§ 2.43 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER OF DEFENCE (EARL ALEXANDER OF TUNIS) rose to move to resolve, That this House approves the Statement on Defence, 1953 (Cmd. 8768). The noble and gallant Earl said: My Lords, a year ago I made my first speech as a member of your Lordships' House on the Statement on Defence for 1952. We now have the Statement for 1953, for which we are asking the approval of the House in this Resolution. In presenting this Statement it has been our aim to give as full information as possible, short of compromising security, because I believe that those who have to foot the bill are entitled to know what they are spending then money on. Furthermore, since defence is a national concern, it seems to 734 me only right and fair that those who are about to debate the whole matter should have, so far as possible, full information on the issues involved. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will appreciate the design of this White Paper and the spirit in which it has been presented. It is, of course, impossible in a White Paper of this sort to cover al the ground, but we have tried to present an informative document in which are stated the reasons for our military policy on defence. But before we examine these I should like, as briefly as possible, to set out the world strategic picture as a background against which our fighting forces are being organised and set up
§ When hostilities ended in 1945, with the defeat of our enemies, we looked forward to an era of peace when we could repair the damage done to us and build again cur economic strength and prosperity, to ensure that our people might enjoy a decent measure of security and well-being. The first step was to reduce the size of our fighting forces from a war-time to a peace-time level. Few can quarrel with that decision. It was essential if we were to be able to rehabilitate our shattered economy. Our Allies in the United States adopted much the same policy; their run-down, in terms of lighting forces, was at least as great as ours. To put it simply, we did what we could to get back to the conditions of peace, to build and help build a new world at peace. In fact the policy which the free world followed was one of unilateral disarmament.
§ Unfortunately, that great Power which had been our Ally in war had quite different ideas. Russia not only continued to maintain large forces on a war footing but actively pursued an aggressive foreign policy which was a direct threat to the safety of other nations. The results were inevitable: the nations were divided into two worlds—the world of the Communists and the world of free men. After the war, we had based our hopes on collective security under the United Nations, of which Russia was a member, but it soon became apparent that we could not rely on this alone. It became clear that, always within the framework of the United Nations, we must develop a more, limited system which would deter, and, if necessary, resist the encroachments of Communist aggression. The events 735 which led up to the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty in April, 1949, are well known to your Lordships, and I do not propose to repeat them. But I must add that the outbreak of hostilities in Korea came as a further rude shock, intensified a few months later by the open intervention of the Chinese. The free world was now roused and thoroughly alarmed at these aggressive events, and, quite rightly, began to stand to arms, to protect itself. At the beginning of 1951, the late Government ordered what is now known as the £4,700 million rearmament programme. This was a bold and courageous act, even if events have proved that it was over-optimistic as regards its practical implementation. This is the background against which we must examine our defence needs and review our present strategic position. With these thoughts in mind, we have carried out, and are still carrying out, a very careful and studied review of the whole problem, the results of which are set out in this White Paper.
§ I should like to emphasise that our whole defence programme forms part of a combined effort by the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to increase their military strength in their common defence. In this respect, a great step forward was taken when the North Atlantic Council adopted the procedure of the Annual Review. For the first time, fourteen countries have agreed to consider their military problems and programmes in common and to establish, year by year, goals for the build-up of forces designed not just for the narrow purpose of national defence alone—a concept which is completely outmoded—but as a contribution by all for the joint defence of all. In consequence, much has been done, but I must warn your Lordships that we have a long way to go yet before we can feel satisfied that our defences are adequate. Since I took up my present appointment a year ago, there have been developments in the military scene which I think justify us in taking heart for the future. The goals for 1952, which the North Atlantic countries set themselves at Lisbon, have been substantially achieved. We can say, therefore, that there has been a real and steady growth in the strength of the Western world and its defences.736
§ Now for an example of this. The Italian armoured divisions have now been equipped with modern weapons supplied by the United States under its programme of military aid. Canada also is helping. In particular, we are very grateful for the Sabre aircraft, which are being jointly provided for us by the United States and Canada. The United States make the engines, Canada makes the frames, and then they are sent to us. As your Lordships probably know, the first Sabre jet fighters started arriving in this country last December. We, too, are able to make our contribution to the common pool under the American programme of off-shore procurement. The Centurion tanks which the Americans buy from us go to equip the armoured forces of the Dutch and Danish Armies. The Americans have also ordered from us aircraft, ammunition and other military stores.
§ We are also helping in another way by contributing towards the cost of the N.A.T.O. infrastructure programme. I do not know if it would interest your Lordships to know what "infrastructure"means—it is probably a new word to your Lordships, as it was to me. "Infrastructure" is a French railway term used to describe the work done on the road-bed before the rail tracks are actually laid—cuttings, culverts, embankments and drainage. All that kind of work is the infrastructure. In modern military phraseology it has come to mean all static installations for armies in the field and works of a permanent nature. As little seems to be known about this programme, perhaps I might say a word or two about it. It consists essentially of fixed installations needed for the effective operation of N.A.T.O. forces in peace or war, the cost of which could not be settled by geographical considerations alone and has therefore been made the subject of common financing. Up to now the programme approved by the North Atlantic Council is estimated to cost about £350 million, of which the British share is about £50 million. Your Lordships will see from this that we are paying about one-seventh or something like 14 per cent., of the total cost.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
I do not quite recognise the figures. Can the noble and gallant Earl relate that to paragraph 23 of the White Paper?
§ EARL ALEXANDER OF TUNIS
Yes, that is right. However, those are the figures which the North Atlantic Council has estimated as the cost on this infrastructure programme—namely, £350 million, of which the British share is about £50 million. By far the greater part of the programme consists of airfields. The rest is made up of war headquarters, of which for obvious reasons I can say little, and of communications. There are over 140 airfields in the programme and 21 of these were approved in December last. Of the rest, over two-thirds are either complete or have reached a stage at which they are already usable or available in emergency. Most of them will be completed during1953. The communications are largely connected with the airfield programme and the control and reporting system in Western Europe. The airfields are now to be connected up by a jet fuel pipeline system, which was also approved last December, and preparatory work is now beginning. Joining up these airfields with a pipeline system is an entirely new idea. The reason for it is that modern jet aircraft use up such a large amount of fuel that it is almost impossible to keep them fed in active operations by trucks alone. It was considered more satisfactory and better in every sense, in the long run, to pump the fuel by pipeline from one airfield to another.
§ LORD HENDERSON
Perhaps I may interrupt the noble and gallant Earl. Do I understand him to say that the decision about piping all jet fuel was taken last December at the Council of Ministers?
§ EARL ALEXANDER OF TUNIS
A programme of construction was decided when I was in Paris last December, and quite a big thing was made of it. Certain of the work has been done. What I can 738 say is that at present the programme as a whole is now well under construction. The infrastructure programme is a quite unprecedented international effort for common defence, and the fact that it exists at all is a remarkable tribute to the willingness of the N.A.T.O. countries to pool their resources in the common interest. That it has made such excellent progress in the short time in which it has been in existence demonstrates what can be done when a group of countries is determined to make real progress; it is also a testimonial to the work of the central organisation of N.A.T.O. under the direction of Lord Is may. In all this build-up of military strength I know how valuable a part is being played by the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, General Ridgway. During the war, it was my good fortune to serve with this fine soldier, and I can assure your Lordships that he is a commander of the highest quality.
In my opinion, the greatest immediate need is the ratification of the Treaty setting up the European Defence Community, so that Western Germany may be enabled to make her contribution both to the defence of her own territory and to the defence of Western Europe. If it is true that the prospects of a Third World War have receded, If think we can ascribe it only to the deterrent effect of Allied military build-up. However, what we have done so far is only the foundation, and the effort, costly as it is, must continue, not as a short tug but as a long steady pull. Nevertheless, we can take justifiable pride in the expansion of our strength in the past twelve months, because here we have achieved something of real value, which can rightly give us cause for modest satisfaction and more confidence in the future. Your Lordships will not have failed to observe recently a number of seemingly conciliatory gestures to the West by the leaders of the Communist world. It is impossible to know yet what significance to attach to these, and although we welcome them we are bound to proceed with caution while we test their sincerity. One swallow does not make a summer, nor does one dove, or half a dozen doves, automatically bring peace. Common sense and prudence demand that we should not relax our defence preparations. The stronger we are, the greater chance we have of establishing genuine and lasting peace.
739 My Lords, that is the broad international picture of our defence effort. Now I should like to say something of our own domestic problems. When we survey our present position we must be struck by the dispersal of our strength. This particularly applies to the Army. The cold war, which might well be called the "twilight war," since it is neither war nor peace, but between the two, compels us to disperse the Army all over the world. From every point of view this is unsatisfactory. Speaking as a military man of some experience, I should like to see our forces, highly efficient and mobile, so stationed as to be readily available for trouble, wherever it might arise. But, unfortunately, what one would like is not the same as what one may have to accept; and that is the position in which we find ourselves to-day. For instance, we have the equivalent of nearly two infantry brigades in active combat in Korea as part of the United Nations Forces there. In addition, we have a naval contingent and air force personnel actively engaged in that theatre of operations. In Malaya we have some 30,000 troops, including British, Gurkha, Fiji, East African and Malayan regiments, fighting the Communist bandits in very unpleasant and difficult conditions. In Hong Kong we maintain a considerable garrison, supported by naval and air forces, for its protection against possible aggression. Recently we have had to reinforce the local Colonial garrison of Kenya against the Mau Mau by sending an infantry brigade. Furthermore, we have troops in Berlin, Austria and Trieste, and there are the normal garrisons which we must maintain in places like Gibraltar and Malta, together with our Mediterranean Fleet and Royal Air Force contingents. All these are additional to our large land and air forces in Western Europe and the forces that we maintain in the Middle East.
What I have mentioned is not a complete list of our commitments by any means, but I think it is sufficient to illustrate the enormous demands on our fighting men which results in the dispersal of our strength and which accounts for the fact that over ten divisions are outside this country. The Royal Navy continues to meet the continuous requests for the kind of help that the country has always expected of it. The commitment to sup- 740 port our foreign and Colonial policy is world-wide, and its fulfilment has never been more important than it is to-day. To mention only two of its more recent and, in some ways, novel commitments, the Royal Navy has had to provide for the atomic trials on the Monte Bello Islands, and also to take part in large-scale participation in recent N.A.T.O. exercises. Much as we regret it, the cold war and our other current commitments are facts which are with us, and we cannot escape our liabilities in connection with them. At the same time, we have to go on building up our forces so that they can play their part as a deterrent to aggression and be ready, should war be forced upon us, to take their place alongside our Allies.
In some respects, there is a conflict between the demands made upon us by the cold war and the preparations against a possible hot war. As I have said before, our task is made more difficult and more complicated because we are trying to do two things at the same time. All three Services are concerned, although the demands made upon the Army in the cold war are greater than those made on the Royal Air Force or the Royal Navy. Though all three Services play their part, the cold war must be waged to a large extent by men on the ground; and consequently the demands on manpower are very heavy. Malaya is a good illustration of this. We are, I am glad to say, making good progress in Malaya, but it is compelling us, as I have already stated, to deploy some 30,000 troops, together with substantial R.A.F. support and help from the Royal Navy in patrolling the coasts. For the tasks which confront us in this theatre of operations we require certain specialised equipment, and I should like to take this opportunity of again expressing our sincere gratitude to the United States of America for making available to us ten large helicopters. These aircraft are of the greatest use, and are playing a valuable role in our operations against the bandits. But by and large, the cold war demands men rather than equipment.
When, however, we look to the preparations against the danger of a hot war, equipment becomes a much more vital issue. Let me explain this further. The Royal Navy, in co-operation with the Royal Air Force, must be in a position to deal with the serious threat of enemy submarines and mines which would be 741 our greatest menace at sea if war should come, and which would arise from the very first day. For this purpose, they must have fast frigates and modern minesweepers and aircraft, together with the necessary ancillary equipment of a highly technical nature. The Army must have the best tanks, anti-tank guns, field and medium artillery, last-moving vehicles and so on. The Royal Air Force must be built up both defensively and offensively—that is, in terms of fighters and bombers. As your Lordships know, we are beginning to re-equip our medium bomber force with four-engined jet aircraft of the highest performance and striking power. This force would be our best means of attacking at source an enemy's offensive potential in the event of a war breaking out. So much for the broad demands of the three Services. I shall return later to this question of equipment and give your Lordships more details. At this stage, I hope that I have said enough to explain to your Lordships that our problem is the difficult one of striking a balance between what we do to meet immediate needs and what we do to provide against immediate dangers.
Now let me say something about the Defence Estimates for 1953–54. In determining what proportion of our resources we can devote to defence, the Government must take full account of the economic position of the country in order that we shall not run an undue risk of causing the foundations of our defence programme to collapse. Shortly after the rearmament programme was started, the economic situation took a serious turn for the worse. It has certainly been greatly improved by the measures which the Government have taken, but the trouble is deep-seated and the cure will be lengthy. Against this background the £1,637 million which we are going to spend on defence is a very large sum of money—in fact, it is a whale of a sum; but so are our needs. It is my responsibility as Minister of Defence to allocate the sum so that we get the best value for our money.
This matter must be looked at not only nationally but internationally. We must take account of what other members of the Commonwealth will contribute and what N.A.T.O. and our other friends and Allies will contribute to the defence of the free world. Of course, in all this 742 I have the advice of the Chiefs of Staff, who have our world strategy constantly under review. Here, I should like to take the opportunity of expressing my appreciation of the work of the Chiefs of Staff machine. Their expert advice is invaluable to me, as your Lordships can well imagine. Recently we have said goodbye to two outstanding figures, Field Marshal Sir William Slim and Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir John Slessor. I am sure that your Lordships would wish to join with me in paying tribute to these two officers, both as commanders and as Chiefs of Staff of their respective Services.
Returning to the question of allocation, let me say this. Against the broad strategic background which I have all too briefly given to your Lordships many factors have to be taken into account amongst which we must consider our present commitments in the cold war—and here we mast provide for the immediate needs of our forces. Then there is the planning for a possible major war, and the forces and types of equipment which we should require for that, taking into account: that we should be fighting alongside Allies amongst whom the Americans are particularly powerful on sea and in the air. We must also consider the prospects of new equipment and what we can afford to spend on it. In the light of all this, and after frank and full discussions with the Service Ministers and their advisers, I must decide what is the best allocation of the total money available. As I am sure your Lordships will agree, this is not an easy task, but it is the same problem which faces friend and foe alike. It always has been a difficult problem, and always will be. Our solution to this problem has been set out in this White Paper, upon which we should welcome your Lordships' views. I do not suggest for a moment that any individual Service is satisfied with its share, but I do most certainly claim that there is a general acceptance that the programme on which the Estimates for 1953–54 are based represents the most effective use of our available resources.
I now propose to say something in detail about our rearmament programme, which has made steady progress over the past twelve months. New types of equipment are beginning to flow from the production lines and are coming into the hands of our fighting forces. Ever since I have been in office I have made it a 743 practice to visit our fighting services and the factories, as well as our research and development establishments, as often as I can possibly get away from London. This has for the most part been on Fridays, when your Lordships' House is not sitting. So I have seen quite a lot of these Services and establishments which produce our output, and I have been very impressed and heartened by what I have seen. The engineering, shipbuilding and other firms and the Government establishments which are making our equipment are doing a fine job, and we owe them a great debt of gratitude for what they are doing to help us. I hope that both management and labour realise how much we appreciate their efforts, which are indeed vital to our whole problem of defence.
With regard to the Royal Navy, the new construction and conversion programme is going well, although there has been trouble with the new aircraft for naval aviation. However, we have learned a great deal from past errors and experience, and I am hopeful that the efforts which the First Lord and the Minister of Supply have made will change this situation for the better. In the longer term we shall have the new two-engined jet fighter for the Navy, which is to be added to the list of super-priorities. As the First Lord recently explained in another place, great strides are being made with naval equipment: the anti-submarine mortar and the aircraft carrier angled deck, to mention only two. I do not know whether your Lordships know what all this means, but I can explain if your Lordships wish. The new aircraft angled deck arrangement is to make landing on the deck easier and safer for jet aircraft; that is what it amounts to. The landing path of the aircraft is set off at an angle to the centre of the ship.
Now for the Army. The most satisfactory features are the new family of anti-tank weapons, of which the Secretary of State for War spoke in another place in introducing the Army Estimates. I will not repeat again what the family of antitank weapons are—unless your Lordships want to know. They are weapons for the individual, the platoon and the battalion; and of these weapons the neatest little one of all is a little recoilless gun which weighs only three-quarters of a 744 ton and which will replace the seventeen-pounder. It is much more effective than the seventeen-pounder and, being so light, is more easily manhandled. It is a splendid little weapon. The Centurion tank, which is now being produced in large quantities, is probably as good as any tank in the world. In addition, we are producing a new heavy gun tank which is superior in fire power and performance to any tank known to exist. In the field of smaller arms, the new machine carbine is now under trial and looks like being an excellent little weapon. It is light, accurate and easy to handle, and will, I know, be very popular with the troops when it begins to reach them in quantity.
For the Royal Air Force we are, as your Lordships know, producing the latest types of jet aircraft. Our new swept-wing fighters have suffered some delay as compared with the hopes entertained when they were ordered, but production is now well advanced and the Swift should be in squadron service before the end of this year. The Swift will be followed very soon by the Hunter. I have seen these aircraft being made in the factory. They are being produced now, but it will take some time before they can get into squadron service because they have to go through certain tests carried out by the Ministry of Supply, and must be fitted with weapons. Therefore it does not necessarily follow that when they are ready to leave the workshops they are ready to go immediately into the hands of the Royal Air Force. At the same time, it will not be long before they are in the hands of the Royal Air Force.
To obtain full benefit from these new aircraft there must be an adequate and up-to-date control and reporting system. The rearmament programme has therefore included a comprehensive programme of rehabilitation and expansion of the last war system. Rehabilitation of as much of the last war chain of radar stations as is necessary has already been completed. The expansion of the system and the provision of up-to-date equipment is proceeding according to schedule. Work is already going ahead on a control and reporting system on the Continent of Europe. I should be misleading the House, however, if I did not point out that the technical development of radar has not been able to keep pace 745 with improvements in aircraft performance. Relatively speaking, therefore, the aircraft for the time being has had an advantage over this form of defence.
Now let me say something about research and development. Ever since the close of the late war, successive Governments and the Services have—rightly, in my opinion—attached the highest importance to gaining and keeping a technical lead in weapons of both offence and defence. This must be wise when we consider that we can never match our potential enemy in terms of manpower. To survive we must counter-mass with better weapons and better technique. Consequently, ever-increasing sums of money have been devoted to research and development. Since 1946 the annual rate of expenditure in this field has been more than doubled.
As the White Paper points out, it has increased by more than 40 per cent. in the last two years. This coming year, 1953–54, we are proposing to spend about £10 million more than in the present year. This increase is a very moderate one when we consider the astonishing developments in the scientific field which have taken place in recent years. Fifteen years ago radar was still a new idea whose vast potentialities were not realised. The jet engine is only twelve years old, and the first atomic bomb was exploded only eight years ago. These three inventions alone have revolutionised the whole technique of military warfare—and so the revolution goes on.
We are now approaching the age of supersonic flight and that of the guided missile. The results of the efforts which have been devoted to research and development in the past are now beginning to bear fruit. To instance one alone, let me mention the guided weapons. Here, I am glad to say, our progress during the past year has been satisfactory. These weapons fall into two main groups. First the air to air weapon which is expected to increase the destructive power of our fighter force by perhaps as much as four-fold. Secondly, the surface to air weapon, which will be of the greatest importance to the safety of these crowded islands against modern high-flying, high-speed aircraft. The stage has now been reached when we can see that surface to air guided missiles, together with the fighters of the Royal Air Force and the 746 A.A.guns of the Army, have a very important role to play in the air defence of the United Kingdom. Development of these weapons is, as I have said, proceeding satisfactorily, and arrangements must now be studied for their introduction and operation as part of the air defence system. After full consideration of I all the factors involved, it has been decided that the manning and operation of these guided weapons shall become the responsibility of the Royal Air Force. In my opinion, this is the right decision because surface to air guided missiles are complementary to lighter aircraft, and operate in the same air space, and must therefore be under the same ground control. Their introduction will be a gradual process. For many years to come regular and territorial anti-aircraft regiments will continue to play an essential part in our air defence system. The employment of A..A. guns will have to be closely integrated with that of the guided weapons. The introduction of these new weapons will therefore call for a continuance of the present close co-operation between the R.A.F. and Anti-Aircraft Command. These arrangements do not, of course, affect the responsibility of the Ministry of Supply for research and development.
In the short time at my disposal, I have tried to give your Lordships a general survey of our strategic position, the problems which face us and how we propose to solve them. I have tried, so far as possible, not to traverse ground which has already teen covered by the three Service Ministers, but rather to give a balanced picture of the whole. There is, however, one matter which I know is of great concern, not only to your Lordships but also to all our countrymen, and that is National Service. The issues are well known to you and have been fully debated in another place. I do not propose therefore to repeat those arguments. But let me say this. In my opinion, so long as our commitments remain at their present level I can see no prospect either of doing away with National Service or of reducing the period of service below two years. But I can assure your Lordships that the Government will continue to watch the situation with the utmost care, and should it improve we shall not hesitate to propose such modifications in the system as are consistent with our obligations and our own security. In the meantime we shall 747 continue to strive for the utmost economies in manpower. It is our aim that every man in the Services should pull his full weight, and that every man who wears the Queen's uniform should be capable of bearing arms and, if necessary, take his place in the front line. It is for this reason that all training establishments and schools of instruction at home have been given a combatant rôle, so that if we are attacked we shall have mobile columns trained and rehearsed in the duty of defending the homeland. These flying columns will be backed up by Home Guard units who can play a valuable rôle in an emergency by taking over and guarding key points and thus freeing Regular units and Territorial formations to carry out the duties for which they are designed.
I have now given you, my Lords, my report for the year, but before I conclude I must say this. I should not like to leave the impression that everything in the garden is rosy, and that we have nothing more to worry about. We still have a great deal to worry about, and a long pull before we reach the top of the hill, which is still a long way off; and it will need many sacrifices and a great effort before we get there. But I believe that at last we are on the right lines and, given sufficient time, we shall have fighting forces, comparatively small maybe, but as efficient as any in the world. I have been a soldier for over forty years, during which time I have fought on many battlefields, together with, or against, most of the warring nations. And, in my experience, there are no finer or better fighting men than our own countrymen. Given good leadership, modern weapons and proper training, they will do their duty, on land, at sea or in the air. They will not fail us; they will not let us down. It is our duty to see that we do not let them down. I beg to move.
§ Moved to resolve, That this House approves the Statement on Defence, 1953 (Cmd. 8768).—(Earl Alexander of Tunis.)
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I am sure that I shall be speaking for the whole of the House when I say that we have listened to a very clear and charming exposition 748 of the White Paper. I am always willing to sit at the feet of the Field Marshal who is now Minister of Defence, and to hear him on military questions. I shall always carry with me in my mind, when I come to have reminiscences, the occasion when he returned to a meeting of Ministers—some present Ministers may remember it—and for the space of one hour regaled us with the most extraordinary sequence of information on the North African campaign that I have listened to from anybody. Therefore, I always listen with very great respect to what the present Minister of Defence has to say.
This afternoon he has defended the formation and general set-up of the White Paper. No doubt it would appear to be a little inconsistent for an ex-Minister who was in at the very making of the first White Paper on Defence in post-war circumstances to have any grouse about the matter at the present time. However, I do feel that the very rapid chain of developing events that has been seen in the last five years means that the Houses of Parliament—especially the Commons, The representatives of the people, but ourselves included—ought to have as much information as possible. I do not mean that we should be given any very close secrets where security is involved, but we should be given enough information to enable us to judge two things: first, whether our money, being used in great volume in expenditure, is being wisely spent; and second, whether our progress in development is sufficiently comprehensive and particular to meet the needs of the moment. The Minister has satisfied me on a number of problems I had in my mind when I first suggested to him that there ought to be a little consideration in regard to the construction of the White Paper. He has given a wider survey than did the Prime Minister when he was introducing the White Paper in another place. Whilst I am sure the Prime Minister, as always, made a most charming and brilliant speech in another place, nevertheless I did not get from his speech the information which I have been enabled to get to-day from the Minister's exposition of the White Paper.
For a number of reasons there has been some considerable interval of time between the presentation of the White Paper in another place and our debate here to-day—and events have not stayed still. 749 A great deal has happened in the last seven weeks. Therefore, whilst in the ordinary way I suppose one would get down to the details of all the matters contained in the White Paper on Defence, I feel very strongly that to-day, in the light of those happenings, we should probably be doing a great deal better if we considered, as well as the record, the general recommendations in the White Paper. Of course, the essential part of what we have to consider in relation to defence is what our policy should be in relation to the events which have been taking place. Whilst I thoroughly agree with the general needs of the forces, to which the Minister referred towards the end of his speech, I feel that we must also be exceedingly careful in our defence programme, and in our judgment of it, that we are not caught in such a way that, if peace should "break out," as some people put it, we should then be forced by public opinion so to slash our programme as to leave our forces in perhaps nothing like the technically efficient condition in which they may be found to-day.
Policy is the thing that counts at the present moment. I was glad, therefore, that the Minister made some reference to the recent suggestions which have been made from Moscow, and I was interested in what he had to say about how they should be received. I know that this touches very closely upon foreign policy in general. Perhaps I might be allowed to say how much I personally—and I am sure I speak for my colleagues—regret that at this very difficult period the Foreign Secretary should be laid aside by illness, and to express our hope that he will have a speedy recovery. However much we may differ from some of his political allegiances, he is one of the most popular Members of Parliament that it has been our lot to meet.
Foreign policy is exceedingly important in relation to defence at the present moment. I am not sure whether all your Lordships have been able to read a recent speech by Mr. Kardelj, perhaps the best foreign affairs authority of the Jugoslav people, in which he indicated something which we cannot say too often just now—namely, that the reaction in world opinion to the statements which have been recently made from Moscow on different matters connected with peace negotiations and various other gestures, is proof to all 750 impartial minds that the peace which the U.S.S.R. talks about is there for the taking, if she will approach and follow through the matter in anything like a reasonable spirit, and a spirit of good will. If Russia could do that it would be to the greatest possible benefit to the world at the present moment, and it would have a great effect upon the defence expenditure of the nations. In such circumstances, the attitude of our country, I think, should be to welcome the gestures and to welcome early conferences.
I do not yet know what the arrangements will be. I have not seen any late telegrams about the reopening of negotiations for an armistice in Korea, but I hope that they will not be delayed because of our unfortunate experiences in the recent negotiations. If there is an opportunity for filling up any other time by open conferences upon some of the gestures which have been made from Moscow, I hope that we shall make it quite clear that we are willing to meet the Russians halfway and that we have the utmost good will in trying to come to a permanent understanding. They could make things much easier for us in this direction if, even before we reached the conference table, they indicated what their attitude is likely to be on one or two points—although I should not stop the conference if they did not wish to do this. The great test would be as to how they treated the answer to the question relating to the long delayed signing of the Austrian Treaty, as to how they would approach the question of free elections in Germany, and as to how far we might expect a new approach to, and a genuine consideration of disarmament, I hope giving effect to the suggestion made by the United Nations that any agreed basis of disarmament must be accompanied by the safeguard of an inspection, conducted, of course, under the auspices of the United Nations. The same thing would apply to atomic energy.
I should have thought that the new régime in Moscow and the people of the U.S.S.R. would stand to receive such enormous benefits in the scaling up of their industrial and social development by a permanent peace understanding, which would lighten the burden of armaments, that they would be quite anxious to come to a peaceful arrangement. I pointed out in a debate on defence last year how our increased expenditure on 751 armaments has not been bringing us correspondingly increased security, as compared with Russian organisation and expenditure upon armaments. In Russia there is now an enormous expenditure upon armaments, and I should have thought that, with the opening which now exists, it would he greatly to the advantage of the people of the U.S.S.R., as well as to our own people, to come to a peaceful arrangement. On the other hand, I would suggest that our own contribution to the discussion which may arise should not be confined to pointing out where the Russians have been wrong, but should include putting forward more constructive suggestions than appears to be the case. We cannot, of course, speak with any real knowledge on that point, because, no doubt, things are often said through private diplomatic channels about which we do not hear, as to what our constructive contribution should be.
In that connection, I should like to say that I have a very high appreciation of the position of the President of the United States of America—General Eisenhower, as he was formerly called. In view of my personal knowledge of the President I have a great deal of faith and trust in him. I believe that if negotiations are opened he will endeavour to see that constructive proposals are made. On the other hand. I have not (I say this quite frankly, for I think that one is entitled to speak frankly in dealing with friendly Allies) an equal amount of faith in the attitude of certain other individuals on the other side of the Atlantic. I know that the President will have a fairly difficult row to hoe, but I am very anxious that the Allies in the free world should make the greatest possible contribution to bringing a peace conference, or a series of peace conferences, to a really successful issue.
The part of the noble and gallant Earl's speech on this matter which appealed to me most this afternoon was the re-affirmation—for it was nothing new—of the manner in which our policy is anchored to support of the United Nations Organisation. In all these matters, we must continue to hold fast by that. I have welcomed the greater interest shown from time to time by the United States of America in foreign affairs and matters arising in connection with foreign affairs in different parts of 752 the world, but I am exceedingly anxious at the present time that we should learn more about what the Government are thinking, and what they propose to do, in relation to defence questions in the Middle East, in the Pacific Ocean, and in the Far East generally. The Minister, if I may say so, seemed to me to skate just a little lightly in his speech—though I am sure he was serious in his mind about it—over some of these topics, and I should have thought that, before the debate ends, we ought to know a little more of what the Government regard as being the general position and how much progress is being made. For example, we might be told how long the campaign in Malaya is likely to be maintained; how long it will take to conclude it. Incidentally, we are all exceedingly grateful to the Military High Commissioner whom we sent out for the way he has directed the Malayan campaign. If before the debate ends, we could have some more information on these lines I should be grateful.
Coming now to the White Paper, the figures referred to by the Minister in regard to infrastructure are clearer to me now than they were before he spoke. But I am a little anxious as to the exact allocation of those different national contributions to this total of £350 million over the four years. It seems as if over those four years we had gradually—in fact I may say speedily—reduced our percentage of contribution to the whole cost of infrastructure. In the first year, it is said, we subscribed £9 million out of £33 million; in the second year we subscribed £14 million out of £79 million; in the third year £20 million out of £152 million, and in the fourth year only £7 million out of £82 million. It was being rumoured a little while ago, at the last meeting in Paris that there was even a suggestion that the £7 million contribution should be reduced. I have some recollection of something being said about it. At any rate, if that is not so, may we please be given a reassurance to that effect, because it is possible that the kind of rumours that get about may give rise to the idea that everything was not, if I may use the old term, "completely happy in the State of Denmark" on that occasion. Perhaps such a reassurance may allay any disquiet arising from some of the rumours about disunity in the headquarters of the 753 military organisation of European defence.
In view of the newspaper reports in that connection, I hope the Minister may be able to satisfy us that we are making our proper contribution and not more than our proper contribution—I do not want to force him to make more than our proper contribution—to this general collective defence. In the second place, can he tell us something about progress and the situation generally with regard to the whole of the arrangements at the top of the European organisation? One thing about which we do not know very much is the detailed progress which is being made and the speed of that progress. We do not know whether the speed is satisfactory or unsatisfactory in the progress which is being made in our productive programme. The original programme instituted by the late Government was to be covered, if possible, in three years. Before the Labour Government went out of office it was plain that it could not be covered in that time, and I think a four years' programme was evisaged. It is now assumed by most of us that it will be completely covered in five years—the idea of a four years' programme seems to have been dropped. I am not sure whether it will be found possible actually to complete in five years the programme which was set out.
I think we ought to have some information from the Minister as to how that is affecting the equipment of our own troops, both in regard to their current service in the field, and its detachment, as the Minister has pointed out, to operations which are regarded as being connected with cold war. We ought also to be told how much is being put into store or devoted to actual training use for the preparation of any outbreak of hot war. We can hardly expect that the number of personnel whom we have provided for in the different Estimates of the Service Ministers will all be equipped on a modern basis, at the present rate of development. Perhaps the Minister would give us any reassurance he can upon that point. The Minister quite rightly referred in specific terms to the question of research and development, and I agree wholeheartedly how vitally important that section of the White Paper is, and how necessary it is for us to keep pace with the growth of scientific 754 evolution and the latest methods of applying it to weapons of offence and defence.
It was the Government of which I was a member which was, I think, the first to allocate in peace time a large annual fixed sum to research and development, and that sum has grown enormously. In 1946, it was fixed at £30 million. It is now five times that figure, and more. That is the figure which appeared in the Defence Estimates, and to that has to be added the expenditure on research in the atomic field; so that the sum is high, indeed. I understand that this is not all being spent on fundamental research, but some of it is being expended on experimentation stage by stage up to the production of prototypes and the eliminating of the earlier teething troubles of production before there is any attempt to consider line production. People ought to have some idea of what they are getting for the enormous expenditure that is now taking place on research. They ought to know exactly how long direct expenditure upon the development of an article which is the result of this research should remain a military charge and how soon it should be a charge on the firms handling the final production—firms who, judging from their reports, are able to make very large profits from producing machines and apparatus which are the result of Government research expenditure. Perhaps the Minister could tell us something more about that.
There is another point in the noble and gallant Earl's speech in which I was interested, especially as the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, is to speak later on his own Motion—namely, how far the three Services are satisfied with the allocation of expenditure. I must say that in my time as Minister of Defence there was always a good deal of patience and care necessary on my part when I came to deal with the final Estimates, but I never experienced any great and acute controversy between the three Departments during the years from 1946 to 1950. Matters arose that had to be adjusted, but there was a general desire to co-operate and to do what was best in the interests of the scientific development of our defence as a whole that pleased me very much indeed. I am glad to notice that the Minister referred 755 to a matter raised recently by noble Lords on both sides of the House—that is, the question of aircraft for the Royal Navy. In view of the reply given the other day, reinforced by the First Lord when dealing with the Estimates in another place, I had hoped that we should receive a more definite assurance than we have received to-day about naval aircraft. However, if the Minister is not able to tell us more about how far modern jet planes are available to the Royal Navy, perhaps he will see that instructions are given for fuller information to be given about this when there is a Naval debate in this House later on. If so, I shall be very much obliged.
The question of atomic development as a whole is another difficulty. In view of this country's large contribution to fundamental research in atomic energy, the contribution we made in the war to the United States' endeavours in this field, and the comparative difficulty experienced since in exchanging information, some of which is largely due to the MacMahon Act and some, so it seems to me, due to personalities, it is a great pity that in this matter, as in all others that arise in the military work of N.A.T.O., there cannot be more co-operation. So much publicity has been given to American activities in atomic research—they are not giving away trade secrets, but they are giving great publicity to their development of atomic energy and the obvious uses of it in warfare—that I feel that this country would like to be assured, because of our great contribution to the American development of atomic energy, that we are getting a fair deal in the exchange of information available. I should like to know whether we are still giving confidential information on this matter, and whether we are getting in return adequate information which we desire to have from them.
I come to the last point raised by the Minister towards the end of his speech—that was, a general reference to how our forces should be enlisted, whether voluntarily or under National Service. From the time I first discussed this matter with the Chiefs of Staff in 1946, having regard to the state of the world then, the fact that we were under pledge regarding a demobilisation scheme 756 (which, by the way, was not as rapid as the American demobilisation; on a percentage basis we never demobilised so much as the United States), and in view of the fact that we did not obtain the circumstances we had hoped for as a result of victory—a long period of peace—but almost immediate difficulty, I have been convinced that there is no way of meeting the difficulty other than by National Service. We should have had difficulty in this country at any time in introducing and enforcing in peace time a period of National Service. That has never been within our general tradition in modern times. But I know that by getting the greatest unanimity we possibly could on this matter among members of another place, the constituencies accepted it with amazing unanimity, and in general we have had no great opposition throughout the country to the carrying out of the system of National Service.
I agree that in the circumstances which arose later, the extension of the period of National Service training from eighteen months to two years was essential if the tasks were to be fulfilled. I know that some members of my Party, and even ex-colleagues in the Ministry, have argued differently from what I am arguing now; nevertheless I feel that the Minister has not said anything on this matter with which I could disagree. However, in view of the expense—because, after all, more than half of our defence expenditure goes on personnel—it is essential to review the matter at every conceivable opportunity consistent with security.
If we do approach something like a reasonable basis for a constructive peace by agreement, I hope it will be possible, in general conformity with the United Nations organisation, to reduce our military expenditure, for undoubtedly an expenditure in gross of £33 or £34 a year per head of the population, man, woman and child, in these days of economic difficulty, is really more than we can bear. It has been eased a little by the American defence aid, which has reduced the cost to about £31 per year for every man, woman and child in the country. It is an extremely heavy charge, but if it is going to be necessary to continue that charge in order to maintain our freedom, then it must be done. However, if there is any opportunity of arriving at a progressive peace, then surely we ought to reconsider, 757 almost as one of the first things, the period of National Service. Having said that, I leave the question entirely as the Minister put it to the House: that he will review the position from time to time to see whether anything can be done in this direction. In the end, if we come to a regular peace basis, we shall be better off with smaller forces, but with continuing expenditure on the improvement of arms and equipment in order to meet any new situation which may arise, than by having larger forces which are not properly equipped. I hope that the House—perhaps on a little of the information for which we are asking being given—will support the Minister by approving the White Paper.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
had on the Order Paper a Notice that he would call attention to Defence, with particular reference to air, and move for Papers. The noble and gallant Viscount said: My Lords, for the last two weeks I have been somewhat exercised in my mind whether I should make the speech I had intended to make to-day, in view of the apparent changed situation with regard to Russia. However, I came to the conclusion that, change or no change in Russia, it is most important that the organisation of our defence forces should be up to date and should take into account all the great changes that have taken place in the last five years. Thirty-five years ago the Air Force came into existence. It was formed on April 1, 1918, as one Service, not as two or three. The three people who formed that Service and laid the foundations of all that has gone on since were General Sir David Henderson, General Smuts and Sir William Weir (now Lord Weir). Those three men had more to do with the formation of the Royal Air Force than any other men in this country—and Sir David Henderson's name is not so well known as it ought to be.
As your Lordships know, in those days aeroplanes were not very reliable. We were not at all certain what could be done. They could not go very fast or very far, and most of our ideas were based on theory. Has that theory been proved wrong? I think not. When we were young, and somebody made an impossible proposal, we used to say: "He might as well try to fly." I little expected to hear the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield (I gave him notice that I 758 would refer to him, and I am glad he is here to-day) some two or three weeks ago, on the debate on Life Peers, say:You can no more select your centre Party in this House than you can fly.
§ LORD CHATFIELD
My Lords, as I have been mentioned by name, perhaps I may interrupt the noble and gallant Viscount. Man can swim and walk, but he still is quite unable to fly. He has to get into a machine to do that. That was the meaning of my reference.
§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
I have nothing to withdraw; in fact, I have some additions to make. No wonder we have so many aircraft carriers to-day! They must still be in use, because it is not yet fully realised that aeroplanes can fly long distances. Do we realise—and does the noble and gallant Lord realise, that the other day an aeroplane flew to Australia in twenty-three hours, including time for refuelling, and that we have flown to Tokio in under thirty-six hours? Do we realise that more first-class passengers are carried by air across the Atlantic, both ways, than by all the ships, including the "Queens" and all the big new ships which cross the Atlantic? Do we realise that to-day there are more people arriving at London Airport than at the port of Dover? Have we absorbed what all this means?
From the Report of the Defence debate in another place on March 5—I admit I read it hurriedly, but I read it twice—I find that, with one exception, no one spoke about air power. Transport aircraft were slightly mentioned, as were helicopters, but, with one exception, nothing was said in that debate on Defence about the power of the air. That exception came at the end of the debate, when Mr. Birch, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Defence, made a most useful statement on the subject. He said, amongst other things (OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 512, (No. 67), col. 686):…we have decided to build up our light bomber force to a lower peak than we had originally intended and to go into immediate production with the now long-range medium bombers. We shall not have a very large strategic air force, but it will be a highly effective one.This was quite a guarded statement, but I understand by it that we are going to build bombers which can carry the atom bomb the required distances. Therefore, 759 I hope that this long-range medium bomber has the necessary range. Mr. Birch also said:We have exploded our first weapon"—that is, atom weapon—at Monte Bello; and in the Vulcan, the Valiant and the Victor we have medium long-range bombers which we believe will be the best in the world.I agree with him, but does that mean what it says? If it does, and the noble and gallant Lord can assure me that it is so, then we have the range to carry the atom bomb.
Mr. Birch further stated that naval construction is being concentrated on minesweepers, escort vessels and aircraft carriers. With the much greater explosive power of the bomb, as in the atom bomb, the important factor now is range. It must not be forgotten that the long-range bomber can be used for short-range work, but that the short-range bomber cannot be used for long-range work. I conclude that the Vulcan, the Valiant and the Victor are the bombers that will do this long-range work. Is this so? I look upon air power—and that is the reason why I am speaking to-day—as the cornerstone of defence; and you cannot discuss defence without saying that you are going to use the cornerstone.
In discussing defence, reference must be made to the cost. If the standard of living must not come down—and I am not saying that it must, or must not; it is not within my province, nor do I know—where are we to get the money to make defence really efficient? Where can we save £2 million or £3 million? Not by cutting out a few cars, lady typists here and a few typewriters somewhere else, as we did before. I want to make it quite clear that, whatever I say, it is not my intention to criticise the Secretary of State for Air or the Air Staff. I believe that they realise the power of the air. I am referring to those outside the Air Service, who do not realise the power of the air to-day. As I have already said, the Air Service, when General Smuts sponsored it in 1918, was formed as one Service, and now we are trying to run it as two or three Services. This cannot be done without loss of efficiency and without undue expense. You cannot divide air power. As the range increases, so it is absolutely essential that the Air Force 760 should be organised less rigidly than it was even in my day, and not more rigidly.
We hear a great deal to-day about the Tactical Air Force, which cannot operate unless we have command of the air; we hear a lot about Coastal Command, the Fleet Air Arm, the Naval Air Service, the Strategical Air Force and the Bomber Force—and more and more divisions of responsibility in the air and over the sea. By reverting to the original idea of one Service to cover all air operations, we could do away with the overlapping in training and recruiting, in staffs at the Air Ministry, the Admiralty, at the bases and aerodromes, in equipment; and thereby we could save millions of pounds—probably up to £100,000,000 a year. Your Lordships may say that it is a large sum, and may ask whether it is stated light-heartedly. My answer is, No; it is not. You have to remember all the ports, the dockyards and all the ships to escort those big carriers, and all the small carriers; and I say that £100,000,000 a year could be saved if the air was combined again; and our position would be more secure. There are no boundaries in the air. That was said in the very early days, but many did not understand it then and it is not fully understood to-day. The Admiralty look upon the responsibility of the air over the sea as something quite separate from any other air responsibility. I do not believe there is an airman to-day who thinks like that.
On February 17, in your Lordships' House, in the debate on the supply of aircraft, I was amazed to hear two Ministers answer about the supply of aircraft—two separate Ministers. I will make no comment on such a state of affairs. Also in that debate I was surprised at the consensus of opinion on both sides of the House by those who had had experience of the Naval Air Service. They all seemed to imply that the Naval Air Service was badly let down with regard to the supply of up-to-date machines. Nobody said anything except the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Dowding, who told the House why carrier-based aircraft were inferior to land-based aircraft, and nobody knows more about it than he does. I could not agree with him more. I have always said that the carrier-based aircraft will always be inferior to the shore-based aircraft. The machines made for what 761 is called to-day naval air work—that is, to land on carriers—have always been inferior. Naval aircraft in these days have to carry an incredible amount of equipment, including life-saving apparatus and all the other impedimenta too numerous to mention. All this has to he landed on the deck of a carrier. Think of the different types of machine that would have to be accommodated on a carrier if you specialised with each type of work from a carrier, and did not make a machine into a "Jack of all trades." It would be still more inferior than it is to-day.
It has been stated that there are gaps in the Atlantic and the Pacific which cannot be effectively dealt with by shore-based aircraft. I should weary your Lordships if I went into all the details, but I wish to ask one question. If there are such gaps, where are the hostile forces coming from? We talk about England being an aerodrome and being vulnerable. England is not one-quarter as vulnerable as a carrier. Carriers have their uses, I know, in small wars—if you can call them wars. In my day we used to call them expeditions; or even—when the Government did not want to give a medal for them—patrols. I have been on all of them. I have been on many patrols that we used to think ought to have been called expeditions. But to-day I am not talking of small wars. I could say a great deal on the small war question with regard to the small carriers. I have said in your Lordships' House several times that distance dominated air power at the end of the last war. But air power now dominates distance, so far as this planet is concerned.
For security reasons I am not going to discuss to-day in any way the guided missile. Although it may be with us in the future, even in the fairly near future—it will be the distant future for the long-range work—I will not even go any further than to say that it is not with us at present; and if we do not get through the present there will be no future. Therefore, let us be efficient for the next three or four years without it. If the long-range bombers, as I now understand is the case, have the range to carry the atom bomb as far as we want it carried, we shall not have to fight to get aerodromes and bases to ring the enemy, as we did in the last war, and 762 which Field Marshal Montgomery, early in the war, recognised as necessary. I am not proposing giving up the aerodromes we have; I am talking now about fighting for new aerodromes. The terrific cost in casualties and time caused by the fight to get such aerodromes has been eliminated. We already have them; and therefore I say to the Government, "Do not let us waste our efforts on what will be unnecessary for the next war." This applies to carriers and to the maintenance of bases and immense volumes of stores all over the world to enable them to operate. Indeed, the need for some of the bases overseas should be reviewed.
In the White Paper on Defence for 1953 it is stated that the original plan put in hand by the previous Government—I think the noble and gallant Earl mentioned the figure in his speech this afternoon—was to have cost £4,700 million at the price levels prevailing at the end of 1950, and was to have been completed by March, 1954. From very rough calculations that I have made, if the programme had been carried out as originally planned by the Party of noble Lords opposite, it would have cost, not £4,700 million but, with rising prices, increasing wages, et cetera, £6,200 million—£1,500 million more than was planned for. I am not criticising the present Opposition in any way on that point, but the fact remains that it would have cost that figure. That has been prevented, and rightly. From these figures it would appear that there has, been a considerable cut. I am not, of course, saying that this reduction was not necessary, but it is vital to use some of the manpower and money saved to speed up the production of the three new long-range medium bombers. Surely the Government have cancelled some orders for aircraft and reduced the number of types of light bombers. I know the difficulty of changing mechanics from one firm to another, but surely the Government could have speeded up production of these long-range bombers, now—at once: time is short. It is right that the Government should not order types of aircraft that will be out of date as soon as they are off the assembly lines, but we must speed up the production of the new bombers. Now that we have the range, let us build the machines that can use it. One of the difficulties I feel we make for ourselves 763 nowadays, with all these modern appliances, is that we try to look too far ahead. We allow the long view to obscure and confuse the present. We do not use what we are given. We are still trying to look too far ahead. And if we continue to look too far ahead there will be no future.
The far-reaching changes that came about from 1914 to 1918, and since, have not been completely comprehended. We talked then about "2,000 leagues under the sea" and "as the crow flies." The achievements of the manufacturers and the scientists have far outstripped our imagination. The brains of those who organise and direct the use of the new inventions do not match the brains of the scientists who produce them. We must absorb all we have got to-day. I see everywhere, every day, attempts to use the new instruments provided for us, like radar and atomic energy, by the old methods. This is happening in every walk of life—in politics, in business and in what I am more competent to talk about, defence. My Lords, I feel very strongly that the wonderful inventions of to-day have changed the situation far more than we realise. Our minds have not progressed to the same extent as the minds of those who have designed and produced the modern aeroplane and its equipment.
I would ask the Government, Are they really making the best and most up-to-date use of all the most modern inventions and developments available, particularly in the air? If we do not soon learn the best way of using them, we shall lag behind. We have seen much discussion in the Press about atomic bullets and atomic shells being made for rifles and guns. Are we really to-day going to try to fire atomic bullets and atomic shells? This means that ships and transport aircraft in ever-increasing numbers will be necessary to carry the men to fire these rifles, together with all their equipment. It is the same old method of warfare as in 1914–1918 and part of 1939–1940. Remember that you cannot get away from the stark fact that we do not possess, nor shall we ever possess, as many riflemen as our potential enemies. Is that fully realised? I was reading the other day a recently-published book about the Prime Minister. 764 In that book the author made a reference to the Egyptian campaign against the Mahdi of long ago. Mr. Winston Churchill is quoted as saying that their numbers far exceeded ours and that a few of them had antiquated guns, but most had lances and swords. I hope, my Lords, that in a hundred years' time history will not recall that the British, hopelessly outnumbered, as was inevitable for so small an island, had also lost their age-long superiority in armaments and had only a few antiquated rifles and guns, and a few old aeroplanes.
It will be said that I am proposing to abolish the Navy and the Army. I am not—far from it—any more than I was thirty years ago, when Mr. Churchill suggested that the Air Force should take over the responsibility for the garrisoning of Iraq, so as to reduce the Army's strength from (I think it was) in the neighbourhood of eighteen battalions, with some armoured car companies and five squadrons, to four. We accepted the responsibility, and for it we wanted only four battalions and eight squadrons. But the Army refused to give us less than twelve battalions and two armoured car companies; they said it was not safe unless they could give us twelve battalions. The noble Viscount who was Secretary of State for Air at that time will perhaps bear that out. The Army would not give us what we wanted, as they considered it was not safe. That caused the Air Ministry to raise the Assyrian levies and to form the Royal Air Force Regiment—or the forerunner of it. That shows that we wanted an Army, but not to be used in the same way as it was when it was the chief weapon of offence, or for averting defeat. We had to form our own armies; and I say that we need to look at this problem to-day as a whole, and certainly not with the idea of doing away with the Army or the Navy.
What, then, must we have first? There have been discussions about what is called the strategic reserve—it was mentioned in another place by a former Secretary of State for War. He raised the question of the non-existence to-day of a Central Commonwealth Strategic Reserve. In support of his argument that this is vitally necessary—meaning, of course, army reserves—he referred to the Prime Minister's Memoirs, describing a visit 765 which the Prime Minister made to the French Government in 1940. Mr. Churchill asked General Gamelin, "Where is the mass of manœuvre?" and General Gamelin replied, "There is none." Mr. Churchill, writing of this, says:I was dumbfounded. It had never occurred to me that any commanders, having to defend 500 miles of engaged front, would have left themselves unprovided with a mass of a manœuvre.My Lords, the mass of manœuvre to-day is the bomber force, with the long-range bombers and the atom bomb. That is the great reserve to-day—not masses of infantry massed together with guns. Is this view accepted by the Government? Has it been argued out? The Prime Minister, speaking at Boston not long ago, said this:For good or ill, air mastery is to-day the supreme expression of military power, and fleets and armies, however necessary, must accept a subordinate rank.That brings me to my last point. In spite of our Prime Minister's words, thatair mastery is to-day the supreme expression of military power…we find not one British airman as a Commander-in-Chief. In Europe to-day, in the South, the danger is principally naval and air; and an Admiral is Commander-in-Chief. In the centre, the danger is army and air, and who is in command?—a General. In the north, the danger is from the sea and air. Who is the Commander-in-Chief?—a General. He was recently an Admiral, but now he is a General. And the whole set-up is commanded by a General. In all this, I am not talking about whether they are politically good or bad. I am taking the men who are there. After forty years of air, can it be said that there is nobody who can now come forward from the Air Force to be a Commander-in-Chief? Think what it means. When a Government or a group of nations appoint a Commander-in-Chief, he is almost omnipotent for his first few years. He comes along and says, as in the case of the invasion of Europe when a General was appointed, "We must have five divisions, not three, which have been planned." He gets them at once—and he always will. The Commander-in-Chief in Europe wants more divisions. There is not one Commander-in-Chief who says, "I must have 766 a Tactical Air Force." He says, "I must have this mass of reserves."
For 200 years everybody has been aware of what the Royal Navy has done for this country. Boys and old men were watching always that we did not let the Navy down, and rightly. Now, unless the leaders of all Parties, of all institutions, and of all organisations, get that same feeling about the air and the air battle fleet, the long-range bombers, as we had for the Navy, then, instead of our being the great nation that we still are, I fear that we shall be amongst those who "also ran." A few weeks ago, I went to a race meeting at Sandown, the Grand Military—I seldom go to a race meeting these days. I saw on the card the name of a horse running in the Grand Military Gold Cup, "Atom Bomb." I thought it was appropriate, as I had put down a Motion, that I should back it, I did, and it won, due in no small measure to the skilful and determined handling by its rider, Major Fielden. Now we have Mr. Butler, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has ridden the Budget horse to a gallant finish over a punishing course. May I hope that, as a result of this debate, the Secretary of State for Air and the Air Staff will show the same skilful and determined handling of the superb material available for the defence of this country and the Commonwealth to enable us to win the race in the air?
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ LORD FREYBERG
My Lords, it is with due humility that I rise this afternoon to address your Lordships in this Chamber, where I have spent many hours listening to your words of wisdom and learning the form of your Lordships' House. Much as I dislike making this speech, I feel that anybody with specialised knowledge should contribute to a Defence debate. It is for this reason that I have intervened so soon after taking my seat in your Lordships' House. May I start by saying what pleasure it was for me to see my old friend, the Defence Minister, introduce this debate, and assure him that it reminded me of many other occasions, ten years ago, in yet another place where his advice and help meant so much to us all? Now, as then. I find myself in agreement with what he has to say and with the White Paper on Defence.
767 I feel also that it is a great honour to speak in a debate after the noble and gallant Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Lord Trenchard. I always listen with the greatest interest to everything he says and I have great respect for his opinions. He always moves with the times, and he has raised many points that will give us a good deal of cause to think, and think deeply. His arguments will, I know, be examined by us all. Although I disagree with many of his conclusions, I find myself in complete agreement with one. I feel he has made a clear case for the Royal Air Force to be taken into full partnership with the Royal Navy and the Army. I see no reason why an airman should not be given one of the overall higher commands. It is only when the noble and gallant Viscount fails to get down to the tactical use of air power that I find myself at variance with his opinions.
Further, I do not agree that air power can prevent armies from moving, deploying or fighting on land; and although I am not competent to pass any opinion on whether aircraft carriers are obsolete or not the arguments put forward have a familiar ring. They remind me of the same arguments that were put forward between the wars. I remember being told in 1937 by a most distinguished person that if we had 10,000 aircraft we could reduce the Navy, and one military writer came out with a full-scale attack on the Army and opposed sending armies across to the Continent. Three years later, in 1940, we were only too grateful to accept fifty obsolete American destroyers to fill up the gaps in our depleted Navy. May I restate my opinion after the defence of Greece and Crete and other places. I maintain that air power by itself cannot prevent ships from moving on the sea or armies from moving and fighting battles on land.
In a debate such as this, I feel we should acknowledge the debt of gratitude we, as a nation, owe to the very able organisation, including civil servants as well as Service men, who have worked away in Whitehall organising and planning the defence of our Empire. It has not fallen to my lot to work, to any great extent, with the Admiralty or the Air Ministry, but I have first-hand knowledge of the War Office. After a long experience I want to pay tribute to the excellent 768 results they have achieved over a period of many years. It is of interest and comfort in days like this to realise that the groundwork of our Services has stood the test of war.
Towards the end of the last war, Allied Forces Headquarters, Mediterranean, of which the Defence Minister was the Commander-in-Chief, sent a team of staff officers to study the methods of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in the operations of the 9th to the 16th April, 1945, when we were crossing the Senio River and facing up to the River Po. These staff officers had come to investigate our methods and see how it was that we continued to get the good results we did. We explained that our men and our officers were of a very high grade, but, notwithstanding that, it was with great satisfaction that we were able to assure these Staff officers that we got our results by following to the letter the excellent doctrines, policies and instructions laid down by the manuals of the British General Staff, as issued by the War Office. We never departed from the normal. We would not alter or deviate by a single man from the organisation which the British General Staff had set up. We accepted their administrative system, their ration, and even their much abused but excellent Navy, Army and Air Force Institute. As a result, we finished six years of war as one of the best organised, best equipped and, though I say it myself, best trained fighting forces in the field. I tell your Lordships this because it should comfort us, when we are carrying such a burden, to realise that the money and manpower spent on defence is being well and wisely used.
Lastly I should like to deal with an aspect of defence which has been all too little considered in the past. The White Paper deals with co-operation within the Commonwealth and within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. We are all glad to hear from the Defence Minister after his visit to the Far East that the Commonwealth troops in Korea form an outstanding example of excellent co-operation in defence. That is good news and in keeping with traditions. The rank and file of our Services have always been our best ambassadors abroad. But, with all respect and every wish to help. I would urge the Government that a more complete study should be made of the 769 more difficult problem of command and integration of the armies of the Common-weath in a large-scale war. Speaking as one who has commanded a Commonwealth force for six years on active service, I know the problems and the friction which have occurred, especially during the early years of a long war. I also know the mistakes I made, and, with the experience I have, I feel that I should not make them a second time. But I was not by any means the only one to make mistakes. I doubt whether many of my senior commanders knew the mistakes they made, or, if they knew, that they ever recorded for future guidance the lessons that were to be learned. In any case, many of the senior commanders are passing on and their invaluable knowledge is being lost. That is why I press this afternoon the need to study this problem further while these men are still alive.
I know that friction in the Middle East during the first two and a half years of the war did harm to our war effort and did not improve the otherwise harmonious atmosphere that existed between various parts of our Commonwealth. Reading through the diaries and reminiscences of the various commanders who commanded Commonwealth forces in the First World War, one comes across the same situation. We had General Curry commanding the Canadians, and General Monash commanding the Australians, referring in highly critical terms to the management of the war; and in his last diary we find that the late Earl Haig referred in terms to some of the Commonwealth commanders as being swollen-headed. My Lords, there are many reasons to believe that General Curry was a very highly trained officer, but he did disagree with the whole Passchendaele adventure.
Let me explain to your Lordships the difficulties that faced me on going to the Middle East. My Government gave me full powers to organise, to equip and to train the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in Egypt; and when they were fit for war I was to notify the New Zealand Government, who would decide where they were to be employed. When France capitulated Egypt became a theatre of war, and Middle East Headquarters in Cairo held a conference at which I was not present, and sent me a message saying that they were splitting the New Zealand Forces into six. Part were to go to each 770 of the 7th Armoured, 6th Australian and 4th Indian Divisions, part to the Western Defence Force, part were to be in reserve and part on the lines of communication. Cynically, New Zealand Force Headquarters with its commander were to remain in Cairo—in other words, my headquarters and my staff were to remain in Cairo whilst the rest of my troops were sent out to do battle in the Western Desert. My Lords, this cable profoundly shocked us, and we naturally refused to obey this improper order. We pressed Middle East for the return of some of the units that we had lent, them, because our Division was together and we wanted to train as a Division. There was an angry exchange of letters, and from that moment our relationship deteriorated. My Lords, that period in the Middle East was unpleasant, and things were said and done that cannot be too quickly forgotten. Naturally, I kept the New Zealand Government in touch with all I was doing, and they agreed entirely that the New Zealand Forces should be kept together.
Early in 1941 the plan to go to Greece was made, without reference to either the Australian or the New Zealand commanders. That is quite in keeping with ordinary procedure. But I should like to point out what my responsibilities were. When I took over command of the New Zealand Forces the New Zealand Government made it perfectly clear to me that I was responsible for their health, their welfare and their safety while they were overseas. When we went to Greece I found myself in a position that was anything but secure. I was occupying a situation that would have taken an Army Corps to hold; and in point of fact we got into position one day before Germany declared war and attacked us with the whole 12th Army. When the disaster of the Greek and Crete Campaign developed we nearly lost the whole of the New Zealand Division, first in Greece in April and then in Crete in May. We should have been lost but for the skill of one Member of your Lordships' House, Admiral of the Fleet Lord Cunningham, and the devotion and efficiency of the officers and men of the Royal Navy.
When the disaster developed it became obvious to the New Zealand Government, who had a two-Party House—they had not a National Party and they were 771 holding General Elections every three years—that if they lost the New Zealand Division completely, there would be very serious political repercussions. The Prime Minister of New Zealand flew to Egypt and interrogated all the men as they came over from Greece and Crete. These included six of the Members of the House of Representatives—all good men who had served through the Greek and Crete campaign. One of them made a charge against me of not having control during the retreat from Mount Olympus to the Thermopylae line. After two months of heavy fighting, on arriving in Egypt on June 2, I found myself facing a court of inquiry. The court was a British court, assembled by the Commander-in-Chief, Middle East. They upheld my action. The complaint against me was that I stayed with the rearguard instead of going to the beaches to organise the defence. My position was that I had my Division together for the first time. We had not even had a signal exercise because our signals had been separated from us. In the state they were in I thought it would be better to stay with the rearguard and be certain that we got them back, rather than go back and find nobody coming back to me. The court upheld my action and gave me an unsolicited testimonial.
I tell your Lordships this because I want you to realise that when we came back my Prime Minister was dissatisfied with the way the New Zealand Forces were being integrated into the Army in the Middle East. After the court of inquiry, he sent for me and told me that I had failed them; that I did not warn them that the campaign in Greece was a dangerous operation. I told him it is very difficult for a junior officer to disagree on major strategy with an army group commander, and his reply was perfectly clear. He said: "No matter who your C.-in-C. or what his rank may be, it is your duty to keep us in touch with the situation." I could see trouble ahead. What a Prime Minister says goes, and he is perfectly right to lay down any conditions he likes for his national affairs. I could see stormy times ahead, for he made two conditions under which I commanded my force. He said, first: "When you are ordered to take part in operations, you will personally find out 772 whether there is air cover for operations anticipated and you will communicate with us and tell us that you are satisfied"; and secondly, "Your troops will not be exposed without tank support to hostile tank attack." I could see a great deal of trouble for my period in the Middle East.
You know the military mind. You have had a lot of military people here in this House—distinguished Admirals, Generals, Field Marshals and Marshals of the Royal Air Force. They are men with hearts of gold, but your Lordships will agree with me when I say that they dislike backseat driving by a junior officer—indeed, that is an understatement; they dislike the situation intensely—and it was a very difficult position for a Commander of a Commonwealth force. When the situation got particularly difficult I used to let them know what was happening on my side of the hill. I received a cable as we were moving out to battle and it ran like thisI hear you are on the move"—it was from my Prime Minister.We are not going to have another Greece and Crete. Wire at once who your corps and army commanders are and what you think of them.My Lords, I sent the cable to the Commander-in-Chief and said, "Will you please brief me as to what I have to say in answer?"
That is nothing. Perhaps your Lordships would like to hear my report on General Alexander and General Montgomery. Early in October, 1942, my Prime Minister said:I hear you have a change of Government in the Middle East. Wire at once what you think of the new arrangement.On October 3, twenty days before Alamein, I wired:The complete change in Middle East management has cleared the air. One good result is that they now insist that divisions must be kept intact. The result of this simple decision will be manifest in our future battles. It makes the position here much easier, as for two and a half years I have striven to prevent the New Zealand Division being divided into brigade groups.That, as I have said, was twenty days before Alamein.The result of this simple decision will be manifest in our future battles.773 Ten days after Alamein, on November 3, I sent a cable to the Prime Minister, in which I said:The present situation here shaping well. I feel that the future here is bright. I believe the German resistance was finally broken by the last attack. We shall push him back in the near future to the frontier and eventually clear Africa.That was before we broke out from Alamein. My Lords, one of the things that shocked me profoundly was the evacuation of Greece. For the evacuation of Greece they had, in me, the most experienced man in running away, evacuating or retreating that they had ever had in the British Army. I evacuated Antwerp and Gallipoli and several rearguards in France; I evacuated part of the rearguard from Mount Olympus to Thermopylae. But did they ask me one question? They never referred to me: they handed me my orders.
This problem of handling the armies of the Commonwealth has been facing us for many years—in fact since the First World War. The story of the rise to efficiency of the armies of the Commonwealth is an interesting one. It has a human as well as a military side. When they sent across the "Lustre" force to Greece there were two Australian divisions and a New Zealand division. There you have a cable of February 8, from the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Sir John Dill, saying that there were only two officers to be considered for the Command, General "A" and General "B," both British officers, and it ended, "As Blamey and Freyburg are such strong characters, it had better be General 'A'." When we came back from Greece there were in North Africa three Australian divisions, two Indian, two South African, one New Zealand—that is, eight Commonwealth divisions—and one British division, the 7th Armoured, and I think one other division was on its way, the 50th. When they picked the two commanders to take over the armies on the other side they put a British officer in the Western Desert and a British officer in Palestine. This did not escape very severe criticism from the Commonwealth forces, and an Australian came to London and complained that Blamey was not given one of the jobs. In the end they made a special job for him as Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Middle East.
774 I do not want your Lordships to think I was in the running for any jobs, because I was not. When I took over command of the New Zealand Division I agreed not to accept promotion, and on three occasions I was offered, very kindly, by several of the commanders the command of a corps; the last time being by the present Defence Minister in Italy in 1944. To me the most important job was keeping in touch with the New Zealand Government. My job in 1942 was to brief the New Zealand Government, to advise them as to whether they should keep the New Zealand forces in the Western Desert or to send them to the Pacific to take part in the fight against Japan. I had a certain influence; they respected my opinions, and I maintained that my work there in that field was very important.
This problem of integration has a simple solution; it is the old story of the father not realising, and I believe not wanting to realise, that his sons have grown up and want full partnership in the family business. These forces of the Dominion countries are co-equal in every respect; they are highly trained and are worthy of every consideration. I know that your Lordships will forgive me if I do not wait for the end of the debate to-night, because I have an engagement of long standing. I do not believe, in view of my good attendance in your Lordships' House, that even the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, will accuse me of having treated your House with disrespect if I leave to keep that engagement. I am sorry for having spoken for so long, and I now beg to support the Motion.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ LORD HENDERSON
My Lords, may I begin by offering sincere congratulations to the noble and gallant Lord who has just addressed your Lordships' House for the first time? The noble and gallant Lord has a record of distinguished service, both to his country and to the Commonwealth, in peace and in war. His presence in your Lordships' House means a notable addition to its collective knowledge and experience, and his speech this afternoon, has shown that he has his own valuable contributions to make to your Lordships' discussions. I am quite sure that I am speaking for noble Lords in all parts of the House 775 when I say that we shall hope to hear his voice on many future occasions.
This debate has been a remarkable one so far. We have had speeches from four noble Lords who are pre-eminently qualified to discuss defence matters. It would not be easy, I think, in any other Parliamentary Chamber in the world to find four successive speakers with such personal authority, knowledge and experience of Service and defence problems. The three noble and gallant Lords have had brilliant careers as military or Air Force leaders. My noble friend Lord Alexander of Hillsborough was, for most of the Second World War, the political chief of the Admiralty; and later for some years he was Minister of Defence. It is with some diffidence, therefore, that I venture to intervene in the debate, especially at this early stage. But defence concerns not only the great experts and specialists; it is a matter of vital importance to the whole community.
We are in the third year of our rearmament programme. It is making great demands on our productive resources and a considerable impact, as my noble friend has reminded the House, on the lives of our people and on their standard of life. The proposals outlined in the White Paper call for an expenditure in the coming year of £1,600 million, for 860,000 men in the Armed Forces and for 850,000 industrial workers in the armament industries. Our forces are the largest, the strongest, and the most costly we have ever maintained in time of peace. Science and invention are constantly developing new weapons and improving existing ones, with the double consequence that, while efficiency is always rising, so also is the cost of production. The programme upon which we are engaged represents a very heavy national burden. We have it on the authority of the Prime Minister thatthe effort we are making in defence is the absolute maximum of which we are capable.The effort is a continuing effort, and the burden is a continuing burden, and both are so, not from our choice but from necessity. And the necessity will be inescapable, so long as the free world is menaced by aggressive Communism and Communist aggression.
776 We are no longer living in a world in which British defence policy and provision have to be developed solely on the basis of British responsibilities and in isolation from the defence policy and efforts of the free world as a whole. It would be difficult to visualise a situation in which we should have to stand alone resisting aggression. Indeed, the Prime Minister has said that he and Marshal Tito agreed thatthere can be no question of thinking in terms of a localised war in Europe.We are living in a world where aggression has to be resisted by collective effort on the basis of the common action of "one for all, and all for one." That is why the defence of the free world is being developed, as never before, within a collective system—a system of contractual engagements of mutual assistance against aggression.
The security of these islands must, of course, always be our first and overriding responsibility. But our own security is not to be assured apart from the security of Western Europe and the free world as a whole. In practical terms, British defence for the foreseeable future can be made effective only within the wider context of North Atlantic community defence. In saying that, I am not saying anything new. It is now firm British policy to ensure British security through pooled security by collective defence effort and mutual assistance—collective effort that takes the form of regional agreements in harmony with the Charter of the United Nations. I stress this point because it is one of cardinal importance, and because it seems to me that much more attention should be given in future Defence debates to collective defence developments under N.A.T.O. than has hitherto been the case.
I agree with the noble and gallant Earl the Minister of Defence that there is no new international factor which can be held to have diminished in any way the need to build up the collective defences of the West. Potential dangers still menace peace and security. We are still faced with localised but related wars in Asia, and with persistent cold war in the rest of the world, but particularly in Europe. And none of us knows how long that unhappy and unsettled state is likely to continue. It may, of course, begin to change for the better in the coming 777 months. We are all encouraged by recent Communist gestures to cautious hope that there maybe a reasonable chance of East and West coming together in a genuine effort to work for an agreed settlement of issues which at present divide them. That is what we want to see happen, and happen soon. Every one of us must realise how greatly the world could be transformed if the Soviet leaders were willing and ready to seek with the Western nations honest agreement by negotiation on major matters—on Korea, on the Far East, on Austria, on Germany unity, on disarmament. Life will be happier and more secure for all nations if tensions can be lessened, their causes removed, and the burden of armaments reduced; and we must all wish that no opportunity should be missed, and no effort spared, to achieve that desired goal.
But all that lies with the future—though we hope that important first steps will be taken in the near future. Nothing, however, has occurred yet—I repeat "yet"—to lessen the need for adequate Western defence or to justify a slowing down or curtailment of Western defence preparations. We must keep hard realities clearly in mind. Soviet Russia and her satellites have formidable military power. They continue to possess a considerable military preponderance over the free West. I have read from time to time unofficial estimates and statements of the strength of their armed forces. The Soviet are said to have 175 divisions, of which about one-third are mechanised and tank divisions, and the satellites and the Soviet Zone of Germany have between 65 and 75 divisions. Soviet air strength has been variously estimated at between 18,000 and 20,000 war 'planes, of which about 7,000 are said to be jets. It was stated in January of this year by the well-informed military correspondent of the New York Times, Mr. Hanson Baldwin, that there are 34 Soviet divisions and 2,500 military aircraft stationed in East Germany and other European countries behind the Iron Curtain. I have no means of deciding how reliable those estimates may be, but we do know that the Russians themselves publicly boast of their military might, and make no secret of the fact that they continue to consolidate it and increase it.
We are now told, on the authority of the First Lord of the Admiralty, that the Russian Navy is the second largest in the 778 world in ships actually in commission. The qualifying words are "in commission," and we know, of course, that the Royal Navy has a large number of vessels laid up in reserve but ready for service should the need arise. The First Lord cited the 350 submarines which, as we know, form a Main element in the Russian Navy. I confess that I read the First Lord's statement with surprise, despite the qualifying words, and I believe that the general impression left upon the public was that the Royal Navy was no longer the world's second navy. I think it is important that we should be quite clear what the position is. Can we be told whether, as a fighting force, the Russian Navy is superior or inferior to the Royal Navy? Is it, in fact, by all the normal tests, the second navy in the world? Doubt and confusion should not be left in the public mind on such a vitally important defence matter. What does, however, seem clear beyond doubt, is that the Russian Navy is a powerful offensive weapon, and that its strength for this function is being constantly increased. Moreover, we must not forget that, in addition to the military, air and naval strength which the Soviet Empire has at its command, there are the atomic bomb and other modern offensive weapons for mass destruction which she has developed. All this massed power must be regarded as constituting a great potential danger to the peace and security of the free world.
I am not concerned at this moment with assumptions regarding the political intentions of the Soviet Government, but with the formidable military capabilities at their disposal. For some time now, Western statesmen have been assuring their peoples that war is not inevitable. That is true. Wes is never inevitable until some Government have deliberately decided to invoke armed force as the instrument of their national policy—as, for example, when Hitler insisted on attacking Poland. At no time has there been any convincing evidence that Soviet Russia had decided and was planning to gamble on a war of aggression against the West. Expansion without involving herself directly in war has been her policy. But so long as fighting continues in Asia, and the cold war is carried on in Europe, with the silent backing of Russia's great and growing military 779 power, and so long as the world is kept in a state of fear and insecurity, there is always the danger of a situation arising, whether by accident or design, in which the capacity of the free West to defend itself would be put to the test.
The question I should like to ask is: Are we within sight of the minimum forces required to serve as an effective deterrent to a potential aggressor? Lord Ismay, the Secretary-General of N.A.T.O., stated recently that from 1949–50 to the current year, defence expenditure in European N.A.T.O. countries has increased by 120 per cent., and that there has been an increase in the number of men under arms in Western Europe from 2,450,000 to 3,300,000. I think it would be reasonable to assume that the bulk of this increase in Western armed forces is accounted for by Greece and Turkey, who joined N.A.T.O. last year. No figure was given of the total number of trained reserves who have flowed out of the same period. It must be a considerable number. In our own case the National Service reserve alone will be, roughly, 500,000 by the middle of next year. Lord Ismay also said that there had been a steady improvement in equipment, quality and training. At Lisbon the military target was set at 50 divisions by the end of 1952–25 front-line and 25 reserve divisions. Following their meeting in Paris last December, the Committee of Ministers stated that theynoted with satisfaction the increase in forces agreed to at Lisbon had been substantially achieved by the end of 1952, and that it was planned to make further individual and collective efforts to increase, improve and strengthen the forces now in being.I do not think there can be any doubt that the progress that has been made has been both substantial and encouraging, though, as the noble and gallant Earl told us this afternoon, there is still a long way to go.
Nevertheless, there appear some aspects which are disturbing. For on the same day as the N.A.T.O. Council issued that communiqué, N.A.T.O. officials were reported to have informed the Press that General Ridgway, the Supreme Allied Commander, was of the opinion that his 50 divisions were more like 35; that some of the divisions (and here I take it he was referring to reserve divisions) at present available to him were incapable 780 of real resistance, would take more than thirty days to mobilise and would still be under-equipped, under-trained and under-supplied. In his view the Allied Forces availablewould prove gravely inadequate if put to the test.In the middle of March, General Ridgway is reported to have warned an assembly of more than 100 of the highest ranking military, air and naval officers of the N.A.T.O. countries thatduring the foreseeable future we shall be critically short of much of our materialneeded to fight a war. An American commentator stated that:In ammunition, a minimum need in a war theatre is generally regarded as 90 days' supply, and if this is taken as a standard, then it is certain that fewer than one quarter of General Ridgway's divisions in Western Europe are ready to fight.Then there is N.A.T.O. air defence, to which this country's direct contribution takes the form of the 2nd Tactical Air Force. We have never been told what that contribution is, in terms of squadrons and 'planes, though we do know that all the 'planes are jets. If any target was fixed at Lisbon for the size of the N.A.T.O. Air Force by the end of 1952, I have no recollection of any figure having been made public. The figure of 9,000 'planes by the end of 1955 has been mentioned in the Press. We now have a statement by Lord Ismay thatthrough the combined efforts of European production and shipment from the United States, the Air Forces of Western Europe would be equipped with more than 4,000 'planes by the end of this year. This would be more than double the strength at the beginning of 1952, and most of the 'planes would be modern jets.This is, of course, a substantial increase in two years, but no doubt part of the increase is due to the inclusion of Greek and Turkish air contributions, which have become available since the beginning of 1952. An American correspondent has said within the last few days that it is exclusive of about 1,200 aircraft of the R.A.F. stationed in the United Kingdom and the French metropolitan air commands, whose strength he did not give. But if this growing strength of N.A.T.O. air forces can be regarded as encouraging, there appears to have been strong disagreement on the part of the N.A.T.O. military chiefs with the decision taken by the Ministers last December, which it 781 was urged would seriously prejudice Western air defence. This was the point upon which I intervened when the noble and gallant Earl the Minister of Defence was making his speech.
General Ridgway had proposed that £163 million should be provided for the 1953 military construction programme, which is another definition of "infrastructure," about which we have heard from the noble and gallant Earl this afternoon. It is reported that the Ministers slashed this amount by half. One adverse effect of this decision was stated to be that the planned improvements to pipe jet fuel to existing Allied air bases, and to store enough there to keep existing jet fighter squadrons operational for at least a month in an attack, would have to be postponed. Another effect was that large parts of the programme for providing an effective radar screen along the Iron Curtain would have to be suspended. General Ridgway was stated to have been strongly opposed to the cut, and apparently kept up his pressure—and it would seem successfully, for I understand that less than two months later, not only was the cut restored but an extra £5 million was allocated.
From the standpoint of effective defence the reversal of the December decision is to be welcomed, but one cannot help wondering what caused the original decision, and what were the new grounds for restoring the cuts within two months, and for announcing that decision without waiting for the Ministers' meeting in London later this month. Has there been a battle between the soldiers and the Ministers; and has General Ridgway, as one Press correspondent wrote, "won his battle"? What significance is to be attached to the various critical statements to which I have referred? Do they indicate that the N.A.T.O. Ministers and the military leaders do not see eye to eye on important aspects of the build-up of N.A.T.O. defences? Are there substantial points of difference between them? Is the process of building up the Western defence structure proceeding, in the view of the Supreme Allied Commander, less satisfactorily than the Ministers stated they regarded it in December? What purpose had Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery, the Deputy Supreme Commander, in mind when he announced to the world that N.A.T.O. requiredless paper work, less talk, more and quicker decisions, and more practical action"?782 If that is a true picture of the N.A.T.O. position, who is responsible for it? At whom were his criticisms directed? General Gruenther, the S.H.A.P.E. Chief of Staff, said in Washington that Lord Montgomery was speaking on "a political level." What does that mean? Do N.A.T.O. military chiefs speak publicly on "a political level"? Are we to understand that he was addressing the Council of Ministers from outside the council chamber? I think we, should be told by the Government whether they agree with the Field Marshal's criticism, because it seems to me that if the working of N.A.T.O. is as stated by him it calls for the attention of the Council of Ministers.
§ LORD WINSTER
Perhaps the noble Lord would allow me to interrupt. When General Gruenther made these comments on the speech by Field Marshal Montgomery he also said that, as usual, the Field Marshal did not understand his case.
§ LORD HENDERSON
I submit that it is not sufficient that Parliament and the people should be told, of course within limits, only about British defence efforts and about the state of British defence forces. We are vitally concerned as a partner in N.A.T.O. We have four of our best divisions in Western Germany, which form part of the N.A.T.O. front-line covering forces. We make a substantial contribution to N.A.T.O. air strength. A large part of the Royal Navy is included in the N.A.T.O. Naval defence forces. As I have stated, our own defence is intimately bound up with N.A.T.O. defence. It seems to me that both Parliament and the people should be kept much better informed than they are at present about the build-up and the condition of NA.T.O. defence. They should be told not only what we are doing as a member of N.A.T.O., but what our partners are doing. Collective defence means collective responsibility, and where we have responsibility, and where our national safety is involved, the public should be given as much information as possible, subject only to genuine security considerations, because public interest and public support are vital to the success of all collective efforts for the defence of peace and security.
783 I have been astonished at the amount of information about N.A.T.O. defence which appears in the American newspapers, and it seems to me that N.A.T.O. and Whitehall differ considerably in their interpretation of what is meant by "the needs of security." I wish, therefore, to ask the Minister to consider a practical suggestion. It is that he should propose at the coming meeting of the N.A.T.O. Council of Ministers that a report be prepared giving an up-to-date progress report of the present state of the build-up of N.A.T.O. defences, including a breakdown of the collective armed forces into national contributions. This report should then be published in this country as a White Paper, so that Parliament may have an opportunity, if it so wishes, to discuss N.A.T.O. defence.
Let me give a supporting illustration. I read in the Manchester Guardian of March 17 an interesting and informative article on Italy's new army. It referred to Italy's two completed armoured divisions, to a third which is nearing completion, and to twelve infantry divisions expected to be ready by the end of the year, bringing the new Italian army up to fifteen fully equipped divisions. The noble and gallant Earl the Minister of Defence told us in his speech that these fully equipped armoured divisions had been so equipped as a result of the assistance of the United States. I have no doubt that similar information has been published about the defence efforts and achievements of other N.A.T.O. countries. What I am suggesting is an authoritative report giving a digest of the N.A.T.O. defence progress and of national contributions, so that we can have reliable information about what is being done, instead of having to rely so much on newspaper items of information that may be official, semi-official or from "well informed sources" or even in the form of "calculated indiscretions."
There is one other matter to which I wish to refer, and that is the present position of the proposed European Army and the European Defence Community. The European Army is intended to be an integral part of Western defence under N.A.T.O. It is designed to fill a gap by providing for a German armed contribution. That contribution has been fixed at twelve divisions and 1,300 military'planes—a powerful addition to the pre- 784 sent defence forces at the disposal of N.A.T.O. It is about a year since the E.D.C. Treaty was signed. So far not a single one of the six Governments concerned has ratified the Treaty, though in Western Germany it has passed Third Reading in the Bundestag. It is in France that the main difficulties and doubts have shown themselves. I am not now concerned with E.D.C. as an essential element in building up Western Union, but it is as an element in N.A.T.O. and in effective Western defence that it is appropriate to this debate. If Germany is to contribute to a system of collective security and is to do so without having a national army with its own General Staff, in what other way can we secure it if not through E.D.C.? And if E.D.C. collapses in ruins, what is there to take its place?
I need scarcely remind your Lordships that this country, together with the United States and France, is at this moment committed to regard an attack on Berlin or on Federal Germany as an attack upon themselves. That commitment will remain unless and until it is replaced by the proposed reciprocal obligations between N.A.T.O. and E.D.C. It may be regarded as an outside risk at the present, but if in the meantime events should call upon us to defend Berlin and Federal Germany, we should have to do so without any armed assistance from the defended territories and peoples.
We know that Her Majesty's Government have made proposals to the six E.D.C. Powers regarding British military association and political liaison. The French Foreign Minister has told the French Assembly that the French Government realised that Great Britain could not for the present accept the idea of a supra-national authority. "But," he continued, "it"—that is, the French Government—"had proposed political participation in E.D.C., together with certain undertakings about the maintenance of troops in Europe." What was Her Majesty's Government's reply? M. Bidault has said that the British proposals were technical and touched only one aspect of the question. The German Chancellor, on the other hand, has stated thatthe obligation to E.D.C. has been reinforced, and in particular, Britain has agreed to support an extension of N.A.T.O. to fifty years, to bring it into line with E.D.C.785 In these statements made in the Parliaments of other countries we find some indication of what is being asked of this country and what Her Majesty's Government have offered to do. Cannot we be told what the Government have proposed in their desire to assist the bringing of E.D.C. into existence? We all realise that without the six ratifications there can be no E.D.C. Without E.D.C. there can be no European Army. Without a European Army there can be no German armed contribution to Western defence under N.A.T.O. except on a basis which France will not accept and the Federal German Chancellor does not want. It is recognised in all the N.A.T.O. countries that Western defence cannot possess the minimum adequate forces to withstand the initial drive of a potential aggressor unless there is a German armed contribution. That is certainly the view of the Supreme Allied Commander and his staff.
I, personally, still hope that E.D.C. will be ratified, for failure would have a serious effect on the strength of the Western defence forces. It would have a disturbing political and psychological effect in all the N.A.T.O. countries. It would inflict great damage to the Continental efforts to build up an integrated Western Europe and it would, I believe, do grave harm to the prospects of Franco-German reconciliation and co-operation, to the attainment of which both Dr. Adenauer and M. Schuman have devoted themselves with sincerity and faith. Have the Government offered to reinforce their obligations to E.D.C.? Have they agreed to support an extension of N.A.T.O. to fifty years? Have they offered to place any British forces, even a token force, within the European Army? I ask the Government to tell the House what they have said they are prepared as a non-member to do to bring E.D.C. into existence and so make it possible for Western defence to be strengthened by a German armed contribution through a European Army.
§ 5.36 p.m.
My Lords, it is not the practice in your Lordships' House to oppose for the sake of opposition, and certainly I am neither able nor anxious to do so. But two particular thoughts have arisen in my mind during this debate. The first is, how 786 extraordinarily fortunate we are to have the Ministry of Defence in the hands of the noble and gallant Field Marshal. He is one of the best-known strategists in the world; he has governed one of the principal sources from which we draw men and material, and he has an intimate and local knowledge of Russia.
On the other hand, he has the usual difficulties of men money and materials. I was turning over some old letters of the end of the seventeenth century last night, and I found that these are old difficulties which recur. I was looking at some letters of King William III, the Duke of Marlborough, Lord Godolphin and George I. There was a letter of the Duke of Marlborough in very careful words to the Captain of a ship, not ordering but asking him to move his ship. There was a letter from George I, then Elector of Hanover, saying to the Duke of Marlborough, "I am very sorry but I must have back those four regiments I lent you six months ago." That, I imagine, happens often. There was also a letter from William III to some indeterminate German princeling, one of his very difficult allies, which was full of compliments and saying what a great man he was.
Probably the noble and gallant Earl is able to deal with questions of that sort. He has to get money; he has to get men and materials. Those happy days have gone when we used to say, easily,We've got the ships, we've got the men,We've got the money, too.I am sure that this House will give every good wish to the noble and gallant Earl the Minister of Defence in his difficult task. I expect that there are few people who are able to deal with it as well as he can, though he is a modest man. The ordinary basic recommendations with which everybody is ready are hardly worth while putting forward on this occasion, for he knows them much better than we do. Nevertheless, perhaps I may be allowed to say that the presentation of prospects in the Army in such a way as to make it clear that the Army is an attractive Service would be an important factor in getting recruits for the Territorials to take service with the Regular Army. I wish that I were able to contribute something a little more useful titan these few words.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ LORD TEDDER
My Lords, I do not wish at this late stage in the evening to be reminiscent; but perhaps I may be allowed to say that about ten years ago I got into serious trouble with high authorities by asserting in public that there was such a thing as air warfare as distinct from naval warfare and land warfare. I am more than ever convinced that it is true. When I said "distinct from" I meant "distinct from"—not separate from. In the past, many centuries of tradition led most people, except a few geniuses like Pitt, to regard land and sea warfare as something entirely separate from each other; but in modern conditions, when war is total, when it involves every aspect of a nation's life, such separation can have literally devastating results. Such results undoubtedly contributed in no small degree to Germany's defeat in two wars; and it was a factor at the root of some of the disasters we suffered during the first years of the last war.
Unfortunately, it is still alive and active in some, at least, of the N.A.T.O. nations. Dissent and bickering between land, sea and air Services, and refusal on the part of the senior Services properly to recognise air forces as anything except convenient adjuncts to their own operations on land or sea—these and other survivals of traditional separation still cramp the smooth and, above all, economic development of N.A.T.O. defences. For if there is one thing that is quite certain, as the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, has said, it is that separation between the Services cannot but lead to a great increase in cost without a corresponding increase in effectiveness. The noble and gallant Viscount referred to the fact that this country has two air forces. There is one N.A.T.O. nation which now has virtually four: a naval, a marine, an air and an army air force. I do not see how any nation, however rich, can go on indefinitely on those lines. I am afraid it is necessary still to hammer away the lesson which most of us British learned the hard way: that air warfare is something quite distinct from land warfare and sea warfare, and that it has an essential unity of its own. But then, having got that fully accepted, there is a corollary: that operations on land or sea or in the air are not separate but are parts of one closely-knit unity.
788 After four years on the Chiefs of Staffs Committee, including three years as Chairman, I was only too well aware that we still had some way to go before we could honestly say we considered every problem purely objectively and without any separate Service bias. We tried hard, and I think we made a little progress towards a real unity of view, and I am sure that further progress towards unity has been achieved during the past three years. I am told, and I believe it, that the relationships between the three Services, from the Chiefs of Staffs downwards, are excellent—a much happier situation than has sometimes obtained and than obtains now elsewhere. But I hope that that happy state of affairs has not been arrived at by some sort of gentleman's agreement not to press awkward issues. When I hear it said that we need a large aircraft carrier force to deal with the submarine threat, and even. I have been told, to operate in the North Sea, I find it difficult to believe that even now we are thinking in modern terms, either as regards the practicability of operating carriers in places like that or, still more, the practicability of paying for them.
It has been rather depressing recently to see complaints made by protagonists of one Service or another that their own particular protégé has not got its proper share of the available fund. Honestly, I was slightly shocked to hear the noble and gallant Earl, the Minister of Defence, use the word "share"—the impression being that the Defence Vote as a whole is, as it were, a piece of cake to be divided up amongst the three Services with a minimum of squabbling. One had hoped that we had got beyond that stage. Surely we can agree that the rational way to deal with defence is, first, to examine the various threats that face us, their nature, their relative likelihood, and the extent to which they endanger the security of this country, and then, having analysed them, to consider the various possible means and methods of defence and finally to select the method and means calculated to be fully effective and at the same time most economical. It is only at that stage that the question arises as to which Service (or Services) undertakes the responsibility for a particular aspect of defence and which Vote is to carry the burden.
789 I know only too well how difficult it is to be completely objective in this way. As a nation it is often said that we are essentially liberal, with a small "l," in limiters of the mind, but in practical affairs, in methods, we are, I think, essentially conservative, with a small "c." It is a characteristic which has its points, but in the rapidly changing conditions of this modern world it has its dangers. We are apt to promote habit into custom, and custom into tradition—and then to tradition we bow the head. Unfortunately, a bowed head is not conducive to clear thought. True tradition always has been and always will be a vital factor in morale, but I myself do not feel that habits in methods of defence are tradition in the true sense, or can be; they are just plain habits. We should not bow to them but should keep a very wary and critical eye on them, for the chances are that they are out of date, and in that case they are bad habits.
It is difficult to judge from the White Paper how far past habits are still being allowed to masquerade as traditions and consequently to determine policy, or how far they have been relegated to their proper resting places in the war museums. Can we really be assured that our defence forces are being organised to meet the conditions and tempo—the tempo particularly—not of the wars of the, past but of a possible future war? If we can bring that about, it will be for the first time in our history. The White Paper discusses the burden on our national economy—a very welcome reminder, since loose purse-strings lead to loose thinking and certainly not to economy of force; but unfortunately I can find no indication that that burden has been relieved by that vigorous, difficult but healthy process of selection which alone ensures real economy. It is true that the importance of getting the fullest possible value for our money is stressed, but apparently that refers strictly to limiting the purchase of equipment likely to become quickly obsolescent. The only other economy that one can trace is obtained by slowing up the rate of production. That has already been commented on, so I will not comment further upon it.
One is concerned about this because one cannot but remember what happened before September, 1939. No effective selection was made. We tried to be strong everywhere and only succeeded in 790 being weak everywhere, at sea, on land, and in the air, with the result that we spent the first three years of the war fighting in the last ditch, fighting not to win the war—that came later—but to prevent losing the war, Then after September, 1939, we went over to the "blank cheque" basis. True, there were fights between the Services for sudden and very ephemeral priorities, but true selection there was none. We won the war with the overwhelming material superiority which the blank cheque gave. Whether or not that was, from a military point of view, the best and most effective way of winning the war, I think is arguable. Whether we, as a great Power, can recover from that victory, is, I am afraid, despite yesterday's Budget, still in the balance, and I am sure in my own mind that we could not survive another victory of that sort.
The clumsy methods of the late régime in Moscow made it possible for Governments in the free world to allocate funds for defence on a scale which certainly has not forced a very searching selection or economy. But recent events suggest there may be a change. It may be that the new régime has come to the conclusion that the cold war is a frost. In this case, later, I hope, rather than sooner, all Governments will be under heavy pressure to reduce defence expenditure. It is when that happens that we shall be in the greatest danger. There would be little chance in that atmosphere of carrying out a thorough re-assessment of the defence problems followed by a re-allocation of defence effort rigidly to ensure maximum power with the minimum of expenditure. No; the inevitable demand in such conditions would be an all-round percentage cut, with the inevitable and, I am sure, fatal result of all-round weakness. I am sure that hidden away somewhere between the lines of this White Paper there must be some evidence that defence is being considered as a single composite problem: that it is not a question of shares; and that some endeavour has been made to achieve true economy of force and its corollary, the concentration of power where it is most needed. Nevertheless, do feel that we have not gone far enough up that road, and I suspect that separate Service considerations still carry too much weight.
791 It is good to see the Admiralty are now concentrating their efforts against mining and anti-submarine operations; but the aircraft carrier programme to which I have already referred does rather shake one's confidence, and the separate Naval Air Force sounds to me much more like a return to the last war but one, rather than a preparation for a possible future war. I fear that this part of the programme is, at best, due to a misguided attempt to imitate the methods of the American Navy in the Pacific in the last war. Personally, I can think of nothing more inappropriate to meet the problems which may face us in the future, or more utterly inconsistent with any idea of economy of force.
The noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, referred to the tactical air force. There have been some who have seen in our use of that title symptoms of a similar separation of "army air" from the main Air Force. I suppose I must plead guilty to having been largely responsible for introducing the two terms "tactical" and "strategic" in that connection. I did so to try to make clear to my colleagues on land and at sea the distinction between the two main rôles of the Air Force, and to emphasise that the part of the force allocated to direct co-operation with the ground forces (its composition would change from week to week) was in fact an integral part of the main air forces. So far as the British Army is concerned, I do not think there has been any separatist move since the one-time Commander of 8th Army, speaking from some considerable experience of successful land-air operations, said:The first and great principle of war is that you must first win your air battle.He then added another principle:The Air Force side of the fighting machine must be centralised and kept under Air Force Command.My Lords, I am happy about the British Army, but I am frankly uneasy about the position in the N.A.T.O. forces. There are very few senior Army officers of the other N.A.T.O. nations, except the Americans, who have any real experience of full-scale, land-air operations and the full range of them; and still fewer understand the meaning of the air battle. Moreover, unfortunately, the American attitude 792 regarding air policy is still bedevilled in some quarters by inter-Service rivalries and friction. Yet, I saw in the Press quite recently that it had been decided to place the air forces in Europe under command of the Land Force Commander. In my view, that decision goes dead against all our experience and is most dangerously retrograde. One has also noticed that in nearly all of the almost interminable arguments about N.A.T.O. strengths, there appears to be only one criterion—namely, divisions, divisions, divisions. I admit I did once see a reference, in parenthesis, to "and appropriate tactical air forces"—whatever that may mean. Are there really still people who do not realise that "you must first win your air battle"? Have people still no conception of what the development of the atomic bomb means to all our old ideas of warfare? With the atomic bomb in its latest development in the modern armoury, we simply cannot afford to risk another 1940.
My Lords, I should like to offer one other comment about N.A.T.O. It is easy enough to criticise, as we have recently seen. Attacks on excessive "paper" are probably justified, and in any case are good for the system. I myself can remember occasions, when I was in the Organisation in Washington, when I felt almost overwhelmed by feelings of frustration. But to get agreement and a clear-cut decision from twelve highly individualistic nations takes a bit of doing. It is not one of those simple things that we sometimes hear of. There are now fourteen nations, and that is a big team to handle on any democratic basis. It was for that reason that the Standing Group was set up, to provide leadership for the whole Allied team and also to serve as an executive body for the Chiefs of Staff of all nations. It is on the prestige, authority and leadership of the Standing Group that the effective working of N.A.T.O. to a very considerable extent depends. In peace time it is very important; in war it would be vital. Yet I noticed that the announcement of the change in the European Command set-up, which I mentioned just now, was made from Paris, with a footnote to the effect that it was being submitted to the Standing Group who would certainly agree. My Lords, I wonder what would have happened if at Allied Headquarters at Algiers or Versailles we had treated the Combined Chiefs of Staff like that? 793 I realise that there may have been special circumstances about this, but I still say that it was a bad and dangerous precedent.
Frankly, my Lords, I believe that we ourselves have made a mistake in the past and are now making a double mistake about the Standing Group. I believe that our representative on the Standing Group should be an ex-Chief of Staff. I say this not merely to ensure that we British have the most authoritative representation possible on the Standing Group, but also to build up and maintain its prestige and authority, so that it can provide the effective leadership without which N.A.T.O. will certainly be in danger of suffocation by paper. My successor on the Standing Group two years ago was not an ex-Chief of Staff. Fortunately, he had considerable experience of working with the Chiefs of Staff Committee, and served on it as the Chief Staff Officer to the Minister. There was also the advantage that he was an airman, and so kept the balance right on the three-man Committee at Standing Group. I have a very great admiration for his judgment and ability and, from all I hear, he has been a great success in Washington. His prospective successor (if he is the man I understand is likely to be selected) is another man of very wide experience—an old colleague of mine, in foul days and fair, for whom I have in every way the highest possible regard. But he has not been one of the Chiefs of Staff, and, since he is a soldier, there will now be no airman on the Standing Group.
People pay much lip service to air power as the dominant factor in defence, but what does all that talk really amount to? As the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, asked, where are the air officers in high command? Are they in a position where they can ensure that this new predominant factor is accorded its proper place in the larger unity of defence? And on the material plane, what real evidence is there that we not merely believe in air power but are acting on our beliefs? What are we giving up in order to have adequate air strength? I would repeat that, my Lords. What are we giving up—what have we given up—to ensure that we have adequate air strength? I know that the Air Force has given up much of its transport, has drastically 794 limited items like helicopters, and is apparently going to give up flying boats altogether, in order to maintain the essential minimum of fighters and bombers. Is that right? Is it not a symptom that defence is still being considered in separate compartments and not as a unity?
There are probably few people in the world now who do not want peace more than anything else, but it is to be hoped that if there is going to be a sudden thaw in the cold war, which seems quite possible, people will not allow themselves to be swept away in an avalanche of woolly good intentions, and led to think that in future peace can be maintained by good intentions alone. For nearly 100 years before the so-called First Great War, wars were prevented from spreading, and world peace was kept, by a very effective deterrent—the British Fleet in being. Those days are over but there is no doubt that during recent critical years the peace has been kept by a new deterrent, the American strategic bomber force and its atomic weapons. We, fortunately, have never accepted the suggestion that since the United States is rich and we are relatively poor, and since atomic bombs and atomic bombers are very expensive, we should leave that part of defence to the Americans. It is true that ever since the end of the war the Royal Air Force has followed a policy of postponing re-equipment until major advances were possible, and so have avoided heavy expenditure which early obsolescence and early replacement involves—expenditure, incidentally, which the United States has been able and willing to accept, fortunately for the peace of the world.
Meantime, British aircraft and engine designers have a way of going to the top, and the position now is that the new bombers with which the Air Force could be equipped are, in design and performance, well ahead of anything. They are brilliant examples of a completely new generation of aircraft and are most unlikely to suffer from early obsolescence. Here, at least, is an opportunity for which we have planned and waited, the psychological moment, the right moment, for modernising the Royal Air Force and making it once again a power in the world, a power for peace, the modern Fleet in being. Yet all the official statements I have seen or heard regarding 795 re-equipment with these new bombers, have been vague, almost hesitant. And, to be frank, I was not greatly inspired by the apologetic air with which the Under-Secretary of State announced the production of the new types—We shall not have a very large strategic air force but….One does not get inspiration or leadership from "buts." I wonder, is it realised that owing to our technical advances, and owing to developments in fighter and other forms of air defence on the other side, it is quite possible that for a period it may be the British strategic bombers which can best deliver the atomic weapon? And it is even conceivable that in some circumstances they might prove to be the only effective means, of delivery. In that case the onus of maintaining the deterrent on which the whole of world peace depends would be on the shoulders of Great Britain. Are we going to shirk that responsibility?
It may be we are entering a new phase of world affairs; a period, we hope, of relaxed tension, perhaps even of peace. If so, I believe it to be a period in which there will be immense scope for British leadership. There will be some new problems to solve, a great many of them, and those of defence, in particular, will not he easy; but it is in that field especially that I believe that British leadership would be invaluable; and, due in no small part to the high prestige that Britain has in all air matters, I believe that our leadership would be especially acceptable. We shall have no opportunity of exercising that leadership so long as we continue to keep our airmen out of positions of high authority; nor will our leadership be accepted so long as we are hesitant or apologetic about maintaining a force adequate to ensure peace. After all, more than ever before, and more than in the case of any other nation, Britain's interests lie in peace. But it must be "peace with teeth," to use General Smuts' famous phrase. I believe that, given the teeth, plenty and sharp, Britain can play a vital part in N.A.T.O. defence and in maintaining the peace of the world long enough for real peace to develop.
I ask your Lordships to believe me when I say that I have not spoken as I have, of airmen, bombers and bombs, because I was once an airman. I have 796 spoken as I have because I believe that the development of the atomic bomb has altered the whole tempo and scale, and completely overturned the old balances, of war, especially as regards this country. I fear most deeply that once again we are playing the old, old game of thinking of the future in the terms of the past—making, of course, a few concessions to scientific progress, a few atomic guns, perhaps; a bigger and better tank; jet propulsion for bigger and better carriers. We cannot afford to play with our security like that. The last thing I should wish to be is alarmist, but the blunt fact is that in a future war the stakes for which Britain would be playing would not be merely those of victory or defeat, but, literally, those of life or death.
§ 6.19 p.m.
My Lords, I am sure we have all listened with interest to the speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Tedder, but I fear I cannot support him in many of his arguments. I suggest that the essential common factor in our defence policy should be the protection of our ocean trade routes. The noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, pointed out very forcibly that we can fly. But we certainly cannot fly without oil. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Tedder, said, "You must first win your air battle." But, my Lords, unless we can be certain of giving reasonable protection to our convoys, all our European defence system will quickly break down for want of supplies of oil and stores, and I am not convinced that this protection is yet available, either in ships or aircraft. It was only very recently that we had a debate in your Lordships' House on the supply of aircraft, and special reference was made by a number of speakers to naval aircraft, especially naval fighters. In fact, Her Majesty's Government agreed that the present state of naval aviation was unsatisfactory, and this, I think, was borne out by the recent exercise known as "Mainbrace," when it was found that, in spite of very efficient air crews, the performance of naval aviation was not up to modern standards.
I think it is true to say that the aircraft carrier has taken the place of the battleship. And I think it was a naval correspondent in the Press who recently 797 pointed out that the inferiority in naval aircraft was equivalent to an inferiority in the main armament of the battle fleet in pre-war days. What a stir such a statement would have caused in this country in those days! That was something the people could understand, but I could say that naval aviation is still something that is not fully understood or its importance realised. I was sorry to hear that the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, has been harping back to getting naval aviation back under the umbrella of the Air Ministry. I feel very strongly on this matter, and I cannot help saying that this is the sort of argument which does disservice to both the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. Lord Tedder has told us that the relationship between the three Services is on a very good basis, and the sort of argument which we have heard used by the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, in my view, does a disservice to the three Services.
With regard to the supply of naval aircraft, I certainly do not want to go over the arguments used in the previous debate as to types of aircraft and priorities, but I suggest that to speed up supply the aviation industry should concentrate on the production of the two most vital types—the anti-submarine aircraft and the intercepter fighter. I hope that the noble and gallant Lord who is to reply for Her Majesty's Government will be able to give the House an assurance that the whole question of naval aviation is under constant review, and that every effort will be made to bring it up to an efficient standard as soon as possible. With all due respect to the great experience of the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, I am afraid that I cannot agree with some of his further arguments in relation to the use of aircraft carriers. In war, the defence of our convoys must be of paramount importance, and it cannot really be disputed that once a convoy is roughly more than fifty miles from shore it is beyond effective cover from land-based fighters, and roust rely on carrier-borne aircraft operating from a carrier within the convoy or attached to a supporting task force. I see that the former First Sea Lord is in his place, and I am sure he will agree with that argument.
798 Again, a convoy may be attacked by submarines in areas which are beyond the range of land-based air patrols, and it may take a long time to establish a more effective land base, whereas the carrier can be made available at short notice in any area. There is no doubt that the enemy would employ long-range jet-propelled reconnaissance aircraft to shadow convoys and "home" submarines on to their target, and I have little doubt that carrier-borne aircraft is the only effective answer to this form of attack. I can assure your Lordships, from practical experience as a convoy escort commander in the late war, that this operation of the enemy was one of the most dangerous elements in convoy protection, and it would certainly exist in another war. I maintain that there is, as yet, no development in land-based aircraft that can be a substitute for this form of protection.
I think your Lordships will agree how very effective has been the co-operation of our carriers with the naval and military forces in Korea, and it is obvious that a carrier is necessary to give support to amphibious operations which may, of course, be beyond the range of shore-based tactical air forces. It may be open to argument whether a carrier-borne task force operating in a closed sea such as the Mediterranean, would at the present time be successfully used as a striking force far beyond the coastal area and, at the same time, be able to protect itself, and also whether the land-based bomber would not be more suitable for the job. There is, of course, argument on that point. On the other hand, there is no shadow of doubt that for the protection of our convoys, carrier-borne aircraft are essential for swift and effective counter-attack in the outer seas. I hope that this controversy as to the necessity or otherwise of aircraft carriers will cease. I suggest it is a bad thing for the Services to be constantly pricking at one another. The last war was fought to a successful conclusion by the combined operations of all three Services, and it is a combination of strategic bombing, land-based aircraft, both fighters and patrol, together with carrier-borne aircraft, which will provide effective protection for our convoys.
And now, for a few moments, I should like to refer to one or two specific points 799 raised in the Statement on Defence, 1953. On page 14, paragraph 55, it is stated that:the emphasis of the modernisation and conversion programme is on the conversion of destroyers to anti-submarine units.I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government whether there is to be any slowing down of such conversions during the coming period as compared with last year, and whether they can give some idea of the numbers which are to be taken in hand. I should also like to refer to the rather serious statement which appears in paragraph 56 of the White Paper, where it says that in order to carry out the programme of construction, modernisation and conversion:the provision made for ammunition, oil fuel and stores must he on a reduced scale.I hope that the noble and gallant Lord who is to reply for Her Majesty's Government can give an assurance that sufficient stocks of ammunition for naval vessels, oil fuel and stores are available for a considerable period of active service. I am sure we are all glad to notice that the present White Paper is a good deal more informative than has been the case in previous years, and my only criticism is that little or nothing is mentioned about the programme for guided missiles, which, I suggest, is daily growing in importance. I should like to see something more about guided missiles, plans for their production and so on. It may be that these are matters which are too secret to disclose, and, if that is so, I would not press for information. But I do feel that some further information could be vouchsafed without giving too much away.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ LORD WINSTER
My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Freyberg, has left the Chamber, otherwise I should have asked him to let me add my congratulations to those which he has already received. Like all your Lordships, I found his speech of most absorbing interest. This question of defence at the present moment presents us with a far from reassuring picture. It is, I suppose, the most vital and difficult issue which a Government has to handle. In my opinion it certainly cannot be handled on the understanding that we can have only as much defence as can be managed without disturbing the social services. We 800 have to put our target rather higher than that. But what makes the matter particularly difficult is that the industries required for rearmament are the very industries which we specially require in connection with the export drive. To strike a balance between the two requirements on those industries must be a matter of peculiar difficulty.
There is another side to this matter which was touched upon by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Tedder—that is, the cost of modern armaments. That is no new thing with the noble and gallant Lord, for some years ago he sent me a print of a lecture which he had delivered in which he had called attention most forcibly and, in my opinion, most wisely to this question of the cost of modern weapons and equipment. Service Ministers when they make their speeches on the Estimates, and on other occasions, like to dwell upon technical developments and the marvels of new weapons and equipment. But the expense of these things is such as to confront us with bankruptcy. We, in this country, at the present moment are carrying far and away the heaviest burden of any N.A.T.O. member except the United States, and to-day only three nations seem able to face up to the cost of modern war. It is a cost which has done much to force up our taxation—so happily, if slightly, relieved yesterday by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; it is a cost which takes fourpence out of every shilling of the very heavy taxation we still have to bear.
A word about the White Paper. I thought the salient feature of the White Paper was its conversion to "Bevanism." Evidently a great deal of what Mr. Bevan said at the time when the late Government introduced their rearmament programme, on the subject of expense and relating the expense of rearmament to our economy, has now become accepted doctrine. There was one point which I was particularly glad to notice in the debate on the White Paper in the other place, and that was that the Prime Minister said nothing to the effect that the danger of war has receded. I never knew on what evidence that assertion was made. I have no doubt that we have a wonderful Secret Service, but I am perfectly sure that the Secret Service do not penetrate inside the Kremlin. At any rate, that statement, often repeated by the Prime 801 Minister and the Foreign Secretary, is certainly not shared by Lord Ismay, by General Ridgway and by Marshal of France Juin. And on such matters I prefer to take the opinion of professional soldiers rather than that of an amateur strategist, however versatile and gifted. As General Ridgway has said:The threat to our way of life has not diminished one iota in the past two years.And Lord Ismay has said that he agrees with General Ridgway 100 per cent.
General Ridgway went on to say that the military capability of "the potential aggressors" not only has not decreased but is continuing to increase. The Allied Forces would be "gravely inadequate" if tested now, andwe would enter battle under grave handicaps. We would sustain heavy losses of life and arms.In face of statements such as that, what is the good of talking about the danger of war having receded? My noble friend Lord Alexander of Hillsborough spoke this afternoon of the risk of peace "breaking out." I think he may be reassured and not sleep uneasily to-night on that account. The expression by the Prime Minister of this view about the "danger of war receding" has done a great deal of harm by encouraging those nations in N.A.T.O. who are dragging their feet to use it as an alibi.
One other thing which attracted my attention was that it was not until literally the last three minutes of the debate in another place that, in response to a protest by Captain Ryder, the Government spokesman very kindly gave the Royal Navy twelve perfunctory lines in Hansard. The debate centred around National Service and Egypt. I will say only this about National Service. I found it strange that a former Minister of Defence who had advocated two years' service and urged it upon the French, should advise his successor to reduce the period, without producing any evidence to show why the period should be reduced. In my view, the agitation for a reduction in the period of National Service is a foolish agitation. If we had anything of the sort, the N.A.T.O. member States would be the first to reproach us for letting the side down. On the question of Egypt, which featured largely in that debate, the former Secretary of State for Air, Mr. 802 Strachey, linked Egypt with the Middle East, where he considers our real interests are the interests "of the great oil companies"—those were his words. I put it a little higher. I think we are on the Canal and in the Middle East in the interests of world peace and of world commerce. While this is not the moment to enter into any lengthy talk about the Canal and Egypt, in face of what is in train at the present moment, I feel it fair to say that.
Mr. Strachey advanced another idea, which I think is of great interest in defence pure and simple, and is not introducing foreign affairs into the matter. Mr. Strachey feels that we have overextended ourselves from a military point of view and would like to withdraw all our forces abroad into this country to form a strategic reserve here, relying on our being able to get them by air to where they may be wanted as and when required. It is an attractive idea: one might almost say that it is a characteristically slick idea; but it seems to me completely to overlook two questions. The first is that at the present moment we have no fleet of air transports to carry out such a hurried movement of forces to where they may be wanted. Secondly, it appears to me completely to neglect all questions of logistics and infrastructure. Mr. Strachey thinks that we may perish through over-extending ourselves. I think we have twenty garrisons abroad. I do not know whether his idea extends to withdrawing all these garrisons but, in my view, to withdraw in this way all signs of our power to defend ourselves might well mean our decline and fall. Mr. Strachey said, in support of his view, that we should cease trying to behave as if we were still the leading world Empire. One hears many remarks of a similar nature, and the thing that raises a question in my mind is that those who make these remarks often give me the impression of licking their lips as they make them; and in that I find a grave fault. But I think that to concentrate all our military resources and all our war production potential in this island, and ideal target for the atom bomb and guided missiles, may be even more dangerous than our present policy of dispersal. There are risks, of course, either way; but the fact we have to face up to is that all through our history 803 Britain has had to live dangerously, and I suppose Britain will have to continue to live dangerously until the era of peace dawns at last.
May I say one or two words about the Ministry of Defence? I was an early advocate of such a Ministry; I was advocating it in 1945. But one lives and learns; at any rate, some of us do, and we all ought to try to do so. I remember that at that time, though an advocate of such a Ministry, I pointed out that it would involve reducing the status of the political heads of the three Departments to that of Under-Secretaries; and that, in effect, is what has happened. These Ministers are no longer in the Cabinet. I know it is said that whenever their presence is required they are summoned to the Cabinet, and that they have the advantage of being, in the Cabinet whenever anything affecting their Departments is under discussion. But that is not the same thing as being a full Cabinet Minister: it involves a certain loss of status. I should like to put this question to the present Prime Minister, who has twice been First Lord of the Admiralty. Would he ever have accepted that position, if he understood that when he was wanted he would be sent for by the Cabinet and had no prescriptive right to be there?
I come to the Minister of Defence. In what I have to say now I know that the noble and gallant Earl will fully recognise that I discuss this matter in a vacuum. No personal references of any sort are involved, and I fully share the admiration for the noble Earl which has been expressed by more than one speaker to-day. But as things are, the Minister of Defence is really an overlord: he is an illustration of a Churchillian experiment which, admittedly, has failed. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, will be found doing any more overlording. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, regretfully had to retire, suddenly ill, when that very tricky and complicated Transport Bill had to be put through the House. I cannot imagine the present Transport Minister submitting to being overlorded. He is of rather tougher material than Mr. Maclay, who gave up the task. It really begins to look as if the Minister of 804 Defence is the last of these Mohicans, the overlords.
Two questions arise. Is a Ministry of Defence a good thing? Ought a Minister of Defence to be a Service officer? My reply to the second question is, emphatically, "No." An officer of equal military distinction to that of the noble and gallant Earl told me that he did not care much about the idea because, in his opinion, it merely meant adding one more Chief of Staff to the Chiefs of Staffs Committee. In my opinion, which I believe is shared in many quarters, only a political head should hold that post, because only a political head will be credited with complete impartiality as between the three Services. One knows that there could not be a more impartial man than the noble and gallant Earl who is now Minister of Defence, but it is not enough to be impartial: as Minister of Defence you must be believed to be impartial. The Navy does not consist only of officers; there is the lower deck, too. The lower deck will take a great deal of convincing that when the Army gets £518,000,000 in the Estimates, and the Navy gets only £314,000,000, there is not a bias against the Navy somewhere or other. I think it is peculiarly a post where a political head is required. Service heads from time to time have to be knocked together, and I think only a Minister with long political experience is able to perform that operation effectively.
There is one thing of which I am certain—namely, that if the post is to be retained, if we are to have a Minister of Defence in war time, then that Minister of Defence ought not to constitute himself a grand director of strategy. We saw the disastrous results of that in the last war. We saw them in Greece, about which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Freyberg spoke; we saw them at Dakar, and at Singapore. In reading Mr. Churchill's Memoirs I have never been impressed by the stream of minutes, directives and memoranda addressed to those carrying heavy burdens. I had to review one of those volumes, and I expressed the wish in that review that we should have the replies and comments to all this prodding from some of those who received the prods. My wish was gratified, because the noble Viscount, Admiral of the Fleet Lord 805 Cunningham, has published his memoirs. In those I find this passage:It was in the sort of prodding message received by me that Mr. Churchill was so often ungracious and hasty. Such messages to those doing their utmost were not an encouragement, merely an annoyance.Again, he says;This constant advice, not to say interference, on how to run our business from those who seemed unaware of the facts of the situation did not help.But the quotation which gave me particular pleasure, if I may venture to give it to your Lordships, was this. Finally came a prod, says Lord Cunningham, to whichI did not reply. We were far too busy with our commitments.I think that another objection to a Prime Minister being Minister of Defence and director of strategy in war time is that he feels he must be infallible, and that a scapegoat must be found for everything that goes wrong. I remember, in connection with Dakar, a scapegoat being found in the person of an Admiral, against whom there was not a shred of evidence to blame him for what happened but who had to suffer the humiliation of being ordered to haul down his flag in war time. Why? Because a scapegoat had to be found.
To come back to N.A.T.O. for a moment, I wish that we could have a debate on N.A.T.O., and also upon the atom bomb, because they are two subjects of immense importance. In a debate on the Defence White Paper these most important subjects cannot be treated with the fullness which they deserve. But looking at N.A.T.O. in the broad, I feel that it affords us very little security for immense expense. General Ridgway has given us a warning that we shall be short of much material essential for fighting a war. This last exercise, "Command Post II," revealed serious shortages in the fifty divisions available to N.A.T.O.: fewer than a quarter of the divisions ready to fight; shortages of ammunition, of artillery, of communications equipment, of trained officers and non-commissioned officers and of logistical support generally. The minimum standard requirement of ammunition in a war area, I am told, is a ninety days' supply. I should like to know how many of the divisions available to N.A.T.O. have that amount of ammunition at their disposal. General Ridgway has warned us that "We would 806 sustain heavy losses of life and arms, "which losses could, however, be greatly lessened by timely action now. In view of some of the things which have been said to day about the atom bomb, I would say that General Ridgway has also warned us against relying upon the atom bomb in lieu of logistics and supply.
A great deal has been said to-day on the subject of the Air Force and the Navy. I do not propose to join in that at any length, because we are to debate the Navy Estimates on May 6, when I have no doubt that the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, will find that there is an adequate reply to many of the theories which he advanced to-day. I felt that his speech was all part of a process, which has been going on for some time now, of trying to run down the Navy. There is good evidence to that effect. A leader in The Times, speaking of the White Paper, argued againstreshaping the defence programme with a greater naval bias at the expense of the Royal Air Force.I wonder who inspired that leader. I wonder whether the naval correspondent of The Times has asked for and been given an adequate opportunity to reply to that statement.
§ LORD WINSTER
It was a leader in The Times on the Defence debate. The debate took place on March 12, so the leader would be on March 13. In the debate, Air Commodore Harvey said that we were proud of our Army and Navy—and the Navy returns thanks for those very kind words from the Air Commodore. But he went on to ask what the Navy and the Army would really be able to do in the next war Mr. Noel-Baker, winding up the debate, said (OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons: Vol. 512. col. 669.):Aircraft are now the deciding factor in modern war.Apparently, they settle the matter. I see that Mr. Arthur Henderson, who was in charge of the Air Ministry (or was it the other way round?), said:It will have to be decided that air defence must be given everything necessary to safeguard the security of our Islands, the balance being divided between the other two Services.I felt that that was a speech of a dutiful parrot who had learned his lesson from 807 the Air Staff. But it is full of fallacies, because, whatever you gave the Air Force, the Air Force alone could not safeguard the security of our Islands. We dare not take risks with our sea communications. Our honour is involved in not letting the smaller countries be sacrificed, and we must keep the enemy out of the Atlantic and out of the Channel ports. That is where the Navy plays an essential part.
Does the Minister of Defence endorse the Air Staff policy of making what they call "strategic bombing" No. 1 priority? That is the policy which nearly lost us the last war, by creating a shortage of long-range aircraft for war at sea, and also a shortage of fighters. The Air Staff do not agree with that view, or recognise that the first principle of strategy is, after all, security for the base and for its communications. That is the first priority which must be fulfilled before the offensive can be undertaken. American scientists are also questioning the idea of strategic bombing, on the grounds that an adequate radar screen will enable guided missiles to "put paid" to the bomber. We had better examine rather carefully this question of strategic bombing.
There are very strong arguments in favour of a defensive strategy within which, of course, the air should be as offensive as possible, but not trying to bomb Moscow or to win the war single-handed, which seems to be their idea and their delusion at the moment. Our policy now seems to me to be an all-out gamble to win a war quickly by bombing, leaving defence to look after itself. The motto is, "Offence is the best defence." Of course, that has a popular appeal, but it is only true in certain given circumstances. We cannot be sure that such a gamble will come off. Even air experts doubt whether it would be successful for many weeks or even months, during which time the enemy submarines and enemy bombers would not be idle but would be concentrating on Liverpool, on Southampton, on the Clyde, and on London. The advocates of strategic bombing had better remember that two can "play bombers". Strategic defence must not be thought of in terms of the Maginot Line: it should be fluid, permitting of strong 808 local offensives which, given good strategy and tactics, can maul the enemy very severely.
For all these reasons, the air should choose the strategy which best works in with sea and land defence: we want one strategy for the three Services. Above all, let us remember that strategic defence is not a faint-hearted cautious strategy, but only the first step in an all-out offensive to be mounted at the earliest possible moment. As I have said, air forces can be offensive within such a strategy, attacking enemy land communications, but not in the opening stages bombing Moscow and the back areas. This country will be the hard core of the N.A.T.O. organisation if war comes, because of geography and because of our fighting qualities. In those circumstances, if the Air Staff's policy of strategic bombing does not give us a quick victory and our sea communications have been interrupted, all Allied operations, by land, by sea and by air, and the bombing operations, will be held up, as in fact they were in the last war. This will greatly increase the duration of the war, because oil, fuel, food and other supplies will all be in short supply. And these, incidentally, have to come to us by sea.
In my opinion, all these things point to an initial defensive strategy, especially as the aggressor, and only the aggressor, will know zero day long in advance and have his forces concentrated, ready and in the right places, while ours will be scattered over Canada, over Australasia, over the United States and over the Colonies. Our concentration will be slow, and it will have to be effected by sea, under possibly very heavy submarine attack, against which the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, Air Commodore Harvey and Mr. Noel-Baker seem to think that naval measures would be quite superfluous. But if we do not defend our base, these dispersed forces may never be able to join up. The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, wrote or said something the other day about "squadrons of great battleships of the sky." I have seen the water-borne battleship become obsolete, and the noble Viscount's airborne battleships may represent an already obsolete strategic idea. In saying what I have. I should like to make one last point 809 clear: that I myself would never be a party to begrudging anything in the way of equipment which is necessary for the work which will fall upon the Air Force; nor would I wish to see Air Force officers "done out of" those highest commands of which they are so fully entitled to have their share. In what I have said to-day, I have said nothing with a wish to create any feeling between the Services. I noticed how fair-minded the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Tedder, was, and how generously he spoke in that respect. But it is only by this interchange of ideas that we can arrive at the right policies upon which to conduct our defence.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
My Lords, although my noble friend, Lord Freyberg, has left the Chamber I should like to join with other noble Lords in saying how very glad I was that he addressed us to-day, for the first time, and to express the hope that he will address us on many other occasions and, if I may be taken not too seriously in saying so, will maintain a balanced force upon the Cross Benches.
The more often I look at this White Paper and the more I listened to speeches to-day, the greater is my impression that the Ministry of Defence and the Minister have had a year which has been far from easy. For one thing, economic conditions have kept on changing; for another, it has clearly been difficult to decide what positive steps should be taken in ordering aircraft, weapons and material of war. Last, but not least, the year has been an extremely difficult one from the diplomatic point of view, particularly in regard to the progress or lack of progress in the direction of the European Defence Community. And yet, through the White Paper, there seems to me to run a clear thread—a clear indication that the Ministry of Defence is getting more and more on its feet, and that the work done by noble Lords opposite some years ago in establishing the Ministry of Defence is now beginning to bear fruit—fruit which we expected it would bear when we supported the idea of a Ministry. I think that the idea which the noble Lord, Lord Winster, put to us that the White Paper has accepted the policy of Bevanism is not only an idea which is very distasteful to noble Lords on these Benches, but it is almost certainly incorrect.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
I will say why in a moment. It is rather a pity that, so far as if know, the word "Bevanism" has not been precisely defined but as I understood it, it meant that, whatever happened, the needs of the Welfare State came first, and that if there was any money over it could then go to defence. I hardly think that a Government policy which not only makes people pay for false teeth but also makes some reductions in the defence programme can really be called "Bevanism." Other names might be suitable, but not that. In any case, it strikes me that what has happened is this: that in a year of changing economic and diplomatic conditions, the Government has had regard to those conditions instead of slavishly following a policy which seemed right from the conditions existing a year or two ago.
§ LORD WINSTER
May I interrupt the noble Viscount for one moment? What I said was that at the time the late Government put forward its rearmament programme Mr. Bevan related the proposed expenditure to our economy and put forth the opinion that we could not meet that expenditure; and that view does seem to me to have been accepted since by both Governments.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
That may be so; but as I understand the White Paper, the view that was taken was that that expenditure was not strictly necessary in the changed circumstances, and that the requisite amount of money has been spent or will be voted during the coming year on the Government Defence programme. In that, I think, lies the difference between the two expositions of what has happened.
I think the manpower picture is clearer in the White Paper than is the picture as regards material. It seems plain to me that two years' National Service is still justified in the present circumstances. If I remember aright, when we were asked to agree to the increase from eighteen months to two years, a good deal of stress was laid on the point that that was necessary in order to produce trained soldiers and leaders. Nothing has happened since then to make it appear that we do not want trained soldiers and leaders. We want them all the time—still more as long 811 as the difficulties in Korea and Malaya and now Kenya go on. The real need for the two years' service is the requirement to produce a proper proportion of leaders, especially technicians—in other words, to produce an army instead of a collection of people doing their National Service.
A great deal of work has been done to reduce what has often been called the "tail." That word, I think, is used rather loosely: I think that certainly where the Army is concerned, and probably the Air Force also, there are really two types of tail, one necessary and one unnecessary. With regard to the Army there are numbers of people who do not actually fight—the R.E.M.E., the R.A.S.C., and people of that sort—but whose presence in a field force formation is yet absolutely necessary for the tight. There are other people, at bases and training establishments, in overloaded headquarters and other places of that sort, who are unnecessary: a tail which could be cut very much more and which, indeed, I gather, has already been severely cut during the past year, as is described in the White Paper. In the meantime, so long as we keep on our two years' National Service, we have the necessary foundation for one of the chief tasks which lie ahead of all three Services, and that is the building up of professional leaders. A great deal more could be said about that, but this is not the time of day or the debate in which to do so. We may get on to that subject of potential leaders when we come to the debates on the three Services.
Let me take another question which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Winster, and which was debated a good deal in another place, and that is the question of concentration overseas and of dispersal. I think that this matter has once or twice been rather oversimplified. The trouble is that although when you come to real operations of war concentration is necessary—when you come to the battlefield you must concentrate on the battlefield—the conditions of the cold war, of the so-called peace, are something entirely different. There you may well find, as my noble and gallant friend Lord Alexander said, that, whatever may be the concentration of forces you want once war breaks out, you cannot have that concentration, partly because of the distractions of the cold 812 war and partly because the task of British forces in the past has been (and I think still is) to forestall minor outbreaks which in the end may develop into a major conflict. That can be done only by having the right numbers of people at the right spots. That has been our traditional job, and I do not think that the atomic weapon alters that position very much.
There is a phase, when a country possesses a most lethal weapon—whether the atomic weapon of to-day or the poison gas of yesterday—at which the Government which owns the atomic bomb or poison gas has to decide when the right moment has come to use it; and there are moments when you are obliged to have forces dispersed, up to a point, to deal with minor outbreaks which may become a major conflict. What we must develop are means of rapid transportation of those dispersed forces to the area of concentration, wherever it may be, in the quickest possible time. I think there is no doubt that that is one of the things which demand the earliest possible attention.
May I interrupt the noble Viscount? May I ask him whether he, who is such an expert on manpower questions, considers that all our men in the Middle East are being usefully employed? Could not their number be reduced?
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
That is not a matter to which I was immediately addressing myself, and I am afraid that at the moment I have no idea. It really amounts to this: do we know, at this moment of great uncertainty in the Middle East, how many people we want there? We certainly have no desire or intention, I presume, to keep any more troops in the Middle East than are absolutely necessary, if only for diplomatic relations' sake. That is a matter on which I must rely on my noble friends in front of me to speak. I would rather not give a Back Bench opinion.
This problem of concentration brings up fairly straightly the problem of Western defence, and a good deal has been said about that to-day. After all, at the moment, whatever may be going on in the Near or the Far East, the main thing is that we—that is to say, N.A.T.O.—should be strong in Western Europe. A good deal of anxiety has 813 been expressed this afternoon on both sides of the House, and rightly, about the progress of Western defence The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, spoke about it; and I think everybody will feel a good deal of concern at the lack of progress—despite a certain amount of recent progress in Germany in the preparations for the European Defence Community. After all, it has been said over and over again that no national feelings can make up for what is dictated by geography. So long as there are nations in Western Europe, and Western Europe is vulnerable from the East, so long will there be a danger to the whole of Western civilisation—and an acute danger—until all those concerned get together and propose a plan that will lead to the possibility of being able, if necessary, to fight a battle and to win it. We are not by any means at that stage yet; and whatever may be the difficulties to which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Tedder, referred concerning Allied command and Allied commanders in the European Defence Community, we are still a good way away from that stage. Until the European Defence Community itself really takes shape, it is not going to help very much to wonder who is going to command it. Let us get the layout of the European Defence Community settled first, and see that we get the right people, irrespective of nationality, to prepare the defence of Western Europe.
There has been a good deal of talk of late about our position outside the European Defence Community. I, for one, was glad to see that the White Paper dealt with this matter and said that the United Kingdom has explained her inability to become a member of the European Defence Community. After all, what is it that really matters? What really matters, surely, is that the United Kingdom should contribute to the fullest extent that is right towards the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. We can contribute to the security of Western Europe perfectly well through N.A.T.O. and, if we make that contribution full enough and firm enough, surely there is no need to say that we should make it fuller or firmer by actually joining the E.D.C.
There is one point which here occurs to me. Honourable friends in another 814 place are very busy with the Army Act. I think they have found it a good deal sterner task than originally they thought, but that is neither here nor there. I should like to throw out a thought as to whether the Army Act, which in theory allows an Army for only a year at a time, is quite consistent in these modern times with our rather longer-term commitments towards N.A.T.O., and thereby to the E.D.C. That is a point that perhaps we may think about in this House when the Army Annual Bill appears in a few weeks' time. But, apart from that, surely what is wanted is not that we should make gestures in joining the E.D.C., as if in fact we lived in the Continent of Europe and not on an Island, but that we should do something which is far more realistic and solid and leave absolutely no doubt among the nations in Western Europe, or for that matter in the United States, that we intend to place at the disposal of N.A..T.O. a properly-sized force with first-class commanders, and that there will be no risk of that force being withdrawn or reduced or in any way rendered less efficient while the emergency in Western Europe continues. What we want is the substance much more than any sort of gesture or shadow.
May I turn for one moment to the materials situation, because I think that that is a good deal more obscure in the White Paper. There is a good deal more room for doubt, and possibly for argument. I noticed one rather curious remark. At page 14 of the White Paper it is said that the steel allocation as a whole was sufficient for the needs of those industries which were working for defence. I greatly doubt it. It certainly was not completely sufficient, and my view would be that the difficulties and shortages in the supplies of steel have interfered with the production of defence equipment much more than the White Paper appears to hint. None the less, I am sure that my noble and gallant friend Lord Alexander was abundantly right when in the speech he made just now he paid a tribute to the way in which that industry had worked during the year to produce defence equipment. But I fancy that the real difficulties were in the matter of development of design and research. There is no doubt at all, on reading the White Paper, that that development has progressed very rapidly this year and that 815 the real difficulty has been to decide which are the winning designs. That is where Ministers make such a tremendous contribution to the progress of defence in this country, when they can "spot the winners" in equipment—those pieces of equipment which are going to last not merely for their generation but for two, three or four generations. When they can "spot the winners" and spot the winning designers and the winning technicians, and back them and push them through and see that their plans go to production, then their reward comes by finding that the equipment has lasted many times longer than the normal span of defence equipment. It strikes me that this year is being a particularly difficult year in which to "spot the winners." It sounds as if in regard to infantry equipment the winners have been spotted. We shall see. We can only hope that they have been spotted. It is my belief that they have been.
We come now, just for a moment—because I will not detain your Lordships long—to the question of anti-aircraft defence. It struck me that what the noble and gallant Earl, Lord Alexander, said about the guided missiles represented by far the biggest advance in planning of A.A. defence that we have had since we started these debates after the war. In the past, there has been a great deal of uncertainty among those people, many of them part-time forces, who expect to be concerned with things of this sort. The A.A. units of the Territorial Army, the Observer Corps, the Civil Defence and the Home Guard have all had a very uncertain time. I am not blaming anybody, because the fact of the matter is that it was far too early to make a plan and it is quite useless to expect part-time people to show tremendous enthusiasm until their full-time leaders can come along and say: "We have now decided what we want you to do, and this it is. Now go and practise for it." It looks as if we are moving several steps forward in that direction, and I can assure my noble and gallant friend Lord Alexander that, from what I know of the part-time forces, they will be absolutely delighted to be given clear instructions and told to get on with the job. There is no doubt at all about that.
816 Civil Defence is mentioned in the White Paper. I am glad to see that, because to keep it outside is merely to delude yourself into thinking that, if you are fighting a defensive battle, you and not the aggressor decide what that battle is going to be. But it is the aggressor who will decide how the Civil Defence people are to be threatened; and as I have said here before, he will not recognise any difference between the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office. Therefore, it is with great pleasure that I see these references to Civil Defence. It is with still greater pleasure that I notice that outside this House instructions to Civil Defence organisations are getting more objective, and that those who are asked to give their time and trouble are being given definite jobs. I have little doubt that that is in great part due to the successful running of the Civil Defence Staff College, because I hear on all sides from those people who go there extremely good accounts.
I feel that those are the main points among many points in the White Paper. I believe that it has been a difficult Paper to produce, and that the decisions about spending money or saving money, in backing this type of equipment or cancelling that, have been difficult ones. I feel that the diplomatic situation, coupled with threats outside Western Europe, has presented almost as difficult and tangled a picture as it possibly could have done. None the less, I feel that, like the Budget which was introduced yesterday in another place, this White Paper represents a definite advance in many directions in very difficult circumstances.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN
My Lords, at the end of a long debate there is no time to refer to the many subjects that have been taken up, though in the Defence White Paper there are a great many subjects requiring comment. Nor shall I take any part in the spirited engagement that has taken place between air and sea, an engagement in that war which has been going on for some thirty-five years and seems still to be undecided. As a mere soldier I should like only to draw attention to one aspect of the White Paper, and in particular to a sentence at the bottom of the first page—namely: 817In times of stringency it is specially important to get the fullest possible value for our money—and perhaps one might add to that "for our manpower and also for our productive capacity." The White Paper is silent on that subject.
I have looked back to a White Paper issued in 1946, Cmd. 6923, which I understand is the blueprint for the present organisation of the Service Departments; it is called The Central Organisation for Defence. I understand from that Paper that the primary object in setting up the Ministry of Defence was to have a Minister with the time and authority to formulate and apply a unified defence policy for the three Services. But the Ministry were also given other functions, which are set out in paragraph 26. Briefly, they are, first, the apportionment in broad outline of the available resources between the three Services; second, the settlement of questions of general administration on which a common policy is desirable; and third, the administration of inter-Service organisations. So far as the first of those functions is concerned—namely, the apportionment of resources—I think it is quite clear from the White Paper that the Defence budget has been apportioned among the different Services according to strategic needs. There is only one thing on which I personally should like to be reassured, and that is that no one of the Services has staked out a private empire of industry for its own production. Can we be assured that the whole of the productive capacity of the country, or such part of it as is set aside for defence at the moment, and in war the whole of it, is pooled among the three Services?
With regard to the common policy on general administration, there is a sentence in the earlier White Paper to the effect that a study was being made of the possible advantages of drawing together certain administrative services which are now provided separately for each of the three Fighting Services—mentionis made particularly of the medical services—and forming a combined organisation which would provide services common to all branches of the armed Forces. On that aspect there is literally nothing in the present White Paper, and I think it is something which is directly related not only to economy in manpower and 818 money but also to the creation of what I might call an inter-Service spirit. The more functions and experiences which are shared in common, surely, the more likelihood there is of real co-operation at all levels and on all occasions between the three Services. The medical services have often been talked about, and no doubt have been studied. Obviously, there are certain aspects of medicine in the Services which are quite specialised and require specially trained personnel. All over the world sick parades are being held, and young men in different coloured uniforms are seeing medical officers for various minor ailments. Surely there is scope for pooling some of the resources in medical officers which, as we know, are very scarce. I suggest that that is one of the directions in which economy might be sought.
Then there is the question of mechanical transport. All three Services have motor transport departments, some larger than others. Do they buy their vehicles in competition with each other? Do they each go to industry, possibly through the Ministry of Supply, and order the particular type which suits them best? Surely there would be scope for economy if all three Services could agree on a measure of standardisation of vehicles? There is always a danger that General Staffs, when they lay down a specification in regard to an article of equipment, think of their ideal as being something that will do everything they want. I suggest that one of the functions of the Ministry of Defence is to scrutinise this demand on industry and, if necessary, to enforce some modification of the requirements set out by each Service. Then there are motor transport workshops. All over the world there are highly trained men using equipment for the servicing of motor transport for all three Services. Is there, at Malta for instance, any attempt at combining the M.T. departments of the different Services? One could go on with a long list, but it is very late. Then works services do all three Services maintain highly skilled building departments? Do they compete with each other for bricks and mortar, for manpower and so on? Are the lands branches all co-ordinated, or do they compete with each other? Then, recruiting and publicity: are there different recruiting offices in the various towns, each trying to put up a 819 slightly bigger and better show in order to attract recruits from the other Services?
In regard to movement, I wonder whether the Army still undertake the movement service for the other two Services. Do they set up a movement organisation? Is there full co-operation in the matter of air trooping between the Army, the Navy, and Transport Command of the Royal Air Force? There is a sentence in the Memorandum of the Secretary of State for War which rather suggested that the Army were going in for buying transport aircraft of their own. I hope that there is no truth in that. In other matters, like rations, communications, postal services, the Judge Advocate-General's department, and security, there has been some measure of pooling, certainly in the field, for a good many years. I think that deserves at least a small mention in the annual report of the Ministry of Defence to show what is being done on these lines.
It is very important that the three Services should learn to work together. Possibly, outright amalgamation of the Services is a long, long way in the future; perhaps it is not desirable; perhaps it will never occur. But something towards that is necessary. Closer association—to borrow a term from another field of politics—among the Services could be achieved with, I suggest, little effort, and certainly the idea deserves study.
§ 7.29 p.m.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned.
§ Moved, That the Debate be now adjourned.—(The Earl of Onslow.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.