§ 2.41 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON rose to call attention to Defence Policy; and to move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, it is just a year ago, almost to a day, that we were debating in this House last year's Statement on Defence and the speech of the Minister of Defence 603 expounding that White Paper. The White Paper contained a number of well-worn clichés and the speech of the Minister contained as many aphorisms as a Greek chorus. At that time there was a general criticism in many quarters of the House that there was no overall plan to which the Fighting Services could conform. A critical year has passed. We now have another White Paper on Defence, and another speech by the Minister expounding it. I have studied with great care both White Paper and speech, and I am bound to say that the criticisms advanced last year have the same force to-day. Indeed, they have the added force that a critical year has passed. I can still find little or no evidence of a comprehensive overall plan, and I regret to say that I cannot find in the White Paper or in the speech a real sense of urgency.
§ It is not as if we did not know whom or what we have to plan against. The picture and pattern are plain. We know that there is only one potential aggressor. We know his power and his limitations; and we know our friends and Allies. It is axiomatic that the more ready we are, the less likely it will be that we shall have to act; that is said over and over again. But that carries with it this corollary: that readiness depends upon a plan, and a plan made effective in action. In war the Chiefs of Staff work together all the time, under the imminent compulsion of hostile strategy. Events impose combined thought, combined planning and combined action to meet what is known or expected; strategy, supply, logistics, are dictated by the known need. So first things are put first; and, as all production is concentrated on the war effort, it is easy to supply priorities and, indeed, relatively easy to supply even less prior needs.
§ In so-called peace, however, though the need for an overall plan, and for co-ordination to serve that plan, is just as great, the difficulties and the obstacles are greater. No Service likes to give up its own ideas; each puts forward its own demands. That is not the only difficulty. Non-Service Ministers and Departments who want more for their own projects—or their own miscalculations—are tempted to combine against the Service Departments, who, they argue, do not know their own minds; 604 and the Treasury, whose training and raison d'être is to oppose new expenditure, reinforce the critics. And so, far too often, the easy way is taken. Each Service puts in a programme, and the easy way is to take the claims, and not to co-ordinate them but to cut down all round. Therefore, no one gets enough—it is very like the meat ration. If there is agreement between the Services it tends to be on the lowest common denominator of compromise, instead of on the highest common factor of efficiency. That is the highest common factor there is in war, because, as I have said, of the imminent compulsion of events and the compulsion on men to act together. In the end, though a lot of money is spent—and the Estimates to-day are, indeed, enormous—not enough is done anywhere, and there is waste of money, waste of men and waste of material.
§ I speak in the presence of other noble Lords who have been Ministers in the Defence Departments, and in the presence of great Chiefs of Staff. I do not think I have overpainted the picture, the reality of the danger, or what is taking place to-day. That danger is exactly what the Minister of Defence is there to prevent. I regret to say that I see little or no evidence that the Minister is fulfilling that function. The Minister of Defence is the deputy for the Prime Minister in these matters of defence, and the Prime Minister can never abrogate his supreme function. If there is a Minister of Defence who is not the Prime Minister, he must be the alter ego of the Prime Minister; he must speak the Prime Minister's mind. The Prime Minister, however, must keep constantly in touch and be the inspiring and controlling force, subject always to the Cabinet.
In the last week we have had the publication of the Atlantic Pact. That, indeed, is a historic and momentous event for which we are all profoundly grateful. But does not that Pact lend force to this debate and reinforce the argument? Just as Marshall Aid is a spur to us, not only to plan but to build up our economic recovery and independence within the overall plan, in order that we can play our full part, so this new intervention by the United States in the defence of world security makes it the more incumbent upon us to make good our own deficiencies, and to build up our own strength, so that we may have (in the
words of the Pact) the "capacity to resist armed attack," and to play our own full part in an overall plan of collective defence. It is only if we do that, in the words of Mr. Acheson, that
it will be made clear that armed attack will be met by collective defence, prompt and effective.
Mr. Acheson goes on to say:
That is the meaning of the North Atlantic Pact.
I want to deal with the plan, so far as we can ascertain it, and with its execution. I repeat, that its execution by any of the Service Departments cannot be effective unless the plan is clear. We have to gather what we can of the plan from the White Paper and from the Minister's Speech. In his speech—I think it is also stated in the White Paper—the Minister puts the elements of the plan and policy in this order: first, long-term reconstruction; second, readiness for action in sudden emergency. It seems to me that that is an inversion of the true order in the urgency of events in which we find ourselves to-day. I would say that the immediate needs must come first. We have been assured, of course, that there is nothing in the nature of a ten years' rule, or any years' rule; and, indeed, there could not be. But if there is a plan, how is it being translated into readiness for action? In a recent debate, the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, said:
I would agree that we have to constitute an Air Force that is a safeguard against war, and I would agree in putting it in the first place.
Is that being done? It cannot hurt security to give the programme of the squadrons which are proposed. As has been pointed out already, the United States not only do this but have actually said what will be the number of first-line aircraft—and, indeed, of the aircraft in reserve—and how many aircraft will be ready this year. I see from this morning's paper that Congress—I think I am right—have actually put the programme into a Bill.
§ This security argument is being carried beyond all reason. I regret that the First Lord is not here to-day and I regret still more the reason; but I must say that the answer which he gave to my noble and gallant friend Lord Trenchard the other day carried less conviction than a speech front the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, usually carries in the House. This security 606 business is becoming a bogy; we meet it at every turn. Apparently, it is now contrary to the interests of national security to disclose the stocks of Algerian wine which the Government hold! I am sure there is not a more corrupt or inferior reason which restrains disclosure of these matters—nothing but the highest sense of security would justify that! In spite of Defence and Estimates debates, we know very little. We know that the fighter squadrons are having their second flight restored, and are being equipped with jet aircraft. We do not know the planned number of squadrons, or the planned first-line strength, and we are told nothing about our other anti-aircraft defences. But, important as the fighters are, the bombers are still more important. No one has challenged the assertion that the most effective deterrent, and the first line of defence, is to be able immediately to bomb the enemy bases and sources of supply in his own territory. General Vandenberg, the Chief of the Air Staff in the United States, has just emphasised this, and I am sure that the Government will not for a moment deny it.
§ This then is the most important element in readiness for action in sudden emergency. If the Government will not, or feel that they cannot, give the planned numbers, can they at least give two assurances: first, that the bomber force is now, or will soon be, adequate in numbers; and, secondly, pending delivery of newer bombers, are bomber crews and ground staff being fully exercised? In this offensive defensive force of the Royal Air Force, which the Leader of the House has put first, and in the essential anti-submarine preparations (both Navy and Air), which I think are certainly a good second, there should be no question of relative priority—the priority should be absolute. It should not be a competing priority with our economic needs, a question of what we can afford. That preparation, that readiness in the air and against the submarine, is an insurance which we cannot afford to do without. Therefore, I would ask, so far as the Navy is concerned: Are we concentrating on the anti-submarine measures, and how far are we ready for action in a sudden emergency?
§ I will say only one thing about the Army, which I will leave to other noble Lords who are able to speak with more authority. I am sure that in the plan of Western Union we must provide our 607 quota in the Army as well as in the air. This is so obvious that I should hesitate to say it but for a very odd remark of the Secretary of State for War. Obviously, the capacity to meet aggression does not depend upon the number of men recruited; it depends upon the fighting formations equipped and ready for action. Your Lordships may well say: "Why do you waste time in saying something as obvious as that?" I say it because the Secretary of State in another place, challenged on this issue, invited the House to make the extraordinary mathematical calculation of dividing the total number of enlisted men in the Army by the total number it would take to make a Division. I am sure that that curious calculation will not be recommended to your Lordships to-day as a way of assessing our readiness on the military plane. But the plan governs everything; men and material should fit into the plan.
§ Let me come back to the air. The Secretary of State for Air has admitted that the number of men taken into the Air Force is more than should be necessary (I quote his exact words) because of the "very great unbalance of trades and lack of experience." Experienced men who might have stayed in the Air Force if the conditions had been better have gone. To secure and retain the right men—and this applies to the Army as well as to the Air Force—three things are necessary: pay, housing and a career in the Service and after. I entirely agree with Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Portal, that there is only one effective test about pay, and it is: Coupled with housing and career, does it produce results? So far as housing is concerned, the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Portal, made the suggestion of prefabricated houses. I understand that that is being taken up, and I do not know why it was not thought of long ago.
§ With drive and energy, can there be the least doubt that 20,000 or 30,000 married quarters, prefabricated or others, can easily be provided on these Air Force stations within a year if the Government have the will and the drive to do it? It may be said that this would cost money, but it is the insurance premium that we just cannot afford not to pay. I have no doubt whatever that although the 608 cost will increase, yet there will be countervailing economies, because waste will be eliminated. You can eliminate waste by a plan which gives the proper priorities. You can eliminate waste—certainly this is true of the Air Force, and I expect it is true of the other Services—if you have fewer and better men. I have no doubt at all about that. Efficient maintenance means economic maintenance—which means a very considerable economy.
In material it looks rather as if we were fitting the plan to the material, rather than the material to the plan. I should like to quote to your Lordships a sentence of the Minister of Defence, because it is a statement of policy of great importance. According to Column 547 of Hansard on March 3 last the Minister said:
In general I can assure the House that we have adequate quantities of most important items of equipment which would have taken a long time to manufacture and shortage of which in the last war was the main brake on the speed with which we were able to deploy our fighting power.
I find that sentence difficult to reconcile with what I hear of the state of readiness of our fighting formations. Take, for example, the anti-aircraft regiments. Are they really equipped and ready to-day to deploy their fighting power? If they are not, then that sentence is either misleading, or it does not mean anything. Is the radar there for the fighters? That is more necessary than ever when there are two things to be considered—I speak subject to correction, but I think I am right. First, the speed of the jet fighter is always increasing, so it is all the more important that immediate notice shall be received and immediate action taken; and with the great speed of the jet fighter there also goes the question of the great consumption of the fuel which it burns. All the more important, then, that every moment the fighter is in the air should be an effective moment in combat. And to both these things radar is the key. I therefore ask this question: Are we all right in radar, and in all its necessary implications and applications for the deployment of our fighting power?
The Minister of Defence went on to say this:
It would be false policy to commit ourselves to the production of weapons or vehicles in cases where types of markedly improved performance may perhaps be developed in the near future.
But, my Lords, in readiness—what has been called "instant readiness" in an emergency—the time factor is all-important. I am as keen as anyone on research and development—I think I have proved it in the past—but research and development is no substitute for immediate equipment. Let us be very careful that in this matter we do not make the better the enemy of the good. Surely our policy should be to order sufficient new equipment, and to keep ready an adequate war potential.
§ That leads me to ask this question: How ready is the war potential? I asked this apropos of the shadow factories during the last Air debate we had in this House, and I received a quick answer. I make no complaint of it. It seemed almost as if a sort of bush telephone from the Box came to the Minister, who, so instructed, gave me the answer "Yes." He was characteristically good enough to write to me afterwards, giving me considerable amplification and modification of that short statement. I am sure that to-day the Government will come with some modification to the House and tell us just where we stand in the potential readiness of the shadow factories.
I turn to another aspect. The overall plan must embrace the Commonwealth and Empire. In a remarkable article which recently appeared in The Times. Dr. Evatt, the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, wrote this:
With the geographical balance of the Commonwealth changing, the British Commonwealth will no longer reflect a predominantly European outlook. Conversely, the experience of two World Wars shows that the non-European partners are equally unable to withdraw and isolate themselves from European affairs.
That is perfectly true, and I hope that to-day the Government will be able to tell us a little more of the overall plan in which we can all play our part. It is not merely that we cannot carry the whole load; indeed, none of the Commonwealth countries would wish us to. But here again—because if war comes it comes suddenly and universally—the time factor is all-important. The Government can certainly tell us something about the Colonies and the progress which has been made in the past year, and what are their present plans. In the last war, the African Colonies, East
and West, made a prodigious contribution to our war effort. In West Africa, General Giffard raised an army of something like 200,000 troops, including no fewer than 40,000 trained "tradesmen." Thousands of men, also, were recruited into an auxiliary air force. East Africa, in proportion to her population, matched that achievement. This result was based on regiments with long and honourable traditions, and I ask specifically: What has been done to mobilise these men in active formations and in reserves? They can be invaluable.
§ There is another aspect: local security is very important. The technique of using the fifth column to promote false rumours and discontent, and to undermine security, is well known and universally employed. It is a risk which must be anticipated and prevented. Indeed, everywhere where trouble can be made, or economic or defence progress obstructed, Communist fifth columns will be at work. That is part of the cold war—or the tepid war: I do not know what is the particular degree of heat to be attached to it. But that great attention should be paid to it, I have no doubt. The Government are, rightly, eliminating Communists from secret work. The Communists themselves make no secret about what are their aims. We have had the recent announcements by Communist leaders in France and Italy; and a little later, in a rather minor key, our local Communists have sung the same tune.
§ We discussed this matter here recently during a debate on the activities of the Communist missions and societies. The Government, while I think they accepted the facts, arrived, at a rather negative conclusion. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, who answered Lord Vansittart to-day, was also a little negative. When the Government are so anxious about security that they cannot make any disclosures, I should have thought they could well be more positive in action where subversive activity is concerned. When we seek to eliminate waste in our own man-power, it would not be inappropriate to prevent the misuse of man-power by other people in this country.
§ Finally, there is one argument which I must answer, because it was an argument used by the Prime Minister in another place. The Prime Minister said 611 that a plan must have flexibility. But that is no reason for delay. As in the case of security, the flexibility argument can be greatly overdone. Flexibility may be required for two reasons. First of all, the Government might not know which of a series of alternative menaces they might have to meet. That was a real difficulty before the last war—we might have to meet Germany we might have to meet Germany and Italy, or Germany, Italy, and Japan. Just as there may be one enemy or several, so the object and the method of attack may be varied. But that unknown factor has much less force to-day. We know what we may have to meet. We know the kind of attack that we shall have to meet, and we certainly know that, if the attack comes, the offensive-defensive Air Force will immediately be required and will be all-important. I may add, and I think no one will deny this, that no instrument is so flexible as a modern air force. We know the submarine menace. We must know what are the countervailing measures that we should take. The other argument about flexibility is that we and our Allies must adjust our contributions to the common effort so as to be most effective. That is true, but I should have thought a great deal had already been done in that direction. Certainly we know, under the best hypothesis, much of the scale and character of the minimum contribution that we shall have to make. I am afraid that we are a long way from that contribution, and we should press on to reach it. I would add only one thing: that this need for flexibility has not prevented the United States from determining the size and character of their own Air Force.
§ If I have been critical—and I have been—I have tried to be constructive. Surely the Government cannot complain of anxiety and criticism where so little information is given. Only a small minority in this country are opposed to what is, and must be, our common purpose in this matter. The vast majority want to help. In defence, they want to give confidence and co-operation: but confidence depends on confidence; confidence begets confidence. Let the Government take Parliament and the country more into their confidence. They have an opportunity to do so in this debate. I beg to move for Papers.612
§ 3.15 p.m.
THE EARL OF PERTH
My Lords, it is always difficult to follow the noble Viscount who at present leads the Opposition, because he deals so exhaustively with the subject that there is not too much left for noble Lords who follow to say. But there are certain points which perhaps I may be allowed to bring out. The statement that Defence and Foreign Policy must go hand in hand has become a truism in the various debates on both subjects which have taken place in your Lordships' House; but never, in my recollection, has the union between Defence and Foreign Policy been so close and so well marked as it is to-day. We are no longer concerned solely with the defence of this Island and of the various parts of the Commonwealth and the Colonial Empire. The whole problem of our defence has been changed through the formation of the Western European Union, and above all by the proposed North Atlantic Treaty. I find it difficult to express the happiness which I feel as regards the probable early conclusion of that Treaty. It is something for which some of us have longed for many years. I hope that soon it will be an accomplished fact. I presume that we shall have an opportunity of debating its terms, but I should like to-day to emphasise my appreciation of the part played by Mr. Bevin in the negotiations, and to congratulate His Majesty's Government most warmly upon the achievement, which I believe is a long step towards world peace.
The coming into force of that Treaty will greatly change, or at least will require a considerable revision of, our present defence arrangements. There have been numerous White Papers on the Air, Army, and Naval Estimates. There have been debates in both Houses, and also on Defence generally. I have read all those Papers with some care. There is one point above all that stands out in my mind, and that is the absolute necessity of an efficient and powerful Air Force capable of giving this country and its friends complete air supremacy should any one of them be subject to aggression. Here, I want to make two assumptions. I hope that the first will receive the assent of all your Lordships. It is that war is not inevitable. The second assumption, which may not be so generally approved, is that war is not probable— 613 that is to say, that the odds against a Third World War are high. I myself do not think that the recent declarations made by the Communist leaders in various countries are, as was suggested in a debate the other day, a signal of imminent danger. Those declarations were carefully conditioned; indeed, they were conditioned to such an extent that they meant little, if anything at all. Their substance was that if Russian troops were engaged in chasing an aggressor into French, Italian or other territory, the French and Italian Communists would side with the Russian troops. But aggression against Russia, or an invasion of Russian territory, is utterly opposed to all the ideas of the North Atlantic Treaty and of the Western European Union, the purposes of which are purely peaceful and defensive. It is for that reason that, in my view, the Communist statements to which I have referred are without sense and were put out only in an endeavour to create confusion. Surely if they had been intended as a signal for danger, they would never have been allowed to be issued.
Even if both those assumptions are true, we still cannot afford to take risks. The stakes are far too high and far too great. It is only prudent to insure against fire; and it is essential that we should insure against the possibilities of world conflagration. This brings me back to the Royal Air Force, which is the main part of the premium which we are called upon to pay for that insurance. My Lords, can any of us doubt, that if war should break out, even after the conclusion of the North Atlantic Treaty, the whole of the available air resources of the aggressor would be hurled against this country in an endeavour to destroy our cities, our factories and our war potential? Such an attack we should be able not only to resist but to counter offensively.
In the debate on the Royal Air Force which took place in November last, I rather thought that some of the advocates of air superiority overstated their case. The noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, said he was convinced that with a fully equipped and manned air force of the kind he had described the Allies could stop and disorganise any attempted advance across the Continent. I thought that was putting his case a little too 614 high. But the matter was put in its right perspective by the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Portal, in the very effective speech that he made on March 2. He said then that a Western Air Force equipped with all the weapons that Western science could give it must have a great deterrent effect, provided, in particular, that there were land forces also engaged in opposition, able to profit by air supremacy and ready for immediate counter-attack. My Lords, those seem to me wise words coming from a great strategist.
That brings me to our land Forces. There are a great number of duties thrown upon them. There is the occupation of Germany, the occupation of Austria and of Trieste, the provision of the necessary forces for Greece and for garrison duties in overseas territories, including responsibilities such as are imposed upon us in the Middle East and Malaya. They must also be able to deal efficiently with the possible landing of parachute troops in this country, and must make a proper contribution to the defence of Western Union. All that is a very large task, but I think it is one within our powers—particularly if the other members of the Commonwealth would undertake, as I hope they may, larger responsibility in certain areas for garrison duties and for police purposes.
I have not so far mentioned the Royal Navy, and I must apologise to noble Lords connected with the Senior Service. But, my Lords, there can be no doubt that, owing to air development, the tasks of the Navy have greatly altered. If there should be another war, I do not suppose we shall ever see conflicts between heavily armoured ships such as took place in the last two wars; nor, indeed, do I think that our commerce is likely to be threatened by surface vessels. The Navy, of course, would have to do what it has done so admirably in the past—namely, keep the seas free for the sending of troops, equipment and goods to any particular point in the world, and ensure the free flow to this country of essential foodstuffs and raw materials. Clearly, the chief menace will be the submarine. I noticed that in another place, during the debate on the Naval Estimates, considerable doubt was expressed as to whether adequate provision was being made against the newer type of submarine. 615 The answer of the Government spokesman was not altogether satisfactory, but surely, in this domain, we can expect help from the navies of our friends. We shall not have to fight the submarine menace alone and unaided. The North Atlantic Treaty, while it imposes upon us obligations which I feel sure we shall never shirk, will also confer upon us considerable advantages which I feel equally sure will be readily given.
If my analysis is more or less correct it is with that kind of background that we have to look at the Statement on Defence. I have read that Paper very carefully, and I fear that it has not created a particularly favourable impression on my mind. I will leave the question of man-power to the end, but in the Statement there does not seem to be anything to indicate an overriding plan for the three Forces combined; rather is there a little story about each of the Services separately. Nor do I find any reference to priorities. Yet surely we cannot expect to develop all three Services equally and simultaneously. With regard to the Air Force—and I want to emphasise the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton—the White Paper, and the replies of the Government spokesmen in debates, seem to show that too much attention is being paid to the fact that conditions in aircraft construction are constantly changing, and to the argument that it is better to delay new construction because otherwise the new craft may become out of date. Of course the point is a good one, but it must not be carried to excess, otherwise our air forces will be fighting with more or less obsolete aircraft. I hope that the noble Lord who is to reply will be able to give us some reassurance on that point. I notice from the White Paper that aircraft are being supplied to France, Belgium and to Holland. I trust that the quantities going there now, or which will go there now and in the future, are not negligible.
I come next to the question of manpower. We on these Benches hold that conscription, however necessary it may be in times of emergency—and we accept it in such times—is a bad thing in time of peace, and should be abolished as quickly as possible. I think the Government, if I may judge from paragraph 38 of the White Paper, hold a rather similar view. I acknowledge that to-day we are not 616 living in normal peace conditions, and that for the present the National Service Acts are essential to our defence. But there is a further reason why we are more than doubtful about the continuance of these Acts for any considerable length of time. That is that we do not believe that through those Acts we really have the effective forces that are required. I would ask those who have far more experience on such matters than I have whether, under the present technical conditions, eighteen months' training in the R.A.F. or in the Army can produce a really effective airman or soldier. At the end of the eighteen months, just when the man is becoming properly efficient, he has to leave, or he does leave, and then a new man has to be trained—a routine which obviously imposes tremendous strain on the Regular forces which have to do that training.
I do not mention the Royal Navy in this connection, because I gather that that Service has already more or less abandoned conscription. There is, to my mind, a very serious "unbalance" as regards the figures of Regular and National Service men in the Army and in the Royal Air Force. I have been trying to work out some of the figures, and so far as I can calculate, I find that the approximate figures for March, 1950, are: Army Regulars, 177,000 men, with 18,000 women in the Women's Royal Army Corps; National Service men, 196,000. So that over 50 per cent. of the strength is from National Service. For the R.A.F., the figures are: 127,000 Regulars and 86,000 National Service. If these figures are approximately correct, and I believe that they are, we must find a remedy for this lack of balance; and our primary effort in this respect should be devoted to the Royal Air Force. Recruiting must be stimulated.
I am not going to take part in the controversy between publicity as a stimulant to such recruiting and the danger of valuable information being given to our potential enemies. I wish I could feel quite certain, however, that the refusal of the Government to give information was based solely on the reasons which they have stated and was not due to the possibility that further information might reveal serious deficiencies, in spite of the very large sums which have been voted for defence purposes. But, however this 617 may be, there are other methods of attracting volunteers to the R.A.F. I am not sure that the conditions of pay in the Royal Air Force are by any means equal to those ruling in industry. Not only should the rates for service in the Air Force be equivalent to those ruling in industry but they should be slightly higher, because the men are exposed to hardships and to dangers. Surely, we shall all agree that service in the R.A.F. and in the Army must once again be made an attractive career, and methods must be found to provide good civilian employment at the end of it. I realise, of course, that that will cost money. I also realise that we must not jeopardise our economic recovery. But surely defence should come before amenities. As the noble Lord, Lord Blackford, pointed out in a speech which he made on the Public Works (Festival of Britain) Bill in your Lordships' House the other day, there seems always to be money to spend on such matters as the proposed Festival, on arterial road making, and even on film production. Yet His Majesty's Government seem unable to find money to improve conditions of service in the Royal Air Force. Surely, in present conditions it would be wise to do so.
I assure His Majesty's Government that I have not dealt with this question and these problems of national defence in any Party spirit. These problems clearly transcend Parties, and I am delighted to think that there are to be conversations between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in another place on the whole subject. Our only desire is to promote the safety of the country and of the commonwealth. If the Government can give us an assurance that the task of maintaining our existing forces from day to day in a condition in which they could resist aggression, if suddenly and unexpectedly called upon to do so (these are the words of the White Paper), is being satisfactorily accomplished, I for one shall be greatly relieved.
§ 3.35 p.m.
THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY
My Lords, in speaking to-day, I shall try not to do so as a naval officer only. Among all the plaudits which have greeted the publication of the terms of the North Atlantic Pact, I think there is one point which should not be overlooked. Although all the indications are 618 "set fair" for the future, I think it as well to bear in mind that the conclusion of this Pact accentuates the danger of the moment. The terms of the Pact, and the wording of the American White Paper which introduced the Pact to the American people, can leave no doubt in the mind of any of us—and, indeed, they do not pretend to do so—as to against whom this alliance is directed. All the signatories, of course, have only one desire—to take some steps to preserve peace in the future. But that will not prevent the Russians representing to their people and to the people of the satellite nations that the terms of the Pact are directedly aimed at Russia, and they will be, able to make a very plausible case in preparing their people for a war of aggression.
From the debates on Defence and the Estimates for the Services which have taken place in this House and in another place, it has become clear that at the present moment we are in no way ready for war. And, apparently, we do not consider war as a possible danger in the immediate future. I say this because during the debate on the Air Estimates in another place, when such a possibility was mentioned by one honourable Member, the Government spokesman said:I must say that June, July or even midsummer, is a date entirely without significance to our planners and, so far as we know, to any one else's planners.I draw your Lordships' attention to those words "so far as we know." How far do the Government know? Will they tell us if they do consider there is no chance of war? Will they not let the nation know, so that the pressure of some of the anxiety which weighs so heavily on a great many people at the present time may be relieved? If there is no danger, then for goodness' sake let them say so. I say relieve some of the anxiety because they certainly will not succeed in allaying all of it. I venture to express the opinion that although it may suit the political planners to ignore the dangers in the immediate future, I do not think any of the military planners can have a "song in their hearts" when they contemplate the three or four months which lie immediately ahead of us.
The United States Government certainly appear to hold a different view 619 from that of our own Government, for in the same White Paper is this sentence:The weakened condition in which the nations of Europe find themselves has afforded a golden opportunity to a new aggressor.Mark that, my Lords—"a golden opportunity." I believe myself to be right in saying that the Government do not know very much about what is going on behind the Iron Curtain, either as regards what is being thought or what is being done there. Only a short time ago rumours were rife that 2,000,000 Russian troops were concentrated within easy reach of Germany's Eastern frontier. Rumour, as we know, is always exaggerated. Suppose in this case it was exaggerated ten times. If only one tenth of it were true and one tenth of that number of Russian troops were within easy reach of Germany's Eastern frontier, it would still be a very formidable threat. And that rumour has never been denied.
We hear of Russia having 250 modern submarines: they will take a considerable amount of looking after. What is still more serious is the fact that they have a great air force which includes types of aircraft of all descriptions, amongst them, I understand, some of the latest British machines. We know that many German officers volunteered for or were pressed into the Russian military services; therefore, their efficiency will not have degenerated. The noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, speaking here the other day, said that, in his view, Stalin contemplates war. Then he produced several cogent arguments in support of his belief. He added that Stalin would make war if it was safe. Everyone knows that in war nothing can be "safe" in the true meaning of that word. Some risks must be taken and I think we can take "safe," as used in connection with war, to refer to a moment when the risk is as small as it is ever likely to be.
In present day conditions, if war is contemplated, why should we expect the Russians and their satellite nations to do nothing but sit still until the Benelux Powers are ready for battle? In spite of recent experiences there are still people who look upon the outbreak of war as the lining up of two football teams, with the referee standing looking at his watch, ready to blow the whistle, some very important person kicking off and then the game is on. The only one ready to kick 620 off is that very important player, Joe Stalin, the well-known international. He may do so in his own time, when his own team are lined up and our team has not left the pavilion or, at best, are only struggling into position. Certainly our team will be inferior numerically and a scratch lot. At the present moment there is very good reason why Russia should do nothing to indicate that she may be contemplating war. Her Northern coasts are frostbound, her harbours are iced over and her roads and aerodromes are under several feet of snow. In May the thaw starts, by the middle of May it will be well on the way, and in June military movements will be possible. She enjoys a common frontier with Norway, and she has command of the Baltic. A Russian advance from the North Cape to the Mediterranean is not an impossibility and this advance will not have to worry about a potential enemy in the rear, as Hitler had to do.
Nor must such an advance be taken as an affair of marching columns. It will take the form of great numbers of airborne troops, landed all over the country she wishes to enter, to hold bridges and all key points and permit armoured columns to come in; while in the air they will be covered by a powerful air force, from which possible reinforcements may come. Remembering Pearl Harbour, can any one say that an attack of that sort is an impossibility? And who will stand the brunt of it? Ourselves and the French, and many will be the calls for help from our Allies. I noticed in The Times recently the views of the Swedish Commander-in-Chief, who stated that the Scandinavian nations would require bomber assistance from other countries as well as direct help from foreign troops. That is the first cuckoo of the season! Where are all these to come from? We know well where they will be expected to come from but will they he found? I fear not.
In the Daily Telegraph on March 17 their well informed military correspondent wrote as follows:A recent French estimate puts the force required to hold the line of the Rhine at sixty Divisions, whereas the debate in the House of Commons revealed that there are little over a dozen Divisions available to hold it.Is that a right estimate? I do not place much value myself on the line of the Rhine and (although I see the noble and gallant 621 Field Marshal who directs the line sitting in the House) I think that the battle will have passed over our heads before we can get troops anywhere near the line. I am not overlooking the important fact that this time the United States will be in the war with us from the start, but geography has to be considered even in these days. Her armies cannot be mobilised, put aboard ship, landed in Europe and be ready for action in anything under six weeks. And much may happen in six weeks. Hitler started his advance in 1940 on May 10, and within six weeks Dunkirk was an event of the past, France was suing for peace and the Germans were in control on the Norwegian and French Atlantic coasts.
In considering this subject certain imponderables have to be taken into consideration. For instance, what value can we ascribe to the fact that whereas the German Army cut its way through the French Army in a matter of days, the same German Army had (in the words of Mr. Churchill) "its guts torn out" by the Russians? The Russian forces will be moving West under the leaders who led them to victory from Moscow to Berlin. Its opponents will be a scratch lot with different values and who, if we are to judge by previous experience—the history of 1702, for example—will have uppermost in their minds the safety of their own country and not the common object. Is it not possible that Stalin, taking all those things and many others into his consideration, will say, "If you really contemplate war, it is now or never!" and take the plunge? We must hope that his decision will be "Never," but I do not think we ought to be unprepared for "Now."
I hope that I shall be told that all my fears are groundless and there is no chance of the Russians entering into war in the near future. But if there should be any outbreak of war, cannot you hear in advance the cries for help that will come from all quarters? Our only hope of immediate protection from the advance of the Russians is the Royal Air Force, but that has been allowed to melt away until it will be quite impossible for it to fulfil all the demands that will inevitably be made upon it. That it would be reinforced as quickly as possible by the United States Air Force goes without saying, and I hope that we shall hear 622 from some of the distinguished Air Marshals who will speak later that we have everything ready for the reception of large reinforcements and that all the necessary aerodromes and base requirements are available, so that these planes will have only to touch down, refuel and go into action. Before closing I should like to say that I have not forgotten what I am sure has been in many minds—namely, the atomic bomb. I do not propose to go into that question now, except to say that there are many reasons why it may not be used at all, at any rate not in the early stages of the war. We certainly stand to lose much more than we should gain by its employment.
I am very much afraid that if war comes once again we shall prove the truth of Lord Baldwin's words, that "a democracy is always two years behind a dictatorship." Why should that be? I will venture to tell the House my view. On two occasions in this century we have had to overturn our system of government after a war has started. Only the other day we heard it suggested that, as more and more money was needed for defence, some should be taken from the Navy and given to the Air Force. There might be something to be said for that in certain conditions—for instance, if we were absolutely bankrupt. Then I think I would support it, to enable the best use to be made of our finances. But there is plenty of money, as the noble Earl, Lord Perth, has pointed out. Why is it not forthcoming for the Services? The Government do not want to take any money from the many schemes they have under way now, because they do not want to create discontent in their own ranks; and the Opposition are not prepared to clamour for money to be taken from those schemes because they know that the old cry will be raised, that the Tories want to cut down food. Therefore, there is a deadlock. One bright idea is to take money from the Navy and give it to the Air Force. Personally, I think that one way to get the money we want and to get prepared is to have now a Government of the best brains and the best men we can get, to go to the nation and ask them to make sacrifices to bring the country into a state of defence and keep it there. We need a Government who will lead us for a couple of years and take us out of our financial and military difficulties.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT PORTAL OF HUNGERFORD
My Lords, as the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, was developing the argument in the early part of his speech, I found that what he was saying was in substance so nearly what I had intended to say to your Lordships, that I was tempted to take the easy and popular course of tearing up my notes and saying nothing at all. On second thoughts, however, I came to the conclusion that, provided a thing is right, it does not matter if it is said twice. I will therefore try to endorse, and if possible develop a little, on a rather more detailed and professional level, though not on such a high level, the noble Viscount's remarks about the need for an overall plan.
Before I do that, I will, with your Lordships' permission, refer briefly to my speech on March 2, to which the noble Earl, Lord Perth, was kind enough to refer. I did not then mean to convey that the deterrent effect of a powerful air force on a would-be aggressor was dependent on the existence of land forces in the probable theatre of war. What I intended to say—and I think the noble Earl will find that I did say it—was that the power of an air force to stop movement of an army depended upon the existence of an opposing army to take advantage of the air superiority. I think that is perhaps a little relevent to the very serious points made in the brilliant and delightful speech to which your Lordships have just listened.
Reverting to the question of the plan, I would say first of all that I fully recognise that the task of those responsible for defence planning to-day is quite different from, and far more difficult than, the one in which I had the honour to take part in the late war. Therefore, I emphatically disclaim both the right and intention to criticise the distinguished officers who are to-day entrusted with the formulation of defence plans. I very much hope that nothing I may say will be regarded by them as unhelpful. With our present organisation, the first requirement in any plan, as the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton said, is that it should be an entity. All concerned in making it must have the same object, and must be working on the same hypothesis. To have a different set of hypotheses evolved and worked upon by 624 each of the three Service Departments must lead to wastefulness and inefficiency. Three separate plans, one from each Service, do not make a combined plan; and, what is more, three independent plans, when added together, are practically certain to exceed the resources in money that are available. What is the result? The result is an arbitrary chopping off of part of this "sandwich" of plans, with disastrous effects in gaps that are not filled.
In practice, the achievement of a really unified plan depends mainly on two things: first, on the proper control of the Chiefs of Staff machinery by the Government; and, secondly, on the proper working of the Chiefs of Staff machinery within itself. The first step—which I presume has long since been taken—is for the Government to obtain from the Chiefs of Staff, and then to approve or modify, a combined appreciation of the situation that we and our Allies have to meet, and of the rôle of the British forces in that situation. This must be expected to be a fairly long process, involving a great deal of discussion at different stages between Ministers and their Service advisers. But it is a process which must be brought to an end, for better or for worse, before a plan can be approved, far less put into execution. There are always good reasons for waiting a bit longer before sealing a plan; but I submit that there are far better and stronger reasons for having something, however imperfect, upon which all the Staffs can get to work. And it is now nearly four years since the end of the war. Another thing which is essential for those who have to plan, if they are to do it efficiently, is that the Government should give an indication to them of the amount of money that is to be made available, not for one year but for a period of years. I do not say that His Majesty's Government can commit themselves publicly to anything beyond the year to come. But I do say most emphatically that it is not fair to the officers who have to plan if they may at any time either have their money reduced, or may be suddenly given a large extra sum for the spending of which they have made no plans.
The next process is for the Chiefs of Staff to work out a combined plan for the development of the three Services within the resources which have been indicated to them. At the risk of boring 625 your Lordships with something you already know very well, I would remind the House that a Chief of Staff has two distinct responsibilities. He has his individual responsibility as the professional head of his own Service, and also the collective responsibility with his two colleagues, for the three Services together. So each Chief of Staff has not only the right but, indeed, the duty to concern himself with the proposals of his colleagues in relation to their own Service. Therefore, an agreement by the Chiefs of Staff is not just a matter of good luck or good will it is a definite duty, and one which is of the utmost importance to the country.
However, to expect that the three Chiefs of Staff in their corporate capacity will agree 100 per cent. at the first attempt is going rather beyond what is likely to happen in practice. Nevertheless, it is difficult to overestimate the importance of agreement being reached, if possible without, but if necessary with, the intervention of ministerial authority. Fundamental and irreconcilable differences of opinion will, in the end, undermine the authority and prestige of the Chiefs of Staff. I maintain that that authority and prestige form one of the best practical safeguards in this country for the adequacy of our defence measures.
Moreover, if there is disagreement which is not reconciled, it also leads to a dangerous state of affairs. What must happen if there is no properly concerted advice? The Ministry of Defence have no other course open to them than to attempt with their own staff to formulate a plan, and to allocate resources. We have had a clear and recent instance of the dangers of that system, for it is no other than the system of the O.K.W. in the German forces, which, as we now know, served them so badly in the late war. If we were forced by irreconcilable disagreement into having that sort of system, then we shall not only be completely divorcing the responsibility for planning from the responsibility for execution—which is anathema to anyone trained in military affairs—but we shall be sowing the seeds of perpetual friction between the Services themselves and the Ministry of Defence. It may be—and I hope it is—that I am only pushing at an open door. It may be that the Govern 626 ment have long ago received a completely agreed appreciation, and have approved a long-term plan based upon it. If so, I think we are very fortunate, and perhaps even more fortunate in that respect than our American friends who, as everyone knows, have recently appointed that great apostle of true co-operation, General Eisenhower, to help in the unification of American defence policy.
If we have already achieved this unity, and have expressed it in an overall plan, then that is a matter for great relief and sincere congratulations to all concerned. But it would be greatly to the advantage of the country if that could be clearly stated by the Government this afternoon. The alternatives are not attractive: either inefficiency and wastefulness, or else a drastic reform of the whole system of defence, by which I mean the merging of the three Services into one, at any rate in the higher ranks. As your Lordships may well know, there are distinguished and able advocates of such a change, but I believe its advantages would be largely illusory and that it would create as many difficulties as it would remove. At any rate, it could not reach full efficiency for a period of years, and anyone who listened to the speech of the noble Earl who just sat down would agree that it is not in the near future that we can afford any loss of efficiency. I therefore endorse most strongly what has already been said about the need for a proper co-ordinated plan. I have outlined the process by which such a plan may be obtained, and I trust that we shall be told that such a long-term plan does exist, by whatever means it was achieved, and is in force to-day.
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT CALDECOTE
My Lords, it is only after great hesitation that I am taking part to-day in a debate upon such an important subject, and I can only hope for a good measure of the kindly tolerance that your Lordships show for those speaking in this House for the first time. I am in the same position as the noble Viscount who has just spoken, in that I find that many of the points I was going to make were covered by the noble Viscount who initiated the debate.
It seems to me that in this matter of defence we are in grave danger of falling between two stools. We are spending 627 large sums of money on forces which are at present clearly inadequate to carry out their most important functions of maintaining the peace and protecting our British way of life. Some people say—one often hears it said nowadays—that another war must be prevented at all costs. If we take those words literally, it seems to me that we might just as well scrap all our Armed Forces, because in those circumstances we would never use them in battle and therefore we would do much better to use in some better way all the money and effort involved. That, surely, is the logical outcome of the policy of "peace at any price." But plainly that is not the policy of His Majesty's Government. In another place the Minister of Defence said recently:When British interests are threatened we take it for granted that they will be defended.I think we are all in agreement with that policy. It requires adequate Armed Forces, however, not at some distant date but now, or as soon as is humanly possible. I fear we are following an intermediate policy of providing Forces as large as we comfortably can without being required to make any other sacrifices. Surely that policy will lead neither to economy nor to security; it can lead us only to the brink of an abyss again, as it has done in the past.
The fact is that no one in his senses today wants war, but the time may come—I believe it will come—when we shall have to face two alternatives and choose between them. The first might be to accept the challenge of war, and the second, to give way on some vital point which would lead inevitably to conditions of life in this country (such as a police State) which most of us would consider worse than war itself. If, when that time comes, we are weak, then the chances of armed conflict, with all the horrors of modern war, will be magnified in direct proportion to our weakness. Those are the facts, and no amount of talk of not being able to afford Armed Forces will alter them. We would consider that a man who did not renew his fire insurance policy because he was hard up had failed dismally in his duty to his family; and so I submit that it is now the duty of the Government to decide what Forces are necessary for us to take our full part, in 628 association of others of like mind, in maintaining the peace.
When we have decided to make what provision is necessary at whatever cost so as to get them in the shortest possible time, no staff work or planning, no pact or organisation can be effective unless the men and equipment are there to back them up. The Government have earned the thanks of millions of people for their part in forging the Atlantic Pact, but I am quite sure that His Majesty's Government cannot be satisfied with the strength of the Armed Forces that we have available to back it. The danger is that the facts will not be faced, because if they are the measures necessary to improve our defences will mean some delay in this country reaching that high standard of living which we all want to see. Therefore these measures will be unpopular. Once before, in the early 'thirties, the Government found themselves in that position, and the Government of that day have since been severely criticised for not disclosing to the people of the country the fact that rearmament was necessary in time to prevent war. Once more I doubt whether the people of this country appreciate the truth and the serious possibilities of the present situation. With great respect, I submit that it is the duty of His Majesty's Government to tell the whole truth to the people of the country, however unpleasant it may be.
There are two other aspects of the present situation which had parallels in the inter-war years. The first has been mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, but I should like to mention it again. That is the reluctance to decide on new designs, and to put them into production, just because something better is always just "round the corner." We owe our survival to the fact that that Policy was not pushed to extremes with the Hurricane and the Spitfire; but we suffered many defeats and casualties because it was pushed too far, so far as anti-aircraft guns and tanks were concerned, in equipment for the Army. The tendency is to go on working on better and better equipment, producing perhaps a few prototypes, and then when the time comes put the latest model into production. But that involves long delays while jigs and tools are being produced and production difficulties over 629 come. It seems to me that we are in danger of repeating that mistake. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, has already quoted the relevant passage from the speech of the Minister of Defence, and I will not bother your Lordships with it again; but it seems to me a very dangerous policy, and I beg the Government to ensure that it is not carried too far this time, particularly as the need to-day is to be strong to maintain peace and not to make arrangements so that we can build up our Forces after the start of an armed conflict.
There is another side to that question, a slightly different aspect of it, in the Navy—though I hesitate to speak about this in the presence of so many distinguished naval officers. As has been mentioned already in another place, the speed of the modern submarine has greatly increased; I have heard it said that its under-water speed is likely to be in excess of twenty knots for short periods. That means that our antisubmarine vessels will be defeated; it means also that to provide new vessels to replace those that are out-of-date will be a great deal more difficult than it was in the last war, when the anti-submarine fleet was built up very quickly by means of the corvette, a little ship that was easy to produce, with comparatively simple machinery. But a ship of the destroyer type has far more complicated machinery, and will take a great deal longer to produce. I think probably there would be a bottleneck in the supply of new turbine equipment for such ships if they were required in very large numbers.
The other point I would mention is this. In 1935 we were making progress towards recovery from the effects of depression, and the Government of the day were loth to do anything to retard that recovery. Consequently, the rearmament programme was not pushed forward so fast as it would otherwise have been. The parallel to-day is obvious; and it is my earnest hope that we do not again fall into that mistake, for in the long run it costs us dearly. Two great disasters can overtake us. The first is war, and the second is the loss of our freedom. The best insurance against both is strength, cost what it may. Si vis pacem, para bellum: those words have never been truer in their history than they are today. There is no danger of this country plunging into a war to acquire new terri 630 tories or new wealth. We realise far too clearly the stupidity of modern war. But circumstances may come when the alternative to war is worse than war itself, and we shall be compelled to take up arms again to protect our homes from the secret police, and to protect our way of life for our children.
I realise that we can never be satisfied with our defences, and that a balance has to be struck between economic and armed strength and between comfort and security. But I fear it is being struck at a level at which we shall be quite unable to fulfil our commitments, and thus the effectiveness of the Pacts into which we have entered to maintain peace will be jeopardised. The only solution is a full and frank statement by His Majesty's Government, giving the country the true facts of the situation—a statement giving the requirements of our defences to make them adequate, and also a statement of the sacrifices that will be required in order to do that. This is not a Party matter; failure in this respect will mean the eclipse, not of one Party but of all Parties. I am sure that if the true facts are put before the country the people will respond, as they have always done in the past. To prevent any misunderstanding, may I repeat what I most sincerely believe? It is that this country will never go to war nor threaten war unless we are convinced that our way of life is in danger. A strong Britain threatens no one, and it is only by being strong that we can play our full part in maintaining peace and giving opportunity for the differences which now divide the world to be settled.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
My Lords, I am sure you will wish me, on your behalf, to congratulate the noble Viscount who has just spoken on one of the most remarkable maiden speeches that have been made in this House. I feel that the noble Viscount, who can put his views in broad outline and vet fill in just the amount of detail that helps to make clear that outline, will be of great value in debates on this subject—one of the most difficult subjects which the noble Viscount could have chosen on which to make his maiden speech.
I have listened with interest to the speeches this afternoon, and I feel that up to now the debate has been on a high 631 level. I agree with everything that the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, said. In particular I want to single out two points before I come to some points which I myself wish to make. I feel that we should have a clear answer on these. One of the greatest things that we had in this country in the sphere of defence before the war was the shadow factory—for which Lord Swinton was largely responsible. I ask the Government to say whether these shadow factories are in as good condition to-day as, say, in 1937 and 1938. The other point upon which I wish to support the noble Viscount is the one concerning manpower in the Colonies. Can we, or can we not, count on our Colonies for that man-power to help to increase our strength? I have seen no indication anywhere of the position in this matter.
I listened with great interest to the noble and gallant Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery. I cannot attempt to follow him all the way, but I think his warning was long overdue. The matter is much more urgent than some people think. I turn now to the speech made by the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Portal. I can only say that at times during his speech I felt that I was living again in 1920, over a quarter of a century ago. I could not help feeling that he was speaking as well as some of the great pillars of State in those days spoke on that very subject, on the question of Chiefs of Staffs and how they should work, and on the question of what the Government should do and what they cannot do. The noble and gallant Viscount ended up one part of his speech, if I did not misunderstand him, with a remark to the effect that, if the Government have not come to a decision, owing to disagreements, or owing to the Minister of Defence or the Government not playing their part in providing the machinery for carrying on a war, it is still necessary for a plan to be made. But I will refer to that later.
I am rather diffident about speaking this afternoon, in view of the fact that noble Lords of the last war have been speaking, whereas I am of a war of nearly a quarter of a century ago. I hope that your Lordships will forgive me for doing so, however, because I am one of those who believe that continuous pressure on 632 the Government, whatever Party or Coalition are in office, is the only thing that makes for progress. Sometimes, in the old days, it took us nine years to get a decision, but we got it by continuous pressure every year and by never letting up. Therefore, I should like to say that I agree with all that has been said from these Benches on the subject of secrecy, both in this debate and in the debate on March 2.
On that occasion the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Portal, said:To be fair, I see two sides of this question of secrecy.I do, too, if I may agree with him on that. The noble Viscount went on to say:On the whole, I think that secrecy will lose us more than it will gain us, particularly in general confidence and morale.I will not repeat all that was said upon this question, by myself and by other noble Lords, but what beats me is that the Government themselves are to-day doing in diplomacy the exact opposite of what they say is essential in these Service matters—and I welcome it. They welcome the Opposition's support, they welcome open discussions and debates on the Atlantic Pact, the Western European Union; and they welcome discussions in the United Nations. I entirely approve their open diplomacy, and all that they have achieved by it. What an enormous advantage are the Atlantic Pact and Western European Union in the prevention of war! This advantage has been achieved by open discussion, and not by having secret treaties, as there were in the old days. I agree with what the Government are doing. Let us have a little more such openness on the subject of Defence.
I am glad that the Government have given up the idea of the secret treaty. Surely these Pacts and Treaties will now have to be known to all, so that they can be effective, and so that all parties to those Pacts will feel that their partners in them are doing their fair share. I can see nothing more dangerous than that the idea should grow up abroad that, when other countries publish what they are doing and their strength, we do not, although other Governments may know what our Government are doing. The public in America, for instance, may ask, "What is England or the British Empire doing to-day?" It may also be said in the countries of Western Union that we 633 have not an overall plan; that we have not given a plan. The little advantage that the enemy may derive from such information is far outweighed by the advantages that its publication would give in confidence to its own country and to the Services, so that they know what are the overall plans, or at least the broad outlines of such plans.
I should like to refer again to the speech of the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Portal, and particularly his statement that, if there was no co-ordinated plan, an arbitrary plan would have to be made. Twice in the past I have given your Lordships the numbers of squadrons that I considered necessary. I should like to repeat the size of the Air force that I consider necessary, as the Government, in the interests of security, have not shown any signs of giving their views on it. This suggestion of mine may be criticised. However little competent I am, having left the Service so long ago, to say what the Force should be, I am going, once again, to suggest a plan. It may be "pulled to pieces," but an official statement of such a plan would give confidence to a large number of people in the Services in this country.
As I have said before, the total Air Force of the Empire and America should be in the neighbourhood of 550 squadrons. Of that total I think the share to be provided from the British Commonwealth should be about one-third—that is to say, 180 to 220 squadrons, which I feel should be made up of the following types of planes and numbers of squadrons: 40 to 50 squadrons of long-range bombers, Bomber Command; 40 to 50 squadrons of short-range fighters, Fighter Command; 40 to 50 squadrons of long-range fighters, Fighter Command; 30 to 40 squadrons of coastal patrol planes to watch the submarine menace; and 50 to 60 squadrons of transport machines. Let me say quite frankly that I have put down this plan in order to permit everybody to see what one who may be completely out of date considers the approximate size of the Air Force that we in the British Commonwealth and Colonies should maintain to-day as our share. Broadly speaking, is that Force which I have suggested too much for the British Commonwealth and Colonies? Is it beyond our capacity to build up and maintain such a Force? I doubt whether 634 it is impossible, or anywhere near impossible, particularly when we are so ably supported by our American Allies, who may provide more titan double that number. With such a joint Force as I have suggested we could, I hope, prevent the possibility of any war.
Before I leave the Air Force and come to the Army and Navy, there is one small detail that I should like to mention—it will be the only detail I shall mention this afternoon. It is to do with the Auxiliary Air Force. That Force comprised twenty squadrons before the last war; it has twenty squadrons to-day. It should be doubled at least. The Auxiliary Air Force will be in the front line of aircraft. It can be, and ought to be, doubled. It is economical in manpower and is second to none in spirit. It would do a tremendous amount of good in showing that the country is in earnest.
As this is a Defence debate, it includes all three Services, and I am now going to say a word about the Navy. I say frankly that I do not want to see any battleships, big aircraft carriers or cruisers. As I said on February 23, I fully agree with what the noble and gallant Earl, Lord Cork, said in his speech about a month ago—namely, that if war comes it will not be one of the great naval wars that we have had in the past. To-day, I think, that fact is more generally admitted. In the Admiralty statement issued with the Naval Estimates in February of this year, there was given the numbers of the various ships in commission. The statement also said that, in addition to those in commission, there were a considerable number of vessels of the Fleet Train, with attendant small craft. I want to see a strong Navy of this sort. I would like to see a Fleet, in conjunction with that of our American Allies, comprising at least 1,000 small, fast frigates, and jet-propelled boats, the fastest obtainable, capable of 30 to 40 knots or more, heavily armed with the most up-to-date equipment, to watch the submarine menace and the outlets from the Baltic and the Black Sea. They could also watch the north coast of Norway, and even go out from there. That force could be formed and made ready, in conjunction with our American Allies. In a large measure it would comprise 635 the force that is absolutely necessary if we are to combat any submarines that come out from Russia. The Home Fleet could still be called the Home Fleet; others of these vessels could perhaps be called the anti-submarine Fleet; and the Mediterranean Fleet could still be given that name. The three branches would be known to all those men who wished to join the Royal Navy.
Now I will turn for a moment to the Army. Although I have put the Army last in my remarks, I look upon it as being second, after the squadrons of the air, in order of priority in our Defence Forces. I would give the Air Force first priority, the Army second, and the Navy third. Surely we, the British Commonwealth, could provide in the neighbourhood of five or six highly mechanised divisions, and five or six infantry divisions largely formed from Colonial troops from overseas, both for protection and consolidation purposes. From these we could form the expeditionary force of the future—and let it be known as an Expeditionary Force, or some such name. We in the British Commonwealth and Colonies could provide such a force, and could see that the mechanised divisions were highly trained to enplane and deplane from aeroplanes and gliders of the Transport Command. Undoubtedly, some of the divisions would have to be maintained in Europe and some overseas. Our Allies in the Western Union would be in a position to maintain their share of the joint Army in their own countries—which is a great advantage—and would not have to go outside, as America and the British Empire have to do. Some of our divisions could be maintained on a war basis, and some might be maintained on nearly a war basis. The Army might be called the Western Union Force, or the Overseas Force. It is not for His Majesty's Government to say what the Dominions will do, I know, but it is the duty of all the Dominions and of England to see what is necessary for the overall plan of the British Commonwealth as a whole in order to defend ourselves.
My Lords, I fear that the statement I have made will be of no value to the Government. But I have made it feeling, after many years spent in the Service, that that is the sort of Force that would give confidence. A Force formed on the lines I have indicated is something 636 approximating to our needs to-day. If the Government could get up and state that, for the purposes of our defence, we will have this sort of Force—giving the number of small ships in the Navy, the number of divisions in the Army, and the number of squadrons of the different types in the Air Force, indicating what should be our share, with our American Allies, and that of the smaller Powers—that would have as much effect as the Atlantic Pact and the Pacific Pact in preventing war, and their statement will really be a part of those two Pacts. It is time such a statement was made in broad outline.
Many men in England would be inspired to join the Services if they saw clearly what the problem was, and how they could help in solving it; if they saw that the Government fully realised the seriousness of the problem confronting them, and intended to face it with ordered and organised force. The Government would then find that they would get many more men joining the Services, and much less criticism than if men are asked or told to join a force of which nothing is known. A man will not join an army or a navy or an air force; but he will join the Royal Air Force. Some men might want to get into Fighter, Coastal or, perhaps, Bomber Command; or they might want to get into the Home Fleet or the Mediterranean Fleet. If they join the Army they may wish to join the 51st Highland Division, at whose dinner the noble Lord, Field Marshal Montgomery attended the other night. I earnestly ask His Majesty's Government to reconsider this question. I hope the noble Lord who is to respond for the Government will seriously consider this question of giving more information about the overall plan, and about the broad outline of the composition of the Navy, the Army and the Air Force.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ LORD WINSTER
My Lords, may I be allowed from these back Benches to join my congratulations to those so felicitously tendered to the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote? I am sure all your Lordships feel rejoiced that in future in these defence debates we shall have the advantage of a powerful intellect seized of great powers of lucid and clear exposition.
637 My Lords, I listened with great attention to the speech of the noble Viscount who introduced this Motion and, as always, he gave your Lordships many ideas and many views of great value over which to ponder. But will he forgive me if I say that once or twice he over-ate the pudding, a process which, although it provides an extremely tasty dish is apt to produce a little biliousness later? I felt that he was saying to the House that a critical year had passed during which the Government had done nothing; that they had been idle in matters of rearmament; that they had no sense of urgency in this matter at all, and that the Prime Minister was neglecting his first and prime duties in regard to defence and rearmament.
I am quite certain that the facts would not bear out those contentions, and while all have sinned and fallen short of the quarry (and I suppose no Government ever perform 100 per cent. of their duties), yet I am certain that this Government have had a sense of urgency; that they have not been idle during the past year, and that the Prime Minister of all men is most fully alive and most fully seized of the urgency of the matters which we are debating this afternoon. I noticed what was said in regard to security. A great deal has been said in various debates on that subject. But I think what those remarks very largely convey is the sense of disappointment and annoyance which all Oppositions feel because while in opposition they do not get all the information which is at their disposal when they form the Government. But in matters of security it is the Government which must decide, and the Government must take responsibility for what information they decide to give to Parliament and to the public. That is the responsibility of the Government.
This is the seventh debate on defence to which I have listened since I returned to this country—four in another place and three in this House. I think they form the most noteworthy series of debates on this subject. They are debates which very well repay study, and for my part four broad conclusions have emerged from them. The first is that, leaving out the small fry who can never refrain from making small Party points, I think the responsible speakers have clearly expressed a feeling of great 638 anxiety and of great perturbation far transcending any Party political sense; and I think also it has emerged that the Government most fully recognise the seriousness of the present situation, and are doing their best, with a sense of urgency, to meet that situation.
A great deal has been said in these debates about the necessity for a plan. The Government have been repeatedly asked if they have a plan, and they have been asked to reveal what their plan is, if they have one. If we consider this matter impartially, I think we must admit that the assertion that the Government have no plan cannot be maintained. The plan may be imperfect and the state of its execution may not be as fully advanced as we should like. But to say that there is no plan at all is surely a complete exaggeration. At the present moment, we are extremely fortunate in having a Chiefs of Staffs Committee which is, I imagine, as strong a committee of its kind as we have ever had the good fortune to possess. The Minister of Defence enjoys the benefit of the advice of most competent and able officers. Lord Montgomery is continually meeting foreign colleagues, representatives of foreign States, upon matters which concern defence. Are we to believe that all those officers meet with no plan at all and that they are perfectly content to have no plan of any sort? Is it to be thought that the leader says to them: "I am sorry to have to tell you there is no plan"? Of course, that contention cannot be sustained for one moment. There are plans in existence. What we have to remember—and what, perhaps, is not always remembered—is that these plans are not our sole responsibility. We work at the present moment with a great many other nations, and the plans must take possibilities relating to them and their views into account. We shall not again have to take the whole brunt of what may come. We have taken the brunt in two wars, with the result that this happy breed of Islanders has now been reduced to a ration of eight pennyworth of meat a week. We are not going to have to take the full brunt in any new war which may come, and the plans are not our sole affair but a joint responsibility with many other nations.
We have to consider the possible contingency of a third war, and we have to prepare accordingly. I believe we are 639 so preparing, and I believe that such preparation affords the best, if not the only, hope of avoiding the menace. There is no doubt about who forces these preparations upon us. Soviet Russia is the only begetter of the Atlantic Pact, and the basis of that Pact is the atom bomb. Russia is the sole potential enemy. It is true that other nations might, conceivably, unite with her, but no other nation than Russia could launch a war. It is with Russia that we have to reckon. The noble Earl, Lord Cork, has pointed out certain limiting factors of geography in regard to Russia. With your Lordships' permission, I would like to try to enlarge a little upon that matter and deal with certain broad naval considerations arising out of the Russian menace. The strength of the Russian navy is problematical. I have certain figures, with which I will not weary your Lordships, but I think it would be fair to say that, so far as the surface ships of the Russian Navy are concerned, if the noble Viscount, Lord Cunningham of Hyndhope, were at sea in a cruiser, he could have a very good afternoon's sport with the whole Russian fleet.
When we come to the question of submarines, however, there is another story to be told. There are many estimates of the strength of the Russian submarine fleet. They vary very widely indeed and I do not feel in a position to venture upon giving any estimate of what the strength of that fleet may be, or upon saying whether they have many modern submarines, or whether they have blueprints, and so on, of modern submarines. I do not think the evidence I have is sufficient for me to give any estimates. But there are other factors in naval warfare besides numbers of ships. That, perhaps, is especially true where submarines are concerned. Russia has thousands of miles of coast line, but they give her only two ways into the North Atlantic, where, alone, her submarines could operate effectively against Allied traffic. Of those two exits, the Arctic ports (I speak with diffidence in the presence of experts) are largely unsuitable. The Baltic exit certainly does not give entirely free access to the North Sea in face of a vigilant and efficient opponent.
Again, we have to remember that Russia has never shown any great 640 aptitude for sea war. She has a poor record of fighting at sea. The Russo-Japanese war was a lamentable story so far as she was concerned. No doubt our fellow travellers will say that Communism has changed all that, but, on the whole, I think our fellow travellers are far more "Marx Brothers" than "Marx." In my view, if the Russian Navy has any possibilities they certainly reside in the submarine. But submarine warfare is a very expert and exacting business. It calls for a remarkable type of officer, and for a high degree of training and efficiency on the part of the crews. Amongst other things, we know that on land and in the air Russians are notoriously bad at maintenance—a very important matter in submarine warfare. In the last war, Russian submarines had a very good chance indeed against German iron ore ships in the Baltic. They failed to take it. It is true that one submarine commander did become a Hero of the Soviet Union for torpedoing the "Tirpitz." That ship was ultimately discovered not to have a scratch upon her, and the officer should have had the Order of Ananias First Class. The record is not impressive. Against the motley and uncertain collection of ships of which Russia disposes, the America Navy to-day is the largest in the world, although during the war it was six times as large as it is to-day. They have come down from twenty-five battleships to one active battleship; from 1,168 ships of all types to 277, and from 102 carriers to 38. But, even with this enormous reduction, the American Navy is to-day the largest Navy in the world.
May I at this point call your Lordships' attention to a certain statement contained in the Finletter Report with which, I am sure, many of your Lordships are well acquainted? It is interesting to note that Congress has financially endorsed the findings of the Finletter Report. And may I also point out to those who attack our Government, suggesting that they have no plan, and who rather imply that everything is very good in America by comparison, that the Finletter Report says that integrated strategic plans for the defence of the country are only in process of being accomplished? So evidently we are not the only country where plans are perhaps laying a little behind desire. How does this Report envisage a future war? It says that the future rôle of the Navy will differ from that of the past. 641 No enemy surface fleet exists, so no surface battle can take place. No surface fleet capable of giving a surface battle will exist within the next ten years. But the Report says that a Navy is still necessary. I feel that may disappoint some of the speakers to whom we have listened to-day.
The noble Viscount who has just spoken neatly relegated the Navy to third place among the Armed Forces. However, the Finletter Report says that a Navy is still necessary, although its mission and equipment are altered. The Report says that the cause of the change is air power. The carrier has become the major ship, and the battleship has become of secondary importance. The noble Viscount, Lord Portal, speaking in the House the other day, even robbed us of the carrier. He told us he thought the carrier would be a source of considerable anxiety to admirals in the future. The interesting part of the Report, however, is that it discounts the Russian Navy for at least another ten years. At the same time, the Report contemplates maintaining over 5,000 aircraft for the naval carriers, and another 5,000 in reserve for those carriers.
So the question arises, in view of what the Report says about the Russian Navy, against what contingency are these 11,000 aircraft to be maintained? It is true that America, while very rich in internal resources, lacks many materials essential to war production, and that these have to be transported from overseas; but I cannot understand how Russia could possibly operate submarines in the Indian Ocean or South Atlantic, and I should have thought that the danger from Russian submarines would not be very great, even in central Atlantic—yet these are the waters through which America's vital overseas supply lines run. The Report calls for over 11,000 aircraft—over 5,000 front-line aircraft for carriers, and another 5,000 in support. We have to look at American plans in the light of the future strategic situation. In the light of that situation, I cannot see why 11,000 aircraft should be required for the naval purposes outlined in the Report. If Russia is the sole potential enemy, and if sea warfare is confined within such narrow geographical limits, and if (as I think) she could be held in check by non-naval measures, it is clear 642 that American naval preparations more than suffice to deal single-handed with any naval menace.
Surely the question our Government have to consider is what is the position of our own Fleet if it is to be able to meet our private and particular needs and, at the same time, furnish our proper contingent to our Allies? If American naval strength is so overwhelmingly preponderant for the purpose in hand, we have to consider in that light what our own naval strength must be. For all purposes other than aggression, the British and American Fleets are one. At the present moment we are very poor; our financial resources are strained; and we cannot afford to keep any cats which do not catch mice. When the demands for defence and rearmament are so heavy and onerous, surely our national requirements have to be considered in the light of the facts which I have endeavoured to put before your Lordships. Surely the essential thing is to establish a proper relationship between prospective needs, gauged with reasonable accuracy and with a safety factor.
I have endeavoured to put before your Lordships these facts in regard to our sole potential enemy. I think that in regard to that enemy the facts force us to the conclusion that overwhelming strength exists against the Russian menace at sea and, therefore, the provision for our own naval requirements must be judged in that light. It is in that light that I believe the Government are considering these requirements. These are days when we are forced to cut, and cut very closely indeed, according to our cloth. Those who are calling for large additions of strength to our Armed Forces must at any rate deal with the facts with regard to the additions which may be necessary for our Navy.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Portal, made the remark at the commencement of his speech that a right thing can stand being said twice. I submit that the right thing can stand being said three times, if it is a matter as important as the question we are pressing upon the Government today—the question of obtaining some greater reassurance with regard to our defence position than the House and the rest of the country have hitherto enjoyed. The noble Lord, Lord Winster, who has 643 just spoken in support of the Government's attitude, said he felt that last year had been one of achievement, that the Government had not been idle, that he was sure the Government had a sense of urgency and that it was the Opposition's reaction to the lack of information that really prompted our pressure on the Government.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
I think the reply to that is that, as history shows, no Government and no nation has ever hidden strength. A people who are strong never take steps to hide it. Hitler used to boast of his strength. I believe that if we continue to know nothing more than the Government have felt hitherto able to say, then the Government lay themselves open to the charge that their defence policy must seem to those not in the secrets of the Government service to be one of improvisation, variation and inconstancy, wavering according to changing situations. Our air defence has been acknowledged by the Government as the first priority in our defence needs. I do not think there is any conflict between the Government and any side of your Lordships' House on that fact. But no one can deny—I do not think even the Minister can deny—that there is grave anxiety felt throughout the country about the readiness and efficiency of our air weapon. This cannot be allayed by words or by White Papers, and it demands some greater amount of factual information than the Government have felt hitherto able to give to the nation.
What we do know is not reassuring. Those of your Lordships who have read the debates in another place (I summarise them very briefly) know that the Regular force is gravely short of personnel in all the technical trades; that our auxiliary air force is undermanned, except for pilots; and that jet bombers are not yet in production. In another place the Secretary of State for Air took some comfort in declaring that a jet bomber was being produced. We know that it takes five to seven years from the time an aeroplane is first conceived on the drawing board before it gets into a squadron. I do not think there is any great reassurance in that remark of the Secretary of State for Air. He then said that he was doubling 644 the number of jet fighters this year. That means nothing. If you double nought, you still have nought; if you double one, you have only two. Unless one knows on what basis he starts his doubling, I submit that there is no reassurance in the Secretary of State's remark.
We know that the radar position is extremely unsatisfactory. It is axiomatic that a modern air force depends for its efficiency upon radar. As the speed of aircraft increases, the use of radar for detection, controlled interception and navigation becomes absolutely essential. Day fighters are useless without ground radar, and bombers are of little use unless they can carry their airborne radar. The home radar stations have been allowed to disintegrate As many of your Lordships know, the sites were abandoned at the end of the war, much of the equipment has gone to waste, and to-day, the radar chain round the country is not even on a proper care and maintenance basis. This information comes to those who are interested in defence from those who are thoroughly disturbed. But one also has personal knowledge of the state of affairs. In 1945 we had certain mobile radar stations which we located in Holland and Belgium in order to detect the V/'s. If anything is certain, it is that this country will be subjected to attack by pilotless missiles, if the tragedy of war again arises. Therefore, one would have thought that the necessary provisions to combat this form of attack would have continued from the end of the war until now. At the present time these mobile units no longer exist, and my information is that no replacements have yet been ordered.
As regards man-power for radar, in 1948 an appeal was launched by the Government for 30,000 volunteers to help man the fighter control units. At the beginning of this year (I shall be glad if the noble Lord can tell me I am wrong, but I would not give this figure unless I had good reason for being afraid I was right) only a handful of that 30,000 men—some few hundreds only—had so far come forward. Within the Regular Royal Air Force the number of men who can technically line up ground or airborne radar is alarmingly small. On the staff of the Chief Signals Officer, Middle East, there is perhaps one qualified radar machanic at the present time. 645 I make these statements to substantiate my remark that there is a large measure of anxiety, both within and without defence circles.
If the air is the first priority—as the Government have acknowledged it is—surely, from that fact should flow a number of decisions, from Cabinet level downwards, not one of which should be questioned or delayed at any lower level by any functionary. A settled policy and strong Government alone can ensure such decision being made and being carried out. So far we have had no information or indication from the Government that these consequential decisions have been taken. As my noble friend Lord Swinton said, it seems that the Government policy is one of compromise to all the competing interests, trying to give everyone something of what they want and, in so doing, satisfying none, and not expending the national resources to the best possible advantage.
THE MINISTER OF CIVIL AVIATION (LORD PAKENHAM)
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. Since he has repeated that assertion, can he give any grounds for making it?
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
Certainly. Air priority is the declared first priority of the Government, and so far we have not seen any consequential decisions of that first priority, nor have we been given any information about housing or recruitment, as I shall show in a moment. There is no need for me to tell the noble Lord of the appeals the Secretary of State for Air has to make to try to make up what he calls "the dangerous deficiency of man-power in the Royal Air Force." Surely, there is no need for me to remind the noble Lord of the words of the Secretary of State for Air (Hansard, March 15, column 1950) when he said, as regards housing, which is one of the first requirements for the priority service:While I can offer no definite prospect of immediate improvements on a large scale, I must remind the House of the statement made by my right honourable friend the Minister of Defence in the debate on 3rd March, when he explained that the provision of housing for the Services is as much a part of the national housing programme as for any other section of the community.…In fact, he puts the housing for the Services on a level with the requirements for 646 the rest of the community. We submit that the requirements in housing for the men of the priority Service should have a priority over all others.
Am I to take it that the noble Lord is saying that too much is being given to the Army, and that some of that should be taken away from the Army and given to the Air Force?
§ LORD BALFOUR OF ENCHRYE
If the noble Lord will allow me to continue and make my points, I will come to that. If the noble Lord would give us a plan, he would then be able to refute my allegations, my accusations or my quotations from his own colleague, the Minister, with much greater force than by getting up and interrupting me just before I deal with the point. I will continue on this sense of urgency, which the noble Lord, Lord Winster, said the Government have, and which the noble Lord who is to reply will no doubt say the Government have. Housing, I. repeat, is an absolute need for the priority Service. This is what the Secretary of State for Air said:As regards pre-fabricated houses, I have been giving that my personal consideration. I am very much attracted to the idea of helping to solve the problem by the construction of these pre-fabricated married quarters, and I can say that the matter is receiving urgent consideration in the Department at this time.Pre-fabricated houses have been built in this country for the last four or five years. It does not seem exactly an example of urgency if, in the year 1919, the Secretary of State says that consideration is being given to it in the Department concerned. If I may say so, the noble Lord is on a bad wicket in trying to defend the sense of urgency of the Government and in endeavouring to make out that I am unfair when I say that the decisions flowing from that first priority do not appear to us to have materialised.
Again, I do not think it is any good the Government saying that conditions in the Services are comparable with those of civil life and should satisfy everyone, and that recruiting should therefore be successful. It may be that on paper these decisions do satisfy, but in practice we are not getting the men, and that seems to me to be the acid test as to the success or otherwise of the conditions which the Government have put forward for life in the Services. If the present 647 pay and allowances for technical trades in the Air Force, in the mechanised Forces of the Army and (if the Navy have them) in the Navy as well, do not attract sufficient Regular engagement men of the right quality, then we must upgrade conditions for those essential men until we obtain them. This may mean a modification of the principle of uniformity of conditions for the three Services, which has up to now always ruled, with strong Treasury support. We may have to get away from that principle in order to obtain the necessary manpower for these Services. I do not suggest in any way that money should be taken from the Navy and given to the Air Force, or taken from the Army and given to the Air Force. What I do suggest is that if our national resources are not great enough to allow of our requirements to march, as it were, in line abreast, we have to line them up in column, in priority; and the first priority is the Air Force requirement of technical tradesmen. At the present time we are not getting them.
Is intervention permitted now, or is the noble Lord insisting on a degree of indulgence which, I am glad to say, is never accorded to myself and other speakers from this Bench, and which we do not usually accord to other noble Lords? Now that the vow of silence has been removed, I would like to ask where this extra money is to come from. Does the noble Lord mean that more money has to come from the country, or should it come from the Army Vote, or the Navy Vote?
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
I am not saying that it should come from the Army Vote or the Navy Vote. I think it will come from cutting down some of the extravagancies in administration which we see in Civil Votes. But it is inappropriate to deal with that matter in any detail to-day. What I am trying to say is that if we cannot satisfy all the requirements for the Army, the Navy and the Air Force by increased pay and allowances, better housing and more amenities, we should, at any rate, try to implement the Government's own decision of first priority for air defence.
Now, if I may, I will turn to the White Paper as regards equipment—still con 648 tinuing these questions of air defence. Here, again, I think we can ask for some information. The White Paper tells us of the Western Union Supply Board preparation of war potential. It also tells of the review of production capacity of the five Western Union countries. The question I want to ask the Government is this: Do we understand that Western Union is relying on production units in the territories of the five countries only, or are the Supply Board preparing a war potential far outside their own geographical area? Let us remember the lessons of the last war. In 1938 and 1939 our economic preparations were based strategically upon an imaginary line which divided England from the North East coast to Portsmouth. We were told that East of the line was the danger area and no factory should be located there. West of the line we were allowed to locate industrial plants. France fell, and in twenty-four hours that policy fell, with all the South Coast, the West and the Midlands equally vulnerable. I believe that similarly production elements in any of the five Western Union countries might well be knocked out within hours of the outbreak of a war. Surely Western Union must depend upon production outside its area. Yet we are told nothing.
Next I would ask: What is the Government's attitude to the centralisation of aircraft production here in this country and in the Western Union, as against the policy of decentralisation across the Atlantic and to the Commonwealth countries? During the war, as many of your Lordships know, large industrial aircraft enterprises were built up in the Commonwealth. Trainer aircraft, combat fighters and bombers were produced in large quantities in Canada and Australia and, to a lesser extent, in other parts of the Commonwealth. Those factories still exist, and I suppose their production is now very small compared to what it was during the war. That is quite natural. But I want to ask, have we revived the possibility of expansion to larger scale production in those war-time plants, if our own resources are menaced? Have we manufactured extra sets of jigs, tools and dies for the production of our latest jet fighters and bombers, in order that we may be able to send duplicate sets of those tools to these factories outside this 649 country if war comes? Have we considered stock-piling essential raw materials in those countries, in order that those factories may be fed? Here are some of the questions which the Government could and, I believe, should answer without infringing security. I submit to your Lordships that so long as the Government do not answer such reasonable questions as I have tried to put this afternoon, and so long as they do not give us an assurance that the priority of air defence policy is being followed up by decision and action, our misgivings must continue, and so must our protests and representations to the Government until we obtain that assurance.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ EARL BEATTY
My Lords, I do not wish to enter into the discussion which has taken place between the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, and the noble Lord who has just spoken, as to who is to pay for our defences and where we are to find any extra money needed for our Defence Forces. I will merely say that if the Government have a plan, and if we do need more money, then we should give it, wherever it may have to be found. After all, all the social services in the world, and all the nationalisation of industries, will be of no value to noble Lords opposite if we do not put our Defence Forces in order and, by so doing, assist in keeping the peace.
Never before in history has the line-up between conflicting blocs of Powers and people been made more clear. What is most important is that we know now, and have known for some time, who our friends really are. This is a great step forward. On previous occasions we have been faced with two conflicting blocs of Powers, and this step forward is one which I should have thought would make the preparation of an overall plan all the simpler. I suggest, however, that the publishing of the Atlantic Pact—which I hope will be followed soon by its signing—has in fact put the 1949 Statement on Defence very largely out of date, because our foreign policy has leapt far ahead of our defence policy; and a Russian occupation of Western Europe—which would involve a re-entry into Europe, and therefore, of course, a prolonged war—would inevitably mean the end of Western civilisation as we know it. Thus, surely, the early preparedness 650 of our active Forces is more important than the creation of large reserves which could be mobilised only in a matter of weeks or months—far too late, at any rate, for modern warfare, for we shall never again be blessed with a period of "phoney war."
Furthermore, if we can promise full-scale intervention in Europe only after a delay of several months, the other nations of Western Europe may well doubt the sincerity of our desire for a realistic defence of Europa—which after all is one of the main factors of the Atlantic Pact. I think there is no doubt that much of Russia's success in the past has depended, and may well depend in the future, upon the exploitation of Europe's fear that if it suited our book or America's book we would not think twice about abandoning them if Russia decided to invade Europe. But the Brussels Treaty, and now the Atlantic Pact, are the first steps towards countering that Russian policy—which can be successfully countered only if we show that we have armed strength behind us with which to support the Pact. Therefore, from now on, I think that our immediate and prime task, together with our Allies, must be to help Europe and prevent it from being overrun, until the full and overwhelming support of American man-power and material can give us superiority. If we agree to those principles in general, then I suggest that the two first objectives in the first paragraph of this White Paper are completely in the wrong order. Perhaps I may be allowed to quote a few words:… there is the task of maintaining our existing Forces from day to day in a condition in which they could resist aggression if suddenly and unexpectedly called upon to do so.That task must surely come first, and I suggest that these points are placed in the wrong order.
The debates in another place on the Army and the Air Force cannot possibly be regarded with equanimity by either ourselves or our friends in Europe. It has been obvious for well over a year that our foreign policy has been working for just such an end as we have now achieved in the Atlantic Pact. At the same time, it has equally been obvious that the defence policy of the Minister of Defence has been an indefinite one and has lagged behind our needs at every stage. It surely is most depressing that, 651 in view of the vast sums of money that we have to spend, we can put into the field only two Divisions of soldiers with any degree of readiness; and it seems even more depressing to know that our Air Force is in such a parlous state as would appear, judging by the statements made in recent debates in both Houses. What has been disclosed in the debate on the Estimates in another place should cause real public alarm and concern. Yet, althought I travel around a good deal, I must confess that I do not believe that it does cause the concern to the public which it ought to cause.
Noble Lords opposite and members of their Party are far more eloquent and enthusiastic and energetic when talking in the country and in their constituencies about social services than when talking about defence matters. We all have a heavy responsibility. The Tory Party, I am afraid, talk a great deal more about it than the Party opposite, and perhaps we are suspect in that matter in the country. I think it behoves the supporters of the Government to make the country more conscious of its dangers, and to impart that real sense of urgency which we must have throughout the country to-day. If our foreign policy is to mean anything at all (and it must, if civilisation is to survive) then I believe we should forget the Channel and the fact that we in this country could shelter behind our position as a maritime power. We have got to be a first-line Continental power in the future.
That being the case, although I speak obviously as a naval officer, I feel that all our energies should be bent at this moment upon the Royal Air Force and upon the Army. After all, what better anti-submarine defence measure can we have than to make quite certain that we hold the Rhine? That would be a great saving to us, as we learned in the last war. I think our immediate need is to strengthen the Royal Air Force and the Army; the Navy can look after itself at this time. I feel that for the next year or two the Royal Navy, in conjunction with the United States Navy, can look after our communications in spite of the Russian submarine menace. But we must have the co-operation of the American Navy. I should like to see that co-operation translated into combined practices, and a greater standard 652 of equipment in anti-submarine warfare. I think those two points are important. I hope that the noble Lord who is to reply can assure me that these suggestions will be taken into account at an early date.
From the general, I wish only for a minute or two to deviate to the particular, on the naval side. My excuse for so doing is two-fold: first, that into paragraph 49 of the Defence White Paper, which is, after all, the basis of our discussion this afternoon, there have crept these words:Only a token provision is made for new constructionin the Royal Navy. My second reason for deviating to the particular side of the Navy is that the main danger lies in the number and effectiveness of the Russian submarines—a point which has been much discussed in Parliament recently, and also in the Press throughout the country. I believe it has stirred up a considerable amount of public interest. I do not say that the submarine menace is the only marine danger, because I can see that at the outset of any conflagration the dropping of mines by air and the laying of them by submarine, as I think the noble and gallant Earl, Lord Cork, mentioned on a previous occasion, may well prove to be a serious menace. But that is a problem with which we have to deal entirely by ourselves, whereas the question of how we are to deal with new and modern submarines is one that affects all the signatories of the Atlantic Pact—and ourselves and the United States in particular.
I said just now that, from a short-range point of view, I thought our combined Navies could maintain our sea communications. I say that because I cannot believe that more than a small proportion of the Russian submarine fleet, which has been estimated at approximately 250, can, as yet, be of the most modern type. I am sure that the majority still consists of the older types, but it is beyond the next year or two that we must now look. The Parliamentary Secretary stated in another place that we were making a prototype of two fast frigates from two destroyers. I do not feel that that is anything like sufficient, because we are only taking away from our existing anti-submarine force; we are not increasing our total 653 anti-submarine force in any shape or form In any case, those two ships are in a very experimental stage at the moment.
But there are these two factors—I do not wish to bore your Lordships by repeating it—of the "snort" and the really phenomenal underwater increase in speed of submarines, as compared with the last war. The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned an underwater speed of twenty knots, as opposed to six or seven knots. I would go further; we know that the Russians have plans in existence for a German "Type 26" submarine, which was capable of speeds of twenty-five to twenty-six knots under water. There is no secret in that. It was considered by the Government to be a secret last year, but I picked up the Saturday Evening Post, an American magazine, in the middle of the summer, and found the whole story laid out in that magazine. Those are speeds which are phenomenal compared with what we had to deal with in the last war. Those factors revolutionise submarine warfare as we know it. It can be countered only by air superiority, and by the design of new and faster types of, let me call it, a "submarine killer." We know now what we are up against in submarine warfare. We must plan now to counter it.
No doubt the Russians have many of Germany's best technicians, and many of Germany's ex-U-Boat officers and ratings. We know by experience how quickly and secretly submarines can be produced. It is for that reason that I regard with suspicion that sentence in the White Paper here that "only a token provision is made for new construction." We must evolve quickly a prototype anti-submarine vessel, and then we must get on, as soon as possible, with a steady building programme of an economic type of suitable anti-submarine vessels, Remember, that the time between design and completion is many years. Remember, also, that it takes two or more anti-submarine vessels to sink one submarine. I consider it extremely bad, too, from the point of view of the shipbuilders themselves, that we have not a steady construction programme. If we have suddenly to expand the type of vessel which I have just indicated, it is vital that shipbuilders shall have had experience over previous 654 years of how to build them. For that reason, I believe that a steady new construction programme is of great importance.
I do not believe that the Government can really distinguish between effective and ineffective spending on Defence Services, and these debates in your Lordships' House have clearly shown that up to date we have no plans. The noble Lord, Lord Winster, assured us that we had, but in fact, of course, as we all know, the Minister of Defence admitted in a debate on March 3 that he had no long-term plan; he said he had to wait to see which signatories were going to join the Atlantic Pact before he could make such a plan. So, in fact, we virtually know from him that we have not got a plan. But he knows now who are our friends, and it is time that we had a plan because I am sure that time is fast running out. If no plan is made soon, he and his Party will be condemned, not only by this country but by all nations who believe in a free way of life in the future.
§ 5.39 p.m.
My Lords, towards the end of this important debate, may I approach the subject from rather a different angle; that is, from the angle of the taxpayer, the poor patient goose, inexpert in everything except laying the golden eggs which the exerts swallow and share between them? We subscribe to the sentiments so ably expressed by the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, in his attractive maiden speech, that we must be strong, cost what it may. We agree with the first sentences of the speech of the noble Earl beside me, which were to the same effect. We are "gingered up to the boil" by the energetic and forceful speech which fell from the noble and gallant Earl, Lord Cork. But we are bothered by two thoughts: first, will our laying capacity hold out; and, secondly, are we getting full value for our eggs?
I have read or listened to every speech that has taken place in these defence debates and, as a taxpayer, it appears to me that the concensus of opinion expressed in both Houses of Parliament is that we are not getting enough value for our money. Of course, there is a great deal of difference of opinion expressed in all the speeches, but they 655 have two things in common. First, almost every speaker wants to spend more on his particular fad than is provided even in these colossal Estimates. Some want more submarine chasers; some want more jet bombers; others want more pay and married quarters for the officers and men, and so on. The second feature of all of these speeches is that hardly one speaker devotes as much as a sentence to the consideration of where the money is to come from to pay for them.
May I remind your Lordships that we are spending this year £760,000,000 on the Fighting Services—that is to say 7s. in the income tax, or the whole of the tobacco duty plus nearly the whole of the beer duty, or about three times the total receipts from the purchase tax? I do not guarantee the accuracy of these comparisons but they are near enough for purposes of illustration. But we can get one pretty accurate figure—namely, that we are spending £760,000,000 for the upkeep of 750,000 men; that is to say, every man and his equipment costs £1,000. Of course, equipment and arms vary greatly. Some men for instance, are armed and equipped with the "Vanguard" and "Duke of York," and I believe some people think that those weapons are now obsolete, too expensive, and of no use against the only potential enemy that we have to consider. However, I see two Admirals of the Fleet opposite me, and so I will get away from that subject as quickly as possible, merely pointing out that there are many other men who have hardly any arms and equipment at all because they are the ministering angels who service and supply the fighting men.
I am told that there are other people (and quite a number) who think that there are far too many of these ministering angels and far too few fighting men. For instance, in my time at the headquarters of an Infantry Brigade in peace time there were two staff officers. They were increased to four—a Signals officer and an Intelligence officer were added when war broke out. I read the other day in the Daily Telegraph, however, that now there are thirteen staff officers at the headquarters of an Infantry Brigade. We all know that war has become more complicated, but has it become all that more complicated? Again, if you walk from 656 Piccadilly Circus to the War Office you very likely meet four men of the Ordnance Corps, or of the Service Corps, or some such Corps, and probably you meet four staff officers, and then perhaps you meet a fighting man. And then you reflect that that fighting man is costing you about £9,000. I believe that to be an understatement. In any case, he ought to be respectfully saluted before passing on.
I do not want to enter into any controversy about the Services, or their efficiency or otherwise. All I want to say is that in the long run this nation cannot afford to spend £760,000,000 a year on the Armed Forces. How do we arrive at that figure of £760,000,000 a year? The gigantic Budgets that we have become accustomed to over the last several years, amounting this year probably to £3,400,000,000, and always increasing, have been financed on a rising market. Trade has been good; manufacturers have been able to sell everything immediately they have produced it; queues of people have been waiting to buy it. Stock Exchange prices have been rising, profits have been high, and consequently the receipts in taxation, both indirect and direct, have been exceedingly good and continually increasing, because of full employment and always rising wages. So, in spite of all our grumbles, we have been able to finance these gigantic Budgets, although a great many people have been trenching on their capital, while others have paid their taxes by means of successful operations on the Stock Exchange or by selling some possession. Such things as silver and secondhand clothing were, up to three years ago, fetching very high prices indeed.
But those conditions have come to an end. We have reached the peak of that state of affairs, and are going down the other side. That remark was made by my old school friend, Dr. Dalton, in a recent heart-song in which he spoke of being on the "economic watershed of the post-war world." He said that we were going downhill, but that we were going downhill to easier places and better conditions. If the present trend of economic events continues, however, that will be the very opposite of the truth. My belief (I speak with great deference in the presence of such an authority as Lord Brand, but I think anybody intimately 657 connected with finance and industry will bear me out) is that those conditions which I have described have ceased, and that the tendency hereafter, unless of course we change our ways, will be downwards. The seller's market in consumer goods has definitely stopped, and even competition is increasing. The other day a friend of mine told me that he had lost an order to Japan. Other nations are putting a ban on their imports. How can we sell our exports in increasing quantities when nations, one after the other, put a ban on their imports and will not buy from us?
The lesson I draw from all that is that the receipts from taxation will progressively decline and, as they decline, there will be a demand for economy and a cutting down of expenditure. When that happens, if the present Administration are in office (and, indeed, I think probably if any other Administration are in office) the demand will be to cut down expenditure on the Fighting Services. Personally, in this time of grave tension I am one of those in favour of spending the utmost possible amount of money on guns, provided, of course, that we get the right guns and as many as possible for the money. But I am in a minority. I fear that the majority of the nation's eyes are turned towards the butter of social services; and because butter carries votes, whereas guns carry no votes, therefore there will be an insistent demand for economy and cutting down in the expenditure on the Fighting Services.
The noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Portal of Hungerford, in his valuable speech, talked about planning; the necessity to the Chiefs of Staffs of planning, and how important it was to tell them to what figure they must plan, whether it was up or down. If I were Minister of Defence, I would say to the Chiefs of Staffs: "Get me out a plan on the assumption that next year you can spend only £700,000,000, in the year 1951–52 only £600,000,000, and in the year 1952–53 only £500,000,000, because I believe that the nation's finances at those several dates will not stand a higher expenditure than that." It goes very much against the grain for me to submit to your Lordships these observations, which are so depressing and so gloomy, but I am afraid that I take a very pessimistic view of the economic outlook if the world goes on as it is going at the 658 present time. At any rate, if I had any responsibility in the matter it is on those lines that I would prepare.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ EARL HOWE
My Lords, I will not follow the noble Lord who has just spoken into the economics of national defence, except to say that I hope that in his desire to protect us all from the rapacity of the Chancellor of the Exchequer he will direct some attention to other items of expendiarre—such, for example, as ground-nuts, civil aviation, nationalisation, and so on, all of which seem rather expensive also. But I leave that topic because I do not wish unduly to embarrass the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, who is to reply to this debate.
The noble Lord, Lord Winster, said that the Government were doing their best, and that to say that there were no plans was all wrong. The noble Lord declared that, in his belief, we were preparing. He may be perfectly right, but I wish to point out to the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, that it is no use his being angry with us. It is no use being cross with the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye when he becomes a little pertinent in his questions. The noble Lord must pardon our ignorance; but we have no opportunity of knowing any better. I ask him to be a little kind to us. Our chief complaint against Government spokesmen is that they will not tell us enough about their plans. If the Government have plans, will they please tell us something about them? We do not ask that they should tell us all about them, because probably that would not be good for us. But at least, I suggest, they could tell us as much as is told to the population on the other side of the Atlantic. Why cannot the Government take that as a guide? Let them tell us, if they have a plan, and give us some general idea regarding it, and we will readily understand their reticence where that is necessary.
The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, has put forward this afternoon a panacea in which there would be no battleships, no cruisers and no large aircraft carriers for the Navy. I could not help thinking, as I listened, about such problems as that of the Falkland Islands. Was it not the Government of Guatemala who said a little while ago that they wanted British Honduras? After all, little problems like 659 these are apt to arise, and they will have to be faced! And a submarine hunting ship is, perhaps, not the best sort of ship for transporting a battalion of troops a few hundred miles across the waters to the West Indies. I suggest that we must preserve a balance in these matters. We know that Lord Trenchard does not like battleships. But cruisers are rather essential. If we have another war forced upon us, one of the problems with which we shall have to deal will be that of the ocean raider. We all know what an enormous number of ships were required, not only in the last war but also in the war before that, to hunt down raiders which were loose on the trade routes. I think that Lord Trenchard is going a little too far when he says: "No cruisers."
A point which I particularly want to raise, however, is a far more special point than that. If another war comes—there is no reason why we should not say what we think—if we have to fight Russia at any time, it is clear that in the main it will be a submarine war. We must accept it that the submarine war will start with enemy submarines out in their positions on the trade routes. That happened last time, and it will happen again. That will put a premium on the number of ships and the types of ships which we have to hunt the submarines. It is true that some people say that you can keep submarines in by mining. You can mine the Kattegat and the Skagerack; but you have to lay those mines, and you cannot do that before "the balloon goes up." Also, when the mines are laid, the minefields have to be defended, and, if what we have heard from some noble Lords this afternoon about the state of preparedness of the Army is correct, it seems doubtful whether we should be able to defend the whole of the line from the Baltic down to the Swiss frontier. It seems that a war may start with a dash on the part of the Russian land forces to the West, and if we were likely to lay minefields across the Kattegat and the Skagerack there is no doubt that they would send sufficient forces there to make it impossible for us to defend those minefields. And they would soon be able to sweep them up.
As I say, we shall certainly have a large number of enemy submarines on the 660 trade routes in the event of another war. With what sort of ships are we going to hunt them? We have only 113 Fleet destroyers; we have thirty to forty 20-knot frigates and some forty-five Hunt class destroyers. We used these last effectively in the last war for service in "U-Boat Alley," and for fighting in the North Sea, but they have not the full endurance which is necessary to enable them to do anything more than work in near approaches to our ports and harbours. It seems to me, therefore, that in our Fleet we have not the type of ship that is really required to deal with the new type of submarine. The type of ship we used in the last war, such as the 16-knot frigate, was useful, but it is no use trying to hunt a submarine that is going to do twenty knots plus with that kind of vessel. Something much better than that is needed. In this respect, I do not believe the Americans are any better off than we are. It seems to me that what is required is a ship with Diesel engines with great radius of action, capable of an economic speed, and with supplementary jet turbines which can be turned on in a moment in order to give her colossal acceleration to thirty-five or forty knots, and to enable her to maintain that speed as long as that may be required. I hope that I shall be forgiven for putting forward this suggestion. It is not a view which I alone hold. It is held by far more important people than myself.
May I recall to the noble Lord who is to reply what happened in the case of the Tribal Class destroyers when they were laid down before the war? They were in their day the first of a quite new type of destroyer. I think I am right in saying that the Admiralty invited suggestions from the shipbuilders. I ask the Admiralty to consider inviting competitive designs from the shipbuilders for the best sort of craft for use in hunting submarines. I do not believe that at the moment we have the best sort of craft—in fact it is clear that we have not, because the Admiralty are taking two destroyers and modifying them in order to find the right type. Why not call in the shipbuilders, give them the sort of formula needed and ask them to submit designs? It seems to me that it is no use trying to hunt submarines with the Fleet type destroyer. Its turning circle is far too great, and although its endurance is better than the 661 Hunt class it is not good enough. I hope that this suggestion may receive, if it has not already received, consideration, because I believe that others far better qualified than I am to express an opinion entirely agree with the idea.
Before I sit down I should like to say one thing on the carrier question. It is no use having carriers without aircraft. I do not want to be told what particular aircraft are being carried on what particular carriers; but here again there is too much secrecy. Could not the noble Lord, or some other spokesman of the Government—the Minister of Defence, although he is in another place, would be the ideal person—tell us whether the Government have a proper "outfit" of aircraft for the carriers, and whether they are in a reasonable state of readiness? A great many people suspect that we have nothing like enough aircraft for the carriers we keep in commission, and they feel they are being "led up the garden path," when asked to give large sums for carriers and the rest. I hope your Lordships will forgive me for intruding these few remarks at this late hour, as I know your Lordships are waiting to hear the noble Lord's reply. I hope that these suggestions of mine will receive consideration.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
My Lords, when my noble friend Viscount Swinton put his Motion on the Order Paper, it seemed to me not likely that there was anything new to be said on the subject of Defence; and though I think we shall all agree that up to now this debate has been on a very high plane, I think we shall also agree that the great majority of points, certainly of those made from these Benches, have been made many times before. They are none the worse for that, because, as my noble friend Lord Trenchard said, continuous pressure is often the only way of making progress.
The one new factor in this debate is the fact that since last we debated Defence in your Lordships' House the North Atlantic Pact has been signed. To my mind that makes a very great difference to the urgency of the matters Which we have been discussing this afternoon. We have accepted this Pact. There is no dispute on this matter between any of the political Parties. Article 3 of the Pact obliges us 662 to maintain and develop our individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack. Here we are faced with the necessity of making our physical contribution to the resistance against armed attack. We are faced also with the difficulties which, as my noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery mentioned, have existed for European alliances ever since the times of the Duke of Marlborough. We are faced with the question of combined training, particularly of combined planning by the higher staffs, and perhaps even of combined operations. Without all that, our contribution to the resistance of attack will never get much further than paper.
So I come to a point which my noble friend Lord Beatty has said is new since the publication of the White Paper. Whatever might be happening to our own middle-term and long-term plans, the execution of a short-term plan to meet our obligations under the North Atlantic Pact becomes vital. As the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, said, the danger is accentuated because the Pact invites the potential enemy to take steps to forestall its effects. Therefore the sense of urgency is far greater than in any other Defence debate I can remember since the war. That was very clearly put by my noble friend Lord Caldecote. I would like to join with previous speakers in saying how greatly we appreciate his very clear and thoughtful speech and how much we hope that he will join in future in Defence debates in your Lordships' House.
Before leaving the question of the North Atlantic Pact, I would mention something about which little has been said, that is, the effect of geography on the Pact. Whatever our ideologies may be, the strategy of defence under the North Atlantic Pact will be largely determined by the unalterable facts of geography—the Channel, the rivers, the mountain ranges and the radius of aircraft. It is high time we related our strategy, not to conditions as we should like them to be, but to the facts of geography. When thinking so hard about the North Atlantic Pact, we must take care that we do not allow the other factors to escape us. Whatever the Pact may oblige us to do, we still have our commitments—the occupation forces, the Far East and the Near East. Conversely, the commitments under the North Atlantic Pact are shared by at least one other member of the Commonwealth of 663 Nations—namely, Canada—and if the strain on our man-power grows, we should take care not to neglect any possible resources which may exist in our Colonies.
The question of priority has been stressed very much by a number of speakers from these Benches and also by the noble Earl, Lord Perth. My noble friend, Lord Blackford, was also shooting on the same target when he talked about the risks of excessive expenditure. I should put the question of expenditure in a different way from my noble friend but with much the same object. My noble friend was complaining, I think very rightly, that there was not only a greater expenditure than the country could bear, but also an expenditure which was not paying dividends. I entirely agree with the latter half of that statement. The answer to excessive expenditure is not to go round and rob one Peter to pay another Paul. We must take the whole question of extravagance in expenditure for the country as a whole, Civil as well as Service Departments. Any idea that the Service Departments have a cake which must be cut up among them, irrespective of their needs, and that the Civil Departments must have another and a bigger cake, must go at once.
We have to bear in mind that, with the signing of the North Atlantic Pact, we have accepted a commitment before the world, and woe betide us if we fail to honour it in practice! Here we have a real need to get down to the question of priorities, to produce men and material for items we regard as of first priority, and to go slow or revise our plans on those things which are not essential and on which money, therefore, ought only to be spent in a lower priority. It is fairly clear from this debate what are the matters that we, on these Benches, generally speaking, regard as of first priority. They are the provision of a proper force of aircraft; the provision of air defence and all that it means technically—such as the improvement of radar—and, as the noble Lord, Lord Winster, said, the provision of a proper anti-submarine organisation. I would add a fourth priority to those mentioned by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye—namely, the proper development of the plans for shadow factories 664 and production generally to match our commitments, whatever they may be.
With those few words I am going to leave the general situation, which, indeed, has been fully covered by my noble friends, and I will say one or two words about the needs of the Army. Not a great deal has been said about the Army so far in this debate, though my noble friends have dealt fully and faithfully with the other two Services. To go back to this question of priorities, I would say that the priorities for the Army are these: first, the Army's contribution to air defence; and secondly, the re-establishment of a highly efficient force, even if a small force, of Regular formations. I use the word "formations" deliberately, because, whatever the Secretary of State for War may have said in another place, nothing will convince me that there are any formations, divisions or brigades—except, possibly, one or two small formations, not divisions—in a proper state to take the field. What counts, what we pay for, or what we ought to get if we pay (and here I think the noble Lord, Lord Blackford would agree with me) is not a large number of soldiers, airmen, or sailors, but divisions, squadrons, and ships. Those are things which should be provided with the least possible delay. This question of flexibility really means nothing until formations are properly established. Flexibility without a proper order of battle, and without complete formations, simply means no backbone; and until we have our formations we have no strategical reserve for use either for the North Atlantic Pact or for any other purpose. To my mind, those are the priorities for the Army.
I must say a word or two more about the question of security. From such experience as I have had on the General Staff, I do not believe that it is possible to conceal your order of battle in peace time. Nobody ever tried it before the war. I do not believe that they would have succeeded then, and I certainly do not believe that they are succeeding now. What you can conceal is something quite different—namely, the state of readiness and the performance of your equipment. This attempt to conceal the order of battle in peace time is leading to quite nonsensical situations; it is even going to the length of making it difficult for Territorial soldiers to ring up their drill 665 halls. That will not work. All you do is to hinder the machine and throw grit in the works. To try and conceal an order of battle in peace time, whether it is ships, squadrons or divisions, is a sheer waste of time, and only your friends come off second best.
Where, in the Army, are we to look for the immediate action to be taken to help the Army to make its contribution, in the proper order of priority, to the overall plan? I will not detain the House long, but I would like to mention three points. First of all, there is Regular recruiting. So much has been said about that matter that I think I need only mention it again without going into detail. Regular recruiting is the key to the whole thing; and the key to Regular recruiting, as I understand it, is to sit down honestly and count the cost; see what the market value is of the Regular recruit and do not offer him nine-tenths or seven-eighths of it; ascertain the cost and pay the price, even if you have to cut your coat according to the cloth and do without something else. When the Government do that—whichever Government it may be—the Regular recruits will come in; until then, they will not. When you have a state of affairs where the real wages are far less than they were when the Service pay was planned in 1946—there is no rise and fall clause—can you imagine anything that sounds more foolish? That is what happened. Meantime, this very serious run-off of Regular officers has taken place.
Would the noble Viscount mind repeating that? I would be glad to hear his argument on that point again.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
I will willingly repeat my argument. It is this. Since 1946, prices and wages in civilian life have risen. If the Government were negotiating a contract with a firm, they would of necessity put in a rise and fall clause; otherwise the firm would not accept it, as it would not be a commercial proposition. Service pay was negotiated with no rise and fall clause, and, therefore, you are expecting to obtain Regular recruits at a rate of real wages much below what the rate of real wages was when the figure was fixed in 1946. I hope I have made myself clear to the noble Lord. I will leave that point with 666 one further word—namely, that the question of pay goes with the question of housing. I will not repeat what has been clearly put by my noble friends, although, as my noble friend Lord Trenchard said, it does not matter how often you say these, things when you feel they are really important.
I would now like to deal in a few words with the position of the Territorial Army. This is important from the point of view of priority, because such a large portion of the Territorial Army is now engaged on anti-aircraft duties. Therefore, the Territorial anti-aircraft units have very high priority. I believe that, just as recruiting is the key to the problem of Regulars, so there is one key to the Territorial position—namely, premises. From what I know—and I have fairly good opportunities of knowing—a real drive to get premises would do more than almost anything else to put the Territorial Army in good heart. Therefore, we must stop using this question of purchase or hire of premises for the Territorial Army as part of a squeeze to try and keep down the prices of real estate. You can do one of two things: you can either pay the market value, or have resort to compulsory purchase, as is done in many other cases. But if the War Office do neither, there will be no Territorial premises, and no state of readiness.
I come now to the last point which I think gives ground for concern—namely, what I fear may be the likelihood of the National Service scheme being misused. I want to make my meaning about this plain. I said on the Second Reading of the National Service Bill, quite clearly (at least, I hope I did), that I supported the principle of National Service. I most certainly still support that principle. But I notice there is a great deal of outcry starting now, very undesirably, as I think, against the principle of National Service, and it will do the national effort no good. I believe the outcry emanates from three things. The first is the use of National Service to cover the shortage of Regulars, for which it was never intended to be used, and which ought to be cured by the proper method of attracting Regulars. The second cause is the varied dates of call-up. I believe the Government are straining the National Service scheme, calling everybody 667 up, and are not really directing the call-up towards its original object—namely, to meet the needs of the Services. That is doing a great deal of harm to National Service reputation, just at a time when we want to strengthen it and make it acceptable, so far as we can, to the greater number of young men who are to be called up. The third thing is the frustration felt by people when they arrive in the Services. I am talking mainly about the Army, because the Army is the greatest user of National Service men.
I want to come back to something which my noble friend Lord Blackford said, about seeing so many people not in the uniform of the marching regiments but in the uniform of the corps. I, too, have noticed that in travelling about in trains. I have a suspicion (it is unconfirmed, but it is pretty strong) that too many National Service men are being used to do menial "dog's-body" jobs which ought to be done by civilians. Put the National Service men into field units, put them into regiments and corps with fine fighting traditions, and a lot of this trouble will disappear. But if you use a lot of young soldiers to do menial jobs on Ordnance dumps, then do not be surprised if there are a good many complaints by National Service men about frustration and waste of time.
I have attempted to indicate three directions in which I believe immediate action can be taken to help the Army to make its contribution. We come near to the end of the debate. This debate has been conducted in an atmosphere of increased urgency, by reason of our commitments, which all Parties gladly accept, under the North Atlantic Pact. Therefore, I feel it is our duty on these Benches to keep up continuous pressure—but it is directed towards what we wish to be a combined effort. As the noble Lord, Lord Blackford, said, do not let this question of National Defence and our obligations under the Pact get mixed up with vote-catching, or with an assumed conflict between Defence and Social Services. We want a combined effort all round on the part of the professional Service men, as the noble Viscount, Lord Portal, said, and also on the part of all political Parties. I sincerely hope that we may be allowed to take our share in that combined effort.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
My Lords, before my noble friend replies, perhaps I should acquaint the House with an arrangement which may seem inconvenient but which is unavoidable. It has been arranged with another place that at half past six there shall be a Royal Commission to give the Royal Assent to the British North America Bill. From inquiries that I have been making lately, I am afraid that it is not now possible to interfere with that arrangement. My noble friend Lord Pakenham has generously said that he will either interrupt his speech after he has started, or begin his speech after the Royal Commission. I hope your Lordships will bear that in mind, and will overlook the inconvenience which I am afraid is unavoidable.
§ House adjourned during pleasure.
§ House resumed.