Orders of the Day — Defence.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 10th March 1936.

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Photo of Mr John Simon Mr John Simon , Spen Valley

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman himself will be the first to see that, while it is quite right that we should seek to define generally the purposes of the Army, it is impossible for any man, in advance, to determine the method by which the Army shall be used in a given case. I am merely pointing out that the three main purposes are clearly stated in the White Paper and those three purposes stand. Perhaps I may be allowed to say that what was at the back of the right hon. Gentleman's question is the feeling which exists as to the development of the air arm. That is an aspect of the matter which cannot be shirked and which must constantly be in the mind of the Government and their advisers.

I am bound to add two other points about the effect of the abandonment of the ten year rule. The House will forgive me for dealing with this matter at some length, but I assure them it is very much to the point. It is bowling right on the wicket to deal with this question if we really desire to give proper consideration to this problem. The consequences of abandoning the ten year rule have been something more than those already stated. When the rule had to be given up, there were two considerations which still delayed any provision which might have been contemplated for restoring to a proper condition forces which had fallen into disrepair. One was the financial crisis of 1931 which arose almost at the same time. The National Government was pledged to get the country out of an economic morass. It was then considered that the country's gravest peril lay within its own gates and not without. The risk of national bankruptcy was greater and more immediate than any external risk and the importance of this financial aspect of the matter was, as the House will see, that it did tend to delay a thorough dealing with the new situation created by the abandonment of the ten year rule. I do not think it can be said that that element of risk receded completely until 1934 and thus the House now faces the White Paper and the proposals—the very formidable proposals as I admit—which it contains. But they must allow for the fact that the financial crisis of 1931 came at a time which prevented these proposals from being spread out as would otherwise have been the case.

The other factor to which I would refer is this: The result of the Disarmament Conference was a terrible disappointment. After years of preparatory work the Disarmament Conference met in February, 1932, and that was the very year in which the 10 year rule had to be abandoned. His Majesty's Government were most unwilling to prejudice the chances of general agreement and any chance which might exist for the limitation of armaments. They hoped that other countries would follow their example and they felt constrained to avoid any action which might be misinterpreted and so contribute to a break-down. Events however showed very clearly that this question of defence would have to be dealt with as it is being dealt with now. The Defence Policy and Requirements Committee laboured day after day in considering the question of the reparation of our defences and evolved the plans which are contained in the White Paper. A great deal of preliminary work was done by an official committee presided over by Sir Maurice Hankey and I think there is nobody acquainted with the work of that distinguished official who would not agree with the tribute which was paid to him yesterday by the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham. When the Defence Policy and Requirements Committee had reached its conclusions they were considered in full Cabinet and here I agree that I reach a point which is set out in the White Paper. If hon. Members will read paragraph 46 they will see the result set out there.

That is the reason why this question comes up now for discussion and decision. It may be asked, if the machine has pro- duced this plan and if the plan is recommended to the House, why amend the machine? My answer is this: That if these proposals are approved by Parliament an exceptionally difficult, urgent and important task will have to be most promptly discharged, a task which will require the most unremitting attention of those responsible for it. There will be the character of the arrangements which will be necessary in the role of supply, and the overwhelming importance of gaining the co-operation of labour and of industry to which the right hon. Gentleman opposite has referred will be obvious. Hence in the judgment of the Government some strengthening, some extension if you like, of the existing organisation for defence is now required. After much consideration in which many various plans have been closely analysed, the Government have reached the conclusion that the desired results can best be achieved by creating a new Minister who will exercise a high and special authority as deputy-chairman of the Committee of Imperial Defence with the functions—the very important functions—set out in the White Paper. I should like in conclusion to deal with two or three very important criticisms which have been offered.