HC Deb 09 March 1954 vol 524 cc1975-2178

Question again proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."

5.43 p.m.

Mr. Bottomley

Before we were called to another place, Sir, I was talking about the holiday situation in the dockyards. The trade unions have had imposed upon them what is known as a closed holiday period. I was about to make a point in the interests of economy. The overheads go on all the time, and if we are not keeping the yards fully employed during the entire year and closing down for those two weeks, it means additional expenditure.

I want also to stress that both the Labour Governments and the Conservative Government have been trying to get public opinion to agree to staggered holidays as being desirable in the interests of the country, and it seems to be a bad thing that the Admiralty should depart from that standard if we are to meet the wishes of those who have given this matter careful consideration.

I now want to refer to the details given in the last Estimates by the First Lord about the strength of the Soviet fleet. What the right hon. Gentleman failed to give us last time was enough information about mine-laying potentialities which he said he could not give for security reasons. This afternoon we have heard that mine-laying and submarines are really the menace, so he ought to be able to tell us more about it. What is the security involved? The Russians know what they have got. The First Lord certainly gave us more information about our defence, but last year he said that what was disturbing him was that he had not been able to organise all the antisubmarine and counter-mine work which was necessary. Can he assure us that the words he uttered last year no longer apply and that we can look forward with more hope to safety in the future?

I dislike saying this, but I believe that the Royal Navy is becoming the Cinderella of tine Services. We have a Minister of Defence who is a great soldier. I have no doubt that he tries to be fair, but he is obviously biased and cannot help being so because of his training and upbringing. As far as the Secretary of State for War is concerned, we all know him to be a gallant, bold adventurous man who won the Victoria Cross. But when we come to the Royal Navy we find that we have a Minister who is not forceful enough, who is not doing all that is necessary for the Royal Navy, which will always be needed.

There are powerful reasons why the Air Force and the Navy should be brought closer together with one end in view, to serve the country best. At the Spithead Review I was distressed at being told constantly that the Royal Navy is now part of the Royal Air Force. It is true that we could see nothing but aircraft carriers but, in the interests of strategy, to protect our trade routes, and for many other reasons, the Royal Navy has a formidable part to play. I therefore want to see the First Lord pressing more energetically the claims of the Service which he represents in this House, which is still the senior Service.

5.46 p.m.

Major Patrick Wall (Hull, Haltemprice)

As I rise to address this House for the first time, Mr. Speaker, I take refuge in a time-honoured tradition and crave the indulgence of the House as I set sail for the first time on what are, to me, uncharted waters. I am particularly pleased that I have managed to catch your eye, Sir, on these Navy Estimates for not only have I served 16 years in the Royal Marines but I now have the honour to represent a part of the City of Kingston-upon-Hull, the third port of this country. Many of my constituents axe fishermen and they know from hard experience the true worth of the work of the Royal Navy in peace and in war. Two weeks ago we had the privilege of welcoming H.M.S. "Truelove," a vessel of the Fishery Protection Squadron, whose task it is to see that our fishermen proceed on their lawful occasions unmolested.

I shall not start by saying that I will take up the time of the House for only a few moments. If you will forgive me, Sir, for interjecting a note of levity, in the short time I have been in this House I have already learned to what lengths such a statement may lead. I want to deal with three main points: first, the men who man our ships; secondly, the problem of what is now called amphibious warfare; and. thirdly, a word about the problems of the Corps in which I had the honour to serve, the Royal Marines.

On the question of the men who man our ships, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) has already referred to the sabotage, or alleged sabotage in Her Majesty's ships, which we all deplore so much. I entirely agree that this is caused by young men who, for reasons best known to themselves, join the Service but, once in it, find that it is a disciplined Service, that it requires team work, and that team work inevitably means self-sacrifice. These young men have found that they were not able or capable of making one of the team, so they have had recourse to these violent methods of obtaining their discharge. If the House will permit me, I will quote a paragraph from a letter received recently from a friend of mine on board one of Her Majesty's ships, as follows: The hopeless misfits, the anti-social, the homesick child, make these pathetic efforts, misnamed sabotage, to draw attention to themselves and endeavour to obtain release. They are not representative of the whole. Indeed they are not representative of the whole, and I am certain that their problem can be solved along the lines mentioned by the First Lord this afternoon, namely, by the reintroduction of the privilege of discharge by purchase. I think I am speaking for all hon. Members of the House in welcoming this decision. These misfits are not representative of the Service as a whole, but, nevertheless, I believe that there is a certain unsettled feeling in the Royal Navy today. This is due to many things —the aftermath of war, full employment and high wages ashore, increased mechanisation and specialisation and, possibly above all, the extreme youth of the members of the lower deck in the post-war Navy.

I should like to make certain suggestions as to possible means of overcoming this feeling of frustration. The first and most important step has been taken in this House this afternoon in the statement by the First Lord that the general service commission of one and a half or two years is to be reintroduced. A ship's company is a team, and no team can play well or work well when its members are being continually changed. Once this continual turnover is stopped a team spirit will grow and a man will become identified with his ship, and no sailor will willingly let down "his" ship.

The second step involves the question of manpower. At the moment there is a shortage of manpower and most of our ships, certainly the larger ones, are manned with reduced complements, yet they are still expected to operate at or near peak efficiency. This involves great strain not only on officers but on petty officers and men. No one likes more than I to see a large number of ships in commission, but I suggest to my right hon. Friend that a policy of manning fewer ships with larger complements might produce dividends by creating happier ships' companies and improving the well-being and efficiency of the Fleet.

I should like to deal briefly with certain individual problems of the men who man our ships. First, there are the problems of the senior officers. Here the main problem is the lack of sea time. There were 645 commanders on the Navy List in September last year and only 90 were serving in command or in executive appointments at sea. This meant a ration of sea time of something like one and a quarter years in five. The position of the captains' list is even worse. The ration of sea time in their case was 22 months in nine years.

I appreciate that this is an almost insoluble problem in the days of a small-ship Navy and a large Fleet Air Arm, but I should like to contribute one suggestion with all humility in the hope that it may be of assistance. It is that attention might be given to the manning of some of our larger fleet auxiliaries by Royal Navy personnel on the lines that are followed by the United States Navy. It would not be as pleasant to command an oiler as a destroyer, but at least it would give our officers a greater amount of time at sea.

As to the younger officers, there has been a certain amount of criticism in the Press, which may or may not be well founded, that they are tending in these post-war years to get some distance away from their men. If there is any truth in that allegation, I suggest that it is because they are marrying at a younger age than was customary pre-war and that it is very difficult for them to keep their homes going and to fulfil their Service commitments. I believe that the announcement made last week of increased pay will help very much to prevent this conflict of loyalty.

The chief petty officers and petty officers are, as always, the backbone of the Service, but since the war they have left in large numbers. I hope sincerely that the pay increases announced last week will serve to check this trend. If it does not, I suggest to my right hon. Friend that he turns his attention towards the question of petty officers' pensions. These are long service men and they realise that their commercial value in civil life is not very high at the end of their second period of engagement. Therefore, they go out after 12 years to earn sufficient money on which to live in their old age. If the Service gave them adequate pensions they would probably sign on for their second period of engagement.

The last men with whom I should like to deal are the seamen. There has been a great deal of correspondence and talk about the relative merits of accommodation in the ships of the British Navy and in the ships of the American Navy. In the British Navy we have a mess deck which the seaman can call his own home and that of his mates. The American Navy goes in for rather more grandiose ideas and its men lose the homely touch of the mess deck. I know that our constructors are facing a very difficult problem in trying to put a vast amount of new equipment in a restricted space. I ask the First Lord, however, to try to give accommodation on the mess deck a higher priority than it receives at present.

My right hon. Friend has spoken already on the subject this afternoon and I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) who spoke of slinging hammocks in the Palace of Westminster. Hammocks are slung on the mess decks of H.M. ships in every conceivable place and I have heard men complain very rightly that they were unable to obtain an adequate amount of sleep because a hammock was slung, for instance, near a hangar or the aircraft lift or adjacent to the flight deck of a carrier. There is also the complaint that fresh water has to be rationed at sea. These things are very important, and I ask my right hon. Friend to consider whether the degree of priority given to accommodation on mess decks cannot be raised. It has been truly said that the Service man is our country's best ambassador. It is equally true that a contented man is the Service's best recruiter.

I turn now to the question of amphibious warfare, which was known as combined operations. I believe that a study of our history shows that at the start of a war we never have a force available and capable of putting into effect a maritime strategy. I wonder whether history is repeating itself again. Though, very probably, we shall see nothing on the scale of the Normandy invasion in the future, I believe that in the early stages of a war the use of atomic weapons may enable us to break through on the enemy coastline and, provided the Army is carried in mobile covered carriers, it might be possible to land and achieve considerable penetration. Added to that, the knowledge that we could land a force anywhere on the vast coastline controlled by a possible enemy would cause that enemy to tie down great numbers of men for defence purposes.

If we ever reach the stage of "broken-backed" warfare which we discussed in the House last week, these special ships and landing craft would be invaluable for landing stores and food on the beaches of this country once our ports had been put out of action. This subject is possibly not appropriate for a debate on the Navy Estimates, it is more a question for a defence debate, but I submit that, though the First Lord is not responsible for amphibious warfare, he is responsible for the provision of amphibious ships and craft.

I have looked through the Navy Estimates very carefully to discover what is being spent on new amphibious craft and I have found very little. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that we are not entirely living on our fat and that new LST and LCT are being produced, that the existing LCT can carry the new heavy Army tank, and that the new DD tanks and other "funnies" will fit into craft now in use? At present, we have no modern raiding craft. Are steps being taken to build some?

The LCA with which we are still operating are falling to bits. I speak from personal experience. Are the replacement craft being designed and— more important—being built? The operation of these minor landing craft is the task of the Royal Marines. The amphibious school at present situated in Langstone Harbour is rapidly silting up. Can my right hon. Friend assure us that the long-awaited move to Poole is at last to take place?

That brings me to my final point, the Royal Marines. Their main problem is one of recruiting. This has become a vicious circle which works as follows. The teeth to tail figures of the Royal Marines are better than those of the Royal Navy as a whole. This means that a greater proportion of the men are employed on operational tasks such as the manning of Her Majesty's ships, Commando Brigade, Rhine Flotilla, and so on, and fewer employed at home in barracks, training establishments and other administrative tasks.

This is largely due to the fact that the Royal Marines have adopted the functional system as opposed to the old home ports system of the Royal Navy. It is very satisfactory to have more men in the operational teeth than in the administrative tail, but that leads to increased disturbance and no assurance that, when a man has finished his foreign service and comes home, he may be stationed near his home port, where, probably, his wife has established a home.

The whole position is aggravated by the reduced Vote A strength shown in the Estimates we are debating today. I am told that this is not caused by financial stringency but by lack of manpower, So we have the vicious circle, more on operational tasks, more disturbance, less home service and inevitably fewer recruits. I believe there are some ways of overcoming, or at least of reducing, these problems. The Marines are the Navy's handy men who, at short notice, can be turned to soldiers, sailors or parachute troops. Inevitably, when any new naval task arises, from the Rhine to the Falkland Islands, the Navy has not only to "tell it to the marines" but to give it to the Marines. But it must be borne in mind that if so small a Corps accepts too many commitments it means more foreign service, more disturbance and strain all round which, in turn, must reflect on recruiting figures.

If it is true that Marines suffer a greater disturbance than their opposite numbers in the Royal Navy, is it right that the allowance of married quarters should be tied down to a small and fixed percentage of the Navy's allocation? More married quarters in Royal Marines establishments would help in this problem of recruiting. Cannot something be done to improve the recruiting propaganda for the Royal Marines? For the moment they tend to be mentioned as an afterthought after the Royal Navy. This is particularly true, as I know from experience, when we are concerned with liaison, with schools, sea cadet units and other organisations.

Uniform is of great recruiting value. Could not full dress be brought back on the same lines as in the Brigade of Guards? I believe that, initially, it costs the same to kit-up a marine as to kit-up a seaman, but, after the initial issue, more money is spent on the seaman than on the marine. Could not the money saved be devoted to improving the quality of the uniform, or possibly in introducing an open-necked blue tunic?

The Volunteer Reserve of the Marines can be of great recruiting value. These men are civilians and they go for two weeks training a year. If this training is made interesting and not cramped by financial considerations these men will go back and shoot a terrific line about what they had been doing. That would be extremely good value in encouraging youngsters to join the Service. I repeat that the contented man is his Service's best recruiter.

I conclude by saying that in these days of supersonic warfare and the atom bomb the Royal Navy is apt to be forgotten. We should, however, not forget the submarine which, twice in our lifetime, has very nearly brought this country to her knees. The safeguarding of sea communications is now the joint task of all three Services and I submit that the Navy still plays the major part. Without the Royal Navy the aircraft of the R.A.F. could not fly and the Army could not move, except on its feet. There i* nothing wrong with the senior Service which cannot easily be put right. I believe that the statement of the First Lord today will prove of great encouragement to all ranks of the Royal Navy.

6.6 p.m.

Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu (Huddersfield, East)

I do not know whether, in his 16 years' service with the Royal Marines, the hon. and gallant Member for Haltemprice (Major Wall) faced any ordeals comparable with the one through which he has just come so successfully. If he did, and got through those ordeals as successfully as he did through this one, he must have been a very fine officer indeed. The hon. and gallant Member spoke factually about something which he knows. He has not so much made a maiden speech as a serious contribution to this debate. I welcome him as a representative of the very great corps with whom he served for so long, and I believe we all agree that he will be a very effective Member of Parliament.

I agreed with a very great deal of what the hon. and gallant Member said. Like him, I have been interested and disturbed by the reports which we have been reading in the Press during the last 12 months about dissatisfaction in the Navy—instrument smashing and all that. When I read those reports I usually tended to think of them as exaggerated newspaper stunts because, in my short experience of the Navy, I came to the conclusion, for what it is worth, that the Navy handles men better than either of the other two services. Despite the fact that conditions in war-time were foul and the pay disgracefully low, we all managed to have developed in us the feeling that we were all in the same boat, or the same ship—as literally we were.

After thinking over these recent disturbances, I realised that people like myself and other hon. Members who have not had Service experience in the Navy since the war have to realise that there are tremendous differences between service in the Navy at present and in wartime. In war-time we were often in danger, and that had a wonderful effect in the way of providing a sense of unity. As ratings, we knew perfectly well that the officers had several privileges, such as the privilege of gin. The skipper had living space about equal to half the space allotted to 60 ratings but we knew that he had responsibilities and that if the ship were torpedoed he would be no better off than we would be. There was the unifying feeling of danger.

At least equally important was the release that came with safety and the obliviousness that came on arrival in safety. Once safe after a period of danger, we did not really notice that conditions were so bad. I remember our washroom in a destroyer where the area for 150 men was about the size of the Table of this House, but we did not bother about that very much because, the moment we got into port and were safe, it was so nice to get any sort of a wash. Therefore, the conditions did not worry us very much.

Thirdly, in war-time every member of a ship's company had a feeling of immediate purpose, that he had a real job to do. We used to be given some pretty peculiar jobs on occasions during war-time. I remember once having to wash the oil off the side of the ship and watch a choppy sea put it back again. I remember, on another occasion, when we knew that a bombing attack was coming which would make an absolute shambles of the ship, even if we were not actually hit, being set the task of polishing the brass on the quarter deck. But we felt that action was coming and that it was far better to brood over the "Bluebell" than over the bombs.

There was a sense of immediate purpose, but there was something even more important than that. It was that when we were serving in war-time we had also a sense of over-all purpose. We really did feel that the Navy had an important and a major job to do in the scheme of that war, and that in a real sense the safety and the welfare of the Realm depended upon us.

Today none of those things exist. There is none of the community spirit that comes from danger. There is none of the relief that comes from safety, and, partly because these things do not exist, the conditions under which men serve become especially important. The contrast between the conditions for the ratings and the conditions for the officers glares at the ratings in a way which does not obtain in war-time.

From direct experience I know that a great deal has been done to improve the conditions of the Service. Fairly recently I was aboard what I must still call a "Daring Class" destroyer—I do not know its official name now. As usual, we went to inspect the lavatory and washroom, which always seemed to me to be a most important section of the ship. I found them an absolute paradise compared with what I had seen on "I" and "V" and "W" class destroyers. But in my opinion some of these alleged improvements are not good things at all. Bunks are being put in. One of the great virtues of the hammock—one of many— is that it takes up air space which would not otherwise be used, whereas a bunk takes up deck space and tends still further to cramp the quarters of the crew.

Furthermore, as I think the First Lord himself mentioned, though the designers start off with the best will in the world, remembering that men have to man these ships, before the vessel is actually in commission so many new gadgets have been invented that all the extra space given to the crew is taken over by radar equipment and the like. I know of one destroyer where at the last minute—I do not know why—they decided to put in a refrigerator, and the only space which could be found to accommodate it was in the boiler room. That is the kind of thing which is making it difficult to obtain good conditions for men at sea.

Then there is the question of pay. I know that pay is a lot better than it was when—I was about to say in my young days, because all this seems so long ago—

Mr. Emrys Hughes

It is.

Mr. Mallalieu

Well, it is not so long ago as all that. There is still a certain amount of mean-mindedness in some respects regarding pay in the Service. Only this morning I received a letter from the mother of a petty officer. I have not been able to check the facts in this letter, but she states that her son went into the Navy as a stoker to do his National Service. He liked the life and decided to reengage, I imagine for a short-service period of five years. At the end of it he was to get £100. At the end of that time he was a stoker petty officer with first-class papers and he took his £100. He used that money as part of a deposit for a bungalow for his mother, who was a cripple.

Then he said, "I still like this life and I would like to go on with it." No one asked him to re-engage, but he volunteered for a further term. He was told by the authorities that he could carry on if he liked, with his qualifications and all the rest of it, but that he would have to pay back the £100. He had not £100 but he was still keen to go back, and so the Navy is taking 10s. a week from his pay until that £100 is paid. If that story is true—and as I say, I have not yet been able to check it—it is an example of mean-mindedness which will make it less likely that other people will sign on for a further term of service.

Apart from pay and conditions, there is a much bigger problem which my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) faced up to bravely. It is that at the present time, unlike wartime, there is no sense of purpose in the Navy. Battleships have gone—quite rightly I think. Carriers are likely to be obsolete also. It is only escort ships and other small ships that have, or are likely to have in the foreseeable future, any real job to do. In fact the Navy is the Senior Service only in the sense that old grandpapa, sitting in the chimney corner and nodding his head, is the titular head of the family.

That sort of feeling is doing immense harm, and it is absolutely essential that the First Lord should say something much more clear and distinct about what the Admiralty foresees as the future rôle of the Navy than the kind of bromides which he dished out this afternoon. This uncertainty is having a serious effect upon discipline. I am no martinet. I dislike the discipline of my party Whips on many occasions. I never believed in the Captain Bligh sort of discipline in the Navy or anywhere else—

Mr. Callaghan

Oh, yes, the hon. Member did.

Mr. Mallalieu

I believed in orders being obeyed, as I once told my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East.

But generally speaking, Admiralty discipline, even as measured out by me to my hon. Friend, if firm, was tolerant. But there was one thing which in the Navy was an absolute rule. If you were given a direct order by an officer, a petty officer or a leading hand, you did it first and argued about it afterwards. That seemed to me to be absolutely essential, however silly the order happened to appear.

I am told that now that is not being carried out. In recent weeks I have taken the trouble to talk to a number of petty officers and leading hands. Time after time a petty officer has told me that he has given a man a direct order and has been told by the man what to do with his order, in front of a large section of the ship's company. The man has then been taken aft, only to receive a caution, while the petty officer got the "bottle." If that is the general practice it will have a bad effect upon the Service.

These men told me that they feel that today officers are trying lead a quiet life. One or two have even hinted that instructions have been sent from the Admiralty to the effect that an appearance of a happy ship should be given by keeping the crime sheets clean. If that be so it is absolutely fatal to the maintenance of efficiency in ships. But I think it more likely that the explanation is this feeling of uncertainty from which everyone in the Navy is suffering. The officers feel that there is less incentive to maintain the traditional, tolerant, but firm discipline which I admired when I experienced it myself.

The Admiralty must make up its mind about what purpose the Navy is to fulfil in the foreseeable future and, having done so, must let that knowledge go to all ranks so that they may see what job the Navy will have. Furthermore, the Admiralty must make up its mind to adjust the Navy, both in its size and in its activities, to the new rôle.

I was glad to hear the First Lord's comments on the constant changes which have taken place in personnel. I know a man who in the past year has had no fewer than nine drafts. That kind of turnover makes it impossible for ratings to settle down and form roots and for officers to display any qualities of leadership. How the First Lord intends to do what he says about this I do not know, but I was delighted to hear him say that he is setting about stopping this procedure.

We must do everything we possibly can to improve the conditions of men serving at sea. As I have so often said in the House, we must make human beings a first charge upon the Admiralty Vote. We must do what we can to be more generous-minded about pay, but above all we must decide what use, if any, the Navy will be in future years and make that use fully known so that everybody may understand what their job will be. If we do not do that, there will be no possibility whatever of reviving what used to be a most excellent thing about the Navy and one of the greatest experiences in my life—the sense of being part of a ship's company.

6.22 p.m.

Mr. J. J. Astor (Plymouth, Sutton)

I hope that the hon. Member for Hudders-field, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his remarks. I will confine my remarks to Her Majesty's dockyards in general and the Devonport Dockyard in particular.

I congratulate the First Lord on having been able to start a long-term plan for the modernisation of dockyards, something which has been requested by hon. Members on both sides in debates for many years. I am sure all those connected with the dockyards will be grateful to the Government and will congratulate them on having gone so far to meet the demands to modernise the dockyards.

I want the First Lord to consider two points of detail. The first concerns the apparent misuses of some ex-naval chief electricians in the dockyards. To understand this problem hon. Members must bear in mind that it is the electrical departments in the dockyards which are expanding more than any other. There is therefore considerable concern among ex-naval chief electricians and T.G. Ms. who find that they can get employment in the dockyards only as labourers. This point has been put to me on several occasions by men who have had up to 25 years' service in the Navy, some with 10 or 12 years' service as chief electricians and, who, because of the existing regulations about apprenticeships, are now working as labourers.

Of course, I should be the last person to try to start an argument of Naval loyalty versus union loyalty. It is pointed out that if the existing regulations are to be changed, many people in the yards who are electricians' mates ought to be upgraded first. I only ask my hon. Friend to consider the situation because I have put it to him several times and have not had a very satisfactory answer. There is genuine concern in the yards about this matter.

The next point I wish to make concerns the system of closed holiday periods. I recognise that the Admiralty has forceful arguments on its side to show that much money will be saved by this system. I understand that it will be saved because the maintenance of the dockyards will then be done on 14 consecutive days and not at week-ends. Overtime and double overtime has to be paid on Saturdays and Sundays. There will also, I understand, be a saving in the continual drain of manpower from the various departments over a long holiday period.

That may be true, but there is great feeling among the dockyard cities and the men that it will not be as satisfactory for them, and I ask the First Lord whether he will call for a comprehensive report at the end of the year to find out the feelings not only of the Admiralty but of the unions and the local authorities as to the success or failure of this system. I do not know what arguments can be advanced to show that it will benefit the men. The only argument in this connection which I have heard is that they experienced it in 1939 and earlier, but I do not think that is a very good argument.

I wonder whether those who have taken the decision have considered what it is like when 20,000 people—as will be the case in Devonport Dockyard, many of them my constituents—are using the same clubs, cinemas, public houses, buses and utility services at the same time. They all do approximately the same things and very few leave Plymouth for their holidays. It may not be a very satisfactory way of spending a holiday. That is a point which must be considered.

We should also consider the view of the dockyard cities. It is easy, in Whitehall, to forget how interdependent are the lives of dockyards and dockyard cities. I will quote no lesser authority Chan the present Admiral Superintendent at Devonport, a distinguished sailor. Sir Philip Enright, who stressed this point publicly the other day when he said in that dockyard that there were no fewer than four lord mayors, six aldermen, 13 councillors and two magistrates for the City of Plymouth. I make that point to show how interdependent these two organisations are.

I am not convinced that the dockyard cities will benefit by this system, because the closed period will fall in July, August and September at a time of tourist traffic. Will the First Lord give an assurance that he will call for a comprehensive report? If possible, he could show it to hon. Members on both sides of the House, but if not he could study it and tell us his reaction before deciding to go on with this system. In the interests of the Admiralty it is essential that the dockyards and the dockyard cities should keep the closest and best possible liaison.

6.30 p.m.

Commander Harry Parsey (Hull, East)

I propose to deal with a subject which has not yet been touched on by hon. Gentlemen on either side of the House, and that is the shortage of officers and, of course, the methods of entry and selection which follow from that. Recent debates in this House, particularly the debate last summer on the report on cadet entry, led many people to assume that this question of the shortage of entries into the officers ranks of the Navy was a new one. In fact, it has always been with the Navy, and the main reason for that is that the Navy has always been interested in narrowing too closely the field of selection.

All inquiries during the last century, from the Crimean and Baltic wars of 1854—and those were only a day or two ago, or a matter of a century—after which continuous service was introduced for ratings, have shown that the field was too narrow, and there were always recommendations for improvements. At one time there was a bright idea that the Navy was not getting enough entries from the sons of parsons, and special bursaries were introduced to increase such entries. It is not on record what the results were, and I would not like to lower this debate by telling the House what it was; but it was not a good idea.

Fifty years ago Admiral Sir John Fisher, later Lord Fisher, put on record in his book "Records," at great length, quite firmly and factually, why the Navy never could get sufficient officers. The main point is that the Navy never went the right way about getting them. Admiral Fisher stated: Officers will be drawn exclusively from well-to-do classes. Democratic sentiment will wreck the present system in the long run, if it is not given an outlet. But let us take the far higher ground of efficiency: is it wise or expedient to take our Nelsons from so narrow a class? He went on to say: The present system admits the Duke's son if he is fit, but excludes the cook's son whether he is fit or not.

Mr. J. Langford-Holt (Shrewsbury)

Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman permit me to intervene?

Commander Pursey

Certainly, let us have a free field with no favours. I am ready to take on all comers.

Mr. Langford-Holt

Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman admit that Lord Nelson was a parson's son?

Commander Pursey

I left that point long ago. I would seriously recommend to the hon. Gentleman that he should pay attention to the time factor, and press button B at the right moment and get his penny back. I have no intention of going back five minutes at a time, and having my theme upset by irrelevant nonsense. Lord Nelson is not the only admiral in the British Navy.

I was saying, when I was interrupted, that Lord Fisher wrote: The present system admits the Duke's son if he is fit, but excludes the cook's son whether he is fit or not. He went on to say: It ought to admit both, but only if both are fit. and added later: Brains, character and manners are not the exclusive endowment of those whose parents can afford to spend £1,000 on their son's education. Reverting to the hon. Gentleman's point about Lord Nelson, if he went before a selection committee today for entry as a cadet he would not stand an earthly chance of succeeding. It has been claimed in debates in this House that the early entry scheme and special entry scheme have produced a good type of officer. The question I want to pose is: a good type for what? [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen need not laugh; they should wait until they get the answer. It is not as funny as all that; it is very serious. Is it a good type of officer for an admiral? Ninety-five per cent, of them fail, and only 5 per cent, become admirals.

What is the test? The greater majority of naval officers are only required to reach the rank of lieut.-commander in their 30s, and to retire at the age of 45. Why, then, all this "hooey" and nonsense about cadet entry? There is no question, and it is well for the controversy, which has been going on in "The Times" and in this House that this point was not developed because I could have sunk that as well, that there is a high standard and has never been any complaint.

Every published report of investigations into the cadet entry has always criticised the lower standard of the lower half of the entries, in particular, the "tail" that the system was carrying— too heavy a tail of indifferent officers which it ought not to have carried. The only real investigation carried out was by representatives of the United States Navy before 1914, when the common entry system had been going on for 10 years. They reported that the British Navy was getting good officers in spite of the entry scheme, and not because of it. That has continued until the present day. So there is no question at all, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) said, of going back to the early entry.

We have now got the late entry, once and for all. There is no question that the Admiralty has to extend its field of selection and the range of schools. If there is to be a weak tail from the "posh" schools, why not a weak tail from all the schools? The Navy is a national service and every boy in the country has a right to an equal chance to serve in any of the national services as an officer, more particularly indeed, when the system is entirely free. Let us finish with this nonsense about restricted entry and selection because of people being "posh," and having an Oxford accent or a B.B.C. accent, which is worse still.

I will now pass to lower deck promotion. Whenever the Navy is short of officers it has gone everywhere else except to its own sources to get the increased number it requires. That has occurred right throughout the years. In the major expansions of 1895 and 1898 where did the Admiralty go? It went to the Merchant Navy and the Royal Naval Reserve; at that time the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve did not count as it does now.

Commissions were denied to warrant officers. A rating who joined the Royal Navy as such, and who had gone through various grades as an able-seaman, leading-seaman, petty officer and warrant officer, had to find some way of getting out if he wanted a commission, joining the Merchant Navy, getting a commission there and returning to the Navy with that commission because there was no other way for him to do it. Of two contemporaries at school; one of whom joined the Merchant Navy and the other the Navy, the one who joined the Merchant Navy would get a commission in the Navy before his contemporary who had joined the Navy as a career. Just over 40 years ago the present Prime Minister, in introducing the Navy Estimates, in 1912, said: These are the days when the Navy … should be opened more broadly to the nation as a whole. The question … is fraught with difficulties. We have thought them well over, and we are agreed … that there are no difficulties which … cannot be and ought not to be overcome."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th March, 1912; Vol. 35, c. 1570.] The following year, in introducing the Navy Estimates, the right hon. Gentleman said: I have noticed the tendency in some foreign newspapers to speak slightingly of this development "— of lower-deck promotion— as if it were a desperate expedient to which our shortage of officers compels us. I therefore wish to make it clear that we regard promotion from the lower deck, with possibilities of advancement"— and this is the important point— for merit to the highest ranks, as a permanent and essential feature in our naval system."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th March, 1913: Vol. 50, c. 1781.] In other words, 40 years ago it was intended to be a permanent and essential system.

What has been the position? I was pleased to hear from the First Lord this afternoon that the numbers given commissions from the lower deck have been better than since 1945. But they should be even better still. The way to improve recruiting propaganda is to give the numbers who have entered and have got commissions, and the numbers of those who have attained the ranks of commander, captain and admiral. Then we shall attract people into the Navy as a career. If people get the idea that they are limited to the rank of chief petty officer or warrant officer, with limited resources, obviously they will not jump at it.

Then comes this question of selection committees and interviews. What are the stumbling blocks? The questions asked relate to one's parents, school, games and the newspapers one reads, and they also like to know what sort of accent an applicant has, but they do not ask questions about it; they hear that. Some of our greatest leaders in the various industries in this country in every walk of life would never have scored any points at all under those heads, and yet they have attained the highest ranks in their professions, in the academic, mechanical, engineering and other fields. Yet this is the "ruddy hooey" that they concentrate on.

I speak from knowledge on this subject, from my own experience as a candidate and as a training officer for commissioned officer candidates in H.M.S. "Hood," then the largest warship in the world. What happened when I went before my own selection board? [Laughter.] I knew that would draw laughter, but hon. Members should wait for the finale. They asked about my parents. Well, I could not bluff that one, even though I had not got my birth certificate with me. I could not say my father was the First Lord of the Admiralty if something else was on my parchment. Then comes the question of the schools. If the candidate was in the Navy's orphanage, that is also written down on his parchment, so he cannot do much bluffing there, except to say that perhaps he was at the top of the form instead of at the bottom.

When the candidate was asked what papers he read, if he said the "Daily Herald" he would be out. In my time the thing to avoid was to say that one read "The Times" in case someone said, "What did you think of the second leading article yesterday?" The answer— and there is no free advertisement here today—was to say the defunct "Morning Post."

If one was asked "Why the ' Morning Post'?" one said that it had a very good naval correspondent who gave a fair and objective point of view and stated the Admiralty point of view, so that one was on the right side of the fence. As for the accent—well, hell; if the candidate came from Yorkshire or Lancashire and said "Ee, bah gum, an' all, what did I say when I come'd in?" he did not stand much chance.

When it comes to games, let me tell the House what "hooey" it was. The night before I went before my selection committee I sat down and wrote out all the possible questions and then faked all the possible answers. I was careful not to play my trump card in games too quickly. The candidate could say, "I have a go at football," but he should not lead with that one in case he does not play football. I used to have a go at cricket, but usually in the long field, catching the boundaries. I led to my trump card without getting stymied somewhere else, and I said that I played golf. It was unusual for a sailor to play golf. The chairman said "Golf? That's fine. Have you got your sticks with you?" I said "No, I left them at home." At any rate, that was a good subject, and both sides of the table could talk about golf.

They asked, "What courses do you play on?" I said that I played on the course where I lived and on another course five miles down the coast. Then they asked "How many clubs have you?" I told them a driver, a brassie, a niblick, a mashie and a putter. That was all right. I thought I was going to be asked what balls I used, to which I should have to reply "The three outside the pawnbroker's shop." We went on debating golf, and a fine time was had by all. I was totting up the points and thinking that I was getting well over this fence.

Then the President said "What was your handicap?" I thought to myself "My golly, that is the one question I did not work out last night." I remembered how old retired colonels would argue with one another whether they would give each other a stroke a hole or half a stroke a hole, and then I thought I had better say nine. They said, "That is not bad." But if that had been the wrong answer, I should have been out. The point, however, is that I have never played golf in my life. I have been a caddy. So I discussed golf as a caddy, and it was a caddy's golf that got me my commission. That shows the "hooey" of this "ruddy" games nonsense.

The Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty (Commander Allan Noble)

I am sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman would not wish to mislead the House about interviews. I should be grateful if he would give the other side of the picture. He will remember that the recent committee on naval entry reported that they thought that the interviews were very fair, and when the Press, including his hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu), attended these interviews recently, that was also their opinion.

Commander Pursey

Yes, but the hon and gallant Gentleman must not expect me to do his propaganda. He has got more time than I have. I am not the Parliamentary Secretary on the defence; I am on the attack. I am giving my own experiences as a training officer on the "Hood." I got as many candidates in three years as any other training officer because I made a special study of the subject.

Before a candidate went before the selection committee I would get hold of him and find out what this background was. I would also find out—because it would be common knowledge to the Navy—who was on the board, where the admiral served last, what were his peculiarities and the peculiarities of the members of the board, because it is more important to study those than the peculiarities of the candidates. Then 1 tried to marry the two together.

I got one very good candidate and 1 asked, "What was your last ship?" He said, "I was on the East Indies station." I said, "You are in clover. The president was chief of staff on the East Indies station. But watch your step. You will be asked what you think of the East Indies station. Don't say it is the worst in the world. Don't say it's fine. You can say you can get unusual experience seeing new things there, and that you can go up the mountains, and so on."

Another "guy" came from Ireland. He was the son of a schoolmaster. At that time the Sinn Fein troubles were on. "You will be asked about Sinn Fein," I said. There was an officer on the board who asked about that. So I briefed those "guys" and exercised them, and off they went, and in next to no time I was told they were back. I went to see them and I asked what had happened. They said, "Exactly what you said would happen. We were asked the questions you said we would be, and we were all prepared, and the whole thing was ' Bob's your uncle.'"

That is the difference between candidates going before a board for lower deck commissions who have been briefed by an officer who knows the ropes, and others who do not know the ropes and get into traps. A "guy" from the next ship was asked, "What do you do in your spare time?" He said, "In my spare time I do gardening." All old sailors garden if they do not keep "pubs." One member of the board asked him, "Can you describe to us the development of the chrysalis to the caterpillar?" Which just shows that there are things to avoid. However, I do not want there to be any question of the Admiralty's offering me a job as adviser either to selection boards or to candidates going before selection boards. All this just shows how people can get over the hurdles if they know the ropes, while others who do not take a fall.

When I started to talk about my selection board there was laughter, but I did so to show how one could get through. However, it was not a question of the Navy getting a "King's Hard Bargain," because three of my contemporaries from the same orphanage became admirals. The point now is that if any of us went before a selection board for lower deck commissions today we should not stand an earthly, because the Navy has got too "posh" and will take no risks. It took a risk with me, and it was not a bad one.

I come now to warrant rank. During the period of the Labour Government the idea was to give them some improved conditions and prospects, but the conditions have not worked out as was thought, and they are worse off than before. In the old days warrant ranks had selected cabins individually, as storekeeping officers. Now they are sharing cabins. They used to have their own mess; now they are in a general mess with other officers, although I do not criticise that. However, instead of being independent, on their own, with good prospects of promotion, they find that their conditions have deteriorated, and I suggest that the Admiralty must go into the question of the employment and the chances of promotion of the warrant ranks so that their Lordships can use these for their official propaganda.

My last point is that which the Navy Estimates gives me a chance once a year to raise, and that is the constituency interest of East Hull, and an interest of all Hull. Hull is the third port in the country, and I ask that it should be allocated more ship repair work. I have done this in previous years, so far with no result. After the First World War the only building yard in Hull was closed, so the port is largely, if not entirely, dependent in the big yards for ship repairs.

The Admiralty is doing certain things for commercial ports. Reserve Fleet ships are being berthed in commercial docks on the north-east coast and in South Wales. In Hull, admittedly, there is no place for berthing them. However, one hears of the First Lord's visiting other ports and other localities. Why not Hull, the third port of the country? The Home Secretary was supposed to come up to my constituency recently and open a factory. For reasons I need not discuss here, he did not come. [Laughter.] There was no dirty work about it. Instead, his Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett) came in his place. I hoped that he would have been here to enjoy this.

Admittedly he provided some weight and bonhomie and a good speech, after a good lunch, and, as an ex-naval officer, he was able to make a valuable contribution, but he was representing the Home Secretary, and the main interest of the Home Office in East Hull is the Borstal Institution, which it cannot control. That is what we want the Home Office to deal with.

Hull demands that the First Lord, or at least the Civil Lord, should visit the port to see the conditions and possibilities of ship repairing, and to consider the question of the unemployment there, and map out a programme of work for Hull for a year ahead. At present, all we are getting is a motor minesweeper for which we are grateful, but that is only chicken feed, only a pinch of salt in the ocean.

There is a considerable amount of other Admiralty work going to other private yards. What is wanted is a visit by one of their Lordships to conduct an investigation on the spot, and then, having conducted an investigation on the spot, to ask me what the trouble is, because he will not get the story otherwise. I am the "guy" that has got the story. There is no question that in the next 12 months the Government must do something about unemployment in Hull, otherwise, I can promise them, the "balloon will go up."

It is not only of importance from the naval point of view, but also from the point of view of the Merchant Navy. Here is the country's third port. There are London, Liverpool, Hull; no other fancy towns with their ports. It is essential that the talent, the skill and the workmanship of the yards in Hull should be fully employed for naval work and for mercantile marine work to cure the canker of unemployment there. Hull is an industrial island in an agricultural area, and the workers there cannot be used anywhere else near at hand. Their talents should be fully developed and employed in that town and port, instead of their having to draw unemployment benefit.

I warn the First Lord that there will be trouble in Hull unless we get more Admiralty ship repair orders, a visit from one of their Lordships and more consideration for Hull, the third port of the country.

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