§ Order for Committee read.
§ Mr. Speaker
There is one point I have to put to the House, and it is a matter for which we have to apologise. In today's Order Paper, unfortunately, the Amendment has not been printed, but the Amendment is in the White Paper of the Order Book of the House of Commons, and, of course, it will be debated in the ordinary way. I have to express regret that somehow it has been omitted from the daily Order Paper.
§ 3.51 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. James Callaghan)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
This is the second occasion on which I have had the privilege of introducing the Navy Estimates, and it is a privilege of which most hon. Members would feel proud. I am quite sure that my noble friend the First Lord would like to be here in order to move the Estimates instead of me. He has had a long experience of the Admiralty for many years, both as Civil Lord in 1929–31 and as Financial Secretary in 1942–43, and he has presided with wisdom and skill over our affairs since 1946.
The net cost of the Navy this year is £278 million, and if hon. Members will look at pages 4 and 5 of the Navy Estimates they will see how that sum has been made up. It compares, as hon. Members will see, with the sum of £193 million for which we asked the House on the last occasion, representing an increase of 40 per cent. over the sum voted by the House at the corresponding time last year. As the House will readily understand, there will be a further Estimate later in order to support the programme that was laid before the House by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 29th January last, and that Estimate will come in due time.
1073 Pages 4 and 5 show how the main amounts which go to support the Navy are made up, and I have extracted them in a slightly different and perhaps more comprehensible way so that the House can see and judge for itself what is the division of cost between the various Services. It goes in this way. Pay, clothing—uniform—victualling of the Navy, and pensions for those who have retired account for 28 per cent. of the total expenditure. The cost of materials for the ships that are built in the Royal Dockyards, the cost of ships that are built by contractors, and the cost of aircraft and stores amount to some 30 per cent. of the total. Pay in the Royal Dockyards is 10 per cent., and the fuel of the Navy costs 5 per cent. of the total. That, I ought to say, includes some element of stockpiling, and is not merely the current expenditure. Weapons, such as guns and torpedoes, account for 9 per cent. of the total expenditure, and the Admiralty Office for something under 2 per cent.
I think it would be as well, in view of some of the discussions we have had in past years, to outline the method by which we try to control our naval expenditure, especially as we are asking for such a large amount on this occasion. As the House well knows, the Board of Admiralty, in addition to having its collective responsibility, has a functional responsibility. Every member of the Board has his own separate responsibilities for his own department, and, therefore, every single member of the Board in watching his own department is also consistently and continuously engaged in watching expenditure to see how it is going, and in keeping a close eye on economies.
In addition to that, in the autumn when the Navy Estimates are being prepared, it is the custom for the Finance Committee, of which I am the Chairman, to have regular meetings to consider the Estimates that are later to be placed before the House. Last autumn we had something like 16 meetings—long sessions—at which we considered memoranda which had been prepared beforehand, and examined witnesses. Altogether, it was a pretty gruelling task, and the Estimates now presented to the House are the result of those meetings.
I can assure the House that the Finance Committee goes through the Estimates 1074 very carefully. In a small way we are like the Select Committee on Estimates of the House with, perhaps, the additional advantage of having an inside knowledge, and the examination which takes place every autumn is a very real one in which we can focus upon and pick out particular items contained in the Estimates placed before us before it is my duty to submit them to the House.
As we are asking for such a large sum this year, I would like to make a more detailed reference to the financial side of the Navy than is normally done. One aspect that I wish to report to the House is that the system of competitive tendering to which we had returned in a very large number of fields, except for ships, is now likely to be less in evidence because of the re-armament programme. Instead of being able to put out items for competitive tendering, it is highly likely that we shall have to revert over a considerable part of the field to a system of nominated contractors.
This system cannot be so satisfactory, and, therefore, I should like to assure the House that, recognising that it is not such a satisfactory method of procedure as competitive tendering, we shall be watching our expenditure very carefully. We are not altogether without information. For example, we can cross-reference our costs through the work done in the Royal Dockyards. That enables us to have some idea of the standard of cost in respect to work done by contractors.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I do not know what the noble Lord means by cost. It is a high standard by which contractors are being judged, and that is, I think, as the House would like it.
Similarly, in respect to technical costing, we have a great deal of experience to go on from the last war, and a number of Admiralty officials, overseers and accountants are attached to firms of contractors with the object of ensuring that the expense that is incurred, and for which we are responsible to this House, is kept as low as possible. The basis of payments has been worked out, and will, I think, 1075 be satisfactory to the House if the Public Accounts Committee inquires into it.
I cannot go into it in any great detail this afternoon because I am anxious to get on with the work of the Navy, but as we are departing from the system of competitive tendering and entering upon a system under which we shall have to nominate particular contractors, it is extremely important that we should have the full co-operation of those contractors in enabling us to examine costs and to see that the work is going ahead as it should. I am quite certain we shall get that cooperation, but we shall certainly watch in order to ensure that it is forthcoming
The naval re-armament programme, about which I am going to say more later, is going to absorb a considerable part of the shipbuilding and ship-repairing industry's labour force. In 1948, the Navy's share of the industry was about 2 per cent. of the labour force employed. This year it is 11 per cent. By late next year as much as 30 per cent. of the labour force in the shipbuilding and ship-repairing industry ought to be engaged upon the work of the Navy. That is an extremely significant amount.
Another matter on which I should like to comment before I get on to the work of the Navy is our use of civilians, because that too has often come in for a considerable amount of criticism. During the meetings of the Finance Committee this year we examined the use of civilians as opposed to Service men very closely indeed. I think the broad objective is an obvious one, namely, to employ either civilians or Service men according as to which proves the most efficient and the most economical, and the whole of the arrangements of the Navy are looked at from that point of view.
By contrast with the Army we have found that the whole of our supply services can be most economically served by being"civilianised"—I hope the House will pardon the jargon—right up to the point at which stores are embarked into ships and up to that point—where the crane swings across and down into the hold, or wherever it may be—civilians are employed. In that case, where it might be legitimate to a certain extent to employ Service men, we employ civilians. Similarly in the case of our boom defences 1076 and salvage vessels, most of those employed are civilians—over 2,000 of them.
Consequently, I make this point because it is not an accurate comparison to ask, "How many civilians have the Admiralty in relation to the total number of Service men and how does that compare with the other Services?" That is a matter for each Service Department to settle, and the fact that there is a large ratio of civilians to Service men does not necessarily mean that we have a lot of clerks trying to run the Navy as against very few sailors.
§ Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)
The two particular services to which the hon. Gentleman has called attention have been in that condition for a period of years.
§ Mr. Callaghan
Indeed that is so, and that is why I have brought the point out now—I do not think it has been brought out before so fully—as justification of the large number of civilians employed. There is another point, namely, that the Admiralty bears on its Votes a large number of scientific and technical officers who, in the case of the other Services, are borne on the Votes of the Ministry of Supply. That swells the apparent number of civilians as against the number of Service men.
On the Finance Committee we have also investigated very closely the size of the Admiralty civilian staff. I can assure the House that very full investigations are going on to make sure that the Admiralty Office is not swollen beyond what it should be. Special investigation teams have been set up and are moving round from department to department to examine the organisation of work and to see that it is carried out in the best way. So much for the rather and waste of finance and organisation.
I should like to come now to the work done by the Navy during the year. The outstanding event has been the work of the Far Eastern Fleet. When the Korean trouble started this Fleet was a thousand miles from its base and doing a summer cruise. Within three days the Fleet was on station and within six days it was engaged in operations and had sunk half a dozen North Korean E-boats. Within eight days sorties were being flown from H.M.S. "Triumph," the Light Fleet carrier attached to the Fleet. The broad 1077 division of responsibility in Korea has been that the British and Commonwealth Navies have looked after the West coast and the United States Navy has been operating off the East coast. But, as the House will know, our own admiral. Admiral Andrewes, is now in command of Task Force 95, which is the whole of the two navies, both the United States and our own Commonwealth Force, and also elements from the French and other navies which are operating out there.
I think the really outstanding feature of the naval side of the operations has been the work of H.M.S. "Theseus." She was commissioned in the normal way, and my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) will not be surprised to learn that her airmen are Devonport men, but her ship's company come from Portsmouth. They were not hand-picked, but just a normal ship's company. They have been operating at a higher level of efficiency than ever known before.
§ Surgeon Lieut.-Commander Bennett (Gosport and Fareham)
Would not the aviation personnel be based on Lee-on-Solent?
§ Mr. Callaghan
Perhaps that may be so. Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member might care for me to distribute credit to those who manufactured the planes and built the ship, but that would take rather a long time.
The interesting, significant and encouraging point is that ever since last October when the ship arrived out there, the ship's company has worked in such a way that no aircraft has ever been unserviceable for longer than two hours, and they have had the remarkable record of 1,300 deck landings without a failure and without an accident. This is unprecedented. It has never been known to have been done before and the accident, when it came, was a minor one due to a plane landing in very rough weather and buckling a strut. I am sure that the House will recognise that this is a really remarkable feat of efficiency from a ship's company drawn from barracks and depots in the normal way and who have been operating in conditions which are just like those of a North Atlantic winter. Yet they have 'maintained this remarkably high standard.
The co-operation between sailors and fighting men of all the United Nations has been superb. I should like to pick 1078 out one incident. One of our pilots, Lieut. Leonard, R.N., from H.M.S.
"Theseus," was attacked and his plane was damaged. He had to make a forced landing and was wounded and trapped in the cockpit of his plane behind the enemy lines. Immediately a United States helicopter set out to rescue him. His plane was found and the pilot and doctor in the helicopter had to fight off the enemy who were approaching. They cut him loose, got him out of the cockpit, got him into the helicopter and returned him to the ship. I am sure the House would like to express their appreciation of this fine example of co-operation between the nations.
§ Commander Maitland (Horncastle)
Is it not a fact that an almost exactly similar incident has happened again?
§ Mr. Callaghan
I believe that to be the case. I should also like to refer to the feats of the 41st Independent Commando. When they first went to Korea they were engaged in coast raiding in which my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) did his share. At a later stage they found themselves at the reservoir in North-East Korea with the United States Marines, and it was from there that they carried out that remarkable fighting retreat from the reservoir to Hungnam. They fought off attacks through the whole of those 23 miles in a temperature of 42 degrees below zero. They had no sleep and no food for 72 hours. They had to climb high mountains and plunge through snow drifts when every step went two feet deep. They battled their way for 72 hours to Hungnam.
They suffered many casualties although I am glad to say they were not as severe as we had feared at one time. We have learned from unofficial sources—I hope it is true—that a number of the casualties are in North Korean hands and are safe. Colonel Drysdale, who was the commanding officer, wrote towards the end of those 72 hours in his war diary, "I thought the morning would never come." I think we can all understand the tension and weariness of those men who were fighting their way through in extremely difficult and indeed almost indescribable conditions.
As to the rest of the Navy, both the Mediterranean and the Home Fleets have been engaged in training and exercising 1079 throughout the year—weapon training, anti-submarine, anti-aircraft and Fleet actions. The First Lord, the Civil Lord and myself have all been able, despite attendance at the House, to visit the Fleet. I was fortunate enough in January to spend a week with the Mediterranean Fleet when they went through a series of very telling exercises indeed, and they did a first-rate week's work. We made our way from Malta to the Greek islands under constant simulated submarine and aircraft attack. There were a number of anti-aircraft actions, and the work was finished by a most realistic night action in which we chased each other around the small group of Greek islands, having split into two forces. I am glad to say that my side won.
The conditions of navigation and of night fighting were most realistic and it was a great test of nerve and skill. I only recount this personal incident in order to show the sort of work which the Navy has been doing during the past 12 months. There was nothing exceptional during this week which I spent with the Mediterranean Fleet. Attached to us on that occasion were two Pakistan frigates who joined in the whole of the exercises which we were doing, and I hope they derived benefit from them. We were certainly glad to have them there. That is symptomatic of what has been going on between the Commonwealth Navies and the Royal Navy.
When I was at Malta two of our frigates had just returned from being attached to the New Zealand Navy, and we in turn had received two New Zealand frigates which were training in the Mediterranean. I think we often overlook how big the Commonwealth Navies are growing. Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa now possess between them a very sizeable force of aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers and frigates, and they are certainly a great addition to our potential strength.
So far as the Reserve Fleet is concerned, some 450 refits of ships in the Reserve Fleet have been made, spread over a period of 2½years. Indeed, we are now coming round the second time, and are refitting ships again which have not been used since they were refitted 2½years ago, and their standard is thereby being improved. The reservists 1080 who are now being called up to help us will assist to maintain, store and equip these ships of the Reserve Fleet during the summer.
On the Board of Admiralty itself we have had some changes. We have had changes in the Second Sea Lord, the Fourth Sea Lord and the Assistant Chief of Naval Staff. We have been joined by Vice-Admiral Madden from the Far East Fleet, Vice-Admiral Mountbatten from the Mediterranean Fleet and Rear-Admiral Evans-Lombe from the Home Fleet. So all three of these Fleets have sent someone to the Board. I must say I like these turnovers. They send a nice fresh salty breeze blowing through the rather dusty, musty corridors of the Admiralty.
I should now like to say something about the technical needs of the Navy. The major problem with which the Navy is confronted is the increased speed of attack. It is that problem which is dominating the whole of the research and development work of the Admiralty scientists at the present time. Increased speed of attack obviously means that we must be able to detect the attacker at a greater distance. It makes it more important to measure range and height earlier. It means that the computation of the aim-off is more difficult, and we also want a shell which is going to travel faster. All these things are resulting in equipment, instruments and weapons that are becoming much bigger and more complex than some of us would have thought possible, and the Navy is now becoming a scientists' dream.
Our research is, therefore, concentrating on reducing the size of equipment, getting lighter materials—because weight is extremely important in this connection—and on finding the answer to increased speed. In this direction radar has come to the fore. This was the case, of course, during the last war, but I should think that now it is even more the servant of our arms and our equipment than it has ever been in the past. I was asking the Controller of the Navy how he would compare a television set, which, to me is a mystery, with the latest piece of radar anti-aircraft equipment. This is what he told me: "A television set has got about 20 electronic valves in it. The latest piece of equipment which we have got for 1081 anti-aircraft has 2,000 valves and 25,000 other components, and it needs 20,000 drawings in order to produce it. "That will give the House some idea of the sort of work which has had to be undertaken.
§ Mr. Callaghan
That, of course, raises a very real problem, because the maintenance of the components in this sort of equipment is resulting in a large increase in the number of men we must have aboard ship, and is cramping conditions to an extent which we would not otherwise have expected. If I may give one example, a town class cruiser in 1939—the "Liverpool" or "Sheffield" or "Birmingham"—had a war complement of 790. Today the complement of one of those cruisers is 890–100 up—and the increase is almost wholly the result of the radar and other electrical equipment. It is really an extremely grave problem, especially in matters of accommodation.
Some of these radar equipments are, of course, mysteries and a source of wonderment to me. I stood aboard a destroyer the other day and watched a gun mounting which is worked by radar. An aircraft was coming over; there the mounting was, with the gun muzzles peering blindly up into the sky. As the aircraft came over, the muzzles searched for it, located and followed it across, directing the shots when the shots were fired. When they fired tracers it was a remarkable illustration to see the tracers following the aircraft. Theoretically one gets a bull every time, but I am sorry to tell the House that actually one does not.
In other fields, too, there is great development. Much better ship's machinery is being developed for frigates. A new steam turbine has been developed, working at higher pressures and temperatures than has ever been known before, and there has been a most significant diesel engine development for smaller craft. This has a large horsepower and is a light and small engine. Indeed, several thousands of horsepower are obtained from an engine which bulks no larger than about half the size of the Table which is in front of you, Mr. Speaker. This is a development which the experts say is about as significant as the development of 1082 water tube boilers in the early part of the 20th century, and it will also have a most important commercial application later on.
While I am dealing with this field of the Admiralty's needs, there is one other most significant development, and that is a new equipment for locating submarines. It is a development of the asdic equipment which we all knew so well. It detects, locates, aims and fires all in one equipment. I myself have seen a demonstration of this equipment which is now undergoing' tests at sea. and it is a most remarkable and encouraging evidence of the way in which anti-submarine weapons have developed since the last war. It is, indeed, one of the great feats of the research and development programme which was undertaken by the Admiralty since the end of the last war, and I think it can give us all cause for great encouragement.
I want now to turn to the effects of re-armament on the Navy. I think the House knows that there is a plan for the Fleet. It exists. We knew what size of Fleet we wanted and what purpose it had to fulfil. Therefore, the result of rearmament so far as the Navy is concerned is that we have not got hastily to improvise what we need. What we had to do was to accelerate the plan which was already in existence, and therefore we were able very swiftly to say what we needed and in what order we would like it. As I told the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Commander Noble) last week in answer to a Question, the immediate effect has been to bring forward a further 60 ships from reserve and put them into the active Fleet. Other ships it the Reserve Fleet are now being stored. We are building up a large amount of stocks and, in stocks and stores together, I can say that the Navy will be in a very healthy position indeed when this programme is completed.
As to the longer term effects, I hope the House will not under-estimate the importance of ships' conversions. A substantial and important part of the programme which we are undertaking is the conversion of a number of fleet destroyers into anti-submarine frigates, and this is a net gain for the Navy which is most significant and most important in our programme. Altogether we are proposing to convert 45 destroyers to anti-submarine 1083 frigates. It has the advantage not only of providing a very fast ship but also of saving a great deal of money.
§ Mr. Callaghan
"Old" is a relative term. I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Gentleman regards himself as old, but I would not think he was. These are all fleet destroyers which were actively engaged in the last war. There are no pre-last war destroyers included. This has the great advantage of saving money.
The conversion of one of these destroyers into an anti-submarine frigate role will cost something of the order of half-a-million pounds. That is enough, but today a new frigate would cost something like £1⅓ million. If I may give some comparisons, which I think are at any rate interesting, I was told, when I asked, that today a new destroyer costs about £l¾ million, which is more than the cost of a battleship before the First World War. Of course, hon. Members may draw what comparisons they like from that, but the fact remains that we have now entered the field where a destroyer costs more than a battleship cost before the First World War.
§ Commander Noble (Chelsea)
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the point of conversion, may I ask him a question? He says that we get a new frigate this way, but we also lose a good destroyer. Could the hon. Gentleman say whether these ships can still perform their destroyer duties?
§ Mr. Callaghan
The hon. and gallant Gentleman can be sure that that question occurred to the Board of Admiralty. The proportion between destroyers and frigates was fixed to enable us to take up a certain number of destroyers which could obviously be of use as destroyers but which we thought would be of more use as frigates. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will allow me to give the complete programme, he will then perhaps see how the picture looks in its entirety. During the next two or three years we intend to modernise a large number of destroyers without converting them and also to modernise a number of cruisers.
Now for new construction. The "Eagle," our latest and biggest aircraft 1084 carrier, is undergoing her sea trials at this very moment. We are also pushing ahead with the "Ark Royal" and with the four "Hermes" Light Fleet carriers. These four carriers will be able to operate the latest aircraft which we have and which are being developed at the present time. I shall say a few words more about naval aviation later on in this speech. Six of the eight "Daring" class destroyers will be undergoing their sea trials this year. We call them "Daring" class destroyers, but I think before the war they would have been called light cruisers. They are certainly approaching that in size, in power, in fire control and all the rest of it. At any rate, today we call them destroyers.
The House will probably want to know about the "Tiger" class cruisers. We do not propose to resume them for the moment, until research work in connection with their fire control and gunnery has been completed. This is a matter which exercised our judgment considerably, but on balance we think it is better to leave them for the time being, and I believe we can afford to take that risk. Altogether, 24 frigates are to be built under the new complete programme. I recognise that I am not within the terms of this year's Estimates when I speak about the complete programme, but if you, Mr. Speaker, and the House will permit me, I should like to give four figures which will enable the House to see the whole of the programme outlined by the Prime Minister on 29th January—that spread over three years—as a complete picture in terms of ships to be built.
The programme includes altogether 24 frigates, and 17 of them have been ordered already. It includes a large number of minesweepers; 41 of them have been ordered so far, with more to follow. Twenty-eight patrol boats of various, descriptions have also been ordered; we call them patrol boats now but we used to call them M.T.Bs., M.G.Bs. and M.Ls. Taking this together with the current construction programme, when the new three years' programme is completed the Navy will possess altogether 232 new ships, ranging from the most powerful fleet carriers like the "Eagle" and the "Ark Royal" to the fast patrol boats. There will be six new aircraft carriers, eight new destroyers, 24 frigates and nearly 200 minesweepers, patrol boats. 1085 seaward defence craft and craft of the like.
Let me emphasise the supreme importance of the minesweeper. The Admiralty attach a very great deal of importance indeed to the dangers of enemy mining if trouble should arise. In addition to the cruisers which we intend to modernise, about 70 destroyers will have been either modernised or converted to an anti-submarine role. I place that programme before the House with considerable confidence. I think it represents a marked improvement in and addition to the strength of the Royal Navy at this time.
§ Commander Galbraith
Could the hon. Gentleman give us some further information on that point? Are we to understand that that is the programme which is to be completed or that that is the number of new vessels to be laid down during the next three years?
§ Mr. Callaghan
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is quite right; I should have made that clear. This is the programme of vessels to be laid down during the next three years. I certainly hope that they will be completed during the first half of this present decade.
§ Captain Ryder (Merton and Morden)
The hon. Gentleman said that it cost £500,000 to convert a destroyer to a frigate and he added that we were building 24 frigates. Are these of the cheaper and simpler form, and how does the cost of the simpler form of frigate compare with the rather expensive and lengthy process of conversion?
§ Mr. Callaghan
No. These frigates include both the first-rate frigate—the leader—and the standard frigate. The cost of one of the simpler frigates would be about the same as the cost of a conversion. I am speaking now in answer to an interjection—and I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will not hold me to that figure—but I think I am right in saying that the cost of one of the simpler frigates is about the same as the cost of a conversion.
I turn now to the question of naval aviation. At our war-time peak we had 11 Fleet and Light Fleet carriers and today we have 12, so that we have one 1086 more. As I said earlier, as a result of the re-armament programme there will be some additions to this number—the "Eagle" the "Ark Royal" and four"Hermes"carriers—so that we shall then have a total of 18 carriers, plus three in the Commonwealth navies, making 21 in all. That compares with the 11 which we had during the peak of the war. I think it is a substantial addition to our naval aviation, and it is a development which I certainly regard as being in the right direction. We are up against great problems with the heavier and faster planes which we are now getting. They throw a greater strain on the arrestor gear on the deck and also create a problem about the height of the hangars because of the height of some of the new planes. This will involve a process of modernisation and conversion to some of our existing carriers.
I think that during the 'thirties and early 'forties the Navy suffered from the fact that so many of its aircraft were adaptations of machines from the Royal Air Force. What are good aircraft for the R.A.F, do not necessarily meet the requirements of the Navy. I should like to tell the House that we have coming along now a series of tailor-made planes for- the Navy—planes which can search and strike and fight. The Sea Hawk jet fighter will be coming into use during the financial year about which I am now speaking and it has a performance which I believe will rival that of any land plane. In addition, there is the Wyvern, which is coming into use this year—a turboprop strike plane. We also attach very great importance to the G.R.17, an antisubmarine plane which has been specially designed for these carriers. It is a three-seater and, I believe, will be found capable of doing really important work in this field which has not been done before.
Meantime, we have the Attacker which will be coming into operation this year. That is really an interim plane—the plane we really want to rely upon is the Sea Hawk—and also the Fairey Firefly. One other plane I have forgotten to mention is the Venom, which is a night fighter for operation from carriers, and that will be coming into operation at the end of 1952. There are also newer types at present on the drawing board being developed and designed.
1087 Helicopters are engaging our attention in quite a practical way. Hon. Members may have seen some photographs of the experiments in flying helicopters off the deck of the Fort Duquesne, a Fleet auxiliary vessel, and we hope that helicopters, together with the G.R.17s, will be able to make great use of the Sono-buoy, to which reference has been made in one or two of our debates in the past. Sono-buoys, which we are steadily getting experience of, are dropped either from an ordinary aircraft or a helicopter; they can be dropped at different places, and used for listening to submarines which cannot be seen. They relay what they hear to the helicopter or to the ordinary aircraft, and in that way the Sono-buoy is a very useful and very formidable means of defence for any convoy coming behind. It will enable us to improve and develop our methods of dealing with submarines.
What we are suffering from in the field of naval aviation at the moment is a shortage of pilots. Here, again, I think this is due to the fact that in the past we have not had the planes that we should have liked to have had, and we are now hoping that, as a result of the new planes that are coming along, the pilots that we need will be forthcoming in much larger numbers.
§ Surgeon Lieut.-Commander Bennett
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of aircraft, I should like to ask him what is the purpose of ordering a fairly large number of Fireflies, often of a late mark. They are a very small and ancient heritage.
§ Mr. Callaghan
They are not small and ancient. The new mark is a three-seater that will do the anti-submarine job exceedingly well until the G.R.17s are produced in large numbers. It is an interim plane, but has quite a long life in front of it—of several years, I would certainly hope.
On the question of pilots, I would emphasise that a boy coming into the Navy now as a pilot comes in as an executive officer in the Royal Navy. It is, in fact, a career for him as long as he stays in the Navy, and the rates of pay and conditions I suggest are good, I asked for some details, and the information I was given was that the rate of pay for a married lieutenant on full flying duties, and aged 25, is about £985 a year. If he is living away from his air station, he gets ration 1088 Allowance in addition. I do not think that anyone could say that that is a discouragement to coming into the Navy and to flying. I do hope that we shall get a number of the right type of young men coming in for this purpose. We welcome National Service boys, too, and are prepared to give a number of commissions to National Service boys who are ready to fly.
I ought to say something more at this juncture about officers and men. More ships need more men. We are having more ships; therefore, we need more men. I was saying to my hon. Friend just now that, in relation to the type of ships we are having, the number of men needed is increasing, because of the radar and the electrical appliances we are getting. Consequently, we shall have to come to the House later to ask for a Supplementary Vote A to increase the number of Regular men that we are now to have in the Royal Navy. Meantime, this gap in our strength is being filled by reservists being called up for a period of 18 months, and by the retention of those who are due to finish their time.
This has been a very great disappointment, I know, to those men. I referred last year to the fact that many of these men have gone through one of the hardest periods of 12 years possible. They joined in 1938 to 1939 at the time of Munich; they went through the whole period of the war; they went through the period of run-down after the war: and now we are asking them to take on again, or, at any rate, to stay a further period. I know that their wives, too, are wanting their husbands home, and I can well understand it. I can give the House this assurance, that I think the new rates of pay—I think the House can be satisfied about this—mean that these men are being remunerated properly and decently, and that we are not asking them to stay on, and, at the same time, not paying them properly.
I asked for details of changes in the rates of pay. These are general figures. Taking one of the best paid jobs on the lower deck, a chief engine room artificer in 1945 was getting £6 16s. 9d. a week; he is now, with the new pay code, getting £12 1s. 6d. a week. A chief petty officer was getting £5 17s. 3d. in 1945; he is now getting £10 6s. 6d. a week, plus, of course, his keep and kit upkeep allowance. We recognise the great responsibility we 1089 have for these men. It has been a unpalatable job to say that we must keep them.
One of the reasons for keeping them is, of course, the gap that arose in Regular recruitment during the war. During the war there was practically no Regular recruitment, apart from that of boys at the age of 15. The consequence is we have now this gap in the ranks of men who would have had between five and 11 years' service, and it is that gap which some of these men are now filling. It was an inevitable gap in recruitment, and it is a matter of regret to us that we have had to ask these men, who have carried the heat and burden of the day, especially during the war, to stay on for a longer period. They will be rendering a great service to the nation by doing so.
The House is always interested in the number of men serving afloat. I can give a guide, but it is no exact comparison, and I warn the House that it must not draw too firm conclusions from it. In fact, the number of men serving afloat at the moment is 44.5 per cent. of the total. It is said that every sailor ought to be at sea; but perhaps the House will let me analyse the remaining 55.5 percent. so that it may see how this comes out. Men on leave—sick leave, ordinary leave, foreign leave, draft leave—and on draft itself at any one time in the Navy come to 10 per cent. The number at naval air stations is also 10 per cent. of the total strength. Those on new entry training—because we are now taking in a large number of new men—form 7 per cent. Those on technical training number 13 per cent.—i.e., doing technical training and courses. The W.R.N.S. number 4 per cent.
I do not apologise for the number of men undergoing training and courses, either new entry or technical training. Twenty per cent. of the Navy at the moment are doing courses of training in one form or another, for peace-time is the time when we want to train men, and there is no reason at all why we should not have a very high proportion of the Navy undergoing training. However, we do not want the training force to become too luxurious. Therefore, the First Lord has set up a special committee, made up of officers from a number of branches, who are overhauling the whole of our training schedules at the 1090 present time to see whether improvements can be made, whether courses can be compressed, and whether we are asking for too high a quality or not. All these matters can properly be brought under review from time to time, and that is what is now being done.
There is one further matter about which I must say a word—and I am very glad to say that we have been able to start on this—and that is on amending the system, under which the Navy is operating today and has operated since the war, of running commissions. I like fixed commissions. Let the ships pay off and re-commission. We have had to have running commissions because of the shortage in various branches, but we have now just started to get to the point where we can have ships pay off and re-commission. We are starting with the ships in the Persian Gulf. Virtually from now on they will pay off and re-commission. It improves the morale of a ship's company to know that they are to live together for a couple of years; it also improves efficiency if the officers and others responsible for training know they will not have to be constantly fitting new men into particular units. I ought to warn the House that although we have made this start it will be as much as three years yet before we can say that the whole of the ships in the Navy are working to a fixed commission.
§ Commander Galbraith
The hon. Gentleman has accounted for 88.5 per cent. of the men in the Navy. Can he tell us where the other 11.5 per cent. are?
§ Mr. Callaghan
I am sorry, I cannot at this moment. They are made up of a number of miscellaneous small groups. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman wants them, I shall be glad to get the information for him. I have extracted the main percentages. Most of the rest are quite small.
Apart from odd spots, recruitment has continued to be good throughout the year. The policy is still to recruit half those coming into the Navy on continuous service—that is, for 12 years—and half on seven-year periods with five years in the Reserve. There will be opportunities for entry this year into practically every branch because of the Vote A we shall be asking the House for later. I have the feeling that we have got a bit arthritic in the joints about the methods of entry 1091 into the Navy, and I think we ought to overhaul them. The First Lord has agreed, and I am acting as chairman of a committee which is looking into the whole question of the methods of entry. We have boys, youths, and adults. One can enter as a boy in certain groups and as a youth in others; there is a whole conglomeration of regulations which have grown up, no doubt based on very good reasons when started, and I think it is time we looked at them again. I think we can get a more uniform method of entry into the Navy, and if not a common system of entry at any rate something near to it.
We shall be glad to have National Service men, although we cannot have as many as we might like because of the needs of Regular recruitment. Altogether, there will be room for some 2,500 this year, and at least 320 vacancies for officers among them. The Reserves number in all over 50,000—experienced organised trained Reserves. That includes the R.F.R., which has dropped slightly in size during last year because of the retention of men since last July; the R.N.V.R., which has increased in size quite substantially, and is doing extraordinarily good work; and some 10,000 National Service men who have passed through the Navy, or are going through at the present time.
Can we mobilise the Navy? Yes, we can. The organised Reserves can be identified individually and called up. Equally, our equivalent of the Army Z Class is being identified and selected, and those we would require in the early stages of mobilisation could be called for individually now. I can put it in this way. It would be quite possible now to regulate the flow of ships and the flow of men coming forward and match the two if trouble should arise.
The Civil Lord will deal with living conditions in the speech he will make later. I should just like to say from my own experience, having visited cruisers, destroyers, frigates and aircraft carriers this year, that modern ships are much better laid out, but that, on the whole, conditions are still extremely cramped because of the increased technical devices we have got to fit in somewhere.
§ Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite (Bristol, North-West)
The hon. Gentleman omitted any reference to the Royal Naval Reserve, recruitment to which was re-opened a short time ago. Can he give us any figure about that?
§ Mr. Callaghan
I have not the figure available. I may say that we have not got as many in the R.N.R. as we would like. The officers have come forward quite well, but the men are not coming forward as fast as I would have liked.
We regard the Merchant Navy as our prime care, and I have already given details, in answer to Questions, on the gun stiffening which is taking place and the accumulation of stocks and materials, for the Merchant Navy, about which the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Watkinson), asked me last week. Defence courses for officers and men are now being held.
I should now like to take part in the public debate that has been going on during the last few weeks on Britain's position in the world in relation to sea power, and to offer some observations that there are my own, but which, I hope, also reflect the view of the Board of Admiralty on this matter. When we started the last war, in 1939, the American Fleet and our own were roughly equal: roughly equal in size, in manpower and in the sort of ships we had.
Then, as a result of the war, the position changed very rapidly. The House will remember only too well—certainly those who were in the Navy will remember—the terrible battle against the U-boat that we waged on our own for two years from 1939 to 1941, and the desperate expedients to which we were driven; how pilots had to be catapulted off ships to which they knew they could not return and, when their fuel was exhausted, had to put down in the deep waters of the Atlantic hoping to be rescued before their planes sank.
It was those experiences and those expedients which made the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) decide, in 1941, that he would have to postpone any large-scale naval construction once the existing programme of construction had been completed—to put back the heavy cruisers and the large aircraft carriers. He set himself twin top 1093 priorities: one was the air and the other the small ships to win the Battle of the Atlantic. Those were hard decisions to take. I do not disagree with them. I am sure, if I may say so with respect, that they were right decisions to take; but it did mean that our Navy started to develop in a rather different shape and form from what it had been up to that time.
When the United States came into the war they embarked on the biggest ship building programme the world has ever seen. As the Leader of the Opposition said, they built carriers numbered not in dozens but in scores—and with what a sigh of relief the right hon. Gentleman must have heard that they were being built, and that they were coming to our rescue in those days. Let me give just one example. We finished the war with 17 carriers. The Americans, having started the war with five carriers, finished with 98.
That was the measure of their wartime construction—and I am excluding from that a large number of escort carriers that have been re-converted. We started about level in destroyers and frigates. They finished with a fleet of destroyers and frigates twice as large as that of our own. By 1945 our Navy had been built up to about 850,000 including the W.R.N.S. The Americans' uniformed personnel in the Navy numbered over four million. That is the measure of the development that took place in the two navies during the war. Today, we have about 140,000 to 150,000 men in the Royal Navy. The Americans will, this year, have 850,000. Those are the figures and the basic elements from which we start.
It is clear that the balance of sea power has tilted away from us very dramatically during the last 10 years. It must have done. When we were running the gauntlet in the Mediterranean, driven defeated in the Pacific—if the Japanese had been more courageous they could have come across the coastal waters to Aden and Cape Town—when we were desperately fighting the Battle of the Atlantic, we had no time to think of these other matters, except how best we could preserve the safety of our merchantmen and keep this island in the war.
It is during this last period that, for the first time, certainly, in many hundreds of 1094 years, our Fleet has been out-numbered and out-paced by a friendly ally. While this has been going on—and here I follow up the point made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War—there has been, simultaneously, a profound change in the strategy of the defence of these islands. We are now to a very large extent a part of the Continent; conscription is a recognition of that fact, and air power is there to remind us if we are ever likely to forget it.
In the Christmas Recess I was reading Sir Edward Grey's Memoirs. He was Foreign Secretary in 1914. He describes the sense of comfort that he felt as Foreign Secretary in knowing that the Royal Navy was mobilised at the time trouble came, and—this is the important point—could prevent invasion across the Channel. No Foreign Secretary today could feel comfort in the thought that the Royal Navy of itself and on its own could do that job, because of the developments, which have taken place since 1914. As one of a third generation who has had something to do with the Navy, I do not feel very pleased about these developments, but it would be improper not to recognise them and we must recognise the change which has taken place in this matter.
The whole of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is a recognition of this changed strategy. The decision to place divisions of soldiers on the Continent and to commit them beforehand is a recognition of it. I claim that the North Atlantic Treaty strengthens us very considerably at sea. The contribution which we are to put into the North Atlantic Treaty will be a powerful one and a significant one, but it is to be doubled by the other allies we have in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, whose total contribution will be twice our own.
We shall have to face a large number of Russian submarines if war should come. I have no hesitation in saying that they are Russian submarines because, apart from the Americans and ourselves, there is no other navy in the world constructing a large number of submarines. Any maritime Power like our own has to look around to see where submarines are being built, and wherever they are being built that is a potential danger to us, because they can be used only against our mercantile trade. Numerically, the 1095 Russian submarines, if war should come, will be much larger than that the Germans had. There are, however, factors which have to be offset against this. Unlike the German submarines which were concentrated in one sea, the Russian submarines are divided; they are in the Baltic, the Black Sea, the North Sea, and the Pacific. They are not easily able to reinforce each other, and they are not easily transferable from one sea to another. That is an important element of this problem to remember; but there is no doubt that they will constitute a grave threat, especially if they secure any Atlantic bases, and the building potential which the Russians have is extremely great.
But there is no doubt that the North Atlantic Treaty and the contribution which we are to make to it turns what would be a hard, grim and uncertain Battle of the Atlantic into a confident prospect of success. Of that I have no doubt whatever when I see the relative forces which would be available and which would be put into the task. One of the primary tasks of the Royal Navy is to make a proper contribution to that joint force, but it has another task as well. We must remember all the time that our own large Merchant Navy is working throughout the whole of the seas of the world. It is our job, therefore, to preserve a balanced Navy, to use all the arts of the Navy and to have ships of all types, quite distinct from the forces that must be put into our North Atlantic Treaty contribution. That is what we propose to do.
The emphasis will change from time to time. The major emphasis at the moment must be on anti-submarine and anti-aircraft. We must be flexible in our approach, and recognise our twin task of making our contribution to the North Atlantic Treaty and maintaining a balanced Navy in addition. I still regard our own Navy, although second in size, as first in seamanship and first in the quality of our ships. I have no doubt at all about that; I mean no offence to anyone else when I say it. After all, we are a nation of seafarers, and there is no need for us to feel overwhelmed by anyone else. We have watched many navies come and go—the Spanish, the Dutch, the French, the German and the Japanese 1096 We have lived with them all; we have seen them on the seas, and we have seen them disappear from the seas. Now we have a large and friendly ally who has out-built us, partially through our own decision and partially through the immense resources which she herself possesses; but I think that we can afford to regard that with comparative equanimity.
I do not take the view, taken by some of our people who run to the newspapers, that we ought now to put ourselves in a position in which our Navy must, by virtue of sheer size, be as large as that of our friendly ally. That seems an impossible and ridiculous position. It has been advanced by some of the writers to the newspapers who deal with naval matters, and as it has been advanced by Admirals who have served in the past I think that it is worthy of comment. I would not dismiss it without comment, as they have been writing for more than one newspaper recently. It would be a gross and profitless waste of resources to undertake a task of that sort.
I would say, in conclusion, that, so far from being overwhelmed by what is happening or feeling that the Royal Navy is taking a second place, I am confident that in our men, ships, history, tradition and fighting qualities our Navy, which has stood for many hundreds of years, will go on, will continue in the paths it has set itself, and that we ourselves, in this House of Commons, have a most formidable task still to preserve it as a safeguard and a shield for our country.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Mr. J. P. L. Thomas (Hereford)
I am sure that all sides of the House would wish me to compliment the Parliamentary Secretary once again. I think that this is the third year that I have had the pleasure of complimenting him upon the very competent way in which he has introduced the Navy Estimates. He has shown a mastery of figures—a mastery, I suppose, which comes from his past occupation in civilian life—which I appreciate very much as an ex-Financial Secretary to the Admiralty. In wartime I had a little to do with the finances of the Admiralty, and I listened with interest to what he had to say in the earlier part of his speech about the control of finance in that Department.
1097 For many reasons this debate on the Navy Estimates is somewhat different from that of previous years, because the spotlight of the Press, at least during the last fortnight, has been played on this day and also on a' question of keen interest to the public. At the request of the Government, the main question of interest is not being discussed today, and the bigger and heavier guns are biding their time for future and more formidable action. I thought that it was possible, however, with this background of the last fortnight, that the Parliamentary Secretary might have touched on that question of interest.
At one stage, I thought that he was skating on thin ice. If he remembers his childhood, which is not quite so far off as mine, he will remember the game of Tom Tiddler's ground, and I expected to see the Parliamentary Secretary make several raids into that forbidden territory, followed by swift withdrawals. I thought that at the end of his speech he did make a substantial approach into that forbidden territory and took up a firm position on the question of the North Atlantic Treaty.
The Parliamentary Secretary quoted what Sir Edward Grey said at the beginning of the 1914 war. I want to talk about the year leading up to the last war—the year of 1939—because I feel that in discussing the Navy Estimates this year, in a time of tension, there is much that is similar in the debate today to that which took place in the debate on the Navy Estimates in 1939, before the outbreak of the last war. All the efforts of diplomacy have failed to prevent today, as in 1939, the threat to our freedom from a totalitarian tyranny. Here I should like to pay my tribute to the new Lord Privy Seal, who was a very kind and helpful friend to me when he was Minister of Labour and National Service, and when it was my job at the Admiralty to keep in touch with the trade union and the Royal dockyards and shipyards.
As in 1939, we fall back once more on our armed power to resist aggression, our strength to protect ourselves and our determination to rally our friends by showing that we are in a state of preparation to play our usual leading part in the defence of freedom. I know perfectly 1098 well that the balance of naval power may have shifted today compared with 1939, when we were faced with the combined tonnage of the Axis navies, and when there was no certainty that America would be ranged alongside us. To my mind nothing has happened in the intervening years between then and now to alter the fact that the main supplies of food and raw materials can only reach this island if we hold the seas and keep intact the lines of our communications. Our charge against the Government during the past two years has been not so much that they have neglected the Navy—although I shall come to some specific criticisms under that head later—but that they always appear to hide the strength of the Navy and present it in the least favourable light.
The Parliamentary Secretary today did a great deal to rectify that position, though not quite enough. It is very important, especially in view of the controversy which is raging at the moment, that we should get this matter in its right perspective. If the House will allow me, I shall explain what I mean. I was delighted at what the Parliamentary Secretary told us about the growth of the Dominion navies. That is an extremely valuable piece of information to get out for world consumption.
In the explanatory statement to the Navy Estimates a new term has been introduced, which has -only been used in recent years, namely, "the Active Fleet." From the Navy lists which were published up to 1939 it was possible to see the names of all our ships and to know their stations. What a prodigious list it was. In 1939 the fleets and squadrons presented indeed a formidable array. The Navy List showed that we had in full commission nine battleships, five aircraft carriers, 27 cruisers, 73 destroyers, 25 ships of the class which we now term frigates, and a host of smaller vessels. If we judge our naval strength today only by those shown and in the Active Fleet a very poor picture is presented to the world. In spite of what the Parliamentary Secretary said in his speech, there are no battleships, five aircraft carriers, 13 cruisers and only 64 destroyers and frigates. There is the grave danger that by presenting our naval strength in this way, our friends abroad will get a wholly wrong impression.
1099 But that is not a true picture of our real naval strength. If we were called upon to muster our strength, it would indeed be a different fleet which after a few weeks would put to sea, for we have five of the most modern and powerful battleships in the world, as well as 13 aircraft carriers, 26 cruisers, 273 destroyers and frigates. In all these classes our total fleet today is 317 ships, more, in fact, than we had in 1939. Leaving America out of it for the moment, we have twice as many ships as the rest of the North Atlantic Treaty Powers put together.
I seem to be getting near the Tom Tiddler's ground again, for it must be obvious that the object of my comparison between 1939 and 1951 is to show that if we stop hiding our might, if not our light, under a bushel, we should put an end once and for all to the ridiculous nonsense which is being talked in some quarters at the moment, that we are no longer a first-class naval Power.
§ Mr. Thomas
I challenge the hon. and gallant Gentleman to produce any speech from this side of the House that bears out what he is now saying.
§ Mr. Thomas
The hon. and gallant Gentleman will probably have his chance.
Great as is our strength, it would have been far greater if the Government had not gone in for their improvident policy of wholesale scrapping and, above all, selling to foreign countries ships which might today be standing in the second line. Apart from the 11 old battleships, the Government have scrapped two aircraft carriers, 28 cruisers, 123 destroyers and 42 frigates. We have only to reflect how valuable in 1940 were those 50 destroyers of the First World War, which America had so wisely laid up, to realise how valuable many of these ships that were scrapped might be to us today and in the future.
We are told that orders are now being placed for an unspecified number of coastal forces craft and I should like to ask the Civil Lord to the Admiralty, who is to wind up this debate, what has hap- 1100 pened to the 1,200 little ships which we had at the end of the war, and of which only 126 remain. Have we got so many destroyers and frigates available to meet the growing threat of the Russian submarine fleet that we could afford to sell 73 of this class abroad, including eight to Egypt?
I ask the Civil Lord to give us some further explanation about the "Cottesmore" which, though sold to Egypt, is still in a British yard for refit. We were told that the export of Centurion tanks to Egypt was being suspended pending the conversations on the Egyptian Treaty. We should like an assurance that the same conditions are being applied to this ship, the "Cottesmore." It is also suggested by a reliable authority—and I refer to Brassey's Annual—that we are selling four 950-ton minesweepers of the "Algerine" class to Egypt? May I also have an assurance about that?
§ Mr. Callaghan indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Thomas
I see that the Parliamentary Secretary shakes his head, and I am glad to have that information so quickly given. Encouraged by that I will turn to the Government's policy with regard to the Reserve Fleet. When the Prime Minister unfolded the re-armament programme in January and announced the call-up of the men to the Royal Fleet Reserve and the retention of men who would otherwise have been going out of the Service, he said that this would enhance the state of readiness of the Reserve Fleet. The Parliamentary Secretary added a great deal of information to that during his speech today.
I still maintain, however, that the House has not been given enough information. We do not know exactly what is the state of readiness of the Reserve Fleet, and we cannot judge whether the steps being taken are sufficient or not. It is not enough to say, as the explanatory statement does, thatEnergetic measures have been taken to ensure that the ships of the Reserve Fleet are at their proper notice for emergency.What, might I ask, does "proper notice" mean? Before the war the Reserve Fleet was arranged in divisions with a time scale so that after a certain number of days one would know that the first division was ready to put to sea, and at intervals thereafter further divisions were to be brought into readiness.
1101 I should like the Civil Lord to give the House more information about the state of the Reserve Fleet. We should like to know how many divisions there are, what classes of ships are available, how many of each class are in these respective divisions and what are the intervals of time at which each ship can be ready to proceed? I do not intend to refer at any length to the position of any class of personnel Reserves, but I am not entirely satisfied that we have enough men in the Reserves to bring the ships of this Reserve Fleet forward.
I asked this question last year, and was somewhat surprised at the confidence of the Parliamentary Secretary when he interrupted me and gave me the assurance that all was well. I notice that on the Navy Estimates in 1939 this same question was put in the debate. It is very interesting to read that debate and to compare the information there given with the position that we have to tackle today. I expect that the Parliamentary Secretary and the Civil Lord have already done so.
The Reserve Fleet was far smaller then than it is today, because it was possible to keep a much larger number of ships in full commission. On that occasion, the Parliamentary Secretary was able to put some substance into his assurance. He said that the Reserves numbered 70,000, or more than half the total Vote A. Do our Reserves now total anything like that figure? We have been told that our Royal Fleet Reserve numbers about 23,000, the R.N.V.R. under 7,000, the R.N.R. not more than 4,000, and the Special Reserve of National Service men will build up during the year to about 10,000 men, which is an outside figure. My figures come to about 45,000. The Parliamentary Secretary gave us a total of 50,000. I still think that that is enough to make no more than a modest start to the mobilisation of the Fleet in an emergency.
§ Commander Pursey
The hon. Gentleman ought also to make the point that the number under Vote A is 10,000 larger than it was in 1939. How does he relate his argument about the want of more Reserves with his other argument which was, quite rightly, that we have fewer ships? Surely we have to relate the three Services together, and not to treat the Navy as a parochial affair.
§ Mr. Thomas
I am not treating the Navy as a parochial affair. I have given a total which shows that there are more ships than there were in 1939 but that the Reserves, which were 70,000 in 1939, number 20,000 fewer than what they were then.
§ Mr. Thomas
The hon. and gallant Gentleman may have a chance of making his own speech, when he can advocate his policy. The Parliamentary Secretary has told us that 60 ships are to be brought out of the Reserve, and that the list includes only two destroyers and two frigates, while the great majority are small minesweepers, and there are 21 unspecified light craft. This is not a very great contribution, considering the number of men who have been called up and retained.
§ Mr. Callaghan
The hon. Gentleman must not forget that we are going to commission a number of "Daring" class destroyers, and that there is the "Eagle" and the ships resulting from new construction.
§ Mr. Thomas
The hon Gentleman told us that in his speech, and it was a very cheering bit of news, but it would create a tremendous effect abroad if the Admiralty could mobilise a large part of the Reserve Fleet this summer. That would do valuable service in shaking out the moth-balls and removing what I think is known as the kooncoting, in order to see how long it takes to bring the ships which have been treated in this way back to a state of readiness. I do not suppose that the Civil Lord can give us an answer tonight, but I should be very grateful if he would consider that point.
I want to deal with the encouraging, but in some ways disappointing question of naval aviation. On the material side, the Parliament Secretary was extremely encouraging. It was very good indeed to hear about the jet fighters coming along and about the new anti-submarine aircraft which has at last been ordered. They should put our Air Arm into a strong position. We should like to associate ourselves to the full with the tribute that the Parliamentary Secretary paid to the officers and men of "Theseus" and 1103 "Triumph," which are still doing gallant work and serving with such distinction in Korean waters. Their brilliant achievements, and the speed with which they went into action, are in accordance with the highest traditions of the Service, and show that the skill, courage and efficiency of the Royal Navy are as good as ever they were.
It is obvious that in future operations naval aviation will have to play an increasingly prominent role, not only in defence of the Fleet and of convoys against air attack, but in offence against submarines. For these reasons it is all the more disturbing to read in the explanatory statement and to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary today about the serious shortage of officers for flying duties. This branch of the Royal Navy offers a promising future for keen young officers. The Parliamentary Secretary told us of the substantial increases in pay. We are glad that the aircraft that they fly now can compete on equal terms with anything that the R.A.F, can produce.
While I willingly endorse all that the Parliamentary Secretary said on this subject, I have some criticisms to make and one or two of what I hope will be constructive suggestions. Crews of naval aircraft spend a considerable time ashore at naval air stations. Most of those stations are in the more remote corners of our coast, and also at places where there is a very heavy demand for tourist accommodation, especially in places like Culdrose, St. Merryn and Lossiemouth. They are good examples. There is not enough accommodation normally for those who are married, but in the summer, added to the shortage of accommodation is the difficulty of the enormous rents charged for the accommodation which is available.
I know that the Admiralty have been giving attention to the question of building married quarters near those stations, and I hope that we shall hear something on that subject from the Civil Lord, because that is the responsibility of his Department. I hope that he will tell us how many of the quarters are for ratings and how many for officers. My information is that officers' quarters are very scarce. The Parliamentary Secretary said 1104 today that it is officers of whom we are short at the moment.
I would say a word about short-service commissions. Even when they are running for as long as eight years they are not popular. In other walks of life it is difficult enough for officers to get new jobs at the age of from 26-30, but these men have been trained only to fly and they are equipped to do little else. What are their prospects of getting flying jobs. Pilots of single-engined jet planes are not readily acceptable as air line pilots by the two nationalised Corporations, while, in the field of private enterprise, commercial flying is on a rapidly diminishing scale. The Corporations are being actively encouraged by the Minister of Civil Aviation to seize as much as possible of the charter work done by the private operators, so there are few jobs there.
Before the war, short-service commissions were not so unpopular, because civil aviation was an expanding market. Today I am afraid, as a direct result of Government policy, it is a contracting market. Government policy in one direction is having a most unfortunate effect in another. The Navy badly needs these young men. It is up to the Government to make their terms of service satisfactory, and also to give them a reasonable chance of finding work when their commissions come to an end.
Another suggestion—I would repeat what I said two years ago and what has never been answered since that time—is that there should be formed an Air Crew Reserve for the Navy. The R.N.V.R. air squadrons are to be increased from four to five. That is good news, but this Reserve corresponds to the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. That is to say, both these Reserves are of complete operational squadrons. The Navy has no pool reserve of air crew similar to the R.A.F.V.R. If such a Reserve were formed, it would provide refresher courses for the short service officers after the end of their full-time service, which, in itself would be a stimulant to recruiting. There would also be jobs in the Reserve schools for ex-naval pilots as instructors.
I hope that the Admiralty will look at our suggestions. I realise that it may not be possible for the Civil Lord to give me answers today, but I feel that, if our suggestions, which we have made over a period of years, had been adopted, there 1105 might not have been the present shortage of officers and there would also have been a valuable Reserve for the carriers in the Reserve Fleet.
Now I turn to the general question of personnel. As I have already said, it is difficult to consider the Estimates this year in any detail because of the changes in policy which the Prime Minister announced in January. We know from the White Paper and from what the Parliamentary Secretary has said today that Vote A is to be increased from 143,500 to 152,000 by an increased call-up of 6,600 reservists and by the retention of a further 1,900 men who would otherwise be taking their discharge. The total of 152,000 is almost exactly the number proposed by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition on 22nd October, 1945, when he said:Let us take, as a working figure, 150,000."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd October, 1945; Vol. 414, c. 1690.]How about the employment of National Service men? There seems to be no settled policy. Year by year the intake fluctuates, and although in May the First Sea Lord was reported as saying that the Navy of the future would be Regulars only, we find in this year's explanatory statement that 2,500 are to be entered. I should have thought that this frequent vacillation makes it very difficult for the depots to make any long-term plans.
We have had a lengthy explanation from the Parliamentary Secretary this afternoon—quite rightly so, for it is a matter of vital importance—about the call-up of the Royal Fleet Reserve and about the retention for 18 months of 7-and 12-year men whose engagements would otherwise come to an end. However, I am far from satisfied that these steps have been brought about solely by the demands of the Korean operations and the international situation. The exlanatory statement says that the Navy is short of senior and experienced ratings. Is not that the real reason for the unprecedented measures that the Admiralty has had to take?
For two years my hon. Friends have been trying to impress on the Government the fact that a most serious manning situation would develop if no steps were taken to stop the drain of the senior and experienced ratings through their failure to re-engage for pensionable service. Every 1106 excuse has been made by the Government, particularly the excuse of full employment in civilian occupation, during the last two years. It was not until last September that the gratuities scheme for men leaving after 10 years or more was extended to include a bounty of £100 to men who reengaged. The suggestion was made repeatedly from these benches by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea (Commander Noble).
As regards the 18 months' retention, presumably the legality of this rests on the 1939 Proclamation of Emergency. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Act of 1859."] Good Gracious! Under the authority of that Act or the 1939 Proclamation, authority is given to the Admiralty to break the 12-year contracts with these men. We really ought to consider how long this state of emergency will continue. I do not know whether it is a state of emergency since 1939 or one ever since 1859.
§ Mr. Callaghan
The men are being retained for a further 18 months under the Act under which they were engaged. The Act under which they were engaged is that of 1859 or 1853, and it provides for a continuance of their service.
§ Mr. Thomas
I see. Anyhow, I do not think that destroys my point. It is becoming apparent that present conditions—far from this being a temporary emergency—are becoming normal. If under normal peace or cold-war conditions the 12-year contract is to be regularly broken, it will have a very bad effect on Regular recruiting. What we feel is needed is a manning policy which takes into account the international situation, of course, but which does not inflict hardships on individual men which could have been obviated, we think, by foresight on the part of the Government during the last two years.
I want to support from this side of the House—I think it is necessary—the final statement of the Parliamentary Secretary about our belief in the future of the Navy, mainly for the benefit of those who, unlike him, believe mistakenly that, in the light of our commitments on the Continent and in the light of the development of air warfare, the Navy should take third place in our defence considerations. The larger our continental contribution becomes, the more powerfully it is equipped 1107 in mechanisation and with tanks, the heavier our bombers become and the faster our fighters fly, so their dependence on the Royal Navy for the safe conduct of fuel and supplies is increased. The more determined our Allies and ourselves are that the frontier of freedom shall be on the Elbe, the more violent must we expect the attack to be on our sea lines of communication.
All reputable and reliable authorities are agreed that Russia is building an enormous submarine fleet. Such a fleet can be used only for one-purpose. In anti-submarine measures the Royal Air Force has a tremendous part to play and an increasingly heavy task to fulfil, but the main burden of the safety of our convoys must rest, as it has always rested, upon the Royal Navy and upon the navies of our Allies in the struggle, should it unfortunately come.
But, apart from these practical and tangible factors in the defence of democracy, there is an even greater, though far less tangible, factor. It is that for 400 years the ever-growing influence of Britain and her opinions in the Chancelleries of the world has been inextricably bound up with respect for the Royal Navy and the sea-faring traditions of this island. Though, as the Parliamentary Secretary admitted, we may no longer have the largest Navy in terms of tonnage, in all other respects the British Navy has yet no equal, and we neglect it at our peril.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu (Huddersfield, East)
The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) has led the Opposition in this debate with his customary charm and moderation. I agreed with nearly all of his speech, but one or two parts of it I could not quite understand. I could not gather whether he thought that the present size of the Navy was sufficient to meet the present needs of the country. At one stage he was complaining that the Government were writing down the Navy in the sense of making it appear smaller than it really was, but at another stage of his speech he appeared to me to be doing precisely the same thing himself. I do not know whether that was intentional.
§ Mr. J. P. L. Thomas
I thought I made it quite clear that that was in regard to the position of the Reserve Fleet.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
Then, so far as the active Fleet is concerned, we are agreed. The needs are being met. That removes the main item of possible disagreement that I had with any of the remarks of the hon. Gentleman. It seems to me that, so far as the immediate needs are concerned, the active Fleet is adequate and sufficient to meet any present threat. So far as we can judge from the most excellent and competent report given by the Parliamentary Secretary, it seems that, apart from the immediate present, the future prospect is not too bad either. The Admiralty always seem to be supreme among Government Departments. As they have been for some centuries, so now they are right in the van of technical progress, and the story of the achievements of Admiralty research which we had from the Parliamentary Secretary today were extremely heartening. While I throw out that annual bouquet to the Admiralty on the skill with which they look after the research needs of the Navy, I also throw out a brickbat about the deficiencies of the Admiralty in looking after the needs of the men. That brings me without any difficulty to the old subject of barracks.
I have protested on each occasion during the past six years on the Navy Estimates about the Royal Navy barracks. I have protested against their size for several reasons—partly because it was difficult in an organisation that is very big to maintain discipline, and partly because it is difficult to provide the amenities that we should like in a large organisation. But an even greater worry arises now from the size of the barracks, and that is the improved types of bombs that are likely to be used. It is conceivable that one little bomb dropped on Devonport or Chatham would wipe out 15,000 men in one go, which is not a prospect anyone would regard with equanimity.
The only safeguards against the possibility of that calamity we are offering at the present moment in Portsmouth is a slight smearing of tarmac on the parade ground under which the lads have to shelter. That is their only A.R.P. I think that in Chatham they have a more horrid plan, that of the tunnel. The point 1109 is that none of these things is any protection against the type of bombs likely to be used in any future war. I plead once more with the Parliamentary Secretary to reconsider the whole question of having large conglomerations of men concentrated at our main ports, and instead, within the limits of our building programme, to try to split up the barracks and spread them around the country with much smaller depots.
Another matter which gives me some fears is the question of co-operation between the Navy and the Royal Air Force. It is pretty clear, whether we like it or not, that the safety of the realm in the future will chiefly depend on the Royal Air Force, which seems to be taking the senior place. I am quite certain that this, which is an inescapable fact, will be deeply resented by some people in the Navy who look upon the Royal Air Force as an organisation for cultivating moustaches. It would be tragic if any sort of prejudice of that kind should prevent the closest co-operation between the Royal Air Force and the Navy.
It is very important, to give one example, that in any future war, unlike some of the wars in the past, the Royal Air Force should be able to distinguish between a ship that is friendly and one that is not. There should be the closest co-operation between the two Services in connection with anti-submarine exercises and exercises on defending convoys against torpedo bombers and all the rest. These exercises should not take place with the Navy on its own, but there should be the fullest integration all the time between all the Services.
I come now to the question of pay. Men with skill and experience, badly needed in the Navy are tending to leave the Navy at the first opportunity they get. It is time that the Admiralty considered offering these men greater inducements to keep them in the Navy. It is a pity that pensions in many cases have remained the same since they were cut down in 1931. I think it is about time that we looked at this question. The pensions offered to men when they come out are not very high. Furthermore, it would be a good plan if the Admiralty considered some form of gratuity. It is a little difficult for a chief petty officer at the age of 45 to find a job when he leaves the Navy, even in this period of 1110 full employment. A really substantial gratuity would enable some of these men perhaps to set up in business on their own account. I am certain that gratuities plus a higher rate of pension would be a great inducement to many men to stay on and so to give the full value of their services to the Navy.
I do not much like this business of keeping men for 18 months after their time has expired. But everyone who signs should know that there is that danger and liability. On the other hand, I think it would be fair if we increased their compensation to balance that criticism. The men, by signing on for seven years, have an additional liability for five years, and to make this liability easier to bear we should increase the R.F.R. retainer in civil life while the man is subject to recall. Pay and the desire to join a good Service are two inducements to men to join the Navy. But there is a third, and that is the feeling that there is full opportunity for promotion.
I am not sure that even today there is the fullest possible opportunity for promotion for men who come in on the lower deck. I was very impressed in my short time in the Service with the quality of the men coming from the upper yardman scheme. I am a little worried to find that not many of these men are getting commissions. I believe that the original target was 25 per cent. of naval officers from this source, but rumour has it that the percentage is very much lower than that. I should like to know the reasons for that if the rumour is true—whether the quality of the men is too poor, or whether it is harder to get through under this scheme than from Dartmouth.
Again, I hear that the applications for Dartmouth are rather disappointing both in numbers and in quality. I am told that the applications are very low, particularly from the north of England, a part of the country in which I am specially interested. Why is that? If it is so, what are the Admiralty doing about it? Are they letting headmasters and parents know the tremendous advantages now offered to suitable boys, who can get an absolutely first-class education and career without any charge to themselves?
I wonder whether some of the potential officers are being turned down wrongly on medical grounds. I know that the 1111 Navy are particularly careful about astigmatism, but it is possible to have a slightly defective vision corrected by contact lenses. Does the Navy permit a man to wear such lenses? If it does not, it would be a grave mistake if men who were qualified in every other way to serve as naval officers were being turned down because the Navy would not move with the times and admit that contact lenses provide as good vision as natural sight.
These points are important in themselves, but they are important for another reason. Both the two Front Bench speakers have mentioned the pride which the country feels in the Navy. It is extraordinary how in places far from the sea, among people who have never seen a ship, the Navy has a direct personal appeal. You can do things to the Army and to the Royal Air Force but you must not touch the Navy. That is as true today as it has been for many years. It is also true that throughout its long history since the days of Alfred, with the possible exception of one occasion in the 17th century which I will not mention, the Navy has done all that has been asked of it by the British people.
It is a great organisation. But an organisation, however good, needs continual refreshment—[An HON. MEMBER: "A tot."]—Apart from the tot, it needs refreshment from the brains, the new outlook, and the energies of social classes in this country who in years gone by never thought of going into the Navy, or, if they did, never dreamt that they had any chance whatever of promotion. There is a tremendous new source of strength for the Navy in the country today, if we can tap it, through the upper yardman scheme, through wide publicity for Dartmouth, and the rest. If we can tap it, the Navy in the future as in the past will do whatever specific jobs it is called upon to do, will play whatever rôle is allocated to it vis-à-visthe other Services, and will do it, no matter under whose command, to the great pride of Britons everywhere.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, West)
It is impossible for anyone in this debate to cover the whole wide field of Government policy in relation to the Navy. Therefore I propose to 1112 deal only with three specific points in the short time at my disposal. First, however, may I say that I find myself in substantial agreement with the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu), in his remarks on naval barracks. There is a decided danger in having large concentrations of men in the existing, in some cases rather elderly, establishments and there is a good case for decentralising or dispersing barracks. In that connection, as the Civil Lord is well aware, I and some of my hon. Friends from Scotland have frequently advocated the creation of naval barracks in that country, particularly at Rosyth. No doubt the hon. Member for Huddersfield. East, would support me in that.
As regards my three specific points, the first has already been touched upon by the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary; the question of manpower and, in particular, the ratio of civilians to sailors in the employment of the Admiralty. This is a matter in which I have taken some interest during the past few years. The hon. Gentleman pointed out in his opening statement that a substantial number of civilians were employed in the Navy in supply services, salvage, and the boom defence vessels. He made the point that in either of the other two Services comparable people would probably have been uniformed personnel. That may be so but, nevertheless, those services to which he referred have been in existence for a considerable time. They existed before the war, and I do not think the relative position has changed much.
I feel justified in referring to this matter again this year because it is within the recollection of the House that only a few weeks ago, in the course of the defence debate, the Minister of Defence laid considerable stress upon the importance of reducing the civilian tail in the fighting Forces. I would commend to the attention of the hon. Gentleman what the Minister of Defence said in that debate:Since I have been associated with the Service Departments, I have repeatedly attacked this problem, both in my present capacity and when I was at the War Office, and I believe that my efforts were not without some effect. It is a problem which needs to be constantly watched and attacked and I can promise the House that I shall not relax the pressure.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th February, 1951; Vol. 484, c. 414.]1113 It is perfectly true that the main burden of those remarks was directed to the Army, but I suggest that what the Minister said is equally applicable to the other two Services. I hope, therefore, that the Admiralty will co-operate to the fullest possible extent with the Minister of Defence in reducing the civilian tail in the Navy to the lowest number compatible with efficiency.
According to the figures with which we are supplied this year, in Vote A—not allowing for the increase to which the hon. Gentleman referred—there are at the moment 143,500 sailors, marines and members of the W.R.N.S., whilst the civilian element in the employment of the Admiralty, according to the answer to a Question given to me by the Civil Lord on 22nd February, is 167,000. In other words the civilian element at the present moment exceeds the uniformed or active service element by over 23,000 persons, whereas in pre-war days, for example in 1939. there were 26,000 more sailors than civilians in the naval service. I still feel that the tail is disproportionately large as compared with the fighting element.
The Parliamentary and Financial Secretary referred to the fact that a reduction had been made in the staffing of the Admiralty. I welcome that, and I think it must be the outcome of the report of the special committee to which the Civil Lord alluded in his closing speech last year. However, the reduction is rather slight, just under 4 per cent., and I observe that an increase is again foreshadowed in the current year. Nevertheless while I welcome this earnest of good intentions of trying to economise in manpower in the Admiralty, I must put this point to the Civil Lord. Perhaps he would be kind enough to refresh his memory by referring to our debate last year.
In answer to an interjection which I made in the closing stages, the hon. Gentleman said he would look into the possibility of having a similar committee to inquire into the staffing of establishments other than the Admiralty—that is, 'the outlying naval establishments. Although he said it would be a matter of some difficulty, the Civil Lord certainly did not close his mind to it, and I should like him to say tonight whether anything has been done along these lines and, if 1114 not, why not. When we are called upon to vote these very large sums of money which are necessary for re-armament, we want to make sure that they are being applied to the best possible purpose and that we are not carrying any unnecessary dead wood in the way of too many civilian personnel in the outlying establishments.
I turn to my second point, which is of particular interest to everybody who lives on the nation's eastern seaboard. Twice in this century we have found ourselves engaged in bitter conflict with an enemy situated at the other side of the North Sea. Now, once again, we are faced by a potential aggressor whose territory, if not exactly at the other side of the North Sea, is at least not very far remote from it. Therefore, once again all the estuaries and ports along the East coast assume prominence in connection-with the defence of the country. Foremost among them, of course, must be the great estuary of the Firth of Forth, and I ask the Civil Lord for an assurance that due attention is being paid to all the antisubmarine and other defences necessary for this and other areas. There has, of course, been a tendency since the conclusion of the war for these things to get out of date.
Furthermore, I should like to know, as I believe is the case, that the Rosyth dockyard is busy and is being developed and is properly equipped. I should also like to know the position regarding the small but very useful little base at Port Edgar, which is probably familiar to a number of Members who served in the Navy during the war. Last year, the naval hospital was closed down, and to the best of my knowledge and belief the base is now on a care and maintenance basis. It has a very useful small harbour for the smaller fighting vessels, and I know from experience that it is well. equipped with training facilities and the other things necessary for a base. Is it the intention of the Admiralty to make use again of Port Edgar and to bring it into full commission? Perhaps the Civil Lord will refer to this in the course of his reply.
Finally, I must say a few words once more about a subject I have raised on numerous occasions, as have a number of my hon. and gallant Friends. I refer to the future of the Naval Ordnance 1115 Inspection Department. Thanks to the combined efforts of a number of my hon. and gallant Friends and to the report of the Madden Committee, and as a result of several deputations to the First Lord, a little headway has been made in solving some of the difficulties of that department, but the position is still not at all satisfactory.
The older inspectors in that department, who entered under the conditions laid down in A.F.O. 2078/31, still feel that they have had a raw deal. As one who has known the history of this matter for a good number of years, I think that they have reason to feel aggrieved. What in some respects is more serious still is the fact that, I am advised, the post-war intake of young inspectors, who came in in response to an Admiralty message of 10th April, 1946, also feel that they have been misled and that the conditions are not those which they were led to expect. I am told that as a result it has now become very difficult to obtain recruits from among active service specialist officers for this department and that there has, in fact, been no recruitment from specialist officers for the past few years. As vacancies arise, therefore, it has been necessary to fill them by taking in civilians of the requisite technical knowledge.
That may be all right theoretically, but through no fault of their own the civilian inspectors, some of whom I met during the war, and who are admirable men, simply do not have sea or active service experience. That is an undesirable practice and may, indeed, be dangerous, because it means that weapons and ammunition will be inspected by persons who have not had the sea experience of using these appliances. Safety margins and efficiency, therefore, may well be reduced. This in turn leads to the risk of failure and even to dangerous accidents, or, perhaps, to disasters such as occurred during the first war, when a number of explosions took place in ships because of defective ammunition, a thing which mercifully was absent from the last war due to the greatly increased efficiency of the Inspection Department.
I urge the Admiralty to take this matter very seriously, because nothing is more detrimental to morale than that any idea should get about that accidents which 1116 occur to weapons or ammunition are because they may not have been propertly inspected. I think quite definitely that the solution of this difficulty is to make the Naval Ordnance Inspection Department a fully uniformed branch of the Navy, where the officers have as far as possible the same rates of pay and conditions of service as the officers who serve at sea. I believe—I hope I am correct in this—that the Civil Lord has not yet turned his mind away from this possibility. If only this course could be followed, it would be to the great advantage of the future of the department and of the Service as a whole, and I urge the Admiralty to consider this matter very carefully and to come to a decision as rapidly as possible.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Commander Pursey (Hull, East)
Too often in debates in this House, hon. Members on both sides begin their orations, as, I think, did the hon. and gallant Member for Edinburgh, West (Lieut.-Commander Hutchison), with an apology and the hope that "the hon. Member who has just spoken will forgive me if I do not follow him." As the hon. and gallant Member got away to a detailed start, I want to get back to the previous speech, that of the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas), who led for the Opposition.
One of our main objects, on this side of the House in debates, should be to deal with the Opposition case and arguments, because in the majority of instances their case and that of the Tory Press can be completely demolished. I intend to demolish it today, and to go into action against the enemy on the other side of the House—that is, on the other side of the 38th Parallel here—and to demolish their fanciful case and their fantastic arguments about the naval situation at large.
I will, however, deal first with a constituency problem, in order to get it out of the way so that we may have a tidy debate. Will my hon. Friend the Civil Lord, when he replies, please state what work in new building, conversions and refits the Admiralty have given to the Humber ports, in particular Hull, which is the third port in the country, and of which I have the honour to represent the larger dock area?
1117 Private enterprise between the two wars closed the only shipbuilding yard in Hull, Earle's Yard, in my constituency, and some thousands of shipyard workers were thrown out on the street without any consideration at all as to employment, health, or sustenance. Today, fortunately, with a Labour Government in power and full employment, although for years they suffered mass unemployment, the situation in the shipyards of Hull is better than it has ever been in peace-time. However, it is not a question of the present but of the future, bearing in mind how, with a Tory Government in 1939 and full re-armament under way, there were 20,000 unemployed in Hull, compared with only 4,000 today.
§ Commander Pursey
The main purpose of this debate, however, is to discuss the Labour Government's naval policy. That is the object of this debate; that is the attack from the other side of the House. Considerable action has been taken by the present Government in naval affairs in the world situation as it is today, because it is necessary to consider the problem in terms of the Seven Oceans, and not in the Tory terms of the dyke around our coasts, even though that dyke extends 3,000 miles across the Atlantic to America.
The Tory Party and the Tory Press campaign about the naval position and the Navy Estimates which we are considering is not one about the money provided, nor the ships nor the men, nor even the Admirals, which matter we are to debate on another occasion so that I will not deal with it now. The present Tory Campaign is purely blatant politics. [Laughter.]Wait for it. One needs to have a long memory in politics, but I happen to be able to go back, I believe, longer than anyone else in this House today, including the Leader of the Opposition. The present Tory campaign is purely blatant politics, as it was when the Liberal Government was in power, from 1906–1914, even in the three years when the present Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), was First Lord of the Admiralty in the days of his better understanding of politics and of 1118 the party he should be in, and in the days when he said things about the Tory Party which I would never say myself.
The obvious fact is that today the main Tory attack is a personal one against the Prime Minister and the Labour Government with the object of creating alarm and despondency in this country when there is no justification for it and of disseminating an idea that if war is to come, the Tory Party is the only party which could successfully handle it. Never was there such nonsense. This is all part of the so-called "patriotic" party's present electioneering campaign of national and international denigration at a time when, relatively, Britain was never in a stronger and better position, from whatever aspect it is considered. There is no question about it; it is a fact and cannot be disputed. For the first time we have full employment. It can easily be seen from the Opposition's tactics that they do not like this.
§ Surgeon Lieut.-Commander Bennett
On a point of order. Is it in order, Sir, for the hon. and gallant Member to read his speech.
§ Commander Pursey
If the hon. and gallant Member is concerned about my notes, I will give them to him to give him a chance of being able to reply to some of the points I am making. I am quite prepared to give way to anyone on the benches opposite if they want to mess up the debate. But let them remember the statement which was made by an hon. and gallant Member opposite during the debate on pensions, that, if an hon. and gallant Member wanted to interfere and quack, it would be better if he went out to St. James's Park and quacked to the ducks. Later in that debate several hon. Members of the Opposition were imitating the ducks in St. James's Park and, apparently, they intend to do the same tonight.
The effect of my argument can easily be seen by the tactics of the Opposition on the Estimates of the three Services. In the case of the Army and the R.A.F. Estimates, Opposition speakers have dealt with the number of Russian divisions and the strength of the Russian Air Force and even with details of types of tanks and aircraft. In the majority of cases hon. Members opposite have argued that the 1119 Russians are superior, in a blood-curdling attempt to put the wind up this country and the other democratic countries on our side.
An important question therefore arises. Why have the Opposition not pursued the same tactics in naval affairs? For example, why have they not given the strength of the Russian Navy in detail and compared it with that of the British Navy and, in particular, with that of the American Navy, which has the main naval responsibility because the main Russian naval force is in the Far East and is a greater threat to America than to Britain? The plain answer is that the Opposition, and no one more so than their leader—who I regret to say, is not in his place this afternoon, though presumably he will come down later like a prima donna as he has done before, after ignoring the Navy Estimates—know full well that they have no similar arguments to those employed with regard to the other two Services and no real case to put against the Labour Government's naval policy.
No one should underestimate Russian military and air strength, but there is no reason to exaggerate it. On the other hand, it is quite traitorous and simply playing the Communist game to attempt to build up fictitious pictures of Russian naval strength. Moreover, there is no justification for trying to lead the British people to think that in the event of war—which we on this side think is not inevitable—Russia could achieve any major success at sea, because that would be quite impossible.
What are the facts of the naval situation today? I will deal with the Russian submarines separately—[Laughter]—I will deal with the Russian submarines separately. I have challenged hon. and gallant Members opposite time after time to say where those submarines are, but they will not answer, I will deal with them in a moment. [An HON. MEMBER: "Ask the Parliamentary Secretary."] The Parliamentary Secretary did not say where they were. Hon. and gallant Members opposite are laughing, but they will see the point of that in a moment. Other than in submarines Britain and America each have greatly superior naval strength and the two nations together have overwhelming naval superiority, greater than any allies have ever had against a single 1120 enemy at any time in the history of the world.
The Tory case is, therefore, simply one of shadow boxing with their own imagination. I will show why. The Tory Party and the Tory Press will not state the facts and the comparative figures. I shall take, first, money and men, two most important criteria. The present Labour Government alone—to say nothing of the Commonwealth navies, to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred, America and our several allies-is this year providing for the Navy no less a sum than three times the money that a Tory Government provided in 1938; and over 10,000 more men on Vote A—on the active list—than in 1939. So where does the hon. Member for Hereford get his nonsense when he argues that we have not Reserves, men or anything else?
The position today, so far as Vote A is concerned, that is the number of men borne, is that this year—and it will be increased later—the Vote is higher than at any time in the last two centuries during peace-time. Yet in 1939 Britain had to consider not only the German Navy but the Italian and the Japanese navies. There can, therefore, be no real ground today for criticism under those two main headings of money and manpower when there is only one possible enemy and on the other side are the two largest navies.
Let us consider ships. Britain alone, counting the two Fleets, has five vast new battleships, 13 aircraft carriers, with nine building, 26 cruisers, with three building, 111 destroyers and 162 frigates. There are minor differences in those figures, but those are the figures in the First Lord's Statement explanatory of the Naval Estimates. The Opposition will not compare the Russian figures because in respect of those ships, the Russians are grossly inferior both in number and value, the figure being ridiculous when compared with both the British and the American Fleets.
The Tory Party and the Tory Press, and also that adjunct of the Tory Party, the Navy League, with their armchair strategists and admiral experts of two generations ago, attempt to make a case to the effect that Britain is today largely undefended at sea, by comparing, as the hon. Member for Hereford did, the present numbers of ships with the numbers 1121 in 1939. But, as always, they select only the figures which suit their argument, and ignore the greater number of classes which prove the contrary case and show that relatively we were never stronger at sea than today when considering our only possible enemy.
We have five battleships and Russia has none capable of fighting them. Admittedly, we have 26 cruisers as compared with 60 in 1939, but the function of cruisers has changed, and in any future war their task will be largely taken over by aircraft, both seaborne and shore-borne. Consequently, we have doubled the number of aircraft carriers—13 as compared with seven in 1939—and we have largely increased the number of naval aircraft. In submarine-hunting vessels, the position today is even more advantageous than it was in 1939. We then had practically no frigates; today, we have 162, and 111 destroyers as compared with 180 destroyers in 1939. That gives a 50 per cent. increase over the 1939 figures for the most important class of vessels, namely, submarine hunting vessels—273 compared with 180.
Moreover, we have a greater proportion of small craft, motor gunboats and the like, both in type and numbers, than in 1939, when under the Tory Government there were practically none of those craft. Yet Members of the party opposite have the audacity today to stand up and criticise the Labour Government for having done far more, with limited resources, than their own Government did in fact of a more serious threat, in 1939. New prototypes are already in existence, with yards ready to build them, whereas the pre-war Tory Government had neither the vessels nor the plans nor the yards ready to build them.
There is, therefore, no need to debate our naval strength further to show conclusively that, comparatively speaking, we are in a better position to deal with our only potential enemy than at any time in our long maritime history. If the Opposition agree with me I will not put forward any more points to convince them, but I can guarantee that I have got the necessary points. I have the 1939 documents from which to quote if I am challenged, so I do not intend to stand any nonsense from the Opposition.
1122 I now turn to the question of the Russian submarines—[An HON. MEMBER: "Where are they?"]—on which the Tory Opposition and the Press base their main arguments for their purely political attack on the Labour Government's naval policy. I served in one of the early anti-submarine flotillas, so I can claim some knowledge of the original difficulties of submarine hunting. It is now a much easier problem. I was "in" on the first development of asdics, so I know very well what has happened since then. I repeat that it is easier today to deal with the submarine than it was in the 1914–18 war.
However, I have no wish to be unpatriotic, like the Tory Party, by putting ideas into Stalin's mind. But the first question I would ask the Opposition about the Russian submarines is this: If those submarines are so numerous and so capable as the Opposition would have us believe, why have those vessels not been used in force in the Korean campaign? There have been operations, with big ships loafing about the coast, because when battleships are engaged in a non-naval operation—necessarily so—in supporting the Army, they are just loafing about the coast. When they are bombarding in support of the Army they provide an ideal target for enemy submarines on the largest possible scale, about which I will say no more. Look at the offers I have had from the other side of the House—not a word; they are down and out for the count.
§ Commander Galbraith
I really think that the hon. and gallant Member is being perhaps very foolish in putting ideas into Stalin's mind. He is really giving a lot of naval information by saying that ships are loafing about inviting attention.
§ Commander Pursey
Well, of all the nonsense, and coming from a short-term naval amateur who now adorns the Opposition Front Bench, and who, presumably, is to wind up for the Opposition. I ask hon. Members! It was much the same as the interruptions he made in the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary. But I do not take any objection to them; this is a free place. It was perfectly obvious that he was just out to trip up my hon. Friend on certain things in order to try to score political points. If there is any question of putting ideas into 1123 Stalin's head he has had innumerable ideas put into it by the Tory Party and their spokesman on naval affairs, the Navy League, and the Tory Press—[HON. MEMBERS: "What about the British Legion?"] We have heard nothing of Russian submarine activities and there has been this great opportunity. Presumably, the reason is because in warlike operations with the British and American navies, their ideas about expectation of life in operations in submarines is not great.
What is the position now about these Russian submarines? Tory M.Ps, and the Press claim there are hundreds. I do not mind what is the number. They increase like the number of Russian troops that were landed in Scotland during the First World War—people even saw them with the snow on their boots. They compare the number of Russian submarines with the smaller number of German submarines in 1939, and then argue that they would create more havoc among British shipping at the outbreak of war. The Opposition make no reference, however, to the greatly improved counter-measures to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred, and about which I shall not speak, but about which they have far more information from their Service and club contacts than we have on this side of the House.
A number of these Russian submarines are obsolete. Others are for coastal defence and not for overseas attack. But submarine success depends on crews, and the Russians have not proved themselves sailors in their three major wars of the last half-century—1904 with Japan; 1914–18, and the last one. In previous debates both on defence and on the Navy Estimates I challenged the Opposition—as I have today—to say where are these Russian submarines. Will they answer that challenge today? If so, I am prepared to give way to any hon. Member on the other side of the House. No takers! Their case is largely fictitious; it is fanciful shadow-boxing with their own imagination.
I am duly cognisant of what the Parliamentary Secretary said, but I will take it a stage further. In the last defence debate I challenged the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) by asking, "Are not the greater number of these submarines in the Pacific, and the 1124 responsibility of the American Navy? "He replied, with what he thought was a devastating retort, that submarines have a habit of moving about. What abysmal ignorance for one who was leading for the Opposition in that debate on a technical subject like the Navy; because apparently he failed to appreciate that submarine-hunting vessels also move about, and with greater speed and ease.
Even if we accept, and I am prepared to accept, that there are some Russian submarines on the west side of Russia and the north coast, where are they now based? The Parliamentary Secretary said they were in the Arctic, the Baltic and the Black Sea—which divides the Russian submarine forces into four and weakens them accordingly. The Arctic is not a good place from which to operate and is thousands of miles from any of our convoys. Both the Baltic and the Black Sea are largely inland lakes, and are most difficult both from the point of view of exit and entry; particularly if both sides of the entrance are held by powers supporting the Allies, as they are today. The Russian submarine menace, therefore, is in no way as serious a threat as the Tories and the Press would lead us to believe.
I shall not develop that point any further, because apparently there are no takers on the other side of the House; they now agree with that, and from now on we shall not hear any more of this exaggeration and fanciful talk about the Russian submarines. Even so, throughout the whole of the statement of the First Lord and in a considerable part of the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary the importance of being prepared to deal with such Russian submarines as may be used to attack our naval ships and merchant fleets, or those of our Allies, was stressed. The steps taken, and those projected, for the development of secret new anti-submarine weapons are such as to prove a strong deterrent, even to the Kremlin, to embarking on a shooting war; and the assurance was given that the Navy will be in a relatively stronger position to cope with events than at any previous time.
There are other subjects with which I should like to deal on this annual occasion for reviewing our naval position, such as promotion from the ranks, which was dealt with by the hon. Member for 1125 Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu); and also the question of married quarters to which reference was made by the hon. Member for Hereford. What is the position about married quarters? Under a Tory Government there were no such things as married quarters. The only married quarters provided were for the men who had jobs ashore, and who were living on what was known as "lodging and compensation." It was left to the Labour Government, at this late stage in our naval history, to decide to go in for married quarters for the ordinary rank and file, as well as for officers serving in other appointments.
The point was made by the hon. Member for Hereford about making things more attractive. The Service today is better paid than it has ever been in its long history. As regards pilots, of which there is a shortage, the Parliamentary Secretary gave an example. A married pilot of 25, on flying duty, receives £980. I do not begrudge him a penny of it, but let the Tories say whenever they were near that figure. Never in their long history. I will content myself with having fired the first broadcast—[Laughter.]—the first broadside—I shall come to a broadcast later, when we shall have some more—in the Labour Party's new counter-barrage against the political campaign of the Opposition and the Tory Press against the Prime Minister and the Labour Government.
I would warn them, and also some of the "decoy ducks" on this side of the House, who are always ready to support Motions and other things from the other side, that from now on, we are prepared to debate with the Opposition any subject under the sun. We are prepared to show the country at large that the Tory Party are not concerned with what harm they can do both at home and abroad; that their main concern is not the safety and welfare of this Realm, but simply how soon they can get back into power, no matter by what means, genuine or otherwise.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite (Bristol, North-West)
I should like to preface the few remarks which I have to offer to the House by saying how much I enjoyed the manner in which these Estimates were presented by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty. He 1126 covered the whole field in the shortest possible space of time and he gave a very clear and concise survey of the present naval situation. The hon. Gentleman's speech really was a speech. So often on these occasions we find Ministers in the position of the Scottish preacher of whom an elder said at the end of the service that the trouble with the sermon was that he read it, that he read it badly and that it was not worth reading. The hon. Gentleman's speech was worth hearing in all its aspects.
I was sorry that he could not find a sentence or two in his lengthy survey to speak about the department in which he himself rendered conspicuous service towards the end of the war, namely, the education department. The first time I heard the hon. Gentleman's name before I had the opportunity of meeting him, was when I was told that he was a particularly brilliant lecturer to the Fleet and indeed to shore establishments. It would be interesting to know if that most important work of adult education in the Navy—the provision of information rooms and so on—is still being continued in time of peace. I hope that it is. It is the sort of activity which gets lost sight of when we are confronted with a menace from outside; none the less it is valuable.
I propose to confine my remarks to one aspect only of the naval problem. As my constituency contains the great port of Avonmouth, I want to speak about the essential task of the Navy, to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred, of protecting the Merchant Navy and ensuring that at all times and at all seasons the necessary food and raw materials for the sustenance of this island are able to arrive safely in our ports. Of one thing I am certain. Hon. Members on both sides will agree with the statement that in the recent conflict no body of men played a more heroic part than our merchant seamen, exposed as they were to the most terrible perils all over the seven seas. Even the Royal Air Force—and I yield to no man in my admiration for all that they achieved in the Battle of Britain and other operations—would have been grounded and unable to take the air had not the tankers been able to get through to our ports with the necessary oil fuel to maintain that magnificent wing of His Majesty's Forces.
1127 I assure the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey), that I shall not enter into any arguments concerning the speed of Russian submarines. That they exist in large numbers we have been assured, not only by the Minister of Defence but by the Parliamentary Secretary today. Belief in the existence of Russian submarines is no monopoly of the Tory Party. Perhaps it would be a good thing if it was. Yet, unfortunately, there is this menace. I will not discuss our shortage of frigates or similar technicalities upon which many hon. Members possess superior knowledge to my own.
I want to address myself, however, to the question of the personnel who in time of war have to sail in the merchant ships themselves. These include the convoy signalman, for example, who is specially trained. There is a branch of the Service with the rating of convoy signalman. Many hundreds of them passed through my hands, and they performed an invaluable part in the organisation of all our convoys. Then there are the radar operator and the whole branch of convoy protection which we refer to as D.E.M.S. In the First World War it used to be known as D.A.M.S. We are improving as we move down the ages. The defensive armament of merchant shipping was known as D.A.M.S., but a more refined Admiralty in the Second World War called it D.E.M.S.—defensive equipment of merchant shipping. We all know what it means.
A large number of naval ratings have to be trained to man the weapons not in the escorts but in the merchant ships themselves. Also we had valuable assistance in the last war from a military organisation who called themselves Maritime Anti-Aircraft. They were largely engaged in firing machine guns and weapons of that type and they also sailed in the merchant ships. One would like to be assured that these activities are being borne in mind at present and that, should a sudden conflict break upon us, the Admiralty will not have overlooked the importance of having this type of personnel available.
I should like to remind the House that when the prize money was distributed—I believe it was before the Parliamentary Secretary was promoted to the Front 1128 Bench—we found that all the categories I have mentioned were excluded on the ground that they were sailing under the Red and not the White Ensign. Parliament, with its usual pertinacity, got that matter put right. That showed that the House at that time appreciated the value of these men. I hope that the Civil Lord will be able to tell us that they are now being borne in mind.
The Parliamentary Secretary referred to the retention of what we call active service pensioners—the time-expired men who are required for a further 18 months service. I have sent him a letter on the subject. In passing, I wish to ask, because this is relevant to the organisation of convoys as well, whether it is necessary to retain such a large number of supply ratings. In view of his own definition that civilians can perform this task up to the point where the gear goes on board the ship—I think he said as far as the derrick—I should like to know whether it is appreciated that in the last war, as the years went by, an immense amount of this supply work was very efficiently carried out ashore by the W.R.N.S. under the supervision of accountant officers. Is it really necessary to retain supply chief petty officers and petty officers for the full 18 months? It seems to me that perhaps they come in a category where the urgency is less great than in others.
I pass to another essential feature of our protection of merchant shipping—the training and readiness of commodores of convoys. It will be remembered that in the early part of the last war ocean-going convoys were commodored by retired admirals of the Royal Navy, and as time went on senior officers of the Royal Naval Reserve who were captains and who became broad-ring commodores. They rendered invaluable service. The slower convoys which dealt with coastal cargoes, such as bringing coal from the Tyne to the Thames, and coastal convoys along the coast of Italy and the like, were commodored more often by commanders of the Royal Naval Reserve drawn from the Merchant Navy.
That is why I interrupted the Parliamentary Secretary this afternoon, when he was giving figures about the various Reserves, to ask about the R.N.R. He said that he had not got the figure with him. I am told that the figure is in the 1129 vicinity of 3,000. That is an approximate figure.
There was a gap, before the hon. Gentleman came to the Admiralty, when recruiting for the R.N.R. was suspended. I believe that there was some sort of tug-of-war with the Ministry of Transport about whether these officers should not be retained in the Merchant Navy where it was obvious that they would be valuable. Of course, perhaps the hon. Gentleman in his former capacity as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport was hauling on the other end of the rope at that time. Perhaps he has now shifted and is hauling on the right end of the rope; but I am quite sure that his Admiralty experience will have told him that, whatever the claims of other branches may be, there are a certain number of officers who really are essential for such tasks as the commodoring of convoys. They are not only to be found among those who are actually afloat, but those who have gone ashore, "swallowing the anchor," as it is called, and have left the sea but remain on the retired list of the R.N.R., who would be invaluable for these duties. Could it not be possible, unless it is already under way, for officers of that type to be recalled for short refresher courses for convoy protection in the modern conditions, a picture of which we have been given this afternoon?
May I also suggest that there are ex-officers of the R.N.V.R. and the Royal Naval Volunteer Supplementary Reserve who would be useful men in this matter of convoy organisation? There are the officers who served in the special branch wearing the green stripe in the last war, many of whom have a good working knowledge of most of the preliminaries necessary before a convoy can sail; for instance, routeing and the organisation of D.E.M.S., the naval control services, boarding of ships, collection of the necessary statistics, arrangement of convoys in speeds and so on. Then there are many men, especially the retired R.N.R. or R.N.V.R. officers, who would be most useful to the Admiralty as instructors immediately on the outbreak of war in various measures of which they have a certain knowledge and who left the service fairly recently. Signals and navigation occur to me at once, and I hope that the Admiralty will be sensible about the age limit.
1130 In the last war, for a long time, they would not look at anybody who was over 40 years of age, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman himself, when he took his white paper and, presumably, passed through that excellent school, H.M.S. "King Alfred," was instructed in navigation, as hundreds of officers were successfully instructed, by a gentleman of 72 years of age, a lieutenant-commander of the R.N.R., who passed through a very large number of officers who were afterwards able to function with great success in M.L.s, minesweepers and other craft. The Admiralty should have at their disposal in total war those who would be able to pass on their knowledge to others. I naturally hope that the services of the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East, might be pressed into service under that heading. I naturally hope so, because I am never controversial about these matters.
I hope also that steady progress will be made on the lines suggested to us by the Parliamentary Secretary in the provision of adequate escort for our convoys, but that those I have mentioned will be maintained as an efficient means of protection for our merchant shipping. The lives of thousands of brave men depend upon this essential task, and I would therefore urge upon the Government that this matter should be attended to without delay.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Donnelly (Pembroke)
The very few remarks I am about to make will follow upon those made by the hon. and gallant Member for Bristol, Northwest (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite), in dealing with the question of convoy defence and the protection of our merchant shipping.
One of the great difficulties which faced us in the last war was that we did not have the use of the Southern Irish ports that we had in the First World War, and, although to some extent we were able to make up for that deficiency through the creation of Coastal Command, the development of long-distance aircraft operating from bases in Southern England, West Wales and Northern Ireland, that problem still remained as a real problem, and, regrettably, and I say that advisedly, is still with us today. Unless the advice of my hon. and learned Friend 1131 the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) is followed, I think it will remain with us for a long time to come.
However, I would with some diffidence suggest to the Civil Lord that a great deal more use might be made of some of the more western "harbours in the British Isles. At the moment, one of the best of these harbours, and indeed one of the finest in the world, is not being used by the Navy to any extent. I refer to Milford Haven, which is one of the finest deep-water harbours one could find in the seven seas, which will take the largest ships of the Royal Navy, having a depth at low tide of eight fathoms.
Although I am not myself an expert in naval matters, having spent the greater part of my adult life in the Royal Air Force, experts tell me that there is no finer harbour anywhere, and this point was made by the present Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when speaking in a debate on the Navy Estimates on 27th February, 1940, when he said:When compared with the East Coast ports, Pembroke would be valuable for services in connection with light flotillas in the antisubmarine campaign at the Western approaches."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1940; Vol. 357, c. 1944.]I wish to bring to the notice of my hon. Friend on the Front Bench the very valuable facilities which exist, which are not utilised at the moment, but which we might well need to utilise in the future. In the last century, the Navy built a dockyard at Pembroke, across the water from Milford, and some of the finest ships which have served in the British Navy were built there. In 1926, however, the naval dockyard was suddenly closed, with the result that the town of Pembroke Dock, which had grown up as a result of the establishment of the naval dockyard, languished and a quarter of its population left.
The social history of Pembroke Dock is as bad as that of Jarrow, and the blame for it rests on the Admiralty under a Tory Government at that time every bit as much as the blame for the situation at Jarrow rested with the directors of Palmers Shipyard. The social effects were worse in Pembroke Dock than in Jarrow, because there were other industries to which the people of Jarrow could turn, while there was literally nothing at Pembroke Dock. Thus I should like to suggest tonight that use should be made of this 1132 fine harbour of Milford Haven. I earnestly suggest that a great deal can be done to remove the memory which still exists as the result of the decision of a Tory Government in 1926, and to make the harbour at Milford Haven ready for the future, in case we should ever need to use it.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Hamilton Kerr (Cambridge)
The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) devoted the major part of his remarks to the question of our western ports, and he referred to the fact that we encountered great difficulties in the last war because we did not have the use of the Irish ports. I am certain that we feel that if Ireland had been able to allow us the use of her ports she would have obtained the greatest chance in her history of winning the admiration of the world. She missed it to her detriment.
The debate today has ranged over a wide field and I would like to take it to a somewhat gloomy region, namely, the Arctic Ocean. I do so with some diffidence, because I know that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Captain Ryder) is an authority on the subject, whereas I myself have virtually no qualifications except, perhaps, the fact of having walked across the lava fields of Iceland with the Parliamentary Secretary, and having landed, gibbering with fear, I confess, on a runway at the foot of the ice cap of Greenland.
I should like, in particular, to make some remarks on the protection of our trade routes, a matter which may play a great part in any possible future conflict. I suppose it is true to say that, in fact, the history of naval warfare is the history of the struggle for trade routes. It is for this reason I suppose that in the heyday of our power, we obtained possession of fortresses along the trade routes leading to the East like Gibraltar, Malta, Aden, Trincomalee, and Singapore. That is why, in two great wars of this century, the sea struggle centred round the Western Approaches, where the great trade routes from the coasts of America, from Panama, and from the River Plate converge on these islands. Again, the sea war raged in the area between the Azores and the Tagus, for in that area the trade routes of the Mediterranean and the Cape likewise converge.
1133 We are now told that the aeroplane has opened up a new route across the roof of the world. I have in my possession an American atlas of global geography written by a certain well-known Harvard professor, and I confess that to my simple tastes its coloured charts greatly appeal. That atlas tells us some remarkable facts. It tells us, for instance, that only some 4,525 miles separate Moscow from New York. It tells us that a Russian bomber could, with equal effect, attack-Minneapolis, the American naval base in Virginia, or San Diego, the base in the Pacific; and that a bomber, taking off from Kiska, in the Aleutians, could strike with equal ease at San Francisco or the great industrial centre of Detroit on the Great Lakes.
I conclude from that information that in any possible conflict the Arctic Ocean would certainly be the scene of intensive air warfare, of long-range bombers, of radar posts, and, possibly, of descents by parachutists. But I think we equally deceive ourselves if we believe that the Navy will not have to play an important part there. From the best information I have been able to obtain, I understand that the Russians are intensively training a certain proportion of their Navy for Arctic conditions. I understand, again, that they are using, on the sea route north of Siberia, ice-breakers made in this country.
If it be true that they can maintain open that route north of Siberia, they will be able to shift their submarine fleet from the Pacific, or, by way of the White Sea Canal, from the Baltic into the Atlantic. I am told that our American Allies are, fortunately, training a certain number of their naval personnel in Arctic conditions, and that they have icebreakers in use on the Great Lakes. But for ourselves, who have been pioneers in Arctic exploration, I gather that we have fallen a considerable way behind. I believe I am right in saying that the Admiralty have a certain number of technical committees dealing with clothing and kindred matters likely to be of interest in Arctic warfare. But this is not really sufficient preparation for war. We want men trained under Arctic conditions, men who have a certain amount of practical experience.
I ask the Government, therefore, to consider three propositions; as soon as possible to train a small nucleus of young 1134 naval officers under conditions of Arctic warfare; as soon as possible to obtain even from Norway if necessary, ships in which these men can be trained and finally, that we ourselves should build ships capable of entering Arctic regions. I hope that by the time the Navy Estimates for next year are before us, we may learn that some progress has been made in this field.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
I am particularly pleased to have the opportunity of following so quickly one or two hon. Members who have made some reference to the Merchant Navy, because, representing and living in a place like Liverpool, I naturally know something of what is expected from this House in this respect, in view of the times through which we are now passing. But before putting one or two questions to the Minister in the hope of allaying some misapprehensions on this point, I wish to make a reference to former Navy Estimates debates, because it does not seem to me that some of the comments made in those debates have yet produced any results.
I am still very dissatisfied—and this was a point of view expressed by the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) earlier today—with the conditions in the Service. They are not what they ought to be. The things about which we complained in earlier years, and which we asked should be improved, are apparently still in the same state. I am referring to accommodation and to conditions generally. I remember, when I was fortunate enough on a previous occasion to be successful in the ballot for a Motion on going into Committee of Supply on the Navy Estimates, complaining, as I still do, that nothing had been done to modernise the uniform of the average sailor. I think that improvement is long overdue, and I hope that before I pass on, at any rate, somebody in charge of the Navy will introduce the square rig in place of the present sailor's uniform.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty told us earlier today that the expenditure on the Admiralty Office accounted for under 2 per cent. of the total sum involved; but according to Vote 12, there is an increase of approximately £500,000 in the Estimate this year 1135 as compared with last year, and as the new Estimate is somewhere in the region of £6 million, I think my hon. Friend will see that it is actually an increase of 8 per cent. I remember complaining last year that the Admiralty Office Vote was over £5 million. I think there are a lot of posts in the Admiralty that could be done away with; in many cases, they are redundant. In this connection, I was very impressed during the Army Estimates debate in what the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) pointed out when he was comparing the numbers of the different Army staffs in the several countries which he mentioned.
In my opinion, there are too many retired admirals at the Admiralty. I said this last year, but I do not observe that any change in the number has been made. As a matter of fact, the Admiralty is costing more this year. I remember saying last year that it cost as much in 1949–50 as it did during the war, when there were something like four times the number of men to be looked after and greater responsibilities in the Service.
§ Mr. J. P. L. Thomas
Surely, if the admirals are now working at the Admiralty, they cannot be retired.
§ Mr. Keenan
My complaint is that some of the individuals in the Admiralty, though retired from the Service, have been posted, so far as I can judge from the long list which is incomplete. If the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas), is in any doubt, I am prepared to say that there is no need for the Deputies at the Admiralty. There are eight Deputies on the Board of Admiralty, and in my opinion the 11 Lords on the Board are enough to do the job properly. It costs a few extra thousand pounds to pay for the others.
Now I want to come back to the Merchant Navy. I know that, generally speaking, those in the naval Service have spoken very feelingly about and paid tribute to the men of the Merchant Navy because of their service during the last two wars. I am anxious that we should not neglect the lessons to be learned from our failures and mistakes in the past and should not fail to take advantage of those lessons.
What is being done in the present international situation, which unfortunately may mean war? If it comes to war, then, 1136 as far as I can judge, it will not be a question of battleships and cruisers so much as merchant ships and submarines. What arrangements are being made to stockpile the equipment which will be required to re-equip merchant ships in an emergency? We know how long it was before we were able to give our merchant ships the equipment to protect them against the magnetic mine during the last war. We know how many ships still lying in the Mersey, were sunk before that equipment had been provided. If we recognise our responsibilities, we ought to be prepared to equip every ship immediately it comes into dock, and we should have the labour and equipment ready for that purpose.
The hon. and gallant Member for Bristol, North-West (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) spoke feelingly about the need for anti-aircraft equipment. In the event of war, is the necessary armament available? In the First World War, as in the last war, a lone 3.6 gun at the stern of a ship did not engender much confidence. I was told by those who went to sea that in the early stages they had not much confidence either in the weapons provided or in the men sent to man them. When we consider the valuable part the Merchant Navy must play in future wars, we should be ready to equip them so that they may be protected from aircraft as well as from under-water attack.
As the hon. and gallant Member for Bristol, North-West, asked, have the Government thought about the personnel and has the need to have them available immediately they are required been considered? All this will involve great alterations in re-equipping ships, both large and small. During the last war I was a member of an emergency committee. I was always on the dock-side looking after men discharged from ships and I was acquainted with what went on. I was very disturbed to find what was happening. I suppose the same thing would happen again. Trawlers and small vessels will be wanted for mine-sweeping and other purposes, but last time there was a tremendous waste of manpower on ship repairs and re-equipment. During that time there were twice as many men on the decks of small ships as were required, and often the necessary materials were not available to enable the work to be done quickly.
1137 I know why that happened. Ship repairers and contractors employed anybody they could secure to do the work. Because of the cost-plus system of payment, it did not matter how much it cost or how many were employed on the job. I was rather alarmed today when the Parliamentary Secretary said that contract work, which was a safeguard in a matter of expense, was in a measure disappearing and that we were getting back to the cost-plus system. Has not note been taken of the waste that occurred last time and the financial burden to the Navy and other Services because this cost-plus system was allowed? I am satisfied from my own observations, particularly in 1939, 1940 and 1941, that contractors on Merseyside, as elsewhere, received too much for the job they did.
§ Mr. Callaghan
There is one essential difference that will apply in the new system. Previously the cost and hence the plus operated upwards or downwards according to the amount of materials and the number of men employed. In the schemes we now hope to use, the plus will be invariable, that is to say, there will be no temptation to employ more men or to be lavish with materials in the expectation of having a higher amount representing the plus.
§ Mr. Keenan
I am glad to have some reassurance, at any rate, that the matter has been noted and that an effort has been made to prevent the leakage that there was in the past. That is very satisfactory. It was about this that I was largely concerned. Furthermore, it is not only a question of armaments and equipping ships to protect themselves against under-water and air attack. I should like also to see more attention given this time to life-saving apparatus and the provisioning and equipping of lifeboats. The last war had gone on for two or three years before the Merchant Navy obtained some of the elementary protection and safeguards to which they were entitled. It should be remembered that we lost more men in the Merchant Navy than in the Royal Navy during the last war. That alone sufficiently indicates the need there is to look after them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) spoke of the facilities at Pembroke Docks, but Liverpool stands alone. Liverpool was the port farthest away from the Germans in 1138 the last war and it is the farthest away from our potential enemy, Russia. I hope that the few remarks I have made about the Merchant Navy will cause those responsible to see that the Service is adequately looked after and that in future there is not the financial waste that there was during the last war.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Major Cundiff (Manchester, Withington)
It is always a privilege to be called to speak on the day that the House discusses the Navy Estimates. The Royal Navy and the command of the Royal Navy are as precious to us today as they ever have been in our long maritime history. I have always thought it to be an unfortunate policy that in the senior Service the Minister should sit in another place, but the First Lord has two lieutenants in this House, one on the bridge attending to his navigation and the other below decks responsible for a fair head of steam, and I think they both render to their captain loyal and faithful service.
I wish to make three points. The first is concerned with naval construction. In the First World War, the Royal Navy was frequently asked to provide inshore coastal bombardment. I refer to the Dardanelles and the Euphrates River. In the Second World War we saw a repetition of this in the English Channel and on the coasts farther up to the north. Today in Korean waters United Nations ships are frequently being asked for support for land operations and landings. If, by chance, we become involved in another war in Europe, I think this question of coastal bombardment may play a very important part.
The question therefore arises, what units have we got to carry out this work? The old county class cruiser, 10,000 tons with eight-inch guns, has disappeared, and so far there has been no kind of replacement. The tendency today is to build smaller cruisers and to fit them with six-inch guns. Except in the case of grave necessity, I think it would be most unwise ever to employ a vessel like the "Vanguard" or any of the "King George V" battleships on coastal bombardment in these restricted waters. Therefore, the Government should consider laying down a limited number of shallow draft monitors—perhaps half a 1139 dozen. They are comparatively cheap to produce. They are merely floating mobile gun platforms. They could carry one or two 12-inch guns, of which I understand we have a reserve. They carry a very small complement of men, but in certain conditions they are most effective units, and I hope the Government will give sympathetic consideration to that suggestion.
I wish to say something about the surface speed of a potential hostile submarine. It has been said that Russia, with the help of German technicians, has evolved a submarine hull capable of a surface speed of something between 30 and 40 knots. If that statement is true. I suggest that it may alter the whole picture of submarine attack on merchant convoys. It would enable a "smash-and-grab" raid to be made. Under a courageous and determined submarine commander, and in the suitable conditions of a lumpy sea and reduced visibility, a surface attack could be made and one or more selected ships could be sunk or crippled.
More than this, it would enable the hostile submarine to make a surface retreat, and if a surface retreat were possible at all, it would confer on that submarine commander the very greatest benefit in that he would not be subjected to the most terrible of all antisubmarine actions—that is, a prolonged depth charge attack while the submarine is submerged. This new submarine would have everything. It would have its fast battery drive when submerged deep; it would have the use of a Schnorkel apparatus enabling it to use its main engines when it was just submerged, and it would have this very great surface speed.
I was very pleased and cheered to hear this afternoon the Parliamentary Secretary telling us about the progress which had been made with regard to radar and also air cover. But what about our escort ships? We must face the fact that the 30-knot destroyer and the 20 to 25-knot frigate are not good enough. Much more attention will have to be paid to the hull design of destroyers, anti-submarine vessels and escort ships, and we must pack into those hulls a vastly increased shaft horsepower to give an appreciably 1140 higher speed and greater manoeuvrability. We must also give them our very latest in quick-firing equipment.
Another point which I think is of paramount importance is that the gun crews must be individually trained to absolute perfection. If by any chance another war comes, the question of transport on the North Atlantic and South Atlantic routes will be of vital importance to us. May I remind the House what our losses were in the last war? During the last war over a period of 68 months we lost 14½ million tons of merchant shipping. By direct U-boat action alone we lost 2,775 ships, which is an average of 41 ships for every month that the war lasted.
May I now turn to my last point? I have raised this question on two previous occasions, but I make no apology for raising it again. I refer to the necessity for a naval base in the eastern half of the Mediterranean. A few days ago my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) referred to a possible new threat to Yugoslavia. Suppose Yugoslavia fell to the Russians, and suppose a little later Greece and Turkey were over-run. What would there be to prevent submarines being assembled in some of the Black Sea ports such as Sevastopol, Odessa, Constanta or Varna, and then proceeding through the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles into the Mediterranean? At the same time, we must not overlook the fact that a certain number of other submarines would enter the Mediterranean through the Gibraltar Straits.
I ask the question: Have we got a naval base in the eastern half of the Mediterranean Sea? Is there anywhere where we can refuel, refit and victual our ships? We have lost the Port of Alexandria with its 600 acres of good anchorage; and at this point let me say that in view of the present attitude of Egypt towards this country, I look upon her as a very doubtful friend. Shall we be allowed to use Haifa? Has anything been done about the preparation of a naval base in Cyprus? In asking these questions, I have in mind the tragedy of the "Ark Royal," crippled and gallantly struggling back to make port, which she just failed to do. If by any chance one of our capital ships is crippled in this area where does she turn for help? Must she just turn to the West and make the long 1141 struggle to reach Malta? The Mediterranean Sea and the Suez Canal are a main artery for Australia and New Zealand. If our ships are to have the freedom of this sea, they must have a base; they must have a home in the eastern end as well as a home at Gibraltar.