of the shortage of trained personnel, especially skilled ground personnel. Much of the effort of the present skilled men, as with the Army, goes into training the unskilled. On the other hand, I think the Air Ministry have done a great job by having demobilised more than the strength of the R.A.F. at the end of the war.
That is the problem with which they are now faced, but I wonder whether it 917 would not be a good thing if the Air Force took a leaf out of the Navy's book and went more for a long-service Air Force. After all, there is no time to train the National Service men in the skilled trades, and they can be used only in the unskilled or semi-skilled trades. I suggest, therefore, that the Government might consider whether the Air Force should be put on the same basis in this respect as the Navy. I would rather have a small, well-trained Air Force, than a large half-trained and half-baked one. If that policy is to be followed, obviously there are two things which are necessary immediately. One is a recruiting drive for the Royal Air Force. In that connection I suggest that consideration should be given, first of all, to improving the pay of the skilled tradesmen, and, secondly, to the important question of married quarters. I am sure that many men are deterred nowadays from enlisting in the Services because of the lack of married quarters.
Finally, may I say a word concerning the Army? The Regular Army has certain clear-cut commitments at the present time—for instance, in Germany and Palestine. But I think it is not unfair to say that these Forces are not at a particularly high standard of training and efficiency, owing, perhaps, to the proportion of new recruits in their ranks; and the efforts of long-term Regulars are almost entirely occupied in training National Service men. That is probably unavoidable, and I do not suggest that there should be any great change. But what I would like to ask is this: What is the rôle of the Army in any probable major war? That is a matter about which I am not clear, and I have seen no indication of it in the White Paper. If the rôle is not decisively laid down, I do not see how the Chiefs of Staff and the Government can properly plan the structure of the Army required.
The same question goes for the Territorial Army: What is the rôle of the Territorial Army? Again, I can find no indication in the White Paper. I am inclined to think, though I may be wrong—I hope I am wrong—that, for instance, anti-aircraft is being pushed into the background (I almost said "as usual" but perhaps that would be unfair). Antiaircraft has always been the Cinderella of the Services, and has been starved of men and of priorities in production and 918 equipment. Yet anti-aircraft generally will be the first part of the Army to go into action in the next war. And if we lose the first round of the war, we shall not require an Expeditionary Force of fifteen divisions, or whatever the figure may be, because the war will be over long before they can get into action. Therefore, I beg the War Office to give all they can spare to anti-aircraft.
I am afraid this speech has been rather inconclusive. It is largely a question mark. I find it difficult to say what the conclusion ought to be, because I do not know the answers to many of the questions I have propounded. Perhaps I am unnecessarily anxious—I hope I am—and I shall be overjoyed to be told that I am wrong to be anxious. But frankly, my Lords, I am anxious, first of all about the size, and secondly about the composition, of the Forces that we could actually deploy on land, at sea, and in the air, if war came upon us within, say, the next year or two years.
§ 5.13 p.m.
My Lords, we have listened to an excellent and forceful speech from the noble Lord, Lord Douglas. I was most interested to hear what he said about the Battle of the Atlantic and the necessity for a great number of small ships I am entirely in sympathy with that view having myself served in: he Battle of the Atlantic under the noble Lord when he was in command of Coastal Command. The field of defence policy has been largely covered by many noble Lords today, but there are one or two aspects of this policy which I should like to emphasise. I should also like to direct certain questions to the noble Lord who is to reply for His Majesty's Government.
It cannot be too strongly emphasised that we are already living in the shadow of war—not only a possible war some five or ten years hence, but war that may come upon us in the near future. I think it is true to say that many of the conditions of such a war are the same to-day as they were in 1939; and war might well come upon us through the difficulties in Palestine, which, as we know, are increasing daily. And who can say when the Communist advance in the West will not have to be halted by an ultimatum which may well lead to war? The Western Powers may not always be able or willing to continue 919 a policy of appeasement of Communism. I think it was the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, who said that Communism was stealthily advancing across Europe.
I suggest that our defence policy should be geared for a short-term view as well as a long-term view. That point was specifically mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Douglas. I feel that such a short-term policy is day by day becoming more necessary in support of Western co-operation. What does Western co-operation mean? If it mean anything at all, it means co-operation in economic, political and cultural fields, but, in the light of present conditions in Western Europe, it means also a military alliance or guarantee; and such a guarantee or military alliance is now being concluded very successfully by the Foreign Secretary.
The point is, what is our military guarantee worth to the nations of Europe? Does the White Paper on Defence supply the answer? I suggest that the White Paper rather sketchily outlines a long-term plan for the Services, but for the immediate future it is a dispiriting document and displays our weakness to the world—in spite of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Chatfield, that this White Paper is better than most. It appears from the White Paper that it is the intention of the Government to provide only sufficient forces for existing commitments, but I suggest that it is essential to have some form of reserve striking force, such as was mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, and many other speakers. The failure to make this provision of a reserve striking force will be a source of weakness to our foreign policy.
I had the honour, only a few days ago, to lead a Parliamentary Delegation to the French Parliament; and I can assure your Lordships that friendship between France and this country is stronger than ever. But the French have always been realists, and they are undoubtedly concerned about our military weakness. And not only France, but the Scandinavian countries, who are on the edge of the abyss, are looking Westwards to see what support may be forthcoming. What have we to offer in the immediate future? Treaties without the force to back them up are useless and dangerous. Could we put a striking force into the field at short notice? The noble Lord, Lord Nathan, 920 said that the composition of such a striking force would depend on the strategic provisions at the time. I think that is a most unsatisfactory statement, and a very dangerous one. It may be argued that we have a large body of trained men in reserve, but have steps been taken to work out a mobilisation scheme to call them up in sufficient numbers in an emergency, and to produce a striking force? And are we able to arm them with modern weapons and provide the necessary vehicles and transport? I suggest that we must be able to make a positive contribution to Western co-operation in addition to our existing commitments. It was only a day or so ago that many of us, I suppose, must have read in the American Press that an emergency call up plan for the National Guard and Regular reserves is being prepared, and a large increase in the Air Force has been decided upon.
Many questions on defence have been touched on to-day, but I do not think mention has been made of the extreme vulnerability of this island and the importance of dispersal. I should like to ask the noble Lord who is to reply whether any plans have been prepared for this purpose. Again, are we still to rely on this country for war production and, if not, have we arranged to standardise our weapons and equipment with the United States and with Western Europe? I thought that the noble Marquess, Lord Reading (if he will allow me to say so) made a powerful speech on that particular point. It is undoubtedly true that our defences are to-day in a weak state, and I think it has been largely due to the decision of His Majesty's Government to reduce the period of National Service training. I think it is true to say that the Army and, to a certain extent, the Navy and Air Force, have become nothing more than a Service of schoolmasters, engaged day by day in training short service recruits instead of being able to concentrate on fighting efficiency. I suggest that His Majesty's Government should review afresh the whole structure of the Armed Forces, including the present working of the National Service scheme. We are spending an immense amount of money on the Services and are getting little to show for it.
A good plan has been suggested by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, in connection with a short service plan for 921 three or four years' service, which I support strongly. I hope that His Majesty's Government will give it their careful attention. I fully realise the importance of financial stringency at the present time, but I feel that the provision of a combined striking force of the three Services should be a first charge on the national income, especially when we see money being expended in many less important directions which could well be postponed until times were more normal. The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, referred to a resolution moved at a Socialist meeting the other day for cutting down the Armed Forces for financial reasons. Surely that would be a most dangerous policy at the present time? I do not propose to follow the noble Lord, Lord Chatfield, on the controversy over the scrapping of battleships—a matter which was fully debated in this House on the Naval Estimates. I would just say that it is doubtful when and in what state a ship becomes valueless for naval purposes of some kind. Harbour defence ships, block ships, and so on, are always needed.
I should like to turn for a few moments to Civil Defence which, of course, must be associated with the whole defence policy. Your Lordships are aware—it has been mentioned by other speakers—that a memorandum on Civil Defence was recently produced by the Home Office. I think the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman said that it was not a very convincing document. That document lays down that Civil Defence is to consist of three parts—a military mobile column drawn from the: Territorial Army, a local mobile service (which would include the Fire Services and Ambulance and Rescue Service) and lastly a local static force which would operate under the police, and who are presumably our old friends the wardens and fire guards. The memorandum goes on to state that in peace-time the local mobile Service (that is, the Fire Services and Ambulance and Rescue Service) will be administered by the local authority but in war-time will be operated by the Government. I should like to ask the noble Lord who is to reply on behalf of His Majesty's Government what plans, if any, have been arranged for such a transfer of this local mobile force, and especially if any decision has been taken with regard to financial arrangements—also a most important point. In 922 fact during the early days of the Second World War it caused a great deal of difficulty. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, intended to intimate that the Civil Defence planning staff will deal with this matter. We would like to know that very much.
The memorandum also specifically states that legislation will be required. Can His Majesty's Government say when this legislation will be introduced? I would suggest: that it is important that such legislation should be brought in quickly, and that it might well have priority over many Bills which are cluttering up Parliament at the present time. I do not propose to enlarge on the possibility of bacteriological warfare and steps that should be taken against it, but I suggest that Civil Defence has now become one of the most important aspects of defence policy, and steps should be taken immediately to provide not only an adequate striking force but protection to the civil population against air attack which might come upon this country before any declaration of war is made. It was only a few weeks ago that the Prime Minister warned the public not to deceive themselves as to the possibility of war. I would suggest: that conditions have hardly improved since that warning. I suggest that the White Paper on Defence was almost out of date before it was printed, and I strongly urge His Majesty's Government to consider the many points that have been raised in this debate and recast their defence policy on a realistic and up-to-date basis. As the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, has truly said, "Time is not on our side."
A strong, co-ordinated defence policy with Europe is the best guarantee against war but, if we are to succeed, we must speed up our defence plans and reorganisation. I would remind your Lordships of the recent words of the Foreign Secretary in winding up the session of the Sixteen Nations Conference in Paris, when he said:I am convinced that the fate of Europe and of the world will be decided by our determination and action in the next few months.I hope that His Majesty's Government will support those grave words by action before it is too late.
§ 5.28 p.m.
THE EARL OF LINDSAY
My Lords, in rising, I would crave your Lordships' 923 indulgence for a maiden speech. I crave this indulgence, not only because I believe it to be a custom of your Lordships' House, but also because I venture to address your Lordships on a question of vital importance to us all. I speak not as a military expert but as one of the 48,000,000 people in this country whose continued existence may well depend upon the answer. I have only recently left the Army but, during my last two years, I was Military Secretary at London District, where perhaps the dotting of i's and the crossing of t's were of more moment to me than the study of self-propelled weapons. Therefore, I do not pretend to come to you straight from the training areas and the testing grounds of new weapons. I do not propose to touch on the technical aspects in this debate. None the less, if your Lordships will allow me to do so, I would like to say a few words on the subject in general terms.
I do not think that I can be described as a pessimist, but I have no words to describe adequately the gravity of the present situation. It appears to me that history is repeating itself. It seems that the calendar would be more accurate if the date on it were 1938, instead of 1948. It seems to me beyond argument that the time has come—in fact, the time has passed—when we must ensure that our Defence Forces are in an adequate state to deal with this situation, as regards both their quality and their quantity. Appeasement and disarmament were utterly ineffective in the 1930's, and I do not think that they will do any better to-day. I speak as a layman, but judging from what I read and hear, it does not seem to me that our military situation is satisfactory at this time; and I think my doubts are shared by a great many other people. I trust that I may be wrong, but I fear that I am right. I do not propose to labour this point because I think it is well understood in all quarters, and needs no further emphasis from me. In any event, it has already been stressed by noble Lords who have spoken before me this afternoon, whose arguments I feel sure carry far more weight than mine.
But, quite apart from the very grave situation to which I have referred, I am sure that it is essential to maintain Armed 924 Forces which will merit the respect of other countries throughout the world. Had it been our policy since the war to maintain such Forces we should have escaped the pinpricks which have been our lot in all quarters of the globe during the last few months—in South and Central America, in Africa and in China. I believe that the knowledge that a nation has adequate Armed Forces, and is prepared to use them in defence of her rights, has a salutary effect on others; and had that been the case, we would have escaped a great deal of trouble. Even if these pinpricks to which I have referred did not result in the spilling of British Service men's blood, they have entailed a definite loss of national prestige, and they are incidents which, from our point of view, it would have been much better to avoid. This is not a time when we can afford loss of face. It is not only necessary to have adequate Defence Forces, but would-be offenders must be made aware of what to expect if they overstep the bounds. Within the limits of security, I do not think we want to hide our light too much under a bushel in that respect.
Some years ago I was concerned in an incident when a commendable show of force on our part was completely misunderstood by the opposition, with results that were unfortunate, although not desperately serious. Your Lordships remember the troubles in China in 1926 and 1927. Eventually several nations, particularly ourselves and the United States, had to send police forces to China to safeguard the lives and property of our respective nationals. I was a subaltern in those days, and my battalion was one of those selected to go. Various naval units were also despatched and amongst them was an aircraft carrier. It might have been supposed that the Chinese would be suitably impressed by an aircraft carrier, but unfortunately this was not the case. They had never seen such a vessel before, and they immediately jumped to the understandable conclusion that we were in such dire straits in regard to our armament that we were compelled to rush out a half completed ship without even taking time to build her superstructure. The result was a definite loss of face on our part, which was very unfortunate in those times. Luckily, only a small number of Chinese saw the vessel, and the others were not in any way affected, because broadcasting was in its 925 infancy, and wholesale subversive propaganda was a thing of the future. The whole thing passed off much better than it might have done.
The Armed Forces of a nation are, in a sense, its shop window; they are a matter of prestige, It is, no doubt, argued by some that in our present economic difficulties we cannot afford the luxury of Armed Defence Forces. I would say that we cannot afford not to have them. In a sense, they take the place in the national framework which advertising takes in commerce and industry. I am quite sure, in this economic crisis, that the better face we can put on things the better hope we have of succeeding. This is particularly true with regard to our relationship with the United States. Including my childhood, I have spent some twenty years of my life in the United States. I admit that I have not been back there since a few months before the beginning of the war—January, 1939, 10 be precise—but I keep in touch with a great many American friends and, of course, I spoke to any number of Americans both here and in Italy during the war. There are many schools of thought about us in the United States. Many admire us, particularly for our lone stand in 1940. Many like us, and many dislike us; and a great many, to use the stock phrase of Gallup Polls, "do not know." If one could take a mean average of American public opinion, probably one would find that we are regarded as a sort of quaint anachronism, as a pleasant holiday ground, studded with monuments of historical interest, and as a definite military liability—a country which periodically gets into trouble with her European neighbours, and then has to be rescued by the United States.
That is not the view of those at the highest level, those in authority, but I think it is the view of many millions of Americans. Those are not healthy views. They are views which we should do everything in our power to discourage. We should be regarded as the keystone of the Western European democracies—in fact, as the hope of the world, and as a nation strong enough to save the world. We are not likely to be regarded in that light if the chief items of news about our armaments are frequent lists and pictures in the daily Press of battleships on their way to the scrap heap. I have taken up too 926 much of your Lordships' time already, but in conclusion may I urge once again that from the point of view of the present international situation, from the point of view of our relations with other nations, and from the point of view of our prestige as a great nation, we should see to it that our defences are maintained at an adequate level.