Motion made, and Question proposed,
That 121,500 Officers, Seamen and Juniors and Royal Marines, who are borne on the books of Her Majesty's Ships and at the Royal Marine establishments, and members of the Women's Royal Naval Service and Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service, be employed for the Sea Service, for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1958.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Christopher Soames)
Though I feel somewhat diffident about this task as a new recruit myself to the Admiralty, I want to say how much we on this side of the Committee welcome the advent of the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley), to his new "shadow" responsibilities, for we know that his purpose will be to use his political position to further the interests of the Royal Navy.
During the recent defence debate, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence told the House that he was in process of working out, with Service Ministers and Chiefs of Staff, what should be the future size and shape of the three Services, tailored, as they must be, to fit both modern military concepts and the country's economic circumstances. My right hon. Friend hopes to present at the end of this month the White Paper on Defence, to be followed later by the issue by each Service Department of its detailed Estimates. In this debate on Vote A, the Committee will not, I know, expect me to anticipate what these Papers will contain.
As I see it, the procedure we are adopting this year of having a discussion on a Vote on Account has one disadvantage and one considerable advantage over our usual procedure. The disadvantage is that hon. Members have not got before them the Estimates for the coming year, with 192 all the information and details which that Paper provides. Neither have they got the White Paper on Defence, which forms, so to speak, the backcloth against which the various Service Estimates must be judged. But the reverse of that coin is that normally the Committee does not have the chance of a full day's debate on each Service before the Estimates are finalised. Both my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence and my noble Friend will study this debate most keenly and welcome this opportunity of hearing the views of hon. Members before rather than after the Estimates are finalised.
To turn to the Vote on Account, I should, first, like to go through it section by section, and to give a word or two of explanation to amplify the Explanatory Notes in page 3 of this Paper.
First, the money Vote. The Committee will see that we are asking for £125 million on account. How do we arrive at this figure? We had to consider what would be enough to cover our expenditure up to that time in July or August, when the Royal Assent may be expected to the Appropriation Bill. We have drawn on the Department's experience in recent years of its expenditure during the first few months of the financial year, and, since we do not want to risk having to trouble Parliament unnecessarily before the Appropriation Bill is enacted, we have erred slightly on the high side.
Then there is the provision for new works which follows Note 3, in page 3 of the Paper. For many years, it has been the recognised rule that normally no new works should be started unless they have had the prior approval of Parliament. For this reason, the provision for new works is always set out in broad categories in Navy Estimates, and Vote 10 is among the Votes which, under normal procedure, are taken before the end of the financial year. We are anxious to get approval to start certain new works, as it would obviously be unwise and uneconomical to allow the early part of the building season—the good months—to go by before the Appropriation Act is passed.
What the Committee will be anxious to avoid is agreeing to any expenditure on this Vote on Account which might, when the final Estimates are decided upon, prove to have been unnecessary. This applies particularly to expenditure 193 on new works, and I can assure the Committee that we are only seeking approval for new works which would have to be started anyway, regardless of any economies we might have to make. In fact, a number of them represent work necessary for the concentration and amalgamation of certain establishments for reasons of economy, and for moving one establishment into another one, thus being able to close one down and avoid the overheads of two establishments.
If hon. Members will turn to the top of page 2, they will see the Vote A of 121,500 all ranks. This figure is not, of course, a Vote on Account. It has for many years been the practice to take Vote A, representing the maximum number of officers, ratings and other ranks which may be borne at any time during the year, before the end of the financial year; and there is no need to alter that custom because we are having recourse this year to a Vote on Account. The figure is 6,500 below that of last year, and represents what the Navy's strength will be this April. It is not until the Estimates and the longer term defence review are finally settled that we will know what figure we are aiming at for next year.
The level of recruiting and re-engagement will certainly feature prominently in our forthcoming debates on Defence and Service matters, particularly as this is so closely associated with the future of National Service. I am glad to tell the Committee that since the introduction of the new pay code the decline in Regular recruiting for the Navy, which has been a most disturbing feature of recent years, has been halted. In fact, this year there has been an 8 per cent. increase over the recruiting figure for the previous year.
The picture is somewhat better than that, for recruiting standards had been lowered in the autumn of 1954, in an endeavour to bring in more recruits, but the old standards were restored when the new engagement structure was introduced a year ago, and we have been getting more recruits at the higher standard. Our chief worry today is in certain specialist branches, particularly artificer apprentices, signalmen and telegraphists, where we are still not getting sufficient recruits. This problem of the shortage of specialists is, of course, by no means limited to the 194 Navy or, indeed, to the Services as a whole.
As the Committee knows, the new engagement structure for men replaced the Special Service 7-year engagement and Continuous Service 12-year engagement by a single initial engagement of nine years from entry. From the beginning of the financial year the new pay code was introduced which provided a better rate of pay for men who were committed to a 9-year engagement, and we expected that as a result more 7-year men would reengage. In 1955, 6 per cent. of these men were re-engaging. Since the new scheme started, 20 per cent. have already undertaken to complete nine years or more. Re-engagement for pension—that is, at present, by 12-year men signing on for a further ten—remains satisfactory at about 40 per cent.
On the question of reserves, I want, in particular, to talk about the abolition of the R.N.V.R. Air Branch. We are very keenly aware of the great disappointment which this decision has caused. The Air Branch had been built up to become a valuable and competent part of our naval air power and it had the enthusiastic and unreserved support of all its officers and men. It could not be said that there was no longer any operational rôle for the Air Branch of the R.N.V.R. The decision to disband it was taken with the greatest reluctance, solely for financial and manpower reasons. It was a question of priorities, and faced with the ever more pressing need for economy it was inevitable that priority should be given to the Regular forces, which are so much more readily available in an emergency. We hope very much that a number of these officers and men will transfer to other sections of the R.N.V.R., but, whether they do so or not, we are deeply grateful to them for the service they have given.
We have also had, with regret, to disband altogether the general service rating section—the Merchant Navy seamen—of the Royal Naval Reserve. Much as we dislike disbanding a body of volunteers who have shown such an excellent spirit, the hard fact is that most merchant seamen would not be available for the Navy on mobilisation, and they can best serve their country by remaining in their ships if war should come.
Beyond this I have at present little to say about the Naval Reserves in general, 195 except to mention that we are forming a new section of the R.N.V.R. and W.R.N.V.R., known as List H, to provide a reserve of trained men and women living near to naval headquarters—we are starting with Plymouth and Northwood—to help in manning the headquarters in the event of war: and in peacetime they will be trained at the headquarters to which they would report in an emergency.
Turning to officers, there are two questions I want to mention. The first concerns the composition of the Board of Admiralty itself. Hitherto, the responsibility for stating the requirements for aircraft has rested with the Fifth Sea Lord, and responsibility for stating the requirements for ships and weapons has rested with the Deputy Chief of Naval Staff. My noble Friend is concerned to ensure complete co-ordination in the development of all weapons, offensive and defensive, for the Fleet. For these reasons we intend that the two posts of the Fifth Sea Lord and Deputy Chief of Naval Staff should be amalgamated into one post.
The first holder will be an aviation specialist, the present Fifth Sea Lord, and, in future, either the holder of that post, or his deputy, will be an aviator. He will continue to take an interest in the general problems of the Fleet Air Arm, and will be available for consultation by other members of the Board on matters affecting the Fleet Air Arm. It is the intention that in future at least one member of the Board should be an aviation specialist and, if possible, one other should have commanded a carrier or have served in the Home Air Command.
The subject of senior naval officers leads me to my second point, which is somewhat more general. I have seen from the Order Paper that a number of hon. Members are anxious about the increase over the past ten years in the numbers of naval officers of the rank of captain and above, although the Vote A is much smaller now than it was ten years ago. I had wondered about that myself, and have done a bit of devilling.
The increase in the number of captains and above between 1947 and today is 39. This is arrived at by various additions and subtractions but, as it happens, there has been an increase of exactly 39 196 officers of these high ranks in the engineering and electrical specialisations, owing, as the Committee will understand, to the growing complexity of machinery and equipment being developed and used. It may, however, well be argued that these increases in numbers among specialist officers should have been counterbalanced by decreases in the Executive and Supply Branches. Taking these two Branches together there has, in fact, been a small decrease over the past ten years—but not to this extent—but, in the meanwhile, we have had to fill no fewer than 20 N.A.T.O. posts for captains and above, which did not exist in 1947.
I do assure the Committee, however, that we are greatly concerned about this inevitable tendency for officer numbers to increase with the growing complexity of equipments and of administration. We are determined that all these various trends to increased numbers, however justifiable they may be, have gone quite far enough. So we have made a rule that in future no new post will be created without an old one being done away with in compensation, and our main aim, indeed, will be to reverse the trend.
Another point which I know is exercising hon. Members is the high proportion of the Navy's manpower ashore. I am sure that it has occurred to many hon. Members to compare this year's Vote A with that of twenty years ago, and to compare, also, the proportion of personnel employed ashore in the same years. In 1938, the Vote A was 119,000—not much different from what it is today—but we had then roughly 44,000 men ashore, whereas today we have 70,000. I would ask the Committee to bear with me for a little while, while I analyse these figures which, I think it will be agreed, are of the greatest importance.
What does more than anything else to explain this difference is the fundamental change, during the period in question, in the Navy's capital ships. In 1938, the capital ship was the battleship. Today, it is the aircraft carrier. The carrier, by its very nature, requires a considerable backing of air stations and training and maintenance facilities ashore for its aircraft and aircrews. Of course, we had some carriers and some shore backing for them in 1938, but all that the Navy did was sail the ships. The rest was the responsibility of the R.A.F.
197 Whereas, in 1938, we had nearly 12,000 officers and men afloat in battleships, today we have none, but we have about 15,000 officers and men ashore backing up the Fleet Air Arm, which, before the war, was a rôle fulfilled by the R.A.F. and, therefore, not included in the Navy's Vote A. This represents the biggest and most significant factor in the increase in numbers ashore.
The next factor is a change in the rôle of the Royal Marines, who, before the war, were carried in large numbers in battleships and cruisers. Today, we have no battleships and very few cruisers, so the Marines are concentrated more ashore, but this, at all events, has paid a good dividend in the creation of the Royal Marine Commandos, as fine a body of troops as will be found anywhere in the world.
The third reason for the growth in the numbers of shore personnel is that the average length of service in the Regulars today is considerably less than it was in 1938. This, coupled with the fact that there are 10,000 National Service men on the Vote A today, means a much bigger training commitment than there was before the war.
When all that is said, the last thing I wish to do is to give the impression that the Admiralty is complacent about the proportion of shore-going personnel. The Navy has had to take considerable reductions of manpower in the last few years and the signs are that we have not yet reached the end of that road. The smaller the Navy is the more it has to be versatile, flexible, able to go anywhere and do anything. Any establishment and, indeed, any post which does not contribute to those ends must have no place in the Navy's plans for the future. The Committee may be sure that the Board of Admiralty is more anxious than anyone that in the process of reduction the Navy's punch should not be weakened more than is absolutely unavoidable.
This leads me to the Committee known as "The Way Ahead", which as hon. Members know, was set up about 18 months ago with the object of reducing and concentrating the shore support of the Navy, both naval and civilian, and also saving overheads on accommodation, works and building. Some constant review of this sort has clearly come to stay as a permanent feature of Admiralty 198 administration, certainly for as far ahead as we can see. Some of the results of the review were announced last August by the then First Lord in another place, but since then considerable progress has been made.
We have closed down or are in the actual process of closing down three large establishments, 10 medium-sized ones and 23 small ones. We have approved for closing by 1960 a further six large, 20 medium and 38 small ones. These add up to a manpower saving of more than 5,000 officers and men and also a considerable saving in civilian staffs. There will, of course, also be a useful cash saving, on such overheads as rents and maintenance of buildings. I can assure the Committee that this is by no means the end of the story. Our search for economies ashore must be a constant and growing process to which my noble Friend attaches the highest importance.
The Committee will wish to know how matters now stand in the subject of nuclear propulsion for ships. It was explained in last year's debate that nuclear propulsion is most immediately attractive for submarines because of the decisive operational advantages that it confers. It was, therefore, decided that the first step should be taken in that direction. An order has been placed with Vickers Armstrong (Shipbuilders) Limited for construction of the prototype nuclear propulsion submarine and design is well advanced for the construction by Vickers Armstrong (Engineers) Limited of a prototype reactor and machinery installation.
Our intention is to have this fitted for test purposes into a portion of a submarine hull which we will make available ashore. The Atomic Energy Authority has undertaken to be responsible for the construction of the installation and for reactor safety. The engineering problems will be tackled by our team of contractors, including Rolls Royce and Foster-Wheelers as well as Vickers Armstrong, naval experts and Admiralty scientists. This team will be in the closest touch with the Atomic Energy Authority for advice on problems to do with the reactor, what one might call the "furnace" of nuclear submarines.
The Committee may be interested to know that the name "Dreadnought" has been approved by Her Majesty the Queen 199 for the first British nuclear submarine. That is an old and honoured ship's name and will be the ninth to appear in the Navy List.
§ Mr. Soames
It is impossible to foretell what the total cost will be. We are still in the experimental stages.
The last "Dreadnought", of fifty years ago, marked a revolution in the design of warships and it is appropriate that the same name should be given to the first vessel that will usher in another great development. It may well be that in the distant future all major warships will be powered in this way and the whole tempo of naval operations may well alter. No one can predict when this will be, but it is doubtless as inevitable in the long term as was the transition from sail to steam and from coal to oil.
Moreover, as the cost of nuclear fuel falls, it will become economically attractive for commercial vessels. This leads me to mention the important responsibility of my noble Friend not only to provide the Navy with the best means of propulsion for its ships, but also to watch over the general health of the shipbuilding and marine engineering industries. My noble Friend is consulting with his Ministerial colleagues and with industry and a Committee is to be set up under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Civil Lord to bring together representatives of all the interests concerned to tackle this problem, that is the engineering industry, shipbuilders, shipowners and the Admiralty.
Development of nuclear propulsion is bound to proceed apace and it is vital to the maintenance of our national position in marine engineering and ship construction and to the future of our Navy and Merchant Marine that we should press forward development in the United Kingdom effectively and with energy. The application of atomic propulsion to warships and commercial vessels is very largely an engineering problem that must be worked out by the engineering industry. It is the intention of the Admiralty and the Government to give all help and encouragement in this task, which is of the greatest importance to the country as a whole.
200 My noble Friend has very much in mind the continuing and, indeed, increasing importance of Commonwealth co operation in the naval sphere. He has agreed that the First Sea Lord should hold a Commonwealth Naval Conference at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, a matter which was mentioned in last year's debate. This conference will be held on 29th April to 2nd May, this year. The main purpose of the conference is to enable the Commonwealth navies and the Commonwealth Chiefs of Naval Staff to attend an exercise called "Fairlead," to study matters of common interest in naval strategy and tactics.
The conference will examine the implications of cold, limited and global war on naval strategy and its central purpose will be to maintain the strong liaison between the Commonwealth navies, to which, I am sure, the Committee attaches the greatest importance. It is hoped that the Chiefs of Staff of all Commonwealth navies will be able to attend and a special synopsis will be held on 3rd May, to which a number of hon. Members and Members of another place will be invited.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, I am not able today to face up to many of the big question marks which are so much in the minds of all those who ponder on the Navy's affairs. These are worrying times for those whose careers are in the Services. There has been so much talk about defence cuts during the past month that everyone is, naturally, anxious to hear the Government's longterm plan developed so that rumour can be deposed by fact. All I can say today is that the Government are well aware of these anxieties and the effect which they have upon morale and that they will reveal the picture as a whole and in perspective in the Defence White Paper, which will be published towards the end of the month.
I do not think that informed and responsible opinion in this country has ever been in doubt about the essential importance of the Navy's rôle in defence. Indeed, in peace and limited war, for a nation with world-wide interests and a tightly-stretched economy a heavy responsibility rests upon the Navy. The more we cut down, for economic or political reasons, our land bases abroad, the more valuable become mobile, flexible bases, which can only be provided at sea. 201 Although I have to ask those whose interests are in the Navy and its future to be patient a little while yet, they can be sure that the Government realise full well the powerful contribution which the Navy can provide in modern times to the preservation and furtherance of our country's fortunes.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ Mr. A. G. Bottomley (Rochester and Chatham)
I thank the Parliamentary Secretary for his kind reference to myself. It is, of course, a privilege to speak from the Front Bench for the Admiralty, and I can say that the Parliamentary Secretary has acquitted himself extremely well. At the same time, the material that has been given to him is rather thin and we have not been given an effective explanation of why it is not possible to have the Estimates before us and why the White Paper has not been presented. That, however, is a matter which can be pursued on another occasion.
I want this afternoon to join the Parliamentary Secretary in saying that in a Navy debate there should be the common aim to protect the lives and independence of our peoples. Overshadowing any debate on defence, however, must be the fear of the hydrogen bomb. We know that the Soviet Union and the United States had the hydrogen bomb before we did, and to that extent we might claim a clearer conscience; but we on this side have already proclaimed that we believe that the United Kingdom should propose the immediate cessation of H-bomb tests.
Subject to that, we have to ask ourselves what part the Navy is to play, what it is to be called upon to do and what is its purpose. We all accept the Navy as part of the country's defences—we cannot separate the one from the other; and our defence policy must be based as a whole on a coherent foreign policy. Today, is not the time to examine the foreign policy, but the first query I have to put is whether the Navy forms an integrated part of a defence force.
The hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) said in the defence debate a year ago:The Admiralty has a private strategy of of its own. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th February, 1956; Vol. 549, c. 1293.]Certainly, that can be said about the admirals. We have to ask ourselves 202 whether we are planning to meet a global war. Some people think that we could be blotted out at home and could then carry on the war at sea. Others seem to think that we could be starved to death by submarine warfare and then devastated by the H-bomb.
I quote the First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff, who, in a speech to the Navy League on 18th January, is reported as referring to the Navy's ability to fight onhowever great the destruction of the homeland.Admiral Davis, Vice-Chief of the Naval Staff, speaking at Belfast a month later, is reported as saying that we must deal with 475 Russian submarinesor increase the possibility of global war.If the admirals are not quite clear as to the policy that must be followed, what about the rest of us?
We do not have the prepared statement by the Minister of Defence before us and I cannot foresee what will be presented later, but I notice from last year's White Paper that there is no precision or definition of policy or the way in which policy is to be carried out. I should like to know from the Minister who replies to the debate how the Government define their defence policy. Is it based on deterring a possible aggressor? If so, what special part can the Royal Navy play other than its general contribution to the Armed Forces as a whole being a deterrent?
Do we base our policy on a limited war? If so, the Royal Navy certainly has a very important rôle to play. It can provide a mobile striking force, it would be comparatively free and independent of bases and it could assist wherever it was needed. If called upon, it would be available to transport and land and give support for ground troops. Above all, it would continue to protect our trade routes.
But if, as some may feel, there is to be a global war, how do we meet such a war? There are many who take the view that if we do have a global war it would be a short, sharp one, over in two or three days. Suppose, however, that the war was not over in two or three days. Could we, as a nation, contemplate being starved to death by submarine warfare? I hope that we shall hear sometime about our 203 new weapons for tackling submarine warfare. I have been told that there are new and scientific weapons which can give us adequate protection. There is the new depth charge "Limbo," which is supposed to be much more accurate and effective than anything used in the last war.
Again, I imagine that our air service is much more effective than ever before. But we ought to know whether this is so and whether we can tackle submarine warfare effectively. If the Government cannot give us that assurance, what other means do they propose to defend the country? At some stage, we have to be told what is the alternative.
I question at once, however, whether we are right in spending so much on anti-submarine and minesweeping craft. As far as I can see, we are spending a disproportionate amount of our naval expenditure on this kind of service. The Russians, if they are anything at all, are realists. They are aware that the submarines which they have could be just as effective against the United Kingdom as a nuclear attack upon this country. If that is so, are we sure that they have the submarines for an attack against us?
I notice that Admiral Brown, of the United States Navy, has said that the Russian bomber is limited. Perhaps the submarine is a weapon from which guided missiles could be fired into the heart of America. Perhaps it is not for offensive action alone. Some experts take the view that every ship which is on the surface today is a sitting target. Perhaps the Russians believe this, too, and, for that reason, have created a vast underwater fleet for the purposes of communications and carrying essential supplies. I feel that the Government must face up to that. We cannot afford to prepare for every kind of offensive action, and we certainly cannot afford to fight the last war as well as prepare for a possible future conflict.
Admiral Brown, who commands the Sixth American Fleet in the Mediterranean, seems to think that, with all our expenditure, all that the Royal Navy is fit for today is to look after communications. I think that our Royal Navy could be rated much higher than that. I should like to query—
§ Mr. Soames
I believe that it was "lines of communications" and not "communications", which is a very different matter.
§ Mr. Bottomley
The hon. Gentleman can put whatever interpretation upon it he likes. I would prefer not to say anything more.
§ Mr. Bottomley
I was thinking much deeper than that, so I am very glad that I did not hazard my guess. I will leave it there. There is no difference at all between my original statement and what I am now about to say.
I ask whether we are right to have cruisers. I agree that we have to have destroyers, frigates and escorts and I think that there may be some cases in which the cruiser is necessary, particularly if it has a guided missile to be directed at a potential enemy inland.
I do not know about that, but the Parliamentary Secretary has asked for suggestions, so that when the programme is formulated these things can be considered. I am certainly of the opinion that destroyers and frigates are required for patrol duties in particular areas. They are the visible signs of power and influence. Are we having too many of these frigates? I am not sure. I think that 30 are to be built this year and that some will go straight into reserve. I think that we have to provide these craft, but only to the extent that they meet our real needs.
If we are no longer able to say we rule the waves, we must clearly accept our share of responsibility with our Western allies and the Commonwealth in making sure that we have supremacy at sea. In the excellent booklet produced by the Admiralty, "In Which We Serve", I see that reference is made to the battle group. I have already queried the cruisers, but there are the aircraft carriers and the escorts and these, of course, are necessary. As to the aircraft carriers, I wonder whether we could be told something about the operation of the helicopters in the Suez fiasco. Helicopters were used, but I do not know with what advantage. Some 205 seem to think that this is a new form of service which can drop parachutists and render aid immediately and bring out the injured and wounded and others.
I know that the Navy has always seemed to be in trouble with aircraft. We were told in 1955 that new aircraft would be coming, the D.H.110, the N.113 and a new strike aircraft to replace the unlamented Wyvern. The first two planes are already obsolete. Very optimistic figures have recently been given for the new Blackburn N.A.39 strike fighter. Very optimistic forecasts have been made before. In the Parliamentary Secretary's speech we had little information about the air arm at all. It is strange that we are not more ahead in providing effective aircraft for the Navy when we consider what we have been able to do so far as carrier development itself is concerned. The angled deck, the steam catapult and the mirror landing aid have made an important contribution to our own effective carrier forces and certainly to other countries, particularly the United States.
I am told that now a further device is being developed. It is the blown flap, which is being tested on the supermarine N.113. This may enable aircraft of very high performance to land comfortably on an ordinary carrier. If that is so, let us go ahead. But shall we again find ourselves doing all this only to make it available for others to build up on our experience and become much more efficient than we are? We congratulate ourselves on doing all this, but we ought to complete it and make sure that we have the aircraft to match the carrier.
I should like, if I may, to go on with the ships. I am in no doubt at all that we should scrap the warships. [HON. MEMBERS: "Battleships."] I think that warships is right. What I am getting at is the "King George V" class. That is a matter on which I stand to be corrected, but I was asked to put it in that way by a retired high-ranking officer, who must have misled me. If so, I will deal with him in due course.
I will make it quite clear what I want to scrap, so that there will be no doubt at all. I would scrap the "King George V" class ship and the "Vanguard". I think that we are spending about £2,000 a day for these battleships, which belong to a bygone naval age. The "Vanguard" itself is costing us £700,000 206 a year. We cannot justify this. These ships should be scrapped. I was calculating that at £2,000 a day—I always think of my own constituency in these matters—the workers in the dockyards of Chatham would get £1 a week extra if only we could scrap these ships.
All of our ships will be out of date unless we make greater strides in nuclear propulsion. It was a good thing today to hear the Paymaster-General make a statement about nuclear power stations, but we are a maritime Power and unless we go ahead with nuclear propulsion we shall be left behind. I know that Government policy—that of the last Government and the present Government—has been to provide atomic power stations, and Calder Hall was an excellent thing. There are some scientists who say that we ought to concentrate on that and gain experience before going ahead, but that is another matter.
Unless the Admiralty considers particularly the need to go ahead with nuclear propelled ships we shall certainly be left behind. The United States have the "Nautilus" submarine, which has just returned from a tour of 60,000 miles, making 859 dives, and they have another. They are now making a merchant vessel which is to make an "Atoms for Peace" propaganda tour of the world within a relatively short time. We as a nation used to believe that trade follows the flag.
It is not only the Americans but the Russians, too, who are making progress in nuclear propulsion. The Russians are building a cargo and passenger-carrying ice-breaker, which will have nuclear propulsion. They are also to have a whaling vessel built in 1959, and they are building at least three atom-powered submarines. Japan is to build two tankers and one submarine. It is well past the planning stage—well off the drawing board—and Norway, Sweden, Holland and France are all working on the design and construction of nuclear propelled tankers.
We must go ahead it we are to hold our own in the world. I should be wrong if I did not pay tribute to the Atomic Energy Authority and the National Physical Laboratory for the work which they are doing. It is not that they are not doing the work. It is the Government who are not giving the degree of 207 priority necessary to make sure that we keep well in the lead with nuclear propelled ships. We are a great maritime Power. If we are to remain that way we must be well ahead in our ship construction and design and in the method of their propulsion.
We must cut our defence Estimates and I believe that I have shown how it could be done. Nevertheless, the Navy must be made highly efficient to deal with a limited or cold war. If it came to a global war we should have to make do with our existing resources. It is inconceivable that the Navy could carry on a private war on its own if the United Kingdom were devastated. Would the naval staff migrate and be allowed to carry on an independent war free from the control of the home Government? I think not.
But the ships that we require can best be built in our own dockyards. The production of ships in the Royal dockyards, as the Comptroller and Auditor General has shown, means cheaper and better ships than those built in private yards, and that in spite of the fact that the Royal dockyards are handicapped. In earlier debates I have stated that some Royal dockyards are using machinery which was five years old when Nelson won the Battle of Trafalgar. My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu), myself and others have been pressing for their modernisation and better equipment. The Admiralty has moved, but not entirely in the right direction.
The Admiralty called a conference last October to examine the possibility of improving organisation and methods in these dockyards and to increase productivity. The Director of Dockyards, managers of departments, representatives of the Civil Engineer-in-Chief, the Director of Stores, and the Director of Expense Accounts and, last of all, at the end, the Admiralty Superintendents were called in. It was the view that a man who was appointed Admiralty Superintendent in the Royal dockyards service was an ornament, a man who is no longer competent to go to sea—and I am not, of course, referring to any present occupants of the post—but Admiralty Superintendents ought to be replaced by people who are competent and knowledgeable in industrial matters. Perhaps we shall be told what 208 is happening to the Deputy-Superintendent who was appointed with, I hope, a view to subsequently becoming the chief officer.
Men from private industry were brought in to help, but it would have been better if they had been taken round the dockyards to see the working conditions. When one considers the new ships and the complicated machinery and equipment which are associated with the Fleet it is more than ever necessary that the dockyards should be brought up to date.
Dockyards and bases are a necessity not only for refitting and building but to store fuel, ammunition, provisions and supplies and to provide facilities for resting and training crews after cruises. But some of the overseas yards are either being taken away from the Navy or are not as useful as they used to be. We tried the "Fleet train" during the last war and the Americans are still employing it successfully. We should make sure that it is possible to give attention to ships at sea in some such way.
Admiralty policy should ensure that our ships and resources are adequate to support our allies in N.A.T.O. in both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, and to guarantee our ability to contribute to Commonwealth defence anywhere in the world. But there can be no ships without the men. The personnel of the Navy is of the greatest importance. There have been improvements since 1945 and I was interested to hear today that recruiting has been a little better this year. I think that the numbers of men choosing to serve their National Service in the Navy have decreased, which is rather surprising, but I was going to ask whether National Service ought not to be coming to an end in any case. Perhaps we shall have further information from the Minister of Defence about that in a White Paper.
Last year, only 7,662 were recruited to the Royal Navy compared with 10,499 in 1951. I do not know the figures for this year. Are they above the 1956 figure? If there has been an increase, how far is it due to unemployment or to the threat of unemployment? Recruits to the Navy must be given better pay, comparable with that of industrial workers. There should certainly be better accommodation.
I wonder whether housing conditions are not one of the reasons why recruits sometimes do not come into the Navy. 209 Stability is not ensured by providing a man and his family with a house and then moving them out of that house. Once a man is in the Navy, would it not be better to allow his family to settle in one of the quarters, wherever he may be doing his service, whether at home or at sea? We should also consult with the T.U.C. to ensure that the skill of Service men can be used after they leave the Navy for civil employment. Above all, there must be better human relationships between officers and men.
It is only a hundred years since the House of Commons was debating the flogging of sailors, not whether it was right or wrong to flog them but the desirability of inflicting a punishment which would fit the crime. One of the reasons then given for the lack of recruits to the Navy was that no respectable man wished to join. I do not wish to imply that the situation today is such that respectable men would not wish to join, but there is room for improvements.
There are causes of grievance. I should like to know how the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors is developing, particularly in relation to dockyard apprentices. Are there opportunities now for apprentices to enter in increasing numbers the Corps, which is responsible for design?
Then there is the problem of ex-school teachers who, with a retiring age of 55 with the rank of lieutenant-commander, are at a disadvantage compared with other officers who can retire at 48 or, if they are executive officers, at 45. It is a little hard that these people should be penalised on retirement when it is remembered that they have been trained as teachers probably at great cost to themselves and their families. This is a matter which has been taken up by many hon. Members and I should like some comment upon it from the Admiralty spokesman.
Whatever may be said about the lower deck personnel and others, admirals, captains and commanders seem to be flourishing. In 1945, there were 110 officers of flag rank. In 1951, there were 95 and today there are 96. I have excluded two who are on loan to Commonwealth navies and two who are due to retire. In 1945, there were 424 captains. In 1951, at the time of the Korean war, there were 464, but today there are 497. There were 210 1,129 commanders in 1945 and 1,312 in 1951. Today, there are 1507. How can we justify this tremendous increase.
It has been said that we had many more commanders and captains during the war but records have not been kept. At the same time, it must be borne in mind that we had thousands and thousands of Service men. It would be interesting to have a comparison made between the numbers of captains, commanders and admirals and the numbers of Service men. The fact is that today we are carrying hundreds of captains and commanders above the 1945 figures, I do not think that that can be justified in any way. If economies are to be made, it is clear that they can be made in this direction.
The remarks made by the Parliamentary Secretary about the Royal Naval Volunteer Air Force are welcome. Is it at all wise to dispense with the antisubmarine squadrons? Their experience counts just as much as that of pilots of jet planes. Experience has shown that they have always been ready and efficient, and, bearing in mind that they can render this service, is it wise to disband them?
To sum up, I would say that to the extent we are ill-prepared for defence, both in the Navy and other Services, the Government carry a heavy responsibility. There has been hardly any change in the main body of the personnel forming the Government. Millions and millions of pounds have been spent each year, with little to show for them. My right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), speaking in defence debates, has shown this clearly, and here we are today discussing Vote A without the Estimates or the necessary details and without a White Paper.
This illustrates further the muddle and the mess made by a Conservative Government. I do not want in any way to underrate the task confronting any Government. Since the end of the war, the United Kingdom has been faced with competition both in the military and economic sense. Yet, since 1951, the Government have failed to provide a policy either to balance both those requirements or to tackle them effectively. Do we know what the position is today? Is our greatest threat war or are we to be strangled by economic difficulties? 211 The Prime Minister's predecessor, Sir Anthony Eden, speaking at Norwich less than 12 months ago, said:So far as I can judge the future the more immediate threat to our country's existence is competition in export markets rather than world war.Later, the Government seem to have led us into a war unprepared. The Government must make up their mind about what kind of a military challenge we are likely to meet, what forces are required and what armaments. We must never fail in our obligations to our allies, but we must recognise that we can only do this if we have the necessary economic ability.
I hope that the Royal Navy will never find itself again in the position where it is possible for an American Commander-in-Chief to say:I fought under the goddam British in the First World War, and if I can help it no ships of mine will fight under them again.The Royal Navy, and the personnel who served in the Suez fiasco, rendered magnificent service, carrying out their orders with great skill and efficiency. The Government were morally wrong to embark upon war, but they were equally gravely at fault in not giving effective aid and support to our Services.
The administration and organisation were thoroughly bad. The call-up and mobilisation was exceedingly badly handled. Stores and equipment which ought to have been ready on mobilisation were not available. The loading of ships was appalling and, if we had met a more formidable enemy, the loss of life would have been very heavy indeed.
There were difficulties about medical and similar services. Here, I am not sure that we ought not to be considering the amalgamation of all the medical services. I do not know why we want separate ones for the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. I should have thought this was an opportunity to bring them together in one efficient service.
There were difficulties about landing craft. We were supposed to have had 39 in commission, but only two were ready, and the tanks were too big for them, so we had to borrow ships from civilian companies.
The country really does not know all the problems that arose over Suez. If 212 it did, I am sure that the by-election results would be even more resounding than they have been. But, already, the public is becoming aware of the failure of the Government not only to tackle the economy of the country, but to provide for adequate defence.
In conclusion, may I say, on behalf of the Opposition, that we believe that it is possible to have a highly efficient and well organised Navy and, at the same time, to bring stability to the economy of cur country. Our sailors and craftsmen come from the same stock which made us the premier maritime Power of the world, that took us from sailing to steam ships, from wood to steel, and in this age of oxides, silicates, nitrates, atomic power and jet propulsion our Navy, and our people, with effective and proper leadership, can lead the world again.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Commander J. W. Maitland (Horn-castle)
I listened with great interest to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley), in the course of which he posed a number of agreeable questions which are all difficult to answer. I must say frankly, however, that he posed them in such a way as to indicate that, if they had been answered in the way he wanted, the Navy Estimates would have been very much higher than they are. The right hon. Gentleman asked for many improvements, which we all want, but the great problem which we are all facing is the need to retrench in our Service expenditure.
The Parliamentary and Financial Secretary was naturally somewhat inhibited in what he could tell us in this difficult debate. I, as a back bencher, need not be so inhibited, and I have the advantage that, speaking on Vote A, I can discuss almost every subject. First, I want to mention one or two matters which should be considered under any circumstances, whatever the shape of things to come may be.
I am worried about the dockyards. It is difficult for me to understand why, at a time when the Navy was never smaller, we should have four dockyards, all so full of naval work that they cannot take any commercial work. I am told that this is because some of the building and all the repairs are now being carried out by the dockyards, whereas that was not the 213 case before the war. Yet I cannot remember that before the war a great deal of repair work was carried out in private yards. I am also told that nowadays our ships are rather older and require more maintenance in dockyards. I am not prepared to take that for an answer before I have had it investigated a little more closely. It seems curious that with a small Navy there should be such vast numbers of non-sea-going civilians employed in our dockyards as there are at present.
Now I want to ask the Civil Lord if, when he replies, he will talk about that aspect of the work of the Admiralty which is so important just now, namely, its relationship with the shipbuilding and shipping industries. The Royal Navy is a god-parent to both those industries, and is the sponsor of steel for the shipbuilding industry. There cannot be two activities more important to our economy than those, so it is important that we should make advances in our shipbuilding industry. Is the Admiralty satisfied that it has all the powers it wants? Here I put a very pointed question. Is it satisfied that it is the right Department to carry out this work? Those are important matters, and they must be decided whatever happens in the future and whatever may be the future rôle of the Navy.
Now for a short time I shall try to think aloud about what kind of Navy we want to see emerge. Let us forget for a moment the over-riding pressure of finance and let us try to think of the kind of Navy we would like, and then let us try to fit that into the picture of what we can afford. First, of course, there is the nuclear deterrent rôle. I do not want to talk about that because, frankly, I do not know enough about it. It is interesting to indulge one's imagination, but that is all one can indulge in about what may or may not happen as regards the great problems of the new nuclear age. I know only two things to the good of the nuclear bomb. First, I believe that it has maintained the peace of the world during these very difficult years. Secondly, in preparing for a nuclear war nobody can suggest that one is preparing for the previous war, because in this case that is impossible.
We ought not to be hypnotised by the fascination of the unknown and shut our eyes to the dangers which we do understand—dangers which are just as mortal. 214 It is really just as unpleasant to die of starvation as it is to have the privilege, if one might put it like that, of being the first hydrogen bomb victim; and starvation is a death which we have faced twice during the last forty years.
This great menace of the submarine faces us still in our sea lanes. It is our own peculiar danger in this country. Since 1949, N.A.T.O. has taken on responsibility for keeping those sea lanes open. When I read in the Press of the conversations going on in N.A.T.O. in regard to the reduction of our commitments in Europe and our attempts to reduce the great expense which we have in keeping armies and air forces in Europe, and when I hear that there may well be agreement and understanding of our great financial needs, I do not at the same time believe that N.A.T.O. would be quite so complacent if we were to retract from that part of our responsibility in keeping clear the routes to this country which, as I have said, is our own particular and peculiar problem.
Therefore, whatever else we may envisage for this Navy which I am trying to visualise, it will certainly be our duty to exploit to the full our great knowledge and "know-how"—I hate the word, but it explains what I mean—in being able to deal with the submarine. I believe that we are probably the first in the world today in our knowledge of the methods of dealing with that particular abomination. It would be quite fatal if we were to relax for a moment our efforts in research and development, trial and practice, in endeavouring to find a solution to this great problem. I believe that there will be a solution, if we try long enough. There is no weapon which cannot be defeated in time if we study and work hard enough. I believe that we should make that one of our great duties. We should become, as it were, that part of the Western world which concentrates upon knowledge of submarine warfare, and we should disseminate and share our knowledge with our Western friends who have undertaken to work so hard in our defence if war came. Although I would not say necessarily that this is the first rôle, I would certainly regard it as one of the essential rôles which this atomic age Navy cannot relax.
Next, I would refer to the rôle of the Navy in the small limited war, its uses 215 as part of an international force, perhaps, under the United Nations. It seems to me that that is an absolutely vital duty for any great nation today, and the Navy, of course, is peculiarly suited to the task. I should like to see a special force created from all three Services, the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, working under one commander and kept at a high state of readiness. In my opinion, a force of this nature need not be large; it need not be equipped with expensive weapons. But there is one absolute essential; it must be ready and able to move quickly and decisively.
I should like to see such a force used for experimental work in this matter of integration, about which so many hon. Members have spoken. I sometimes feel that we can try to go too fast with integration. I should have thought that if we were to form a quite small force of this sort we might be able to work out some of the problems of integration within that force. Why should members of it not have the same uniform? That may be just a psychological factor, but I believe that it would go a long way in helping us with integration. They should have the same base; perhaps we might find it possible to use one of our great naval dockyards as a base, so that the ships and all the various fighting weapons of such a force would be looked after in the same place. The basic training should be the same, and there should be as much interchange as possible, of both men and officers, in a force of that sort.
I believe that we have already in this country the nucleus of such a force. We have the Royal Marines. I see an ex-Royal Marine, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull, Haltem-price (Major Wall), sitting on my left, and I must ask him not to listen for a few moments because, as the Committee knows, it is traditional that no naval officer ever praises a Marine in his hearing. I should like to say—and I know that many others think the same—that there is no finer body of men in the Service of our Queen today than the Royal Marines. Surely, the Royal Marines are admirably suited to form the nucleus of such a force, together with, perhaps, the Paratroop Brigade, the Commandos, that part of the Navy which 216 looks after landing craft, and some of the aircraft carrier personnel, and so forth. I believe that we could, without very much difficulty or expense, create a force of that sort which would be immediately available and, by its availability, would solve a great many of our problems as regards bases and so on, because, of course, it would carry its airfields with it in the form of aircraft carriers. We could, in my view, make great economies in that way.
In conclusion, I want to talk about what surely is the ultimate aim of all of us; and this is where I part company rather firmly. I think, with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rochester and Chatham. When a back bencher starts talking about world peace, people begin to go out, but just for a few moments I want to speak on those lines. We all hope that one day the idea of peace may be a practical proposition; it is not at the moment, but at least we have a right to hope that one day it will be. Many people, of whom I am one, believe that the way to peace must be through disarmament, but it must be controlled disarmament, since uncontrolled disarmament could be even more dangerous. What we are doing here, unpleasant as it may sound, is a form of unilateral disarmament. We have been forced into it. It is a very disquieting thought, and the situation carries great dangers with it. Let us face those dangers, but let us not forget that that is, in fact, what we are doing today.
My final word about disarmament is this. I feel most strongly that if we are to get a practical measure of disarmament in the world, and if we are to carry the nations with us and test their sincerity as we go along, it is essential—I apologise for the clumsy way of putting it, but I can think of no better—that the process must be from the bottom up. It must begin with the conventional weapons first. In my opinion, it would be quite fatal to this country if we were to start, as the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham seemed to suggest, by abolishing the hydrogen weapon first of all. The hydrogen weapon is really the only shield under which one can disarm. If other countries which are menacing us really mean business, and if they are sincere, then, surely, it is by disarming in conventional weapons that we may lead 217 the way to what we all want, that is, to be able to disarm the nations of hydrogen weapons as well.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu (Huddersfield, East)
The hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) has made a very gallant and determined effort to overcome some of the difficulties which we must all feel in the debate in trying to speak in any way intelligently about the future of the Navy.
It is not only that this is a Vote on Account. We cannot tell whether the money we are proposing to spend in the next few months will be well spent until we know the total amount that is to be made available. We are really investing in the dark. In my childhood days I read about the South Sea Bubble. People were asked not only to invest in companies which would produce gold from seaweed but to invest in companies whose purposes would be divulged later, and the latter seems to be our position today.
I hoped that the Parliamentary Secretary—he presented the Estimates in an absolutely admirable manner, but his remarks were a little thin in content—would give us a good deal of information without which we cannot make an intelligent estimate of what we are trying to do with the Navy.
We do not know—indeed, I doubt whether the Government know—what sort of war we are trying to guard against, whether it be a hydrogen bomb war or a conventional war, or both. We do not know what kind of defence the Government are trying to build up against whatever war may be coming. We do not know whether the Government propose to continue with the conventional separate Services or whether we shall begin to adopt the idea just mooted by the hon. and gallant Gentleman of a more combined Service.
My view over the broader issue is that we cannot continue with Services so completely separate as they are now, but I am a little doubtful of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's suggestion about making the Royal Marines the nucleus of the combined Service which he was foreshadowing. I shall probably get into serious trouble here. Although the Marines have throughout their history been admirable in the form of work that 218 they have had to do, which has been to go in first and come out last in the conventional attack, I am told that during the war when efforts were made to build them up as Commandos they were less good than people who were brought in from other Services. The Marines were less flexible in mind. [Interruption.]
This is only what I am told; if it proves to be wrong, I will certainly withdraw it. There seems to be a reasonable basis for the argument that the Royal Marines are taught in traditional methods and—I hesitate to emphasise their prowess on the parade ground—that the kind of discipline which is taught them tends to make them wonderful at obeying orders but perhaps a little inflexible in improvising for the particularly dirty form of warfare which Commandos have to undertake. However, that seems to me to be only a possible point, and I will not press it too hard. I merely disagreed with the emphasis which the hon. and gallant Gentleman put upon the Marines as the nucleus for his combined force, with which idea I fully agree.
I do not think the hon. and gallant Gentleman went far enough in considering the sort of Navy or combined force that we should require. It seems to me that, besides all the other doubts that we have in our minds, there should also be a doubt about whether the traditional function of the Navy still exists. The keeping open of the sea lanes, about which there was some confusion earlier, was always one of the Navy' traditional jobs for the purpose of bringing in food and supplies, but will that be the job in any future war?
I very much doubt whether in a future war this country can hope to eat as well as it did during the two previous wars. It will not be a question of "eating as well"; it will be a question of just surviving, and in terms of food that means two things. Unfortunately, one's stomach must have bulk. There are various ways of getting bulk. However, besides bulk, one must have the other essentials, such as vitamins—I do not know the technicalities—which can be provided in concentrated form. These were to a certain extent provided in concentrated form during the last war, and no doubt that will be done to a greater extent in the next war. In other words, if the fighters are to have a push-button war, the 219 civilians will have a war of pills and potatoes.
If that were to happen and if we got our food in concentrated form—I think it is likely; it is not an agreeable thought, but war is not agreeable—it will not be anything like so necessary to have convoys coming across the Atlantic bringing us supplies of the bulky foods on which we have existed in the past.
Even supposing that that were not so, I do not understand why we must always assume that during actual warfare we must get our supplies by means of convoys. I know it would be an expensive business, but I have never been able to understand why, even in peacetime, we have not developed large granaries. In terms of the future, they would have to be underground and airtight. They would be very useful in peacetime, because agriculture tends to work in cycles, and we should have a chance, if such a scheme were adopted, of buying in the fat years and feeding from the granaries in the lean. I do not see why we should not do it. Joseph did it in Egypt many centuries ago. This would be a good thing in peacetime, but it will be essential in war in future. The same argument applies to oil supplies. Why should we not have huge underground tanks, so far below the surface that they would be protected from attack from hydrogen bombs?
If we do things of that sort, one part of the Navy's big job, that of keeping open the sea lanes, will be greatly diminished. That would affect our thinking about the numbers of escort vessels and so on that we have to maintain.
It is not only of such things as that that we should be thinking. The Parliamentary Secretary has told us a little about the atomic powering of ships. I understand that it is not only submarines which are being designed in that way. I should like confirmation of this, but I understand that we are not so hopelessly behind as some hon. Gentlemen seem to think in designing cargo vessels and tankers to be equipped with nuclear power. Indeed, I am told that we are at present designing a tanker which will be about the size of the "Queen Mary" and will be capable of doing about 30 knots. If we had tankers of that type, they would not travel in convoy; they 220 would go zig-zagging independently across the seas as the "Queen Mary" did during the last war. Our naval strategy would be considerably altered if we had a number of ships of that kind. These are things which are not very far in the future; as I understand it, they are almost ready for the drawing board.
We can look a little further into the future. What are the prospects of building submarine cargo vessels? I cannot believe that in fifty years' time it will not be the general practice to have one's vessels travelling under water. That assumes that we do not follow the advice of the hon. and gallant Gentleman and have some peace in the meantime. If in fifty years' time we are still thinking in terms of war, I believe that our merchant fleet will be submersible rather than one that travels on the surface.
These are some of the doubts and imponderables which make an intelligent discussion of the affairs of the Navy somewhat difficult this afternoon. But whatever kind of war we are trying to guard against, and whatever kind of service we are trying to develop, there is at least one absolute certainty, namely, that it is completely and utterly useless to maintain the three large naval depots in Portsmouth, Chatham and Devonport.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
They are all going to be wiped out, anyhow. Roysth, Portsmouth, Chatham and Devonport—all those solid concentrations of 20,000 men will be wiped out by a single bomb, and not a hydrogen bomb but an ordinary conventional bomb of the next war. I have been batting on about this matter for nearly eleven years and I am bored with it myself. I never get any change out of anybody. But surely it is incomprehensible that we should now be considering keeping these great amorphous masses, spread over a wide area in our dockyard towns and offering a sitting target, with about one-third of our manpower likely to be wiped out at a single go. If we must have these large depots—and I do not think that they are necessary; I believe that small depots would be far more efficient—let us have them in Australia, or Nova Scotia, where there might be some chance of their surviving for at least two weeks after the war had begun.
221 We must aim at having a small but highly trained Navy. It may be that some new menace will develop against which the Navy is the best weapon of defence. If we have a highly trained and small body of technicians it should be possible to expand the size of the Navy fairly easily. During the war a French admiral once said, "Tous les Anglais sort marins", or, "All Englishmen are sailors". That is not what my chief petty officer said to me when I first went aboard, but the Frenchman was more polite. In saying that, however, he was not only thinking of our fishing fleets and the fellows who go round in small boats; he was referring to the fact that even in the centre of our country we are, in a way, in touch with the sea. We can smell the salt air and can go to the sea whenever we want to, and we quickly become trained seamen. We take to the sea better than we take to the duties of a soldier and possibly even to those of an airman. I do not think that there would be any great difficulty in expanding our Navy should circumstances ever require it. In the meantime, we can come right down to a highly trained but small body of men who can themselves train the material which would readily be available for training at any time.
I know that those of us who take part in these debates tend to have a vested interest in the Navy itself. Anybody who, like myself, has been in the Navy even only for a short time, comes out with a really great admiration and affection for it. We sometimes tend to look upon the Navy as an end in itself. It is not; it is only part of the means of defending this country, and I believe that it is an end which has to be whittled down fairly considerably. I cannot believe that even now we have come down to the small Navy which present-day conditions require.
While I am half advocating this cut and, in a great deal of confusion and lack of knowledge, half feeling my way towards saying that we shall have to reduce our available forces a great deal more than is now being proposed, there is one thing about the Navy which I want to preserve at all costs, namely, the spirit which seems to run through it. I am now getting old, and it is twelve years since I came out of the Navy, but when I went in I was expecting to be treated 222 as I know some of my friends were treated in the Army and the Air Force. We have all heard the silly sort of stuff about the sergeant-major saying, "Does anybody here know anything about music?" and then, when a man has said that he does, saying, "All right, shift that piano." All sorts of silly gags are supposed to be used by sergeant-majors in training raw recruits. We expected to have them used against us, but were astonished to find that we were not treated as raw recruits or mere numbers, but as individuals, and we continued to be treated as individuals all the way through our service.
It was a wonderful experience, and the effect of that experience upon the raw material was quite remarkable. I remember that the first thing that happened to us when we went into H.M.S. "Coiling-wood", the training depot outside Portsmouth, was that we were given a great deal of fresh air and exercise. We were chased around by chiefs and petty officers. As a result, we developed enormous appetites. Here the Admiralty made a serious mistake. Instead of giving us about five times as much to eat as an ordinary civilian it gave us only about four times as much. The result was that we were permanently hungry, and when dinner was piped the mess decks became a shambles. We went through the swing doors, grabbed a piece of meat here and some vegetables there, got into a corner and held it against all comers. We had been brought up in that way, in a competitive society where, if a man got more than his neighbour, we honoured him and sent him to the House of Lords. We soon found out that if a man got more than his messmates in the Navy he got no honours but a kick in the pants.
When we finished training we went to sea and were cooped up in the mess deck of a destroyer on the run to Russia. After we had had three months' experience of dirt and extreme cold—and some danger—I can say without using any flannel at all that there was nothing that we would not have done one for another. We had ceased being a collection of competing individuals and had become what, in political terms, I suppose we would call a society, and in religious terms a fellowship. In the proud terms of the Royal Navy we had become a ship's company. That idea may exist in the other Services, but I did not find it to 223 the same extent. I know that it exists in the Navy and I want to preserve it at all costs.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Humphrey Atkins (Merton and Morden)
The hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) made an interesting speech and I entirely agree with many of the points he made. The hon. Gentleman said that one of the great difficulties facing the Government was that they did not know what kind of war we were trying to guard against. The task before the Government is particularly difficult in that regard, not only because of the great size of a possible enemy and his potential for striking in several different directions by several different means, but also because of the strictly limited budget imposed on the Admiralty. There is also a newer reason than the other two—the great developments in the production of weapons and in methods of propulsion. All these things together make it extremely difficult for the Government adequately to plan the shape of our Navy.
I wish to make three suggestions about matters which the Government should keep in mind. The first is that traditionally the Navy keeps open our sea lanes and communications. That is a defensive rôle, but we must not forget the offensive, striking rôle which the Navy can play. As we know, there are several possible types of war. There is the dreadful possibility of a nuclear war. We are doing what we can to provide adequate and powerful deterrents, which we are known to have, and which may stop such a war from happening. But one big disadvantage for this country is that, while we may have deterrents, we must also provide places from which to launch them. This is a small island, and such sites might readily be located and charted. We might find them demolished by an enemy at the first onslaught, and then, at one stroke, we should be deprived of our power to retaliate.
It seems to me that the Navy provides a possible solution to this problem. I do not say that it can be done immediately, but in the future the Navy could provide mobile platforms from which nuclear weapons of one sort or another could be launched. Such mobile platforms could 224 disappear from the ken of a potential enemy. They might be discovered eventually, but at least it would be possible to move them about, and that is something which could not be done with land sites. Whether such mobile platforms should take the form of an aircraft carrier, from which aircraft carrying powerful weapons could take off and return, or whether they should assume some other form from which ballistic weapons could be fired, I do not know, but I think that is a rôle which the Navy could perform and one which should not be overlooked.
In conventional fighting, the value of the Navy is enormous, as was proved last autumn, and the great part played by the Navy in the Suez operation is well known. If there is to be conventional fighting, there is no doubt that the Navy can provide a useful and powerful striking force, mostly by means of aircraft flown from aircraft carriers and by its ability to move troops quickly. Both these rôles are of an offensive nature, and I hope that they will be borne in mind.
The Parliamentary Secretary referred to the necessity of ensuring that we do not put all our eggs in one basket and the importance of retaining flexibility in the Navy. I agree that that is most important. If we are to have a small Service, we cannot afford to put our few eggs in one basket. If that force is not flexible the necessary alternative is a large Navy to gain the flexibility provided by numbers. It appears necessary that we should have a small Navy, and so we must ensure that what we have is flexible in operation.
I do not know what type of ship could be used with the greatest degree of flexibility. An anti-submarine frigate could not be used with much flexibility. It is a small ship and not very fast. It might be useful to destroy submarines but not for anything else. We must concentrate on ensuring that what ships we have can be adapted for a multitude of purposes, and of all our ships I think that the aircraft carrier is the one which can be most easily used in this way.
An aircraft carrier might be used for discharging nuclear weapons. It could be used in a conventional war and for anti-submarine purposes. It could carry either helicopters or the conventional types of aircraft. I hope that this need for flexibility will be kept in mind and, 225 what is more important, that the manpower in the Navy will be efficient in a number of ways. This point has been referred to by several hon. Members who spoke about the efficiency of the Navy and the need to retain that efficiency. There is no doubt that we must keep the officers and men that we have in the highest state of efficiency so that they may make the fullest use of the weapons we are able to provide for them.
As the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East said, we are a maritime nation and we must make certain that our Navy is the best, if not the largest, in the world. There is one way in which to keep our officers and men of the Royal Navy really efficient at their job, and that is to keep them at sea as much as possible. That is something I cannot too strongly impress on the Government. We have heard from the Parliamentary Secretary about many of the difficulties in the way of keeping a high proportion of the Navy at sea, and I admit them. There is the increase in the Fleet Air Arm and the shorter period of service and so on.
But I have no doubt that, if we are to keep our Navy efficient, we must ensure that the officers and men get to sea. It is no use expecting people, merely by giving them theoretical training ashore, to be able to carry out their duties efficiently as soon as they step aboard a ship. Operations can be carried out efficiently only by constant practice, whether it be driving a motor car, piloting a ship, firing a revolver on a firing range or operating ballistic weapons. If we are unable to improve on the figures given by the Parliamentary Secretary of the percentage of officers and men who are at sea, the Navy will become less efficient, and that is something we cannot possibly allow to happen if we are to have a smaller Navy.
I have not attempted to discuss all the considerations which the Government have to bear in mind in preparing their plans for the Navy, and, indeed, I am not competent to do so. But I suggest that the offensive rôle of the Navy, the need for flexibility and the necessity for ensuring that as great a proportion of men as possible are sent to sea are among the most important matters, and I urge the Government constantly to keep them in mind.
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)
I do not wish to discuss the future size and structure of the Navy. That will be almost impossible until the Government have taken drastic policy decisions. I propose to speak about the men in the Navy and I start from a point made by the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty last year when introducing the Navy Estimates.
The hon. Gentleman said, as one of the arguments for the new pay code:… the Navy, in common with the other two services, was failing to attract and retain enough officers and men of the right quality."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1956; Vol. 549, c. 2323.]The Minister said something similar to that this afternoon and added that this was particularly true of certain branches of the Navy.
The Government have been stressing the necessity for skilled men. In the Statement on Defence last year we were told:This concept of smaller and better equipped forces does, however, place a premium on the highly-skilled long-service regular.It went on to say:The newer weapons will demand for their proper use increasingly high standards of training and maintenance.Let me admit at once that the Admiralty has shown initiative—not all that it might have shown, perhaps—in trying to adapt the Navy in recent years by putting into operation training schemes and an officer structure which was very necessary, and by abolishing all the executive branch mystique which had dominated the Navy for far too long. That is now going by the board. The technical branches are now becoming the important ones, as in every other aspect of our economic life.
Nevertheless, we still have very serious recruiting figures. In opening the debate, the hon. Gentleman pointed out that the very great fall suffered during past years in these figures had been stopped. That is quite right. The point about which we are really interested, however, and about which the Minister did not give us information, was whether maintaining existing recruiting figures with the rather smaller personnel meant that we still required National Service men. In other words, is the Navy recruiting sufficient 227 for its own needs? The hon. Gentleman did not tell us, but the answer is important.
I cannot agree that the recruiting figures are satisfactory. Last year we introduced a new pay code which was universally welcomed, but was in some quarters exaggerated, as I said during last year's debate. The Press indulged in a campaign picturing the men in the Forces as living in the lap of luxury, and I questioned that at the time. My view would appear to have been correct, because we are not attracting more men into the Navy.
The second serious thing is that we are not inducing men to stay in the Navy. Figures given by the Minister in reply to Questions by myself and by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) about the number of men re-engaging and signing on for pension are not satisfactory. I have the figures that the hon. Gentleman gave. An average of 40 per cent. re-engaging is not good enough. The significant fact is that in the branches about which he spoke, the highly technical and highly important branches, the figures are not very good. There is a slight improvement in the artificer branches but a very severe drop in the mechanical and artisan branches.
In the electrical branches, 29 per cent. re-engaged for pension. The electrical branches are increasingly important, because the Service is increasingly dependent upon these men. A figure like 29 per cent. signing on for pension at the end of twelve years is very small. When we get to the chief petty-officer group, we learn that fewer re-engaged last year than in the previous year. That shows that the very great hopes held out of the results of the new pay code have not materialised as I suggested during the debate last year they might not.
Why is that? The rates of pay seem large but we must take into consideration rates of pay obtaining outside the Service. We must remember that a man sacrifices his freedom for twelve years during which he can be called upon to work for twenty-four hours a day and to leave his wife and children for very long periods. When this is remembered it must be said that they are not so very good, especially when we recall that the whole of industry is 228 competing with the Services for the best types of young boy.
Take pensions. As I pointed out last year, the pension is relatively much worse than it was thirty years ago. A chief artificer in the 1920's received a pension of 38s. 6d.; he now receives 63s. 6d. In terms of today's money he should receive about four guineas. Of course, there is the terminal grant. If the £1 difference were commuted, it would come to more than the terminal grant. In the matter of pension the Admiralty treats the men in a rather niggardly fashion.
I know the Admiralty's defence: the Treasury is the real nigger in the wood-pile. The Treasury is penny-wise and pound-foolish in this matter, because it loses a man precisely when he becomes of use to the Service, at about 30 years of age when his training is complete and he has adapted himself to his working conditions. That position must be examined. If the Admiralty wishes to keep men, all questions of pay, discipline and accommodation must be considered.
Before leaving this question, I would say a word about National Service. It does not affect the Navy as much as the other Forces. I think about 10,000 National Service men are in the Navy. Once National Service becomes selective, as it is becoming, there will no longer be a case for paying National Service men the ridiculously low pay they get at present. That would be justifiable only if every man had to perform National Service. Once we select boys and leave other boys to earn very big wages outside, there is no longer any justification for maintaining the present very poor rate of pay which the young National Service man gets.
This goes for the Ministry of Defence rather than the Navy, but I say it now because the Navy has National Service men. In view of statements being made by the Minister of Labour and National Service week after week as to the extent to which National Service is becoming selective, the time has arrived for this matter to be considered. The rate of pay cannot be justified when once the system ceases to be universal.
I wish to say a few words about the branches to which the Parliamentary Secretary drew particular attention, the 229 artificer branches. He spoke of the difficulties of recruiting men to those branches. There is no doubt that they are key branches in the Service and are becoming increasingly so. We have to remember that we are competing with industry outside in trying to attract the better class of boy. Obviously we have to be able to offer conditions and a career which in the eyes of the boy will appear rather better than those offered outside. It is much more difficult to do that today than it was twenty years ago, because conditions outside are so very different.
I wish to congratulate the Admiralty on allowing the artificer branches once again to wear gilt buttons. That may seem a very small matter, but to the boys it is a very big one. One of the most stupid actions of the Admiralty was to stop that practice, because if there is one thing that a boy of 18 likes it is to appear before his family and his girl friend in a uniform with gilt buttons and with a nice badge on his hat. He prefers gilt buttons to black buttons.
I should also like to congratulate the Navy on its endeavours to work out a suitable training scheme to meet modern requirements in the Navy, which are changing particularly in regard to atomic energy. I congratulate the Navy on the experiments being made for a better training scheme in the "Caledonia", but I cannot congratulate it on the accommodation in the "Caledonia." There are 800 or 900 boys there and the accommodation has been "temporary" ever since the "Caledonia" was burned ten years ago. When is the Admiralty to build proper accommodation for these boys? Something has been said in the debate about the necessity of maintaining the esprit de corps of the Navy. I am not certain that it is maintained as it ought to be as a result of the conditions under which boys are at present living in the "Caledonia." At present they are living in small groups in hutted accommodation which is completely out of date.
Opportunities for promotion should be rather greater. I do not know what the figures are, but I understand that from the "Caledonia" last year there were only one or two boys who went through the Upper Yardman Scheme for promotion. That is a terribly small number. It may be that the quality is not 230 sufficiently high, but it seems to me that there ought to be better opportunities if we are to attract the right kind of boy. That is the kernel of the problem.
The hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) gave some figures in last year's debate which I thought rather astounding. I have not been able to discover where he got those figures. He said that of three boys each aged 20, one a seaman, one an artificer and another a sub-lieutenant, five years later the seaman would be benefiting by £200 more, the artificer by £100 more and the officer by £500 more. Surely there is something wrong there. I do not know whether the figures were correct as I have not been able to check them, but I usually accept information given by the hon. and gallant Member because he is exceedingly well-informed on these matters. If the figures were correct, is not it wrong that the seaman should be twice as well off as the artificer and the officer should be five times as well off as the artificer after five years? Surely that is not the best way to recruit an efficient artificer branch or to attract the quality of boys which the hon. Gentleman said he wanted.
I have heard complaints about the difference between the mechanician who, five years after completing his two years' training, gets the same pay as an artificer second class who has completed five years of training and has served for another seven years—twelve years as compared with the man who has served seven years. Last year I asked a Question about this and the Admiralty gave what I thought was a "smart Alec" sort of answer. It made no effort to appreciate the fact that this is unjust, and the accumulation of petty things which people do not like. The differential between the artificer first class and the chief artificer is 14s., 10s. 6d. of which is in respect of charge pay. The actual differential in the basic rate is 3s. 6d. When we discuss differentials at this level we talk in terms of shillings, but higher in the Service we talk in terms of £10 or £20 per week.
I appreciate the difficulties about differentials, but it is time the Admiralty considered this differential. It is a cause of complaint among a number of chief artificers that their rate of pay is so little more than that of the artificer first class 231 and that the biggest element is due to charge pay. Without making any difference in the flat rate, the Admiralty might at least consider altering the charge pay of ls. 6d. a day. It has remained at ls. 6d. ever since I can remember and probably ever since anyone in this Committee can remember.
I understand that on some ships when men are due to leave the Service they can easily get the certificates specifying qualifications which the Admiralty issues, but others cannot get them so easily. The Admiralty should make clear to officers commanding that certificates giving details of the men's ability ought to be made available to the men concerned three or four months before they reach the end of their service. On the problem of getting chief petty officers to remain in the Service, I suggested last year that the Navy should consider some other form of promotion after 30 years of age and that the chief petty officer should be able to go to some rank equivalent to that of warrant officer in the Army and so improve his pay slightly. I admit that there is not much difference there, but his marriage allowance, his pension and terminal grant would all be improved and his status would be affected very considerably.
It seems to me that one of the weaknesses at present is that although a man in the artificer branches can become a chief artificer before he is 30 years old, after that he has no further promotion to look forward to on the lower deck. He is a chief petty officer, and what I am saying applies to all chief petty officers. These are the senior men on the lower deck and they ought to have equivalent pay, status and conditions to those of senior men in the lower branches of the other forces. We can call them what we like—warrant officers, for instance—but it seems to rue that the Admiralty must do something about their promotion prospects. I will not give figures about differences in rates of pay because they are not great, but there is a difference in marriage allowances, the terminal grant and the pensions all of which are important, and an improvement in them might induce men to remain in the Service.
I understand that the Admiralty has sent out a memorandum on this matter to the naval ports replying to the argu- 232 ments, and I am bound to say that it is not receiving a very good reception from the men concerned. Most of them think that the Admiralty's arguments are wrong and are not based on the facts. Could we see a copy of this memorandum? I shall probably see one in due course, but I should like one now. It is no good the Admiralty digging in its heels and saying, "We shall not shift from this position", because it must take some action to keep these men in the Service.
In my view it is one of the most serious manpower problems which faces the Service at present. My suggestion might not be the answer, but the Admiralty must find some answer, because the men are not staying in the Service after 30 years of age. We were told when the seven-year period was abandoned and the nine-year period introduced that it takes nine years to train a man. Surely, therefore, at the end of twelve years is precisely the time that we must seek to keep him in the Service.
The Parliamentary Secretary will have to deal with this problem sooner or later because these men are the technicians and technologists of the Service. Without them it is no good. We cannot have a Navy or a modern Army without them. Our conceptions of what is required must change altogether. These men must be attracted to the Service against very powerful outside competition.
I do not say that the answer can necessarily be found in taking some big step. In my view, it might well be found by tackling a number of small problems, by doing a number of small things to increase the status of these men and by remedying little defects and little things which irritate men in the Forces and make them say "I am clearing out". The Admiralty must tackle these problems with initiative and with vigour and in the spirit which I think it has been trying to use in the past few years—namely, a recognition of the change in the requirements of the future Navy.
§ 6.5 p.m.
Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett (Croydon, North-East)
We all respect the great knowledge with which the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) speaks on this subject and his loyalty to his old branch in the Service. He was good enough to quote some figures which I gave in the Navy Estimates debate last 233 year. I cannot recall them in my head but I hope I added them up correctly. They were obtained merely by looking up the new pay code and adding the various allowances which the officers or men concerned would get if they were serving ashore.
When he said that the artificer benefited only half as much as a seaman, I am almost certain, without looking at the figures, that the explanation is merely that the artificers start their career at a relatively high level and, consequently, the others in the ordinary course of incremental pay tend to overtake them. I am glad to see that in the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East we have a supporter for the principle of differentials and incremental pay, because when I ventured to advocate the regular adoption of an incremental pay scheme in the debate on the Address I was quickly told that this was wholly contrary to trade union policy.
I am inclined to question whether the hon. Member is right in being disturbed over the present recruiting position, because if great economies are introduced it may ultimately and paradoxically turn out to be rather fortunate that too many people have not signed on for long engagements in the last two or three years.
Perhaps before I go any further I might join in the congratulations to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty on his first appearance at the Box to present these Estimates. I think all hon. Members present will agree that he presented them in a most instructive and persuasive manner. It was an exceedingly difficult task, as has been pointed out, in view of the fact that we are all awaiting the Government's decision about major defence policy.
I also welcome the friendly and constructive manner in which the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) replied—at any rate for most of his speech like the curate's egg, to my way of thinking it was not wholly good, but in the main I felt that we recognised it as a friendly and constructive contribution to our discussion. I am bound to say that I have some sympathy with him, for he is rather unlucky in appearing for the first time to speak on this subject for a party which is so much 234 committed to the principle of economy and cuts in defence expenditure when he himself represents a dockyard town. I fully sympathised with and understood those parts of his speech which were in fact a plea for Chatham Dockyard. Later I shall propose that the Committee consider either selling or leasing it.
The reasons which have led the Government to ask for a Vote on account are well understood by the Committee, and in so far as they may prove to be the harbingers of great economies, we welcome them. Nevertheless, from the point of view of the officers and men serving in the Royal Navy, I cannot help thinking that our proceedings today must appear somewhat in the light of a motion for a stay of execution.
There is no doubt that for some time past the Navy has been facing a growing challenge to its very existence. It may well be that we are now approaching the hour of decision. In that connection perhaps I might recall that two years ago I ventured to make a plea for the gradual integration of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. I mention that now only to reaffirm my conviction that such a merger would be in the best long-term interests at any rate of the younger officers serving in both Forces.
When we have discussed these matters a number of hon. Members have referred to the great traditions of the Navy and the importance of preserving them. I entirely agree, but may I remind the Committee that the supreme naval tradition is one of service. Naval officers are taught from their earliest beginnings to place their country before even their career, and they are also taught that their duty lies towards their ship before their family itself. It may well be that in the difficult days which the Navy is entering the path of duty for many of these officers will lie in retirement.
That is a hard thing to say, but the public expects the very highest standards from the officers in the fighting Services, and I am convinced that in this matter the public will not be disappointed provided, if I may say so with great diffidence, Parliament sets the right tone in the defence debates in the coming weeks. I feel most strongly that we should be doing a great disservice to those who serve the three fighting Services if we allow ourselves to become engaged in anything 235 savouring of special pleading or the defence of some vested interest. Having said that, I hasten to urge the need for the early promulgation of the most generous terms for these officers or established civilians who may become redundant and have to retire. I should like to see terms that would astonish the individuals themselves by their generosity and horrify the Treasury.
To turn now to wider issues, I think my hon. Friend was quite right to refer to the future of the Navy and its rôle. I support everything he said with regard to the functions of the Navy in time of peace and in the time of local or limited war. I believe that our existing operational Fleet is none too big for these duties alone, but, having said that, I am not at all convinced that the maintenance of the Fleet could be justified merely on those grounds. I have a feeling that it would be necessary to show either that there is now, or that in the foreseeable future there may be, a rôle for navies even in global warfare.
I further believe that there is such a rôle. When we last debated defence, several hon. Members pointed to the terrible dilemma to which we have been brought—the dilemma or choice, as some of them put it, between surrender or suicide. I do not think that is entirely accurate. The dilemma is between surrender and a suicide pact, because, of course, people on the other side will no doubt suffer in the same way as we do ourselves. Nevertheless, so long as this remains the case, there can be no real security for the world, because peace cannot be preserved for ever simply by fear.
In these circumstances, if we assume that this remains the choice for ever, I am afraid that the Navy is only one of a number of institutions the preservation of which would hardly be worth while. I therefore ask the question: why is it that we have come to assume, or that mankind as a whole has come to assume, that thermo-nuclear devastation is the inevitable consequence of another great war? There are, I believe, three main reasons, and I hope I may be forgiven if I go a little wide for a minute or two, because it is on the validity or otherwise of these reasons that the continued existence of the Navy depends.
236 I suggest that the first of these three reasons is the tacit acceptance of the idea that one only fights for unlimited war aims, and it is unlimited war aims that lead to the use of unlimited weapons. I think this is one of the lessons which both the democracies and other countries have to learn—that they must refrain from fighting for the destruction of the prospective enemy.
The second reason, which, perhaps, is more immediate and important, is the almost unquestioned acceptance of strategic bombing as a legitimate and normal method of waging warfare. It is nothing of the kind. Strategic bombing is no more than a return to those barbaric methods of waging war by ravaging and cross-ravaging which was practised in the Dark Ages and in mediaeval times. Let us recognise it as such, and renounce its use. That is the second point I would make.
The third point is the belief that has grown up since the war, and has apparently been accepted, that the Russian armies are invincible, and that only perhaps for the shortest time could the N.A.T.O. Forces hold them back in Europe, with the result that the only possible counter-measures that we could take would be by means of the so-called deterrent; in other words, as I prefer to put it, world-wide devastation.
But a great change has taken place in the last three years. We have seen the increasing supply of what is called the tactical atomic weapon, and I believe it will not be long before General Norstad and his 30 divisions will be able to hold Western Europe against the power and might of the Russian armies with the same certainty and in the same awful deadlock as the armies were locked during the First World War. I say, therefore, that it lies within our power, by political and military thought, to escape from the dilemma and to lift some of the fears which beset people with regard to the future threat of thermo-nuclear methods.
There is one further condition, which is peculiar to this country. We must retain our ability to keep open our sea communications. Once we abandon that conception, once we lose the "know how" of how it can be done, at the same time we shall have abandoned all hope of being able to defend ourselves, save 237 by a reversion to these awful methods of war. It may well be that that hope at present is a slender one, but surely it is worth paying some price to keep it alive? The question then arises what is the price. That is a matter which can only be assessed by the Government and their military advisers, but I myself would say as a guess that the price, as far as this country is concerned, is to maintain our operational Fleet—and I stress the word "operational"—at roughly its present size.
After all, the whole of the Navy today comprises enough ships to make two composite squadrons, each having the nucleus of a couple of aircraft carriers, a few cruisers and a handful of destroyers and frigates—two rear-admirals' commands. If we put the two squadrons together, they would form one task group—not a task force—and would probably be a vice-admiral's command. That is all that our Navy is at the present time. If anyone doubts me, he has only to look at the Explanatory Statement issued by the Admiralty before last year's Estimates. I cannot believe that that is an excessive force in the light of the arguments which I have attempted to deploy.
That does not mean that there is no room for economy. On the contrary—and I have said this before and I shall no doubt bore hon. Members by saying it again now—I am perfectly certain that we could maintain an operational Fleet of the present size on perhaps half of the present Navy Estimates, and I will make once again a few suggestions about the direction in which economies might be expected. I do not intend to develop those arguments, but merely to repeat those which have been put, not only by myself, but by other hon. Members who have spoken on this subject on several occasions before.
First of all, we come to the question of the number of officers. I listened carefully to what my hon. Friend had to say with regard to it, but I must confess that my views were not modified. I said last year that I believed that we could operate our Fleet on probably half the present number of officers on the Navy List, and I repeat that today. I think that is so. I might remind the Committee that the operational Fleet as shown in the White Paper, as far as I can calculate, would take approximately 2,500 officers.
238 Surely, if we were to have a total of between 6,000 and 7,000 officers, that would provide an ample margin for any possible or reasonable scale of shore appointments, for sickness, drafting and so forth; and if we require 2,500 in the fighting fleet, surely it is sufficient to have between 6,000 and 7,000 altogether. In fact, Sir Gordon, Vote A provides for 13,640. I suggest that that figure could be halved.
Secondly, and next in order of priority, I turn to the number of civilians—not merely civil servants but civilians of all grades—on the Admiralty payroll. I understand that the number—and this, of course, has to be covered by the Vote on account—is about 183,000. I submit that a fleet of the scale we now operate could be maintained by one-third of that number. And what a wonderful thing it would be if 120,000 men, many of them highly skilled, could be gradually and carefully released for productive work.
If these two economies were made to begin with, the remainder that I am about to mention would, I think, follow automatically. My hon Friends, the Ministers at the Admiralty, could go for a holiday on the Riviera and, on coming back, would find that the economies had all come about. The other economies, again, have been put forward on many occasions, and the first concerns the naval shore establishments.
I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) in his dislike of depôts. Since the invention of the railway train, the telegraph system, and of universal education—so that the sailors can read the telegrams when they receive them—it is entirely unnecessary to coup them up in depôts. If not wanted for a job, they can be sent home and telegraphed for when required. What is needed—and this, I suggest, is the bare minimum—is one properly-equipped headquarters school for each of the principal specialisations and, in so far as depôts are necessary, those schools could act as the depôts.
The same argument can be applied to Royal Naval air stations. In my judgment, it would be sufficient if we had one for ground training and one for the flying training, and in so far as it is necessary to find accommodation for Fleet 239 Air Arm squadrons when they disembark, surely they could go as lodgers to the Royal Air Force stations. I know that many of my old friends in the Fleet Air Arm would be furious at the suggestion, but today the overriding need is for economy, and I think that it should be accepted.
I turn to a much bigger field, the great civil establishments and the dockyards. I would have thought that a fleet of the size we now have could be maintained, on the whole, by two big dockyards—Devonport and Portsmouth—and I suggest that the others, both at home and abroad, could with advantage be leased to reputable shipbuilding and repair firms. That would have the advantage of saving money and of helping the British shipbuilding and repair industry whilst, at the same time, maintaining the facilities available to the Royal Navy should they be needed. I cannot understand why that is not done.
Finally, as I said last year and say again, a very careful review should be made of some of the research and development establishments. I have no doubt that the Committee will have read what the Estimate Committee has said on this subject. Not only is there still a substantial overlapping between some of the Admiralty establishments and those maintained by the Ministry of Supply, but, through what I think is an attempt to run too many establishments, I do not believe that the work is always of the high quality one would like. I think that I am right in saying that attention was drawn to this in the Report of the Estimates Committee. In certain important respects of ship construction it turned out that we were behind the Americans, which is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs.
All these measures are, of course, of the most painful nature, but they would leave the sea-going, fighting strength of the Navy unchanged, and that, after all, is what really matters. Nevertheless, they will be bitterly opposed, as also will be measures of economy in the other two Services. That brings me to my closing point, which consists of putting a question, if I may, to the Opposition about its true attitude towards defence economies.
The party opposite has accepted resolutions and so forth calling for consider- 240 able savings in defence. Yet, when one goes into the matter, almost all our defence expenditure, whether on the Navy or on the other Services, is reflected ultimately in someone's salary or wage packet Consequently, great savings are bound to involve the laying off of very large numbers of people indeed; not to be numbered by thousands or tens of thousands, but by hundreds of thousands.
It is perfectly true that in the long run they will all be absorbed into productive industry, which is what makes this form of economy so attractive, but let no one imagine that the individuals concerned will enjoy the process. In many cases. they will go to jobs less congenial and lucrative, and they will not like it one little bit. No matter how carefully this may be planned, or how generously those concerned may be compensated, there is bound to be the strongest resistance, and considerable industrial upheaval.
If the Government undertake measures on these lines, shall we have the support of the Opposition? Shall we have the loyal co-operation of the trade unions? Or shall we be told that the whole thing is simply a Tory plot to create unemployment?
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is putting up skittles to knock them down.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I submit that those are perfectly fair questions and, in the absence of an unequivocal answer, I feel that this Committee and the electorate will do well to take the protestations of the Opposition in favour of defence economy with a very considerable grain of salt. Nevertheless, whatever the Opposition's attitude may prove to be, I beg the Government to go forward, actuated by one consideration and one only, namely, what is most advantageous and best' in the interests of the country as a whole.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. K. Zilliacus (Manchester, Gorton)
I should first like to reply to the question asked by the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett). I cannot speak for the Front Bench on this side of the Committee, but I would draw his attention to the fact that at its Blackpool conference the Labour Party committed itself 241 to the policy of substantial reductions in defence expenditure and manpower in order to cope with the economic situation. It also called for measures of economic planning to absorb the manpower which would otherwise become redundant. I believe that the hon. and gallant Member will find that that is very much the position adopted on defence questions by my right hon. Friends.
I would go a little further and say, for my own part—and I think that a good many of my hon. Friends will agree with me here—that we should fix an economic ceiling related to our standard of living and capacity to pay our way in the world; because I believe that the main defence against Communism is in the social and economic, and not in the military, field, and that therefore our first line of defence is the standard of living, full employment, and our capacity to pay for our imports by our exports. That should be the governing factor in determining our defence expenditure.
But I should like to raise an even more fundamental matter. So far, as I see it, this debate has proceeded, except for a few incidental and tangential references to the main issue, on the basis of that famous principle proclaimed by G. K. Chesterton, who said that many debates are conducted on the basis of one party saying, "Laying aside the question of whether it is right to vivisect the children of paupers, there will be general agreement that the job would be more competently performed by qualified surgeons than by amateurs."
In the same way, we have discussed in great detail and with much learning, in a very interesting manner, a great deal of the technical and practical aspects of the Navy. But we have not faced squarely the problem of 'where the Navy fits in in the hydrogen bomb world, in the kind of war which the Government are anticipating and which, I must say, they are doing remarkably little to prevent by the only means which could be effective, namely, by political means, by a policy for making peace. In that, they are signally lacking.
I will discuss the rôle of the Navy in terms of the Government's own assumptions, assumptions which I reject on moral, intellectual, political, military and economic grounds, but which I will use for the purpose of our present discussion. 242 These assumptions are set out in the White Paper, the Statement on Defence, 1956, which said:The Forces required to support our present strategy have … four roles to fulfil".Those forces, of course, include the Navy, and I want to look at the four rôles to see where the Navy fits in.
First, says the White Paper, our Forcesmust make a contribution to the Allied deterrent commensurate with our standing as a world Power".The allied deterrent we have been told. again and again, consists essentially of nuclear weapons. Aircraft carriers, of course, can carry bombers with nuclear weapons, and perhaps eventually fire rockets also, though I do not know; but the rôle of the Navy is surely marginal and tangential in building up that kind of deterrent. As for our standing as a world Power—I hate to say it, but we must face the bitter realities—after Suez, it is perfectly clear we are not a world Power in military terms. We could be a world Power in political terms if we had a decent policy, but that is another subject.
If the lesson needed rubbing in, we have merely to look at the recent declaration by the United States Admiral commanding the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean, who said that the British Navy can act to keep his communications clear. The American Navy is six times the size of ours, and whether it be the Middle East or the Far East, our position as a world Power is going to be a very subordinate one; we shall be the jolly-boat to the American man-of-war. Let us face it. So far asour contribution to the Allied deterrent commensurate with our standing as a world Poweris concerned, the part of the Navy is really a very small one in terms of contemporary reality.
The second function assigned to our Forces, including the Navy, by the White Paper is:They must play their part in the cold warby dealing withsubversion whether openly Communist or masquerading as nationalism.The Minister of Defence, on 13th February, amplified that a little by referring to the Bagdad Pact and S.E.A.T.O. as integral parts of the defence system 243 and of our defence commitments. He further clarified the position in reply to a Question by me on 27th February, when he admitted that the Government considered themselves bound to use their Forces to put down popular risings in any Middle Eastern or Far Eastern country covered by the Bagdad Pact or S.E.A.T.O., whenever the rulers of those countries alleged that a popular rising was Communist subversion.
The rulers of those countries are, almost without exception—indeed, I think without any exception—dictators, very reactionary, socially backward dictators, who regard any kind of popular unrest as Communism. One can readily see where that leads us. I leave aside my political, moral and intellectual reservations, except to say that I do not believe that any Government would be crazy enough to act on such obligations, if it came to the point, and if they did they would be quickly brought up short by organised labour.
Again, what is the rôle of the Navy? What part has the Navy to play in this kind of situation? A good many of these territories are landlocked, and even where they are not, what would be done? Would we send in Marines, as the Americans used to do in the "banana Republics" of South America, to put down one Government and prop up another? This is surely a job for land forces, if it is a job to be done at all, which I venture to doubt and even deny.
The third function given in the White Paper is this. Our Forcesmust be capable of dealing with outbreaks of limited war should they occur".Of course, the method of handling the cold war already referred to is almost certain to provoke little wars or get us involved in them if they are started without our help. But again, what is the function of the Navy? Are we to "go it alone"? I should have thought that Suez would have cured us of that delusion. Are we to go in as jolly-boat to the American man-of-war, or are we to realise that the only way of dealing with a little war without its promptly swelling into a big war is to act through the United Nations, to deal with it cooperatively and not on a competitive basis?
244 I recall the words of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Norwood (Sir J. Smyth) on 13th February, to the effect that if one once starts a little war, the two sides will compete, each supporting its own clients in that little war so as not to lose it, and finally, step by step, we shall advance from a little war to a big one. That is why this whole conception seems to me so mistaken and disastrous. But once more, what part does the Navy play in that kind of function? It must be a very small and marginal part, as it seems to me.
Finally, in the White Paper, the fourth function for our Forces is,They must also be capable of playing their part effectively in global war should it break outThat brings us to the question, what kind of global war are we thinking of? On 13th February, the Minister of Defence referred to that point. He asked to what extent we should look to the Navyto provide an element in the deterrent …and he said it all depended upon what view we took of the course of a full-scale nuclear war.How soon after the outbreak of such a war do we think we might expect that shipping across the Atlantic could be resumed? After the initial nuclear attack, would the harbours of Britain and Western Europe still be useable? Have we to assume that when the first all-out atomic phase was over, there would follow a second phase—sometimes described as broken-back war—in which operations at sea would play a prominent part."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 13th February. 1957; Vol. 564, c. 1317–8.]He developed the matter at some length.
He put it in the form of a question, as to whether or not that would be the case in modern nuclear war. But the Parliamentary Secretary had no doubts at all; he assumed that the answer was in the affirmative. He talked about merchant seamen being best able to serve their country by remaining in their ships in case war should come, the assumption being that we were really preparing for the last war. As for the Defence Minister's reference to a "broken-back war", he was not merely preparing for the last war, but he was talking in terms of the last White Paper but two, because it was the last Defence White Paper but two—that in 1954—which referred to the "broken-back" war. That was in the 245 palmy days of the atomic bomb, before the hydrogen bomb came along and rather changed the picture.
I should like to recall what the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) said about the change thus introduced into warfare, including, of course, the status and prospects of the Navy in a future war. This is what he said in the defence debate of 1st March, 1955:There is an immense gulf between the atomic and the hydrogen bomb. The atomic bomb, with all its terrors, did not carry us outside the scope of human control or manageable events in thought or action, in peace or war. But ֵ"—with the—hydrogen bomb, the entire foundation of human affairs was revolutionalised, and mankind placed in a situation both measureless and laden with doom."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st March, 1955; Vol. 537, c. 1894–5.]For a time, this fact seemed to have penetrated the consciousness of the powers that be, for at the Geneva Conferences in July and October, 1955, it was clearly stated by the then Prime Minister and by the present Prime Minister, then Foreign Secretary, that another war would mean the annihilation of the human race.
Our leading air experts at the time—I quoted all this in the defence debate a year ago, so I shall not do so again—Air Chief Marshal Sir Philip Joubert and others, N.A.T.O. officers, etc., reckoned that this country would last from thirty-six hours to three days in the case of a full-scale nuclear weapon attack by air. What has happened since then? Has the hydrogen bomb become less menacing? Have the means of delivering it deteriorated?
On the contrary, the hydrogen bomb today is an even more terrible thing than it was three years ago. It can be manufactured much more quickly and much more cheaply, and much greater stocks of it exist. As for the means of delivering it, the Minister of Defence, on 13th February, dwelt on that in some detail. He pointed out that it was very difficult to stop aircraft flying at 50,000 ft. and at the speed of sound; and on top of that there are now in existence rockets carrying nuclear warheads that fly at 5,000 miles an hour and 100 miles high.
The other day, I saw a newspaper report that our defence scientists had decided that this country was impossible 246 to defend—and the Minister of Defence said the same thing—that the offensive had this time completely overshadowed and outgrown the defensive. There is no defence against rockets; it does not exist and nobody knows what to do about it. Even in the last war, we managed to stop only one aircraft in ten. Four or five of the modern hydrogen bombs would make this country uninhabitable and would destroy it.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir Robert Grimston)
I regret to interrupt the hon. Member, but I hope he will soon, as he promised, relate his argument to the Navy.
§ Mr. Zilliacus
I was just coming to that, Sir Robert.
The National Service White Paper indirectly referred to that by saying that it would be impossible in a future war to send National Service men abroad. The reason why it would be impossible is that our ports would be smashed up. If we could not get our men out, how could we get food supplies in, even if there were anybody left alive to eat them when they came? In other words, there is a profound contradiction between the conception of a war that would be over in two or three days because of hydrogen bombs and rockets, and the functions of the Navy in keeping open the seaways and bringing in food to an extinct population in a country which had been reduced to radioactive rubble heaps.
We really must make up our minds which particular kind of war we envisage. It is no use having a kind of political schizophrenia and allowing the Admiralty to prepare for a conventional war while the Air Ministry prepares for a nuclear war and the Minister of Defence tries to combine them all and adds a few others, like cold wars, little wars, global wars and all the rest.
The whole of the Government's defence policy, particularly their naval defence policy, seems to me to be not a policy, but a bad attack of what is known, I believe, as infantile regression. When an adult is unable to cope with the problems of the real world, he retires into the world of his childhood and starts playing soldiers or playing with other toys. We are now playing with the Navy in the same spirit, because we cannot face the horrible reality that man's destructive power has outrun his capacity to survive 247 and that we must either prevent war, which means that we organise peace, or, if a war breaks out, navies and all the rest will be smashed up and we shall all be dead in a few days.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Miss Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
I should like, first, to apologise for not having attended the whole of the debate. Unfortunately, it coincided with the meeting of another Committee of which I am a member and at which my attention was required.
I hope that the hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Zilliacus) will not consider me impolite if I do not follow him into all the realms which he has just traversed. He probably has ideals which are not very practical in this present world.
I have not had the same advantage as many other hon. Members of serving in the Navy and cannot speak with the same experience. I wish, therefore, to confine myself to domestic affairs and to deal with constituency points.
In peace-time, there is always likely to be difficulty in recruiting. It is essential that the person who might like to join the Navy should be able to see what it offers him as a career. The father of a potential recruit has to be. convinced that the Navy offers his son a worth-while career. In the old days, especially in the West Country, people went into the Navy almost automatically—there was little other opportunity for them and education was not of the same high standard as it is now. If we are seeking to attract recruits, we must have a policy which shows clearly how progress can be made from the lower to the higher ranks. All that needs to be made far more clear than it is today.
My second plea is for a better status for the woman who is married to a man serving in the Navy. Often when a man is married and settles down, he finds it difficult to combine the two aspects of his life. Unless it can be made really attractive to his wife, she will do all that she can to see that he does not complete his term of long service. Not only should a man's pay be adequate, but his wife should have a standard of life which is, if anything, a little better than if her husband were in industry. Men in the Services have to meet many other difficulties 248 and expenses which do not face men who can come home every day and partake in a normal home life.
I know that the Admiralty is building a considerable number of houses for naval personnel, but I suggest that that question is being tackled in the wrong way. A great deal of the money which has been used by the Admiralty for housing could be much better employed by making a grant to local authorities for the purpose. A local authority has much more experience in housing and certainly can build houses more cheaply.
It would be much fairer if housing were handled by the local authorities. A naval family, for example, might be living in a house—perhaps slightly better than one provided by the local authority—for which a rent of 17s. 6d. a week was being paid, whereas a neighbour working perhaps in the dockyard might, because of a differential rent scheme, be paying 25s. or 30s. a week for equivalent accommodation. The rent that naval families are paying contains a hidden subsidy and I suggest that it would be far better and more efficient if housing were dealt with by the local authority.
There has been considerable discussion recently in the Press concerning the women's Services. There have been suggestions that they are extravagant and not worth keeping for the future. I wish to pay a tribute to the excellent work which has been done by the women's Services in the past and to suggest that there might be a way of economising and yet keeping these women, especially those in the W.R.N.S., who, I consider, are invaluable. Why should we not have immobile W.R.N.S., as we had before the war? They could live at home, travel to their offices and do their job equally well as at present, without any need for maintaining the existing large messes and establishments. In addition, there would in many places be a tremendous saving in transport. I suggest that the women's Services are well worth keeping but in a rather different form.
We were delighted when, soon after his appointment, my noble Friend the First Lord came to the West Country, and we were delighted to hear that he regarded it as a good training centre. I realise, as has been suggested, that too much concentration can be dangerous, but both 249 the naval barracks and the dockyards were able to carry on during the last war in the West Country, despite heavy enemy attack.
I suggest that it might be better to concentrate certain types of training in certain areas. There are quite a number of inland training establishments. H.M.S. "Royal Arthur", at Corsham, is, I understand, a petty officers' leadership training centre. I consider that that training would be far better done in places like the Royal Naval Barracks at Devonport, whereas training centres like H.M.S. "Raleigh", at Torpoint, would be better kept as they are. Let us concentrate the training of the engineering and petty officers in the way that I have suggested. We already have a very large petty officers' block in that area.
I should like 4o suggest that, not only in the West Country but in other areas, more consideration should be given to moving inshore establishments nearer the sea so that people can get both types of training without the tremendous amount of travelling that has to be done at the moment. I put in a special plea for the retention of the establishment of H.M.S. "Raleigh".
I should also like to consider other domestic sides of the Service. I think that in regard to the chaplain service there is a great deal of overlapping. I suggest that there should be one chaplain-general for all three Services. There are three different ones now, and three different officers.
I do not mean to be rude to the chaplain service in saying that I could think of a lot more small jobs that could be concentrated under one head. I understand that India has a major-general who deals with the work and organisation for all three services. I think that in this regard we could take an idea from what has been established in the new service in India, and see whether we could not introduce it into our own Services in this country.
The same applies to medical stores. If one is going to have a blood transfusion, whether in the Army, the Navy or the Air Force, one is certainly to have the same blood. Why have three sets of medical stores in order to produce the commodities needed?
250 In regard to transport, if only the R.A.F. transport service could be used more for the transporting of families, it would be a welcome facility, especially when they go overseas.
I was very glad when an hon. Member opposite, who has now left the Chamber, made a remark about dockyards. Even though it was a rather derogatory one, it was better than the opening remarks of my hon. Friend who, I regret to say, did not refer to the dockyards at all. They are a very important part of the Navy. The Navy at the moment—I am saying only at the moment—could not go to sea unless we had the dockyards. I have quite an open mind about whether the present dockyards on their existing basis are being run in the most economical way.
I feel that we must get a long-term policy in regard to the dockyards. I agree that it is impossible to retain all the yards. I think that it will be necessary, in the not-too-distant future, to turn parts of these yards over to private enterprise. What is so frustrating at the moment is that we get all this talk of full employment and of there being enough work in the dockyards for ten years or more, but we really do not know whether or not there is any policy in regard to these yards.
I do not want to see these yards used as they were in previous times, for repair work. I think that is soul-destroying work. All the work done in the dockyards should be productive work. If we are not going to use them for repairing ships in the future, let us have a decision and let us get private enterprise, before it builds too many factories in other parts, to take over part of the dockyards so that it can get down to some practical work there.
Not very long ago, tankers were very well and efficiently made at the Devonport Dockyard. We have the type of person who can do that work, and we could perfectly well turn part of the yard over to that work in the future. When I go round those yards, I am reminded of what used to be known in W.V.S. days as "Make do and mend". I have seen men spending endless hours on repairing parts of a ship which it would be far better to scrap and have replaced by new ones, because that would save time and 251 be much more efficient. I saw one piece of electrical apparatus and I was rather surprised at its rather dilapidated state. It was very much corroded and I asked about it. I was told that it had been in a certain ship for thirteen years, and was to be stripped down and rebuilt. I suggest that the time wasted on that sort of thing makes for complete inefficiency.
All the dockyards are particularly lucky in the excellent Admiralty superintendents which they have. I should not like anything that I say now to be thought of as being in any way derogatory in regard to the excellent service which they give. But I do not think that it is very good for the business functions of the dockyards to have Admiralty superintendents who are appointed for probably only two or three years. With a concentration of between 15,000 and 20,000 people in these yards, the Admiralty superintendent has no time really to get around in the time allowed, and he cannot have that connection with his workpeople, which I think is very essential. Therefore, I would advocate that the superintendent should have under him some civilian who would have continuous service for at least five or ten years, so that there would be some continuity in the work. I think that lack of continuity is what makes for inefficiency and time wasting in a great many of these yards.
I was told last year, when I raised this point in the debate, that new workshops were not appreciated by the workpeople. I made inquiries about that, and I should like to say definitely that I think that that was rather a misstatement. They do appreciate new workshops and I hope that any money that is to be spent—and I understand that quite a lot of money is to be spent—will be on new workshops and not in building what to my mind are useless things, such as enormous dock walls.
One objection to these walls to which I particularly want to draw to the attention of the Civil Lord, who, I understand, is to reply to the debate, is that if they are built, especially around the new workshops, which are very often far dispersed from the existing ones, and the time comes for a change of policy and we do not need so much work to be done in the dockyards, we shall then be told that the workshops are inside the walls and there- 252 fore cannot be let out to private enterprise.
I would make a very strong plea for a definite policy in the very near future about exactly how many of these yards are to be extended and which ones are to be kept. Just as uncertainty affects the morale of the Navy, it is very disturbing for the civilian workers in the yards not to know what their future is to be. I remember that when I worked in a factory some people did their work a little more slowly towards the end of the war. They thought that they were going to work themselves out of a job. There are towns in this country whose entire population depends on the local dockyard, and it is particularly frustrating if they do not know what the policy about the dockyard is. I should be very grateful if the Civil Lord would say that he is taking these particular towns into consideration.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
The hon. Lady the Member for Devon-port (Miss Vickers) has drawn our attention to matters of the first importance. I trust that she will forgive me if I do not pursue them, except for one of her observations. She said to my hon. Friend the Member for Gorton (Mr. Zilliacus) that he apparently held ideals which were not practical. There seems to be an idea that idealists are not practical people. I invite hon. Members to look at the place to which the realists have brought us because, in the words of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), we are at the very brim of hell. One would not believe that that consciousness had penetrated into lesser minds on the other side of the Committee, judging by the course which this debate has taken.
The Minister of Defence, speaking in the House on 13th February, reminded us that our danger in a future war would come from inter-continental ballistic missiles. When I was in San Diego, where they make these rockets, a few months ago, I learned that ballistic missiles can now be sent three-quarters of the way round the world. It is safe for us to assume that Russia is as advanced as the United States in this respect. I would, therefore, draw particular attention to the words of the Minister of Defence, who has said:When the Russians are in a position to bombard this country accurately and on a 253 massive scale with nuclear rockets, we shall have to consider whether it is worth while retaining fighter aircraft at all.Then he argued that our defence will lie in having the same weapons.
I submit that the Minister of Defence has already given a lead to the Committee and to the Navy, which seems to get its money very easily. Navy Estimates go through with a few compliments from both sides of the Committee, but the Navy ought to be made to justify every item on which it wants to spend our money, in view of the words of the Minister of Defence. He has said,We must, as far as possible, resist the temptation to dissipate our limited resources on forces which in themselves have no deterrent value; for to that extent we should be reducing the contribution we can make to the prevention of war."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th February, 1957; Vol. 564, c. 1335.]I submit that the deterrent value of the Royal Navy is one thing but that when war has broken out we shall be fooling ourselves if we pretend that there is any defence at all.
I do not expect hon. and right hon. Members on either side of the Committee to accept the pacifist view, but I have the right to advance it. I am appalled at the easy manner in which we can talk about the rôle of the Navy in the next war. Why not be honest with the British people? We have already had to be honest with the Far East and declare a danger zone, not for weeks but for months, in an area of 7,000 square miles for the testing of one of these bombs. What nonsense this makes of talk about "Pompey," Devon-port or Chatham in the event of a hydrogen bomb war. There would be nothing left alive in these islands. We had better be honest with our people and say that our only hope lies in a deterrent, in avoiding the war, and that if it comes we cannot pretend that the Royal Navy with all its glorious past can protect the people of these islands.
§ Commander R. Scott-Miller (King's Lynn)
Is the hon. Member suggesting that the Royal Navy should be disbanded tomorrow morning?
§ Mr. Thomas
The hon. and gallant Member must wait a little. He has too great an idea of the competence of the Government if he thinks that they can do it in that way.
254 The San Francisco Chronicle reported last July the result of the testing of our nuclear weapons in Australia. This report did not reach the British Press. It indicated that a little mining township of Kudiralla, 1,800 miles from the scene of the test had a heavy fall of radio-active dust upon it. That is a lesson for those who are looking for a rôle for the Navy in the next war. The hon. and gallant Member for King's Lynn (Commander Scott-Miller) is an ex-Navy type—and I do not say that in an unkindly way. The hon. and gallant Member, who seemed so impatient, appeared to feel that the Royal Navy has a special insurance against nuclear weapons and hydrogen bombs in the next war.
Why are we so unwilling to face the reality that all our thinking about defence has to be changed? The idealist is the realist now. The only hope of survival for the British people is to have no war at all, for we are the only major Power in the world that can be put out completely with one of these weapons. Let one hydrogen bomb be dropped in the Midlands, and the people in the hon. Lady's beloved Devonport, and in "Pompey" and Chatham, if any were left at all, would be among ruins.
I believe that we could give a lesson to the world in the course of discussing these Estimates. Little Britain has a mighty part to play in the world. She ought to give a lead on moral issues of this sort. We should realise that the maximum that we can do is to keep conventional weapons for those little wars of adventure which people apparently think can be indulged in with security. I submit to the Minister that, on whatever ground he seeks to justify the Estimates tonight, he should not pretend that the Royal Navy can defend us in the face of a hydrogen bomb war.
I leave that subject, to consider the conditions of service in the Royal Navy, for I am second to none in my respect and regard for those who make it their profession to serve the nation in that way. It would not be my choice, but it is theirs. I believe that the Royal Navy finds itself in the unhappy position of making people serve in its ranks whether they want to do so or not, and with the absolute power of the State taking away the very liberty of the individual. It says to certain young people "You must wear 255 a uniform and go where the Navy wants you to go" I should have thought that that undermined the Navy and its traditions. I should have thought that conscription would be offensive to the Royal Navy and those who are responsible for it. Now, with the economies which I trust the Government are taking seriously, there is an opportunity to tell us that the Navy can lead in giving up even selective National Service.
It is clear—the writing is on the wall—that National Service is on its way out. I am very happy at the thought that we have converted some of my hon. Friends as well as hon. Gentlemen opposite. It has not been a mean achievement to convert them. Why does not the Civil Lord tonight give a lead as to when he expects selective National Service to come to an end in the reduced, streamlined Royal Navy which I believe he and his right hon. Friends anticipate?
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) raised a most important point when he referred to those who are selected to do their National Service in the Royal Navy. Now that they are selected for their talents, ability and capacity, surely it is unjust that they should not be paid the same as others who are doing the same job in the Royal Navy. That is the very least that we can ask from the Government until conscription is brought to an end.
While I realise that it is not an easy thing to be responsible for the defence of this country in a world changing as quickly as it is at present, I believe that the right outlook is the Christian one. I believe that the time has come when we can give a lead to the world on this question by realising that our best defence is not in the size of our Armed Forces but in our faith and the quality of our people. Such is my faith.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Mr. John Baldock (Harborough)
The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) put forward two points of view which I found impossible to reconcile. He began by saying that the only weapon which was of any use today was the deterrent and that we had better concentrate on the deterrent in order to avoid war. Later he said that the only thing we ought to do was to go in for conventional armaments. Either those points 256 were in conflict or the hon. Member is in agreement with us that we should have a bit of each.
§ Mr. G. Thomas
The hon. Gentleman is doing me more than justice. He is giving me credit for things to which I am not entitled. I was reading the views of the Minister upon the deterrent, and I was arguing from that that if it were true, which I did not accept—perhaps I ought to have made it clearer than I did—that the Navy could be a deterrent, even then the Department ought to be made to justify every penny that it spends.
§ Mr. Baldock
I thank the hon. Member for explaining more clearly what he meant. I am in agreement with him that the Department should justify every penny it spends. That applies to every Department. However, as I hope to show, I see greater opportunities for saving money in the Navy than in any other Department.
I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Cardiff, West at least supporting the idea of having some conventional arms. If I correctly understood the hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Zilliacus)—I found it difficult to follow his philosophical. moral and dialectical arguments—he will go into the Lobby at the end of the debate and vote against any money being provided for the Navy. I shall be interested to know whether he will do that. The only conclusion that I could draw from his speech was that he did not want to spend any money at all on the Service.
§ Mr. Zilliacus
What I was trying to make clear was that, whereas the Navy has certain very limited peace-time functions, such as coastguard duties, patrols, dealing with smugglers and pirates, and transport duties, anything above that must be justified in terms of the Government's own assumptions about the nature of nuclear war and the nature of the deterrent, and I believe the result would be very little, if any, addition to a purely peace-time force.
§ Mr. Baldock
I feel that such picturesque functions as chasing smugglers and pirates would require very little expenditure at all. I still think that my first assumption, that the hon. Member would like to vote against the Navy Estimates, was the right one, but whether or not he will have the courage to do so will remain to be seen.
257 It seems a short time since the British public, which has certainly got used to assimilating some very unpalatable and bitter facts in the last decade or so, became perturbed at the realisation that the Royal Navy was neither the greatest nor even the second greatest navy in the world. The Royal Navy occupies a special place in the regard of this country. Not only has it protected us from invasion for centuries. It has allowed traders to move all over the world under its protection and to build up the sterling area, which is still the most important trading area in the world and possesses the currency most used for trading.
The Royal Navy has for centuries been the outward and visible sign of the power of this country arid, for many years, of the Pax Britannica which we were able to bring to the world. It is not only for those reasons that it has been held in great esteem. It has also been a superbly efficient war machine. perhaps the most efficient that any country has ever been able to build.
The idea that there might not be a rôle for this Service, which the country regards so highly, caused tremendous consternation. It tended to affect the morale of the Service and the recruiting for the Service. Last year's White Paper on Defence helped a great deal to demonstrate that the Royal Navy still has a rôle to play. I do not feel that there is any longer any doubt in the minds of the great majority of hon. Members or of the general public that the Navy has a rôle. That is most important.
However, there may be different views about what its rôle is. Four have been mentioned. First, and possibly by far the most important, there is the offensive rôle of the Navy in nuclear war. That has perhaps not yet been developed to a very high stage, but the duty of being a carrier and a user of the deterrent for the prevention of another war must take first place among the duties of the Navy in the nuclear age. As a second rôle, there is that of taking part in operations in minor wars with our allies. There is also police action, perhaps being limited to a single ship—a cruiser—or a small squadron. Fourthly, there is participation in "broken-back" warfare, in the phase after an attack by conventional or nuclear weapons.
258 I believe that we should try to arrange that the Navy concentrates upon the first three of those rôles. I very much doubt whether, if we endeavoured to equip the Navy to take part in all four rôles, including "broken-back" warfare and the prolonged stage of a world war, we should be able to mass sufficient resources to carry out the first three functions effectively—that is to say, to have ships for minor wars, for police action, and to carry the deterrent. Those duties, plus the necessity to take part in a prolonged major war, are more than the Navy can be expected to carry out, given the resources which the country can now provide.
I feel strongly that it is the fourth duty—that of taking part in a prolonged war—which we should abandon in order to provide more resources and money to carry out the first three functions with the utmost efficiency. I very much question whether it would be of any use having large quantities of ships in reserve, to bring out after attacks by atomic or nuclear weapons. What use would they be? How many people would be left? How many harbours could be used in those circumstances? I agree with the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) who said that it would probably be a better expenditure of money to store food against such a contingency, because I do not think that the position is quite as grave as the hon. Member for Cardiff, West said.
I believe that people would be left alive after such an attack and that provision should be made for the underground storage of preserved food, such as dehydrated vegetables and tinned food, which could be used in those circumstances. That would be a better way of spending money than to maintain these ships in reserve or to maintain large establishments and installations with a view to working up a large fleet to fight in a prolonged major war. I do not think we can seriously contemplate such action by the Navy.
The Committee should endeavour to impress upon my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that we must make every possible economy in order to provide an absolutely first-class fleet for carrying out the three functions or duties which it must prform. The economies which could be made in this direction, and which would do nothing to diminish 259 the value of the Navy as a deterrent in a nuclear war and as a force able to provide ships for minor wars and police actions, have been repeated often in these debates. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) put forward the arguments in a masterly way this afternoon. I do not want to delay the Committee by repeating those arguments, but I should like to summarise them.
I am not sure that my hon. and gallant Friend will be in agreement with me upon my next suggestion, but I believe that the Navy should discard everything which cannot be mobilised in a matter of hours. A considerable number of Reserve Fleet ships should either be sold to our friends, allies and members of the Commonwealth or sold for scrap. We certainly need the scrap steel as well as any revenue which those ships might bring in as ships. There is also an excellent case for reducing the top-heavy hierarchy in the Department which, to a great degree, is still suited for the age of battle fleets. We shall never see fleets of any size again.
It seems impossible to support any argument which can explain how these large numbers of senior executive officers can continue to be necessary in a fleet of the very small size which, as my hon. and gallant Friend said, is no more than one rear-admiral's command, even if all the ships put to sea together.
I agree with what has been said by many hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Miss Vickers), about the dockyards. There are many reasons why a policy for the dockyards should be devised and expressed as soon as possible. I cannot see how we can justify maintaining all these dockyards, not only here but abroad—in Gibraltar, Malta and Singapore—to service our very much reduced fleet. We understand that considerable further sums of money are to be spent upon the modernisation of these dockyards. No doubt they need modernising, but I would ask my hon. Friend whether the money could not be concentrated upon the modernisation of one dockyard—that which is likely to be the most efficient—so that it will be quite able to maintain the very much reduced Navy of the future and so that the others can be used for commercial purposes.
260 In present circumstances it is not fair to have a situation in which whole towns depend almost entirely upon a single employer or enterprise. If conditions change, or if policy is altered, the people of such a town will be thrown out of work. Let us start gradually turning these people over to other occupations and using their skills in ship-building and for the other requirements which we have as a great trading and exporting nation. Let us start the change-over quickly, so that nothing disastrous has to be done in future, as a result of which, perhaps, thousands of people may find themselves out of work. I agree with those who have suggested that we should also start integrating the Royal Navy with the Royal Air Force. Many economies could be made in that direction.
If we are prepared to start taking these steps, we need not fear that anything will be done to impair the fighting resources of the Fleet; in fact, more money could be spent on producing a powerful, modern and fully equipped fleet, with ample opportunities for sea-time and with considerably reduced personnel. We would still be able to send a cruiser or a squadron to carry out a police action; we should be able to make our contribution in any small war in which we might have to engage together with our allies, and we should be working towards the use of the deterrent in the Royal Navy, which I believe will be its most important function in the future.
Whether they are launched from aircraft carriers or fired as guided missiles from submarines they must add to the deterrent and may cause any aggressor against the West or against civilisation increasingly to pause. He will surely pause if he knows that even if he destroys this island, or all the aerodromes in Western Europe, there are still submarines and other vessels at sea which can deliver the deterrent back into his own country. If that will cause any potential aggressor to think twice about starting a war it must be the most important and valuable rôle that the Royal Navy can have ahead of it.
We need not be too cast down because the Navy has been much reduced in size. It was not always superior in numbers to the enemies it defeated in the past. So long as the quality is not reduced, I believe 261 that it will continue to be one of the most important elements in our civilisation.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
The speech of the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Baldock) outlined the whole tenor of this debate: the great uncertainty which prevails, both in this House and outside, regarding the rôle of the Royal Navy in the future, and, indeed, about the kind of warfare of the future. The hon. Gentleman is an expert; I think he is an ex-naval officer. I have had no connection with the Navy and must speak as a layman.
In this House and in the country we must think very hard about the problems of defence, in particular about the Navy, because we have to take far-reaching decisions with comparatively little knowledge. Some of my hon. Friends have expounded the idea that future warfare will be so annihilating that we need not trouble to do anything. Others feel that we in this House have a responsibility to the nation for the defence of our country which must be discharged. We are now considering particularly the money to be provided for the Royal Navy in the coming financial year. We are the more mystified because this is merely a token Estimate and we do not know what the Government have in mind.
I am one who feels that we must do something to prepare in the best way we can for the defence of our country. Mention has been made of our Royal Dockyards. The hon. Member seemed to be speaking with different voices. At one period in this debate he said that all the dockyard facilities should be concentrated at one dockyard. Later he seemed to suggest that to do so would be difficult, because that would offer one great target and, therefore, the facilities should be dispersed. I appreciate that one can argue both ways.
§ Mr. Hayman
If he refers to his speech in HANSARD tomorrow, I think the hon. Member will find that he made both points.
Be that as it may, people in the West Country will be disturbed about the tenor of some of the speeches in this debate, because the great naval dockyard at Plymouth is a vital concern to the West Country and to Plymouth in particular. I believe there are about 18,000 men employed in that dockyard. What is to be their future? Several hon. Members suggested that we should break away from the Royal Dockyards and that a lot of the work should be transferred to private yards. But it has been stated authoritatively that the cost of comparable work in private yards exceeds the cost of the work done in the naval dockyards.
We also must consider the great naval airfields. Little has been said of their rôle in the scheme of defence, but many millions of pounds must have been spent in post-war years on the provision and development of naval airfields. As one who has had something to do with educational administration, I feel that one of the features which will have to be considered is technological development and training for all branches of the Service. There was some force in the remark of the Parliamentary Secretary that the present age of technological development might require the services of more officers and people of equivalent rank than ever before in the history of the Navy.
Provision is made in the Estimates for married quarters. I am sorry that the Parliamentary Secretary is not present so that I might remind him that he and I had some discussion twelve months or so ago about a great expenditure proposed by the Royal Air Force for an aerodrome in Cornwall. That expenditure would have been about £500,000, and the Air Force authorities said that it was essential for the aerodrome to be in such-and-such a place, despite the protests of the planning authorities. A few months later the hon. Gentleman said that the Air Force authorities had been stricken by a fit of economy and the whole proposal was to be abandoned. We must get some solidity about the spending of our money. Every now and again the party opposite seems to be panic-stricken and indulges 263 in petty economies. In my view, true economy is the spending of money wisely, according to a plan and for a specific objective; not just jumping about making economies here and there at the dictates of certain newspapers.
It has been brought to my notice that on some naval airfields, if not all of them, trained constables are being replaced by Service personnel. I am informed that this new régime will not prove as effective as the old one when there were people employed who were properly trained for the job. In recent years we have had many debates about security, and authority has been given to Ministers to override many of the fundamental liberties of our people. If it is necessary to protect these aerodromes, surely we are not proposing to boggle about the comparatively small sum of money necessary to provide such security? That such security is needed was evidenced last week when some undergraduates from Manchester were able to invade premises at Calder Hall and get away with it quite easily. It seems to me that where we have millions, possibly tens of millions, of pounds worth of property, some of it of a secret nature, the Government should not give way to a demand for petty economies of this kind, if the result is inefficient control.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)
Although there is a large naval air station in my constituency, I do not wish to discuss the question of airfields at the moment. I make no apology for what my hon. Friend might call special pleading. I do not purport to be one who can speak with authority on the various rôles of the Navy, but I think the fact that we have to make economies is evident. The main objective of this debate—perhaps that is why the same things have been said a good many times—must be to put the case of the Navy so that it can be considered by those who have to make decisions about the Armed Forces of the future.
I disagree with those who say it is a pity that we have had a debate such as this without more evidence or fuller information. Let us go through the various phases about which we have spoken. There is the nuclear phase. The obvious 264 point here, and one which I feel must be stressed, is that the Navy is mobile; especially in view of the fact that modern aircraft of the R.A.F. necessitate larger and larger airfields and also more and more complicated control staffs. Is it a fact that the modern type of aircraft employed by the Royal Air Force has an operational height which cannot be less than 30,000 feet because of its aerodynamic qualities? I may be wrong, but if that is so, how can the R.A.F. expect to have the accurate bombing that is so important?
I turn to the importance of our naval commitments to N.A.T.O. We would be quite incapable of bearing our share alone in the event of the ghastly nuclear attack occurring, and that is why it is important to fulfil our own commitments in N.A.T.O. How many heavy carriers at this moment can be operational? Is the figure one, or two? Is it—and I doubt this—three? How far in the N.A.T.O. set-up can we depend upon the general use of the American super-carrier? Are we satisfied that there are enough of these in the event of this terrible threat being realised?
The right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) in opening the debate for the Opposition, asked about the Blackburn N.A.39. We have heard encouraging things said about this aircraft. Can we be told more? Another point to be considered is the form which the A.S. protection of fleet groups, or battle forces—whatever we like to call them—will take in the future. I would like to know in view of the attacking distance of homing torpedoes, and the speed of the task force, will it rely on its own speed to get away? Will it rely upon escort vessels for the necessary protection or upon a largely increased use of aircraft for anti-submarine protection?
Then about submarines. Is it true that a submarine has carried out experiments from 100 ft. below the surface of the water in launching a guided missile? If so one would like to know about it if possible. My last question is about the R.N.V.R. squadrons. Everybody will join in a tribute to these men for what they have done, but the Minister talked about the other rôles that they might be able to take on. Had he in mind anything that would keep their hand in flying so that if there was an emergency 265 and chaotic conditions they could be brought back into some sort of service? Perhaps that point might be considered.
How can we possibly know what will happen if the next war breaks out. Before the last war there were diagrams of bombs falling on Trafalgar Square and of total devastation all round, for one mile, partial destruction for two miles and so on. It just did not happen. Whatever people may say about this ghastly threat—
§ Mr. Howard
Maybe, but I am saying that, until we know, we cannot make an accurate forecast of what will happen, but we must make as accurate a forecast as we can on the basis that there will be people who will have to be fed if this ghastly thing happens. Many of the small harbours round the coast might become vital for this purpose overnight. One might have to supply people on the beaches from landing craft.
This brings me to the point touched upon by the hon. Member who referred to speed of tankers. Those who spent much of the last war on convoy escort-duty in the Atlantic will know how this question of ship's speed has come in over and over again. Whether we employ a convoy system or something else, the one thing that must be apparent is that, as merchant ships will be vital to supplies, their turn-round must be as short as possible. That means that they must have the greatest possible speed.
Why should the Russians have built a vast conventional fleet of submarines? How many are operational and how many depot ships have they so that their submarines can be kept very nearly indefinitely at their various operational stations? Am I right in thinking that the Russians could produce four times as many submarines that could be operational as the Germans had at the very height of the last war? If that is so, why are they there? That must give us furiously to think. We may build storage here for things like oil and grain but we must get our food from outside. How are we to cope with this position?
Now we come to what is known in the service as "fire-brigade action." The necessity of mobility must be apparent to everybody, because with it we may stop the flames from spreading. Then there is 266 the height limitation of the R.A.F. Carrier-borne aircraft can work from much lower operational heights.
The Minister, in his opening speech, made a very important point about the loss of our bases throughout the world, and, therefore, how much more important the carrier force must be. We must also remember the rôle of the Navy in showing the flag abroad. That is very good, but I hope that in all these matters Their Lordships will remember the vital importance of better accommodation in carriers. Anyone who has been in the Service knows that ships start off with a wonderful plan of where everything is to be put, but by the time everybody has had his turn the sailor finds himself right up in one corner and there is very little room left. I hope that this point is being borne in mind.
The D.N.R.'s current recruiting slogan is "a ton of fuel expended is a recruit gained." If that ton of fuel can be used for taking the young recruit to different parts of the world, it will be well spent. It has always been said that the Navy is a jolly good ambassador for the country, and that there could not be a better way of living up to this than getting young sailors abroad.
In this connection I welcome, as I am sure we all do, what has been said about a Commonwealth Naval Conference. That is one of the best ways in which our Commonwealth can get together. When the papers were telling us about Commonwealth discord over the Suez operation, I know that friends of mine in the Service who met their opposite numbers from Commonwealth navies over a glass of gin found the situation was very different. They were able to discuss the whole thing among themselves as Servicemen.
It seems to me that the following points might emerge for serious consideration. In the first and ghastly phase of nuclear war we cannot do a great deal. Therefore, it is essential for us to keep in N.A.T.O. what is already there from a naval point of view because we must rely on others and, without doing our share, I do not see how we can possibly rely on them. It seems that the rôle of the Navy is ideally in the "fire brigade" sphere, but one thing is vital, and that is sea time, because however many gadgets there are in a ship, someone has to take her to sea 267 and bring her back again. That has to be done by seamen, whose work does not change very much. Rocks and tides and fogs are the same. There may be more crashes because everyone relies so much on radar. I know that with all these wonderful devices it is said that a man is locked up in a box surrounded by instruments which will produce the answers, but that does not replace essential training provided by going to sea.
That is why I hope that when these cuts come, as come they obviously must in view of our limited finances, they may be made from the 183,000 civilians. The figures were given on 27th February of 46,000 officers and men in sea-going ships, 5,000 in the Reserve Fleet and 70,000 ashore, but we must remember that some are officers of N.A.T.O. To look after them or part of that Service there are 183,000 civilians. Are we really satisfied that there is no duplication of, say, some of the basic research in radar and some of the things which may be common to the other Services? Medical services have been mentioned, but, as we all do year after year, I wish to come back to one of my pet subjects.
Accommodation for married men with families could be handled jointly by the Services. A naval rating, an airman, or a soldier with a wife has quarters which are very much the same whether he is at home or abroad. Why should there be three separate organisations to deal with them? Why not have one organisation and thereby cut down the three Services' staffs? We want to see that when cuts are proposed they are really made. Last year we were told that a certain establishment would be closed down, but those who live in that area know that the same establishment was opened up again with great pomp and ceremony four miles away.
None of us knows what the future is to hold, but those of us who speak for the Navy can surely put this to the Minister of Defence. Whatever the rôle of the Navy may be, it is vital and, therefore, if there are to be cuts, please let those cuts be from somewhere ashore and not from the sea-going side of the Navy, which at the moment is just about at danger level.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
The most outstanding point of this debate to which I have had the fortune to listen has been the change in the approach which many hon. and gallant Members opposite have made to the problem of defence expenditure. Hitherto anyone who dared to mention in this Chamber that perhaps our military commitments were too heavy and were causing too big a strain on our economy always ran the danger of being accused of being a fellow traveller, a crypto-Communist, or having some such label attached to him. It appears now that some of the wisdom which some of us have been trying to disseminate in the last five years is beginning to sink in and that many other people are beginning to realise that we cannot have military security based on economic insolvency.
For that reason I welcome the change of tone. I recognise, perhaps in a different way from most people, that the struggle for which we are preparing is unlikely to be a struggle which will be decided upon the battlefield, but which will be largely decided in the economic and social field because it will be a struggle, not for men's bodies, but for men's minds. We cannot win that struggle by pursuing the policy which has been pursued by the three Service Ministries over the last five or six years.
I see the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary smiling, but perhaps he would listen to one of his distinguished friends. I am about to quote what was said by the then Foreign Secretary last May. There have been so many changes in this Government that I do not know who was Foreign Secretary last June. This is a quotation from the Manchester Guardian of 22nd May, 1956—it might be of the present Prime Minister or the present Foreign Secretary but, as I say, there have been so many changes and they have been so rapid that I hope I shall be excused as I cannot remember who at that particular time occupied the post of Foreign Secretary. The report stated:The conflict was a political one between two different systems and the Russian steamroller today is not likely to be a military one '. It consisted of a great number of technicians, technologists, teachers and business and other experts all intending to export Communism at the same time as they exported their goods and services. That was a conflict infinitely to 269 be preferred to nuclear war although it was a conflict which might have dangerous consequences for the free countries of the world.I think there is far more common sense in that than in most of the speeches which I have heard from various Service Ministers.
§ Commander C. E. M. Donaldson (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)
Surely the hon. Member has left out a calculation which has taken place since that time, namely, the Russian intervention in Hungary? Surely that was a military operation which cannot be denied on either side of the Committee.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
I am not denying it but I do not believe it makes any difference, because just as the Russians, although they went into Hungary, realised that they dare not do to Hungary what they would have liked to do, so did the British Tory Government realise that they dare not do to Egypt what they would have liked to do. Russia had the power to obliterate Hungary but she did not do it and we had the power to obliterate Egypt but we did not do it. The reason was that both did not much wish their intervention to lead to a major conflict. I think, therefore, that the battle is more likely to be decided on the economic and social field than on the military field.
I should like further information about nuclear war and "broken-back" warfare, of which we have been hearing so much in the last three or four speeches. We have heard of what the Navy is going to do after these islands have been almost obliterated. We are told that the Navy will sail forth and retaliate. How will our Navy be able to sail unaffected in the waters around this country when the Government say that after we have dropped an experimental bomb on Christmas Island about 7,000 square miles of sea will be dangerous for ships? Will not that be true of the Channel and the Irish Sea and the North Sea?
If this island has been bombed by hydrogen bombs, will the seas surrounding us somehow be free from the radioactivity which will be a menace around Christmas Island? We tell shipping that for a matter of three months they will not be able to sail through those waters because they will be dangerous, yet everybody assumes that if these bombs were dropped on this island and almost all our people were obliterated, the British Navy 270 would, nevertheless, sail forth through these home waters, apparently unaffected, in order to retaliate.
It is obvious that if that day ever comes our defence programme will have failed in its purpose, because the defence programme is a deterrent; it is a programme not to wage war but to prevent war. I know of no scientist, military expert, or Prime Minister who believes that, in the event of a hydrogen bomb war and of this island being part of the conflict, any life will survive on it. We have a right to assume that. Compare even the limited sum for which the Parliamentary Secretary is asking this afternoon with what we are spending on Civil Defence.
I think it is reasonably obvious to almost all intelligent people that if that catastrophe should overtake this country and the world, the things about which we have been talking this afternoon will merely he memories to one or two stragglers who may hope to survive such a conflagration.
And now I should like to deal with a point which I think is most important and which concerns many ordinary men and women. If the demands of the Services decrease, then in the shipyards and dockyards there is bound to be considerable apprehension amongst the workers who have hitherto been able to give their skill and ability to the Services. I should like to think that the Government will be as determined to plan for peace as they are to plan for war. I should like to think that the Government will give some thought to the future of the workers of Devonport, Gosport and all the other dockyards and shipyards—some thought about what will happen to them if expenditure on the Navy is considerably reduced and employment is thereby reduced.
We ought not to wait until thousands of men are walking the streets seeking jobs which do not exist. We ought to begin now to plan alternative employment. That is one of the tasks to which the Admiralty, the Army and the Air Force should be giving very serious thought. If, out of the many changes which are bound to come in the very rapidly changing world circumstances, we are to see mass unemployment in this country, with tens of thousands of ordinary men and women denied the right to 271 work and to maintain themselves in decency, comfort and dignity, then the very Forces which we have created—our huge military machine—in order to keep at bay externally the forces of Communism will be useless; for nothing will give the forces of Communism greater encouragement in our own land than for men to pass through the same frustration, misery, and anxiety which they knew in the interwar years.
I welcome this cut in the expenditure of the Navy and, for that matter, the cut in the total arms bill, but I hope that the full brunt will not be borne by the men in the dockyards and the shipyards or, if I may refer to them for a moment, the men in the Ordnance Factories. I hope that the Service Ministers, together with other responsible Ministers, will get together to see that these men who have given good service will be provided with alternative employment in which they can use their skill and ability.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Commander R. Scott-Miller (King's Lynn)
I hope the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his argument. I know that he has the question of unemployment very much in mind in view of the record of his constituency in years gone by. None of us wants to see that situation again, and if I thought there were to be enormous cuts overnight which would create unemployment I should be the first to deplore them.
Nevertheless, this question of economy cannot be disregarded. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said recently, we must play our part in defence and maintain our defence forces, but it must all be done within our resources. It is the small amount of resources which we have available which has caused the change in the usual arrangements for debating the Service Estimates, as a result of which we are debating them before we have seen the White Paper. To my mind, it might cause a certain amount of speculation which might well spread to the Forces themselves. It would be unfortunate if the Royal Navy were to start to lose confidence in itself for the future, because that loss could well spread amongst the personnel, with very bad effects.
272 I was very glad to hear the Parliamentary Secretary say that more recruits and men of a better standard were joining the Navy. That is very encouraging, and I hope it will continue. I am sure that we all want to see the National Service intake replaced by men who wish to make the Royal Navy their career.
The disbandment of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Air Squadrons has been a great disappointment to me. I know that the decision has been taken and that nothing more can be done about it, but I know how disappointing it must have been to the young officers and men in the air branches. I remember that in the years before the war, when I was on the active list of the R.N.V.R., we had a similar period of cutting back our defence costs. It was a bitter blow when we were asked at that time to refrain from doing our annual sea training unless it was essential that it should be done, from our own personal point of view, One can imagine what it must be to these men who have given so much in time and service, and I feel that the least the Government can do in compensation for disbanding them is to see that all the available money that is left for running the Navy is devoted to the tasks of the Navy and the operational side of the Service.
We have heard it said by one or two speakers this afternoon that we have about 183,000 civilians in Admiralty employment at home and overseas. When one compares that figure with the numbers of officers and men serving in the Navy, it certainly seems to strike me as being an extremely large tail, almost sufficiently large, in fact, to be wagging the dog rather than the dog wagging the tail.
I see from the records that in 1928, when we had a Navy of similar size in terms of officers and men serving, we then had 3,569 Admiralty officials. I am not suggesting for a moment that these 183,000 civilians are all Admiralty officials. I imagine that they include dockyard workers, not only in this country but abroad as well, in Malta and other places. Nevertheless, I would very much like to know what is the figure of Admiralty officials today in order to compare it with the 3,569 Admiralty officials that we had for a Navy of comparable size in 1928.
273 One other point which my hon. Friend mentioned in his speech was the fact that the merchant navy element of the R.N.R. —I may be wrong in what I am saying here, but this is what I took it to mean—were to be instructed to remain in their merchant ships in case of another war. I should not like to feel that these men are forced to stay in their merchant ships if they should wish to serve in warships. I think that many of them would feel that they would like the chance of joining a striking force of the Navy and doing something perhaps a bit more active than remaining in merchant ships. I do not mean that remaining in merchant ships today means that they would be particularly inactive; indeed, many of them, at any rate in the last war, formed the main target of the enemy attack. Nevertheless, I feel that they should be given the option to serve in warships, if they should wish to do so.
May I now say a word about this question of nuclear power for marine propulsion? We have heard that this development is being pressed on, and we know that it is certainly being pressed on by other countries abroad, but I want to feel that the Admiralty have the opportunity to develop marine propulsion by nuclear power at as fast a speed as they themselves wish to set. I would not like to feel that there was a competition between the development of nuclear power for marine propulsion and its development for other purposes. I hope, therefore, that that development will proceed, because nothing could be more beneficial to this country than to equip, certainly our warships, but also our merchant ships, with nuclear propulsion as quickly as possible. Nothing would help us more quickly than that in relation to competition with foreign countries.
Finally, may I say how much I welcome the reference to the Commonwealth Naval Conference? This reminds one that we are no longer looking at any of these naval problems from the point of view of a small island. We are part of the British Commonwealth, and when one hears these sad predictions about this country being annihilated by nuclear bombs, we must remember that we are part of the British Commonwealth straddling the entire world. I myself hope that other parts of the Commonwealth will be given naval assignments which are 274 at present undertaken by the Royal Navy, and that we shall spread our responsibilities so that each of the Commonwealth countries can play its part in maintaining the policing duties and the defence of the free world.
Therefore, I have the greatest confidence in the future of the Service. It will be pruned down, I hope, and the unnecessary expenditure on non-operational parts of the Royal Navy and the Admiralty will be diminished, so that we shall be able still to maintain the best Service possible with the resources that we have at our disposal.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
I found myself in complete agreement with the hon. and gallant Member for King's Lynn (Commander Scott-Miller) when he struck a cautionary note on the effect on those serving in the Armed Forces of wild talk about economy. Economy does not necessarily mean cutting down, but it has an effect from which in the past the Services have suffered a great deal, because those serving in them have had their careers cut short. At the present time, there must be a question mark in the minds of many about their own future, and it is for that reason that I hope that we are going to receive a full and informative White Paper.
I regret very much, and I certainly do not give the Government a good mark for it, this prolonged period of uncertainty. It is, I think, a matter of censure that, after more than five years of Conservative Administrations, which have prided themselves on their capacity to tackle the problems of the Armed Forces, we have had to wait for a hurried change of Minister in order to find out, or get some idea of, the shape and size of the Forces.
I am not one of those who regret that this debate has taken place, or that there are to be similar debates on the other Services; but I regret very much that the Government did not pay the Committee the courtesy of suspending the rule so that any hon. Member who wanted to speak would have been sure of being able to do so. Again, I think that it is a sign of the Government's uncertainty and lack of confidence in themselves that they impose a rule that consideration of Vote A shall end at ten o'clock, whether 275 or not there are hon. Members on both sides of the Committee who may want to speak.
I am not one of those who believe that the Minister of Defence will come down from the mountain with a doctrine which will answer all questions. I think we shall find that a very tiny mouse is produced after the mountain has laboured. I do not believe that the Minister of Defence at present has a clue; and if he has a clue, if he can undertake the skilled surgery which will be necessary if these prunings and changes are to take place so as to give greater efficiency at less cost, then what a condemnation it is of his predecessors during the past five years.
Let us look at what the country has had from the Navy during the past year. First, however, I should say that the country has paid to the Navy £346 million—no small sum. Let me be generous and give the Service full marks for one thing. It has done one thing that neither of the other Services has done. It has realistically tackled the problem of recruiting a Regular force, and has nearly succeeded. It is within a few thousand of its target. In the Defence White Paper a year ago we were given an estimate of 9,000 Regular recruits during the present year, and hon. Members will find, from an Answer to a Question which I put a week ago yesterday, that the revised estimate for the year is 7,800. The Navy is 1,200 short of the estimate. It is true that the National Service intake, which was estimated at 4,000, is 6,200, but it is a pretty good effort.
How has the Navy done it? I hope that the First Lord of the Admiralty—and it is about the only thing he has to boast about—will boast of this in the Cabinet. It has done it by going in for long service. It has done exactly the opposite from what my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), and the previous Minister of Defence did to the Army. It did not introduce a 3-year engagement but had a 7-year one.
Here I quote the very wise words used by the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Ward), whom I congratulate on his promotion. A long time ago I said that he would make a very good Secretary of 276 State for War, and I can pay him no higher compliment than that. On 8th March, 1956, he said:The 7-year engagement has for some time been spoiling the market for the 12-year one. We have chosen the 9-year initial period as the shortest that will suit the policy of a long-service Navy. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1956; Vol. 549, c. 2324.]He had the guts and the wisdom to go for the 9-year period, and it has paid off. We are within sight of having a Regular Navy. In his present capacity as Secretary of State for Air, I beg him to talk to the Secretary of State for War. As I have said, the 9-year Navy engagement has paid off—for goodness' sake, let him use his influence to get rid of the 3-year engagement in the Army. I know that I must not pursue that topic too far or I shall be out of order, but I most sincerely want to congratulate the right hon. Member and the Navy both on their wisdom and on their courage.
Let me turn now to some other things that happened during the year. We lost a very gallant officer—Commander Crabb—in circumstances which reflect very little credit upon the Navy. I understand the security curtain that has been brought down on this episode, but I have gone into it, and I think that I know a little of what happened. It reflects very little credit upon the First Sea Lord. If his control of the Navy is illustrated by what happened over this incident, the quicker he resigns from his post, the better. I know that he tells his friends that he was abroad at the time, but officers in positions of great authority cannot escape responsibility with that sort of alibi. If it is possible for an irresponsible action of that kind to happen—and it did—then the Service chief, the First Sea Lord, must accept responsibility for it.
Let us turn to something else that happened during the last year. I remind the Committee of an expenditure of £346 million. On 1st August last, or thereabouts, the Government were faced with a crisis—and I am not here dealing with the moral aspect—which, in that Government's wisdom, demanded mobilisation and the immediate dispatch of British forces to the Eastern Mediterranean. What had the Navy to offer to enable that amphibious operation to take place? It had two tank landing ships. That is what the country got for its £346 million.
277 Of course, we do not know precisely how many we required. I do not know, but again, I rely upon the wisdom and the writings of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill). I referred to his history, "The Second World War", to see what he had to say, and I found that in a comparable operation, that at Anzio, we needed eighty-eight such ships. I should think that not a bad guess, but if hon. Members would like to suggest fifty I would not argue. We had, in fact, two. We had, of course, some in reserve—
§ Major Patrick Wall (Hull, Haltemprice)
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that we used only two L.S.T.s during that operation? I am sure he will find that the number was very much greater than that.
§ Mr. Wigg
Hon. Members should read last year's Memorandum, which gives the number of ships available. When the Suez episode cropped up I went to the Vote Office to refresh my. memory, as I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will after this debate, as to what we had. I am quite sure that the Egyptian Naval Attaché also had a look. The number was two.
§ Mr. Wigg
In commission, yes, and twenty-eight in reserve—and of those twenty-eight in reserve, twenty-five were leaking. The Government had to commandeer vessels—from where? From the Larne Navigation Company. The run from Ireland to England was stopped. So was the run from Tilbury to Antwerp.
It is not the first time in our history that it has happened. I investigated, and found a previous example from before the war of almost the same kind of thing. After the Agadir incident, the Liberal Government of that day were convinced that war would come, and they ordered a test mobilisation. They cancelled manoeuvres that year and said, "Let us have a test mobilisation." It is a matter of history that six divisions in this country were to be mobilised, and they were to be put across to France, on to the French left.
When that mobilisation took place, it was found that the Board of Admiralty, not having a naval staff, had drawn up a 278 plan of its own and had decided that as each Army division was mobilised it was to be picked up, shipped, and dropped seriatim on the Baltic coast. The then Prime Minister, according to the writings of the times, was aghast at that; he called a meeting of the Defence Committee, and the C.I.G.S. tackled the First Sea Lord. He asked what it was all about, and pointed out that it did not matter where our divisions were put on the Baltic coast; the Germans had constructed their railways in such a way that in forty-eight hours forty German divisions could be mobilised against them. What was the reply of the First Sea Lord?—that it was not the business of the Admiralty to possess a strategic railway map of Germany.
In other words, the Admiralty then, as today, remained a law unto itself. It took £346 million for the past year. It knew roughly the kind of things that it wanted. After a stubborn fight, it wanted some aircraft carriers; it wanted some cruisers; it wanted to show the flag. It did not want to change overmuch. As regards tank landing ships, they were not its business.
The danger is this. In Suez last year, although the Army, as always, "took the can back," the major responsibility for what happened rests fairly and squarely on the Board of Admiralty. I will go further and say that that was not the last time that it will happen.
This country has been living in a world of illusion for a very long time. We have an enormous defence bill, a fantastically large and crippling defence bill, which is almost breaking our back, and we measure the defence which we are getting not by what is produced but by what is spent. There is an exact parallel, with which I have wearied the House on previous occasions, namely, the French expenditure on the Maginot Line. That, too, was an illusion, and, as we all know, there came a day when, despite the speeches, a Panzer division arrived, and that was the end of the Maginot Line.
As a result of the action in Suez, we were brought face to face with reality. That is what war does. War and the threat of war bring a nation away from looking at the television set, away from the "phoney" headlines of the newspapers, 279 face to face with realities. I have not the least doubt that when the former Prime Minister, Sir Anthony Eden, took the step which he did on 1st August, that poor man really seriously thought that this country was capable of launching the operation. I did not believe it.
I opposed the Suez operation on moral grounds but I opposed it also because I knew it ought not to have been started. If I am proud of any words of mine—and I have uttered a good many since I have been in the House of Commons—I am proud not of what I said on 5th December, nor today, but what I said on 31st July, that the cheers on either side of the House calling for strong action in Suez made me sick, because I knew that this country, despite this fantastically large expenditure, could not carry out that operation, because the Board of Admiralty had failed in its duty.
I will be quite frank. I do not believe that the measure of reform which the Prime Minister, in all sincerity, and with great speed, has adumbrated for future control by the Minister of Defence over the Board of Admiralty is effective. Ministers of Defence may come and they may go, but the Admiralty is an empire of its own. It must be tackled. If it is not, this will not be the end; there will be other occasions of national humiliation, as I have said.
Other hon. Members want to speak, and I do not want to take up too much time, but there are one or two other points which I should mention. Whether or not we should have aircraft carriers is a matter, not for debate in this Chamber, but for technical appreciation; but what is absolutely certain is that if we are to have aircraft carriers then we ought to have the aircraft to put on them. I should have thought that that was an essentially reasonable proposition. The truth is that we have not the aircraft. I will willingly give way to the Parliamentary Secretary, whom I, somewhat belatedly, congratulate on his promotion, if he wishes to correct me.
As I understand it, there is not one single swept-wing aircraft in use in the Navy today. There is old junk tied up with bits of string and plaster—completely out of date. I know there is something wonderful coming along, and I see the Secretary of State for Air is laughing.
280 Last year, we engaged in a controversy about the D.H.110 and the N.113, but what is the history? Does the Secretary of State say that the D.H.110 is a good aircraft? Why did the Air Ministry turn it down? The aircraft would never have been developed except that De Havilland would have "gone broke" after the Comet and had to develop something, and it developed this aircraft. What was the argument that we were given then? We were told, "Oh, we are to have the Javelin". The Air Ministry was to take the Javelin because it was better than the D.H.110. That is what we were told.
§ Mr. Soames
I believe I remember the argument. If the hon. Member refers to HANSARD at the time of last year's debate, he will see that the reason the Royal Air Force went for the Javelin as opposed to the D.H.110 was not that in the minds of the Air Council there was all that much to choose between them, but that it was felt that there was considerably greater scope for development in the delta plan form than in the D.H.110.
§ Mr. Wigg
I agree that that was the argument. The hon. Gentleman, however, is not as quick on the uptake as usual. Has he stopped to think where this leads him? If it was a near thing—of course, I accept the argument that there was only a short head, a term which the hon. Gentleman will understand, between the D.H.110 and the Javelin—what has happened to the Javelin? Would the Secretary of State for Air like to tell us or shall I tell him? There are 177 of them that the Americans were going to support under M.S.A., but they withdrew their support because the aircraft was no good. Everybody knows that it is beset with all sorts of difficulties. It is not an operational all-weather aircraft at all.
If there was only a short head between the Javelin and the D.H.110 and the Javelin is a wash-out, what do the Government say about the D.H.110? In any case, how many have we got? For security reasons, the hon. Gentleman will not say, so I will tell him. We have got two. For security reasons he will not say how many we have of the N.113. We have got two. The total number of jet aircraft that the third biggest Power in the world has got for its Navy is four. On our aircraft carriers are aircraft which are hopelessly and fantastically out of 281 date, and nothing is coming along. If the Government are advancing an argument for the aircraft carrier, at least they ought to be giving thought to the aircraft to put on them. They have not done so.
I want to turn to another aspect of the Navy's activities, on which I congratulate the Admiralty. I saw a rumour—I hope it was no more than rumour—that it was intended to abandon the Royal Marines. I thought it absolutely scandalous that such a thing should ever appear in print, for if there is one branch of Her Majesty's Forces which has served its country well during the last year, it is the Royal Marines.
It seems to me that the Marine Commando as part of a task force, as part of a carrier force which has reasonable aircraft, is something like the shape of things to come. If the Secretary of State for War could take the Royal Air Force Regiment, get them to clear their buttons and their boots and get their hair cut, and turn them into something like airmen and send them to the Marines to train, the combination of the R.A.F. Regiment in the Air Force and the Marine Commando seems to me to give a picture of a balanced force.
I hope, therefore, that when the Board of Admiralty is looking for something to dump overboard, it will start first on the D.H.110 and come to the Royal Marines last, and not the other way round. I can only say that that is amongst the rumours which have been spread as a result of the thinking of the Minister of Defence. I should like an assurance that there is not a word of truth in it, because that force has given admirable service, and I should like to think that not only is it to remain but that it is to be extended.
I am always sorry to butt into a naval debate because I feel it is a naval occasion and those who belong to the other Services should keep out, but I do not think that the country has any reason to be very grateful for the record of the last year. If we use the word economy in its true sense and look at the size of the bill, measured against what we have got in return, I think that the Admiralty has a very great deal to answer for.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
Like the hon Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), I, too, normally speak in other Services debates; so this is an opposed landing that we are trying to make on naval territory. The hon. Member certainly produced a wealth of argument and detail, which I am sure my hon. Friend, when he comes to reply, will have no difficulty in controverting.
I wish to turn to two rather different aspects which were mentioned in the Parliamentary Secretary's speech this afternoon. First, my hon. Friend made reference to a committee which is to be set up under the guidance of the Civil Lord to consider, with shipbuilding and other interests, the furthering of the health of the merchant marine as a general proposition, in so far as it is a proper pursuit for the Board of Admiralty. I believe that that committee will be of great interest to the House of Commons and of real importance.
The hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) made reference to the possibilities, owing to cuts in naval expenditure, of a reduction in the employment of naval dockyards. Hon. Members on this side of the Committee have repeatedly suggested that there is a possibility throughout the world of reducing expenditure on naval dockyards by combining the functions of the naval dockyards with military and civil functions or hiring them out to other persons or companies in industry. I believe that there are far wider possibilities.
I believe that a committee now, appointed perhaps initially by the Admiralty, but later on a far higher level, should consider the whole question of the shipbuilding programme in this country, because whatever the duty of the Royal Navy may be, the problem we are faced with now is the shortage of shipping to bring goods to these shores. I would merely refer to the question of petrol rationing and to the fact that we have no adequacy of tankers for this country, nor have we a sufficient building programme relative to the rest of the world. We have enormous problems for the survival of this country, whether in peace, in the cold war which we are experiencing after the so-called police action at Suez, or, of course, in a more violent form of hostilities. Therefore. I believe that the 283 question of the Admiralty setting up such a committee to consider shipping problems in general could be of great advantage to this country.
My second point refers to the Commonwealth Naval Conference which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said would be called for April and May. I believe that that could be a real contribution to a solution of some of the problems which face us. One of my hon. and gallant Friends has suggested that it may be possible now for other Commonwealth countries to undertake certain naval commitments which hitherto we have had to undertake. I believe that in the S.E.A.T.O. and A.N.Z.U.S. areas there can be more co-operation between the component parts of the Commonwealth.
I also believe that at this Commonwealth conference the question of our bases throughout the world must be raised. One of the most difficult problems that we have to face is the fact, already mentioned by several hon. Members, that there is a tendency for the naval bases which we have held to be inviolate to be no longer agreeable to the inhabitants of the countries in which they are located.
Certain hon. Members have suggested that the American idea of a "Fleet train" might be considered, but there is an immediate and pressing problem. It is the question of a base which did exist for us in Ceylon, at Trincomalee, where there were two floating docks and considerable installations. It is perfectly clear that the Ceylon Government no longer regard that as a proper place for a naval base. At the same time, we are faced by new developments, of which we are all only too conscious now, in the growing importance of not only our own interests but of the interests of the world in the Middle East oilfields and the shipment of oil from those fields.
All hon. Members are aware that only twelve or fifteen years ago the flow from these fields was a mere 16 million or 20 million tons. The flow now is about 180 million tons. Even if Western world demands over the next eighteen years are no greater than are now estimated, and even after all the statements made in the House and elsewhere about 284 the possibilities of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, the projected flow will be nearly 600 million tons.
It is quite clear that after the Suez adventure, and following the relations which have been built up between the Arab countries, the flow of oil through the Suez Canal or through the various pipelines would not be adequate even if it were doubled. This means that the great bulk of that oil would have to come through the Persian Gulf and into the Indian Ocean. It is equally clear that it is unlikely that the capacity of the Suez Canal will be doubled and that relations will improve.
Against that background, the area in the Indian Ocean in which we have friends and in which we have to support the Baghdad Pact will be without a proper naval station. Hon. Members who are great experts on the facts and figures of naval requirements and potentialities have mentioned a comparatively small number of ships as necessary to make a striking force. Some hon. Members opposite have suggested that the day when a country can support its friends with brute force is over. I believe, however, that certain actions may still be necessary. I would recall that only recently the Buraimi dispute was successfully settled, I believe in the interests of justice, as a result of the support offered by our forces to the Sheik of Abu Dhubai and the Sultan of Oman.
I believe that in this area we have a very great part to play, and that that part, and our support, should be based somewhere in the area. At this Commonwealth Conference in April or May these sort of questions should be raised. As one looks at that part of the Indian Ocean and at the staggering amount of wealth which must flow from the Persian Gulf—for the benefit not merely of this country or of the shareholders in the oil companies but for the benefit of the whole wide world, because on this increase in petroleum and oil consumption depends the advancing standards of the life of a great proportion of the people in the world—when one looks at these things one realises that we must do something in the area.
I personally believe that we should consider our advanced stations at Bahrain, the small station we have at Sharja in 285 the State of Abu Dhubai and the various islands, such as Sokotra and the Kuria Muria Islands, which could be used as air bases in the Gulf of Aden, and Aden itself. We should consider also, as a background to these advanced posts, the fact that I am told that modern nuclear theory, for what it is worth—and I must say that it seems to change frequently in the debates of our military intelligentsia—is that we should have our bases a considerable distance back from the immediate point of local or tactical deployment.
Therefore, it seems more and more that the Government should look seriously at the project put forward by Lord Montgomery, and the Labour Government, when they were last in office, of having some form of naval station on the African coast. There is an area which I believe is politically secure. I believe that the question of a base, however exiguous at Kilindini and Mombasa should be considered most seriously. The question of moving from Ceylon that equipment which is no longer viable and which is no longer well received by the inhabitants of that island to an area which for the foreseeable future is politically sound—there is a multi-racial government which is showing considerable success—should be considered. I know that in the past it has been said that to move a base immediately makes political trouble and that to move troops or supplies, or whatever it may be, is immediately made an objective for Communist and anti-democratic attack.
I believe against that that it is equally true to say that at this stage, and up till now, the penetration or attempted peneration of Africa south of the Sahara by Communist organisations has hardly begun. This is the time to make sure that, through our intelligence services and the presence of British or Allied forces, and through our show of strength in an area where we are already secure, that penetration is resisted. Purely from the political point of view I believe that Mombasa and Kilindini should be considered.
§ Mr. Fraser
I do not think that is relevant. I would merely say that the Mackinnon Road base was placed in a hopeless, useless, malarial spot and had to be abandoned rather like the groundnuts scheme. I would have put the installations located at Mackinnon Road base in a very different place.
My main theme is that this area offers great opportunity. Kilindini is an ideal harbour, a very large one, with eight or ten deep water berths with heavy cranes. All it lacks from the point of view of naval support is a naval workshop.
It is not inconceivable that over the next ten or fifteen years there will be built up a large movement of tankers up and down the cost of Africa. It will follow automatically that good harbour facilities at Mombasa would be of use to whatever naval ships were in that area and to tankers moving along the coast and needing repairs en route.
I believe it to be an undoubted fact that, after what we have seen in Egypt, and after what I think will eventually be the terrible failure of the Egyptians and the revenge that will come to them, commerce will no longer be interested in the Suez Canal. The tendency which is already appearing will be extended. Even today throughout the world no fewer than 150 tankers of 45,000 tons and over are being built, and tankers of this kind cannot pass through the Canal. More and more we shall see a gigantic flow of oil carried by tankers round the Cape.
The Commonwealth leaders should at their April Conference consider what this means generally. I believe it means that the importance of the Cape route is again becoming more and more obvious. Once more we have to consider in concert with our Allies and Commonwealth partnerships the extension, and protection, of the Cape route all the way round into the Northern Atlantic. I believe that what we have seen at Suez is actually a mere continuation of a process which began before the 1939 war when the military critics were saying that, from the point of view of a large war, the Canal was closed. What we now foresee is the blocking of the Canal on commercial grounds, merely because of the huge volume of oil which will be carried round the Cape as a result of uncertainty about the Canal.
287 What we see now is a continuation of the process which the action of Nasser in closing the Canal made certain. It made certain that this expanding world, ever demanding more and more oil for its motivation, will look to other means of obtaining it away from the action of a small dictator and the squabbling of small Middle Eastern Powers. In these circumstances, we have a great opportunity. I believe that Her Majesty's Government should most seriously examine what I have put forward.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Steele (Dunbartonshire, West)
The hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) certainly brought a different voice into our deliberations. Every other speaker advocated economies; his was the one isolated voice asking for more expenditure and the building of more docks in other parts of the world.
§ Mr. Steele
I can begin by congratulating the hon. Member Who has become the Financial Secretary, and I can extend my congratulations to the Civil Lord of the Admiralty—and also to my right hon. Friend. In fact, we are all four new boys in this debate. I have had some experience in the Committee of Public Accounts of trying to get information from the Admiralty, and I can say that it is the most difficult Department from which to get information, Whether we shall be more successful today remains to be seen.
It is true that this debate is taking place without the usual White Paper and Estimates. That is all the more reason why we might have had some more information from the Parliamentary Secretary. The one thing he did say was to announce the Commonwealth Conference, which will take place in April. We welcome that. In fact, it was a suggestion from this side of the Committee, and if the Financial Secretary continues his good work and adopts all our other suggestions we will extend our congratulations even further.
The hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) attributed words to my right hon. Friend 288 which he actually did not use. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said, in effect, that my right hon. Friend was advocating the abolition of the hydrogen bomb. We may all want to see the abolition of that bomb, but my right hon. Friend did not say so this afternoon. He said that we should stop the tests which are going on at present. The hon. and gallant Gentleman also wondered whether we could have the kind of Navy we want. He was admirably answered by his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett), who indicated that we could maintain our present Navy at half the money for which the Government are asking.
§ Commander Maitland
I do not think I could have said that we should spend more money on our Navy. I have never thought that. I never indicated that in my speech. I entirely agree with the retrenchments which are being made.
§ Mr. Steele
Yes, but in the course of his speech he said that we all had some conception of the kind of Navy we wanted, but we then immediately came up against the question of cost. It was only in reference to that point that I was speaking—when the hon. and gallant Gentleman seemed to say that we could not get the kind of Navy we wanted because we could not afford it.
§ Mr. Steele
He was admirably answered by his hon. and gallant Friend, who said that we could have the kind of Navy we want for half the money for which the Government are asking.
The hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East also made a very interesting and thoughtful speech, but if any speech was ever directed to causing despondency and concern in the ranks of the Services that speech was. He proposed that half the officers should go; that the 183,000 civilians should be reduced to one-third of that number; that naval shore establishments should be reduced, and that all the dockyards except Devonport and, I believe, Portsmouth, should go. It is understandable that speeches of that kind, coming from a responsible person such 289 as the hon. and gallant Member, need some reply.
It is because of the rumours which such speeches must create that a Government White Paper on the subject should be issued. I agree that it is essential that such a White Paper should give full details, and should be issued as quickly as possible.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that proper compensation should be paid to the displaced officers. He used a phrase which I expect will make the Treasury wince. I hope that he was intending that compensation should be paid not only to those in the Services but to people in other departments and employment who would be affected. He challenged hon. Gentlemen on this side of the Committee to say what we would do, and my hon. Friend the Member for Gorton (Mr. Zilliacus) made an effective reply. I think that I can go further.
It is clear that hon. Members whose constituents may be affected are concerned about this. In Scotland we are concerned at what is happening at Dalmuir and in various other factories. We believe that these economies should take place, but I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, East would be the last person to make an attack or to carry out any operation without making a proper plan. We believe in a planned economy, and we should make certain that any economies in this respect would be according to plan and carried out in the proper way. When we had made up our minds, we should make certain that everyone knew about it in plenty of time.
There have been two main themes in the debate. There was the question of the general rôle of the Navy and the part it should play in peace, in a limited war and in a global war. A number of my hon. Friends dealt with the conditions of service both afloat and ashore. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) made a powerful speech about a subject with which he has dealt on many occasions. He always seems to produce some new grievance or some matter which he wishes rectified; and an examination of all the speeches he has made in various debates would reveal that many of the things he has advocated have been carried out. I hope. therefore, 290 that special attention has been paid to what he said today.
My hon. Friend spoke about the men who, after twelve years' service, decide to leave the Navy. They are men who have been trained and become very useful. The Parliamentary Secretary seemed to be satisfied with the number of men who were retained, but I consider that something more should be done about this. At the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance an investigation was made into the reasons why men retire from employment at the age of 65, and, in my opinion, the Admiralty might usefully investigate the reasons why these men decide to leave the Navy after twelve years' service. We might get a lot of interesting information and learn a great deal from it. If the Admiralty can get more men who could really be useful to stay on, the problem of recruiting will disappear.
I was interested in the proposals for economy made by the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East, the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Baldock) and others. If we can achieve all those economies, as one who represents a Clydeside constituency I shall be happy to see some of the money employed usefully in the building of a graving dock on Clydeside. We shall return to that matter later. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon), who did not make a speech today, could have made a very good and powerful speech on that subject. While he represents the other side of the Clyde and we may have some local differences about what side of the Clyde the graving dock should be on, we are united in saying that there should be one and we look to the Admiralty for support.
In his opening speech, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) called attention to the fall in the number of recruits. The Parliamentary Secretary indicated that the downward trend had been halted. I understand that we had 80 more recruits this year than we had last year. The Parliamentary Secretary spoke of 6 per cent. At least there has been no falloff in the number of admirals in the Navy, and there has been a great deal of criticism about that.
The Royal Navy's torpedo factories have been mentioned in the debate. When 291 integration of the Services is considered the Admiralty might usefully look at those factories, which could be used for manufacturing parts of guided missiles. There is a wide knowledge and experience of torpedoes and other ammunition at the factories, and there is no reason why the work should not be done there rather than in outside industry.
On the question of accommodation, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East, mentioned the H.M.S. "Caledonia" and said that this was only temporary.
I have some knowledge of what "temporary" means in the Civil Service. It can mean a very long time. I can speak of another establishment, the H.M.S. "Jupiter" on the Gairloch. Men have to live on board this ship. I give the Admiralty credit for building houses, but the men have the disadvantage of living on board without the excitement of being at sea. Something could usefully be done about this.
Let me turn to the other theme of the debate, the general rôle of the Navy. I have left this subject to the latter part of my speech because I assumed that the Minister of Defence would be here. I have read with great interest all the debates on the subject during the past five years. There has been doubt and confusion in the minds of hon. Members, as well as speculation and argument among prominent Service people outside, but there has never been any doubt in the mind of the Admiralty about the rôle of the Navy. The Admiralty always seemed to believe that it knew exactly what the rôle of the Navy should be.
In March, 1953, when the then First Lord of the Admiralty presented the Navy Estimates, he said:… the Navy's supreme task, if this disaster comes, will still be the same—to keep open our sea communications both during that first intensive phase of modern war and following it. If the Navy cannot succeed in this I warn the House that the most up-to-date Air Force and the best equipped Army will be of no avail. That is why we have concentrated our preparations on defeating the mine, the sub- marine and the threat from the air."— [OFFICAL REPORT, 16th March. 1953; Vol. 512, c. 1831.]During that speech, the First Lord gave to the House information about Russia's strength. He told us about the 20 powerful cruisers, 100 destroyers and more than 350 submarines A year passed and 292 the First Lord in March. 1954, felt it necessary to state the rôle of the Navy at great length in the debate then.
Between March, 1954, and March, 1955, some further doubts had crept in. It is true that by that time we had the hydrogen bomb, and no doubt that had some significance. It had this significance, that the first Lord stated in March, 1955, that as a result the Government had examined afresh the whole concept of defence. The First Lord assured us that this was a thorough process and he set out in detail the rôle of the Navy in an explanatory White Paper because he thought it better to do that—it would save a lot of time—rather than to put it in his speech.
In March, 1955, in the White Paper the Admiralty told us that the rôle of the Navy was
In paragraph 5 the White Paper said:
- "(a) To search out and destroy enemy ships wherever they are, and by all means within their power to prevent the enemy from using the seas for his own purposes.
- (b) To protect the communications necessary to support our warlike operations and to safeguard the supply lines of the Allied countries.
- (c) To provide direct air support for operations ashore and afloat in those areas where it cannot readily be given by shore-based aircraft."No one navy can undertake all these duties alone, but Great Britain as part of a closely knit naval alliance of Commonwealth and N.A.T.O. powers and together we can achieve these objectives.Yet it was only today that the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary made much play with the great announcement that we are to have a Commonwealth conference. The following year, in March, 1956, the then Parliamentary and Financial Secretary came forward and again there were creeping doubts as to what the rôle of the Navy should be. In his speech the hon. Gentleman said:During the defence debates several hon. Members on both sides of the House spoke of the rôle of the Navy in peace, in limited wars, and in global war, but I got the feeling that they were not all very clear about it. Let me try very briefly to put the position as I see it."—[OEFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1956; Vol. 549, c. 2317.]Once again he devoted a large part of his speech to telling us what the rôle of the Navy would be. Up to that point in March, 1956, at least, the Admiralty was conscious of the rôle of the Navy. Up to that point we had been told what 293 the threats would be. As far back as 1953 we were told of the strength of Russia.
§ Mr. Steele
I will accept that, but in 1953 the statement of the position is on record.
Now, after all that and after all these years, the Minister of Defence is reported in c. 1317 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of 13th February, 1957, as saying:I turn now to the Navy. In considering how big a Navy we need and what should be its rôle, we have to ask ourselves a number of extremely difficult questions, to which I am not going to volunteer the answers today."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th February, 1957; Vol. 564, c. 1317.]That is after five years. Only at this stage is the complete reappraisal taking place.
We have the right to ask what has been happening during all these years. Each year the First Lord has come forward with confidence and has given the impression that at least the Admiralty knew what they were doing and the objectives they had in mind. As far back as 1953 they had drawn attention to the Russian figures, and prior to the Estimates of March, 1955, we had an assurance that a complete reappraisal had taken place.
What was the purpose of all these long, detailed explanations on the rôle of the Navy? Were they to convince the other Members of the Government about the importance of the Navy? Or were they to convince the members of the other Services? Or were they mainly to convince themselves? It seems to me that all this time, as the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East said last year, the Admiralty were carrying out a strategy all of their own.
What is the position now? After all this money has been given to the Navy and after all these years, are we to be told that much of this expenditure in recent years has been quite unjustified and unnecessary? I think general agreement has been reached about the Vanguard. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) has his own theories about that, but that is another story. One cannot help getting the impression that the Admiralty all the time have started on the basis that the Navy must be the most important Service and 294 have used every available argument to justify this view, while all the time it seems to me they have been whistling in the dark to keep up their spirits.
It may be that there is another reason. It has not been mentioned in the debate but it seems to me appropriate to mention the constant changes which have been taking place at the Ministry of Defence. When I examine the whole series of Ministers who have held that job, I feel convinced that none of those men has had the necessary iron in his soul to ensure the co-ordination which was essential. Now a sudden change has taken place. We have a new Minister of Defence and a change in the Service Ministers. It is nothing new to have a new Minister of Defence, but on this occasion it seems that we have a new Minister of Defence with a purpose, and that is something new.
I should be very interested to know what has been the directive from the Prime Minister to the new Minister of Defence on these matters. I wonder what is to be the concern of the new Minister of Defence—the defence of the country or the defence of the Surtax payer? I wonder whether the approach will be a level-headed reappraisal of the nation's essential requirements or a bullheaded—I almost said block-headed—demand directed by the Minister of Defence to cut down expenditure. If it is the first, we offer our full support; if it is the latter, we have grave misgivings about the consequences, because if, in view of all that has happened recently and the evidence that is now piling up, we come to the conclusion that this Government are not concerned with what they wreck, whether it be the social services, education, the health of the young or the welfare of the aged, how can we have any confidence in their ability to look after the nation's defences?
May I ask the Government what they expect us to say about these matters? When we look at their record over the past few years, what do we find? They have said in their speeches that they have laid every stress on the necessity of ensuring that the active Fleet will contain the most modern ships. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East probed this matter of the delay and apparent unconcern of the Admiralty regarding the construction of new frigates and also the wasteful expenditure on the cruisers.
295 Let us look at this position. It was announced in 1951 that twenty-six new frigates would be laid down, and they were in fact laid down in the course of the next three years. We were informed in the explanatory White Paper published in February, 1955, that twelve of these ships had been launched and that fourteen were still on the slips. We were told by the First Lord that the first of these frigates joined the Fleet during 1955, but we were also told that eleven would be completed that year. We have no White Paper this year, but we would like to be brought up to date on this matter.
I know of one yard where a frigate, laid down fully five years ago, has not been launched yet. If we bear in mind what the First Lord told the House on 3rd March, 1955, in these words:As I have warned the House, the expression 'laying down a ship' is becoming something of an anachronism, because in these modern days the equipment requires a longer time than the hull."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1955; Vol. 537, c. 2253.]and if what the First Lord said is correct, I shudder to think what the state of this hull will be after it has been fitted out and is ready for trials. In any case, what is the programme now? Has the Admiralty given up the idea of using these ships for their original purpose? Are they, in fact, going to be out-of-date and obsolete before they have even been delivered?
I should like to say something about the "Tiger" class cruisers, but time is really against me. I understand that endless conferences have been held about these cruisers, and that if one adds up the total expenditure associated with these conferences, it would come to a very large sum indeed. In fact, I put that point to the hon. Gentleman who is to reply. I am informed that what the Admiralty are trying to do is to put a quart into a pint pot, and everybody is finding it impossible.
§ Mr. Steele
I agree with my hon. Friend that they should have been scrapped, and if they had been scrapped when scrap was commanding a very high figure the Admiralty might have been better off. I say now that we have been employing a large number of highly skilled people on an unnecessary task and 296 taking up three berths in our shipyards which could have been more usefully employed.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
If the hon. Gentleman is in favour of having scrapped the Tiger class cruisers, would he say why the Labour Government decided to go on with them, because it was before they left office that the decision was made?
§ Mr. Steele
I should like to say something about that, but time prevents me—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] We will have another opportunity. I would only say to the Committee that these three Tiger class cruisers are all on the Clyde. For some time they were in the Gareloch, part of the world I know a lot about.
We must be assured that a complete reexamination of all the Services is taking place, and it will be interesting to see what success the Minister of Defence has with the Admiralty. I agree that he will not easily be put off, but the Admiralty is used to this battle and the great danger is that even he might be torpedoed. I had hoped to end my speech with a whole series of suggestions as to what might be done, but many of them have already been made, and the Ministers concerned with Admiralty affairs have only to read the speech made last year by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East to find many useful suggestions.
It is clear from this debate that the rôle of the Navy is still uncertain. It seems to me, however, that that rôle cannot really be determined until the Government themselves are clear on what basis they intend to co-operate with N.A.T.O. with the United States and with the Commonwealth. These overriding decisions must be made before the Government can come to any conclusions whatsoever; and once they have made these decisions our contribution can be calculated and plans made accordingly.
Until then, I think that all hon. Members will remain uneasy, because we cannot, with our limited resources, hope to match the U.S.A. and Russia. We cannot do everything but, in co-operation with others, we can play a most important part. In the meantime, we on this side are satisfied that we are not getting value for our money and, looking at the record 297 of this Government up to date, there is little reason to suppose that we ever will so long as they remain in charge.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith)
This has been an interesting debate, though it has been conducted in unusual circumstances. A wide range of subjects has been covered and many questions have been asked. I will do my best to answer as many of them as I can tonight, and those which I cannot deal with now I will answer, if the Committee will allow me, by letter.
I am glad to be following the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele). Not only is he a fellow Scot but his constituency, like mine, is situated on the banks of the Clyde which, as the Committee knows, is the greatest shipbuilding river in this country. It is appropriate that this debate should be wound up by two representatives from an area which has made such an important contribution to the ships of the Royal Navy.
The hon. Gentleman asked me a question about the possibility of making guided weapons in the torpedo factory situated in his constituency. I can well appreciate his interest in that matter, but I must tell him that, as far ahead as we can see, the torpedo will remain an important part of the armoury of certain classes of ship. It is the main armament of the submarine, and one of the most deadly weapons that can be used against the submarine itself. So long as the Russian submarine fleet remains at a size of 400 to 500 vessels there will be plenty of work for the torpedo factories.
Hon. Members are sometimes inclined to think, and the public also is probably inclined to think, that because so much is heard about modern guided weapons, no improvements are taking place in the more conventional types of weapon. Torpedoes, gunnery and anti-submarine equipment have all been improved to a significant extent. I can assure the Committee that they are not being neglected, although they are, relatively speaking, weapons on the way out, and thus they do not receive the same sort of publicity as the newer forms of weapon.
The right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) asked some 298 questions about the possible amalgamation of the Royal Air Force and the Navy, with the Royal Air Force perhaps using naval carriers as moving airfields. That matter has been raised on many occasions, and I hope that the Committee will forgive me if I do not tonight go into any details.
§ Mr. Galbraith
The right hon. Gentleman says that I am always saying that. In fact, it is the first time that I have ever said it.
§ Mr. Galbraith
The Fleet Air Arm is an integral part of the Navy. In recognition of this fact, as the Parliamentary Secretary told the Committee earlier today, the functions of the Deputy Chief of Naval Staff and the Fifth Sea Lord have been amalagamated. That will emphasise the fact that there is only one Navy. Some of its personnel serve in the air, some on the sea, some—too many, my hon. Friends behind me think—serve on the land, and some serve under the sea. But it is all one integrated Service.
I should like to say a few words about naval aircraft, in response to questions put to me by the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham. Last year, the Committee was told of plans of a new twin-engine day fighter, an all-weather fighter and a strike aircraft. The production programme is up to date, and this year the new day fighter, the N. 113, which is to be known as the Scimitar, will be delivered, and an intensive flying unit of this aircraft will be formed at the R.N.A.S., Ford. As regards the Scimitar and the Sea Vixen, the D.H. 110, the Navy has every confidence that these two types will give excellent service for years, and it is quite wrong to suggest, as the right hon. Gentleman did, that they are already obsolete.
§ Mr. G. Brown
Can the hon. Gentleman say how many of each will be in service, say, a year from now?
§ Mr. Galbraith
I am afraid I could not answer that question. What I said was that the Scimitar is being delivered 299 this year and an intensive flying unit will be formed at Ford. I am afraid that I can go no further than that.
I spoke earlier about developments in anti-submarine technology, and here the helicopter has an important rôle to play, in spite of the doubts expressed by the right hon. Gentleman. This year Whirlwind anti-submarine helicopters from British production will be delivered to the Navy. We in the Admiralty regard the helicopter as an extremely versatile type of aircraft. Apart from its antisubmarine rôle, it has proved its worth in rôles as widely different as hydro-graphical surveying, ambulance work, and work in action against terrorists in Malaya.
The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West asked me some specific questions about frigates laid down, I think he said, in the 1951–52 programme. According to my information, 22 frigates were ordered then. The lapse of time between order and laying down, as the hon. Member, more than anybody else, will appreciate, depends upon the state of the order books of the companies which undertake to build the ships. The position at the moment with regard to these 22 frigates is that nine of them will have completed by the end of March, 11 will complete by the end of the year 1957–58, and two will complete by the end of 1958–59.
Several hon. Members have referred to the reserve Fleet and the future of the King George V battleships. This is a problem, as indeed the future of the whole reserve Fleet is a problem, which Her Majesty's Government are considering at the moment in their current review of defence policy, and I am afraid that I cannot say anything about it. I assure the Committee, however, that the Admiralty's policy is not to hold on to anything that is unnecessary, but to keep ahead with what is new and to be in the van of development at all cost. If necessary, old ships in reserve will be allowed to get older still—[Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite laugh, but it is very sensible policy.
§ Mr. Galbraith
They do not get older if properly looked after. If a limited 300 amount of money is available it can be spent, as the right hon. Gentleman might be able to appreciate, either on keeping the whole of the reserve Fleet operational or in building new ships. The Admiralty policy is to see that our resources, such as they are and whatever they might be, shall be concentrated on keeping abreast of new development and ensuring that, whatever its size, in quality the Royal Navy will be second to none.
The continued need to keep ships of the Fleet up to date makes the work of the Royal Dockyards more important than ever. An example of the complexity of the work that now has to be undertaken is to be seen in the fact that a frigate alone has 3,000 valves and 50 cathode-ray tubes. Thus repairs and modernisation are a much more formidable task than they used to be. I am very glad, therefore, that the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham referred to that matter in his speech. Last year, he initiated a debate on that subject, which, I confess to the right hon. Gentleman, was most helpful to me when I went to the Admiralty only a few weeks ago.
The Committee will be aware that a dockyard modernisation programme was started in 1954. Already. £3¼ million out of a total of approximately £8 million has been spent on improvements. To those who work on the job all the time, the progress may seem slow, but when I visited Rosyth the other day and inspected the Royal Dockyard there, which I had not seen for more than 12 years, I was agreeably surprised by the number of new improvements which I saw, not only in the workshops but in the importance which was being attached to conditions of labour, as, for example, in the fine new hostel for apprentices which had recently been established.
I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Miss Vickers) that much thought has also been given to improvement in management, and various experiments in organisation have taken place and are still continuing. We have tried to learn both from industry and from the practices of the United States naval shipyards. Our inquiries are not yet complete, and Sir Barclay Nihili's Committee has still to make its conclusions known, but we hope that new techniques in 301 planning will not only improve the efficiency of the main production departments but will also provide a foundation for a more scientific formulation of incentive schemes.
Hon. Members might be interested to know that trade unions are associated with these experiments. As an example of what may happen, a pilot planning team working of H.M.S. "Centaur" has resulted in better productivity, which has brought an average increase in earnings of about 10s. a week. I hope that there may be further reforms of that nature but at the moment it is not possible to forecast anything. Our inquiries are still continuing, and I assure hon. Members that when they are complete, the Admiralty will vigorously pursue whatever reforms are then shown to be necessary.
So far this evening, I have been replying to questions on matériel, but however good the ships, the equipment or the repair facilities may be, it is the spirit of the men who man the fleet that really counts. As was to be expected, there has been a number of questions on different aspects concerning personnel. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary had something to say about that in his opening remarks, and I intend to deal with only one or two points.
In particular, I should like to deal with something that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) had to say about the position of artificers. It has been suggested that after their training, many of those men leave the Service at the first opportunity and do not re-engage because the promotion prospects are not good. The problem of status, which the hon. Member suggested was part of the trouble, is constantly engaging Admiralty attention. At the moment, although we should like to see more re-engagements, the situation is not quite so bad as it was painted by the hon. Member. In fact, one in two re-engage.
§ Mr. Willis
That is not in accordance with the figures for last year which the Admiralty gave me two weeks ago.
§ Mr. Galbraith
Of course, much depends on what particular grade is chosen. As to the question of master rates, which the hon. Gentleman raised, I will see that he gets a copy of the letter, which has been issued to Commands, and 302 I shall be interested to have his comments on it.
What is happening in the artificer branch should be seen in its proper perspective against a background of a general national shortage of technicians which affects almost every industry in the country. It is part of the technical revolution which we are all experiencing, and the Navy is by no manner of means the only organisation affected.
I would now come to the question of civilians employed by the Admiralty. That has been raised by many hon. Members. The Admiralty employs civilians to a very great extent instead of Service personnel in the organisations for the repair of ships and equipment, and for the supply of stores, ammunition, food, and clothing to the seagoing ships in all parts of the world.
The Royal Dockyards, apart from a few naval officers, are entirely civilian manned, as are also the naval store, armament supply and victualling depots. Those organisations thus provide many services which are performed by uniformed personnel in the Army and Royal Air Force. Nevertheless, I am sure that there is scope for many improvements in that respect, and reductions; and the work of the "Way Ahead" Committee, to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred at length this afternoon, if it fulfils its present expectations, will reduce the size of the Admiralty civilian staff still further, as well as reducing the size of the Navy ashore. I can assure hon. Members that comments and suggestions on that subject will be most carefully studied by the Admiralty.
I should like to make one point which was referred to by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett). There is a demand that savings should be made by reorganisation, but whenever we try to close anything down we immediately come under brisk fire from local interests. We cannot, however, avoid some closures if we are to save money, but whenever that happens we are well aware of the local dislocation which it has caused, and we do everything we possibly can in consultation with the Ministry of Labour and the Board of Trade to minimise it.
So far the points that I have answered this evening, important though they are 303 in detail, have not perhaps the same fundamental importance as the questions regarding the rôle of the Navy, which were posed at the beginning of the debate by the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham, and which have been echoed by almost every other speaker who has contributed to the debate. Yet this theme of the rôle of the Navy, as the Parliamentary Secretary has already stated, is precisely the question which we cannot answer. If we could answer it, we should not be asking for this Vote on Account tonight but should be following the normal procedure and presenting the whole Navy Estimates.
Some apparently quite legitimate criticism was directed against us by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West on the grounds that after five years we still, so he thinks, do not know what kind of Navy is needed. I would remind him that we are not living in static or stable times, and it would be extremely shortsighted for me to try to answer that question. The whole conception of war is in the melting pot. Hon. Members opposite know that as well as I do. They have said it today, and the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) said it not a long time ago.
New inventions, and the possibilities deriving from the use of the hydrogen bomb, make it difficult to know at what moment we should step from one form of warfare to another and when we should change from a conventional to a nuclear form of defence. We have to be careful, if we are to make that change, not to fall between two stools. In that situation, there is little that I can say tonight to satisfy the natural concern of the Committee whether or not the Navy should be regarded as part of the deterrent against nuclear war.
§ Mr. Brown
We understand that the answer to that question specifically will be found in the White Paper which the Minister promises us for the 25th of this month, which is twenty days from now. Does the hon. Gentleman think that the whole conception of war will be out of the melting pot twenty days from now?
§ Mr. Galbraith
I think that it would be unwise for me to anticipate what will be in my right hon. Friend's statement.
304 To those, however, who doubt whether the Navy has a rôle in peace, and who wonder whether it is really efficient or whether it is a luxury and a waste of money. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Mr. Atkins) gave the answer when he said, "Look at Suez." For whatever one's feelings may be about that operation politically, I think that the whole Committee will recognise that it was a major success for the Navy. It showed the Navy to be a flexible all-purpose weapon, ready to face any eventuality at short notice and able to deliver a devastating series of punches in a very short time. This capacity to deploy naval forces at speed should assure the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham, who asked whether the Navy was still able to fulfil its responsibilities to the Commonwealth and Empire. The answer is that it can.
I fully agree with the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser), who spoke when I was out of the Chamber, that as our hold on overseas bases becomes less certain that is a rôle which the Navy by its very nature is particularly suited to fill. It is for this reason that we have provided for a substantial afloat support force consisting of tankers, maintenance ships and floating docks. With that force, supply problems will be alleviated and the inherent strategic mobility of the Navy will be fully exploited.
But in seeking to fulfil its responsibility to the Commonwealth, the Navy does not act alone, for relations between the Royal Navy and the Commonwealth navies are most cordial. As my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has pointed out, the Commonwealth exercise "Fairlead" is being held in London in the spring. Another exercise which takes place yearly is to be held at Trincomalee in September where, in addition to ships from Britain and Ceylon, ships of the Indian and Pakistan navies will also take part.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I am delighted to hear about the Commonwealth conference, which was proposed from this side of the Committee last year. It is a good thing for the Government to take up, even a year late. When the exercise is held, will there be discussions between our naval authorities and Australia, New Zealand and Canada about the rôle and nature of 305 their fleets, so that there can be some co-ordinated Commonwealth course, or will they go on following their own courses?
§ Mr. Galbraith
The right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham asked me some very searching questions about the anti-submarine rôle of the Navy, in view of the enormous numbers of Russian submarines. He particularly wanted to know whether the use of submarines in the Atlantic to prevent supplies from reaching this country would spark off a nuclear war. I am afraid that that is a question which I cannot answer. It is one of the many imponderables with which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence is struggling just now.
What I can say to the right hon. Gentleman, who asked whether we could overcome a submarine menace, is that although that is a tremendous task, and frightening in its magnitude, we believe that we have as good a chance of surviving now as we had at the height of the last war against German submarines. Technically, we are keeping pace with submarine developments and, in addition, in any struggle in the Atlantic we should not be acting alone, but our Navy would form part of the forces of N.A.T.O.
In that respect, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) made a very good point when he said that in any economies which might have to be made in the size of the Navy we must be most careful not to cause other N.A.T.O. Powers to reduce their N.A.T.O contribution. That is an aspect of the problem which the Government are considering in the
§ assessment which they are making of the situation. As I have said, it is only because of our partnership in N.A.T.O. that we have any confidence at all in our ability to overcome the Russian submarine menace in the Atlantic.
§ In conclusion, I must apologise to the Committee for being so indefinite on the major problem of the rôle of the Navy, which is obviously causing so many hon. Members so much concern. I know that this is an unsatisfactory way in which to end a debate. Nevertheless, I believe that in spite of that fact it has been a most valuable debate, because it has been held while discussions on the future composition of our defence forces are still in progress, and thus the Committee has a real opportunity, by what has been said tonight, to influence decisions which are still in the making.
§ I think that the main emphasis in the debate tonight has been on the continuing need for a Navy, not only for Commonwealth purposes, or even as a possible spearhead of nuclear attack, but primarily as a force invested with the duty of keeping open the seas which stretch from the harbours of this island to the ends of the world. I assure the Committee that that view will be studied by the Government with the greatest attention. I know that my right hon. Friend the First Lord will also be most grateful for the many constructive suggestions made; and as for myself I should like to thank the Committee for the helpful manner in which the debate has been conducted. In the meantime, while the future composition of our defence forces is being decided, I would ask the Committee to grant this Vote tonight so that the work of keeping the Navy fighting fit may go forward with efficiency and despatch.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Edward Heath)
rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question put, That the Question be now put:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 152, Noes 0.307
|Division No. 76.]||AYES||[9.57 p.m.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Baldock, L-t.-Cmdr. J. M.|
|Altken, W. T.||Arbuthnot, John||Baldwin, A. E.|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Armstrong, C. W.||Barber, Anthony|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Atkins, H. E.||Barlow, Sir John|
|Barter, John||Holland-Martin, C. J.||Page, R. G.|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Hope, Lord John||Pike, Miss Mervyn|
|Bidgood, J. C.||Hornby, R. P.||Pilkington, Capt. R. A.|
|Biggs-Davidson, J. A.||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence||Pitman, I. J.|
|Bishop, F. P.||Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)||Pitt, Miss E. M.|
|Body, R. F.||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Boothby, Sir Robert||Hughes-Young, M. H. C.||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Brooman-White, R. C.||Hulbert, Sir Norman||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)|
|Bryan, P.||Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry||Redmayne, M.|
|Campbell, Sir David||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Rippon, A. G. F.|
|Channon, Sir Henry||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Joseph, Sir Keith||Russell, R. S.|
|Conant, Maj. Sir Roger||Joynson-Hicks, Hon. Sir Lancelot||Schofield, Lt.-Col. W.|
|Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Kerr, H. W.||Scott-Miller, Cmdr, R.|
|Corfield, Capt. F. V.||Kirk, P. M.||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Crouch, R. F.||Leather, E. H. C.||Soames, Christopher|
|Cunningham, Knox||Leavey, J. A.||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Currie, G. B. H.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Speir, R. M.|
|Dance, J. C. G.||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Steward, Sir William(Woolwich, W.)|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.)||Storey, S.|
|Deedes, W. F.||Linstead, Sir H. N.||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E, McA.||Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|du Cann, E. D. L.||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)||Temple, John M.|
|Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.||Longden, Gilbert||Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)|
|Eden, J. B.||Low, Rt. Hon. A. R. W.||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chiswick)||Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, S.)|
|Farey-Janes, F. W.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)|
|Fisher, Nigel||Mackeson, Brig. Sir Harry||Turner, H. F. L.|
|Fort, R.||Mackie, J. H. (Calloway)||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||MacLeod, John (Ross & Cromarty)||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Freeth, Denzil||Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold (Bromley)||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|Galbraith, Hon. T. C. D.||Maddan, Martin||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Garner-Evans, E. H.||Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebne)|
|Gomme-Duncan, Col. Sir Alan||Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark)||Wall, Major Patrick|
|Gower, H. R.||Marshall, Douglas||Ward, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Worcester)|
|Graham, Sir Fergus||Mathew, R.||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)|
|Grant, W. (Woodside)||Maude, Angus||Waterhouse, Capt. R. Hon. C.|
|Green, A.||Maudling, Rt. Hon. R.||Whitelaw, W.S.I.(Penrith & Border)|
|Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.||Mawby, R. L.||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Gurden, Harold||Medlicott, Sir Frank||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Hare, Rt. Hon. J. H.||Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R.||Wills, G. (Bridgwater)|
|Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon)||Nairn, D. L. S.||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Neave, Airey||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)|
|Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.||Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Mr. Oakshott and Mr. E. Wakefield.|
|Hill, John (S. Norfolk)||Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-S-Mare)|
|TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mr. Wigg and Mr. Emrys Hughes.|
§ Question put accordingly and agreed to.
That 121,500 Officers, Seamen and Juniors and Royal Marines, who are borne on the books of Her Majesty's Ships and at the Royal Marine establishments, and members of the Women's Royal Naval Service and Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service, he employed for the Sea Service, for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1958.—[Mr. Galbraith.]