§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
I beg to move,That leave be given to bring in a Bill to subordinate the three fighting Services to a Ministry of Defence.It is with very great diffidence that, as a comparatively new Member, I submit to this House this Bill subordinating the three fighting Services to a Ministry of Defence. I do so because it is some five months since the Geddes Committee reported to the Cabinet that a Ministry of Defence should be set up. We have been told by the Leader of the House that the Cabinet have little leisure in which oven to glance at the daily papers, and I submit that they have no leisure whatsoever to look into the economical and efficient administration of the three fighting Services. We have suffered in the past from a lack of appreciation of new ideas. I well recollect that when the Master-General of Ordnance some few years ago had to take £10,000 off his estimates he cut down the height of the Farnborough air shed, which was then building, with the consequence that the Lebaudy airship was wrecked. If you take the high horse-power aerial engines, and the large Handley Page aeroplanes, they were turned down by the War Office and were developed by the Admiralty on the opposite side of Whitehall. All the ideas for caterpillar tanks were turned down in January, 1915, by General Sir Scott Moncrief's Committee at the War Office, and it was only when the idea of the Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Churchill) of steam rollers lashed together as weapons for trench warfare proved abortive that the naval airmen came forward with caterpillar machines in February, 1915, and showed by practical demonstrations how to create caterpillar land ships for land warfare. If we had had a Ministry of Defence to go into those new ideas, we should have had caterpillar land ships earlier and in greater numbers. Look at what the War Office did to defend London from air attacks. Before the War they supplied no machines at all, they had only two Maxim guns, and one pom-pom mounted over the administrative centres of London. 1353 It fell to the lot of the naval airmen to come forward and create the first antiaircraft corps for London. If we had had a Ministry of Defence those matters would have been gone into before the War, and we should have had a nucleus ready to be expanded, machines ready, crews, searchlights, and guns ready for the proper defence of London.
If you turn to the other side of Whitehall, the Navy before the War were obsessed with gunnery. They entirely neglected to study the submarine menace. Many of us submarine men told them what would happen if War came, but they paid no attention whatever. If we had had a Ministry of Defence, we should not have had this nation nearly brought to its knees, as it was, by our enemy's submarine campaign We lost 6,000 ships, which represent many thousands of tons of shipping, hundreds' of lives, and we were nearly brought to starvation because of the Admiralty's lack of foresight in not studying the submarine menace of our enemy. I have already said in this House that my gallant comrades in the North Sea were deprived of the fruits of victory at Jutland, because we had no Zeppelin or torpedo aircraft. If we had had a Ministry of Defence, those weapons would have been supplied to the Navy. We have an extraordinary controversy going on in the Press regarding battleships versus aircraft. On this side of the Atlantic we have the First Lord of the Admiralty, speaking in another place, saying that they were hopeful that by gunfire alone it might be possible in the near future to make warships immune against aircraft of any description. On the other side of the Atlantic, we have Admiral Sims saying that the best experts now agree that the results of anti-aircraft firing from a ship are negligible. Both of these high officials cannot be right, and we want a Ministry of Defence to go into these very important subjects.
Many Members of this House have spoken in very high terms of the work of the Committee of Imperial Defence. I endorse every word that they have said. Their very able Secretary, Sir Maurice Hankey, is always ready to help airmen. But the Committee of Imperial Defence have no executive power, and could not give us Zeppelins and torpedo aircraft at the battle of Jutland, nor can they do anything to restrict expenditure. They have no executive power, and they did 1354 not prevent millions of the taxpayers' money being wasted on wild-cat military schemes in Russia. Neither do they in any way prevent the waste of money now going on in Palestine and Iraq. I submit that all that "wants going into by a Ministry of Defence. If we had had a Ministry of Defence, the amateur's hand at Antwerp and the Dardanelles would have been perfectly impossible. The Leader of the House says that you cannot set up a Ministry of Defence, because you would want a super-Minister. I entirely disagree with him. He would make a very good Minister of Defence himself. He has had experience at the Admiralty, and we would soon show him a little air and submarine experience. I think his job now will soon come to an end, and there would be the Ministry of Defence to carry on with. The best argument for the Ministry of Defence that I have been able to find was supplied by the gallant Field-Marshal the hon. Member for North Down (Field-Marshal Sir H. Wilson), who, discussing the air policy of the Government, said:The fourth decision again I find it difficult to follow. I think that it was this, that in the protection of commerce and in offensive operations against enemies' harbours and inland towns, the' Air is not to be under the Army or the Navy, nor is the Navy to be under the Army or the Air, nor is the Army to be under anybody except itself, but they are to co-operate. The word co-operation translated into action is the way to lose war. The French and British Armies co-operated from the beginning of August, 1914, until the 21st March, 1918, four years ago to-day when the Germans made their great attack. Five days later we passed from co-operation, which had been proved fatal, to victorious war, to one command. Marshal Foch was given command. The difference between co-operation and command is the difference between the loss and the winning of war. Why then do we go back to co-operation when it has been proved fatal to victory in time of war?That is the soundest argument that I have ever read for establishing a Ministry of Defence. I read in the paper the other day that Canada has already set up a Ministry of Defence to deal with the militia, military, naval, and air services of the Dominion, and place them under single control. I submit that we should follow Canada's example. It is unnecessary for me to go through the Clauses, and I now make my Motion for leave to introduce the Bill.
§ Question put, and agreed to.1355
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Kear-Admiral Sueter, Sir Cecil Beck, Colonel Claude Lowther, Major Christopher Lowther, Sir Thomas Poison, Mr. L'Estrange Malone, Colonel Wedgwood, and Lieut.-Commander Kenwortby.