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Minister Of Defence (Chief Of Staff)

Volume 563: debated on Tuesday 29 January 1957

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asked the Prime Minister to what extent he proposes that the Chief of Staff to the Minister of Defence shall represent the views of the three Service Chiefs of Staff when technical advice is desired on military matters by the Government.

As I stated on 24th January, the corporate responsibility of the Chiefs of Staff as the professional military advisers of the Government will remain unchanged. By virtue of his experience, the Chief of Staff to the Minister of Defence will be well aware on which issues he can give advice from his own knowledge; which on the other hand require the collective advice of the Chiefs of Staff; and which require detailed examination by the responsible staffs.

In view of that Answer, is it not now more obvious than ever that the Prime Minister should endeavour to define more clearly the position of the staff officer to the Minister of Defence, because it is quite likely, particularly on issues of making high appointments, that he may be in conflict with the other Chiefs of Staff?

I do not think that that will arise and I hope that it will not do so. If it does, there is, of course, an appeal to the Cabinet or to the Prime Minister. I know the right hon. Gentleman's interest in these matters, and I think he will appreciate that I have tried to go as far as possible within the existing law to bring a greater degree of coordination and control under the Minister of Defence. I cannot go further without legislation, and it is very doubtful yet whether such legislation ought to be made or will be required.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether his Answer means that when defence matters are under review by the Cabinet the Chiefs of Staff will be present for consultation and in order that their advice can be obtained, in addition to the Chief of Staff to the Defence Minister?

The right hon. Gentleman knows, from his long experience, that it is not the custom to make any reference to committees of the Cabinet, except the Defence Committee, which has been well known as an established method of procedure. At meetings of the full Defence Committee, the Chiefs of Staff and the Service Ministers will be present.

If the Chiefs of Staff representing the Service Departments are to attend the Defence Committee, which is under the jurisdiction of the Cabinet, as the Prime Minister well knows, in addition to the Chief of Staff advising the Defence Minister, will there not be some lack of co-ordination?

Any change in that particular method of procedure would be a change which I do not think ought to be made without legislation.

In view of what the Prime Minister has just said, will the Prime Minister tell us what change has been made from existing arrangements?

I think it is fairly clear from the directive which I have issued that it places a greater degree of responsibility upon the Minister of Defence. I am satisfied that he and the Service Ministers and all the officers concerned welcome this procedure and are prepared to work it.