§ 4.50 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Winston Churchill)
Frankly, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, looking around the galleries I am sorry that I cannot spy any strangers today, for I think it would have been more useful if we could have had a private talk about our common affairs. But I must also recognise that there is no lack of topics on which public statements can and should be made, and I will address myself to these aspects.
Let me, first of all, make my acknowledgements to the late Government for several most important decisions about our defence policy which they took during their six years of office and which form the foundation on which we stand today. There was the establishment of national compulsory service, now raised to two years, as a feature in our island life, and this was a measure without which our national safety could not probably have been preserved.
The Atlantic Pact and the creation of what, for short, we call N.A.T.O. was a very great event in which the Leader of the Opposition and the late Mr. Bevin played a distinguished part. The tremendous re-armament programme upon which they and the former Minister of Defence led us has enabled us to stand beyond question second only to the United States in our share of the measures upon which our hopes of a lasting peace are based.
The Conservative Party, when in opposition, gave full and constructive support to the Government of the day in all these dominant acts of national policy, and we hope we shall be able to compliment our opponents, or most of them, in their turn on their steadfast perseverance in the courses on which they launched us. These policies do not arise so much from the danger of war as from the importance of the free world creating deterrents against aggression, so the theme which His Majesty's Government will pursue and which I will illustrate this afternoon is the idea of deterrents rather than the idea of danger.
2592 Looking back over the last few years, I cannot feel that the danger of a third war is so great now as it was at the time of the Berlin Air Lift crisis in 1948, when the Labour Government, acting in harmony with the United States, and with our full support, took great risks in a firm and resolute manner. Of course, no one can predict the future, but our feeling, on assuming responsibility, is that the deterrents have increased and that, as the deterrents have increased, the danger has become more unlikely; and we should be wise, as a House of Commons, to go on treading the same path in the immediate future with constancy, with hope and, I trust, with a broad measure of unity. That is at any rate the desire and intention of His Majesty's Government.
In saying all this, I have no wish to minimise the important differences of method and execution which exist between us in the sphere of defence. They will have to be argued out by the usual Parliamentary processes, but I should not like to dwell, as I must, on these differences—and they are neither few nor small—without setting things first of all in their broad framework of national agreement.
We must examine promptly but carefully the question of whether we are getting full value in fighting power for the immense sums of money and numbers of men provided for the three fighting Services. For the current year £420 million have been voted for the Army and over 450,000 men, soldiers, stand in uniform today. I recognise the severe strain that has been put upon the War Office by the crisis in Egypt and the Middle East, by Malaya, and by our share in the war in Korea, with its consequential reactions at Hong Kong. There is also the prime need to carry out our agreements under the North Atlantic Treaty for the reinforcement of our troops in Europe.
We found, on taking office, that important increases were contemplated both in money and manpower in the coming year and in those that followed. Before presenting such proposals to the House, we must satisfy ourselves that every possible effort has been used so to organise our forces as to procure a true economy with its twin sister, efficiency. To say such 2593 things is to utter platitudes. To do them is to render public service. We must ask for a reasonable time to translate words into actions and in this, as in other matters, we seek to be judged by results.
In military matters, as well as in the economic and financial sphere, we are having a full, detailed statement prepared in every Department of the situation as we found it when we assumed office. In two or three years it will be possible to compare the new position with this record, and this may be of help to the House in forming its opinion of our performances, for good or for ill.
There are many things, one knows, in which improvements can be made. There are, for instance, no less than 30,000 British troops awaiting orders to move or moving to and fro by land and sea in what is called the pipe-line of our communications. The cost of this movement alone is about £7 million a year. All this is partly due to our being forced to send National Service men to the Far and Middle East, where their tour of duty is necessarily very short. It will be greatly to our advantage to have a higher proportion of young men volunteering for even three years in the Regular Army.
To this end, a scheme has been introduced by the War Office whereby a man may volunteer for a short Regular engagement of three years in the Regular Army, and thus by adding only one year to his National Service liability, he gains the advantage of the higher Regular rate of pay. First indications make it hopeful that this new offer, which was already far advanced when we took over, may prove popular and fruitful.
The Navy Estimates for the current year amount to £278 million, including £30 million for new construction, modernisation and conversion. This is an immense sum. It has also to be noted that nearly 10,000 civilians and 650 naval officers are employed in the Admiralty Departments compared with 4,000 in 1938, when the Navy was larger though, of course, much less complicated than it is at present. I would not pass from the Navy without saying that, as ever, it has played its full part under circumstances most difficult and trying in all the crises of what is called the cold war, whether in Korea or Malaya or the Middle East, and has always gained distinction.
2594 The greatest source of concern in the Services is the slow progress made in developing the Royal Air Force, especially in the supply of the latest machines. To read the complaints that are made about the disappointments experienced in re-equipment, one would hardly believe that over £300 million is being spent this year. I must make it plain that what is being produced today is governed by decisions taken months, and in many cases years, ago. The whole system of supply and production is suffering from what might be described as acute indigestion. The sum of £4,700 million in three years as a plan represented an increased annual rate of expenditure on the Royal Air Force alone of nearly £100 million in the first year and much more in later years.
It is scarcely surprising that at many points, in research as well as production, the aircraft programme is disjointed. We must not forget that the Soviet Air Force is formidable not only in numbers but in quality. The Korean war has proved how good the Russian jet fighter, the M.I.G.15, is. We must strive to bring to our squadrons aircraft not only as good as but better than those to which they may be opposed. All this, as I have said, is a matter for active and earnest attention, and here again we must be judged by results.
Coming now to more controversial topics, I do not feel there ought to be any great difference between us about the European Army. We are, I believe, most of us agreed that there should be a European Army and that Germany must take an honourable place in it. When I proposed this at Strasbourg 18 months ago I said—perhaps I may be permitted to quote myself when I find it convenient—I am very glad that the Germans amid their own problems have come here to share our perils and augment our strength. They ought to have been here a year ago. A year has been wasted, but still it is not too late. There is no revival of Europe, no safety or freedom for any of us except in standing together united and unflinching. I ask this Assembly to assure cur German friends that if they throw in their lot with us we shall hold their safety and freedom as sacred as our own.This assurance has now been formally given by the Allied Governments.
2595 I went on:There must be created, and in the shortest possible time, a real defensive front in Europe. Great Britain and the United States must send large forces to the Continent. France must again revive her famous Army. We welcome our Italian comrades. All—Greece, Turkey, Holland, Belgium, Luxemburg, the Scandinavian States—must bear their share and do their best.We seem to have made good progress since then. General Eisenhower is in supreme command on the Continent. All the Powers mentioned have contributed, or are contributing, or are about to contribute, contingents and many of their contingents are growing. The front is not covered yet. The potential aggressor has a vast superiority of numbers. Nevertheless, the gathering of our deterrents has been continued. As things have developed, my own ideas have always been as follows. There is the N.A.T.O. Army. Inside the N.A.T.O. Army there is the European Army, and inside the European Army there is the German Army. The European Army should be formed by all the European parties to N.A.T.O. dedicating from their own national armies their quota of divisions to the Army or Armies now under General Eisenhower's command.
At Strasbourg in 1950 the Germans did not press for a national army. On the contrary, they declared themselves ready to join a European Army without having a national army. Dr. Adenauer has renewed to us this assurance, and that is still the German position and their preference—no national army. This is a very great and helpful fact which we must all take into consideration. The size and strength of any German army, whether contingent or otherwise, and its manufacture of weapons, would in any case have to be agreed between the Allied Powers concerned. There, in short, is the policy which I have always advocated and which I am very glad to find is steadily going forward.
Difficulties have, however, arisen about the texture of the European Army. Should it be an amalgam of the European nations divested of all national characteristics and traditions, or should it be composed of elements essentially national but woven together by alliance, common organisation and unified command? On this point the discussions 2596 have at times assumed an almost metaphysical character, and the logic of continental minds has produced a scheme for what is called the European Defence Community. That is, at least, an enlightened if not an inspiring title. The European Defence Force, which is to be a vital element in the defence of Western Europe, will be closely and effectively associated with the British Forces which constitute another element in the same defence system through their common allegiance to N.A.T.O.
The European Defence Community has not yet taken its final shape. The Paris Conference has been sitting for nine months, and it is now on the point of producing its Report. I am sorry the late Government did not send a delegation to this Conference instead of only an observer. The technical discussions have proceeded smoothly and in great detail, and at last the far-reaching political issues which have been raised and which surround the military questions have been reached. We do not know how these will be settled, and we have had no voice or share in the long argument. As soon as the Conference reaches its final conclusions we shall consider the way to establish the most effective form of association with the resultant organisations. In this way a European Army, containing a German contribution of agreed size and strength, will stand alongside the British and United States Armies in a common defensive front. That, after all, is what really matters to the life or death of the free world.
As far as Britain is concerned, we do not propose to merge in the European Army but we are already joined to it. Our troops are on the spot, and we shall do our utmost to make a worthy and effective contribution to the deterrents against aggression and to the causes of freedom and democracy which we seek to serve. These matters will, of course, require to be further discussed as the weeks pass by, and we shall probably know much more about what is the decision taken on the Continent than we can attempt to anticipate and imagine at this moment.
What I have called the most formidable step taken by the late Government was the establishment in July, 1948, of the great and ever-growing American air base in East Anglia for using the atomic 2597 weapon against Soviet Russia should the Soviets become aggressors. As in the other great measures of national defence taken by the Labour Government, we supported this policy. I have on several occasions pointed out to the House the gravity of the late Government's decision and have quoted publicly the expression used in Soviet publications that our island had become an aircraft carrier. Certainly we must recognise that the step then taken by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition places us in the front line should there be a third World War. The measure adds to the deterrents against war, but it may throw the brunt on to us should war come.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne) rose—
§ The Prime Minister
We shall not flinch from the duty which Britain has accepted, but we should never let the facts pass from our minds, so that they govern our actions.
§ Mr. Silverman rose—
§ Mr. C. R. Attlee (Walthamstow, West)
I am not quite sure exactly what the right hon. Gentleman means. We certainly agreed to the stationing of American bombers in this country as part of Atlantic defence, but it was never put forward specifically as a base for using the atomic bomb against Russia. We never suggested it.
§ Mr. Attlee
The right hon. Gentleman must be very careful about this. We have had conversations. The Americans have no illusions whatever as regards our position in this matter.
§ The Prime Minister
I am very well informed about it, and I have not said anything this afternoon that I have not frequently said in public before. I think it is absolutely necessary that the House should realise the serious effects to which the course of events and the policy of the party opposite, to which we have supported and shared, have brought us. It is no use going on blinking at the great underlying realities of the position.
§ Mr. Silverman rose—
§ The Prime Minister
I really would like to be allowed to make my speech. The hon. Gentleman is very skilled at interruptions of all kinds—
§ The Prime Minister
Usually interruptions ought to be limited to questions where a misunderstanding has been created.
§ Mr. Silverman
I only want to ask the right hon. Gentleman—and I shall quite understand it if he feels unable to answer—whether he could at this point answer the Question which stood on the Order Paper, addressed to him today, namely, whether the effect of this agreement for bombers on our shores would not have the result of removing from our control the question of whether we were to take part or not to take part in any war in which the United States happened to be involved. Does it not make us, therefore, a belligerent unless the agreement contains a provision for their removal at our request?
§ The Prime Minister
I thought the hon. Gentleman was going to raise a point arising from the course of the debate, but it appears that he only wants to get a Question which he put on the Paper, and which was not reached today, answered by a different method. He will see the reply to the Question when it is circulated in the ordinary course.
This brings me to the strength of the Forces we have in this country, as I found them on becoming responsible. Practically all our Regular formations have been sent to the Army in Europe or are engaged in distant theatres. The facts are, of course, already known to foreign countries, and the Communists have particular advantages in gathering information in many countries.
I have spoken before of the danger of paratroop descents on a considerable scale, and everything I have learned since assuming office convinces me of the need to accumulate deterrents against this particular form of attack, for this reason. 2599 We have taken the first steps to re-establish the network of the Home Guard units throughout the country, and we have already permitted the raising of a proportion of the Home Guard in the southeastern part of England. The Royal Observer Corps is being strengthened, and we have decided to set up and begin the recruiting next year of a Royal Naval mine-watching organisation.
Moreover, I have given directions that the numerous Regular military establishments in this country which contain a very large number of men—nearly 250,000—the training schools, depots and other units, should acquire an immediate combatant value. They must be armed and ready to defend themselves, and not only themselves, in an emergency. Arrangements are being made for their use away from their local centres, as far as other reasons and mobility permits. It is a mistake to keep so many thousands of our men in uniform without their playing a direct part in our safety.
These measures are not particularly costly. The cost is the men, and here again we are in the field of deterrents. Our country should suggest to the mind of a potential paratrooper the back of a hedgehog rather than the paunch of a rabbit. We shall have next year to repeat the process adopted last year by our predecessors of calling up a proportion of the Z reservists in order to enable a number of Territorial divisions, antiaircraft and other specialist units to be assembled and exercised. The results were more valuable than I had expected from such a very short period of effective training. At any rate, there was the sense of assembly and incorporation in the regimental units.
Thanks to the National Service Measures of the late Government we have a reserve of trained manhood, now beginning to flow from two years' service in the Army, of a quality and character superior to anything we have ever had before in time of peace. This enables us to raise our Territorial divisions on mobilisation far more quickly and to a quality far in advance of anything that was previously possible in former periods. The reserve is only just beginning to come to us in strength, and we should indeed be failing in our duty if we did not take the necessary and consequential 2600 steps to secure full value in deterrent resources from the cost and sacrifice which two years' compulsory service involves.
Growth and efficiency of the Territorial Army and of its speedy mobilisation in an emergency is essential to repair the inroads upon our strategic resources from which we suffer today. The House will no doubt wish to know more precisely the detailed conditions of the call-up. The Government proposes that the provisions of the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces (Training) Act, 1951, should be applied again in 1952, and the necessary Affirmative Resolution will be introduced immediately after the Recess.
§ The Prime Minister
Just a little patience, and the right hon. Gentleman's natural interest will be satisfied.
In the case of the Army, this training will be on the same lines as it was this year, and it will involve the recall for 15 days' training of up to 250,000 men, mainly Z reservists. I agree I wish it could be longer than 15 days. Another three or four working days would add greatly to the value of it, without any marked addition to the cost. Then there is the effect that might be produced upon the permanent cadres of the Territorial volunteers, to whom we already owe so much. I did not appreciate that fact fully, but I do now and I have to consider it. I wish indeed that we could have a longer period for considering the cost involved, but I think it would be imprudent at this stage to run the risk of making the voluntary service which the Territorial Army bears so heavy a burden. The majority of the men will be trained in the units which they will attend in the event of an emergency, and the remainder, including up to 3,000 officers and certain specialists, will undergo particular courses of refresher training.
The Royal Air Force will be calling up 5,500 men of their equivalent class "G" reserve. The Royal Navy will continue the call-up of members of the Royal Fleet Reserves for service on a small scale.
Now I come to the other side. I have been dealing with the personnel aspects, and I come now to the other side of the 2601 re-armament plans, namely, the manufacture in this country of munitions and military supplies of all kinds. I found on taking over that, under the increased programme of £4,700 million, we were committed to an expenditure in the present year of up to £1,250 million, and, in 1952–53, on the basis of 1950 prices, which have since been exceeded, to a further £1,500 million.
We shall not, however, succeed in spending the £1,250 million this year, and some of the late Government's programme must necessarily roll forward into a future year. This point was, I believe, made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) after his resignation. I do not reproach the late Government on this score. They tried their best to carry out what they had declared was necessary for our safety. I have never yet seen a munitions programme—and I have seen several—which did not lag behind the plans. This will, of course, be helpful to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his special problems.
We must, however, be careful to distinguish between reductions in expenditure which are due to bona fide economies, or to improved methods of using available forces, and those reductions which merely push payments forward to a later date. A very careful scrutiny is being made over the whole field of this immense new re-armament programme of the late Government in all its main aspects, and many of these items will be reviewed in the light of changing events.
This process must be highly selective, so that we get first what we need most and in order that bottle-necks of any kind are eliminated. It is perfectly clear that, in the sphere of the material needs, the claims of the Royal Air Force must have first and special emphasis and priority. This will be made fully effective in any rearrangement of the programme upon which we may decide.
I have been trying to show—
§ Mr. Aneurin Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way? He has made an exceedingly important statement, the effect of which, as I understand it, is that it will not be found possible to spend the £4,700 million in the three years. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That 2602 is the effect of his statement. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It is really no use his trying to conceal this intention behind a mass of verbiage. If this first programme is not to be accomplished, then the second year's programme and the arrears of the first year's programme will not be carried out, unless the period is more than three years. Am I, therefore, to understand that the Government has abandoned the three year period and has added some unknown period to the length of the rearmament programme?
§ The Prime Minister
As events develop, the right hon. Gentleman will no doubt watch them with attention, and the discussions which, from time to time, he will have with his former colleagues will no doubt be both instructive and animated on both sides. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I am not really wishing to embark on a debate with the right hon. Gentleman. I was giving him an honourable mention in despatches for having, by accident—
§ Mr. Bevan rose—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
If the Prime Minister does not give way, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen must resume their seats.
§ The Prime Minister
I will give way in a moment. I was giving the right hon. Gentleman an honourable mention for having, it appears by accident, perhaps not from the best of motives, happened to be right.
§ Mr. Bevan
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, when the statement on rearmament was made in the House of Commons by myself when Minister of Labour, I said, and the Prime Minister also said, that it may not be found possible, because of the shortage of raw materials and the lack of machine tools, to carry out the £4,700 million programme. The right hon. Gentleman ought to try to be honest about this programme. Now, what period has he, in fact, substituted for the three years?
§ The Prime Minister
We shall get on as best we can. We shall do our best, but I should be wrong not to warn the House that there will be a lag, as there has been in all the munitions programmes 2603 which I have ever seen or with which I have been connected.
So far, I have been endeavouring to allay controversy and hasty feelings in every direction. I have, indeed, paid many compliments to the Front Bench opposite and some other quarters and so on, but now I come to two issues which are controversial in this House.
Great Britain requires a pool of three million or four million rifles—that is what I am coming to—with the proportionate ammunition and supply arrangements. At the end of the war, we had over five million rifles; we have got less than half of that now. The causes for this are being examined. The Army of a major Power must live under a large body of rifles, because exceptional needs cannot be foreseen and the wastage of rifles in war is very high. The only other large pools in the United Nations are the United States, Canada and France.
Our annual rate of rifle production is not large, nor is it easily expanded. In 1941, for instance, after two years of war and bombing, we had only managed to make about 200,000 rifles. The changeover from one pattern of rifle to another must, therefore, be a very lengthy process, which could not be even partially effective in under six or seven years. During this period, an additional burden would be placed on our resources of labour and materials, already so heavily strained, if there were two kinds of rifles in the British Forces. We cannot abandon the manufacture of one kind until we have enough to get on with of the other.
A decision to re-arm with the new rifle is one of high policy, involving the world situation and the position of our Allies. Standardisation, not only of rifles, but of other weapons, must be regarded as a cardinal principle and aim among the Atlantic Powers. It can, of course, only be attained gradually. A marked departure from this principle in, say, small arms would prolong for many years the existing inconvenient differences of weapons, bore and ammunition. Every effort should therefore be made, in changes which can take place only so very slowly, to achieve agreement and convergence of thought on new types.
Now I come to the proposed new British.280 rifle, which can only be 2604 rightly considered in the setting I have described. It may well be that we have now the best rifle and ammunition yet made. The hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) urged me to go and see it for myself. I can assure him I followed his request, and I have had the opportunity of firing both the British and American weapons. I do not pose as a technical expert in these matters at all, but I will say that these are matters of technical dispute. Great credit in any case is due to the designers and all concerned with the creation of this weapon and also with the cartridge. I never argued against the quality of the rifle.
We have at present 20 of these rifles, not 20,000, and if the re-tooling, etc. of our factories is carried out on the plans proposed by the late Government we could begin production in 1953, and by the end of 1954 we should be producing at the rate of about 100,000 a year. But the pool we should like to swim in would be over 2 million. This production would, at a time when we are so short of skilled labour, be additional, as I have just pointed out, to the indispensable maintenance of the.303 as the only weapon we can have in large numbers for a long time.
§ Mr. Shinwell
As a point of elucidation, when the right hon. Gentleman refers to the.303, does he mean the existing American rifle, or the proposed one?
§ The Prime Minister
I was speaking of the British.303. The American is called a.300. It is not exactly that, but it is called that. We cannot leave our pool and cease to replenish that pool until we have got something very considerable to go to. Therefore, we have to keep the two together.
The Americans are also seeking a replacement for their present Garand rifle, of which they have a large pool. They also seek for an improvement in the cartridge, which again entails great changes in the design. But none of these changes will affect the military position substantially in the next three or four years. They are long-term projects, and a further effort should be made to secure their harmonious evolution among allies and thus prevent new rifts of organisation being opened up in the common front, and especially between Britain and 2605 Canada who, I hope, will move in unity in standardisation. It is in the light of these considerations that a final decision should not be taken hastily. Indeed, I think it is our duty on both sides of the Atlantic to make new efforts to harmonise our long-term policy, and I propose to persevere in this and I trust that we may reach a good decision.
§ Mr. Woodrow Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, while this decision is being made, he is now going to stop the preparations which are being made to put the.280 rifle into production or not, because if a final decision is made that we should go ahead with it, it is very important not to stop all the preparatory work now going on?
§ The Prime Minister
If the hon. Gentleman had followed what I said he would have noted that I pointed out that production would not begin until the end of 1953 and that it would not reach 100,000 a year until the end of 1954. Obviously, a few months one way or another in trying to reach a general agreement would not be wasted. I do not propose at this moment to go forward with the re-tooling until we have had some further talks about it and to see more surely where we stand.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that if we do not proceed to production of the new rifle and ammunition at a fairly early stage, we have either to rely on the existing British rifle and go on increasing production of it—a rifle which is now regarded as out of date—or accept the existing American pattern which is regarded by them as being out of date?
§ The Prime Minister
I was not thinking of accepting the existing American pattern at all, but we have to go on with our existing rifle until we reach a conclusion about a new rifle, which I hope may be reached with common agreement between all the Powers concerned. At any rate, I would not give that up for the sake of beginning two or three months earlier. I am not at all sure it is in our interest to embark single-handed on a lonely venture, even if that rifle is better than others put before us. At any rate, this is not a matter which can be said to be urgent as it will not affect 2606 our position for a good many years to come.
I now come to another controversial matter. I am not at present, as the House knows, convinced of the need for a Supreme Commander in the Atlantic. The question of the nationality of the commander is secondary once the need is proved. I should have thought that the method which was successful during our six years of struggle with the U-boats in the last war, with any improvements which experience may suggest, would have sufficed.
The essence is that the British Admiralty should have complete control of direction of the reception end of trans-Atlantic convoys and shipping. This ought to be managed by the First Sea Lord through his handling machine at Liverpool. The integrity of the management from hour to hour at the reception end is the key to the whole process by which any trans-Atlantic or British Armies can be landed or maintained in Western Europe. It is also the foundation of the process by which 50 million people in the British Isles have been kept alive in the teeth of the U-boat and the mining menace.
It is not a question of national pride, but a question of a good working arrangement on which victory and also life would in certain circumstances depend. As long as complete control of the approaches and reception end is exercised by the Admiralty from this small island all the rest of the problems can be solved. But conflict or duality of control on the command level or between a Supreme Commander and the Admiralty might very well be injurious. The British Admiralty and the United States and Canadian naval chiefs should work together as they always did, and any question of transference of Forces which could not be settled between the respective Admiralties could be adjusted, as they always were, at a higher level.
I am very glad that the United States should come as far east as they propose provided that the management of the reception end is unimpaired. It does not seem also—but this is a technical point—that the definition of coastal waters around Great Britain which has been agreed upon is satisfactory. The 100-fathom limit should be examined as an alternative. There should, moreover, of 2607 course, be no question of treating the Bay of Biscay differently from any other part of the approaches to this island or Western Europe.
The problem must be solved as a whole, and I have no doubt it can be by further friendly discussions. It is certainly not solved now. I hope that we may reach some conclusions which will, without offending national pride on either side of the Atlantic, have the effect of enabling us to do the work, for which we have unequalled experience and expert knowledge, of bringing safely in to the Western shores the aid and supplies that come from across the Atlantic Ocean.
There are only one or two points to which I must refer. Statements have appeared in the Press suggesting that we contemplate widespread departures in the policy of manufacturing atomic bombs. Two years ago I commented unfavourably on the fact that the Socialist Government had not been able to make a specimen atomic bomb although they had been trying to do so for four years. When we came into office, we found that a great deal of work had been done, not only on making the crucial materials required for making atomic bombs, but in preparing to manufacture these weapons. I think the House ought to know about that. Considerable if slow progress has been made.
The House will realise that this is not the moment to discuss the British research and manufacture of atomic bombs in detail. All that I will say is that we have taken over the very costly production of the Socialist Government. We have not decided on any important change in policy or principle. We hope, however, in this as in other matters, by different methods of organisation and administration to effect some improvements, and there are certain aspects of this delicate subject which I hope we may clarify by discussions with the United States authorities.
Dull tragedy rolls forward in Malaya. The first thought of the Secretary of State for the Colonies on being appointed was to go to Malaya, the black spot in his Department. No decision can be taken until after his return. It is becoming painfully evident that there must be one mind with effective power over the 2608 administration in all its branches, including particularly the military and the police.
Some brutal statistics may in the meanwhile be presented to the House. We have in Malaya over 25,000 British troops, over 10,000 Gurkhas, and over 7,000 other soldiers. Added to this there are 60,000 local police in different stages of armament and many part-time auxiliaries. Thus the whole amounts to over 100,000 men employed in a most costly manner. The total expense of the Fighting Forces is nearly £50 million a year, quite apart from any other emergency expenses falling upon the Malayan Government.
We are also suffering heavy loss in the restriction through terrorism of our tin mines and rubber plantations. It is said that the bandits, or whatever they should be called, number 3,000 to 5,000, and I do not suppose that their maintenance cost is comparably at all heavy. Certainly it seems some improvement should be made in this theatre of tragedy and waste, but we had better wait before debating the subject until the Secretary of State comes home when we can weigh and measure the report which he will make.
I have nothing to add to the statements which have been made to the House about the position in Egypt and Korea. In Korea we all hope that the armistice negotiations will reach agreement and that this agreement will lead to a wider settlement in the country. In Egypt and the Suez Canal we stand by the Four Power proposals for the organisation of the defence of the Middle East and the safeguarding of the international waterway, and we hope eventually to associate the other countries in the area with the Four Powers in their joint task.
In the meanwhile we shall do our duty in accordance with our Treaty rights in the Canal Zone, and we hope for an increasing measure of aid from the Egyptian Government in preventing mob violence and other forms of lawless and murderous attack. We believe our Forces in the Canal Zone, or within reach of it, are strong enough for any work they may have to do. We welcome the fact that good relations prevail between them and the Egyptian Army. Everyone would like to see a speedy and friendly settlement, but there are some problems in 2609 which time is a potent factor. We certainly propose to use it with patience as well as with firmness.
I have now covered, so far as I wish to at the moment, the immense variety of events in the world-wide scene which spreads arounds us. I have tried to do justice to those large issues in which we are in agreement with the policy pursued by the late Government. I have also tried to emphasise the urgent need of a complete and searching examination and review and, where necessary, the recasting of methods by which right decisions in major policy have been impaired by wrong methods or faulty execution.
The process of examining the enormous expenditure on defence in all its forms in order while doing our duty to spend this money and spend the rest more effectively will continue without rest or pause until we meet again. I hope then, with the help of the Ministers responsible for the Service Departments, to be able to make a more precise and definite statement than it is possible for me to do after only six weeks examination of this immense and tangled field.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Mr. C. R. Attlee (Walthamstow, West)
I am sure that the House has listened to the Prime Minister's review with very great interest. I fortified myself before this debate by looking back at some of our previous debates. In particular, I read the speeches made by the right hon. Gentleman when in Opposition. I am bound to say that when I read his last speech I came to the conclusion that that speech was influenced by what he has so often described as "the Election atmosphere." Most of the points made were party points, and I found it was not worth while fortifying myself with that report before coming here for this debate.
I am amply confirmed in my judgment by the right hon. Gentleman's speech today. When one considers the vast amount of criticism hurled against us from the benches opposite during all these years and then listens to the statements made, one can really draw a just conclusion as to how much of substance there was in that attack which was made on the last Government and particularly on some of my right hon. Friends.
We have agreed, in turn, that one had to employ here the method of deterrence. 2610 The dangers during these years have been very acute and we had to take very heavy risks, as at the time of the Berlin air-lift I am glad to see that the broad lines of policy which we followed are now approved—the establishment of National Service, re-armament and the rest. What it comes down to now is that the right hon. Gentleman, after having been in office a little while, is dealing with facts and not with fancies.
Only one thing remains of all the complaints and that is the old one—that we must have value for money. We are just in the same position as we always were before—a total inability to say where there was waste and how much more value will now be got for the money expended. I am quite sure that the more the right hon. Gentleman looks into these matters and realises the difference in cost today from what it used to be—the difference not only in the cost of materials, but in the pay of our troops and of all our Services—he will realise that the scope for these large economics is not very great.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the pipe-line. It is a fact that one does have a number of people in transition between the home front and a particular theatre either of hot or cold war; and it is a fact that short service means a good deal of extra transit. It is also necessitated by greater need for leave when operating in very difficult countries such as Malaya and Korea and the rest.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the slow progress in the air. No one knows better than he does how heart-breaking are the delays in the production of aircraft. They are called teething troubles. One gets an aircraft and one thinks it is going ahead; trials are made and one thinks one is going to have delivery but in my experience, not only over the last six years but in the five years before that, there are always long delays. We were attacked on the grounds that we did not make greater provision of aircraft, but if we had produced more they would have been obsolete and obsolescent aircraft. We were criticised for not having enough aircraft.
The point there is that in this competition in the air one State is always tending to get ahead of the other. There always comes a point, as, indeed, there is at the moment with regard to the Soviet M.I.G., when someone has an advantage. 2611 In a short time we shall be having the advantage, but it would have been very short-sighted if we had tried to step up all our squadrons to full strength by producing obsolete or obsolescent aircraft and not going in for those of higher quality. That applies to a large extent to all weapons, and it is never any good just judging the position at one particular moment. One has to see what has been the course of past production and what is to be the course of future production.
I was interested in the right hon. Gentleman's statement on the European Army, because it has now come down much more to practical politics from the rather exaggerated and romantic statements that were made at the beginning. I notice that there has dropped out from his statement, what I think I saw in his previous speech, that it was necessary that we, too, should make a contribution actually in the European Army. I noticed, too, that the European Minister of Defence had disappeared. Well, I think that is all to the good.
We all agree that German re-armament is a very, very difficult subject. On the one hand, it is quite impossible to leave a vacuum in eastern Europe. [HON. MEMBERS: "Western."] The eastern part of western Europe or central Europe if hon. Members like—anyway, in Western Germany. To leave a vacuum there would be dangerous. The composition of a European Army obviously required a very great deal of discussion as to whether it was practical or not.
The right hon. Gentleman rather deplored that we did not have people taking part in it. I disagree. I think that in these things it is much better to let the parties concerned thrash the thing out; otherwise, there is a tendency to think that we should step forward and take the thing over ourselves. It is much better that we should be associated. I think a European Army is the best and safest way in which one can secure a contribution to German defence without danger of the rise once more of German militarism.
There is the difficulty, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman has encountered it, of the higher political direction in N.A.T.O. In the last war it was very largely a question of the direction being taken between this country and the 2612 United States of America. It is now a question of direction in connection with some twelve States, and may be more, and that makes it extraordinarily difficult. Either one gets an extremely clumsy machine or one gets a machine in which some important States feel that they are not adequately represented. I am quite sure that a lot more work will have to be done on this subject.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the American air bases. We have always considered that as an essential part of the defence of Europe and that if we were to have the American Forces co-operating with the European Forces there ought to be bases and that those bases should be in this country and in other countries. I never regarded this base specifically as a base from which an atom attack would be launched against the U.S.S.R. Obviously, there are bases where one would have to consider what attacks would be made, but we have never taken the line that this country was an air base to be used by the United States of America. We have always taken the line that we must hold ourselves free in this position to act with our Allies and that any question of the use of this base is for ourselves and for decision jointly with our American Allies. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman takes the same position on that.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about the hedgehog and the rabbit. The hedgehog, of course, reminds us of a creature that is awaiting attack. Our view has always been that our deterrents must be designed to keep the enemy as far away from these shores as possible, and I do not think that one wants to get this country into a kind of hedgehog attitude in which we put an immense amount of our resources into the passive defence of these islands. The danger there is to suggest to other countries that we are indifferent to their fate.
Therefore, I think that the need is to strengthen our defences on the further boundaries of the countries of freedom, and, from my point of view, I consider that the Home Guard proposal was out of time just now—I shall not repeat the arguments we have already used about that—because I do not believe that that is really facing up to the right strategy—which is the strengthening of the front in Europe. It is really very largely a question of priorities.
2613 I was glad that the right hon. Gentleman paid his tribute to the efficiency of the Territorial Army and also to the effectiveness of the call-up for 15 days. It is very gratifying, because I remember so many pundits among hon. Members opposite saying that it was perfectly hopeless, that 15 days were no use, and that the whole thing was no good, and we were attacked in the Press in every way. We acted, of course, on very good military advice—I expect it was the same advice upon which the right hon. Gentleman is now acting—and it turns out that that military advice was correct. I am glad to see that here, as in so many things, the right hon. Gentleman is falling in behind us. It rather suggests that a good deal of that criticism was based perhaps not entirely on military experience but on, as the right hon. Gentleman said, the electoral atmosphere.
With regard to manufactures, we put out a programme which was expressed in terms of money. That was the only way we could very well put out a complicated programme dealing with the rearming of a Navy, an Army and an Air Force. We put it out as a programme to be worked over, and completed, if possible, within three years. The right hon. Gentleman said that no one who has had any experience ever expects that there will not be something in the nature of a lag. When I made a statement in the House I said that it depended very largely on factors such as the availability of machine tools, raw materials and the rest, and, quite honestly, no one could pin oneself down and say that one was prepared to spend exactly a certain amount this year or next year or that the completion would be exactly at a certain time.
Naturally, these things have to roll on and are affected by circumstances; but if we want to have a plan of this kind—a connected plan for the whole Services—worked out over a period of years, we must obviously have some definite propositions which are expressed in terms of money and are worked out. No one suggests that there would not be modifications or that they would not be influenced by various factors.
I am all for having a very careful scrutiny made all the time to try to get the greatest possible efficiency and economy in production. One has to 2614 watch, as we have been watching, all the time. I doubt whether we have had very much credit for it during the six and a half years we have been in office, in which we had to face an extremely difficult situation. We always had to try to strike a balance between what was absolutely essential for the maintenance of the economy of this country and what was essential for its defence.
That is a point that we have had to stress here at home and also in our discussions whether on the Continent or with our American Allies. I am quite sure that when the right hon. Gentleman looks at the contributions which have been made to building up the strength of the Atlantic community he will find that this country has gone further to fulfil its obligations than any other country.
I agree with what he said with regard to the priority of materials for the Air Force. The other point which he thought was one of great controversy was that of the pool of rifles. We want to get the best rifle, and, as in the question of commands, I do not think we want to stand necessarily on the claims of nationality. I believe that the experts agree that the British rifle is the best, and we should do all we can to get it adopted, but I hope that we are not going to delay getting on with the production of the best rifle by having a long controversy as to which is the best—long delays may run very far—because we have already taken steps towards production.
It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to say that a few months do not make much difference, but a "few months" tend to drag on and we may soon find that we are dragging behind again. These lags are so often due to controversies at the start as to what is the absolute best. I say, "May the best rifle win," and I have complete confidence that in an impartial survey the British rifle will win. If others have got a better one, well, let us have it.
The right hon. Gentleman also talked about this subject of controversy over the Supreme Commander in the Atlantic. In the arrangements we made everything with regard to the preservation of the necessary rights of this country at the reception end was arranged, certainly to the satisfaction of our naval advisers. We took full tactical advice on this. There 2615 was no over-riding of the experts by inexpert Ministers. We acted on the best advice we could get from our naval advisers, and we take full responsibility for that advice. In my view—certainly in their view—what the right hon. Gentleman demands is that we should have control over our own coasts and of the reception end. I believe that was amply secured in the arrangements. The question of a Supreme Commander of the Atlantic is, perhaps, not so vital; it is a matter which can be worked out.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman acknowledged at last that we had not done nothing in regard to the atomic weapon. We have done a very great deal. The right hon. Gentleman must now realise that this goes back a very long time and that all the work was done over in America and not over here and we had to build up again from the start. That has been an extremely difficult thing, and I think a very great deal of credit is due to our scientists.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Malaya. It is a very difficult problem. It is quite true that there are only 5,000 or 6,000 of these people, but they are reinforced from time to time, and it is very difficulty country. There is plenty of experience in history of quite a few guerillas pinning down large numbers of troops. The Briggs Plan has been put in force, but it has not been entirely successful yet. That kind of plan will have to be worked out, but I do not see a very quick or easy solution.
It is not purely a military solution which must be sought, because in the military work we have also to keep the people with us, whether they are Malays, Indians or Chinese. There are a limited number of Indians. I believe the great bulk of the Chinese, where they are not terrorised, would like to stand in on our side, but they are often frightened; the Malays, also. It is essential—I emphasise this—that clear statements should be made about why we are in Malaya and what is the future of the Malayan people.
When I made a statement in this House—it was a quite definite statement—about our staying in Malaya, I was subjected to constant attacks by the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans). About every other week he wanted me to say it again. He said that the people 2616 in Malaya did not understand unless we spoke very clearly. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman made a very clear statement yesterday. Perhaps it would be as well if he made a very categorical and clear statement so that it may be understood by the Malays, the Chinese and the Indians.
The only other point I have to make is with regard to the organisation of defence. The right hon. Gentleman has taken on the task of being Minister of Defence as well as Prime Minister. I think he has found that it is a heavy job, because in all this international work on N.A.T.O. and the rest the Minister of Defence must meet his opposite numbers and must take a heavy share of the work. There is also the vital point of harmonising the plans of the three Services. I believe that has been done to a very great extent by the good work by the Chiefs of Staff and also by the organisation of the Ministry of Defence, but it may be that the right hon. Gentleman may find, after a bit, that he wants someone to take on the Ministry of Defence. I noticed some speculation in the Sunday papers about this. I do not read the Sunday papers a great deal. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Well, not all of them.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Nigel Birch)
"Reynolds News" anyhow!
§ Mr. Attlee
No, the one I was reading was the "Observer." The "Observer" suggested that during the Recess the right hon. Gentleman would be handing on his responsibilities as Minister of Defence to someone else, and it proceeded to suggest a very distinguished soldier, for whom we all have the highest respect.
I would merely say that I think it would be a great mistake, if the right hon. Gentleman had such intentions in mind, to put in a distinguished soldier, sailor or airman as Minister of Defence, That is not because I think they could not do the job or that I have any objection to employing them, but because in this task it is quite unfair to the Chiefs of Staff to put over them someone who has a big military reputation. It makes it extremely difficult for them, and for the Government on whose advice they depend, to have two sources of technical advice.
2617 If we have Chiefs of Staff, we must trust our Chiefs of Staff; we must not set up a military person above them. If that is dangerous when we are dealing with this country alone, it is still more dangerous and difficult to have Ministers of Defence who have collectively to control organisations like that of the defence of Europe, in which distinguished soldiers who are international servants have to act under them. They must have political guidance, but that political guidance must be by politicians and not by other soldiers, sailors or airmen.
I think it worth while, therefore, because one never knows whether the "Observer" may not be right. They are right sometimes. I would say that in my view such a decision would be a mistake. I think it would be contrary to the general position we have had in this country with civilians at the head of the Service Ministers. I do not think the experience we have had in the past, of distinguished soldiers or sailors being put there, have been happy ones, and if we have another Minister of Defence then that Minister should be in the House of Commons.
I have not made a party speech on this subject of defence. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] No, I have not, although I have had a considerable amount of provocation. I could easily have dealt with hon. Members opposite on what they have said in the past. But I have taken the line—and I believe in the line—that the question of defence should be dealt with on its merits by the whole House and that we should endeavour to get the greatest amount of unity in the country behind it. If I had come here to make party points, and had come with the volumes of HANSARD for a few years past, I could have quoted remarks by hon. Members opposite and could have made a good many party points.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Gough (Horsham)
I am sure that the Leader of the Opposition will forgive me if I do not follow him very closely, but for me today is a very important occasion. For a very large number of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen, it is an experience—perhaps not a very agreeable experience—but an experience which, by now, they have relegated to the dim recesses of the memory: 2618 but for me it is a stark reality, and I am very appreciative of and grateful for the indulgence which is customarily given on an occasion such as this when an hon. Member makes his first address to this august House.
If I may, I want to confine my remarks this evening to a problem which is fundamental to any discussion or debate on defence, and that is the problem of manpower; or perhaps I should put it, the proper use of the manpower that is available. It would be wrong to say that this is in any way a new or a novel problem. It is a problem which has beset the rulers of this country throughout our history, from the day when King Harold was unable to muster sufficient reserves to hurl the Norman invaders back into the sea—which, happily, has turned out rather well for us.
From that day, right through our history, our leaders have had to grapple with this question of numerical inferiority, and they have always had to overcome it by novel means. One's mind goes immediately to Drake's fire-ships, which were a classic example of a victory over an enemy in overwhelming force, and on down the pages of history until we come to the Battle of Britain, when we were enjoined, if I might paraphrase the words of the famous hymn, toLook upward to the skies,Where such a light affliction had gained so great a prize.It is important for us to realise that our danger lies, unfortunately, in a strange disinclination to learn from our lessons of the past, and, also unfortunately, we seem to have an unhealthy reputation for losing every battle except the last. With the advance of science and with the shattering effect of modern weapons, it is quite possible that, next time, the first battle may even be the last; and it would be well for us, therefore, to be ready to win it. I believe that the only way in which we can overcome this numerical disability is to remember that mobility for us is one of the most important of the principles of war.
I am reminded of the words of a well-known American general in the American Civil War, who said:The man who wins the battle is the man who gits thar fustest with the mostest menWe nearly lost the Second World War by ignoring that advice and by failing, 2619 in the intervening years, to realise the revolutionary effect of the armoured fighting vehicle on modern warfare. I wonder whether we are, and I hope we are not, once again disregarding our past lessons.
The one thing which emerged more than anything else out of the Second World War was the formation and development of airborne Forces. Knowing and realising the difficulties of the Royal Air Force in this question of air potential, it nevertheless seems to me to be something of a tragedy that our Regular airborne Forces have had to be so greatly reduced during the past six years. I sometimes wonder whether their value in peace-time has been fully realised and whether it is appreciated how valuable they could have been during these six years.
I believe that if we had retained one or two airborne divisions, with the appropriate air Forces and that if we had been able to keep them stationed in this country, they could perhaps have made it very much easier for us to garrison Germany. I also wonder whether the Beige of Berlin would have taken place had we been able to land a division of airborne troops at the psychological moment.
There must have been tactical reasons for the decision, but I believe it was a mistake to send our only parachute brigade to Cyprus and to the Suez Canal Zone, and I hope their return to this country will be expedited. With all those difficulties, I believe it would be a great move for us to build up, as a highly mobile strategic weapon, something in the nature of one airborne division. From the point of view of Imperial defence it might well be worth while, in addition, to try to persuade certain of the Dominion Governments each to form and to build up a similar airborne division.
Had we possessed such an Imperial strategic reserve, what a great difference it would have made to us in helping the United Nations in Korea. Indeed, when one looks at our almost world-wide commitments, one realises what a great value it would be if, in company and in consort with the other Dominions, we were able very quickly to form a strategic reserve of fine troops, well trained, of that nature.
2620 Another important point on the manpower question is what I should like to describe as the build-up. We all know that for every man in the fighting line there must be a very large number of men behind him. It may be my simple nature, but it seems strange to me that, with the fighting strength of the three Services very low at the moment—as is accepted on all sides—their staffs and headquarters, and, indeed, their Ministries, do not seem to have shrunk in proportion. I was very glad indeed to hear my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence say that that matter was receiving very serious consideration.
A third point I should like to mention concerns the subject of discipline and, I would say, discipline as related to manpower. This is no criticism. I believe that discipline in our three Services is high and, as a result of it, their morale is high, too. But I also believe that it is agreed and accepted on all sides of the House that enlightened discipline is essential in all the Armed Forces of the Crown, because good discipline means low casualties, and just as self-control in the individual brings self-respect, so discipline in a unit brings efficiency and esprit de corps to any fighting formation. Time and time again the discipline of our Armed Forces has brought them, victoriously and successfully through what have appeared by every ordinary yardstick to be hopeless situations. In terms of manpower that seems to me to prove a most important thing—that quality is worth so very much more than quantity.
In conclusion, I would say this. Sir William Napier wrote of the strength and the majesty with which the British soldier fights. It is those qualities which have been displayed in the past and which have made it possible for us to meet in safety here tonight, and I feel we should all see that not only now but in the future the same high standards are cherished and maintained, for only thus can we hope to avert another challenge to our existence.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Woodrow Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
I am sure that the whole House would like me to congratulate, on their behalf, the hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough) on his excellent maiden speech. He spoke with great sincerity and with much felicity of phrase, as one would expect from someone who has 2621 succeeded Lord Winterton, the former Father of the House. I hope that his excursions into our debates in future will be as many and varied as those of his predecessor.
I want to make one or two comments about some of the things which the Prime Minister said this afternoon. There were one or two implied criticisms, perhaps, of the previous Administration. For instance, there was his reference to the 30,000 troops in the pipe-line and he seemed to suggest that if we had managed things better those 30,000 troops would not be in the pipe-line. I hope the Secretary of State, who I believe is to wind up the debate, will concede at once that unless we cut out leave or alter the whole leave system in the Army, it is quite impossible to reduce that number in the pipe-line except over a very long period, possibly by changing the terms of service in the Army. It was, therefore, not faulty administration which caused those 30,000 to be in the pipe-line.
Again, when the time comes for the Secretary of State to put forward his new proposals for Service engagements—in the Annual Army Bill—I hope it will be admitted that those arrangements were not made by himself or the present Government, but by his predecessors in office. They are of far-reaching character and will, I hope, have a great effect upon recruiting to the Army, but they will be nothing whatever to do with the present Government; they were devised by the previous Government.
§ Mr. Wyatt
They will have to be very good to be better than ours.
I should also like to refer to the.280 rifle. The Prime Minister was kind enough to say that he had accepted one request of mine, which was that he should look at the rifle. Apparently that was something which had not occurred to him before I made the suggestion. This was a great advance on his rather backward thinking on this subject. Now, having looked at the rifle, I hope he will look into the figures which he gave about the potential production of this rifle. I hope he will look into them when the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply is present, because I am quite sure that it would be possible to produce 2622 this rifle in larger quantities earlier than the Prime Minister said, if sufficient energy were put behind it.
I do not believe, particularly now we have a bright, new Conservative Administration, which is going to get on with the job very much more rapidly than we did—or so they say—that it should take anywhere near as long as until 1953 to get the necessary re-tooling done to put this rifle into production. Indeed, I think it could be done by the end of next year, if it were only tackled with some energy; and we could be getting quite large numbers of these rifles very much earlier than was suggested.
I hope we shall not have, during the coming months or even years, attempts to cover any possible cuts in the armament programme by suggestions that these are only economies made out of wasteful and extravagant methods used by the Labour Government in their re-armament programme, because any cuts on the figures which we announced last January will not be due to cutting out wasteful methods at all, but because, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman has already found out during the last few weeks, there is not any great scope for cutting out wasteful administration in the three Services or in the procurement of these weapons.
I am sure we would all agree that the economic difficulties which face us have the effect of making us think of what possibilities there may be of cutting down our re-armament programme. We should all, naturally, rather cut it than make any severe inroads into our standard of living, but I think we want to proceed very cautiously along this path, because we must all remember that the £4,700 million programme was based on a military need. It is not merely an addendum to everything else done in our economic life. It is based on a definite military need, designed to produce a balanced Force as our part of Western European defence by 1954, and we have to keep that in mind when we are considering any possibilities of slowing down the programme. I think it will be agreed that this programme was, in fact, less than the soldiers wanted, but the minimum that the politicians thought was necessary for our safety, and basically the conditions which demanded that programme have not changed a great deal.
2623 I am sure that nobody would say that we are greatly nearer a lasting settlement of international disputes and disagreements today than we were in January of this year. The Russians have still got vast forces under arms; they are still maintaining a tremendous armament production to equip not only their own forces but those of the satellite countries; and we are still very weak in the West in comparison with those forces. I had always thought that once we did embark upon a re-armament programme the Russians would make continual attempts to persuade us, through peace, campaigns and other gestures and manoeuvres, that our re-armament was unnecessary, and I think we have to be on our guard against manoeuvres of that kind.
In so far as genuine approaches may have been made by the Russians, in so far as there may be here and there a lightening of the situation, I would put it down entirely to our re-armament programme; because it is only through seeing that we are determined to defend ourselves that the Russians are, perhaps, beginning to be brought to a more co-operative state of mind. I think that we should grab at whatever signs there may be of honest intentions on their part; and that as we grow stronger we should be the more ready to co-operate and compromise.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes(South Ayrshire) rose—
§ Mr. Wyatt
This is an argument which we have so frequently that I am sure that my hon Friend would not wish me to bore the House with it. If at this present stage we do have to have a reduced rearmament programme—and I want to spend a little more time on that in a moment—and if we have to reduce it by very much, we must face the fact that there are military risks involved; otherwise, the original £4,700 million programme would never have been adopted in the first place, and I believe that the country should be told what those military risks are. Apart from our production limitations—and I always believed myself that it would not be possible for our 2624 factories to produce the entire £4,700 million programme within three years—
§ Mr. Wyatt
I never said so.
Apart from those production difficulties there is, of course, always the state of our home economy to be considered, particularly in the future. I do not concede that our present balance of payments position has in any way been caused by our own re-armament programme, though I do concede that it will be more difficult to solve it in the future with our present re-armament programme. There is a situation in which we may have to cut down on that programme, and that is, if we do not get United States aid, either directly or, preferably, indirectly through the burden-sharing inquiry at N.A.T.O., to carry us through that programme.
I say, in contradiction to some people, that we ought to be prepared to take that aid—to take what aid we can, to do as much of our re-armament programme as we can. Everybody was quite willing to take United States aid with the £3,600 million programme, and there is no logical reason for refusing aid for the £4,700 million programme. The then Chancellor of the Exchequer, during the defence debate last February, said that a burden-sharing inquiry was proceeding at N.A.T.O., to see what American aid would be allocated and how it could be divided. At that time no protest whatever was made. I think we should try to get that aid.
I believe that we have more influence with the United States with arms than without. There are many complaints at Question time—and I can sympathise with them—which say, "Why have we not got a representative in the armistice negotiations in Korea?" The answer is because our armed strength in Korea, in comparison with that of the Americans, does not justify the presence of a British military representative on the armistice commission. When we are talking in terms of arms, compared with the United States they are bound to demand the principal influence where they bear all the arms. Unless it is clear that we are going to do as much as we can so far as rearmament is concerned we are not going to have the influence that I think we ought to have.
2625 The complaint about the £4,700 million re-armament programme earlier this year was, that we could not carry it through because the Americans were not being sufficiently helpful because they were not going to let us have the raw materials and economic aid we needed. Surely we should not say, if the Americans are going to be helpful, that we do not want that help? The reason why many people felt that our programme of £4,700 million would be too much was because they said the Americans were not being sufficiently helpful. Therefore, we should not refuse their help if we are going to get it now.
I think, however, that there is a danger the other way round, and that is that the United States may not give us aid; not that they will give it us, but that they may not give it us. In Europe today it is only Britain which has fulfilled its obligations to N.A.T.O. It is only Britain which has done each thing it said it would in the way of re-armament. It is, indeed, only Britain that would fight without American aid, if we got no American aid at all in Europe. Today, the morale of our soldiers is higher than those of any in Europe.
I think the reason for this situation is that other Governments in Europe know what their duty is with regard to rearmament, but will not do it. They will not do it because they are afraid that they will be thrown out of office by people who are defeated in their hearts before any battle begins—by people who believe that it is not possible to defend Europe and, therefore, are not prepared to make the effort to build up the Armed Forces necessary to do it. It is because there are craven Governments, matched in too many quarters by craven people, that we are not getting the build up that we ought to have in Europe.
It is natural enough that the United States may well hesitate to give aid to us in Europe when they see that these countries have not done all they could. I think that there is a wave of disillusionment in the United States at the moment so far as aid to Europe is concerned. As my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), said, last March, more brilliantly than I could ever do, isolationism in the United States would be absolutely fatal to us in Europe, and to us in Britain in particular.
2626 British re-armament has put some heart into Europe. But we need to take further steps if we are to get Europe to believe in itself and to believe in the possibility of its defending itself, and I believe that the time has come when nothing less than British active participation in the European Army is going to do this. We have rightly hesitated to take this step up to now because we have been trying to see what willingness there is in Europe for the possibility of co-operation.
I think the time has now come when we must step in on the ground floor of the European Army—and for three main reasons: one, because it is absolutely essential to our defence, if there should be a war, to keep the enemy away as far as possible from us in Europe; second, because if we are to get Europe to have enough confidence in itself to undertake the task of defending itself we must show it that we are in earnest about defending Europe, and that we regard our cause as being inextricably bound up with Europe's; and, third, because, though I hate the idea of it, I think that German re-armament in the long run is inevitable, and that the best way of controlling it, and at the same time of satisfying German aspirations in regard to their own army, is for us to be in the European Army from the very beginning.
I do not believe that a German contingent in a European Army which does not contain Britain can be controlled in the years ahead—and I am thinking of times, perhaps, 10, 15 or 20 years ahead. Unless we are there the Germans, who are the most proficient soldiers in Europe, will make rings round everybody else.
I think that we must be modest in our approach to the European Army. I do not think we should assume that a great and complicated structure can be built up at once. Where we have failed up to date, as far as the British are concerned, is in tending to reject the proposals put forward in Europe as being impracticable, and in not putting forward any of our own. I think that the European proposals, in the main—for a common uniform, common pay—are impracticable. We do not want to begin by going so far into detail as that. We want to begin where we are today.
We want to allocate, first of all, those divisions which we have in Germany to 2627 the European Army, and to give a guarantee that, if we relieve one of those divisions, another one will be put into its place. We want to see that there will be sufficient reserve forces allocated behind those divisions, and say, "That is our contribution to the European Army to begin with." Then we should accept the possibility that the divisions of Britain, of France, of Western Germany can be put into multi-national corps commanded by a person of any nationality—somebody selected as being the most suitable for the job. If we do not get to grips with the European Army and actively put forward our own proposals, then I am convinced that the European Army will come to nothing, and European defence will fade away, which, incidentally, would greatly increase our dependence on America and not lessen it.
I think that in some of the recent utterances of the Prime Minister there has been a dangerous tendency to drift back into a special kind of Anglo-American relationship of the type which he enjoyed and was accustomed to during the war. I have an uncomfortable feeling sometimes, at Question time, that he is saving up a number of points with which to go to America, on which he is going to refuse all agreement now at European conferences, and he can then say, "If we can recreate the special Anglo-American relationship, perhaps we will concede you the point about the.280 rifle and the American admiral in the Atlantic, and generally do a bargain which would start to leave out Europe."
I think that if we or America, or both, begin to give the impression that we are going to pull out of Europe, then every vestige of the will to resist in Europe will vanish. Equally, if we begin to scale down our re-armament programme before making every effort to keep up to it, every other country in Europe will abandon much of what re-armament it has undertaken. I do not suggest that we have to keep to the letter of the programme over three years. I do not think that three years is a particularly significant date, except as an original target. I can accept the proposition that the rearmament programme will not be corn-Dieted for three-and-a-half years or a little either side, but what I cannot accept is that the balanced Force which that 2628 programme represents should be abandoned, because, if it is, we shall be running very grave military risks indeed.
In the same way that settlement is no nearer to our world differences, so, it is more cheerful to appreciate, war is also no nearer. It is thought in some quarters that German re-armament may precipitate a Russian attack. I thought that this seemed very likely at one time—perhaps about six months ago—but I think that the Russians today do not seem so concerned about German rearmament as they are about the Atlantic Pact and Western re-armament generally. The background is still the same argument, about the atomic bomb, which has always hung over Europe. We have a stockpile of atomic bombs and the Russians have not, and I do not think that they are going to precipitate a war, at any rate until they have a stockpile as well as our having one.
I am not convinced that there is a strong case for the acceleration of rearmament and the creation of new reserves for next year. This was a very popular idea in military quarters—I am speaking not only of Britain—because it was felt that German re-armament undertaken next year might push the Russians into a war then, but I do not think that that is by any means true, and we require a lot more evidence on that point before agreeing to any acceleration next year that would put too great a strain on our resources. It would be much better, in my view, to maintain a steady course in the build-up of our Forces.
We are building up today a Force which can, if the Russians were to attack us, form a crust behind which reserve Forces could assemble and the war potential of the West be realised. We shall also have a Force which will be able to deal with acts of local aggression, like Korea, because there may be other acts, even in Europe, of a similar character. The mistake that those who criticised re-armament made was in not seeing that unless we had sufficient Forces there was no half-way house between abject surrender to Russian demands and the ultimate sanction of a third world war. We have to consider acts of local aggression and contain them, so that they do not advance into a third world war, and we cannot do that unless we have sufficient Forces at our disposal.
2629 Finally, I would say that we must not, in this matter, delude our people into thinking that there are comfortable times ahead. We must not damage our own morale and that of the West by re-arming at one moment, by making deep cuts in re-armament at the next moment, and then, in a panic, start a further rearmament programme because some incident has taken place.
Above all, and here, I think, N.A.T.O. and the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Powers in Europe have been at fault, we must tell people in the West more of what we are doing, how we are doing it and why we are doing it. There has been a lot of confused information coming out of these quarters recently. Before that, there was no information at all. I think that we must try to get more information because Europe must be made to believe in itself and in the possibility of defending itself.
We should never cease to emphasise that our Forces are designed for self-defence alone, and that there is no possibility of an arms race inherent in our programme in the West. Even if the most optimistic calculations of N.A.T.O. were fulfilled, we would still not have in 1954, or even in 1955 or 1956, Forces large enough to threaten Russia; not even remotely. [Interruption.] There would not be sufficient Forces in Europe under the plans made today.
What I am talking about is the general Western defence programme for the defence of Europe and it is not in any way envisaged that there should be huge military Forces stationed in Europe or that there is any possibility whatever of being able to assemble Forces strong enough to threaten Russia.
§ Mr. R. H. S. Crossman (Coventry, East)
On the point about Western Europe, does that remove the fact that certainly by 1956 America anticipate that American Armed Forces will be wholly adequate for an active policy against Russia; and if that is so, would not that put us in extreme danger?
§ Mr. Wyatt
I think that I follow my hon. Friend's fears, even if I do not always follow his thoughts. The point is that at the moment the Americans, far from wanting to put vast Forces in Europe, are tending not to put in quite 2630 as much as N.A.T.O., or rather the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Powers of Europe, would wish them to do. They cannot launch an attack on Russia unless they have some land contact with them or with the States contiguous to them, unless, of course, they go through Alaska which is a very unlikely route; so there is no possibility of the Americans being able to launch an attack on the Russians unless they put more troops in Europe first to do it, which they show no sign of doing. That is what I am discussing now.
We are not going to have a Force large enough, including the Americans and ourselves, in Europe, to be able to be a threat to Russia. All that these Forces will be able to do is to act as a deterrent to the Russians beginning a war, and will, in fact, form the crust to which I referred, behind which we hope to be able to have time to assemble our reserve divisions and industrial potential to win the war. They could never be large enough to attack Russia unless all the countries of Europe were to go on a war footing, which is quite unthinkable. No one suggests that even our present rearmament programme puts us on anything like a war footing.
The Russians know and understand that perfectly well. They are as well versed in military matters as, perhaps better than, our own generals in the West. They know that our Forces are quite incapable of attacking them; and we want to emphasise that fact to our people in this country and to the people of Europe, and to prove to them, at the same time, that the Forces which we are building up will be adequate to protect them, and that it is worth while their undertaking this burden to make the peace of the world secure.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Wyatt), not because I shall pursue his rather broad review of the defence programme, but because want to make a few observations on the subject of the.280 rifle. I should like to say that it was because of the courtesy of the hon. Gentleman, when he was in office in the late Government, that I was able to interest myself in the.280 rifle and see something of it in action.
It was quite clear from the remarks of the Prime Minister that we have two 2631 irreconcilable factors. I think it is beyond dispute on either side of the House that the.280 rifle is an outstandingly good weapon. I do not think that any one who has tested it is prepared to contest that statement. We also have the problem of production which, with his unrivalled experience, the right hon. Gentleman went through this afternoon, and the fact that not until the end of 1954 can we begin to produce these rifles in anything like adequate numbers.
I am sure that hon. Members will agree that although we may be able to gear up production, as he suggested, and, perhaps, improve on that programme, we shall still be well short in the next two or three years of the numbers required. I take it that these irreconcilable factors will be discussed when the Prime Minister goes to Washington.
There are three points I want to make in respect of the discussions which will take place there. We have I think, taken five years from the moment of conception to the moment of production of this new rifle. It is, as with all these very technical weapons, an extremely long job to get the idea from the drawing board into production. To halt it at this moment would be to write off an enormous amount of work which has been done over those five years, and it would appear to be extremely important that we should not, if we can avoid it, break the chain of experimental progress. As with all these weapons, after a start has been made and production has begun, one learns about improvements that can be made.
The Prime Minister said that there were 20 in existence now. If we had 200, and if recruits were able to fire them, and if, as they were made, one or two were sent to Korea to put them to a practical test—as, I remember, weapons were put to a practical test in the last war—we should have learnt a good deal more about the faults, and there are bound to be some, in the weapon. I hope, therefore, that that chain of experimental progress will not be broken, as it would be broken if the rifle was put on the shelf tomorrow.
It is always difficult in this field to reconcile our inventive genius with our productive capacity. That is the heart 2632 of the difficulty which we are up against. We have produced probably the best rifle in the world, but we have not the productive capacity to produce enough on our own account.
I would say that productive capacity is perhaps not the only factor which will arise at Washington. The Americans very naturally—and I do not say this critically—prefer on all occasions their own inventions. It has been said, perhaps wrongly, that they have a little rubber stamp device which, I think, bears the initials "N.M.H", which stands for "Not Made Here," which is liable to appear on inventions of other countries, as is perfectly natural, but I think that it would be unfortunate if that were applied to this particular weapon.
My third point is that I have an idea that this rifle will have a profound effect upon infantry tactics. I do not think it can fail to do so. A rifle which is capable of firing on to the target at something like eight to ten times the rate per minute of the old rifle, and which can be converted to an automatic weapon, cannot fail to alter substantially infantry tactics, to say nothing of the new problems which it creates, of, for example, ammunition. The sooner the infantry are given a chance to discover the value of this weapon for themselves and the effect which it might have on infantry tactics the better, so that perhaps they can investigate the potentialities of this new weapon in relation to their fire and movement.
Having seen this weapon, I have no doubt that it will do a tremendous amount to redress the balance of fire power of the infantry in relation to the fire power of other arms, a disparity, which many have thought has become more and more obvious in recent years.
Those are all the points of which I think our American friends should be aware. I should like to feel that they are going to be impressed. There is one final point. If we have produced the finest rifle in the world it should be one which will help not only the British soldier, but should be of benefit to all soldiers within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. As such it would seem that it is in the interests of us all that the best, and only the best weapon should be placed in the hands of our infantry.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)
I hope the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) will not think me discourteous if I do not follow him into the technicalities of the rifle which he has been discussing. I should like to turn, if I may, to some of the observations of the Prime Minister in the interesting speech which he delivered to the House today. It opened on what I thought was a hopeful note. The right hon. Gentleman thinks that the danger of war in the world is not so great as it was two years ago. That I think is a conclusion that most of us in this House have come to, and if our situation is not so desperate as it was, I should have thought that the need for desperate measures was not as great as it was.
One of the desperate measures we in Europe have been talking about in recent years has been this question of German re-armament. I followed with some care, the observations of the right hon. Gentleman about the European Army. I confess I was not quite clear what he had in mind. Is his position this, that he is opposed to German re-armament save for German forces within the context of a European Army? I think it is important that the right hon. Gentleman should be quite specific upon that matter. If he has any idea that those in Germany, who will have to take a leading part in the armed forces that they are to raise, will be content with that situation then he is harbouring a grave delusion. I was interested that he was able to announce today to the House a specific undertaking by Chancellor Adenauer that Germany would not require or demand a German army.
This autumn I had the interesting experience when spending some time in Germany of talking to one of the gentlement in the office of Herr Blank, who is in charge of the future planning of the German armed forces. I am bound to say that the impression I got did not coincide with that which the Chancellor himself has told to the right hon. Gentleman. When I spoke to the staff officer within Herr Blank's department I was told that their conception of a German contribution was based on that classic German phrase Gleichberechtigung, which I understand means equality of status, or equality of rights.
2634 I asked various Germans what they meant by this phrase. I asked one or two German generals, and particularly von Bayerlein, who was Rommel's Chief of Staff and in close touch with those people who are thinking about and planning the future armed forces of Germany. Their conception of equality of rights was, firstly, that the German armed forces shall have the same status, the same set-up, and the same degree of participation in a European army precisely as the French, and certainly they did not conceive of a situation where there would be a French army on the one hand and a military contribution by the French to a European army on the other. They said, "We insist that the German armed force, if it is to come into existence, must be on a parity of arrangements and status with that of France."
The Prime Minister must learn now that he cannot confine this potential tiger of German militarism, which the recreation of this armed force will re-create, within the silken bonds of Fontainebleau or the undertakings on a London visit of Chancellor Adenauer. Of course, there are some hon. Members on the other side of the House who regard German rearmament as a good thing in itself. That, I understand, is not the view of the Prime Minister. There are some on the other side of the House who think that any anti-Communist is good enough to arm and support, whether he be Franco in Spain or, as was the situation before the war, Hitler in Germany.
At this point I should like to refer to an observation made in 1936 by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Supply. I am glad to see him in his place as I told him that I was going to mention the matter. I do not mention it to embarrass him. Indeed, many of us said things 15 years ago which we are not very fond of today, but I mention it to point a warning, if not to adorn a tale. In 1936 the Minister of Supply was saying that as long as persons were anti-Communist it was all right to arm them, to drill them and to build them up into a powerful force. This is what he was writing in "Europäische Revue" in October, 1936:Germany declares that she requires a powerful armed force for self-defenceThat has always been the argument through history in every re-armament phase we have had. 2635Why should the foreigner doubt her sincerity? She can point to the fact that she is surrounded by heavily armed nations. She can also draw attention to the growing military power of the Soviets. If the strength of the German Wehrmacht would help in any way to prevent Soviet Russia from supporting her cunning propaganda abroad by force, then, indeed. Germany renders a service to civilisation which may demand recognition. An objective examination of the aims of German foreign policy and of the methods used for its realisation, ought to calm those who are apt to fear Germany's intentions.At the end he said that:the subjugation of foreign populations would be considered a source of weakness rather than as added strength, according to a conscientious interpretation of National Socialist principles.That was in 1936.
I know the right hon. Gentleman made amends since, for two or three years later I was associated with him in a humble way in the various things which were taking place then. But it was too late. The damage had been done. The gamble of creating the power of Hitler as a bastion against Soviet Russia had been made, and the end of it was that it required an alliance with the Soviet Union to enable this country to defeat the menace of the evil of Hitlerism.
I am not going to say that the potential dangers from a truncated Germany compare with the dangers from Hitler's Germany. But there is a very great danger, as I see it, in the present situation, not so much of German threats to security but of German influence upon the course of the strategy and political thinking of the west if they really do go in as a powerful military force.
I mentioned one of the conceptions of the German military personalities to whom I spoke, about the principle of equality of status. Another insistence of theirs is that they also expect to make their contribution to European strategy. I want to mention General Von Bayerlein for instance, who is portrayed in the Rommel film as a witty, attractive and generous German general. He was present at the Africa Korps rally in Westphalia which I attended. There a general spoke of the unity of the Germans with those of Eastern Germany and of "the lost territories" as he described those areas east of the Oder and the Neisse line. I told him that in present political conditions Germany could not hope to recover 2636 these territories without war, and he said to me quite plainly, "Oh yes, just like the Polish Corridor in 1939" They have not learned a great deal if that is what they really think.
The German General Blumentritt has said things very much on the same lines. The right hon. Gentleman is playing with fire in this matter. After 1945 we succeeded in carrying through fundamental measures to eliminate the danger of the revival of German militarism. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman was proud to have supported those measures, because he knows what challenge that represents. He has contributed much of his distinguished career to combating it.
When I was in Blank office in Bonn they told me that one of their difficulties these days in creating the new set-up was that our de-militarisation had been too successful. They had no records or files left. One official said to me, "Everything we are doing now is strictly illegal." I asked him as a matter of interest what section of the Control Regulations made his activities in that office illegal. He said, "I am not quite sure about that," and he rang up a colleague upstairs, who was able to refer him to the appropriate paragraphs. So that was the situation that existed there.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
I want to ask my hon. Friend whether these were private conversations which he had, because as he knows some of his hon. Friends at the same time were visiting Herr Blank as a Parliamentary delegation. We did not consider that we had a right, after talking to him, to quote what in essence was a private conversation.
§ Mr. Jones
I am glad to say that I was not in a Parliamentary capacity at all. I was there on that occasion in a journalistic capacity as I made clear to all those whom I interviewed. I did so with a note book in hand, and, indeed, I have published some of what I am saying in the House tonight. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman who is, I take it, my friend, will acquit me of a breach of confidence in this matter.
I was disturbed in my train of thought by that observation. The fact is that at the present time the forces of German militarism are reorganising themselves. I do not want to exaggerate the picture, but there has been formed in Germany a Provisional Committee of the new "German Soldiers' Union."
2637 I learned something about its composition when I was there. Unfortunately the Prime Minister has now left. He really ought to look at this list, and see whether these are the kind of characters who would be prepared to take a secondary role in what is at the moment a tentative, non-existent European army. I am bound to say that the progress of the negotiations about that European army will not be greatly assisted by the recent observations by my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt), who generously described our Western Allies as:Craven governments leading craven people.That observation, coming from a Junior Minister of the late Government, will I am sure go down very well in Paris. Luxembourg, and everywhere else.
These gentlemen who are leading the new military organisations within Germany are the same kind of gentlemen who were leading Germany into the situation into which she got before the war of 1939. The President of the Provisional Committee I have referred to is General Friessner, who has made political speeches and observations wholly out of keeping with Western ideas of re-armament as a defensive measure General Guderian and General Mannteufel are also active members of the committee. There are various S.S. generals who are active within the organisation. They are those who, if these German military forces are created, will take the lead.
One of their insistent terms, for instance—no doubt it was put to my right hon. Friend the ex-Secretary of State for War—for participation in the proposed European army, is an "Honour Declaration" with regard to the German armed forces. That involves not simply the release of this or that war criminal. It would be tantamount to the whitewashing of all the war crimes for which the German armed forces and those associated with them were responsible. Those are the facts. Do not let us deceive ourselves into thinking that we are dealing with elements of a different kind and with a different kind of problem.
If the political temperature of the world really is reducing itself, as I think it is, is it not imperative now, before the fateful steps which led to such misery before are taken, first of all to make a real, fundamental effort at negotiation? That hap- 2638 pily at the moment is being begun, and I rejoice that it is being begun. But there is a terrible danger in these negotiations of what I may call "an ultimatum complex," of "now or never," and a showdown if it does not come off this time. That is a very dangerous approach to the matter. There are indications, to which the Prime Minister has referred, of a willingness by Soviet Russia to talk, and at least there is a lack of evidence of any preparation or intention on Russia's part in the foreseeable future to launch a world war.
That being so, is it not time not only to consider disarmament but to consider the whole armament position? I was interested to see that the facts of economics have turned the Prime Minister today into a Bevanite, because the £4,700 million programme has apparently been abandoned, at least for the first 12 months. I was interested in a significant observation reported yesterday from an American source. Mr. Reed, Chairman of the vast American General Electric Company, said:I am convinced that if the N.A.T.O countries undertake to meet the defence production schedule as recently formulated and scheduled, serious political and economic disturbances will result.Those are profound words of warning which we should do well to heed. They come from no alleged or accused fellow-traveller, but from a distinguished American businessman who has made a recent study of this problem in Europe.
Do not let us become, the captives of declarations made six months or 12 months ago, when the situation may have been different. Let us not take the view that we must go through at all costs with this re-armament programme whatever the political changes and whatever the hope of negotiation. There seems to be a fixed idea in the mind of my hon. Friend the. Member for Aston that since this £4,700 million programme has been decided upon it must be pushed through at all costs. If the political situation changes favourably, as it might well do, is there not a case for consideration of the whole structure and requirement of the re-armament programme? It is the idlest cynicism to hold conferences and to start discussions on disarmament in Paris, and then make speeches in this House indicating no kind of desire to abandon one step in our re-armament programme.
2639 The time has come for fresh thinking in this matter. It is not cravenness of character or of morale which makes the people of Europe tremble again before the thought of being rushed into another war. It is the consciousness of that through which they so recently went, and of the agony which they so recently suffered.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
In following the hon. Member for West Ham, South (Mr. Elwyn Jones), I would say that I think most people realise the grave danger of German rearmament. It is within the sphere of the European Army that we are anxious to surround any German contribution with safeguards in order that it does not get out of hand. This matter arouses in the minds of many people, and particularly in Jewish minds, a very real fear that the militarism that we have seen on many occasions will again assert itself in Europe.
I want to take up a point made by the Leader of the Opposition when he said he was pleased that this Government had accepted in its entirety the previous scheme for call-up of the G and Z Reserves. As one who himself did his 15 days, I feel that it was not altogether a perfect arrangement. I went as a technician. The moment it was known that I was going to be called up I had a very large number of letters from my colleagues. The general tone of them was: "You are lucky. How did you manage it?" I sent the names and addresses of the writers, some 40, to the right hon. Gentleman who was then the Secretary of State for Air, suggesting that he should fix it. It was not fixed.
When I got in to do my 15 days I felt that there was a lack of technical knowledge and effort to keep our radar equipment at full efficiency, and that it might have been as well if some of those technicians had been called up. Perhaps my hon. Friend will set this matter to rights on the next occasion.
I want to concentrate my remarks on a matter mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition, namely, whether we believe still that we are not getting value for money. I am convinced that, as a country, we are not getting the best value for the money that we are spending on 2640 defence. If I take my illustrations and general examples from the electronic industry, I hope the House will excuse me. I do it for four reasons: first, because I believe it is typical of many other technical fields; second, because I have a personal knowledge of the industry, having done my apprenticeship in it and having grown up in it; third, because we must concentrate on punctual deliveries of our electronic equipment if our modern aircraft are to perform the functions for which they are designed; and, last, because money spent on electronic equipment may well save us money in other directions.
If we can halve the bombing error, we may achieve the same result with a quarter of the bombing force. If we therefore reduce our requirements from 400 Canberra bombers, with all the trained men which back up that force, to 100 Canberra bombers, we are getting a very real economy for the same effect. It is for the four reasons that I have put forward that I concentrate on this field.
I want first to refer to the question of costs. I shall refer constantly to costs because I believe mankind has not devised a better yardstick to measure the work done by designers, engineers, draughtsmen, toolmakers, foremen and skilled man-power. In all those spheres we are in a desperately difficult position in regard to the re-armament programme. Every time effort is diverted to nonessentials in our equipment, something else is delayed. Hon. Gentlemen on all sides of the House who are in contact with this problem will know that dates are slipping in every direction all the time. Therefore, we must concentrate our efforts on first things first.
How does this situation arise? Why are we trying to divert too much effort to too-perfect equipment? I think it is because in the years after the war the Services had some time to think and they thought up a specification known as K114, which was very rigid and hard. It asked that all equipment to be manufactured for the Forces should be capable of operating from the Arctic to the Equator. The specification lays down a very good test which might be applied in this House during debates. It is a bump test; that is to say, the equipment has to be dropped from a height of 1 in, on to a steel plate, 2641 and it is vibrated and put through temperature cycles.
But I do not believe that the people who thought up that specification, which by itself is very fine, realised the repercussions which those ideas would have in the entire re-armament sphere. Did the serving officers and the technical civil servants who compiled that list realise the pressure which would be exerted on industry?
Did they realise that industry would at the same time be struggling to export and also to produce some consumer goods? Did they appreciate that extra delays would result in the development of new models, because it would take longer to develop this pan-climatic equipment capable of operating from -40 degrees C. to +55 degrees C. That is to say, in Fahrenheit, from 72 degrees of frost to 131 degrees.
Did those people evaluate—this is important—the extra money which would be required to achieve this pan-climatic provision? I should like to illustrate what I mean in the case of equipment with which I am concerned. It is costing £500,000 to develop this equipment. One-third of that sum is expended because the equipment is required to be designed to operate from the Arctic to the Equator. It has taken one-third longer to develop the equipment because each equipment is required to operate from the Arctic to the Equator. Yet 90 per cent. of this equipment will be used in the temperate zones.
I cannot help feeling that it is good strategy on the part of some enemy to suggest that some crisis will arise in the Arctic or at the Equator if, as a result of that, we are going to make all our military ground equipment suitable for operating over such a wide range of temperatures. Particularly is it good strategy if it will delay the essential defence of the temperate zones and the essential defence of Western Europe; and that is exactly what is happening.
We are not getting our equipment to time because we have set too high a standard and too high a specification. Maybe it is too late to change now, but I urge the Government to have a look at this aspect and perhaps relax the very high standard which they have applied to all the equipment which is being made.
2642 To turn to my second point, when technical civil servants visit one, as one tries to struggle with the re-armament problem, they seem to think it is slightly vulgar and a little out of place if one asks them whether what they are asking is worth the money and what the cost of it is. If we are to get value for money—I come back again to that phrase—in our defence, I believe that we must make people more money-conscious. I believe that serving officers and technical civil servants should say to themselves, "What will this cost? If I am to have that I must forgo something else, because I am pulling technical man-power and technical effort in this direction."
I believe that one should know the price of jeeps, jets and car jacks. I do not want to speak in a jocular vain, but it might well be valuable to put the cost on them. People would take greater care of equipment if they knew how many thousands of pounds had been spent in developing it and putting it in the field.
I now turn to another sphere where I believe we are expending unnecessary technical effort, and that is in regard to the appearance of our equipment. I am afraid that industry has not perhaps been an ally of the Defence Services in this sphere. Any firm naturally wants to turn out equipment which looks nice and is beautifully engineered, but I am not sure that we can afford to turn out such beautiful looking equipment.
I have here a sample which I collected this morning. It is a beautifully designed escutcheon which is now put on four units in a piece of radar equipment. The cost for four is £2. We fought the last war quite adequately when we put on paper transfers instead of these beautifully engraved pieces of aluminium. This may be a small illustration, but I suggest that in each case people should ask themselves, "Is it worth it? We can operate perfectly well under the old conditions. Do we really want to use our scarce aluminium on this sort of thing?"
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I do not know whether we bought it from a sub-contractor or made it ourselves. In any case, I believe it would be out of order to mention firms in this House, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to buy one and would like to see me outside I will tell him where to get one.
I should like to quote another example. In the old days we used to spray our equipment a matt black, which was perfectly adequate. As a matter of fact, the equipment was used in dim lighting and there was more operational efficiency if we did not have a very high gloss finish, because it did not reflect the lights behind one. But nowadays everything has to have chromium fittings, and we are to have a high gloss finish.
The present-day cost of finishing to the old standard was £10. The latest estimate for finishing to the new standard equipment not dissimilar is £65. When we calculate that in terms of thousands of pieces of equipment, it is money going down the drain, and it is pulling away the effort of skilled man-power which is badly needed for other projects.
I was somewhat amused by one of our correspondents, who seemed to hit the nail on the head when we asked him to quote for the finishing of a piece of equipment. After long explanations of how difficult it was to finish to this very high standard which was being demanded, he ended by saying:It occurs to us"—this is a business letter—that the essence of this job is to give the ferrous parts the greatest possible protection from corrosion during service. It carries priority as a defence order requirement. Is it, therefore, necessary during this period of labour shortage, to demand a finish that could grace the Board Room of the Goldsmiths' Hall?There is a lot of common sense in that query. Are we not demanding too high a finish for many of our products and thus diverting effort from other essential work?
May I make a last plea to my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench? This country stands or falls, both in peacetime and in a period of the cold war, on the training of its technical man-power. Technical man-power is the seed-crop for the future, and however much we are up against things I hope we will not try and 2644 run down, or in any way reduce, the length and thoroughness of our technical training. We are dependent for our exports, for our defence, and for our very survival on our technical man-power, and I hope that whatever other cuts we may make we will endeavour to maintain the standard we have set in the past and try to meet the expanding need.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Shackleton (Preston, South)
I hope to make one of the shortest speeches in the debate in order to allow as much time as possible for my hon. Friends and for hon. Members opposite who wish to speak. I should like, first, to follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing), who, like myself, served as a Class G man. I feel even more ashamed than he did about our evasion of Parliamentary duty. I do not know whether the hon. Member evaded Parliamentary duty, but I successfully evaded the two longest all-night Sittings since the war.
For Class G and Class Z men generally, it was a useful and effective experience. I have only one passing remark to make. I was struck, coming back six years after I had left the Service, by the disappearance of a certain degree of what might be called "operational know-how"—the hon. Member may have had similar experience in a different field.
§ Mr. Shackleton
There were certain parts of knowledge which were not easily rendered on to paper, but which were essential for the job, which somehow seemed to have slipped from the minds of those who were responsible for operations.
That brings me to the rather serious point of specialisation. I know that it is always desirable in any Service to try to afford a proper career course for officers and for men. While there is specialisation in technical fields, there is inevitably no specialisation in operational fields. This, again, can have bad consequences, because in Coastal Command a large number of the officers and men who were serving and who had had wartime experience had acquired it in other commands. This was one of the factors in the disappearance of that "know-how" that we had during the war.
2645 I ask the Government, as I asked the previous Government year after year, to look at the position of Coastal Command in relation to the Navy. I am one of those who has always advocated an independent Coastal Command, by which I mean an R.A.F. Coastal Command. I was alarmed, and, by what I have heard since from talking to my friends in both Services, I am increasingly alarmed, as to whether the Air Force and the Air Ministry are not forfeiting their right to Coastal Command. The rundown has been of an immense and serious nature. We know the reasons for that—I do not propose to apportion blame to the present Government. If it is anybody's blame, it is that of the last Government and of the Air Staff and Air Council.
I ask the Government to look very seriously at this problem, because an obligation is laid on the Air Force in this field and it is an obligation that they must fulfil. Unless the Government and the Air Force face up to it a little more strongly, they will soon find themselves threatened once again with the demand from the Navy to have its own land-based aircraft to fulfil the role of Coastal Command. I urge the Parliamentary Secretary, whom I see now present, to consider this matter very closely.
I pass now to some of the remarks of the Minister of Defence. I am told—I do not know whether it is true—that when the right hon. Gentleman took on the post of Minister of Defence, which, I think, was a post which he took on very lightly, in view of his other great responsibilities, he was surprised to find that there was, in fact, a Ministry of Defence and a great deal more routine work attached to the office
One of the most striking things from the right hon. Gentleman's speech has been his obvious surprise at certain events which have taken place in the last few years. He referred in particular, with some surprise, to the fact that there has been a considerable measure of progress in the field of atomic energy. The fact is that the right hon. Gentleman could at any time have had that essential information in defence matters had he accepted the invitation of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. One of the tragedies of the right hon. Gentleman's position today is that he has to come forward and change his 2646 tone, and, indeed, eat his words, when he could so easily have avoided embarrassing himself in this fashion.
I wish, in particular, to refer to the appointment of the admiral in command of the North Atlantic area. I was astounded to hear the Prime Minister say, in effect, that this is not a matter of national pride. Hon. Members on both, sides who heard the right hon. Gentleman's violent utterances on the discussion of this appointment will realise that on that occasion he took the narrowest national point of view. Now, he is arguing that it is simply a matter of whether the appointment is operationally right and that the question of nationality does not come into it.
Here, again, the right hon. Gentleman could have had the information had he wanted it. It is due to the action of the present Prime Minister on that occasion that we have not yet settled this urgent problem. I ask him to look into it very closely and seriously, and to forget his earlier prejudices. He has already retreated backwards to some extent from the position he held previously, and I hope he will continue that retreat and look at the matter objectively. I hope that those Ministers who are associated with defence matters will advise the right hon. Gentleman objectively with the information that their professional advisers give them and that we get this problem settled. I should like to discuss it at length, but I wish to keep my speech as short as possible.
There is one further point to which refer. It seems inevitable in a debate on defence that we have to discuss foreign affairs, and inevitably the question of German re-armament arises. I am one of those Members on this side of the House—there may be some opposite—who have always been opposed to German re-armament. I still dislike the idea intensely. I say only one thing to my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, South (Mr. Elwyn Jones). It is a serious problem whether or not Germany can be integrated into Western Europe. I still believe that the majority of Germans today are bitterly opposed to the idea of war. Indeed, I think that a majority of them are opposed to the idea of re-armament. Exactly how Germany is to be integrated into Western Europe without having full sovereignty, which, of course, 2647 involves, if necessary, the right to form an army, is something that I find extremely difficult to say.
I have always felt that it was a matter of timing, that it was desirable to put off German re-armament as long as humanly possible, because I believe it is one of the actions which would tend to close the door and the possibility of negotiation with Russia and Eastern countries. But I also say that the idea of the European Army, which was sedulously put around by the Conservatives when they were in Opposition as part of their pan-European idea, is something which has caught hold of the imagination of Europe. It has caught the imagination of a large number of French people, many of whom would welcome a German contribution for the fact that it would help to make real this idea of a united Europe.
This is a matter on which I have the gravest doubts, but I cannot leave the subject without saying that I think the greatest betrayal of the idea of a European Army and a united Europe has been committed by the party which now forms the Government and that the disappointment and disillusionment of France and other countries after the lip service they have paid to the idea is one of the tragedies of today.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Sir Robert Cary (Manchester, Withington)
I think the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) and the hon. Member for West Ham, South (Mr. Elwyn Jones), were expressing quite unnecessary fears about the scale of German re-armament. I do not think the scale of German re-armament envisages a Germany which I hope has passed away for ever, but I hope it has been agreed that there should be a Germany of some military strength. The Prime Minister was quite clear about this, that a German army should be contained within a European army which itself would be surrounded by the Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
The concluding sentences uttered by the hon. Member for Preston, South, like those of his colleague the hon. Member for West Ham, South, were completely unjustified, and what he means by talking about betrayal by right hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House in their present proposals for the re-armament of 2648 Germany I do not know, but I think that was one of the most sweeping and damaging statements, not only to a party in this House, but to the intentions and will of the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Shackleton
The hon. Member is misrepresenting me. I referred to their talking of the idea of a United Europe and a European army. The hon. Member has only to go to France to find out how bitterly they feel about it.
§ Sir R. Cary
I have not had the opportunity, but we in this debate today, as far as possible, should speak with a united voice. I agree that our central problem is still the problem of Germany. What the future of that country will be, no one can prophesy, but I think a solemn duty rests on all parties in this House to give an enemy which we defeated on two occasions a chance now to rise from their ashes and to join us as a free democracy in the European community.
In listening to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister opening the debate, I am sure that many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House felt their memories stirred of other days when the Prime Minister discharged that task with his customary skill and a high strategic comprehension of the needs of our national defence. Like some other hon. Members, I took part in many of the debates which took place during the war years and, in returning to the House, it is perhaps a matter of regret that I should intervene again in a debate upon defence, but at least I do appreciate what has been said by the Prime Minister in respect of the British Army not merging into a European army, but being joined to that army. The British Army in doe future is not to be pitchforked into a pan-European army irrespective of the obligations it might have elsewhere.
The Prime Minister paid tribute to the work of the late Mr. Ernest Bevin in 1948, when the Berlin Air-lift was in operation, and our desires on that occasion to remind European Governments that dangers would come from Russia and that it would be to their interest to begin to think in terms of resisting that threat. I think the Leader of the Opposition and individual Members of this Government were at pains at that time 2649 in their speeches to draw the attention of European Governments to the dangers of Russian aggression, but, between that time—1948 and 1949—and now our position has changed.
Whereas in 1948 and 1949 our interest was centred upon Europe, in the last three or four years world events in Malaya, Korea, the Persian Gulf, and now in Egypt, have widened the horizon considerably. While leaders of European Governments, the Governments of France and similar countries in Northern Europe, are still pre-occupied with European defence, the British Government and the Commonwealth Governments associated with it are compelled to look at the whole problem of defence on a much wider horizon, in which Europe for the moment is only a part, and may not be the most important part.
Ten days ago we had a discussion in this House on the restoration of the Home Guard and it was implied in that debate that one of the needs for bringing back the Home Guard was the fact that our Armed Forces were a part of a wider strategic Allied plan and that we should not look, as in former days, to our Regular Army and Territorial Army to defend this country. It implied that we may have to regard the military commands and stations well known to us—such as Aldershot, Salisbury Plain and Catterick—as merely transfer and equipment depots and to divert the Regular and Territorial Forces of this country into other spheres beyond our shores. We might find ourselves left to defend ourselves, by all the agencies we have for immediate use, in our fields and factories without that customary call made in days gone by upon our fully trained Armed Forces.
It is a little strange that the Leader of the Opposition, when following the Prime Minister today, expressed the hope that this country was not to be turned merely into a fortress. That was following the observations of the Prime Minister that any invading paratrooper who landed in this country would find it the back of a hedgehog and not the paunch of a rabbit. The Leader of the Opposition suggested that no practical steps should be taken through the Home Guard to convert this country into a fortress but that its true defence lay further away from its shores. As a result of the redoubtable wisdom, courage and leadership of the Prime 2650 Minister in 1940 this country did successfully stand as a fortress and perhaps one of the great miracles of that time—almost to the point of Divine intervention—was that summer day and calm sea in the English Channel when we were able to get back to this country 355,000 men of the British Army, often in shaky and leaky craft which would not have survived one disagreeable day on the Serpentine—
§ Sir R. Cary
And many Allied details, French, Polish and all who cared to join with us. If the worst happens to the world we may have to be prepared to think along similar lines again. I for one am glad that the Prime Minister did make it perfectly clear that the British Army will not merge into a European Army, but will be joined to it, leaving us quite free should we wish to retain within our own shores some part of our Regular and Territorial Forces and that degree of army strength necessary to defend this island.
I wish to say a word about the observations of the Prime Minister regarding the.280 rifle, and some of the observations of the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt). It seems to me that the decision of the Prime Minister and his military advisers to retain a pool of rifle strength and manufacture, even though that centres chiefly on the.303 rifle, is, in the circumstances, a right decision. If there is to be a new weapon of equipment it should be given not only to the British soldier but to other armies which have to be equipped. It might be used to provide at long last for an allied army a standard weapon of equipment for which there would be a ready, steady and certain flow of ammunition. In my opinion the problem is not a problem of the type of rifle.
I think this problem of the rifle strength of the British Army belongs to the realm of the ammunition which can be supplied, its availability, and the readiness with which it can be transported to the front line. If we have a fast-firing rifle using up vast quantities of ammunition we shall get into exactly the same difficulty as those units of the American Army got into on two occasions in Korea, when on one occasion they were forced to retreat, and on the other forced to surrender, because they completely ran out of ammunition. There are some right hon. 2651 and hon. Gentlemen in the House who can recall the difficulties and dangers of those first years of the last war when ammunition supplies, greedily fed through the Royal Air Force and the British Army, disappeared so quickly that sometimes our machine gun and rifle strength was almost totally immobilised.
The Prime Minister talked about the immense difficulty of aircraft production and that the highest priority in our defence programme would be given to the aeroplane. We know that my right bon. Friend the Minister of Supply is already over-loaded and his Department over-burdened with work.
§ Mr. Shackleton
Does not the hon. Gentleman then agree that the Minister Of Supply should not waste time trying to de-nationalise the steel industry?
§ Sir R. Cary
No, that is not altogether a fair point to make. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply will take the Bill to de-nationalise iron and steel in his stride. But as this rearmament programme does intensify and widen in its scope, an immense burden will fall on his Department, and I would seriously ask the Prime Minister if he will consider whether the true interests of the re-armament programme might best be served if he were to re-create the Ministry of Aircraft Production or create a cadre of the Department that once existed during the last war.
§ Sir R. Cary
That may be so, but if we are to re-arm, surely the most effective way to begin is to deploy to the best advantage and in the most economical and efficient manner those who have to guide the programme and direct man-power and materials. I think that a most useful step would be taken by the Government if they considered whether this famous—and, from some points of view, infamous—Department of other days, with all its history, should be recreated. But right hon. and hon. Gentlemen must not ask me to name who I think might be an admirable propellant in the beginning to take command of such a Department.
This is the first occasion I have intervened in a debate in this House after 2652 having wandered about in the wilderness for six years. Before I left the House in the war years it was in a defence debate that I spoke. I think the happiest message which will go out from this discussion today is that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is back at 10, Downing Street. In view of the disclosures made to us by the Prime Minister today, after seeing all the documents, I had a sneaking feeling that the Leader of the Opposition—who was speaking in such low temperature and without any reference to conversations once held with another Leader of the Opposition behind the Speaker's Chair two years ago—secretly agreed with the sentiment I now express.
Surely on all sides of the House it must be not only with a voice of praise but almost with a sense of relief that hon. Members see the man who led us so well in those critical years but a short time ago back again as Prime Minister, to undertake this most necessary and most vital operation, the re-arming of our country.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Victor Yates (Birmingham, Ladywood)
I wish I could feel as confident as the hon. Member for Withington (Sir R. Cary) about the effect of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister as the leader of the country. During the past six-and-a-half years I have noted the statements about defence which have been made in this House, and the defence policy. With every debate we have had has come a further feeling of fear and anxiety.
The hon. Member for Withington seemed to speak as though he was quite pleased with the situation and that all is now safe. What a world of delusion he must live in. When I heard the Prime Minister speaking this afternoon, and when he said that the more we had deterrents the less became the danger, I could not help feeling that he is living in a world of delusion and that, in due time, he will realise it. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken referred, at the beginning of his speech, to the fact that on this side of the House there were unnecessary fears, which had been exaggerated, about German re-armament. I should like to say to him, and also to my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt), who I am sorry is not in his place, that anyone who has been in 2653 Germany in the last year and has had very close association with the ordinary people there would have no difficulty whatever in understanding that there is considerable and grave fear in that country at the prospect of re-armament.
In September I accepted an invitation from the Trades Union Congress of Germany, an organisation which now represents more than six million German workers, to go round Germany to obtain information and an understanding of the feeling of German workers. I can say that, without the slightest doubt, the overwhelming mass of German workers are totally opposed to their country being rearmed, and to any measure of force which is being used in an attempt to do so on the part of the Western Powers.
There is much that I would like to say on an occasion of this kind, but this important debate has been restricted by time, and I wish to confine my remarks to a few minutes. I believe that, just as the policy of negotiation from strength or the policy of peace through strength is a delusion, so also is it a delusion to believe that what is now being proposed at this stage is a deterrent to world war. I do not believe it.
In the past 6½ years, a few of us who now sit on this side of the House have opposed these gradual measures of rearmament. First, there was conscription for 12 months, then for 18 months and, later, for two years, and, with that two-year period, there came a re-armament programme of £3,600 million, which I have consistently opposed. I believe now, as I believed then, that that policy was leading us into a vicious spiral, which, unless checked, would lead to world chaos and the downfall of civilisation. Within a few months, that programme was stepped up from £3,600 million to £4,700 million, and, in the House in February last, I was asking what had happened from September to February to justify this additional £1,000 million. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), following that debate, has come to appreciate what some of us were then saying—that this programme would, in fact, be a great tragedy for the country.
I was very interested in the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Aston, who believes that what we have achieved 2654 up to the moment was bringing the Russians to a more sensible attitude and a greater willingness to understand and to talk. To me, that is simply ridiculous. If we take the view of the Foreign Secretary himself, he said recently, in regard to a speech by Mr. Vyshinsky, that it was a cataract of abuse, and that it did not anger but saddened him. Was that an indication that Russia had been brought to a more sensible and reasonable attitude?. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that the most fantastic of all the charges levelled against us by Mr. Vyshinsky was that we were warmongers.
I do not, of course, agree with the outlook of Mr. Vyshinsky, but I have been trying to understand what was in his mind. It was reported in the "Manchester Guardian," that he thumped the table and was in a state of great anger. He said that the effective military Forces of Britain, the United States and France more than doubled those of the Soviet Union. In the same speech he went on to say:From year to year, the United States was building up its Army, Navy and Air Force, was erecting hundreds of Air Bases and arranging an alliance embracing even countries from the former Axis—Japan, Italy and Western Germany—well versed in the business.What Mr. Vyshinsky was saying, in effect, was this: "Here you are building up the most massive and terrific military forces, and you come to the United Nations in a white cloak as an angel of peace." It does not square; it does not make sense at all, and I am quite sure that the stronger and more powerful we make our defence programme, it will, instead of bringing us nearer to peace, gradually cause us to drift further and further towards the greatest catastrophe the world has ever known. That is what we have to face.
I was also interested in what the Prime Minister said about the air bases in East Anglia, from which we were to launch atomic bombs upon Russia if Russia should be an aggressor. What effect can that have in Russia? As a matter of fact, in the last debate on defence in which I spoke, I referred to an American magazine "United States News and World Report" In that magazine, we were told that Admiral Kirk, United States Ambassador to Moscow, had stated 2655 that there were none of the tell-tale preparations for war in Moscow.
I was interested to see, in the same American magazine later, in May, an article telling us exactly what the Americans were doing. It said:Atomic bombs available to the bomber forces of the United States now number at least 1,000. There are 10 or more bombs for each major industrial centre of Russia. Professional opinion is that at least seven out of 10 of these bombs could be delivered on their targets. The United States has access to the world's major sources of uranium. …On the seas, even more than in the air, the power of this country dominates. Seventeen aircraft carriers, 700 other fighting ships are in service. Great fleets of naval vessels remain in moth balls, ready to be taken out as needed. Aircraft carriers in service are capable of carrying bombers, themselves capable of carrying atomic bombs, close to the industrial heart of Russia. Atomic energy before long, will be powering the first of a fleet of American submarines of ultra-modern type.We now read that, since the war in Korea began, America has spent over 60 million dollars on defence, while we are faced with a programme, which, in fact, cannot be carried out. That has been admitted today in full. But even if it could be carried out, the danger, in view of the fear that is being created, would be tremendously great. I want to say to the new Government, as I have said to my hon. and right hon. Friends in previous Parliaments, that I think we are on the most dangerous path we could ever tread, and I for one am totally opposed to this stupid, ridiculous' and futile policy.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
Most observers outside this country who watch our proceedings in the House of Commons are well aware that our debates on foreign policy and defence are what the Americans call bi-partisan in character. But it would take a whole gallery of observers in constant attendance to realise the true facts of the situation that we are far more than bipartisan—that we are thoroughly inter-partisan.
The Labour Party today has provided a number of speakers who have so disputed with each other that the party as a whole might fit the phrase of the Prime Minister about a hedgehog with a prickly 2656 back. At any rate, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Wyatt) and several other hon. Members opposite, are, to use a geological expression, outlyers of political thought from the party on these benches, and it remains to be seen whether I fit into the same category on the opposite side.
I want to make some observations about the European Army and the rearmament of Germany. First of all, I think we ought to decide what we mean by a European Army. There is a European Army in Europe at the present time. Each nation has its contingents standing to arms in Germany in some respects as an occupying Force and in some respects to ward off the dangers from the East. The question is really whether those Forces shall be consolidated into a new political arrangement, and whether greater effectiveness is given to our standing by that process.
I was very glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister that in the sense of political consolidation, Britain was not to take part. She would be friendly and observing, but outside the process. I regard that fact as tantamount to the destruction of the European Army idea, and for my part I do not object to it at all. The difficulties of overcoming national sovereignty are stupendous in Europe today, and I sometimes think that the Americans, who view this thing from 3,000 miles away, are too apt to regard Europe as a sort of federated complex like themselves, where, in the course of a few short months or years, one can create a grand political design and harmonise all conflicting interests.
I imagine that France herself would be very far from wanting to put into such a force contingents of her Army that might have to be moved to deal with French colonial problems, and, in a way, France and ourselves are in the same sort of political predicament about joining the European Army. We on our part would find it hard enough now to suggest to General Eisenhower, should we want to do so, that a division now present in Germany which might seem in the course of time not to be fully employed in dealing with apparent dangers should be transferred out of that theatre in order to deal with some vital question which concerned us in the Far or Middle East.
2657 How much more difficult would that be if we, or, for that matter, the French, had to take our request to a European General Staff, a European Defence Minister and a Council of Ministers in charge of that whole operation? One or two newspapers have talked of the inevitable trend in these events, that we should have to create a European political organisation and a form of Cabinet Government and elected members from the separate countries to have charge of those proceedings.
If anything like Cabinet solidarity is to prevail in those circumstances, it would be quite impossible for a great country like ourselves or for the French to move a division or a brigade out of that complex without a great deal of discussion. Even then, we could only move it if the whole of that supposed Cabinet was in agreement with the idea.
Therefore, the first two points put forward by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Aston, about the necessity for a European Army seem to be disposed of. The first was that it was essential in order to keep the enemy away. I say that the present organisation is perfectly capable of doing that. His second point was that we must show ourselves to be in earnest. That is a point which is self-destroying from what I have attempted to describe to the House. His third point, however, is more important. It was that German re-armament is inevitable, and that, therefore, a European Army is the best type of organisation to take charge of the political dangers that might arise.
I do not regard German re-armament as inevitable. It depends on what we do here and now. If we create a German army, then it becomes a force which must be taken charge of by some sort of political organisation in Europe. But if we do not create a German army, then the final reason which he gave for the creation of a European Army disappears.
§ Mr. A. Edward Davies (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
Will the hon. Gentleman pardon my interrupting him in order to seek his views on this point? Do not some of the protagonists of the European Army envisage not only setting up a central body, but also the retention in their own countries of a national Force? For example, was not that view held by some hon Members as regards this 2658 country? Certainly in the case of France there was no intention, was there, of completely handing over the defence forces to the European Army? If that is so—and I agree with the views of the noble Lord, if I may say so—would that not give rise to a position of great difficulty, of denying to the Germans at some point, if they are to have parity of status, a national army?
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I am afraid I do not quite know what is intended by the French. My estimate was that the French, being the progenitors of this idea, would want to put into the organisation the whole of their Metropolitan Army, but not, of course, any Forces in French territories overseas.
I come now to discuss some of the considerations affecting the re-armament of Germany.
§ Mr. Edward Short (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central) rose—
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I am afraid I cannot give way again.
I have always been against the rearmament of Germany, and I still am. I believe there is a case for employing Germans as individuals either in a French foreign legion or in the French Army, or in a British or colonial army, and, indeed, I would not object to an armed German police force and some form of skeleton frontier guard which was on nothing more than an infantry basis. But anything that leads upwards to battalions, brigades and divisions I still regard as menacing. And I regard it as more menacing today than I did a year ago, when the Korean war was at its height and when the fear of a general Russian military advance was far greater than it is at the present time.
It seems to me, for various reasons, to be a bad moment to build up on this idea of a German national armed force or even a German force which is embraced in this European complex. Even a few brigades would necessitate a general staff and that would lead to the recrudescence in Germany of militarism, of a corps of officers and of a general idea and belief in the return to power of a German army
For nostalgic reasons I went back to the report of the Crimea Conference of 11th February, 1945, Cmd. 6598. I 2659 found there that we are under the most solemn obligation not to re-arm Germany. One knows very well that a great deal of water has flowed under the bridge since then and that we have suffered great provocation from the Russians, but that is not the subject of debate today. The words in the report are absolutely clear and specific and the signatures are those of the Prime Minister, Mr. Roosevelt and Marshal Stalin. The report says:It is our inflexible purpose to destroy German militarism and Nazism and to ensure that Germany will never again be able to disturb the peace of the world. We are determined to disarm and disband all German armed forces; break up for all time the German General Staff that has repeatedly contrived the resurgence of German militarism; …Those words are absolutely binding, and at the end of that document there are expressions of the highest hope for the peace of the world being maintained and propagated by the United Nations.
But there are other reasons why I think it is a mistake to re-arm the Germans. I could never understand what it was that induced Mr. Bevin, when he went to America a year last October, to yield the principle of German re-armament to the United States. He got nothing out of it for this country in return. If he had seen fit to concede it in return for some Russian concession it would have been valuable. He went to America in a sick condition. He was photographed there in a sleeping condition and suddenly he woke up to find the principle had been conceded.
I would use the threat of re-arming Germany as a means of getting concessions out of Russia. The concession we ought to get is the establishment of a central German Government controlled by a quadrilateral veto on the lines of the Austrian Agreements. I might explain briefly, because this is not a foreign affairs debate, that the Austrian set-up is one where no change in the basic constitution or statute of occupation can be made without all four Powers agreeing.
There is in Austria today a window upon the Iron Curtain. Democracy and free elections prevail throughout the whole of that country, even in the Russian zone of occupation; and there is the fact that only one Communist 2660 M.P. is directly elected to the Austrian Central Government from the Communist-controlled Eastern Austria. I cannot for the life of me see why we should not move now towards the same solution in Germany.
It has been suggested by some that our objective should be greater than that, that we should demand in return for the refusal to re-arm the Germans in the West the withdrawal by Russia of all military and civilian officials from East Germany. I think that would be tantamount to the repudiation of a binding agreement made by this country at Teheran and might be regarded by the Russians as a provocative move.
The burning issue of our time in Europe is the recovery for democracy of Eastern Germany. I do not think it can be done by armed force or by the threat of armed force. I think it can only be done by negotiation. Therefore, I am all the more pleased to find that under the Foreign Secretary's new guidance in Paris a commission is being established to investigate the possibility of free elections throughout Germany. If we can desist from re-arming Germany and at the same time can secure a four-Power centralised government with headquarters in Berlin or Bonn, great advances will be made by this country for democracy and peace.
One subject not yet mentioned in this debate, and into which I enter with some trepidation, is the course of American military policy. I am myself half American, and I have searched long in my heart and conscience before thinking it at all wise to mention some of these topics. But it seems to me we should give recognition to the pace at which Americans are now moving in the military field. I confess to some feeling of apprehension about the course of military policy in the United States.
I gave some figures to the House a year ago of British and Russian re-armament, and I would not weary the House with figures of that kind again today. Suffice to say that the amount of money being spent by Russia on defence today, according to "Izvestia," figures which have never been contradicted, is exactly the same—within a fraction per cent.—as it was in 1938. The United States was spending in 1938, before the war began, 10 per cent. of her total Budget upon defence, or 2 per cent. of her gross national product. 2661 I am sure that looking back we all wish those figures then had been very much higher than they were. But America in 1951 is spending 60 per cent. of her Budget on defence and 9 per cent. of her gross national product. That is a figure far higher than the figure for any other country in the world.
I believe there is considerable hope for the Western world and for the maintenance of peace if we in Britain use our wisdom, out poise and our diplomatic skill to guide the United States into the right courses. But I have seen it stated in Congress and the American Press that if America does not get assistance from Europe and ourselves on the course she is taking she will—to use her own expression—have to "Go it alone." I think the idea that America today should "go it alone" in Europe is much too dangerous. It seems to me she is riding her military horses at such a pace that she cannot possibly clear her political fences.
American strategic pressure is being exerted through Spain, Germany, Japan and, to some extent, Yugoslavia. That pressure cannot fail to be associated with the ideological connections of those countries, however much those connections may have been recently reformed. Such associations may well disrupt the central core of moral thought which the Western allies rely upon in their fight against Communism. That central core of moral thought ought to be held intact and ought not to be violated by inapposite political alignments made by the United States.
I do not believe that ideological Communism can be defeated by praying in aid the resources of authoritarian Powers, or of Powers that have recently been authoritarian in character. Communism can and will be defeated by the steady propagation of Western spiritual ideals, suitably protected in moments of counteraction or crisis by armed force. The United States does not need Spain, Germany, Japan and Yugoslavia to prove to Russia and Russia's satellites that our Western way of life is superior to theirs. Those allies that I have mentioned may be useful enough in a hot war. In this cold war, which may well last for several decades to come, they are a positive handicap.
Ideological Communism cannot be defeated in a hot war, even by victory 2662 in a hot war. It can only be defeated in a cold war—that is, a victory through peace, a victory which, because it is achieved through peace, may be all the more renowned. Western Europe has been set back perhaps half a century in the growth of its civilisation by the terrible conflicts that we have come through. It is essential that we should have time to recover our strength, our well being and our natural patriotism as opposed to our enlisted patriotism.
I welcome the words used by the Prime Minister during the Election. This country needs five years or more of calm administration. I welcome his cautious but spacious speech today, and I hope that we shall hear more on those lines. I welcome the great stand for peace by negotiation which has been taken by the Foreign Secretary in Paris. These right hon. Gentlemen are setting high the targets that Britain has to achieve; but I am convinced that they will not attempt to achieve them too quickly or too violently because they realise, I am sure, the danger to peace, and realise also that peace is for Britain as well as for France, whatever one may say about the United States, the only avenue to power and success for many decades to come.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Mr. I. Mikardo (Reading, South)
I always have a great deal of sympathy and, indeed, a keen fellow feeling with the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke). He and I have this in common, that we have on more than one occasion found ourselves at variance with the leaders of our particular parties. Indeed, I would say that I have always found the noble Lord to be far ahead of the leadership of his own party—a comment which I would hesitate to make about myself because it would be immodest, but which, nevertheless, I profoundly believe to be true.
The problems of military tactics and strategy which have been discussed at intervals during the day are matters on which I have no knowledge or first-hand experience, and it would be presumption on my part to attempt to deal with them. I want to confine myself to one aspect of this problem of which, if I may say so. I have some knowledge and experience, namely the manufacture of armaments. That is by no means the least important facet of the defence programme. I 2663 noticed with interest that the Prime Minister dealt with it almost at the very beginning of his speech and reverted to it later.
I think it was the hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough), in a pleasing maiden speech, who said, "The man who wins the battle is the man who gits thar fustest with the mostest men." But he overlooked something. It is the man who gets there "fustest with the mostest men equipped with the bestest weapons." In fact, the most competent sailors, the most gallant soldiers and the most intrepid airmen are virtually helpless unless they can be supplied with up-to-date weapons delivered in adequate quantities in the right place and at the right time. The supreme lesson of the last war was that for all the bravery of our serving men and women, in the last issue a long war is won not on the battlefields or even in the air, but in the mines, the factories and the mills.
During the last few months we have had a great deal of discussion about the £4,700 million re-armament programme which was announced at the beginning of the year. At first those who refused to accept that programme were in a small minority, but over the following few months their numbers steadily grew. Now there are comparatively few people—an odd one or two like my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Wyatt) who masochistically insists on being unwise after the event—who hang on like grim death to that magic figure of £4,700 million as though it were the gift of Divine revelation, and as though any attempt to call it into question on any grounds is an act of heresy, if not an act of blasphemy.
In fact, this argument about the £4,700 million programme is now settled for all time. It was not settled on the Floor of this House or on the floor of any debating chamber. It was settled on the floors of our engineering factories. It has been settled not as a result of political disputation but as a result of the indisputable evidence of what is happening today in our engineering industry. We had some considerable discussion of these matters in our last defence debate towards the end of July, but since then, for one good reason or another, we have not had much more hard information 2664 provided either by the last Government or by the present Government.
I want to address a number of specific questions on this subject to the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply for the Government. I hope that a Government which prides itself on not hiding anything from the people will not refuse to answer my specific questions. In the first place, we are entitled to ask what has been the percentage rise in the cost of the items in the re-armament programme since that programme was planned. We know that the figure of £4,700 million took into account some projected price rise. We were not told how much.
What I am now asking is what rise in prices there has been over and above the price rise which was budgeted for in the original figure of £4,700 million. To put the question in another way, what I am now asking is how fewer arms we shall get for an expenditure of £4,700 million than we originally expected to get for the expenditure of that sum.
Secondly, I ask the Government to tell us by how many months the arms programme has already fallen behind schedule. The Prime Minister himself admitted that it has fallen behind schedule, but he was careful not to tell us by how much. I know—and, indeed, there is no longer any secret about it—that we are having grave difficulties about machine tools.
In a speech which I made here on 23rd July, I ventured to suggest that even then there were signs that the machine tool programme was falling rapidly out of gear, but the then Minister of Supply, my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss), challenged my statement and said that while some items were falling behind, others were doing well, and that there was no danger to the whole programme. I think my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall now knows, and with his customary generosity will be ready to admit, that on that occasion he was wrong and I was right, and that on average the programme is now quite seriously in arrears. I ask the Government spokesman who is to reply to tell us by how much it is in arrears.
There is one question I want to ask on machine tools, and it concerns the 40 million dollars worth of machine tools which we were told we were to get from 2665 the United States of America. There has been a good deal of resentment on the part of the American engineering industry at their having to wait for American machine tools because of the allocation of 40 million dollars worth of their tools to British industry. American armament manufacturers have put considerable pressure on the American Defence Department and on the American machine tool industry, and that pressure cannot fail to result in slowing down the supply of American machine tools to us.
Moreover, they have reacted to the loss of their own machine tools to British industry by running all over the Continent and pre-empting machine tool capacity which we ourselves had hoped to get and on which we had built up our own £4,700 million programme. On this point I want to ask a specific question of the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply. It is: by how much are the deliveries of these American machine tools to us falling short of the original plan?
Perhaps we can also have some statement about the degree of dislocation which has been caused in the British engineering industries by the too rapid injection of a too large programme without adequate planning or phasing. This is something which the Prime Minister admitted and what he himself called congestion—the congestion of the armaments industry.
§ Mr. Mikardo
Indigestion, was it? It is, at any rate, the trouble from which they are suffering. Of course, the Prime Minister would not face the logic of his argument, which was that if they have got indigestion by being given too big a meal too quickly, then the best thing is to ease off the rate at which they are being supplied with orders. There is a great deal of dislocation and a tremendous loss of production.
The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing) gave the House from his direct personal knowledge some most interesting examples of one of the causes of this dislocation. It is, as he pointed out, the fact that the user Departments specify too rigid, too high, too perfect specifications for the goods they want. I would say this to the hon. Member, however, if he were here: that 2666 that has always been a characteristic of the Service Departments. The hon. Member for Hendon, North, is now a manufacturer of Service equipment. During the war, as a serving officer, he was a user of Service equipment and I was then a maker. I can tell him that even in the great stress of war it was still true that we had tremendous hold-ups through Service users specifying too rigid specifications for equipment.
We designed aircraft in order to have a nice streamline but, before the user Department had finished with it, it was slung around with lumps and bumps and knobs and bobs like a Christmas tree and we never knew where we were. There was always this difficulty—that things were being modified a hundred times in order to reach perfection, so that at one time the aircraft industry had to tell the Ministry of Aircraft Production, "Either you have some imperfect planes and get some or you have your perfect planes and get none at all."
That characteristic which the hon. Gentleman described has always been a failing, and not merely in the last year or two, but that is not the principal reason for the dislocation in our manufacturing industry. The principal reason is what the right hon. Gentleman, the Prime Minister, called "indigestion." It is congestion, it is trying to bung in too much too quickly, at a rate at which it cannot be absorbed.
When I last ventured to address the House on this subject I tried to describe some of the technical tasks which are involved in programming a production flow. I think I showed—certainly I tried to show—that one effect of launching into a large programme too rapidly is that none of the technical tasks of timing and phasing and flow can be properly carried out.
There is nothing recondite about this. It is a familiar point. It is a simple point. It is exactly the same point often made in housing debates, namely, that if we start too many houses at once we are likely to get fewer finished than if we had started fewer. It is exactly the same point every housewife faces when she goes to cook her Christmas dinner—and I say this as one who has done some carefully planned operation studies in a kitchen in working out a planned programme for cooking a Christmas dinner.
2667 Any housewife will tell this House that if she tries to overload a small gas cooker by putting into production all at once the soup, the turkey, the potatoes and other vegetables, and the Christmas pudding, she will not get finished till night. [HON. MEMBERS: "There is not all that for Christmas."] I was talking about last Christmas. In fact, there are some real parallels in this homely analogy with the case of the housewife. The last item goes into production first, because the pudding takes a longer time to steam; whereas the potatoes are not put in till much later, because they take a shorter time, and because they spoil if they are finished a long time before their actual production is required.
In exactly the same way machine tools for the last process in a chain of operations sometimes need to be put into manufacture before the machine tools for earlier processes, because they take longer to make; and if one tries to put out all machine tool orders at once the timing of the whole programme, of the whole job, gets completely out of gear. There is no doubt whatever that a good deal of this sort of thing has been going on for some time and is going on now, not because the planning engineers are incompetent, but only because they have been asked to do too much at once.
The Prime Minister has already admitted it. It had to be dragged out of him, but he admitted very reluctantly, very grudgingly, with bad grace, that my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) had been right all the time. The Prime Minister has admitted that, in fact, there is not the least chance of our producing in three years the real defence resources which it was planned to produce in these three years.
Again I ask a specific question of the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply to the debate. I ask him to tell us what percentage of the three-year programme we shall actually get, not in money terms but in real terms. What percentage of the three-year programme shall we actually get by the end of the three years? Or, to put the same question another way, I ask him, how many years will it actually take to produce the real resources—not merely to spend the money: any fool can spend money—how many years will it actually take him to produce the real resources which we 2668 planned to produce in three years? Will it take four, or will it take five years, or will it take more than five years to produce the arms which we originally planned to produce in three?
I hope I am not being cynical if I say that I do not expect to get any clear answer from the Government to this battery of precise and specific questions which I have directed at the right hon. Gentleman. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman, if he refers to my questions at all, will make some general bromide pronouncement that he cannot accept all my assumptions, and that the picture is not as black' as I have painted it. However, that really will not do from a Government who believe in telling the people all the facts—or, at least, who say they believe in telling the people all the facts. Therefore, I propose in a moment or two to answer my own questions from my own knowledge of what is going on in British industry, and to produce my own figures.
If the Government wish to dispute my conclusions they can do so by giving what they believe to be the right figures. In the first place, it is now commonly believed that the average price rise in armament expenditure is 15 per cent. greater than what was projected when the programme was launched, and, undoubtedly, the figure will rise beyond 15 per cent. between now and the end of the programme.
If this figure of 15 per cent. is applied to the figure of £4,700 million, we see that roughly speaking we are to get for an expenditure of £4,700 million such defence resources as were originally planned to cost a little more than £4,000 million, and, of course, as the figure rises above 15 per cent., so the figure of £4,000 million worth of armaments got for £4,700 million will continue to fall over the three years, and what we shall get will be far short of what we planned to get.
Secondly, with regard to machine tools, we have so far not received much more than one-quarter of the American machine tools which were due to be delivered to us up to the present time. It is my belief that the whole machine tool programme is running at present from four to six months behind schedule, and it is only about one year since the programme started, so if it is already four to six months behind schedule, goodness 2669 knows how far it will be behind schedule when we get into the third year.
Taking these factors into account, and adding the present dislocation due to hidden unemployment in the engineering shops, to short-time working, to materials hold-up and shortages of labour and immobility of labour, I am satisfied that we shall not get the programme originally planned for three years in less than five years. I believe quite firmly that if we had planned that £4,700 million programme for four years we could have got it in four years, but the very act of planning it for three years has made sure that we will not get it in less than five.
These are the sort of considerations that I had in mind when I said that the argument about the £4,700 million programme is no longer a political argument and no longer a matter of political disputation, but a matter of machines and of steel. The Government may now just as well come clean with the country, and admit that the £4,700 million programme is as dead as Queen Anne; in fact, it is deader because it was never really born.
The Prime Minister has always insisted that we should "Tell the people." Here is tie right hon. Gentleman's chance. He can now tell the people where we really stand. Once we free ourselves from the shibboleth of this unreal figure of £4,700 million, we can start to think things out afresh. Until we do so, our defence effort and all our defence plans are based on a mirage.
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
This debate has been conducted in a subdued atmosphere, and I have no desire to raise the temperature, but it is only fair to say that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman at the outset of the debate was something in the nature of an anticlimax, by which I mean that we got away from the criticisms which prevailed over many months, indeed, years, before the present Government came to office.
During the General Election, to take an example, many hon. Members on the other side of the House, and, indeed, some right hon. Gentlemen—I will not particularise—declared that the late Government's defence policy displayed a large measure of incompetence and inefficiency. They were at great pains to 2670 indicate that if they were returned to power they would be able to provide greater efficiency and more value for the money expended. I am bound to say that although the right hon. Gentleman did insinuate defects in our defence policy, he produced no evidence of any deficiency, certainly none of incompetence, because he appeared to approve of the defence policy of the late Government, and precious little of waste.
I will agree at once, if it will placate hon. Members on the other side of the House and others who may be concerned in this matter, that when we are dealing with an expenditure of several thousands of millions of pounds, and, in particular, when there is a wide divergence as between research and development on the one hand and actual production on the other, there is bound to be some waste. Indeed, any Government coming into power and conducting an investigation will discover a measure of waste. When I was at the Ministry of Defence I directed attention repeatedly to the subject of wasteful expenditure. In my view there were far too many frills which ought to have been cut out.
In the view of the War Office—and this was encouraged by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey)—it was essential to devise some means of cutting down the tail of the army. We did everything possible in that direction. Among other things we set up a committee of inquiry under a high-ranking officer of considerable repute who had our confidence, and who, I believe, has since furnished a very useful report. A great deal might be said about this, but I content myself by saying that we lost no opportunity of eliminating waste.
As I remarked, and as, indeed, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, the Prime Minister did not appear to disapprove of our general policy in the sphere of defence. I want to say at once that I am the last person—I cannot speak for others—to take any credit for what happened. The credit is primarily due to the co-operation that was evoked between the Chiefs of Staff, the civil Departments, the military staffs, and—here I want to add this, because I think it is time there was a word of tribute paid to them—the civil servants.
2671 We could not have undertaken the very onerous and difficult tasks that faced us—the Prime Minister will agree that the tasks are difficult in the sphere of defence, particularly as we are engaged in the preparation for a defence build-up—effectively and with a measure of efficiency if it had not been for the endeavours of the technicians and scientists associated with the Defence Research Board. Sir Henry Tizard, Sir Frederick Brundrett, and a great many others whose names I cannot recall, all deserve our tribute. It was a co-operative effort in which Ministers joined to the best of their ability. I would make no apology either for myself or for my right hon. Friends who were associated with me, or for the military and civil staff, for what has happened in the last few years.
The right hon. Gentleman might have accused us of one defect—if it can be described as a defect. He might have argued that we did not display sufficient enthusiasm for defence.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I know there have been some criticisms to the effect that Labour is not interested in defence matters. My reply is this: although we regarded preparation and organisation of defence as essential in present circumstances, we never undertook the task with any enthusiasm. We disliked it intensely, but it was a task that had to be undertaken, in our view. We would infinitely prefer to pursue the tasks associated with the diplomatic sphere, to conduct negotiations, to consult with other countries, to pursue the tasks of peace rather than to undertake the tasks imposed upon us by defence preparations.
I repeat that in our view the task of preparing the defence organisation was necessary, not because of the threat of war—in that respect I agree with the Prime Minister—but because, in face of the threat to peace which undoubtedly exists, some measure of defence was essential. That is my view. I do not want to occupy too much time in this debate, so I shall turn to what I regard as the vital considerations. I would say, in passing, that I was much interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing), on the subject of electronics. I urge upon 2672 him to press upon his right hon. Friends on that Bench to do everything they possibly can to speed up the production of the necessary electronics. It is one of the most vital elements in our defence preparations.
They will discover how difficult the task was, not because we were not anxious to apply ourselves, but because of the lack of technicians and of materials, and—to some extent I agree here with the hon. Gentleman—because of the somewhat elaborate planning that takes place. One of the greatest difficulties was always this. The researchers came along, with the designers, and we got into the development sphere. Before we could get into production the designers had second thoughts and so had the researchers, and there was an immediate lag. How that is to be dealt with I do not know. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be more successful in dealing with these people than some of us were.
I would refer to the very interesting and constructive speech—in some respects—of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo), but I am bound to say that it seemed to me that he was urging that it would be impossible to spend £4,700 million because of rising prices and difficulties likely to be encountered. The logical conclusion was that if we were to enter into the sphere of defence with any hope of success we ought to be spending more than £4,700 million. That is how it struck me. Perhaps my logic is at fault, but I leave it at that.
I now come to the controversy about the £4,700 million. I should like to try to explain it. How did we arrive at the figure of £4,700 million? It arose in this fashion. We are associated with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. We were formerly associated with the Brussels Treaty Organisation and the Western Defence Union. Plans were conceived and presented, and every country associated with those bodies was asked to state its requirements, along with the general defence needs of the West and also taking into account the national commitments with which we in this country, France, and so on, are familiar.
In consultation with our military and technical advisers, we proceeded to consider what our requirements were, and we came to the conclusion that our 2673 national requirements, plus our contribution to Western defence, amounted to a very much larger figure than £4,700 million over a period of three years.
Incidentally, why did we talk about "three years"? It was because, in the opinion of the planners—not only the planners in this country but also the international planners with whom we were associated—that 1954 was the danger point. That is what they said. I never agreed with that. Hon. Members will recall that in defence debates I frequently directed attention to the critical years of 1951 and 1952, and I hold by that even now.
We whittled down the larger sum. We came to the conclusion that this country could not afford it. We knew we could hardly afford £4,700 million in the course of three years, and, as my right hon. Friend has said over and over again, we could offer no guarantee that we could expend the £4,700 million in the course of three years, for the obvious reason that we knew that there would be a shortage of raw materials, machine tools, and, in particular—this has not been referred to as it ought to have been, but it will have to be referred to over and over again—manpower.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I tell hon. Members that they can get all the raw materials and all the machine tools that they require, but if they have not the requisite manpower and organise it effectively they will not be able to achieve success in their defence organisation. Manpower is perhaps the primary consideration.
I have explained how the figure of £4,700 million emerged over the three-year period, but we knew very well that it would be very difficult to expend that sum. My hon. Friend the Member for Reading, South, labours under a misapprehension. At any rate, there certainly appears to be some misunderstanding. When we speak of £4,700 million or, as the Prime Minister spoke today, of the current year's estimate of £1,250 million, that does not account for production. The production element in those figures is a much smaller sum.
For example, I doubt if the production figure for the whole of the Service Estimates, the whole of our defence expenditure, this year will amount to more than 2674 £450 million, and over the whole of the three years, or it may be four years or longer, the production element in the £4,700 million will be about £2,000 million. That is the position, and that puts the matter in its right perspective.
Before I direct attention to what I regard as the principal task facing the right hon. Gentleman, I should like to deal with two matters which I believe to be unimportant but which, nevertheless, excite controversy. The less important subjects frequently excite the most controversy. The two unimportant subjects are that of the.280 rifle and ammunition and that of whether an American should be the Supreme Commander in the Atlantic.
I just want to say this about the rifle. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not going to Washington in a bargaining spirit. I hope he is not going to allow the Americans to "put it across him," anyhow. Let me tell him at once that we had it out with our technical experts and all the other experts. I have not the least doubt that our experts were right. As hon. Members have said, our rifle—it is not in production, of course; it is only in its very early stages—is obviously the best rifle that has yet been produced. The Americans have seven million of their existing Garand rifles, and they propose to produce a new rifle, which will take them four, five, six or perhaps, seven years—note the seven years, which was mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman—in relation to our proposed new rifle. It will take them a long time before they produce it.
Where do the Canadians come in? The Canadians are not interested whether it is the.280 or the American Garand rifle or whether it is the American modified, improved rifle. Their only concern, and quite rightly, because they have the industrial capacity, is whether they are to get the opportunity of producing the rifle. That is their position. The Canadians were as much on our side at Washington as they were on the side of the Americans.
The only people who were not on our side were the French, but then, they expect to get heaps and heaps of material from the United States, and it does not lie in their mouths to make any objection when the Americans say that they want something. I understand that—it is a materialistic view, a realistic view. Any- 2675 how, we have got the best rifle, and the Americans know it quite well, and in the user trials we demonstrated that. Anyway, I do not like turning our experts down, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will think more than once before he does so. But it is not a very important matter. Standardisation is is much more important, but it is much more difficult to achieve.
Now, about the Supreme Commander of the Atlantic. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that we did not come to that decision alone. It was a decision reached collectively by 12 nations associated with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Twelve nations in solemn conclave agreed that it should be an American who should be promoted to the supreme command of the Atlantic.
§ The Prime Minister indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Shinwell
That is the position. Of course, I know that the right hon. Gentleman sometimes—not always, but occasionally—elevates himself above solemn conclaves and things of that sort.
§ The Prime Minister
Four or five of those 12 nations that all had equal voting powers with us had, I think, hardly any war vessels at all except those we had given or leased to them.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I should not make a meal of that. The Prime Minister's right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary told us that the North Atlantic Council was to meet at Lisbon shortly. There is not much in Portugal in the way of defence organisation—small blame to them. I would not say too much about that.
However, I want to come to what I regard as the main point: the question of building up defence in the West. I have with me—I prepared it because I thought the right hon. Gentleman was going to make a controversial speech—a whole lot of extracts from his speeches. What is more, it is all my own work. They are very interesting and intriguing. However, they may come in handy at some other time, when the right hon. Gentleman is in a more controversial mood. But the right hon. Gentleman—I must quote this—
§ Mr. Shinwell
No, these are not Cabinet documents, but they are all extracted from the OFFICIAL REPORT. 2676 The right hon. Gentleman said on 12th September last year—and this bears on the subject of European defence as indicating what was in his mind:We have to form, as fast as possible, a European army of at least 60 or 70 divisions to make some sort of front in Europe. …He went on to say—I was astonished at the time, but I had to conceal my astonishment for various reasons:Since these matters were last debated in this House, in March, the French have resolved to contribute 20 divisions, I understand, but it may be 15 divisions. I rejoice to see the famous French Army lift itself again into the vanguard of freedom.He repeated that today, but I know that does not matter as originality is not always the strong point of the right hon. Gentleman. He went on:There should certainly be 10 divisions from the United States, two or three from Canada and six or eight from this island … Germany and Italy should also contribute eight or 10 divisions apiece and the Benelux countries … at least four … so here are 60 or 70 divisions. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th September, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 985–6.]That was a target.
§ Mr. Shinwell
That was a target. The right hon. Gentleman has heard of targets before in other connections, but this is not the appropriate occasion for discussing that kind of target. However, that was a target. Obviously, unless we have a very large number of divisions organised and made battleworthy in the West it will not even prove to be an effective deterrent.
What is the position at present? The position is that we are the only country in the North Atlantic Organisation which has lived up to its promises. I challenge anyone on that issue. When we had discussions at the North Atlantic Treaty Council, on the Defence Committee and on various other occasions—bilateral discussions with the French, and so on—I said to them over and over again, "Tell us what you think we ought to contribute and we will do our best to face up to it."
I have said over and over again to General Eisenhower personally, "If you want anything more from us ask for it and we will do our best to provide it" We have never been asked to do more than we have yet provided. We have lived up to every promise we made. I 2677 wish that could be said of the other countries. I would be quite frank about this. After all is said and done, we are accepting a tremendous burden in this £4,700 million programme. I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friends and, indeed, with many in the country, who say this imposes sacrifices and burdens on our people. It is a very harsh business indeed.
I am all in favour of accepting burdens and even asking people in the country to accept them if other countries are prepared to play their part. I saw a statement in the Press yesterday to the effect that the Belgian Finance Minister, Mr. Van Hoote, declared that his country was not prepared to increase their armament expenditure because it would impose burdens on its national economy. If every country says that, we shall have no defence organisation worth anything.
§ Mr. Shinwell
That is a pacifist view which I can understand. I respect the convictions of the hon. Member, and have said it over and over again, but it is not the view of the Labour Party.
§ Mr. Shinwell
It may be the hon. Member's trouble, but that is our view. We believe that some measure of defence is essential. We wish it was unnecessary, we regard it as a necessary evil, we deplore it, but, the situation being as it is, there appears no escape at present. But, simultaneously, we must pursue the necessary tasks in the diplomatic field.
I wish to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman, first of all, that this is the danger I see in European defence. General Eisenhower has a very difficult task facing him, a very difficult task indeed. I can understand why General Eisenhower has now directed attention to the subject of a European Army. I doubt whether he would ever have done it if there had been a reasonable prospect of substantial Forces emerging from the various countries associated with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
This proposal for a European Army was, to some extent, an afterthought. I do not discourage it; I hope it succeeds. And if it does, it may be, as my right hon. Friend said, that at some time we may require to be associated with it. I do 2678 not object to it although I am bound to say, taking a more realistic view, that I do not believe that a European Army can be really effective unless we get some kind of European political unity. In fact, I believe—and this is a personal view which I do not ask anyone to share—that European political unity is the prerequisite to effective European defence. If we take European political unity as a prelude to European economic unity it may be that it will lead to a solution in the diplomatic sphere; but that is merely conjecture on my part.
What I think it is to which the right hon. Gentleman must address himself, if I may put it in that way—I do so quite sincerely—is that he must direct his attention to the slow build-up, and I emphasise the word slow, of Forces in the West. Whoever is to blame, whatever is to blame, is, for the moment, beside the point. Unless these Forces are built up speedily—it is no use talking about 1954, or 1955, or 1956, and so on—it seems to me that we are taking an unfair advantage of the presence of General Eisenhower in Europe; indeed, it is an insult to his intelligence and to his reputation.
The second thing is that the discussions are far too protracted. There is far too much talk and too little action—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—I may as well tell Members opposite that nobody has tried to urge speedier action on the French and the Belgians and my other former colleagues in the defence departments in those countries than I have done. I got myself into trouble all along the line—which did not worry me in the least so long as I got something done. And I say that if the right hon. Gentleman talks in the same way to his colleagues in those countries I have no doubt that he will get himself into trouble too.
The right hon. Gentleman must surely be aware that the present situation in the Far East has an impact, a direct bearing, on the situation in the West. If there is no armistice in the Far East, if the war there is prolonged, and if it extends into Malaya, and in an intensified form in Indo-China, and so on, the danger in the West becomes more acute, for this reason: The United States will not be able to provide the equipment which is essential to build up the French and other armies in the West. That is a great 2679 danger. The further point is—and I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman has it in mind—a possible change in United States policy, if the countries of the West do not show their mettle in the building up of Forces. These are very great dangers.
I have occupied all the time I can—[Laughter.]—I cannot understand what the laughter is about. I do not want to proceed, because I understand the right hon. Gentleman wishes to answer a lot of questions. I would summarise what I have said. We of the Labour Party accept the need for defence preparations, because at present there appears to be no satisfactory alternative. But, simultaneously, we must direct attention to the need for promoting peace in the diplomatic sphere. If we are building up a defence organisation let us see that we build an effective and an efficient one as rapidly as possible.
I wish it were unnecessary. It may well be, as has been said so often, that Soviet Russia does not desire war. It may be that nobody desires war. On the other hand, it may be that an incident may occur which may lead to war. That is the danger which faces us. In those circumstances, it is better to have a strong defence than to be in so weak a position that we can neither provide a deterrent against war nor deal with the situation which may arise.
§ The Prime Minister
May I ask the indulgence of the House to intervene for a very few moments before my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War replies to the particular questions that have been asked?
I should not like—if the House would permit me—the speech of the late Minister of Defence to go without its due and proper acknowledgement from this side of the House. We have our party battles and bitterness, and the great balance of the nation is maintained to some extent by our quarrels, but I have always felt and have always testified, even in moments of party strife, to the right hon. Gentleman's sterling patriotism and to the fact that his heart is in the right place where the life and strength of our country were concerned.
Tonight, he has made a speech which was the most statesmanlike, if he will allow me to say so, as I have heard him 2680 make in this House in these days that we have gone through. He has surveyed the whole field in terms from which I do not think we should differ.
We have our differences, and, when we were in Opposition, it was our duty to point out the things that we thought were not done right, and it is equally his duty, and that of those who sit with him, to subject us to an equally searching examination. I am so glad to be able to say tonight, in these very few moments, that the spirit which has animated the right hon. Gentleman in the main discharge of his great duties was one which has, in peace as well as in war, added to the strength and security of our country.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. Antony Head)
After the tribute which has just been paid to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) by my right hon. Friend, anything I say will, I fear, come as something of an anti-climax, but I should like to say myself that I welcome his remarks very much, and I do not think he will mind my saying that, in comparison with some recent occasions on which we faced one another across this Box, this has been like an April day on snow. Everything the right hon. Gentleman said about the general policy of defence was, I think, in the main, welcomed by the majority of Members of the House.
This has not been, as my right hon. Friend has said, a stormy debate. I think it has covered the usual form which defence debates take in this House, in that it has been concerned with policy, with manpower and with production. If I were to make any comment on the general form of the debate, I would say that the aspect which distinguishes it particularly is that there has been really very little mention of the very important question of manpower, and, in my first remarks, I want to suggest to the House that, however good our rearmament programme, however successful this very fine equipment may be, it is of little avail unless the manpower in the Services is of the best quality and well trained.
Everybody is aware of the splendid quality of the National Service men, but this splendid intake, which has done so well, cannot be used to the fullest extent unless the proportion of Regulars is 2681 adequate to deal with them. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman opposite will agree with me that one of the big problems in the Services now is to maintain and do everything we can to stimulate Regular recruiting.
There are now, both in the Royal Air Force and in the Army—which, I think, are more particularly concerned than the Royal Navy—schemes which do, in effect, make of these Services a very attractive career, not only financially, but in the conditions of service, which allow men to break their service at very frequent intervals, and, at the same time, should they wish to do so, to remain in that career until 55 and draw a pension and gratuity at the end of their service. That is a fact which is, I think, too little known to the general public.
I want to attempt, so far as I am able, to answer some of the points which came up in the speeches during this debate. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition did, I think, rather accuse my right hon. Friend that in his speech there was a lack of criticism of the Government's policy during the past six years. Perhaps it would be better if I described it as a statement of the fact and not as an accusation. I do not wish to be controversial, but I think it only fair to point out to the Prime Minister—[Laughter.]—I mean to the Leader of the Opposition, and I make a two-way apology for this mistake—that a great many aspects of the Government's defence policy, namely, N.A.T.O., formed to a large extent at Fulton, German re-armament, and, indeed, the European Army, were first raised by my right hon. Friend.
All these were initiated—and surely there can be no argument about it—by my right hon. Friend. It is, in a way, inviting him to criticise his own action to criticise the Government's policy in that respect. Indeed, on a more humble plane—and I think the right hon. Gentleman the ex-Minister of Defence will agree, a great many of the suggestions regarding the changes in the period of National Service and the increase in pay also came from our side of the House when we sat on the benches opposite.
As I say, I do not wish to be controversial, but I think the Leader of the Opposition will agree with me that many aspects of these matters did come from our side of the House, and that, therefore, 2682 it is not up to us to criticise them now. The Leader of the Opposition also said that he did not entirely approve of the conception by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister of the hedgehog type of defence in these islands. He rather inferred in his remarks that the hedgehog should be as far back as possible in order to keep any potential attacker as far away as could be in terms of depth and distance.
That is absolutely true, and I am sure it is agreed on this side of the House as well. But I think that what was in the mind of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was that there should be a hedgehog at home and a porcupine in Europe, a policy of not concentrating all the prickles in these islands alone. The Leader of the Opposition also mentioned that he hoped, as far as the rifle was concerned, that the best side would win.
But in the short time that I have been at the War Office and from the conversations I have had it is my opinion that to hope that the best rifle may win by an entirely impartial judgment of Paris between two nations intensely proud of their productive capacity and inventive skill is a very pious hope It seems to me that if my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister were, perhaps, an American technician concerned with inventing rifles, even he might have some prejudice concerning the production which he had made possible.
§ Mr. Head
I was only attempting to point out that being certain that the best weapon won was not always easily achieved in the circumstances with which we are now confronted.
I am sure that the whole House would join with me in congratulating the hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough) on his maiden speech. When I made a note on my paper to congratulate the hon. Member I looked at the name and felt something was wrong. I then realised that we are all so used to having the noble Lord, Earl Winterton, representing Horsham. All I can say to the hon. Member is that I am sure his predecessor would have been extremely pleased if he had heard his speech. I am sure 2683 we all congratulate him and we hope that we shall hear very much from him in future. If we hear from him as much as we heard from the noble Lord I am sure we shall hear very much.
The hon. Member referred to preparedness and to the fact that we as a nation had the reputation of losing every battle except the last one. I would point out to him that this is really the first time that this country or the democracies as a whole have made attempts to prepare themselves for this contingency in time, entirely as a deterrent. It is my belief that perhaps for the first time in our history we are clear of the charge of unpreparedness and of not taking any action in sufficient time to prevent a war.
The hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) made a courageous and helpful speech, if I may say so. I hope I am not embarrassing him. I must confess I felt some parts of his speech were directed towards some of his hon. Friends. There are certain types of waterpistol which can be used to hit one's neighbour. I thought I saw a slight squirt going in the direction of the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) at times, but I may be wrong. Nevertheless, I thought the hon. Member made a very constructive speech. It would be quite wrong of me to claim credit for that speech on the part of the War Office where I now reside, but I must say the hon. Member covered some important points in a very helpful and constructive manner.
The hon. Member mentioned the point that he feared my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister might go to America and enter into a special type of Anglo-American relationship. I was not quite sure what the hon. Member was implying. Perhaps he meant that there was need to settle matters of strategy as speedily as possible from a global point of view. But I think one of our defects recently has been that we have been apt to regard the cold war in a parochial way, as to whether it concerns N.A.T.O. and Europe and that the remaining arrangements in the Far East and the Middle East have been settled with less of a united front ad hoc and with less consideration of matters from a global point of view. I believe that only good can come of any progress which enables 2684 anybody to consider our strategy of cold war as a whole and not primarily with regard to N.A.T.O.
The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) devoted a good deal of attention to the new rifle. He referred to the immense rapidity of fire of the new weapon. I must enter a caveat here that rapidity of fire in a rifle is not always an absolute asset in war. Unless there is very good discipline, you have a dark night and a few noises and before you know where you are tomorrow's ammunition is gone.
The hon. Member for West Ham, South (Mr. Elwyn Jones) made some rather unfortunate remarks concerning his interview with German generals and others. I do not wish to take sides or attempt to judge in these matters, but I also went to Germany and talked with many Germans. I think that when one discusses these things with Germans who are doing their best for their country under very delicate and difficult conditions it is unwise to quote to the House from private conversations things which cannot have been said to the hon. Member for repetition, judging by what he told the House this afternoon.
§ Mr. Elwyn Jones
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that there was no kind of indication on my part that the conversations were otherwise than for the purposes of publication. I made that quite clear, and therefore, if I may say so, his implied taunt was quite unjustified in the circumstances. I also owe a duty to my country to say what I heard.
§ Mr. Head
The hon. Gentleman may be right, but the only foundation for the remarks I made is that I, too, have had conversations with some of the people concerned, and it was my impression that they very much regret any possibility of the kind of remarks they made being stated in debate in the House of Commons. However, my impression may be wrong.
I should like particularly to congratulate—not because he is on my own side of the House—my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing), for an exceptionally constructive and enjoyable speech. I know that all hon. Members who were in the House at the time will agree that his knowledge of the subject made a very valuable con- 2685 tribution to the debate. I can give this undertaking, that so far as my own Department is concerned—and I believe I can give it on behalf of other Departments—the kind of remarks he made in order to simplify staff requirements from a production point of view are of intense importance, particularly at a time of rising prices, shortage of materials and the necessity for speeding up production.
I am aware, as are I think all hon. Members who have been concerned with production, that perhaps we as a nation are inclined to err towards what I might term the Cartier watch specification for equipment. Of course, we have to have good equipment—I see the Leader of the Opposition is rather shocked at my remarks—but there are certain refinements which can sometimes be sacrificed. By and large, we are apt to go for such a high standard and such refinements that when war comes large quantities of equipment may be lost or destroyed by shellfire and other means, the cost becomes high and the numbers produced are thereby decreased.
I also agree very strongly with my hon. Friend about his remarks on our technical manpower. It is, indeed, one of the most important assets we have, and if the hon. Gentleman can give me any ideas or advice on how, to get more technical manpower into the Army I will spend endless time with him on this subject which, at the moment, is a very difficult and important one for the Army.
We had a speech from the hon. Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo)—it would perhaps be wrong of me to attempt in any way to dodge it—in which he asked four questions. Then, to my enjoyment, he went on to answer the four questions himself. I am not pretending that that entirely absolves me, but he did it on the assumption that I would not answer those four questions. I think that his assumption was not entirely unfounded. It was founded, I think, on a good deal of knowledge of the subjects on which he was talking.
The hon. Gentleman knows quite well that if I were to give him precise answers to those four questions—even supposing I could, if the information were available anywhere—they would be read with very considerable interest by a great many people whom we would rather leave in ignorance of the answers to those ques- 2686 tions. I am not sheltering behind the veil of security, but I venture to say that the hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that I could not give a categorical answer to those questions.
I would, however, say this. As far as machine tools are concerned I think that the hon. Gentleman is overstressing the delays to date concerning machine tools. I am not suggesting for a moment that they will not come in the future, but at the present moment I do not think the difficulties encountered owing to the shortage of machine tools is as grave as the hon. Gentleman suggested.
The hon. Member for Reading, South, went on to refer to certain matters raised by the Prime Minister in what my right hon. Friend called the "indigestion" of our productive capacity because of the large amount of money which had suddenly been spent and the large number of orders placed. He said the machine was incapable of dealing with the situation with such rapidity. The hon. Member for Reading, South, gave his solution to the problem entirely in terms of timing. He used the analogy of cooking and rather tended to suggest that Mrs. Beaton would have made a very good Minister of Supply.
It is not easy, in placing orders or getting things started, to say "we will not even place an order or make a start, and then everything will come out together." If re-armament takes place, there is always a tendency to place the orders and to allow preparations to start. After all, we never know; we might suddenly blunder into war, and to have sufficient restraint to retain some orders for which capacity exists would, I think, perhaps be unwise and would not be a normal method of entering upon a rearmament programme.
§ Mr. Mikardo
I accept at once the point which the right hon. Gentleman is making—that it has always been the case, whenever there has been re-armament, that all the orders have been pushed out at once. But I beg the right hon. Gentleman to believe that the Service Departments, and the Ministry of Supply, operating on their behalf, are the only ordering organisations in British industry who make this elementary mistake. Why cannot they catch up with the practice of the rest of Briitsh industry?
§ Mr. Head
I think the hon. Member will appreciate that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply is just starting to sort things out, and although I do not wish to dodge the hon. Gentleman's argument, I think his criticisms are aimed more at my right hon. Friend's predecessors than at the present Minister.
§ Mr. Head
The hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) referred to the present aircraft position. Apart from the reference, and from a very brief reference by the Prime Minister, the question of aircraft production was not touched on very strongly during the debate. It is, however, the case, as the Prime Minister said when he opened the debate, that this aspect of the programme is one which gives very great cause for anxiety. The reasons are both complex and to some extent deep-seated, but it is a fact that the present aircraft position is one about which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air is extremely worried. It is also one which it will take considerable difficulty and time to improve.
What I would point out to the hon. Gentleman, who also made reference to Coastal Command, is that the wide field of aircraft production, which ranges from Coastal Command, through transport aircraft to fighters, and so on, involves a question of fitting in first things first. I know that from one's own personal point of view, one has a predilection for such things as transport aircraft for airborne brigades and for helicopters for the evacuation of the wounded, and so on, but one cannot be a chooser in these things, and particular requirements have to wait until the primary needs have been met.
I think hon. Members will agree that not only before the Government but also before the country there lies a formidable task in the fulfilment of the rearmament programme. It entails not only considerable skill and ingenuity in ensuring that the vast amount of money to be spent on orders is not only placed but placed in an economic manner, but it also inevitably brings with it certain 2688 difficulties from the purely political angle. I am merely saying that to fit in one's armament programme without undue dislocation of one's own economy is a complex matter and a very difficult one to make a judgment upon.
I think it is fair to say that there are no votes in re-armament, and it is really a difficult and troublesome duty for any political party to ensure that this programme is driven through, and that the necessary sacrifices in the economic position are made. I believe that it is a particularly good thing that in this debate—the first defence debate of this new Parliament—there has been a marked lack of bitterness or party politics.
I feel myself very strongly, I assure the House, that if we turn defence into a party political issue we have very little chance of making a job of it, because where democracies are concerned there is always the alternative, for any democracy, to vote for an easy present at the cost of a risky future. There is always the possibility open to any politician to go before the country and say, "This is unnecessary. It is a waste of your money. The burdens are unnecessary. If you do the sensible thing you will have lower taxes and a better life today. As it is, these burdens are being inflicted without due cause."
That will always be, and always has been, attractive to democracies. The capacity of politicians to appeal to that side has been our Achilles heel, I suggest, before two wars. It was amply proved in certain by-elections and other political indications before both our wars. Our problem, and, indeed, every democracy's problem, is to see now whether we can face up to this threat without being seduced from our purpose by the political cries of a lack of necessity. It is, perhaps, the most testing strain of all to maintain a sustained effort and these burdens for a number of years.
I do, with great sincerity, hope that both sides of the House will continue in the frame of mind in which they have been tonight. To sustain that burden, to drive through that particular task, is, I know, difficult, but I am convinced that it is the price of peace.