§ 3.20 p.m.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
The subject of Imperial Defence is to be raised this afternoon in response to a general wish of hon. Members in all parts of the House for an opportunity of discussing the problem of defence and the reorganisation of our defence forces in a general debate when the Prime Minister, or some other Cabinet Minister, can reply on behalf of the Cabinet as a whole, instead of raising it in a series of rather disjointed debates on particular Services. The question we have to consider is one which is not affected in any way by our views on general policy with regard to war, peace and disarmament, and I do not intend to speak on that issue. Whether we are considering the best way of treating this country as an isolated unit or whether we are considering provisions for defence in relation to a system of pooled security, does not really concern us this afternoon. In either case, what we want to know is whether the arrangement made for co-ordinating national defence is the best we can have. At the present time we have a system of three separate Defence Services, linked together by the Cabinet in the first instance and by the Committee of Imperial Defence. The question has often been put in this House and in another place as to whether instead of this system there should not be a Ministry of Defence, or some other arrangement, whereby there should be greater co-ordination.
The first point to remember in discussing this question is that there is nothing sacrosanct about the present arrangement. It is not of the eternal order of things that we should have three separate Ministries, one dealing with the Air, one dealing with the Army and the other with the Navy. Indeed, within our recollection the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) controlled the Army and the Air Force at the same time, and if we turn our minds still further back there 1222 was a time when the Army had four separate Ministries and four disconnected Ministers—namely, the Secretary of State for War, the Secretary of State at War, the Commander-in-Chief and the Master-General of Ordnance. I have no doubt that the gunners thought themselves quite a separate force, in the same way as the Air Force does at the present time. If we carry our minds still further back there was a time when generals and admirals served in either element, so that there is nothing heretical in challenging the present position.
There is a strong case for considering whatever arrangements we have in view because of the altered character of the problem of defence. Four great changes have come about within the lifetime of most of us. The first is the emergence of the Air Force, the second is that modern warfare involves the whole national life. To go back only to the South African War, it was a much smaller war and more distant than the Great War, but in those days it did not involve the national life to anything like the extent that modern warfare does. In those days war was considered to be a matter for soldiers and sailors and not, as it is to-day, to such a large extent a matter of industry as well. The third change is in the balance of forces in the world, and the fourth the existence of the League of Nations, an endeavour to build up a system of full security. Therefore, we have to consider the question of defence not as if this country were standing alone or even with certain partners, but as part of the responsibilities of this country in a world order.
Let me say a word on these points before coming to the question of organisation. On the first point, the emergence of the Air Force, we must recognise that from time to time one particular type of armament is dominant. You may say that for the past 300 or 400 years the Navy has always been the supreme defence force of this country. The question arises, is it so now? We have had discussions, within the last few days, as to how far this country, from a military point of view, is still an island, and what is the position of the Navy and Air Force in a future war. It is clear that when you depart from an historical position like that—I do not say that the Navy is superseded by the Air Force, but that the Air Force has come 1223 to a position of great importance—you have to reconsider the balance of provision for the various services, and once you come up to that point you are up against a tremendous resistance built up by tradition and prestige. It may be—I am not arguing it at the moment—that we spend too much on the Navy and too little on the Air Force. We have to discuss the whole defence position in rather a different aspect from the nineteenth century, when quite obviously the Navy was our first line of defence.
The second point, that modern warfare involves the whole national life, does not need any great elaboration. Every one acquainted with the history of the last War knows that the whole nation was brought into it partly due to the enormous importance of material in present day warfare. The vital question that came up in the last War was, who should control it. We have had a number of memoirs by soldiers against statesmen, and by statesmen against soldiers. I have heard people say that in war it is right that the soldiers and sailors should manage everything, and I have heard others say that Germany failed in the last War because she tried to run the whole show by her soldiers, and that as a matter of fact we succeeded because on the whole our politicians were better than those of countries on the other side.
However that may be, one must recognise that the aftermath of the War has raised an enormous question as to what is the right method of controlling the country's efforts in war. That raises another question of considerable magnitude. In pre-War days the Fleet was stationed in the North Sea because of the menace of Germany. To-day you have the rise of Japan, and the question of the balance of your forces and their organisation must depend on what kind of world you live in. That brings one to the next point, which is the existence of the League of Nations. The tendency of professional men when dealing with defence problems is always to organise against some potential enemy. It has been said sometimes that the different services have different potential enemies against whom they organise. When you are in a League of Nations with pooled security there ought to be no potential enemy whatever, unless there are some nations outside the 1224 League. The nations of the League are all engaged in one great pact of security. Therefore, the question of the disposition of your forces and your defence arrangements brings up an entirely new problem.
Finally, it seems to me that the problem of disarmament cannot be discussed in watertight compartments, with one arrangement for the Army, one for the Navy, and one for the Air Force. They must be treated as a whole. When we consider the defence problem relative to this country we are up against a far more difficult problem than that of the ordinary Continental Power, because we not only have our position as part of a world organisation, but we have our position as the centre of a far-flung Commonwealth of Nations, with the necessary policing of the Empire. Looking at the matter from my point of view, which is that we want to build up a system of pooled security throughout the world, that we want to consider our defence forces as part of that system, and recognising at the same time that in an Empire like ours we have a very great variety of problems of defence, one wants to consider what is our defence problem, what is the potential menace, and what are the ways in which we are going to meet it.
Do we regard our defence forces solely as part of the League of Nations system, or do we use potential power as a weapon of policy? There are those who say that we must have a strong Air Force in order to have a strong voice in the League of Nations. To my mind that is going back to an earlier system. But whatever one may say with regard to that, we cannot deal with any of the three defence Services in isolation. From time to time we have had proposals put forward for a Ministry of Defence. There was the attractive proposal put forward by the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon), that we should have only one service. The answer put up whenever we have a discussion here or in another place on the problem of a Ministry of Defence is always twofold. First of all it is said that if we had a Ministry of Defence the Defence Minister would have to be a superman. Secondly, it is said that we have a Committee of Imperial Defence which, with its various subcommittees, does all that is required. Of course it is not quite certain that the present system of a Committee of Impe- 1225 rial Defence, relating the activities of the three Services, works well because though you may not have supermen as Ministers, you have a superman as Secretary. I agree that if you take the line that you ought to have a Minister of Defence who is combined in himself everything that is done to-day by the Secretary of State for War, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and the Secretary of State for Air, you would require a superman; but I think it is quite nonsense to think that you must have a Minister of Defence who is going to be responsible for every detail, that he must be able to come down to this House and answer every detailed question about a ration allowance or a boot-lace. What you require is something quite different.
I think that in good administration you want a division between general policy and departmental administration. To my mind we have not got nearly enough of that in the organisation of government to-day. The difficulty of the present system is that, while you have a Committee of Imperial Defence, on which are represented the Service Ministers, the Chiefs of Staff and a number of other Ministers, with the Prime Minister or someone in his place presiding, you have there really separate representatives of three separate services, and the Prime Minister is or may be put in the position of arbitrator between those three—necessarily an unadvised and unskilled arbitrator. The Prime Minister to-day is expected to perform a vast number of functions. He certainly is not able to make himself fully acquainted with all the problems of defence. He has no special staff to advise him. I suggest that a civilian Minister with no separate staff to advise him, coming up against the representatives of the Service Ministries, is bound to be sunk. He has not the knowledge to deal with them. What is needed is a Cabinet Minister of high authority who would be the Prime Minister's alter ego in relation to defence. I realise the danger of making a Defence Minister such a big man that eventually he almost pushes the Prime Minister out of the way. You want a Minister of high authority above the Service Ministries. But the mere fact that he holds a high office in the State is not enough unless he has the backing of a staff.
1226 I would like to see the formation of a defence staff representing all three Services but separated from those Services. We have to-day the Imperial Defence Staff College which has trained up a number of men to consider defence problems from the point of view of all three Services. I do not know what becomes of these officers when they have been trained. I have an idea that when they have finished their studies they depart from the college and that they lose touch with the particular problems which they have been studying as soon as they go back to their service duties. I should like to see the nucleus of a defence staff built up from all three Services. I should like to see transferred to that department the parts of those Services which deal with broad matters of Imperial defence and strategy. I would also like to see added to it representatives of India and the Dominions, and certain civilian representatives of the Board of Trade. You would have there a body which could consider the problem of defence as a whole, and which would be the staff of a Minister who would deal with defence as a whole.
That does not mean that such a Minister, advised by such a staff, would then go to the Admiralty and the War Office and tell them to do this or that or the other thing. What is wanted is a proper demarcation of functions such as you get in any good organisation, between considering broad policy and carrying out the details of administration. I think there would be a good many sections of that staff—an intelligence section and other sections—and ultimately the Prime Minister would have as his adviser on defence matters, a member of his Cabinet who would, in turn, be advised by a staff trained to consider these problems from the point of view of Imperial defence as a whole. The question is whether it would then be desirable to retain in the Cabinet the three Service Ministers as well. I think it might be just as well that they should not remain Cabinet Ministers. It seems to me that the Prime Minister and the Cabinet would then be in a position to deal with defence problems free from the inevitable pressure of the vested interests of the Services. I am not using the term "vested interests" in any offensive sense but the fact is that there have been vested interests and strong conservatism, even among the greatest 1227 soldiers and sailors. The Duke of Wellington I understand believed in the muzzle-loader for years after the breechloader had been invented. It is very difficult to get new ideas accepted. The tank, for instance, was hotly opposed by distinguished generals long after people serving in the field were longing for it. I think the same may be said of almost every reform.
Finally, there is the point of the representation of this country in international discussions on problems of security and disarmament. I think it would be far better if, instead of having representatives of the various services as separate units and Ministers who are not really very fully informed on defence matters, meeting other Ministers and discussing these things rather interminably, we had at these conferences a defence Minister with a defence staff trained to consider these problems. I hope too he would consider them with the idea that his Department is really part of a collective peace system. My Defence Minister, in fact, would be a World Peace Minister rather than a Minister of War. I believe that in that way you would get more effective agreements; I believe that at home the organisation of defence would be stimulated and co-ordinated and I believe in the long run it would also be cheapened. I know that, there, I come up against the great authority of the May Committee. The May Committee thought that there would be no economy in a Ministry of Defence, but I always thought that that committee dealt with the matter as chartered accountants and merely went into the figures.
The whole point is that without some co-ordination you may continue for years paying large sums for defence purposes which are utterly useless. If we read the history of the Army we read of garrisons being kept overseas for years in places where they could have been of no possible use. Remember the great changes brought about at the Admiralty by Admiral Fisher. He brought back, I understand, ships which had been on duty in waters where they could not perform any effective service, and generally speaking made an enormous overhaul there. That was very successful, but we do not get Fishers every day. To-day, with the vast changes which are taking place in 1228 the three arms it may be—I am not judging the point—that we are spending millions on one service when we could achieve better results more economically by cutting down on that particular service and devoting some of the money to one of the other Services. Therefore, I think there is a case for the full consideration of this problem not merely as a matter of defence but also as a matter of the organisation of the functions of government, and the separation of the business of making broad decisions of policy, from absorption in the details and perhaps the traditions of services which have long and ancient histories, tending to fixed ideas in these matters.
§ 3.49 p.m.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald)
I have listened with the very greatest pleasure to the impartial, objective and very thoughtful contribution which the hon. Gentleman has just made to this problem of the organisation of defence. If I have to make observations that will perhaps go rather contrary to his conclusions, I hope the House will be under no misapprehension as to what that means. As he himself has said with great truth—a truth which I venture to say nobody can understand or appreciate better than Ministers who have been attending the Committee of Imperial Defence during the last few years—the whole of our balance of defence, our methods of defence, and our means of defence have been going through a critical transition period. Who is bold enough or foolish enough to say that if this subject were being discussed here say 10 or 15 years from now, the experience of Prime Ministers as chairmen of the Committee of Imperial Defence would be the experience upon which I shall found my remarks to-day? Indeed, one of the great claims that I have to make for the present organisation of defence is that it is flexible and adaptable to the changes from month to month and from year to year. The hon. Gentleman, had a vision for a moment of a League of Nations that could adequately and safely—and I emphasise safely—be described as a system of full security. If we can get that, of course the whole problem of national and Imperial defence will be fundamentally changed. That is not to-day, that is not yet; and until by other methods that has been secured, the problem which 1229 the Cabinet has to face, which the Committee of Imperial Defence has to face, and which the chairman of both has to face, is the problem which presents itself to us on this day of the year 1934. That is what I shall try to do in the explanation I shall make and the few conclusions I propose to venture to set out to the House.
It is essential, first of all, in considering this problem that the House should understand the nature of the organisation in the working. Ultimately, finally and as the last resort, the Cabinet is the authority on policy and organisation of Imperial defence. There are three big concerns from the point of view of the substance of the Debate to-day—the co-ordination of that machinery—that the Cabinet must constantly keep in mind. The first is the co-ordination of policy. If any hon. Members think that the three Services in this respect act separately and independently, and if they imagine that the fact that co-ordination is absolutely essential has escaped the attention of the Committee of Imperial Defence or the Cabinet, believe me they are making a great mistake. Everyone recognises that no system of organisation of Imperial defence can be adequate unless it faces the problem of the co-ordination of defence policy.
The next point is co-ordination of finance. I agree with what the hon. Member said about the possibility of useless expenditure. I also agree with him that when you get a new Service appearing, growing, increasing in power, it is only human nature that the representatives of the two great old historical Services with their fine traditions should find advocates who have been drawn to the interests of those Services by bonds of great affection, and who feel a little hurt, perhaps it may be a little bit ungenerous—at any rate, in the first stages of the growth of the new Service. I can assure the House that if that has been the case, that stage has very rapidly gone over. At the same time, let us in a Debate like this, when we are all pursuing the best end that we can discover for efficiency and economy, admit that the Cabinet, or the Committee of Imperial Defence itself, or whoever is finally in charge of this examination, must look with a very vigilant and jealous eye upon the co-ordination of finance and the proper expenditure 1230 of the amount that the Exchequer can allow for one Service and another. There is another point. We must pay very great attention to staff co-ordination and, as a sub-section of that, joint staff training—not quite the same as the other, but very much akin to it.
Let me remind the. House of what the organisation is that primarily looks after these important points The Cabinet has the final word. The co-ordination of defence and of defence policy is of the nature of a political word, and not of a purely Service word. The advising authority of the Cabinet is the Committee of Imperial Defence. That is sometimes a fairly large committee. Constitutionally, it consists of one member, who is the Prime Minister, but he calls into this Advisory Committee certain colleagues—the Lord President of the Council obviously, the heads of the three Services obviously and invariably, the Secretary of State for India obviously and invariably—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The Foreign Secretary also obviously, and, of course, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I did not mean, when I started, to give a complete list. I only wanted to indicate that the chief Ministers, especially the Ministers who are directly or indirectly concerned with this important problem of Imperial defence, were mechanically brought in by the Prime Minister to sit on the committee. In addition to them, the Chiefs of Staff of the three Services are called in, and there are other subordinate officers as well. That is the nature of the Committee of Imperial Defence. It is a combination of the political authority and the military authority charged with studying the complete problem from the beginning to the end—its organisation and its lines of procedure. The Committee of Imperial Defence has the special advice of one of its sub-committees over which the Prime Minister presides. That sub-committee is the Chiefs of the Staff Committee. The Chiefs of the Army, Navy and the Air Force sit as a committee and do the great preparatory work regarding information, suggestions of policy, and so on.
When there was a Debate on this subject in the House of Commons some years ago, there were some lightsome things 1231 said about committees and sub-committees, and I do not want to emphasise that again. Committees and sub-committees I loathe, but I should like to see the Prime Minister or anybody else who is trying to make the fullest possible provision for information, for ideas, for suggestions to get a Committee of Imperial Defence who would do the work without scores of sub-committees. Let hon. Members pause for a moment and think what all this involves. These inquiries, the looking for those stones which are going into the foundations of our system of Imperial defence, stretch, and must stretch, right from the humblest fireside up to the biggest organisation for peace or war in the whole country. Man-power, scientific invention, experiments, investigations of foreign conditions and so on, can only foe fully done by appointing just exactly the number of committees required to do it, and I assure the House that that number can never be a very small one.
All that information, all that work, all that business goes on from day to day through the whole year, goes through its proper channels and at last reaches the Chiefs of the Staffs. Once a year this committee of Chiefs of the Staffs presents a report to the Committee of Imperial Defence. That report is based upon Foreign Office information, upon records of changes in policy during the year, changes in outlook and changes in problems. They sweep the whole field of Imperial Defence in its minor as well as its major aspects. When I say that once a year they present a report on the condition of Imperial defence, they make recommendations as they like and observations as they like to the Committee of Imperial Defence. The Committee of Imperial Defence discuss the report, and when the report has passed through the Committee of Imperial Defence, it is sent to the Cabinet. When it is sent to the Cabinet there is a body of Ministers who attend the Committee of Imperial Defence, well informed, having had all the major and important papers put at their disposal during the year, and who are in a position to discuss, consider and deal with this report from the Chiefs of the Staffs.
Thus the policy of Imperial defence for the year is settled, and is then sent back to be operated. First of all, money has 1232 to be found for it; and, secondly, where plans need to be made, modified or amended, the proper authority will examine those plans in the light of the decisions of the Cabinet, and bring the whole system up to date and into an efficient condition. Now this review I may say is always made in time for the Estimates. The first point which hon. Members will observe is that in the gathering and considering of the information there is a very high state of co-ordination and co-operation. It is not done by any section of the Defence Forces. It is done by co-operation of the Defence Forces, and then, finally, by the political and military co-operation which the Committee of Imperial Defence presents. That is the preparation.
On the question of the control and co-ordination of finance, I think that Members of this House are very well informed. The Estimates appear in the shape of three volumes, and I rather gathered from some observations I heard during the most interesting Debates in the last 10 days or a fortnight that there is a sort of impression that those Estimates, being presented in three different volumes, are independently compiled. That is not true. That may have been once the case, but it is not so any longer. Each of the defence departments of the Service Departments has a finance section, and the Treasury itself has a department or a section which deals almost exclusively with the defence expenditure. Before there is any Estimate of joint concern settled by any single Department, that Estimate has been the subject of very frequent and very close consideration not only by the finance departments of the other two Services, but by the Service Department of the Treasury. These volumes, therefore, really represent equal co-ordination and equal co-operation before being presented to this House. That is a very important point, and, as the years go on, is becoming more and more important, and is yielding ampler and ampler results in good financing of the expense of defence.
When the Estimates are completed, however, they then go before the Chancellor of the Exchequer who, as a matter of fact, examines each separate Estimate in the light of the demands of the other Services, and adds still further to the co- 1233 ordinated nature of the Service Estimates presented to this House. One would like, perhaps, to think that it is carried a small stage further, and that a declaration of the gross amount which is required for defence should be distributed in accordance with the idea which the hon. Member expressed when be opened this Debate. There are various difficulties in that as yet, but, still, as I said, the whole system is one of elasticity and adaptation, and that is being still further considered, and, no doubt, a proper and satisfactory solution of the problem will be found.
Then I should like to give the House an assurance that a great many committees of these financial organs of considerable importance in spending are in operation to co-ordinate the expenditure on the Services. There is, for instance, the Contracts Co-ordinating Committee, and there are corresponding officers of the civilian departments acting in co-operation with the Service Departments so that they will not enter into competition. In that way, huge sums of money have been saved since that co-ordination machinery was put into operation. Then the House gets the Estimates, and they are carefully examined, but the result of the co-ordination machinery on the financial side is that one can now say with great assurance that finance and administration go hand in hand in all their stages.
Then I would like to say a word on staff co-ordination. The preparation of the technical side of joint defence plans, so far as operations are concerned, is the responsibility of the Chiefs of Staffs. First of all, they are bound to co-operate. It is the common task of the Committee. The Chief of the Army does not produce a plan to suit himself while the other Chiefs do the same. That is not the case. The three meet and consider the plans required as a conjoint whole, but plans cannot be drafted without some sort of political data being supplied. When a task of this nature is given the Chiefs, they very often come and ask advice from the Foreign Office—What are the chances of this, that and the other? What is the political situation? The co-operation there is absolutely complete. If there are any difficulties which arise such as were hinted by the hon. Member in his opening speech, and if the three Chiefs cannot resolve them, 1234 well, I am afraid, it is the Prime Minister who is charged with trying to help towards the solution. I am not saying that he does not help, but I can certainly give the House the assurance that it does not require any authority on the part of the Prime Minister to get them to agree. It is far more a question of reasonable conciliation than of arbitration.
If hon. Members will just visualise the conditions under which those disagreements may arise, they will see at once that it is not a question of two against one; it is not a question merely of a numerical advantage. It may be referred to the Prime Minister at that stage, but, in the end, by considering the whole question, a satisfactory way is found. In addition to that there are special Ministerial Committees, such as the Defence of India Sub-Committee and the Middle East Sub-Committee, whose work, whose knowledge, whose deliberations are always at the service of those Chiefs of the Staff engaged in making a plan, so that co-operation at whatever point it is required is there, is available and is always acting. Moreover, in carrying out those plans contact is kept with such Committees as the Man-Power Committee, the Principal Supply Officers' Committee, the Oil Board and so forth. The organisation for the production of plans is really an admirable piece of administration, and those who make the plans—this is a very important point in view of one of the suggestions of the hon. Member—are those who would be primarily responsible for executing them. To create a body charged with the power and the responsibility of planning, and to divorce that body from a Committee of the Chiefs of the Staff, would be very, very bad, very, very dangerous organisation of the machinery of Imperial Defence.
I also heard, in one of the speeches delivered during the recent Debates, some doubts as to how far those plans were pigeon-holed. Let me assure the House that that is not the case. Plans are constantly under revision, and in revision precisely the same operations are gone through as in original construction. In the course of the Debate to-day it has been suggested that the above system is inadequate and should be supplemented by a small combined staff under the Committee of Imperial Defence, which would be more than a 1235 meeting ground for the few people drawn from the respective Services. My hon. Friend behind me made a very interesting and suggestive point in making that plea. This is an attractive proposal, but it must be remembered that it has been rejected again and again when it has been closely examined in its workings. I would refer hon. Members to the decision of the Lord Salisbury Commission in 1923. The great difficulty is—as I would ask hon. Members who are going to pursue this subject in this Debate to remember—that given this independent organic committee, this conjoint committee, how are you going to fit it in with the whole scheme? Obviously the objection I have already suggested must be got over straight away, the objection to a divided authority. This committee cannot be merely an administrative or planning committee, it must be a committee which is responsible in the actual administration and the carrying out of its own decisions.
I shall be glad if hon. Members who are interested in this subject will supply me not only with this suggestion itself on paper, put up primarily, well, mainly, as a theoretical objection to the existing system, but give me a scheme based upon this committee worked right through into all its consequences throughout the organisation of Imperial Defence. I do not know if that has been done, but so far as I am concerned it has never been brought under my eye. It has to meet a number of other objections. The first is that it does not guarantee unity. Some of the members of the conjoint staff, who will be drawn from the three Services, are just as likely to disagree as if they were working under the present system. One of the objections taken to the present system is that at some point there may be a disagreement, and that the only way to refer that disagreement so as to get agreement out of it is to call in the Prime Minister. That will be true, that will be a possibility whether your committee is an organic one or a purely mechanical one representing three separate Services.
But there is a more serious objection which follows upon that. If they should reach unity they may disagree with one or more of the existing Chiefs of the Staff. Then that will be a serious dis- 1236 agreement, for which it will certainly tax the ingenuity of any Prime Minister to find a solution. The Chiefs of Staffs of the existing Services, who control the whole of the general staffs, must, moreover, execute any plan. They ought, therefore, to be responsible for recommending and drawing up the plans. In the Secretariat of the Committee of Imperial Defence there are selected staff officers from the Services permanently welded together with liaison officers, whose liaison work with all the staffs is invaluable. To superimpose on that another set of officers working together involves the difficulties I have mentioned, for which no one has yet suggested a complete solution. Of course there are possibilities of differences—there will be in all systems—but I can give an example of how the difficulties are solved under the present system and how the flexibility of the machine lends itself to easy solution. There is a matter which is now one of public knowledge and therefore I can refer to it. It is very well known that a few years ago there was a serious difference of opinion about the use of air forces in coast defence which could not be settled by the Staffs themselves. It was submitted to a Ministerial Committee under my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council. After some months of investigation a decision was reached. The decision was such that all sections could agree, and the arrangement then made is being worked out to-day in perfect amity and co-operation.
I would like to sum up this part of the considerations passing through my mind. I have watched very carefully and studied as far as one could the problems of organisation and co-operation which arise from the present system which I have tried to describe to the House—not that system as a static organisation which is full of faults, but that system as a going, working concern like our own Constitution—and these are the conclusions I have come to. The machinery that I have described tends to work more and more smoothly and adapt itself to the actual conditions of a co-ordinated and efficient control. It tends to develop beyond mere consultation between three independent Services and to become a unity of the three mediums of the defence, working at common problems, working towards common aims and co-operating in a common spirit. It preserves 1237 in the independent Services morale and energy whilst linking them together in common duties. In other words, it preserves the good in past traditions and fits it into the new needs of the present and the future.
An examination of the case for a revolutionary change in administration to-day—I am always speaking from the point of view of to-day—whilst keeping in mind the details of the work of the Committee of Imperial Defence and the Service Departments, has led me to the conclusion that a considerable part of that case is of the nature of conjecture. It is this way. Given, they say, the independence of Services, given a Chiefs of Staffs Committee, the three chiefs being ex officio the three heads of the separate Departments, then the conclusion is that there must in the nature of things be a lack of economy, of harmony, of efficiency in direction, and so on. It does not follow and it is not following. Far be it from me to say that there is nothing in the argument, but I do say there is less in it to-day than there was some years ago. I have had to intervene myself to try to remove some of these difficulties. Much depends upon the Ministers themselves and the heads of the Services, and I can truly say the whole working of the present system tends to produce harmony and to remove waste and friction.
As a matter of fact, time is moving things on until I am not at all sure but that the real question between those who are in favour of a Minister of Defence or a conjoint general staff and our present system is only this—will you have a man or will you run a representative body? It is worth really thinking of in its working. You can have co-ordination, undoubtedly, by putting a man at the head, you can also have co-ordination if you have created a machine of certain parts independent in their nature but so co-ordinated by training and so on that what you really have produced is an organically working committee or machine. I think we are producing the latter now; we have not got it yet completely, but it is growing steadily and I think it will come.
Turning for a minute to joint staff training, which is so essential for the co-ordinating of Imperial defence, I would say, first of all, that it is not at all sufficient 1238 to have contacts between staffs; you must begin with training. That we are providing for. I will not go over ground which has been covered during the last two weeks. You have been told of the three staff colleges, which specialise for technical purposes relating to the separate Services. You have been told, moreover, that the co-operation of the staff and of the students is far advanced, and is constantly emphasised and developed. We were told—I think it was by the Financial Secretary to the War Office—that each college takes two students from the other two, that every year there are monthly joint exercises conducted at Camberley, on account of the conveniences which Camberley possesses for such exercises, and that officers from each college review the technical work done by the others. The Imperial College has also been referred to. An hon. Member on the other side asked what becomes of the students who have gone through? They are in Defence Services all over the Empire. They are occupying important positions in the Services, in the teaching connected with the Services, and in the general working of the Defence Services. A very great authority on the organisation of defence forces remarked to me only yesterday when we were discussing this matter—and the adjective he used I use now:The effect of the co-operation of the Services on the efficiency of the Services and the students who have been through the Imperial Defence College, is simply marvellous.During the recent Debates, the question of the Dominions was referred to. We cannot issue orders to the Dominions. The Dominions come in as Governments of independent initiative, but in the Committee of Imperial Defence, India has been in contact with us from the first. The Secretary of State for India is a member of the committee, and an Indian officer is always included in the secretariat. The Military Secretary and other officials of the India Office are represented upon several committees, and there is the closest contact between the general staff and the Indian general staff.
The Dominions attend the Committee of Imperial Defence for joint counsel or advice to the extent that they themselves may decide. In practice some Dominions are represented frequently, both at the committee itself and at certain sub-com- 1239 mittees in which they are interested. On a number of occasions in recent years particular Dominions have asked for the advice of the Committee of Imperial Defence on their defensive problems. A considerable number of documents on Imperial defence are communicated confidentially by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to the Dominion Prime Ministers, and we are kept fully informed as to what they are doing. Speaking for ourselves, these contacts are very highly valued, and we have reason to believe that that is true also of the Dominions. The contact is kept all through. I do not believe for a moment that more than that can be done, except to get a gradual spread of confidence as regards the Dominions, and a desire to co-operate and to share in the various machinery, organisations and institutions to which I have referred.
As regards defence policy itself, although the hon. Member did not raise the question, I am afraid that I cannot overlook it. Defence policy has to be worked out in relation to this country as a world power and as a European power and to the whole of Imperial unity. There may be great developments in the air from the point of view of home defence. There are. It is a Service which is in its infancy, but at any rate, speaking for to-day, for next year and for a few years ahead yet, the Navy is of vital importance to this country as a part of defence. I need not say that a fleet air arm is essential to the modern navy. Naval policy has been fully discussed on the Estimates, and I have nothing to add to that, except that I want to assure the House that the naval programme is strictly within the limits of the Treaty, Not only that, but in building up to the limits now set, those who took part in the London Naval Treaty were informed by the British representatives that, in agreeing to the figures, we had no margin, and that by 1935–36 they would have to assume and to expect that every ton we said we required would be built up to. There is no use of any propaganda in the country claiming that the Government have just made up their mind to increase what they originally intended to do. The ships now being laid down were contemplated from the time when the Treaty was put in front of us for our signature. We are considering armaments not 1240 against any other Power, but in relation to our own defensive and protective needs. That is why—our defensive and protective needs. That is why we have sought by Treaty to limit our naval requirements so as to reduce the risks. We still believe in treaty and agreements, and we propose to pursue them.
I also want to say, in view of certain questions that have been put from time to time in the House, something about air raid precautions. That is not new. The Committee of Imperial Defence since 1926 and every Government since then have taken into consideration these air raid precautions. Was it 1924? I beg pardon. I am told that it is two years longer than I said. The Committee of Imperial Defence, and every Government since 1924, have been aware of these questions and have been prepared to accept them. It is an essential accessory to the arrangement for home defence. We know what happened in the late War, and it is the duty of every Government to use foresight and forethought to protect our people. We must increase the protection already provided for civilians. This precaution is strictly comparable to such things as plans for the safety of factories in case of fire. It is to meet a risk which is very remote, but which ought not to be overlooked in view of the consequences of neglect. Solely to give confidence to our people is the purpose of these precautions. The risk is not imminent, nor likely to be; certainly not if the policy of the Government is carried out. But we must recognise that up to now we have not got this world into a framework of security, and that is all that is in the further developments of these preparations. I should like, to thank cordially, on behalf of the Government, those experts who at one time or another, members of various services like fire brigades and so on, have been so helpful in making suggestions as to how these things should be dealt with.
I want finally to say this: Behind the moulding of a defence policy is political policy, and very close to it is foreign policy. The aim of the Government is peace, and peace can only be based upon international co-operation. They say that it takes two to make a quarrel, but it takes 20 to make a peace. Peace is the only security for nations. Arms alone cannot bring security; they can make vic- 1241 tory more likely than defeat, but after victory in a militarist state of mind—what? The aim of every nation to-day should be to pursue the diplomacy of peace not only as regards itself but as regards the whole comity of nations. That is what the Government are now doing. There are two complementary lines of policy in times like these, when nations are at the parting of the ways, perhaps. We must make efforts to bring all possible causes of war within the scope of solution by equity and conciliation. The League of Nations, if properly used, is the only organ in existence to secure this. Therefore, the Government will do everything they can to restore and maintain the authority of the League. Then we must go on striving to get agreements on arms, weakening offence and strengthening defence. Thus the effect of competition can be permanently secured without danger of war and a certainty of peace. I never can understand why people gaily launch upon the idea that we are supreme, and who say: "Let us do what we like. Let us set up a competition." That has never done yet. The purpose of competition is undoubtedly to attain a certain measure of security such as it is, but every bit of that security, and a great deal more, can be found in international agreement, including agreements on armaments. That is the policy we are pursuing. Our measures of Imperial defence do not run counter to these declarations. They are to enable us to meet obligations undertaken, to secure peace, and are recognised as such by the whole world. I have been at many international conference now, and I have never heard at one that our forces were regarded as a menace to the peace of other countries. That is a fine moral position for us; it is not only moral but political and military as well. If these programmes which we have brought before the House are carried out, as they have been carried out, that splendidly strong position will not be forfeited.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
This is not a controversial occasion, and, speaking for myself, I shall certainly not endeavour to make it so. I agree very largely I think with the gracious speech which was delivered by the Deputy-Leader of the Opposition, and I should not be prepared to challenge in detail a great many 1242 of the statements made by the Prime Minister. As far as I am able to understand the general tone of the position he has explained this afternoon, he is, leaving out the matters to which he referred in his closing passages, very generally satisfied with the present system. He likes its elasticity. He spoke of it being flexible from day to day. I agree that there is a good deal of flexibility in our system which is very valuable from day to day, but we have to be careful, not only in the military sphere, but also in the political, to prevent this flexibility and elasticity degenerating into a kind of opportunism. What we require is to have aim and theme and structure and design more prominent in the immediate forefront of our discussions and of our policy. The right hon. Gentleman stated a great many of the methods by which business in the sphere of defence is at present transacted, and stated them very fully and agreeably, but it would be a great mistake to assume that all is perfect and everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds, that there is nothing to be done to improve it at the present time, that no new structural change, no new surge of impulse is required in the reorganisation and development of our defences.
I shall try to make a very few practical comments this afternoon, which I hope will be accepted in the spirit in which they are made, which is one of helpful—may I use one little word that is very popular to-day—of helpful co-operation. It seems to me that there is a very general agreement in the House that a Ministry of Defence should be our ultimate aim. In no other way can the best arrangement be made for economy and efficiency. There are particularisms and what my hon. Friend the Deputy-Leader of the Opposition described as the vested interests—the innocent and respectable vested interests—of the various Services, and they cause much confusion. It would be a great mistake to suppose that this is not causing much waste and confusion. Your history books are full of the discussions between the Army and Navy which have led to the loss of so many fine opportunities in the past. We are assured by the Prime Minister that everything is brought into complete harmony from a central point of view at 1243 every moment, but when you come to look below the surface of this assurance one sees many things which do not square with this hopeful and desirable assumption.
At the present time each of the three Services is preparing itself—I will not say to face a different enemy, because we must not use that wicked word, and of course there can be no potential enemies after the various conferences in which my right hon. Friend has been engaged, but there are what are called potential aggressors. I believe I shall be quite correct in using that term and not shock any of my friends, even among those who sit around me here. But the curious fact is that each of the three Services to-day is preparing itself to defend the British Empire against a different aggressor. The Navy is naturally preoccupied, apart from the paramount duty of bringing in our food, with the Pacific Ocean, and the need to maintain some contact with Australia and New Zealand, who came to our aid in the Great War and to whom we are bound by sacred ties. It must be always concerned about some great naval Power, excluding the United States of America, which possesses a powerful cruiser fleet available in the Pacific Ocean.
Then the Army has a different objective. The Army, of course, no longer exists as any appreciable factor in European war until after the lapse of two or three years of national effort. It is no more than a glorified police force at the present time and discharges its job of home defence and security. But so far as the Army has any objective it must necessarily and naturally be the defence of the North-West frontier of India against some of the barbarous tribes which I believe lie beyond the Himalayan mountains. Then there is the Air Force, which is now the vital matter in most people's minds and the matter causing most concern. It feels it must measure itself against the nearest and most probable antagonist.
I think I have been successful in describing these potential aggressors without introducing any names, which I am sure everybody would deprecate, and of course all these Services are bound to consider these matters, not with any idea, that we shall be involved in a war or 1244 any intention of being involved in a war, but because it is the common practice in every country to consider eventualities, and the duty of the technical advisers to make the study. The point I am venturing to make is that all these three Services are in effect basing their claims upon the Exchequer very largely upon potentially different dangers which may arise.
We can easily see what difficulties there will be in evolving any coherent scheme against what we will call the least improbable and the more urgent of our dangers. When there are these divergent outlooks, naturally divergent outlooks, there must be a great many cross purposes and a great deal of irrelevant matter. Our dangers change from time to time and one would like to feel sure that under the guidance of the Foreign Office and the Committee of Imperial Defence and the Prime Minister the three Services were focussed more immediately and thoroughly upon whatever danger seemed to be emphasised in the period or the decade—because I am not talking of day-to-day movements—through which we are passing. No doubt, as the Prime Minister has assured us, a great deal is being done, and I make no unfair criticism of our existing system, but undoubtedly a great deal more could be done if the three Services were fused more closely together with a stronger superior direction controlling their daily work and purpose.
One cannot help feeling that in the distribution of public money each Service naturally fights for its own hand. There is nothing like leather, said the cordwainer, and each Service naturally presses its own claims. In my experience, which is, I suppose, as long as anyone's, the Minister with most information and address and backed by the Department with the largest hold upon tradition and public good will gets the largest share, and a larger share I may say than would be secured if the case for the three Services were presented to the Cabinet as a whole, and not only as a whole but in relation to what is judged to be the chief danger of the times through which we are passing. That seems to me to be the first argument which can be adduced for a Ministry of Defence, that it would put us in a much better position for dealing with the changed conditions of high strategy and Imperial policy.
1245 But there is a second, and that is rather a novel one, new and increasing. All the three Services in modern times have a new common factor which they never had in anything like the same degree until the present century and indeed until after the recent Great War. I mean science and invention. Science and invention are sweeping all before them. As the Lord President of the Council said the other day—I speak from memory, and I do not wish to misquote him—we wake up every morning in dread of some new horrible possibility which science will open upon us, and make us the victims of. The same science applies to all three Services alike, and its application must play a large part in all your plans and outlook. Nothing like this was known in the nineteenth century, and in those days the segregation of the Services seemed comparatively simple. The Navy, to quote Lord Fisher, was a dismal mystery surrounded by sea-sickness and had nothing in common, except good conduct, with the barrack square and the red-coated Army of those days. The Air Force did not exist.
The new science has come along permeating all these Services—a solvent which disperses their differences. Science cares nothing for the professional particularisms or the established customs or the cherished traditions of any one of the Services. In the fires of science, burning with increasing heat every year, all the most dearly-loved conventions are being melted down; and this is a process which is going continually to increase. Therefore, it seems to me, and I submit it to the judgment of the House, that a new argument of measureless importance has come into the relations of the three Services in this compulsive influence of the ever-expanding knowledge of applied science. In view of the inventions and discoveries which are being made for us, one might almost say every month, a unified direction of the war efforts of the three Services would be highly beneficial. We should have a much greater chance of applying the gifts of science broadly to the whole texture of our defensive arrangements if there were a reception of all these new facts from a common elevated point of view, removed from the prejudice or the bias of the particular uniformed professions upon which we depend at the present time. That is a second argument for a Ministry of Defence.
1246 There is a third argument, which arises out of the other two, but which also affects the very important question of public economy—the expense, the burden upon this House and the taxpayer. There are many functions which are common to all three Services, but which are now managed as separate branches. There are separate medical services to succour the three separate Services of the Army, the Air and the Navy. There are separate Departments of chaplains to minister to the spiritual needs of the airman, the soldier or the sailor. Research—an enormous, vital field—has not been pooled; there must, surely, be great overlapping there. Above all, Intelligence has not been pooled, and this, I may point out, was recommended to a very considerable extent by the Weir Committee, appointed in his first premiership by my right hon. Friend the Lord President, who reported in his second premiership, and whose recommendations were accepted by the Cabinet of that day. They strongly urged a movement towards the pooling of the various, almost numerous, Intelligence branches which, are at work at the present time in the body of our State. But nothing has been done about it. The Committee was appointed in 1923; it reported in 1926; we are now here in 1934, and nothing has been done about it. It was a very good Committee, a very moderate Committee. You could not have two more capable minds applied to these topics than those of the late Lord Melchett and Lord Weir. They were very moderate. They pressed this, but nothing has been done about it in the interval.
Lastly, there is the great field of contracts. I apologise to the House for dealing with these matters, but really I think we have to try to come to some grips with these points. There is the great field of contracts, and here something has been done. I would go further, and admit that much has been done. The Contracts Committee, which the Prime Minister mentioned, is at work, and even before that committee was set up I have never felt that it was true that the different Departments of the State have been against each other to any large extent in time of peace in the common market so as to put prices up against one another. The Treasury took care of that. And our arrangements, as the Prime Minister has indicated, are often 1247 very much better in practice than they are in theory. But in the field of contracts there is a great deal that could be done, even in time of peace, and if ever we should be involved in a great war again, which God forfend, it would be most important that the entire business of the purchase and manufacture of munitions and supplies of all kinds, possibly with certain highly technical exceptions, should be taken over by a central administration and unified.
When the Great War broke out, our Navy was by far the largest in the world, and its great supply departments of all kinds lay behind it in the same proportion. The Army had to be multiplied twenty or thirty-fold, but this took some time, and it was many months before the War pressure led the Navy and the Army even to impinge upon the real resources of British industry. But by the middle of 1915 we began everywhere to feel the frontiers of the possibilities of supplies of every kind; the bones began to appear through the skin; and thereafter, from that time onwards, there were lamentable collision and dispute and friction between the Admiralty and the other two Services represented by the Ministry of Munitions. In the end, the Ministry of Munitions made everything for the Air Ministry and for the Army, but they had to fight with the Admiralty, who remained a separate enclave, almost a foreign Power, as it seemed, in the heart and centre of our State. I hope that arrangements will be made in the future to ensure that nothing like that occurs again, for I have no doubt, from the experience which I have had—and I had opportunities of seeing a good deal—that the public did not get the best service or the best use of the available material during the opening years of the War, owing largely to the particularistic clash which took place between the Admiralty and the other two Departments.
In this matter of organising industry, not only actually but prospectively, surely we might learn something from our German friends, who are building up an entirely new army and other fighting services, and who have the advantage of building them up from what is called a clean-swept table—what I believe the learned people would describe as tabula rasa—starting fair in this respect, unhampered by past conventions, un- 1248 hampered by customs or prejudices of any kind. That is a great advantage indeed. I have been told that they have created what is called a "weapon office," or—and here again I must quote a foreign term—Waffenamt, which makes for all the three arms of the services which they are so busily developing. It seems to me that this expression "weapon office" is pregnant, and that it might well enter into and be incorporated in our thought at the present time. Not only in the current supplies of the three Services in time of peace, but still more in the organisation of national industry in case war should come, it seems to me imperative that there should be one view and one control in this country.
I have outlined to the House three large spheres of organisation—strategic, scientific and supply—in which it seems that our arrangements would be markedly improved by the creation of a Ministry of Defence, and the House may think it odd that I do not proceed to urge that a Ministry of Defence should be set up at this moment, or even in the next few years. But I do not do so. I do not quarrel with His Majesty's Government for not coming down to us this afternoon with proposals of that character. The reasons which lead me to agree with them are these: A Ministry of Defence must be grown rather than built; and something that fell from the Prime Minister, if I interpreted it rightly, gave me the feeling that that was very much in his mind also. Suddenly to come forward at this juncture with a drastic and fundamental remodelling of the whole organisation of the three Fighting Services would be attended with so much friction at the present time, with men's minds shared between the different Services as they are at the present time, that it might well mean losing more than we should gain in actual preparedness against war danger or in the symmetry of our plans; and I should regret—I say so quite frankly—when the defences of all the three Services, however you look at them, are so much in arrear of our needs, to see a single Minister having to bear the whole burden of the struggle with the Treasury and with the Cabinet for the requirements of the country, while he had behind him three Services not yet fused or co-ordinated. I did think I was going to get through without using that 1249 word, but there it is. It is a most hard-worked word. When we think of all the unemployed members of our vocabulary, surely we might give that poor word a little ease. I apologise.
Imagine the position of this Minister, having to come forward and demand the entire costs of national defence, with three Services each filled with a bitter resentment against the many changes which would be imposed upon them in their methods of thought and their established practice and routine. Therefore, I advocate an evolutionary process. But let us proclaim the goal; that is what I ask of the Government. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend behind me seems to take exception to that word. I will say, let us proclaim the objective towards which our policy should move. There ought to be a purpose animating all the plans which are being made and all the administrative measures which are taken. The process of evolution should be consciously directed, and the aim should be to achieve eventually what will be needed by every condition of science and by every condition of the world—a unified Defence Service.
I have no doubt that a great deal is being done in that direction, but what is needed now is a clear declaration by the Government that that is the aim. And, besides such a declaration, we want a much stronger impulse to the fusion of the different branches. There is a great deal that can be done without delay. There is the unification of all those functions and branches which I have mentioned, but especially research, intelligence, and supply, and the mapping out and preparing of war industries. All that can be set on foot, and a great deal of it could be done now at the present time; there is not the slightest need to wait for any large Department. But what is going to take time, and what cannot be hurried, because you are dealing with the human factor, is the building up of a body of officers in the medium and higher ranks of the three Services, who will be weaned early from their particularisms, and taught to think of the problems of defence in their integrity and as a whole. Here we have made a definite start. After the War the Imperial Defence College, to which the Prime Minister referred, was set up at which officers of middle rank from the three Services, in touch with high 1250 officials of the Civil Service, studied combined problems together for as much as two years at a time.
I took a great interest in this organisation at its inception and now, after the lapse of 15 years, it should certainly be bearing fruit in the supply of the very ablest officers, to the heads of their professions who are well acquainted with the three Fighting Services as a whole and with common problems of defence. I think it should be made plain, not only by precept but by example, that one of the best paths to the highest positions in the three fighting professions in future will be through this college for officers who have gained this general knowledge of the three branches. Thus the ablest officers in all the three professions will for a long period of time be attracted to go through this very important course of training. There is not the slightest doubt that, if you wish to establish the staff system, you must give preference to officers who have been through that staff system. That the staff system has succeeded in the Army is because that has been done. That it has not succeeded fully in the Navy is because it has to a large extent not been done. If you wish to have as advisers for the Cabinets of the future officers who are acquainted with the three branches of the Service in common terms and can deal with them all more or less, who do not pretend to be ignorant of any one of them, you should continually make it clear that, apart from brilliant war service, the path to the highest ranks in these Departments is through this College of Imperial Defence. In fact, we have to do in the military field what the Government are always inculcating upon us in the political sphere. We have to find officers who are, so to speak, nationally minded, who have dropped their original party particularisms and can form broad views over the whole general field of our affairs. I trust that the comparatively modest success which has attended the Prime Minister's experiment in the political field will not in any way discourage him from carrying out this principle in a very vgorous manner in the wholly different military sphere.
But there is one more practical and more immediate step which should certainly be taken. In 1913, General Seely, now disguised as Lord Mottistone, and myself were in charge of the two Service Departments. We arranged what we then 1251 called the "high level bridge" between the Admiralty and the War Office and there, were frequent meetings between the First Sea Lord and the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, attended by such officers as those professional chiefs chose to bring. I am sure great advantage was reaped from it. It can be proved that the smoothness of our arrangements at the unexpected opening of the Great War largely resulted from this extremely harmonious interchange of views between the two Departments. The practice, I am aware, still continues, and, of course, the Committee of Imperial Defence brings together not only the heads of the professional services but such other experts and well-informed persons as the Prime Minister may choose to invite.
But something more definite and more regular is required in my view at present, both to meet current requirements and current needs and to survey the future, than fortuitous meetings of the professional heads of the three Services. Perhaps the Lord President will refer to this point. I know that much is done in this respect. It is not novel. It is more to emphasise the application of the organisation than its invention that I am dwelling upon it. I wish the Government would consider clothing the meeting of these three professional chiefs with more authority, formality and permanence. These three high officers sitting together should be the centre of our defence system, of course under the Cabinet, which is the responsible authority representing the Sovereign. But I should like to see them sitting together and coming together not merely as representatives of the Army, the Navy and the Air Service.
They cannot, of course, entirely divest themselves of that character, but I think they should be invited, nay, requested, to assume a much wider outlook—a general outlook—and for this purpose they should be severally charged by Order-in-Council with the responsibility for advising the Government over the whole field of national defence and, moreover, they should be charged in their commissions with a responsibility not limited to the technical boundaries of their own Services to the summit of which they may have risen, and, to emphasise the broadening of their responsibility, I would suggest that they 1252 should be sworn members of the Privy Council. Nothing would more effectively impress upon officers called to this position the fact that their duties were general, and that no responsibility to any one particular Service should stand in the way of their contribution being for the safety and defence of the country as a whole. I cannot claim any originality for this suggestion, because it first appeared in a once celebrated memorandum which Lord Randolph Churchill wrote to the Harrington Commission in 1890. I have some experience myself of the three Services and of the Ministry of Munitions, and I am convinced that this grouping of the three professional Chiefs, with wider responsibilities formally assigned to them, would be a great step forward both in economy and the efficiency of our defensive arrangements, and would give for the first time to professional opinion that ordered weight, that controlled weight, which it deserves in relation to the other forces in public life.
To sum up, I urge, first of all, that the Government should affirm publicly and definitely the principle of a Ministry of Defence; secondly, that they should take forthwith every interim step towards the merging and the fusion which would render, after the passage of a number of years, such unification possible, and that this should be a steady policy pursued year after year. By doing this I believe we should increasingly fit ourselves for dealing with immediate practical problems. We should improve the value which we get for the taxpayers' money or, alternatively, we should get the same security for less money, according to whether the skies were dark or clear, and we should be moving steadily towards that sound, true organisation of our resources upon which the safety of this Island and of this Empire depends.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
Already we have heard three extremely interesting speeches. I am sure the House will rejoice to have he[...] the opinions of the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, because by universal consent it has always been understood that, if there was to be a Minister of Defence, it was to be the right hon. Gentleman. Consequently, I was rather shocked to hear him put in a long element of delay before the first Ministry of 1253 Defence would be set up. I must say that that disappointed me. I cannot help describing the Prime Minister's speech rather as hanky-panky. I mean that I am certain it originated not in his heart, but at 2, Whitehall Gardens. He seemed to me to deal in such detail, and that he was so interested in the trees as entirely to have forgotten the wood. But it was interesting, in the detail which he showed us, to realise that generals and admirals and Air Force officers do meet and talk about their different Services. Frankly, I have not a good opinion of professional soldiers. I look upon a general as one of the dullest brains on Army affairs that one could possibly imagine, and the same with admirals on anything to do with the sea. History has shown that that is absolutely correct. They are always many years behind the times. If, however, they meet together, it may well be that on other subjects than their own they have valuable suggestions to make. The opinions of generals on naval tactics may be exceedingly valuable and original, and, vice versa, admirals may be quite sparkling in suggestions on military tactics. It is pleasant to think that such meetings are taking place; this should be very valuable, and encouraged. I know perfectly well, having been in the House for many years, that the House is rather like the late Mr. Teddy Paine, who said that when you mentioned the word "work" he came all over a-quiver. Mention the words "Ministry of Defence" here and everyone comes all over a-quiver. It is one of those things which are talked about and nothing is ever done.
The other night, talking about a similar question, I endeavoured to shock the House by going much further and proposing that there should be no longer Army, Navy and Air Force, but one Service only. There were only about 12 persons in the House and they were all waiting to make speeches, so my words did not have a lot of effect. I instanced the case of the Army in which there were two private soldiers, one in the cavalry and the other in the tanks, and said one was a groom and the other a mechanic. There is no more in common between those two than there is between a soldier and a sailor. I am sure if we had a tabula rasa and we had to start again, we should never invent three separate Services. We should invent one, and 1254 then draft people to the various duties that they would have to do. The Prime Minister made a very good point when he said that the difference that divided us was one not so much of organisation as of personnel. He said that in the Ministry of Defence you wanted the defence of the country to be under one man, whereas to-day it was under the Cabinet. There is a good deal of sense in that. I have always pleaded for that to be extended and for a new, sound Parliamentary procedure to be adopted.
I pressed the Prime Minister very much for this Debate to-night, but I asked that we should have it before we had had the Debates on the three Services. That was the great point I made, because even this year when we were debating the Air Force Vote we had only had the Army Votes the same morning. If we are to get nearer together from the point of view of the three Services which are now so intermixed by virtue of the air arm, we must start talking about the subject as a whole. It is not a question to-day, in regard to the Votes, of being aggressive or war-like, but of deciding how much money we can afford on defence, and whether we are spending it most economically. That is really the question to be debated. At present, under our Parliamentary procedure, we have no real method of doing it. Although I agree with my right hon. Friend that it would be injudicious to rush forward with definite proposals with regard to a Ministry of Defence, I should like an assurance from the Front Bench that next year we shall be able to have a Debate in this House on the expenditure of the three Services when the Votes for those Services are published but before they are debated. I believe that along that line this House, first of all, could weigh up the pros and cons of how much we are spending, whether we might not be spending too much on one Service and whether we ought to spend more on another. I welcome this Debate, and I thank the Prime Minister for letting us have it, but I maintain, anyhow for this year, that it should have come before the Service Votes, and not after. In other words, it is too late.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Mr. AMERY
I certainly support the last appeal of may hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wallasey (Lieut.- 1255 Colonel Moore-Brabazon) for a general Debate on the defence Services. But when it comes to the policy, which was implicit in his speech, and very explicit in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), that we should definitely set before ourselves the goal of a united defence Service, I confess that I have grave doubts as to the wisdom or feasibility of such a policy, at any rate on the administrative side. The formal case for amalgamation or unification of different organisations is always very strong on paper, but even when you attempt to combine businesses in the same field of industry the practical difficulties are very great. When you are dealing not only with problems of administration, but with problems of tradition, character and even prejudice, the difficulties become immensely greater.
I think that the idea that you can amalgamate or effectively unify the three fighting Services is, as the Financial Secretary to the War Office suggested the other day, like the amalgamation of Eton and Harrow, or of this House and another place, or the establishing of a unified Government for the whole Empire. It may show economies on paper, but I do not believe that it is workable in practice. Certainly when the committee, under the chairmanship of Lord Salisbury, of which I was a member, in 1923 went into the question of an administrative Defence Ministry we were forced to the conclusion that it was not a possible solution. I doubt whether the actual economies which could be secured by unification in these matters would amount to very much more than the economies which are already being secured by co-ordination between the fighting Services. I am by no means certain that the advantage is always on the side of unification. Several research departments, working from a slightly different angle, with a slightly larger staff, might perhaps arrive at this or that discovery which a single unified department would fail to secure. From the point of view of intelligence, so mach depends upon the purpose for which your intelligence is sought. I am by no means certain that a single intelligence officer or staff working for the Army, the Navy and the Air Force would necessarily find out the things that were most wanted by each Service.
1256 In any case, as things stand at present, I cannot conceive of a single Minister being in a position effectively to supervise those three great Departments of State both in the Departments and in the House of Commons. I believe that the essential civilian control would become far looser, and, what is far more serious—and this brings me to the point that I really want to raise—the Minister would have even less time than Ministers have to-day to attend to broad problems of policy. The contention which I want to lay before the House is that what we have to consider is not unification of administration but co-ordination of policy, and it is in that field of policy, and the field of policy alone, that the really great need for re-organisation and co-ordination exists. It may be said that that co-ordination in the field of policy is already provided by the Committee of Imperial Defence. In a certain measure that is true, but it is a very loose co-ordination and one which has to consider not only the fighting services, but every other element of the national life. Our foreign policy, our financial policy, our industries, our social system—all these problems have to be brought together in the Committee of Imperial Defence, and only the Prime Minister in the last resource, with the Cabinet behind him, can co-ordinate on these issues.
There is, however, short of that, a very important, and to this day still largely neglected, field for closer co-ordination of policy between the three fighting Services. It is in that direction that I believe we ought to look for more effective methods of getting the fullest value out of such money as we can afford for the Services, or, alternatively, to get the fullest security we can for such sums as we can afford. In that field the Salisbury Committee undoubtedly marked an important advance. They set up a committee of the three Chiefs of Staff and set it up, if I might venture to say so to my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping, on a much more formal basis than he seems to have kept in his recollection. That formal basis which he suggests was in fact set up by the Committee in 1923 and definitely adopted by the Government of the day. It was laid down that the three Chiefs of Staff should have each "an individual and collective responsibility for advising on defence policy as a whole, the three constituting 1257 as it were a Super-chief of a War staff in commission," and in carrying out this function they were to meet together to discuss questions which affected its joint responsibilities. They have, to the best of my experience for some years, and to the best of my belief in the years since, met together regularly, and have undoubtedly advanced the common consideration of defence questions to a very considerable extent.
Their deliberations, however, fall short of what is required in two directions. One direction is that there is nothing in the nature of a common staff to prepare the material for them. All these deliberations between Chiefs of Staff must necessarily be worked out beforehand. A great deal of research has to be carried out, and memoranda have to be written, and at present all that work is done in the different Service Departments by members of the staffs of those Departments each under the general direction of their own particular Chief of Staff. What is required, and what does not exist at present, is a small common staff for the three Services, preparing every memorandum and studying every question from the point of view of defence as a whole. There is a great deal of difference between the studying of the same problem by two or three people in separate departments, and a single common department studying the problem as a whole. I had the great privilege in the latter months of the War of serving on the Inter-Allied General Staff at Versailles which attempted to study the War from the point of view of the whole of the Allies, and not from the point of view of any particular ally, and the conclusions to which we came were far nearer actual results, and of far greater value, than the conclusions arrived at by the separate staffs of the separate armies. Such a common staff, closely linked with the Imperial Defence College, coupled with a greater interchange between the staff colleges, would undoubtedly, as my right hon. Friend said, produce the kind of officers which, as the years go on, will be increasingly required to give the true kind of advice which the Cabinet and the Minister concerned need.
There is, however, a still more serious defect in the present system. However much the three officers may regard themselves as a Chief of Staff in commission, they still remain representative of the 1258 three Forces. They want a co-ordinating head to bring them together. They are, to use the very happy parallel which my right hon. Friend employed, a high-level bridge between the three Services. What we want to-day is not a bridge only but a captain on the bridge. That direction can only be supplied by a Cabinet Minister presiding regularly over the meetings of the three Chiefs of Staff, inspiring, co-ordinating and bringing their work to a definite focus. The need for such reorganisation is apparent. My right hon. Friend pointed out very truly that each Service thinks largely in terms of a different war. Within certain limits that may be justified, but that kind of thinking wants bringing together much more closely in a common perspective. More than that, each Service is an organisation based on its own requirements with very little thought for common strategy.
The other day my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the War Office, in a charming and urbane speech, argued the case for the existing common purpose army, the Cardwell system, and for the kind of service which uses the same units for every purpose everywhere. My hon. and gallant Friend opposite, indeed, wants a fighting man who shall be soldier, sailor and airman in one, and others may ask for a soldier who shall be a gunner, an engineer, cavalry and infantry man in one. I am by no means certain that the Army we have is really organised for any other purpose except for its own administrative convenience, and doubt whether its organisation ought not to be fundamentally reconsidered from the point of view of the strategy of those wars in which we are reasonably likely to take part and from the point of view of co-ordination with the other Services. It is this kind of thing that requires reconsideration, and in that reconsideration the Services can only be directed by a civilian chief. Only a civilian chief can bring that detached and sometimes original and helpful point of view which is required when what you have to do is not merely to make some slight adjustment but fundamentally to recast the structure of one Service or another. Only a civilian Minister can effectively state the case for the new defence system to the Cabinet. As things stand at present, the three Chiefs of Staff may agree and 1259 may put their agreement before the Committee of Imperial Defence which may in the form of a memorandum even get as far as the Cabinet. But when the Cabinet discuss these matters, it is the three civilian heads of three different and separate Departments who argue the case, each from a different angle. There is nobody in the Cabinet to put the case for a common defence system.
Again, I think that only a civilian Minister can go, backed by the other civilian Ministers, to the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and state his case effectively there. At the present time, as the right hon. Member for Epping pointed out, it is very largely a matter of personality and will power, or of the personal relations between a particular Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which decide which Service is going to get more or which Service is going to be drastically cut down. We require a more fundamental reconsideration of the relationship between the Departments, of the allocation of the finances available, and of the whole structure of the fighting Services. From all these points of view there is not only room but an urgent need, not for a Minister of Defence in the administrative sense, but for a Minister specially assigned to the co-ordination of defence policy, who can consider the whole question of the structure, finance and policy of the three Services, in the closest association with the three Chiefs of Staff; a Minister who should be entirely free from all routine and administrative duties, so as to be able to give to these great problems of policy long, careful and anxious study, without which no satisfactory result will ever be attained.
It is, I think, a commonplace of experience that if the same person has to carry out routine duties and frame schemes of policy the routine duties are always attended to first and policy is always neglected. Routine is always more urgent from the point of view of time and always demands far less mental effort. If you have the two combined the tendency always is that questions of policy, which can always be postponed for a week or two, are postponed from week to week and month to month whether in an office, in a Cabinet or in the life of the private individual. It is in order to meet that 1260 difficulty in the fighting Services that we have learned to separate the general staffs from all administrative work. The whole principle on which the general staffs in the fighting Services is based is that you should set aside a whole department whose only concern is planning, thinking and preparing for the future, and has no responsibility for routine administration. I believe the same thing applies in the political sphere, and that in the field of the three Services you want not only your administrative civilian Ministers in charge of the Services, but another civilian Minister absolutely free to devote himself entirely to policy.
If this were the appropriate occasion I should like to urge that a similar co-ordination of policy is required between other administrative Departments, for instance, between the Treasury, the Board of Trade, and the Ministry of Agriculture, or between the Departments which deal with Imperial and foreign policy. I might be tempted to go a good deal further and to express what, to me, has long been a profound conviction, that we shall never have a coherent, provident or effective national policy as a whole until it is directed by a Cabinet whose Ministers are all policy Ministers and entirely free from administrative routine. When we were faced with the crisis of the Great War that was the sort of Cabinet to which we were forced to have recourse. I believe that the same means that helped us to win the War will be required to win the peace. However, that would be going further afield than the scope of this Debate permits.
If I might return to the issue immediately before us, I would say that it is in the field of policy and not in administration that co-ordination and unification is required. Do not let us miss the vital importance of co-ordination in policy by setting before ourselves what I believe to be the false objective of an actual unification of the Services. To secure that co-ordination of policy does not at this moment require any very drastic changes or modifications. All that I think essential is that on the one side we should see to it that the nucleus of a common body, which has already been created by the Chiefs of Staffs Committee, is supported by a common staff to work out a common defence policy and, in the second place, and this is even more vital, that 1261 the Government of the day should assign to that committee an active, inspiring and directing head in the shape of a Cabinet Minister free from all other responsibilities, and able to devote himself wholeheartedly to the vital problem of our Imperial requirements.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Major HILLS
My right hon. Friend has added a most interesting speech to a very interesting Debate. He seems to be advocating a Minister of Defence rather different from that which I should have thought, and different from that described by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). I do not suggest that there should be any amalgamation or unification of the Forces. I do not think that that is practical politics, even if it were right, and I am not sure that it is right. The last thing that I should like to see would be a Minister of Defence absorbed in routine administration. I should be prepared to accept entirely my right hon. Friend's suggestion of a Cabinet Minister to preside over the meetings of representatives of the Navy, the Army and the Air Force if he would go half-way, or more than halfway, to meet me by giving that Cabinet Minister control of the money granted for the defence Services. It seems to me that the whole point rests on that.
§ Major HILLS
In that case we are agreed. That is the real point. If you choose to put a Cabinet Minister in that position to be responsible for policy and yet not be able to direct his instruments, the three armed defence Forces, how to carry out the policy, you would get negation. I support a Ministry of Defence, and, although I do not expect to see it to-morrow, I hope the Government will give some indication that as an objective it is not too remote. I recollect the speech of my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council four or five years ago against a Minister of Defence, but the whole position seems to have changed so much in the last year that the demand for a Minister of Defence is more urgent. Either we shall diminish our armed forces or we shall increase them. I express no opinion which will come about, although possibly I have definite views. Whether we increase or diminish them, the importance of a single view on defence questions 1262 seems to me to be greater. If we have a smaller Army, Navy and Air Force, it is more important that those three Forces should be the best adapted to the defence of these Islands and the Empire: if we increase our armed forces it is equally important that we should spend the money to the best advantage.
What is the difficulty that is experienced by the ordinary Member of Parliament when he considers the defence Estimates? He wants efficiency and economy, he wants to ensure the safety of these Islands and the Empire and at the same time he wants his taxes lowered. What he sees is the scramble, which has been described by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) and any right hon. Friend the Member for Epping between the three Chiefs of the three Forces to get the most money. He sees this extraordinary consequence that if money is granted to a newcomer like the Air Force, the Navy at once asks for more money, while the Army is usually left out. That sort of thing is bound to happen because each Minister looks after his own arm. The next difficulty which the ordinary Member experiences is that of deciding on the comparative value of the different fighting Forces. He sees an aeroplane and a battleship, and he finds it very hard to decide whether he should spend money on one or the other. He sees accounts about the vulnerability of the battleship, but there is no one who can give Mm directions in this House as to the comparative value in defence of the Navy or the Air Force. He is told that an aeroplane can attack a ship by coming down with the speed of a shell, and he does not know how far that affects the place that these two arms, the Navy and the Air Force, should play in the defence of our country.
For centuries past we have looked on the Navy as the force that keeps us free from invasion. In the last few years aeroplanes have come along. Some of the defence of these islands is taken by the Air Force, but no one can tell us how much, and we have year after year the scramble which has been described, and in the end do not know whether our country is safe or whether the money is not being wasted. I do not put cost first. I put the defence of the Empire first. I do not think cost comes into it, 1263 but, if you have to spend money, you should spend it to the best advantage. However, cost is very important from this point of view. In this country we have a democrary which has certain views as to the objects on which money should be spent, and you will not be able, however much you may wish, to spend more than a certain amount on the defence forces; there will always be a maximum. If you spend more than the majority of the electorate think you should, then you are called to account at the next election. That is one of the difficulties. You may have to cut down your cost to the figure which the country will grant, and that limit may not be what you want but what the country will allow. From that point of view cost is very important.
May I tell the House what I think the position of a Minister of Defence should be? He should be a civilian Minister with a seat in the Cabinet and, of course, subordinate to the Cabinet. He should come to Parliament and ask for the money. He should allot that money, and, as a consequence of that—this is one of the main difficulties—neither the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Secretary of State for War, nor the Secretary of State for Air should sit in the Cabinet. The position of a Minister of Defence would be impossible if the heads of the Services under him—and they must be under him—sat alongside him in the Cabinet. That, to speak plainly, is the real difficulty in getting a Minister of Defence. I agree with the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and hot with the Prime Minister, who, in an interesting speech, said that you can co-ordinate by man and you can co-ordinate by machine. That is true, but you cannot expect real, efficient co-ordination unless you have a man in charge of the machine who is free from routine administration and is also in charge of the money allotted. I regard these two things as essential.
The Committee of Imperial Defence is both too big and too busy. It includes the Prime Minister, the Lord President of the Council, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Foreign Secretary, the Secretary of State for India, the Secretary of State for the Dominions, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, the First Lord 1264 of the Admiralty, the Secretary of State for War and the Secretary of State for Air, the three Chiefs of Staffs and the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury. All these are very busy men with the tremendous strain of their Parliamentary and administrative work to do, and they cannot possibly give to the technical and special problem as to what part each arm shall play in defence, that application which it requires. I do not agree with the argument that the job is too big for one man. I have often disagreed with the right hon. Member for Epping on defence questions, but I should be perfectly prepared to see him Minister of Defence. You can put down waste, devote money to the right purposes, you can spend no more than is required, and you can keep the country secure. For these reasons, I hope that the Lord President will give us some indication that we are leading up to the establishment of a Ministry of Defence.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel WINDSOR-CLIVE
Three principal arguments are used in favour of the establishment of a Ministry of Defence. The first is that it would give us what we certainly need badly, and that is a common General Staff. The second argument is that it would enable the available money to be allotted to the best advantages in each Department. The Prime Minister has told us that there is already a great deal of co-ordination in this respect, that the available money is thoroughly examined and distributed to the best advantage. But I cannot help thinking that, if something in the nature of a Ministry of Defence was established it would enable this to be done still better than it is now. The third argument which is often used is that if we have one Ministry of Defence we can combine and amalgamate services which are common to the three Fighting Services, such as the Medical Service. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) has spoken about that this afternoon, and he specially advocated the amalgamation of the intelligence services of the three Fighting Services. He went on to say that this was recommended by Lord Weir's Committee. In that he is mistaken, because that committee in their report said:We do not consider that efficiency would be promoted or that any substantial saving 1265 would be effected by an amalgamation of the intelligence branches of the Navy, Army and Air Forces.And they went on definitely to say that they did not recommend that this should be done. What they said was:An amalgamation of the common services would only be practicable if it forms part of a, comprehensive scheme of reorganisation which provided for the establishment of a Minister to control a defence force in which the identity of the Navy, Army and Air Forces had been merged. So far as we are aware such a revolutionary idea as the merging of the identity of the three Services in one force has never been contemplated.Now, apparently, it is. It is certainly contemplated by the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon). It seems to me that the position is this: If we had not got a Navy, it might be possible to amalgamate the Air Force and the Army. If we had not got an Army it might be possible to amalgamate the Air Force and the Navy, but whether we have an Air Force or not, it would be quite impossible to amalgamate the Navy and the Army. If, in the future development of science and invention the Air Force develops to such an extent that it becomes the supreme weapon in war and ships and soldiers merely auxiliary, then there might be a case for the amalgamation of the three fighting Services into one Service. That day has not come yet.
If by a Ministry of Defence we mean one man controlling the three Ministries in the same way as the Minister in charge controls each Service now, I certainly agree with those who think that it is entirely impracticable; and for two reasons which are well known. One is that it would be entirely impossible for one man to carry out the duties. No one man can possibly make himself acquainted with the infinite variety of questions relating to the three fighting Services, and make himself competent to speak on these matters in the House or in the country. He could not do that and perform his proper functions as a Cabinet Minister. He could not travel in order to carry out the necessary inspections of all the establishments of the three Services, both abroad and at home, and if he could not do that in peace time, it would be still more impossible for him to do it in war when the three Services would be expanded beyond all 1266 recognition and many new sub-Departments created. The second reason is that a Minister in charge of the three fighting Services as a Minister of Defence is not really enough to give us what we want to provide and plan for the defence of the country and Empire. When you are considering these things you have to consider a great deal more than the three fighting Services themselves. You have to consider every other Department of State. There is only one man who can co-ordinate their activities, and that is the Prime Minister and with all his many other duties he cannot possibly do it without assistance.
I think that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) has given us the clue to what is, probably, the best solution of this problem. He suggested a small Cabinet of Ministers, without portfolios, who are not absorbed in the day-to-day work of Government Departments, and who would have time to think about policy; and that one member of this small Cabinet should turn his special attention to questions of defence, being assisted, of course, by the Committee of Imperial Defence. In that case the present heads of the three Services and of other Government Departments would not be in the Cabinet. That proposal would give us many of the advantages which are claimed for a Ministry of Defence, but not all. The thing we need, and what we have not got at present, is a common general staff, composed of officers who have been trained and are accustomed to look at the whole matter of defence from a common point of view, and not from the point of view of one particular Service. That is wanted not only for the consideration of the grave problems of defence, but also for keeping an eye on co-operation in training and education between the three Services.
If there is any doubt existing on that matter, the speeches which were made during the Debate on the Motion of the hon. and gallant Member for Wellingborough (Wing-Commander James) must convince hon. Members that it is necessary. Co-operation and training between the three Services is not at present all that it might be. A common general staff is very much needed with regard to that particular matter. It is inevitable that each of the three Services is concerned with its own point of view and does not look at these matters always from the 1267 point of view of defence as a whole. We want a staff with a common outlook for that purpose. How is that common General Staff to be composed? Would the existing Chiefs of Staff Sub-Committee become the nucleus of this body? It might be objected that to put those three officers, each of whom belongs to one of the Fighting Services, into that position, would be to put them into a position superior to that of the Parliamentary Chiefs of their Departments. But it seems to me that that situation already exists. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook quoted the decision of the committee which sat in 1923, from which it seems that that situation was already provided for and that it already exists. It seems to me that this Chiefs of Staff Sub-Committee might well form the nucleus of the combined General Staff, around which would be built a complete staff of officers who have passed through the Imperial Defence College.
One thing that the Prime Minister did not mention in his speech, I hope, may be referred to later. That is the very important question of unity of command in time of war. Is it clearly understood, in the event of any operation which involves more than one Service in any part of the world, which Service is to be responsible and is to take command? It is all very well to talk about co-operation, but in war someone has to give orders, and there ought to be no doubt as to who that is to be. Take the question of the protection of our trade in the English Channel. That would concern both the Admiralty and the Air Ministry. Which of the two would be primarily responsible? Which is to take command? A few nights ago the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) told us that on account of the lamentable weakness of our Navy, an invasion by a hostile army from overseas was by no means as improbable as it used to be. If that happened all three Services would have to take part. On which of the three would rest the prime responsibility? Which of the three would take command? That ought to be very clearly laid down and understood. Our defence forces are very weak considering the immense responsibility that they have to bear. Therefore, it is all the more important that they should be intelligently directed and commanded. It is a 1268 most important subject, and I hope that there may be no further delay in coming to a definite conclusion as to the best way to bring about the desired result.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral Sir MURRAY SUETER
I was very glad to hear the right hon. and gallant Member for. Ripon (Major Hills) come down on the side of a Ministry of Defence. He has had a great deal of experience and he has brought that experience to bear on this subject. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) came almost three-quarters of the way towards a Ministry of Defence. He evidently has the germ in his brain, and I hope that before long it will come to fruition. It is 12 years next May since I brought into this House my Ministry of Defence (Creation) Bill under the Ten Minutes Rule. The Bill provided that we should set up a Minister of Defence who would deal entirely with policy and get approval for that policy from the Cabinet and the Prime Minister, and divorce the whole policy from administration. The administration of the three fighting Services was to be put under Under-Secretaries of State for the Navy, for the Army and for the Air. I shall not go further into the provisions of the Bill because it is still in print and can be seen.
I have always felt that during the late War we would have done much better had we established a Ministry of Defence before the War. Take the Naval side. We airmen tried to develop Zeppelins as the eyes of the fleet. We tried to get torpedo-dropping aeroplanes and efficient aircraft carriers, but conservative Sea Lords at the Admiralty turned down all these proposals. Under a Ministry of Defence that would have been absolutely impossible. On the Army side, as everyone knows, there was shell shortage, and mechanical warfare was not looked into. Under a Defence Ministry that subject might well have been given greater attention. Have we learned anything from the lesson of the War? I listened to the speech of the Financial Secretary to the War Office on the Army Estimates. I was alarmed and amazed to hear him talk about the value of cavalry. Just fancy a Financial Secretary coming into this House in these days of aeroplanes and saying that cavalry was of use in war I think a Ministry of Defence 1269 would have something to say to him if he came down to this House in these modern times and talked about the value of cavalry.
Then we had a most interesting speech from the First Lord of the Admiralty on the Navy Estimates. I am sorry he is not here to-day. I believe he is in Gibraltar, but his representative is present and I would like him to tell the First Lord that I heartily disagreed with what he said about salvage operations and submarines. As an old submarine captain I protest against proposals to do away with this salvage apparatus. I shall not go into that subject now, but I must register my protest. And when the First Lord comes here and says that the Admiralty pin their faith to battleships I must take exception to his statement. The First Lord echoes the sentiments of the First Sea Lord, Admiral Chatfield. Some years ago the First Sea Lord, when the Dominion cruiser "Australia" was launched, said it would be a very bad thing for this country if people got it into their brains that a battleship was of no use. He said it would be bad because battleships were required for the protection of trade and for the protection of the Dominions. The First Sea Lord is a great gunnery expert whom I knew in his younger days.
Where can I get the opinion of a great gunnery admiral who takes the opposite view to that of our own First Sea Lord? If I cross the Atlantic I find Admiral Sims, who is very well known in this country. He is a great gunnery expert in the United States Navy, and he came and helped us in the War. He was speaking about this subject of battleships, and he said it was his opinion that battleships were of no further use. During his address on the subject he was asked, "Does the aeroplane render the battleship useless?" and he replied, "Yes." Therefore you have on this side of the Atlantic a First Sea Lord who says that the battleship is of great value, and on the other side of the Atlantic you have a great gunnery expert admiral who says that battleships have no value at all. I ask the Prime Minister, Can they both be right? One must be right or wrong.
§ Sir M. SUETER
The board on the other side of the Atlantic listen to the big-bang Navy party, and they are controlled largely by the opinions of armament firms and so on. That is my answer to the Prime Minister. The experience they had in America in bombing battleships was of great interest. They started to bomb submarines. They cut the first submarine in two. Then they bombed destroyers. One shot went down the funnel of a destroyer—that shows the accuracy of the aim—and blew her to pieces. Then they tried bombing battleships. They first dropped a 2,000 lb. bomb on a German battleship at 12.37 p.m. At 12.38 she was lying on her port side, at 12.39 she was taking the final plunge, and at 12.39¾ she was totally submerged. That means that in 22 minutes that battleship was sunk.
§ Vice-Admiral TAYLOR
When this battleship was attacked was she at anchor? Was she in any way protected against attack and how many bombs were dropped?
§ Sir M. SUETER
The ship was in shoal water and she was at anchor certainly. I am asked how many bombs were dropped. The American naval authorities did not want the ship sunk at once. Therefore they started with small bombs and worked up to the 2,000 lb. bomb, which sank her in 2¾ minutes. The next battleship bombed was the United States ship "Virginia." She was hit with a 1,000 lb. bomb, and in 48 seconds she had almost turned turtle. The next battleship bombed was the "New Jersey." She was hit with a 1,000 lb. bomb, and she immediately turned bottom upwards. The First Lord of the Admiralty comes to this House and says, that the Board of Admiralty pin their faith to these battleships. Ships like the "Rodney" and "Nelson" cost something like £8,000,000 to produce, with £500,000 a year in upkeep, and when they go to sea they must have an escort of cruisers, destroyers, submarines and so on. It is an enormous expenditure. Yet the First Lord told us about the programme for replacing these battleships in 1936. Thirteen of the 15 allowed under the London Treaty and Washington Treaty will have to be replaced. That means that more than £100,000,000 sterling will have to be voted by this country to replace battleships.
1271 The gallant Admiral who has recently been returned to this House for North Portsmouth (Sir E. Keyes) backed up the First Lord's statement about battleships. I think it would have been much better if he had said that we should try to get an agreement with Japan and the United States to reduce the displacement of battleships, to get them down as low as possible. There is not the slightest need to have these heavy battleships. If you can get an agreement with America and Japan you can do the same work with a very much smaller battleship. I submit to the Prime Minister, whose presence here shows the interest which he takes in this subject, that he ought to set up a committee right away to go into this one question of the size of battleships before the 1936 Conference. Then we would be in a position to say to America and Japan, "We want you to try to reduce the displacement of your battleships." There is no battleship menace to us in Europe. It is an air menace. The only people who build battleships in numbers now are Japan and the United States. We do not want to go to war with our gallant little ally Japan, and I remember the late Lord Oxford, then Mr. Asquith, standing at that Box and saying that it was unthinkable that we should ever go to war with America. Surely we can come to an understanding with those nations to reduce the size of battleships and save the taxpayers a great deal of money.
I wish to touch briefly on financial aspect of defence. I cannot think that a Minister of Defence would agree to an expenditure on the Navy of £56,560,000, representing an increase of about £2,980,000; an expenditure on the Army of £39,600,000 or an increase of £1,650,000 and expenditure on the Air Service of £17,561,000 or a small increase of £135,000. I cannot think that a Minister of Defence would agree that the Air Service should get only one-sixth of the total amount. It is from the airman's point of view a most unsatisfactory position, when the First Lord of the Admiralty digs in his toes and gets the greater part of the "loot" as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) used to call it. Under a Ministry of Defence that would be impossible.
1272 The Prime Minister gave as a great deal of detail about the various committees which work under the Committee of Imperial Defence. I did a considerable amount of work under the Committee of Imperial Defence in my naval days. I found that a Department like the Admiralty would take the proposals of the Committee of Imperial Defence and any of those proposals which they did not like they would put into the wastepaper basket. The Committee of Imperial Defence recommended that we should develop Zeppelins. The Admiralty tore up that recommendation. Where the Committee fails is that they have no executive authority and executive authority is wanted to carry out a policy. The Committee of Imperial Defence has a secretary, Sir Maurice Hankey, a most able man who has done his best and if hon. Members asked him about the Zeppelin question he will confirm what I say. The hon. and gallant Member for Ludlow (Lieut.-Colonel Windsor-Clive) said you could not get the superman who would be required to fill the position of Minister of Defence. Surely the Prime Minister now has to be a superman, and, if you could relieve him of some of his work, so much the better.
§ Lieut.-Colonel WINDSOR-CLIVE
I said that assuming your Minister of Defence was going to be in the same position as the present head of each fighting Service, that is responsible for all details, he would have to be a superman.
§ Sir M. SUETER
I disagree with the view that you could not find a man to do the work. You want somebody to relieve the Prime Minister of some part of his great responsibilities and if such a Minister dealt with policy alone and left the administration of the three Services to Under-Secretaries of State I am certain that he could carry on quite well. Another argument is that the Minister of Defence would be a bigger man than the Prime Minister. I submit that that is a stupid argument because the Prime Minister would naturally select a colleague who would work with him. The more I listened to the Prime Minister's speech the more I came to the conclusion that we should, without delay, set up a Ministry of Defence. He talked a tremendous amount about co-operation. I would like him to listen to the opinion of the late Field Marshal Sir Henry 1273 Wilson who met such an untimely end while a Member of this House. Speaking on this very question and discussing the policy of the then Government he said:The fourth decision again I find it difficult to follow. I think 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 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?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st March, 1922; cols. 331 and 332, Vol. 152.]I submit that is the finest argument I have ever heard for setting up a Ministry of Defence for the efficient running of our fighting Services.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Mr. MANDER
I do not propose to follow hon. and gallant Members into the detailed consideration of technical points nor am I competent to do so. I would like to deal with this question from a point of view which has been little touched upon so far. Although the Prime Minister and other speakers did refer to it, I think not enough has yet been said about the League of Nations aspect of the question. I feel that the best Imperial defence is reliance on the collective security of the League of Nations. I noticed that in referring to that aspect the Prime Minister said no doubt it might be so, but that we did not get pooled security to-day. If I may venture to say so, that is largely the fault of the present British Government, because they have not pursued with sufficient vigour and resolution their policy of disarmament at Geneva. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I believe that to be the case. At the same time we know that we are still bound by the Covenant of the League, and I submit that we ought to be giving consideration in the inner councils of the nation to the way in which we can carry out those obligations if we are called upon to do so as might well be the case.
1274 I did not gather from the Prime Minister that in the political instructions, to which he attached so much importance, given from time to time to the Committee of Imperial Defence they were ever told that they had to envisage the possibility of the British Army, Navy and Air Force being called upon to take part in joint operations in the way of sanctions under Article 16 of the Covenant of the League. It is no good waiting until an emergency arises if you want to act successfully. All your plans must be carefully co-ordinated and thought out beforehand. I should like to know whether consideration has been given to that aspect of the question. My hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal the other day used a very interesting hunting analogy. He said it was better to try for clean timber rather than a blind ditch. I agree, but it seems to me that the Government in this case, in spite of warning notices, are riding straight for the wire and that they are likely to take a very nasty toss which is going to have serious consequences for this nation, owing to their lack of energy in dealing with the matter to which I have referred. It seems to me that their ambition at Geneva has not been so much to be leaders of the world—as they might be by their great strength in this country and by our national prestige—but to be considered more as master draftsmen, as the Government best able to formulate proposals in words supplied by others. I cannot help thinking that they have in this matter at Geneva never risen above the level of the jig-saw mind.
The hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) spoke of the advisability of setting up a committee to consider the question of battleships over 10,000 tons. The House and the country will not be satisfied indefinitely to take the ipse dixit of the Admiralty on this matter. A good many people on all sides are anxious to be satisfied, by careful impartial inquiry, as to whether it is necessary or not to have battleships of this size. They want to be satisfied as to why it is that battleships over that size were forbidden to Germany under the Treaty of Versailles as offensive weapons and whether the same argument does not apply equally to other nations. If I may say so with all respect we do not want a committee of admirals to go into this question. I suggest a committee some- 1275 thing like the Geddes Committee or the May Committee, consisting of outstanding men in industry, in the Civil Service, in public life, capable of taking large views and weighing up these things all round. In view of next year's conference I hope the Government, in responding to the naval appeals made to them, will consider seriously the advisability of setting up a committee of that kind.
§ Vice-Admiral TAYLOR
Is the hon. Member now raising the question of whether all ships over 10,000 tons should be abolished or the question of whether the capital ship is to be no more than 10,000 tons?
§ Mr. MANDER
I am raising the question of whether, in any fresh battleship construction, it is necessary to have them over 10,000 tons displacement. That will also raise the question of whether there should be any destruction. That is another aspect of it, but the whole matter could be surveyed by such a committee. In putting forward a plea for more serious consideration by the Government and the Committee of Imperial Defence of the part which the League idea plays in our national defence, I may be asked what weapons has the League to make use of in case of necessity. These matters were considered from the practical point of view at the Second Assembly of the League in 1921. They passed 19 Resolutions covering different possible uses of sanctions or weapons by the League. These are recommended resolutions at the present time. One relates to the withdrawal of ambassadors—the withdrawal of the heads of missions from a country at a certain stage in order to indicate world-wide disapproval of an attitude taken up by that country. The occasion would have to be well chosen. Some of those most qualified to judge think that action of this kind, taken at the right moment, might have had a profound effect on Japan during the Manchurian crisis.
The second weapon is the arms embargo, the refusal on the part of all nations to supply arms for the purposes of fighting. Obviously, that can only apply to countries which have not munition factories of their own. It would apply very well in the dispute that is going on in South America between Bolivia and Paraguay. The League of 1276 Nations and others have tried very hard to bring the conflict to an end, but these countries go on fighting and receiving arms from munition-making countries all over the world. If we were in a position to use the machinery of the League to see that no munitions were supplied to these two countries, they would no longer have the means to do ill deeds and would have to cease fighting, unless they carried on with their bare fists. There is also the refusal to supply material required in the manufacture of munitions, which would apply in certain cases where countries actually manufacture. Then there is the refusal of financial assistance. I suggest that it would be well worth the attention of the Government, in association with other lending Governments, to try to come to some arrangement beforehand to refuse to lend to a nation which was adjudged the aggressor—a very powerful weapon to use in certain circumstances.
Then there is what many consider, I think rightly, the most potent weapon in the armoury of the League; that is, the economic sanction, the refusal to accept imports from a country adjudged to be the aggressor. No military action would be involved; it would simply be a blockade, though not technically a blockade, resting on the custom house of each country. If a ship arrived from a country which had been outlawed, it would be politely informed all over the world that a law had been passed which made it impossible for their goods to be accepted. Those who are familiar with these matters believe that a sanction of that kind, universally, loyally and effectively applied all over the world, involving as it would the refusal of imports as well as exports—for if you cannot export you will not be able to import for long—would have a profound effect, probably in a few days, in bringing the offending country to its senses. Of all the various weapons to which I have referred, only the second might require some naval action, that is, the export of arms. All the others could be carried out without firing a shot or having any military, naval and air action at all. I suggest that these matters are deserving of the most serious and careful study.
I come now to the fourth and last weapon to which I will refer, namely, the 1277 use of force. I think that one must recognise that force will be used in this world for a long time to come, and we must see that it is rightly used. It all depends on the proper use of force. In defence of the international idea and of international justice I would not hesitate to use it to the full. I want to suggest in this connection that if we and other nations are seriously contemplating carrying out our obligations and taking joint action in a military sanction, we should, both from the point of view of accustoming people all over the world to the idea of joint action, as well as to the idea of efficient strategy, go in for something in the nature of joint manoeuvres, such as joint naval manoeuvres in which the fleets of the world would be represented. An example of that nearly happened in the dispute between Greece and Bulgaria, when a naval blockade was actually agreed upon by the League of Nations, but it was not necessary to carry it out. This is not a fantastic dream but something which was at one time a real possibility and which may in future years be so. I hope there will be consideration of the idea that joint manoeuvres, whether naval or air, should from time to time be carried out. I speak for myself alone in this matter, although I am sure there are others in all parts of the House who are in sympathy with pursuing matters along such channels.
It may be asked what work the air forces of the world would be called upon to do in co-operation. Some country might break the terms of the disarmament convention and convert its aerial transport machines and its civil aviation to bombing purposes. If that were proved, it could not be tolerated and it might be necessary to take joint action to go and destroy those machines on the spot, or, if they had actually started out to attack anybody, to destroy them in the air. That is a well-known possibility for the necessity of international action. I cannot help thinking that if we are going to have joint aerial action of that kind, we are bound to come in the long run to the view that the most effective way of carrying it out is through the creation of an international aerial police force. According to your programme, you first of all abolish military aviation and then internationalise civil aviation.
1278 On this point, may I ask the Prime Minister whether the Government have any definite plans of their own with regard to the internationalisation of civil aviation? Surely they ought to have. Surely if it is part of their programme to try and get agreement, they ought to study the possibility of carrying this out, and they ought to be prepared to go to the Disarmament Conference and say exactly how they think it might be effected, and not simply to wait for others to bring forward plans and spend their time, as I am afraid they have done on some occasions, pouring cold water on the efforts of others and pointing out the immense difficulties. They ought to have a plan of their own and press it at Geneva with all possible energy. I think that when we have done these two things and abolished military aviation from the world, we shall want the international aerial police force for the purpose of protecting countries against the danger of the conversion of civil aircraft.
I am interested to note the growing support that there seems to be in the House and the country for the idea of an international force. When the Debate on the subject took place a year ago at Geneva, sympathy with the idea was expressed by France who proposed it, by Belgium, Spain, Poland, Sweden and the Little Entente. When a Debate took place last December on the subject, the Lord Privy Seal expressed his own sympathy with the idea and put forward the view that sometime things might so develop as to make it a normal part of the machinery of mankind. I was interested to note that the Lord President of the Council in his speech in the House not long ago referred to it in these words:I do not believe, and I think it right to say so here, that the world is ready yet for the international police force. That is an idea that has never been worked out.That is a very interesting admission. Surely it is about time it was worked out. It has been for a year before the Disarmament Conference, and I seriously suggest that it is the duty of the Government to ask their Service experts to advise them as to how in practice, if at all, such a scheme might be carried out. An admission that it has never been worked out at all reflects seriously on the sincerity of the Government in desiring 1279 anything of the kind. The Lord President went on:I do not believe, whatever the advocates of it may say, that it is within the range, or will be for some years yet, until the world is far more internationally minded, to set up an international air police force."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1934; col. 2077, Vol. 286.]That may be so, but I cannot help thinking that if the world is really to be faced by the choice between a race in armaments with the certainty of another world war, they might consider very seriously whether it is not worth while considering the adoption of something, however novel, that does seem to hold within it the seeds of future safety and security. I urge the Government to take all these matters of international co-operation and pooled security through the League more seriously into account, to have them studied in the utmost detail by all their expert advisers, and to tell the House to what extent already we are basing our Imperial defence policy on League co-operation, and to what extent these plans have already been worked out or attempted to be worked out in practice.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Sir EDWARD GRIGG
I think that practically all the speeches delivered in this Debate have been like so many discussions taking place in this country at the present time, evidence of a certain dissatisfaction with the present state of affairs. Not that I regard that as dissatisfaction with His Majesty's present Government. There is rather a doubt whether the machinery of Government which we possess is equal to the problems with which it has to deal. One hears that all over the country at the present time, and it has been very much in evidence in this Debate. It is about that that I should like to say a word to-night. Not that I myself have any lack of confidence whatever in the headquarters staffs or in any of the staffs of the three Services. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Aston (Captain A. Hope) kindly referred to me the other day as a civilian who had shown that staff facilities could be acquired quite easily in a comparatively short time. I appreciate what he said, but I should like to make it clear that the only reason why civilians were able to learn so quickly in the War was that their tutors were so good. They were 1280 learning from staff officers of the very first quality, staff officers trained at Camberley after the South African War. Had it not been for the quality of those teachers, civilians would certainly not have been able to prove of any value to the country and the Army at that time. I have nothing but admiration for the staffs of the Services, and if those men as trained at Camberley after the South African War had been a rung or two higher in the Army when the War broke out, unquestionably they would have given an even better account of themselves, and the Army and the country would have had reason to be grateful. These officers are now reaching the very top of the Service, and I should be the last person to have any doubt whatever of the quality or the thoroughness or the efficiency of the advice which they give.
I should like also to explain that I should be the last to express any doubt of the value of the Committee of Imperial Defence. That is a very great institution. It is likely, perhaps, to be the greatest memorial of a great man, Lord Balfour. Nobody who knows anything about the working of our system of government could do anything but pay a tribute to the part it has played over a great number of years. It has been fortunate, too, in the possession of a secretary such as few institutions possess. Sir Maurice Hankey is really one of the unseen pillars of the British Constitution. Like Caesar and Danger, Hankey and Efficiency were "two lions littered in one hour, and he the elder and more terrible." Certainly, I shall express no doubt whatever of the value of the Committee of Imperial Defence.
What I wish to say relates rather to the political aspect of this problem, to the political approach to the whole consideration of the question of defence. I think it very important in discussing that approach not to exaggerate the conservatism of the Services. Of course, all Services are conservative. If they were not conservative, they would not have their most precious possession, esprit de corps, and no one can quarrel with the Services for desiring to preserve their traditions and for doing the best for the traditions in which the officers were brought up. It is the duty rather of those who approach this from a political side to bring the Services together, and it is on that side I contend that initiative 1281 is required. Where is that initiative to come from at the present time? There is only one source under our Constitution, that is the Prime Minister. If there is to be co-ordinating initiative—I apologise for using that word, but it is impossible to avoid it—it can only come from the Prime Minister, who has an executive authority above the executive authority of the head of any Department. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman who initiated this Debate that the Prime Minister has much to fear—that any Prime Minister has much to fear—from the professional heads of the Services when he comes to discuss matters with them.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I said that when he was discussing matters with the heads of the Services in the Ministries, they were backed with the weight of expert opinion and he himself is not so backed.
§ Sir E. GRIGG
I apologise if I misunderstood the hon. Member. I thought he said in such a condition the civilian would certainly be sunk. I thought I remembered those words. I apologise if I misquoted him. Certainly in my experience it was always the politician who came off best and the professional who came off second best. That is not the danger I fear. The danger I fear is that the initiative which only the Prime Minister can give may not under our system be given, because too much is all the time being put on the Prime Minister. There is no Constitution in the world where the head of the Government has to bear so much as he has to bear in this country in the conditions under which he works. Of course, under dictatorships this piling of work on the head of the State is easier. He, after all, has a short way with people who raise difficulties. But Prime Ministers cannot do that. A Prime Minister very often has to take a long way with people who raise difficulties. He has to conciliate, to persuade, and all that is a process which no dictator worries about, and which takes a great deal of time.
The Prime Minister has innumerable functions. He is the chairman, and presides over the discussions, of the Cabinet, and in that respect, also, he has more work than any of his colleagues, because while they are interested in a particular set of questions, he is bound to do his utmost to make himself master of all. In 1282 the same way, he is the Leader, as a rule, of this House, and this House is jealous, and often expresses its jealousy, if the Prime Minister is not in his place. He is also the Leader of the Government in the country, and the country, I think, has a right to hear from the Leader of the Government at frequent intervals what the views of the Government may be on affairs. Not only that, but the Prime Minister in these times is frequently called upon to go abroad—called upon not only by his own wish, but by the wish of the country—to represent the country at Geneva or elsewhere. These are tremendous burdens upon a single man. I have been private secretary to a Prime Minister, and I am certain anybody else who has filled that office has no illusions whatever about what falls upon a Prime Minister in our days.
Let me bring this back to the problem of the working of our policy of defence, and the Committee of Imperial Defence. It was admitted, I think, by the committee which was appointed to deal with this subject by Lord Haldane's Committee on the Organisation of Government—I think it was the Salisbury Committee of 1923—that the Prime Minister had too much to do to be the chairman of the Committee of Imperial Defence. After the most exhaustive survey that was laid down 10 years ago. If anybody looks back to the Report of the Salisbury Committee, they will find that it is laid down as axiomatic that the Prime Minister is really not able to do this work. The Salisbury Committee made a recommendation that some Minister other than the Prime Minister should be chairman of the Committee of Imperial Defence. They pointed out that:Under the existing system the Committee of Imperial Defence, an advisory and consultative body, inquires into and makes recommendations in regard to the issues of defence policy and organisation which are brought before it. The power of initative lies with the Government Departments and with the Prime Minister.But they went on to point out that the Prime Minister could only devote a small part of his time and attention to defence questions, and they therefore recommended that a separate chairman should be appointed for the Committee of Imperial Defence. That was only 10 years ago. We were told at that time—I remember I was in the House then—that 1283 this system was already at work; that a chairman had been appointed, and that the Committee of Imperial Defence was at that time working under his separate chairmanship. I think that is on record in the proceedings of this House. Two years later that system had apparently been abandoned. I think the Lord President made it plain in the exhaustive review he gave of these affairs in 1928, or thereabouts, that that system had been abandoned, and that he himself, as Prime Minister, had once again become the chairman of the Committee of Imperial Defence. That means that the effort made by the Salisbury Committee to relieve the Prime Minister 10 years ago broke down completely, and the burden has since fallen back upon the Prime Minister again. That is not all. This work is increasing all the time.
The Prime Minister himself and my right hon. Friend, the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), have called attention to the immense importance of a new development since that time—the Committee of the Chiefs of Staff. This Committee is an immensely important Committee, and it sits, not under the chairmanship of any of the political heads of the three Services, but under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister. It has the right to initiate discussions and investigations through the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is the authority on which it depends for all its power, and the Prime Minister is obviously bound to give considerable attention to its work if it is to carry out the functions which are assigned to it. What is the process by which the defence policy is worked out, by which, for instance, this annual report on the needs of the country in the matter of defence, to which the Prime Minister referred, is produced and investigated and finally passed for action to the Cabinet? The process is that all originates in the first place, as I understand it, from the Committee of Chiefs of Staff. That means that the three separate Services produce their three separate plans, meet together to try to dovetail these plans, and produce some kind of compromise. After they have been at that process for some time, the result of their work, which must be some kind of compromise and not a complete plan, is passed to a committee of the Cabinet, and there again you have 1284 the heads of each interested Department trying to arrive at a compromise. What they arrive at can be nothing except an accommodation between different and, perhaps, incompatible plans. That, I am afraid, is only too likely to be the result of the process that is pursued.
The result of a system like that must surely be that something is given to everyone, but the strongest in discussion and debate gets most of all. The result is not necessarily a good plan. After all, when you set to work to make a plan for a military force, the most inexperienced staff officer does not proceed in that way. If it is a question of defending a position, or attacking a position, what does he do? He does not ask the artillery for a plan, the infantry for a plan, the machine gunner for a plan, and the Air Force, if he has any, for a plan, and then, when he has got all these plans, call the heads of the different arms together and see whether they can make up a combined plan. That is not the method. The method must be to make a plan himself in the first instance, which provides for the co-operation of all these arms, and then to ask the heads of the different arms themselves to criticise and to arrive at a plan. A method by which all the origination of policy, of the plan, comes from separate departments cannot, I suggest, be sound. It can only be sound if the central initiative exists and is given to it by the Prime Minister.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I should not like it to go on record that what has been described is really the method. There is no question of compromise and bargaining and so on. It is a question of building a plan for a common purpose with the most efficient co-operation.
§ Sir E. GRIGG
I am sure that the Prime Minister fully believes that an effective plan of defence can be set up in that way, but, as an old Staff officer, with some training, I beg him to believe that there are great doubts about that process. I accept that the heads of Services are working together far more closely than they ever did before. I am sure that a great many of the difficulties existing between the Services are breaking down. Nevertheless, I suggest to the Prime Minister that what is really required in order to get a good defence plan, a plan which is closely related to our policy, is that it should be initiated 1285 from the head, separate from all the departments, rather than compounded out of what the departments themselves in the first instance propose. My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping laid great emphasis on this Committee of Chiefs of Staff. I agree with him. That is a body which should be developed at the present time. The greatest value should properly attach to it. But it does require central initiative and political direction, and if that is not to be given by the Prime Minister, who, in my submission, will never have time, then we ought to consider whether we should not revert to the original suggestion of the Salisbury Committee and appoint a Member of the Cabinet to undertake this work as the Prime Minister's deputy. It is pertinent to ask why, when that system was once attempted, it broke down and was abandoned. I think there is no doubt why it was abandoned. That was referred to by Lord Londonderry in the Debate in another place only last week. He said:I am assured by those who are competent to speak that under this system"—that is, with a Deputy Chairman of the Committee of Imperial Defence—there was often a certain loss of authority and attendances of Members were less regular.If the chairman of a body consisting of Ministers with executive authority in their various Departments has no executive authortiy himself, it is very clear that his chairmanship will not be a very effective chairmanship, and that interest will gradually grow less in the proceedings over which he presides. That is intelligible, but if that was the difficulty surely it can be removed. If such a chairman is appointed he should be given the necessary status, he should be given the power to initiate plans—the central initiative to which I referred—and he should also be given the power to resolve disputes between the Services, always, of course under reference to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet where any of the Departments wish to take the matter further and beyond his decision.
I plead for a reconsideration of what I might call the Salisbury plan, because it seems to me we may be driven to that, that we are being driven to that in other fields of government at the present time. The general dissatisfaction with the way in which government works is not the 1286 fault of Ministers, but the fault of the system, and it arises from the fact that Ministers with Departments have all too much detail to occupy them, too many committees on which they have to sit, too much administrative work to get through before they come to this House. There is a general feeling that Ministers so burdened have not the time to think enough ahead, to make long-range plans, to call their souls their own. That is where the doubt of the country exists, and here is a case in which we can try the experiment of putting in a deputy to the Prime Minister who, subordinate of course to the Cabinet and the Prime Minister, will bring together the work of two, three, four or five great Departments and act as their interpreter to what might, in that case, become a smaller Cabinet.
I recommend that the Salisbury plan should be reconsidered purely on its own merits as the best way of dealing with this question and fixing our policy in advance, but I also recommend it for trial, as possibly the best way of getting out of many other difficulties, a modification of the present system which is making our Government less efficient. The fact is that we must have heads of government who are more free from details than Ministers are at the present time, who have not got so much administrative and committee work blocking the free working of their minds every day and all day during the week. Some such reform of the Cabinet system is, I believe, required at the present time. People say that Democracy is breaking down and that Parliament is breaking down. Neither is breaking down. This country has given absolute power to a Government to do the best it can. Never was so much power given to a Government. This House has certainly shown no unwillingness to back that Government in anything it desires to do. What is breaking down, and it is not the fault of individual Ministers, is the Cabinet system, and it is that system which has to be reformed.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander BOWER
The hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) stated, I think, that he had not much regard for Generals and rather less for Admirals. I am sorry there is not a more representative collection of Admirals here this evening, 1287 because I feel that I am going to disagree with most of the orthodox views generally expressed by them. I am one of those who have been none too happy about the general trend of Imperial Defence since the War. If my criticisms, such as they are, are destructive, I hope the House will not think that is due to any lack of appreciation of the difficulties involved. I have myself had considerable staff experience, both on the Naval Staff and with the Air Force, and those years of staff work have very firmly fixed into my mind the really important difficulties of coping with the complexities of modern warfare. I feel, however, that orthodox views get a good deal of publicity and that the less orthodox views, although they are held by large numbers of officers, are not given the publicity which they deserve. The dissentient views are mostly underground, for the reason that in any highly disciplined Service it is almost impossible for a junior officer to give real, straightforward expression to views with which he feels his superiors will not agree. I do not think anybody who has not served in one of the fighting Services can possibly know the almighty status of a Commander-in-Chief, an Admiral or a General. The hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) has now joined us here. A few years ago, when I was on the staff out in the Mediterranean, I would not have dared to express one word of disagreement with him. Now, of course, I can say what I like. There are in the Services, in the Navy in particular, honourable exceptions. There is one officer, Admiral Richmond, who, in my view, sacrificed a promising career in order to express views which were unorthodox, views which were not the common doctrine which the Services try to instil into their members. Having been through the Naval Staff College I am all in favour of instilling a common doctrine as far as possible into officers, provided always that it is the right common doctrine; but that is what I am not quite sure about.
All war is largely a matter of communications, and with that question is bound up the mobility of the forces, whether forces of the air, the land or the sea. This is specially true in regard to a great Empire such as our own. Thousands of miles of communications have to be guarded; and there are many 1288 different areas in which wars, large or small, may arise. The basic principles of war never change. When I went through the Staff College we were taught what those eight principles were. I am glad to say that I have forgotten most of them, though doubtless, if occasion arose, I should remember them again. I do remember that one of the most important was the principle of mobility, and that is the principle which, in my view, has been largely forgotten since the War. War is an art; it is the technique which changes, and we in our lifetime have seen the most revolutionary changes in the technique of war which has ever taken place. The changes are so revolutionary and are coming so quickly that it is impossible for anybody to foresee what particular effect a new weapon, or the application of a weapon, may have on the conduct of a war.
And through it all there runs in a far greater degree than in every other sphere of human activity—chance. All your plans in war may be wrecked by some small event which could not possibly have been foreseen such as the chance dropping of a shell, an arrow coming from the sky, a hidden and unsuspected sunken road in the way of a cavalry charge. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), in one of his books which I read with great interest, discussed what might have happened on a certain famous occasion if his revolver had been more handy and he had taken a lucky shot at General Botha. Little incidents like those alter the course of history, and therefore those who wage war can only depend upon the observance of certain principles and apply them as best they can. But there is the chance all the time that fate may step in and deal them a heavy blow below the belt.
Referring to this question of the mobility of our forces, I feel that we should never have built up our Empire but for our capacity for fighting all over the world, and in my view we shall certainly never keep it unless we can use such forces as we possess all over the world, and I maintain that at the present time we cannot. I do not want to delve very deeply into history. Going back to the Seven Years' War, which was really the war which above all others contributed to the building up of this Empire of ours, it was the combined operations of the Army and Navy in that war which were the outstanding feature of it, and 1289 in connection with the question of a Ministry of Defence it is interesting to note that at the critical period of that war we had what practcially amounted to a Ministry of Defence, if it was not a dictatorship. William Pitt the elder was not, if my memory serves me right, Prime Minister at the time, but I remember reading a letter from his Prime Minister, an almost pathetic letter, complaining that William Pitt was sending ships here and ships there, sending men here and men there, and nobody except William Pitt knew where they were going, or what they were going to do. But the result was a good one.
Since the Great War our traditional policy has been largely forgotten, I think, on account of the large-scale military operations we undertook in Europe. People are apt to forget that the Navy was charged not only with the job of maintaining the communications of this country, which owing to our increased population Bad become far more important than before, but maintaining a huge Continental army and, in addition, carrying out its traditional duty of maintaining the forces serving overseas. We were carrying out half-a-dozen wars, two or three of which were on a greater scale than the South African War. That was a very great achievement.
With the development of air power we have to ask ourselves whether we can ever afford to do that again. Personally, I think that we undertook a job in the last War which was perilously near being beyond our powers. To-day's problem has been vastly changed. We have to think of home defence. The Channel is still our greatest defence; it is still worth hundreds of thousands of men and dozens and dozens of ships. But we are now within range of bombardment—I will not say invasion—from the Continent. Unfortunately, we cannot move the docks of London and the City of London; we cannot move our great distributive and industrial centres out of the range of the bombardment, so we have to be prepared to meet it. I submit to the House that in one respect we have made a great mistake, and that is in retaining our present dockyards. Everyone of our own dockyards is within easy bombardment reach of the Con-Continent.
I do not take the extravagant view of air power taken by some hon. Members, 1290 but I think that we should get little work done in our dockyards, and it would not be in the least safe or desirable for any of our ships to use them, in the event of war with a Power which was in possession of the north-west coast of France or Belgium. The right policy after the War would have been to retain Pembroke and Rosyth Dockyards, and to have constructed a Forth-Clyde canal. Hon. Members may say that political considerations enter into the matter, and that you cannot turn towns like Plymouth and Portsmouth into devastated areas; my reply is that we have made devastated areas in Durham, South Wales and elsewhere for a far less reason than the defence of the Empire. I do not think that the argument is valid.
One other mistake has been to build huge battleships. Here I know that I am on very controversial ground. It has been rightly said that the eyes of the naval staff are on the Pacific; there is no doubt about that. I want to know how our Fleet, as it is at present, or as it is likely to be in the future, is to operate there. I am sorry the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth is not here, because only a few years ago when I was on the staff in the Mediterranean Fleet we had a very interesting exercise and discussion upon getting the Fleet out into the Far East, and the conclusion to which most of us came was that it was impossible. We have an enormous number of eggs in one basket—£8,000,000 and about 1,200 lives. Those battleships may be described as unsinkable, but they are certainly not undamageable. I maintain, what I believe to be beyond contradiction, that those ships are useful, provided that they have a large and well-equipped dockyard within a few hundred miles. I still remember our anxiety during the Great War in getting one of those big ships home only a few hundred miles. It was a ship which had been damaged in the North Sea, and the problem was to get her into port, where she spent some weeks being repaired. Hon. Members will say, "Think of the Falkland Islands," but that was luck, because Admiral Sturdee happened to arrive at the Falkland Islands on the day before Admiral von Spee arrived there. The second contributory factor to Von Spee's defeat was that he had no base. His ships were suffering from lack of dockyard 1291 attention. They had nowhere to go, and they were slower than they should have been. Suppose now that our ships at the Falklands had suffered damage comparable to the damage suffered by some in the North Sea. Where would those two battle cruisers have gone, even had they suffered only moderate damage, with the nearest dockyard thousands of miles away?
I submit that big ships are not of much use to us unless we have the bases. We should be much better employed in supplying bases all over the world, so that our Fleet, such as it is, could range all over the world, a thing which it certainly cannot do now. Bases in these days can be easily and well protected by air power and by submarines, as well as by guns, provided always that they are far enough away from an enemy coastline to be beyond the reach of aircraft. Aircraft have certain inherent disabilities or limitations. They cannot go long distances and at the same time carry large loads of bombs and projectiles. So far as we can see, those disabilities and limitations will remain for many years. The Singapore base is all well and good, but we want an intermediate base. If we have smaller ships—I will not say 10,000 tons because the size will probably have to be rather bigger—when the time comes, and more of them, the bases required need not be so big. The graving docks need not be so big. We have to get back to the days when the Navy could move freely about. In those days it was only a matter of sticks and strings; if they had a few spars and ropes they could repair any damage. Until we can make our Navy mobile in that way, I am convinced that we are keeping up a vast and expensive organisation to no purpose.
I believe that the institution of a Ministry of Defence would go a long way towards bringing—shall I say—a more sane idea into the councils of the Empire. I still have the Admiralty in mind, although I have had a considerable experience of operations from the point of view of the other Services. I believe that each Service has its own outlook, but I believe that co-operation between the three Services is becoming closer, and that the co-ordination of their activities is becoming better, but we are a long way yet from the time when we can 1292 institute a Ministry of Defence without causing inefficiency over a period of years which would be positively disastrous. It must come gradually, but we have gone a long way towards it. Those who have taken part in combined operations and have seen the divergence of views, all very sincerely held, can appreciate the real difficulty that lies there. It is not an insuperable difficulty, and I hope that the Government will be able to give some indication that their sympathies lie in that direction.
Perhaps I have laid a great deal of stress upon the naval side, which is the side with which I am more familiar. I feel that this country should never again commit itself to taking an active part on land in a European war. Let us get back to our traditional policy upon which the Empire was built. We cannot go pouring out the blood of our young men on foreign soil in the way that we did in the last War; we cannot undertake to maintain a huge conscript Continental army, and at the same time maintain our commitments in the Empire. Surely the defence of the Empire, of which this country maintains by far the greatest share, an altogether disproportionate share, should be our first care. We should consult with the Dominions in order to develop this police force of ours, and the more we do that the less shall we be suspected in Europe of having fell designs. Nobody could blame us for building bases for assisting our Dominions or for building ships which would be used for nothing but police purposes in normal times; though in war-time, owing to their small size, they would probably be more useful to us because they would be more mobile and less vulnerable to attack than the monsters which we are now building.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member for Cleveland (Lieut.-Commander Bower) who has just addressed the House will agree with me that one thing is more important even than the mobility of the Fleet, and that is the mobility of the mind. This Debate will be of enormous service, because it will bring more mobility of mind where it is needed. The hon. Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg), after all his experience of public life, wants to have somebody else than the Prime Minister looking after the fighting Services. I would ask whether the Prime Minister is 1293 able to stand up to the fighting Services. I am certain that an inferior Minister would not be able to do so. The question is how far the present Committee of Imperial Defence are able to impress the public interest upon the necessarily sectional interests of the three fighting Services. Roughly speaking, I have generally been in favour of a Ministry of Defence—not that I want a new Cabinet Minister or that I want any new expenditure. Generally speaking, one is in favour of a Ministry of Defence on the grounds that it would make for economy in contracts and probably an economy in construction.
The argument used by the Prime Minister in his speech is really conclusive. You must have the executive power in the bands of the people responsible for Imperial defence. That is perfectly true, but the whole question is whether the machinery which you have is sufficient to enable the Executive to get their way. The Cabinet are the Executive and the fighting Services are their servants—our servants. How far are the Cabinet in a position to get their way. It is all very well, and it would have been all very well 10, 15 or 20 years ago for people to say, "Leave it to the experts; let them decide." We have learned one lesson from the War, which is that the experts are always wrong. The most important thing in the success of any Government is being able to get their way in the teeth of expert opposition. If we read the memoirs of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) or the vast series of tomes written by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), we see that the Great War was a perpetual struggle of the more or less intelligent politicians against the expert and the vested interests of the fighting Services.
Everybody in the House knows that until recently there was very little risk of war, and it did not matter very much if the common sense view were taken, if the politician was pulling his weight. No one knows better than the Prime Minister and the Government Front Bench that the position to-day is very different. There is the risk of war now; there is a risk of war under totally new conditions, which can be imagined as well by the Prime Minster as by any of 1294 the experts, and which he will judge probably with less bias than they would. He is perfectly well aware, and so are this House and the country, that the principal danger from which we suffer to-day is from one definite source, from Germany. I can say that perfectly freely and everyone knows that it is true; that there is our chief danger. In the circumstances, is he able with his own Committee of Imperial Defence, with his Committee of the Chiefs of Staffs, to make these heads of the Fighting Services meet together with him and issue their report? Is he able to force them to, consider the principal danger to the exclusion of other dangers which are less likely to eventuate and much less dangerous if they should eventuate?
The hon. and gallant Member talks about small battleships and about having dockyards and bases all over the world. That was all very well two or three years ago, and might have been a fair subject of discussion, but to-day it has no relation whatever to the danger in which this country stands or to national defence. The Germans, I believe, have two or three pocket battleships or it may be only one. The real grievance of the Admiralty to-day is that Germany has not a navy, and one of the most serious problems that our nation has to face is that the Navy, and to some extent the Army too, will go on preparing elaborate schemes for wars which will never take place and would not matter at all to us if they did take place. We cannot screw them down to consider the really dangerous position of this country. I am not a panicker, far from it, I think we should probably pull through in any case, but we shall not have so much time to think in the next war as we had in the last, and the thinking must be done first, and we shall have to rely for it on the civilian and not the Fighting Forces. What the hon. Member for Altrincham said must naturally take place. You get the Chief of Staffs Committee meeting together. Every one of these men is really thinking of the public interest, but is it conceivable that he should look at that public interest except through the eyes he has been using all his life? For 30 or 40 years his mind has been trained in one profession. To a cobbler there is nothing like leather, to the Admiralty there is nothing like ships, and to the 1295 War Office there is nothing like—I do not know what it is, hardly tanks I suppose, let us say cavalry. That is human nature, and the Prime Minister knows he has to deal with it, and I hope he discounts three-quarters of what they tell him. But the difficulty is that he is one man against three. He says they do not log-roll and arrange between themselves what they will get, but the Prime Minister knows, and we all know, that Secretaries of State, the Minister for War, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and the Secretary of State for Air have become in latter years in the Cabinet itself the advocates, the attorneys, for their Departments whose business is to put the case of the experts and permanent officials before the Government, and they do it admirably. It is years since we had the hon. and gallant Member for Epping and the late Lord Haldane facing up to the permanent officials and carrying out a line of their own. It seems to me the position to-day is that you have the policy of defence in this country being laid down in the Conference of the Chiefs of Staffs. I gather from the Prime Minister that that conference consists of himself and the heads of the three Fighting Services. If that be so, I do not believe even a superman could manage to keep up the civilian end. And mind you, the report of that sub-committee when it is brought before the Committee of Imperial Defence comes before it with his sanction and approval; it is his scheme.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I understand from the Prime Minister that he presides over the committee, and when the scheme, whatever it may be, is moved from the committee of the Chiefs of Staffs it comes before him in his special capacity as chairman of the Committee of Imperial Defence and comes then with his authority, having been discussed already in all its minutiae with the Chiefs of Staffs. It must make the position of the Committee of Imperial Defence very difficult if they are to turn down the scheme he puts forward. When the scheme comes before the Cabinet, and the Estimates of the year come before it, the Estimates of the scheme of defence have already had the approval 1296 of the Chief of Staffs Committee and the Committee of Imperial Defence itself. It would be impossible for the Cabinet to make any alteration of the whole thing, and I would beg the Prime Minister not to appoint a new Minister, but to take at least two other people, so that the civilians on that committee may be equal in numbers, if inferior in experience, to the three fighting Services with whom they have to deal.
Anybody who had any experience of the terrible difficulty in the last War of persuading the people in the fighting Services to take any new idea into their heads must be terrified at the prospect of drifting into a similar state of affairs, solely because the brains—and I will call the politicians the brains—are outweighed and out-numbered by the prestige of people who have looked at the whole thing all their lives from the point of view of a Service which may now be becoming obsolete. I would beg the right hon. Gentleman, if he is considering whether any improvement can be made in the Committee of Imperial Defence, to consider first of all the strengthening of the civilian side, and then I would ask him to remember always that in any circumstances what we want on that committee are people who will be advocates for the defence of England and not for the defence of the Services. I have served in the Army and in the Navy, I know what their discipline is, and how the fundamental ideas of both Services have jolly well got to be adhered to, and the only chance of breaking these ideas is by having the superior mobility of brain possessed by men who can write and think and whose whole existence has been devising arguments, replying to arguments and using their brains. We must get these people directing the defence of the realm.
Every single speech we had last week from the representatives of the Fighting Services, might have been made 10 years ago or even before the War. They were speeches about the progress of their delightful Departments during the last year, speeches showing the manifold functions that their Services perform, the progress that is being made in Iraq or Singapore. Not one of them considered the particular danger that faces us to-day, not even the Air Department, and, when you have that as an example of the minds that are directing these Departments at 1297 present at headquarters, these speeches—I will not say written or dictated to the civilian Ministers, for they were nearly all Under-Secretaries, but a free translation of the views expressed by the heads of the Fighting Services—we may be a little anxious as to whether common sense is applied at the conferences of the Chiefs of Staffs or whether, as we see in the cheap Press, it is a case of the Golden Arrow School winning the day. A startling change has come over warfare as is well known not only in this House but by everybody in the country, and yet you cannot get the existing Services to face the change. It is very natural, because one hates to think that one has become obsolete, and the new developments in the air arm have made many things in the older Services obsolete. We know the pride they have in their Services. It is worse than closing a mine and turning the miners loose for the rest of their lives.
There is a way out. Let the Services themselves develop on new lines, and, by co-ordination with the air power, bring themselves into line with the new conditions. I cannot conceive how any one who realises the power of the new arm can go on building big battleships. The bigger the battleship the more certain it is that it will run away. You cannot risk more than £8,000,000. If there is the slightest risk, that ship will run to the Falkland Islands and stay there. It will remain "in being." You can perfectly well make your fleet a real useful coadjutor in the defence of this country. It wants smaller ships, I think smaller than 10,000 tons. I want to see small craft developed so that you can get back to the individual initiative of the captain, back to the days of 150 years ago when the men were not always pursued by the terrible thought of what failure must mean. If we combine the destroyer class with the carrying of aeroplanes so that we should not have so far to go in destroying the places from which the new bombs come, we can find in the Fleet an enormous assistance, but it is useless to think the Fleet can take part in the warfare of the future by building and relying on fighting aeroplanes to go up from the decks of the ships against bombing aeroplanes which will be out of sight and which have such a speed that no man can possibly climb up against them. It seems to me that they have to turn the Fleet into a new form of artillery. 1298 Instead of being gun platforms, the vessels have to be platforms for bombing aeroplanes. These are the ideas which I should like to see the Committee of Imperial Defence really working out, and, unless there is a predominating civilian element on that committee, you will never get the change of policy and the change of mind that are necessary to keep this country secure against the really terrible results of an outbreak of war with Germany.
§ 8.1 p.m.
§ Brigadier-General NATION
The House has just had placed before it the annual Estimates of the three fighting Services, and each Minister has presented the best case that he possibly could for his own particular Service. Hon. Members who have listened to those Debates are in a position now to form their own opinions as to whether each Service is so organised and of such a strength as to be able to carry out its proper duty in war. The Estimates this year have, each shown a slight increase, and the result of that has been that they have met with little or no enthusiasm from any quarter of the House. Those who believe in the strength of our Services for the maintenance of peace are dissatisfied because the increase is so small, while those who still pin their faith to eventually arriving at some convention of disarmament are also dissatisfied because there has been an increase at all. Those who believe in the strength of the air arm were temporarily appeased by the few grains of comfort that were thrown to them by the Lord President when he said that this country, in the event of the Disarmament Conference failing, would see to it that we were second to none in the air. But even they are now beginning to feel some discomfort, because the Lord President failed to define exactly when the time would come when the Government would think that the Disarmament Conference had failed completely.
For the last five years we have been spending £115,000,000 or £116,000,000 per annum on the three fighting Services. That enormous amount of money has been distributed in the proportion of about one-half to the Navy, one-third to the Army, and only about one-seventh to the Air Force. What have we got for this enormous expenditure? We have a Navy that is barely up to the one-Power 1299 standard, and certainly below the limits laid down for us by Treaty. We have an Army that is certainly the smallest, and I think the most expensive, of any of the armies of the great Powers; and we have an Air Force which is only sixth among the air arms of the world. Taken individually, therefore, we have not a single Service superior to that of any of the great Powers, and I do not believe that we have one that is not inferior to that of our nearest neighbour across the Channel. That in itself is a sufficiently serious situation, but to my mind the position is much more disturbing when we consider it from the point of view of the three Services together, because, after all, if we are to form any estimate as to whether the protection afforded by the enormous amount of money that we spend on our defence forces is adequate or not, we must consider the united action of the three Services in war. This year, I think for the first time, we are to have combined manoeuvres of the three Services, the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, and that seems to me to be a proof that, up to the present at any rate, we have made no plans whatever for united action on the part of the three Services in the event of their being required for an emergency. We can, therefore, have little or no knowledge at the present time of what the action would be in the event of our Navy or our Army being attacked by an air force. We can have little or no idea of what the effect would be on our Navy and our merchant ships in the narrow Channel, and on our Army when it is in barracks or in camp at home.
§ Brigadier-General NATION
We have been told that one of the duties of our Army is to protect our seaports and coaling stations. I should like to know in what way the Army is going to protect such places as Portsmouth, Southampton, Dover, Sheerness, London, and the ports along the North-East Coast, where the coast batteries are all constructed with a view to attack from the sea—where all the guns can only point seawards, and there is next to nothing that can point to the sky. The position has entirely changed in recent years. The attack is no longer coming from the sea; it is 1300 coming from the air. All our coast defences are particularly vulnerable from the air. One lucky bomb from the air falling in a coast battery would put it completely out of action. Not only are the guns and crews entirely exposed to attack from the sky, but the magazines themselves are uncovered from that direction. What is the Army going to do to protect a place like Malta? I understand that we have two battalions there, with a certain number of coast batteries and a few aeroplanes belonging to the Navy. What is going to happen in the event of our being opposed by, say, France or Italy, with their entire air forces within a few hours' flying distance of Malta? I believe we should have to evacuate the island. I believe that, if the Navy remained based on that island, it would be in dire peril. Again, what is going to happen to the merchant ships while they are unloading their food supplies at the docks? What is going to happen to our shipping lying at anchorages in the narrow Channel?
In presenting the Army Estimates this year, the Financial Secretary to the War Office told us that we could not afford to have four armies, that we could only have one army, and that, therefore, it had to be a sort of general-purpose army. He compared the position with that of a man who could not afford to have four motor cars, but had to have only one. I maintain that, if a man can have only one motor car, he has the best he can afford; he does not have a sort of general-purpose car—a sort of station omnibus. That is what the Army appears to be organised for at the present time. The Financial Secretary said that mechanisation and tanks in the Army were of no use at places like Jamaica, Bermuda, and I think he mentioned Palestine and Singapore; but I would say to the House that I do not think the British Empire depends on the preservation of such places as Jamaica, Bermuda, and so on. In the event of our being, unfortunately, drawn into another European war, we should be opposed by the most modern, up-to-date fighting machines that human ingenuity can devise, and, unless we can compete with an opponent of that nature, our Army, organised as it is at present, would be of little help. I have been told by one of our greatest experts in the Service that three years ago the 1301 British Army, from the mechanical point of view, led the whole world, and to-day, I understand from the some authority, we are only about fifth, coming after France, Japan, the United States and Russia. We always seem to be coming after these four countries.
In 1917, in the Great War, we had the greatest concentration of artillery that the British Army has ever made, at the Battle of Ypres; and yet, after that colossal bombardment, the penetration into the enemy's lines at that battle was no more than was effected by tanks in 12 hours at the Battle of Cambrai in the following year. In 1918, all our great battle were fought with tanks. Yet at the present time I do not think we have more than about 200 tanks, of which a good many are eight years old or more, and a good many cannot cross a seven-foot ditch. Hon. Members who have motor cars will appreciate what it means to have a machine eight years old. That is bad enough with motor cars, but it is criminal to send our troops to war in machines eight years old.
The organisation of the British Army to-day is very little different in many respects from what it was in the Great War, nearly 15 years ago. The main change has been an increase in the number of machine guns. For the rest, it is largely composed of masses of infantry and cavalry, organised very much on the old lines, and the Territorial Army consists almost entirely of infantry. What is an army organised like that going to do in a future war when it is opposed by a colossal air force? I believe it is going to be annihilated. The Army is never likely to fight again as a separate force, and I do not think that the Navy is ever likely to fight again against a purely naval force. In my opinion, the nation which so co-ordinates the three Fighting Services as to form one single fighting machine is the nation which will have the best chance of surviving in the next conflict.
There is one point in which the three Services approach each other very closely. Let me take the heaviest guns and the biggest bombing machines in the air. There is no gun on land or sea that can fire a shell at a range which can compare with a bomb that can be dropped from an aeroplane. What chance has any ground defence against an aeroplane 1302 flying at 200 miles an hour something like five miles up in the air? It can hardly be seen, and yet every bomb dropped by it can hardly miss such a town as those I have mentioned. The effect in a future war of those bombs will be enormous compared with our experience in the late War. For the price of a single cruiser of the "Leander" type I was given to understand, in answer to a question, we can have something like 150 of the most modern heaviest type of bomber, and for the price of a single heavy land battery we can have no fewer than 10 of these machines.
I believe the great armies, with cavalry and infantry, that we saw in the Great War will never be seen in another war and, if any attempt is made to mass huge armies of infantry and cavalry, and attempts are made to produce a colossal bombardment, such an Army will be bombed out of existence almost before it can come into action. We shall never again see the great concentration of artillery that we saw in the Great War. With all respect to my naval friends, I believe the part to be played in the next war by the Navy and the Army will be a smaller part than it has ever played before, and the longer the war is put off the smaller will be the part played by the Army and the Navy. Those two old Services will still have a noble part to play, but it will be a diminishing part.
Hon. Members will think that I have nothing but destructive criticism to make, but I should like to ask this question. What is the best course of action for us to take to safeguard ourselves in the event of another conflict? I submit that the best security lies in so organising and co-ordinating our three Services that they are collectively, as well as individually, composed and controlled with the object of forming a single fighting body. In order to achieve this, we must have a single authority, vested with executive powers, to prepare and submit a single annual Estimate to Parliament for the three Services. This authority must also have the power to co-ordinate the organisation and administration, strategy and tactics of the Services in relation to one another. It must be responsible in time of war for conducting the campaign as a whole. It will be said that the present system already does that, that the three defence Ministers at present present their 1303 respective Estimates, and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Cabinet decide how much is to be allotted to each. I do not think there is anyone in the Cabinet who, from personal knowledge or experience, can say what is the relative value of the three Fighting Services in war. None of them can decide as to whether the Army or the Navy or the Air Force is the more important and should have the most money. The Minister who can represent his case best and who has the most persuasive manner will get the most money.
Again as regards Imperial defence, it will be said that that is the duty of the Committee of Imperial Defence and nothing further is necessary. The chief members of the Committee of Imperial Defence are the three Chiefs of Staffs of the three Fighting Services with the Prime Minister as chairman. The Prime Minister's whole time is given up to matters of high Government policy, and he cannot have either the experience or the knowledge, nor can he give the time to study Service questions of this magnitude, and he must to a large extent depend on the advice given him by the Chiefs of Staffs of the three Services. The Committee of Imperial Defence is a purely consultative body. It has no executive power. The result of this is that the decisions arrived at are a series of compromises where the Prime Minister, after listening to the representations of the Chiefs of Staff, does his best to please all three.
What I have said seems to point very forcibly and clearly in the direction of having a Ministry of Defence. That is a departure from tradition which has always been frowned upon by the three Service departments. There has been committee after committee on this subject, the last ode about 10 years ago, and they have always reported against it. But the question has always been studied from the point of view of economy and from the point of view of each Service separately. It should now be studied from the point of view of united action in war and co-ordinated Estimates and organisation in peace. I should like to see a committee set up now to study it from that point of view. It is 10 years since the last Committee reported, and since then the development in the air has been enormous.
1304 I should like to see this small committee set up to study the whole question of Imperial defence and Imperial strategy in its widest sense, to make recommendations as to the relative size, composition and organisation of each of our fighting services so as to form one single fighting machine, and for the creation of a single executive body with a single head who should be responsible to Parliament for the presentation of the combined annual Estimates. The outcome of such an investigation would not do any harm in this country nor imperil our relations with foreign Powers. I do not advocate any increased expenditure on the three Services—I think we spend quite enough—but I should like to see that the proportion allotted to the Services is in accordance with their fighting value. It may be that a Ministry of Defence is the solution, a Ministry composed of a small number of officers from each of the Services, trained at a special college instituted for the purpose, with a single Minister at the head. If this turned out to be the case, and if we could induce the Dominions to come in with us in this scheme, we should have an Imperial General Staff, with a Chief of Imperial General Staff at the head, not only in name as at present but in actual fact. Australia, South Africa and Canada are all following different policies in regard to defence, which shows that they have different points of view. I think it is essential that our whole Empire scheme of defence should be revised so that we can have one doctrine for the whole Empire.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Vice-Admiral TAYLOR
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Hull (Brigadier-General Nation) laid great stress upon the menace from the air. I think that we are very apt to lose our sense of proportion when considering that menace. It is restricted in its operation. It is confined to a comparatively small radius of action. It is not capable of operating in all weathers and at all times. Although it is a very serious menace, and it is true that the City of London, the dockyards of Portsmouth, Chatham, Plymouth and so on, industrial areas in this country, and our mercantile marine on certain parts of their routes are all open to this attack, at the same time, every weapon which has been produced all through history has always 1305 brought its counterpart—some defence against it. Because we are now assailed with a new weapon, that does not mean that the old services of the Army and the Navy no longer have their functions to perform. It merely means that this new menace must be met by a counter-menace. In the case of a bullet you must provide a shield to keep it out. Exactly the same argument was produced with regard to our first ironclads and the torpedo. When the torpedo was introduced it was supposed to be the end of the ironclad, but it was nothing of the sort. We merely produced the necessary defence against the torpedo. It was the same with regard to the submarine. The submarine was going to do away with the surface ships. They were going to be destroyed by the submarine. All that happened was that, in course of time, a defence was introduced against the submarine. Exactly the same argument applies to this new and very great menace from the air. We must have an Air Force in this country sufficient to meet any possible Air Force which may be brought against us.
I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) is not in his place, because he made a very strong attack against naval and military experts. He was very frightened of them. He said that they were always wrong. That is not quite true. I would remind him that the naval and military experts, although they may be wrong from time to time, have never been more wrong than were the politicians in July, 1914, when they told this country that a war with Germany was impossible. I would remind him of that fact because he is a politician. We are all liable to make mistakes, and I do not think it does much good to make a speech like that which the hon. and gallant Member made, almost a vitriolic speech, against the naval and military experts, as if they could have no opinions whatever beyond the narrow confines of their own particular Services, and as if they were unable to broaden their minds and to consider defence not only from their own point of view, but from the point of view of the country and of the Empire. Every naval, military and air officer realises that the defence of this country does not depend upon one Service, but upon the closest co-operation between all three Services.
1306 There is no difference of opinion in this House with regard to the vital necessity for the closest possible co-ordination and co-operation between the three Services. That is a point on which there is no disagreement whatever. The point at issue is, as to how that co-ordination and co-operation can best be brought about and with the maximum efficiency. There seems to be a good deal of confusion, according to the speeches that have been made, as to how, for instance, the Estimates are prepared. There is a very general feeling that one Service is in some way or other working against another Service, and robbing it of money. It is the duty of the Government to state their policy, and that policy must be put, presumably, before the heads of the Navy, the Army and the Air Force. The heads of the three fighting Services must then consider what personnel and material they individually require for their particular Services in order that they may be able to carry out the policy which has been put before them by the Government. Presumably they do that without any collaboration. Each of them considers that policy separately and comes to a decision as to what, in order to carry out the policy of the Government, their particular Service requires in material and personnel. Presumably that is what is done. I am certain there can be no question that the heads of these three fighting Services are not quarrelling among themselves and trying to rob each other. They definitely give the Government their opinion of what the strength of their force should be in order to carry out the policy of the Government, and it is then the responsibility of the Government whether they accept it or not. That is always the case. Often the Government do not agree with the advice which is given by the heads of the fighting Services. Past history is full of instances in which admirals or generals have had most inadequate forces given to them with which to carry on a particular plan of operations, and they have constantly been severely blamed when they have failed, whereas the real blame rested upon the Government for not providing them with sufficient forces for the object which they were trying to carry out.
It has been suggested that we should have a common service with common training. The requirements of the soldier, the sailor and the airman are so funda- 1307 mentally different that, in my opinion, such a suggestion is quite impracticable and impossible. It is not feasible that we should have a common service. The proposal has been put forward that we should have a Ministry of Defence and one Minister who should be responsible for the three Services. Mention has already been made of the Salisbury Committee of 1923 which went into this question. Economy was not mentioned in the terms of reference of the Committee of 1923, and therefore economy did not come into the matter. They studied that question in all its aspects and made their Report deciding that a Ministry of Defence would not assist in economy, or in efficiency, or in the object they had in view—the co-ordination of the three Services. Lord Haldane, who was not a military or a naval expert, but a very great man, to whose memory the country owes a very great debt of gratitude, gave very cogent reasons why there should not be a Minister of Defence. The late Field-Marshal Sir William Robertson also gave very definite reasons from the military point of view. He was a man with vast experience, and his word should carry very great weight.
Although the menace from the air, the technique, the machinery of a war may have altered and may have become more effective than it was 10 years ago, that is only a matter of detail, the principles remain exactly the same as they were then. If a Ministry of Defence was considered to be impracticable by that subcommittee then, I cannot see that any useful purpose would be served to-day in setting up another sub-committee to consider the same question. There is a feeling that there is not sufficient co-ordination between the three Services, that is to say, with regard to co-operation, plans and policy. That may be true. It may be that the Committee of Imperial Defence has not sufficient power, that policy is not continuously considered, with the co-operation of the three Services, and that improvement could be brought about in the administration of the Committee of Imperial Defence. The hon. Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) stressed the point that the Prime Minister, who is the head of the Committee of Imperial Defence, has not the necessary time to adequately fill that position. There is no doubt that he was 1308 perfectly right in that statement, and if a Minister could be put there as the head of the committee, considering policy but not administering, if it was practical to do that, it would be a step in the right direction. I am not one of those who believe that the necessity for co-ordination has escaped the attention of the Government. The Government know as well as any hon. Member of the importance of this matter and are fully alive as to the necessity for co-ordination. The heads of the three Services are also fully alive to the necessity for co-ordination. I do not believe that that matter has been left in abeyance by them. I am convinced that defence matters are considered by them from the national standpoint. Obviously, they consider this matter not from a narrow point of view but from the point of view of national and Imperial defence as a whole.
I was unable to be present to hear the opening speeches to-day, but I hope the Lord President of the Council will allay the feeling that is abroad that the three Services are fighting one another, trying to rob one another when the Estimates are being prepared, that the Air Force is let down, and that the Navy say that they must have so much, and the Army say that they must have so much. It would do a considerable amount of good if that uneasiness could be allayed.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Captain CUNNINGHAM-REID
I do not think it would be unfair to say that the major portion of this Debate which, incidentally, appears to be quickly coming to an end, has been occupied by the extremists; those who are demanding a unified Ministry of Defence and those who ridicule such a suggestion. There is also a middle course, which is the position of those who are prepared to concede to the Government that a Ministry of Defence is undoubtedly an ideal but that for the moment that ideal is unattainable. Let me mention one reason that is given. The search for a super-man would also develop into a super-muddle. At the moment I can only think of one man in public affairs who has the qualification to fill such an important position. Nevertheless there are many who are by no means satisfied that the very limited degree of co-ordination between the Services which 1309 the last War produced would be anything like adequate for the conditions of modern defensive warfare.
I agree with the Prime Minister who spoke earlier in the Debate that the machinery necessary for that co-ordination exists to-day in the shape of the Committee of Imperial Defence, but in spite of that the impression has undoubtedly got around that this machinery is in somewhat a rusty state and that the crew who are in charge of such machinery are inclined to pull at different levers at the same time. It would be satisfactory if the Lord President of the Council, in his reply on behalf of the Government, would give the House specific assurances that the Government will make sure that the Committee of Imperial Defence as at present constituted is active, is alive, and is a truly representative body, because recently there has been some apprehension that the Cabinet only take the advice of the Committee of Imperial Defence when it happens to coincide conveniently with their own particular views. I consider it to be essential that the Committee's present largely advisory functions could and would in time of war be turned into actual executive channels. That is of the utmost importance.
There is only one other point with which I should like to deal and it is one of some substance. The 20 years that have elapsed since the beginning of the War have witnessed an unexampled progress in the Air Service, and there are many who would like to know whether that progress has been reflected in the composition of the Committee of Imperial Defence and what degree of weight is attached to the opinions of the Air representatives. In spite of what the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) said concerning the merits of the Air Service in future wars—I am sorry that he is not in his place—I consider that the Air Force has up till now been the Cinderella of the Services. Can we be assured that her two ugly sisters on the Committee of Imperial Defence are not still snubbing the youngest sister and going off to the Budget party together and leaving that young sister with the ashes as usual?
Question Time to-day afforded an admirable instance of what I am referring to. I asked a question concerning 1310 the defence of our aerodromes, and I was given an evasive reply. I have been wondering whether such questions as these, which, in my opinion, are of considerable pertinence, have really been receiving full consideration from the present Committee of Imperial Defence. I do not consider that I can be thought unreasonable in asking for some definite assurance from the Government that the Committee of Imperial Defence is, or will be, a satisfactory body to cope with this vitally important work. I am also hoping that in the future the Committee of Imperial Defence will possess some real authority which, up to now, it appears it has not enjoyed.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Wing-Commander JAMES
I shall not detain the House for more than a few minutes, because on two occasions during the last fortnight I have expressed my opinion on the matter of Imperial defence from the particular angle which interests me. I only want to say how disappointed I was with the Prime Minister's speech this afternoon, not so much with what he said as with what he omitted to say. He gave us a number of specific assurances upon points upon which I do not think we needed much assurance, but he gave us no assurance on the particular points which are troubling those who approach this problem from the point of view of those who are actually in the Service to-day, and who are, perhaps, in contact with and nearer to these people than the Prime Minister. For example, he assured us that the liaison between the Chiefs of the Staffs and the Foreign Office was admirable. I can well believe that. He also assured us that in matters of high finance there was harmony, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer holding the balance. Again, we accept that assurance gladly and fairly easily, but I do really hope that the Prime Minister's speech this afternoon does not indicate a complacency with the present functioning of the Committee of Imperial Defence. That is the real point.
It may be that the Prime Minister did not want to tell us various things which we want to know. I quite recognise that position, and I would not like to press the Lord President of the Council for information which it may not be desirable to give. That is all right as long as the 1311 Prime Minister is not complacent as to the present position. The right hon. Gentleman is, of necessity, the Chairman of the Committee of Imperial Defence and I am afraid that what is happening is this: He goes, or he is taken, to the place where this important and complicated machine is housed, and he sees that the engine is running very smoothly in the garage, but the fact remains that the same engine is not running smoothly on the road; and that is what really matters. What we want to know, and I hope it is not improper for us to ask, is not what the liaison may be between the Chiefs of Staffs. We take that for granted knowing how admirable they are individually, but what is going to be done to improve the liaison between the battalion and the individual aeroplane, between the division and the air squadron, and between the ship and the Fleet Air Arm?
Is there at the present moment satisfaction at the Committee of Imperial Defence with the present staff training? Are they satisfied that one uniform doctrine is or is about to be taught, or are they going to accept the present situation of three conflicting doctrines? There may not appear to be a conflict on paper, but in practice there is a conflict. We do not want to be put off, and we cannot be satisfied, with the statement that the Imperial Defence College, admirable institution as it is and doing most efficient work, is sufficient. It is not. If we have to expand our training in time of war that organisation cannot and will not turn out enough staff officers for the purpose. The reason why we want assurance, even in the most general terms, is that it is only by assurance that the present deplorable inter-service rivalry, which is doing so much harm, is going to be stopped. We had an instance this afternoon of what I may call the subconscious service rivalry. One gallant Admiral was speaking perhaps somewhat from the air point of view, and another gallant Admiral sitting behind him on hearing the word "battleship" sprang to attention at once. They have both been in this House for a long time and this House is a good university for teaching people co-operation and tolerance. Yet the same gallant Admiral said how broad-minded all admirals were. It is this rivalry which is being fostered that must be stopped. It is doing most incalculable harm. The harm is not being 1312 done by retired admirals or generals or air marshals, but by the cursed Press, a subject upon which one is tempted to dilate, by people who have had experience of responsible positions in a Service and who now control sections of the Press, and, ignoring their own murky past, foster this rivalry. The Prime Minister's speech did little or nothing to dispel our anxiety, but I hope that the Lord President of the Council will be able to do so.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Brigadier-General SPEARS
I am addressing the House on this important subject because during the latter part of the War I happened to be the head of the British Military Mission attached to the French Government, and in that capacity I had to attend all the joint meetings of the two War Cabinets. When the French and English War Cabinets sat together I had to be on duty. When serving in that capacity I learned some of the immense difficulties facing a democratic Government at war. In fact, it was borne in upon me that the greatest problem in the conduct of a war lies in the relationship between a Government and the technical heads of the Service Departments. If you solve that problem, and the problem of the relationship between the Government and the Services, in my submission you will also solve the problem of the relationship of the Services to each other. I am not going to attempt to draw any deductions from the difficulties between allies in time of war, though many interesting lessons might be learned from that. These difficulties were not only technical; they were personal, too. I well remember M. Clemenceau on one occasion, in a train going to attend a British War Committee, when a dispute arose between two of his Ministers as to what was the difference between an accident and a disaster. M. Clemenceau stepped in and said: "Gentleman, I will tell you what is the difference between an accident and a disaster. If President Wilson fell into a well, it would be an accident, and if anyone pulled him out it would be a disaster."
It seems to me that the real lessons of the War have been forgotten. Perhaps they have never been understood. No one will ever be able to compute what defective direction cost us in blood and treasure. No single country was efficient 1313 in this respect during the last Wan The democratic countries were particularly bad in this respect. I think we should be particularly careful to put our house in order, for as war organisers we have not got a great reputation as a nation. Our method hitherto has been to rely on the heroism of our soldiers and sailors to make good the blunders of leaders and of politicians. But one thing is quite certain, that this problem of the direction of war was not solved during the Great War. In the case of the French and of ourselves, the soldiers never disputed that in theory the Cabinet was supreme; but in point of fact the Government was always helpless in face of technical opinion. The technicians, the soldiers and sailors, were always in a position to negative any plans, and the Government was always helpless to override any opposition that was put forward.
This proved to be exasperating to both sides. To have to be continually negativing immature and ill-thought-out plans was maddening to the technicians. To be always met by a negative, to have unfathomable professional objections made to any suggestion put forward, drove Ministers to despair. In fact I think it is no exaggeration to say that during the greater part of the War soldiers and politicians were, generally speaking, at loggerheads, and although I am an old soldier myself I am certainly not prepared to say that the politicians were always wrong. I once established a table of Governmental interventions during the War, and I found that many of those interventions had been both wise and necessary. Take, for instance, the Government's intervention in August, 1914, when the Government of the day ordered Sir John French to keep his place in the line. I think everyone is of opinion now that if that order had not been given the Battle of the Marne would never have been won, and in all probability would never have been fought.
On the other Hand, at the same period you have an example of indefensible Governmental intervention, and that was on the French side. At the same time the French Minister of War ordered General Joffre to send three active corps to Paris. If General Joffre had not modified that order in his own way it might very well have proved fatal. Taking the position 1314 during the War, broadly speaking, Ministers watched with extreme dissatisfaction situations developing and plans being made by the soldiers of which they heartily disapproved but which they were powerless to alter. Typical of these was the great offensive in the spring of 1917. The French Government of the day anticipated disaster but it was quite powerless in face of the soldiers. To have vetoed General Nivelle's plan would have meant assuming a responsibility to substitute another plan for it, and naturally the Government was not in a position to do that. Although the Government of the day felt and believed that that offensive would lead to absolute disaster, which it did, it was quite unable to do anything.
After all, the purpose of a Debate like this is to study these questions and to make sure that in similar circumstances the same failures will not be committed. Since the War both the French and ourselves have attempted to solve this problem. What has been done in France has been an attempt to create a kind of technical brain at the service of the Cabinet, a branch which could be relied upon to give advice on technical matters independently of the Service Departments. It is a very interesting story, and if I had time I would develop it. It is one that is worthy of close study, and I dare say that to the Committee of Imperial Defence it is well known.
As far as we are concerned there is no doubt whatever that the post-War organisation of the Committee of Imperial Defence represents an immense advance on the War conditions. But I very much doubt whether the machinery which we have to-day, workable as it is in time of peace, is capable of standing the stresses and the strain of war. I, like most other Members, listened with immense interest to the speech of the Prime Minister, but I must say that I felt more anxious on this subject at the end of the speech than I did before. It was obvious that the system which the right hon. Gentleman outlined was not a robust enough vessel to stand the tremendous rough and tumble and the storm and stress of war. Nor does the system which we have now solve the vital problem of the repartition of the funds between the Services. A good deal has been said about that point to which I shall revert.
1315 Whatever solution is adopted I think we all recognise that the Cabinet must be the supreme authority, and the whole problem with which we are faced is that of giving effect to Cabinet authority in time of war. That question was dealt with by the Salisbury Committee, but I confess my impression is that the Salisbury Committee begged that question as it did every other major problem with which it was confronted. The suggestion made by the Salisbury Committee and adopted was that the Cabinet should be advised on Service matters by a subcommittee of the chiefs of the general staffs. But the Salisbury Committee recognised that the three co-equal Chiefs of Staffs might easily each tender different advice to the Cabinet and thereupon they hit upon a most superb piece of sophistry. They said that the three Chiefs of Staffs, in addition to being the technical heads of their own services, were to act, "as it were, as a super-Chief of a War Staff in commission." What does that mean? I believe it means nothing at all. I believe these are just words, unless the formula, "three in one and one in three'" is considered as a theological dogma. It is unbelievable that any man in the responsible position of a Chief of Staff should be able to sink his identity in a trinity. He is either responsible or he is not for the service at the head of which he is placed. If he is, he cannot be an abstraction. The kind of soviet invented by the Salisbury Committee may work very well by compromise in time of peace but in my submission it cannot work in time of war.
Let us turn again for a moment to the question of the allocation of resources between the three Services because I think it is terribly important that we should find out what does happen in that respect. The Prime Minister spoke to us of what happens ultimately. But what happens on that sub-committee? Does each Chief of Staff make a claim on behalf of his own Service, or does the "three in one" theory operate and do they all speak with one voice? We know that ultimately, as the Prime Minister explained to us, it is the Chancellor of the Exchequer who decides. That alone shows the whole system to be bad. It is perfectly ridiculous that an overworked Chancellor of the Exchequer should be 1316 the final authority to decide on such a question.
I said just now that the lessons of the War had been forgotten. One of the things which seems to have been most lost sight of is the excruciating strain which is placed upon those who really have to bear responsibility. May I remind the House that, in spite of the Versailles Committee, in spite of every pledge and every undertaking, in spite of the obviously higher interests of the Alliance, the tendency of both Sir Douglas Haig and General Petain in March, 1918, was to look to the interests of their own commands before looking to those of the Alliance? The all-important object in 1918 was to guard the junction of the Anglo-French forces, but each commander looked to his own vital spot, Haig to the Channel harbours, Petain to Paris, and it was not until a generalissimo had been appointed that the danger was averted. No one in his senses could blame the two Commanders-in-Chief for having considered it their first duty to look to the safety of the armies in their charge. A kind of abstract rôle had been imposed on these two great soldiers which they were expected to fulfil in certain contingencies, but when it came to the point each looked to his own command.
That is a great lesson to be remembered. In exactly the same way, in a great emergency, each one of the Chiefs of Staff about whom we have been talking would inevitably become the advocate and the guardian of the Service which he represents. It seems to me that the lesson which stands out from the War is that the Government must be advised by one man and one man only. A Minister must not be exposed to the risk of having to decide between conflicting policies. It sounded so easy when the Prime Minister spoke about it, and in time of peace I daresay it is easy. It is a question of discussion and of compromise but it is not so in time of war. I have seen it, and I know that at all costs it must be avoided. If the Government have to choose between conflicting policies of different men in time of war, it will fail just as the Versailles Committee failed.
I submit that a man who must be responsible for giving technical advice to the Government should preside over the 1317 Committee of the Chiefs of Staffs under the Prime Minister. If I were asked to-day who would be this chairman, I would be forced to say that there is no soldier, sailor or airman available to fill that post, for the simple reason that we have no officer senior enough who has gone through the Imperial Defence College. It is a thing of the future, but meanwhile, I myself, if I had anything to say about it, would not in the least mind having a civilian Minister as the chairman of that sub-committee, but he would have to be the responsible man. You must have one man to take the responsibility of co-ordinating plans and upon his advice the Government must rely. The advantage of the scheme I have put forward is that it will mean a minimum of disturbance to the existing machine. In fact, it will not change anything; it will only strengthen the machine as we have it to-day.
A great many Members interested in the subject have spoken of the necessity of having a staff drawn from all three Services trained to look upon problems of war as a whole. In my submission, that staff should be the servant of the sub-committee of Chiefs of Staffs. There is no difficulty about having such a staff because one is actually being created and educated just now at the Imperial Defence College. There is one more point in that connection. Some people seem to think it would be almost impossible ever to get a technical head of this sub-committee; they seem to think it would never be possible to get a soldier, sailor or airman to have so risen above his profession as to be able to take a detached view of the other two Services. I do not believe that is so. There is no difficulty in having an Army commanded by a gunner, or a cavalryman, or a sapper. It is the matter of training, and I believe that in time we will be able to get such a man. We will be able to find among the staffs of the future men who will really look upon the whole of the Services from a much higher point of view than is done at the present.
It seems to me we ought to have an inquiry into the relationship between the Services to each other. We have had a certain number of inquiries—the Geddes Committee, the May Committee and the Weir Committee—but they did not go very deep, nor were they in a position to inquire into the relationship of the 1318 Services to each other. The last inquiry, which was into the Army alone, was the Esher Committee. I do not believe there has been an inquiry into the organisation of the Navy, and I think that the May Committee suggested that an inquiry ought to be made into the Air Force. It seems to me that the case has been made out for a careful investigation of the all-important problem of the relationship of the Services to each other. Once we have the staff about which we have been speaking, the problem of co-ordination and the question of the Ministry of Defence would be dealt with, because this staff, which would have only one interest, namely, the efficiency of the Defence Services put together, would see to it that the money was well spent, and it would make all the recommendations that were necessary for amalgamation if it should be necessary. I beg the Government, because it is an important matter that interests the country as a whole, to have a comprehensive inquiry into the relationship of the Service Departments.
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ Sir JOSEPH NALL
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carlisle (Brigadier-General Spears) quoted the analogy of the combined command in France as a reason for the unification of the Services at home. I cannot imagine a more grotesque and irrelevant argument than that because the forces serving on land in France were properly united under one command, three entirely different Services at home should be called upon to function in a variety of spheres in war and should be put under one control. The unification of command in France Was not extended to every other sphere of war on land. The Commander-in-Chief in France had nothing to do with operations in Mesopotamia and elsewhere, much less was he called upon to direct naval operations in the Channel or in other parts of the world. I cannot, with great respect to my hon. Friends who keep raising this question, understand how they can really in common sense find any justification for the idea that future staff college training is going to produce a race of air field admirals, who will be able to direct naval operations from the air, and proceed by submarine to direct the fortification of Verdun.
1319 As far as economy is concerned, what does it amount to? It merely means that one man should take the place of three. There could be no real diminution in staffs. It may be that more elaborate staffs will be required and that the inevitable war with the "brass hats" will be more acute than it was in the years 1914–1918. I only rise to record the fact that there are still some Members of the House who regard this idea of the invention of air field admirals as an impossibility and an absurdity which, so far from producing any economies in administration, can ony lead to disaster in times of emergency.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ The LORD PRESIDENT of the COUNCIL (Mr. Baldwin)
I have been able to listen to practically the whole of the Debate. I have heard many Debates of a similar nature, and I should like to express my opinion, for what it is worth, that I think we have had a number of most interesting and valuable speeches in the course of the day. Many points of view have been taken, and no class has been exempted from blame—generals, admirals, politicians from one side to another have all come in for their share of blame, and the views that have been expressed range from one extreme to that put forward so simply by the hon. and gallant Member who has just resumed his seat (Sir J. Nail). So far as the Government are concerned, everything that has been said to-day will be most carefully considered. We regard this Debate as most helpful. Every Government does so regard a free expression of opinion on very important matters, very often from Members who have experience which particularly entitles their opinions to have weight. I may say that by way of preface.
I would just add, that while speeches on many subjects have been made, the real root of our discussion to-day is not war, and I do not propose to say anything, in the few minutes I shall occupy, as to what this country may do if and when there is a war, but to discuss rather: What is the best means of promoting the defence of our country? What is the best medium through which we can act? That being the point of this discussion—the Ministry of Defence—I think that, perhaps, I ought to devote a few minutes to the thoughtful speech by 1320 the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander). It was the only, speech in the Debate that dealt with certain aspects of the League of Nations. He, of course, as we all know, is an enthusiastic supporter of the League of Nations, and no one can find any fault with him for raising the question to-day.
I said a moment ago that it is not the League of Nations that we are primarily discussing to-day. It is the question of the best means of effecting our defence. But there are one or two points of interest that are raised. The hon. Member raised the question of economic sanctions, and I will say that this has been, and is being, exhaustively examined, although I received only the other day a circular from a number of learned men in Oxford on that point which seemed to suggest that the Government had never given a thought to the matter. Then the hon. Member spoke about international control of civil aviation, and I should like to say a word on that. Hon. Members may remember a speech I made on the subject some few years ago when I took the view—and I have not changed that view one iota—that an air menace can probably be overcome only by the abolition of flying, and that mankind had never gone back on its own discoveries—a very regrettable fact in regard to many things. I said we could get rid of all armed air forces if we could control civil aviation internationally. When I made that speech, the subject had not been seriously examined. I believed it was possible to control civil aviation internationally. Immediately following that we had the subject examined, and examined con amore. It was examined by some of us with a belief that we could succeed in devising a workable scheme, and in the full hope that we should, find a solution of what we required. But when that was done, and examined again and again after a great deal of work over many months, I certainly have not yet decided myself, nor have any of my colleagues, that you can find a method of controlling international civil aviation that would remove completely the peril which faces you from the air. I say that, but I want to add this, because people so often seem to do less than justice to their fellow countrymen. I had a letter the other day complaining that we always did 1321 nothing and that the French were ready to do this or some other country to do that—anybody except us. But I can say this. No single country has put forward, so far as I know, any scheme, nor has anyone put forward any scheme that is of the faintest practical use in solving that problem. So far, the search has been without great success. I could not help smiling to myself when my hon. Friend, in his enthusiasm, spoke of a blockade of a certain portion of South-East Europe having averted war. It passed through my mind that there were no naval forces belonging to those countries.
Now I come to the main stream of the Debate. I should like to say a word or two on some observations which fell from my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg). He, of course, at one time was in close touch with the working of what was then the Prime Minister's Department and the Committee of Imperial Defence, and generally with the machinery of Government of the country, and I was interested in what he said because many of the things that he thought have passed through my own mind at one time or another. He spoke of relieving the Prime Minister, having seen what the Prime Minister's work is, and relieving him of the work of presiding over the Committee of Imperial Defence. That, of course, has been done in the past for some little time. It was done when Lord Balfour was chairman, when the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was Prime Minister. Lord Haldane, if I remember aright, presided over it in the first Government of my right hon. Friend the present Prime Minister; in Mr. Bonar Law's Government Lord Salisbury presided; and in the first year of which I was the head of the Government, it was Lord Curzon. After these four eminent men had done this work, on thinking it over I felt I ought to take the chairmanship myself, and I did for the remaining four years. My right hon. Friend did the same when this Government came into office, and he continues that work now.
Whatever may be said against the Prime Minister taking that place, I wish the House to remember one thing, which perhaps might not occur to it. Take my own case. When I had been Prime Minister for about a year or eighteen months 1322 I was fairly familiar with a good many of the problems of government, but I had had no opportunity of gaining what I believe to be an essential experience for a Prime Minister, and that is knowledge of the kind of work which is done on that Committee. That is a knowledge which you can acquire much better when you are chairman than as an ordinary member under the chairmanship of somebody else. There is one more point—and this is going to be my only allusion to war. When war does come to this country, the man on whose shoulders everything falls is the Prime Minister, and therefore it is essential that the man who occupies that office should be as familiar as any, or more familiar than any, of his colleagues with the broad problems, with the personal equations of the various Services, and the hundred and one things that make up the working of the Committee of Imperial Defence. Therefore, I hope very much that whatever work a Prime Minister may let go he will not let that go.
But I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend said, and what one or two other hon. Friends of mine said too—I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), but I am not quite certain—about the burden of work that falls on Ministers and on the Prime Minister in particular. I often thought when I held that office that the time must come when some relief must be found for that position. My hon. Friends will recall quite well how, in the War, and after the War, the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs found it impossible to lead this House and was very seldom here. If I remember aright the House was led, first, by Mr. Bonar Law, and then by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) until that Government fell. It is impossible to blame the Prime Minister. At that time it would have been physically impossible for him to do all that work unless he could have issued himself in duplicate or triplicate. When I used to consider how the work of a Prime Minister might be carried on most efficiently, I often felt, and, indeed, I became convinced, that the day will come when the Prime Minister of this country will have to have a small department of his own, and very likely someone working with him as a kind of Under-Secretary. I think the work is too much 1323 for any human soul at present. I can say that honestly, not holding that particular position, and I say it with knowledge gained personally and after having watched. There is another drawback, and it applies to all parties alike, and that is that after four or five years the Prime Minister is worn out, and suppose the same Government should win an election and proceed from one term of office to another the wearing out of many of the men who have held the hardest posts is a very serious thing. It is true that this makes room for the young men, and that is all to the good, but one does not like to see good men scrapped through overwork after four or five years.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ludlow (Lieut.-Colonel Windsor-Clive) spoke with conviction on the subject of a common General Staff. That is a subject which was discussed by the Salisbury Committee, and the classic quotation from that report is the paragraph in which it was turned down by Field Marshal Sir William Robertson. The reasons are given there, but I do not wish to weary the House with extracts from reports. I was a little sorry and disappointed, but not surprised, because I am used to criticism, when my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carlisle (Brigadier-General Spears) spoke rather slightingly of all these reports, and referred to the Salisbury Committee as having begged the question. I refreshed my memory by looking at the names of the members of that Committee and, leaving out my own name, as of small account, I thought they were a respectable lot. Still that is only one more instance of how reports prepared by well-meaning people, if they come to a conclusion which differs from one's own, are apt to be regarded and how one is apt to think that perhaps there was some failure in their method of working. The question of who is to command the mixed forces—I presume in the next war—is one that does not yet arise and I really cannot deal with it.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook—I have a note of what he said—also referred to what I have just alluded to. He was speaking on a line with which I have a great deal of sympathy. He had come to this conclusion for the same reason as my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham came 1324 to his. He feels that Ministers are apt to be so immersed in the details of their Departmental work that they have not sufficient time for thinking out the broad grounds of policy—an old complaint—and particularly, I take it, in military matters, and he spoke almost as though he would like to see a system of a Minister for policy and a Minister for administration practised to a considerable extent. I could not help turning to my right hon. Friend the First Commissioner of Works, who happened to be sitting next to me, and remarking to him, "It means, then, that you will have to pay the gardeners, and there will be another Minister to design the Epstein statues for the parks."
I would like to come now to my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). I admired the careful and discreet way in which he opened his speech, with his fears. I liked the phrase "the potential aggressor," because sometimes when he comes down to this House, and I think that he is going to make a speech from that corner seat, I say to myself: "Now is that a potential aggressor?" He did not justify all our fears to-day, and I hope that our fears of other potential aggressors may prove to have as little foundation as the years go on. He posed a question. He said, "Have we a goal?" We certainly have a goal. Here I come back to what I said at the beginning. The goal is the safety of our country, and what we are discussing is the best means to secure that end. We know what is the proposal made by so many hon. Members, what is called a Ministry of Defence, a name that comes up again and again. We do not all agree as to what exactly we mean by that term, but I think we all know pretty clearly, and we may adopt the phrase quite conveniently as conveying a very distinct meaning. It is much easier to talk about these things when you are not in office, because when you are in office you have responsibility, and when you have responsibility you have to remember this, first of all. While admitting that there is much to be said for it, while admitting that some day it may come into existence, the position at the moment is that we have in the last 16 years set up four committees and by every one of those committees the principle of a Ministry of Defence has been turned down. There was Lord Haldane's Committee in 1918, Lord Weir's in 1922, Lord Salisbury's 1325 Committee, which reported in 1924, and the May Committee in 1931. But all the same those committees, and particularly, perhaps, Lord Salisbury's, did effect a great deal of good.
I can say this of my own experience—for I think, perhaps, that I have had certainly as long and intimate a connection with the Committee as anyone in this House—that co-ordination between the Services has improved out of all knowledge in the last 10 years. The hon. and gallant Member who spoke on this subject was alluding to a time when, he said, he was a serving officer. Those days are gone, and gone for ever. I am perfectly clear about that. I would add that co-operation, and certainly good feeling with it, has gone on increasing in the last two years to a remarkable extent. I have never seen co-operation better than it is to-day between the existing Ministers and the existing Chiefs of Staff. I am sure that that will reassure the House, and that hon. Members will take it from me as one who has always been keenly interested in this subject, and has done what he can to bring that result to pass.
I want to apologise to many hon. Members who are perhaps tired of hearing these things because they are so familiar with them, but it is important to get them out. I want to get them out and into the Press where people can read them, and it is germane to what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping has been talking about. A good deal has been said about the Imperial Defence College. I want to say one word about that. The Imperial Defence College was set up about the year 1926. It has been presided over by several distinguished officers. The first was Admiral Richmond, then came General Bartholomew and then Air-Marshal Brooke-Popham. It is now presided over by Vice-Admiral Preston. Their term of office is two years, and the course at the college is 12 months. There must be to-day about 200 men, officers and civilians—officers drawn from the Empire, from this country and from India, and civilians drawn from the Civil Services of this country and of India—who have passed through that college, many of them now holding key positions in their respective Services and whose influence is vastly beyond what their influence might be but for that 1326 college, and its effects upon their quality and their qualifications. The hon. and gallant Member for Wellingborough spoke, I do not think slightingly, about it, but in his enthusiasm he naturally wished to see many more people in the world from this college. I wish there were. It is a college which has done an admirable work and which is spreading among the ablest men in the three Services, and in the Civil Service to-day, that idea of complete unity and complete co-operation for one end among the defensive forces of this country.
That brings me to a point made by the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee). He used one phrase that caught my attention. The Prime Minister followed him, but I rather wanted to say one word upon the point, because I think it is a kind of mistake that many people are apt to make. I forget exactly what the context was, but he used the phrase about the garrisons of the Empire and about men being left for years where they are. He gave an impression that those subjects are not looked after continually and kept up-to-date in our knowledge of them. I want to assure both him and the House that the whole question of coastal defence and coastal garrison is under constant consideration by the Committee of Imperial Defence; that we have a full report of every place every two years at the outside; that they are all most carefully gone through and that plans exist for everything that is required, co-ordinated by all three Services. The difficulty up to now has been a financial one. The plans are there. Where work is not done it has been because finance has overruled it for the last two years. For some little time to come finance must be a matter of the first importance to this country. For two years we have had to subordinate everything—
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I want to make clear that I was not alluding to the present day; I was alluding to the time in the '40's and the '50's when the British Army was all over the place.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
I thank the hon. Member very much. I misunderstood him, and I am very grateful for the interruption. We are aware that those things did happen in those days, but they cannot happen to-day; I am sure that the House will be relieved to hear that.
1327 The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping spoke about pooling research. I think he said that that was a thing which was recommended by the Salisbury Committee, and he was not aware that anything had been done. A great deal has been done. Pooling research is a very difficult phrase to explain. Research, of course, exists, and co-ordination, where possible, is effected. I have just jotted down four or five instances where scientific research can be carried out in common among the Services, and I think they will be of interest to hon. Members who may not be familiar with the subject. There is the Ordnance Committee, which for some years past has been co-ordinating all branches of the Services in matters of artillery and ordnance. There is the Chemical Research Committee with an experimental establishment at Porton serving all three Services, and all three Services are represented and support the work that is being done by the Committee of Industrial and Scientific Research at Teddington. That has been very successful work. There is an Oil Board in connection with the Committee of Imperial Defence which is used by all three Services and has put at their disposal the results of all their work. There is the Joint Wireless Telegraphy Board, the Mechanisation Board and the Small Arms Ammunition Committee, all of which are common. In those various directions scientific study and research are co-ordinated on behalf of all branches of the Services.
The right hon. Gentleman also spoke about the functions of the Chiefs of Staff, and he expressed the desire that the functions of the Chiefs of Staff should be laid down in a formal document, insisting, I gathered from the context of his speech, that it should be made clear to them that they were not here only as a representative of this or that Service, but that they were to work in common together for securing the defence of the country. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is not here. The right hon. Gentleman spoke to me very kindly, and I said that I did not expect to be up before half-past 10; but the Debate has finished earlier, and I had to get up when I did. I want to remind him that during the time when I was Prime 1328 Minister exactly what he desires to have done was done. Without betraying any Cabinet secrets, I may say that the idea then, if it did not originate with the right hon. Gentleman, certainly had his warmest support. It has been the practice ever since that time, and it is laid down in a warrant which the Chief of Staff has, explaining exactly those points on which the right hon. Gentleman was so insistent, and so rightly insistent. I know that he will be glad to have his memory refreshed when he reads what I have said.
Towards the end of the Debate I was asked to give an assurance to the House that the Committee of Imperial Defence was active, alive and truly representative. I can, of course, but I may be suspect because I have been a member of that committee for a very long time. It is very much alive, judging from the number of meetings that it has; it is certainly active, and it is truly representative. I would like to make one or two observations on something which he said, because it is said by other Members, and it is felt by many. We hear talk about the Air Force being the Cinderella of the Forces. I think there is one thing we must remember. These last years have been years of financial stringency and years when deliberately all Governments have been holding back every possible expense on the Services in the hope of getting disarmament. Every Government in various ways is guilty of that same thing. The other forces, the Army and Navy of course, are much larger and are costing more money. They have been kept where they were, and they have undoubtedly suffered in not being able to keep up their equipment and stores as efficiently as they would have done. But the Air Force was a small force, and what happened was that in Mr. Bonar Law's Government it was decided that the Air Force should be raised to a certain number of squadrons. It was raised in that direction, but never got to the figures then laid down owing to those two factors: the desire to restrict armaments when discussions were going on about disarmament, and the financial stringency which made each Government in turn decide that they would still further put off going back to the figure laid down in 1922 as that to which the Air Force ought to be brought. There is no question of it being a 1329 Cinderella. It has been, as the other Services have been, set at a low level, and I have every sympathy with it, but I hope what I said the other day will show that, whatever the opinions of the country or the Government may be about that great Service, we do not regard it as a Cinderella.
The hon. and gallant Member for Wellingborough (Wing-Commander James) applied an epithet to us that I am getting used to now, and that is the word "complacent." I am not sure that I know what "complacent" means because I have never had a feeling since I have been in politics that I could describe with any degree of accuracy as a feeling of complacency. The Government are not complacent and no man who has the responsibility on his shoulders, in conjunction with his friends, for this kingdom in this time, in this year of the world's history, and in the state of Europe and of the world, can be complacent, whatever else he may be. Circumstances will not allow it. I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that there is to-day a very real and close co-operation between the Fleet and the Air Service, and that sort of Service rivalry in the bad sense in which he used it, and in which it often is used, does not so far as I know exist in the Services among serving officers. Where it does exist is often in articles in the Press and speeches by people no longer in the Service. In the Services, I believe, there is more co-operation and desire to work harmoniously together to one common end than ever in the history of this country.
I have tried to deal with the various points that have been raised. I do not think this is the occasion to make a long speech or to give details of policy. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set all that out clearly and at length in the early part of the Debate, which, as I have said, has been a most interesting one, and I can assure every Member who has spoken that the Government are grateful for the contributions made, and will give careful attention to everything that has been said.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.