§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
My Lords, we have certainly had a most interesting debate, and one which should be of help to all those concerned with national defence. I should like to add my tribute to those which have already been paid to the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, on his maiden speech. He is obviously destined to become one of the speakers who compel a great amount of attention in this House. I should also like at the beginning to say how sorry I am to know that the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, cannot be here to-day. We all know how devoted he is to the task upon which he is engaged. Your Lordships must now suffer my own inadequate person in place of that much more 669 authoritative figure. I should also like to say how pleasant it is to see the noble Lord, Lord Winster, back again. It is particularly pleasant for me in a Defence debate to find someone from my rear who is capable of standing up to the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, and a little more than hold his own, although of course the noble Viscount has still another "go"!
Let me review the broad situation of the country. There is a great satisfaction in thinking that the foreign policy, at any rate, of our country is no matter of Party controversy at the present time. There is broad agreement regarding that because, after A, defence flows from foreign policy; and therefore we all start together. It seems to me—I hope I have not misinterpreted the general feeling—that there is general agreement about the scale of effort required. It is argued from the Benches opposite that perhaps the sums which are being devoted to national defence, and the man-power that is being used for national defence, might be better employed; broadly, however, the proposition has not been put forward, although once or twice speakers seemed to incline in that direction, that we are devoting too small a part of our national effort to national defence. So far, there is a considerable measure of harmony. After that, I am afraid, disagreement shows itself.
Without mentioning all the speakers by name—and I hope that, as the hour is somewhat late, speakers will forgive me if I fail to do them justice—perhaps I may select as the representatives of one school, the extremist school of criticism, the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye. I might choose, as the spokesmen of a more moderate school—indeed, I do not know whether one would even necessarily call them critics—the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Portal, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe; and, of course, there were other speakers who might be grouped as the House thinks right. Putting it in a round fashion, the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, says that he has no means of knowing whether we have a plan or not, but that he is quite certain that we have not. Those seem to be the two main points made by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
I said that the Government had as yet given no evidence that they had one. I am prepared to be convinced, and I hope I shall be.
The noble Viscount has gained elasticity since he opened, because I have studied his speech most carefully to-day. I should say that the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchyre, accused the Government in round terms of not having a plan. I am glad that this accusation has been withdrawn, or that my impression has been corrected, because I understood that those very consequential speakers told us that we had no plan. Now I understand that they have an open mind on the matter.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
I trust that the noble Lord is not going to deal with this merely by entertaining dialectics. I certainly did not say that. I have my actual words here, because I took some trouble in what I said in this matter, in which I was absolutely at one with the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Portal. I said: "There is still no evidence of a comprehensive overall plan." I await the evidence.
My Lords, I stand corrected, but also relieved to find that this suggestion, which I am bound to say I understood was in the minds of the noble Lords opposite, was not in their minds at all. They have an open mind as to whether there is or is not a plan. The noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Portal, made it quite plain that he had an open mind. He did not ask to know the plan. In that respect, I say that he was more moderate than the noble Viscount. He simply asked to know that there was a plan. He felt it right to be reassured on that point. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, wanted to know whether there was a plan, and also in broad outline what the plan was. Therefore, there is a difference between the two noble Lords on that point—indeed, there is no reason at all why they should agree on every matter in the world. I am bound to say that the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, very forcible and very eloquent, even for him, was a most critical speech. I do not see why I should be accused of any resentment or anger if I criticise the noble Viscount. He has criticised the Government; he has 671 very forcibly criticised the Minister of Defence and, in the most amiable spirit, I am bound to retaliate by criticising the noble Viscount himself. I do not resent criticism. After all, this is not a girls' school; this is the House of Lords. If it were a girls' school, a little "cattiness" might be introduced, I suppose; but this is a debating Chamber, perhaps the finest in the world. The noble Viscount has criticised the Minister of Defence strongly. I retaliate by criticising him equally strongly, and I am sure that he will take it in excellent part.
I must say that the impression that we drew from the speech of the noble Viscount, apart from one point to which I shall come later, was that so far as he could judge, the nation's affairs in respect of defence have been seriously mishandled during the past year. I may be under a misapprehension there. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, did not mean to convey that impression either, but I am hound to say that I obtained the impression that they thought the Government were not handling the affairs of the nation at all well. Apparently, they take the view, on no information or little information being open to them, that the nation's affairs are being seriously mishandled. That is not dialectics; it is a perfectly serious point. The noble Lords, who do not know all the details, have regarded it as a matter to be argued as to whether they should have that information. But, apart from the question whether they should have more or less information, they conclude that the nation's affairs are being badly handled in respect of defence, and that there is a sense of urgency lacking.
I submit that that charge is totally unjustified. As the noble Lord, Lord Winster, pointed out, there have been a great number of developments in the past year. There have been arrangements flowing from the Brussels Treaty, an unprecedented state of affairs in peace time in this country. There have been emergency steps welcomed by the House last September, and the extension of National Service at the end of the year. Those and many other indications bring home the fact that the Government, like the noble Viscount opposite, are fully alive to the gravity of the situation. I am not assuming that we are more alive than is the noble Viscount. I am assuming 672 that we and the noble Viscount are all equally right.
The noble and gallant Earl, Lord Cork, suggested that the Government had given it out officially that there was no danger of a war this year. He read us a passage that he claimed supported that view. I am bound to say that I do not support the view attributed to the Government by the noble Earl. The Government have never said there was no danger of a war this year.
The statement was that the Government attached no special significance—I speak from memory—to any date this year as one when the danger was likely to be maximised. He did not say there was no danger this year, or any other year. I am not trying to make a great point of this, but I would like to correct the noble Earl on that point. We are bound to admit, I am afraid, that there will be a danger this year, and for a number of years to come; and it is right to make that point of view perfectly plain. That does not mean to say, however, that the Government think that a war is probable this year or at some specified date on which all eyes are focused.
I entirely agree with the noble Earl, Lord Beatty, that we should all do as much as we can to bring home this danger to the country. That is applicable to everybody in a responsible position, and my senior colleagues have done much in that regard. But I agree that we should do still more than we have been doing to bring home the state of danger in which we live. My Lords, may I deal, though the hour is somewhat late—
I am very grateful to the noble Viscount, who is a fierce but generous critic. May I say a word about shadow factories, because the noble Viscount wanted that position made clear? The factories are, of course, still in existence, and it has been possible to keep a small number of them on aircraft or engine work. A few are used for Government storage and are maintained on a "care and maintenance" basis. In 673 the event of an emergency, they can be made available rapidly. There is also a substantial reserve of plant and machine tools that are peculiar to aircraft manufacture. In view of the great need for factory space in our production drive, it has been necessary to let the majority of the factories to engineering and other firms. Whenever possible, industries have been selected whose products would be unessential in war time, when the factories would return to aircraft production. I hope that covers that point.
A number of questions were asked about the Colonies. Perhaps the noble Viscount will allow me to communicate with him rather more fully on that, but I would say one or two words about the steps being taken in the Colonies to deal with the Communist threat. A general review of all intelligence organs has recently been undertaken, and every effort is being made by Colonial Governments to assist in the difficulties which confront their police forces. A police adviser has recently been appointed to the Colonial Office, and he is now visiting West Africa to advise on matters in relation to the police force there and in relation to internal security. He will eventually visit all Colonies. There are other arrangements that I will communicate to the noble Viscount. I would say one word about the volunteer forces—
I have not left it yet. Perhaps the noble Viscount will intervene if what I am about to say does not cover the point he has in mind. I was going to say a word about the volunteer forces in the Colonies. All the West Indian Colonies have small volunteer or Territorial units not exceeding one battalion in strength: so has Fiji. The formation of similar units, volunteer or Territorial, is proposed in the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, and British North Borneo, and forms an essential part of present proposals for the scale of Forces in the Far East. That was the only point I was going to offer to the House at the moment. I do not know whether the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, wishes to say anything on that.
§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
I would like to have definite information as to whether the West African Frontier Force, which has been doubled in size since before the war, is going back to its peacetime formation?
I would like notice of that question. I think I had better let the noble Viscount have an answer to that in writing.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
: May I intervene? I am not going to press the noble Lord for information if it is not available here, but I do not think that vital and important questions like the condition or state of our great Colonial Forces, which are vital to a defence debate, should be dealt with by private letters between individuals. If information is to be given—and I hope it will be—I think that an opportunity should be taken at Question time to make a statement or to publish a Written Answer, so that all of us have the full information.
I would suggest to the noble Viscount that perhaps the best thing would be to put down a Question. I would just mention, in addition, that the scales of the local force required both for the purpose of internal security and for the possible expansion in war are now being considered, and means of maintaining them adequately are being considered between the Colonial Office, the Treasury and the Service Departments. That is one point. I would supply the noble Viscount with other information, but I think it would be better to deal with that either by a written or an oral answer.
I come to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Blackford, which commanded the attention of all, if only because he seemed to be shooting at the target from a different point of view. The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, said he was shooting at the same target, but I think he was shooting at it from the other side, because otherwise he would have been likely to shoot down the noble Lord, Lord Blackford. I think perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Blackford, might have a private discussion afterwards with the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, because Lord Blackford asked why no one had inquired where all this money was coming from. The only noble Lord 675 who did venture to ask that was myself; and I was rebuked and severely chastised by the noble Lord opposite, and silenced for a time. That is a question that the noble Lord, Lord Blackford, might indeed raise with his noble friend.
Of course, there has been talk of priority. I am not going to say that there is no meaning in the word "priority." If we take research and development, for instance, the Air Force is getting a clear priority this year; and if we take re-equipment, the major measures in 1949 relate to aircraft and associated equipment like radar. Rapid progress is being made in the re-equipment of the Royal Air Force with jet-powered aircraft. Some hundreds of jet machines will be delivered during the year. I think the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, used the phrase "twice nought is nought," but I think he will see that he is misinformed and unduly pessimistic.
The noble Lord asked it in the form which appeared to expect the answer "Yes." But at any rate some hundreds of additional jet machines will be delivered during the year, and generally the production of other types of jet aircraft for both the Navy and the R.A.F. will begin as the progress of development permits. I would stress that there is priority of the kind that I think the House expects. But when the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, begins to talk about priority in housing, I can understand him to mean only the houses for the Army for which the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, has pleaded so long; I understood him to say that there ought to be some redistribution of priority within the Services. After all, criticism was being made of the Minister of Defence, that in some way he was not carrying out the declared policy of giving priority within the Services to the Air Force. I can only think that Lord Balfour's view was that houses should be transferred from the Army or the Navy to the Royal Air Force. In the case of housing, I am quite certain that that would be wrong.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but I made one other criticism—not in this debate 676 but in a previous debate—and that was to the effect that I had reason to doubt whether the proportion of houses being allocated to the Services as a whole, as against those allocated to the civilian population as a whole, was right. When we are certain that the Services are, in fact, getting their fair share—and we all know the special difficulties which Service families have in getting houses—then let us deal with the question of whether the houses are being shared fairly within the Services.
Surely there are two points. The first is the question of getting more houses for the Services. There, I think all of us—for we all have the welfare of the Services keenly at heart—stand shoulder to shoulder. Then there is also the question which has been raised in a sense very critical of the Minister of Defence, that in some way within the Services (and that is the only field over which he exercises complete control) he is not giving effect to this declared policy. The Minister, I would point out, just cannot order more houses for the Services and get them. I hope noble Lords will appreciate the point I am making and will, perhaps, consider it with the same care with which I consider, and shall always consider, the points which they put before the House. Indeed, if it comes to that, I have already considered some of their points. Perhaps it is right to say that we have reached the same conclusions.
I would like now to deal with another point which was raised by Lord Balfour of Inchrye and which I feel is a very pertinent point. Quite apart from this security black-out which we are discussing to-day, I think he will see that it would be very difficult to answer. He asked about production from outside the area of Western Union. It is a most important question, and it is one which is certainly in the minds of the Government. But, at the moment, for reasons which may perhaps occur to the noble Lord, it is particularly difficult to say anything concrete. It is a matter which is most relevant, but one which is very hard to discuss this evening.
Before coming to what may be called the more general aspects of this discussion, perhaps I should say a word about recruiting. I entirely agree with the noble 677 Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, that that is the root of the whole matter. If we win this particular battle, then we shall win all battles in this field—I speak, of course, of the battle to get Regular recruits. Until we do win it we shall not be able to boast a great deal. This is a matter which is quite apart from controversy and I think we are all at one in aiming at the best possible figures for Regular recruiting. At the same time, we do not want to hang our heads to an impossible extent about the recruiting position. There is no need to spread a great measure of despondency about it. I am not suggesting, of course, that the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, was attempting, or would ever attempt, to do anything of the sort. After all, the post-war figures compare favourably with the averages for the 1920's and the 1930's and with the period immediately following the First Great War. If I am correctly informed (though the total figure does not appear to be available—at any rate, it is not available to me) the figure last year was on a level with the best recorded between the wars up till 1937. The figure for 1948 was roughly the same as the one for 1937, but it would appear that it was beaten by the figure for 1938. Taking everything into account—1938, of course, was the year of Munich and we were on the eve of war—I do not think we should feel that the post-war generation, or even the post-war Government, are to be compared unfavourably with their predecessors. At the same time, we agree that the figures are not satisfactory, and that they must be improved by every means in our power.
Noble Lords have already referred, both to-day and on previous occasions, to the main features of Service life which affect recruiting, such as pay, accommodation and re-settlement after discharge. Numerous suggestions have been made of late that the pay of the Forces is inadequate, and that substantial increases are necessary in order to attract recruits and to retain men already serving. The Government do not accept this point of view. The object of the post-war increases was to bring Service rates of pay into broad equality with those long-term trends obtaining in civilian life. I realise that the figures here are, intricate, and that one can easily get involved in a long dialectical struggle regarding them. At 678 any rate, the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, seemed to me to be underestimating the improvements that have been made since 1946, so far as I could follow his argument. Without going into all the figures, from which it is not very easy to draw a definite conclusion either way, I am sure that the noble Viscount will be aware that typical increases for married men since 1946 are between 10 per cent. and 16 per cent. I feel that the suggestion which he appeared to make that pay in 1946 was fixed in such a way as not to take account of subsequent rises in the cost of living was not quite fair to what had been done.
Well, we are both on record, and what we have said can be studied in Hansard. If you think of the increases as between 10 per cent. and 16 per cent., admittedly you can select examples of different kinds—
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord again, but I feel it necessary to say that I had a certain amount to do with the preliminaries which led up to the actual announcement about pay in 1946, and it is my definite recollection that those rates were fixed in relation to the cost of living at the time in 1946, and not in relation to anticipated rises in the cost of living.
I was referring to increases since 1946. The cost of living has admittedly risen, but pay has been increased since 1946 by typical increases such as those to which I have referred—that is, by 10 per cent. to 16 per cent. The increase is as much as 16 per cent. in the case of certain categories of married men. In the case of single men the increases have not been so great. Since 1946, increases have been made to which, I suggest, the noble Viscount has not given sufficient weight.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
I am sorry, but I think they have not been made to the same extent that the cost of living has increased.
Well, as I have said, we are both on record. It is fairly certain that the very large increases which it has been suggested, in some quarters, should be introduced, would have considerable repercussions on other sectors 679 of the national economy, and the net effect would probably be a general rise in prices so that the position of the Service man would not be likely to be improved.
As regards the matter of houses for the Forces, I assure the House that the Government do recognise the importance of this subject. I think that even noble Lords who are critical of the Government will at least credit them with a measure of sanity, and no one not absolutely insane could fail to appreciate that housing is a vitally important factor in recruiting. We all know of difficulties which have been brought about by the war years, and most of us are aware that this is not a problem which can be solved by central action alone. There are various local difficulties and shortages which affect the chances of speedy construction in particular localities. Nevertheless, the Government are convinced that the provision of adequate housing is among the best ways, if it is not, in fact, the best way, of attracting recruits and retaining them in the Services. They are investigating as a matter of urgent priority what steps can be taken to speed up production of houses for the. Services. I am confident—and I hope that noble Lords will give full attention to these words—that the present unsatisfactory state of affairs will soon show improvement.
It has been suggested that one of the handicaps which beset recruiting is uncertainty about chances of re-settlement in civilian life after completion of service. I know that the noble Viscount has, very properly, laboured that point on a number of occasions, and so have other noble Lords. The Government are in complete sympathy with that point of view, and I am bound to say that in the last year a good deal of progress has been made and a good deal more foreshadowed. Among the steps which have been recommended is the proposal that a definite guarantee should be given to ex-Regulars of employment in Government or local government services or in nationalised industries—a guaranteed career for life if you join the Services as a young man. There are obvious difficulties in giving automatic preference to ex-Regulars oven other candidates for those jobs. And it is a very good thing that industry as a whole and not merely 680 the Government and the nationalised sector of industry should have the advantage of recruiting men with such excellent qualifications as training in the Service provides. We do not want to cut them off in one part of the national life. What we are trying to encourage—and we are gratified at the support we have already received—is a change of attitude towards the employment of ex-Regulars. The time has passed when such men were regarded as a liability, and it is recognised, as noble Lords know very well, that ex-Service men are an asset to the undertaking which employs them.
Noble Lords have no doubt seen in paragraph 43 of the White Paper that under the auspices of the National Joint Advisory Council a comprehensive scheme for providing openings for Regulars is being worked out with industry. Negotiations are proceeding with individual industries to ensure that adequate openings are given to men and women to enter employment appropriate to their experience and ability. In Government service a proportion of vacancies in the clerical and executive classes will be reserved for competition amongst ex-Regulars. The need for resettlement is clearly recognised and all ex-Service men and women are eligible for training under the schemes the Ministry of Labour have provided in a wide variety of skilled trades. Though I am not saying that this is the last word, by any means, all the arrangements have gone far to indicate to the intelligent Service man that his chances to obtain civilian employment are far better than ever they were before.
Now I approach what might be called the general line of criticism advanced, although I have to separate it into two strands of criticism. One is the argument that the country has not been told what the plan is, and the other is the argument that it is very doubtful whether there is a plan at all. On the question of secrecy and security I will not say very much, because this question has been threshed out in this House, and with the very few minutes open to me I doubt whether I shall be able to make a strong impression on the minds of noble Lords. It is true that before the war a certain amount of information was published, but that amount tended to decline between 1935 and 1939. The 681 noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, knows all that story much better than I do, because he played such a part in it that he will have it all in mind. Certainly it is a matter of historical fact that on the whole we were getting less information by the outbreak of the war than we had been getting a few years earlier. We are told it would be of no benefit to a potential aggressor if we gave the kind of information for which the House is asking. I do not say that noble Lords ask for an extravagant amount of information, judged by pre-war standards, but they say that a certain quantity is not being given which would be of no value to an enemy. Does anyone think that we should not benefit in a military sense if Russia published more information? I suppose it must be certain that we should obtain a considerable benefit if they did publish more than they do. Though I do not like to name a country in time of peace as a potential enemy, I think we must take it as fact that aggression can come only from one country, and we must name it. If we published more it would be hailed with glee by the Russians. I should have though that was quite incontrovertible.
§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
Surely the argument is that though the Russians would gain a little, we lose more in the balance.
I was coming to that point. The noble Viscounts, Lord Trenchard and Lord Portal, have said, as on previous occasions, that it was a question of striking a balance. I do not want to offer a personal opinion as to what that ideal balance can be. The Service advisers are those to whom the Government must go for advice, and the Government must take the final decision. I myself have no hesitation in saying that I think that, with all the facts in their possession, they would be wrong if they gave more information than they are giving now. But I appreciate that there is a loss. I am not saying that secrecy is an agreeable thing. To give one aspect: we should have better debates in your Lordships' House and still more valuable debates if more information were available. We should have better informed public discussion, and increased publicity would have some recruiting value. I am not disputing these things. But, going back to the question of balance, as one 682 side of the argument has been expressed in these debates, the House will forgive me if I try to restore the balance by saying that on all the information open to them the Government feel that they cannot give more at the present time than they are doing.
I would mention that since these debates it has become known that the Prime Minister will be holding discussions with Mr. Churchill, so that one criticism, which I think arose as a result of a misunderstanding, has been removed. It was suggested that if information could not be given to the public, the Government might at least receive the leaders of the Opposition. The Prime Minister has said that he would receive Mr. Churchill and listen to an expression of his views. It appears that there was some misunderstanding on an earlier occasion, because the Prime Minister was never in any way reluctant to receive Mr. Churchill at any time. I come to the last point, which is very substantial. It is the major criticism brought forward by noble Lords and it is clearly linked with the accusations of excessive secrecy. I cannot conceal my opinion that I thought noble Lords were arguing that the Government had no plan—
—that the Government did not appear to have a plan. Whatever the precise statement from the Opposition Benches—it is not for me to put words in other people's mouths—let us discuss in a calm fashion the question of whether you can have a plan, and, if so, what kind of plan it can be. If by the word "plan" the critics mean a complete blue-print to cover the development and deployment of our Forces for the next ten years, then they are asking the impossible. But I am sure they will be the first to say that they are not asking for anything so detailed as that. As soon as one thinks of a plan, three main considerations arise to which the answers must be known before any kind of complete defence plan can be formulated. First, we must satisfy ourselves where the possible danger lies; then we must know who our Allies are; and finally we must try to estimate the time when there is the greatest risk of aggression.
To-day the answer to the first question, of where the possible danger lies, is not 683 far to seek. There is one reason and one reason alone why less than four years after the end of the Second World War the Government have asked and received approval to increase their expenditure on defence by nearly £70,000,000 to the vast total of £760,000,000, and why, in spite of a decrease of 40,000 men during the year, we still expect to maintain under arms in March, 1950, no fewer than 750,000 men. Few of us can have contemplated in the first flush of Allied victory in 1945 that conditions in 1949 would have so far deteriorated as to require such a large proportion of the country's resources to be locked up in what I may call—I hope without misunderstanding—unproductive, though essential, defence commitments. We looked forward, wherever we sat in this House and upon whatever occupations we were engaged, to a speedy return to stable conditions and a progressive reduction in the resources we should need to spare for defence. Slowly but surely it came home to us that we should have to arrest our progress towards that goal, to turn round and face the other way and consolidate our armed strength at a much higher level than we had previously thought necessary. The single cause of this change of attitude is the foreign policy of the Soviet Government. We have no desire to divert men and money to unproductive uses when so much remains to be done in the task of reconstruction. We do so only because we believe our interests demand it. If we are attacked we must defend ourselves; and there is no doubt that, indirectly, at any rate, we are being attacked to-day.
The second prerequisite of effective defence planning is to know who your friends are. Experience has taught us that defence in isolation is illusory, and that collective security is the only sound basis for the maintenance of peace. We entertained very high hopes from the birth of the United Nations. Those hopes have not yet been fulfilled, though we shall continue to labour for eventual success in that field. Meanwhile there are three important directions to which we can turn for mutual assistance. The Commonwealth has for long been a striking example of the close international association which affinity of mind and purpose can achieve. The House will have noted with pleasure the statement 684 of the Minister of Defence in another place that work is proceeding on the improvement of defence consultation and planning between members of the Commonwealth. The second group of countries with whom we share common interests are the nations of Western Europe. I need not enlarge on the rapid and encouraging progress that has been made in little more than a year, which, as I said earlier, would have seemed amazing at any previous time. A further stride forward of immense significance, as the noble Viscount and others have been the first to recognise, a tremendous event in the history of the struggle for peace, has just taken place in the promulgation of the terms of the North Atlantic Treaty, the signature of which is expected to take place the week after next.
Political arrangements such as this must necessarily precede the formulation of collective defence plans. Each stage in the development of the former enables a further step to be taken in the furtherance of plans. Just as the signature of the Brussels Treaty enabled the member countries to get together for planning purposes, so the even wider security arrangements of the Atlantic Treaty will naturally lead to consultations on an Atlantic scale for the purpose of concerting measures under Article IX to implement, if need be, Article V of the Treaty. The Atlantic Treaty has profound implications for the defence planning of each of the countries who are parties to it. This is the first Defence debate that has taken place in either House since its terms were promulgated. The progress we have made so far in our domestic plans and in our planning with the Brussels Treaty countries must now be harmonised with the wider concept of Atlantic defence. Important decisions can now be taken which hitherto have had to be left unsettled until this further stage in the scheme of collective defence was clear. Only now can we start to discuss the ultimate contribution of each partner to the common defence burden. The historic step which has just been taken opens the way to a further and most important stage in our plans. But it would have been quite impossible to have had an Atlantic plan for defence in advance of the Atlantic Pact for peace.
685 The third prerequisite of effective planning, and perhaps the most difficult to obtain, is the answer to the question: When may we expect to be attacked? The answer to that must be: Never—we hope. It is our earnest belief that the overwhelming strength for which, in association with our Allies, we shall strive, will be the most effective deterrent to any aggressor, as the noble Lord who has laboured for so many years for this purpose was the first to recognise. Nevertheless—and this answers another point made by the noble Lord—we have naturally made our plans for dealing with an emergency if, contrary to our expectations, it should arise in the near future. That is the best answer to the noble Earl, Lord Perth, and others that I can give. Beyond the immediate future to which I have just alluded, our plans must necessarily be flexible and incomplete—flexible in any case, and incomplete because they must await the decisions of principle to which I have already referred, which concern the distribution of responsibility between the Atlantic countries. But, of course, a great deal of work has been done, and that work will assuredly bear fruit in future.
I have said enough, I hope, to show that it is quite wrong to think that there is no policy behind the conduct of this country's defence. We do not claim for a moment that our long-term plans are complete. How could they be, when the basic alliance which must affect them has only just been concluded? But within the limits set by the lack of precision which has hitherto prevailed as to the basis on which planning could proceed, I submit that no further progress could reasonably be asked for than has in fact been achieved.
In conclusion—and I hope I may detain the House for one moment more, though the hour is late—I would try to put this in a still wider setting. We have to-day been concerned with defence policy, a grim subject to which the House, however, does well to return again and again. Defence policy can never be a complete national policy; it can never be a complete reply to an aggressor. It must, of course, be the instrument of foreign policy. But foreign policy itself cannot be thought of only in terms of the defensive or security aspect. There must also be a 686 missionary zeal, and I am sure that all of us in this country believe that in the long run the Western world can never be safe until our ideals of Christianity and democracy, for which we stand, however imperfectly, are freely embraced by the unfortunate people now passing through the black night of the soul in Eastern Europe. In spreading our ideals and our way of life, we have the task of proceeding not only by precept but by example, both in this country and among our friends and Allies and those countries over whom we possess influence or control. Until that day comes, until the Iron Curtain falls, we must look to our moat with unceasing vigilance. Might by itself can never be right, but weakness can often be wrong.
The Government realise their very heavy responsibility for taking every step within their power to see that this country is properly defended, whether those steps be diplomatic, military, or both. I say that to noble Lords whose feelings about the whole question of security I fully understand. The responsibility is all the heavier because of the security restrictions which reluctantly the Government feel bound to impose on the spread of information concerning our defence programme and plans. It is a heavy responsibility, and made heavier by that decision, inevitable as it seems to us. It is made easier to discharge by the attitude of noble Lords in this House. In that spirit I would thank the noble Viscount for initiating the debate. It goes without saying that the whole discussion has been productive, with one object only—namely, the object of finding answers to these questions: How can our country best be defended, and, how can those who are in responsible positions best be assisted to make sure that defence is absolute and adequate?
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
My Lords, I am not going to inflict another speech on the House. Though we have listened to a reply of characteristic courtesy, flavoured with agreeable dialectics, I am bound to say that the noble Lord's reply leaves me profoundly disquieted: at the end of a five hours' debate, in which noble Lords of the greatest experience in defence matters have taken part, I know no more than when the debate started. I cannot blame the noble Lord. He has to act according to his instructions, and 687 those instructions he carries out equally with loyalty to his masters and courtesy to your Lordships. But really, where do we stand? We want to help; but the Government, by this mania about security, make it impossible. We are therefore driven back on such information as we already have. The noble Lord said that one of the difficulties was: Against what date have we to prepare? He said that he hoped the answer was, "Never," and the noble Earl, Lord Perth, applauded that. Well, we all hope that! Hope is the only commodity which is not yet taxed, but whether that hope will, as we all most earnestly pray, turn out to be a reality, depends upon one thing, and one thing only—readiness now. That is the only possible guarantee that the answer will be, "Never."
The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, says: "You must trust us that we have a plan." Of course, in one sense anything may be called a plan. If the Government move anyone, the movement is a deliberate one. Even if the three Services all march in different directions, I suppose one could call that a plan—or three plans. But by "plan," I mean—and I think all your Lordships mean—an integrated plan, worked out by the Chiefs of Staff in their corporate capacity, and (I warmly agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Portal, that it can be done by nobody else), working under the inspiration, impulsion and, if necessary, the compulsion of the Minister of Defence and the Prime Minister. Quite frankly, I see no evidence at all, or very little, of that.
I will not say in this House many of the things that I could say, but I do say this: that following upon a sentence that I read out from a speech of the Minister of Defence (who in effect said: "We have so much material that we are able to deploy our forces in a way we could not at the beginning of the last war"), I asked one or two testing questions about that readiness. I asked whether the anti-aircraft defences were ready to be deployed—and, after all, that is our first line of defence. I asked about the radar of the jet fighters; but I have had no answer.
On the subject of radar, I can assure the noble Viscount that a good deal of progress has recently been made.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
"A good deal of progress has recently been made." Well, I am extremely glad to hear that progress is being made. I am bound to say that, on any evidence which I have, I cannot share the noble Lord's complacency as to our state of readiness.
Now take the only piece of concrete information which the noble Lord gave us. I asked him whether the Air Force was adequate. He would not give me the programme, although knowledge of it could not hurt anybody. The United States have given the whole programme. I had a connection with this before the war, and I do not believe it would do—I would almost say the least harm, to say what is the programme at which the Government are aiming. Provided that progress is satisfactory, it might do a great deal of good to announce what that progress is. But when the noble Lord tells me, as evidence of the great progress which has been made with this plan, that some hundreds of jet fighters will be added to the strength of the Air Force this year, I feel that I could not have a more disquieting statement of what is considered an adequate preparation. During the war, one factory alone—and a shadow factory at that—was turning out 250 fighters a month. The total output of aeroplanes from this country alone was something like 2,000 a month, and the American output was much higher. I know that quality counts, but we were turning out good aircraft. To tell me that to add, in the course of a year, a few hundred fighters to the first line of offensive defence, and to offer that as supreme evidence of the satisfactory planning and the satisfactory execution of that plan in action, fills me with alarm and despondency.
I am not going to divide the House to ask for Papers. There are no Papers; we could get no Papers. I can only record—I do not do this in a Party spirit, because the speeches which have been made, echoing almost my own words, were not made from the Benches behind me but from cross-Benches, by men whose lives have been devoted to the Services, with no Party affiliation or Party prejudice—
I am sorry to interrupt, but I did not think the noble Viscount, Lord Portal, expressed criticism from the cross-Benches. The only 689 speech made from the Government Benches was couched in very different terms.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
Then I do not know what criticism is, but everybody will make his own speech and everybody will read his own speech. If the noble Lord thinks, having heard this debate, that everybody was happy and contented, then I think he goes away under a great delusion. For my part, in withdrawing my Motion for Papers, I say this: I cannot but be profoundly dissatisfied with any evidence I have of what is taking place. I will withdraw my Motion, but it may well be that we shall have to return to this matter again.
§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
My Lords, before this Motion is withdrawn, may I ask one question, without trying to catch the noble Lord out in any way? Could he give a broad outline of the plan which the Government have?
I thought I had made it sufficiently plain that of course there are plans for dealing with any emergency, but a long-term plan, in the sense the noble Viscount has in mind, could only now be formulated in the full sense, since it is only now that the Atlantic Pact has been promulgated.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.