§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Lord Cameron of Balhousie rose to call attention to the necessity of maintaining the morale of the three 1158 services and their standing in NATO following proposed further staff centralisation in the Ministry of Defence and the consequent weakening of the Chiefs of Staff organisation; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am most grateful for this opportunity to put before your Lordships an issue which I believe to be of the utmost importance for the present and future defence of this country. This is the issue of the denigration of the Chiefs of Staff organisation and the effect that will have not only on the evolution and the examination of our defence policy, but on the attitude of our allies not only in NATO but internationally.
§ We have in circulation at the moment, indeed we have had for several weeks now, a discussion document issued by the Secretary of State for Defence. The document is entitled MINIS and the Development of the Organisation for Defence. Your Lordships will remember that MINIS, which means management information system for Ministers, was first applied by the present Secretary of State to his then Ministry of the Environment. MINIS, as the name implies, is essentially a tool for giving Ministers up-to-date information about the effectiveness of their departments.
§ There is no doubt that a MINIS-type examination of the Ministry of Defence is necessary and perhaps overdue. I am certain that a great deal of overlap of duties, both civil and military, takes place in that large Ministry. I would particularly point a finger at the Procurement Executive which to my mind has delayed and made more expensive some of the great defence contracts that have faced government during the last two decades.
§ However, it is not the Procurement Executive which I am here to talk about this evening, but the effect the proposed changes are likely to have on the development of this country's defence policy, on the highly significant weakening of the Chiefs of Staff organisation and the effect this will have on the morale and direction of our soldiers, sailors and airmen.
§ There is also a feeling, which I certainly share, that the present reorganisation, or possible reorganisation, is being carried out at such a speed that the spirit and morale of the armed forces are not being taken sufficiently into account. MINIS may have worked well in civilian Ministries, where there is no fighting force to control, where there are no issues of life and death, where morale may not be so important. But in the armed forces we are totally dependent on the morale and fighting spirit of our three services. It is a considerable factor which must not be taken lightly.
§ The general theme of the discussion document is more centralisation, more power to the Secretary of State and the Chief of the Defence Staff and the construction of a considerably expanded central defence staff. This general movement to a stronger central organisation for defence is nothing new. It has been evolving in the past two decades or so. It started with the noble Lord, Lord Duncan-Sandys; it continued with the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, and Lord Thorneycroft, with a great deal of encouragement from the late Lord Mountbatten and, more recently, the Nott/Lewin proposals took another step in this direction.1159
§ My argument this afternoon is that, yes, in certain areas a deep examination is highly desirable, but in others we have already now gone far enough. The next step, which is removing all the policy-making elements from the service departments and denigrating the Chiefs of Staff, is going too far. The plan is that individual service chiefs will lose their policy staff elements and be made responsible only for the morale and administration of their services—responsibility without power. The chiefs become no more than glorified inspector generals of their various services. This further step has sparked adverse comments from no fewer than four ex-Chiefs of Defence Staff in letters to the press. They have all worked the system and know its strengths and weaknesses; but, as I understand it, they are all against the chiefs being robbed of their limited stategic policy staffs.
I should like to mention a relevant point which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Lewin, the most recent incumbent of the CDS role, made in his letter to The Times newspaper dated 16th March. He was making the point that it was logical that there should be a further strengthening of the Central Staffs at the expense of the Naval, General and Air Staffs. However, he went on to add—and I quote:
the single service Chiefs of Staff must of course be left with adequate staffs of their own to fulfil their responsibilities as the professional heads of their services and enable them to contribute considered advice to the CDS on matters of strategy and defence policy".
§ I agree with that latter sentiment most heartily. What are "adequate staffs" one asks? I must say that I was of the opinion that the present system, when put to the test in the most demanding scenario that could possibly be devised—the Falklands crisis—the organisation, worked admirably under the direction of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Lewin.
§ But to start at the top. Constitutionally the management of defence starts with the Defence Council, which is the top level forum for discussing the management of national defence as the name implies. Its membership under the chairmanship of the Secretary of State consists of the other three Ministers involved in defence, the Chiefs of Staff, the Chief Scientific Adviser and the Permanent Under-Secretary. But the fact of the matter is that this top level organisation, which should have a dynamic all of its own, very seldom meets. When it does, it discusses issues of very insignificant moment. I should be most grateful if the noble Lord who may conclude this short debate could explain to the House why this top level decision-making body meets so seldom and what is seen to be its role under the possible reorganisation.
§ But it is the top policy-making level and, perhaps more particularly, the other end of the spectrum—the morale of the armed forces—that I should like to concentrate on this evening. The Chiefs of Staff is an organisation which has stood the test of war and, I would argue, peace as well. My belief is that the Falklands operation indicated that at times of war and operations it is at its very best. It is often suggested that the Chiefs in peacetime stand by their own corners, fight for their individual services and for their slice of the cake. I personally believe this to be reasonable and understandable, but it must not be allowed to go too 1160 far and it is not allowed to go too far. After all, the Secretary of State for Defence is the final arbiter. He has the power, if he has the will to use it.
§ Getting the lowest common denominator solution to a problem is also levelled at the Chiefs by those who do not know or understand the system. But from my considerable experience of the system, I would argue that as far as broad defence policy and planning are concerned, they make sure that every argument and aspect of a particularly difficult problem is well and truly discussed. This must be healthy for the policies of this country and for our defence posture as a whole.
My personal view is that the operation of the Chiefs of Staff in this country is the envy of our colleagues in NATO and elsewhere, and indeed our organisation has been copied by many of them. I realise that in the United States, who also copied our Chiefs of Staff organisation, there is an attempt to bring more power into the centre under the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. My information is that this move is being strongly resisted and will not succeed. It is fascinating to note that Caspar Weinberger is on record during the last few weeks in giving evidence to the Senate Committee on armed services. He said:
There must be participation in policy making by those who will be responsible for executing it".
§ As I have said, I believe that the Chiefs of Staff, as they stand at the moment with their own limited policy staffs, can make sure that no arguments or aspects of a defence problem remain unexamined. This is a vital role. CDS has the right to tender his own advice but it goes much, much beyond that. His office is only a few yards from the office of the Secretary of State and he has ample opportunities to make his presence felt. It really is not just a question of putting official Chiefs of Staff and his own views—there is, there must be, a constant dialogue between Secretary of State and Chief of Defence Staff and I am sure that this happens under the present organisation. It certainaly happened in my day as Chief of Defence Staffs. The noble Lord, Lord Mulley, was the Secretary of State for Defence. We are delighted, may I say, to see him in this House with us.
§ The proposed office of management and budget, which is in the discussion document, also gives me cause for concern. This is really a copy of the United States organisation. We do not yet know exactly how it is going to operate if it comes about but there is every indication that there is going to be almost total Civil Service control with a very limited, low-level military voice being heard. In many ways, it puts the Civil Service and the military again in a confrontation situation. Surely, my Lords, we have seen enough of this in the past. Much, much work has been done to get the "frocks" and the military working together closely in the interests of defence. I would not like to see us return to the bad old days of confrontation.
§ I would like now to make four points, if I may, about the denigration of the Chiefs of Staff. The first one, and perhaps the most important, is their standing in their own service. To lose policy direction and some of their other responsibilities will make them no more (as I have mentioned earlier) than an inspector-general of their force. Yet they will have the responsibility for morale—responsibility, in this case, without power. 1161 The single services need someone whom they can recognise as their leader, deciding policy for their service, putting their case strongly to politicians if things go wrong, deciding what sort of equipment their service requires and arguing generally their case for them. And do not let us delude ourselves that the fighting force do not know or care about what is going on at the top level in defence. This may have been true 20 years ago—but not now. They are all better educated and interested and they want to know why certain decisions are taken.
§ What happens, I ask, when people start getting killed because of bad policy decisions by the central staffs because they have been insufficiently argued? Who carries the can? The central staffs under the proposed reorganisation?—I think not. Here we have "power without responsibility" being a recipe for disaster. The second point is that the word will soon get around NATO, and indeed the world, that the Chief of General Staff, the First Sea Lord, and the Chief of Air Staff have been reduced in status and lost their policy responsibility. There will be misunderstanding and doubt. At present there are many forums and bi-national consultations where the chiefs of individual services meet for important land, sea and air consultations. Our chiefs taking part—that is, if they are even invited eventually—must speak with authority. They will not be able to do this if policy formulation has gone elsewhere.
§ Thirdly, what will the Chiefs of Staff discuss when they meet in future? If defence policy is on the agenda, will they be able to make a valuable contribution? Will the testing examination of major policy issues take place as it does now? I think not. And I see the Chiefs of Staff Committee meeting less and less with a limited agenda and finishing up rather like the present Defence Council—the board of directors that seldom meets; a withering on the vine.
§ It is suggested in the Heseltine proposals that there will be a strong tri-service central staff doing away with the separate vice-chiefs and the single-service policy staffs. This tears the heart out of service departments. It also presumes that an officer who may have spent some 20 years in his own service can change his spots overnight. It does not happen like that. All my experience tells me that he will be looking over his shoulder to the day when he returns to his own service. If he has let them down, his career may suffer—and there is, indeed, a precedent. Look at the disaster of the Canadian experiment which they are at present trying to unravel. This issue of loyalty to one's own service does not have quite the same impact perhaps on the operational side. It is the formulation of future policy where the problems will arise, and do arise. I can also scent a significant aggravation factor beginning between the civil and the service officers, a situation which we managed to avoid during the past decade.
§ My Lords, I would finish by saying that I believe this House has a responsibility to ensure that our soldiers, sailors and airmen are not presented with any policy, any organisation or any action which would cause irresponsible loss of life or a lowering of morale. I personally will take some convincing that the reorganisational steps being taken, or about to be taken, at the highest level in the Ministry of Defence will satisfy these basic and fundamental requirements. 1162 I am sure that MINIS is an excellent system for cutting out overlapping responsibilities in a totally civil Ministry, and indeed in certain areas of the Defence Ministry as well. But if MINIS gets across policy discussion and service morale in any way, I am against it; and I hope that many noble and noble and gallant Lords will join me in this concern for the health and welfare of our splendid armed forces. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Viscount Trenchard
My Lords, time, in these short debates, makes restraint on the usual courtesies with which one would like to start one's contribution to this very important debate; but let me briefly congratulate the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Cameron, on the way that he has introduced this important debate, and also let me say to him on behalf of the House how pleased we are to see him back in obviously good health again.
As an ex-Minister who had every reason to want to exclude duplication and to get more teeth for the services at lower cost, I might perhaps be expected to support greater co-ordination of the sometimes fiercely independent services. However, I feel bound to criticise these proposals and to do so fairly emphatically, even though, in the first six months of my two-year stint at the Ministry of Defence, I was certainly looking for ways to make Ministers' lives easier and their tasks easier. But the purpose of a staff is to make its particular organisation or service more efficient. It is not the prime purpose of the three staffs to make advice to the Secretary of State more convenient to him. Neither, in peacetime, is it an advantage for Ministers to receive apparently common advice through only two people. To encourage and to listen to well thought-through policies developed by each service as a whole as to which parts of the threat they could each meet most economically is infinitely more rewarding. Nor should differences between the services be derided as they frequently are in the media in peacetime. Indeed I venture to suggest that they should be encouraged. Progress is dependent on conflict of opinion, just as in the civil sphere nearly all progress results from competition.
Morale as I see it, or fighting spirit as the Secretary of State refers to it, is but the final bloom on a healthy plant growing in good soil. The plant is the efficiency of the service and the soil is the policy of each service. The bloom and the plant will wither without the policy. Policy must be updated continuously by staff with a constant interface with all parts of their service at every level. Without the best naval policy, the Navy, for instance, will not be efficient and without efficiency morale will not last. These aspects of each service cannot be reorganised independently—they are inter-dependent.
The idea in this document of an all-wise, isolated central staff, with members from each service in turn doing rotating three-year stints, as I fancy it will work out, is just not practical. It will break down accountability; it will encourage a bias towards theory; and it will produce more compromise, not less, as lowest common denominators are sought. There will still be a need for top operational and planning staffs in each service. How can it be otherwise? To whom should the 1163 staff at lower levels report on staff matters if the vice-chiefs are removed?
In industry, which has been my life's main experience, in the era when big was considered beautiful and many disparate companies were increasingly grouped in common ownership, we made the same mistake as is proposed in this document by removing important people from their companies to form central staffs. Costs increased because the companies replaced the people removed. The companies were weakened by the loss of some of their best management. The central staff, without adequate back-up—no man is efficient without his back-up at a high level—were not really able to make a contribution. They quickly became out of touch and out of date. I am not of course referring to small offices controlling overall aspects such as finance. Even in fairly similar companies—for instance, in motor vehicle manufacture—efficiency has only returned to Jaguar, Landrover and Austin Rover volume cars when maximum decentralisation of policy—I repeat, "of policy"—as well as of operations has been returned to the operating companies.
Of course, the centralisation of head office staffs as a prelude to the amalgamation of very similar or totally similar operating companies did make, and does still make, much sense. However, the armed forces' operations in their own elements are much more dissimilar even than the motor car company examples which I have just given. In my view, the development of a balanced single-service policy is the foundation for efficiency and morale. This has nothing to do with the needs of wartime command about which Lord Mountbatten and Lord Montgomery knew so much, and already the example of the Falklands has been quoted by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Cameron.
The peacetime needs for co-ordination to avoid among other things the appalling escalation of equipment costs are needs which I have described in this House before now, but I believe that the only safe and effective way of meeting those needs is for Ministers to be advised by the CDS, by the Permanent Under-Secretary and by scientists listening to the in-depth plans and claims of each service, even encouraging counter claims, as to the roles they could perform and at what cost. I simply cannot understand the merit of a Secretary of State and four Ministers—a "gang of five" I have to say—wanting to receive all their advice through only two people. It cannot make any organisational sense.
Economies through organisation are available. Let my right honourable friend or MINIS look at the counterparting of civil servants and service officers at every level throughout the Ministry of Defence. Let there be more emphasis on long-term dialogue, 10, 15 and 20 years ahead, to decide how each aspect of the threat will be met. Let this dialogue take place as it sensibly is usually done on a two-service and not a three-service basis. For example, the Russian submarine threat in the Atlantic is a subject as to what mix of naval and air systems can best and most economically meet that threat. In the case of busting attacking tanks or key points behind the lines on the central front, systems advocated by the Army and the 1164 Air Force are relevant. This dialogue of course on a two-service basis should take place in the presence of many, including the leaders of industry, scientists and civilian experts.
The essential building block for this dialogue and the only sound building block is the balanced, deeply thought through, individual policy of the Air Force, the Navy and the Army, respectively. The supreme need, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Cameron, has said, is to keep each of our three fighting services the envy of the world.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, I am truly pleased to follow the noble Viscount. Lord Trenchard, because so many of your Lordships who intend to speak have personal experience of this difficult and sometimes emotive subject, but I think the noble Viscount must have the most recent experience of all, and that gave his remarks particular weight.
These are proposals to reduce or eliminate the single service input into major policy and operational decisions, and especially—and it seems to me this is the most important and disturbing part of the proposals—to remove the planning staffs from the Chiefs of Staff and to abolish the Vice-Chiefs of Staff of the single services. It looks neat on paper. It is undoubtedly a streamlined structure. It clarifies channels of responsibility, and it would save jobs—and there are jobs to be saved, as I think we all know. We ask: why has it not been done before? Why is it, as the paper itself says, that the 1963 proposals have not in fact been fully implemented?
Some will say that it is because of the war between the three services for a bigger cut of the cake; or it is because of their bloody-mindedness, which is a popular belief. There may be something in that, but the major reason I believe is that the single services often have a legitimate point of view which is different from that of the central planning staff and different from each other, that they have a right to express this point of view effectively, and that they are understandably determined to maintain this right against those who would wish to take it from them.
We are told that the single service Chiefs of Staff are of course on the Defence Council, that they have access to the Secretary of State and that they still have access, I am assured, to the Prime Minister in the last resort; but their planning staffs are taken away from them. What use is their advice and what power does it have unless, in these days, they have an effective research and planning back-up? All the time the difficulty and the complex nature of top-level defence decisions is growing. It is getting worse every day, with the acceleration of the development of defence technology, and it is not possible for them to represent their services or effectively to enter the debate if their planning staffs are taken from them.
Of course, the final decision is taken centrally—no one disputes that—but is it wise to eradicate from that decision the input of the single services? It may well be that the single service view will be inconvenient to the Secretary of State. It may be that it will delay the final decision; but it may also be that there is a vital place in top-level defence decisions for well-briefed, well-informed devil's advocates.
1165 I note that the paper pays tribute to the White Paper of 1963 and to the reforms there proposed, but it does not point out that the first time those reforms were tried, in the Healey defence reviews of 1964 and 1966, they produced a disastrously wrong judgment. The basic question was: could we afford our defence commitments on a £2,000 million budget? More specifically, could we therefore afford to maintain our commitments east of Suez without any seaborne air power? That was the crunch question.
The Navy, which knew most about it, still had its planning staff there, and it came up with the right answer—that it was not possible. No one would dispute today that that was the right answer. But the central staff, strengthened by the 1963 reforms, had little difficulty in steamrollering the Navy and coming to the incredible conclusion that Britain could maintain all its commitments east of Suez and scrap the aircraft-carriers at the same time. That is a danger that faces us again, and it will not go away. I maintain that we really must not eradicate from these big decisions the well-informed and effective views of the single services.
I note that the Secretary of State sets out three options for forming his central planning staff, and the one option which appears to me to make a grain of sense he dismisses. That is the third option. He suggests that the central staff might be divided into single service groups, and says:These groups would be responsible for all the operational and policy functions of that service but working within a single framework and under hgher-level direction".That might go some way towards meeting the criticisms I have been making; but the Secretary of State in effect throws out this option, and the reason he gives for doing so are interesting. He says (and I quote again):The savings in top jobs would be fewer and solutions to common defence poblems would be reached more efficiently".So he is talking about savings in jobs and more efficient decision-taking—but there are two other criteria. The first is that the right decision should be taken, and the second is that the decision should be reached by procedures that are considered fair by those who have to carry them out.
Neither of those criteria appear in this paper at all, or indeed in these proposals. Anyone with experience either as a serviceman or as a service Minister knows that these go to the heart of real defence planning and real defence requirements. Of course, good management is essential to the armed services; but wars are not won by management consultants, and where matters of defence are concerned what really matters is what actually happens when the chips are down. A defence structure, like the one that is suggested, may be logical and cost-effective: but it can be disastrous if it suppresses honest and well-informed disagreement or if it weakens service loyalty.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Lord Hill-Norton
My Lords, the Defence Open Government Document, which has given rise to this debate, promises that there shall be—and I quote:a period of discussion and consultation leading to the working out of proposals for change".It turns out that there is nowhere better in the country 1166 today in which discussion could take place than in your Lordships' House, so I do hope that the Defence Secretary will pay attention to what is being said by noble Lords and by noble and gallant Lords today, even if he does not like it.
It must surely be common ground that the morale of the three services is of quite overriding importance to any sensible defence policy. I therefore find it strange—indeed illuminating—that the matter is nowhere referred to in the document we are debating, although this is perhaps not surprising, given the belief which shines through that document that raw, commercial, managerial techniques are appropriate for dealing with people you were asking to die for you. Your Lordships will be well aware that they have not ever been, and they never will be, appropriate.
But I do not fully share the concern of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Cameron, that the proposals before us will have a markedly adverse effect on the morale of all those men and women upon whom our sure defence depends. Sailors, soldiers and airmen are robust and steady people and they have, on the whole, a fine disregard for the bright ideas of politicians; and for centuries they have contrived to do their job very well despite them. But there can be no doubt that they will greatly resent any political attempt to belittle the professional heads of their services, and quite rightly so.
On the contrary, I entirely share the noble and gallant Lord's belief that the changes proposed, certainly in their present form, will seriously weaken the Chiefs of Staff organisation and, more important, thereby weaken the cutting edge of the services—and not only at the sharp end where it matters most. I have been a strong advocate before, during and after the time I held that great office of Chief of the Defence Staff, of strengthening his position, but neither to the extent nor in the manner which the Defence Secretary suggests.
There is in fact not too much wrong with the present system at the top, as I believe the other four noble and gallant Lords who have done the job in the last 20 years would agree. We have all made the system work, though we would all have wished for certain changes, and those initiated by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Lewin, have greatly improved the previous situation and probably go far enough, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Cameron, said.
There is, nevertheless, ample room below the very top for quite large savings in both time and people, and a little money too, by the elimination of the duplication of functions and by smartening up the amorphous mass of the procurement process and the petty bureaucracy to which the Ministry is subject. Those are the sort of second-order things for which a fairly blunt instrument like MINIS might well be quite suitable.
But to remove the staffs supporting the professional heads of the three services, as the noble Viscount and the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, have just said, would inevitably weaken the quality of the advice available to the Chief of the Defence Staff. Also I must say it would quite certainly lead to hard and bitter divisions between the single services and the centre, just when they are starting to work very well together. And to 1167 suppose that there is some natural division or distinction between policy and management in the defence business is illusory. The formulation and the execution of policy are indivisible, because policy is only made to enable successful operations of war, or the deterrence of it, to be undertaken. Successful operations demand the right men, with the right weapons, and trained to use them in the right place at the right time. That simple truth encompasses plans, operational requirements for kit, training and logistics and it is quite plainly both impossible and unreal to draw a line within that matrix which neatly and tidily divides policy from management.
Nor can it possibly be seen how the single service chiefs of staff can "manage", as it is called, that business without adequate staffs to support them, much less—as the defence White Paper says at paragraph 214—be responsible for their total fighting efficiency and morale",which of course they are. I must repeat what other noble Lords have already said. Power and responsibility are also indivisible and they must always go hand in hand. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Cameron, made this point very forcefully and I support him to the hilt.
I hope that a desire for a solution, which merely looks tidy on paper and which seeks to save what can only be trivial sums in the context of a defence budget of £18 billion a year, will not lead to shutting the door on the best military advice, nor to the denigration or emasculation of those lifetime professionals who are charged with organising, training and leading the services upon which our lives ultimately depend.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Lord Mulley
My Lords, I find myself in a difficult situation in that I have been preceded in the debate by two noble and gallant Lords with whom I had dealings as Secretary of State, and I am to be followed by two others. But I should first like to say how much we are indebted to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Cameron, for introducing this debate and how privileged I feel to follow the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton. We had dealings together in his distinguished period as chairman of the Military Committee of NATO, when he—as did all his predecessors—gave me very good advice when I was faced early in my term of office with a very serious problem of finding a new CDS, arising from the tragic death very early in his term of the late Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Sir Andrew Humphrey, and had to think very hard about the whole problem.
One point needs stressing. I hope and believe that when the Secretary of State says that this is a consultation paper, that is really meant. I hope indeed that, as has already been said, the debate in this House will be treated as an important part of that consultation. When I first read MINIS I was obliged to recall from my rather slender classical education the legendary brigand Procrustes, who had a bed which he carried around with him. If his victims were too small they were stretched to size, but if they were too big they were chopped off. I began to wonder whether the Secretary of State had some ministerial Procrustean bed that he was taking from one department to 1168 another. I am bound to say, because the services take an interest in form, that looking back at the performance of the Department of the Environment—as this House has had occasion to comment quite recently—does not inspire one with confidence that this system should be installed in the Ministry of Defence.
The other point that needs making very strongly is that the Ministry of Defence is very different from any other Ministry—and I had the honour and privilege of serving in quite a number—for two reasons: first, because it is half military and half civilian it is essential that the two bodies work well together; and, secondly—and there is no escaping this—the Secretary of State for Defence, unlike the Secretaries of State for the Environment or Education, is accountable to Parliament for every penny on the defence Vote. He cannot just threaten to shut grants off to local authorities and the rest. Everything that happens is his ultimate responsibility, and that makes it a very different organisational structure, with a need for the Secretary of State to be informed in all different channels from what seems now to be proposed.
Apart from my more recent experience, I had the unique experience in 1964 of going into the department a few months after it was set up as a tri-service department, being delegated by the then Secretary of State to be responsible for the integration, so far as we could, of the three services under the late Lord Mountbatten. I should like to place on record that, but for Lord Mountbatten's leadership, I do not believe we would ever have made a success of a combined services Ministry of Defence.
It is very important to stress that in this field caution and slowness, frustrating though they might be, are extremely important, because the services are very sensitive to what they may see as threats to their identity. Of course, the quality of the personnel of all our three services is the envy of many other nations and it largely derives from the traditions—from, for example, the regimental structures in the Army.
When I went back in 1976, I found that a good deal had been achieved although, quite obviously, one could wish that more had been done. It seems to me that it is not enough merely to say that the identity of the services must be retained, as the document does when it goes on to suggest that the chiefs of staff of the three services will not necessarily have access to their own Secretary of State. It says nothing about the access, which I deem it important that they should have collectively, to the Prime Minister. I found that a great nuisance, but I would defend their right to have that access and it is important. going right down through the services, that that should be known.
I also think it was a tremendous mistake to suggest that the vice-chiefs should be abolished, because I found that they were the key personnel in all three services. I do not see what function a chief of staff will have if he is not able to deal with operations and policy matters—if he is merely to be a shop steward for his service, although I can testify that they did that job extremely well in my time.
Nor would I suggest that one needs to stick to Buggins' turn, although it is well-known that each service makes it its concern to see that a very well 1169 qualified officer is available when, on the rotation, their turn would normally come to provide the chief of the defence staff. I accept that one must strengthen the centre, but, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Lewin, stated in his letter, which has already been referred to, it is very important that they should have adequate staffs to advise on strategy and defence policy.
Since time passes, I would make only one final point. In my view, it is also a mistake to suggest that the Chief Scientist and the Chief of Defence Procurement should have access to the Secretary of State only through the PUS. I was reminded of an adaptation of the old American saying that "The Lovells speak only to the Cabots and the Cabots speak only to God". I hope that there is no parallel there in what is being suggested as the new structure for the Ministry of Defence.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, as someone whose inglorious military career never raised him above the ranks, I feel a certain diffidence in taking part in a debate dominated by ex-Ministers and by those who have served with great distinction in the services. But it is important to emphasise that we should nevertheless be open-minded about the very serious set of organisational problems which has been submitted to us by the present Secretary of State in the consultation document.
It is also worth remembering that the chiefs of the armed services have not always been infallible in their prescriptions. They defend today with vigour the position of the chiefs of staff. There would have been no chiefs of staff if civilians had not pressed them upon the unwilling armed services of the pre-1914 period. We have heard an eloquent speech from the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Balhousie, as a former Chief of the Air Staff. There would have been no service for him to be the head of if the then admirals and generals had had their way in the post-1918 period. The development of defence has been a collaboration between civilian thinking and military thinking. This ought to make us at least open-minded about a civilian input into the theory of the organisation of the ministry.
My own concern is not with a particular interest. I take the point made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, that the morale of the services is likely to survive even errors at the top. My interest is in how the public views our organisation for defence and whether we can fully defend the present structure against possible criticism. It is not so much a matter of the competition between the various services for the necessarily limited resources that government and Parliament can allocate. It is becoming much more a question of how far defence, as a general category of expenditure and effort, including expenditure on highly trained and able men and women, can be justified and defended. I am not altogether happy about that, and I shall give my reasons, for what they are worth, in the debate on the Defence White Paper which we are to have tomorrow.
The main point is that there is some uncertainty—I believe understandable uncertainty—not merely about the nuts and bolts of the internal arrangements: 1170 about whether the formal and the informal structure of power within the ministry correspond. The present Secretary of State tells us that they do not. There is also uncertainty about whether the kind of thinking at the centre takes into account an era of change which is so rapid as possibly to make obsolete, almost before they are formulated, any policies, programmes or priorities of individual services. When we are seriously talking about star wars, do the stars belong to a single service?
Similarly, on scientific advice, I strongly agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mulley, that scientific advice is of exceptional importance. It ought not to be mediated through anybody. The strengthening of that advice ought to be at least as important as the strengthening of financial control, which gets a much larger share of the discussion document. Somebody ranking as a Second Permanent Under-Secretary will clearly carry a great deal of weight in the ordinary way in which ministries operate.
Therefore, although I am willing to be convinced by noble and gallant Lords, who have great experience of these matters, and by others, I remain at the moment prepared to give some credence to a Secretary of State who is interested in and concerned about the way in which his ministry functions. The experience which he brings to it may not be wholly irrelevant. In that case he will clearly decide.
I should have thought that this was a great step forward. I can think of no previous case of this kind, where we have been given a discussion document and are here as one of the Houses of the Legislature to discuss it, and where it is regarded not as some kind of secret (we are always told that the Government are obsessed with secrecy) but as something which the public have the right to know about and to discuss. Therefore I join in welcoming the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Balhousie.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Lord Carver
My Lords, the proposals set out in this open Government paper are a reversion to those which were put forward by Lord Mountbatten when he was Chief of the Defence Staff in 1962. They were not accepted then, largely because of the objections of his fellow chiefs of staff. They feared then that such an organisation would mean that the advice given to the Secretary of State by the central staff, particularly if it were integrated with the Civil Service staff, as is now proposed, would be too greatly tempered to suit the political and financial convenience of the Government; that it would not represent the real military need; and that it would lack the realism which derives from responsibility for execution and from the experience of those who have spent their lives in the service.
The current proposals raise the same fears. Nobody now wants to revert to the pre-1964 situation, nor does anyone contest that the Chief of the Defence Staff is responsible for the command of any forces engaged in operations overseas which are not operating under NATO command, that such situations occur rarely, and that they are not likely to be on a large scale. We must remember that the primary task of the Navy is to be prepared to operate with other NATO navies; that the primary task of the Army is to be prepared to operate with other NATO armies; and that the 1171 primary task of the Air Force is to be prepared to operate with other NATO air forces. In no case will British forces, executing these NATO tasks, be commanded by the Chief of the Defence Staff or by any of the single service chiefs of staff. In Lord Mountbatten's day there were still major joint-service commands overseas which could become involved in operations. That is no longer the case. Therefore the operational need for greater unity has largely disappeared.
Almost all of the business of the Ministry of Defence is concerned with organisation. The so-called policy staffs are principally concerned with how many units there should be—that is to say, combat ships, squadrons of aircraft, army units; how they should be equipped; what is needed to recruit, maintain and train them: and how they are to be accommodated. As has been said by many speakers, policy and management in these fields, the responsibility for which the Defence Secretary proposes to separate, go hand in hand, and are inextricably intertwined. Efficiency and morale, for which the single service chiefs of staff are to continue to be responsible, depend on sound and sensible policy, efficiently managed with expertise and consistency. That depends upon achieving the optimum balance between all the different factors—human, material and financial —which affect both the short-term and the long-term needs of the service.
No central staff, without close links with the units and with the training machine, which has no responsibility for execution, can replace this essential function of the single service staffs. Advice to the central staff must come from the single service source. The Defence Secretary's proposals appear to deprive the single service chief of staff of the means to weigh up all the factors affecting his service and to provide advice, based on that balance, to the Chief of the Defence Staff.
The proposals give total responsibility for management of the single services to their chiefs of staff, presiding over the executive committees of their service boards, which thus appear to become superfluous. This is accentuated by the proposal to establish a central office of management and budget, which would allocate what are called responsibility budgets to not only individual members to the service boards, but also major commands, which are all single-service. This central allocation of responsibility budgets, combined with the proposal to devolve greater powers within those allocations to commands, would severely limit the ability of the single-service chief of staff and his executive committee to "manage" his service. Are the service boards being preserved because it would need legislation and a lot of procedural readjustment to abolish them, or is it intended that they should gradually wither away for lack of any real function?
The proposals as they stand are open to severe criticism, and they have received it. But if they were modified to preserve the essential function of the single-service staffs, they could represent an important improvement, although probably no saving in manpower, senior or junior. There is no doubt that it is still very difficult to obtain a truly objective 1172 assessment of future needs, particularly in the equipment field.
We all know that sailors are biased in favour of ships, in which they can go to sea, airmen in favour of aircraft, in which they can fly, and soldiers in favour of bodies of men, particularly those with historic associations. Rather than introduce a significant increase in the central staff to achieve this (which is what the Secretary of State is proposing), more use should be made of the defence operational analysis establishment, which should be strengthened. Having originally been the Army operational research establishment, neither the Navy nor the Air Force has contributed sufficiently to it or made enough use of it. The result has been that it has not been able to produce the answers for them in time to affect decisions. I suggest that that might meet the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff.
There is one principle permeating the proposals that I welcome. It is the emphasis on placing responsibility for advice, decisions and execution on individuals rather than on committees. Committees are time-consuming. They are often inefficient and they seldom initiate anything. In technical matters they tend to result in unsatisfactory compromises, which do not provide the optimum technical solution. However, one must not overlook the fact that they are an essential element of the democratic process and that concentration of power in the hands of individuals has its dangers, particularly if it is military power.
I hope that in replying to the debate the noble Lord will be able to assure the House that the proposals as originally set out in March have been modified in the process of consultation to leave the single-service chiefs of staff with sufficient staff, and their boards with sufficient financial authority, to meet their responsibilities both for giving advice to the central machinery and for maintaining the morale and efficiency of their respective services.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Viscount Monckton of Brenchley
My Lords, as the most junior officer so far to speak, I would first remind your Lordships that the services were the first nationalised industry, that they are the one that has never gone on strike and has never wanted to do so, and that they go on doing their duty. Most of this paper, some of which is good, has become known to us only by leaks. This is a complaint I have had against the present Government and other Governments, that there are too many official leaks, and, as a result, there are many unofficial leaks. If that is not bad for the morale of those concerned, I do not know what is. There have been leaks on this very question.
Of course, we must go for common procurement to reduce costs. That is a good concept, and the way of doing it will be discussed and sorted out. From a soldier's point of view, it is good to see an extra armoured regiment—but I will give your Lordships some facts first. At the moment, the armoured regiments in Germany cannot man their tanks even when up to establishment. Something wants sorting out there. The take-home pay of some soldiers in Germany now is less than it was three years ago. That is partly because of the LOA having been reduced. I 1173 know that there is to be an increase, but it has not come into effect. But not so many of those who are already serving are thinking of signing on.
I do a lot of travelling across the Atlantic, and I saw what happened in Canada. God defend that the same thing should happen here!—a mix-up of services, with everybody wearing green. Also, I see now a change in the United States, where they want to get away from a single military channel of advice and a single civilian channel of advice. They want to have what we have had. But now we seem to be changing, if these proposals come about.
There is a danger that the chiefs of staff, who are officially responsible for morale and management, will be blamed because of what is happening when, as has been said, they have no responsibility for what has happened. As one noble Lord commented, the chief of staff is really becoming an inspector-general—and they were done away with just before the beginning of the second world war. I wonder also how many senior officer posts are being abolished as a result of all this. Again, rumours and leaks say that a large number will be abolished. The pyramid is already getting steep in the services, and it must not get to the point where it is almost impossible to climb. I would have thought that, from the Government's point of view, the more in uniform the better at the present time.
Another rumour that is going around, and has been published in the press, is that the service directors of public relations are to go. I have some experience of that aspect. I had the honour and pleasure of serving under the noble Lord, Lord Mulley, as DPR for the Army: also for Mr. John Profumo and Mr. James Ramsden, with equal pleasure. I also served under the Ministry of Defence public relations officer Godfrey Hobbs. If I was the defence public relations officer today, I could not answer press inquiries about the frigate that hit a bridge on the Thames. The news reported that it performed a three-point turn. To me, that means almost an about turn, but I think it was in fact about 33 degrees. How could a single-service chap, trying to answer on behalf of the whole defence set-up, reply? He could not. The press want to know domestic details about the services when they ring up.
Finally, I believe we are entitled to know when it was that the present Chief of Defence Staff was told or consulted about this paper before it was published; and if and when the chiefs of staff were consulted.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Lord Lewin
My Lords, in the very short time available to me the most useful service I can perform is to describe what the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Cameron, referred to as the Nott-Lewin initiatives of 1981, when changes were made in the responsibilities and organisation of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. My urge to make changes was born of many years of frustration at the inability of the chiefs of staff to grapple with the very difficult problems of strategic priorities and resource allocation. This frustration came to a head in the defence review of 1981, which was carried out at extremely high speed—far too fast for the reaction time of the chiefs of staff organisation. The single-service chiefs of staff, with their dual responsibilities for advising on broad strategy and resource allocation, and with their supreme 1174 responsibility as guardians of their own service, were fully occupied with defending their single-service interests. As CDS, I found it impossible to get them to grapple with the broader issues of strategy.
In the relative calm of the aftermath of that defence review, I made proposals to the then Secretary of State which were based on five principles. The first was that the Chief of Defence Staff should become the principal military adviser to the Secretary of State and to the Government in his own right, and no longer as the chairman of a committee with collective responsibility. I have nothing against committees—indeed, they are a very useful forum in which to debate matters—but I am against collective responsibility.
From that first principle followed the second: that the Chiefs of Staff Committee would become the forum in which the Chief of Defence Staff sought the advice of his colleagues. No longer would it be a forum of collective responsibility. The third principle preserved the position of the chiefs of staff. They would remain the professional heads of their single services responsible for their morale and efficiency. They would remain responsible for giving advice to the Secretary of State and to Ministers across the whole field of strategy, resource allocation and their own single service matters. They would retain their right of direct access to both the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, so that if they do not like the advice that the CDS gave they had a way out to represent their own view.
The fourth principle concerned the central staff, which before had been responsible to the Chief of the Defence Staff in his position as chairman of Chiefs of Staffs Committee, and not to him individually. Therefore, the CDS had no staff of his own; he had only a staff which was responsible to the collective body. With these changes the central staff became accountable to the Chief of the Defence Staff in his own right. At last he would have a staff of his own and could set it studies with terms of reference which he did not have to get agreed with all the chiefs of staffs beforehand.
The fifth principle—and a vital one—was that the Chief of Defence Staff should become the chairman of a senior appointments committee which would consist of the chiefs of staffs. This committee would have responsibility for overseeing the promotion and appointments of all three-and four-star officers—Lieutenant-Generals, Generals and their equivalent—and the appointments of some two-star officers to important posts. This is essential to preserve the careers and the promotion prospects of those officers who might serve with objectivity in central staff appointments to the disappointment of their own services and with prejudice to their future careers if they go back to their own services which will be responsible for promotion from then on. In the present situation the chief of staff of a single service is solely responsible, in a situation which existed before 1981, for promotion and appointment of three-and four-star officers in his own service. If one accepts "Buggins' turn"—which I certainly do not—this meant that an individual single service chief of staff was solely responsible for selecting the future Chief of Defence Staff, and that cannot be right.
1175 These proposals were given wide discussion by the Minister of Defence, endorsed by the Secretary of State and approved by the Prime Minister. The Secretary of State chose a rather obscure way of promulgating them. They were, in fact, communicated in a letter to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence on 11th February 1982. They attracted very little attention at the time, but in my view they were the most significant change in a military organisation and the Ministry of Defence since 1964. Six weeks later the Argentinians invaded the Falklands and the new organisation was given a thorough test. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Cameron, and other noble Lords, have been kind enough to say that it worked.
Now the Secretary of State has published a consultation document for discussion within the Ministry. I understand that there was no prior discussion before that document was launched in the Ministry. Obviously the Secretary of State expects consultation and discussion before detailed proposals emerge and are implemented. I have great faith in the wisdom of the Secretary of State who obviously knows about management, believing that he will listen to advice from within the Ministry of Defence, and indeed to advice that may emerge from this debate tonight.
If I were still in the position of advising the Secretary of State there are three important pieces of advice I would give to him. The first is that in reorganising the central staff I hope that he will not create divisions applicable to single services—Navy, Army and Air Force. This will only perpetuate the worst rivalries between the single services. War is no longer a matter for single services in isolation. We learnt that lesson in World War II. Each service is dependent on at least one of the others. If there are any divisions in the central staff I hope they will be functional and, as far as warfare is concerned. I hope they will be land/air, sea/air or maritime.
The second piece of advice is that I hope he will to the maximum extent integrate the service and civilian staffs. For too long there has been wasteful duplication of service and civilian staffs operating on the same subjects alongside one another. Here, I believe, there is certainly room for savings.
The third and quite the most important piece of advice is—here I echo many of the noble and gallant Lords who have already spoken—that if the single service chiefs of staff are to continue to give valuable advice on the whole field of strategic priorities and resource allocation, which I am sure they should, they must have adequate staffs of their own. This does not mean there is not room for change. I am sure that through history the naval, general and air staffs have been too large and the central staff too small. Those, then, are the pieces of advice that I hope the Secretary of State will heed.
I now turn briefly—and here I regret I must disagree with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Cameron— to the Motion on the Order Paper which refers to our standing in NATO and the morale of our forces. First, our standing in NATO. The senior military body in NATO is the Military Committee. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, was a most effective 1176 chairman of that body. Its members are the chiefs of defence of the NATO countries and, in permanent session, the chiefs of defence permanent representatives. The single service chiefs of staff have no position in NATO command. NATO operational command is exercised by three major NATO commanders. They are unified commanders who have command of all three services. They have land, air and naval deputies to advise them.
In my view, the sort of changes we have already made and which are likely to emerge from this consultation document will, if anything, strengthen our standing in NATO because they enhance the position of the chief of the defence staff. As to morale, in my experience the man at the sharp end does not look to Whitehall for inspiration. He looks to his immediate operational commander and, through him, to the operational commanders up the line. It was "Bomber" Harris, Monty, Bill Slim and "Dickie" Mountbatten, ABC and Philip Vian who inspired the soldiers, sailors. airmen and the public in the last war; not the people in Whitehall.
The greatest service that the Whitehall organisation can do is to provide the operational commander with clear directives, with the resources to carry out those directives and with timely political decisions based on sound military advice when he needs them. I believe that, wisely implemented, the changes which the Secretary of State is now considering will ensure this.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, I lack the experience or knowledge to take part in the mainstream of this debate but should like to single out a relatively minor matter which is in the MINIS paper and where I hope that the Secretary of State will proceed as he proposes; that is, the setting up of a central defence Arms Control Unit.
I take for the moment the story of Trident. In the first paper setting out the reasons for procuring the Trident force, the Government touched on arms control only in so far as they pointed out that the Trident force would not infringe any existing treaty. The paper did not touch on the question of disarmament at all. The statement on the Defence Estimates which we shall be debating tomorrow does touch upon Trident and disarmament when it says, rather disarmingly, that if there are deep strategic reductions between the United States and the Soviet Union,we would want to review our position and to consider how best the United Kingdom could contribute to arms control.Well, yes, indeed, but of course we do not have the slightest idea how we could, because nobody has given the matter a moment's thought. That is why I hope that this new unit will be set up and will be immediately directed to think about that.
If the unit swiftly reports as follows, the Secretary of State will know that he has a good unit. I mean by that, if it reports, first, that four boats is the minimum number that can ensure that one is always on station, and reduction in that number is therefore not possible; second, that it has already been agreed by the United States and the Soviet Union that any weapon system will be deemed to carry the maximum number of 1177 missiles, warheads, and so on, that it has been tested with; and, third, that if a weapon system is claimed to be carrying less than that maximum, the claim must be verifiable by the other side. This would require constantly updated on-site inspection, which would be incompatible with the level of security required for the Trident force.
If the unit goes on to report that the British Trident force is, therefore, an intrinsically undisarmable system, and that, if real multilateral nuclear disarmament ever really begins around it, it will face the Government of the time with a choice between sudden and total strategic nuclear disarmament and becoming an obstacle to the whole multilateral process—if the unit reports like that, the Secretary of State will know that he has a good unit.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, I think that we should all be grateful to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Cameron. Indeed, I agree greatly with practically everything that he said. I would propose to confine myself to the morale aspects of his Motion, which I do not think have been touched on perhaps as much as they should have been, and to concentrate particularly on Canada, where I had the privilege of being the naval adviser to the British High Commissioner in 1965 and 1966, when the Canadians were introducing their own very similar arrangements—similar in this case in particular in relation to the reorganisation of their staff and the abolition of policy staffs for the three service chiefs, and, indeed, the abolition of the three service chiefs as well.
It is true that they were also put into a common uniform and that Lord Mountbatten, who visited Canada while I was there, thought that that was going too far. But the common uniform was only part of it, and while I was there it had not really been introduced. The point that I think I would ask my noble friend the Minister to convey to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is that Mr. Hellyer, who introduced this in Canada in 1965–66, subsequently went downwards on the ministerial ladder and never again held as high an appointment.
I have had quite a lot to do with the Canadians. My father commanded the Canadian cavalry brigade during the First World War. I think you could probably say that the Canadian Army grew up during that war. The Canadian Navy was very much under RN control in the intervening peacetime. It grew up, as indeed did the Royal Canadian Air Force, in the Second World War. It had its difficulties. I was in the Western Approaches for practically the whole war and had a lot to do with it. Indeed, at one time I had a Canadian captain in a British ship. He went on to be the equivalent of our C-in-C Fleet at a later stage.
The Canadian Navy had a sticky start because the Canadians multiplied the size of their navy ten-fold during the first two years of the war, and it was extremely inefficient to begin with. But it is fair to say that it came out of the war as a fine fighting force, and it was a splendid partner in NATO in those post-war years. It did some quite impressive work all on its own. It initiated the carrying of helicopters in small ships—destroyers and frigates—before either the 1178 Royal Navy, or certainly the United States Navy, had even thought of that. It carried out great developments with extensive trials in hydrofoil A/S warships. It was a good, and, when I knew it, a thriving force, full of enthusiasm. Then Mr. Hellyer did his fell deed.
I agree with noble and gallant Lords who have said that the sailors, soldiers and airmen are not directly concerned about what happens to the people in their ministries, but their officers are. If their officers, particularly their local commander-in-chief, is deeply disturbed at what is happening and reflects that, it reflects on the morale of the force as a whole. Certainly back in the late 1960s it was true that the removal of any semblance of coherent operational leadership within the naval service headquarters (which itself had been abolished) knocked for six the morale of the officers and the sailors suffered badly. Only last summer I was talking to a Canadian admiral, now retired, and I asked whether they had recovered from that. He said, "Quite frankly, no". The single uniform has been sort of phased down and it does not appear very often, but the Canadians suffered badly and it affected their morale. They knew that their senior officers did not have the knowledge in regard to policy-making staffs which they could use when they had to argue for their own service.
I know that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Lewin, has much greater experience in these things. I am surprised that he is quite so enthusiastic about what is suggested here. It would seem to me that the five principles which he spelt out to us are quite far enough to go. It surprises me that the Secretary of State wants to go further.
Turning now to that point (as I think perhaps I have a minute) it seems to me that the area in which the Secretary of State has demonstrated his own skill has been in introducing MINIS into the Department of the Environment and that he has done great things in trying to introduce a spirit of accountability in the Civil Service. The services have their own spirit of accountability. He does not need to carry it further there.
One of my friends who was very senior in the Ministry of Defence told me about six or seven years ago that he thought the efficiency of the Ministry of Defence would improve dramatically if 60 under-secretaries and their supporting staff were sacked from the Civil Service. It is that sort of thing which I think that noble and gallant Lords have touched upon, too. I should have thought that, if the Secretary of State concentrated on making the Civil Service more efficient, and allowed the single-service chiefs of staff to maintain their status by having proper policy staffs to support them, that is the kind of situation with which we want to end up.
§ ,6.58 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, I share the diffidence—in my case it amounts to terror—expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, in venturing to take part in a debate in this exalted company, which of course includes the noble Lord who has just spoken, the noble Viscount, Lord Monckton, and others. I shall speak for five minutes. If I have not said what I want to say by the end of five minutes, that is just too 1179 bad. But to make quite sure that I make my main point without being closured by the clock, I will say straight away that I am sure that nothing must be done to disturb the leadership provided by the professional service chiefs. That means, of course, that I am entirely, in my respectful way, behind the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, who started the debate. That is to me the beginning, although not of course the end, of wisdom.
But I think that there is a special aspect of this which is just worth touching on in these few minutes. We have to see this in the light of a decline and fall since the war of the service Ministers. They have almost ceased to exist, certainly in the old sense. When I first began speaking for the Government in this House, there were three service Ministers who were members of the Cabinet. By the time I was Under-Secretary of State for War, they had been ejected from the Cabinet, but still they were quite important people.
When I was First Lord of the Admiralty for a few months in 1951, we were again still quite important people. For example, I was a member of the Defence Committee. So the service Ministers still had some power of offering leadership but they were apt to be there for too short a time, apart from any personal failings.
When we appeared again in Government at the time of Mr. Wilson's Cabinet, in the old sense the service Ministers had disappeared. The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, will remember this all too well because he was the Minister for the Navy and was not allowed to make the representations which he has just laid before the House this afternoon. It would have been much better for all of us if he had been allowed to make those representations to the equivalent of the Defence Committee, but they had been downgraded to the point where this was impossible. The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, to his eternal credit, resigned from that office. I am sure one of the principal grounds for that was that he did not have a chance to make these views plain.
So the service Ministers have been steadily downgraded. In my opinion this makes the argument for making quite sure that the service professional chiefs are not downgraded overwhelmingly convincing. In any case, the services looked to the professional chiefs more than they would to the rather itinerant service Ministers.
When I was Under-Secretary for War, I remember Lord Montgomery taking me down to the Staff College. I was placed on a platform beside Lord Montgomery and I suppose I was nominally in command of him—but not in any real sense. He gave an eloquent address to all these officers in uniform and I was a rather timid civilian sitting beside him. He finished his address by saying,Never forget this, gentlemen: the politicians are our mastersthere was loud laughter at this remark as they noticed the relative confidence of the Field Marshal and myself—and it is up to us to lead them up the garden path!That was very well received at the Staff College. So even then, when the service Ministers were rather important, even if the Secretary of State had been 1180 there instead of me, he would not have been in the Cabinet and he would not have cut all that much ice with those staff officers.
So then it was all-important that the professional chiefs should be identifiable because, if they were not going to provide the leadership, no one else was. That is even truer today. I have been quicker than I thought. I have spoken for less than five minutes, and I applaud emphatically the line taken by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Viscount Ridley
My Lords, I presume to intervene among all this noble and gallant top brass for only one purpose, which is to draw attention to the position of the volunteer reserves and cadet forces under this proposed reorganisation. For brevity, I should like to refer mainly to the Territorial Army, or the TA, which is of course the largest component of the volunteer reserves at the moment.
May I remind your Lordships' that the TA provides nearly 30 per cent. of the mobilisation strength of the British Army at a cost of about 1.4 per cent. of the defence budget at the moment. When the planned expansion of the TA is complete by 1990 it will represent about 40 per cent. of the mobilised Army. It is therefore the most cost-effective part of our forces and vital indeed to our defence strategy.
Over the past four years the TA has gone from strength to strength. Overall now it is about 96 per cent. recruited. It is well-equipped and its morale is high. For this we are greatly indebted to the priority given to the TA by Her Majesty's Government and credit is especially due to my noble friend Lord Trefgarne, who has taken a very personal interest in the TA and the cadets. For example, his recent appeal by personal letter to 600 major employers, asking for their support, has resulted in a very encouraging and remarkable response. I am delighted to take the opportunity of thanking him on their behalf.
But the reserve forces are not attractive only on military and financial grounds. They also provide a very valuable element within the civilian community, which brings home the importance of defence and voluntary service. There are 14 territorial, auxiliary and volunteer reserve associations, known as TAVRAs, which cover the whole country and are responsible for the recuiting, housing and administration of the TA and, to varying degrees, the other volunteer forces. These are efficient, low-cost organisations which operate, in the words of the White Paper, on the basis of responsibility budgets. Their membership consists mainly of prominent people from all walks of life who give their services free. It is they who provide the bridge between the civilian and military worlds. I believe they are indispensable to encouraging and sustaining support for the volunteer forces. The work of the associations is being coordinated by their council in London.
Essential to these well-proven arrangements are the close links which have always existed between the associations and their council, on the one hand, and the Ministry of Defence, on the other. I am therefore concerned that any reorganisation should not damage these arrangements. It is especially important that this should not happen at a time when we are in the process of expanding the TA, which is happening now.
1181 Since its formation in 1908 the TA has always had its own director in the defence Ministry, who has never been below the rank of major general. This enables all elements of management and financial control to be combined under one director, who can concentrate exclusively on TA and cadet affairs and, most importantly, is at the right level. I believe it is vital that this continues.
I therefore, strongly hope that the Directorate of Territorial Army and Cadets remains much as it is now at two-star level within the Army Department. It may be possible, with advantage, to extend the director's responsibilities to accommodate certain selected aspects of the other reserve forces. I personally think that that would be desirable. It may also be possible to delegate more responsibilities to the associations. But beyond this there can be no justification for change, and it must be a mistake to disturb a system which is working so well. I believe that this present situation gives proper recognition to the importance and status of our volunteer forces and also provides the surest way of their continuing as an expanded and operationally effective component of our services into the future.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Lord Hunt of Tanworth
My Lords, the maintenance of the morale of our fighting services is clearly absolutely crucial. But I will say nothing more about that because the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Lewin, has expressed what I feel so much more authoritatively and eloquently than I possibly could. But I do find it very difficult to believe that a prime determinant of morale is organisation at headquarters in Whitehall.
Unlike so many people who have spoken in this debate, I have not served in the Ministry of Defence, but I have had a long association with it, as secretary of the Joint Intelligence Committee, dealing with the MoD and the Treasury, and then for six and a half years as secretary of the Cabinet, including chairing one of the Defence Review steering committees. I do not intend to breach any confidences, or give any examples, but I am left with the profound conviction, that, at least until the Nott/Lewin reforms, the present organisation in the Ministry of Defence did not give either the best service to Ministers in terms of the presentation of policy and resource options or the best service to the armed forces in terms of clear and consistent direction, with sufficient priority given to teeth rather than tail.
Why is this? The underlying aim of the 1963 White Paper was a unified policy-making within the Ministry of Defence. I think most people expected that the amalgamation of the old service departments would be followed by further streamlining and rationalisation. I do not believe that that has happened, and indeed in many ways the old federal structure is more entrenched than ever before.
This is not to say that the Ministry of Defence is inefficient. It is not; though anyone who studied its organisation chart closely would think it a miracle that it worked at all. But, given the virtual unanimity of the people who have spoken in this debate tonight, perhaps to redress the balance I can put my worries a little more bluntly than I might otherwise have done. 1182 I think there are four weaknesses which stem from the present organisation. First, the Ministry is slow to respond because so many people have to be consulted and there are so many vested interests. This applies particularly to things which go to the higher reaches. I except, of course, something like the Falklands operation, where all tribal loyalties were put on one side and it was all hands to the pump.
Secondly, I think that the present organisation tends to mean that any solution which emerges is a compromise solution, and we all know a compromise solution is no one's first choice and you tend therefore to get something which is second best. Thirdly, once that compromise has been reached, it is extremely difficult to modify or adjust it, or the whole deal comes unravelled. Fourthly, I am convinced that the Ministry of Defence employs too many people, particularly at high level, both civilian and service.
I believe therefore that what was suggested in 1963 and adopted in 1964 is even more necessary now because the services are more interdependent, because hardware is more expensive and takes longer to procure, and because resources are scarcer. Therefore, the need for difficult policy choices and clear priorities is greater than ever before.
I welcome the Secretary of State's willingness to tackle this problem in a radical way. I am not arguing that he has got all the answers right. I do not think, as is evident to anyone who has read the consultation document, that he is arguing that either. I am not altogether clear precisely what role is envisaged for the chiefs of staff. I think that there is some flavour of a distinction between the people who matter at the top, those who deal with all the interesting policy things, and the people who are left to get on with management. We have all learnt, or have been told, in the Civil Service that management is just as important as policy. In any case, in this field, what we are talking about often is not management but leadership.
I believe that there is a crucial distinction, which the consultation document is attempting to make, between an integrated—in every sense of the word—civilian service, an integrated tri-service staff, reporting to the Secretary of State on key policy and resource issues where Ministers are necessarily concerned and have to take an overall view, and, on the other hand, the maximum decentralisation and delegation to individuals who are accountable. I hope very much therefore that the Secretary of State will be able to develop his proposals in a way that will achieve those objectives and at the same time will carry the confidence of the fighting services.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ The Earl of Cork and Orrery
My Lords, I remind myself that the intention of the debate is to,call attention to the necessity of maintaining the morale of the three services and their standing in NATO".I take it as axiomatic that the standing in NATO or the standing of any nation in relation to its allies will depend largely on the morale of the services themselves at home. I wonder, therefore, what is the effect of the proposals of the Secretary of State on morale. This is the question that is really before us.
The paper, the MINIS report, has only two allusions 1183 to morale. The word itself appears, I think, once only, in paragraph 7 of page 4, where it says:I envisage that they should continue to be responsible"—that is, the chiefs of staff—for the total efficiency and morale of their Services".This passage has been quoted once or twice already. It goes on:In future, however, I wish them to report through CDS to me for that purpose".I would have expected that sentence to read, "If it is suitable, it shall happen", or something of that sort, that they shall report through the Chief of the Defence Staff to the Secretary of State. It does not say that. It says:I wish them to report‥. to me".I do not suggest for a moment that the significance of that difference was plain to the writer of the passage, but to me it is powerful enough to cast a shadow over the whole document, I am bound to confess. I read again:I wish them to report‥. to me for that purpose".What is the purpose? We go back one line, It is to ensure,the total efficiency and morale of their Services".The chiefs of staff are responsible for the morale of their services to the Secretary of State.
That tempts me to go back a page to look at the other allusion to morale. The actual word is not used, but I think that paragraph 5 refers to the same subject. He quotes from the 1963 White Paper, Central Organisation for Defence. That was 21 years ago. It seems a long way to go back for an authority. The quotation reads:the fighting spirit of the individual man in battle derives largely from his loyalty to his ship, his unit or his squadron".I dare say that it does. It also depends on such things as loyalty to comrades, courage, resolution, physical fitness and well being, which, in turn, depend on adequate food, clothing, training, discipline and so on. Fighting spirit is not exactly the whole thing that we are talking about.
It is possible that no serviceman now serving will ever see a battle or do any fighting in the whole of his service life. I hope that he will not, and I do not believe that he will. Fighting spirit arises out of the absolute spirit of the man in peacetime, surely. The absolute spirit of the man in peacetime, if I may use that phrase, comes under the general heading of what we refer to as esprit de corps.
That phrase is well enough known and is probably understood, but there is no harm in trying to define it now and again because it is not all that clear. There are two parts to it. Firstly, there is the mental attitude of any individual towards the organisation to which he belongs; that is to say, the effect (the spiritual effect, if you like) that it has on him. Secondly, and the other way round, there is the attitude of mind, the spirit, of the organisation itself as the sum total of all the attitudes of those individuals to whom I have referred; that is to say, the spirit of the organisation as the sum of all the other individual attitudes—and the sum, not for the first time, is greater than the sum of its parts. 1184 Probably the chief ingredient of esprit de corps is pride. It may well be pride in a ship, a regiment or a squadron. But there is no mention or suggestion anywhere in the document of any awareness that a man may be proud of his service. The sailor is proud of the naval service, the fleet in which he serves. Correspondingly, the soldier and the airman. As the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, I think, said,—he will correct me if I quote him madly wrong, but I do not think that I do—"Do not let us delude ourselves that the fighting forces do not know what goes on at the top". The noble Lord went on to say, I think, that 20 years ago that might have been so, but it is not so now.
I am sure the noble Lord is right. They read the newspapers, they look at television, and they hear the wireless. They know what goes on. Every time the authority of their leaders is whittled away or curtailed—it can happen over and over again—it is experienced and felt as a denigration right the way down the line. Whether or not the fighting spirit of the man is undermined is not the question. The question is whether or not he is affected by the action of somebody outside his service knocking the man at the top and reducing the standing in his eyes of his leaders. This is what I believe is done by the document. I confess that I do not like it.
One of the reasons possibly for the new organisation is the distrust evinced by Minister after Minister, I suspect, of the inter-service rivalry that goes on. It is a harmful thing, possibly, but it is also a good thing. The harmful aspect puts me in mind of a marvellous piece of advice that I heard some years ago from my noble friend who sits just in front of me, my noble friend Lord Whitelaw. I have borne it in mind for years. My noble friend said, "When anything goes wrong—and something will always go wrong—what I do is to see how I can turn it to my advantage".
§ The Earl of Cork and Orrery
My Lords, my noble friend is also free to correct me if I have it wrong. This is the exact opposite of what Ministers do when they say that something is going wrong in the organisation and they will therefore get rid of it. Inter-service rivalry is a good thing, and if the inter-service rivals get tiresome then one can get rid of them. As it is, I think my seven minutes are up. I hope I have made the point that I do not like this document. I think I detect in it a great arrogance and a refusal to consider at all the individual soldier, sailor and airman.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, we are all indebted to the initative of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Cameron of Balhousie. His speech tonight has served us very well indeed in a number of ways. I took particular note of one or two of the comments that he made. He talked about responsibility without power; he talked about power without responsibility; and he named names to whom, in his view, that tag should be attached. He talked about the denigration of the chiefs of staff, and in a letter that he wrote to The Times he expressed his concern that a weak chief of defence staff 1185 and a strong Secretary of State could be a lethal combination. He has given us illustrations of how that could be the situation here today. I took particular note of the comments of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton. I think I have it right in saying that he damned the proposals powerfully when he called them raw, commercial techniques, inappropriate when dealing with men being asked to die for one.
This short debate is about confidence, or the lack of it, morale, or the lack of it. Noble Lords do not easily or irresponsibly take the time of this House unless they are moved by matters of vital concern, of national concern. That is why we on the Labour Benches have taken very careful note of the reactions in many quarters to the current proposals of the Government to centralise staff at the Ministry of Defence. I want to say at once that we do not cavil at endeavours by any Secretary of State to effect savings in the running of his department. What we expect the Minister to justify tonight is the merit of these precise changes, the effect of these changes. We will await with interest his rebuttal of the main charge in the Motion before us—that these changes are damaging to the national interest and that they weaken the morale of our fighting forces.
There is an attractive ring about many of the phrases in the document. Some examples are:moving towards a more coherent structure for decision-making on central issues";s"The Ministry will need to be strong and resilient and its decisions need to be right";We need to strenghten the fighting effectiveness of our forces";It is my intention to improve efficiency and to achieve significant savings".But as the House will have deduced, not once but many times before, it is a case not of what one does or says one will do but of the way that one does it. We shall want to examine closely just how the Secretary of State sets about his task.
We have noted, for instance, that he is consulting urgently with the procurement executive, representing 43,000, responsible for buying £8 billion of defence equipment. How can they be made more efficient? In the Defence Estimates debate on 25th October last year the noble Lord. Lord Trefgarne, told us, at col. 234:The Ministry of Defence is by far the largest single customer of British industry. In all, more than 90 per cent. of our defence equipment expenditure is spent here in the United Kingdom, supporting no fewer than 242,000 jobs directly ‥. and 193,000 indirectly. MOD procurement of non-equipment items supports a total of 160,000 jobs, and sales of defence equipment abroad another 145,000".Those words underline the size and the scale of the defence industry. It is indeed big business, and inevitably there must always be savings to be made. No one on these Benches will take offence at a process designed to get better value for money. But can we be told how much less money will be needed to perform the same tasks? Will procedures be tightened? Will real waste be eliminated? We on these Benches will want to get our priorities right. Can the House be told about the plans mentioned by the Secretary of State in another place on 12th March to improve efficiency and to achieve significant savings?
How are significant savings to be achieved by the document before us tonight? How will the result of this 1186 review of the future development of the organisation be translated meaningfully into higher spending, for instance, on jobs, on health, on education and on pensions? I believe that the country will want to have from the Government not just phrases or promises but real benefits, if not for the fighting forces then from other aspects of Government expenditure. Can we be told whether, regardless of any efficiency savings, the Government are still committed to fill any gap created with more expenditure, plus 3 per cent.? We want to reduce expenditure on arms. How hard are this Government trying to do just that?
I know that noble Lords in all parts of the House will have noted with great interest the report of a meeting of Foreign Ministers and their decision to re-launch the Western European Union. We shall be glad to have the Minister's comments on this and upon its relevance in relation to NATO. After all, this debate concerns service morale in NATO. It appears to be a French initiative and it needs to be made abundantly clear that it will not weaken or upset the aims and objectives of NATO itself. Some of us noted the highly critical comments of Sir John Nott, but provided there is complete understanding this could be a way of bringing France back into more active participation with NATO. We shall need to think about this again, but the Minister's preliminary observations will be appreciated.
The Minister will have had his attention drawn to certain reports. I quote the Daily Telegraph of 21 st May, which indicated that the chiefs of staff have signed a memorandum expressing anxiety at the major reorganisation of the Ministry of Defence's policy-making machinery. Can we be told if that is true? Can we be told what they said? Can we be told the terms of the ministerial response to them? The Mail on Sunday tells us that there is speculation that unless the Secretary of State modifies his hard line the chiefs may appeal directly to the Prime Minister. Has that appeal been made, and what was the response?
There has been much unease at the intentions of the Minister, best summed up in some newspaper headlines: "Armed Chiefs to Lose Power"; "Heseltine's Surprise Attack on the Forces"; "Concern to Keep Up Service Morale"; "Ex-Naval Chief Attacks Defence 'Utopia' Proposals"; "Need for Care over MoD Dismantling"; "Concern over Heseltine Plan"; "Heseltine Axe Angers Service Chiefs".
The basis for these comments, the unease, the distress, have all been borne out fully in this debate tonight. I believe that we should heed fully the plea of the Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Henry Leach, when he wrote in The Times on 7th May:So far throughout the 1980s defence has been in a state of continual turmoil, brought about by a succession of reviews, each more disrupting than the last. What is badly required now is a period of stability in which all concerned can implement a clear policy and get on with the job. Imposing a monstrous upheaval of internal organisation will hardly facilitate this".Nothing said by interested and concerned Members of this House can match the deep knowledge of those who have spoken from their former or current responsibilities for caring for the morale of our fighting forces. Their right to do so is beyond question. The spirit of their speeches added greatly to the value of 1187 this debate. They were right to raise the issues. They are joined and supported from these Benches. They deserve some straight answers, and I hope they get them tonight.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken today, first, I should like to congratulate the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Cameron, on initiating our discussion this evening. Indeed, this debate must be unique in the wealth of knowledge and experience that has been drawn upon in the course of discussion. There can be few occasions when four former chiefs of the defence staff, a former Secretary of State for Defence, and a former Secretary to the Cabinet all speak during a short debate, not to mention three former defence ministers and, yes, one parliamentary under-secretary.
Defence is a matter which should concern every citizen. The way it is organised and managed is a matter of national importance. It is also, as the noble and gallant Lord's Motion before us today suggests, of great significance to our servicemen and our NATO allies.
The proposals for changes in the defence organisation which my right honourable friend announced to Parliament on 12th March, and which we published at that time as a defence open government document, marked the beginning of a period of discussion and consultation on the issues raised. The Government therefore welcome informed comment and advice on ideas at this stage, before they are given final form.
Your Lordships have expressed a variety of views and raised some important questions about our proposals for change. All that has been said we shall reflect upon before we reach firm and final views on how our proposals will be carried forward in detail. However, I hope that this evening I shall be able to add to your Lordships' understanding of the Government's aim and intentions in this important area, and perhaps provide some reassurance to those who have expressed their doubts.
I would ask your Lordships, first, to consider the wider context in which our proposals have been framed. I should like to stress three points. First, this Administration have given the highest priority to the strengthening of the country's defences. Not only has the defence budget risen substantially in real terms since 1979, but we have also, I believe, over that period restored the morale of our services and their confidence about their future. Britain's standing in the Alliance is high. For all of us, the services' military success in the Falklands acted as a reminder—if it were needed—of the brilliance, determination and sheer professionalism of our armed forces. By our defence policies we have shown that the Government's deterrent posture is firm, and that we are determined to maintain strong armed forces, well equipped and properly manned. That is the defence policy background against which the Government's proposals for changes in organisation ought to be considered.
My second point concerns the forces themselves. We recognise—and it would be only sensible for any 1188 British Government to recognise this—that the country's defence depends principally on three its services, each with a glorious history, each with its own powerful traditions and loyalties, and each determined to serve this country to the best of its ability in the future. We are not embarking upon the Canadian type of organisation, where there are much smaller unified services.
It is the starting point in my right honourable friend's proposals that the separate identity of the three armed forces must, and will, be preserved, and I know that this was very much in the mind of my noble friend Lord Mottistone. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, chided my right honourable friend for omitting from this paper reference to the morale of the services, but I would refer the noble and gallant Lord to paragraph 5 in particular.
Thirdly, it is our aim to preserve what is best in our institutions, while striving to improve them where we can. There can he few who regard any organisation as so perfect that it cannot be improved, and so we must keep our minds open to organisational change. The Government have laid great emphasis on defence and we must be satisfied that we are getting value for the money we spend. The taxpayer has a right to expect that the systems for managing that expenditure are subjected to rigorous questioning from time to time. A rising budget must be put to the best possible use, and that must mean, in the case of defence, more resources for the front line, with support services and administration provided at the minimum necessary cost.
These are, of course, not new sentiments, but that must not lead us to be complacent about them. The defence organisation is not just about money: but your Lordships will agree that the allocation of resources between, and within, the services is one of the central issues for the higher defence organisation.
That, in brief, is the context in which my right honourable friend is examining the existing defence organisation, adopting for that purpose the management information system (MINIS) which he had himself developed. As your Lordships know, it is not a new idea in the Ministry of Defence that costs should be cut where possible, that parts of the organisation should be regularly scrutinised, or that there should be annual reviews of long-term plans. What is new about MINIS is the concept of a comprehensive and systematic review by ministers and top management of the work of the middle- to senior-ranking officers and officials.
The conclusions which my right honourable friend reached from his detailed examination of the department at work over the last year are set out in the open government document concerning the structure of the defence organisation. Your Lordships may have noted that the title of this document refers to MINIS and to the development of the organisation for defence.
So far as allegations of over-hasty elaboration of these proposals are concerned, I should like to stress that while the changes we are seeking are substantial ones, they are, as we see it, evolutionary and not revolutionary. We are in no doubt that there is much that the present organisation does extremely well (for example, the mounting of the Falklands campaign) 1189 and the quality of the staff, service and civilian, is very high.
But there is, we believe, scope for worthwhile improvement, building on past developments and seeking in particular to realise now the aims and objectives which underlay the establishment of a unified defence ministry 20 years ago. We hope thus to ensure that the country's defence needs are met effectively and efficiently.
A number of noble Lords who have spoken have recognised that change is desirable. There are differences of emphasis and view about what should be the changes. It is understandable that some should be cautious in approaching the Government's proposals, because I believe that we have raised some fundamental questions. What form of organisation, we have asked, is required for the formulation of defence policy, the direction of operations by the armed forces, and the efficient administration of the support services? Is there too much bureaucracy? What is the role of the ministry as an administrative headquarters for the services? How does the organisation affect efficiency and morale of the services?
Having described the context in which we have raised these questions. I now turn to some of the key features in the Government's proposals. A central requirement of any British Government must be to satisfy themselves that our forces have the personnel and equipment they need to serve as a credible and effective deterrent to our potential enemies. At the same time, the Government must be able to satisfy themselves that the nation can afford the associated costs. At an early stage in the process ministers need professional military advice. Such advice is, of course, available under the existing organisation and it is of a high quality. We cannot, and would not, expect to look to one man for all our military advice, but we do look to the Chief of the Defence Staff as the Government's principal military adviser. That is already his position, and it was strengthened by the changes introduced during the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Lewin's, term of office, to which he and a number of other noble and gallant Lords have referred.
The changes that we are now considering in the area of military advice relate mainly to the organisation of the staff below the level of the Chief of the Defence Staff and his chiefs of staff colleagues. Since 1964, when the unified defence ministry was set up, it has been the formal position that the naval, general and air staff are part of the defence staff. The late Lord Mountbatten, who, as noble Lords will be aware, was deeply involved in planning the 1964 reorganisation on the basis of his own experience, used to refer to his wartime planning for south-east Asia operations as the "spirit of the hive", where all were concerned to carry out the same plans in a way that was best for all.
The elements of the present defence staff have, we feel, developed along rather different lines. Our concern is that the defence staff is not structured to operate in a way that will ensure invariably that a defence-wide view is taken at an early enough stage when major policy issues, including service budgets and expensive equipment budgets, are considered. As 1190 a result, the strengths and weaknesses of the argument put forward on behalf of a particular service may not be sufficiently debated, and compromise may have to follow. Hence we have proposed that a new combined defence staff should be formed by bringing together the relevant parts of the work of the present Central Defence Staff and the Naval, General and Air Staff, plus some civilian secretariats who already work closely alongside their military counterparts.
As we have made clear, the new defence staff would be structured from what are termed single service building blocks. I should like to reassure my noble friend Lord Tenchard that this staff will not be isolated. It will rest firmly on a single service experience and expertise. It would, however, be responsible to the Chief of the Defence Staff and, as appropriate, the Permanent Secretary. But it would provide a service for all the chiefs of staff and, of course, for Ministers. Its work would cover defence policy, operations and the military requirements for equipment. I can assure the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Cameron, that the service chiefs of staff would be able to put forward their views on defence staff proposals. As the professional heads of their own services and as members of the Chiefs of Staff Committee they would of course receive the support they need to enable them to carry out their role. I might add here—and this was in the mind, I know, of the noble Lord. Lord Mayhew, and the noble Lord, Lord Mulley—that the service chiefs of staff would under our proposals retain their right of direct access to the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister.
There is no intention in our proposals of reducing the weight which Ministers give to military advice or of diluting in some way its quality. We are sure that military views will continue to be expressed to us with force and conviction. The arrangements we are considering need not inhibit the process. We do understand the importance of the professional knowledge and expertise which only a particular service can bring to bear. We accept entirely the need to ensure that the "single service" expertise is available as required.
We also understand how important it is that the sailor, soldier, and airman should know that decisions which affect him—whether they are about operations which may put his life at risk, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, pointed out, or about his pay and conditions—can be taken only after Ministers have had the benefit of the advice of senior officers of his own service. Such advice may be provided in future via the combined defence staff, which will of course be staffed at the senior levels by officers of all three services. Officers within the defence staff will naturally he able to represent a view on behalf of a particular service and ensure that it is fully weighed in the balance when policy decisions are made. Similarly, I see no reason why an officer of the defence staff should not be able to represent his own service in discussion with NATO and other colleagues. These points are ones that we shall have very much in mind in the framing of working procedures.
The role of the service Chiefs of Staff has been a major theme in this debate. My right honourable friend's proposals assume that the principal concern of each service chief of staff will he the oversight of the 1191 management of his own service. The chief of staff would remain responsible for the total efficiency and morale of his service, but in future reporting to the Secretary of State though the Chief of the Defence Staff for that purpose. Such an arrangement should, in our view, ensure that there is the necessary formal linkage between the development of policy and the vitally important management tasks of the services.
I need hardly remind your Lordships how vast and important these management tasks are with a defence budget this year of some £17,000 million, service personnel numbering in total over 300,000 and a civilian establishment of some 200,000. We shall be looking to the chiefs of staff to draw up programmes of work aimed at streamlining management and devolving day-to-day administration to the commanders-in-chief where possible. In the defence support organisation such as the stores depots and workshops, there are many managers "In the field", service and civilian, and our aim is to delegate greater responsibility to them through a system of "responsibility budgets". The principal of delegation from the top down, coupled with clear statements of responsibilities, is one that I believe your Lordships will warmly support.
A further major element in our proposals is the creation of an Office of Management and Budget. The aim here is to achieve stronger control over corporate planning, the commitment of resources and the monitoring of financial and management systems. To achieve this, the office would bring together in a more formal way many of the existing staff and functions of the Permanent Secretary. The Controller General—who would be the Second Permanent Secretary—would be, as it were, the department's "finance director", and, as such, a member of each of the service executive committees. He and his staff would approve proposals for budgets managed by board members and would scrutinise, on behalf of the accounting officer, new requirements for major equipment projects.
The creation of the Office of Management and Budget would be designed to achieve clear direction and control of the Civil Service staff effort in this area. Clearly there would need to continue, however, to be close and constructive working relationships between military and civilian staffs at all levels. We are certain this will be achieved.
May I now turn to some of the points that have been raised during the course of the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Mulley, asked me about the question of the succession arrangements for the chief of the defence staff generally. As I think the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Lewin, mentioned, the former Defence Secretary, my right honourable friend Sir John Nott, decided in November 1982 that in future the CDS should be chosen from a number of candidates as the most suitable officer available and not necessarily in accordance with a strict rotation between the services. My right honourable friend intends that this procedure should he followed when the next CDS is selected. Certainly there is nothing in his proposals on reorganisation that invalidates this procedure.
Several noble and gallant Lords asked me about the 1192 role of the Defence Council and the Service Boards under these proposals. The constitutional and legal position of the Defence Council and the Service Boards would remain unchanged. This is especially important in relation to certain statutory responsibilities, particularly in respect of service personnel cases with which I am myself much concerned. The service Chiefs of Staff would continue to be members of the Defence Council. The frequency of meetings of the Defence Council and the boards has varied over recent years depending upon the circumstances. As is true of all aspects of my right honourable friend's proposals, we shall be seeking to develop arrangements for decision-making that are practical and efficient to meet the needs of the day.
A number of your Lordships have stressed the importance of support to the chiefs of staff. I can assure the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Lewin, that we shall give particular attention to his advice, and to the provision of support to enable the chiefs to carry out their role, in working out our proposals in detail. I also took careful note of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. The Government of course attach great importance to the achievement of realistic and verifiable arms control, and we believe that the proposals for the defence arms control unit will strengthen the arrangements for handling these matters within the Ministry of Defence.
The noble Earl, Lord Longford, referred to the position of service Ministers. The changes to which he referred were made in 1981 with the main aim of increasing the Secretary of State's ability to delegate functional responsibilities to his Ministers and to emphasise the defence as opposed to single-service responsibilities of the department as a whole. Political direction has, I believe, been strengthened as a result, and in particular there can be greater ministerial involvement in procurement matters at an earlier stage than was possible in the past.
My noble friend Lord Ridley referred to the question of reserves. The question of the future organisation for the Territorial Army and reserves who make such an important contribution to our defence effort has been much in our minds. This is a matter that we shall be considering carefully bearing in mind the need, on the one hand, to ensure that there are appropriate arrangements to develop policy generally, and, on the other, our aim to devolve management responsibilities.
We have heard much about responsibility and power, about confidence and morale, but it has pleased me to hear too about leadership. Better definition of roles and clearer lines of responsibility will give extensive scope for leadership at which the services surely excel.
May I now sum up like this, I have sought to explain the wider context in which our proposals for the defence organisation have been framed. I hope that I have reassured your Lordships that our intentions are to improve and to develop the organisation so that Ministers, the services and the tax-payer can be satisfied that the best decisions are taken in the country's defence interest. We do believe that, as the necessary changes are worked through in detail, it will be generally accepted that a sharper definition of roles 1193 and responsibilities and a tauter structure can be achieved without putting at risk the best features of the present organisation or the confidence and morale of the services on which so much depends.
For the present, my Lords, we have not reached final conclusions on the details of the proposals outlined in the consultative document. This debate has therefore been most timely, since it has offered us the opportunity to hear a number of different points of view, many based on valuable past experience. We must not forget, too, the valuable lessons to be learnt from distinguished members of your Lordships' House no longer with us who set their minds to the task of producing the best organisation for defence. I have listened carefully to your Lordships' speeches and we shall reflect on what has been said. Debate upon this important matter is healthy and stimulating, and we shall benefit from it.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, a number of questions were asked during the debate. I appreciate the constraints of debate, but all questions were asked seriously. Can we look forward to replies in writing?
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I will certainly cull the pages of Hansard and write to noble Lords as appropriate.
§ Lord Cameron of Balhousie
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to this House for the great interest which the debate has generated. I am grateful to those who have taken part in the debate and have spoken on this very important matter. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, will, as he says, take back to his right honourable friend the Secretary of State what I believe to be the spirit of this debate on some of the issues which affect the chiefs of staff, such as the policy direction, which I believe to be a key issue.
I am very grateful for this debate and I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.