HL Deb 14 December 1959 vol 220 cc338-66

2.40 p.m.

LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH rose to call attention to the functions of the Ministerial Departments covered by Service Departments Supply (Nos. 1 and 2) Orders; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, this subject which we are raising to-day is rather an interesting one, in view of the past history of the matter. The essence of these Orders is to abolish the Ministry of Supply and to distribute its functions among certain other State Departments. In the month which preceded the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 there was considerable agitation in another place for the establishment of the Ministry of Supply. It was based upon the belief that the Service Departments, particularly perhaps the War Office, had not been successful in producing weapons of war during a period of what should have been rapid rearmament.

The Labour Party were to the fore in this pressure upon the Government of Mr. Neville Chamberlain; so were the Liberals, and so were a number of Conservatives. Indeed, the present Minister of Aviation, Mr. Duncan Sandys, in the debate in the House of Commons on November 12, said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 613, col. 658]: I well remember, as will the right honourable Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell)—he was representing the Seaham Constituency at that time—the debates which we had in this House before the war when many of us repeatedly pressed Mr. Chamberlain's Government to set up a Ministry of Supply. We regarded the creation of such a Ministry as essential for the effective and rapid re-arming of the country to meet the growing danger of war. Many of us, too, regarded this as a test of the Government's determination. I well remember those discussions and the fact that it required a considerable amount of pressure from Labour Members of Parliament, Liberal Members of Parliament, and quite a number of Conservatives, to get the Ministry of Supply established. It was established shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War.

Now we find the Minister of Civil Aviation, in his new office—he, one of the pioneers and insisters on the establishment of the Ministry of Supply—comes along to the House of Commons and moves a Motion which has the effect of abolishing the Ministry of Supply. I must say that in his opening speech he did not make a case for so doing; he did not even attempt to make a case for the view that the Ministry of Supply should be abolished. I must confess, although this is not a Party matter and I do not pretend to be speaking for the whole of the Labour Party, that he was accompanied by my good and respected friend Mr. Shinwell, in another place, who also was an advocate of the establishment of the Ministry of Supply and who now for some months has been an advocate of the abolition of the Ministry of Supply. It is curious how often this Government follows the Labour Party in another place. And Mr. Strachey, who I believe was also an advocate of the establishment of the Ministry of Supply, has now appeared, I would not say among the abolitionists, but among the balancing element who think there is something of a case for abolishing it; but he was not conclusive about it, and indeed this was not handled in another place as an essentially Party issue. Now the proposal has come forward, without I think any adequate explanation or defence, and we are left to do a bit of guessing as to why it should have occurred.

What was the case for the establishment of the Ministry of Supply and for taking to it functions, particularly from the War Office, but some from the Air Ministry, and a few, a very few, from my Lords of the Admiralty? Indeed, it was argued by one of my right honourable friends, Mr. Shinwell, in another place, that there is one strong feature about the Admiralty—and I understand the First Lord of the Admiralty is going to reply—and that is its power for silence. If it is an inter-ministerial conference it can sit there, say nothing at all, be absolutely silent and then"get away with it". In fact, one of my right honourable friends in another place said that it can get away with murder. In any case, the upshot was that my Lords held nearly all the powers they had got for production, and very little went to the Ministry of Supply. But a whole lot went from the War Office, and in due course a lot went from the Air Ministry, not at first to the Ministry of Supply but to the newly established Ministry of Aircraft Production.

Now I think that those transfers were justified. Taking the Air Ministry first, it was the case that in the Battle of Britain we should not have had enough fighting aircraft if there had not been established the Ministry of Aircraft Production. I would not say that any of those Departments were wholly bad; they had served the country well and deserved a great deal of praise. But the Air Ministry have suffered from what a good many Departments of State, not only Service Departments but others, suffer from, namely, the search for perfection, of wanting things to be perfect and waiting heaven knows how long until perfection comes along, with the result that with the approach of the battle of Britain there were not enough fighting aircraft because the Air Ministry was too intent upon having them perfect.

The Ministry of Aircraft Production was established and the first Minister was Lord Beaverbrook. And here I want to say that I do not agree with his politics, and frequently disagree with his newspapers, even when they veer to the Left, which they do now and again—even to the very far Left; to the distinctly pro-Soviet Union and even pro-Communist Governments wherever they may be in the world. I am sure they mean no harm by it, but it probably generally represents his Lordship's point of view. I am bound to say that before I pay a compliment, which I now proceed to do. I think Lord Beaverbrook as Minister of Aircraft Production rendered conspicuous service to the country in the Second World War. He took the view not only that he had got to manufacture new aircraft, particularly at that time fighting aircraft, which were perhaps the nation's main means of defence, but that he had to go for the rapid repair and reconditioning of fighting aircraft that had been shot down or otherwise got into misfortune. I think he did a first-class job in rapidly repairing those aircraft and making them worthy to go into the air and take their part in the defence of Britain. In the three weeks, the critical period which either led into the Battle of Britain or preceded it, I would venture to say that Lord Beaverbrook served his country with conspicuous ability and in a way for which over that period we should be grateful and appreciative. Whatever we may say about him in later life or earlier life, I think he did a conspicuous service to the country at that time. Labour man and Socialist that I am, I do not see why I should be afraid to pay that tribute to one who is a political opponent and with whom I have done great battle in London County Council elections in past periods; but thank goodness he has lost and I have won!

Now, this was done because the Service Department concerned, namely the Ministry of Air, was not particularly successful either in the production of aircraft or in the repair of aircraft during that critical time. And it was done deliberately by the Government of the day, namely, the Government of Mr. Churchill, as he then was. They took that step I was a member of that Government and I thought they were right, as I was bound to do and I am still bound to do, but I really think it was a right step to take in those circumstances. It is true that in the proposals now before the House the manufacture and repair of aircraft will, I gather, not go back to the Air Ministry but will go to the Ministry of Aviation, presided over by Mr. Duncan Sandys. Therefore, it is not quite a complete reversal of policy by sending from the Ministry of Supply aircraft matters vis-à-vis the Service Department to the Air Ministry; they are going to the Ministry of Aviation, and to that extent it is rather less objectionable than the proposals in regard to the War Office.

Now let us come to the War Office. In those rather miserable months of 1939 which preceded the Second World War, when all of us where gradually driven to the conclusion that, unhappily, another world war was inevitable and that we had to be in it, there was increasing anxiety about the production of weapons of war by the War Office which was then the responsible Department of production. The present Minister of Aviation, Mr. Duncan Sandys, was in the lead in that battle. He was one of the most prominent agitators for taking these functions away from the War Office and conferring them upon a new Ministry of Supply. I supported him in that agitation, and so did my colleagues in another place; and I do not think there is any doubt that we were right. After Mr. Churchill (as he then was) formed his War-time Coalition Government, I became Minister of Supply in that Government for the brief period of five months. Therefore, I speak from experience of the pre-war debates and as a Minister of Supply at the beginning of the Churchill War Government of 1940.

What did I find about the story of the War Office in relation to the production of implements of war? I do not speak as an opponent of the War Office. I have never served in the War Office, and I do not pretend to be fully expert about that Department, except from my experiences in the Ministry of Supply. At any rate, I have no prejudice against the War Office and no intolerance against them, or indeed against any other Service Department. But I must say that there were grave deficiencies in the production of implements of war, the responsibility for which must be largely placed at the door of the War Office at that time. It might have imperilled the success of our war effort.

First of all, take anti-aircraft guns. Running through that subject and the production of tanks was the struggle for perfection, without apparently the ability for the Department to make up their mind as to when the struggle for perfection had come to an end and the stage of decision had been reached. The result was that, even by the time the enemy had started the bombardment of our country, there was an utter insufficiency of antiaircraft guns. Ultimately, we decided on the 3.7, as I think it was called, and the Bofors, which we had to get largely from abroad. But the War Office could never make up their mind about these weapons for months and months before. Indeed, they had not made up their mind, if I remember rightly, by the time I got to the Ministry of Supply. That was one experience.

Another was that not only was the shooting apparatus against enemy aircraft not there, but neither was the ammunition. The result was that when the bombardment of London began, followed by the bombardment of great provincial centres, the people suffered these enemy bombardments night after night. Here let me say what a debt we owe to the people for the way they stuck this enemy bombardment, night after night. They put up with it and did not crack. The women did not crack—bless their hearts! If they had, we could have lost the war. But they stuck it. We owe an eternal debt of gratitude to the civilian men and women, and to Civil Defence, for the stand that they made during these 60-odd nights of enemy bombardment on this city.

The bombardment, once started, continued for night after night, and there was no reply. The enemy was dropping his bombs and the civil population was made to feel that there was no defence because there was no noise from our side. It was not really my business as Minister of Supply but, being worried on behalf of my fellow Londoners, I said suddenly,"Look here, we must make a noise. There must be some shooting." So they found some quite unsuitable guns from somewhere, and they found, too, some ammunition that would go"Bang, bang, bang"—again quite unsuitable. Neither the guns nor the ammunition were likely to bring down any enemy aircraft, but they did make a noise and caused the civil population to feel that there was a fight on. Hitherto, they had felt that there was no fight and no defence; that they were just sitting targets for the enemy to come along and to drop bombs on. That was the second experience.

Then we come to tanks. And here again there was another struggle for perfection. When I got to the Ministry of Supply, the War Office and the Ministry between them were playing about with, I suppose, about a dozen possible varieties of tank that were urgently required on the Continent of Europe. This situation looked like going on for many more montns—it had been going on for many months, and no decisions had been reached. I said to the War Office,"This will not do. You must make up your mind. If you do not make up your mind I will make it up for you and we will go into production." That brought them to heel, and we got decisions. These are indications of the fact that, as a military production department, the War Office was not as perfect as it might have been.

Then came Dunkirk. Of course, at Dunkirk and in the related retirement from Europe—that sad and tragic affair—we lost many rifles, and we found that we were short of rifles. But we found something else; we found that we were short of the potential of rifle production, that there were not enough factories and so on for the manufacture and production of rifles, and I had to make strenuous efforts to get that production going. That was as a result of the War Office not being particularly successful as a military production Department. So we found in these matters, not to mention others, an imperfection which had made a case for transferring these matters to the Ministry of Supply as a production Department handling production as its first ideal. With regard to the Air Ministry and production, think of the shifts that have taken place. I wish the Government would make up their mind what is to happen, because the Minister of Aviation now says that he is not sure that this situation is permanent; that it may be only temporary and that there may be further changes later. Up to now, the production side has been transferred from the Air Ministry to the Ministry of Aircraft Production, then to the Ministry of Supply, and is now back with the new Ministry of Aviation. We should like to know from the noble Lord, the First Lord of the Admiralty, who I understand is to reply, what has been done about projectiles, missiles and all these modern devices which are of profound importance in these matters.

I ask your Lordships—and I do not want to be dogmatic about it—whether, in the light of pre-war experience and experience since the war, it is a wise step on the part of Her Majesty's Government to abolish the Ministry of Supply. Production is an art in itself. Production is not an art upon which Generals, Field-Marshals and others, valuable and great as these men are, are necessarily expert. Production does not necessarily mix up with military strategy and the closer factors of the military arts. So I feel that Her Majesty's Government must be ready to state this afternoon why they want to abolish the Ministry of Supply and, in particular, why they think that the production of weapons of war will be more effectively done under the new arrangements than under the Ministry of Supply; because, as I say, the right honourable gentleman the Minister of Aviation in another place made little or no case for that. Why these things should be done I really do not know.

That, my Lords, is the case about which we are anxious. We are genuinely worried as to whether this is a right step for Her Majesty's Government to have taken, and we await with some concern, and certainly with close attention, the reply which may be made in due course by the First Lord of the Admiralty on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. I beg to move for Papers.

Moved, That there be laid before the House Papers relating to the functions of the Ministerial Departments covered by Service Departments Supply (Nos. 1 and 2) Orders.—(Lord Morrison of Lambeth.)

3.2 p.m.


My Lords, considering the unrivalled experience of my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth in this field, I hope that Her Majesty's Government will listen and take heed of what he has had to say on this subject, because up till now there are no signs, in any of the statements that have been made, that they have thought about this subject at all. We know that on a previous occasion when there was a change of Government the Prime Minister of the day invented some curious creatures called"Overlords" who came into existence and confused the business of government for a number of months and were subsequently dropped. We have yet to hear—and I hope we are going to hear to-day from the noble Lord—the reasons for this particular change.

I am well aware, as are all noble Lords, that it is very difficult to get the perfect set-up, and that there are many ways in which it would be possible to arrange Ministries and the business of Government. We know also that there have been plenty of criticisms of the Ministry of Supply and that there are obvious disadvantages in the present system of a kind that would make people impatient from time to time. But what is the alternative? The alternative that Her Majesty's Government have given us is a kind of half-baked compromise version by which the Air Ministry will, if anything, be worse off than before and the War Office will be in a position (although we hope they have improved their habits) to obstruct the wishes of other Services.

I should like to ask the noble Earl who, in fact, is to decide priorities. Supposing the Royal Air Force wish to have certain types of equipment which are manufactured under the ægis of the War Office and that they are competing for, say, certain kinds of small arms ammunition, who is to be the co-ordinator? Who is to co-ordinate the supply of radar? We have been told in this House by the spokesman for Her Majesty's Government, the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, that it is the Ministry of Aviation. The Government change these departments very rapidly, but, if I am rightly interpreting what has been said, the Ministry of Aviation will be concerned with the supply of radar and electronic equipment for the R.A.F. But what about radar and electronic equipment for the Royal Navy and the Army? Who is going to co-ordinate there? Will that be done by a Committee or will there be a Ministry with a continuing view of these matters?

We have been told by the First Lord of the Admiralty, in an intervention, that there will be very close collaboration between everybody concerned on a particular project. We hope that there will. We have all been hearing about close collaboration, but the aim is to achieve it and to have a satisfactory machine to ensure that there is a continuing understanding of this problem of co-ordination. I personally regard it as another step backward, at least, so far as the Army is concerned (the R.A.F. do not quite know where they are) to have the separation of the three Services into three separate units, one to fight in the air, one to fight on the land and one to fight on the sea, each looking after its own affairs. This has been the overriding problem of our defence since the war—this break-up and separation or this failure to come together of the three Services; failure to achieve co-ordination, and indeed, failure to achieve a unified fighting service. I know that there are difficulties in doing this and that we cannot, as yet, put all the men into the same uniform, in one Service. But I cannot fail to express my regret when I see a step taken which I believe to be obviously in the wrong direction, from the point of view of achieving a unified approach to the defence of this country.

3.7 p.m.


My Lords, I should not have intervened at all in your Lordships' debate had it not been for the most interesting speech of the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, who gave us a fascinating but, if I may suggest it, a somewhat warped history of 1939 and 1940. I rise in justice to those who were in charge of the Air Ministry in the years 1936 to 1939, because I feel that some of the statements or deductions which may be drawn from the speech of my noble friend are really somewhat unfair, and I could not let his version pass without suggesting that there was another point of view.

It is true that the late Dr. Leslie Burgin in 1938 became the first Minister of Supply, and it may be (though I cannot remember the speeches at that time) that in another place the Party of my noble friend supported that move. But the broad picture of the need for rearmament, of which the formation of the Ministry of Supply may have been but a small part, was not helped at all, I must remind my noble friend, by the Party to which he belongs. The Air Ministry was indeed hampered by great resistance, both in the Parliamentary voting Lobby of another place and also in the country, by the votes against conscription, by the votes against the Service Estimates and by the general propaganda which was being carried out at that time by the Labour Party.

As regards the Air Ministry, I at once admit, of course, that the formation of the Ministry of Aircraft Production by the Government of the then Mr. Churchill (of which I was but a junior member, though I had been at the Air Ministry for some time) was a great and needed action; and I would not quarrel at all with the noble Lord when he says that had it not been for the violence, the impatience, the determination and the forthrightness of the Minister who was put in charge, the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, we certainly should not have had the output of aircraft, manufactured or repaired, in the Battle of Britain, which was absolutely necessary to us at that time. Let me quickly say that while, as the noble Lord knows, we at the Air Ministry were sometimes resistant to the Ministry of Aircraft Production (and that may be something of an under-statement), I would not in any way detract from the splendid, unique service which was rendered by that one man in those critical six weeks. But, my Lords, the one man rendering that service for six weeks could not have rendered it if the foundations had not been there of the types of aircraft designed and manufactured in quantity. Some may say that there were not enough by 1939, but at any rate there were sufficient to give us a force which allowed us to send an air component to France and to win the Battle of Britain.

The late Lord Londonderry, my noble friend Lord Swinton and the late Sir Kingsley Wood were in charge of the Air Ministry, when good, bright, young staff officers said,"What we want is not aircraft that fly beautifully and do wonderful aerobatics, but flying gun platforms to beat the new German Messerschmidt," first shown, if I remember aright, in 1935 in Switzerland. Consequently, the Hurricane and the Spitfire were laid down. The noble Lord may remember a Parliamentary demonstration in April, 1938, of the first squadron of Hurricanes at Northolt. In August, 1938, the Royal Air Force possessed two Spitfires. I had the honour of flying 50 per cent. of the Royal Air Force's Spitfires at the time. There were only two: but in the factories behind there were row upon row of Hurricanes and row upon row of Spitfires. The noble Lord may say that there were not enough. I would say that his Party did not help in getting more; and at any rate, it was enough for us to be able to enter the war with two types of fighter that beat the Germans. I could not let that point go without asking the noble Lord to agree with me that Sir Kingsley Wood, Lord Swinton, and, before that, Lord Londonderry, as political chiefs, were in charge of the Department that laid the foundations of the two fighters that won the Battle of Britain.

As regards the present, I will say just this. There used to be an easy quip that most Generals, Admirals and Air Marshals always tended to prepare to fight the next war on tactics and strategy based on the last war. I would say in regard to administration that the noble Lord, when he criticises the arrangements Her Majesty's Government are now going to make, seems to me to be thinking administratively in terms of the last war in relation to the present era and the future possibilities. Without going into detail, I believe that this is a right and a wise decision. While the Ministry of Supply system was right in the war, and may even have been partially right, but failing, after the war period, I do not believe that one should be so rigid in mind as to refuse to complete the change. It is that rigidity of mind and doctrinaire outlook that has brought my noble friend and his friends on to those Benches and kept them there for years. They have to loosen up and have a wider point of view, and must be willing to accept new situations and new needs. If they do that then they may have a better chance in the future than they had in the past.

3.14 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add a word or two in support of my old Chief, not at the Ministry of Supply, but afterwards, when he was getting the guns to bark over London. As one of those who were bombed all during that period of six weeks, I can well support what he said about the winderful effect it had on the morale of Londoners when at last we heard some"pooping-off" against the hostile bombers overhead from which we had been suffering night after night without any reply.

That is a little peripheral, I suppose, to this debate, but I suggest that it shows that my noble friend has a good deal more elasticity of mind and understanding of the realities of warfare than the noble Lord who has just been criticising him. I should have said it was typical of the ideas of the Party to which he belongs that they go right back into the past and do not look into the future. Is it not perfectly clear from the history of the War Office, since there has been a War Office, that they have always been behind in ordnance supplies in every way? My noble friend might have gone back to the First World War, when the men who landed in France were, after a few weeks of fighting, completely devoid of adequate munitions with which to carry on that war; when a man of great personality and imaginative insight, the late David Lloyd George, established at the very early stage in that war the Ministry of Munitions, without which we should undoubtedly have had the greatest difficulty in winning it. One could go into that aspect in considerable detail, even back to 1892 when, again owing to the defects of War Office arrangements, there was not enough cordite, and that situation brought down the Government. Earlier still, there was the Crimea War where the War Office failed in the supply of munitions.

I suggest that the reason for this is that the War Office is, naturally, staffed by men interested in strategy and tactics. They work out things in terms of the late war; they take the munitions for granted, and work out their strategy and tactics on that sort of basis. That is the mistake they have made in the past, and that is the mistake they will, I suggest, continue to make in the future. The situation will become worse and worse, because modern war depends more and more on scientists and the scientific outlook, and on the ability to collect men of outstanding scientific and technological abilities, which can be done only by a civilian department, such as a Ministry of Supply. I should say that it was looking into the future and not looking back at all to insist that this sort of set-up should be carried forward in the event of our having—God forbid that we do!—to fight another war in the future.

There is another fact of great importance, and that is that the War Office is an enormous Department, the largest Department of State. I think. It seems to me that a lesson which is also taught is that beyond a certain size a Department tends to become inefficient. There is an optimum size for a Department. I suggest that one of the reasons why it took so long for the men administering the War Office in 1914–15 to begin to make their munitions arrangements effective—because they were completely defective—was the size of the Department. If it is too large it is very difficult for both the Secretary of State for War himself and the top civil servants in the Department to keep a close control over all the different sections in that enormous bureaucratic establishment. I should have said that one of the valuable reasons for retaining the Ministry of Supply was that, in effect, it breaks down this tremendous great organisation into more effective and smaller units. Therefore, I entirely agree that no real case has been made out for this proposal which seems to me to be one involving the country in considerable danger.

3.19 p.m.


My Lords, I should not have intervened in this debate but for the remarks of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye. With one of his comments I firmly agree, and that is this: that the rather later production of the Spitfires enabled the best technical devices to be included in the production of the Spitfires, which gave them a jump ahead of the German Messerschmidt and considerably helped in the Battle of Britain. But I think it will be agreed that my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth endeavoured to-day to give an objective, realistic summary of the position, without any political twist of any kind.

I remember one small incident which happened at the outbreak of war, when I was in charge of a goods station. A captain arrived there and told me that he had one gun to put in Barking Park but that he had nothing on which to stand it. He asked whether I could find him some old railway sleepers on which he could put the gun, in order to make a rail. That was the type of preparedness that we had. Then I think I am correct in saying that so ill-equipped was our Army which went over to France that the Government have never dared to publish in full the despatches of the Field Marshal then in charge. In effect, our men were armed with pop-guns, to be used against steel tanks. If one wanted to give a political twist to this debate, I am bound to say on behalf of the Labour Party that we were wholeheartedly behind the fight against Nazi aggression, and it was the policy of appeasement then being pursued by Mr. Neville Chamberlain which we attacked. I believe it is correct to say that recorded conversations between Sir John Simon (as he was then) and Hitler were taken to Russia, and very largely helped to cement the agreement between Stalin and Hitler, thus enabling Germany to avoid fighting a war on two fronts. But I should not have been diverted into that political view of things if it had not been for the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye. I do not think that those things are at all relevant today. If I may say so, I think that they are something of debating points.

There is just one other matter in connection with this transfer on which I should like, if possible, to have some information. First of all, what is to happen to the staff of the Ministry of Supply? Are they to be transferred without any option to one of the other Departments, or are they to find their homes, most of them, in that mausoleum, the War Office? Secondly, what Department is going to take charge of the disposal of the very large quantity of stores which is still held by Her Majesty's Government, and which has been from time to time offered for sale by the Ministry of Supply? What is going to happen to those stores? However, if I may say so with due respect, my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth, out of the wealth of his experience, has put up a case which requires a reply. It is not a question of being hidebound, or anything like that. I am sure that if the First Lord of the Admiralty is able to put forward a case which will demonstrate that the new arrangements will be for the better, no one will be more happy than my noble friend: but up till now none of us has been convinced of the wisdom of this change, particularly as regards responsibility going to the War Office, with its record in the past.

3.25 p.m.


My Lords, you will remember that we had a short, but interesting, debate on this subject some three weeks ago, when a number of speakers—some of them former Ministers of Supply and some of them ex-Service Ministers—made some important contributions. But none, I think, was more interesting than the speeches we have listened to this afternoon, although your Lordships may agree that some of them were a little historical.

The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, as he has reminded us, was the first. Minister of Supply in the wartime Churchill Government; and, of course, he has unrivalled experience in matters of administration. I know, too, that he takes a great deal of interest in that field. Anything that he says must, therefore, be listened to with great attention and should be carefully examined. My noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, whose interpretation of history differed a little from that of the noble Lord opposite, also has an unrivalled experience in the field of government.

My Lords, I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, said the other day that on the occasion of his maiden speech in another place he did not ask for the indulgence of the House. I cannot imagine that he ever needed it; but I might say that I, who have not made a speech in your Lordships' House for nearly four years, feel rather like asking, if not for the indulgence of the House, at least for your Lordships' compassion if I am a little rusty and out of practice. The noble Lord is on this occasion quite wrong. The First Lord cannot sit back and say nothing and"get away with it": he has to make a speech.

It would probably be for the convenience of your Lordships if I ranged rather wider than the three Departments which are covered in the Orders we are discussing and did my best to explain the relationship between the Ministry of Aviation, the Ministry of Defence, the Admiralty, the Air Ministry, the War Office and the Minister for Science. The two Orders referred to in the Motion and the Ministry of Aviation Order, 1959, have done two main things. First, the Ministry of Aviation has been set up and has all the responsibilities for civil aviation previously the business of the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation. In addition, it has the responsibilities of the Ministry of Supply, except those which have been taken over by the War Office. Secondly, the War Office has had restored to it responsibility for the research, development and production of its guns, ammunition, tanks, vehicles, and so on—what one might call the traditional weapons. The Admiralty and the Air Ministry are not much affected.

The three Service Departments will look to the Minister of Aviation, just as they did to the Minister of Supply, for research and development and procurement of aircraft, guided weapons, nuclear weapons, and their electronics. These are now the responsibility of the same men working in the same groups in the same building, and there is no change in procedure. Certain noble Lords, in the last debate we had, were anxious about this point, and I hope that I have made it clear that the responsibility for the development and procurement of all major fighting and specialised technical equipment remains throughout the defence field with the same teams and the same factories which have handled it for years.

My right honourable friend the Minister of Aviation has pointed out in another place that the reason for the creation of the Ministry of Aviation—and here I think that the noble Lords opposite did rather less than justice to what he said—is the overriding need to bring responsibility for the aircraft industry and civil air transport under a single Minister. Their problems are so bound up together, so inter-related, that to reach realistic solutions they must be looked at as one whole. Both of them, as your Lordships will know, are at the moment going through a very difficult transitional period, and I believe that it will be a tremendous advantage to both to have been brought under the direction of one Minister and one Department. This change is an indication of the importance attached by the Government to these two industries.

There is, of course, a very close technical link between civil and military aircraft, guided missiles and their associated electronics, and it would be difficult to separate the responsibilities in this field. Aircraft and guided weapons have a number of similar aerodynamic, propulsion, development and technical problems, and production work is largely carried on by the same firms. Neither an aircraft nor a guided missile can operate without electronics. More and more, as one realises the complication of modern weapons, it is apparent that it is not feasible to divorce the weapon from its propulsion or its guidance. These are weapon systems, each component carefully tailored to the needs of the others.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. He said that it is not possible to separate these instruments into their different components, including their propulsion systems; but it is, in fact, intended to do that very thing, because non-guided missiles are to be handed over to a different Department than that dealing with guided missiles.


My Lords, those are what I call traditional weapons. I am talking about the very modern ones which are developed as one whole—electronics, propulsion, war-head and vehicle all in one. I believe that these weapons are quite different from the traditional gun and shell, which can be treated as separate. The new Ministry has brought together the staffs working on research, development and procurement of civil and military aircraft. I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, was rather frightened that the Ministry of Aviation would be a"Cinderella" Department. I can assure him that that certainly will not be so.

As the Minister said in another place, the supply of equipment to the Armed Services was not the main consideration for this reorganisation. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, in his opening speech, has suggested that we are neglecting the lessons of 1939 in restoring to the War Office its powers for research, development and procurement. I feel bound to say, not to the noble Lord but to some of those behind him who have spoken, that I think it is a little ironic that they should now be discussing who was successful or who was not successful in achieving the rearmament of the Armed Services in 1939. Had they played a greater part in those pre-war years the situation might have been rather different.


Who was the Government?


My Lords, I think it is fair to say that conditions to-day are very different from those of the 1939–40 period. The re-equipment of the Army is a continual process which is as important as ever it was, but in contrast to twenty years ago there are three significant points of difference. First of all, we are not dealing with the same large-scale expansion of the Army. Secondly, the Government have no need to apply the same overriding direction throughout almost all spheres of industry. Thirdly there is not the same shortage of materials and therefore the same need for a firm policy on priorities in supply.

There is no question of the procurement organisation which has been built up by the Ministry of Supply being disrupted. Most of the staff of the former Ministry working on research, development and production of aircraft, guided weapons, missiles, nuclear weapons, radar and electronic equipment will remain in the Ministry of Aviation. As I say, this is a logical arrangement because there is a close technical and industrial link between these items. The Ministry of Aviation will maintain the same close relations with firms as was the case with the Ministry of Supply, and indeed, because of its wider interests in the aviation world, it may even be in a position to improve on them. The same no doubt will be the case with the War Office.

In a previous debate one noble Lord was afraid that under the new arrangements—and I think that on this occasion the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, was concerned about this—the benefits of centralisation would be lost. It is true, of course, that the former Ministry of Supply will be divided between the Ministry of Aviation and the War Office, but this does not mean that there will be loss of scientific unity, since, generally speaking, as I have tried to explain, groups dealing with distinctive fields of research and development will pass whole to the two Departments. There will be certain research fields in which more than one Department will have an interest; for instance, on the last occasion metallurgy was cited—a field of the greatest importance for aircraft, guns, tanks and many other things. Similarly guided weapons and artillery share an interest in explosive and propellant techniques and research. It would not be right to assume that because more than one Department is interested in a particular subject there will be duplication of effort or lack of co-ordination. There will be close interdepartmental liaison. All the findings of research and development will be made available to all interested Departments and, as now, within the limits of security, to scientists outside the Government service as well.

The new Ministry of Aviation—and I now come to what the noble Lord, Lord Burden, said—now has 25,000 non-industrial staff, including about 4,200 scientific and professional staff and about 23,000 industrial. These figures are well below those of the Ministry of Supply, which had about 30,000 non-industrial and 49,000 industrial. Many of those have now been transferred to the War Office. The figures for the latter are 1,800 scientific, 10,600 non-industrial and 29,000 industrial. The noble Lord will appreciate that, as I have said, most of these people will be working in the same places and doing the same jobs.


My Lords, has the noble Lord the overall numbers in the War Office?


No, my Lords, I am afraid I cannot answer that without notice; but if the noble Lord would like to put a Question on the Order Paper I will do my best to answer it.

The War Office has taken on new functions on a fairly large scale. Once again it has assumed responsibility for research and development and the production of tanks, guns, ammunition and so on. This will mean the running of seven experimental establishments and fourteen out of sixteen Royal Ordnance Factories. Let me take a concrete example of what might happen. Let us suppose that the War Office have decided that they want a new tank. They will now be responsible for drawing up the operational requirement and the technical specification, for arranging research and development at the Fighting Vehicles Research Establishment or possibly in industry, and finally for arranging production in the Royal Ordnance Factories or, again, possibly in industry. There is no question of carving up individual experimental establishments where these are working on matters which are the common responsibility of the Ministry of Aviation and the War Office. When they are closely associated, the major user will normally take control of the establishment. Thus the Armament Research and Development Establishment becomes a War Office responsibility, because most of its programme relates to conventional weapons; but the Ministry of Aviation are assured of adequate control of their work in the guided missile field.

The advisory and testing services offered by the Military Engineering Experimental Establishment to the contractors' plant industry will be unaffected, and there will be no interruption by any of these establishments in the services they offer to Government Departments or to industry. The War Office will now do for the Admiralty and the Air Ministry some of the things which were in the past done by the Ministry of Supply. At the moment, we are examining whether it may prove more efficient for the other two-Service Departments to take some of the responsibility themselves.


My Lords, what sort of things are to be taken away from the Admiralty?


Nothing is being taken away from the Admiralty. I am sorry if I have not made myself clear. What is happening is that the things that were procured by the Admiralty from the Ministry of Supply are now being supplied by the Ministry of Aviation, so far as the requirements of aircraft and so on are concerned, and by the War Office, which will supply the remainder. Have I made myself clear?

The question of whether it is better, in the case of so-called"common-user" equipments, used by the three Services, for each Service to procure its own equipment, or to rely on the major user to procure for all three, is not a new one. Nor is there a single answer to it. It depends on the nature of the equipment and on the circumstances at the time. The conditions of 1959, I say again, are totally unlike those of 1939, when the Ministry of Supply was established; or even of 1946 when the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Aircraft Production were fused. Broadly speaking, it is research and development resources, rather than production resources, which are strained at the present time, and no one would dispute the need for avoiding duplication in the R. and D. effort. I think that it is generally unwise to separate responsibility for research and development from that for production, as the two processes overlap to a considerable extent. For those equipments, however, which involve only a small R. and D. effort, and in particular for those which can be bought"off the shelf", it may be advantageous to allow each Service to procure its own equipment, so reducing the length of the provisioning chain. If, however, a certain amount of technical expertise is required in purchasing, or if it is difficult to secure capacity in a particular trade, then the advantage may be with central purchase. Each case has to be considered on its merits.


The noble Lord mentioned that staff were being seconded to the War Office and doing much the same work. Can he say what will arise in the case of the staff who worked at the Ministry of Supply and who ordered an additional one million unwanted pairs of boots? What will happen in cases of that kind?


I am afraid I do not follow the noble Lord's question. Does he mean if the boots are already ordered? If he means that, then they go with the staffs and the responsibility to the War Office. Does that answer the question?


No, not quite. In this particular case the War Office did not want the boots, and the Ministry of Supply insisted on ordering them. But the noble Lord said that the same people have gone to the War Office and are doing the same job.


The same people would be doing that kind of job, and I rather think the boots would have gone with them. I do not think there is any alternative.


That is the trouble.


When the noble Lord says,"That is the trouble", does he mean that those in the Ministry of Supply were incompetent and could not order boots?


I mean that unnecessary boots went to the Army.


I do not follow this. Some noble Lords opposite are complaining because these procurement facilities are going back to the War Office, as they are inefficient, and now the noble Lord complains that they are going back to the War Office because the Ministry of Supply was inefficient. Noble Lords cannot have it both ways.

The transfer of staff has naturally presented a number of problems. Where possible, units have been transferred as going concerns; that is to say, the staff have gone with the job. But it is obviously the common services that have presented the greatest difficulty. Of these the most important is the inspection organisation. As perhaps your Lordships will know, the Ministry of Supply have over the last few years gone a long way to establishing a centralised inspection organisation, and it has met with a good deal of approval from industry. It would obviously be unwise to make a hasty decision to break up this organisation, but there are arguments for returning to the War Office responsibility for inspection of the stores and equipment for which it is now responsible. We are studying this question most carefully, and in the meantime the inspectorate is remaining with the Ministry of Aviation.

In the Admiralty we have always arranged the building of our own ships, and for the supply of a great deal of their specialised and general equipment. There will be no change in this, and no change in the Admiralty's practice of procuring aircraft, guided missiles, and their electronics from the Ministry of Supply, now the Ministry of Aviation. For example, the Ministry of Aviation will be responsible for the production of the Blackburn N.A.39 and other naval aircraft, and for guided missiles. Armament stores required by the Navy, which have until now been ordered from the Ministry of Supply, have been made in part by the Royal Ordnance factories and in part by the trade. This system will go on as before. But, in the changed circumstances, there may be no reason to order through the War Office those items which are manufactured by the trade. This is one of those matters which, as I said before, we are examining jointly with the War Office.

So far as the Air Ministry is concerned, the rôle of the Ministry of Aviation will remain broadly that of the Ministry of Supply. There may, however, be a good case for transferring to the Air Ministry the procurement of certain equipment outside the field of aircraft, in exactly the same way I have just mentioned in talking about the Admiralty. We will study this carefully to see where the balance of advantage lies. There has been no change at all in the position of the Ministry of Defence.

I was asked on a previous occasion where the Minister for Science comes in.


I apologise for not having been here earlier, but I have heard the whole of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. Before he passes from the Ministry of Defence, I wonder whether he can answer a point that was raised by me and by others last time. I think the noble Lord has made it quite clear where the responsibility for actual research, for production and the placing of orders lies. What is not quite clear to me is in whom policy resides. That seems to me to be relevant on the matter of the position of the Ministry of Defence. The execution of policy is clear. Perhaps I may put it in one simple concrete example. Supposing the Secretary of State for Air wishes to have a particular kind of aeroplane, and the Minister of Defence thinks that he ought to have a different kind of aeroplane, while the Minister of Aviation thinks that he ought not to have an aeroplane at all, but ought to have a guided missile, with whom will the responsibility for policy rest?


This is unchanged. The requirement is stated by the Air Ministry and is processed through the Chiefs of Staff and the Minister of Defence. The Minister of Aviation is only the research and development and procurement agency.

I was asked on a previous occasion where the Minister for Science comes in. The position is this. My noble friend the Lord Privy Seal, as Minister for Science, is responsible for the Atomic Energy Acts and the Research Councils. These functions are primarily civil scientific research and development. He is, however, the Minister whose special function it is to watch over the general national interest in science and, because of his knowledge of scientific matters, to frame a national policy. To help him my noble friend has the Advisory Council on Scientific Policy. The new Scientific Adviser to the Minister of Defence is, as a matter of fact, Deputy Chairman of this Council, and this allows the Council to give advice, taking account of what is done in the defence sphere. The responsibility of the Minister for Science for the Atomic Energy Authority does not carry with it responsibility for defence policy. The Authority does research, development and production of weapons on behalf of, and under contracts with, the Defence Departments, and for this the Defence Departments pay; although, of course, the Authority is not prevented from conducting experimental work, which may lead to improved weapons, on its own initiative and at its own expense.

I must apologise to your Lordships for having covered a great deal of ground in a comparatively short time, and I can only hope that I have made the picture a little clearer. I should like to end by making two short points. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, knows as well as any of us, if not better, that the efficiency of the Government machine depends upon the readiness of the Government to make changes in functions and in organisation to meet different conditions and new tasks. This we have tried to do, and the noble Lord will note that there is nothing rigid about the changes which have been made. Secondly, we agree that no organisation is ever perfect, but the overriding factor has been the urgent need for a single Ministry to look after the problems of civil aviation and the aircraft industry as a whole. We have made it without jeopardising any of the essential features of the organisation for research, development, production and procurement in the military field. I believe that in the future those changes will be seen as a step forward and will be proved beneficial to all those concerned.

3.50 p.m.


My Lords, I am quite sure that your Lordships will feel, as I do, how much we welcome the return to active participation in debate of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. He need not apologise in any way for the detail into which he has gone to-day—or tried to go—because it will certainly give us a great deal of cause for study. Nevertheless, I am bound to say that, efficiently as he has undoubtedly presented the different departmental briefs that he has had to cover and master in dealing with this debate, we are completely dissatisfied with the general answer so far given—very much dissatisfied. I do not think the little political intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, really matters. In the vital period between 1935 and 1939 there was a Conservative Government with nearly 200 majority in the other House. It was the result of that powerful majority that we had generally to complain about, and which Mr. Churchill so persistently complained about right through that period.


We also had the"Hurricane" and the"Spitfire."


I give you all the credit for the technical efficiency of the planning and the production of the"Spitfire"—I will give you that at once. But it must never be forgotten, whatever is said against the Opposition of the day, that we were always prepared to vote on points of policy, and said so again and again. We would vote for whatever was required for collective security. But we could not get a policy of collective security at that particular time, and that was the real trouble.

It was a great tribute that my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth paid to the citizens of the country, and I must say that the resilience of the citizenship in general was so wonderful that we ought never to let them down again. That is vital. Therefore, as my noble friend said, we are concerned at this general technical revision of military production Departments. We want to be well assured that the step which has been taken is the right one. I am bound to say, after listening carefully to the noble Lord, that I am not satisfied that the right decision has been taken. A few weeks ago we were suddenly faced with a position in which the Government had to get their statutory orders through, in order to fit to a date which had already been decided upon for the transfer of departmental powers. Therefore it was agreed that we should let that go through, and that we should have further discussion about it later on. I must say that in parts of the noble Lord's speech it seemed that on a number of issues the Government have not made up their mind, and they have got to go in for certain further consideration and review before the final action is taken.

I must say that my impression was this. We have had a succession of Ministers in charge of general defence policy which almost beats any political historical record. Prior to the present Minister, we have had seven Ministers of Defence since 1951, and the one with almost the longest period in office was Mr. Duncan Sandys. I am not sure whether he had the longest term, or whether it was the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Alexander of Tunis. Mr. Duncan Sandys has now left. I suppose a change had to be made in the overall defence policy, and the one who had been chief for the last period had to be moved from that Department—moved from the position of controlling defence policy and put into what, on the face of it, might look like a Department of lesser importance. It may also be fairly assumed, I suppose, in some political quarters, that it is because the defence policy in the last two or three years, since the 1957 and 1958 Defence White Papers were issued, has left us in such a weak position as compared with that which we ought to have been occupying to-day, that real Ministerial change had to be made. At the same time, the Government had to find the appointment which they thought might be best suited to Mr. Duncan Sandys in the meantime.

I can see no real change in the basic principles that must be followed for producing all that you want for national defence in any of the reasons given by the noble Lord. When he said it is no use comparing 1939 with 1959, I entirely agree with him. But 1939 was the year in which we first made any move towards getting efficient production, and there was not time to get it ready in order to be of immediate use in the peril which faced us from 1939 onwards. In 1946 we took the final decision that the actual experience of the war and the use made of the Ministry of Defence in the war was such that it was fundamental that there should be a Ministry of Defence which would be at the top and engaged in policy-making after consultations with the Defence Committee of the Cabinet and the like. We have seen a succession of Ministers since then which is extraordinary to me, for 1951 to 1959 produced eight Ministers of Defence.

In regard to the Ministry of Supply, I do not think there can be any doubt whatever—and I do not see why the noble Lord should object to our using a little historical support for our argument—about the overall success of that Ministry. It was a Department which was argued for by Mr. Churchill as well as Mr. Duncan Sandys in the days from 1935 to 1939 and has completely justified itself in its actions. Nor can it be said that any evidence has been given by the noble Lord—who, by the way, has made the longest and most considered speech of anybody trying to defend this policy in either House up to the moment; and we recognise that—as to why the Ministry of Supply must come to an end. Why is it?


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Viscount, the Leader of the Opposition. I think he has overlooked one point which I tried to stress over and over again during my speech. It is probably my fault. It is that the overriding consideration for this change has been the need to concentrate responsibility for the aviation industry—both the production of aircraft and civil aviation—under the same roof. That has been the overriding consideration in all this. It was felt—and I hope the noble Viscount will agree—that, if the Ministry of Aviation were given as well all the research and development and procurement functions which have gone to the War Office, it would be asking too much of it, and would not be the most convenient way of doing what was required.


I am obliged to the noble Lord for his explanation, which I shall read and study carefully afterwards. But I still do not think that is a reason for ending the Ministry of Supply. Why could this not have been continued by bringing in the overall area of aviation, civil as well as military? The Ministry of Supply has not been confined wholly to military matters during its lifetime. No real difficulty was found in dealing with other matters. Is there not a good deal of political dogma behind this particular change? I hope it is not so, but we shall have to wait and see about that. I very much regret that, listening, as we have done, with the fullest possible sympathy to the noble Lord in his very able speech on the brief, we still feel that it is not adequate to meet the question we are putting: why is this change made? I do not want to go into any more detail this afternoon, because we shall most certainly have a heavy debate upon these and other cognate matters when the White Paper on Defence is produced. If my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth will take my advice upon this particular matter, I think that the reply is so much less than the satisfaction we need that it would not be wise to withdraw the Motion.

On Question, Whether the said. Motion shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 16; Not-Contents, 40.

Alexander of Hillsborough, V. Lawson, L. Shepherd, L. [Teller.]
Chorley, L. Lucan, E. [Teller.] Silkin, L.
Crook, L. Morrison of Lambeth, L. Stansgate, V.
Faringdon, L. Pethick-Lawrence, L. Stonham, L.
Henderson, L. Shackleton, L. Uvedale of North End, L.
Latham, L.
Airedale, L. Dundee, E. Margesson, V.
Albemarle, E. Fraser of Lonsdale, L. Meston, L.
Allerton, L. Fraser of North Cape, L. Northesk, E.
Amulree, L. Gifford, L. Onslow, E. [Teller.]
Baden-Powell, L. Goschen, V. Rea, L.
Balfour of Inchrye, L. Hampton, L. Reading, M.
Bathurst, E. Hastings, L. St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.]
Caithness, E. Hawke, L. St. Oswald, L.
Carrington, L. Howe, E. Soulbury, V.
Conesford, L. Jellicoe, E. Spens, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Kilmuir, V. (L. Chancellor.) Strang, L.
Cottesloe, L. Kinnaird, L. Teviot, L.
Dovercourt, L. McCorquodale of Newton, L. Torrington, V.
Ypres, E.
Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.