HL Deb 04 February 1964 vol 255 cc9-69

2.52 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, last July, in Command Paper No. 2097, the Government announced their plans for re-moulding the Central Defence Organisation of this country. These plans included the establishment of a unified Ministry of Defence under a Secretary of State for Defence. This Bill, whose beauties I am to unveil to your Lordships this afternoon, is necessary to give effect to these plans.

Your Lordships will see that this is a short Bill and, as Bills go (and this is not saying a great deal), a simple one. Nevertheless, it is a Bill of historic significance, marking as it does the demise of great offices and Departments of State and the birth of new ones. I do not intend to linger too long in the past, as I believe we cannot afford the luxury of undue nostalgia when we have to grapple with the problems of national defence in this contemporary world. But I am myself in some small measure caught up in this particular wind of change. Indeed, my office and I are under sentence of death, as it were, by it. However, before mounting the scaffold of this Bill, I should just like to make it clear that no First Lord—and there are a number of former Naval persons in your Lordships' House this afternoon—has been prouder than I to hold this ancient office, possibly (we can never be too sure about these matters) as its last incumbent.

As my distinguished predecessor said in our debate last summer, the Admiralty and the Royal Navy have served this country over the centuries pretty well. One cannot but feel sad at the passing of such honourable offices whose roots lie deep in our history and, indeed, in our emotions. But, like my predecessor, I should not be supporting their abolition if I did not myself feel quite convinced that the time has come for a further step forward in our national central defence organisation.

We had a very constructive debate on the White Paper before the Summer Recess and your Lordships will not wish me to traverse all the same ground once again. Nevertheless, you may wish me, by way of background to this Bill, once more, quite briefly to summarise the main principles underlying the reorganisation and to mention the progress we are making in carrying out that reorganisation. The reasons why the Government had concluded that some further centralisation of control over defence policy and administration was necessary were explained in the debate last July. In essence, they are twofold. First, to facilitate the formulation of a truly integrated defence policy at the centre. Second, to improve our control of defence spending, particularly in the not inexpensive field of defence research and development.

The proposals embodied in this Bill rest, as I see it, on five main principles. This interesting animal, this Bill, therefore has five legs; it is a quinqueped or, for those of your Lordships who prefer Greek, a pentepod. The first leg, the first principle, is unification: a unified Ministry of Defence. The second principle is decentralisation. The new Ministry is so designed, or is intended to be so designed, as to promote decentralisation where decentralisation is both possible and needed, particularly in matters of day-to-day administration. The third principle is flexibility. The organisation must be flexible and capable of change, particularly where experience will enable us to pick out select areas in which the rationalisation of Service administration can, in our view, with advantage be carried further. Fourth, balance. We must keep a proper balance between the military, the administrative and the scientific components of the new organisation. Fifth—last but by no means least—Service loyalty. Despite this further integration in Whitehall, we are to retain three separate Services. We must therefore preserve the individual loyalties and traditions of the three Services themselves.

Finally, may I remind your Lordships that, for reasons which were explained more fully in the debate in July, the Ministry of Aviation is not to form part of the new unified Department, the Ministry of Defence. The Government consider that it should retain its separate identity; however—and the "however" is important—with much closer links with the central defence organisation than have existed in the past.

Based on these principles, the internal structure of the new Department will be as follows. The Secretary of State for Defence will have full control over and responsibility for the whole Department, a principle which your Lordships were not inclined to query last summer. The Secretary of State will be assisted by Ministers of Defence for the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force, and they, in turn, will be assisted by three Under-Secretaries of State. The Ministers of Defence will be responsible to the Secretary of State for the administration of their Services and will also carry out any functional tasks which the Secretary of State may delegate to them over the defence field as a whole—a potential across-the-board functional responsibility to which my right honourable friend attaches considerable importance. In the White Paper it was proposed that the present Service Ministers should be replaced by Ministers of State. Some of your Lordships criticised this proposal last July as an undesirable downgrading of the former Service Ministers. This criticism, which was voiced both here and in another place, has convinced the Government that it would be right to appoint full Ministers, with the titles I have mentioned, and with somewhat larger salaries than those on which Ministers of State grow fat—or at least some do. If I may say so, as a not entirely disinterested party, I feel that the Government's decision in this respect, as in all others, has been wise.

A Defence Council will be established under the chairmanship of the Secretary of State to consider major problems of defence policy, and to exercise the powers of command and control at present exercised by the Board of Admiralty and by the Army and Air Councils. The actual management of the Services will be delegated to Navy, Army and Air Force Boards of the Defence Council, and these bodies will remain responsible for the judicial and quasi-judicial functions of the present Board and Councils. The appropriate Minister of Defence will normally deputise for the Secretary of State, who will, of course, as is made clear in the White Paper, be the Chairman of each of these three Boards.

Below ministerial level there is a three-pronged structure—military, administrative and scientific. The military side of the organisation will be headed by the Chief of the Defence Staff and the Chiefs of Staff, who remain collectively responsible for professional military advice to the Government. The Chiefs of Staff, for their part, will continue to be the professional heads of their respective Services. The Naval, General and Air Staffs, and the Joint Service Staffs of the present Ministry of Defence, will together form the integrated Defence Staff. Certain changes are being made within this framework, and, where the nature of the work is suitable, full integration is planned in the future.

On the second prong, the Civil Administrative Staffs are to be headed by a Permanent Under-Secretary of State who will be assisted by four Second Permanent Under-Secretaries—one for each Service and one for the Defence Secretariat. The Defence Secretariat is a new organisation. It will bring together the Civil Administrative Staffs of the present Ministry of Defence and those of the present Service Departments who deal with major defence policy. These central staffs will form a single team with a direct line of responsibility to the Permanent Under-Secretary. We shall thus create at the centre new and much stronger machinery for the long-term financial planning of the defence programme as a whole. The detailed management of the money voted by Parliament will, however, be delegated—and I am sure that this is right—to the Second Permanent Under-Secretaries, who will be the accounting officers for their respective Votes.


My Lords, before my noble friend passes from the financial side, may we get one point clear? As I understand it, on all military and other matters the three Service Ministers, who I am very glad have been upgraded, are going (if I may so put it) to run their individual Service Departments, subject to the broad control of the Minister of Defence. But when it comes to finance they are not, apparently, to have any real say in this: finance is to be the sole responsibility of the Minister of Defence and the civil servants working under him. Have I got it right?


My Lords, I think that my noble friend has forgotten one tier of this, and that is the Defence Council itself. Naturally, this scheme will have to be worked out in practice, but I was dealing here with the official structure. But, of course, major policy questions involving defence can be debated—and no doubt will be debated—by the Defence Boards of the respective Services and also by the Defence Council as a whole; so all four Ministers will have a full say—that is, the three ex-Service Ministers, if I may so term them, and the Secretary of State.


My Lords, I do not want to be too tiresome, but I think the financial side is enormously important; because, after all, it is on the financial side that the Secretary of State for Defence and the Ministers are responsible to Parliament, and particularly to another place. On this question of finance, who is going to answer, first of all, for the broad financial policy? I imagine that the Secretary of State for Defence will take the overall responsibility for questions of major policy—I mean, on such broad questions as whether we should build cruisers or something else—but when it comes to all the detail, which is really where the money goes, and where Parliament and Parliamentary Committees have to watch the Administration, to whom are questions to be addressed on what I may call the individual application within the Services of the financial policy which has been settled by the Secretary of State and the Defence Council? Have such questions to be put to the Secretary of State, answering through, I am not quite clear who; or are they to be put to these Ministers of State? It is desirable that we should know this, and I imagine that the First Lord can give an answer.


My Lords, I hope that the First Lord can answer my noble friend's question. In the first place, I entirely agree with him that this is a matter of prime importance here. My answer is basically two-fold—and I think I have this right: that the responsibility to Parliament over the whole field is vested, and will be vested, in the Secretary of State for Defence—and that includes, of course, the financial responsibility. So far as particular questions impinging on the finances of particular Services are concerned, the correct procedure, as it were, will be for questions to be addressed to the Secretary of State for Defence. But (and I think he made this clear himself, in an answer during the Committee stage in another place) the practice will be followed here that, unless such questions involve major issues of policy, it will normally be the Minister of Defence associated with, and responsible for, the day-to-day management of a particular Service who will answer any question relating to that Service.


My Lords, I take it that, under this machinery, the new Ministers of Defence for Service Departments will have under them a Permanent Secretary to the Department and an Under-Secretary to the Department who will in fact have to do all the groundwork and the preparation for discussions in the Defence Council which is to be set up, and will be responsible for all the details of their Service Departments. But then, apparently, they can be overruled, I suppose by a Treasury-nominated Under-Secretary to the Minister of Defence, without that man having been integrated into the day-to-day work of the Service Department.


My Lords, I think I can assure the noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition that, as I have mentioned, in the case of each of the Services, there will not be a Service Department, but there will be a Permanent Under-Secretary who will be called the Second Permanent Under-Secretary. There will, in fact, be four Permanent Under-Secretaries—one attached to the Ministry of Defence, as I have mentioned, under the Permanent Under-Secretary, and one dealing with each of the three Services. As the, noble Earl will see from the White Paper, the whole idea is that at an early stage the long-term programming of these financial programmes should be brought together, but in that bringing together each of the Services will be represented in the formulation of policy at that stage.


It seems quite clear to ordinary Ministers of experience that these staffing arrangements will bring about a duplication and an increase in administrative costs. Instead of this arrangement being likely to bring about a saving, it seems to me that it will cause an increase in expenditure.


With great deference to the noble Earl—and he speaks with very considerable experience in these matters—I should have thought (and it seems to me that experience in the past tends to support this) that there was a great deal to be said for bringing together the major programming of the defence policies of all three Services at as early a stage as possible. I should have thought that in that way lie saving and economy, rather than the reverse. Certainly, in that way lie true interdependence and a true meshing together of the requirements of the three Services.


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Earl, but I have forgotten what he said before this exchange, and it would be rather helpful if he could repeat the two passages dealing with the position of the Second Permanent Under-Secretary, because I am trying to see how closely it follows the White Paper. It was that passage which gave rise to our concern, and it might be helpful if we could have the actual text again.


I am in rather the same state as the noble Lord. I also have tended to forget what I had said shortly before our interesting exchanges in these esoteric spheres of finance. But I have here what are called "comprehensive notes", and I think I can give the noble Lord the precise phraseology I used and I will repeat the passage. The civil defence staffs are headed by a Permanent Under-Secretary of State who will be assisted by four Second Permanent Under-Secretaries one for each Service, and for the Defence Secretariat. The Defence Secretariat is a new organisation. It will bring together the civil administrative staffs of the present Ministry of Defence and those of the present Service Departments who deal with major defence policy. These central staffs will form a single team with a direct line of responsibility to the Permanent Under-Secretary. We shall thus create at the centre new and much stronger machinery for the longterm financial planning of the defence programme. The detailed management of the money voted by Parliament will, however, be delegated—and I am sure this is right—to the Second Permanent Under-Secretaries who will be the accounting officers for their respective Votes. That was what I said. I am completely confident—and I know the precise wording of the White Paper will be familiar to the noble Lord—that this is not in any way a contradiction of the White Paper proposals. It is just a "fleshing-out" of those proposals.

My Lords, may I turn now to the scientific field. The Chief Scientific Adviser will be in charge of all scientific effort in the new Department and a number of changes are being made in the scientific Committee structure described in order to improve the control of defence research and weapon development. Those changes are outlined in Section X of the White Paper. To mark the increasing rôle which science plays in the Services, the chief scientists of the three Services are to become members of their respective Service Boards; and I am sure this is a good innovation.

So much for the broad outline of the new defence set-up. Provided that Parliament passes this Bill the Government intend to bring the new organisation into effect on April 1 this year. These changes may sound simple, but they have meant, and mean, much work. Let me give but one example: the physical co-ordination and bringing together of the Central Defence Staffs. It is clearly a good thing, in my belief, to bring together under one roof the staffs mainly concerned with Defence policy: that is, the Defence staff, the Defence Secretariat, the defence scientific staff, together with those elements of the managements staffs of the Services who are most closely associated with them.


My Lords, may I ask a question on the timing, about this date of April 1? Are we to understand that we shall be getting the usual Defence White Paper before that date for the coming armaments year, or shall we have to wait until after the new Department has been organised?


No, my Lords. I can assure the noble Earl straight away that the normal Defence White Paper will be appearing at about the normal time.

It has also been decided—and I am sure advantage will flow from this, too—to house under this same roof the Minister of Aviation and the principal officers of his Department concerned with research and development. This cohabitation will, I am sure, make for much better co-operation. I might perhaps mention that the building selected for the honour of housing this large but happy family is to be the one in Whitehall which the Board of Trade and the Air Ministry have hitherto shared. It will hold about 3,400 out of a total of about 25,000 staff which the new Department will possess on its formation. Very good progress has been made with all this and I am confident that occupation of what we intend to call the Whitehall main building of the new Ministry will begin by vesting day.

If the new Department is to function efficiently when it comes into being on April 1, it is essential that as many as possible of the features of the new organisation should be progressively introduced before that date. Good progress is being made in this respect, too. The defence operations executive has been formed and the Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Operational Requirements) and his staff have begun work. We have appointed the Second Permanent Under-Secretary of State (Defence Secretariat) and the Deputy Under-Secretary of State for Programmes and Budget. On the scientific side, the Weapons Development Committee and the Defence Research Committee have been set up. Arrangements are also being made to appoint the additional scientific staffs required to service these Committees and carry out the other tasks mentioned in the White Paper. In short, anything that can be done before April 1 is being done. However, there are some things which cannot be done in advance and which will have to wait until the actual physical reorganisation takes place.


My Lords, if there is going to be a general staff plus these extra 25,000 in the Ministry of Defence, will all these changes be accounted for in the Estimates for the Financial Year beginning April 1? This seems to me an extraordinary thing. Can we have a complete comparison in the Estimates between the cost now and what it is going to be?


My Lords, I cannot promise the noble Earl that we can meet the second requirement; but I can assure him that these matters will be costed in the Estimates. I think I should make it quite clear that, taking the present staffs as on April 1, 1963, of the Ministry of Defence, the Admiralty, the Air Ministry and the War Office, the staffs of the new combined Ministry of Defence as on April 1, 1964, will be no more. The figure of 25,000 does not represent a net increase. Perhaps I was unwittingly misleading the noble Earl. There will be no increase. It is merely a bringing together of staffs.

Now, my Lords, for the Bill itself. It is important to appreciate what it does and what it does not do. What it does is to reallocate the statutory powers now reposing in the Service Ministries. It is not concerned with prerogative powers under which many of the activities of the Service Departments are carried out. Nor is it concerned with the details of the reorganisation, the transfers of staffs, the alterations in lines of responsibility, the provision of accommodation and all the thousand and one other matters of administration which do not require legislation. The Bill is thus only part of the process necessary to set up a unified Ministry of Defence.

The other formal step is the appointment by Her Majesty of a Secretary of State for Defence and the establishment under the Royal Prerogative of a Defence Council and Navy, Army and Air Force Boards. Clause 1 of the Bill makes it clear that the proposed legislation is dependent on Her Majesty's being pleased to make such arrangements. The Bill does not therefore trench on the Prerogative; indeed, there is a specific saving to this effect in Clause 4(3). However, Her Majesty has been informed of the contents of the Bill and has been graciously pleased to indicate that she will in due course be prepared to make the necessary arrangements under Prerogative powers.

The offices of the First Lord of the Admiralty and of the Secretaries of State for War and Air, together with the Board of Admiralty and the Army and Air Councils, will disappear. It is therefore necessary to transfer the statutory powers vested in them to the new office of Secretary of State for Defence and to the Defence Council. This is done by Clause 1. The allocation of functions between the two new authorities is explained in paragraph 2 of the Memorandum attached to the Bill before your Lordships' House. It will be seen that this perpetuates the division of powers between Ministers and Councils which exists to-day. Thus, powers now exercised by the Secretaries of State for War and Air are transferred to the Secretary of State for Defence. Powers exercised by the Army and Air Councils are in their turn transferred to the Defence Council. The statutory powers of the Admiralty are allocated to make a broadly similar division.

Clause 1(5) deals with the relationship between the Defence Council and the three Service Boards. It provides that, subject to any directions of the Defence Council, the Navy, Army and Air Force Boards will be able to discharge finally—and that is the important word here—any statutory function of the Defence Council. As explained in the White Paper, the Defence Council will deal mainly with major defence policy and the Service Boards for the most part with matters of management. The composition of these bodies reflects this distinction. The Defence Council may be the appropriate body to discharge certain statutory functions or to discharge a function in relation to a particular class of cases. Again, in certain cases it may be appropriate for the Defence Council to direct that a particular Board should exercise a function only in relation to the members of the corresponding Service. This is the significance of the words, "subject to any directions of the Defence Council".

But many of the statutory functions are, of course, concerned purely with management, and it will be appropriate, and it is the Government's intention, that these should be discharged finally by the Service Boards. Anything done by the Boards in these cases will have the same legal effect as if done by the Defence Council and will not be subject to review by the Council. This is what "finally"—the word I have somewhat laboured—means in this context. This applies particularly to judicial and quasi-judicial powers for the review of disciplinary awards, the redress of grievances and the like. I am sure that the House will agree that it would be wrong to interfere in any way with the long-established practice whereby petitions against the findings and sentences of courts martial, for instance, are received and dealt with within the Service to which the accused person belongs. That said, I should like to make it clear—and this is the point I made in reply to the question of my noble friend Lord Swinton—that the Secretary of State for Defence, who will be Chairman of the Defence Council and of the Service Boards, will be responsible to Parliament for all the business transacted by the Council and the Boards.

I believe that these are sensible and practical arrangements, which permit the flexibility and the scope for organic growth and change which it is necessary to build into any radical reorganisation of a machine as complex as the one which we are reorganising under this Bill and White Paper.

The remaining clauses of the Bill I think I can deal with very briefly. Clause 2 transfers to the Secretary of State for Defence all Service property, rights and liabilities, and provides for the acquisition and use of land. Clause 3 contains consequential and transitional provisions, and Clause 4 explains itself. To sum up, this is a technical Bill, which is needed if we are to abolish, as the White Paper has proposed and as I think your Lordships' House broadly endorsed last July, the existing Service Ministers and Ministries and to create an integrated and unified Ministry of Defence. What it does, in a few words, is to transfer existing powers from the old order to the proposed new order.

I think it fair to say that, whilst the proposals for this new set-up were not received with rapture by your Lordships last July, they were, broadly speaking, endorsed as necessary, sound and sensible. This broad endorsement has been confirmed, by all Parties, during the passage of this Bill through another place. Because of this, and because I, too, believe these proposals to be right, can commend this Bill to your Lordships with confidence. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl Jellicoe.)

3.25 p.m.


My Lords, I cannot recall a more difficult subject or a more difficult speech to which to reply. The noble Earl said that this is a technical Bill which provides for flexibility and organic growth. I really do not know what any of those words mean in this context. This is a small enabling Bill. It is certainly difficult to understand, but it is nothing like so difficult to understand as the proposals (if they are proposals) that the Government are putting forward with regard to the reorganisation of defence.

I must say straight away that we shall have to read the noble Earl's speech very carefully and possibly return to the discussion of some of these matters, not perhaps by way of Amendment, but at least on "clause stand part" on Committee stage. I am not making a Party point when I say that the whole House finds it extremely difficult to follow this set of propositions. The special difficulty rests in relation to the responsibilities involved. Here I would ask the Minister a number of questions. Frankly, I do not think he told us anything that was not said by the Minister in our last debate six months ago or was not proposed in the White Paper, with one exception—his reference to the new Ministers of Defence.

I think we ought not to pass this Bill without asking why the Government have introduced it. We know that it is due to admitted failure. This is apparent in the White Paper and has been apparent in the speeches on the previous system. But what we are not clear about is whether it is the system that has failed, or the men. I am sure that the Government are tired of references made to the number of Defence Ministers, but there really has been a frivolity on this subject, and there is no question that whatever is proposed now will work no better unless there is some continuity and the right occupant of the post of Secretary of State for Defence. I think that that is obvious.

It is also clear that these changes have had bad effects, and among these bad effects has been that it exacerbates the Party political side of the defence issue, which I hope may be reduced. I am a little bothered now by the smugness of the Government in regard to their proposals. They have created a framework, one that is difficult for us to follow, and apparently they are reasonably certain that their proposals are going to work. Again, this is exceedingly difficult for us to discuss without a great deal more information. Indeed, I am wondering whether this is not an example of those highly technical problems that are very difficult to debate across the Floor of the House—whether this is not the sort of thing that needs to be examined much more thoroughly by a smaller number of people, so that in the process they can clear their minds and understand exactly what it is that the Government have in mind.

The first big question, on which I do not believe that noble Lords on either side of the House are clear in their minds, is the position of the Ministers of Defence for the Navy, Army and Air Force. It is rather difficult to remember their proper titles, but I think these are correct. I am sure we all welcome the fact that they are to be full Ministers, but I am astounded at the rather curious idea that in order to preserve the right relationship between them and the Secretary of State for Defence they have to be paid less. This seems to me the most extraordinary thing. Have the Government really thought what they are saying in this? We have sometimes had other Departments which have had more than one Cabinet Minister in the same Department, and there has been no question about who was "the boss". But this sudden introduction of a status determined by pay in relation to Ministers, all of whom we know are grossly underpaid, is really too ridiculous. I would urge the First Lord to talk to his right honourable friend and to get him to reconsider this curious emphasis, that of course they must be paid less. Is he afraid that if they are all paid equally they will be "uppish"? I find it extremely difficult to take the Government seriously when they make this sort of proposal.

This, however, is a small point. The real point in regard to the power of Ministers is how far they are to be responsible to Parliament. The noble Earl made it quite clear that, in the last resort, it will be the Secretary of State himself who will be responsible. But difficulty arises in regard to this question of discipline, because it has been made clear by the noble Earl that discipline is the responsibility of the respective Boards. This is one of the matters which it is intended should be decentralised to them—and by "decentralised" is meant, I suppose, that there will be a moment when responsibility is taken away and hastily thrust back to them. But there will still be the ultimate issue when a Minister comes to Parliament. At this point, will the Minister of Defence, if he is in this House, always have to refer to "My right honourable friend"?—it may be that the Secretary of State for Defence is not likely to be often in this House. Will the Minister of Defence for the Navy ever answer for himself, or will it always be on behalf of the Secretary of State? This matter is important in regard to the public responsibility.

I am not saying that what the Government are doing in this matter is wrong; I am merely pointing to the difficulties. The strength of the present position is that when the First Lord gets up to speak we know that, unless the matter under discussion is to go to the Cabinet and the Prime Minister, so far as his particular field, his Department, is concerned, the final word has been spoken and he speaks with that authority. This will not be so in the future.

The matter is further confused, because we have been told that the Ministers of Defence will have certain functional responsibilities across the whole field of defence. If that is the Government's intention, they presumably must have some idea of the sort of functional responsibilities which these Ministers will have; because otherwise they would not have mentioned them. But they have not yet told us what they might do. Perhaps, when the noble Earl comes to reply, he will tell us what particular other functions they will have.

We should also like to know how far these functions will be satisfactorily separated from the Minister's major responsibility in regard to a particular Service. We are quite accustomed to a Minister going off and doing an odd job somewhere. We sent the Minister of Science to Moscow; and I remember that after the war the Secretary of State for Air was frequently involved in negotiations abroad for the Government. All that is understandable. But these seem to be definite responsibilities and functions. It is important, if we are to judge this, that we should be told just the sort of thing these Ministers will do.

There was, too, the particular point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Swinton. Here I think we are in some difficulty in understanding what the Government have in mind. I think the view held by those who support a greater measure of integration in defence of this kind has generally been that there should be central control over estimating and budgeting—and, indeed, over expenditure. But if what the noble Earl said is correct, it would seem that this process will be conducted within the Secretariat, without reference to the political Ministers, until it emerges at the top—until, in fact, it comes out to the Defence Council. What is to be the precise relationship between the three Boards and the officials who are responsible for this budgeting and estimating?

It may be that this is too detailed a matter for us to discuss effectively in this House; but the noble Earl sought to explain it. It is quite fundamental, because if the Minister of Defence for the Navy has no direct influence in this matter (it may be that this is one of the functions that will be devolved to him; I do not know) and the channel is through the various Permanent Under- Secretaries, one can see that a degree of frustration may build up which will make this pentepod, as the noble Earl calls it (it sounds much worse than the Pentagon: this will indicate to the noble Earl that his joke did not go unnoticed) a much more frustrated place.

This may also affect the question of debates in the House. I think I am reasonably clear that any Minister is liable to answer a particular question; and that does not worry us quite so much in this House, where Ministers are thinner on the ground and we know they may have to speak for Departments other than their own. But when the Estimates are produced, will there be a combined statement? Certainly previously we were told that there would be separate Votes for each Service. I hope that the Government will produce something rather better in the way of a Defence White Paper than they did last year, and something which will enable us to understand more how this is going to work. I personally have no objection to our having debates on subjects other than on the individual Services: indeed, last year, if there had been time, it was quite likely that we should have anticipated what has been suggested in another place—namely, that debates might take place other than on a single Service. There is still the responsibility of Parliament for this type of Supply, and it is desirable and necessary to know how it is to be presented.

One thing is quite certain, and that is that the Secretary of State for Defence is going to be an extremely overworked man; he will be as hard-worked as the Foreign Secretary or the present Commonwealth Relations Secretary. Although this federal type of Ministry may be the right solution, it carries enormous dangers, because it puts the man at the top and responsible to Parliament even further away from the field in which he is exercising responsibility. It will be impossible for him to do what the First Lord is able to do to-day, and on his own authority. That creates serious problems.

Clearly we are not going to oppose this measure to-day, but this is something very much in the nature of an experiment, and it is one that I do not think is likely to remain unchanged in the future. There has been some argu- ment in favour of strengthening the position of the Secretary of State. There was an interesting suggestion from the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, that there might be a sort of Chief Secretary. This was turned down when it was put forward in another place, again on the grounds that we cannot have two Cabinet Ministers. This is nonsense comparable to the argument on pay relativities.

I am not saying that this suggestion is right, but I do not know whether it has ever been seriously considered. Certainly considered arguments have not been put forward against it, and I think it is a matter which ought to be at least considered. We have had very little discussion on the position of the Chiefs of Staff and the Chief of the Defence Staff. There has been quite serious criticism from all sides in regard to the position of the Chief of the Defence Staff. I should again like to ask what I asked on the last occasion, a question to which I did not get an answer: How far will the Secretary of State for Defence himself deal directly with, and, if necessary, take the chair at meetings of, the Chiefs of Staff? Or will disagreement at the Chiefs of Staff Committee always come to the Secretary of State for Defence? When I say "always", obviously there will be direct contacts. Will the channel normally be, as is suggested, through the Chief of the Defence Staff? This seems to me to be a bad and retrograde step, and I think it is important to know how this is going to work.

At this point, I realise that I am getting into such a rarified atmosphere that I ought to sit down and leave this to my noble friends Lord Attlee and Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, who have such wide experience of the operation of the higher organisation of Defence, both in war and in peace time. I would suggest that to some extent this is a problem of power, and those of your Lordships who have served in the headquarters of powerful commands will know that there is a danger that this particular command will develop a power and an identity which may greatly influence defence planning and defence organisation. Getting rid of the heads of the three Services does not mean that powerful interests of a kind which already exist may not still continue. But they will be under less control than they have been in the past. I would suggest that, in this relationship and in this conflict of power, the Government have not necessarily solved their problem, and may well have created new problems for themselves.

Finally, I should like to refer lightly to the relationship of the Defence Council to the Cabinet, and to the Committee on Overseas Policy and Defence. It has been a criticism—and it is a criticism I should like to repeat to-day, and one which has come from many people, including certain people with wide experience in the Services—that there is apparently to be no permanent secretariat to the Committee on Overseas Policy and Defence. We know that a suggestion was made that there should be a secretariat, and that it will be served by a committee of senior officials. But it is clearly in this field that the greatest weakness has been shown in recent years. It is in the relation of defence expenditure, foreign policy and economics that we have fallen down and overstrained ourselves. There can be no argument to-day that we are seeking to achieve more economically than we can achieve; and the co-ordination between defence, foreign policy and economic considerations is, I should have thought, unquestionably not as satisfactory as it should be. This is the most vital point of all, and the danger that some of us feel in regard to these proposals is that in the process of abolishing the three fortresses of the Air Ministry, Admiralty and the War Office, the Government have created an even stronger bastion which will pursue a policy of independence with its own cabinet, the Defence Council, and which may to that extent produce less co-ordination rather than more.

There are obviously many details one could discuss in regard to this Bill. There are certain aspects that are wholly welcome. I think the development in regard to the scientific advisers and that particular structure is certainly, on the face of it, to be strongly commended. But whether, even then, we shall succeed in getting an adequate degree of co-ordination in budgetary and other matters with regard to new projects is difficult to tell. It is here that time and again our defence policy breaks down. There is a potent phrase in the White Paper in regard to research, where it says: The problems of Defence research are seldom amenable to straightforward analysis and accounting. This is no doubt one of the truest statements that has ever been made. Although there is another Committee, the Weapons Development Committee, which is intended to exercise this control, from what we have heard there are no indications that we are likely to do any better than we have done in the past. It is clear that to do so is the intention, and will be one of the main justifications for this measure. Until we bring these enormously expensive items under control we shall continue to waste money. I am not seeking to make a Party political point when I say that it is clearly a disaster that we have had to cancel Blue Water, or when the cost of Seaslug or TSR 2 goes ten or even twenty times above the original estimate. Somehow this new machine must bring this under control, because whatever Government are in power, they will be in continuous difficulty because their estimating will be without any reality at all. I hesitate to say that a Dr. Beeching might do better in this matter, but clearly something must be done, and I wish I had more confidence that this proposal would solve these problems.

I think the main difficulty we have in considering this matter is the extent to which we still suffer from the domination of certain words. I should like to make a plea that, in regard to purely honorific titles with an historic meaning, we should stop worrying as much as we have done. Would it really matter if the Navy Board of the Ministry of Defence, which is the N.B.D.C.—a really absurd title—were still called the Board of Admiralty? I think this would be very welcome. We realise that certain of these terms must continue, and I know it is arguable that there was as much feeling when the title "Navy Board" was abolished a long time ago, but surely we could get over that. I should have thought we need not worry about that type of name. What is more serious is the fact that, in this plan and in this thinking, none of us seems able to free himself from misconceptions.

I should just like to refer to one particular phrase which was used by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, when he spoke in the debate on the White Paper. He said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 252 (No. 126), col. 1161]: Sailors are sailors; soldiers are soldiers, and airmen are airmen: they choose their ship; they choose their regiment, and they choose their squadron. I think it would be difficult to find a single sentence which contained more misconceptions than that. I suggest that possibly the reason he thought like that is that he was a soldier—perhaps a more orthodox soldier than the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe. Sailors are frequently airmen; airmen do not choose their squadron.

If this is the level of thinking—and I do not believe it is—we are not going to get very far. It will be the men who will make this particular proposition work. I have a good deal of faith in the noble Earl himself and, indeed, in his predecessor, but I have very little faith in the Government; and if, to use that very eloquent phrase that my noble friend Lord Attlee used on a previous occasion, the Ministry of Defence is to be a siding into which politicians on their way up or down will be shunted, this Bill will do little to improve our situation.

3.52 p.m.


My Lords, I welcome this Bill in principle, and, for my part, I wonder why it was not introduced long ago. So far from being a revolutionary measure, it is, in my view, a highly belated one. I was reading only the other day that even the old Duke of Cambridge, who ceased to be Commander-in-Chief some eighty years ago, felt that there was need for a Ministry of Defence. He was no radical reformer, and I never thought I should be quoting the Duke of Cambridge in support of any of his military ideas; but if he thought it was a good idea, one can see that Her Majesty's Government, bringing along a measure like this in the year 1964, are not doing anything which is highly revolutionary.

In view of the fact that Britain is an island and that every operation of war, and most operations of peace, have to be combined operations, it is odd that for so long we have managed to struggle along with three distinct Services, very little co-ordination and hardly any integration. I am not at all sure that we do not need to have a good deal more than is proposed in this measure and in the White Paper which lies behind it. I have some sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, when he says that to discuss a question like this in a debate in a House of Parliament is almost impossible. The Bill itself is very short; it is an enabling measure; it gives very little detail—and it is the detail which matters. I feel that this is another reason why we shall have to develop Parliamentary machinery and proceedings of Parliament to deal with modern conditions. I think the time has come for a Defence Committee of the House which can go into these questions.

It so happens that I know far more about details of NATO forces than I do about those of my own country. The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, knows that this is so, because he was at the NATO Parliamentarians' Conference before he ascended, or descended, to the Front Bench. There we have talks by the Supreme Commander and by various other naval, air or military commanders in NATO. One asks them questions in the Committee or in the plenary and one can thereby find out a great deal of the detail of what one wants to know about these matters. Members of Parliament, however, have little opportunity of getting details. The whole subject is shrouded in secrecy, most of which is entirely unnecessary, for I am certain that the Russians know far more than any Member of Parliament does about what goes on in our Forces. We are not really able to do our duty in this respect. If we had a Committee in this House we should be able to have before us and discuss these matters with Ministers, Chiefs of Staff and other people as we do in NATO, and we should get a fairly accurate estimation of what the health of the Services is like and what the proposals are intended to mean.

I hope that with this new set-up, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has said, we shall not have all this whirligig. "Stop-and-Go" defence policy that we have had over the last eight or ten years, when one Minister of Defence comes in and decides to do away with the Royal Air Force and a good deal of the Fleet and concentrate on rockets, and then another one comes in and decides to "pipe down" on rockets and try to build up an R.A.F. again, and so on. How on earth people in these Services have managed over the last ten years to carry on in staff colleges and other training establishments where they are supposed to teach what is Government policy on these matters and forecast what the future of the Services is going to be over the next few years I cannot understand. We ourselves here, having the advantage of speeches from Ministers responsible in the Defence Departments, have not known what the real intentions of the Government have been; they have changed so often.

I think the danger here is that a vast bureaucracy will be built up. I hope the Government will avoid that and avoid empire-building, and have as few people as possible. But let them be good people. Here I support the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. I think it is absolute nonsense to cut down the salaries of the various Defence Ministers. Ministers, in my view, are paid far too little as it is. The position is nonsensical when Cabinet Ministers are paid considerably less than their own permanent Departmental heads, particularly when these Departmental heads have pension rights as well. I think that to cut down salaries is very much a retrograde step. I suggest that what we should do is to maintain the salaries at the present level and put up the salary of the Secretary of State for Defence. I think the public would understand that.

One reason why I think this action is belated is because we are now entering, and have entered over the last two or three months, a completely new phase of defence in the Commonwealth. Few contemplated that this would be so, but I would remind your Lordships that when I was speaking in this House on the measures proposed in the White Paper I said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 252 (No. 126), col. 1156]: I think that in future we shall have to give much closer attention to Commonwealth defence than in the past. It is going to be a rather different type of defence. I then went on to say: I refer to a case such as that in Borneo, the new Malaysia. It will be quite impossible for the new Malaysia to defend its frontiers, those enormously long frontiers running through bush and across the tops of mountains … without aid from the rest of the Commonwealth. I never thought my forecast would come so quickly into being. It was not long before there was the attack from Indonesia in the very region I specified to your Lordships last July.

I feel that the situation that has arisen, not only in Malaysia but also in East Africa, means that we have to look at defence from a completely new point of view. We have to be ready at very short notice to go to various countries scattered all over the world in order to handle a situation that may arise. I should like to ask the noble Earl these questions. Will it be possible to adapt the proposed set-up in the Ministry of Defence to meet these new situations? Can the Government provide quickly enough the necessary forces at a few hours' notice to take off and go to various parts of the world? I myself believe that if this tendency continues—and I think it will continue; I think we shall have to go into a lot more countries to assist them with internal defence either because of Communist infiltration or for some other reason—it is going to be pretty well impossible for Britain to carry this load herself. I think we shall be highly overstrained, when one regards the fact that we have to provide forces for NATO and we have other commitments in various parts of the world of a more or less static nature. To underwrite these various other commitments which may arise from time to time will overstrain us.

I suggest that the Government try to get a Commonwealth defence force; that is, not one on a permanent basis but a Commonwealth defence pool to which the various Commonwealth countries, such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the rest, would earmark contributions, and when some of these difficulties arise we could draw on that pool and get some assistance. I do not think anyone can say Canada has done very much; they have not provided very many forces outside Canada, except to NATO, since the last war. There is one precedent we have got and that is in the case of Korea; for the first time in history a Commonwealth Division was quickly gathered together and went to Korea. I have been disappointed that that sort of precedent has not been followed, but I think to-day that this is in all probability going to be, so to speak, the pattern of the future. Quite likely we shall never see great land wars in the future such as we have seen in the past, but this sort of commitment will be a very common one, and I feel that the Commonwealth, rather than NATO, is the type of organisation which should be dealing with the Commonwealth commitments which I have described.

I also think that in the present circumstances it is quite impossible to get the United Nations into these areas. In times to come they may have a permanent force, but they have not got a permanent force at the moment. I think it is far better for the Commonwealth itself to handle the situation for Commonwealth countries. That is all I have to say on this particular Bill. As I have said, I welcome it. I think it is a highly inadequate discussion we are having to-day, but that is not the fault of the Minister or the fault of those taking part, but is due to the fact that the procedure of Parliament is just as much behind the times as the structure of the Forces has been until quite recently.

4.4 p.m.


My Lords, I entirely agree with the views of the noble Lord who has just spoken that one must have some continuity in defence, but I suggest to the noble Lord he must not forget there have been great changes in weapons owing to the rapid advances in science over the last few years which make changes in defence policy very necessary. This Bill is, of course, a radical departure from our present organisation, and it places political control in one hand instead of four hands. What we are really doing is to create a post of a superman with immense powers. Although I am in favour of some form of centralised control, I do hope that this centralisation will not be carried too far, which may very well in the end slow up decisions. We have seen that happen with the German High Command in the last war, which I think was known as OKW; it undoubtedly had a very serious effect on the naval warfare of the German navy and they would have done far better without OKW control.

I also think that many difficulties may arise with weak Ministers of Defence. They are not all going to be supermen. The superman, I understand, is to be known as Secretary of State for Defence, but what of the other Ministers of Defence? In another place a good deal of debate went on as to what these Ministers are to be called and what should be their precise rôles. I understand the Minister of Defence decided he would look at the whole matter again as regards the title of these Ministers, and I think the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, has said they are to be called Ministers of Defence. I also understand that it has been agreed that Ministers of State would be upgraded to full Ministers of Cabinet rank. I certainly agree with this proposal. Otherwise the burden on the Secretary of State would be far too heavy to bear.

These Ministers of State, I believe, are not to be in charge of Departments, because I think the intention is to have one Department of Defence. This sounds very nice and tidy on paper, but perhaps the Minister in charge of the Bill could explain more fully how this is to be put into practice. Are they to jump from one Department to another? I really cannot see the use of these Ministers if they are to have no authority at all in their own Departments. What about conflicting claims in one Service? Is the Minister of State to have no power to decide between rival claims in the same Service? I simply do not understand this. What would be the position of the Minister in discussions with our Allies on the navy's rôle in certain areas? Would he have to say that he could not deal with it and must get a decision from the Secretary of State for Defence? We really must have something more definite about these very important matters which are bound to arise. It seems to me this debate is being held in a vacuum, because we know very little.

I am also very concerned about the term "Navy Board" which is to supersede the term, "Admiralty." It is so easy to discard the old name, to throw it away; but how many years will it take to build up a new one? It is true that the term "Navy Board" has been used before, but not, I venture to say, with any great success. The Navy Board system broke down when put to the test during the Crimean War. Why revive it? I maintain that we should not interfere more than is absolutely necessary with the traditions of the Naval service, which go far back into the mists of time, long before the Navy Board was set up.

I wonder how many of your Lordships are aware that the word "Admiralty" was used in a collective term for the office of Lord High Admiral, I think very early in the 15th century. In fact the word "Admiralty" goes back many centuries before that date and is derived from the Arabic word "Amir-al-mar". Surely it is not proposed that Admiralty Charts—a hallmark of quality—will in the future be known as "Navy Board Charts." Then we have the Admiralty Manual of Navigation, Admiralty House and Admiralty Arch. Is it seriously proposed that all these time-honoured names should be done away with? Before long we shall have someone re-writing the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. I cannot imagine a seaman referring to an Admiralty anchor as a Navy Board anchor. To me it sounds complete rubbish. And what about the Admiralty Division of the High Court of Justice. Is this to be changed, too?

There is, of course, a very much more serious vein underlying these proposed changes. I suggest that we must guard against the tendency of organisers to forget the greatly different roots and deep traditions of the Armed Services; and I would say that this applies particularly to the Royal Navy. The term "Admiralty" has for many centuries been a collective term for royal authority vested in the office of Lord High Admiral. This was the case whether the Lord High Admiral was an individual—as of course he was for very many years—or whether the office went into Commission as Lords of Admiralty. Throughout, the Royal authority has been maintained; and with Her Majesty resuming the office of Lord High Admiral there will be a continuity of the Royal authority exercised through the collective term "Admiralty," now to be changed, for no apparent reason, to "Navy Board."

I would point out that there is a fundamental difference between the Navy and the other Armed Forces. The fact is that, unless the Army and Air Force Acts were passed each year, the Army and the Air Force would become illegal bodies of armed men. That does not apply to the Royal Navy. A soldier has his loyalty to his regiment, although I believe there are those in certain quarters who would like the regimental system to disappear and be replaced by a corps of infantry. In the Navy, the advent of short-service commissions, nowadays of only some 18 months, means that it is becoming more difficult to build up a similar loyalty to a unit, such as one of Her Majesty's ships. I maintain that something higher is required which the sailor can always look up to as a focus for his loyalty, and this must be the Admiralty. Those of your Lordships who have served in the Navy would, I am sure, be interested to hear from Her Majesty's Government what in the future will be the disciplinary term for the time-honoured phrase "incurring their Lordships' displeasure."

I can see no reason why the Services should not be allowed to retain their present names if desired, especially in the case of the Royal Navy, on account of the arguments that I have done my best to put forward this afternoon. I cannot possibly think that it would interfere with Her Majesty's Government's idea of integration. I am glad I have the support of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, on this point. These matters are part of the traditions of the Services which it is perhaps difficult to explain. None the less, they exist, with an enormously strong influence. I do not see why we should follow the United States organisations in everything we do. For heaven's sake! let us have some originality. I trust that Her Majesty's Government will think again about the matters that I have raised, and will consider the request about which the Navy feels so strongly.

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Teynham. I cannot see why you should scrap whole phrases like "the Admiralty" for something new-fangled, especially if it comes from the Pentagon. I do not know whether the new organisation to which the noble Earl gave a Greek name was sired or dammed by the Pentagon, but the last thing in the world which I should like to follow is co-ordination or, for that matter, for control by Ministers. I have risen because I have taken some interest in this matter for a number of years—in fact ever since my noble friend Lord Lawson and I entered the War Office just forty years ago; and while I am entirely in favour of co-ordination between the Services I am not at all sure that this is the right way. Fundamentally, what is required for co-ordination is the training of officers who think in terms of all three Services. That is much more important than any machinery.

The machinery we evolved during the War worked well. I would call it "trinitarian" rather than "unitarian". We had three Chiefs of Staff, and we had a Minister of Defence and a Defence Committee, and it worked well. We continued with that system during the time of the Government of which I was Prime Minister, and it worked quite well. In fact, the proof of the pudding was in the eating, because although our resources were greatly strained we were at short notice able to produce the Commonwealth Division for Service in Korea. That involved the co-operation of all three Services, and it was effective. Since then it has perhaps not been effective. That may be due to the fact that there have been so many passengers passing through the Ministry; none of them had time to make much of a mark. The last one to do so was Lord Head—I forget how many Ministers ago. The others were just birds of passage. I think that had a bad effect on the Defence Ministry.

I never agreed on the wisdom of creating a fourth Chief of Staff. Inevitably, that meant that in one of the three Services you had two heads, one a Chief of Staff in the Defence Ministry and the other the Chief of Staff of the particular Service. I do not think that was necessary. With competent members of the General Staff in your C.I.G.S. or your C.A.S. or your First Lord, you could get the co-ordination you wanted and the chairmanship you wanted. Of course, the outstanding example of that was when Lord Alanbrooke was chairman. Lord Alanhrookes do not grow on every tree; but then nor do Lord Mountbattens. He has an unrivalled experience in co-ordinating the three Services. You have to make provision for the ordinary man.

In the days before the Second World War, I frequently made speeches in the House in favour of a Ministry of Defence. I was always met by the words, "If you try to do that, you will produce a Minister who is much too strong for the rest of the Ministry; and a competent Minister with a great Defence Ministry behind him will be much too big for the rest of the Cabinet." That was the complaint on all sides, taken up in the Conservative Party. It is surprising to me that they have now gone the whole hog and have reduced the civilian heads of the Fighting Services to little more than Under-Secretaries. I think they are destroying the traditions of the three Services and I look with great doubt at this new set-up. It seems to me too complicated.

First of all, you have the Secretary of State for Defence. I thought it was a good principle that major planning should be separated from detailed administration. That, I think, is the rule in the Fighting Services. Here you are going to put all the detailed planning and all the detailed administration into the hands of the Minister of Defence. The Service Ministers are mere Under-Secretaries. All the decisions are to be taken by the Secretary of State. I think that is wrong. When we devised the Ministry of Defence, the idea was that it should be kept small. Now it is being expanded to 25,000 staff—a great deal of harness for quite a small horse. I would rather see a little stronger horse than all this stuff, and I am most doubtful whether you are going to get any economies. I think you will find that the Service heads of the Navy, the Army and the Air Force who are going to be located in this Whitehall Pentagon, will not do without a pretty full staff. The First Lords of the Admiralty always need a flotilla, and they will also have one when they get back to the other offices. They are much more likely to duplicate than economise in staff.

Then, I think, there is a general depression of civilian control. Our system throughout the ages has been one in which civilian control is at the head of the Fighting Services. If the civilian is wise he does not try to do major strategy. If the Fighting Service chiefs are wise they do not interfere in politics. They have their sphere. Here I think responsibility is blurred. I find it very difficult under this scheme to make out who is really responsible for the Fighting Services. It seems to me that it all comes back to the Secretary of State and is taken away from the other three Service Ministers. I think you will tend to exalt the Secretary of State, and if he is not a strong man you will exalt the chief military officer. That is a mistake. History has shown, if you look at the state of affairs in Germany in the past, or in America, that it is a mistake not to have adequate civilian control over your technical, military men. I am very much afraid that this will lead either to overwhelming the Secretary of State with too much work or too much power, or to handing over effective control to a military chief. I think that with a few improvements our present system could have worked perfectly well.

Then, again, there seems to me to be an immense complication. You can bring in your scientists—and you should bring them in; they fit quite well into the ordinary organisation, either the three Fighting Services or the Ministry of Defence. But it seems to me rather a matter of window dressing to say, "Look how scientific and up to date we are—we have got Mr. So-and-So, F.R.S., right up to the top". It does not really make a substitute for the proper training of your officers. And I say that, being familiar with all three Services and being familiar with scientific advance.

Then one should have a proper Defence Ministry or a Defence Committee of the Cabinet. I do not know whether that disappears or quite what happens to it. That brings in the Foreign Office, the overseas Ministers, and possibly the economic Ministers. It worked all right during the war and afterwards. Now I think that it will be overwhelmed by this Colossus if one has just one person on the Defence side. I would much rather have the views of the three Services freely expressed in a Committee of Defence, with other Ministers present so that such views can be examined and due weight given to them.

I confess that I do not like this system. It may just be because I am too old. I do not believe it is really up to date. I think it is an attempt to do something which is rather alien to our traditions. I think the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, was quite right in wanting to retain the name of the Admiralty. After all, it was a very clever device to have the Lords of the Admiralty and the Lord High Admiral in commission. You had others, historic or otherwise; and you upset things when you destroy these old landmarks. You do something to destroy the spirit of the Services. I do not think it is a good thing to degrade Ministers. The Services ought to have, as they had in the past, a Secretary of State to whom they owe allegiance, and to whom in case of need they can appeal. Now what have you got? A mere sort of Minister of State; a kind of glorified office boy to the Secretary of State for Defence. I hope this idea will be taken back and reformed. I am quite sure that when another Government come in they will find they will have to reform it. If I am not greatly mistaken, they will find it has grown into a Frankenstein which they will have to destroy in due course.

4.25 p.m.


My Lords, through the courtesy of my noble friend Lord Ampthill, who wants to speak on one particular aspect of these proposals, I intervene for a few moments only. It is quite clear from what has been said in the debate to-day that this is a major surgical operation on Government machinery. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, have deployed the many questions, both of policy and of administration, which in this new structure remain unanswered. All will not work smoothly in the future. There will be personal and administrative difficulties old Service pride will continue and rivalries will not melt overnight.

My purpose in contributing to this debate is to ask whether the Government would consider giving an undertaking that an objective disinterested review, conducted by authoritative persons, will be held within, say, two to three years' time from now. I believe some such assurance would be healthy for all those who are affected by this great surgical administrative operation. It will be within your Lordships' recollection that some time ago the Government called in wise and experienced men, who commanded the confidence of the serving personnel, to examine the question of inter-Service co-ordination. It would not be good enough to let the interested executive Departments conduct a review of matters which may need remedying in the light of experience. It seems to me that there will be a requirement for a review in two different directions. The first direction will be as to whether the position of the Secretary of State for Defence is in all respects a satisfactory one; whether in future it will be shown that he is too powerful a single Minister in a Cabinet of collective responsibility; and whether his financial and other powers are not too great. I do not know—and I do not believe any of your Lordships know—what will be the result of such questioning in two or three years' time. The Prime Minister of the day, whoever he may be, is the only man who will be able to carry out such a review.

The second type of review is as to whether the executive machinery of government is working satisfactorily. I submit to your Lordships that this matter should be put under the microscope, as it were, not by those interested—and all those in the Government Departments must be interested parties—but by those of experience who are completely detached from any personal consideration of the problem, so that they may reach an objective, disinterested view. I believe such an assurance would be healthy for all those who will have to carry forward the new structure envisaged in this Bill. That is the only purpose for which I have intervened, for I believe it is the desire of your Lordships to see that this machinery works effectively in the future. If the Government will give an assurance in regard to such a detached review, I believe it would increase the confidence of those affected by these proposals.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, I do not wish to repeat anything that was said, either by myself or by other noble Lords, in the debate on July 31 last, when we were debating Command Paper 2097. Nor do I wish to withdraw my general agreement with the proposed organisation, though I must qualify that remark by saying that I agree with all that my noble friend Lord Teynham has said. I also agree with some of the very pertinent criticisms made by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. I personally believe that the White Paper proposals go too far in the matter of throwing overboard some of the traditional names, for which we have substituted three Defence Ministers and cohorts of Second Permanent Under-Secretaries of State. I will leave the Second Permanent Under-Secretaries of State, but I must just refer to the three Defence Ministers.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, I cannot see how these very senior Ministers are going to operate unless they have clearly defined responsibilities, and there is nothing in the White Paper, where they are described as Ministers of State for Defence, that properly defines their responsibilities. It is said that one of them will be responsible for the Navy, one for the Army and one for the Air Force, but that they will have a general field over the whole Ministry. I cannot see myself, a business executive, or the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, also a business executive, putting senior managers into that sort of position. I think that these Defence Ministers (and I am very glad that they have been upgraded to Defence Ministers) should have clearly defined responsibilities, one for each Service. As I have already said, I fully support my noble friend Lord Teynham in all that he has said about dropping the name "Admiralty", and other well-known traditional titles. My own bet is that for many years to come, whatever the Government may decide, sailors will still refer to the Admiralty, soldiers to the War Office and airmen to the Air Ministry.

Noble Lords who have spoken, particularly from the opposite Benches, have made some reference to Parliamentary control. I know that that was meant strictly in the financial sense, but perhaps your Lordships will here forgive a slight digression. I have recently been reading some papers dealing with the Civil War, from 1642 to 1648, when the Navy was loyal to "King and Parliament", as it was then described. There was a Joint Committee of both Houses, but it was from this House that the Orders to the Fleet were issued. The Chief of the Naval Staff of the day—as I suppose one could call him—Robert Rich, then Earl of Warwick, issued the Orders on behalf of your Lordships; and the records show that those operations, which were nearly all combined operations for maintaining Hull, Plymouth and North Wales, as well as other ports, for Parliament, were conducted from this House. The soldiers were very few on the side of King and Parliament; so the sailors were landed and, with the infantry and gunners, with their guns, their pikes, and their muskets, stormed these places. I thought it might interest your Lordships to know that in those days operations were run from this House.

My Lords, once this Bill becomes an Act, enormous powers will be placed in the hands of the Secretary of State for Defence. He will control the largest single organisation in this country, and also the most complex. We all know that Secretaries of State for Defence come and go. They will continue to come and go as Governments change and Prime Ministers change their minds—though one hopes that one will not have quite the same frequency of change as we have had during the last decade, with nine or ten. At any rate, my Lords, this constant changing means that the continuity will be in the hands of the Chief of Staff to the Secretary of State for Defence, the Principal Under-Secretary and the Chief Scientist. They are the key men. The Navy, Army and Air Force element: in the Ministry, at whatever level, will be continually changing. They seldom remain for more than two or three years in one of the Ministries—most of them do not want to.

All this means that very great power and responsibility will be with the civil servants who are to staff this powerful Ministry. There is a fear, which I have heard expressed in more than one quarter, that in consequence this huge machine, this vast organisation, will come too much under the domination of the civil element. I do not entirely share this view; none the less, I think that watchfulness and care will be necessary to avoid any danger of this. There is a story, probably apocryphal, of a one-time Secretary of the Admiralty who in an unguarded moment referred to "my uniformed branch". We do not want the Principal Under-Secretary of State set up by this Bill referring to "my uniformed branches". I hope and believe that this is unlikely to happen, but this machine is so vast that continuity will largely lie in the hands of the civil servants, for the reasons I have given.

My Lords, as I have said more than once, enormous powers will be concentrated in the hands of the Secretary of State for Defence as soon as this Bill becomes an Act. Much has been written, much ink spilt and many words spoken, about the effect of this Bill, when it becomes an Act, on the Fighting Services. But very little has been said about the effect on private citizens. I do not mean in the matter of protecting them from the blast of the enemy, but in their rights. Among the powers that will be transferred to the Secretary of State for Defence are those in Clause 2 of the Bill. This transfers to the new Secretary of State all the powers at present held by the Service Ministries, to hold and acquire buildings and land, including the compulsory acquisition of land for the purposes of defence.

Clause 2 cites a whole series of Acts, commencing with our old friend the Defence Act, 1842, and going right down to 1935. For some reason (though I am sure there is a perfectly good one), I can find no reference in the Bill before us to the Land Powers (Defence) Act, 1958. I mention this because, shortly after this Act I have just named became law, a Written Answer was given to a Question in another place. This Written Answer by the then Secretary of State for War will be found in Commons Hansard, March 6, 1959. In his written reply, the then Secretary of State for War stated that it was the Government's intention to apply safeguards as set out in the Land Powers (Defence) Act, so as to give the same protection to citizens whose land it was proposed to acquire compulsorily for defence purposes as they had under the Act. This, he said, would be done by administrative action; and the administrative action was set out at length in the Written Answer.

As one of the trustees for a small dairy farm in Dorset, I am unfortunate enough to be subject to this administrative procedure, because the trustees objected to the acquisition of our land on which the Air Ministry wanted to build a wireless station for the United States Air Force. I described our experiences to this House on July 12, 1961, and I referred to them again on December 7, 1961, on both of which occasions (and this is the point of my mentioning the matter again) we were debating Motions by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, on the Council on Tribunals and relevant matters. During the course of these debates in your Lordships' House, I asked certain questions, and I have given notice to the noble and gallant Earl who is to reply for the Government that I should ask them again to-day, because I think it is very important to the private citizen. It can have no effect on myself or my co-trustees: our business is finished.

My first question concerns procedure set out in the Written Answer by the Secretary of State for War in another place on March 6, 1955. Explaining this procedure to your Lordships on July 12, 1961, when we were debating, my noble and learned friend Lord Kilmuir, who then sat on the Woolsack, described this procedure as being [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 233, col. 212]: invented to deal with the difficulties of the Service Departments". After briefly describing those difficulties, mostly questions of secrecy and security, he added: … Even the Ministry of Defence is in a different position". Your Lordships will find the noble Earl's complete answer in the Hansard for that date, in column 212.

So my first question is: Will this new Ministry of Defence be bound by the procedure of March 6, 1959? Before our second debate on this subject of the Council on Tribunals and relevant matters, I had discovered the hard way, simply by attempting to refer the question of my costs to the Council on Tribunals, that the Council on Tribunals had no power to act because they considered that inquiries held under this "invented" procedure of March 6, 1959, were not statutory inquiries within the meaning of the Tribunals and Inquiries Act, 1958. Thus the trustees were shut out from taking the question of their costs before the Council on Tribunals.

During our debate on December 7, 1961, I asked two questions, which I repeat to-day. First, when will the new defence legislation, replacing the Defence Act, 1842, and all the other Acts, not to mention the "invented" procedure of March 6, 1959, be brought be- fore Parliament? The next question is: Will the special tribunals which will undoubtedly be set up under this new legislation be brought within the scope of the Council on Tribunals? In his reply on December 7, 1961, at column 215, my noble and learned friend Lord Kilmuir undertook to bring these matters to the attention of his right honourable friends in the Service Departments—and, knowing the noble and learned Earl, I am sure he has done that; but I have heard no more.

Even if the noble and gallant Earl cannot give a complete answer to my questions to-day—and I apologise for giving him rather short notice, but it was unavoidable—I think we should have the answers before we part with this Bill. It is not very easy for the ordinary citizen to deal with individual Service Departments even as they exist to-day. It seems to me it will be infinitely more difficult for him to deal with the vast and comparatively impersonal machine which we shall set up by this Bill. I think it is essential that, when the Bill becomes an Act, it should include all reasonable safeguards for the ordinary citizen. It is patently easy for the Defence Department, and I think it will be even easier for this vast machine we are creating, to hide themselves under the dual umbrella of security and secrecy. Even if it is impossible within the near future to draft new legislation to replace the present series, which commences with this ancient Act of 1842, I believe that the "invented" administrative procedure of March 6, 1959, should be amended by further administrative action to bring any tribunals set up thereunder within the scope of the Council on Tribunals.

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, may I say, before the noble Earl, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, winds up, that I should not have intervened but for the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, because I really said all I had to say about the contents of this Bill in the debate on the White Paper; but the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, does move me to make this one observation on his speech. He, laudator temporis acti, wants to go back to the old procedure under which the Secretary of State for Defence would act as successive Ministers of Defence have acted. My whole objection is that, as it worked in the past, the Minister of Defence really was an arbiter over the three Services, which very often presented conflicting claims; and, while we want to preserve the identity of the Services, I think that nearly all of us want to come closer to an integrated staff, an integrated conception of planning, so that we shall have the three Services working under a single direction, with the Minister, the Service Chiefs and the scientists—very important—interested from the very start in the formation of policy and creating that policy, rather than the Secretary of State coming in as the arbiter. I think that is the whole difference, and unless we have a Ministry of Defence on this scale and with these powers I do not believe we shall get that reform which we all desire.

The other thing is this. There has been a great deal said about changing the name of the Admiralty and other names. I must say that I have a good deal of sympathy with much that has been said about that. I know that baptismal regeneration is supposed to get rid of, and no doubt does get rid of for the time being, original sin, but I am a good deal more doubtful as to whether a baptismal regeneration by which you bring about changes in nomenclature, by which you call the Board of Admiralty the something-or-other and the First Lord of the Admiralty the Minister with or without Portfolio, is going to have much effect upon the spiritual approach which Ministers and Service Chiefs will have. As a matter of fact, I should have thought that it would have had rather the opposite effect, and I should have thought it might act rather as an irritant. On the whole, I think it would be a good thing to keep as many of the old names a; we can while imbuing them with the new spirit.

The only other thing I would say is this. An appeal was made by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, who said he hoped the Government would give an undertaking now, before they set up this new machine, before it was working, that in a year or two there would be an impartial inquiry to see how it had worked. I very much hope the Government will not give any such undertaking or do anything of the sort. If we are setting up a new machine and want it to work—and there are going to be difficulties—and if we want to get the Service Chiefs to work together, would it really be a very sensible thing to say to them, "Of course, if you do not like the machine, if it does not work, if you do not make it work, then it is all right—we are going to get some people in from outside to examine it in a couple of years' time"? I cannot think that that would really be a very good idea. What I think all of us in Parliament ought to do after this Bill has gone through—and, whichever Government is in power, I am sure this will be carried out—is to watch how the machine works and to watch it most carefully, but to watch it with a constructive eye; trying to make it work and criticising where we find any defects, but at the same time giving that constructive help which Parliament can give better than anybody else to the Secretary of State and the other Service Ministers and the Service Chiefs in order to make the new machine work to the best advantage.

4.50 p.m.


My Lords, first of all I should like to thank the noble Earl who introduced the debate to-day for his comments on the Bill which, as has been pointed out more than once during the debate, is a very short and enabling Bill. We shall have to be certain and see what proof there is in the pudding that the Administration finally produce for the observation and criticism of Parliament. It is a very difficult situation indeed. I am glad that the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, joined in the debate—I was not complaining of his intervention; I was, in fact, wondering when he would come in, because I thought he put one or two exceedingly pertinent questions in the course of the Minister's speech this afternoon. In spite of some aspects of the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, I think there is a great deal in what he said. There was also much in what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, my friend, Lord Attlee, and, especially, in the analytical survey made by my noble friend Lord Shackleton.

Nobody wants to go backward in the organisation of the defence of this nation; nobody wants to dispute the suggestion made by the Prime Minister from time to time that only strength can really command respect for our country in the world—although I am sure that in assessing the term "strength" we must not always think of armament. It must be strength in progress, in expansion of production, in new ideals, and in many other things. But when it comes to the actual defence of our country, we must be exceedingly careful how we go and in deciding what should be the actual result of that buildup in general of national strength so as to be a power in the world and in the progressive discussions of the Powers in the world.

I want, therefore, to look now at the suggestions made from that general point of view. We on this side of the House have had experience; though sometimes it is hardly recognised. And we have had experience in varying circumstances. We had experience in what would be the future of the national organisation of our defences when we had that tremendously important Naval Conference of 1930, in which we obtained a provisional agreement with Mussolini for a declaration in all the Chambers and which, if the French had not run away on that occasion three weeks later when they were asked to sign the Protocol, would have changed the whole basis of armament in Europe and the strength which was to be deployed in the Second World War that we unfortunately had to go through. We have had experience of that.

Many of us—not all; I do not want to put too high a price on it—in my Party have always taken the line that the question of defence should, as much as possible, be on a non-Party basis. We have never admitted the sort of claims made politically that members of my Party are not prepared to defend to the end the honour and liberties of the citizens of this country. I think we proved that by our actions in the war. We have had experience of serving with Ministers of other Parties, including the Conservatives and Liberals, in this last great war; and we have seen, existing for the first time in the tried operations of warfare, what a collective system of the control of defence must mean. If the organisation of the 1939–1945 war is compared with the organisation of the First World War, what a vast change can be seen to have taken place in ideas and in machinery! From the moment of the breaking-out of the 1914 war there were constant quarrels between the different Parties in Parliament, whatever happened inside the Cabinet. Steps taken to achieve proper defence of the country seemed never to be at the right time or at the right strength. It took two years, from 1914 to 1916, to get from the new form of Coalition—under that kind of management—National Service brought in. This was after two years of slaughter of hundreds of thousands. Nor were there, I would say, anything like the preparations beforehand or the proper co-ordinating of the roles, the efficiency and readiness at the time, of the three Services.

In this last war there were all the difficulties of starting with quite insufficient preparation for the type of warfare that was going on. The idea of a Ministry of Defence started very tenderly; first of all through a Minister for Co-ordination of Defence, with hardly any staff. But gradually, by making people think and progressing in their thinking, we had by 1939–40 a machine which, especially on the military side, was working with co-ordinated efficiency in such a way as had never happened before.

I remember meeting one day, at the end of October, 1939, just outside the Army and Navy Stores, the late Field Marshal Sir George Milne, whom I had known for years before when he was serving with us in the Labour Government on the Committee of Imperial Defence. He stood at the corner of the street and said to me, "Well, Alexander, what do you think is going to happen in France? They are calling it 'the phony war'. How are you calling it?" I said, "I think it is going to be very much steamed up before long." He said, "Have you considered the proper connection between our problems now with political actions before? The strategy that ought now to be adopted is to examine what is likely to be the first political action now in Europe. Holland and Belgium are neutral; but before long they will be bound to decide whether they can remain neutral and, if they are invaded, whether to show a front and the spirit of their countries. When you look at that, you look in a certain direction: just about from the end of the Maginot Line; and when you get the call to come in and help those in Holland, you must accede to it. Then the Germans will strike there and they will be through." And that is exactly what happened. We must have all that kind of thing worked out now between the Government, Ministers, and the Department of Defence.

I quite agree with what was said this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore. If we are not ready with the right kind of organisation, how on earth is all the great stretch of Staff and the regimental, Navy and Air Force officers to be instructed in Staff Colleges, if the Government do not know what policy they have to pursue? Therefore I applaud the Ministry of Defence as set up in the last war and as it worked then. But I am bound to say that it would have been quite impossible for that to be so successful if there had not been at the head of each Fighting Service a Minister who was responsible to the Minister of Defence and to Parliament for the discipline, the training and the equipment of the forces of the Department he had to control.

The one thing that I wanted to see after the war—and I talked it over often with my noble friend Lord Attlee—was that this kind of overall top organisation should not be abandoned. And the cost of the Ministry of Defence which was set up by my noble friend was so much less than the amount now proposed to be spent on this new Ministry as to be absolutely astounding. Even though the development that took place with National Service and the struggle in Korea meant that the budget for defence could not be kept down to the early low level, the cost, in relation to the good that was achieved, was infinitesimal in the years until 1951.

What sort of remedy are the Government bringing to Parliament to deal with what has happened since 1951? It has been stated in more than one of the speeches this afternoon that perhaps one of the reasons for our bad position now is that we have had so many Ministers of Defence that we have had no continuity of effective control or effective suggestion or general planning. I think that that is probably quite true. But if we look at the possible expenditure on this new scheme in the light of the fact that at the present time we are spending £1,838 million upon national defence, when we have just a little more than one-third of the personnel in the Defence Forces that we had in 1951, it is an amazing situation.

When the Ministry of Defence was set up in 1950, we had for the first time the development of research and scientific organisation within a unified control and great results came from it. But now we are to have the Minister of Defence put in a position in which he is Secretary of State for Defence as a whole and nobody but he is responsible to Parliament. I do not know what the Minister is going to say in reply to-night, but I want to concentrate on discipline. Who is going to answer for the discipline of the Fleet? Who answers for the discipline of the Army and who answers for the discipline of the Air Force? The Services have totally different arrangements for discipline, because they have completely different Service conditions and training. They have always been managed by their own Service Chiefs and the Minister at the head of each department has been responsible directly to Parliament for discipline.

I was responsible to Parliament for the discipline of the Navy in the course of the Cabinet break-up in 1931 and, as I have said before in this House, if they had acted within the Cabinet on my advice, we should not have had the mutiny at Invergordon. I told the Cabinet then that, if they broke their pledge on the pre-1925 enlistment in the Royal Navy, I could not be responsible for the discipline of the Fleet. May we have an answer to-night on this point of discipline? I know that this is only an enabling Bill, but I think it is at this point that we want to settle the principle. I want to know from the Minister now whether the Ministers of Defence of the Navy, Army and Air Force are going to be responsible to Parliament. I know that the quality of discipline obtained will depend on the efficiency of the organisation of the military side of each department, but the political Minister must be directly responsible to Parliament for that.

I am also a little anxious about the question of security. The amount of security which is required in the normal operation of a Service department is not small. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who I am glad to see has come into the Chamber, would agree, after his experience in the last two and a half years, that a Service department still has a very important part to play in security. It is true that politicians sometimes get awkward and say that the Prime Minister is the head of the security service. So he must be. But who will be responsible now for the defence services—just the Secretary of State for Defence or are there going to be responsibilities passed on? Where security matters arise, will the Ministers for the Service departments be able to get up in Parliament and speak in support of whatever action has been taken or explain why no action has been taken?

When it comes to the co-ordination of supplies, I still think that this is best obtained by a Ministry of Supply such as the Ministry which the Labour Government began during the war and later had to carve down to proper peace-time size, keeping a real co-ordination between departments with regard to general supplies and costs. If we considered it from that point of view, I think that we should do far better if we continued the Ministry of Defence in the form of the Ministry set up by my noble friend Lord Attlee. We should not give such great power to one Minister, and on no account should we drop that form of Cabinet organisation in which defence matters are considered, before going to the Cabinet itself for final settlement, in a defence committee in which the Defence Ministers and their Chiefs-of-Staff attend as of right to state their points of view, with other Ministers of the Cabinet there and able to judge a case from the firsthand knowledge and direct opinions of the Service Chiefs.

I am not going to add to all the points made by my noble friends Lord Shackleton and Lord Attlee, but perhaps I may be excused for saying a word on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, which was also discussed by my noble friend Lord Attlee, concern- ing the names in the Service departments that are going to be continued or destroyed. I do not know why it is especially necessary—was it due perhaps to wanting to change the position in the Admiralty?—that the Air Council and Army Council are to be abolished and that within these departments we are to have something called a Board in their place. The Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty and the Board of Admiralty are terms understood throughout the nation and throughout the world, and I should have thought that in any co-ordination and development of the defence services we should retain such traditions as are really helpful. Therefore I hope that further attention will be given to retaining the term "Admiralty." I think that it is an extraordinarily effective name. When we think of all the questions that go through the Court of Admiralty as well as the actual Board Room at the Admiralty, we can understand why the highest court in the land for trying nautical cases is still called the Admiralty Court. It is of great effect to retain that title.

The Air Force, of course, is much more modern, but it has grown up as an Air Force under the terms of the Council of the Royal Air Force to have enormous respect among its personnel for the operation and action of the Council. You have put the word "Council" again now in the rest of the White Paper—setting up a special Defence Council within the Ministry of Defence itself. I had no difficulty about that. I do not see that you need such a Council unless you are going to put a special value on having between the Minister of Defence and the Council some superior Staff Officer. I am not going to criticise anybody who has held that post, because I have not been there to observe what has happened, and I would not know. But there was no need for a special chief staff officer, first to analyse what the Chiefs of Staff had decided, or perhaps disagreed about, and then for that to be presented to the civilian Minister of Defence, on the understanding that he was hoping to keep his job as the chief adviser, and therefore would like to see his opinion accepted. I do not think that is a good position at all. It was always possible for each of the Services to take it in turn to provide the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, and for the Minister of Defence himself, whenever necessary, to take the chair at the Chiefs of Staff Committee, which I had to do, so that he could hear any discussion that went on as to points upon which they were not fully agreed. There is no need for this extra intervening post whatsoever.

When we come to the administration which is to go on underneath that, we are going to have four civil servants of the rank of Permanent Under-Secretary under the Permanent Secretary, who will be Secretary to the Minister of Defence. You will have to have both Permanent Secretaries and Under-Secretaries in every single Service Department and the Science Department. This is just sheer duplication and a waste of money. I hope that before this Bill is implemented the Government will have another think about the whole thing, and may feel, with all the traditions we have in the Services, that they should not be kept if they are not right, but that they should not be cast aside until they have been properly examined and consideration given to the real effects upon us as a nation of their being unduly interfered with.

I should like to say that I hope when the Defence White Paper comes out—we have been discussing to-day through the usual channels what the date will be, and it will not be too late in March—the Government will be able to say to us something in addition to what the Minister will be able to say to-day. But, in the meantime, I think I carry my noble friends with me when I say that, much as we should like to be able to say we accept this enabling Bill as it stands without the alteration of a word, a comma or a full stop, we shall have to think again and may possibly have Amendments to put down at a later stage.

5.13 p.m.


My Lords, could I ask my noble friend, when he is replying, whether he will add one more assurance to what the noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition has asked for? The noble Earl opposite has asked for assurances on discipline, co-ordination, supply, organisation and so forth, and I should like to put in a special plea on the welfare side of the Services. So often your Lordships get letters—they may come from men in all arms of the Services or maybe from parents; perhaps an injustice has been done and it may be to do with a court-martial or a compassionate posting—and your Lordships (and it goes for Members of another place, as well) are able to pass these letters on to the Minister concerned. Will these Under-Secretaries to whom the noble Earl opposite has referred have enough authority to be able to deal with and make the correct decisions upon these things, trifling in themselves but vital to Servicemen and their families? I find it hard to believe that the Supremo, the Minister of Defence himself, will be able to make such decisions. Will these Under-Secretaries really he able to make the same effective decisions which the present Ministers in their respective Services are able to make? I shall be glad if my noble friend can give us an assurance on that as well.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to those noble Lords who have joined in our debate this afternoon for the constructive, if somewhat varied, welcome which they have given to this Bill. I was particularly glad to note the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore (he has apologised to me for his absence) and to learn that, at least in principle, the Liberal Party stand foursquare behind the objects of this Bill. I derive some encouragement from this. I am sure, too, that your Lordships were especially glad that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, has spoken in this Second Reading debate, because he brings to the debate, along with a sharp and powerful sting, an almost unrivalled knowledge of these matters, as indeed do the noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition and my noble friend Lord Swinton, who I think made a useful intervention on my side of the House.

That said, by way of sweetening the pill, I should like also to thank my noble friends who have joined in this discussion. A good many of the points raised go a little beyond the actual framework of the Bill, and even of the White Paper which we have been, by implication, discussing—for example, Lord Ogmore's plea for a Commonwealth Defence Force. However, that, and other observations of this sort, I will certainly study; and I will see that they are drawn to the attention of my right honourable friend.

My Lords, having recovered, at long last, after some months of convalescence, from our labours over the London Government Bill, I am feeling in a particularly conscientious mood.


It was a pity you were not then.


I have noticed of late a slight change in the attitude of the Party opposite towards the London Government Act.


Not in me.


Despite my conscientiousness, which has now been—




Yes, challenged—I am sure noble Lords will neither expect nor wish me to pursue all the many points which have been made in our discussion this afternoon, more especially as we have a good deal of further business following on our heels. I shall, however, attempt to answer at least some of the points raised (and some of them were pretty cogent), and if there is any matter on which noble Lords who have spoken particularly wish for the Government's views, and feel that I have omitted to comment on them, I will certainly endeavour, if they do not pull me up in the course of my reply, to follow these up later.

I think the first group of criticisms, or comments, on this Bill was concerned with the political structure of defence and the central organisation, the top layer. I should like to turn for a moment to those criticisms. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, voiced a criticism which was echoed by more than one speaker: that was a fear that this all-powerful leviathan, the new Ministry of Defence, with its powerful Secretary of State for Defence at the top of this organisation, would be too powerful and would in some way escape from the political control of the rest of the Government machine. This was a broad fear which found some expression in your Lordships' House this afternoon. But any such fear is, I think, based on a misapprehension; and I should like for a moment to refer your Lordships to the second sentence of paragraph 16 of the White Paper, where we read of the supreme authority of the Prime Minister and of the Cabinet over these broad issues of defence policy. That supreme authority is in no wise impaired by this new structure which we are proposing. The Prime Minister, for example, is going to be firmly in the saddle as the Chairman of the new Defence and Over-sea Policy Committee. As I see it, that Committee is the point where the main strands of our external policies in defence, foreign affairs, economic affairs, and, not least, in disarmament, will be brought together; and that seems to me perfectly right.

May I answer the question which the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, put to me?—and I apologise for not being here at that moment. He was inquiring about the Defence Committee. That has been absorbed in the Defence and Oversea Policy Committee: the two Committees have become one. I should have thought that in some measure this means that there will be that better co-ordination of these various strands of which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, was urging the importance. The noble Lord was worried that the Defence and Oversea Policy Committee had no strong permanent Secretariat of its own. Some noble Lords, if not now, at least in the debate last July, harked back with some nostalgia to the old Committee of Imperial Defence, which had its own Secretariat. In those days, of course, the three Service Ministries were stubborn fortresses, and there was no Ministry of Defence. Now the Ministry, and the Oversea Policy Committee, are underpinned, not only by a strong official Committee, under the Secretary of the Cabinet, but also by the Defence and Cabinet Secretariats themselves. I am sure that this will provide this new Committee with all the Secretariat backing which it undoubtedly needs—for I will certainly grant that there is need of backing.

In this general context of the top defence structure, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, also asked me if the Government had considered whether this overburdened Secretary of State for Defence, with his very large Department, would not be too grossly overburdened, and whether he would not require the assistance of some other Minister. I think what the noble Lord visualised was that the Secretary of State for Defence would be flanked by, say, a Chief Secretary, as happens with the Treasury at present. That is an interesting proposal, and I certainly should not wish to be dogmatic about it. After all, we have had excellent Parliamentary Secretaries at the Ministry of Defence before now. I hope that noble Lords will not press this suggestion too hard at this stage, and I would back that expression of hope with the reasons which my right honourable friend gave in another place.

My reason is this. If this second Minister at the centre were to be really effective—and there would be no point in having him there unless he were going to be effective and able to exercise considerable control—he would need to be superior in the defence hierarchy to the three Ministers of Defence. I think the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, implicitly recognised this by suggesting the status of Chief Secretary. I should have thought that he would need to have that status, and to be in the Cabinet. But if so, then, of course, he would be over and above the Ministers of Defence, whose status would be correspondingly downgraded. This is, as I understand it, what most noble Lords who have spoken in this debate have been afraid of. We should, in fact, be setting up a four-tier ministerial structure: Secretary of State, Chief Secretary, Minister of Defence and Under-Secretary. I should have thought that, apart from other objections, that would have been extremely cumbersome and ponderous machinery. Indeed, it would run counter to the principle which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has queried; that is, the principle that the Secretary of State for Defence entrusts the Ministers of Defence, or specific Ministers of Defence, with some across-the-board general defence responsibilities.

I was asked whether I could define that more precisely. Quite frankly, my Lords, I cannot at this stage. All I can suggest is the sort of areas where this might apply. I am taking the examples, as it were, out of my head, and I hope they will not be held against me. The sort of field where this might apply would be in matters like housing, pay, welfare (in the widest sense: that might be one), or certain functional and semi-operational fields, like higher communications or intelligence, which are susceptible to inter-Service treatment. But at this early stage of the game I should not wish to be drawn further than that on this point.


My Lords, I certainly do not want to draw the noble Earl, but do I conclude that the Government have no particular functions in mind? If so, why have they made such a tremendous thing out of these functional responsibilities? Surely they must now back up what they have said.


As I have said, we are at a fairly early stage of the game. I think this is an important principle and, so far as I know, it has not been challenged. As to how precisely it is to be given effect to, I should have thought the noble Lord could perhaps contain his impatience for a month or two longer.


My Lords, at the same time, as one is dealing with this kind of thing, I want the noble Earl to give us a direct answer, because he has reported to the House that the status of the Service Ministers has been retrieved from going down to Minister of State, and that it is to be on a high level. I want to see the Defence Committee—you call it also the Oversea Committee of the Cabinet—having those Service Ministers as members of that Committee, stating their case direct if they like. They can agree with the Minister of Defence beforehand if they like, so that they will not be disagreeing with him in the Committee; but they ought to be there capable of being questioned.


I certainly do not wish to dodge—and it was not my intention to do so—this particular issue, the importance of which I fully recognise. With that in mind, I should like to turn now to the position and responsibilities of the Ministers of Defence as they are visualised at the present time. Let me remind your Lordships of the position.

They will be de jure members of the Defence Council. They will be Vice-Chairmen, and they will be, in most cases, de facto Chairmen of the particular Boards, Navy, Army or Air Force, as the case may be. As such, they will be responsible for the day-to-day management of the Services with which they are particularly dealing. In saying that, might I parenthetically answer my noble friend Lord Bathurst and say that, because they will be responsible for day-to-day management, they will be responsible for such matters as welfare so far as their particular Service is affected. They will also be responsible (and this, I think, is one of the points about which the noble Earl, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, is understandably exercised) for the day-to-day administration of discipline in the Service with which they are associated.

My Lords, there are two residual points here which I have not answered: one is Parliamentary responsibility and the other is the point which the noble Earl has just put to me. I doubt whether I shall be able to give satisfaction to the noble Earl on these two points. The present plan is that, so far as the Defence and Oversea Policy Committee is concerned, the Defence Ministers will not be automatically members of the Committee. They will, however, be invited to attend where matters directly affecting their own Service are in question. I would just add that that has been at least the formal position with the Defence Committee since the reorganisation of 1957–58. There is no formal change there from the existing position, as I understand it—I speak with considerable reserve on the semi-constitutional points; but I think that is the position.

On the question of Parliamentary responsibility, on which both the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, more than touched, I would just say this. It is clearly laid down—and I made this, I hope, crystal clear in my speech introducing the Second Reading of the Bill—that Parliamentary responsibility for the whole Ministry of Defence and, therefore, for its constituent parts, the Navy Board, Air and Army, is vested in the Secretary of State for Defence. He has power (and this is clearly laid down in Section 1(5) of this Bill) to delegate, and to delegate finally in specific areas. That would include most matters of day-to-day management which we have also dealt with. But in the final resort—and this would affect matters of discipline and matters of budgetary control—the Minister responsible and answerable to Parliament would remain the Secretary of State for Defence. Quite frankly, my Lords, if you are setting up a unified, integrated structure with one Ministry, as is proposed in this Bill, with one Secretary of State responsible—and there can be only one Secretary of State responsible—I cannot see how one could arrive at any other conclusion. I do not think that the sort of suggestion which I understood was made by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, would be possible. It seems to me to be trying to have it both ways: having a unified Ministry and, at the same time, having subordinate Ministers answerable to Parliament. This does not seem to square with our constitutional practice, at least as I understand it.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Earl? I think the noble Earl has made clear that these three Ministers of State will be responsible for day-to-day business in their various Departments. I also understand that they are to operate across the board—in other words, to be responsible in other Ministries, too.


My noble friend has completely understood me on the first point. On the question of the across-the-board responsibility, it is the intention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, as and when he becomes the Secretary of State to confer on particular Ministers of Defence certain across-the-board responsibilities for the type of matter to which I referred in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. Those would cover the other two Services, but only in specific areas. The discipline of a particular Service would not be covered in this was at all.


My Lords, would not the constitutional position really be this? Of course, the supreme Minister must be responsible, and either House of Parliament could "shoot" at him if necessary. But to make this plan work, has it not to work like this?—that both Houses of Parliament have to exercise a self-denying ordinance so as to put, and be entitled to put, their questions about day-to-day administration and all the minor matters to the three Service Ministers. Without that it would not work.


I am grateful to my noble friend: that is precisely my understanding of the position. It is what I tried to make clear to him in my reply during my original speech.

One minor matter—though it became not quite so minor during our discussions and is not minor to me, of course—is the question of Ministers' salaries. I will take note, with interest, of the suggestions made in your Lordships' House this afternoon, and I will take care to see that your observations are passed on to my right honourable friend.

Before leaving the overall structure, there is just one area on which I should like briefly to comment. I do so diffidently because it is a field to which I am rather new, but also because I was a little surprised by some of the comments made from the Benches opposite on the question of the position of the Chiefs of Staff and of the Chief of the Defence Staff. There was a fear, as I understood it, of advice coming through the Chief of Defence Staff. So far as the formal machinery is concerned, I should have thought that as long as we have a Chief of Defence Staff, this is surely right. You must have one man running the show and being responsible for putting the advice, but, of course, stating quite clearly where there are differences and where the differences lie. But I should like to put this further consideration to your Lordships: that I think here we may be making rather heavy weather. This is the formal machinery, but beneath and alongside that formal machinery there will be, as there are already, numerous informal discussions of the Chiefs of Staff, which are, of course, attended by the Secretary of State, the Minister of Defence, as well as other Ministers. This is a process which happens all the time, and it would certainly be my guess that this type of informal day-to-day contact and consultation will increase, given (to use a rather horrible word) the co-location in one building, rather than diminish. I think this should to some extent allay the anxiety of the noble Lord in this respect.


My Lords, I take it from what the noble Earl says that the intention would be, whether there was a Chief of Defence Staff officer or not, that the Secretary of State for Defence himself could go and take the Chair any time he likes of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. Let us look at what I reminded the House. We had no difficulty about having a Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. As they became chief of their own Service staff they followed to the Chair of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. I had a staff officer of my own who acted as the actual secretary. The first was General Hollis and then there was an Air Vice Marshal. I used to hear all about what was going on. I used to get the minutes in full, and I could go and take the Chair at the Chiefs of Staff Committee any time I liked when there was any disagreement.


I think I should like notice of this particular question, because the formal position is quite clear—it is as set out in the White Paper in paragraph 29—that the Chief of the Defence Staff is Chairman of this Committee. I would not wish to mislead the House and I would, if I may, at this particular point, get in contact with the noble Earl. Apart from that, there are these informal and very frequent day-to-day consultations, with the Minister of Defence, as it were, de facto in the Chair. This is going on all the time.


My Lords, the noble Earl asks for notice. We have given him six months' notice. This question was asked last summer. I asked it again in my opening speech. It may be that he did not notice it at the time. I am not even asking him what will happen in the future, but perhaps he will tell us what is happening now. It is a very simple question and perhaps before the end of the debate we can get an answer. If not, at least we may have an opportunity to do so at Committee stage.


I should much prefer not to be drawn further on this matter at this stage, and if the noble Lord wishes to ask me this question at the Committee stage or at any intervening period I shall be only too glad to respond.

I do not want to weary your Lordships at this stage in winding up. May I turn to two areas in which specific questions were addressed to me? The first was the question of lands which the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, put to me, and I am grateful to him for giving me notice of the points he was going to put. I think there were three questions he put to me. The first was why the Land Powers (Defence) Act, 1958, was not mentioned in the Bill along with the other series of Acts from 1842 to 1935. There is a simple reason for the omission, and I think it is quite unsinister. The Defence Acts which are mentioned are mentioned only because they have to be modified. At present one land code applies to the War Office and Air Ministry and a slightly different and less restricted one to the Admiralty. We want only one code for the new Department, and this will be provided. But the Land Powers (Defence) Act, 1958, has already one code for all the three existing Departments and no modification is needed to it.

The noble Lord's second question was whether we had made any progress in consolidating the various Defence Acts relating to land value for the Forces. This is in fact a pretty onerous task, as the Acts concerned are both numerous and complicated. But a good deal of progress in this direction has been made, and the Government have certainly not lost sight of the need to introduce new legislation in this sphere as soon as the work is completed and Parliamentary time can be found. I am afraid that, given our rather crowded programme this Session, I can offer but little hope to my noble friend that Parliamentary time will be found during the present Session.

My noble friend's third question was whether the Government would bear in mind the desirability of bringing inquiries under the administrative procedure introduced in 1959, the "invented" or "Soames" procedure as it is called, within the scope of the Council on Tribunals. I can certainly give my noble friend that undertaking. This is a question which will be very much borne in mind in the preparation of the legislation to replace the Defence Acts. I should like, having said that, to have a chance of reading the points put by my noble friend on this not uncomplicated area, and if there are matters I have not covered in the reply I will certainly expand in writing to him.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl. He has covered all except one: whether the "invented" or "Soames" procedure will apply to the new Ministry of Defence.


I will put the "invented" or "Soames" procedure in the same package, as it were, shared with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and the Chiefs of Staff, and follow that up later.

Now there is the question of names, and this is an area where I find myself in some difficulty, as I am only too conscious personally of being very sympathetic to a great many of the arguments which I have heard advanced this afternoon. I hope it will not sound parochial to say that I find myself in particular sympathy with the regret expressed at the demise of the word "Admiralty". I would remind your Lordships of a distinction which has been drawn in this field—and I think it is a useful distinction—by my right honourable friend. He has consistently drawn a distinction between, on the one hand, the abolition of the existing Service Departments, including the Admiralty, and consequently their titles, which derive from their functions, and, on the other hand, the retention in appropriate cases of terms like "Admiralty" where they have a wider connotation. I think there is a valid distinction here between the functional and (I do not use the word in a pejorative sense) the more decorative uses of these titles. I think it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, given this proposed set-up, to retain "Admiralty" in the functional sense, because the definition of "Admiralty" as it is found in Statutes is "the Lords Commissioners for executing the office of the Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom". That is the formal position.


My Lords, the term "Admiralty" goes back far further than the Lords Commissioners. I am really most dissatisfied with the answer.


I am sorry my noble friend is dissatisfied with the answer. I have given only half the answer, and I hope he will not be even more dissatisfied when I have given the whole answer. I was saying that in this functional sense, because the Admiralty in the functional sense is to be abolished, it would make, I think, a nonsense to retain the title where it covers this area. But in the other sphere I think my right honourable friend has already shown that he is anxious to meet as far as possible the fears and objections that have been expressed. We will certainly continue, therefore, to refer to Admiralty Arch, Admiralty House, Admiralty charts—which is I think one specific point which my noble friend Lord Teynham raised—Admiralty notices to mariners, and so on. This matter is being looked into very keenly at the present time, and although I am sure I have not pleased my noble friend I hope I have shown that I am not entirely unsympathetic in this particular field.

I would only say two further things in conclusion. The first is that I share the extreme reserve expressed by my noble friend Lord Swinton about the proposal of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inch rye, for a review. I share it on the same grounds: that these proposals are themselves the fruit of a most careful and impartial review. Of course, in the normal course of administration all this will be reviewed as it works out. But I should have thought there is the greatest possible objection at this particular stage to building an obligatory review procedure into the new machinery we are setting up. That said, and having expressed that extreme reserve, I will certainly see, without any commitment, that this suggestion is brought to the attention of my right honourable friend.

In conclusion I would say that one criticism which has been made this afternoon was almost, if not entirely, unexpected to me, and that was the criticism, voiced by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, among others, that we should have done many years ago what we are now proposing to do. That is a criticism which the Opposition, any Opposition, when they are rather short of substantive objections, make of the Government, any Government. More seriously, this criticism overlooks, I would suggest, the very considerable measure of interdependence between the Services which we have already achieved. We have already moved a very considerable way along the path to a fully integrated policy. Could I take one example?

The integration of the three Service Departments in the Bill has, of course, been preceded by the institution of unified commands in all the important theatres overseas. Despite some of the strictures which we have heard passed this afternoon, I think it fair to claim that that integration has at least worked pretty well. Indeed, it is clear that without it we could never have achieved such marked success as has been achieved in handling successive crises in recent months. I do not wish to make a Party point here; I should prefer to make an inter-Service point. The point is this. Surely, our recent operations in defence of Malaysia, our efforts to keep the peace in that beautiful but troubled island of Cyprus, and our support for the East African Governments, could not have been mounted and executed so rapidly and so successfully but for the closest co-operation and understanding between the Services.


My Lords, may I say that I welcome tremendously that spirit. But that was always available in circumstances prior to those which are operating now. Indeed, arising out of my dear love of the Admiralty, I would say that the other Services have been exceedingly fortunate in these two outbreaks in outposts to have the services of five separate units of Royal Marine Commandos.


My Lords, I should like warmly to endorse what the noble Earl has just said. All I would do in this field is to remind your Lordships that the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, asked whether we should be able to respond effectively and quickly to the sort of military requirements which he foresaw that we should need increasingly to respond to in the future. I would say that we are in that position now, and that the proof of the pudding is in the eating.


Surely the point is that you have done it with the old pudding, and not this new hotch-potch.


I think it was only partly the old pudding. If the noble Earl had been following me closely he would appreciate that I was saying that, with the institution of integrated and unified commands abroad, we have advanced matters somewhat beyond the stage which they had reached a decade or so ago. In claiming that this Bill represents an advance towards greater Service interdependence and towards greater integration of defence policy at the top, I am equally claiming that it represents an advance from a firm base.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.