HL Deb 19 November 1959 vol 219 cc754-82

2.19 p.m.

EARL BATHURST rose to move, That the Draft Service Departments Supply (No. 2) Order, 1959, be approved. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.


My Lords, may I rise to a point of Order? Before the noble Earl makes his speech, would it not be convenient to your Lordships if we could have a general debate on this Order and on the Prayer together, so as to save time.


My Lords, the noble Viscount has taken the words out of my mouth. I was going to suggest to your Lordships that as there was a Prayer, in the name of the noble Lord. Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, against the No. 1 Order it might be for the convenience of your Lordships to debate the two Orders together. For the benefit of noble Lords who may not have been in their seats on Tuesday, I think I should make it plain that it is No. 1 Order, which is subject to the Negative Resolution procedure and on which a Prayer has been put forward by the noble Lord. This Order gives back to the War Office and to the Air Ministry certain powers of supply that were taken away from them by various Acts in the course of the war and just afterwards. The Order is not strictly before your Lordships at present, but is open to debate.

The second Order which I am asking your Lordships to consider is to retain certain powers of supply to the Ministry of Aviation, which used to be the Ministry of Supply, so that that Ministry can carry on supplying certain articles, which are in fact atomic weapons, guided missiles, electronic goods and so forth, to whichever Ministry or Department may need them. I beg to move that the Order be approved.

Moved, That the Draft Service Departments Supply (No. 2) Order, 1959, be approved.—(Earl Bathurst.)

2.22 p.m.


had given notice of his intention to move, That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Service Departments Supply (No. 1) Order, 1959 (S.I. 1959, No. 1827) dated 30th October, 1959, and laid before the House on 3rd November, 1959, be annulled. The noble Lord said: My Lords, may I say, first of all, that we are indebted to the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, and to the Government for so promptly responding to our request for the opportunity of a discussion on this most important matter. There is, of course, no Party interest here; it is only from a desire to make sure that the best is being done in an important field that we raise this matter at all. As I understand it—this is a little complicated, and I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I am wrong—the purpose of these two Orders is to set up the Ministry of Aviation and to disband the Ministry of Supply, and to distribute the functions around several Ministries—seven, I think, in all. The question with which we really have to concern ourselves is whether this change is one for the better, having regard to our experience and all the circumstances as we know them and the future demands that are likely to be made. I think it is impossible for any layman to come to a conclusion upon this without a good deal more information than at any rate we in this House have been given; and having read the Hansards of the other place, I am almost inclined to think in that House, too.

The Ministry of Supply was set up, as we all know, just before the war, because it was felt that the arrangements for the procurement of weapons, the organisation of industry and the organisation of science, scattered as they were among the various Departments, was not perhaps the best to get the most out of our somewhat limited resources. So the Ministry of Supply was set up and became largely a centralised procurement Department, procuring the weapons and other munitions of war for the Fighting Services, with the exception of the ships of war required by the Admiralty, where there was so long an experience and a tradition that no new Department could ever hope to take its place. This was a rather special case, physically divided from the other things, and due to the spirit of co-operation which existed in the Navy in this matter it worked very well. I was in the Ministry of Supply as Parliamentary Secretary for some years during the war, and as Minister afterwards, and one could not possibly exaggerate the cooperative effort of the Navy with the new Ministry, nor, indeed, the remarkable services of the officials and scientists concerned with the Ministry of Supply in what I think is one of the great monuments of the conduct of the war.

Now the Ministry of Supply is to be disbanded. Whenever a great and successful institution is going to be broken up one cannot help having some feelings of regret. But is the new form going to be a better one? It is difficult to see exactly what is going to happen. Put quite simply, the Ministry of Supply was the procurement agency for all it took to fight the war. As I say, it is now going to be broken up and, as I understand it, the Navy will now, in practice, take back the weapons procurement which, in practice if not in formal documents, they passed over to the Ministry of Supply.


My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord, may I make the matter clear before we go further, because otherwise other noble Lords may be led astray? Anything that has to do with aviation, be it weapons, electronics or anything of that sort, remains in the Ministry of Aviation, in exactly the same way as it did under the old Ministry of Supply. I ask noble Lords to remember that. It is really concentration of aeroplane developments, weapons and so forth under the Ministry of Aviation.


I am sorry; I must have used the wrong word; I meant to say "Admiralty".


That goes for the Admiralty as well, in so far as it is anything to do with aviation.


I accept that and I understand it. I was thinking of the other things which, even in this age, still exist. So the Admiralty goes on with its ships and takes back the weapons, other than aviation weapons. The War Office goes back to the old position, pre-Ministry of Supply, and becomes the procurement agency for all that the Army uses, other than aviation. But where is the Air Ministry? I do not know what happens there. Is there still an Air Ministry as well as a Ministry of Aviation?




Then what do the Air Ministry do? One of the real problems of the Ministry of Supply, as the noble Earl will realise, was the difficult relationship with civil aviation, such as there was left in the war, and, much more important, such as there would be after the war. It takes seven to ten years to get a new aeroplane, and this must always be in everybody's mind. I do not know what happens about this. The new Minister of Aviation has a very peculiar brief. He has aviation, the weapons that are and may be associated with aviation, and all the rocketry, I gather—but whether that is so I do not know, and whether ground-fired or air-fired: we ought to be told about this. And who looks after the future of civil aircraft? That is not at all clear from what has been said. One of the great things about the Ministry of Aircraft Production was that only with immense difficulty and by tremendous co-operation were they able to fuse together the future requirements for fighting aircraft and for civil aviation.

I do not think I should be far wrong if I said that on the day when the war ended we found ourselves in a very difficult position, because, as a result of the simple physical fact that it was possible to fly a bomber across the Atlantic but not a fighter, we had in the later stages of the war concentrated on engines and the Americans upon air frames. The result was that when the demand changed from fighting planes to civil planes we were in a difficult position. A decision was taken, to which I formally gave assent but which was a decision of people who knew much more than I did, that we should concentrate on the next beat in engines: we went out of the field for a year or two, to come back triumphantly with the jet aircraft.

In my view, it was possible to take that sort of decision, which is one of the great milestones in aviation development, only because the same authority, the same scientific knowledge, was procuring both fighting and civil aeroplanes. If you tear that asunder again, and divorce the requirements of the civil aircraft from the requirements of Service aircraft, you will gravely dissipate that very rare asset, scientific brains—and in my view we cannot afford to do that. In the main, that is what is running through all my criticism of this proposal: that it dissipates into small functional pockets the very meagre source, brilliant though it is, of first-class scientific brains, upon which we in this country depend more than anybody else.

So much for the Air Ministry, What about the Army? The Army, Navy and Aviation requirements still make great demands on our industrial metallurgical resources. One of the strengths of the Ministry of Supply's service to the nation was that it was the responsible link between the metallurgical industries, the Service Departments and the civil user of those industries. It is the harmonising of the demands of fighting and civil requirements in the future developments of metallurgical science that will very largely determine our future position in war and in peace. If you break this thing down into a number of functional, sectional interests, I do not believe—or, at least, I have not been convinced—that you will get the same powerful urge to future developments that have helped us to lead the world in those metallurgical developments which made the jet aircraft possible.

What is going to happen to the basic atomic energy research? Missiles will be the function of the Minister of Aviation, and I should like to be told whether that is true of all missiles, whether dispatched from the ground, the air, the sea or from under the sea. It is not at all clear from what has been said already, and I hope somebody has thought about this question. But what about the developments of the generation of atomic energy which hitherto has been the sole responsibility of the Ministry of Supply, working with the public authority created for the executive duties? I do not know. Is the Minister for Science going to be responsible? I saw him in his place just now, and I hoped that he was going to be with us during this debate. It would be tremendously useful to know how the Minister for Science sees this development, because it seems to me to cut off from him a large amount of scientific brain power which is badly needed if we are to retain our lead in the civil uses of atomic energy.

I think it is also very important (I do not want to detain your Lordships unduly on this matter) that we should consider the industrial position here. The division of the country's industries, in so far as they have a kind of parent in a Government Department, between the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Supply, has been going on now for nearly 20 years. People in industry, large and small, all over the country—and let us not forget that in future developments the small ones can be much more important than the big ones—have to know and understand how to work with the Government through the Ministry of Supply or the Board of Trade. All that is going to be thrown overboard; and industrial firms, according to the nature of their product, and not according to the scientific skills involved, are to be parcelled out among several Ministries. Somebody told me—I do not know how correct it is—that some firms who have hitherto dealt exclusively with the Ministry of Supply in their relations with the Government, will in future be responsible to no fewer than seven different Ministries. If that is true, or anything like it is true, it is a very bad thing, and will lead to a breakdown of that splendid voluntary partnership between Government and private industry, which I think is one of the great marks of British civilisation. It depends upon friendship, understanding and mutual co-operation, and it cannot happen overnight. It has taken 20 years to build it up, and now it is being broken down.

It seems to me that more good reasons should be given for this change than have been given so far. It may be that there is a case for it. It may be that developments have made it necessary, and that it can be shown that it is desirable and better than the old. But I hope it has nothing to do with the country's administrators and the personal aspirations of particular politicians, because if that is so it is not good enough. This matter ought to be decided upon its integral merits, and if it is decided on any other grounds then I think we need to know a lot more about it, and we ought to resist it until we are convinced. I apologise for detaining your Lordships so long, but this is a fundamental matter.

2.37 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to express my gratitude to the Government, and particularly to the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, for so promptly putting down the Order again for discussion to-day, and for giving us an opportunity of advancing any further points that may occur to us on this particular Order. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, for making an honest woman of the Service Departments Supply Order (No. 2), by putting down a Prayer to the No. 1 Order. I think that even he to-day went a little bit far in discussing these two Orders, by going into the whole background of the Government's proposals. But it is difficult to keep strictly within the two Orders which are on the Paper, because they are only part, and not the whole, of the proposals of the Government in this field.

As I understand the object of the No. 2 Order, it is to enable the Minister of Aviation, as the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, said on Tuesday, to embrace everything with regard to aeroplanes and aviation, and also to go into the development, production and supply of guided missiles, radar, electronics and atomic weapons. In another place, in discussing this Order, the Minister said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 613 (No. 16), col. 658]: This arrangement gives to the Ministry of Aviation the latitude necessary to enable it to supply the Army and the Royal Air Force with weapons and equipment, such as guided missiles, radar and other electronic apparatus. That, I think, is an answer to the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston. As I understand it, the Minister of Aviation now has, in spite of his title, a vast range of responsibility over things which have nothing whatever to do with aviation. In fact, they are largely intended, or to some extent intended, to bring down any aircraft which may be in their vicinity.


My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to interrupt for one moment? That does not quite answer my question. I was asking what are his functions about generation of atomic energy. I understand about the missiles.


That is a matter which has not yet been divulged to us, and no doubt the Minister will reply to that when the time comes. I am sure that we shall all be very interested to hear the answer to that point. It is not actually within the scope of the Orders we have been discussing.

The point I am going to make is one which the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, did not make. His point about the Ministry of Supply is one upon which he can talk with great authority, having been a Minister of Supply. The point I want to make is nothing to do with that; it is a question of the Ministry of Aviation itself. As I reminded your Lordships on Tuesday last, in spite of warning, the Government in 1951, to my mind, made a very great mistake in lumping together aviation, road transport, rail transport, shipping and so on, and making some unfortunate Minister responsible for the whole lot. That was a mistake. We said so at the time and it has been proved to be so. Now they are hiving off a good deal of that responsibility and putting under the wing of one Minister, the Minister of Aviation, all the tasks relating properly to aviation but also giving him this rather vague and very onerous task of being concerned with rockets and electronic apparatus, and the supply of these things to the Navy, the Army and the Air Force. That is a very onerous task and one which has nothing whatever to do with the Ministry of Aviation.

My worry about it is this: is this a proper task to give the Minister of Aviation? Will a mistake again be made? Are the Government imposing upon him a responsibility which he will find it very hard to discharge? Because, quite frankly, as the Minister himself very fairly has pointed out in another place, he is going to find it difficult to carry out the responsibilities of the Ministry of Aviation, leave alone rocketry, electronics and other matters of that kind. In another place on November 9 the Minister said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 613 (No. 13), col. 25]: I am looking at the whole question of research and development, but that is a different matter from the expansion of aircraft production. As the hon. Member indicated in his supplementary question, the fact is that there are too many firms chasing too few orders at the moment. And then later on he said: There is no doubt that the majority of the manufacturers recognise that some extensive reorganisation of the industry is essential and urgent, and I shall do everything I can to help them and encourage them to carry out that reorganisation. I refrain from advancing at any length the point that for several years we on this side have been pointing out to the Government that this was an essential and urgent task—namely, reorganisation of the aircraft industry. I am glad to see that the Minister has at last agreed that this is not only essential but urgent, and something which, I am quite sure from my knowledge of the aircraft manufacturers, will alone take his full time to deal with. In a speech a week or so ago to the British Independent Air Transport Association in London, the present Minister said (I am quoting The Times Report): He was convinced that in the future pattern of British aviation the independents"— that is the independent air transport companies— would have an important place, but he doubted whether it was a good thing for there to be so many separate air transport companies. That is another bombshell that the Minister has thrown into the aircraft world. Now he is saying—which I do not think even we have ever said on this side of the House; I think it is the first time it has even been said—that there are too many air transport companies and it is about time that they got together and started to concentrate their activities and fuse their various operative companies. That is a bombshell; it is a "rocket" for the industry, and that is another matter in regard to which I know, as I have had some experience of dealing with air transport companies, he is going to find great difficulties. He has given himself a considerable task in dealing with that particular aspect of his Ministry's work.

But the situation is not confined to the independent air transport companies. B.O.A.C., through difficulties, some of which I am sure were without its scope and some of which I consider were within its powers to have rectified or avoided, has, as we know, lost a considerable amount of money. The late Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation asked B.O.A.C. to consider whether they would not look into the whole question of their associated companies overseas so as to establish whether there is the possibility of more economic working. That is going to be an immense task and it is not a task which B.O.A.C. can carry out itself. It is a task in which, inevitably, owing to the diplomatic questions involved, the Minister will have to play a great part.

I am glad to see the encouragement which is given to Commonwealth development in recent B.O.A.C. proposals. At the present time B.O.A.C. have arrangements or are making arrangements, or developing arrangements, with a large number of Commonwealth countries. They have arrangements, or are making arrangements, with Canada, Australia, South Africa, Air India, Ghana and Central Africa. Those are matters which cannot be dealt with by the B.O.A.C. and the others alone; they are all matters which, as I know perfectly well, must, owing to the fact that other Governments are involved, be dealt with by the Ministry of Aviation. To-day I received from the Printed Paper Office a White Paper which was issued detailing the European arrangements that are now being made by the Ministry on behalf of the charter companies, enabling the charter companies to fly over most of the countries of Western Europe. Only to-day I was reading that before I came to the House. So that it seems to me that the Minister is going to have a very large number of urgent problems upon his desk dealing with aviation.

The noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, I think very rightly, referred to the question of small matters of research and development—not only the large matters which will be dealt with by the Ministry but quite small ones. This is a very important point. When we think of research and development, we are apt to think in terms of hundreds of millions of pounds. On more than one occasion I have given your Lordships the experience of Group Captain Whittle. I might mention it again, if your Lordships will excuse me, because I think it is very apposite to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston. The first jet patent was registered by Group Captain Whittle when he was a young officer in the Air Force; from that all jet and prop-jet patents in the world and all engines derive—every one in the world derives from that first patent of Air Commodore Whittle. When that was about to expire, Whittle, being a young officer, had not got the £5 necessary to renew the patent. He applied to the Air Ministry for the £5 and they refused to give him it. In fact, the patent expired, so that any country in the world could take up the patent and develop it, as many did, of course. To-day nobody, I think, would for one moment quibble about putting up £5 of the taxpayers' money for a thing like that. It must have seemed at the time a very small matter, one hardly worth troubling about, this new and revolutionary development which a young Air Force officer had produced, but we can see the effect of it.

My Lords, that is the main point I have in mind. That is why I have ventured to address your Lordships this afternoon. Those of us who are interested in aviation require an answer. I am sure that other Ministers, such as the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, who, like myself, have been in this position, have always felt that there is a tendency on the part of Governments to regard the Ministry of Aviation and anything to do with civil aviation as a Cinderella—at least I have felt so. I think we have to regard this Ministry as something of immense importance, which not only controls most important aspects of our national life to-day but which, in the main, by its actions now, may, to a large extent, effect great consequences in the future. Thus I should like to be assured that this particular point has had full consideration by Her Majesty's Government.

2.52 p.m.


My Lords, we must all be greatly obliged to the Government for having postponed for a day or two the consideration of these important Orders. I think we owe, too, a real debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, for having introduced the subject in a speech which I found admirable in tone and temper, and indeed in all respects. I did not agree with everything he said, but I most entirely agree with him—I was glad he set this tone to the debate—that this is not a matter of Party politics at all; that here we are dealing with vital matters which concern defence, the proper organisation of Government, scientific development, the future of aviation, the Armed Services—what a field it covers Here we are solely concerned to see what is the best thing to do, and to try to persuade the Government to do it. Certainly, the noble Lord need make no apology for having ranged widely, because, as I understand these rather complex Orders, this is our one opportunity to debate all that is involved in them, which is the completely new set-up for the whole of the Service Ministries and this new Ministry of Aviation. Therefore, I shall make no apology—I never speak long, or for longer than I need in this House—for dealing in a little detail with these vital matters, because what we do to-day is to give our approval imprimatur to the whole of the new set-up and the new system.

Frankly, I find these Orders and the new dispensation which they initiate rather like the curate's egg—I like about three-quarters of it; the other quarter I find in less good odour. I like the reestablishment of a separate Ministry of Civil Aviation—in that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore. I do not say that any more than he did, out of a sort of affectionate relationship, but I am quite sure that the Minister of Transport, active young gentleman as he is, has really quite enough to do looking after the roads of England, the railways of England—if indeed he has any say in what does or does not happen there—all the transport which takes place everywhere except in the air, including shipping, with the difficult problems of flags of discrimination, whether they are to build the new Cunarders and on what terms, and so on. All that is enough for the most energetic Minister, and although the problems of civil aviation are in fact transport problems—I think that now the aviation companies have learned that their job is transport they are a great deal more businesslike in that way than they were—yet their problems are quite different problems from those with which the Minister of Transport has to deal. Therefore, I welcome that.

Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, I am glad that the Ministry of Supply has gone. I do not say that because, unlike a good many other people, I have never been Minister of Supply, though I was a Service Minister—the noble Lord was a very good Minister of Supply. If I may say so to him, I do not think the war and war-time experience is really a parallel for peace time. In war, the Government takes over the whole of industry, everything from Vickers to the smallest blacksmith's shop, and directs the whole activity of British industry into whatever are the necessary channels of defence, and what is necessary in other fields. Therefore, in war you must have one supreme Minister of Supply who will take control of the whole thing. But peace is quite different. The House knows very well—in fact. I am afraid I have bored your Lordships with this theme for the past two years—that I have always been in favour of the abolition of the Ministry of Supply. It is not that I have no respect or affection for the Minister. He was a most competent Minister, and I only regret that he has felt that he wanted to go back into civil life. He would have adorned any Government, even this galaxy of talents.

I based my desire to get rid of the Ministry of Supply on my own experience in the Air Ministry when, before the war, we were building up an Air Force. We then had the simple principle, which after all is common to all business, that the user, the customer, places the order for what he wants. That is not a bad system to go on as a start. The hour of the meeting of the House this afternoon has been changed, and I am sure that there are many who would have been here but who now cannot be. But I am quite sure that I speak with the approval of all those with whom I worked who are now Members of this House—Lord Portal, Lord Tedder, Lord Dowding and my old friend and colleague Lord Winterton—when I say that it was essential to any successes we achieved that the Ministry which had the responsibility for making the Air Force had the responsibility for placing the orders.

It was not simply a case of having your department of research and development and production which was in touch every day with all the aircraft manufacturers, and those concerned with the manufacture of engines. It went further than that The Operational Staff, who are always a little inclined to want the impossible, were brought every day, and day by day, into intimate contact with the producers, so that what was desired could be set up and set against what was immediately practicable. I say, without the faintest hesitation, that if we had not had that sole responsibility vested in that one Ministry we could never have ordered the Spitfires and the Hurricanes off the drawing boards; we should never have had the development of radar. We should never have found the long-distance telephone system which radar made possible and necessary in the fighters. We should never have developed the power-operated turret and the cannon gun. We should never have developed, and made the necessary amalgamations to develop, the variable-pitch propeller; and certainly we should never have got the shadow factories which played such a tremendous part in the output which we achieved.

I have no hesitation in saying that that was so and I am quite certain we could never have done all that if we had had to go through another Ministry. It was quite enough of a hurdle to have the Treasury on one's flank, and I am bound to say that one sometimes, very improperly, ignored them; but when the young man who is now the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, on the Cross Benches, was bedded-out in the Air Ministry as a young Treasury partner we did not have much more difficulty with the Treasury.

The Ministry of Supply has gone, but with what consequences? It seems to me with some rather odd consequences, wholly inconsistent and, if I may very respectfully say it to Her Majesty's Government, slightly muddled. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Mills, will not object to that. I should never have ventured to accuse him of muddle-headedness. The Admiralty are to place their own orders. They have always been very tenacious. They have always sat tight. The result was that they never gave up, even in war time, the placing of the ships. The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, sat there like a limpet and kept the placing of the ships. Now they have got back all the rest of it.

I suppose there will be a new Master-General of Ordnance. The War Office have got back their tanks. They will order those and their guns, and everything except some of the missiles—I am not very clear about that. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, was quite right to probe that question, and I hope that we shall have an answer to it. The development of guided missiles is with the Minister of Aviation, but who is responsible for the equipment that shoots them off from the ground, or from an aircraft in air-to-air operations? I do not know. Is it the War Office?




My Lords, the position gets "curiouser and curiouser." The War Office provide the gun that shoots the missile, and presumably provide the mechanism which sets it off. I am not very clever about rockets but I gather that when sending off a guided (or misguided) missile there are two parts involved: that at the bottom, which starts it all off, and the rest of the apparatus, which is attached to its tail and which keeps it (or does not keep it) in orbit in the air. Who is going to do this? Apparently the War Office are to make the tube, and to make and be responsible for the part at the bottom that sets it all off. I will not pursue that matter but it is rather interesting.


My Lords, while the noble Earl is putting these interesting questions will he inquire who is responsible for the base if it is afloat or submerged?


My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Lord. I do not want to take this matter across the Floor of the House, for the noble Earl will make his elaborate reply, but I had thought that the base, the part on the ground, was the business of the War Office. What about the base when at sea? One of the great defences of the future is to be guided missiles fired from ships. In fact, I gather that the capital ship of the future will be a kind of floating base from which guided missiles will project themselves. Who is to be responsible for that? Is it to be the Navy who will order the ships for that equipment or is it the Minister of Civil Aviation who is responsible? It is really important to know.

I ant greatly worried about what is to happen with the aeroplane. I am not going to anticipate the Defence debate which we shall have early in the New Year when we have the Defence White Paper, but some of us have been anxious as to whether guided missiles really will come along and be completely reliable in time to take the place of the long-range bomber—which, with all the new developments that have now been achieved, can take the hydrogen bomb or the atom bomb and discharge it from a great distance and with great accuracy. Many of us in this House have been anxious as to whether the necessary number of aircraft will be provided before the time when we can be quite certain that the guided missile is going to do its job. I should be much happier if the ordering of those aeroplanes were to be with the Air Ministry. But how is the business going to work? There was a good deal of difficulty in the past. There were the Air Ministry, the Combined Chiefs of Staff and the Ministry of Defence, as well as the Minister of Supply. Some of the older Members of the House who were in the First World War will remember the mystery of the Levant base, where there were three equal authorities, none subordinate to the others—three incomprehensibles, none of them in the least co-ordinated. We remember that situation from that war, and I must say that I thought the last system was rather like the Levant base, with its three unco-ordinated incomprehensibles.

What are we to have now? Who is to decide what aircraft are to be ordered, what type they are to be, and how many? Is it to be the Air Minister? We know, of course, that he is not to place the order, for that is to be placed by the Minister of Aviation. The Air Minister, I suppose, puts up his ideas. Then there is the Minister of Defence who, pre- sumably, subject to the Cabinet, decides how much of the money available shall go on aircraft, how much on ships, how much on the Army and how much into research. In the past there was the Ministry of Supply, which I wanted to see go, because I thought that in peacetime it was a fifth wheel to the coach. But at any rate, in the past the Minister of Supply, I believe, did what he was told to do by the Minister of Defence and the Air Minister—although it took an awfully long time to produce an aeroplane.

What is to happen now? We have established a high-powered Minister, who certainly has some ideas of his own, as Minister of Aviation, and he is to be responsible for development. Who is to be responsible for guided missiles as the alternative to the aeroplane? Who is to decide whether the choice is to be guided missiles or aeroplanes? Is it going to be Mr. Sandys? Is it going to be the Minister of Defence? The last person, apparently, it is going to be is the poor Air Minister, who, after all, is responsible for air matters. My Lords, we ought to be told about this. We ought to be clear on where the responsibility lies. We have not had any speeches from the Air Marshals. They, unlike the Generals, are not given to making speeches. Perhaps it is just as well. I do not know that they would add to our comprehension of this difficult problem. But, at any rate, we look to Ministers to give us a consistent and a comprehensive account. Quite frankly, my Lords, I do not see the present Minister of Aviation, for whom I have a profound respect, acting as a purely passive conduit pipe to pass along the orders sent to him, either of the Secretary of State for Air or the Minister of Defence. I think all this needs a great deal more elucidation, and I particularly want to know where the power and responsibility reside; and this debate is, as I see it, the only opportunity which we have for ascertaining that. These are matters which are of supreme importance from a defence point of view; and, fortunately, certainly in this House, we can discuss them without any Party consideration, but simply with the idea of getting the best results.

3.12 p.m.


My Lords, may I say at the outset that I am grateful to the noble Earl the Leader of the House for having made the postponement on Tuesday when we raised the matter, and for giving us the opportunity for this debate to-day. I am sure your Lordships will agree that it was fundamental that on a matter of such importance it was not the best way to do things to allow the Order to be passed without any opposition or criticism at all and then to have to come to an early arrangement for the real examination by your Lordships of all those questions which have already been so clearly brought out by previous speakers in this debate. The noble Earl, Lord Swinton, with his vast experience, has dotted the i's and crossed the t's, and has backed them with real examples of experience over the whole ground raised by my noble friend Lord Wilmot of Selmeston. It is fundamental, therefore, that Parliament in general, both Houses of Parliament, should pay very great attention to this matter. It relates to all the various Services which were referred to by the noble Earl who has just spoken; and of course, in the long run, it relates quite clearly to the ultimate standard of prosperity in the country as a whole; and we cannot separate these things one from the other.

What I would first complain about is this—and again this is not a Party question; it is a House of Lords question. We are rather inclined to be misled, it seems to me, under the present practice by which the Special Orders Committee of the House examine Special Orders, and report on the urgency or importance of the host of White Papers called Statutory Orders that come before us. I asked at the Table about this matter, and traced the matter back, and I see that in a Paper which was ordered to be printed as recently as November 11, just a week ago, the Special Orders Committee referred to the Draft Service Departments Supply (No. 2) Order, 1959, and reported That in their opinion the provisions of the Order do not raise important questions of policy or principle. The Special Orders Committee do not seem to me quite to be doing their job in giving emphasis to the White Papers that need examination by your Lord- ships, if we get such an opinion expressed upon Orders of this fundamental importance which so distinctly cover policy. Whilst I do not want to utter any general criticism of particular members of a Committee of this kind which your Lordships have appointed, I think it is as well for the House to examine the basis upon which these Reports upon Orders are made giving an idea whether the Orders do or do not include important questions of policy.


My Lords, may I interrupt for just one moment? As a member of that Committee I should like to point out that the noble Viscount's Party is very well represented on it.


My Lords, I have already said that this is not a Party question; this is a House of Lords question. I was very careful to stress that point, and the particular Order that we are discussing to-day just points the matter very closely.

I do not propose to speak at any length on the Motion itself, because we have an important debate on hospitals coming along this afternoon, and I do not want that to be unduly curtailed. But I say that one of the most important points sounds an ordinary one. It is that, even when we have read the whole Report of the debate in another place on November 12, we still know so little about what are to be the real ramifications of this new arrangement that it requires more elucidation. That point was made by the noble Earl, Lord Swinton.

Although I am not going to speak for long I am going to say that when, at the end, my noble friend Lord Wilmot of Selmeston replies and, I am sure, withdraws the Motion on the Paper with regard to the No. 1 Order, we shall give notice to the House to-day, in advance, that we shall ask for a day to discuss the whole of this question of organisation in the Departments covering the Defence Services in general and all the other things which are now placed in Departments which will be dealing with Service matters. Then perhaps we may come to understand each other much better about it, before we come to specific Estimates of a different character early next year when we shall be having a White Paper on Defence. At some time or other we shall probably be having a Report from the Minister for Science concerning his Department, and we shall be having debates upon civil aviation and other cognate matters. So we give notice now that we shall want to obtain through the usual channels an early day for a full debate on those general issues.

It is interesting to look at the Report of the debate in another place and to see that the Minister, Mr. Duncan Sandys, said that he agreed that the arrangement which was being set out in these Orders was not a clear-cut logical arrangement. I thoroughly agree with that sentiment. But he also went on to say this [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 613 (No. 16), col. 673]: But I say quite frankly that the reorganisation of military procurement is not the main reason for this change in the distribution of Ministerial responsibilities. Well, it may not be the main reason, but it is certainly going to have a great deal of effect upon military procuration. We have a Defence Budget of nearly £1,600 million a year, and when a rearrangement, a reorganisation, of this sort comes, and the Minister in another place says in the same speech that he anticipates no saving to that budget by reason of the reorganisation which is to take place, then I think it is essential that we should get many more explanations about what is to be the working of the new system.

The other matter to which I want to refer—I think that all the other points have been touched on by my noble friend Lord Wilmot of Selmeston—is one that worries me a good deal, as an ex-Minister of Defence, and that is exactly what is going to be the arrangement of the scientific side of the business as between defence matters and civil matters? I should have liked to hear at some time about that. I can see that it is not possible to-day, but I hope that it will be possible when we get our full debate later, when perhaps the Minister for Science will take part. I hope that he will be able to give us a clear explanation of how the scientific arrangement under this set-up is going to work.

The new Minister of Aviation said in another place last week that the Minister of Defence has no department of science. And that is perfectly true. But may I say—on the very day, sadly enough, when we have had the Memorial Service to the late Sir Henry Tizard, who was Chairman of the Defence Research Committee at the time I was Minister of Defence—that the function of the Minister of Defence it; by no means without importance in relation to the scientific work to be done and to be co-ordinated with all the Service Departments: and, in many respects, what comes under consideration for defence purposes is also to be found in some of the civil research departments. It was by bringing together into one organisation of that kind the best scientific brains we could get that we began to foresee some of the dangers we should be up against; what protection ought to be provided; what steps could be taken to produce remedies that would be successful, or how production could be expedited. I must say that there was no Committee that I was ever connected with which was more valuable than the Defence Research Committee.

When I think of what the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, said about the different missiles, and so on, may I say that when it comes to scientific research we are by no means confined to the horrible things that we already know of in the defence sphere; there are things which have been discussed with many other nations, and other weapons, which have not been discussed with the general public, that come into view directly one gets on to these scientific questions. Looking at the general field of research which the new Minister for Science will have to look at, and at the widely different civil questions as well, I feel, especially having regard to the reference which my noble friend Lord Wilmot of Selmeston made to the comparative paucity of the most brilliant brains at the top of the scientific professions, that it is fundamental that we should get the best and most concentrated arrangement possible.

I do not propose to say more at the present. I expect that I shall have a great deal more to say when we come to the wider debate, which we hope we shall get later on, and perhaps when we come to the White Paper on Defence. In the meantime, I am grateful to the noble Earl the Leader of the House who has made it possible for us to have these comments before these Orders are passed at the present time. I would only request that, so far as possible, we should not be faced with two Orders, one subject to the Negative Resolution procedure and the other requiring an Affirmative Resolution, which will become operative on November 23—just next Monday. Such a short time does not allow sufficient Parliamentary examination to enable the House to understand clearly what is going to happen on the closing down of a well-tried, well-proved, great Government Department such as we have had in the Ministry of Supply. I shall listen with very great care to what the noble Earl has to say in reply for the Government. We shall not pursue the Prayer on No. 1 Order to a Division, but we shall ask for a further day and for a much longer debate than we are having to-day in order to deal with the whole question.


My Lords, before the noble Earl rises to reply, with the permission of the House may I ask a question so that he may include the answer in that reply? In doing so, I should declare an interest in this matter. May I ask him whether it is not a fact that the old Ministry of Supply was principally concerned with the supply of military equipment, although its powers were later stretched to deal with the supply of aircraft to the nationalised airlines, in which the M.T.C.A. also had a say; but that the Government now recognise that, with the increasing complexity and development of modern aircraft and missiles, it is necessary to bring closer together the responsibilities for the development and production of both military and civil aircraft; and that, for that reason, they have set up the Ministry of Aviation, which will have full responsibilities over the whole field of development and production of both military and civil aircraft, and over the whole field of missile development? If the noble Earl could make clear in his reply the answer to that question, I think it would be helpful to us all.

3.26 p.m.


My Lords, I doubt whether there is any Second Chamber in any democracy in the world where such a debate as that in your Lordships' House to-day could have taken place. Possibly I recognised the feeling of your Lordships on Tuesday; and I think that the interest in this debate comes somewhat from the feeling that your Lordships may believe that you have been "hotted" by another place. I hope that in the course of the next few minutes I can make it clear that this is not so—neither by another place nor by Her Majesty's Government.

The noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, has just put a question to me. If only the noble Viscount had spoken, or had had the chance to speak, at the very beginning of this debate, I think your Lordships' fears regarding certain of the areas over which the discussion has ranged would have been largely dispersed. The answer to the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, is, Yes. That is exactly the reason for these two Orders—in order to get every sphere of aeroplanes, aircraft production, guided weapons, electronics, and so forth, under one roof, to be looked after by the experts concerned with these fields. Added to that, my Lords, is the wealth of experience and knowledge coming from the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation. There is a separate Department, again, some of whose members are coming over to the Ministry of Aviation; and I trust that that will relieve a little (I will deal with it more fully later) the anxiety of the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, because it is not an extra pressure which is being put upon the Minister of Aviation. He is receiving extra assistance from the experts that were with the Minister of Transport, so relieving that Minister of the need to deal with aviation when he has roads and railways, and now shipping, for which to provide.

Now I think that it will be best if I go straight to answer the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston. Several other noble Lords have brought out many of his points, and I hope that they will consider that I am answering them at the same time. The noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, regretted that the concentration of supply is being broken up. My Lords, it is not strictly true that we are breaking up an old Ministry. We are really re-allocating the duties of that Ministry, re-naming it, and re-allocating, too, the men and the women who worked on those particular duties. As the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, well knows, much of the developing is done by teams highly-specialised in particular subjects. Those teams will go to whichever Department it may be: it may be the War Office or it may be other Departments to which they should logically be posted.


My Lords, might I ask a question there? It has been rumoured—and if the rumour is not true it ought to be killed—that the opportunity has been provided for a choice by the staffs concerned as to whether they go to the War Office, the new Ministry of Aviation, the Air Ministry, or the Admiralty. Is that so, or are you going to make sure that the right people go to the right places?


The noble Viscount opposite has mentioned a choice. What I think he really means is that there are several borderline cases between the various Departments in the old Ministry of Supply and, in particular, he is probably thinking of the Inspectorate. That is staying with the Ministry of Aviation at present, because naturally it must be administered by somebody, and that seems the most appropriate Ministry for the time being. It may seem in the future appropriate that certain Depart-merits of the War Office should take over their own particular inspectorate. Otherwise, all the specialised teams concerned will be going to their relative Departments, be it in the War Office or be it in the Air Ministry. I hope I have made myself clear to the noble Viscount.

There must have been one matter which occupied the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, when he was Minister of Supply, and that was the question of metallurgical research. Most of the metallurgical questions involved in supersonic flight and the production of rockets will be brought under the new Minister, and we hope that the increased concentration of experts will produce greater efficiency.


My Lords, I am afraid that I did not make my point clear. I understood that the Minister of Aviation asked to be responsible for those metals which are used exclusively in aviation. But the important thing is that metallurgical development cannot be predetermined as to its ultimate user.


I am certain that my right honourable friend, like the Minister of Supply, will have experts and technicians to keep him informed on such topics. I am sure that this concentration of all aeronautical research, production and supply will prove more efficient.

The noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, and my noble friend Lord Swinton asked about rocketry. The Ministry of Aviation is taking over all that deals with guided missiles—that is to say, missiles which have some form of guiding system, whether radar, astral or any other. Unguided missiles are usually smaller, and in the ma in are for ground use by the War Office and form a much smaller branch. But undoubtedly the technicians involved will be closely in touch with each other. The noble Earl asked particularly about the launching part of these weapons. In many cases, the launching parts are incorporated in the weapon itself, which must be considered as a weapon system; and where the launching devices are part of the weapon, they will surely stay with the Ministry of Aviation. But where, for instance, it is suggested that a submarine might be the launching platform, I have no doubt that my noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty has ways and means of providing such a submarine. There is a "tie-up" for all such eventualities.


My Lords, surely it is not just a question of providing an experimental submarine. It is a question of general nautical knowledge and preoperational scientific research about what happens when a weapon is launched from under water. There are all kinds of things to be considered, and surely our naval scientists ought to take part in the pre-consideration of this subject and not merely be asked to provide a platform.


My Lords, may I intervene to say that there will be very close collaboration between everybody concerned in such a project, as there is now.


My Lords, I think we can make it quite clear to the noble Viscount that just as the Admiralty would have gone to the Ministry of Supply, or vice versa, now they will go to the Ministry of Aviation. Again I would make clear to the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, that the Ministry of Aviation will not have to bother about boots and mugs, enamel, and the hundreds and one things that he used to have to bother about. I understand that the Minister had a non-industrial Civil Service staff of something like 30,000 and an industrial staff, including highly expert workmen, of something like 50,000 to control. My right honourable friend the Minister of Aviation will have only staff dealing with aviation, guided missiles, electronics and atomic weapons.


My Lords, can the noble Earl give an indication of the number that the Minister will now control?


I am afraid that I cannot give any indication of what the size of the Ministry of Aviation will be. It has not yet been finally decided which departments will have to be transferred, but if the noble Lord would allow me, I will let him know.


My Lords, so it may be the same as the Ministry of Supply, or more, or less?


I think that the noble Lord is confusing an economy campaign with an efficiency campaign. The work that has to be done is just the same. The mere fact of changing the name or taking bodies from here to there will not reduce the numbers, but as establishments get organised it may be possible to make minor economies here and there. But until the work can be reduced—and, for the reasons which the noble Earl has so clearly explained, it looks as though the work is going to be greatly increased—who can tell what may happen in future?

I should like to refer to the question of my noble friend Lord Swinton. He says that he likes two-thirds of the curate's egg, but I always understood that the curate liked only half his egg. It is well known that it was the noble Earl who, together with his colleagues, was responsible for the production of the Hurricane and Spitfire. Earlier he was one of the main protagonists of the monoplane as more efficient than the biplane. Schoolboys of to-day hardly know the expression, but it was to such issues, in which the noble Earl played a leading part, that our present aviation industry owes its place in the weld. Those developments were complicated enough, but to-day they are ten thousand times more complicated—and more expensive. And that is the nub of the whole question with which these two Orders deal. It is hoped that by having all our experts under one Minister and under one roof—or nearly so—we shall achieve greater efficiency.

The noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, was concerned about the air transport industry. That also comes within the interest of the Ministry of Aviation. My right honourable friend hopes that all the fears which the noble Lord expressed will be resolved in the future working of this arrangement, particularly as he will not be involved with problems of road and rail. My Lords, I think that I have answered nearly all the points raised today. As the noble Viscount opposite has suggested, I hope that it will be possible to have a debate on the vast technical range of this question in the near future, and I have no doubt that through the usual channels it will be possible to arrange such a debate.

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to ask the permission of your Lordships' House to withdraw the Prayer from the Order Paper, because the Government have kindly arranged that we shall have another debate on this important question. I am indebted to your Lordships for the time that has been devoted to the matter today, though I am bound to say that the debate has been worth while, in that it has uncovered the gravity and importance of the situation. I am sure we are all indebted to the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, whose courtesy and clear explanations of difficult points we welcome and expect, and, of course, always get.

I would ask permission to say one or two further words following what has been said by other noble Lords. The first is to say to the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, that his description of the events concerning the Whittle engine are, to say the least of it, a gross oversimplification.


I can only tell the noble Lord that they are taken from Group Captain Whittle's autobiography; if I am wrong, it is because he is wrong.


I do not know about that. I had something to do with the final settlement of the matter, and it was not quite like that; nor were the parts played by the various characters exactly as described. However, that will do for that.

Another point was made by the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote. He saw the advantage, as we all recognise, of the user of the aircraft having direct contact with the builder and designer of the aircraft. But that has always been a difficulty which any procurement agency in between has had to meet: the relative advantages of centralisation and this direct contact between the different users. But we get no further down that road by this Order, it seems to me, since this new Ministry of Aviation will not be the actual user, but only the procurer; and the user will still be found under the wing of the Admiralty, the War Office or the Air Ministry. It is the pilots working for these Ministers who will, in fact, be flying the machines, So we do not get any nearer to that objective by what is now proposed. What I want to ask the Minister is whether he can tell us, if not now on the next occasion, what will be the position of the new Minister of Aviation with regard to the Defence Committee, or whatever the appropriate body is now called, within the Government organisation in the Cabinet. I think that is an important matter in view of the rôle he will play in regard to guided missiles and other atomic weapons.

The other matter on which I think we need much fuller information, and some assurances, is the effect of this new departure upon the new responsibilities of the Lord Privy Seal, who, as I understand it, in addition to the onerous duties imposed by the formal title of his Ministry, is also solely responsible for scientific matters. If the important scientific staffs of the Ministry of Supply are going to be available to him, what is going to happen about the whole scientific set-up? It is obviously much different from what it was in the days when the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, had under his ægis a most important scientific Ministry. The relations between that staff and the other parts of the Government are obviously very much in the melting pot. It would be most interesting to have the observations of the Minister for Science on the arrangements now being made, and on how the best use will be made of this valuable body of knowledge which we have so to husband and use to the best advantage.

On the metallurgical side, I think it is important to realise that it is impossible at any one date to determine what are the metals concerned with aviation and what are the metals that are not concerned with aviation. The metals with which the scientists and the Ministry are mostly concerned are metals still in the mind of man. It is in the future of all possible uses that the most economy is to be made. Always our choice in this kind of matter is to choose from so many possibilities those that are likely to be most fruitful. Finally, there is the vital question of, to use, for brevity's sake, the hideous American expression, "instrumentation". It is upon this that I, and no doubt many other noble Lords, would value the observations of the Minister for Science. The competition in the field of instrumentation between all those who use instruments of all kinds—some of them run to enormous dimensions and make tremendous claims upon the scientific resources at our command—is vital to the whole question of the use of science. I do hope that we shall get some thought and study of these problems before we come to our next debate.

On Question, Motion agreed to.