§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.4 p.m.
§ The Minister of Defence (Mr. Peter Thorneycroft)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The purpose of the Bill is to implement the Government's decision, which was announced last March, radically to reorganise the central organisation of defence and to set up a unified Ministry of Defence under a Secretary of State. The House will recall that the details of all this were published in the White Paper in July. We had what I think was a valuable debate at that time in the House and I do not want to repeat all the arguments which we then used. At the same time, I think that I should say something about the background.
We are dealing here in the Bill, albeit the effective Clause is a short one, with offices and organisations of really great historical interest and significance. The development of the Service Departments is deeply interwoven in the fabric of our history, and the reasons for some of the present forms and methods of administration and divisions of responsibility and titles are really now lost in the mists of time and in controversies the exact reasons for which have often been forgotten.
I will not try to give the House an analysis of this historical past. Those familiar with it, and there are many in the House who have taken a great interest in these affairs, have full knowledge of the obligations of the Cinque Ports and the Admirals of the North and South and the original Navy Board, which is very much associated with the name of Samuel Pepys.
All through that history there have been examinations and reports made, one or two of which are of significance in the light of our present discussion. There was Lord Howick's Report in 1837, which said:If the military defence of the Empire is to be conducted upon a footing of economy as well as of efficiency it appears obviously necessary and expedient that there should be some one member of the Government particularly charged with the duty of exercising 1196 a general supervision and control in all these matters.There was the Duke of Wellington's passionate opposition to what he then regarded as a revolutionary conception, his condemnation of what he termedThis new Leviathan, a Secretary at War …placing authority in the hands of one Member of the House of Commons and Cabinet.And then nothing happened, because, obviously, of the opposition of the Duke of Wellington, at that time a powerful proponent on the stage of our affairs.
There was the Northbrook Committee which, in 1868, had said thatNo scheme which is not based on the accomplished fact that all the Departments of military administration are housed under the same roof can be otherwise than abortive.More latterly, we come to the appointment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) as Minister of Defence, which carried, really, the whole conception of defence organisation from the single Service into the inter-Service field. And so to our debate today.
The history of these defence arrangements is full of colour and of controversy and it forms the basis, the foundation, on which we have to build. I would say just this about those great organisations, that whatever criticisms one can offer of the past, whatever amendments or alterations we offer now, they served their country very well, and their success rested not on administrative perfection—because they were often changed—but rested, as the success of these proposals must, on the quality of the serving officers and civil servants who are called upon to man them.
The proposals now made represent quite formidable alterations. I explained in the summer the reasons why we considered them necessary. In essence, they were twofold: first, to make it easier to formulate and to control an integrated defence policy, that is to say, to have one defence policy which was more than a synthesis of four different themes drawn from different sources: and, secondly, and also important, to improve our control over defence spending. Those were the objectives that we had in mind.
I stated then the main principles which we intended to follow. The first 1197 was that we must set up a single unified Ministry of Defence, that there must be one Ministry with one Minister effectively in charge of all these affairs. Secondly, however much he might be in charge, he must have facilities to decentralise responsibility because, without that capacity to decentralise—which one had to build into the machine—the burden at the top would become quite intolerable.
Thirdly, whatever organisation were set up, we must make it sufficiently flexible, because, with the best will in the world, no one can today foresee precisely what the requirements of some Government may be ten years from now or what the requirements of the defences of this country may be ten years from now. Therefore, we must not set up anything so inflexible and so bounded by legislative barriers of all kinds that we cannot change it; we must have room to develop as we go along.
Fourthly, we must get a proper balance between the military, the administrative and the scientific sides of this new Ministry. Particularly on the scientific side, to which I attach great importance—there has been much discussion about the use of science in the modern age recently—I believe that in the Ministry of Defence we have already been setting something of an example in these matters. We have scientists in at every level. We have them considering problems, not only purely scientific ones, and putting their ideas forward on many aspects of strategy not solely so that we may accept the views of scientists, but so that their views may be a challenge to the views of the establishment within the Ministry. I attach the greatest importance in this new organisation to having the scientists built in with the administrators and with the military, not only at the top but at every level.
Fifthly, but perhaps as important as any, we must, whatever we do in the central organisation, preserve the individual loyalty of fighting men to their ship, to their squadron, or to their regiment. This we must always keep in mind.
Lastly, for reasons which I gave, the Ministry of Aviation is not to be part of a unified Department. If I may
1198 borrow a word from my right hon. Friend, we are not here proposing a merger in these events, but we are proposing that the links should be closer, including moving the main echelons of the Ministry of Aviation into the same building as the Ministry of Defence.
Based on these principles, the internal structure is as follows. There will be a Secretary of State with full control over, and responsibility for, the whole Department. He will be assisted by three Ministers of State and three Parliamentary Secretaries. The Ministers of State will undertake any task over the whole defence field—I emphasise that—which may be allocated to them, and each of them will be responsible to the Secretary of State for a designated Service. There will be a Defence Council which will be established with the Secretary of State in the chair, and its main job will be to consider and weigh the main problems of defence policy and to exercise powers of command and control at present exercised by the Board of Admiralty and the Army and Air Councils.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
May I, at his stage, ask a question which is extremely important? The right hon. Gentleman has emphasised the imperative need for injecting the advice of scientists in the defence field. I accept that wholeheartedly. But the Bill provides that the Defence Council should be responsible, among other things, for the command of Her Majesty's Forces. Will the Minister explain why it is necessary to have scientific advisers determining policy in respect of the command of Her Majesty's Forces?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
t: If the right hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I shall come on to the particular Clause to which he refers and explain why.
To digress for a moment, because of the right hon. Gentleman's experience and interest in these matters, I say just this. If we are to have a central body at the top which is to decide the really big questions of defence policy, it would, I think, be mad at this point in the century to exclude the chief scientist from consideration of problems of this kind. Looking ahead, as this body will have to do, to see the kind of dangers one may face five, ten or fifteen years' hence—one knows the length of time 1199 over which problems tend to develop—and the sort of way one should meet them, one can do these things only by having the best scientific advice possible at one's disposal.
Perhaps I may develop that a little later in my remarks.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I do not want to speak for too long. If I give way to thehon. Gentleman, may I have an understanding from the House that I shall then be allowed to proceed, since I am anxious that others should have the opportunity to intervene?
§ Mr. Wigg
It is rather important that we get this clear at the start. As I understood him, the right hon. Gentleman has already introduced a new principle. I thought, when we discussed the White Paper, that the three Ministers of State would operate at a lower level in the three Service Departments. Now, the right hon. Gentleman tells us something which, to me, is quite new, that they will be designated to operate over the whole field of defence, right across the Services.
There is one element of Service organisation to which I attach enormous importance, namely, the maintenance of discipline. Are we to have the administration and maintenance of discipline run by someone going right across the three Services, with three different traditions and with three different Acts, or have I misunderstood, and will it remain as at present, under the three separate Services?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
If the hon. Gentleman will wait a little for me to come to discipline and courts-martial, I shall deal with that.
On the first point he makes, which I am on now—I agree with what he says about its significance—I attach the greatest importance, as I made clear in the summer, to the Ministers of State having more than a single Service responsibility. The Ministers of State will have a responsibility right across the defence field, and they will be doing any job in the defence field which is allocated to them by the Secretary of State. Indeed, I do not think that one could have in any sense a truly integrated
1200 Department unless one had an arrangement of that kind.
§ Mr. Arthur Henderson(Rowley Regis and Tipton)rose—
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I shall now continue, if I may; otherwise, this will become just a cross-examination. We are to debate the matter all day. Hon. and right hon. Members will be able to make speeches, and there will be a reply.
I come now to day-to-day management. In general, this will be delegated to Navy, Army and Air Force boards which will discharge, on behalf of the Defence Council, the judicial and quasi-judicial functions—this touches on the point raised by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg)—of the present board and councils. A Minister of State will normally deputise for the Secretary of State as chairman of these boards. Below board level there will be a three-prong structure, military, administrative and scientific. I shall take each of these three now and say a few words about them.
The military side will be headed by the Chief of the Defence Staff and the Chiefs of Staff, who will remain the principal military advisers to the Government. The Chiefs of Staff—I say again what I said in July—will remain as the professional heads of their respective Services.
The naval, general and air staffs and the joint Services staffs which already exist will now form a defence staff. Within that general concept, certain changes will take place and where the nature of the work is suitable a full integration of the staffs is planned, particularly in the case of intelligence and operations.
The administrative staffs will be headed by a Permanent Under-Secretary—I am talking now of the Civil Service side—assisted by four Second Permanent Under-Secretaries, one for each of the Services and one for the Defence Secretariat. These staffs will be formed from the civil administration staffs of all three Services into a single team with a direct line of responsibility to the Permanent Under-Secretary.
There is new machinery for long-term financial planning and the detailed management of the money voted will be delegated to the Second Permanent Under-Secretaries, who will be the accounting 1201 officers for their respective Departments. I know that that is a matter of particular interest to those hon. Members concerned with the Estimates Committee.
The chief scientific adviser will be in charge of all the scientific effort of all three Services in the new Department, and there are various changes in the scientific committee structure with which I need not, perhaps, detain the House at this stage.
This then, in outline, is the new organisation, and the proposals, if not acclaimed were at least, I believe, generally accepted in the House in July. Some hon. Members thought that we might be over-centralising and others thought that we were not going far enough. But I think that there was a general consensus that the reorganisation was necessary and well contrived.
Our intention, subject to the wishes of Parliament on the Bill, is that this organisation should come into effect in April next. All this, of course, has meant, and will continue to mean, a good deal of work. The staffs mainly concerned with policy clearly need to be housed together and they have been allotted the Board of Trade-Air Ministry building in Whitehall. That will hold about 3,400 of a total staff of about 25,000.
The Minister of Aviation, with the principal officers associated with his headquarters, will go into the main building. The planning of the accommodation, with each section close to the other sections with which it deals, not only those within its own Service but in sister Services, has been a major exercise. We have also had to design a new system of operations rooms and a new system of communications to take the place of the four separate departmental systems which operate at present.
All this work, which I think any hon. Member can understand is on a large scale, is making good progress, and, unless there is an unexpected hold up, the occupation of the Whitehall main building should take place on vesting day. But, if the new arrangement is to function efficiently at once, as many as possible of the new features should be put into operation beforehand.
We have, of course, already done a good deal of that work. The Defence Operations Executive has been formed. 1202 The Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff dealing with operational requirements has already been appointed and his staff has started work. The Second Permanent Under-Secretary (Defence Secretariat), whose job it is to identify particular parts of this organisation where integration might go further, has been appointed, as has the Deputy Under-Secretary (Programmes and Budget), while a great deal of consultation and study has gone on into financial techniques. We have also been studying the latest methods not only in this country but in some other countries as well, and have made progress on the scientific side.
In short, everything we can do before April is being done, but some things must wait until we move into the main building. This is a very big job. It is a vast array of administrative problems, ranging from questions like display arrangements in the new operations centre to the uniforms of the messengers. It is being done to the best of our ability.
The Bill itself is concerned solely with the reallocation of statutory powers now with the Service Ministers and Departments. It is not concerned with the prerogative powers under which many of the activities of the Service Departments are carried on. Nor is it concerned with the details of the reorganisation, the transfers of staff, the alterations in lines of responsibility, allocations of accommodation or the 1,001 administrative details I have been touching on. It has, therefore, been possible, and I hope that the House will count it to our credit, to boil down the legislative implications of what is a very large reorganisation to a comparatively simple Bill.
The Bill is part only of the process of setting up a united Ministry of Defence. The other formal step is, of course, the appointment by Her Majesty of the Secretary of State for Defence and the establishment, under the Royal prerogative, of a Defence Council and of Navy, Army and Air Force boards. Clause 1 makes it plain, starting as it does with the word "if"—which is a rather unusual beginning—that the proposed legislation is dependent upon Her Majesty being pleased to make such arrangements.
I have been authorised to say that Her Majesty has been informed of the con- 1203 tent of the Bill and has been graciously pleased to indicate that she will, in due course, be prepared to make the necessary arrangements under the prerogative powers.
Under these arrangements, the offices of First Lord of the Admiralty, Secretary of State for War, Secretary of State for Air and Minister of Defence, together with the Board of Admiralty and the Army and Air Councils will disappear. It is necessary to transfer the statutory powers which hitherto have rested in them to the new Secretary of State for Defence and to the Defence Council. That, in brief, is what Clause 1 does.
The allocation of functions between the Secretary of State and the Defence Council is explained in paragraph 2 of the Memorandum. Briefly, what it does is to perpetuate the division of powers between the Ministers and the Councils broadly as it exists today. The powers of the Secretary of State for War and the Secretary of State for Air are transferred to the Secretary of State for Defence. The powers of the Army Council and the Air Council are transferred to the Defence Council.
The statutory powers of the Admiralty have to be dealt with rather differently because the whole of the Admiralty is in Commission, but they are being allocated on a broadly similar division. Of course, the historic office of Lord High Admiral—at present held by the Lords of Admiralty in Commission—with its title and flag will be assumed or, as some say, reassumed by Her Majesty, while the statutory and other functions will be discharged by the Secretary of State and the Defence Council.
Clause 1 (5) deals with the relationship between the Defence Council and the three Service boards. It provides that subject to any direction by the Defence Council, the boards can discharge finally—this is important,"finally"—any function of that council. The point here is, as explained in the White Paper, that the council will deal mainly with policy. The boards will deal mainly with management. I do not want to be pedantic about this because, as we all know, these overlap. The council plainly is free to intervene at any point. Meanwhile, we must make the fullest possible use of the 1204 large complex administrative structure which exists.
The real problem that faces me and my associates at this moment is to keep the shop open while we are carrying out this reorganisation, and what we have to do is to use to the full the whole of the administrative organisation and, indeed, to continue it while at the same time introducing these reforms. Many of the functions which are mainly managerial will be appropriate, and it is the Government's intention that they will continue to be discharged by the boards subject to any directions which are given.
This applies particularly—this is part of the point raised by the hon. Member for Dudley—to the judicial and quasi-judicial powers, the review of disciplinary awards, the redress of grievances, and so on. As I made clear in the White Paper, our intention is that these will be discharged finally by the boards. I do not want to interfere with the long-established practice that appeals against finding and sentence of courts-martial should be dealt with by the Service to which the accused belongs. These arrangements preserve that situation, which I am sure is the sensible thing to do.
§ Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)
Could the right hon. Gentleman clear up one point? I am clear, so far as the boards of the various Services are concerned, that the existing functions will in a sense be retained, but what is the function of the Minister who is now given part-responsibility? Does he have the final political responsibility in connection with each of the Services, or is the political responsibility that of the new Secretary of State himself?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
The political responsibility is with the Secretary of State himself.
I should like in a moment to come on to discuss some of the implications of that arrangement in the House of Commons. But there is no question about the principle of the matter. The final political responsibility for the whole Department must rest with the Secretary of State. In other words, this reorganisation is not just a conglomeration of existing individual political entities under one roof. It is 1205 the creation of one new political entity or Ministry under a responsible Secretary of State
§ Mr. Wigg
Suppose that Private Snooks has been sentenced to five years' imprisonment and has gone through all the appeal procedure, and then the case goes to the Secretary of State for War for review. Suppose then that the Secretary of State for War, on the six-monthly review, says "No" and refuses the appeal. Would the Secretary of State for Defence set up another appeal court or would the decision of the Secretary of State for War finish the matter?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
This is the meaning of the words "finally discharged". That is to say, it will go on exactly as it does now. If Private Snooks wishes to appeal against the court-martial finding, the case will go to the Army board as it would have gone to the Army Council which would finally discharge the appeal.
§ Mr. Shinwell
In the normal case to which my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) referred, confirmation is vested in the present political chiefs of the Service Departments. As I understand it, confirmation will finally be vested in the Secretary of State for Defence?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
The Secretary of Stale is the chairman of the Army board. There is no question about the ultimate political responsibilty. As we all know, in practice, if there is a great debate, as there occasionally is, about a court-martial, the matter having been raised in this House, the Secretary of State might have to answer. But T am dealing with the ordinary sort of case—those 99 per cent, of cases where there is an appeal from a court-martial or where the case goes to the Army Council.
So far as Private Snooks is concerned, it will go on in exactly the same way, and the important point from his point of view is that in that case the matter will be dealt with by soldiers and it will be finally discharged there. However, if hon. Members wish to develop this point further we can, no doubt, deal with it in debate.
The Secretary of State for Defence, as I have said, will be Chairman of the 1206 Defence Council and also of the Service boards, and he will be responsible to Parliament for all business that is transacted. It will be obvious to hon. Members that we shall need to consult together through the usual channels, and through any others which may be convenient, on the best way of dealing with Questions in the House of Commons. Our object here must be to ensure that hon. Members have facilities at least equal to those which exist at present for probing the problems of policy and administration over the whole of the defence field. This is a matter for discussion. I do not think that we need debate it now, but we certainly want to deal with the matter of putting Questions down, of deciding who is the best Minister to answer particular Questions, and so forth. This we should do.
Equally, at an appropriate stage we ought also to consider not only the matter of Questions, but the presentation of Estimates and the parliamentary control over defence expenditure. The Estimates will be presented in one volume, but they will continue to be debatable on separate Votes. Of course, the method whereby Parliament exercises control over expenditure within the framework of the Estimates is really a matter for Parliament itself. It is not something which anyone should or could seek to lay down from outside. Hitherto, in practice, we have concentrated during the period of March-April a series of important defence debates. We have generally had two days' debate on the Defence White Paper, and then we have had a day on each of the Service Estimates. We can, of course, continue the same pattern.
It falls for consideration whether we might not try some debates on subject matter divided by roles rather than by Services. For example, we could have a day's debate on the whole role in Europe—the British Army of the Rhine, the tactical nuclear weapon, the role of the Royal Air Force in Europe—concentrating it on a whole specific role. Or we could have a whole day's debate on the role in the Far and Middle East—Singapore, Aden, the question of the carrier force and the situation in South-East Asia. Or we could devote a day exclusively to the deterrent, instead of having the question of the deterrent 1207 raised at various moments in debate. We could have one whole day on the subject of the deterrent, the V-bomber force, Polaris, TSR2, the MLF and all that complex of questions.
It is possible—this is entirely a matter for the House—that broader-based debates related to specific assignments might be more interesting and more productive, and, if I may say so, might attract a rather larger audience than just spending a day mulling over the administrative details of one particular Service. However, I do not press this matter. These are matters entirely for the House of Commons, but they are suggestions which I throw out and on which we might reflect.
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I am sympathetic to the idea that my right hon. Friend has been propounding. But will he not recognise that all debates on Estimates are inevitably to some extent governed, so far as the Chair is concerned, by which Minister is responsible for the particular Vote? Therefore, if, under our present procedure, each of the Ministers of State were to present Votes for each of their Services, there would be great difficulty in enabling debates to take place on the Vote of one of the Services on matters concerning the Votes of others as well. There would be considerable procedural difficulty in the matter, unless in future the Secretary of State for Defence is to be mainly responsible for all the three Services.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
He will be mainly responsible. Also—the point made by my hon. and gallant Friend is an important one—I emphasised earlier that in future Ministers of State will be more than Ministers responsible for a single Service. They will be responsible across the whole of the defence field. So it will be possible—I am not pressing this; it is for the House of Commons, not the Government, to decide these things—to hold debates on the basis of separate assignments rather than separate Services if the House so wishes, or the House may try to do something on those lines.
Clause 2 transfers all Service property, rights and liabilities to the Secretary of State for Defence, and provides for the acquisition and use of land. The broad 1208 object of the Clause, which we shall debate in detail in Committee, is to apply one code, the Army code, to land acquisition, and to relate that code not to a single Service, but to all the purposes of the new Department.
Clause 3 contains consequential and transitional powers, and Clause 4 is, I think, self-explanatory.
This is a technical Bill, made necessary by the abolition of single Service authorities and the creation of a single unified Ministry of Defence. No new powers, broadly, are taken. The transfer is of existing powers from old authorities to the new. The basic principle of unification was, I think, broadly welcomed in July. The Bill is necessary to that unification, and I hope that the House will support it.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)
Perhaps I may begin, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, by raising a point on procedure. It is clear from what the Minister of Defence has said, and from the Bill and from the White Paper which preceded it, that this Measure is a constitutional one of major importance. It liquidates three Ministries, some of which have existed for centuries. It vests in one new Minister who does not yet exist a great concentration of power and responsibility than any Minister in our history, other than the Prime Minister himself, has ever held—responsibility for spending £2,000 million a year and for administering a force of nearly 1 million civilian and military personnel. It also, incidentally, gives the Minister power to vary the whole structure of the defence system at will from time to time without further reference to the House.
It seems to me, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that this is pre-eminently the sort of Bill which, according to custom and, indeed, to the recommendation of the Select Committee on Procedure of 1958 should be taken in Committee on the Floor of the House I hope that the Minister can assure us that it will so be taken I wonder whether he could clear that up right away.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I should have thought—I am not controverting or agreeing with what has been said—that this was typically a matter which might 1209 be dealt with in discussions through the usual channels. These things are normally discussed in that way. I am sure that we shall be very happy to enter into discussions on that basis. But I should not like to give a firm answer at this moment.
§ Mr. Wigg rose—
§ Mr. Healey
I think that this is a subject which I might pursue myself. I understand that if the Bill is to be taken in Committee on the Floor of the House the Government are required to put forward a Motion to that effect at the end of today's business. There is not much time left. I understand that there has already been consultation through the usual channels and that an indication has been given that it is the Government's intention that the Bill should not be taken in Committee on the Floor of the House. My right hon. Friends and I would deeply deplore such a decision by the Government and would note it as a precedent for the future.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I will treat the hon. Gentleman's proposals with all the courtesy that they deserve. He has put a proposal to me. I have spoken in reply to it. What the hon. Gentleman says indicates that discussions have gone on and are now going on through the usual channels. I shall acquaint myself with the latest position. We have several hours left. I will reflect on what the hon. Gentleman has said.
§ Mr. Wigg
Before my hon. Friend accepts that offer, will he bear in mind that not only the usual channels are involved? This is a matter of great constitutional importance which affects the responsibility of every hon. Member in the House. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will bear in mind that it is not only a matter of the convenience of the two Front Benches.
§ Mr. Healey
My hon. Friend's responsibility is, I think, well understood in the House, but I assure him that so far as this side of the House is concerned we fully recognise the importance of this issue. That is why I raised it at the beginning of the debate.
The odd thing about the Bill, as the Minister has confessed, is that it gives the Government a blank cheque. It 1210 transfers an enormous range of power and responsibility to a new Minister who has not yet been appointed. It transfers all the powers of the existing permanent heads of the Services—the Army Council, the Air Council, and the Board of Admiralty—to a new Defence Council. It also gives the Government the right to pass powers back from the Defence Council to the individual Services at any time they think fit.
There is in the Bill no commitment whatever as to the precise shape of the defence organisation when the Bill has been passed, although we have had an assurance from the Minister of Defence that the present Government propose to use the powers that they are given in order to set up an organisation along the lines indicated to the House in the White Paper on reorganisation which was discussed in July.
I should like to press the Government to clear up the matter of discipline a little further. The Opposition regard it as of fundamental importance from the points of view of the rights of the individual serving man or woman and of discipline in the individual Services that, so long as the Acts governing discipline remain separate and distinct for every Service the responsibility for discipline should be in the particular Service.
I understand from what the Minister has said that in the case of serving Service personnel it is intended that the new boards of the individual Services will be the final authorities on discipline. The point which 1 and my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) raise is whether, once the matter becomes a political matter and passes from the permanent military personnel to people who are politically responsible, a Minister with special responsibility for the Service will, as now, play a part in decision or whether the only Minister concerned will be the Minister of Defence.
I would press this matter again. I think that the Minister will agree that he did not clear it up in his reply. Perhaps he did not fully take the point. I hope that we can have an answer. The Opposition and, I am sure, many right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite take this as a matter of the greatest importance.
1211 As the Minister said, the main purpose of the Bill is to establish machinery which it is hoped will produce, or make it easier to take, better decisions on the shape, structure and weapons system of our armed forces. The Minister said—I agree with him—that it is essential that decisions in these fields should be based on the requirements of national defence in general rather than on the interests and traditions of the individual Services. So far, I think, there is no disagreement between him and, at any rate, most of us on this side of the House, but I must say that as he deployed his description of the new machinery, enthusiasm on both sides of the House seemed to be visibly waning.
In many fields it seemed to me that the Minister had no clear view on precisely how the machinery would operate, and it was not clear whether he expected the machinery to produce decisions at all. It seems to me that if we take the new structure as he explained it in which the individual Services, in spite of the formal transfer of power, retain very many of the rights and authorities which they possess at present, the only person who can take decisions is the Minister himself. The question whether or not this new machinery represents an improvement on the existing machinery depends entirely on the will of the Minister in charge at the time to use it.
The Minister has never cleared up, either in this debate or in the debate in July, the point which many of us made, namely, that the Minister of Defence has had power to take decisions ever since the reorganisation in 1958. What we all deplore is the fact that he has not used the power, and we have absolutely no assurance that he will make better use of the additional powers which he is to get under this Bill than he has made of the powers which he already posseses and which are almost as extensive concerning decisions as the powers which he gets under the Bill.
Those of us who had some confidence in the Minister's will to use the new machinery he is asking for have been extremely depressed by the example he has given us in the last week in his handling of the PI 154 project. We all 1212 congratulated him when he came to the House on 30th July, only three months ago, and told us mat he had taken a decision that the Navy and the Air Force should have a common aircraft to replace the Sea Vixen and the Hunter. I quoted him yesterday, and I quote him again, as telling us that a decision had been taken and that the Services had already agreed on the requirements of the new aircraft. Now we gather that they have not even agreed on whether the new aircraft is to have one man or two men in the crew, a point which everyone has known from the beginning was one of the crucial matters of decision.
I believe that the right hon. Gentleman's statement in the House yesterday was a lamentable confession of his failure as Minister of Defence. If he is incapable of using the powers which he has already and of carrying out a decision which he has already taken, there is very little ground for believing that he will use any better the new powers for which he is asking in this Bill.
I have been reading his speech in the last defence reorganisation debate. He went much further even than he did when he announced his decision to the House. He said:The announcement yesterday"—he was referring to his own speech—of the adoption of a common aircraft for the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force is a significant indication of the new approach in which all Services play a role,"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st July, 1963; Vol. 682, c. 478.]Now we are told that, so far from anything having been adopted, there is very serious trouble in the design study, and according to all the rumours we hear, there will be no common aircraft, and there is even a serious question as to whether one or both Services will get an aircraft at all—certainly a British aircraft.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
I do not want the hon. Gentleman to be unfair to my right hon. Friend over the question of his having used or not used the powers which he has been given. Does the hon. Member appreciate that the big difference between this Bill and what has happened before is that this Bill gives my right hon. Friend financial powers in estimating which, hitherto, he has not had? One of the difficulties in the past may 1213 have been due to the fact that in the context in which the hon. Member has just been talking, it was only the Secretary of State for Air who could introduce the necessary estimate, whereas now there is the possibility of the new Secretary of State for Defence submitting an estimate which embraces more than one Service.
§ Mr. Healey
I cannot accept that at all, because under the 1958 reorganisation the Minister of Defence—and I quote the terms of the White Paper—has authority to decide …all major matters of defence policy affecting the size, shape, organisation and disposition of the Armed Forces".their equipment and supply, their pay and conditions of service. There is not the slightest doubt that the Minister has power, and, indeed, he has not contested that.
What the Minister has told us is that there is a fierce argument between the two Services as to whether it is possible to have a compatible aircraft. I noticed that when he expounded his latest views on this matter to the electors of Dundee he said that there was, "not a hell of an argument, but some damned hard talking." I have no doubt that he chose to use swear words to describe the situation because it might possibly give an impression of toughness and decisiveness which was totally absent from his actual behaviour in this matter. But, despite the fact that he put some false hair on his chest in his speech at Dundee, the plain fact is that the Minister has shown no toughness or decisiveness.
I put it to the Minister and to the House that either he was totally misled by his advisers in July, or that he has been totally out-manoeuvred by his advisers since. In either case it is a pathetic example of flabbiness which augurs very badly for the success of the reorganisation presented to us this afternoon.
What must be equally disturbing is the spate of rumours in the Press about the current crisis over the Defence Estimates. We have had a crisis every year over the Defence Estimates which has tended to begin about July and to reach its peak about October or November, and we know why the crisis develops. It develops because each Service is given to understand that it will have roughly a third of the Defence
1214 Vote to play around with. When the three Services present their Estimates it turns out that they are far too large, partly because each Service tends to underestimate the cost of weapons to which it is already committed. We had the example recently revealed by the Public Accounts Committee, I think, of one weapon—I think it was Seaslug—costing forty times the original estimate.
The Minister of Defence knows very well that under-estimates of the likely cost of weapons is one of the major reasons for the current crisis. I do not blame the Minister, any more than my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition did not Thursday, for sometimes making mistakes in his sums. This is an extremely difficult problem, on which it is literally impossible to be certain in advance whether a weapon will cost a certain amount, or whether it will require modification in the course of its development and production which will vastly increase its cost.
However, I do not think that the Minister would deny that the weapons programme to which the Government are committed will add up to far more than the 7½ per cent, of the gross national product to which the Minister committed himself. We have the TSR2, with an almost unlimited cost. I will come to its actual cost later and, in view of what the Prime Minister said earlier, I hope that the Minister who replies to the debate will be a little more forthcoming on this matter. There is the commitment in respect of the ASW681 transport aircraft, the P1154 commitment and the Shackleton replacement commitment, all falling on the Royal Air Force. We have the commitment to Polaris submarines, to a new aircraft carrier and possibly to a contribution to the proposed multilateral force, all falling on the Royal Navy.
Finally, we have the commitment, I am glad to say, which is now coming to fruition, to provide the Army with new tanks, and the commitment which was not bargained for, and which, I suspect, will be extremely costly, to redeploy part of the strategic reserve in the Far East because of the unexpected difficulties in Malaysia.
Yet the Government have committed themselves to keep the defence bill down to about 7½ per cent, of the Budget, or 1215 under £2,000 million. The Prime Minister promised the country during his by-election speeches only a few weeks ago:I think we will be able quite shortly to begin with the physical process of reduction of armaments and use the expenditure for other more peaceful purposes.I only hope that he is right, but I cannot help remembering that he told his party a few days later that for the next few months electioneering must have priority over all other factors in Government policy.
Whatever view one takes of the Prime Minister's statement, the Minister of Defence must agree that something in the existing programmes to which the Government are committed will have to go. He made this clear when he pointed to the financial aspects of the decision on the P1154. Will the Navy have its carrier? Will it get its Sea Vixen replacement? Will the R.A.F. get the TSR2 and the Hunter replacement for which it is asking? Will the Army get the tanks which it needs? Most important of all, will it get the married quarters on which its recruiting, in large part, depends, and the transport aircraft on which its mobility, in large part, depends?
I say this very sincerely to the Minister. I hope that, whatever decision he takes on this question, he will not cut the Army. He must know that the recruiting figures at present are highly disturbing, and there seems to be little prospect that the target which the Government set themselves only six months ago will be achieved in the immediate future, if, indeed, at all.
The Minister of Defence himself had to warn N.A.T.O. recently that it now was uncertain whether Britain would be able to fulfil the firm commitment to which it has been pledged now for, I think it is, seven years, to provide 55,000 effective soldiers in the British Army of the Rhine. I hope that the Minister will give first priority at this time to the fulfilment of this commitment and to the steps which will give us an effective Army because, whether we like it or not, the Army is at present committed all over the world, and there is very grave danger that if its needs are not given first priority—its needs both in recruiting and mobility—the elastic which is stretched so tight by commitments, expected and un- 1216 expected, will snap in the next few months, with results which could be absolutely disastrous for this country's prestige throughout the world.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again. He has made a particularly important request to my right hon. Friend. I assume that in making it he has worked out what he, if he were in the Minister's position, would himself do. If, for some reason or other, voluntary recruitment does not produce a sufficient number of men to provide 55,000 in Europe, is he saying that he would be prepared to introduce some form of national service to enable that to happen?
§ Mr. Healey
That is a very hypothetical question indeed. What we have said from this side continuously is that we are determined to provide troops adequate to fulfil our commitments. The question of how we provide these troops, whether it is possible to reduce commitments, whether it is possible by changing inducements to increase regular recruiting, I cannot answer from this position at this time, but I am very conscious that I or one of my right hon. or hon. Friends may well be faced with this problem within five months. I assure the hon. Gentleman that, when we face this problem, we shall maintain the pledge which I have just repeated to him.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
If the hon. Gentleman is contemplating that he might have to face this problem, perhaps he ought to face it a little more clearly now. He is saying, as I understand it, that he would give first priority to bringing the number of troops in Europe up to 55,000. So far as I can see, there are only two ways in which he can do it, unless he assumes some increase in recruiting. One is by introducing conscription; another is by moving troops out of the Far East, where we are under pressure, into Europe. I think that he ought to give the House some indication which of these he would prefer.
§ Mr. Healey
I think that the Minister, if he is wise, will reflect on what I have said and realise that I did not say that I would give first priority to the maintenance of 55,000 troops in Europe. What I said—and what I ask him to do—is to give first priority, when he has to decide 1217 on what cuts are to be made in the current Estimate being presented, to the maintenance of the recruiting and mobility of our present Army forces over the whole field.
I would not be prepared at this moment to say, especially in the light of the very substantial changes in N.A.T.O. strategy which are under discussion inside N.A.T.O. at present, and in the light, also, of the most important speech by the American Secretary of Defence, to which I shall refer—
§ Mr. Healey
No, I shall not give way. I think that I have been extremely lenient in giving way to interruptions and I feel that I should get on with discussing the implications of the Bill. We have from this side of the House made several suggestions as to possible cuts in the programme in recent weeks, and we have asked questions about elements in the programme. Hon. Members opposite, and, in particular, the Minister of Aviation, every time we have raised the question, have described this as being unpatriotic for casting doubts on the viability or legitimacy of particular parts of our military expenditure.
One might think from the way they talk that the Government had never cancelled any project the whole time that they have been in office;yet the right hon. Gentleman knows very well that his first act when he became Minister of Defence was to cancel Blue Water. The Government have cancelled projects at this time of the year every year for the last twelve years. The Minister of Aviation was kind enough to give us details last June of 30 major projects on missiles or aircraft which have been cancelled during the present Administration, at a loss to the country in unfruitful expenditure of over £250 million.
I hope that the Minister realises that when we raise these questions—he knows perfectly well that these are questions which he is having to consider at this moment, as he has to consider them at this phase in the financial year every year—they are questions that it is perfectly legitimate for the Opposition to ask and that there is no question of unpatriotism when we ask them. That is why we want an inquiry into the tremendous expenditure on the TSR2 1218 which, at the present time, is preempting such a very large proportion of the resources available for defence. No one who knows anything about this aircraft will deny that if it flies and comes up to planning and expectations it will be a superb technological achievement worthy of the greatest traditions of our aviation industry. But the question which the Minister has to decide, and the question on which the House and the country will judge him, is whether this tremendous expenditure will meet our real defence needs better than the same amount of money spent on some other defence purpose.
The Government have been extremely coy in giving us figures of the amount of money spent on the TSR2. I understand that when the project was first approved in 1959, the Government were assured that the total cost of research and development would be about £90 million. I understand that we have already spent about twice that amount and yet the aircraft has not yet flown.
Eighteen months ago, the Minister of Defence told the House that the cost of the project—he did not make it clear whether this was research and development or the total cost of the whole project—would be about £400 million. Since then, the project has fallen six months behind schedule, because we were told earlier this year that the aircraft was expected to fly in about September and now we are told that it may not fly until March next year.
The Minister of Aviation yesterday rejected, with his usual hyperbole, an estimate, which I asked him to confirm, or deny, which was printed by the Observer. I understand very well why the Observer is not the most popular authority on any matter on the benches opposite, but I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the air correspondent of the Daily Telegraph stated—rightly or wrongly, we do not know—a month ago in an article which he wrote on the TSR2 that the Government had paid £15 million for each of the first 18 aircraft which they had ordered.
The Sunday Times, which again, 1 expect, is a more acceptable source of information on these matters to hon. Members opposite, in a long and careful argument which it produced the other day on the TSR2, gave an estimate 1219 of £600 million as being the likely total cost of the project, including the special nuclear bomb which must be produced for it if it is to have a serious strategic nuclear rÔle. I do not believe that the Opposition are being unpatriotic when they ask the Government to tell us whether these estimates are right and whether expenditure of this magnitude is justified in the light of the total needs of all our Armed Forces.
We on this side resent almost as in-, tensely the shiftiness of the Minister of Aviation when he does give information as we resent his arrogance when he refuses it. I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will not authorise his——
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
On a point of order. Is it in order for an hon. Member to accuse a Minister of being a twister?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
I did not hear anything that I thought required my intervention.
§ Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
Further to the point of order. Is it in order for an hon. Member to call a Minister a twister?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
What I said was that I did not hear anything that, I thought, required interruption from the Chair, and that is how I rule.
§ Mr. Healey
When the House and the country are denied information on this project, we have to look for information where we can find it. The only hard evidence which we have about the TSR2 was the behaviour of the Australian Government when faced with a choicebetween the TSR2 and other aircraft to meet their own requirements. It is no good the Government trying to run off into fantasy as to why the Australian Government rejected the TSR2, because the Conservative Prime Minister of Australia—who, I do not think any of us on either side would deny, is British to his bootstraps—has given the following as his reasons for rejecting the TSR2.
1220 The Prime Minister of Australia said—and I quote from The Times of 14th November—that the mission of the Australian Air Force which had examined several alternative aircraft overseashad reported that both the TFX and the TSR2 would meet R.A.A.F. requirements but had believed the TFX superior in range, short take-off and landing ability, weapons carrying capacity and reconnaissance capabilities.He went on to say that the terms on which the Australian Government were buying the TFX would save Australiascores, literally tens of millions of poundscompared with the cost of two squadrons of the TSR2.
I do not know whether what the Australian Prime Minister said is true, but I do not think that the Minister could deny that the Australian Prime Minister was sincere when he gave those as his reasons for refusing to accept the aircraft. The argument from the Minister of Aviation that the Australian Government refused the TSR2 because they had heard that the Labour Party in Britain was not keen on going on with a nuclear deterrent is as intellectually ludicrous as it is morally contemptible, because if the Australian Government thought that a country without nuclear weapons would not consider the TSR2 worth while, why should the Australian Government even look at the TSR2, because the Australian Government do not have nuclear weapons and have no prospect of obtaining them in the immediate future?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
t: I do not know what relevance an Australian order or no Australian order for the TSR2 has to the central organisation of defence in this country. I did not expand on this in my speech; I thought that it would be marginal to the main subject of the debate. What I am concerned about is a constant attempt to shoot this aircraft to pieces on the ground before it ever gets off.
It is not a question of the nuclear deterrent. It is the doubts which are raised, not only in Australia, but everywhere, by speeches such as the hon. Gentleman's, which raise, or are designed to raise, every kind of doubt about this aircraft. Demands for inquiry into it and demands as to whether it is needed or will have a rÔle are making 1221 our chance of ever selling this aircraft far harder.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
If I might intervene, perhaps it would be as well for the House to remember that what we are debating is the Defence (Transfer of Functions) Bill.
§ Mr. Healey
The Minister knows better than anybody else that the TSR2 project is a monument to the failure of inter-Service co-operation, because if there had been proper inter-Service cooperation at the time this aircraft was first ordered we would not have had both a naval strike aircraft and an air-force strike aircraft, performing very largely the same functions, developed totally independently with no serious attempt to render them compatible. The Minister knows this perfectly well.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Healey
The whole history of the TSR2 is an object lesson and is extremely relevant to the subject which is under discussion.
The question which is raised by the TSR2—and the Minister knows this, because he is at present having to decide which of the projects to which the Government are committed will be cut before the next Defence Estimates are presented to Parliament, in the same way as the 30 major projects have already been cut by the Government in the last twelve years—is the fundamental one that we cannot do everything. We cannot cover every conceivable danger with every conceivable weapon. Nobody expressed this point of view more cogently than the right hon. Gentleman himself when he resigned from his position of Chancellor of the Exchequer. I will not embarrass him by quoting his words to him again, but he knows this very well.
If we are ever to make sense of our defence expenditure at a time when the cost of replacing weapons is increasing ten times as fast as our national income is increasing—this is the problem which is at the root of our dilemma and which is the reason behind the Bill—we must decide what type of war is most likely, where it will be and what weapons and forces are most suitable for fighting or deterring it.
The first question, as the right hon. Gentleman admitted in presenting the 1222 White Paper, is a question for the Cabinet as a whole, but there is still no sign that the Government are trying to answer it. We heard a lot from the right hon. Gentleman the other day about the establishment of a joint defence and overseas committee of the Cabinet. I should like to know whether this committee, which does not depend on the Bill, has already been set up and is working.
§ Mr. Healey
I am glad to hear it. What we want from the Government is what we had from the American Secretary of Defence in impressive measure on Monday of this week—that is, a comprehensive statement of where the Government feel that the defence problem will face us over the next ten years, so that we have a basis on which to judge the Government's proposals for meeting those needs.
I wish that occasionally the Minister of Defence would reveal his thinking, if he has any, on these matters to the House and the country. He failed to do so in this year's Defence White Paper and again today. If Mr. McNamara is right, for example, it would be much wiser for us to spend money for forces for local conventional war rather than forces for global atomic war. This is a relevant point which is worth considering.
The Prime Minister pointed out in the debate in another place on 31st July that our forces had been committed in hostilities fifty-six times since the end of the last war. Thanks to the Secretary of State for Air, I had an opportunity of seeing something of the work which those forces are doing in one of those wars, in Malaysia. What those forces are crying out for is helicopters, not TSR2s. I would not be prepared to take a decision myself on this without knowing far more about the problem than I do, but the Government must take some decisions on the type of wars we are likely to have to face, so that we have some ideas about which are the sort of weapons systems which are most likely to be appropriate to our needs.
If the Cabinet takes the right decision on this, the question is whether the proposed reorganisation will help us to choose the right pattern of arms and 1223 forces. The real trouble, as we said in July and as was said again in the debate in another place, is that the proposals presented to Parliament in July and implied in the Bill are essentially a compromise which hedges on almost every important issue. We still have four major worries about the proposals on which the Minister of Defence has done nothing by what he has said this afternoon to allay our concern.
The first is the Parkinson's Law problem. It is now clear from the Bill that the reorganisation will mean a big increase in personnel and a big increase in expenditure. In the Preamble to the Bill, the Minister of Defence says that he hopes that this increase in expenditure and in personnel will some day be offset by streamlining, but there seems to be no provision inside the organisation for this streamlining to take place. It goes against all precedents, set not only in British but in defence reorganisation all over the world, to believe that this streamlining will come about automatically.
The noble Lord Field Marshal Montgomery said in the debate in another place that what was needed was a great dose of weed killer, and there is not the slightest doubt that he was right. What worries us is that instead of producing integration, the new organisation will produce a fourth party to what has so far been a three-party argument among the three Services and that the Government will produce a penthouse, an additional storey, on the defence structure rather than pull the three existing Services together.
The Minister increased rather than allayed our concern about our second worry, which is that the downgrading of the Service Ministers while leaving the Chiefs of Staff untouched will mean less pressure for unity and a general weakening of political control throughout the system. It is absolutely intolerable that the individual Chiefs of Staff should retain not only the right of separate access to the Minister of Defence, which, I suppose, is arguable, but also the right of separate access to the Cabinet, while the only Minister with any real authority over them will be the Minister of Defence himself, and even he could be outflanked by a direct approach to the Cabinet.
1224 It seems to me, even more from what the Minister said about giving the Ministers of State functions beyond those of supervising the individual Services, that he must either downgrade the Chiefs of Staff in the new organisation, or must upgrade the Ministers of State. It is quite unacceptable to produce an organisation which reduces the possibility of political control, because any hope of carrying thisintegration further will depend primarily on continuous and persistent pressure from the politicians. The pressure will not come in the required measure from the Services themselves.
That takes me to my third major complaint, which is that the new Secretary of State for Defence is to have such a colossal range of responsibilities to cover that the prospect of his giving the time and energy required for decision on the major political issues is almost nil. A great deal about this was said in our last debate and in another place, but nobody on this earth is superhuman enough to carry out the manifold responsibilities of policy formation and administration imposed on the Secretary of State alone, unless he has senior political assistance not provided for in the White Paper and, of course, not mentioned in the Bill in any way.
I put again to the right hon. Gentleman a proposal on which he did not comment last time and which was made simultaneously by Lord Swinton in another place—that there is a strong case for a senior assistant to the new Secretary of Defence whose prime responsibility would be the defence budget. I think this for two reasons, partly because effective political control of expenditure, multifarious and extensive as defence expenditure is, is absolutely impossible under the proposed system, and partly because it is through defence budgeting that the major advances towards functional integration are liable to take place. I do not believe that a second Permanent Under-Secretary can be made solely responsible for taking new initiatives in functional integration and a Minister of senior status—I will not say whether he should be in the Cabinet, for that raises many other questions—responsible for the defence budget is the only 1225 person likely to exert the continuing pressure for the progress in this respect which is desired.
All of us who are interested in the Bill would agree that the real question is whether it will be the first step towards continuing functional integration of the Services, or whether it is to be the; last step in an old story. The Bill will be judged not by what is in it, but by whether the Government responsible can keep up the momentum towards further integration once this proposal is carried out.
I must confess—and this is not just a party statement—that I have no confidence in the ability of the present Administration to maintain the necessary pressure in this direction. If I thought that the present Administration would last, I would strongly oppose giving it the sort of blank cheque which is provided by the Bill. But the doubts and fears about the Bill which many of us on this side of the House have are considerably reduced by the thought that even though it is a blank cheque, it will be for right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House to cash it.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Birch (Flint, West)
I hope that it will not tax your patience too much, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if I actually spend the whole of my time discussing the Bill. The hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) shares with his chief a total inability to speak for less than an hour on any subject whatever. When it comes to who is the bigger bore, I should be inclined to award the hon. Member the palm.
In its present form, the Bill isacceptable and is not really amendable. All it does is to lay foundations on which the proposed superstructure is to be built. However, as a House of Commons we have a duty to examine this matter closely, because there are many matters in which the interests of the House are concerned. Mr. Ramsay MacDonald once very sagely remarked that great words like "truth" and "justice" had serpents in their folds. It may equally be true that big words like "centralised power" and "integration "also have serpents in their folds, and I should like to set out to scotch three of them.
The reason why the Bill in general is welcomed is that it means an addition 1226 of power to the Minister of Defence. He himself referred to the old Service Ministries as fortresses and believed that those fortresses ought to be stormed. They have been successfully stormed and he now has the power. But we have to think not only about power but about the way in which advice will be tendered, because power is no good on its own unless the right thing is done.
That brings me to my first point, which is one which I made last March. I am extremely doubtful about whether it is right to have a Chief of Defence Staff. I should like him to be replaced by a military secretariat as part of the Cabinet Office. I will expand a little on that.
At the central point at the Ministry of Defence the questions that come up are not only military. It is at that point that the political, military and economic strands all meet, and, indeed, become inextricably intertwined. The problems are very complex. Lord Trenchard once said in another place that it was far harder to be Minister of Defence in peace time than in war time. I think that that is true. In war, the options are so few. One knows who one's enemy is and who one's allies are. The time to produce weapons is always now, and, obviously, economic considerations have to take bottom place. But in peace the problems are many. The political situation is always changing. One cannot tell when a war might come, and whether one ought or ought not to go in for the production of any particular weapon is always a very finely poised question. It seems to me that if we are to get the right advice on these matters we must be advised by people who have spent their lives thinking about these precise points where the military, political and economic strands meet.
The weakness about the Chief of the Defence Staff seems to be simply that our choice is very limited. He must be a very senior officer indeed. Very often there will be only one possible man, and he is always, certainly at present, someone illumined by the panache of the battlefield. He is not always the sort of man who has spent the whole of his life thinking about the intersections of the military, political and economic threads. If he were, he might not have won a battle.
1227 Field Marshal Lord Montgomery certainly made one political pronouncement which I think caught the imagination of people in the country, and one which they approved by their votes. Hon. Gentlemen will remember that at the last Election he said that anyone who voted Labour ought to be sent to a lunatic asylum, and obviously the country very generally agreed that he was right. I think, however, that even his greatest admirers must admit that the Field Marshal's other political pronouncements have shown rather less maturity.
First, I would like to see the Minister of Defence get his advice direct from his three Chiefs of Staff, but having behind him this secretariat organised something in the way that Lord Hankey and Lord Ismay did in the past. The military Staff can be taken from any rank or service and there will be people working away year after year at these problems and having the confidence of both the military and political sides. They would, of course, have the right to sit in at meetings of the Chiefs of Staff, and so on. I think that a far better way of doing it.
If my right hon. Friend does not feel able to abolish the office of Chief of the Defence Staff, then I would wish that he would revert it to what it was when it was created in 1955 when it was simply Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff, in the same way as in America. The upgrading was part of the war of nerves against the Service Departments. It seems a dangerous accretion of power in one person.
I think it particularly important because of the next point I want to raise, which is the question of the Service Ministers, Ministers of State (War) or whoever it may be. I am worried about this and am particularly worried by something which my right hon. Friend has said repeatedly, that he does not think they should be firmly attached to their Services. He considers them to be sort of deputy Defence Ministers. He sees himself hovering this clutch of six junior Ministers under his capacious wings.
I think it terribly important that they should have a local habitation and a 1228 name not in brackets. One has always to bear in mind the enormous number of human beings involved. It is not only the men and women in uniform and the civil servants but the industrial employees too. We all know the number of problems that are constantly arising for personnel employed by the Services. Of course, far more questions come up through the usual channels than through Members of Parliament. I think it psychologically important that some one person should be responsible for dealing with those things.
My right hon. Friend said in an earlier debate that no one is going to bother about the Secretary of State for Defence. He is too far away and too remote. In the past a Service Minister—he might have been liked or disliked; he might have been good at his job or less good, but he was there—could be seen, could be written to and could be kicked. I think that actually knowing who is responsible is frightfully important. My experience of taking up matters on behalf of constituents is that if they get what they want, well and good, but that if they do not get what they want they are still relieved that their case has been taken to the highest quarter. I have again and again had people say to me, "I am sorry that I did not get what I wanted, but at any rate I have done all I could and have taken it to the top".
The next reason for attaching Service Ministers firmly to their Armed Services is this. I have been a junior Minister, a Secretary of State and a junior Minister in the Ministry of Defence. A Junior or Senior Minister when visiting units and stations was welcomed everywhere. The men were glad to see him. The reason that they were glad to see him was because they wanted to talk about their work, their ideas, their hopes and their fears and they knew that the Minister would do what he could to help. On the other hand, if one went round as a representative of the Ministry of Defence they were polite but they were not forthcoming. They did not want to talk to one. They did not trust one. They thought that one might want to take something away from them and give it to another Service.
It is important for this House that there should be an easy relationship be- 1229 tween politicians in the Service Departments and the Service personnel. If we do not get that things will go very wrong. There is another reason which is even more important. The Secretary of State has all the important promotions, all the honours, all the awards at his disposal. That means that when an officer in any of the Services gets in bad with the central body he may very well be done for.
One of the big jobs of a Minister going round is to get to know as many people as he can, not only the top people but all the promising men. If the politician has a good idea that a promising man is not getting his deserts, he may be able to help him. The Secretary of State for Defence will never be able to do any of these things. He cannot possibly know more than a tiny fraction of the people who matter. That is another very important reason for attaching Ministers firmly to their Services.
Another reason is that Service Ministers have a great deal of work to do not connected with strategy. In all the Service Ministries workis decentralised. For instance, the Under-Secretary of State for Air will deal with the disposal of land, cadets and volunteers, the weather and many other things. He will not be able to deal very successfully with these matters unless he knows the man with the files and the man who works in the Department. It is no good thinking that this sort of work can be centralised.
I hope that at any rate the Ministers of State will not be called Ministers of State but that they will be known respectively as the Secretary for War, the Secretary for Air and the Secretary for the Navy—and will be paid as full Ministers. If that is not done, and if the pay and conditions are not right in future, we shall not get the right people.
The last serpent that I wish to scotch is the question of the Ministry of Aviation's remaining completely intact, I deeply regret that while all this integration is going on the one Ministry to escape should be the Ministry of Aviation. It is true that the Minister has been sent under a flag of truce to sit in the poultry house at the Ministry of Defence there to have negotiations with B.O.A.C., but that is not the same thing. The fortress of the Ministry of Aviation, like some masterpiece of Vauban, remains unsealed and unscale- 1230 able. It is all wrong. That Ministry has been responsible for more wrong things than all the three Service Ministries in their long histories.
It is entirely responsible for the long delay in the amalgamations in the aircraft industry, which was so damaging to our cause. It works under the motto that the boffins are always right, and it has always kept things to itself. It is always insanely optimistic in respect of its own projects, and it goes on with things long after it is clear that nobody wants them. The Fairey Rotadyne was a classic example. Is it not ridiculous for someone else to order one's clothes, try them on and tell one that they are what one ought to wear, and to go on producing those clothes although one says that one does not want to wear them? Yet this is the position with the British Air Force.
Does anyone suppose that the American Air Force would be in its present great position if it had had a Ministry of Aviation round its neck? To the Americans our system is laughable. I hope that the Military part of the Ministry of Aviation will be taken away. The Ministry could be sliced up in a number of different ways. All I want to see is the military part taken away and put directly under the control of the Services.
I have made three suggestions, and in the long run I believe that they will all be adopted. But as the motto of the Government is "Accelerate!" perhaps one or more of them will be adopted in the short run.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
I gather that the right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch), although indulging in some mild criticism of the Bill, accepts the basic principle embodied in it. That is a remarkable conversion, because, in 1956, when proposals were made for more effective co-ordination, and even integration, in respect of our defence Services, the right hon. Gentleman, then Secretary of State for Air, said—and if there is any doubt about it let me say that I am quoting him—The reason why it was decided not to integrate these services was that the tasks of the Services are different.He went on to say that integration of 1231 different organisations produced chaos and he added, in that characteristic sneering fashion with which we an familiar:Administrative chaos seems to be something which hon. Members opposite are very willing to create in the sacred name of integration."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th February, 1956 Vol. 549, c. 1321.]
§ Mr. Shinwell
I say that it is a remarkable conversion. What could have caused it I am quite unable to understand.
There have been some mild criticisms—and I agree with some of them—but the right hon. Gentleman has no right to criticise my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). My hon Friend had a legitimate right to raise a number of defence issues associated with this highly important matter of defence reorganisation. If my hon. Friend did not devote adequate attention to the provisions of the Bill, that is something we can deal with in Committee.
I regard the Bill as of fundamental importance. It is the most drastic takeover bid since 1066. The right hon. Gentleman is asking the House to agree that there should be transferred to him more than 700,000 acres of land, and a vast number of depots, storehouses, and the like. How many, I am unable to say. I made inquiries through the Research Department of the House of Commons Library—which seeks to render assistance to hon. Members who, like myself, are unable to gain the required information from other sources—as to the number of depots, storehouses, and so on, at home and overseas, which would be transferred to the right hon. Gentleman. The answer was that there was not sufficient time for the Department to produce the information. I should have thought that the information was handy, and properly tabulated. That is one of the fundamental defects which hon. Members have to deal with on defence issues. We simply do not know.
I say that with some deliberation and emphasis, because, when I hear my hon. 1232 and right hon. Friends not only dilating about the iniquities of the Government—and I agree with them generally—but also directing attention to the defects in our defence system in respect of weapons of various kinds, and aircraft—and such a point has been referred to by my hon. Friend—I confess to be in a condition of abyssmal ignorance. I simply do not know.
I am in exactly the same position as other hon. Members, except for Members of the Government—and not even all of them—those who have discussions with members of the Army and Navy Club—or perhaps the Union Jack Club, for all I know—and those who have a close association with the highly-paid defence correspondents of reputable newspaper organs.
I do not have that familiarity or association. It was only when I was in the Department that I knew about these things, and even then I did not know all that I should have liked to know. I should be surprised if the right hon. Gentleman is not in that situation. When I was Minister of Defence I was not aware of the activities associated with the production of the nuclear bomb. That was a closed shop—the close preserve of some members of the Government.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is better informed than I was—for all the good that it may do him. But I am not concerned with the position of members of the Government. I am concerned about the paucity of information available to hon. Members on both sides of the House. We ought to be much better informed and, if we were, perhaps many of the statements which are made would remain unsaid, and that might prove better in the long run.
I wish to give an example. Time and again reference has been made to deficiencies in the equipment of the Army and Air Force—not so much the Navy. I am unable to say whether these statements are true because I do not know. Indeed, when it comes to our major defence debates we indulge in rhetoric and make dialectical attacks on members of the Government. Some hon. Members preen themselves because they believe that they possess a vast knowledge of the subject. But at the end of the day we
1233 reach a most unsatisfactory conclusion, namely, that we have learned very little indeed.
I think that we ought to know more about the defence situation—the right hon. Member for Flint, West is muttering to himself. Perhaps he would like to become a little more audible. I do not mind. Or if he finds anything objectionable in what I am saying, and if he cares to absent himself from the Chamber, I shall bear that with fortitude.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The right hon. Gentleman only has the capacity to irritate me, anyhow. He is now leaving the Chamber, and we are finished with him. Now I shall do as he suggested, and address myself to the Bill.
I must confess that the provisions in this Bill alarm me, although, when the White Paper was debated in the House, and as the Minister is aware, I supported wholeheartedly the basic principle underlying the Measure. For a long time I have believed that more effective co-ordination was essential. For a long time it has been my view that if it were possible to effect complete integration, that would be more desirable than the present haphazard system. I should like to bring together the whole defence organisation, not under one roof, except metaphorically—it may be staggered about in various parts of London or the Provinces—but in respect of policy and the direction of administration.
There is a difference between direction of administration and administration itself. I would leave the administration in the hands of the Service Ministers to a very large extent. But the direction of administration and the policy must reside, in my opinion, in a centralised organisation and in a Minister charged with full responsibility for policy. Therefore, I make my position clear beyond peradventure. I support the basic principle embodied in this Bill, and the sooner it is put into operation the better I shall like it.
Now for certain reservations. The right hon. Member for Flint, West who has just departed from the scene, suggested that instead of designating the 1234 Ministers as Ministers of State we might describe them as Secretary of the Army, Secretary of the Navy and Secretary of the Air Force. That is not an original suggestion. If hon. Members care to look at HANSARD they will find that that was precisely what I suggested during the debate in July on the White Paper and I still hold that view. I believe that it would add prestige to their position and, besides, it is a much more appropriate designation than that of Minister of State.
Now I come to what I regard as one of the principal issues involved in the creation of this proposed organisation. When the right hon. Gentleman was speaking, I intervened on the subject of the membership of the central board, the Defence Council. Some time ago we were presented with a document or a chart which is contained in the White Paper entitled "Central Organisation for Defence", and which provides for a Secretary of State for Defence at the top and, immediately below the Defence Council, the Ministers of State, the Chief of the Defence Staff, and Chiefs of Staff, the Permanent Under-Secretary of State and the Chief Scientific Adviser. However competent he may be in the sphere of science related to military affairs I cannot understand why the Chief Scientific Adviser should be included on a Defence Council primarily responsible—as is indicated in the Bill—for the command of Her Majesty's Forces.
In Clause I of the Bill there is a reference to the Defence Council…having powers of command and administration over Her Majesty's Armed Forces…Leaving out for the moment "the matter of administration, it is a matter of command. Of course we must avail ourselves of scientific advice in these days of alleged modernisation. But I cannot understand why a scientific adviser, however competent he may be, should be a member of a body responsible for policy. I hope that my hon. Friends will agree that during the Committee stage we should seek to eliminate that part of the provision.
Even on the matter of the Chief of the Defence Staff—much as I dislike doing so—I must say that I agree with the right hon. Member for Flint, West. I do not believe it is necessary to have, apart from the three Chiefs of Staff, a 1235 principal Chief of the Defence Staff We did not have that in our time and the office did not exist during the war, largely because the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) was Minister of Defence, and believed that he was vested with all the military knowledge necessary—but leave that aside. I cannot see why a Chief of the Defence Staff is necessary now; someone who would, or could, override the decisions, not of the Minister—although probably he might try that on—but particularly the decisions of the Chiefs of Staff. What is required is somebody with military knowledge at the disposal of the Minister of Defence with an effective liaison with the three Chiefs of Staff representing the respective Services. I believe that that would be quite sufficient.
Now I come to a matter which troubles me more than anything else. I referred to it during the debate on the White Paper. It is the danger of the overwhelming strength of the military personnel dominating the political strength. Once that happens, democracy in the defence organisation will disappear. Indeed, it might prove the beginning of the end of our democracy, and I do not want to see that happen. There may be a very tough, competent and well-informed Minister of Defence sitting alongside a Chief of the Defence Staff who regards himself as a great panjandrum regarding defence and who has more prestige in the eyes of the public, with a military personnel subordinate to him and, it may be, a chief scientific adviser, and people of that ilk. It seems that the Minister of Defence has to be more than tough to stand up to them. Policy may very readily be directed, not by the Minister of Defence himself, but by the overpowering and overbearing pressure exerted on him by his associates.
I speak with some experience in these matters. It is the easiest thing in the world to bring pressure to bear on a Minister. Every Minister knows that. The civil servants do it. The military are not the least bit behind in their endeavour to impose their will on a Service Minister, or even on the Minister of Defence. Take the case of Field-Marshal Lord Montgomery, He has been making speeches recently in the course of which he has been condemning the Labour Government 1236 for inadequate defence in his time. The trouble about Field-Marshal Montgomery—a great fighting soldier and great man in the field—is that he is ageing very rapidly.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am reluctant to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but I hope he will endeavour to see that his remarkshave a direct bearing on the Bill we are debating.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The last person in the world who wishes to transgress rules of this House is myself. I am bound to say, however, after listening to some speeches which have travelled all over the place and which seemed to ignore the provisions of the Bill, that the rebuke is not entirely justified, if I may put it very mildly.
It was an illustration, purely an illustration. I was dealing with the question of Chiefs of the Defence Staff, those who bring pressure to bear on the political chiefs. I recall when Field Marshal Montgomery was Chief of the Imperial General Staff. By the way, I am very glad that a suggestion I have made from time to time to change the designation to Chief of the General Staff has now been accepted. That anachronism has now disappeared; it was about time. It had no relevance in the present situation, militarily or otherwise.
When Field Marshal Montgomery was Chief of the General Staff and, according to himself, sent a memorandum to the Cabinet demanding more adequate defence, he apparently forgot that I was Secretary of State for War because I have no recollection of receiving the memorandum. That is the kind of thing that can happen even with the Minister of Defence. Field Marshal Montgomery was wrong when he said that we did not provide adequate defence. I give this only as an illustration. There was the Korea affair when we alerted a brigade more rapidly than the present Government alerted their brigade at the time of the Suez affair, and we were able to create a Commonwealth division.
Field Marshal Montgomery got all his own way because he demanded from the then Minister of Defence—my colleague who now sits in another place, Earl Alexander of Hillsborough—two years' National Service, and he got it. He imposed his will and, if he had not got
1237 his way, he would probably have resigned, or he might have become a candidate for Parliament because he has always regarded himself as a great politician. Here is the rub. Some of these defence people—highly intelligent, delightful people to work with, I do not dispute that for a moment—do regard themselves sometimes as having more political understanding than the politicians themselves. I could write a book on the subject. If I did it would be a best seller, more than some of the books I have written.
I say to the Civil Lord of the Admiralty, who perhaps will convey it to his right hon. Friend, that I accept the basic principle of this Bill. How it is to work I do not know. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East was quite right. He has his doubts and suspicions. How it will work we cannot say, because this is a vast organisation. We are taking over about 240 high-ranking officers above the rank of brigadier from the Army. We are taking over about 70 or 80 flag officers from the Navy, nearly all admirals or vice-admirals, and about 140 high-ranking officers in the Royal Air Force, with all the depots, all the land and all the equipment and paraphernalia. We are also taking over 400,000 civilians operating on behalf of the Services. It is a vast organisation and, as I said, the most remarkable take-over bid that has ever happened.
How it will work I cannot see. One thing which is essential is that it should work. Otherwise, it would be disastrous for the whole of our defence system. I have a great many reservations. I see no advantage in dealing with them in this debate, apart from what I have said and apart from what my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East, has said, but I hope that when we are in Committee on the Bill the Minister will be rather more resilient than he has been this afternoon. I hope that he will be rather more forthcoming and perhaps more in accord with the line he took when we had a debate on the White Paper in July.
I recall, for the benefit of the Civil Lord and his right hon. Friend, that the Minister, outlining his proposals in July, referred more than once to the need for "collecting the voices." He 1238 declared that he had an open mind. In reply to some observations 1 made, he repeated himself along those lines. If he has an open mind let him collect the voices. Let him pay attention to what hon. Members say on this issue because, if he fails, he may well find himself in difficulties if he remains as Minister of Defence. He will need all support and all the encouragement from hon. Members who are acquainted with this subject if he is to act as an effective and efficient Minister.
It may well be that changes will occur in the next six or nine months—I mean political changes. It may be that my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East, may occupy this honourable position. May I assure him that when that happens he will have a tough task in the legacy which the present Government willleave. He will then have to live up to some of the proposals he has made and the criticisms he has indulged in—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] There is no escape from that. It is unwise to indulge in criticism and then, when one is in office with responsibility, to seek to escape. We have to face it.
A Labour Government will meet many difficulties in the sphere of defence. Therefore, we need a strong, efficient organisation, not subordinate to the military chiefs, but a system where the military are subordinated to the political chiefs. If we have a provision of that sort, if that is what this Measure indicates, if that is what will be produced in due course, when it comes to fruition there will be no partisan feeling about it. In the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), who has said it so often, then this partisan attitude on matters of defence will disappear and we shall concentrate on what is regarded as essential in the interests of the security of our people.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Aubrey Jones (Birmingham, Hall Green)
In his opening speech my right hon. Friend said that there was a broad consensus of opinion to the effect that the arrangements in the Bill and accompanying the Bill were necessary and well contrived. I do not think that the debate has controverted that statement. The right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. 1239 Shinwell) expressed reservations, and doubts and criticisms have been put from both sides of the House, but, broadly speaking, the Bill has been accepted and I, too, accept it. But while I accept it, I should like, with some diffidence, to make two observations, or, at any rate, to ask two questions—and I put them with diffidence because, frankly, I find this a most difficult and complicated, if fascinating, subject.
I will put the first question which we should ask ourselves. It has been said more than once today that the Bill is a step in an evolution. An evolution towards what? Where are we going? Before we part with the Bill can we try to see the end of the road? I do not think that that question is without virtue. Secondly, we cannot regard defence on its own, abstracting it from the rest of the Government structure. It seems to me that the Bill must have repercussions on the rest of the Government structure. One consequence, it seems to me, is to fortify the expression of a defence point of view in Government as against the expression of other points of view.
This, by itself, could be extremely dangerous unless the Bill were accompanied by certain corollaries—and I should like to go into these corollaries. The two questions which I should like to ask, then, are: first, where do we go from here; and, secondly, what other changes are implied by the Bill for the rest of the structure of Government?
The problem with which the Bill tries to deal is the narrowness of Service loyalties. Not that I believe the Services to be worse than any other walk of life. Whatever the organisation—academic faculties, industrial companies, Departments of State, for example—all generate their loyalties, and these loyalties have their strengths and their weaknesses. The main weakness is the narrowness they display at the frontiers with other organisations, and all the important problems, all the critical problems, arise at the frontiers.
The Bill tries to deal with this narrowness of loyalty in the field of defence, and it tries to overcome the narrowness by a number of measures. It flings the Services into the same building, and it deprives individual Services of a political
1240 head who could identify himself with the interests of his Service. It ensures that all promotions above a certain level are approved by the Minister of Defence. Above all, it tries to overcome the narrowness of Service loyalty by securing a greater integration of staff and. in particular, by establishing such new organisations as the Defence Operational Requirements Staff and the Defence Intelligence Staff.
All this seems to me quite ingenious and commendable, if I may say so, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend upon it. I think that all of this goes some way to deal with the problem. But is this enough to allow drastic decisions to be taken? This is the point which the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) was asking. That there are drastic decisions to be taken is, I believe, undeniable; I do not think that my right hon. Friend will deny it.
The hon. Member kindly refrained from quoting my right hon. Friend's resignation speech. I, too, will refrain from doing so. But in his resignation speech my right hon. Friend defined, accurately, I think, the defence problem of this country. It is that we are trying to perform three tasks. We are still, as we were before the war, trying to be a world power. We are—and this is something we did not do before the war-trying to be a European land Power. Thirdly—and, again, this is something we were not attempting before the war—we are trying to be a deterrent Power.
What my right hon. Friend said in 1958 was that faced with this spread of effort we had to make a drastic choice. If this was true in 1958, then it is truer still in 1963. The burdens of being a world power have increased. New nation-States have emerged, threatening military bases—Indonesia threatening Singapore, Egypt, through the Yemen, threatening Aden, and so on. The burdens of being a world Power have increased. The pressures to maintain greater conventional forces in Europe have increased. The pace of technology in the field of the deterrent has been far faster than the growth of our gross national product—and our defence policy aims at keeping out defence expenditure as a fixed percentage of the gross national product.
1241 In other words, the military effort is becoming more and more tightly spread over all the fields, and, by being more tightly spread, clearly it is less and less effectively spread. It is this problem, I believe, which calls for drastic decision, and the real trouble is that it is very difficult to conceive of any drastic decision which does not unduly tilt the balance of influence of one Service as against another. This is the real problem.
I very much doubt—I am sceptical about this—whether the organisation now proposed deals with this problem, because, as I understand this organisation, what we are doing is to arrange for military advice to go up through more and more joint, more and more integrated, channels, but, nevertheless, it culminates at the top in the Chiefs of Staff Committee, the members of which, with the exception of the Chief of the Defence Staff, are concerned with the day-to-day running of their Services, and are the embodiment of their Service loyalties. There seems to be a contradiction here. The changes proposed are all at the lower and the intermediate level, and at the top echelons of the system there is no change at all.
This might not be so bad were there arrangements for the strengthening of civilian control in the Ministry of Defence, but I do not see that that is proposed. There is no Deputy Minister of Defence surveying the whole field, no Deputy for Finance, as has been suggested in the debate, nor has the Permanent Secretary authority to integrate the military, the scientific and the civilian points of view. At least, I think that that is the position, judging by the chart at the end of the White Paper. There seems to be this contradiction of a joint effort at the lower and intermediate levels, but the old arrangements at the top.
I well understand the rationale of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. The rationale which has guided this country in the military field for a very long time is that policy must be made by those responsible for its execution. But, in fact, we have been departing from this policy. We departed from it, to my mind, in constituting a Ministry of Defence, which was responsible not for execution, but purely for policy-making. We departed from it further in creating 1242 the Chief of Defence Staff, with no executive responsibility at all, but with power to determine policy.
I believe—I am neither criticising nor praising this—that the net result of this contradiction in the arrangements which I have tried to describe must lead to further departures from this tradition. I describe this as a contradiction, and the hon. Member for Leeds, East described it as a compromise. It is a different way of looking at exactly the same thing. There is a consensus of opinion in accepting the Bill because there is change and yet there is no change.
This is one of those very famous, happy British compromises. For some time I have been rather suspicious of our happy British compromises. They are not so very happy and they are not so very durable. What they imply is a shift in the balance of power between contending forces, each shift inviting in its train a further shift.
We have here a shift. This will invite, to my mind, a shift at a later stage, not merely at the lower and intermediate levels, but at the top level of military advice, the Chiefs of Staff Committee. I believe that the end consequence of the Bill must be to produce integration at the top of the military echelon. I express no view as to whether this is right or wrong. Frankly, I think that I have learned enough from Karl Marx to realise that there are some moments in time when this question is irrelevant. This seems to me to be in the womb of what has been done and of what we are likely to be doing today by putting the seal to the Bill.
I turn now to my second question. What are the implications of the Bill for the rest of the Government structure? It is not merely an armed Service which can display a narrowness of loyalty. As I said earlier, a Department of State can display a narrowness of loyalty, too. Just as a Chief of Staff can show narrowness in his attachment to his Service, so can a Minister of Defence show narrowness in his attachment to defence considerations as against other considerations.
It is a truism to say that defence is a servant of foreign policy, and in the age of the cold war this is truer than ever. But the Department of Defence 1243 is the executive arm. it carries the executive responsibility. Therefore, the attitude of the Ministry of Defence towards the Foreign Office, the policymaking body, is exactly the same as the attitude of a Service Department towards the Ministry of Defence.
Iwill give one or two examples. Take the whole problem of conventional forces in Europe. The Foreign Office, on grounds of foreign policy, may well desire an increase in British conventional forces in Europe, but it is the Ministry of Defence which carries the executive responsibility and has to find the money, and therefore it resists. Take the multilateral nuclear force. The Foreign Office, on grounds of foreign policy, may well wish to see this country take part in a multilateral nuclear force, but the Ministry of Defence has to find the money. It has to see to the execution of this, as well as to the execution of a nominally independent deterrent force. So, understandably, it resists. There is a conflict which is there already.
What I wish to suggest—this is the ground of my fear—is that the ability of the Department of Defence as a result of the Bill to express a defence point of view as against a foreign policy point of view is increased. This, it seems to me, is what has already happened locally in both Aden and Singapore through the creation of the integrated commands. I am not criticising the act of integration, but the net effect of military integration in both areas has been to give a greater force to the military point of view as against the civilian point of view. What I fear from the Bill is an enlargement of this consequence on a much wider scale.
This, it seems to me, requires two corollaries. First, if, by the Bill, we set out to unify the defence structure, it seems to me that correspondingly we ought to unify the foreign policy structure. Foreign policy is at the moment fragmented between three offices—the Foreign Office, the Commonwealth Relations Office, and the Colonial Office. The Commonwealth Relations Office and the Colonial Office now have an identical Minister, but there is no real fusion between them. There remains a dichotomy 1244 between the Foreign Office and the Commonwealth Relations Office so that in dealing, for instance, with an area such as Malaysia there is, as a result of a unified Department of Defence, a unified military view, but as a result of the dichotomy between the Foreign Office and the Commonwealth Relations Office there is a divided view on foreign policy. A consequence of the Bill, a corollary of the Bill, is, I suggest, the integration of the Foreign Office and the Commonwealth Relations Office.
The second corollary—here my mind runs parallel with that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch)-—is a strengthened office under the Prime Minister. What happened, it seems to me—I have no direct experience of this; my impressions are drawn entirely from books—in the old days was that the Secretariat of the Committee of Imperial Defence sorted out differences not only between the three Servics, but as between the three Service Departments and other Departments—the Foreign Office and the Treasury. When the Ministry of Defence was created early after the war, the staff of the Secretariat of the Committee of Imperial Defence passed largely into the Ministry of Defence, some of it into the Cabinet Office.
The ability to deal with differences of view between the three Services was in this way increased, and it will be further increased by the Bill; but the ability to sort out differences of view between the Services, on the one hand, and other Departments, on the other, was not increased. Indeed, I suggest that it was decreased. If we have failed, as I believe we have failed, to take drastic decisions in the field of defence, it has not been merely because of the entrenched positions of the three Services. It has been, to my mind, because we have failed as a whole to integrate defence, foreign policy and economics. We have failed to see British policies as one integrated whole.
It may be that this is recognised in the White Paper which was a prelude to the Bill. It may be—I do not know-that this is the significance of the new Committee on Defence and Oversea Policy which was referred to by the hon. Member for Leeds, East and, I think, 1245 by my right hon. Friend. If this is so, I welcome it. However, nowhere, either in the debate in the summer on the White Paper or in today's debate, has there been to my knowledge any suggestion of a strengthened staff for this Committee. There has been mention of a star:, a staff drawn from the Cabinet Office, but it has not been stated whether or not the staff is stronger than the staff which served the old Defence Committee, or whether the staff will approximate more to the Lord Hankey staff of the Secretariat of the Committee of Imperial Defence.
Be that as it may, I should like to make one suggestion. I should like to suggest that a strengthened Prime Minister's office should contain a small element dealing with intelligence. I do not mean collecting intelligence, but interpreting intelligence, looking at world trends. Indeed, I believe that this is much more important than all the security issues which have obsessed us in recent months. I think this follows from the defence reorganisation which we are discussing in the Bill. Under the Bill, Air Ministry intelligence will be integrated in the general intelligence activities of the new Ministry of Defence. What is the case for this? The only case, as I see it, is that intelligence emanating from an Air Ministry, from an executive arm, is likely to be coloured by the policies which that arm wants to pursue. In other words, it will not be totally objective and disinterested.
If this is true of intelligence coming from the Air Ministry, it can be equally true of intelligence coming from a Department of Defence, just as it can be equally true of intelligence coming from, say, a Foreign Office. Take, for instance, Malaysia, where one sees the whole thread from defence to politics upwards. We have a military base in Singapore which is threatened by the problem of the Singapore Chinese. To cope with this problem—I do not dispute the Tightness of the policy—we integrate Singapore in a larger Malaysia, but it is possible that by doing this we are elevating the danger of the Singapore Chinese to a higher plane and creating a danger for the whole of South-East Asia.
If so, we need to be on the alert and to amend our policies accordingly. We are more likely to be on the alert if 1246 we have a centre of intelligence that is not too closely identified with the Ministry of Defence, which is responsible for military policy in South-East Asia or the Foreign Office, which has responsibility for the existing foreign policy towards Malaysia. Alertness of this sort would be much more quickly achieved if it were done by an independent secretariat, independent of existing policies, in the Prime Minister's office.
To conclude. I accept the increased powers that will accrue to the Minister of Defence under the Bill. But the corollary of that is that he, in turn, must give up power to those who are higher up the ministerial echelon. The Bill will turn the Minister of Defence into an executor of defence policy, but this means that the formulation of defence policy must rest even more openly than now higher up; that is, with the Prime Minister. I do not mind this, but I would feel happier about the Bill if I were convinced that the appropriate administrative arrangements to this end were, in fact, being made.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
During your absence from the Chair, Mr. Speaker, I got involved in a slight fracas and made a comment that I would not have made had I not believed that the hon. Member to whom I referred was in the Chamber. I therefore take this opportunity of withdrawing that comment of my own volition because I rather like my birds on the wing.
I regard it as a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones). He is a serious student of defence matters and I find myself in considerable agreement with his conclusions, just as I found myself in agreement with many of the conclusions of the right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch), albeit I arrived at them by a different method.
I have a fundamental belief in the power of democracy and an elected Chamber. My complaint against the Government is that in defence matters during the last 12 years they have consistently refused to appreciate the latent abilities and knowledge of this House and have turned their backs on the power that comes from an informed and educated democracy.
1247 I recall that in the dark days of 1940 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) could never have formed his Administration and carried the necessary policies through had he not appealed to the latent strength of the British people. That is why we won the last war. One of the things I learned—and I regret my need to repeat this to the House, but I must do so—from my reading of our history is that the British people have never failed when they have been told the truth. As a nation we have got into trouble when we have not been told the truth.
In defence matters in the last 12 years Britain has paid a tremendous defence bill—£18,400 million. Yet the British public have been kept in the dark throughout these years, and they are still in the dark and, as a result, our defence resources are much less than they should be. In this connection, I should like to have seen a Select Committee tackling the preparation of the Bill, meeting over several months, so that hon. Members could have educated themselves to understand the principles upon which the Bill is based. I say this because I share the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) in that, frankly, I do not know what the Bill is about. Indeed, I do not believe that the Minister does either.
I know what the Minister is trying to do—or I think I do. I know the methods and principles on which he is working and I believe that basically they represent an exercise in semantics. When one attempts to bring the exercise in contact with reality by asking the Minister Questions one merely gets fobbed off with excuses. The facts are that the Government's defence policy, after 12 years, has run into a series of barriers because they have followed this, that and the other object without regard to an overall formulae of a policy that would result.
The present Minister of Defence realised this in his resignation speech when Chancellor of the Exchequer. One cannot afford the lot if one lacks the power and strength to carry it through he said in effect. Thus, faced with problems 1248 arising from trying to do too much the Government, in order to put things right, have produced another White Paper which gives them no more power than they took in the 1958 White Paper and yet leaves the objects substantially the same.
When the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) was Minister of Defence I remember him telling me that one of the things he was going to leave behind was a knowledge of his views on the subject of defence organisation. For while he could carry the policies he wanted to follow, he was doing it on the authority of his grey hairs and he thought that in due time the Ministry of Defence must be organised on the basis of a legislative foundation.
Whatever views the Government now take, they must realise that the policymaking instrument must be right outside the Ministry of Defence. One of the things from which the three Services have all suffered, the Army in particular, is that no one has been able to make up his mind what he wants the Army for. Even now the Government do not know the answer to that one. If that is true of the Army then it is also true of the Navy. To show what I mean, I suggest that we follow the story through in terms of cost and relate it to what has happened to the Navy during the past few months.
Consider the County Class frigate, There were to be six of those and the total cost was to be £90 million. In 1959 we were told that Seaslug would cost £40 million. We were also told that the cost would be £20 million more for Seacat—that is, a total of £150 million. What was the County Class frigate supposed to do? Presumably it had to defend us from something—and that means defending an aircraft carrier. Therefore, at all costs, the County class had to be provided with one or more aircraft carriers to defend.
We move on to the 1963 Naval Memorandum in which we were told that there was to be a replacement for "Victorious" at a cost of £60 million—I have heard it said that we need three—representing a bill of £180 million. Add to that the original cost of the County Class and the missiles of £150 million and we have a bill of £330 1249 million. But if one has an aircraft carrier in order to defend it one must then have aeroplanes for the aircraft carrier. Having taken it this far we must ask what is going to happen to the Sea Vixen. We were told that in the Air Estimates the P1154 was to replace the Hunter and then on 30th July the Minister told us that the P1154 would replace both the Hunter and the Sea Vixen.
The cost of the P1154 by the time it becomes operational would add another £500 to the bill so we add a bill of £830 to our defence costs in order to replace an aircraft carrier conception and its supporting weapons and this is done in order to meet the latest suppression of a group of hon. Gentlemen opposite who are living in the backwoods, on the traditions of TrafalgarÔ
§ Commander Anthony Courtney (Harrow,, East)
I do not want to draw the hon. Member off his train of thought too far for obvious reasons, but has he heard of the protection of merchant shipping in times of war, particularly the protection of convoys, without which this country could not live?
§ Mr. Wigg
Of course I have, but 1 also have an extraordinarily good memory. I listened intently years ago to the speeches of the right hon. Member for Woodford and I recall it being said then that in future it would not be a long war—that it would last for only a couple of days or so. In order to justify this vast expense of over £1,000 million the Government and some hon. Members opposite must invent the kind of war of which their whole deterrent policy is a denial. If one has a thermonuclear war, what is the point of talking about convoys? They were the sort ofconsiderations with which we were concerned in 1914 and in 1939. It is sheer unadulterated nonsense to talk in such terms these days. Anyway these matters are not subjects which can be decided by a group of naval blimps meeting in the backwoods of the Tory Party. These are matters that are capable of objective examination. On them may depend the life or death of the country; not the feelings of prestige of admirals and the like.
This should be decided after the most careful and objective examination of the 1250 facts. This is what Mr. McNamara has brought to the United States—this is what the "wizkids" mean. Mr. McNamara has got rid of the old guard of Conservatives there. He says that the argument for an aircraft carrier, the argument for the TFX, is a matter of scientific analysis, and then a decision can be taken. Mr. McNamara comes to a decision, knocks the heads of the three Service Departments together and says that TFX there will be. Then all the vested interests exercise their rights—as they should be exercised in a democratic society—and Congress is at present meeting in public session to argue the merits of the TFX so that the American people can know the truth and, on merit, a decision can be taken to spend fantastic sums of money to ensure the security of the United States. But, let us note, the facts are hammered out in the light of day.
What do we do? If any of us dare, as some of us have in the last few days, to question the TSR2 we are told by that brilliant development of the new nobility, the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir G. Nabarro), that we are being unpatriotic. I have been unpatriotic a few times—but I have been right. I was right about Blue Streak, and I was the only one who was right—
§ Mr. Wigg
Well, my hon. Friend was, I might say, marginally right. But, on issue after issue, some of us have been right—because we have examined the facts.
Let us look at the TSR2. This should be the object of the most careful examination—private examination, if the Prime Minister wishes it—but if the United States can do it in public, so can we. What is the case for the TSR2? We even forget this. This was trotted out in 1958 by the then Secretary of State for War as a Canberra replacement. In paragraph 61 of the 1957 White Paper it was said that there was to be no successor to the V-bomber. The Royal Air Force did not like that, so the vested interest that speaks for the Royal Air Force in this House—I would not, of course, say for the manufacturers' interests, for that would be improper; they would never raise their
1251 voice in that way—pressed for me building of a tactical reconnaissance strategic aircraft. As recently as last March we were once again being told that the role was to be tactical and reconnaissance and what the poor old Army was to have, God's blessing to them. We were told that it was to be used from small airfields and that its black boxes were to be serviced by equipment carried in the AW61.
The truth is that the Government are afraid of the electorate—even worse, they are afraid of their own back benchers. They dare not tell them the truth. They dare not face the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Captain Litchfield) on the future of the aircraft carrier, and they dare not face the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) on the future of a particular aircaft. That is what has gone wrong. So we are landed with the TSR2 which is just another weapon. I do not have any feeling about the deterrent, because to my thinking it is another weapon. The argument is not about the deterrent but about how it is to be carried. That is where the money is spent and that is what the argument is about. If, in actual fact, the security of the country made it absolutely essential to have a successor to the V-bomber, I would support it—if it could be proved to be so.
But what are the facts? In 1957—the Government said get rid of conscription, no successor tothe V-bomber, no more fighters after the PI. We were to have the atomic streamlined forces armed with Blue Streak, though even that was not British. Above all, we were to save money. On every single issue the Government have been proved wrong. If, at present, there is a case for the V-bomber and the Government have made a mistake, let the Prime Minister tell us. Let him prove it to the country, but do not let us be charged with lack of patriotism because we refuse to believe fairy stories. I take the right hon. Gentleman as I find him. I believe him, but he quite clearly does not know the facts of life when he comes here and speaks of my hon. Friends talking about abandoning the British deterrent.
What is the deterrent? Is there a truly British deterrent? Does anyone imagine that we could use a nuclear weapon 1252 without the British Army on the Rhine being involved in the use of nuclear weapons? Does that Army possess a British nuclear weapon of any kind. I have had this out with the right hon. Member for Bromley. Honest John, the atomic artillery and Corporal—all are under American control.
That is why I spoke about the Minister of Aviation as I did. I am surprised that hon. Members opposite let him get away with it. He takes an aircraft, puts on it a contingent of the Ulster Rifles and a stack of 30 journalists to see Blue Steel fired. A few years ago a newspaper had great headlines—"Macmillan talks from strength"; "Blue Streak wins". This time if would have been "Blue Steel triumphs. Home talks from strength". But Blue Steel failed. It did not fire. The Vulcan came along at over 40,000 ft. and they started to count down in the usual television style—ten, nine, eight, and so on—but a few seconds before it was due to be fired the exercise was called off.
Then the most wonderful stories appeared in the Press about the range of Blue Steel, but if the range of the Mark I—Mark II having been cancelled by the Government—is only just over 100 miles then the viability of the V-bombers is limited and it certainly cannot be sold very effectively, for the Russians have fighters and missiles with an effective range of over 100 miles. So it was put about that Blue Steel's range was anything up to 750 miles. Do hon. Members opposite believe that? In my judgment, those stories have had their origin in the Ministry of Aviation and, above all, in a Minister of Aviation who, however good he may be otherwise, plays politics with everything he touches.
That is one thing we must get right if we are ever to have a defence policy that is sound and within our financial capacity. We have to get defence out of politics. I am one of those who do not only talk about things but try to do something about them. So I put forward concrete proposals. In the debate on the White Paper I urged on the Government that what we should do—and the right hon. Member for Hall Green says, the same—was to revive the old Committee of Imperial Defence—drop out the word "Imperial" and call it 1253 Committee of Defence—and that that Committee should be situated in the Cabinet offices. It is there that policy decisions should be taken.
Let us take one decision upon which a tremendous amount, perhaps the country's whole economic viability, depends—sterling oil from Kuwait. It may well be that there will be no oil shortage, but the question of whether we shall have an oil shortage or an oil surplus over the next 20 years is something that should i>e objectively examined by the best brains in the country. And it cannot be examined in the Ministry of Defence.
The second thing that should be decided is whether the sterling area would be viable if we had to buy dollar oil. Is it or is it not a fact that 50 million people cannot live at a high and expanding standard of living here unless we have sterling oil? Again, these things are far beyond the mind and understanding of people who have had Service training. They are matters of political life or death for the country, and should be handled right outside the defence Services. But let us remember that right answers to such questions are the foundations of a sound defence policy. The Ministry of Defence should be the handmaiden of the policy decisions taken in the Cabinet secretariat. This is how democracy works.
If this were done it would enable another proposal which is near and dear to my heart to be carried out. In six months' time when my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. Wilson) is Prime Minister I want him to give a pledge. I want him to undertake and pledge his personal honour to examine the defence situation which he finds and then undertake to carry through whatever steps the situation requires regardless of the political consequences to his Party. [Laughter.] Certainly it has never been done by the Government of the Civil Lord of the Admiralty. That is why he laughs. This is the first step that must be taken. My right hon. Friend could then do what was done before the First World War. He could invite the Leader of the Opposition and one or two of his principal associates by arrangement to become members of that committee.
Unless we can elevate policy above the party battle we can be absolutely sure 1254 that we shall not get this matter right. I generally end my speeches at this point, but I have plenty of time tonight since apparently nobody else wants to speak. If we do not elevate policy above the party battle we shall get involved in a kind of sham battle. And the characteristic of a sham fight to me is that nobody wins, which is just what has happened, and we have spent £18,400 million in 12 years with little result.
When a week ago the Prime Minister made a speech in this House and said that he would take the question of a deterrent to the country I thought that he was politically green. Perhaps he is all the nicer for that, but he does not understand what he is talking about in this context. I did not realise then that the Government were in the mess they are now in on defence matters. This goes right to the core of the problem we are discussing.
The hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea and the hon. Member for Horncastle (Sir J. Maitland) have done their part to make sure that we get landed with an aircraft carrier, a County Class frigate, Seaslug and Seacat and the P1154 at a cost of about £1,300 million. Then we have recruiting declining and we have the AW681, at another £300 million. Unless the defence budget is to go far beyond £2,000 million something must be done about it. So that smart operator, the Minister of Aviation, gave a clue yesterday when I questioned him about the AW681 which was settled six months ago. There was a conflict about the engines and whether Bristol Siddeley would instal the Pegasus or whether Rolls-Royce would instal the Medway. We know that it was to be the Medway, but no-one answered that question because the Minister is going to slow the project down. The Government cannot carry it out this year and therefore they slow it down to next year.
This is what has gone on in the aircraft industry. The TSR2 is a brilliant conception. Blue Streak was a brilliant conception. There is a list of 30 major projects which contains some of the finest engines and aircraft the world has ever seen. In 1953, for example, we cancelled the Developed Hawker Hunter after spending £140,000 on it. If we 1255 had gone on we would have captured the world market and would have been years in front of the Mirage III. The same would have applied to the TSR2 if when we decided upon it as a Canberra replacement we had gone on with it. Now it is too late and too heavy.
Aircraft after aircraft, weapon after weapon tell exactly the same story, and the only thing British about the British soldier is the man inside the uniform. All his equipment is foreign. We produce little or nothing. The FN rifle is Belgian. We produced under the Labour Government the EM2, the finest rifle in the world, and the first thing that the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) did was to cancel it. We had the 25-pounder which was a field gun in the last war. Its successor is the 105 mm. pack howitzer, which is Italian.
Then there is the 155 mm. (S.P.) close support weapon, which, of course, is the American M44. If we want to do the right thing for the Navy we should buy the F4, the Phantom II. It will do all that the TSR2 can do in the tactical and reconnaissance roles. At the time it was conceived it was in competition with the American A3J, the Vigilante. This again is obsolete. The current competitor of the TSR2 is the Phantom II, but when the TSR2 flies it will be in competition with the TFX.
Let us be honest. We here are not all descended from the early Christians. We are not all examples of nobility and light. We on this side of the House get involved in the same kind of pressures. This is the nature of politics, and what we must do at all costs is to elevate defence at policy-making level to a point where objectivity and wisdom can operate. In the process the Government should use the House of Commons as part of its educational machinery so that in due course the man in the street can understand what defence problems are about.
The right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) said that we were engaged in laying the foundation. We are not. What we are doing is puttingthe roof on before we have put the foundation down. This is the danger, because the Government are driven by the impelling force of economic circumstance and by the size of the bill. The 1256 Minister of Defence lacks the power to put things right. I do not think that he lacks the guts or political ability, but he lacks the power to carry through decisions which must be taken within a time-scale which makes them effective. He therefore has to postpone the AW681 for a few months and has to do the same with the P1154.
The right hon. Gentleman was, of course, right and it was one of my hon. Friends who was wrong when he suggested that something had gone wrong with the P1154 technically. What has gone wrong is that the Government cannot fit the expenditure, which ought to be undertaken and which ought to have been undertaken months ago, into next year's Estimates, because the defence bill is going over the £2,000 million mark. The potential for designing and manufacturing these weapons exists in this country if we care to use it, but if we try to do too much we shall surely fail.
I ask hon. Gentlemen, however, to turn to a Question which was put down by my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) for a Written Answer on 17th June and study the list of missiles and aircraft which had been cancelled, or look at a reply to another Question which I put down because I did not think that that list went far enough. My list of aircraft and engines which had been cancelled was so long that it would not go on the Order Paper. Some of these had been the most brilliant conceptions, and I pay tribute to the technologists, scientists and skilled workers who have conceived the best engines and aircraft in the world. If I pay that tribute, it is in itself an indictment of the Government for not having had them carried through from the drawing board until they became saleable afterwards.
I went to Paris recently and took the opportunity there of saying a few words to the Americans about the pride which this country has in its achievements. I told them that if they want N.A.T.O. to be viable they ought to have regard to our need for an export market. I was glad to have the opportunity of saying this, because we have not always in the past had very much to sell. I throw back the words in the teeth of the Minister of Defence and the Minister of 1257 Aviation when they charge us with lacking patriotism. I will compare my patriotism with that of the Minister of Aviation any time. I may not have had quite so much for it, but let him realise that the criticisms we make of aircraft techniques and recruiting policies are made because we want to put things right. I certainly do not run away from the logic of my conclusions. I want to get this right. I believe the time is very short indeed. The recruiting figures have gone from bad to worse, and I am sorry that I have been proved right.
I issue this invitation. If the Government introduce a Bill for selective service in the lifetime of this Parliament I shall vote for it, come what may. I mean what I say. I am saying what ought to be done. This is the logic of the defence situation. I have always said that, and I say it again.
In this expensive field of equipment we cannot put the matter right by the kind of speeches which were made by the Prime Minister on the first day that he spoke in this House. I thought he made a most unwise statement. Any Prime Minister with a regard for his country, for his own self-interest and the interest of his party should have said exactly the opposite of what he said. He should not seek to get defence caught up in the arena of party politics. He ought to take exactly the opposite step. He should strive by every means in his power to take politics out of defence and inject into it all the knowledge, all the objectivity and understanding which, after all, is the foundation not of the kind of patriotism of the hon. Member for Kidderminster or of the Minister of Aviation, who use it as an insult, but of future action which can at long last give us a sound defence policy.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Captain John Litchfield (Chelsea)
I am always impressed by the powerful speeches which are made by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) without a single note, and I wish that I had his facility to do the same. I have a tremendous respect for his views on defence, but I must say I take exception to one or two things that he said today.
The hon. Gentleman referred to Navy "blimps", and it seemed to me that he was looking in the direction of Chelsea.
1258 I must remind him that "blimps" were never naval officers. They were always colonels.
§ Captain Litchfield
The hon. Member also displayed a surprising ignorance of the Royal Navy. He asked what the Navy is for. As I wish to speak about this Bill, I do not intend to enter into a Navy Estimates debate, or even a defence debate, but I must tell the hon. Member that people were asking the same question, "What is the Navy for?", in 1914, and, inside and outside this House, in the years before 1939.
I wish to put to the hon. Member one final point which I think he will consider, because I know that he considers these matters fairly and objectively. If he and his right hon. and hon. Friends imagine that the only kind of war for which the Navy or the other Services have got to prepare is a full-scale nuclear war, they ought to do some more thinking. We have got more difficult circumstances than that to consider as a possibility. For example, there is the possibility of a British task force being attacked or threatened with nuclear weapons in distant theatres which are not an American interest, and where we could not expect the Americans to pull our chestnuts out of the fire.
In the debate on the White Paper on the reorganisation of defence at the end of July, the House took note of that White Paper without a Division, and I assume, therefore, that both sides of the House have accepted the objectives and principles underlying the Bill. On that occasion, Mr. Speaker, I was lucky enough to catch your eye and I certainly do not intend to run over the course a second time on general questions of defence.
This seems to me to be a straightforward Bill to legalise what the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) described as the biggest takeover since 1066. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the brevity of the Bill, but there are one or two expressions in it which may be less obscure to a legal mind than to the mind of a simple sailor. For instance, as I understand it, one of my right hon. Friend's future designations is to be a "corporation sole" in Clause 2. 1259 There are other references in the White Paper to titles which will be introduced as a result of the Bill, and some of them seem to be unnecessarily cumbersome. For example, the "Second Permanent Under-Secretary, Royal Navy" seems to be a rather expanded version of the present title "Secretary of the Admiralty". It seems to me to be in conflict with some of the principles on which others of my right hon. Friends are insisting in other directions.
I am in a state of crisis at the moment over the name of my constituency which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government wishes to shorten to "Kensington", whereas all I am asking is that it should be called "Chelsea and Kensington". Here, in this Bill, we have another member of the Government, and a very important one, expanding Government titles in this extraordinary way.
Before I get on to rather wider thoughts, I should like to ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War to ask whichever of his right hon. or hon. Friends is to wind up the debate to deal with one point. Clause 1(4) lays down:There shall be transferred to a Secretary of State by subsection (2) above, and not to the Defence Council by subsection (3), any power to make ordelegate the making of orders …by the following sections of the Naval Discipline Act, 1957,…I want to be sure that those functions, which, apparently, are to be transferred personally and individually to the new Secretary of State, will be able to be delegated by him to an Under-Secretary or to some other appropriate deputy. This seems to be an important point which ought to be cleared up.
The Bill confers immense and, I think, unprecedented powers and authority upon my right hon. Friend, as the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) reminded us. Indeed, I think that this is the central purpose of the Bill. I hasten to assure my right hon. Friend that I welcome more power to his elbow. I believe that this is necessary, and I know that in his case it will be used wisely. What really alarms me, however, is the thought of these great new powers being exercised by right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I do not wish to 1260 descend into party politics, and I think it fair to say that this is not a likely contingency, certainly in the foreseeable futureÔ
§ Captain Litchfield
But, without wishing to encourage any false optimism in the bosoms of hon. Members opposite, I must admit that it is a conceivable possibility. I think that the possibility of a future Minister of Defence holding these great powers—they are very highly individual and personal powers—and trying to put into practice the thoughts on defence which hon. Members opposite hold, is truly terrifying.
I am not in any way seeking to criticise those hon. or right hon. Gentlemen opposite who might in such circumstances occupy this office. I am talking about the policy which may be imposed on them. If, by some dire electoral mischance, a right hon. Gentleman opposite should find himself in this position of supreme responsibility for defence, I can only say that, whatever else he commanded, he would certainly command my sympathy. He would never lack advice from one side or other of his own Front Bench, or from behind him. Perhaps he would share the feelings of the Duke of Wellington about the rank and file behind him—"I do not know what effect these men may have on the enemy, but by God! they terrify me!" Perhaps, too, he would recall Macaulay's lines from "Horatius":Was none who would be foremost To lead such dire attack—But those behind cried forward, And those before cried back!For a Minister of Defence to have to stand in this House and try to put over and implement a divided policy imposed upon him by different influences in his party would indeed be perilous.
§ Captain Litchfield
The hon. Gentleman should not encourage himself to think that on this side of the House there is any difference on basic matters of defence. There is none; we think alike. The contradictions, ambiguities, confusions, evasions and unanswered questions on Labour's defence policy 1261 may do no more than lose hon. Members opposite a fourth General Election while they are in opposition; but if they were the Government of the country, it would, in my opinion, be a national catastrophe. However, this contingency is remote, so remote that I can only say to my right hon. Friend that 1 think the House can afford to accept it.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire. East)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is only trying to cheer himself up.
§ Captain Litchfield
I do not need any cheering up.
I turn now to less controversial matters. Anyone with experience in Whitehall will know that this integration will not be a simple matter, and certainly not as simple as one might imagine from the Bill. The House may arm my right hon. Friend with all these powers and authority, but there is a great deal more to it than this when one gets down to the sharp end and to implementing the integration. One cannot fight an enemy with Acts of Parliament. All of us, on both sides of the House, whatever our views on defence matters, are I think, in favour of the Bill and an integration of this kind, and I think that all hon. Members wish my right hon. Friend well in carrying out his task; and I am perfectly certain that the Services wish him well and will loyally support him in making a success of it.
I cannot do better, on this point, than quote some thoughts expressed the other day by the present Controller of the Navy—who is an admiral—when addressing the Navy League. He said that the Services must be not "with it" but "ahead of it", and that this organisation must be drip dry, clinically clean, polythene wrapped and sophisticated, and that the aim must be—as I am sure it will be—to get the right answers cheaper and quicker. These are admirable sentiments, and I am sure that they represent the views and intentions of my right hon. Friend and everyone in the Services who is connected with this great integration.
Yet I think that it would be a mistake to imagine that all this will be accomplished easily or in a moment by just passing this Bill, which, after all, is not
1262 an end in itself. It merely arms a man to do the job, gives him the authority. The success of this amalgamation will depend at least as much on individuals in senior positions and in the middle positions as it will on the chains of command and responsibility and paper reorganisation of staffs, although these are important.
I should like to offer two thoughts to my right hon. Friend on the basis of some experience of joint staffs in Whitehall and outside. I would urge him, first, that there is a very real danger in a scheme like this—it is not always recognised—of over-centralisation through over-enthusiasm in paper schemes, charts, and so on, a risk of stifling independence of thought and initiative and slowing up decisions. I hope that my right hon. Friend will guard against this.
Secondly, I hope that my right hon. Friend will set his mind very firmly against any unnecessary proliferation of staffs and committees. I have had a great deal of experience of committees in Whitehall, in the Services and with the Foreign Office, and so on, and I do not think there is any doubt—I do not think that anyone would question it—that the committee system in Whitehall is a sound and really essential system. But, though I certainly do not advocate as a principle that we should go in for any committees of one, small committees are nearly always better than big committees, and no committees are better than any committees if not more than one authority is concerned.
There is in these grand schemes, however admirable they may be in principle, a risk of producing situations in which everyone thinks that he has to be consulted and everyone refers everything to everyone else. That is a danger which has arisen in the past, and it is a danger which could very easily arise in this sort of mammoth reorganisation. I hope very much that this will be guarded against, and that my right hon. Friend and other Ministers will interest themselves in this personally. It is a matter of internal organisation and discipline within the Ministry which it is very important to get right when we start the new scheme.
Finally, and perhaps a little more controversially, though not in a party sense, I hope that my right hon. Friend 1263 will use his powers to grip very firmly the problem of conflicting inter-Service interests. Of course, the Services work well together—they always do so—but there are interests which are particular to different Services—and it is natural, and, in many ways, not at all a bad thing, that Services should represent what they believe in firmly and fearlessly. There are those of us in the House who have a particular allegiance and loyalty to the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force, or the Army, and some of us are perhaps inclined to judge defence projects and policies from the point of view of how they will affect the interests of particular Services.
I do not doubt that my right hon. Friend, and any Minister of Defence, would take a more objective view than this. For him, it is not a question of, "If we are to continue to have a Navy, an Air Force or an Army, then we must have such and such a weapon—this, that or the other." The question for the Minister is, "What do we really need to implement our defence policy, regardless of which Service operates it?" We simply cannot afford to produce weapons or projects of the vast cost of some recently announced projects merely to keep this Service or that Service in business.
§ Mr. Healey
Could the hon. and gallant Member enlighten us as to the weapons he has in mind? Perhaps we share a common view.
§ Captain Litchfield
I doubt very much whether we share a common view. That is a perfectly fair question, but it is not one that I can answer, because I am not thinking of specific projects. I am trying to enlighten the hon. Gentleman on certain principles with which I am sure he agrees. I do not think that there is any difference between us there.
With his new powers, I hope that my right hon. Friend will set in motion, if he has not already done so, an appreciation ab initio of defence needs and projects and will be ruthless in cutting out duplication of all kinds, regardless of Service interests. I hope that no one who has heard my words of wisdom—and I hope that they will be regarded as words of wisdom—will think that I am trying to get at anyone, or at any 1264 project, as the hon. Member appeared to imagine.
I am wholly with my right hon. Friend the Minister on the various problems and on what he is doing about them. They are not as easy and as simple of solution as the hon. Member for Leeds, East may think, and I believe that he probably understands and accepts that. They are very difficult problems to settle. I am not sure whether this new organisation will ever really make a decision easier when it comes down to one man's decision on conflicting advice, that is to say, the Minister's, but I only hope that it will make it a little less difficult for him.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
To me, this has been a very interesting debate, even if it has not been very well attended. It has gone through the centuries without coming to the immediate present. The Minister of Defence referred to Samuel Pepys. We then worked our way through to the Duke of Wellington twice and to two world wars. We do not seem to have realised that we are living in an age when the dominating personalities are, perhaps, Major Gagarin and the cosmonauts. We have indulged in nostalgic reminiscences of the past.
I was awaiting to hear from the hon and gallant Member for Chelsea (Captain Litchfield) a precise definition of the role of the Royal Navy in the nuclear age, but we did not get it. I should like a really independent and objective study of the Navy made by somebody like Dr. Beeching, who has made a very good study of transport on land. I should like a fresh mind directed to the question of exactly what the function of the Navy is in the atomic age.
Some hon. Members have been trying to find out what will happen under this new Ministry. As far as I can see, it will be the most remarkable debating society that we have ever had in the history of British Governments. The Minister of Defence is to be a sort of presidential plenipotentiary over the "brasshats"—I will not call them "blimps"—the representatives of the Army and the Navy, and there is to be debate after debate on the various functions of the different Services. The 1265 ultimate result will be the expenditure of the astronomical sum of £2,000 million, and nobody will quite know what it is all about.
I will not hurt the Minister of Defence's feelings or bruise his sensibilities by referring to the only speech in his political career with which I agreed, namely, when, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he said, "We cannot afford it", Now that he has deserted us for the Ministry of Defence, I still ask, can we afford it.
There is a tendency to play down expenditure on the Armed Forces, and that is because we do not ask ourselves a simple question: against whom and what are we defending ourselves? We are not defending ourselves against the Dutch. They are not in the Medway. We are not defending ourselves against the French. The Duke of Wellington can sleep safely in his grave. We are told that we must defend ourselves against the Russians; but the Prime Minister has told us that the danger of war with the Russians is passed.
The questions of defence, and the ideas which lie behind this Bill, are approached very tentatively because the two parties are due to face the electors. If a young person of 19 asks a Labour, Tory or Liberal candidate, "Are you in favour of National Service?", all these gentlemen will say indignantly that they do not proposed to introduce anything of the kind, except probably my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), who will say that he is in favour of selective service, and the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) and one or two odds and ends of very earnest and honest soldiers from the First and Second World Wars who will say, "Yes, I am in favour of conscription".
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
I have always said, even when the Opposition were in power, that I vastly prefer a voluntary Army if we can get one. What I am not prepared to condone, whether with or without National Service, is committing our troops to carry out duties which they are not fully manned or equipped to carry out in the event. If our men were unable to fulfil our commitments without National Service, I would advocate it. However, I do not believe it desirable, because it is the most wasteful form of 1266 service and probably means one-third of the men under arms being in the pipeline, either coming or going.
§ Mr. Hughes
I understand the hon. Member's view. I have debated with him at all sorts of places—from Cambridge University to the London School of Economics. If a constituent asks him whether he is in favour of National Service on the Isle of Ely, he will risk losing what may or may not be a marginal seat by saying, "Yes" But, on the whole, I do not think he will find in the Government's election manifesto any indication that they are in favour of instituting any system of National Service now that the recruiting drive has almost died down. That is one of the problems which the new Minister of Defence will have to decide.
I foresee endless debates because these different functionaries, while loyally supporting the different Services, do not have an overriding conception of why we are spending £2,000 million and which country we are defending ourselves against.
I do not believe that the security of this country is threatened by the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union is obviously doing its utmost to keep on friendly terms with this country since it wants the products of our engineering, shipbuilding and chemical industries in order to build up its economy. I fail to see why the Ministry of Defence, in its academic exercise as to the country that we are defending ourselves against, should start on the assumption that we have to fight the Soviet Union, because the Soviet Union has never threatened us. It has no vital interests in attacking us, and yet under the Bill we are to have an elaborate new Ministry and to spend an enormous sum of money to fight a country which is not threatening us. That is the fundamental conception underlying all the arguments of the Ministry of Defence over the last fifteen years.
We heard my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) boasting about what the Labour Government did in bringing about conscription and building up a tremendous armed force to take part in the war in Korea. Of course, the Labour Party did it with me making an ineffective protest. But I know the result of the Korean War. It 1267 drove up prices, resulted in a big armaments bill and kept the Labour Party out of office for the next twelve years.
This time next year we will be forecasting what is likely to happen in six months' time when a Labour Minister of Defence will be in office. With all my reservations about strategy and the strategical concepts of the Labour Party, I want to see a Labour Minister of Defence because I do not think that he could be worse than any other. He certainly could not be worse than the series of Ministers of Defence that have been paraded before us since 1951. Then I can foresee the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely and I uniting forces and criticising vast Government expenditure of £2,000 million, which may have gone up by then to £2,200 million.
That is why I agree with the assertion of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley that the Minister of Defence should be subject to a new body, nearer the Cabinet, which would work out what exactly this huge expenditure is for and we should not be involved in these inevitable debates about the TSR2, or the WM34, or whatever is the atest device, and abusing each other about which Government has bundled the thing.
I think that any Government that sets out on present assumptions that we have to build up an independent nuclear deterrent, that wehave to have a powerful Navy, and this, that and the other, will get involved in contradictions whatever Minister and whatever party is in power. So I say that we should revise our fundamental conception that we have to prepare for a war against the Soviet Union and that we have to be prepared to defend ourselves against Communism. I am saying something that upsets a good many hon. Members. But I do not think that we need to defend ourselves against Communism because, if the General Election is held off till next October, the Government will by then have advanced so far towards Left-wing policies that they will be prepared to advocate Communism. I want our fundamental conceptions revised. We have to take a realistic view because we are living in 1963 and not in 1763 or 1863.
We see how very quickly our military conceptions and policies about strategy 1268 change. Field Marshal Lord Montgomery made a very interesting speech in another place this week. There were parts of the speech of which I thoroughly approved, especially when he said that we would have to withdraw soldiers from the B.A.O.R.—that there was no longer danger there and that the time had come to reduce the number of soldiers there. I think that Field Marshal Montgomery was being realistic in facing facts, in saying that we would need to save the £80 million that we were spending in Germany.
I departed from Field Marshal Lord Montgomery when he went on to argue that we must spend the £80 million in some other kind of military activity in the Far East—east of Suez. He did not define it any further than east of Suez. The Field Marshal had obviously left the realm of Pepys and the Duke of Wellington and arrived at Rudyard Kipling.
When the Government say that we have to spend money defending ourselves east of Suez, I want to know what it is all about. I do not know whether we are thinking of defending ourselves against China, or that, if it came to a show-down, we could possibly defend Hong Kong. At any rate if the Chinese wished to take Hong Kong, they could take Hong Kong. Now the Chinese have only to wait until the agreement expires and we shall find that Hong Kong is not a place that we can defend. Then it is said that we must be prepared to defend something in Singapore and in Malaysia. I do not believe that there is any enthusiasm at all in this county for getting ourselves involved in a war in Malaysia. Malaysia is only a name to the majority of people in this country. I do not think that there is any feeling at all that we should be prepared to spend considerable sums of money in a strategy in the Far East or the Near East which is likely to involve us in a war in Singapore.
Supposing that we had a war in Singapore. It would mean that all the social schemes of the Government would have to be abandoned immediately—all the talk about new universities, new hospitals and new housing. If we were involved in a war in that part of the world, it would be the bottomless pit, and we should have to come out of it as quickly as we came out of Suez.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that exports of tin and rubber from Malaya earned more for the sterling area—or they did about ten years ago—than the whole of the output of the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Hughes
The surest way to stop the exports of tin and rubber from that part of the world would be to have a war there. That was what we found out at Suez. We went to Suez to protect the oil and as soon as we went into the Middle East the oil supplies dried up. If the hon. Gentleman is thinking of maintaining our supplies of tin and rubber, he should rule out any possibility of our carrying out a policy which is likely to involve us in a war in the Far East.
The hon. Member has not quite absorbed the elementary lessons in international economics that I tried to teach him at the London School of Economics. To get involved in a war when our economy depends on rubber, oil and tin and on a complicated system of international expenditure could bring only ruin and disaster to this country. If the Ministry of Defence, this little debating society of Army, Air Force and Navy chiefs, would allow me in for half an hour, I would prove it to them conclusively.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
We would always welcome the hon. Member at the Ministry of Defence, but I ask him to reflect on what he is saying. Is he really contending that the removal of the British forces at present serving with such distinction in South-East Asia would increase the stability of that area or remove war further away?
§ Mr. Hughes
I do not think that the forces in that part of the world matter very much. In the event of a real clash, if a showdown came there and we began acting in military terms, it would bring only disaster. There is no justification for this country being prepared to spend a considerable sum of British money in that part of the world when the money, the labour and the materials are necessary to build up our economy.
The hon. Member knows as well as anybody that our standard of life and economic prosperity depend upon a sound British economy and that we 1270 cannot have a sound British economy if the cost of defence rises astronomically, as it might do under the Bill.
§ Mr. Hughes
The new Minister of Defence is to decide upon whether we are to continue the policy of the independent nuclear deterrent. He has already gone on record against it. I can conceive of nothing more absurd than the new Minister of Defence sitting round with his miniature Imperial General Staff and contemplating an independent nuclear war in which America is neutral. America would not allow it. America would say, "We will create a disturbance in your balance of payments and we will upset you on the New York Stock Exchange", and the Minister would have to stop it, just as Suez had to be stopped. The whole idea that we must be prepared to spend an enormous sum of money maintaining a nuclear deterrent which could not possibly operate is one which, after considerable cogitation, the Ministry of Defence will reject as impracticable.
Does the Minister think that we can go forward with this expenditure on the Army, the Navy and the Air Force and. at the same time, go ahead seriously with the programme of social reconstruction that the Prime Minister has outlined? Let me bring the right hon. Gentleman down to brass tacks. We are to have immense military and naval expenditure on the West Coast of Scotland. We are to spend £200 million on a Polaris base. We are to have an American Polaris base at the Holy Loch and a British Polaris base a little further up. If we go forward with these schemes, which are contained in the Government's policy and which it will be the work of Ministers to harmonise with the general expenditure of the Government, they must come to the conclusion that they must make a cut somewhere.
Building a Polaris nuclear base on the west coast of Scotland requires men and material, brains and organisation, which are exactly the same kind of brains and organisation, raw material and labour, skilled and unskilled, that are needed for the industries of the west of Scotland. We cannot have roads, 1271 houses and hospitals and have this kind of activity at the same time. The Minister of Defence will have to stop arguing with the Army, the Navy and the Air Force and must argue with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I cannot see, therefore, that the Bill will solve any of the problems that we have been discussing so much during the last fifteen years.
Take the Army, for example. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley is no longer present, because I thoroughly agree with him when he criticises the Navy and the Air Force; but when he talks about the Army we fall out. The recruiting figures are not working out according to plan.
I saw an account in one of the newspapers the other day about a son of a distinguished soldier who had gone to become a student at the University of California. The question was put to him, "Your father is a distinguished soldier. Why do you not join the Army?" He said, "I have had a look at a few depots and I did not like it, so I came away. My father disagrees with me." That is the son of the Duke of Gloucester. I can understand his point of view, and that is the point of view of the great majority of young people. They want to know the relevance and to know exactly what sort of defence for the country is provided by this astronomical expenditure.
I should like to see the Ministry of Defence get more rationalisation. In so far as it is a bit more rational than the Admiralty, the Navy and the Air Force operating independently, the Bill is a step in the right direction. That and other considerations prevent me from opposing the Bill. I fail, however, to see anything that can rationalise this conglomeration of contradictions.
I should like to know what kind of Parliamentary control we are to have under the new régime. Will it be better? Will we get nearer to the Services 01 will they be more remote from criticism? Now, we have the opportunity of putting Questions to the Secretary of State for War, to the Admiralty and to the War Office. In future, are we to be allowed to put our Questions only once every month or six weeks to the Minister of Defence? If that is to be the case, if we are not to have the opportunity 1272 of asking Questions of the various Service Ministers, the opportunity of the House of Commons to criticise expenditure on the Services will be considerably reduced.
Even though I invariably get unsatisfactory answers from the Admiralty, the Air Ministry and the War Office, yet I see them sometimes. All that we will have in future will be the Minister coming along about every five weeks and the Questions that I will put to him will never be answered, because there will be so many Questions on the Notice Paper.
I agree, therefore, with my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley. We should have a committee as a watchdog for strategy, for defence and for military expenditure. And so I hope that one of the possibilities of the Bill is that, when we see it in operation, the machinery which my hon. Friend has so consistently advocated in the House of Commons will ultimately emerge.
I am one of the few who regularly attend these debates. It would be a good thing to have more and more interest shown in the working of the Services. There are men who have devoted their lives to them. The arguments are of great and vital interest to the country, and they should not be brushed aside lightly in the poorly attended debates that we have such as this one today. I would welcome greater interest in debating defence matters and in the welfare of the Forces and public expenditure. My one reason for giving tepid support to the Bill is that it might open up possibilities for discussing defence in its wider aspects and all the considerations which are involved.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby (Dorset, West)
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) is certainly a regular attender of these debates. I admire his fluency and sometimes his sense of humour, but I hope that he will not neglect to tell his constituents of his rather lukewarm reception for any possible future Minister of Defence.
I should like at once to come rather narrowly to the Bill, the debate having ranged rather far and wide. I should like, first, to say that I do not like the Title very much. I should have thought that it could have been improved. This 1273 is a reorganisation or integration of the Services and "Transfer of Functions" is not a very attractive title.
In our last debate on these proposals, there was fairly general agreement that what the Minister was trying to do was right, but the Bill is nothing much more than a bare skeleton and I had hoped that my right hon. Friend would clothe it with more flesh and blood than he did this afternoon. We know from the White Paper a little about how it is to be operated, but there are many things which one would like to know. In the meantime, it is incumbent on the House of Commons to watch the position carefully so as to try to discover exactly what systems we are to have. In this matter the good intentions are not enough.
The Minister went into history and quoted the Duke of Wellington. There are some cautionary tales to be taken from history. For instance, the history of the Board of Admiralty shows many changes and perhaps we should consider the changes of 1832, after the great Reform Bill, when Graham recast the Board of Admiralty. The House will remember that until that time there was a great deal of naval control at the Admiralty. It is interesting to note that the great fighting sea lords and admirals did not always turn out to be very good administrators or successful First Lords when they were made First Lords, as some were. The House should bear that fact in mind when discussing the powers of the Chief of Defence Staff. It is not always the best fighting soldiers and sailors who make the best heads of big Departments, or the best administrators.
Some years ago, when I was at the Admiralty, I had to receive a delegation of West German Members of Parliament who were studying our Parliamentary control of the Armed Services to see how it could best be done. I told them that I thought that Parliament's control over the Armed Services was something which had been won only step by step and that sometimes it had gone backwards Today, we are discussing great reforms and there is a danger that we might be taking several steps backward in our attempt to get a greater centralisation and control at the top. There is much agreement within the Services themselves about centralisation, 1274 but to expect one man at the top to control £2,000 million a year and 400,000 Service men and women and 400,000 civilians is asking too much. It is obvious that we should be directing our attention to those to whom he will delegate these powers. It is in this respect that I am not certain that the change will work out for the best.
I admit at once that there was a case for going straight away to a functional organisation of the Ministry of Defence. But it is probably right to do it in the way proposed because in this way we are getting the agreement and cooperation of the existing three Services. A great deal can be centralised; for example, wireless communications, where there is a good deal of duplication. However, it is a pity that we should have selected this moment to hive off to the Ministry of Public Building and Works the Works Departments of the three Services and to move them from that central control which we are now trying to achieve. That is a retrograde step.
A subject already mentioned this evening is the relative power of the six Ministers other than the new Secretary of State. Their position will be much weaker than it now is, while that of the generals, admirals and air marshals will be maintained. It is right that the latter should have access to the Cabinet, because of the men for whose lives they are responsible, but if they are remaining in the same place and Ministers are taking a step backwards, we are altering the balance of power in the Service Ministries in favour of the generals and admirals and against the Ministers.
The power of the civil servants is to be greatly enhanced, and they are to be permanent members of the councils. Anyone who has sat for some time on the Army Council, or the Board of Admiralty, will know that the civil servants have a tremendous advantage simply because they have been there so long and have heard the subjects discussed before and know the arguments. I agree that there is not a place for the scientists in these boards, even though they are important. But the Ministers, apart from the over-busy Secretary of State, are bound to have their power reduced, and a decrease in 1275 their power is a decrease in the power of parliamentary control, which is why some of us are concerned.
In my own experience, I found that one of the most valuable things to me when I was in the Admiralty was the fact that I was in charge of a Department, a Superintending Lord, as it is called. The mere fact that, as a politician, I was dealing out the money gave me a chance to go into details which I might not otherwise have discovered. I examined six different sets of Navy Estimates on the Finance Committee and I was convinced six different times of how difficult it was to effect real economies in the defence services. One can go through Estimates with a tooth comb, but stilll feel at the end of the day that one has not done a good job.
Under the new system, it will be rather different and the Deputy Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Defence (Programmes and Budget) will be the kind of man to whom everyone will go direct and who will no doubt have the power to examine Estimates in sufficient detail to achieve the necessary economies, but not the time.
The Board system in the Admiralty is extraordinarily good and is probably better than that of the Army Council. The idea of having one Superintending Lord responsible for each big Department works well and gets quick decisions, and I hope that nothing will be done to undermine it. After hearing my right hon. Friend, I am not sure what will be discussed at future meetings of the Navy Board, or at Defence Council meetings. It seems that the subjects will be somewhat restricted, but I should like the Civil Lord to give us a somewhat clearer definition of what they are to be, I do not know what is discussed at the Board of Admiralty nowadays, but there used to be a fairly wide range of subjects.
When I went to the Admiralty, I was struck by how much time the First Lord and even I myself had to spend signing bits of paper for comparatively unimportant transactions. I found that one often had to sign one's name to the transfer of a ridiculously small amount of land—the kind of thing that 1276 one would not dream of doing in one's private capacity. This sort of thing should be reduced. It is not the right way to spend Ministers' time when they are so busy.
As earlier speakers have pointed out, there is a tremendous amount of visiting to do. Ministers have to go round and visit the troops and the civilians who are working for the Services. I regard it as one of the most important functions of a Minister to initiate or make inquiries off his own bat into a certain subject, because such an inquiry often unearths things which he would not otherwise know.
I come back to the question of how these immense powers of the Secretary of State will be delegated. Who will wield the power? The Permanent Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Defence will be in an enormously powerful position, as will be the second Permanent Under-Secretary of the Defence Secretariat. I do not think that these titles are very good. In many cases soldiers, sailors and airmen will go direct to them, and the other six Ministers simply will not be in on what is going on.
Finally, the Deputy Under-Secretary for Programmes and Budgets will be enormously powerful. I agree with the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) that he should have a Minister over him. This is hardly a job for a Deputy Secretary, and a civil servant. He will be the one who is concerned with the allocation of moneys, a task which used to be the responsibility of Ministers in the three Service Departments.
Finally, there is the position of the Chief of the Defence Staff. I do not know what the intention is about his selection. There may be a tendency, or a danger, that a soldier will be appointed one year, a sailor the next, and an airman the next—a kind of Buggins' turn. It will be most unfortunate if that is the case, because a tremendous amount of responsibility will rest upon him. 1 would be content to see him go altogether, as suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch), and to see the Secretary of State get his advice direct from each of the three Service Chiefs. But, so long as we have anyone in that position, he will be 1277 enormously powerful and his capacity to see into the future may well be limited.
So, although in principle we must do something upon the lines set out in the Bill. I am a little anxious to see how it will work out. There is a danger that parliamentary control will be weakened—that we are placing too much power in the hands of civil servants and, at the same time, slightly upgrade the senior officers. The House should watch this process very closely, because I am sure that the only way in which there can be effective parliamentary control is to have Ministers sitting in this House who are in on the discussions in their Departments, and who go through Estimates in the greatest detail. The Secretary of State will have to be a superman to direct this Leviathan. The House must be very wary of its hard-won right of controlling in detail the money expended on the Armed Services.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
I enter this debate because I want to speak upon the same subject as that 1:0 which the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) concluded his remarks—the problem of expenditure in various Departments. Before referring to that point, however, T must express my surprise at the fact that during the twelve years that I have been here there has been a progressive decline in the number of right hon. and hon. Members opposite who attend these important debates.
According to the national Press, the defence of our country has always been the first priority of hon. Members opposite. But there has been a considerable decline in the interest which Members opposite take in the subject, and especially in respect of such an important proposal as that which is before us. Some hon. Members opposite who have a great interest in the Services are here, but it is a shocking reflection upon the party opposite that so few Members have been here to take part in a debate on a subject in which their great traditions are so rooted, and about which they boast so much.
Hon. Members opposite may point to this side of the House. I agree that there are few Members on these benches, but my hon. Friend the Member for 1278 South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), who is deeply interested in the defence of this country—from a different point of view from mine—is here with me.
I want to follow the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) about the tremendous expenditure on weapons that become obsolescent. I feel strongly about this matter. I feel that the Government are doing a disservice to their own Departments, and to the scientists and technicians involved, in failing to point out to our people, through their public relations channels, that if we want army—and I believe that we should have an Army, a Navy and an Air Force; in this respect I do not go all the way with my hon. Friend—it should be equipped as efficiently as possible. We must tell the electorate that if it wants even a small Army, Navy and Air Force, if each man in those Services is to be equipped as effectively and efficiently as any other soldier in the world it will be a very expensive business. We are not telling the people this.
We are spending thousands of millions of pounds of the taxpayers' money, but there is little criticism of the fact in the national Press. We spend millions of pounds in developing engineering and scientific techniques in respect of aircraft and weapons. Very often, when prototype developments in my own engineering and scientific circles have been completed, it so happens that someone else, working in the same direction, gets there first, and makes what we have done obsolete.
That is inevitable. But it sometimes frightens me to pick up a newspaper and read that different forces in the country are complaining of the money we are spending on social services and on subsidies for council houses. There are often complaints about wasteful expenditure and about people receiving subsidies. But when we spend thousands of millions of pounds, knowing that 70 per cent, of the money will never produce anything useful in the defence of the country, it is often written off in a Supplementary Estimate.
It is said that when we spend £160 million or £170 million developing the TSR2 we learn something from it. Of course we do. If someone spends £750,000 in trying to develop a new distributor 1279 for a motor car, and he takes twelve months to do it, with four or five of his best technicians on the job, he may not discover a better distributor but he will probably learn something else. Half the inventions and new techniques developed in industry have had by-products for research and development in other directions. It is cheap to ride off the tremendous expenditure on Blue Streak and Blue Steel by saying that we learn something from doing it. If scientists, engineers and technicians engaged on development work do not learn something which will help towards expansion in another field, they are poor scientists, engineers and technicians. The very act of carrying out some sort of project may result in discoveries being made in some other connection.
I hope, therefore, that those people who want the maximum amount of defence will not begrudge the cost of equipping the members of the Armed Forces with the finest weapons which are available. We have no right to give our Service men second-class weapons. That would be a frightful thing to do. It would be like sending a child out into a storm dressed in thin clothes and exposed to the possibility of contracting pneumonia. The Army and the Navy and the Air Force must have the best and the only people who can put up the money are the taxpayers. If they want the best for the Services they must put up with the cost. I want every soldier to be equipped with the best weapons that our technicians and scientists can provide for them.
I am used to the idea of big institutions. But it would appear that the institution to be created by the provisions in the Bill will be the biggest property owner in Britain. The Ministry of Agriculture controlled a fair amount of land in the country at one time and we all remember the case of Crichel Down—
§ Mr. Bence
Clore will probably be taken over. Whether the Minister will have power to acquire shares in Central London Investment, I do not know.
We are creating a politically centralised and powerful Department which will have control of tremendous expenditure. The hon. Member for Dorset, West said that we might be creating such a centralised machine that it would be difficult to keep track of the expenditure. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire asked whether anyone believed that we were threatened by the Soviet Union. I do not believe that any hon. Member thinks that we are. I believe that in this House there is complete confidence, following the events of the last six months, that if the present situation exists, with the Soviet Union, the United States, Great Britain and the countries in Northern Europe in control of the international situation, any talk of war between the Soviet Union and the West is out. With the presence of the nuclear bomb and the existence of that tremendous power to destroy each other, there can be no threat from the Soviet Union.
There may be threats from other quarters, but not of the kind which will cause people to resort to the use of those sort of arms and that sort of force. I say that to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire, for whom I have great admiration and respect. I regret that I have not the same courageabout convictions as he exhibits regarding his convictions. If aggressive action were taken against Malaya we should lose our tin and rubber supplies. That is appreciated by everyone, and I should prefer this country to be in a position in which we could ensure that anyone who tried to take away those supplies would not succeed. They might be successful in preventing us from having the supplies. But they would not be able to secure them for themselves. But it is not necessary to use rockets and high-speed bombers to protect the supply of rubber and tin from Malaya and it would be coming to a pretty pass if we had to spend thousands of millions to protect ourselves from Indonesia, who might want our supplies of rubber and tin.
I am worried over the terrific expenditure on complicated missile devices. As the years go by, I feel more and more 1281 convinced that these devices are needed merely to retain for us membership of the nuclear club and to keep us in line with certain conditions existing between the Soviet Union and the United States. Such expenditure bears no relation to what is needed to meet the sort of situation envisaged by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire.
I wish to return to the point raised by the hon. Member for Dorset, West. I am a member of the Estimates Committee. I have no illusions about the fact that when one meets representatives of the various Government Departments it is never easy to put the right questions at the right time to the right people. I have always found it easier to give a right answer than to ask a right question. This is particularly the case when a layman finds himself faced with an expert. Unfortunately, the Supplementary Estimates with which the Estimates Committee has to deal relate to money which has been spent. No matter what questions are asked or to whom those questions are put, we cannot get the money back.
It must seem peculiar to members of the public that the Estimates Committee should investigate only money which has been spent. If ever I am vested with any power in this House, and probably I never shall be, one of the things I should like to do would be to provide that the Estimates Committee should examine Estimates relating to money which had yet to be spent rather than Estimates relating to money already spent.
What will be the position of the Estimates Committee when examining Supplementary Estimates of the Ministry of Defence? When a figure of £5 million or £6 million is put in and the three Services are bunched together, will the Committee, as in the past, be able to hear witnesses from the three Services, or are we to examine the Estimates put in by the Ministry of Defence to cover all three Services?
I want to feel satisfied that the Secretary of State for the three Services, the civil servants and all whom we meet will be responsible for departmental expenditure of their particular Services. For instance, on contracts for clothing at present we have an estimate for clothing for the Army, another for the Navy and another for the Royal Air 1282 Force. Are we to get a Supplementary Estimate for the three Services combined? By questioning we shall have to try to break down each section of the Services to find which is taking more than another.
§ Mr. Hay
These are largely matters for the Estimates Committee itself to decide the way in which it would wish to handle a point of that kind. I should imagine there would be no difficulty in providing the details in the form of Supplementary Estimates, if appropriate, in a way in which the Committee would like to have them. Basically, the idea would be that the Ministry of Defence, headed by the Secretary of State, would put forward its own Estimate. It might cover the requirements of all the Services, or only two, or even one in any given case, but it would be entirely a matter for the Committee to say how it would like to handle the details of inquiries on those particular Estimates.
§ Mr. Bence
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. Maybe we shall have to find by experience how to go on. We shall certainly watch these things when we get the Supplementary Estimates. By the time this happens again, I shall do my job, although we shall have a different Government, a different Minister of Defence and different Ministers of State. We shall still be as tough as we can be in finding ways of examining these details respecting the three Services.
Finally, I raise a point I always touch on in these debates, the holding of land and property throughout the country. The War Office and the Air Force own a great deal of land. Probably the Navy does also, because I suppose that it has so few ships that it has to take over more land.
§ Mr. Bence
The shore stations are growing, the number of admirals is 1283 growing and the ships are going down—not literally, but decreasing in number. We have had some tough experiences during the period of this Administration and the previous one. When the War Office, the Navy and the Air Force have got their hands on land, we have had a most difficult job to get that land back into civilian use. There have been some nasty incidents and difficulties and there have been many complaints by citizens.
I remember the War Office holding on to a piece of land in my constituency. It would not pay its share for the making up of a road, although everyone else paid his share. That was because when the War Office acquired the land it found that it was a "white elephant". That was about seven years ago and in the end the War Office paid up after a little pressure had been applied by me.
Difficulties about protecting citizens in one way or another will become more and more difficult. I am worried about the Minister of Defence, whoever he may be, having such terrific control over vast blocks of property in all parts of the country. This will create almost a monolithic Department of State with a tight control. I appreciate that in the defence of the country we cannot have such loose threads as there are in other Departments. This is a very important matter and I appreciate that there must be tight control, but we are frightened of these huge Departments of State.
I have great respect for civil servants, but in view of all the regulations that are laid down I am afraid when I see a further concentration of power at the centre. I am a great believer in local democracy; I like power to be spread. To me, it is not democratic to take power away from people and to concentrate it. To me, democracy means the creation of a community in which power is spread to the maximum and where every individual has power in himself. When I was young I was often asked why I was a Socialist, and I said that it was because I wanted everybody to be an individual. Under our present society, decisions seem to be taken by people at the centre, and the individual is squeezed out and becomes an insignificant factor in human society.
1284 I see this in the Bill. I am afraid of this great concentration of power in the Department and this centralisation—this creation of an omnipotent Department over Services with great traditions. I see the individuals in the various branches of those Services being removed further and further from the centre of power. I see the danger to the citizens we try to protect. All this frightens me. Aneurin Bevan used to express his grave fear of the monolithic society. We are here creating a monolithic institution over the defence organisation of the country, and I am afraid of it.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) has always shown that he sincerely wishes to see that the Armed Forces are properly equipped to do whatever job the House, through the Government, has committed them to do. Although I may disagree with him about many of the ways in which he would like to see these commitments determined, he and I are nevertheless at one in that we both wish to see that our Forces are adequately equipped to fulfil our commitments. This is the question which every hon. Member should ask himself or herself when considering the Bill: do we believe that the new machinery of Government will ensure that our troops are better equipped and our Forces better manned and that the planning will be better carried out than in the past?
To me the most important feature of the Bill is the extent to which it will enable Ministers to implement the plans set out in the White Paper Central Organisation for Defence, Cmnd. Paper 2097, published in July. What matters most in the Bill is whether the Ministry will be able sufficiently to modernise all Departments by bringing in the scientific knowledge which is essential to anybody who wishes to make sense on the subject of defence. That is the object of the Bill. We must ask ourselves whether the plan as set out in the White Paper is likely to do this better than it has been done up to now.
Underlying the Bill and the White Paper is the Gibb-Zuckerman Report, presented to Parliament about two years ago. It has immense relevance to our discussion today. That Committee was 1285 originally set up to find out what was the best method, both in civil affairs and particularly in defence, to ensure that we did not waste public money and yet did not deprive ourselves of possibly vitally important ideas.
As a result of that very stringent survey, some grave faults were found in the system, and not least of the faults was that all too often it was discovered that in the Armed Forces the man who was to be responsible for keeping an eye on the development of a project for a Service was moved somewhere else before the project was under way. Someone else was brought in, and there was a lack of experience in the one place where it was needed most for these great projects. This Bill should enable some of these faults either to be eliminated or to be greatly reduced.
From the Civil Service point of view, the key appointment in the new structure is that o. Chief Scientific Adviser. He is to have the main charge of the Defence Scientific Staff. Whenever an attempt is made to make a diagram of an organisation, one can soon start taking things to logical absurdities and creating nonsenses of the imagination which will perhaps not work out in practice, because we are dealing with human beings and not just digits.
I think that there is one possible weakness in the new set-up, which I ask my hon. Friend the Civil Lord to deal with when he repliesto the debate. Under the plan, the Chief Scientific Adviser has his Defence Scientific Staff, one part of which is described as the Defence Science Secretariat. That has a transverse line going across to the Defence Secretariat. The civil servant who is to be responsible for the link-up between the Defence Scientific Staff and the Defence Secretariat will be an officer called the Deputy Under-Secretary of State (Programmes and Budgets). There are two other Deputy Under-Secretaries of State in the Defence Secretariat. They are the Deputy Under-Secretary of State (Policy) and the Deputy Under-Secretary of State (Administration).
It is absolutely essential that there should be a direct link, not merely through somebody else, between the Deputy Under-Secretary of State (Policy) and the Defence Science Secretariat. As I see it, if the Deputy Under-Secretary 1286 of State (Policy) wants to get in touch with the Defence Science Secretariat he has to go through the Deputy Under-Secretary of State (Programmes and Budget). It may be that, because of the inevitable consequences of having a diagram, I have misunderstood this. If so, I shall be glad to give way to my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Hay
I think that it is a fault of the diagram. The Defence Science Secretariat would itself be a part both of the Defence Secretariat and of the Defence Scientific Staff. It will be a kind of joint body. The Deputy Under-Secretary who will be responsible directly for the Defence Science Secretariat will, as is shown in the diagram, be the Deputy Under-Secretary of State (Programmes and Budget). This does not mean that the other two Deputy Under-Secretaries, dealing with Policy and Administration respectively, will not be able to get in complete touch both ways, forwards and backwards, with the Defence Science Secretariat. I can give that assurance to my hon. Friend.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
I am grateful for that assurance. I think that my hon. Friend would agree that it is not immediately apparent from the diagram.
I think that we must address ourselves to this problem. At present the Chief Scientific Adviser is an extremely distinguished man. Everyone knows that he is immensely clever. I think that he, too, knows that he is immensely clever. Are we certain that there will be adequate Ministerial control over this distinguished man or his successor? I thank scientists above all things for having created nuclear weapons, because I am quite certain that we would have been at war since 1945 had they not existed. I am very grateful to them indeed.
We are now moving into a period of world history where it is becoming increasingly important that there should be real political control over any scientist who is concerned with government. The more my hon. Friend can bring to the Minister's mind the importance of political control of the Defence Scientific Staff the more grateful we shall be.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
At present, it takes ten years for any Department to get a piece of equipment 1287 into service. The result is that we have not got, for example, the transistor in service yet, although every taxi firm has a transistorised radio communication system. Now, if through the sort of system the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) is proposing there will be yet another layer, will there be a delay of twelve years before a piece of equipment gets into service?
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman is wrong in fearing that. My belief is that there is more chance of getting things done rather sooner than hitherto if we have scientists spread through Government Departments and in close touch with one another.
I do not restrict my remarks to defence. One Government Department which needs scientists very much is the Treasury. We must have men who understand the scientific vernacular, not only men with excellent qualifications but those with a more general type of education, trying to decide whether or not this, that, or the other project is worthy of public expenditure. I wish to see the sort of delays about which the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) speaks disappear.
This brings me to the last point I wish to make. I do not wish to delay the House because I know that other hon. Members are anxious to speak. We are at an important turning point in the whole machinery of Government. We are in the process of trying to bring the technical, technological and scientific into the machinery of Government in a way that has never been done before The miracle is that we have managed to do what has been achieved by the system we have had up till now. That is to the everlasting credit of the scientists who have so far been concerned, because it cannot have been easy for them.
We are by the Bill moving in the right direction. I have no doubt that in time certain imperfections will develop. I hope that they will soon be put right. A great deal is at stake, as I made clear in the science debate the other day. I hope that we shall have a full-dress debate on the machinery of Government, because it is no good putting one 1288 Department right if the whole machinery of Government is not geared to present times.
One Department above all has an enormous responsibility; for having in the past allowed men to go into action inadequately armed. I am referring to the Treasury, for no other Department has been more responsible in the past for the unnecessary slaughter that has resulted from this inadequacy of arms. Now the chance presents itself to bring in scientific and techincal skill to all Government Departments. As this is done we must alter the Ministerial structure. We must also alter the system by which Parliament demands that it controls spending.
The new plan in the Bill may provide the lead on which other Departments may have to base themselves. The idea of having a Minister with three Ministers of State below him may result in as good a system as one can find, provided the right men are chosen for the task and provided all the Government Departments concerned are geared to take full advantage of the opportunities of the new structure.
I hope that the same sort of improvements will take place in education. Lord Eccles made this point in another place yesterday when, speaking about education and science, he suggested that one Minister should be responsible for that with a subdivision responsible for various types of education, with various other Ministers in charge lower down.
When my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) returned to power in 1951 he tried to do this with the overlord system. It wasnot a great success because the overlords were too remote from Parliament. We need a new system with the Secretary of State in charge and other Ministers under him, the Secretary of State being responsible for the Vote. Whatever may be required of each Departmental subdivision, I still believe that the Secretary of State must clearly be responsible for finance and that we should have one grand debate on the expenditure of each Secretary of State's Department each year, if necessary this being hived off into Committees upstairs, so that they would be able to go into the various aspects of each Department, operation by operation, whether that concerned 1289 one, two, three or all the Services simultaneously.
We have to be flexible in this, just as we demand modernisation in our system of Government, and I believe that this Bill goes in the right direction. Granted, it gives enormous power to the Secretary of State, but it is up to us to help to work this out and, as time goes on, and provided we here also regear ourselves, ensure that our defence is better than it has been in the past. We can rest assured that the best scientific and technological devices and knowledge will be at the disposal of our Armed Forces. Let us hope and pray that they will be able to keep the peace of the world.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)
I agree with the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) that we constantly need to keep our system of government under survey in order to keep it up to date. I also think that our failure to keep our system of defence control up to date has resulted in the waste of many millions of pounds. I do not think that anyone, looking back over the last twelve years or so, would deny that. We are now trying to do something about it, but something could have been done about it before the introduction of the Bill.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), I believe that the Ministers of Defence have had considerable power since 1958 to have stopped the waste that was going on. Even now we have examples of large expenditures—which now look like being very severely cut—without any weapons system being introduced for the forces. That suggests that perhaps there has been something wrong with the Ministers. I do not say this in any party sense, but we may not have had the right Ministers, or the Ministers may not have had a chance to show their capabilities. Indeed, very few of them have been in office sufficiently long to show their capabilities. That has been one of the big weaknesses of the past.
We are creating by the Bill a tremendous Department, and we must, therefore, examine the implications very thoroughly. As the Economist pointed out at the time of the publication of the White Paper, we are creating a 1290 Department that will have a budget approximately equal to the total yield of personal Income Tax, and that is a very considerable section of our taxation to account for.
The set-up we are embodying in the Bill contains very great dangers, in thatit makes it possible for tremendous powers to be vested in people who are not responsible to Parliament, such as the Chief of the Defence Staff and the Chief Scientific Adviser. What control is exercised over these people depends on the Minister, and if we carry on as we have, with nine different Ministers in eleven years there will be very little such control. I recollect only one of the Ministers ever really trying to control the Ministry of Defence, and that is the present Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, but I do not recall that his control was very beneficial from the strategic or defence point of view. It seems to me that a tremendous amount of what the Bill can do depends on the abilities and capabilities of the Minister himself, and the manner in which he is able to control the permanent officials of his Department.
I examine the structure proposed to be set up under the Bill from two points of view. The first is whether or no it will help the Minister to achieve a more efficient conduct of defence and defence research and the production of weapons systems. I wonder whether the Bill will help the Minister to overcome the inter-Services rivalry which has characterised a tremendous amount of defence effort since the war and has undoubtedly been a major cause of much waste.
It is doubtful whether the Bill will do this, because the Services are left to peddle their own wares in the Defence Council and we are once again left with the fact that the man who must decide is the Minister of Defence, or Secretary of State as he will now be known. I am, therefore, not certain whether the Bill will enable us to overcome that difficulty, unless the Minister plays a much more vigorous part than he has played in the past.
The second matter in the Bill that causes me concern is the relationship between military and political power. It has been pointed out in the debate, and I agree, that no one can be satisfied 1291 that we have the right balance here The fact is that while the military leaders retain their power and position the political leaders suffer diminution of power under the Bill. The danger of this has been pointed out. I believe that the Bill weakens political power and that that is a bad thing.
I do not know how that is to be counteracted, unless the House of Commons devises in time, in the course of operating the Bill, some such committee system as has been put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) which will provide an opportunity for exercising greater political influence and pressure. We must do something like that if we are to offset this giving of more power to the military element.
It seems to me that while the Bill creates the machinery for achieving greater efficiency in the control of our forces and the expenditure of the moneys involved, a great deal still depends upon the Minister. The Bill provides machinery which can be helpful but the position remains as it was before, namely, that the real need is not so much for machinery as for the will. We not only need a Bill, we need the will.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Commander Anthony Courtney (Harrow, East)
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) for being brief and thus allowing me to take part in the debate. I share his anxieties and doubts about the organisation of defence in this Bill, and I must echo the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) who said that he found serpents within the leaves not only of the Bill itself but also of the White Paper which preceded it.
I am next mostconcerned with what I call the Teutonic principle, the danger that this increasing concentration of military power, perhaps without adequate political safeguards, may lead us insensibly towards that terrible weakness of a centralised organisation which was shown by the German O.K.W. during the war when the creation of plans and the formulating of operations became increasingly divorced from the men who were actually to carry out those plans and operations.
1292 I see this danger more particularly in the absolute necessity which exists in the new organisation for not allowing plans and operations to be separated from the problems of supply and production. The Service experience in this respect has varied greatly, and I think one can say—it was mentioned by one hon. Member opposite—that in this field the experience of the Royal Air Force has not been the most happy of the three Services. The hon. Member went on to say that the Royal Navy had perhaps evolved the best system, and this was remarked on by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) when he paid tribute to the organisation of the Board of Admiralty where the Controller of the Navy, the Third Sea Lord, was an integral member of the Board, and thus was in the closest possible contact with the staff requirements which dictated his supplies and production for the Navy.
As I see it, the responsibility of the defence operational requirements staff is going to be immense, and I beg the Minister to watch this point particularly closely when one remembers the desperate straits into which all three Services got in the last war when trying to fight battles and plan ahead in the production of weapons from very limited resources.
My second point is that in this reorganisation of the Ministry there is a separation of the Service intelligence organisation, now concentrated in the defence intelligence staff, from the Foreign Office intelligence organisation and the political intelligence which is such a vital part of the general picture on which plans and operations have to be formed. It has even been suggested by one hon. Member that there should be a small combined political and service intelligence staff under the Prime Minister in the Cabinet Office. I would not go so far as that, but I deplore any further separation of the political intelligence gathered by the Foreign Office from the intelligence which we are now concentrating in the defence intelligence staff.
May I here draw attention to another danger which I foresee in this new organisation. It is that of not observing the separation between plans and 1293 operations on the one hand, and intelligence on the other—one of the fundamental mistakes of military organisation in many countries. I cannot help thinking of a present instance in which a change of American policy towards the concept, as I see it, of an eventual return to a fortress American strategy, with the deployment of immense amphibious and airborne resources overseas—the giving up, in fact, of the principle of the occupation of territory—has been accompanied by the most remarkable reassessment of the Soviet ground forces with which we are faced. At the same time as we get a change of policy, we get a surprising reassessment in which we are assured by the intelligence authorities that the Soviet land forces number rather less than half what we have previously considered them to be. That is the type of danger that we must at all costs avoid in the new combined defence organisation.
I now want to say a word about the problems of manpower. We all hear references to Parkinson's Law in connection with the new defence set-up. We must watch that, and watch it very carefully indeed. We must remember that more staff officers collected together create more work, as any of us in the Services who have served in Service Departments, particularly in war time, know to our cost. More work coming from more staff others in an integrated defence staff will, in my view, put a far greater strain on the senior officers at the head of those departments, and it is, in all conscience, already heavy enough. Although this may well suit the principle of the promotion of younger officers through the earlier mortality of their seniors, I feel that that is a point which my right hon. Friend should watch very closely.
Also, there is a tendency in an integrated organisation for the cream of officers in individual Services to be appointed to the integrated staff, thus weakening the parent Services from which they have come. All these items in the pages of the Defence White Paper will need the closest possible watching both in Parliament and, I hope, by my right hon. Friend.
Thirdly, I should like to say a word about nomenclature in connection with my own Service, the Royal Navy. 1294 Naturally, we lament the passing of the Board of Admiralty. However, I myself welcome the return to the term of 130 years ago. I refer to the old Navy Board of which Samuel Pepys was once the secretary. I am delighted that Her Majesty has reverted to the title of Lord High Admiral. But why—here my right hon. Friend knows that I hold views slightly different from his own—must we abolish the word "Admiralty"? This point has not been mentioned so far in the debate. By implication, in the Defence White Paper the word "Admiralty "will no longer appear in any of our official publications. I, for one, feel that that is a retrograde step dictated by motives which are perhaps not of the worthiest in the re-making of this organisation.
The White Paper, which is the foundation of the Bill, refers to the necessity for a focus for the management of each individual Service for the purpose of efficiency and leadership and to meet the requirements of morale. I fail to see why that focus in the case of the Royal Navy should not remain in the word "Admiralty", the executive being vested, perfectly rightly, in the Navy Board which is to succeed the old Board of Admiralty.
Are we going to have the loss of that quality hallmark of many maritime applications? Are we going to have "Navy Board" charts and "Navy Board" tide tables in future? Are we to equip our yachts with "Navy Board" pattern anchors? Are we to drive into Trafalgar Square through the "Navy Board" Arch? My right hon. Friend should think again about abolishing this fine old term which the Navy has so much respected.
I also think that the term "Sea Lord" should be retained. I would ask my right hon. Friend to look at this again. He has made a concession in respect of the First Sea Lord and the Second Sea Lord, the Personnel Member of the new Navy Board, but why cannot he extend that to the Controller of the Navy, the Third Sea Lord? Why must the Royal Fleet Auxiliary personnel now owe allegiance to a Chief of Naval Supplies and Transport when their historic subordination has been to the Fourth Sea Lord?
While welcoming the Bill in general, I believe that it must be watched at 1295 all stages by this House. I ask my right hon. Friend to look into the points which I have attempted to make.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)
I think that the hon. and gallant Member for Harrow, East (Commander Courtney) was perhaps exaggerating a little when he said that some aspects of the proposals before us reminded him of the Wehrmacht. However, he stressed, as many hon. Members have done, the need for control by this House in particular and Ministerial control in general to be rather greater than it appears to be on the surface of the proposals. I want to say something more about this aspect of the Bill. I do not wish to get involved in an argument about the nomenclature of the Navy, but I have a suspicion that behind the hon. and gallant Member's comments there was the fact that he and probably the Navy generally are not terribly keen at being integrated, and I suspect that they have not yet fought their last battle in Whitehall. It may be that we shall have an amusing debate in Committee when, I imagine, the hon. and gallant Member will try to get the Admiralty back into the Bill.
We have had a debate of quiet character, because the main points at issue were debated at length in July when the White Paper was freshly before us. Today, the formal job of giving a Second Reading to this Bill concerns only a very small part of the genera] problem posed by the White Paper. We on this side will not oppose the Second Reading because we accept the principle that greater integration of the Services is necessary, and, although we hope that during the Bill's progress we shall learn rather more about the detailed arrangements to implement the integration, we are not tonight seeking to oppose the Bill.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) said, we are asked in a rather extraordinary way to give a blank cheque to the Minister of Defence. What the Bill says, I understand, is that everything shall now be under the new Secretary of State for Defence and, in other respects, the Defence Council. I think that it is in- 1296 sufficiently recognised that the problems of defence organisation are probably less due to the lack of power of the Minister of Defence than the way that the powers which he has have been exercised, not only by the right hon. Gentleman but by his eight predecessors in the 12 years of Conservative Government. Clearly, if we are to have an effective defence organisation, and although the right hon. Gentleman will not hold office very long because of the inconvenience, from his point of view, of an election in the near future, we would hope that a Minister of Defence would stay longer in office than has been the case with the present Government.
However, as the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones) said in a very thoughtful speech, this is an extremely complicated and difficult problem, particularly for hon. Members like myself whohave not held high office or office in Service Ministries. But it is significant that all the Privy Councillors who have spoken today, and all those with previous experience in the Ministry of Defence or Service Departments, have been critical of the proposed arrangements for this central organisation. I thought that the right hon. Member for Hall Green was right to warn us that, while we may get away from the rather narrow concept in the Ministry of Defence of the individual Service, we may fall into an equal or perhaps, even greater error of putting defence in a narrow compass within the wider governmental machinery. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) said, clearly the defence organisation must be the handmaiden of policy and that policy must take in wider considerations than the Services.
My first doubt about the proposals concerns the Cabinet structure proposed. I understand that there will be operating a new Cabinet Committee called the Committee on Defence and Overseas Policy. Comparisons have been made between this Committee and the old Committee of Imperial Defence, which, as far as one understands from the books, worked extremely well. I believe that the main characteristics of the Committee of Imperial Defence were, first, that it was right in the centre of Government, being under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister, and, secondly, that 1297 the secretariat, as well as being made up of extremely distinguished public servants, held a key position within the governmental machinery. It is not by any means clear that the new proposals will be as efficient in forming policy as the old Committee of Imperial Defence.
It is not clear what the Defence Council will do. I understand that the Army, Navy and Air Boards will deal with the management side of defence. What exactly will the Defence Council do? Will it produce policy? In my view, policy ought to be within a wider framework than within the Ministry of Defence. Disarmament, foreign policy and economic policy are involved in the decisions. There is the particular case of military aircraft. In every military aircraft there is a concealed subsidy for the civil aviation industry for the production of engines which serve civil as well as military purposes. As the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir. H. Legge-Bourke) said, all these decisions need to be taken within a wider compass. They should come not merely under one Department but under wider aspects of the machinery of government.
Secondly, there has been much criticism about accountability, both Ministerial and Parliamentary, as a result of the proposals if they go through in the form suggested in the White Paper. While, on 31st July, the Minister said that he would take fully into account all the views expressed in the debate that day, as far as I could gather from his speech today—and we have nothing else to guide us, because there is nothing in the Bill to tell us about the machinery which is to be set up -he is merely carrying on as though that debate did not take place. His proposals, I gather, are exactly the same as were put forward in the White Paper. If I am wrong, perhaps the Civil Lord of the Admiralty, when winding up the debate, will tell us in what respects the Government propose to differ from the White Paper proposals. It would have been more helpful had we been told this at the beginning of today's debate rather than at the end.
The Minister said that many of these were matters for the House of Commons. That is a grand phrase, but the right hon. Gentleman is an old enough compaigner to know that when 1298 he says "House of Commons", he means the Government, because they control the House of Commons. I thought that the Minister was seized of the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East and which, I understood, had the support of back benchers, on both sides, that the Committee stage of the Bill should be taken on the Floor of the House. This was the first point about whether the House of Commons was to be consulted.
I am now told that the Government are not willing for the Bill to be taken on the Floor of the House. It is a new constitutional precedent to send Bills of this character to a Committee upstairs. One can, perhaps, understand that the right hon. Gentleman needs an Act of Parliament to fortify him in dealing with the Services if on a matter of this importance he is not able to prevail over his own Chief Whip.
§ Mr. Mulley
I do not know why he has not succeeded. I will be happy to be corrected, but I understand that it is not proposed at the end of this debate to move a Motion for the Bill to be taken on the Floor of the House. This is a bad beginning to the promises of consulting the House of Commons on matters of accountability.
There are a number of important matters still to be settled about Questions. The point was raised by several of my hon. Friends. We want to know what is proposed about the customary debates in the spring on the Estimates. While the Minister's suggestions about debates on our role in Europe, on the deterrent or about some other aspect of defence policy would be extremely valuable and interesting, I must ask him why we cannot have those debates now, because the Government have control of Parliamentary time. There is no reason why the Minister should not propose, on a Motion for the Adjournment or some other suitable occasion, that we have that kind of debate.
Certainly, we should have a proper debate on defence policy at this time of year, because, one imagines, the Estimates are now reaching the point of decision. It is much better to have a debate of one or two days now rather 1299 than to have everything in late February or early March. Certainly, one could go into those aspects with profit. More than ever, one needs to assert the right of the House of Commons, and, in particular, of back-bench Members, to get information about the facts of Government policy.
It was encouraging that at Question Time today, the Prime Minister said that he could see no reason why the House of Commons shouldnot be told the facts of Government defence policy. That is an interesting political innovation, because up till now we have not been told the facts. To take one example, although many questions have been asked of Ministers over the years concerning the TSR2, we were not given any information. In the Recess, however, for what one can only conclude were party political reasons, the Press was called in and lots of information which hitherto had been declared secret was suddenly released. Why as that? Had we asked for that kind of information on the Floor of the House, we would not have been given it but would have had the old formula that it was contrary to the public interest that the capability, and even the picture of the aircraft, should be disclosed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley suggested that there should be a Parliamentary Committee dealing not merely with expenditure, as the Estimates Committee does now, but with the wider question of defence policy. I am not sure whether this would meet with general support, because it raises problems about whether such a Committee would have classified information and whether some of its activities would not be available to the House as a whole. We ought. perhaps, to look at other ways and means of increasing the interest of the House in defence.
It happens that, for the first time, the Canadian Parliament has had such a special committee during its present Session. That committee is now visiting London. I understand that it has been found extremely worth while and has not sought classified information. If, therefore, such an innovation is possible, and if, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) said, there is a willingness to 1300 give that information to Members of Parliament, it should be adopted.
The major problem about Parliamentary accountability is connected with the status of the proposed Ministers of State. The right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) made a strong point when he said that nobody in the Ministry or in the Services would pay any regard to somebody who was called merely a Minister of State with the name of one of the Services in brackets as his title.
I wondered why the provision for status and responsibility of these Ministers was not included in the Bill. Perhaps the Civil Lord will explain how it is proposed to deal with these matters and when and why, if this can be done without legislation, the status of the Minister of Defence, too, cannot be dealt with without legislation. What is the point of giving the Minister a Bill and not dealing with these other matters?
All those hon. Members who have had experience of Service Departments have suggested that it is a great mistake to downgrade the Ministers and upgrade the Chiefs of Staff, which is what the proposals amount to. Clearly, the Ministers cannot have the same statutory powers as they now enjoy. There is no dispute about the need to bring statutory powers within the responsibility of the Secretary of State, but I would have thought that there was much to commend the proposals made by several right hon. Gentlemen, my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson), in our last debate, the right hon. Member for Flint, West and the right hon. Member for Hall Green. They all thought that it would be much better to have a Secretary for the Army, or a Secretary for the Navy, as the title, obviously not of Cabinet status but of Cabinet rank, as they now enjoy.
I cannot think that the objection is that they might then be paid as much as the Secretary of Defence himself. If the right hon. Gentleman is worried about his status, if he looks down the list of Ministers he will see many right hon. Gentlemen who, in terms of Government power, are clearly less powerful 1301 than himself. He says that salary is the important thing, but if he judges by salary he will rank about 120th in the new Ministry, for several of his scientific advisers, many civil servants and officers from the three Services will be paid more than he. If he is worried about it, he had better do something about his own pay quickly.
This is a serious matter, not only for relations, within the Services but because to have a Minister of State (Army) cannot be to have a Minister with the same kind of responsibilities and respect which the Service Ministers have had hitherto. It would also be more difficult to arrange matters at Question Time and in correspondence between Members and Ministers. It is important that constituents should feel that we have gone to the top in a Department when we have made representations on their behalf.
If everything has to go to the Secretary of State for Defence, even matters of discipline such as those which my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley quoted, we shall have to pester the right hon. Gentleman himself. If he is to do all these things, quite apart from driving himself to an early grave, he will not be able to give the kind of satisfaction to hon. Members which Service Ministers have successfully given in their dealings with personal cases over the years. I ask him to look again at this aspect of the relations with Parliament and in particular the status to be accorded to the new Ministers.
I was rather surprised when he said that there would not be one Minister of State dealing with one Service but, as it were, Ministers of State at large within the Ministry of Defence. We shall not know to whom to go, and everything will have to go to him. We shall not know which Minister is dealing with the Army, the Navy and the Royal Air Force. I wonder what other jobs they are to have within the Department. Is the Secretary of State suggesting that he is getting the same functional organisation, Ministerially, now, and not—as we have understood—dealing with the matter mainly on a Service basis? I hope that we shall be told tonight the answers to these questions.
1302 The third doubt that I have concerns the real objectives that the Government have in mind in promoting this reorganisation. I believe that the right hon. Member for Hall Green called it a compromise. It would be more accurate to regard it as a halfway house because, if we consider all the objectives that a military establishment should have, we cannot rest at the point suggested in the White Paper. It seems to me that we can put the objectives as: first, the military appreciation of plans; secondly, advice; thirdly, conduct of operations; fourthly, the military budget; fifthly, research and development of weapons: and, sixthly, administration of the Services. We have either to do this on a three Services basis, perhaps with modifications, or we have to move—slowly but certainly—to a functional approach. We have heard of the three fortresses of the Navy, Army and Air Force, but, as one right hon. Gentleman said, the most difficult fortress of all—the Ministry of Aviation—remains.
The right hon. Member for Hall Green properly, but perhaps belatedly, mentioned the dreaded word "Treasury". In allthese decisions and in all the mistakes that the Government have made over the years the Treasury must bear its share of responsibility. Before we endorse these new changes the House should be told whether we are going to move towards a more functional integrated Service, or are going to stop at this halfway point. If we are to move towards a more rational, integrated structure, it is surprising that the Works Services, which are crying out to be integrated within the Ministry of Defence, should be given, as a sort of hors d'oeuvre to the Ministry of Public Building and Works. I would like to hear tonight that, as a token of their good faith, these Works Services are at least going to be brought back. Hon. Members who have connections with the Admiralty will probably be familiar with the point that I am trying to make.
We have also heard criticisms of the role of the Chief of the Defence Staff, and there is much in the suggestion that his power will be much too great in the proposed organisation. It is an open secret that the Chiefs of Staff system has not worked well for quite a long time. If the Chief of the Defence Staff is to remain we should be told quite 1303 clearly that the principle of Buggins'turn, as it was called, will be abandoned. Certainly, if we are to have a Chief of the Defence Staff, we should have the person most qualified for the job, whether or not his predecessor happened to have the same background Services as he had. We ought to have an assurance on this point.
So far the Ministry of Defence and the Service Ministries have been most reluctant to co-operate with an outside body. I hope that the thinking that has preceded this organisation will persuade them that it is not a deadly crime to talk about military matters, especially matters of strategy, either with people in industry, as the right hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Watkinson) suggested on 31st July, or with bodies such as the Institute for Strategic Studies. There is a great gap. This Minister gives a yearly oration to the Institute, but during the years of its operation it has not had a great deal of help either from the Ministry or the Service Departments.
§ Mr. Birch
The hon. Member is right. But surely the real point here is that the Institute for Strategic Studies is not equipped to do research work on a very big scale. It is not like the Rank Corporation, or other American organisations. It is not set up in that way. It is much more a forum of discussion.
§ Mr. Mulley
I should here declare an interest as I am a member—as indeed is the right hon. Gentleman—of the Council of the Institute. But I agree that on its present working it is not a research organisation. The Rank Corporation began in a small way. But it has grown because the United States Air Force found that it was worth while to have such a body. I am complaining that so far there has in defence circles in Whitehall been no recognition of anyone who does not wear the right uniform or has access to classified papers as having views that are worth listening to, I suspect, although I do not know, that that goes as well for speeches by hon. Members of this House.
We must make clear to the Government that no matter how the Ministry and the Service is organised it is no substitute for a defence policy. The other day I heard of a leading American senator who was intending to buy a 1304 computer in order that he could feed into it the speeches he had made over the last year to find out what was his real policy. I suggest that it would be an interesting exercise to feed into a computer all the speeches made by the Ministers of Defence over the last 12 years to see what is the Government's defence policy.
§ Mr. Mulley
No matter what kind of organisation we get we shall not have a proper defence policy unless the Government are prepared to reconsider the great number of errors which they have made over the past years. We are all familiar with the unsatisfactory manpower situation and I would reiterate what was said about the need to givepriority to the Army in future considerations. We all know that by the cancelling of Blue Streak it was the Government and not the Opposition who took us out of the independent deterrent business. The cancellation of Blue Water was even more serious. In my view it was better than the American Sergeant, but, nevertheless, the U.S. weapon got the N.A.T.O. orders. In the case of the TSR2. quite apart from other considerations, it happens that we had our Operational Requirement 339 a year before the American TFX and if we had got on with the job and concerned ourselves with getting only a tactical and reconnaissance plane, we might have had a Canberra replacement in service by now.
This in an interesting point because the right hon. Gentleman took it for his peroration on 31st July and said it illustrated co-operation between the Services, this joint operation with the P1154, which he says is not going on any more. It seems to me elementary, and something for which one would not need a study group, to determine that if a plane is operating over the sea it would need a navigator and that if it was to be a two-seater in one case and a one-seater in another that would make a difference to the structure of the plane. But it looks as if that grand design has gone and it will be a permanent shame on the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues if, as I prophesy is likely to happen, the first V.T.O.L. plane adopted in N.A.T.O. is not a British plane but the Mirage, using the Rolls Royce 1305 system which was refused support by the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friends. It is interesting that the French, looking at the two systems, decided to operate that, and as we know, the Americans are extremely interested in the project. If we do not go ahead with our V.T.O.L., I suspect that the first successful V.T.O.L. plane will use British inventiveness without having any British equipment in it.
We have now lost the command of the Second Tactical Air Force in Germany. One can go down the sorry list of the Government's defence failures over the last 12 years. We say, as my right hon. Friends have said, that we welcome it if the Prime Minister and his Friends want to make defence an election issue when the time comes. If the Government think that by having a new organisation they will persuade the public that somehow or other they have a new defence policy, they are mistaken. I hope very much that this is a genuine scheme to get a more efficient defence system and not another capsule to add to the stock of amnesic pills to get the public to forget what has happened in the last 12 years. If that is the exercise, I believe it is bound to fail.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. John Hay)
In one of the more amiable passages of his speech, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) drew for us a graphic picture of my right hon. Friend inserting into a computer the various speeches that had been made on defence policy over the years in order to ascertain what Government defence policy is. The House, quite naturally, laughed at that, but I must confess than an equally graphic vision flashed before my mind of the speeches made by hon. and right hon. Members opposite on defence policy over those years also being put into a computer. I think that the answer which would come out might be a very rude five letter word.
The truth is simply and solely—and it is the answer to the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) and several other hon. Members who have taken the time of the House this afternoon and this evening in speaking, not about the Bill but about what they claim are our failures In defence policy—that, whether 1306 they like Government defence policy or not, over these years Government defence policy and Government defence effort have kept this country at peace. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about Suez?"] That is the proof of the matter. I hope with them, that whatever party remains in power in this country in years to come that will still be the case.
§ Mr. Mulley
I thought that if the hon. Gentleman was taking us out of the N.A.T.O. Alliance and rather suggesting that the whole credit for the peace of the world should be given to the British Government, that ought not to pass without notice.
§ Mr. Hay
I am sorry, but the hon. Member has completely missed the point. The point is that if we had made all the mistakes which the Opposition claim we have made, done all the things that they say we have done and not done those things they claim we ought to have done, I doubt whether we would retain the position we have in the world today and whether our contribution to N.A.T.O., S.E.A.T.O., CENTO and other alliances to which we are committed would have been as effective as it has been.
I come to the Bill. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Park did a little prognostication about the future as a whole and asked whether in the Government's view this was a half-way house; did we intend to proceed from this Measure and the reorganisation of defence for which it is the foundation, to a much closer integration of all the Services? I hope he will forgive me if I do not say yes or no to that question. 1 must take refuge in the words of the poet:…I do not seek to see The distant scene; one step enough for me.
§ Mr. Hay
Of course. Unlike the party opposite, this party always looks before it leaps. I will deal now with some of the anxieties which have been expressed in the debate. It is quite natural in a big 1307 operation of this kind that anxieties should be expressed. Hon. Members have expressed anxieties about the possibility of our over-centralising, they have expressed anxieties about possible loss of Parliamentary control and about the possibility that the status of the Ministers in charge of the Services might be degraded somewhat by what we propose. They have also expressed anxiety about the possibility of the position of the military and of civil servants being enhanced at the expense of the politicians.
I will do the best I can to allay these anxieties and to answer a number of questions which have been put to me. But I hope at the outset that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen will keep in mind that what we are seeking to do is not to integrate the Services. We are not trying to provide one single Armed Force. We are doing what was stated in the White Paper—reorganise the higher organisation, the higher echelons, of defence. As my right hon. Friend said at the end of July and again today, the ordinary men serving in the various forces will be completely unaware of what happens. The system will run very much as it has run up to now. All that will happen is that at the top, where the policy-making has to be done, there will be a much closer integration, a much closer working together, side by side, and we feel that this is bound to lead to much greater efficiency.
May I turn to a matter which has been particularly in hon. Members' minds—and it is natural that it should be so. That is the position of the Service Ministers. I was a little shaken to hear some hon. Members talk of the Ministers of State whom we propose to appoint as though they were some sort of dogsbody. When one is humble, like me, a chap who is Minister of State is "right up there". I could not quite share the contempt which some hon. Members appeared to show for the rank of Minister of State.
It is important to remember that under our law the Minister of State is a Minister of Cabinet rank. One looks at the front pages of HANSARD and from time to time one sees a list of Ministers not in the Cabinet who are of Cabinet rank. They include a number of Ministers of State. They are not the same as Parliamentary 1308 Secretaries. It has not been mentioned in the debate that in addition to the Secretary of State for Defence and the three Ministers of State for Defence, there will be three Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State for Defence.
§ Mr. Thomas Steele (Dunbartonshire, West)
Is not the hon. Member aware that we had a Minister of State for Scotland for five years and that nobody had heard of him until he became Prime Minister?
§ Mr. Hay
They have heard of him now and they will hear of him again.
This system of Ministers of State, of Under-Secretaries and of a Secretary of State has worked extremely well for a number of years in the Foreign Office, and no one pretends that the Foreign Office necessarily suffers because it has this system. It is something on the model that we are adopting today. The analogy is not complete, but there are many points of similarity.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Park asked how the Ministers of State and the Secretary of State would be appointed. The Secretary of State for Defence will be appointed under the Royal prerogative. The Minister of State for Defence will be appointed under the Royal Prerogative and on the advice of the Prime Minister. There is no great difficulty about this, but there are certain technicalities with which I will not burden the House. Indeed, if I may make a confession, I am not altogether sure I understand them myself. But, basically, the position is that the appointments of Minister of State and Secretary of State will be taken under the Royal Prerogative and not by the Statute, and that is why there is no specific reference in the Bill to the appointments of Minister of State, although there is a reference in Clause 1(1) to the appointment of the Secretary of State by Her Majesty if she so wishes.
§ Mr. Mulley
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed the feeling that they would like the title "Secretary for the Army" to be used, Are we not to be able to advocate this in Committee?
§ Mr. Hay
That is not a matter for me. I cannot say what is in order and what is not. That is a matter perhaps 1309 for hon. Members to try for themselves. Reference has been made to the powers of the Ministers of State as Departmental Ministers—and I use this in its traditional sense meaning Ministers in charge of the Service Departments.
I cannot conceive that they will be entirely devoted only to one particular job in respect of their own Service. In practice, each of them will preside over the day-to-day administration and running of the individual Service to which they are attached. As my right hon. Friend was at great pains to make clear earlier—I am sorry that it did not go over to the House as a whole—the great virtue of appointing them as Ministers of State is that they will have, in addition to their departmental responsibility, the power to range over the whole field of defence. They will, for example, be able to answer Parliamentary Questions in the House on behalf of the Secretary of State for Defence.
They will, perhaps, be able to go abroad and negotiate on matters of defence with the full authority and under the delegation of the Secretary of State. It may well be—I am not making any pledge or promise about this—that one of them will have a specific and particular responsibility for the oversight of defence expenditure, a suggestion made by the hon. Member for Leeds, East in a slightly different context and also by other hon. Members during the debate.
I take note, on behalf of the prospective Ministers of State, whoever they may be, of the kindly words of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park about their pay. This is a measure of status and, although I can make no promises about it, we will certainly take the hon. Gentleman's suggestion into account.
I should like to emphasise that what we have in mind is not a de-grading of the Service Ministers, but the creation of an entirely new type of three-tier structure. The Secretary of State for Defence will be at the top. It will be his job to oversee the whole policy and operation of the various Service Departments. As a member of the Defence and Overseas Policy Committee he will have access to the major thinking of the Government on defence, foreign affairs and economic affairs 1310 which, as some hon. Members have pointed out, are so closely intertwined today.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Will the Civil Lord explain whether we shall have the same opportunity under the new scheme of putting Questions to the Army, Navy and Air Force Ministers as we now have?
§ Mr. Hay
I took note of what the hon. Gentleman said and I hope to say something about the specific subject of Parliamentary Questions before I sit down.
I was saying that the object is to have the Secretary of State at the top. The Ministers of State will be his immediate deputies, and they are so shown in the chart at the end of the White Paper. They will operate over the whole field of defence, but will have specific responsibility, each of them, for one of the Services. Each of them will be assisted by Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State.
I believe that this should prove to be an extremely efficient method of working. I suggest to the House, however, that it would be unwise to adopt the suggestion made by some hon. Members today that we should somehow flank the Secretary of State with another senior Minister, whether it be for finance or for some other subject. If that were done, we should run the serious risk of depreciating the value of the Ministers of State. We should run the risk of creating a fourth tier, because the other senior Minister appointed would inevitably be regarded in the Department as the No. 2 and the Ministers of State would automatically come to be regarded as No. 3s. I do not think that would be a satisfactory way of going on.
I turn now to the complaint which was made by some hon. Members that this might well lead to a weakening of the political control over the Services. We have benefited in this country, I hope, by the many experiences that we have gained in the past in this field. The illuminating history which is now emerging in full detail of what happened in the First World War is a very good guide as to what to avoid. I remind the House that we live in a country which, fortunately, is ruled by 1311 Cabinet government. The major decisions which are taken are seldom decisions of one Minister on his own. Inevitably he consults his colleagues on all matters of great importance.
The decisions of the Cabinet and of any Minister are always open to question in Parliament. We have this control, which other countries do not possess either in the same way or in the same measure, and I believe that those who, like the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), expressed some anxiety about this should bear that in mind.
A lot must depend on the personalities of the Ministers who are appointed, but I should have thought that, whatever be the experience of the past, with a system such as that we propose to erect—of the three tiers of Ministers—the risk of the military being able to override and bear down upon the Minister in charge is much less than it might otherwise be because the important factor to remember is the existence both of the Defence Council and the various Service Departments. If it came to the pinch the Secretary of State for Defence, plus the three Ministers of State—that is, four politicians—would be able to have these matters out in the Defence Council where, if it came to a question of counting heads, they could outnumber the military and civil servants.
§ Mr. Shinwell
What would prevent the Chief of the Defence Staff from by-passing the Secretary of State for Defence and going direct to the Prime Minister?
§ Mr. Hay
I admit that there is nothing, but if that were to happen I presume that the Prime Minister—certainly a Prime Minister provided by this party—would say at once that he wished to see the Defence Minister; and the matter that had been raised would obviously be raised at the Cabinet. This is the way government works. I must confess that while I have not moved in the stratospheric regions in which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington once moved, I cannot imagine any other system being operated in his Government, just as it operates in ours.
§ Mr. Shinwell
May I furnish an example? Field Marshal Lord Montgomery declared recently that he sent a memorandum on what was regarded by himself as the inadequacy of our defence at a particular time to the Prime Minister, by-passing not only the then Minister of Defence but, although he was the Chief of the General Staff at the War Office, even the Secretary of State for War.
§ Mr. Hay
I can only imagine that the matter was not particularly well handled by the Government of the day. I had better leave it there because I do not want to cast aspersions on the right hon. Gentleman, for whom I have great affection and regard, as has the whole House.
Another point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones) was the question of there being a risk in the whole of this operation unless we are careful; that is, that the Department of Defence might become very great indeed and, therefore, of enormous influence. I believe that we are circumventing this by means of the Defence and Oversea Policy Committee. My right hon. Friend also asked whether the Secretariat of that Committee had been strengthened. The answer is "Yes "-Anyone who is interested might read again paragraph 16 of the White Paper, which sets out exactly what we have done.
The position of the Chief of the Defence Staff has come in for criticism and it has been suggested that such an officer may no longer be necessary. My right hon. Friend believes, from his experience, that to have a Chief of the Defence Staff, which is now an office of several years' standing, provides him, as the Minister in charge of defence, with a particularly useful focus to unite and bring together the views of the various Chiefs of Staff of the different Services. The present holder of the office, who is well known to the House, has been able to divorce himself from any particular Service loyalties he may have had. He now represents all the Services and I have no doubt whatever that from whichever Service any future Chief of Staff is drawn he will be in exactly the same position and of exactly the same type.
1313 The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington criticised certain aspects of the Chief Scientific Adviser. I confess to having been somewhat surprised at this, for I thought that science was all the rage in the party opposite. Apparently it is not.
§ Mr. Hay
Perhaps there has been a misunderstanding. If so, I apologise I think that the right hon. Gentleman has been confused by the use of the word "command" in respect of the phraseThe Defence Council will have the power to commandIt does not mean that the Defence Council will gallop into battle on white horses with the Chief Scientific Adviser in its midst. The use of the word "command" is a technical one, and means, simply and solely, that the fount of authority will be the Defence Council in respect of those functions that are conferred upon it by Clause 1. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman will find in practice that it is a bad idea to ensure that scientific advice is available at all stages of the policy-making process in defence, and since the top policy-making body in defence, short of the Defence and Overseas Policy Committee of the Cabinet, will be the Defence Council. I think it only light that the Chief Scientific Adviser, whoever he may be at the time, should be a full, titular member of the Council. I must say that I endorse entirely what my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) said; that the enhancement of the position of the scientist in the defence policy-making process is one of the most important products of this reorganisation.
I feel that many of these criticisms and anxieties may have been based on a misunderstanding of the division of functions and duties between the Defence Council and the Service boards and between the Secretary of State and the other Ministers. I have tried to describe 1314 how I foresee the Ministerial position will work, but the position of the Defence Council and the boards is simple. The intenis that the Defence Council will concern itself with broad issues of policy. Save in the most extraordinary and most unusual circumstances, it will not get involved in the day-to-day working of the Services.
On the other hand, the boards will be responsible for the day-to-day administration of the Services. For instance, my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) asked whether the subjects that will be discussed by the boards will be the same as, for example, those that are now discussed by the Board of Admiralty. My answer is that I think that they will be very much the same as they are today because, as I say, the boards will be responsible for day-to-day administration. Of course, the power is reserved for the Secretary of State, who will be chairman of each board—although not necessarily present at every meeting of each of the boards—to intervene, if necessary. The Defence Council will have powers of delegation and that, I take it, carries with it power of withdrawal of delegated powers, but, basically, that will be the position.
The hon. Member for Leeds, East asked about the quasi-judicial aspect—and we can examine this in Committee—of the provisions of Clause 1(5). If he looks carefully, he will find that for all practical purposes we have fulfilled what we said in the White Paper we would do. We have vested in the boards the power of dealing with disciplinary and quasi-judicial matters. We can, perhaps, pursue this a little more deeply later, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that our intention is that the boards shall deal with all these cases, and they will be the end of the line. It will be only in the rarest instances, I imagine, that the Secretary of State will be concerned with these cases. That fulfils our pledge that these disciplinary matters will be dealt with throughout by men of the same Service as that to which the person involved belongs.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea (Captain Litchfield) asked about Clause 1(4). I would remind him that this is a fairly limited subsection. It deals with the order- 1315 making powers under the Naval Discipline Act, and these powers will normally be exercised by the Secretary c State personally. They will, I should imagine, be very infrequently used. The will be concerned with making regulations regarding courts martial and similar matters, and only when it is necessary for them to be amended in the light of a change of circumstances will it be necessary for the Secretary of Stat to do anything about them. It would not normally be our idea that these powers should be vested in or delegate to the respective boards.
I should like to say a word about another matter which I had anticipated would be referred to, and which is some what dear to my heart—the effect of this reorganisation on Greenwich Hospital
Under the Bill the property of Green which Hospital is now vested in the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, and the functions of the Lords Commissioners with regard to the hospital willbe transferred to the Secretary of State in the same way as other properties and functions of the Admiralty. Unlike Chelsea Hospital, Greenwich Hospital derives its income almost entirely from its own resources. We have therefore carefully considered whether we should completely exempt Greenwich Hospital from the scope of the Bill, in which case it would be necessary, because of the impending demise of the Board of Admiralty in its present form, to amend the Greenwich Hospital Acts so as to vest the property and management of Greenwich Hospital in another body, for example, the new Navy Board. But to do this would be to complicate the Bill considerably and we have therefore decided that it would be better that the Navy Board should acquire the necessary powers by direct delegation from the Secretary of State.
I take this opportunity, therefore, of declaring my right hon. Friend's intention that under these delegated powers Greenwich Hospital shall be administered in all respects by the Navy Board thus ensuring that the long-established objects of the institution shall be safeguarded and be seen to be safeguarded by a body on which sailors will be strongly represented by officers of their own Service.
1316 Hon. Members have been anxious about how Estimates will be debated in future. There is little I have to add to £ what my right hon. Friend said earlier, 1 except to say that Estimates are normally taken in Opposition time and it will be normally the case that the Opposition in future will be able as now to arrange the type of debate they want. If, for example, they want this year or I in the coming financial year to debate s broad issues rather than the administrative details of a particular Service,: which as my right hon. Friend suggested might be a course which we could adopt in future, it is open to the Opposition, if they wish, to do that.
As for Parliamentary Questions, on which the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) had something to say, this again is largely a matter for the House, but it is clear that we need new arrangements for dealing with them. Our object is to make sure that hon. Members have facilities at least equal to those they have at present for asking Questions. It may well be that we shall have as a new Department two days for answering Questions, and of course all Questions would have to be put down to the Secretary of State for Defence.
It might be convenient—and this is a matter for the House—that the appropriate Minister of State should normally have to answer Questions concerned with the day-to-day management of an individual Service. It might, therefore, be for the convenience of hon. Members if we arrange some kind of system whereby Questions relating to a particular Service could be grouped together on one or other day. We suggest therefore that Questions which hon. Members would expect to be answered by the Secretary of State himself should be put down on one day together with Questions relating perhaps to the Navy and on another day Questions relating to the Army or the Air Force should be put down and answered by the appropriate Ministers of State, although I emphasise that the Secretary of State for Defence can answer over the whole field.
§ Mr. Hay
This is a matter for the House. I am not laying down any dicta. I am giving a view of this and it is for the House through the usual channels to make its views known. We shall have to deal with the problem.
I do not think that there is anything more I can add to the very full explanation given on two occasions by my right hon. Friend to the questions which have been put about this organisation. The only thought which I would leave with the House is that this policy on which we are engaged, and for which the Bill forms a foundation, is all of a piece with the plans which the Government have for the modernisation of the institutions and equipment of our country. We believe that these changes will prove in the course of time much more effective than the present system, and we believe also that they will continue to keep the Services in full trim as they have been for so long, enabling them also to improve from a much better and closer integration. I hope, therefore, that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading and then we can proceed to the next stage and eventually to implement our new programme.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 Committal of Bills).