Orders of the Day — Ministry of Defence Bill

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd November 1946.

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Order for Second Reading read.

11.5 a.m.

Photo of Mr Clement Attlee Mr Clement Attlee , Stepney Limehouse

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

I think the House will agree that it is unnecessary for me to make a long speech in explanation of the policy of this Bill, because we had a two days' Debate on the Defence White Paper which, I think, met with general acceptance. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Minister without Portfolio should be absent from what might perhaps be regarded as the christening. He is ill at the present time, but I hope he will be back at work before very long.

The general set-out of this Bill is simple, and outlines the functions of the Minister of Defence and makes the customary provisions where there is the appointment of a Minister. I would like to call attention to one or two words of the really operative provision, Clause 1, which describes in broad outlines the functions of the Minister of Defence, and says that he shall be …in charge of the formulation and general application of a unified policy relating to the Armed Forces of the Crown as a whole and their requirements. The Clause is drawn in that way to make it perfectly clear that the Minister of Defence is not taking sole responsibility for defence. As I explained in the Debate on the White Paper, the broad organisation for defence, where it brings in the civil Departments and the whole activities of the nation, must remain with the Prime Minister although, of course, the Minister of Defence will take his share. That is why the Clause says: …relating to the Armed Forces of the Crown as a whole and their requirements. It might be said that this is Very general. In the White Paper, the exact functions of the Minister are set out in more detail, but it has been thought inadvisable to try and reduce those into statutory form. First of all, it would do away with that flexibility which is essential in the office of the Minister of Defence, and it would be defining the relation of one Minister to a number of other Ministers. That would impose a rigidity which, I think, would be unfortunate. The Clause has a general application, but the broad administration of each Department remains with the Service Ministers. The domestic administration of the Services must remain with the Ministers directly responsible to this House for those Services.

There is provision for the appointment of a Parliamentary Secretary. It is not proposed to appoint a Parliamentary Secretary at present, but it is thought as well to have the power in the Bill in case, at some future time, it should prove necessary. I would like to stress a point which I made before, that we are not trying to set up a great, new administrative machine. That would be a mistake. The functions of the Minister of Defence are very largely coordinating, and we do not want to blossom out with an enormous building in Whitehall with Secretaries and Under-Secretaries and all the rest of it. Clauses 4 and 5 are common form. Points were raised about them in the past on the appointment of other Ministers, and they were fully answered at the time to the satisfaction of the House by the Law Officers of the Crown. I do not think that anything arises on the other Clauses, and I therefore ask the House to give a Second Reading to the Bill, which implements the policy which has been explained in the White Paper.

11.10 a.m.

Photo of Mr Oliver Lyttelton Mr Oliver Lyttelton , Aldershot

I think we all feel in the House that the Second Reading speeches have already been made during the Debate on the White Paper, and this morning I have no wish to appear in the role of a diva who is a singing an encore before the curtain without the consent of the audience and, indeed, the conductor. Therefore, I will be very short. Before I go any further, I should like to say how distressed we are to hear that the Minister of Defence designate is ill and how glad we are to hear that he expects shortly to be about again. I should also like to say that I am profoundly shocked at Clause 5 of the Bill, which turns the Minister into a corporation sole. I will make no bones about it; I have addressed the right hon. Gentleman by his Christian name for many years, and I hope in future that it will not be considered disrespectful to continue to address a corporation sole by such a designation as "A.V." There are some of us in this House, and the Foreign Secretary and I are among the number, who have spent a good deal of time and exercise trying to prevent ourselves being turned into corporations sole.

I was prevented through an engagement in Scotland from hearing the winding up of the Minister designate at the end of the Debate on the White Paper, but I have studied very carefully what he said, and I think we should feel that he did his very best to take up all the points raised. There are only three of them which I think worth troubling the House with this morning. The first was the point I raised in the Debate on the White Paper about the number of civilian Ministers and Ministers in charge of civilian Departments who are to be members of the Defence Committee under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister and under the deputy chairmanship of the Minister of Defence. The right hon. Gentleman, in winding up, said he would look very carefully into the matter and study the suggestions made, but he indicated that he was unlikely to advise his colleagues to change the composition of the Committee. I hope very much that the Government will see if the Committee can be pruned down, because we, on this side of the House, feel that a purely military point of view should first of all be put before the Cabinet, and it should not be at the first stage diluted by economic or financial considerations. It must, of course, eventually depend upon the ability of the country to sustain a particular system of defence either economically or financially, but we feel on this side that the purely military point of view, or as we say in industry the military optimum, should be first examined more or less in isolation from the other questions and that those questions should come in later on.

Photo of Mr Thomas Scollan Mr Thomas Scollan , Renfrewshire Western

Does the right hon. Gentleman mean all services over and above the Army instead of the Army alone?

Photo of Mr Oliver Lyttelton Mr Oliver Lyttelton , Aldershot

I mean the three Services. My point is that I should like to see the Defence Committee dealing with purely military things in the sense of all Services and having arrived at the military optimum, then the economic Ministers should come in and see how the pattern could be arranged in accordance with the resources of the country.

The second point is that the Minister of Defence should again consider the relationship of the Ministry of Supply with the Service Departments. I know that where the Ministry of Supply is engaged upon the manufacture of purely civilian supplies for the civilian population, only certain goods or products can be made, the reason for which is that we keep alive our war potential at small cost to the country, while at the same time providing the civilian population with some of their necessities. The making of aluminium houses can be defended or partially defended because it keeps alive a certain rolling capacity of the country which may in the future—although we hope not—be useful in the manufacture of aeroplane wings and components. Once we get out of the field which really can be defended on that line, it is inexcusable to load the Ministry of Supply with the manufacture of civilian articles when, under the Ministry of Defence, one of the most difficult tasks to be performed is to keep abreast of the probable requirements of war materials, and also the task of trying to coordinate some inert process of production with the constantly changing need of the technical battle as foreseen by the Cabinet's military advisers. I do feel that greater concentration on the problems of war is required than has been indicated as the policy of the new Ministry of Defence.

The last point which I wish to raise has already been answered in part by the Prime Minister. There is a feeling shared in many parts of the House that the Ministry of Defence should not become a very bloated Department, and there is only one aspect of that on which I wish to touch —the central services of the three fighting Departments. I do not think that any hon. Member who has a knowledge of these matters will deny that certain defences should be set up against the Treasury. It has been in the past the purpose of the Treasury rather to play off one Department against the other in the matter of essential services, an example of which is that the pay of Navy and Army doctors has never been on an exactly comparable basis. There clearly is a function for the Minister of Defence to try to get in the three Services a degree of coordination, particularly over pay. I trust that we may have some assurance—and I think the Prime Minister has given it by implication—that the Minister of Defence himself will not be administering these common services organisations, of which the medical service is one, while there are others such as the handling and administration of prisoners of war which is a question common to all three Services. I do hope we shall hear that, whilst the Minister of Defence is going to coordinate these matters, he is not himself going to take over these common services and try to run them from a central position, because I think that would immediately clutter up the Ministry of Defence.

I also feel that that part of his duties which relates to the allocation of the resources has been rather glozed over, and unless there is to be a fairly large organisation of supply committees the matter of the allocation of the national resources to the various services and to the various systems of defence, which is a first rate administrative job, may be endangered. I hope we will hear a little more about that, although I am not sure that it arises today. Of course, we are not told in the Bill where the headquarters of the Ministry of Defence are going to be, but if the Minister of Defence is to work in close cooperation with the three Services, if conditions obtain like last year, the Minister of Defence will be divided between London, Cairo and Paris, or, if in London, he will work largely with the Secretary of State for War. I do not say that in any spirit of levity, but only to urge His Majesty's Government to ensure that we will be able to see the Secretaries of State for the defence Departments as we can see the Secretary of State for War this morning. We on this side of the House are in general agreement, even in particular agreement, with the Measure which is now before us, and in those cir- cumstances the House will not wish to hear me continue any longer.

11.20 a.m.

Photo of Mr William Wells Mr William Wells , Walsall

I do not wish to go over the ground which has already been so thoroughly covered in the course of our previous Debate on the White Paper. In view of what the Prime Minister has said, I had no intention of taking part in the Debate at all, but I wish to make one point in reply to the first of the points made by the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton). His experience of this kind of matter is of the very highest while mine is at an exceedingly low level. I have found, as I am sure have others who have served in a Service Department—perhaps with the exception of the Admiralty, which is almost a law unto itself—that the influence of finance, and very often the influence of the civil side of the Department, are thoroughly negative and restrictive. They do not seem to take the view that they are part of the show. The civil side of the Service Departments tends to become a shy and timid off-shoot of the Treasury. The purely restrictive view which it takes adds enormously to the burden of any Service Department. I would suggest in all humility that it is an excellent arrangement that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should be associated from the start, and at the highest level, with the planning of defence measures, in order that the Treasury may in future take a more constructive and less restrictive view of its duties in relation to defence.

11.22 a.m.

Photo of Colonel Ralph Glyn Colonel Ralph Glyn , Abingdon

This is a very happy occasion, for here at last we have the Second Reading of a Bill to set up a Ministry of Defence. I recall that in 1919 I was one of 120 Members who put down a Motion to this effect and who have put it down every year since, in order to try to get this proposal carried out. We have seen the Bill now, but during the Debate upon the Defence White Paper we had not seen it. I propose to ask the Prime Minister one or two questions upon the subject of definition. I have looked up the wording which defines the duties of the Minister of Defence. It lays down that he is to be in charge of the formulation and general application of a unified policy relating to the Armed Forces of the Crown. I shall be very much obliged if the Prime Minister will tell the House whether the Dominion Forces are not also Armed Forces of the Crown and, if that is so, whether the wording of the Bill does not necessarily mean review and reconsideration of the Statute of Westminster? I looked up the Statute of Westminster, but it is a terrific document, and I am not quite certain whether the wording to which I have just referred is not an infringement of what was understood in that Statute. Of course, I have no doubt that this point has already been thought of.

There is another matter, relating to regional areas. The weight that this country will in future have to bear in respect of defence will obviously be less than it was before. I assume—indeed it was stated by the right hon. Gentleman when the White Paper was under discussion— that in manpower, in money and in materials the United Kingdom will not be able to bear so heavy a share of Commonwealth defence. We have to face that fact, which means that there must be some central defence organisation for the Commonwealth. That is not quite clearly laid down. Whether the liaison officers will be sufficient one rather wonders.

Then it is not stated anywhere that I can see that either the Secretary of State for the Colonies shall be a member of the Defence Committee or that he shall be coopted. I assume that if any matter comes up, such as the defence of the Caribbeans, he -will be coopted for that purpose. It is not stated in the White Paper either that that will be done. How far will the Dominions be agreeable to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs speaking for them on these matters? That has no doubt been inquired into by the Government before they produced the Bill. Another point which we ought to get clear is regional defence, which is mentioned in the White Paper. I can see no reference in the Bill to show how that will be worked in. Presumably the Colonial troops who are under His Majesty's Government of the United Kingdom will be needed for matters of general policy, but if a Colony is in a regional area allocated to one of the Dominion Governments, how far will there be that contact and link which will maintain the independent position of the Dominion concerned and yet enable the Minister of Defence to exercise his func- tions over the Colonial troops, who are the responsibility of His Majesty's Government here? It is a very important matter, which has already arisen in East Africa, where officers there serving are rather in a difficulty as to whom they should go to in a matter of this kind.

The question of civil defence is not mentioned, but one must assume that civil defence, which is vital to the function of the Ministry of Defence, will be dealt with by the Home Secretary. The Home Secretary is not mentioned as a member of the Defence Committee, but quite clearly there must be integration between the civil defence services and the Ministry of Defence.

The last point is a matter of high policy, but it ought to be raised. In the unfortunate event of another war we must never assume that we shall have the same kind of dynamic personality as Prime Minister that we had in the second world war. One must not assume—although one hopes he will be—that we shall have a Prime Minister able to exercise an equal influence in world affairs. Equally, it is important to realise that the responsibility of the Service Ministers to this House, as the Prime Minister remarked just now, must not be interfered with and that the internal discipline, training and organisation of the three Services must be carried through with proper responsibility to Parliament, by the Secretaries of State.

I want to ask whether consideration has been given to the question, Who is the head of the Service? What officers are at the head of the Army and what officers are at the head of the Navy and the Air Force? It is clear that to construct a tidy picture we must revert back to the Commander-in-Chief, as distinct from the Chief of the General Staff. You cannot have the Chief of the General Staff at the head of the Army responsible to the Ministry of Defence, and also to the Secretary of State for War for internal organisation. If the two Chiefs of Staff of the Army and the Air Force would devote themselves entirely to the political heads of their Departments, they would be in a much better position. I do not see that the Chief of the General Staff—leaving out the word"Imperial"—can fulfil two functions. During the war there was undoubtedly confusion and that is why the Cabinet— as nobody knows better than the Prime Minister—set up at the Horse Guards the Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces. It is very important that such an appointment should be set up again.

Some hon. Members worked on the National Expenditure Committee throughout the war and submitted several Reports to Parliament, two of which were secret and no doubt have now been made public as a result of the endeavours of the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes). Certain vitally important matters were mentioned by the Minister designate in a speech in the country one day before he unfortunately became ill, and they are referred to in the White Paper. The Ministry of Supply is a terrifically large Department and it is now having put on it matters of the most vital importance. As the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) said, it would be very helpful if the position could be clarified a little more. All through the war the Prime Minister took a particular personal interest in the matter of research. I was chairman of the sub-committee which was appointed and worked for five years inquiring into these matters.

The recommendations we made in those Reports could be summed up very simply and we were told at that time that they had the approval of the Government. Two committees are mentioned in the White Paper—the Ministerial Production Committee and the Defence Research Policy Committee. I understand that Sir Henry Tizard has been appointed chairman. No man has rendered greater service to the country than he has. The work he did with the Royal Air Force in the days before the war had more to do with winning the Battle of Britain than anything else. He is a magnificent man, and the self-sacrifice he has now shown by giving up the position that he very much welcomed holding as President of Magdalen is some indication of his sense of public service. We are fortunate in having a man of his position.

I want to emphasise that in the evidence we had before us during the war it was much easier to see clearly what was required that it was after the war when inter-Service jealousies and desires to maintain their position are not subject to the pressure that the urgency of work sometimes applies. One thing is absolutely vital. It is that this country must aim to secure and hold what we called in those Reports the technical initiative. That phrase, the technical initiative, is the basis of preparation and the saving of lives. I should have thought that there was an obvious need to minimise the number of types and sizes of ammunition while ensuring that each of those is the best of its kind. One of the things which the Expenditure Committee had to contend with was the enormous number of types of every conceivable store which led to a very complicated supply service. I never understood why ordinary general service lorries required for the Admiralty should not be the same type as those required by the Army. This would have brought a simplification of spares and much simpler transportation. The hooding of a Royal Air Force lorry was two feet six inches higher than the Army lorry, which meant that it would not go between decks. That sort of stupidity leads to a lot of trouble. It is vital that there should be a central authority who would have no nonsense of that kind. The number of types must be reduced to something which is reasonable. Which of these committees is to do that and to whom is it to be responsible?

There is an absolute necessity that in the Ministry of Supply there should be a Department of Technical Development for the Services. That is not mentioned in the White Paper. Whether it should be the principal responsibility of a Parliamentary Secretary sitting in this House I do not know, but there ought to be such a department of the Ministry. No Minister of Supply can supervise all the research for all the Services with all the other things he has to do, and it is of tremendous urgency. It was laid down by His Majesty's Government in 1943, in reply to one of the Reports of the Committee on National Expenditure, that it would in future be Government policy to have central coordination rather than central control. That really is an admirable phrase, and if that could be taken as the cornerstone of the set up, all of us would be happy.

I should like to recapitulate what were the divisions which we were told in evidence should be part of the postwar setup in regard to research, design and production. Those who had experience of the last war and the war before laid it down that there should be technical wings of the Naval, Military and Air Staffs. It is very important that the training of the general staff officers of the Army and staff officers of the other Services should have the strong element of technical training which the Army is now producing at Shrivenham in a most admirable syllabus. I do not know how far that has been done by the other Services. The fundamental research into ammunition and types used to be the responsibility of the Ordnance Corps. Something of that nature is required and it was suggested that it should be called the Armament Research Board. There must be a development department to include design and applied research, an administration department responsible for development and acceptance trials and a trials board responsible finally for the stores and weapons wanted on the ground. It might interest the House if I quoted figures which were given to us to indicate the importance of getting improvements in design. If an average improvement of 5 per cent. in armament design, from production aspects alone, were made, it would save the labour of 100,000 persons. Such a saving could have been obtained by employing 50 competent men in peacetime.

Not one word was said in the White Paper about the Department of the S.I.R. The work done by the S.I.R. in the last war and the war before was amazingly good. It was the responsibility of the Lord President. The Prime Minister has not mentioned it, and there is no reference to it in the Bill. I conclude that the work of the S.I.R. will still remain under the Lord President. The technical committee over which Sir Henry Tizard presides, and which is responsible to the Ministry of Defence, will in some way be related to the D.S.I.R. It is very important that there should be established certain national establishments up and down the country to help in this matter, which might be considered daughters of the D.S.I.R., where private -firms and companies could go for advice, because it is vital that war potentials should be kept linked to the organisation and production in peacetime since there is so little time in war to get ready what is required. If there could be these national establishments for physics, chemistry, electronics, basic engineering, aerodynamics and so on, it would help enormously.

I am quite sure that in establishing the Ministry of Defence it is of great importance that we in this House should never attempt to support a plan whereby the Treasury receives back money that has not been used in a particular year. All the evidence shows that that system is wasteful and extravagant. You cannot tie a scientist down like anybody else. It is monstrous that when one gets near the end of the financial year and discovers that £500,000 or whatever it is is left, it has to be spent, otherwise the Treasury will say, "You did not spend that amount this year so you will be cut down by that sum next year." It ought to be on a long-term basis, and it should be thoroughly understood that by spending £1million in peacetime on research, £50 million is saved when war comes.

11.42 a.m.

Photo of Mr Frederick Cobb Mr Frederick Cobb , Elland

It is always a pleasure to listen to the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) when he touches on research and production, of which he has very great knowledge, and I find it difficult to disagree with him on either of these subjects when he gives us the benefit of his experience. I listened to him this morning with great interest, as I am sure did the rest of the House.

I am glad that the question of supply, research and production has been touched on this morning, because I was afraid that in regard to the Ministry of Defence there would be too much emphasis on the coordination of the fighting Services, and not sufficient emphasis on what keeps them in the field, both in peace and in war which is, very largely, the coordination of research and production. It is true that if we study the history of this country we find that when, unfortunately, we get into a war position, we are prepared for the last war. I know that has been said many times before in this House, but to anyone in industry it is very patently true, and there were literally. many tears shed in factories in this country during the last war because that was the case. I hope, therefore, that the new Minister of Defence will have studied very carefully the lessons which we ought to learn from what we did in the last war in research and production, not only in this country but elsewhere in the Commonwealth.

I had to deal with many millions of pounds of contracts covering large num- bers of types of supplies. I would ask the Minister to look at only one subject— spares for radio equipment. It was in a terrible mess, and it was never straightened out because it was too great a problem under war conditions to get real standardisation of radio spares for our radar and other radio equipment. That can only be done if we anticipate what we have to do in time of war and get our organisation going in time of peace. We must realise that the Minister of Defence, and his organisation in so far as it applies to the equipment of the Armed Forces, has to interfere or ought to interfere in the peacetime operations of industry. If it does not do that, and we unfortunately find ourselves in a war position again, we shall once more find that we are unprepared.

I would like to give one or two instances of what happens in a factory when standardisation is achieved. I was connected with a factory producing something like 120 different types of radio valves per annum. In wartime we cut it down to 40 valves and, not for that reason alone but mainly because of that reason, output went up three times over a period of about two years and this was mainly due to cutting down the number of types and the number of changeovers in that factory. We must look in time of peace to the modernisation of piece parts, not only in this country but throughout the Commonwealth. In my own experience in the last war in factories up and down the country. this is what happened. A piece of apparatus designed in 1933 or 1934 was used by the Navy. In this instance it was largely radio equipment. A modern industry like the radio industry progresses very quickly and, when the war started, the Admiralty suddenly began calling for this particular type of equipment in large quantities. They said that it was too late to redesign this equipment and that they must have these piece parts. So we found that we were being called upon for large supplies of obsolete equipment of which the technicians and the work people in the industry had lost the technique. It was as dead as the dodo. However, the Admiralty called in higher and higher naval officers with more and more gold rings until there was one who banged the table hard enough and said, "You have got to make it." If one could only compute the output per man-hour lost because of that kind of thing going on up and down the country, it would reach a staggering figure. These things can only be seen to in time of peace.

May I give another example? Unfortunately, some of our military people at the beginning of the war did not rise higher in their means of communication than a pigeon. That was what they had been trained to use. When the Germans were communicating instantaneously in plain language between their aeroplanes and tanks, we were struggling with horrible equipment and sending messages in code. The Germans were far better than we were, and it was not until the second year of the war that we began to take care of this. I hope that the Minister of Defence will see to the co-ordination of research and production and its relation to peacetime industry who, after all, are the contractors in wartime, so that we shall be prepared. Do not let us have jokes going around the factories such as we heard when this obsolete equipment had to be made. It was said that it was wanted by the Navy for old junks on the Yangtse. That was the standard joke. I hope we never hear it again.

If I may come back to the coordination of research and production not only on a national basis but on a Commonwealth basis, if we should need the shadow factories in another war that we had in the last war, we can only get proper operation of them on a Commonwealth basis if we get their peacetime production organised. You can only get teams of research people and production people working together on an efficient basis if they are organised now, and kept on a coordinated basis while making their peacetime products. I hope that will be done. It was not done before, and where did we get to in the last war as a result? To quote the case of Canada, at the beginning of the last war Canada found herself with about 70 per cent. of her industry owned by American capital—some of my friends put it as high as 75 per cent. How did these factories operate? They merely operated as production units. They bought their materials and parts from America. They merely had a production and selling organisation. A wartime enterprise cannot be conducted without research, and the Canadians recognised this. The Americans were not in the war, and the Canadians had to start Research Enterprises Ltd. in Toronto, in order to back up these American companies with a research organisation.

We do not want that to happen in the next war, if unfortunately we ever have one. It raises a most important question. How are we going to tackle the coordination of research and production on a Commonwealth basis? We shall come right up against this difficult problem, that in Canada, let alone in Australia, where some of the key industries are also under foreign control, the industries which will be wartime contractors are under foreign domination either partially or completely, and when such companies come under foreign domination research stops. It is done in the parent country, not in the country where the subsidiary produces. That was the situation in Canada at the beginning of the war. I believe that when our Minister of Defence comes to look at this all-important question of the coordination of research and production, he will come up against this problem at once. I understand that the Canadians, at the moment, are talking about standardising their military equipment with America. I think what is causing them to pause is this very problem, that if they do standardise with the Americans and the Americans are not in the next war, if there is one—I hope there will not be, but we have to look at this matter from that angle—and the Canadians are in it, and they merely have production units, with research being carried on in America, and they have standardised with American technique and American apparatus, they will be left high and dry.

This problem has to be looked at carefully. We have to get in peace time an effective organisation of research and production right throughout the Commonwealth. I hope it will be done efficiently. I will leave out the question of what we have ultimately to face up to, but when we get U.N.O, working properly, with its own military forces, this question of coordination of research and production becomes even more difficult, especially from the aspect that those forces must have standardised equipment. To get standardised equipment for forces which may be supplied by 20 different nations will require coordination, vision and ability of a very high order in these technical matters. To return to the ques- tion of the coordination of research and production on a national basis, I wish to mention one other menace, that is the foreign domination of contractors in this country, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) will have some personal knowledge of this particular problem; that is, some of the modern industries in this country are not owned by British capital, at least some of the big units in them are not. It may well be that the Minister of Defence should call for an analysis of the capital, say, in the aircraft industry, the motor car industry, the radio and electrical industry and the rubber industry, for a start, and find out what proportion of the capital in them is under foreign domination. I have in mind the point that when a company comes under foreign domination research in this country tends to stop, because from an international—

Photo of Mr Oliver Lyttelton Mr Oliver Lyttelton , Aldershot

Will the hon. Member make clear what he means by foreign domination? If he is speaking of minority interests, I do not think his argument would run, though where a company tends to be under foreign control, his argument is really correct.

Photo of Mr Frederick Cobb Mr Frederick Cobb , Elland

The point which the right hon. Gentleman has raised is a good one. We have, of course, at one end of the scale, important companies in which the whole capital is owned by foreign companies, American in some cases. There are other companies at the other end of the scale like Associated Electrical Industries, in which a large part of the capital, I understand, is British, but where the policy is agreed with the General Electric Company of America. It is in all probability true that the organisation under the control of the right hon. Gentleman does, in fact, do a large amount of research in this country. In fact it is notable for some of the research it has done in the past, and is still doing. The point is that when a company comes under complete foreign domination, it is more efficient for that world wide organisation to centre its research, say in America. When that happens the company in this country is merely a production and a selling unit; it is completely divorced from all research, it buys its research from the central organisation in the other country.

If the Minister of Defence will only investigate what effect this had in the last war, in the case of some of our big modern industries, which in war time were absolutely key industries, without which we could not have fought the war, he will find that when his predecessor sought to give jobs to these contractors he was sometimes precluded, even before the war, from doing so because he was afraid of where the information would go. They could not tackle the jobs, which very often had to go to smaller concerns, which were undoubtedly and obviously British owned. I suggest that if this process of the domination by foreign interests of British industries goes on unchecked—and we do not know to what extent it is going on—we may find, if we are, unfortunately, faced with another war, that some of the big production organisations in the country which would be our principal contractors in time of war, could not be taken into our confidence. At the moment, very large sums of money are being allocated, or being sent overseas, for research which in my view should be done in this country; in the long run our ability to carry on research in this country depends on the number of scientists and technicians we have, and that supply of scientists and technicians depends on the suction effect of industry on our universities. If we have large sections of contractors in this country doing no research, because it is being done abroad, we shall not be building up a research potential among the contractors in this country on which our ability to win another war depends.

These are vital points upon which the Minister of Defence ought to concentrate a large proportion of his attention. I hope that whoever is to reply to this Debate will give us some assurance on the points which I have raised. Finally, I would mention the importance of seeing that the relations between the contractors and Ministries are as efficient as they possibly can be made, for this reason: We are now faced with the fact that perhaps 5 per cent. of our working population, in peace time, have to be in the Army, Navy or Air Force or in factories making apparatus for those Forces. This will have a considerable effect on the standard of living of our people in peace time. If the operations of the Minister of Defence and of the fighting Services can be made as efficient as possible, if we can utilise every technician and every production man and woman who are on this job in this country as effectively as possible, so as to effect an optimum output from the people on the industrial side, we can release more and more people for peace time production during peace time. I question whether it would not be better for the Minister of Defence, in carrying out this job, to have one buying Ministry for all three fighting Services, because it would be much more efficient if the contractors had only one customer instead of three. A great deal of overlapping and wasted labour could be cut out, although I know that there axe arguments on the other side. I hope the question of the utmost efficiency in the production of material for the fighting Services will be looked into, if for no other reason than that it closely affects the standard of living of the people of this country in peace time.

12.1 p.m.

Photo of Sir Allan Noble Sir Allan Noble , Chelsea

I am very glad to have another opportunity of speaking so soon after the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Cobb). I am sure that it is obvious to us all that he speaks with great personal knowledge of the subject, and I hope the Minister will give careful consideration to the points he raised. I have very little to add to what I said in the Debate on the White Paper, but I would like to say a word or two regarding Clause 3 (1) of the Bill, which, subject, of course, to the Chancellor's approval, gives the Minister of Defence great powers. During the Debate on the White Paper, I asked a question on the probable size of the Ministry, and, during his winding-up speech, the Minister referred me to paragraph 34 of the White Paper, which, he said, indicates that although the functions now be assigned to the Minister of Defence are such that it will not be possible for him to operate with only through a very small Secretariat, there is no expectation that he will need a large staff."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st October, 1946; Vol. 428, c. 877.] I am sure we were all glad today to have the Prime Minister's confirmation of this when he said that it was not intended to form a Ministry in the full sense of the word. Therefore, we shall not lose the great advantage of the present set-up, which, during the war, has worked so well round the structure of Service personnel.

12.3 p.m.

Photo of Hon. John Maclay Hon. John Maclay , Montrose District of Burghs

I would like to follow up briefly one point made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton). The right hon. Gentleman referred to the duties of the Minister designate as Chairman of the Defence Committee, and I think he indicated that it was a question whether or not the Defence Committee was not too large as at present composed. If the decision of the Government is that the Committee should not be reduced, may I put in a further plea for the addition of one Minister to that Committee? It is already a big Committee, and one addition to it would hardly be noticed, but the Minister whom I would propose is, I submit, absolutely essential to the proper functioning of the Defence Committee. I refer to the Minister of Transport.

I do not intend to elaborate what I said in the earlier Debate, but I am so convinced of the importance of this point that I would have liked to take advantage of a device such as is used in the Congress of the United States, where members stand up, and, after speaking for three minutes, ask the permission of the House to write the rest of their speech into the Record. However, that is not possible, and I, therefore, confine myself to saying that there cannot be any stage in the strategical or tactical consideration of defence where the advice of the Minister of Transport is not essential, and on the production side it is equally true. The hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) quoted the case of lorries being of different sizes. That, of course, could be dealt with by a standing committee but it is only one of many cases indicating the need for co-ordination in every stage of the planning of the Defence of this country and the Commonwealth, and of our future contribution to the United Nations organisation. In all these matters, transport, whether inland or sea, is a central factor.

I know that these considerations are very much in the minds of all the right hon. Gentlemen who are concerned in these matters at this time. I know also that there is no reason to think that the importance of the Minister of Transport's Department is being forgotten by the present Chiefs of Staff or by the members? of the Chiefs of Staff Committees. One is not very worried about the immediate future, but I suggest that it is most important that the Transport Minister should be a member of the Defence Committee. We hope that there will be no more war, but we cannot count on it, and we want to be certain that, in 15 or 20 years from now, when those who have had experience of this war are no longer in controlling positions, the Minister of Transport and his advisors will be constantly consulted at every stage of planning, whether tactics, strategy or, above all production, so as to obtain the maximum efficiency, from the transport point of view, and the greatest savings in shipping space —the major bottleneck in any war in which this country may be involved.

12.6 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Wigg Mr George Wigg , Dudley

I hope the hon. Member who has just spoken will forgive me if I do not follow him, because I want to follow up the point about the Colonial Forces raised by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn). In the Debate on the White Paper, I asked a question about the control and administration of the Colonial Forces, and the Minister without Portfolio told me that the matter was under review. Until I heard the speech of the hon. Member for Abingdon, I thought that the matter was in no way settled by the introduction of this Bill. Clause 1 does seem to settle the matter, and I think we should have a statement from the Prime Minister on how the Colonial Forces are to be controlled. I feel very strongly that the whole question of Colonial Defence is tied up with the general raising of the standard of life in the Colonies. Defence and economic advance cannot be separated, and I think it is of very great importance, that, in the future, there should be a clear breakaway from the kind of administration that existed in all the Colonies before the war. I hope very much that, when the Minister replies, he will be able to set our minds at rest on this point, and will be able to say that the organisation of defence in the Colonies is not going to be prised out of its general setting and brought exclusively under the Minister of Defence. I hope we shall have a clear statement that Clause 1 dealing with the unification of all the Forces under the Crown, does not settle the matter here rather that in due course, the Prime Minister will announce the policy to be adopted for the control of Colonial Forces.

12.8 p.m.

Photo of Mr Ronald Ross Mr Ronald Ross , County Londonderry

I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Cobb), which showed that he is an authority on many aspects of defence. The one comment which I shall make on that speech concerns his statement that we are always preparing for the war that is over. I do not think that is quite just, because, if we consider the recent war, the three dominating factors were these—in the Navy, the aircraft carrier; in the Army, the tank; and I think it might fairly be said that, in the air, it was radar. I think all these were British inventions, but, unfortunately, our ingenuity in devising these means of defence is only limited by our inability to have enough of them when war breaks out. That was really our trouble. It was not the lack of these devices, but the difficulty of providing ourselves with enough of them.

I would certainly add my voice to all those which have been urging that the research side of defence is vital. We are all agreed that a Ministry of Defence is essential and desirable. The menace of war may become less and less, but the need for coordination still exists. On the other hand, I warn the right hon. Gentleman that it may not be as plain sailing as it would appear, because in the past there have been differing views and even in the present divergencies of view will be found between the Services. Therefore, I would emphasise the vital importance of having a common staff doctrine in the College of Imperial Defence, whereby the the same set of facts are presented to the officers in the Navy, Army and Air Force. The officers of those three Services would then produce appreciations which, although perhaps not coinciding, would be similar. If the College of Imperial Defence is developed and given that same degree of priority which, in the field of material production, is given to research, I am sure that will be greatly to the advantage of the Minister of Defence.

I wish to make an inquiry with regard to the authority of the Minister in relation to the heads of the Armed Forces. Under Clause 1 he has authority over the requirements of the Armed Forces. Who is to decide the policy with regard to the Fleet? At present many of us view with considerable concern the dispersal of the British Fleet. The United States Fleet has been laid up; but not so the British Fleet. It is being to some extent sent to America, to some extent scrapped and to an alarming extent given away to other countries. H.M.S. "Aurora," which is a modern ship, was given to China. Even a community so peaceful as Eire, which has only once expressed belligerent desires, and that against the United Kingdom, has been given some of the ships of the Royal Navy. So far as I know, there is no authority in Parliament for dispersing the Fleet or giving away important fighting units. Will this subject come under the Minister of Defence, or will it be a matter for the Admiralty? I think the tasks of the Defence Minister and of the Ministry of Defence should be put above that sort of thing. They are not only extremely important but different. In a period of inflation when everything is on the "up and up," when money is pouring from the Treasury into the Armed Services, one knows what is required and one has a good chance of getting it. But in a period of deflation when everything is being cut down, when the Treasury grudges giving sums which would be regarded as negligible in war time, we require the most skilful conduct on the part of the heads of the Fighting Services.

I trust this will not involve the somewhat enormous staffs which we have at present. I had the curiosity to compare the Navy Estimates of 1908 with those of the present year, and I found that the Admiralty office expenses were fast overhauling the expenses for warlike stores. In fact, I think they were three or four times as much as they had been in 1938. I do not think an enormous staff is required, but it does require an extraordinarily careful series of decisions as regards policy. At present, I do not think we in this House have any idea of the general plan of the defence of this country. We do not know the strength of the Navy. We do not know, except in the vaguest terms, the organisation of the Army. We know nothing to speak of about the organisation of the Territorial Army, and we do not know a lot about the Air Force. We are very vague in our relations with the forces of the Dominions. I suggest that to clear the air and to give this country some idea of the position as a whole, when the Minister of Defence has been appointed and has had a reasonable time in which to assimilate the extremely complicated and difficult factors which he must consider, Parliament should have an opportunity of discussing defence as a whole, and the requirements of the Armed Services to which allusion is made in the Bill. I welcome the Bill, and I see great potential advantages in it; on the other hand, there are very serious difficulties for the Minister of Defence if he is entirely to fulfil his obligations.

12.16 p.m.

Photo of Squadron Leader Samuel Segal Squadron Leader Samuel Segal , Preston

I do not propose to detain the House long because I know the Prime Minister is anxious to reply. Previous speakers have referred to some of the working details involved. I wish to get back to the basic principle. To my mind, the only real justification for the setting up of the Ministry of Defence lies in the hope that it affords for effecting an overall reduction in the total strength of our Armed Forces. We have been promised a target of 1,100,000 men and another 100,000 in training. Now, to the intense disappointment of many of the Government's supporters, we are told that for the moment this target cannot be achieved. To my mind, the valuable function of the Ministry of Defence is that it should set out in the forefront of its objectives the aim of trying to achieve a total strength of our coordinated forces of something below that figure of 1,100,000; and if, by coordinating the three Services, we can evolve a highly efficient, highly mechanised and highly trained coordinated Force, the new Ministry and especially the Minister designate would be more than justified.

I cannot help speaking with a good deal of feeling in this matter, because I participated in the first by-election that took place after the introduction of conscription in April, 1939. When I fought that by-election in the stronghold of Cham-berlainism, on an openly anti-conscrip-tionist platform, never for a moment did I believe that human folly could descend to such depths as to involve the country in another conflagration. On the day that war broke out, I felt myself compelled to volunteer at the first available opportunity, and I had to serve for something like six and a half years in the Royal Air Force. It is just because one is so desperately anxious to avoid any repetition of this possibility affecting the lives of our young people today, that, although one gives somewhat grudging support to the Government's present policy for the extension of conscription, one gives the full- est, warmest and most complete support for the establishment of this Ministry of Defence.

I know that the Government's basis of our overall strength must depend on our Chiefs of Staff. I cannot help feeling— and I think the war has borne out the lesson—that Colonel Blimp still remains a Blimp even after he has been promoted to brigadier. Although we on this side of the House cannot claim to having any brigadiers, it does not necessarily follow that every brigadier on the opposite side of the House must be a Colonel Blimp. On the other hand, I do wish that the deep feelings of some of our lower serving ranks in the Forces might at some time be allowed to carry just as much weight as some of our high serving staff officers. In my own constituency I have had opportunities of mixing among some of our youngsters who are still at school, and I know how bitterly they resent the idea of having their careers deferred, to some extent, on the very threshold of their own mental and physical expansion. Just at the age of 18, when they are beginning to feel that the whole world is lying at their feet, and when they naturally wish to develop themselves to the fullest extent of their capabilities, they are liable now to being called up.

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

I do not think we can discuss conscription. The House has already decided that matter.

Photo of Squadron Leader Samuel Segal Squadron Leader Samuel Segal , Preston

I am sorry if I have strayed from the main subject of the Bill, Mr. Speaker. Many people in the country, and many of the Government's supporters, feel most strongly on the wider issues involved in this question, and for that reason we join most heartily in lending our energetic support to this Bill. I hope that when the Ministry is set up among its foremost obectives will be the aim of reducing the total overall strength of our Armed Forces.

12.22 p.m.

Photo of Mr Anthony Head Mr Anthony Head , Carshalton

The hon. Member for Preston (Dr. Segal) has left me a little uncertain about my position as a brigadier. It is quite certain that I fall into one of the two categories mentioned by him, but I shall have to leave the question of which category it is until a later date. I would, however, like to say how much I agree with him about the lower ranks of the Army having a full say in the matter. In the Armed Forces as a whole, the lower ranks should be able to express their views. I would have agreed with him particularly strongly in that respect at a period some 10 years ago. I think all hon. Members would agree that the House has had a fair chance of discussing this subject, and I personally have felt a certain atmosphere this morning which rather suggested runners nearing the end of a Marathon on this subject. Therefore, I do not wish to detain the House for more than a few minutes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) referred briefly to the question of civil defence. I also would like to say a few words on that subject. Hon. Members will recall that it was decided in the White Paper that the Home Defence Committee would not be included in the Ministry of Defence, but would be left in the Cabinet organisation; that it would come under the Defence Committee, but not under the Minister of Defence. The reasons—and they seem to me very cogent ones—were that if the Minister is charged with the responsibility of looking after the whole question of civil defence, his sphere would become very wide, and so diffuse that his authority would probably be ineffective. I agree there, but at the same time I think it fair to say that the trend in war, if there should be another war, is making it increasingly hard to draw any clear dividing line between where civil defence ends and military defence begins. If we were faced with another war, with the appalling weapons such as rockets and bacteriological missiles, the defence measures between the military defenders at home in this country and the civil defenders would have to be very carefully coordinated, owing to the speed of the attack and its fierceness.

Therefore, it seems to me that if the Home Defence Committee is to be left out of the Ministry of Defence there should be some assurance of the very closest coordination between the Home Defence Committee, the Ministry of Defence and their Military Committee. I do not know how that will be done, but I personally hope that geographically the Home Defence Committee will be very near to, or even in the same building, as the Ministry of Defence. If it is separated, and is housed in, say, the Home Office, even if it is only walking distance away geographically, that does make a very big difference in being able to tie up every detail. I hope that whoever replies will be able to reassure us that the Government will ensure very close cooperation by having a common secretariat. I do not think this was mentioned in the Debate on the White Paper, and I believe the House as a whole would probably be reassured to know that the Government will take every possible step to ensure close cooperation in that respect.

The only other point I wish to raise is in respect of what I believe to be one of the most important functions of the future Minister of Defence. By his example, precept and preaching of this gospel he must keep alive the very great degree of inter-Service cooperation which we gained during the war. We gained that with extraordinary speed, and to a very considerable extent during the war. I believe it is very easy to forget how we lacked it in the early days of the war. Some hon. Members may remember how conspicuously absent it was in the early days of the war. I personally recall the first combined operations. Then, if you asked the average soldier, sailor or airman to define combined operations you would probably have got the following replies. The airman would have said: "A combined operation? That is where the brown types 'stooge' about on the ground to bring about an air battle." The sailor would have said: "You mean where we are taken off our proper job and have to land a lot of 'pongoes' on the beach." The soldier would have said: "That is one of those operations which starts on the beach, and you want to get away from the beach as quickly as possible so as to stop messing about with the Navy and get on with the real soldiering." We have progressed a very long way since those days.

It is my belief that now peace is here it is very easy to lose the ground we gained from operational necessity. I think it is not unfair to say that, as far as the Services are concerned the Coalition is, to a great extent, over. It will be a large part of the responsibility of the Minister of Defence to do all he can to set a fashion in this respect. I remember that when Admiral Mountbatten was appointed Chief of Combined Operations, he was reputed to have thought very carefully whether or not he should wear some sort of non-committal uniform so as to show that on that job he was inter-Service, and was not a sailor. I am not suggesting that the Minister of Defence, as a civilian, should walk about in flying boots, a British warm and a yachting cap. Nevertheless, I think much can be done by him in this respect. He has under him the only three outward and visible signs of all that we have achieved in this respect, namely, the Imperial Defence College, the Joint Intelligence Board and Combined Operations Headquarters. I hope he will not only foster them and keep them supplied with enough money and men, but also by his own example, and by constantly striving to that end, will ensure that we do keep that inter-Service cooperation; and that although we retain three individual Services they are, where they cooperate together, looked upon as a united Service.

12.29 p.m.

Photo of Mr Clement Attlee Mr Clement Attlee , Stepney Limehouse

I hope I may be allowed to speak again with the leave of the House. We have had a very interesting Debate. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head) emphasised the underlying spirit of this Bill, because this Bill does represent a victory in a fight that has been going on for a number of years, on the part of a good many of us, to see defence as one subject and not three separate subjects. I should like to give pride of place in my remarks to a matter which actually deals with the text of the Bill, which was raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Abington (Sir R. Glyn). He asked whether the Armed Forces of the Crown could be held to cover Dominion Forces, and whether. we were not in some way infringing the Statute of Westminster. I do not think that is likely. I will have the phraseology looked at again, but as we have not power to legislate over these matters in the Dominions it would be of no effect, even if we said so. However, I will certainly look and see if that should be corrected. That, I think, was the only direct criticism of the matters in the Bill. Indeed, I would say that all the speeches to which I have listened were arguments to show that this Bill was necessary.

I do not propose to deal with every point that has been made. My right hon. Friend, as soon as he is restored to health, will find it a very useful pick-me-up to read the many valuable suggestions that have been made on all kinds and parts of his work, but I would like to take issue with the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) on one thing that he said with regard to the representation of civilian Departments on the Defence Committee. I understood that he wanted the Defence Committee. to be cut down so that at the Cabinet they should give purely the military point of view without consideration of anything else. I think that is entirely destructive of everything that has been built up both in the Committee of Imperial Defence and in the Defence Committee. The purely military technical view is given by the Chiefs of Staff Committee, but the precise object of coming to a Defence Committee is that that can be related to the general activities of the whole country.

There is in that Committee a nucleus, because the Ministers there are Ministers whose affairs particularly come into this matter. Obviously, if you are considering defence problems, it is not simply a matter of estimates, the sizes of forces, and so on. If you are considering defence problems, you will have to have the foreign affairs angle represented. The Lord President of the Council, apart from other things, has particular responsibility for science. I might say, in passing, that I do not think, from my experience as Lord President, that the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research was hampered by the Treasury rule of returning unspent money at the end of the year. They are in a very special position. If one looks at the nucleus of Ministers, one finds that all angles are represented. Suggestions have been made that others ought to be in. Clearly, if it is to be a question of a purely military point of view, the right hon. Member for Aldershot will be quarrelling with the hon. Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. Maclay), who wants the Minister of Transport to be in, and another hon. Member who wants the Colonial Secretary to be in. All of them will come in, and the idea is that the Defence Committee should be flexible. However, one does not necessarily want to have the Minister of Transport in for all these problems. In the same way, there will be problems in which one will certainly need to have the Home Secretary, when the home defence angle comes up, although on a given day there may be items that do not concern him.

Photo of Hon. John Maclay Hon. John Maclay , Montrose District of Burghs

Is there any problem in this matter in which the Ministry of Transport are not bound to be involved at a very early stage?

Photo of Mr Clement Attlee Mr Clement Attlee , Stepney Limehouse

In my experience I have known many problems come up in regard to which the Minister of Transport would not be needed on the Defence Committee.

Photo of Hon. John Maclay Hon. John Maclay , Montrose District of Burghs

Not in regard to the individual details, but on the general problem.

Photo of Mr Clement Attlee Mr Clement Attlee , Stepney Limehouse

This is not a Committee which sits continuously, all the time. It sits with a nucleus of Ministers, and other Ministers are called in from time to time, but it would be a waste of time to have Ministers sitting on the Committee when they. were not really concerned. They should always be there when they are needed. It is no use having the Colonial Secretary there day after day when the question of the Colonial Forces is not coming up. Let me say, in answer to one of my hon. Friends, that there is no question under this Bill of doing anything in regard to the status and position of the Colonial Forces.

Therefore, the right hon. Member for Aldershot is mistaken, because he seems to have thought of the Defence Committee as a purely technical Committee, whereas the purely military advice comes from the Chiefs of Staff Committee. The hon. Member for Abingdon made a number of very valuable remarks, but they were remarks which should be considered by the Minister. They were arguments for the existence of a Ministry of Defence to deal with precisely those problems which the hon. Member brought forward. I would, however, disagree with the hon. Member on one thing. I think it would be a great mistake to go back to having a Commander-in-Chief. The heads of the Services are the Chiefs of Staff. The arrangement is that the Chiefs of Staff, as a kind of trinity in unity, are the advisers of the Government. If one set up a Commander-in-Chief apart from the Chiefs of Staff Committee, you would have him detached from the actual operation of the particular Services, sitting apart as an adviser. In all cases it is necessary to keep the very closest touch between the Fighting Departments and the central organisation, and the argument which the hon. Member adduced of the Commander-in-Chief of Home Forces was not really apposite, because when there was a Commander-in-Chief of Home Forces one had him simply because there were forces all over the world fighting at the time. There are the commands here and there, but I think it would be a very great mistake to set up another Commander-in-Chief.

Photo of Colonel Ralph Glyn Colonel Ralph Glyn , Abingdon

What officer will be responsible, then, to the Secretary of State for War for the training, discipline and administration of the Army?

Photo of Mr Clement Attlee Mr Clement Attlee , Stepney Limehouse

It will be as it is now. There is the Army Council, with the Chief of Staff, and the Adjutant-General. They are all responsible to the Secretary of State for War. There is no change in that whatever. They have had all through the war that dual position of being responsible to their Minister for the internal side of their Department and to the Government as a whole for advice on defence matters. I think it is better to keep them with that dual function, rather than to have duality of personnel. With regard to common services, there are some common services which, I think, would be better taken over by the Minister of Defence. I think that will have to be examined from time to time. We have left the position flexible. Some of those that have been mentioned might do better if they were centralised, but it is simply a question of efficiency and economy. There is no intention at the present moment of expanding into a bloated Department. The question of the British fleet hardly arises in a Debate on the Second Reading of this Bill, and as for a discussion on general defence policy, I entirely agree that that will be a matter to raise on the Estimates. When they come along, we shall have Debates on defence and on the particular Services, and all these points can be raised then.

Photo of Mr Ronald Ross Mr Ronald Ross , County Londonderry

The point that exercises my mind is that by the time the Estimates come along we shall be faced with a fait accomplias regards the organisation of the Army and the giving away of the Navy.

Photo of Mr Clement Attlee Mr Clement Attlee , Stepney Limehouse

I do not admit the hon. Gentleman's remark about the giving away of the Navy. At the end of every war, especially when you have destroyed the enemy fleet, you have a certain number of surplus ships which have to be disposed of. I do not think there is any question of being faced with a fait accompli.These matters are always in the hands of the House. As to the other very interesting points that have been made, they were all points which might fitly be looked at and considered by a Minister of Defence. Some of them were points that might very fitly be brought up on the Estimates, but not one of them conflicted with what I am now asking the House to do, that is, to give a Second Reading to this Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House, for Monday next.—[Mr. Collindridge.]