I wish to give the House some account of my recent visit to Washington, because I conceive that one of the most important duties which has been laid upon me in the field of production is that connected with our relations with the United States. Before the United States entered the war, the various British Supply Missions in America were largely in the nature of Buying Missions. After the passing of the Lend-Lease legislation, these Buying Missions were of course buying on credit terms. This period was followed by a transitional period, while the United States planning and production were getting into their stride. I may mention in passing that there is a body in Washington which has hitherto been known as the British Purchasing Commission.
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. I may be misjudging the right hon. Gentleman, but I imagine from the way he is taking on this job he is setting himself for a considerable oration, and I want to ask you, Sir, whether, having regard to the fact that this is the one day in the year on which we have a Supply Day on the Colonies, a most important topic at the present time, it is right and proper that, in reply to a Question, there should be a statement which will eat very heavily into the time available for the Colonial Debate?
Would it not be convenient, in view of the fact that a new procedure has now grown up by which Ministers make statements at Question time for you, Mr. Speaker, to consider, without giving a Ruling at the moment, whether, before this sort of thing is done, it would be convenient to the House, because it eats seriously into the time left for subsequent Debate?
Is it not the fact that it is a new custom for Ministers to make statements upon their own initiative upon the length of which there are no limits at all? What possible safeguard is there against Ministers, at their own wish, taking up the time of the House to the extent of an hour on any important subject, if they so desire? Therefore, I support the request that has been made by the Noble Lord that you should, at your discretion, take this matter into consideration and inform the House what safeguards should be erected against this practice.
This is by no means a new custom. It is a very old custom which lapsed for a certain time. It has become the practice again for Ministers, if they think fit, to make a statement.
This a Supply day, when Private Members can speak, and the Colonial question has always a very limited time allowed to it in this House because of the necessities of the case. Could not the Minister say whether his statement will take, say, five minutes? I agree that this has become quite the practice, but there ought to be some time limit on this statement, and we ought to know it before he starts.
I do not think my statement will take as long as the interruption. I was saying that there is a body in Washington which has hitherto been known as the British Purchasing Commission. The title is clearly an anachronism, and with the agreement of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply, we are changing the name to the Ministry of Supply Mission. This transitional period to which I have referred has now been replaced by permanent arrangements. The President and Mr. Hopkins displayed great personal interest in these arrangements and gave me every assistance. Moreover, nothing could have exceeded the helpfulness, courtesy and co-operation both of the Services under General Marshall and Admiral King, and of the War Production Board under the chairmanship of Mr. Donald Nelson. The preliminary work done by the Missions had also greatly assisted me, and I am glad to report to the House that all the arrangements which I had hoped to bring about, have in fact been achieved. The Combined Chiefs of Staff, the War Production Board and I, representing His Majesty's Government, have come to the following arrangements:
First, a Combined Production and Resources Board has been formed and is now at work. I must mention that we use the term "Combined" to relate to any body representative of both American and British interests. This Combined Production and Resources Board has only two members—Mr. Donald Nelson and myself. I shall shortly appoint a deputy to act for me in Washington, and Mr. Nelson will appoint a deputy to act for him in London. Pending the appointment of my deputy. Sir Walter Layton is acting for me in Washington.
Secondly, the principal object of this Board is to integrate the production of the two countries so that the total available resources, as ascertained by the Board, are related to operations of war and to particular dates as laid down by the Combined Chiefs of Staff, rather than being related to a notional establishment of forces.
Thirdly, the size and distribution of British Forces in these operations of war and the date when they are to be ready having been agreed, the British will have a share in the components and finished munitions produced in the U.S.A. corresponding to that enjoyed by the United States Forces of equal strategical importance, and this implies that they also have a corresponding share in the raw materials and machine tools which are necessary for making munitions for this Force in the United Kingdom. This means, for example, that if American and British Forces of agreed size were operating in the same theatre of war, we should enjoy the same priority for such of our needs as came from the U.S.A. as the American Forces themselves. I regard this part of the agreement as of greatest importance.
Fourthly, it will be the duty of the Combined Production and Resources Board to plan production in such a way that the greatest economy is made in the use of shipping.
Fifthly, wherever possible, types of weapon should be interchangeable and manufactured in whichever country the facilities are most conveniently located.
These are the main provisions. The Combined Production and Resources Board plans production upon a strategical directive, and the British participation is secured by what may be termed a firm contract. This arrangement by itself would, however, be too inflexible to meet the changing circumstances of war. There is consequently a body known as the Combined Munitions Assignment Board, which functions both in Washington and in London, and whose task is to allot finished munitions in accordance with the immediate operational requirements as opposed to the long-term strategical plan envisaged when the production of the munitions concerned was first laid down. Thus the programme having been planned, and the British participation agreed, the supply of components and munitions becomes a firm contract which can only be varied if the Munitions Assignment Board find that re-allocation of munitions is necessary to meet changing circumstances.
I must conclude by saying that the present arrangements cover only the production of the United States and Great Britain. The production of Canada is already integrated, but some further measures of co-ordination will be discussed regarding other Empire production.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement, which I think the House, in spite of the previous interruption, has heard with considerable pleasure. May I now ask the Leader of the House whether it will be possible at a fairly early date, when the Minister is back in the saddle, to have a Debate on production whereby this statement of his, which we shall have had time to study, can be integrated with the whole of the offices the Minister is holding?
Colonel Arthur Evans:
May I ask the Minister of Production who is the present head of the Ministry of Supply Mission in America, whether it is the intention of the Government to make a political appointment of someone with political responsibility to my right hon. Friend or whether he will be a servant of the Ministry of Production?
My right hon. Friend mentioned the various Boards. Is there any co-ordinating body responsible for the co-ordination of all these Boards in America? Further, who takes decisions on the spot?