§ [13TH ALLOTTED DAY]
§ Considered in Committee.
§ [Sir CHARLES MACANDREW in the Chair]
§ Navy Estimates, 1957–58
§ VOTE 1. PAY, ETC., OF THE ROYAL NAVY AND ROYAL MARINES
§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ That a sum, not exeeding £36,559,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of the pay. etc., of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1958, in addition to the sum of £25,000,000 to be allocated for this purpose from the sum of £125,000,000 voted on account of Navy Services generally.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Christopher Soames)
In round figures, the Navy Estimates this year provide for a gross expenditure of £386 million, which is lower by £25 million than the revised estimate of last year after taking into account the Supplementary Estimate. Receipts are expected to rise by nearly £8 million to a total of £70 million, mainly because we shall make available more stores for sale, and also because there will be a general increase in repayment services. The net amount which Parliament is asked to grant is £316 million, which is £33 million less than we required last year. I must not forget that Parliament has already granted us £125 million of this.
Perhaps I might start by going briefly through the Votes, one by one, to show the differences between this year's figures and last year's. Vote 1, the Pay Vote, goes down by just under £2 million for the obvious reason that it reflects the reduction in manpower of about 7,000 during the year. Vote 2, the Victualling and Clothing Vote, goes down by £1 million, for roughly the same reason. The Medical Vote, Vote 3, shows a small but useful saving, mainly because of reductions in civilian numbers resulting from the handing over to the Ministry of Health of the hospital at Portland and the closing of the medical depot at Rosyth.
46 Vote 4, the Vote for civilians on Fleet services, comes down by £400,000 because of the cuts in civilian staffs particularly where Fleet establishments are reduced or closed. Vote 5, for Education, remains much the same. The Vote for Scientific Services, Vote 6, falls by almost £1¼ million as a result of a careful pruning of the resarch and development programme. I would assure the Committee, however, that we have safeguarded the projects of the highest importance to the Navy. For instance, research into new guided weapons and radar equipment, anti-submarine devices and new forms of propulsion. including nuclear propulsion, will continue on much the same scale as they did last year. Provision is also made for the study of nuclear propulsion for a surface vessel.
Vote 7, the Royal Naval Reserves Vote, drops by over £800,000 mainly through the reduction of the Royal Fleet Reserve from 30,000 to 5,000, and the abolition of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Air Section. As regards Votes 8 and 9, the principal "production" Votes. in the current year our provision of cash, for ships. aircraft, weapons, machinery and the like, is £108 million, which is £17 million less than the corresponding amount for last year.
This is an inevitable reflection of the reduction in Navy Votes as a whole. The cut is achieved by spending somewhat less this year on repairs and refits of vessels and slightly less on new construction, and also by running down further our stocks of ammunition and explosives. On the other hand, we shall be spending rather more on aircraft and aircraft stores, owing mainly to the bulk deliveries of the new Scimitar day fighter and also the Whirlwind helicopter, which will come in this year.
Vote 10, for Works, Buildings and Repairs, goes up by nearly £1 million. This can all be accounted for by the lower receipts we expect, as we have, in fact, no major disposals of property to make this year. The actual provision for new building is somewhat less than last year.
Vote 12, for the Admiralty Office, shows only a reduction of under £200,000, although the number employed falls by a further 365 and there will be further decreases during the year. The reason for showing a smaller cash saving in this 47 Vote than might have been expected is to be found in the increases of pay and allowances which have occurred since the last Estimates.
The last Vote I need mention is Vote 13, which covers naval and civilian retired pay and pensions. As one would expect, this Vote goes up by close on £600,000 largely because of the extra provision we have made for gratuities. bonuses and other superannuation allowances, resulting from civilian cuts.
When we had our last debate on Vote A I went in some detail into various aspects of our personnel problems as they existed before the defence review. I feel it might he for the convenience of the Committee if, this afternoon, I were to explain some of the effects and ramifications upon the Navy of the new defence policy, both in regard to personnel and also in regard. to use a generic term, to hardware; and then to say something of how the Navy's role fits into the new defence plan both in limited and in global war. First, to deal with the question of naval personnel.
I feel that the Committee would like me to say something about the problem of the officers and men who will become surplus as the total strength of the Service diminishes. The Defence White Paper said that by the end of 1962 the strength of the three Services should be 375,000 adult United Kingdom males. This term of art means, where the Navy is concerned, that the figure excludes women, juniors under 17½ and locally-entered personnel abroad.
The Navy's share within this total has not been exactly decided upon, so we cannot yet know the number of officers and ratings who will be surplus to our needs. What I can do this afternoon is to sketch out for the Committee the broad limits of the problem. The only figure that has been quoted about the number of adult United Kingdom males for the Navy to date is that given by the Minister of Defence, who said that it would be roughly one-fifth of the total number in all three Services.
On 1st April this year, the total uniformed strength of the Navy, that is, including women, juniors and locally-entered personnel, was just over 120,000, of whom about 14,000 were officers. This 48 strength will be reduced by the end of 1962, that is in five-and-a-half years' time, to somewhere below 100,000. What effect will that have on those who are now serving? Let me deal, first, with officers. As far as we can estimate, the surplus of officers, as between the number we have today and the number that we would require in 1962, would vary from over 1,000 in the worst case, that is. with the smallest Vote A, to a few hundreds in the best case, that is, with the largest Vote A that we can expect. That is, of course, over and above the normal retirements.
The position as regards ratings is different. The key to the difference is that ratings, as opposed to officers, generally have a comparatively short engagement of fixed length. By 1962, about half our strength of ratings will consist of men who will have been recruited since the beginning of this year. It is, therefore, largely within the Admiralty's control to regulate the intake from branch to branch, if that should be necessary. In fact, the only surpluses we forsee that will occur in the intervening period before 1962 will be among senior ratings, that is, chief petty officers, petty officers and their equivalent, in certain branches. These surpluses will be a comparatively small percentage of the total numbers, although, here again, their exact extent will naturally depend upon the eventual Vote A strength. The problem in the case of ratings is, therefore, broadly confined to senior ratings who will be leaving the Service during the next five years.
At present, we have reached three preliminary decisions on how to deal with the rating surplus. The first is that, except in special cases, we do not intend to renew the non-continuous one and three-year engagements from twenty-two years upwards for men who have already completed twenty-two years. We have also decided that in future a higher standard will be required for men to sign on from twenty-two to twenty-seven years. Thirdly, even where the standard for this twenty-seven year re-engagement is met, we may temporarily have to limit the numbers selected in certain branches. All this will help to reduce the eventual surpluses.
We appreciate, of course, that all this must cause considerable anxiety in the 49 Fleet. Individuals will be asking themselves how these cuts affect them personally. I am only sorry that I cannot go into details today, but I assure the Committee that we realise how important it is to set out the position fully and unequivocally as soon as our plans are firm, and to let individuals know how their personal future is affected. As soon as it is possible to give the Fleet this further information we will do so.
These considerable changes are bound to cause a certain disruption within the Service, particularly for a number of more senior officers and ratings. It is most important that those whose careers are prematurely ended through no fault of their own should be given proper notice and be properly compensated. But it is also vital that we keep a sense of proportion in this matter. It would be a tragedy if those who were considering Joining the Service now and in the coming years got the impression that they would not find there a worthwhile career in the future.
In fact, we shall want every suitable man who wishes to join on a Regular engagement. The career that will be open to him in an all-Regular force will be every bit as good as, if not better than, we have been able to offer hitherto.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Does the hon. Gentleman think that he will get them if he breaks faith with the existing men?
§ Mr. Soames
I am quite confident that the recruiting figure will show that we shall achieve the target at which we are aiming in terms of numbers.
§ Mr. Soames
Let me turn from naval to civilian personnel. Since the consequence of the new defence plan is that the Navy will be smaller—[Interruption.] The recruiting figures for the Navy at the moment are excellent and I see no cause for any falling off, unless many people go round spreading alarm and despondency, which is quite unnecessary.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
It is not merely a question of spreading alarm and despondency. During the last five years a great many people have engaged, after completing twenty-two years' service, to stay on in the Navy in order to make a career of it. Now, because there is another chop and change in Admiralty policy less than five years after the initial policy was decided upon, these men are to be cut short, instead of staying on and completing the long-term engagement.
§ Mr. Soames
The hon. Member cannot have it all ways. He cannot be in favour of the general policy laid down in the White Paper, of abolishing National Service and having smaller forces—
§ Mr. Soames
—and, in the next breath, accuse us of abandoning faith with these men.
To turn from naval to civilian problems, since the consequence of the new defence plan is that the Navy should be smaller it is important that we should bring the number of civilian staffs into proper relation to these reduced forces. The new strategic concept will certainly have its effect upon the size and, probably, on the number, of our bases abroad and also on the amount of material resources that we need to maintain there. We shall also, of course, continue with reorganising all the general support structure of the Navy under "The Way Ahead" and other committees. In all these ways, we expect and intend to make substantial economies in civilian staffs over the next few years.
My noble Friend is very conscious of the need to raise the proportion of men afloat, particularly of men in the operational fleet, to those ashore and the Admiralty is doing all it can to bring that about, but I would put forward a word of warning here. I ask those who like to compare the ratio of personnel afloat to personnel ashore today with the equivalent pre-war figures, to bear in mind that for many reasons—quite a number of which I gave in some detail in our last debate on Vote A 51 —we cannot hope to aspire to the prewar ratios. Indeed, we would not wish to do so; it would be wrong for that would mean, for instance, that we could have no Fleet Air Arm.
§ Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)
Will the hon. Gentleman pass on that information and make quite certain that the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) is aware of it, because he chided us on exactly that point when we were responsible for administering the Navy?
§ Mr. Soames
My right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) is aware of a great deal.
Before the war, it may have been fair to describe all those ashore as the tail, but that would not be fair today. We will certainly do all we can to reduce the burden of the tail, but we must have some tail. Let us, after all, spare a thought for the kangaroo, who has to have a tail to get around at all.
During the debate on Vote A, a number of hon. Members spoke about the continuing need for the Royal dockyards. As I recall it, the general tendency was to suggest that, since the Navy was evidently to be smaller, it therefore followed automatically that the dockyards should be fewer. At least one hon. Member thought that one British yard might do the Navy very well instead of the six yards we have in this country at present. Other hon. Members were disposed to allow us rather more than one yard, but still argued for a dramatic reduction. With great respect, the problem here is not altogether simple.
It falls into two parts and the crux of the first part is this. At present, 85 per cent. of the work on the Navy's ships, other than new construction, is done in the Royal dockyards. The remainder goes out to contractors. Our experience is that this highly specialised work can be carried out most economically in the major Royal dockyards, which are expressly equipped and staffed to do it. Moreover, it is done there on the basis of priorities as laid down by the Admiralty, instead of taking its place on a commercial firm's priority list. So long, therefore, as we have a programme of repairs and refits, modernisations and conversions which will keep our yards 52 fully employed, there will not necessarily be any benefit to the Navy or to the taxpayer as an automatic result of shutting down yards.
The second part of the problem, once we have decided on the dockyard capacity we shall require both at home and overseas, is to determine where the work can most economically be carried out, at the same time bearing in mind the strategic and other factors involved.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
Before my hon. Friend leaves that point, can he give an undertaking that this assessment of requirements will be made very soon? Is it possible for him, also, at this stage to give an assurance that there will not be any redundancy whatsoever in the main dockyards? I am speaking particularly of Chatham.
§ Mr. Soames
I can give hon. Members an assurance that my noble Friend is fully apprised of the need to make as speedy a decision as possible, but I cannot give an assurance about there being no redundancy in any particular yard.
§ Mr. W. Edwards
Would the hon. Gentleman now accuse those on this side of the Committee of creating alarm and despondency among dockyard workers? He is suggesting that there is the possibility of there being some redundancy.
§ Mr. Soames
I was not accusing the hon. Member of doing anything. I was merely explaining to the Committee what is the position over the dockyards.
§ Mr. Percy Wells (Faversham)
Can the hon. Gentleman given an assurance that if any redundancies take place the trade union side will be called into consultation immediately?
§ Mr. Soames
The hon. Member may rest assured that there will be the fullest possible degree of contact between the official and staff sides, and with the trade unions, on all these matters. My noble Friend will make a decision known as soon as possible. In the meantime, I would advise hon. Members to discount any rumours which they may hear of this or that dockyard being shut down, either at home or abroad.
§ Mr. Callaghan
The hon. Gentleman will realise that the Minister of Defence went to Malta recently and left behind a very distinct impression that work in the Malta Dockyard was to be substantially cut down. Are we to take it from the latest statement of the hon. Gentleman that that is not so?
§ Mr. Soames
I was talking about yards being closed rather than about work being cut down. The whole matter is being discussed at the moment and the fullest statement will be made when decisions are taken.
I now move to the effects of the defence policy on the construction programme of ships, aircraft arid weapons for the Fleet of the future. Owing to the fact that we have practically completed the construction programme of frigates which has been going on for some time, and a new generation of general purposes frigates and guided missiles vessels is only in its early and not too costly stage, we have been able to show a reduction in expenditure on construction without sacrificing any projects of major importance to the Navy, with one exception, that of a particular design of guided missile ship to which I shall refer later.
First, I will talk about the carriers, the capital ships of modern times. As hon. Members will see from the explanatory statement, there are at present four carriers in the operational fleet, "Ark Royal," "Eagle," "Albion" and "Bulwark." The modernisation of "Victorious" with all that is latest in carrier technique, continues, and she should be completed by the end of this year. The construction of the new carrier "Hermes" continues.
In the field of aircraft, the day fighter Scimitar will come into service this year to replace the Sea Hawk, and the next step in fighter defence will be the replacement of the Sea Venom, our all-weather fighter, by the DH.110 Sea Vixen all-weather fighter. This aircraft will be fitted with the air-to-air guided missile Firestreak, which will improve radically, both by day and by night, the killing power of the aircraft. This weapon has, of course, been developed for use both by the Navy and the R.A.F.
The strike aircraft which is planned to succeed the existing Wyvern is the 54 N.A.39, which is going ahead satisfactorily, and it will incorporate many features of the most modern kind and of great significance, which together should make it a really first-class weapon capable of dealing with targets either at sea or ashore. It will be able to carry either conventional weapons or a nuclear bomb.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
The hon. Gentleman referred to the DH.110. Does he mean that it is to be used by the Royal Air Force?
§ Mr. Soames
No. I was referring to the guided weapon Firestreak, which is going into this aircraft.
To move now to cruisers, as hon. Members will have seen from the memorandum, we are continuing with the construction of the three "Tiger" class cruisers, and "Tiger" herself should be ready to join the operational fleet about 1959, to be followed later by "Defence" and "Blake".
Before turning to guided missile ships, I would, first, say a word about the sea-to-air missile, the Seaslug, around which these ships will be built. The earlier marks of this weapon are designed, so to speak. as a second line of defence, in as much as they will engage all enemy bombers which successfully evade the outer fighter defences. This weapon is going ahead well, and the firing trials, which have taken place both on land at the Ministry of Supply proving grounds and at sea from H.M.S. "Girdleness", lead us to believe that it will be an effective weapon and that it will have a considerable development potential.
Now, the guided missile ships. The Committee is aware that the Admiralty was proceeding with designs for guided missile ships of two types—the cruiser type and also the destroyer type. These are sophisticated, complicated and highly expensive vessels, and the need for economy has made us concentrate on putting a guided missile into only one type of ship at present. We have decided on the smaller design, which we think on the whole gives better value for money.
The disadvantages of this type as against the cruiser type arc that she can stow fewer missiles, and her endurance is considerably less. Nor can she be so self-contained and self-reliant. Nevertheless, she will be a very effective animal, 55 and with her considerably smaller displacement, the cost will be appreciably less. On the whole, we think that every five guided missile ships of this type would be better value for a modern fleet than every two of the cruiser type, which we could get for roughly the same amount of money.
The fact that we are not now proceeding with the larger design of the guided missile ships underlines the need to continue with the "Tiger" class cruisers which, although carrying only conventional weapons, will provide a very useful addition to the Navy's strength, especially in cold and limited war.
I would now turn to the operational aspect of the Navy. It is right that the Committee and the country should have before them, as we discuss the reshaping of the Armed Forces, as clear an idea as possible of the roles of each Service, and, indeed, of the arms within each Service, in peace and in war. With this in mind, I shall try to give a broad outline of the uses of the three larger classes of ship which go to make up the Royal Navy in commission: carriers, cruisers and escorts. It may help if I talk about peacetime and limited war duties first, and then go on to talk separately about global war.
First, then, limited war, and I start with the aircraft carrier. It is surely not in dispute that we need to be able to deploy air power in many different parts of the world. This can be accomplished either from long strips of concrete on land or from carriers. Both have their advantages and their disadvantages. Hitherto, we have thought in terms of the main punch of our air power being land-based and being supplemented where necessary by carrier-borne aircraft. But in proportion as our bases and airfields overseas diminish in numbers, either for economic or political reasons, the more apparent becomes the value of the mobile carrier-based aircraft. Though we can all think of bases where our tenure is far from secure in the long-term, there is no reason to suppose that, if we pay due attention to keeping up the Navy's strength, we will ever be denied the ability to deploy sea-based air power.
One of the military lessons that we have surely learnt from those limited 56 wars in which we have been involved in the last decade is the great importance of being able to deploy air power from a mobile carrier, which can be first into action and which can be placed where you want it. I should like to remind the Committee of two examples to illustrate this. First, in Korea. The war in Korea began on 25th June, 1950. On 1st July, that is, six days after the war had begun, the first naval air strike was launched from a British carrier. For logistic reasons, it was not until 22nd July, nearly a month after the war began, that our ground-based aircraft could be in action.
Similarly, in the recent operations in the Mediterranean, owing to the short range and limited endurance of ground attack fighters, there were targets which could not be reached by such aircraft shore-based in Cyprus and their time over target was very severely limited. So the majority of the ground attack sorties had to be flown from carriers, and that in a part of the world where we had the advantage of a major base comparatively close to the scene of operations.
In fact, of course, ground and carrier-based aircraft are complementary. There are important and vital rôles for air power which can only be operated from land airfields. For instance, the heavy bomber strike, the fighter defence of ground territory and heavy air transportation, can all only be done from strips of concrete on land.
But so long as it is the policy of the Government to be in a position to deploy air power to meet emergencies throughout the broad area of Commonwealth interests, then the aircraft carrier, which, for many purposes, is, in effect, a 3,000-yard mobile runway, provides a unique instrument which brings it to bear. If I can explain the term "3,000-yard mobile runway", it means that aircraft can take off from a flight-deck, with the aid of all these modern devices such as the steam catapult, and so on, which, if they were to take off from the ground without any of these advantages, would need a 3,000-yard runway.
Our conception of the streamlined peacetime Navy of the future consists of a number of carrier task forces, each consisting of one carrier, armed with the most modern aircraft and weapons that we can procure, a cruiser, and a number 57 of destroyers and frigates for protection both from the air and from the sea. These task forces will be deployed in the most advantageous manner round the world, but would, of course, be capable of concentrating at any given point should the need arise. This will be an effective and economic means of protecting our overseas interests.
I want particularly to stress this aspect of economy of forces. The carrier task group that may be in the Persian Gulf one day could be in Aden the next week, somewhere far down the East African coast the week after, and in Singapore twelve days later. No other military organisation can be so self-sufficient, so mobile and so versatile, and there is an added merit to this mobility—that the Navy does not need to remain permanently poised in any potential trouble centre as an ever-present irritation to local sensibilities.
There are many territories where our military power would be welcomed in time of trouble, but which do not wish to have billeted upon them permanent static forces. They like us to call, but not to stay, and that is exactly what the Navy does.
Let me add at this point a word about the tie-up between sea and air transport. We all agree that the smaller our forces are, the more necessary is it that they be mobile, and that a strong and flexible Air Transport Command must be an essential feature of our future plans. But there is a limit to the size of a military operation which can be launched by air transport. For a major operation which requires the transport of tanks and large numbers of vehicles, we shall always have to rely on ships to carry the bulk of the force.
The point is that the light fast lift falls naturally into the realm of air transport, but for as far ahead as we can see, heavy reinforcements and logistic support, without which no major operation could be sustained by any country for long, must be provided by sea.
I would now turn to the cruiser, the medium ship with, say, about one-third the displacement of the aircraft carrier. It is the smallest surface vessel which can operate as a self-contained unit without support for a long period of time. It can put ashore a sizeable landing party. It has a big enough hull to carry the most 58 modern and complex radar systems, to stow fuel for very long cruises, to support itself and a number of smaller ships that would be working with it, in workshop and repair facilities, fuel, stores and medical supplies and the like. A force of destroyers and frigates, mothered by a cruiser, can effectively control sea communications over a wide area. The cruiser has one particular advantage over the carrier in that it can remain in harbour or at anchor for long periods, if need be, whereas the carrier has constantly to be putting to sea to enable its squadrons to get in flying practice.
Last, the destroyers and frigates. These smaller units of the fleet operate with a battle group to provide anti-submarine protection, early warning against air attack and outer defence.
Quite apart from these duties in limited war, it would be a great mistake to underrate the value of these comparatively small ships in peacetime. There are still considerable areas of the seas which are only made safe for British shipping by the presence of British naval ships. And our governors, ambassadors and administrators make more demands than the Navy can meet for visits by these ships, which do much more, I think, than is generally recognised to foster good will and trade to our country's advantage.
In a tactful and agreeable way which is well understood in many parts of the world, they act as a symbol of mobile power. We are apt to forget that there are many places of importance to us and the Commonwealth generally where these naval visits are still the only visible sign from one year to the next of Britain's power, and the officers and men who go ashore from those vessels are, in many cases, the only British citizens seen in large numbers in many parts of the world.
§ Mr. Soames
She has just completed a very important N.A.T.O. exercise and is showing the flag in the South of France at the moment.
§ Mr. Soames
There is certainly a good deal of piracy still in Eastern waters, and our vessels based on Hong Kong have a good deal of work to do in that respect.
I turn now from the Navy's rôle in limited war to that in global war. The White Paper on Defence said that we cannot foresee what will be the exact rôle of naval forces in total war, for no one can foretell what course such a war might take or how long it might last.
But one thing is certain. Should the deterrent fail to deter, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has every intention of protecting the Atlantic sea lanes, and included in its plans will be the main elements of the Royal Navy which are committed to N.A.T.O. in the event of global war.
The Russians have a formidable submarine fleet. and a large proportion of it is in their Northern and Baltic fleets with access to the Atlantic. As the Committee knows—the figure has often been quoted before—they have today 500 submarines in commission. of which considerably more than half are long-range types, and about two-thirds have been constructed since the end of the war. This is already the biggest submarine fleet the world has ever known. Their construction programme is still in full swing, and we believe that by 1960 they would be able to deploy continuously about 150 submarines in the Atlantic alone.
It would, of course, be totally unrealistic for this country alone to think in terms of maintaining in peacetime a Navy large enough to deal with this threat single-handed. But all our defence plans for global war rest on a system of alliances, and the war at sea is no exception. The battle in the Atlantic would be the responsibility of SACLANT, the N.A.T.O. Atlantic Command, and it would be our duty and our interest to contribute what we can to this allied naval force. In fact, of course, in a global war of the future, as in the past, to bring convoys across the Atlantic would be incomparably the most important task for the Royal Navy, and it is, therefore. the greater part of the fleet which will be committed to N.A.T.O. in the event of global war.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Could the Minister say how many aircraft 60 carriers the Russians have, and how many they are likely to have by 1960?
§ Mr. Soames
They have no aircraft carriers; they have not gone in for them. They have a considerable number of surface raiders and this vast submarine fleet.
§ Mr. Wigg
When the Minister's colleague replies, would he be good enough to tell us why the Minister should now say that 500 submarines is the largest number any country has ever had? I recollect that in the defence debate of February, 1951, the present Prime Minister made a very effective point against the Labour Government of that time that the Russians then had 1,000 submarines. Would he be good enough to tell us what has happened between the figure of 1,000 then and 500 now?
§ Mr. Soames
I am informed that they now have 500, whatever they had in 1951.
I have tried to give the Committee an outline of the rôle and importance of the modern Navy in cold and limited, and also global war. What is important, is that the modern reshaped Navy which will emerge as a result of this defence review should be a sharp and tempered weapon, with as high a proportion of its manpower as possible at sea and in the air. The cost and complication of ships, weapons and aircraft of today is so immeasurably greater than it was before the war that we cannot hope to achieve a Fleet of anything like the size of the pre-war Fleet in terms of numbers of ships. But, in terms of hitting power, it will be most formidable.
Broadly speaking, our aim is to achieve as large a sea-going Navy as possible within the limits prescribed by manpower and money, capable of fulfilling a diversity of tasks in peace and limited war, and armed with weapons, such as the most modern anti-aircraft missiles and anti-submarine devices, which, in the terrible event of a global war, would enable it to make a substantial contribution to allied sea power.
The Government are fully conscious, as have been their many predecessors, of the unique contribution which the Navy makes to our general defence position, and those whose duty it will be to study these problems in the future will surely recognise and acknowledge the importance of maritime power to this country 61 and to the Commonwealth. I am sure that we can be confident that the Navy will come through this review and reorganisation as a keen and vital instrument of power, and that it will be able to offer to those who serve in it an interesting and inspiring career.
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Steele (Dumbartonshire, West)
We have had today a most interesting, informative—and in line with the tradition of the Navy—a most vigorous speech from the Parliamentary Secretary. As I proceed with my speech, I hope to take up some of the points which he made.
First, I think it will be remembered that in the debate that we had on 5th March the main theme was the general role of the Navy, and much advice was given to the Minister of Defence—I am glad to welcome him here again this afternoon—as to what part the Navy should play in the future. Today the Parliamentary Secretary has devoted a good part of his speech to that, which is understandable, because he was unable to do so on the previous occasion.
I ventured to suggest in that debate that while there might be confusion in many quarters, the Admiralty never seemed to be in any doubt. At least that was the position up to 13th February this year, when the Minister of Defence said, in that debate:I turn now to the Navy. In considering how big the Navy we need and what should be its role, we have to ask ourselves a number of extremely difficult questions, to which I am not going to give the answers today."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th February, 1957;Vol. 564. c. 1313.]He then proceeded to ask those questions and naturally we awaited the White Paper on Defence to get the answers. The White Paper has now been issued and debated. We have also the Explanatory Statement on the Navy Estimates, and today the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary. From the latter it is clear that the Admiralty has again no doubt about the role of the Navy.
Turning first to the Defence White Paper, we see the proposal to base the main elements of the Royal Navy upon a small number of carrier groups, and we have had more details from the Parliamentary Secretary today. I have no hesitation in saying that we support that conception. although we shall watch carefully 62 how it is carried into practice. I say so because it seems to me that this conception is linked with paragraph 37 of the Defence White Paper, which states:On account of its mobility, the Royal Navy, together with the Royal Marines, provides another effective means of bringing power rapidly to hear in peacetime emergencies or limited hostilities.Paragraph 38 states:with this consideration in mind,…So it seems to me that the underlying thought is associated with proposals with regard to the rôle of the Navy in peace and limited emergencies.
It was not to be expected, however. that the Minister of Defence would be allowed by the Admiralty to take credit for this conception. Paragraph 7 of the Admiralty Explanatory Statement makes that quite clear. It says:However. action taken by the Board of Admiralty in recent times has led in the same direction as the Government's long-term plan for the Navy.When one reads between the lines, it seems to say. "We knew this all along and intended to do it anyway." Would I be right in saying that that is so typical of the Navy?
Let me now turn to the role of the Navy in total war. Here, I must say, we find a most interesting situation. There is a distinct difference in approach between the politicians or, should I say, the Government, as outlined in the Defence White Paper, and the Service chiefs at the Admiralty in the Explanatory Statement. The Government view is diffident and unsure. Look at page 4, paragraph 24. Examine the phrases that they use: "It may well be," they say, and then "there is a possibility" and so on. On only two things is the Defence White Paper emphatic. The first is that the rôle of the Navy in total war is uncertain; and the second, that whatever contribution this country has to make for this purpose through N.A.T.O. it will have to be on a reduced scale.
On the other hand, the Admiralty is quite certain in its views. and there is no hesitation in its arguments. In paragraph 10 of the Admiralty Explanatory Statement. it informs the Government that it is not the rôle of the Navy that is uncertain, but the course of total war. The Government, it says. can speculate and guess about the course total war may 63 take. They can do this as much and as long as they like. The exercise will be illuminating and interesting so long as there is no attempt by the Government to interfere with its plans for the Navy.
If some hon. Members think that I am overstating the case, I would ask them to examine the Explanatory Statement with care.The Navy must"—it states quite emphatically, not "may" but "must"—in these days, be one which can meet threats from all the most modern weapons, in the air, and on and under the sea.That phrase is related to providing a contribution to N.A.T.O. and total war. Therefore, it seems to me that there is a distinct difference of approach by the Government, or the Minister of Defence on the one hand, and the Board of Admiralty on the other.
The Minister of Defence, so far, has said very little about the Navy. But what he has said seems to indicate the plan that he has in mind for the Navy in peace and limited hostilities. That to him is the first consideration. At the same time, he has given some thought to what function it might perform in total war, but he is very uncertain what that should be. I have no doubt that he is very disturbed about the expense which would be involved in such a plan.
The Admiralty obviously takes the view, as stated in the Explanatory Statement and emphasised by the Parliamentary Secretary today, that there is no necessity to provide a separate kind of Navy for either limited or total war. That is a very clever argument, but what in fact is behind it? Surely, the line they want us to take is to prepare for total war so that the Navy, whatever happens, will be in a position to fight on. That, to them, is the first consideration. Peace and limited war come next, although we are told that both things are in fact the same.
In all the circumstances, despite the delay and the discussions, no clear plan has yet emerged. Today we are asked to vote just over £300 million to the Navy. That is slightly less than last year. Will it be more, or less, next year? No doubt the Minister of Defence will want it to be less; but how can proper details be 64 worked out if this difference in approach continues? How can a decision be made about how many ships and what kind, what weapons and what kind, how many aircraft and what kind, and how many bases and where, are required, until the basic role of the Navy has been defined? Until then it seems to me that too much money, and too much time and effort. will be spent on too many competing projects.
I now turn from the realms of speculation to some of the real problems now facing the Admiralty, in view of the changes which have been forecast. First of all, I take the question of battleships. The Parliamentary Secretary did not in fact say anything about them, but we understand that all of them are to be scrapped except the "Vanguard". My right hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) stated on 5th March that the "Vanguard" was costing us £700,000 a year. Why is it being retained? I saw some mention somewhere that it was being used for accommodation. If that is so, it seems to me a very expensive method to adopt. Another of my friends told me that gin is 2d. a tot in the "Vanguard" and 2s. a tot ashore. Whether the Customs and Excise people will be interested in that, I do not know; but in any event I think that we ought to have an answer from the Civil Lord about what is happening in connection with the "Vanguard".
The Parliamentary Secretary did his best this afternoon to justify the decision to continue with the "Tiger" class cruisers. I can well understand the dilemma with which the Admiralty has had to wrestle. Perhaps, however, we can be told at what stage the Admiralty cried "Halt" to the planners and designers and said, "No more alterations". The fact that the White Paper says that constructionis now gathering pace and Tiger is expected to start the first of class trials early in 1959…indicates that it must have been some time ago. Would I be right in saying that it was about two years ago?
It would be interesting to know what has been the cost up to date, and the expected cost on completion, of these ships. I should also like to know if the cost shown against them will include all 65 the expenses of the endless conferences on these ships held at Bath. They will not be equipped with guided missiles, the Parliamentary Secretary told us this afternoon, and it seems to me that there is a grave danger that they will be out of date before they actually come into service. I say this because the expectation of the Admiralty about the "Tiger" joining the Fleet late in 1959 will, if its forecasts run to form, scarcely be realised. It is a pity that a decision to scrap them was not taken earlier and the money devoted to something else, but it seems that the Admiralty is determined to hold on to them. How much the prestige of having a big ship lies behind the decision, it is difficult for me to say; but I wonder if the Admiralty really should he alarmed.
Frigates are now larger than destroyers, and if the planners go on planning heavier and even heavier weapons and equipment they will soon be as large as cruisers. After all, as one of my hon. Friends said in an intervention this afternoon, no doubt cruisers have their uses, but I would say in passing that they were not designed specifically to advertise the British film industry.
It will be remembered that in the previous debate many pertinent questions were put about naval aircraft and, with all due respect to the Civil Lord, his answers were most unsatisfactory. While he assured us that the production programme was up to date, the information he gave was rather meaningless. We were not informed how many and when or. as one of my hon. Friends inferred, how little and how late. May I put this point to the Minister and to the Admiralty? At the moment all the Services are carrying on an inter-Service struggle, fighting for their place in the new scheme of things. The Admiralty has shown imagination, initiative and great ingenuity on the question of aircraft carriers, but not about aircraft.
The Scimitar is expected in the Fleet by the middle of 1958, according to the White Paper, and I ask hon. Members to note the word "expected". May I ask if this aircraft is supersonic in level flight? We are told that it is to be fitted with "blown flaps." That is encouraging in so far as we see that some enthusiasm and imagination is being shown; and it will obviously make carrier aircraft more 66 effective. But surely "blown flaps" ought to be used for getting high performance aircraft on and off carriers. Is the Scimitar a true high-performance aircraft? I should like an answer to that question.
We are told that the N.A.39 is under development, and we are assured that itwill be a most formidable addition to the striking power of the Royal Navy.Will that in fact be so? Is not it perhaps likely to arrive just in time to be superseded by guided missiles? These are matters which have been discussed over and over again and the position is not yet satisfactory.
I want to turn now to a subject which I believe is causing grave anxiety and concern, namely, the question of what effect the changes now under consideration will have, first, on the men in the Service, secondly, on those working in naval dockyards and other establishments and, thirdly, on those responsible for administration in towns both at home and abroad, the future welfare of which depends so much on what the Admiralty may now decide.
Many criticisms have been made in the House of Commons and outside about the number of senior and other officers now in the Navy compared with previous years when the Fleet was much larger. The Parliamentary Secretary devoted some time to this in his speech on 5th March. It is easy to talk about numbers. The hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett), in a closely reasoned speech, argued that we could have the kind of Fleet we need with half the present number of officers. I am sure he would be the first to say, at the same time, that we should never forget that each and every one of these men is a human being, and that with all this uncertainty about the future we should be very mindful about their fears.
For some time there has been stagnation in promotion. Many of those concerned, recognising that and aware that changes were coming which might make the position more difficult, have, in fact, already left the Service. Many of them, who wanted to be in the Navy because, curious as it may seem at the moment, they desired to go to sea, left the Service because this ambition is hardly likely to be realised.
67 In paragraph 68 of his White Paper, the Minister of Defence made it clear that there would be a surplus of officers. The next paragraph goes on to say—and this was emphasised by the Parliamentary Secretary this afternoon—that to those whose careers have been prematurely terminated, fair compensation would be paid. I wonder whether the Minister of Defence is aware of what the effect of that statement has been. So far as I can ascertain, in the Navy at least it has stopped any further resignations. This is only natural, as the officers are awaiting the terms of the compensation.
Those of them who had any ideas of leaving the Service have given them up, in the meantime, because they naturally want to get the compensation. Therefore, at the moment, there is a standstill, and I have no doubt that that applies to the other Services as well. But surely that must have been foreseen. It is clear that the compensation terms must be issued as soon as possible, and those officers whose services are no longer required should be informed as quickly as possible. Some of my hon. Friends will subsequently deal more particularly with the question of the ratings and others concerned.
The Parliamentary Secretary gave us some information about the success of the Way Ahead Committee, and the full list of its present proposals up to date was given in answer to a Question to the Civil Lord on 28th March. The list is impressive. The saving in manpower is expected to be about 5,000, but this is only the beginning. The Parliamentary Secretary has said today—and I must confess that the form of words was not in the least reassuring—" So long as we have a programme," but our difficulty has been to know how long the Navy is to have a programme.
It is abundantly clear, even from what the Parliamentary Secretary said today, that the work of maintenance and repair will not require the extensive shore establishments now owned and controlled by the Admiralty. While changes are necessary, we must give full consideration to the social consequences to the men and families concerned. Redundancy here is a matter which concerns the Government as a whole. How far the proposals promised by the Minister of Labour, 68 shortly to be issued, will cover the Admiralty or, in fact, the whole problem. I do not know, but a clear statement is desirable.
Last week, a headline in theNews Chroniclesaid, "Defence cut sackings begin," and went on to say that in the next twelve months 28,000 workers would become redundant. Today, in the NewsChronicle,the same correspondent puts the figure at 50,000, but, so far as I can see, that 50,000 does not include any redundancies from the Admiralty.
It is true that a promise has been made to the officers in the Service, but what about the established workers? Already I have been approached about this matter in my constituency. It has been pointed out to me that non-established workers with over seven years' service, if declared redundant—or, in other words, sacked—will be entitled to a gratuity, but established workers, by, the terms of their agreement, are bound to accept employment in any part of the country, and if that employment is not accepted no gratuity is payable.
That is, of course, one of the conditions of establishment, which carries with it the right to pension. I do not quarrel with that, and neither did the men when they became established, but in view of the contraction of work in Government factories all over the country they know—and we must accept this—that alternative work in Government employment will not be available. They have two fears. One is that an offer of work in some distant place will be made which will not, in fact, be genuine. The other is that transfer to another part of the country to another job might be genuine and the offer accepted, only for the transferred worker to find in a short time that the axe has fallen on that job also.
Those fears may be quie unjustified and irrational, but they do exist. They may be brought about by suspicion of the Government's intentions, but it seems to me that they must be faced and a clear statement made about the position. In the defence debate, the Minister of Defence was quite forthcoming about compensation for officers and n.c.o.s in the Services, but when interrupted by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), who asked about the redundant workers, he did not seem to be very much concerned and 69 treated the question in a rather off-hand manner.
He seemed to take the view that there was not much of a problem there and that it would be easy for these workers to find other employment. It is not quite as simple as that, and if this is to be the attitude of the Government I am afraid that they are likely to be in trouble. As has been pointed out before, there are towns, not only in this country but abroad, whose entire population depends to a great extent on work being done for the Admiralty. Civic authorities with dockyards, such as Portsmouth, Devonport, Chatham. Sheerness, and Rosyth, are anxiously concerned about the decisions which may be taken by the Admiralty.
At Plymouth for example, which suffered severely in the war, the shopping centre was rebuilt further back, at the request of the Admiralty, and more land was made available for extension to the dockyard. The town is deeply involved financially in the extensive, rebuilding that has taken place, and any sudden change of policy by the Admiralty would have a disastrous effect on that town.
The First Lord, at a Press conference in Scotland on 19th February, was questioned about the future of Rosyth. He stated that the dockyard was being re-equipped to bring it up to date, and gave a qualified assurance about its future. That was, of course, before the publication of the Defence White Paper, and I should like to know whether the Civil Lord has anything to say about it now.
What I have said about these places applies equally to the others concerned, and no dobut hon. Members who represent them will have many more questions to ask. as seems likely, one or more of those yards is no longer necessary, what then? Are they just to be gradually closed crown, or, as one hon. Member suggested in a recent debate, handed over to private enterprise?
May I make a special plea to the Government on this? Just like those in the Forces, these men have entered the service of their country and, gathered together in a community, they have developed their skill and their family life. In the same way as other established servants, they have earned rights to a pension. Why should all this be destroyed? Surely, the 70 Government might consider running these yards themselves. I am sure that it would be a sound commercial proposition. Those who have read the Reports of the Select Committee on Estimates—and as the Parliamentary Secretary indicated this afternoon—know that the cost of work done in the Admiralty yards compares most favourably with that in private yards. There is, therefore, a sound economic basis for my suggestion.
Finally, I should like to say a word about nuclear propulsion for surface ships. On the importance of its development we are all agreed, but whether it is being tackled with sufficient urgency and whether the Government's arrangements are fully satisfactory is another matter. What is certain is that we are lagging behind other countries, and that is most unsatisfactory. I appreciate that the number of interests involved is large. The Parliamentary Secretary listed some of them in his speech of 5th March, when he told us about the development and construction of the submarine "Dreadnought."
Of course, we had the earlier announcement of the appointment of Rear-Admiral Wilson in connection with this work. There is also the Committee under the chairmanship of the Civil Lord. That is all very well, and committees and appointments are necessary, but getting things done is very much more important. The story of Whittle's experience in the development of the jet engine is the kind of thing which, unfortunately, happens. I do not think that he had any committees at all. Let us be careful that we do not go to the other extreme in this case.
I understand from an article byThe Timesscience correspondent today that the Civil Lord's Committee has had only one meeting so far and that the immediate question of how much will be paid and by whom and on what projects has still to be approached. What is even more disturbing is that, in spite of all the arrangements that have been made, the correspondent goes on to say that both the Atomic Energy Authority and the Admiralty would welcome agreement on co-ordinated development.
It is not easy for us as politicians to follow the technicalities of this matter, but I think that we are conscious of its extreme importance. We have a right to be assured that someone with drive and 71 energy is in charge and that he has the full support of the Government. Delay in this matter might mean a serious situation for all our ship building and allied interests.
I have said nothing at all about integration within the Service or with other Services. I know that the Way Ahead Committee, on the one hand, and the Defence Administration Committee, on the other, are examining these matters. Whether the constitution of the Board of Admiralty will be considered by the latter Committee or not it will be interesting to know.
To sum up, it seems to me that the fundamental point is that the Government and the Admiralty are not yet in agreement as to what kind of Navy we should have. In the meantime, while both recognise and understand the fears of the officers in the Services and are preparing to make suitable and fair compensation, the Government, at least, are not apparently as concerned with the civilian employees or with the effect which any decisions which might be made may have on the future of the naval towns. That is not at all satisfactory. Uncertainty is not good for the Service. That is well recognised. Neither is it good for the civilians nor for the naval towns.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Humphrey Atkins (Merton and Morden)
I was very glad to hear the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) say that he was in agreement with the general idea regarding the Navy's future role. I think that that is something which commands general agreement in the Committee. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary concluded his remarks by saying that what was needed was that the Navy should be a sharp, tempered weapon with as high a proportion as possible of its manpower at sea or in the air. That, again, is something with which I agree.
I think that my hon. Friend has a very difficult task at the moment, faced as he is with the necessity of cutting expenditure in one year by about 10 per cent. and of cutting down the number of men in the Service to a smaller extent. We recognise the necessity for doing that, and no doubt this is only the first stage of a reduction both in manpower and expenditure.
72 There are several things in the Estimates about which I want to say something. My hon. Friend knows my particular hobby-horse. It is, as he himself said, that as high a proportion as possible of the men in the Service should be at sea or in the air, and I am very glad to see that the Board of Admiralty is seized of this problem. My hon. Friend said that it was not entirely fair to compare the Navy of today with the Navy of before the war because of the existence of the Fleet Air Arm, which naturally meant that more people were ashore than before the war, and because, no doubt, of other commitments such as N.A.T.O. and so forth.
I admit all that, but, none the less, I intend to compare one or two figures because I think that they make rather appalling reading. Twenty years ago Vote A for the Navy was smaller than it is today. It was then 112,000 and it is now 120,000. But in 1937 we maintained a Fleet of 15 capital ships, 6 aircraft carriers, 50 cruisers and over 100 destroyers. Today we maintain a fleet of 8 carriers, 9 or 10 cruisers—17 or 18 if one includes the "Daring" class—just over 20 destroyers and 50 frigates. It is a very much smaller Fleet, with more men than we had in 1937.
I do not know the strength of the Fleet Air Arm. That, so far as I can discover. is not disclosed in the Estimates. We cannot expect a Fleet of the size of that of 1937, but we ought to do better on the manpower side than we are doing at the moment. It may be said that before the war possibly more jobs, slightly less essential non-seagoing jobs, were manned by civilians than is done at present. But that is not the case either because I went into this aspect of the matter and found that the civilians employed on Fleet duties before the war came to fewer than 3,000—both salaried and those in receipt of wages. But now Vote 4, which also covers civilians employed on Fleet duties, is for 3,000 salaried personnel and nearly 15,000 in receipt of wages. That is over four times as many.
What on earth are they all doing? I agree that we have these greater commitments ashore, but I really do not see why, with a vastly smaller fleet and the same Vote A. we should require this enormously inflated number of civilians employed on Fleet duties. This has nothing 73 to do with the dockyards; they are in a different category altogether. I have no doubt that one of the duties of the Way Ahead Committee is to go into the matter to see whether reductions can be made. I am glad that the Committee has had some success, but it has a good way to go yet. I should be glad to hear that the Committee is pressing on with the necessary task of trying, wherever possible, to reduce non-essential expenditure and manpower.
The same applies to the Admiralty. It took 3,500 people to run it twenty years ago and it now takes nearly 10,000. I do not know why. There may be more to do there today, but I cannot believe that there is three times as much as there was. I hope that my hon. Friend will do everything he can to reduce this type of expenditure and to reduce the manpower required because, as we all admit, we must reduce as far as possible our expenditure on the Service. It is that sort of thing which can be reduced.
Of course, the things that really ought not to be reduced so much are what my hon. Friend referred to as "hardware"—the ships, the guns and the aircraft with which the Fleet is armed. There is a considerable reduction in the amount being spent in that way. There is depressingly little, in my opinion, in the Explanatory Statement regarding new construction coming forward. There are one aircraft carrier. three cruisers, a number of frigates and a lot of small ships. That is not very much when we consider how little we have and that what we have got is getting so old.
I do not know what is now considered to be the life of a ship, but it used to be thought that a ship was over age, so to speak, after twenty years. Some of our present day cruisers are twenty years old, and those in reserve tend to be even older. Yet there is nothing much coming forward. I know that it is a difficult matter. I know that there are changes in propulsion and in armament and that it is a very difficult task to determine what to build, because to build a ship takes a long time, and by the time it is completed it may very well be the wrong shape or size. But that cannot possibly be an excuse for building very little. If we are not careful we shall find not that we have got new ships which are out of date or the wrong shape but that we 74 have got old ships which are the wrong shape, and falling to pieces.
§ Mr. Atkins
The hon. Member says that it is cheaper, but it is not in the long run, because the old ships have to be kept going, and that is an expensive business. I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give some assurance that the construction programme laid down for this year will be improved upon in future years. I know my hon. Friend will find it difficult to get the money, but surely he could get some of it by cutting down on some of the non-essential services which I have been discussing.
If, to use by hon. Friend's own words, we are to have a sharp, tempered weapon, it is not a bit of use having a long blunt shaft to that weapon. This weapon has the finest people in the world to use it, and my hon. Friend must make sure that the weapon itself is as good as we can possibly afford to have and that it is maintained accordingly. It will be much smaller than the corresponding weapons of many other countries, but we must make sure that it is as good as, and even better than, the others.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Harry Randall (Gateshead, West)
The Parliamentary Secretary may not be aware that tomorrow morning about 120,000 men in the Navy will be very interested in reading about today's debate. One of the things which will be said tomorrow morning will be that the Parliamentary Secretary. in opening the debate, said scarcely a word about the Navy personnel and their conditions. There was a reference to the transfer of personnel to dockyard construction and the operational aspect, but nothing was said about the general conditions of service of the men in the Fleet. I hazard a guess that they will feel very disappointed about that.
§ Mr. Soames
In the debate that we had not very long ago on Vote A, I devoted nearly an hour to those very problems.
§ Mr. Randall
That may be so, but tomorrow morning there will be very little interest in what was said a few weeks ago. People will read the papers to find 75 out what reference was made to conditions within the Service, and they will find nothing at all about that subject.
I propose to make good that omission. I do so because I have a very personal reason for believing that an opportunity should be given for some of the grievances which exist among the ratings to be made known. I was very pleased indeed that in the Defence White Paper which was issued recently it was said that to encourage recruiting the Government will seek to make life in the Services more attractive. I was considerably cheered when I read that. It is all very well so far as it goes. But is there any real intention to improve conditions in the Service?
In the recent defence debate the Minister of Defence said that the Royal Navy should not have much difficulty in attracting on long-term engagements enough recruits to meet its needs. I know that during the last three years that has been so. The recruiting figures in the last three years have been particularly good, certainly in comparison with those for the other Services.
What is troubling me is that the fact that recruiting has been good may lead somebody in authority to say that there is no need to do anything about improving the conditions of service. I hope that that is not so. I hope that as a result of the inquiries which ought to be made into the conditions of service there will be an improvement, because it is very necessary. Matters are far from well.
I should like to tell the Committee some of the things which have come to my notice and which ought to have been put right long ago. I shall try to avoid exaggeration. I am a former trade union official and have been for a number of years. The conditions which have been brought to my notice can only be described as scandalous and outrageous, and they ought to have shocked the consciences of many of us long ago. The beautiful lines of a ship, whether she be steaming along or lying at anchor, mask a good deal of what goes on down below. I shall have something to say about the officers and ex-officers. This is a silent Navy, and they have been very silent officers; otherwise these things would have been put right long ago.
When we go to see the ships at Portsmouth on Navy Day we do not see the 76 real conditions of the ratings on the lower deck. Any sailor will speak long, and often in fruity language, of the grand splendour of the conditions of the officers.
§ Mr. Burden
Surely the hon. Member would be much better engaged in castigating his hon. Friend the Member for Stepney (Mr. W. Edwards) who served on the lower deck, who also was a member of the naval team in the party opposite, and who had an opportunity to put things right when the Labour Party was in office.
§ Mr. Randall
It is my job to deal with the Government of the day, and I intend to do so. If it disturbs some hon. Members opposite so early in my speech. I am very pleased indeed.
I am talking of the language which the men use about the conditions of the officers, when they think of the wardrooms, the ante-rooms, the baths, the white-coated stewards and the officers' cooks. Why are not some of those amenities available to the men on the lower deck? [An HON. MEMBER:" Never ".] An hon. Member says "Never ". I know that that attitude has existed for a long time. The officers living in the wardroom regard the men on the lower deck as belonging to a different caste, who are not entitled to ordinary decent conditions. Those of us who have taken the trouble to investigate know very well that the accommodation aboard ship—
§ Major Patrick Wall (Hull, Haltemprice)rose—
§ Mr. Randall
I am not giving way.
Many civilians, soldiers and airmen have some idea of conditions in the barracks and the air station, but how many of them can have a picture of life afloat in the Navy? By all other standards, both in the Army and in the Air Force, the standard of the British sailor is the lowest and we ought to do something about it.
§ Mr. Randall
Very well. On board, the sailor is allotted to a mess the size of which is 18 ft. by 12 ft. Twenty-five or 30 men are allocated to that mess.
§ Mr. W. Edwards
Is my hon. Friend advocating the abolition of messes and the substitution of cabins? If so, how many men could serve on a ship?
§ Mr. Randall
I will come to that point. The American Navy has found the answer to this. There is no reason whatever why we should not make an effort to find a solution to it.
Let the British public know that 25 to 30 men have to contain themselves within a mess, and in that mess they must eat, sleep and live. Somehow, during the night, the hammocks must be slung nine inches apart. There is not sufficient room for all the hammocks to be slung and as a result the men have to sleep either on the forms or on the table. This is what goes on. The public should know about it and we ought to be doing something about it.
§ Mr. Randall
To me, it is most incredible, and something ought to be done to improve it.
What are the messing arrangements? There is no dining room or hall on a ship. How are the meals served, obtained and eaten? For each meal, one or two men must go to the galley. There, the cooked food is obtained on trays for the 25 or 30 men. The galley may be a long way from the mess., and it may be necessary to go down several decks, but ultimately the food is brought into the mess, where it must be dished up. It may even be taken out into the open in getting it to the mess, and as a result the food may be cold. If any of the men are on watch, it is quite possible that the food will have to remain in the mess for an hour and a half or an hour and three-quarters.
When the food has been eaten, the washing up has to be done in the mess, all in this space of 18 ft. by 12 ft., and I understand that it is done in a funny mess kettle 18 in. by 9 in. by 9 in. The men may have to go down one or two decks to the bathroom to get the water, making several journeys in the process.
There is an answer to this. It is not so long ago that the British Navy had conditions better than any other navy, but that is not so today. The American sailors do not have to rough it and pig 78 it in the way that our boys have to do. The Americans have cafeteria messing. [An HON. MEMBER: "So do we."] In most of the ships, it is not so. The Americans have cafeteria messing, separate bunk places—
§ Mr. Randall
My hon. Friend could be helpful if he wished. I happen to have had a son who wanted to give his life to the Navy, so much so that he joined the "Arethusa" at 15 years of age. When the time came, he took the opportunity of signing on a nine years' agreement. He received promotion. He was most anxious to remain in the Service, but such were the conditions in it that he was not prepared to remain after nine years. He wanted to get back to "civvy street" and to decency. That is what I know about it, because my own boy was involved. He reacted and rebelled against the conditions which he had to put up with in the Navy, and I am taking this opportunity of telling the Committee that something ought to be done.
Let us have better and decent living conditions. Let us make for better standards. In the long run, I am told, cafeteria messing would save manpower and result in economies. We are proud of our Navy. We have pride in our ships and an enduring pride in our sailors, but these proud boasts and sentiments take no account of the conditions in which our sailors live.
Another matter which I want to raise concerns the depot ships, the parent ships for the submarines. In particular, I want to refer to Rothesay and Portland, and to "Adamant" and "Maidstone". Most of us would agree that work on the submarine is hazardous. Life aboard at sea is about as bad as it possibly can be. It is one thing to go down into a submarine at Portsmouth on Navy Day, but it is quite another thing to go down at sea, with the restricted space and the foul air, bringing conditions in the submarine to a very low level. The depot ships, therefore, become vital to the submarines.
Most Members of the Committee would agree that when the submarines tie up at the depot ships, all facilities should be available to give added comfort to those who have been on the submarines. It is no exaggeration to say that we should err on the side of generosity to compensate for the disabilities on the submarines,
79 But this is what happens at the "Adamant" at Rothesay. It can accommodate only seven submarines, but as often as not as many as ten submarines are tied up alongside. This arises, I understand, because Rothesay is used for the running-up of newly-commissioned submarines and the fact that additional submarines tie up at Rothesay places a considerable additional strain on the depot ship and the bare facilities which are available.
The facilities on these depot ships are quite inadequate. They are outdated and outmoded. For example, on the depot ships there is no cafeteria messing. "Dolphin" has it, but at Rothesay and on the "Maidstone" it is not available. Every sailor knows that every time that the lads want to go for a meal, almost the whole of their kit has to be taken from the submarine into the depot ship so that they can have their meals and sleep.
There are no washing or drying facilities available. Certainly there is a laundry, but anybody who knows anything about sailors knows that they much prefer to do their own washing. Why must this sort of thing go on? Why can we put things right at "Dolphin" but not on the two depot ships to which I have referred? An improvement would be of considerable advantage to the men.
There is a further criticism of those two depot ships. Bad as they are, they are not always there [Laughter.] It is not a laughing matter. Sometimes those depot ships can be away for as long as two and and a half months, during which time even the facilities which are available on the depot ship are non-existent.
§ Major Wall
Three of the ships to which the hon. Member has referred are stone frigates or shore establishments and do not, therefore, go to sea.
§ Mr. Randall
The hon. and gallant Member may have more information than myself. I am prepared to stand by my statement and I say that the conditions on these two depot ships need to be inquired into. I am not concerned whether they are this, that or the other, but I do know that they are not satisfactory and should be dealt with.
I was referring to the depot ships which are taken away for two and a half months at a time. When a submarine returns 80 from sea, it has to tie up alongside the floating dock. That means that the men returning from the submarines can never clean up. There are no baths there, there are no washing facilities. Food continues to be cooked on the submarine and, because it is in harbour, no one is on watch and they all sit down together and sleep on board. That happens when the depot ships are not there.
I say, therefore, that there is every reason for an inquiry to be made to find out whether an improvement in Service conditions is possible. I could refer to the feeling there often is between the officers and the men. I have said earlier that the fact that this has been going on for so long, and so little has been done about it, is an indictment of the officers themselves. There are stations in Portsmouth and just outside, such as "Mercury", where there are ideal conditions for the sailors; where can be found a house with four rooms, with twelve men in a room, with lights, baths, radio, social amenities and games. So these things can be done; and some effort should be made to improve the conditions of our boys in the ships. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will inquire into some of the things that I have mentioned in order that there may be an improvement.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Miss Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devon-port)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Gateshead, West (Mr. Randall), because I am equally interested in the welfare of the men in the Navy and in the dockyards. Even though I am a civilian, I have every opportunity of going into the yards and down to the ships. I am always made welcome, and I can see the conditions for myself, not only on Navy Days, when the ships are open to the public, but at any time. So I welcome the co-operation given by the officers of the Navy to any civilian such as myself.
Also, the men have every opportunity to approach their Member of Parliament if at all dissatisfied with conditions. In fact, it may interest the hon. Gentleman to know that the other day when I was interviewing people at one of my "surgeries" a Royal Marine was marched up to my office under close arrest. He was brought up as he had demanded to see his Member of Parliament. This was agreed by the officers, 81 and he was brought immediately to my office. I am not saying whether it was right or not to do this, but it shows that the men can have every opportunity to see their Members of Parliament if they wish to do so.
I am always at a slight disadvantage in this type of debate, Sir Gordon, because have not been in the Service and, therefore, have no knowledge of tactics—by that I mean naval tactics.
§ Miss Vickers
It was dockyard language in the last debate. However, I think it appropriate to pay a tribute to past generations in the Navy who have helped to create this great country, the Empire and the Commonwealth. The fact that this island has not been invaded since the Dutch tried to come up the Medway is a great tribute to the Navy, as is also the fact that in the last two world wars we did not starve.
When I recently saw the replica of the "Mayflower" I was reminded of the indescribable discomfort of the old sailing ships, of the press-gang system, of the diseases which the men suffered, such as scurvy. We have gone a long way from the conditions in the old days of cannon balls to the guided missiles of today, but during all that time the Navy has played a great part in the history of this country. I was glad that the Parliamentary Secretary paid a tribute to the Navy in peacetime, when it serves a great deal overseas. I hope that every opportunity will be given to our peacetime Navy to call at places such as the West Indies and South America, anal so pay further visits of good will.
§ Miss Vickers
I am delighted to hear that. I know from having lived overseas that whenever the Navy came into port it helped our diplomatic relations. Also the Navy does a great deal for civilians in peacetime. After a recent earthquake it was the Royal Navy which was among the first to help in rescues and with supplies.
In the Far East, with the L.C.T.s, I had the opportunity of visiting the various Indonesian islands during the rescue of those interned there. The small 82 experience I have had of the Navy, and the history I have read, has shown me that it has played a great part in our defence as well as doing much for civilians and in diplomatic relations. As recently as the last few months the L.C.T.s and the tugs worked hard in the clearance of the Suez Canal.
We must carry on those traditions in the future. I am equally as interested as the hon. Gentleman in the conditions that will be offered to the men, because if we are to get further recruits it is essential that many of the tiresome regulations now in force should be abolished. I should be grateful if the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary would look at some of them, one of which I will mention to show what I mean in order that these petty annoyances can be stopped.
For instance, there is the question of Mediterranean leave. When ratings have leave in the Mediterranean they can go anywhere as far as Calais, but even if they can afford to come back to England they are not allowed to do so. Calais is the furthest point to which they can get. There are many other frustrations in Service life left over from the old days which could be easily removed. I follow the hon. Gentleman in suggesting that some living conditions on our ships should be improved. I believe that the designers, particularly of the bigger ships, are making every effort to see that this is done.
As regards feeding, I understand that the victualling allowances have improved greatly, thanks to a lot of Questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton). I am sorry that the Parliamentary Secretary is not here, because I believe he shares with my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) an appreciation of good cooking. However, I want to put in a plea now for special grading for cooks. At present, almost anybody is taken on as a cook. In peacetime, at any rate, this should be made a special service, with proper training and with special pay. I am sure that it would prevent a lot of people from having duodenal ulcers and similar things. So I hope that the new victualling allowances will be further improved by consideration being given to this point.
I am trying not to cover the ground I covered in the previous defence debate, 83 but I want to make a personal plea about shore establishments. I have been advised that there are far too many inshore establishments. Many of these establishments are due to be closed in 1962, but I hope that it will be possible to retain as many as possible of the establishments near the sea towns so that, as the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) said, we keep the character of the naval towns in being. That is extremely important, not only for the town but also for "the trade."
I want to make a special plea for H.M.S. "Raleigh," which, I understand, is to be closed and moved in 1962. I understand that it is to be moved into a building, as yet not erected, in the Royal Naval Barracks, Devonport. As the boys in training there are, on the average, 17½ and have very adequate playing facilities and so on, I make a special plea that H.M.S. "Raleigh" should remain where it is and not be brought into town where the facilities are not so good. I understand that it will be easy to close Corsham and to put the petty officers, who attend that course, into the establishment at the Royal Naval Dockyard, Devonport.
I understand, too, that the Royal Marines have an unlimited ceiling for recruiting. If that is so, what steps are being taken to bring that fact to the notice of possible recruits?
I want to reiterate what has been said about the anxiety of officers and their wives about the future of their homes, and especially about the education of their children. Many have to move from place to place, and it is essential, if they are to be made redundant, that they should know fairly soon. Even if their redundancy will not take effect in the near future, they need to have two or three years' notice because of the education of their children.
I understand that we are to have a Royal Naval Special Reserve, a static force stationed at Northwood and Plymouth. Can the Civil Lord see that these static reserves are organised as soon as possible? My principal reason for asking that is that some of the R.A.F. squadrons are about to close down and many of them have very good voluntary personnel who would be perfectly willing to 84 change over if they knew of this proposal in time. It is very important that they should be informed about this before they take up other work.
I want to follow a paragraph mentioned on page 19 of the Explanatory Statement, "Promotion from the lower deck". It is said in paragraph 80:It has already been stated that promotion to commissioned rank through the Upper Yardman Scheme will continue as part of the new officer structure; consideration is now being given to broadening the training, etc…I am specially interested in broadening the training. In the old days when cadets started at Dartmouth and went on to Greenwich and then into the Service, there was very little outlet to mix in general civilian life. I am absolutely certain that if men are to make adequate officers they should have a chance of coming into contact with other than Service personnel. I hope that during their training career they will have at least three months at a university or have a travelling course in which to get knowledge other than what they learn in the Navy. If they are to play their part as officers in the Navy, it is absolutely necessary that they should have a far broader training. I hope that the Civil Lord will enlarge on this subject when he comes to reply.
I am glad to note that married quarters are to be improved. I was interested to see in page 143 of the Navy Estimates it is stated:Married quarters overseas are to be increased by £84,000 in the coming year.If we are to cut down the Service overseas, why is it essential to build more married quarters overseas? Why cannot this money be switched to building new quarters in this country and to modernising those in need of it?
I am in some difficulty about discussing the dockyards, because last year we were told that the Nihill Committee was being set up. It has not reported to date. This is more than a year ago and we know nothing of its deliberations. I am sorry to see that there is still no trade union representative on the Committee, as I should have liked to have had his point of view put forward, especially about unskilled workers.
It must be remembered that just as son has so often followed father into the 85 Royal Navy, so for many generations have men and women entered the dockyards. They have great skills which can be utilised for more than repair work. For that reason, I was very pleased to receive a letter from the Civil Lord dated 15th April, in which it is stated:We are already planning to undertake a far greater measure of Naval new construction work in the Dockyards; it is the heavy load of repair and modernisation which has prevented us up to now from undertaking such a programme, which I think is sure to be welcome among all our people in the yards.I hope that we shall see that new construction in the very near future. I still want to plead for the improvement of workshops in the dockyards. I was astonished when I mentioned this matter last year to receive a reply from the then Civil Lord in which he said:… I was a little disappointed when in Devonport the other day to find that there, where we have an excellent new shop which has only just been completed. they were having difficulty in manning it because many of the men preferred to work in the old shops."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1956;Vol. 549, c. 2422.]After that statement I made thorough investigations, and I assure my hon. Friend that the then Civil Lord must have met the wrong person because the men have assured me, and I understand so from the officials, that they are only too willing to work in the new shops.
A considerable amount of money is to be spent on roads, especially in the Devonport Dockyard. I welcome this expenditure, because the roads in the dockyards are shocking. Sailors on many ships from overseas get their first impression of this country by seeing those roads. At this time of the year, particularly in the West Country, one has to "puddle" through the dockyard roads to get to the main roads, and it is wrong that foreign sailors should have that impression of the country when they first land.
In debates in the past, I have advocated a civil deputy for the admiral superintendent in the dockyard. That was to keep continuation of service. I understand that there has been an experiment in Chatham where a civilian deputy superintendent to the dockyard has been appointed. Has that experiment been successful, and will it be put into practice at other dockyards? In that I make no criticism of the admiral superintendents, who are doing a rather different 86 job. In fact, I should like to take this opportunity of paying a personal tribute to the admiral superintendent, Devon-port Dockyard, who is about to retire and who has done such excellent work.
The Civil Lord could get a little more money by sending lorries around his yards to collect the scrap. During the war excellent work was done even by women's organizations like the W.V.S. in the collection of scrap and an amazing amount of money was given to charity through the sale of retrieved scrap. Fantastic amounts of scrap can be seen piled up in the dockyards. When the Minister is improving the roads and his lorries are in the dockyards, he might consider bringing out some of the scrap and having a "jumble sale" in order to get rid of it.
Finally, I want to make a plea on behalf of dockyard workers. As my hon. Friend knows, in Devonport alone there are 24,000 working for the Admiralty—19,000 people working in the dockyards. Many are established, and a great many of them are getting on in years and are genuinely worried about their future. I hope that my hon. Friend, with the other Service Ministers, will consider the possibility of allowing those towns which have a tradition as Service towns to retain that well-earned and honourable tradition.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Edwards (Stepney)
I do not propose to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Devonport (Miss Vickers), except to say that considerable sums of money were spent upon naval shore establishments during the life of the two Labour Governments—for which I was partly responsible, as Civil Lord—and that large sums have been spent upon them since. What I am worried about is what the Government will do with them after this year.
I consider these Estimates to be the most important ones presented by the Admiralty for well over twenty years. They are important because, for the first time in over twenty years, naval and military careers are being threatened. I imagine that the Admiralty has been in rather a difficulty in preparing the Estimates. I believe that it has had three First Lords in the course of the last twelve months. It certainly has changed its Parliamentary Secretary twice, and it 87 has also changed its Civil Lord. Most of these changes have been occurring at a time when Ministers must have been very busy preparing the Estimates for next year.
Even if the Ministers have been changed, however, the civil servants and the naval staff have remained. I am certain that if it had not been for the advent of the Minister of Defence very different Navy Estimates would have been put before us today. I believe that these should be called the "Sandys" Estimates instead of the Navy Estimates. I am not complaining at all when I say that these Estimates have been very hastily finalised. I have no objection to cuts in defence expenditure where they are necessary in the country's interests. What I object to is that a great service like the Royal Navy should be threatened in this way without the fullest possible consideration—and I do not believe that it has received that consideration.
What is more, although we have the Estimates in front of us now, is it certain that the money mentioned in them will be spent, or the programmes outlined carried out, in this financial year? I suggest that it is not; in fact, the Explanatory Statement says that it is not. Paragraph 51 says:It is probable, therefore, that a number of projects which still feature in the proposed programme for 1957–58, especially larger ones, will be stopped "—and perhaps that might stop the road work in Devonport Dockyard for which the hon. Lady has been pleading—curtailed, or placed in abeyance, until it is known in what form they will be needed, if at all, and whether it will be appropriate to substitute other services in their place. To this extent, the programmes mentioned in the following paragraphs must be regarded as liable to review in certain particulars.That means that we need not take any notice of Vote 10 for this year—and it might mean that we need not take any notice of other Votes. It seems that the Admiralty has a voice above it which will ensure that this or that has to be cut out. The Admiralty works programme gives some indication of what will apply in regard to other Votes.
I am not going into the technicalities of aircraft, and that sort of thing—I leave that to those of my hon. Friends who know much more about it than I do— 88 but I am absolutely certain that there is a loss of morale in the Royal Navy today. Considerable anxiety exists among naval officers and ratings, and especially those who joined the Navy many years ago, certainly in the belief, if not on the understanding, that they had a good career in front of them, and a good pension to look forward to afterwards. That concern is felt not only by naval officers and ratings who may be affected in the next few years, but also by civilian employees of the Admiralty.
A Royal Dockyard is a place in regard to which nearly every boy leaving school has an inspiration. In the dockyard towns we have training schools for boys who leave school to train as craftsmen. again on the understanding that they will have a career in the Navy. Can it be said that that atmosphere is now prevalent? It cannot be. It is no use blinding ourselves to the fact.
The last thing that I want to do is to use any words which might interfere with the future prospects of the Royal Navy. I have lived with it too long, both inside and out, to do that. I am only trying to point out that these Estimates must have some effect upon those serving now and those whose duty it is to recruit both naval and civil staff for the Royal Navy in future.
The question of compensation was referred to by the Minister of Defence not long ago. I want to know what sort of compensation it will be. We all know how difficult the Treasury is at times—I suppose it has to be but there is no guarantee of compensation for these men who have given a lifetime's service to the Royal Navy. Even if they receive compensation, what will their future be outside the Navy? I understand that the Minister of Labour is prepared to try to get them some work when they come out, but that is not very secure. The same may apply to the civilian employees. It is no use saying to a shipwright in Chatham Dockyard, for example, that there is a civilian job for him on the Clyde. There may be no house available, even if there be a job.
I wish to stress that this whole question has a human side; it is a human question as well as a defence question, and we must regard it in that light. I ask the Admiralty to make sure that all the plans 89 for dealing with the human side of the problem are prepared before the Department gives way to any demands from the Minister of Defence and the Government.
I should not like to be an hon. Member of this House representing a dockyard constituency, because I know that the electors in those constituencies are very worried. Naturally, when they are worried, constituents go to their Member of Parliament and blame him for all the things which occur. It so happens that the hon. Members of this House who represent dockyard constituencies are more or less equally divided between the two parties, and I suppose that Labour Members of Parliament will be blamed for what the Tory Government have done as well as Conservative Members.
The question of naval officers has been referred to—I do not know whether any mention has been made of the ratings. There is an undertaking that consideration will he given to providing compensation in the event of contracts being broken. I think that there should be a similar undertaking for civilian employees. Even private enterprise has done that. In the motor car industry, not so long ago, when, for some reason or other, it was found that a large number of employees had become redundant, they were compensated. If it can be done by private enterprise, surely it can be done by the State, especially in places like dockyard towns and in those isolated areas where there are naval establishments.
I hope that my fears about the morale of the Service will prove unfounded. But I think we may all agree that the statement made in another place, by a man who has a record of honourable service to the State, carries a lot of weight, and is something which the Government cannot ignore. There are a number of other things which will follow this policy.
The hon. Member for Devonport spoke about the Devonport Dockyard. I shall be interested to know what the Government propose to do about it. In my opinion, they have an obligation to inform the people very quickly about their proposals. I refer not only to the people in the dockyards, but in the country as a whole. If there are plans for 1962 evidently they are not even sketch plans as yet, because otherwise we should have been informed of them. 90 People in the dockyard areas will be living in fear because they have not received from the Government the information so essential to their well-being.
Ever since the war ended there have been major reconstruction schemes for the Royal Dockyards and in naval establishments, and considerable sums of money have been spent. It is absolutely essential that if there is to be a cut in personnel by 1962, the sooner the details are known the better. Unless this information is available, the situation will worsen. No boys will be willing to become apprentices and work in the Royal dockyards if there is the slightest possibility of the dockyards being closed and of their being put on the street.
There is also the matter of the married quarters programme, which is now progressing in the home ports. Bearing in mind the ominous phrase which appears in the Explanatory Statement about work for the ensuing year, what is to happen about that programme? If we propose to cut down the number of men in the Navy, shall we still want them in the home ports, perhaps in ports where we may not have barracks? Those are the sort of things which create a lot of fear.
There is another thing which, to my mind. reveals a certain amount of meanness and not a sufficient degree of planning. In the Explanatory Statement it is said that the Royal Fleet Reserve, numbering 33,000, is to be cut down to 5,000 by contracts being terminated. I was a member of the Royal Fleet Reserve for nearly twenty years, but I never knew that I had the right to tell the Admiralty that I was terminating my contract. Every time I signed on for another five years it was on the understanding that I could not get out of my own free will, and that I was subject to a call-up at any time that the Admiralty thought it necessary.
Men in the Royal Fleet Reserve do seven years' active service and five-year periods on the Reserve, and it is understood that at the end of twenty-two years' active and Reserve service a man is entitled to a gratuity besides the payments of so much per day for the time he was a member of the Fleet Reserve. The same applies to men who have served for twelve years continuously, with one period of five years. They have always been allowed to continue their service with 91 the Navy for a period of five years' Reserve service, which would bring their total years of service up to twenty-two, for which they can get a gratuity.
I was one who, in 1940, benefited from this arrangement. How can people be good recruiting agents for the Navy if this kind of thing is disregarded? These may be little things, but they are important and they matter to the people concerned. I fear that as a result of the change of policy and of this debate it may be much more difficult for the Admiralty to have that fine body of people. Officers and men have for centuries been the mainstay of the Navy.
I hope, despite what has been said here today, that attention will be paid to the matter and something will be done to ensure that there will be a good Navy for a boy to join and a good Admiralty service for a man to be part of.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. W. Edwards) will forgive me if I do not follow his speech entirely. We have all listened to him with great respect and attention. knowing the service that he has given to the Navy both when in that Service, and, since he left it, in the Admiralty and in the House of Commons.
I am sorry that the hon. Member is not here now. He said many things about the lower deck and the officers. My hon. Friend said that I was a good cook. I would recount one story which is fairly typical of the kind of relationship between officers and men which I came across during the six years of war that I spent at sea.
On one occasion we were offered some shellfish. Perhaps that is when I began to take my interest in the fishing industry. I made the normal proviso that I think any officer would make, that the only way for me to accept it would be if every mess ship had the same. Some of the remarks about cooking in that ship were fairly appreciative. Six years after I left that ship I got a letter from a sailor—it was while I was in this House —asking for a picture of the ship and making nice remarks about what we know in the Service as a "happy" ship. I hope that it will not be thought that the state 92 of affairs between officers and men is as the hon. Member for Stepney tried to portray it, I am sure with absolute sincerity and feeling deeply. I am sure that it is not so, as all of us who served know.
Now I would say a few words on the Defence White Paper. The hon. Member for Stepney referred to a very famous officer in another place and his remarks about morale. I made inquiries this weekend from serving officers and men about that famous officer's remarks in another place, and the remarks from the gentleman I spoke to were quite unparliamentary and, therefore, unrepeatable. The general sense of the opinion was that, "Yes, we have this cut. We know what is to happen and the sooner we know our own future the better."
We have heard the opinions on both sides of the Committee about the defence plans of the future. I would like the Admiralty, bearing in mind the people who will not be able to carry on, to assure us that a proportion of the people coming out of the Service will be able to get civilian employment, and to tell us what it will be. Certain establishments, such as dockyard police, can be recruited from Service personnel. It would help if there could be continuity of service. We should all be glad to be assured that when men go from one branch of Government service to another there is no loss of pension, whether it concerns the Post Office or whatever it is. We have had this assurance from the Government before, but we should have it again.
The Government should do all they can to help officers and men who are going into civilian life. Experience of the torpedomen has shown that it is not difficult to transfer to civilian life. Civilian firms are only too pleased to employ ex-naval men because of their very high character and the high record of skill that they possess. Many Navy men may soon need help of this kind.
I agree with what has been said about the future of dockyards. If we are to build bigger and yet bigger tankers we might build a very large graving dock in one of our Admiralty dockyards. Possibly for strategic reasons, it might be wrong to do so; I do not know. Perhaps we can also hear something about the plans that are being considered for outside contract work. The shipyards are full up today. so perhaps we can be told 93 whether outside contracts could be undertaken by the dockyards.
Those of us who attended the Naval Conference at Greenwich recently would all agree that it was very good indeed. Certain comments have been running through my mind in the light of what we are discussing today. I could not help remembering that at the beginning of the war there was a shortage of ships. We know that there is to be a completely new programme, but it is not for Parliament to tell their Lordships of the Admiralty what sort of guided missiles they ought to put in ships. That is their job. For a major refit, or even a partial refit, of a ship we have to do away with practically everything but the hull, which takes a long time to build. Could "Dido" hulls be used for new guided weapon ships?
There was a very significant piece in the limited war exercise in which two officers were talking. One said, "We shall have to take care of the smaller ships in shore." I will not say what kind of smaller ships as it might look as though I were trying to indicate the part of the world in which this took place. The officer went on to say, "With all these guided weapons we want small vessels with highly trained seamen to go close inshore." That reminded me of what I said in this Committee last March, that whatever equipment we have in ships the sea remains the same, the tides remain the same and the rocks are in the same place.
It is essential to get the men to sea. Highly specialised training in navigation and seamanship is essential, especially in the days of radar, when many people seem to think that radar is all that matters in a ship. Fishery protection vessels can give this sort of training. so I do not think that we can have too many of them.
An important point to mention is that with the inevitable dwindling of our bases abroad the Navy of the future must be more dependant upon the afloat support. It was evident at the Greenwich Conference that many people were thinking with uneasiness about the future of atomic propulsion. If and when we get to the days of atomic propulsion it will tremendously affect the problem of the Fleet train. Be that as it may, I hope that we can be reassured that we are working ahead with the greatest possible speed 94 towards economic and feasible atomic propulsion. In the meantime, we have to be content with large tankers. Are any envisaged of, say. of 70.000 tons, with a speed of 18 knots? Could something be done to increase sea time by manning with naval personnel some of the R.F.A. tankers?
A friend of mine told me of the experience of an American naval officer who was captain "D" of a destroyer squadron and, in his next commission. was commanding a tanker. He said that that was an invaluable experience for him as a seaman. In view of what the Admiralty hope to get in addition to the present target for manning, I wonder whether this would be a very useful place in which to employ those extra thousands of men. Could we not put a proportion. if not the whole, of the tankers and R.F.A. vessels under naval manning? That should give them the necessary sea time.
In this Fleet train it is necessary to include ferry carriers. It would not be necessary for them all to be the most up-to-date vessels such as we have been talking about today, but they could be available for ferrying, at short notice. vehicles and aircraft to trouble spots and. perhaps, landing craft could also be earmarked for that. In addition, a great deal was said at that Conference about the role of the Navy in global war, to which I shall refer later.
There is something in the White Paper about which I should like to hear more. What has been done about dispersing the Reserve Fleet around the Commonwealth? If there were to be a nuclear attack on this country it might be extremely useful to have a reserve of ships on which we could call scattered round the Commonwealth. I understand that Canada has offered facilities, but I should like to hear more about that. It seems sensible that we should not have all our ships in one place.
A great deal has been said about the Russian threat. Our participation in N.A.T.O. is essential, because we could not compete without it. Let us compare the figures. Russian seagoing personnel is 250,000, as against our 46,000. They have 350,000 shore-based as against our 70,000. They have 500 minesweepers and small escorts and over 400 submarines, which could put to sea and 95 be operational at any time. What experience have we of taking submarines under the ice? What are the Russians doing and what are we doing about that, provided that it is not a secret and that we can be told about it?
A great danger appears in the modern frigate programme because the speeds of the frigate and of the submarine are so close together that one can almost catch up with the other. Possibly these are questions which cannot be answered, but from the point of view of those of us who did a great deal of convoy duty in the last war we would be relieved to hear whether there are plans for the carrying of a small helicopter in each frigate, to minimise this danger. Then, more "eyes" would be provided for the task force or the convoy. That is most important. We have to consider the defence area, our position in N.A.T.O. and the Commonwealth position in the security of convoys across the North Atlantic.
Mention has been made of the role of cruisers and frigates in limited war. What was said by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary about ships going to places for a visit and not to stay is very true. If many troops go to a trouble spot and disembark from a landing craft or troopship, conditions may not be improved. lf, on the other hand, there is traditionally a vessel in those waters—in places such as the West Indies and South America—and a frigate appears and invites guests on board, often further trouble can be prevented. Then it is a case of traditional visitors who have come to entertain the local residents and go away again, as opposed to appearing as a landing force.
Our ships are the best possible ambassadors for Britain. I know that a certain amount of comment has been made about duties in connection with the Cannes Film Festival, but when an exercise is over I do not see why it should not be possible for the sailors to enjoy the amenities of the festival. Be that as it may, I think it most important that this kind of flag showing should be allowed to go on, and certainly it should not be curtailed.
As I said in our last debate, the Director of Naval Recruiting said that one ton on oil fuel burned was a recruit gained. If we want recruits for the Navy, it is extremely important for the sailors to be 96 able to get about the world in ships. Much has been said today, and will be said in future, about the role of the Navy. It is the wish of all of us, whatever we may say in this Committee, that there should be a worthwhile career in the Navy. We have in the Service great experience from the past which we can give to the world. We may not have the greatest navy, but I think that we still have the best.
In conclusion, I wish to read some words which I jotted down when I was at Greenwich the other day. The first quotation is from Field Marshal Lord Montgomery, who said:There would be no early end to any future war. If the West should lose command of the the sea we should starve.I heartily agree. Also, Marshal Zhukov has said:In any future war, the struggle will be immeasurably more significant from a naval point of view.With that I heartily agree, too.
All of us in this Committee must realise that the Navy has to go through difficult times. We must do our best to help it, not only to carry on the traditions of the past, but to make it the sort of career it always has been and, I hope, always will be.
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Wells (Faversham)
The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) has made an uncontroversial speech with much of which I feel in entire agreement I cannot hope to match his knowledge and experience of the matters with which he has dealt.
In spite of the views expressed in many quarters, anyone who has studied the Defence White Paper and the Explanatory Statement which accompanies the Navy Estimates must agree that the rôle of the Navy in future, whether in building up a deterrent or in any war, will become increasingly important. Those of us who attended the exercise at Greenwich to which the hon. Member for St. Ives referred were very much impressed not only because of the introduction of more powerful weapons, but also because of the streamlining that naturally follows, and it is in connection with the latter that I wish to address the Committee.
Last year, in the debate on the Navy Estimates, I referred to some of the difficulties that we were experiencing or 97 anticipating in Her Majesty's Dockyard at Sheerness. During the course of that debate, I received some assurances from the then Civil Lord in reply to most of the points which I then raised, and the other matters were effectively cleared up by the then Civil Lord—who, I am sorry to say, is not in his place at the moment, because I should like to thank him—in the course of correspondence that took place afterwards.
I am very pleased to say that practically all his undertakings were implemented, and that as a result in Sheerness Dockyard we had a feeling of well-being that had hardly ever been experienced previously. I have been informed by the trade union side that, as a result of what took place then, the difficulty that was previously experienced in obtaining cooperation in the operation of payment by results or incentive schemes was almost completely abolished, or so much so that the increase in incentive work was nearly 50 per cent. over what had operated previously, which meant higher earnings for the workmen and a saving to the taxpayers.
I am told that that figure could be still further increased if it were not for a fear that still lingers that there is an unofficial ceiling to the amount of earnings which can be achieved on payment by results. I mention that only in passing, because I understand that the matter has been dealt with very effectively by the appropriate Whitley Council, which is the proper place where matters of this kind should be dealt with. It is important, from our point of view, because we realise that there is only a certain amount of work to be done, or, should I say, a certain amount of money to be spent, and we can expect that any Government will place that work where it can be done most economically.
I have mentioned that a feeling of well-being existed until recently. Last year, two very important matters which I raised in connection with this dockyard—and I must apologise for a piece of special pleading, but I do it because the livelihood of thousands of my constituents is at stake—concerned the building of a new electrical shop which was very urgently required and the change-over to alternating current. Recently, work on the electrical shop, which was far advanced, has 98 been suspended, and work on the changeover to alternating current has also been suspended.
One other matter which we considered to be very important was the need of re-tooling in a number of the shops at Sheerness. The machines duly arrived, but now the installation of these machines has been suspended, and I am informed that they are machines which would increase the productive capacity of the various departments tremendously. I understand that some of these machines are being sent elsewhere.
Apart from the dockyard, the Isle of Sheppey has very little industry, and the opportunity of obtaining some of this work is very small indeed. I was very pleased, therefore, to hear the Parliamentary Secretary, during the course of his speech this afternoon, say that considerations of that kind would be taken into account when the question of the placing of work in the future was under consideration.
I am instructed to raise this matter by the local authorities, all of which are very much concerned about the rumours about the future of the Sheerness Dockyard which are flying about in the Isle of Sheppey. I know that I can be reminded that the dockyards exist to support the Fleet, and that the Fleet does not exist to support the dockyards. In view of what is taking place, it is possible that some redundancy may occur in some of the yards, but we cannot ignore the fact that even a moderate withdrawal of work from Sheerness Dockyard will be felt over the whole of the Isle of Sheppey and would be disastrous to the community which has been drawn into that area as a result of the siting of the dockyard there originally.
I want to impress upon the Parliamentary Secretary and the Civil Lord that the Government have a responsibility in this matter. It has been recognised, and it has been stressed already this afternoon, as far as the officers afloat who may become redundant are concerned, but I want to put in a plea on behalf of these men, who, in many cases, have given the greater part of their lives to the service of the Admiralty.
I hope sincerely that I can be assured, therefore, that there will be no curtailment of work at Sheerness Dockyard, and that the suspension of the building of the 99 electrical shop and of the change-over to alternating current and the installation of these machines does not mean that any firm and disagreeable decisions have already been taken, but that the Government will be ready to accept the responsibility for seeing that if work is withdrawn alternative work will be made available to the employees affected.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Major Patrick Wall (Hull, Haltemprice)
I hope the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. P. Wells) will forgive me if I do not follow him immediately in his difficulties in regard to Sheerness Dockyard, or, indeed, the difficulties of H.M. dockyards generally, except to say that I hope that the Civil Lord, when considering cuts in dockyards, which I suppose are bound to come, will deal with Malta Dockyard in the same way as he deals with Her Majesty's dockyards in this country. I think it would be most unfortunate if a feeling went abroad that the Malta Dockyard was being discriminated against. It should have cuts of the same proportion, unless contract work in merchant shipping can be found to replace Navy work.
The hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. W. Edwards) referred to the loss of morale in the Royal Navy. I think that some loss of morale is obviously likely when cuts are impending, but I feel that morale is not helped by such things as the line in the Defence White Paper, which has been referred to several times already in this debate and in other debates, and which reads:The rôle of Naval forces in total war is somewhat uncertain.It seems to me that if that is true and if the rôle of the Navy in global war is uncertain, it immediately relegates the Navy to the second XI: and in that second XI the Navy's job is purely defensive, with all that that conception entails.
I believe that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has gone a long way towards educating his right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence about the importance of maritime strategy. As he has said, when the N.A.39 has been developed, aircraft carriers will have the task of delivering the atom bomb, which greatly increases the contribution which the Navy can make towards the deterrent. 100 I understand that this strike aircraft is far better than anything else in the world. I hope that when the Civil Lord replies to the debate he will give us some idea when we may expect, at any rate a prototype to fly, because that is vitally important. Until this aircraft is available we must agree that the rôle of the Navy in the deterrent is not as large as it should be.
The time will come when even the N.A.39 is out of date and when it will be replaced by rockets. Surely rockets on mobile platforms at sea will be far more effective and far less vulnerable than rockets, even on a mobile mounting, on land.
Finally, in the more distant future, we shall have the advent of the nuclear submarine with guided missiles. That seems to me to be one of the main dangers which this country must face in the next fifteen or twenty years, and it is a matter to which I should like to refer later in my speech. Looking into the future, it seems to me that we shall have the aircraft carrier with the atomic bomb. followed by guided missiles, followed possibly by nuclear propelled submarines with guided missiles, all of which, as far as we can see, show that the Navy has a great deal to offer towards the deterrent and towards a naval contribution to global war.
Moreover, the Royal Navy still contributes a great deal to the defence of the Commonwealth. I think hon. Members on both sides of the House who attended the recent exercise at Greenwich were greatly impressed by the way in which the Commonwealth Navies worked together, strengthening the bonds which bind the Commonwealth. We were all impressed by the display of unity shown on that occasion and by the respect which the Commonwealth Navy have for the Royal Navy andvice versa.
Turning to the problems of limited and cold war, it has been said that the Navy is an ideal Service to play a major role in cold and limited war. I agree. I agree with the concept of a task force built around an aircraft carrier, but there are one or two questions about it which I should like to ask the Civil Lord. How many of these task forces are we to have? It seems to me essential that we should cover the main ocean areas of the world 101 at the same time. This means, therefore, that we should need a task force in the Atlantic, one in the Mediterranean, one in the Indian Ocean and one in the Far East.
Further in the Statement, I read that these task forces are to be built around a single aircraft carrier, and that gives rise to another question. Is it a good concept to build a task force around one carrier? Surely one of the lessons we learned in the last war was that we must have alternative decks on which to land, otherwise, if there is some damage to the flight deck of a carrier after the aircraft have flown off, all the aircraft are lost. It seems to me that the minimum number of aircraft carriers in a task force is two, for the reasons I have given and because only with two aircraft carriers can we ensure, not only protection of the task force, but an adequate strike.
Bearing in mind that we seem to have an adequate number of carriers available —two "Eagles", four "Hermes", the "Victorious" and, presumably, two or three light fleet carriers could be modernised—I hope the Civil Lord will tell us in his reply that we shall be able to allow two carriers to each force, plus at least two in reserve.
On the question of these task forces, I think we have seen the wisdom of Her Majesty's Government in continuing with the Tiger class cruisers, as I understand that the guided-missile destroyers will not be in the Fleet until 1965. We must have some interim vessel with a modern type of gun—such as the rapid-firing 6-inch gun on the Tiger class cruisers. If we are to have ships to bridge the gap between the conventional gun and the guided missile, it is much easier and cheaper to build on hulls which have already been launched than to start afresh. I believe the Government are very wise in carrying on with the Tiger class cruisers.
As it will be a long time before we have guided-missile ships at sea I hope that as the size of the Reserve Fleet is cut the money saved by these cuts will spent on a properly co-ordinated and balance programme of replacement ships for the active fleet. I hope that the money saved will not be returned to the Treasury but will be used to produce the new Navy.
Dealing with the problems of cold and and limited war, may I refer to a matter 102 raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) in the last debate? It concerned a Marine task force. It seems to me that such a force will have a very great value and will be relatively cheap if one is located in the Mediterranean and a second in the Indian Ocean. It would presuppose the use of two carriers. but not necessarily modern carriers, since they would have only to operate helicopters and possibly some ground attack aircraft. They should also carry a certain number of landing craft.
I regret to see no reference in the Estimates to the Royal Marines except in connection with the recent Suez operation when, it is stated, for the first time in the history of war, troops were landed in amphibious operations by helicopters. I hope my hon. Friend will carry on that good work and will see that sufficient helicopters are available for training in that form of amphibious operation. It is of great importance, and I am encouraged by reading in the Statement that the development of the helicopter is being pressed forward rapidly.
The Parliamentary Secretary also referred to the importance of transport. We are now streamlining our forces, and it is therefore important to cut out anything which may overlap between the Services. It seems to me that transport by sea and transport by air are of vital importance to all three Services, which, to my mind, is a very good reason for putting Transport Command and Amphibious Warfare under the Ministry of Defence. I know that the amphibious warfare headquarters are already under the Ministry of Defence for administrative purposes, but the provision of ships is still the responsibility of the Admiralty.
I searched the Estimates to find whether any of our landing ships are being replaced, and I could find none. The Committee will know that during the Suez operation a large number of L.S.T.8 had to be taken up from civilian firms. These ships are now out of date and slow, and they break down. The only other craft which we have capable of landing a modern Army tank are the L.C.T.8. These are also slow; they were designed during the war and produced at the end of the war. I should like to know when the L.C.T.9 will he ready. It is vital 103 not only to the Navy and the Marines but also to the Army. What is the good of spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on tanks if you cannot get them out of this country into the war area other than by merchant ships, with the tanks being landed by being dangled at the end of a derrick? In any event, there is not generally a powerful enough derrick to lift the modern tank out of the normal merchant ship. I think the L.C.T.9 will be of great importance to the Army, Marines and the Navy, and I hope it will be dealt with by the Civil Lord when he replies to the debate.
At the same time, may I add a plea for more powerful transport aircraft, which are also important to all three Services, with greater range than the existing Beverley? I hope my hon. Friend will press his right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence to get the new Beverley into the air as soon as possible. I understand that it has twice the range and twice the lifting capacity of the old Beverley, and such a transport aircraft is essential to the future of all three Services, particularly when we are putting mobility before quantity, as we are today.
While I am discussing a form of integration, may I make another plea? It seems to me that the inter-Service rivalries start mainly among the young officers. It would be a very good thing if the three Services could get together in a joint cadet college, and I suggest that, as the Service entries are restricted, the college at Dartmouth might accommodate cadets of all three Services, provided an airfield can be built on a site adjacent to the college. Now we have established the joint Service aspect at the top of the tree, if only we could establish it at the bottom we would have made good progress towards eliminating inter-Service rivalries.
On the question of anti-submarine warfare, I wonder how many hon. Members read an article inThe Timesreporting upon an article on the nuclear submarine recently written in America? The expert—I think it is fair to say that he was an expert—who wrote that article suggested that when this submarine was fully developed it would be able to achieve under-water speeds of up to 60 knots. That is, of course, far faster than anything on the surface. I am told by people who claim to have knowledge of 104 these matters that if the hull of a true submarine is developed it will always give a faster under-water speed than surface speed.
How are we to catch these submarines? Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have said that the Russians have 500 submarines. May I add that they also have 30 depot ships, and they appear to be building more than the total number of our submarine fleet every year? How are we to catch any Russian submarine designed with nuclear power? Is it to be by helicopters, by homing torpedoes or by dipping asdic? That presupposes that we have enough helicopters available at the right time in the right area.
It seems to me that quantity as well as quality is needed in anti-submarine work. Perhaps the best idea is the old conception of the submarine destroyer; in other words submarines hunting submarines. That reinforces the plea made for the development of atomic power not only for submarines but for merchant ships. I think that hon. Members will agree that one of the most important matters affecting this country's future on the sea is the rapid development of nuclear power for ships, both surface and below-surface.
There is a feeling that not only America but certain European nations are getting ahead of us in this. I hope that the Civil Lord, although I know that he has answered questions on this matter several times already this year, will try to convince the Committee that we are giving this matter top priority. I think that it is one of the most important factors that faces us as a maritime nation today.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman asking that the Navy should develop atomic propulsion and hand it over to private enterprise shipping?
§ Major Wall
I am arguing that the Navy and private enterprise and any other possible sources should be tapped to develop nuclear propelled under-water ships and surface ships—to be used by the Navy should war come, but even more important, used by the merchant ships to keep the Red Ensign ahead on the seas of the world as it is at present.
The Volunteer Reserve has not been referred to in any detail in the statement accompanying the Estimates. Could the 105 Civil Lord tell us whether there is any intention of making any further cuts in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and the Royal Marine Forces Volunteer Reserve? What is to be their exact role? Are they officer-producing units or are they designed to commission ships in the Reserve Fleet?
It seems to me that there is a certain amount of discouragement among the volunteer reserves because they are not quite clear as to what their role is to be. It is important to give them a clear charter for the future.
Any further cuts in the allocation to the Sea Cadet Corps—£134,000 this year—would be a very false economy. We are giving up National Service and we want to recruit not only quantity but quality to the Royal Navy. Any money spent on the Sea Cadet Corps will be well returned.
I would remind my right hon. Friend that some 30 per cent. of the boy entries have been sea cadets and that last Tuesday at the start of the term at H.M.S. "St. Vincent's" 10 per cent. of the junior entries came from the London Sea Cadet Corps and 5 per cent. in H.M.S. "Ganges"—this from London only. I think that this shows that not only is the Sea Cadet Corps producing quality but also quantity.
I believe that the Royal Navy is coming hack into its own. When I first came into the House everyone was saying that the Air Force was the senior partner. Now the Navy has shown that, as always. this country still depends on control of sea communications. These communications must be controlled in the air, on the surface, and under the water. I think that it is obvious to all members of the Committee that the Navy hits a great role to play in the future defence of this country. Given a balanced programme of replacements, given a cutting out of any overlapping between the three Services, the risks inherent in the White Paper—and obviously there are risks—are well worth taking. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to cut out this overlapping, possibly by giving up some of his command to the Ministry of Defence.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I must apologise to the Committee and to the hon. and gallant Member for Haltemprice (Major Wall) for 106 intervening in the debate, because I do not feel competent to offer any very useful views on the wider strategy of the Navy in global war. I rather follow the hon. and gallant Member in the feeling that submarines with nuclear weapons may ultimately have a big part to play. But that is in the realms of Jules Verne, especially if they go 60 m.p.h. under the water. As to limited warfare, my only comment is that the experience of Suez shows that at the moment the combined Services act too slowly. Whether we are to put that right, I do not know, but I hope it is being examined.
I want to intervene on two points very briefly. The sad event has taken place in my constituency of the final, official and ceremonial closing of the base at Scapa Flow. It has had a long and honourable history as a naval base. From it the Vikings sailed to try to keep the English, Irish and, indeed, the Scots in order, with varying success, and it has been an important place for the British Navy in both world wars.
There is an old story told of two people walking down Whitehall during the war and one saying to the other, "On which side is the Admiralty?" and the answer was, "Ours, I hope." We in Orkney have never felt like that. We have certainly felt a great deal of gratitude—I said this in the debate last year—to the Navy for what it has done for us. I should like to repeat that and to express our thanks to the various commanders who have had a command at Scapa Flow, last but not least the present one.
There are, however, several points causing us great concern, as the Government know. Hoy has been largely dependent on the Navy for employment. We realise that that must come to an end, but we are a little concerned about what is to be done with some of the equipment and facilities. We do not want to be dog in the manger about this. We know that there is better use for parts of the equipment elsewhere and that they must be moved. We are trying, and the Admiralty is assisting us in trying to get other employment for the area. There is some concern lest the buildings are taken down and the various services have to be given up, including the electrical equipment before we succeed in finding new uses for them.
107 I have spoken about this again and again. I make no apology for saying once more that I feel that the civil population might be joined up to the Navy's power supply. It would be a very great thing for the island and I cannot believe that it is impossible.
There have been one or two useful suggestions for future employment but, unfortunately, they have not got very far. One which I want to mention in particular to the Admiralty is the possibility of ship repairing. There was a small firm of ship repairers who made serious inquiries. But I think that they have called off partly because of the distance and partly because they could not get any promise of work from the Admiralty. It may be very difficult to provide work up there. On the other hand, we are short of ship-repairing facilities throughout Britain.
There is the "Golden Wharf", so called because of the gigantic expense of building it. It is a very good wharf. I ask the Admiralty to give serious consideration to whether we can afford to see the whole of the base dismantled and wasted—because it cannot be moved—while we are so short of ship repairing facilities around the coast. I hope that efforts will continue to be made to find use for the facilities at Scapa.
The second point is the rather difficult one of Sir Dudley North.
§ Commander Sir Peter Agnew (Worcestershire, South)
On a point of order, Mr. Blackburn. May I ask you to what extent it is in order, even on the general debate on the Navy Estimates to raise the case of an officer or other rank who, either because he may feel that he has been aggrieved by a decision of the Admiralty, or because someone else feels that he has been aggrieved by a decision of the Admiralty, wishes to ventilate his case in this Committee?
Before deciding to raise this point of order, I looked the matter up in Erskine May. Pages 712 and 713 of Erskine May refer to the fact that in the first debate which takes place on the Navy Estimates, although the debate may be technical and, strictly speaking, is on a particular Vote—either Vote A or Vote 1—the usage of the Committee, or of the House before it 108 goes into Committee and before Mr. Speaker is moved out of the Chair, permits the debate to be a very wide one. This year, the situation has been somewhat complicated—
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Blackburn)
Order. I think that the hon. and gallant Member, having raised a point of order, is making a speech and not giving me a chance to reply. He is now speaking, on a point of order, of something to which he might like to refer later in a speech. This is a general debate on the Navy Estimates, and it would be quite right and proper for an hon. Member to refer to any matter for which the Admiralty has any responsibility whatever.
§ Sir P. Agnew
I wish briefly to submit to you, Mr. Blackburn, that, according to Erskine May, although the power of debate permitted on the general debate on the Estimates is very wide, it goes on to say:This power of general debate does not, however, sanction discussion in detail upon special subjects, which must be reserved until the grant for that special service is before the committee, such as the reorganisation of the controlling authorities over navy expenditure, or the tactics adopted during naval manoeuvres or an Admiralty minute dealing with a court-martial.Those, of course, are given only as examples, but it is suggested that a particular case which might arise out of a court-martial, or the failure to obtain a court-martial or inquiry, is not one which, according to the usage of the House, and of the Committee of Supply, should be permitted on the general discussion on the Navy Estimates. That is my point.
§ Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
Further to that point of order. I may say, Mr. Blackburn, that I consulted the Admiralty on this and had its assurance in writing that to raise the case of Admiral Sir Dudley North would be in order; and that was confirmed by the Leader of the House last Thursday during the discussion on the business of the House.
§ The Temporary Chairman
The Ruling is that, in the general discussion, the debate can range over any matter for which the Minister is responsible, or anything which the Minister can do.
§ Commander Sir P. Agnew
May I have your Ruling from the Chair, Mr. Blackburn, that not only will it be permissible to raise the case of an officer of any rank—in this case of flag rank—hut that it would be quite permissible, and in order in this debate on the Navy Estimates, to raise the case of any officer, rating or man in the Royal Navy now, or ever at any time in the Royal Navy, whose case Members of Parliament wish to ventilate and argue that the individual had been ill-treated by the authorities in charge of the Admiralty during that debate?
§ The Temporary Chairman
On this general debate, yes. But I hardly think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman would wish to deal with many individual cases.
§ Mr. Grimond
If I may continue what I was saying, I only wish to raise the matter very shortly. I am well aware that there are other hon. Members who may have far more detailed knowledge than I who wish to refer to the case. I have no personal knowledge of the admiral in question, and further, of course, I do not in the least want to pre-judge the issue of whether or not he was rightfully relieved of his command. All I suggest is that this is a matter into which further inquiry should be made.
It may be argued that the event is a a long time past and that it is, perhaps, something better left to history, but the fact is that it has not been left. It is a public matter which has been raised by very responsible people, including other admirals. My feeling is that not so much is Admiral Sir Dudley North's honour or ability called in question, but the whole method of handling his case; that there is, therefore, a strong argument for an inquiry into the circumstances in which he was relieved of his command in the interests not only of the admiral but of the Navy.
There is, I know, a tradition of silence in this Service—no doubt an extremely good one—but the silence has been broken, and I do not honestly think that the Admiralty can now take up a Victorian attitude that the matter cannot be referred to. It has been referred to, and there are, clearly, arguments which need examination. Further, as is well known, there are various other senior officers 110 who, at various times, have felt themselves placed in the same position as Admiral Sir Dudley North.
I do not know whether there should not be a new examination of the method of dealing with this and other similar cases. I have had letters from two senior officers who feel very aggrieved. One, a very distinguished officer, whom I knew, was, I believe, rightly aggrieved about the way in which he also was removed from his department. I only mention the matter to ask whether a further investigation and inquiry should not be made. I do not feel that that would he an opening of doors that we might regret, or that it would form a precedent which would be damaging. I do believe that it would clear many people's reputations and would establish whether a mistake was made.
As an ex-director of personnel myself, I believe that it is always wiser, when one wants to get rid of someone, not to give reasons. Here, part of the trouble was that the reasons were set out, and once one begins to set out reasons one opens oneself to counter arguments and disputes. I suggest that anyone who has to make awkward decisions of this kind should simply make them and, if possible, leave it at that.
As I have said, I know that other hon. Members want to refer to this case in detail, but I seriously suggest to the Civil Lord of the Admiralty that he should, especially in the light of what has been said by Admiral North's distinguished colleagues, look at the matter again and see whether the Admiralty's reputation, as well as that of the admiral, would not be well served by some form of fresh investigation into the circumstances in which he was relieved of his command.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel J. K. Cordeaux (Nottingham, Central)
Like similar debates on defence and naval subjects, this debate, so far as it has gone, seems to suggest that the controversy about the future size and shape of the Navy is very largely between those who feel that the next global war, if we have one, will be over in a few days or weeks, as a result of nuclear bombardment, and those who feel, as my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) said, that it will be like its predecessors. the First and 111 Second World Wars, a protracted one, in which the Navy will have its traditional rôle of keeping open our sea communications.
Whichever of the two schools of thought may be right about the Navy's future function in a nuclear global war, there is general agreement about the Navy's pre-eminent position in its second responsibility, which is laid down for our defence forces in the Defence White Paper. It is put this way:To protect British colonies and protected territories against local attack, and undertake limited operations in overseas emergencies.Moreover, we can certainly hope that we are not going to have a nuclear global war, but I do not think there is any doubt whatever that we shall certainly have some more of these overseas emergencies, as they are called, which will necessitate the limited operations referred to in the White Paper.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux
We have had a very good example recently in the operations in Egypt. Those operations were a failure, and we have been arguing in the House for six months about who was responsible for that failure. I think that most hon. Members, whatever their opinion may have been about that, are at any rate agreed that the failure cannot be attributed to the actual members of the fighting Services who were engaged in those operations.
There can be no doubt that the major part in those operations was played by the Royal Navy. Of the various naval Services involved, the principal one, the one that filled the key rôle, which formed the spearhead of the attack, which suffered almost all the casualties, and which is mentioned very little in this Explanatory Statement on the Navy Estimates and even less in the recent White Paper on Defence, was the Corps of Royal Marines. It provided the whole of the commando force and manned all the landing craft. It was, in fact, fulfilling the traditional rôle of the Royal Marines.
Whatever the gains or losses of that operation, that Suez adventure, I think there is no doubt whatever that it has provided the answer to the question which has been so frequently asked in recent years: "What is the future of the Royal 112 Marines?"—to which certain unkind people have been inclined to add the words, "if any".
I served for twenty-three years in the Royal Marines, and I cannot remember any one of those twenty-three years during which that same question was not being asked. In fact, when I transferred from the Royal Navy to the Royal Marines in 1923, I remember a very distinguished senior naval officer telling me not to be so silly because the Royal Marines were about to be disbanded. Indeed, in those inter-war years it was very difficult at times to justify the continued existence of the Royal Marines because they were not, in fact, fulfilling any function that could not be fulfilled by the Army, the Navy or the Royal Air Force. That, of course, was not the case previously.
During the first 200 years of the Royal Marines' existence, right up to the close of the last century, there was no doubt about their function. It was the provision of amphibious troops and the carrying out of amphibious warfare. It was only at the beginning of the present century when owing to the rapid build-up of our Fleet to counter the new menace of the ever-increasing German navy, the size of the corps of Royal Marines came to be more and more conditioned by the requirement to provide Royal Marine detachments for H.M. ships.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux
I should like to make what is a common reply to an intervention by saying that that is a point which I shall come to later.
As I was saying, at the beginning of this century, when we had to meet the enormously increased menace of the German navy, gradually the size of the corps, not being sufficiently expanded for other reasons, came to be entirely conditioned by the requirement to provide detachments for ships in the Fleet. By the end of the war in 1919 the corps had no other function left.
I think it was inevitable in those circumstances that people began to question more and more the necessity for its 113 continued existence. In those inter-war years the Navy became increasingly fond of playing soldiers, whether by handing out rifles to the sailors and sending them ashore in landing parties to play hide-and-seek throughout the countryside, or stamping up and down the parade ground in the Royal naval barracks to the strains of martial music played by the ever-increasing number of naval bands. Very naturally after a time the sailors began to think that they could do those things just as well as could the Royal Marines, and it seemed a pity that the modest amount of money involved in keeping the Royal Marines in being should be supplied on the Navy Vote.
In those inter-war years the Royal Marines made frantic efforts to justify their continued existence. I remember the unwieldy device which was built up, called the Mobile Naval Base Defence Organisation which gave us a certain number of individual tasks to perform, but very soon, due to the progress of modern weapons, particularly aircraft, that became obsolete. One function which we could fulfil was to dispatch troops at short notice to any trouble spot in the world, a task which we fulfilled in China, Turkey and Ireland, but there again, after a while, the increased mobility of the Army and the development of air transport made even that reason for our continued existence out of date.
It became exceedingly difficult to justify the continued existence of the corps, and I believe that the one factor which really kept the Royal Marines in being in those days was their tradition, their wonderful record for hundreds of years, their outstanding discipline and, as a result, the conviction that if a time of real trouble did arise again, somehow or other we should need the Royal Marines, although nobody could really then see where or why. I think that our experience in the last world war proved that feeling to be correct because the Royal Marines were needed, as we know, all over the world to perform a number of tasks which nobody had foreseen earlier.
At all events, a Committee was set up in 1946 to decide upon the future role of the Royal Marines, and they were then given four definite rôles to fulfil. First, there was the provision of Royal Marines detachments in H.M. ships, although on 114 a diminished scale. Secondly, there were the Royal Marine Commandos. Thirdly, there were the special boat sections; and, fourthly, the provision of minor landing craft.
I think that everybody must be well acquainted with the first two of those duties, but I hope that the Committee will excuse me if I say a word or two about the others. The special boat section has as its weapon an explosive charge in the form of a limpet mine when the target is a ship, or in some other form when the target is different. The force makes its initial approach to its target normally by submarine, although it can now be parachuted into the water with its equipment and thereby extend the scope of its operations to areas inaccessible to submarines. Then the final approach is made either on the water in canoes or in inflatable rubber craft, in the water by surface swimmers, or under the water by frogmen.
The remaining function—the provision and manning of special landing craft—has shown its value once or twice already during the period of the cold war, and has also been used for other purposes in such far distant parts of the world as the Monte Bello islands for the atomic bomb tests and for a scientific surveying expedition to Spitzbergen.
My reason for inflicting that summary on the Committee is to show that as I see the matter, the Marines have now, at last, returned to their traditional function which they have fulfilled so well over the years—that is to say, the function of providing amphibious troops and commandos. I believe that by their background and their present training, that is the job for which they are most admirably fitted.
That is not a view which is shared by everyone. It is not shared by the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. W. P. Mallalieu), who, when speaking in the debate in March on Vote A of the Navy Estimates, said this about the Royal Marines as commandos: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. 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 115 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1957;Vol. 566, c. 218.]That is one opinion.
I should like now to quote to the Committee a slightly different opinion. It is the opinion of a certain Mr. Cutterof and is an extract from an article which he wrote in a recent edition of "Red Fleet", which is the official magazine of the Soviet Navy. This is what he says:The British Marines recruit their men by signing on the most adventurously inclined of the country's youth, amongst them being elements from the criminal underworld. For the selection of candidates, the basic requirement for future Marines is that they shall be mentally attuned to a spirit of Imperial ideology of brigandage and violence and that they shall have that special stamp of character which knows neither pity nor leniency. The Marines are by far the most reactionary part of Britain's Armed Forces. English Imperialists have turned Marines into professional murderers and sadists who are ready to commit any kind of bloody crime.Mr. Cutterof does not have quite the same idea of traditional methods of waging warfare or of the gentlemanly behaviour of the Marines as has the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux
I can only tell the hon. Member that it was in the last few months. I shall be pleased to try to find out the date.
I do not wish to take up the time of the Committee by refuting the estimate of the Royal Marines given by Mr. Cutterof, but I should like to answer the criticisms of the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East. First, I should like to say that the Marines do march with the times, and their training and also their methods of instilling discipline are not exactly the same as they were fifty years ago. I must, however, disagree entirely with the hon. Member when he suggests that a high and even an intensive standard of discipline unfits a man for war-time work which needs initiative, inventiveness and quickness of thought. I believe that the exact opposite is the case.
116 I do not suppose that any war-time job requires more quick thinking and initiative than the job of the Secret Service agent. I believe that, on average, the best of the secret agents in the last war were men who had been well disciplined in the regular armed forces of their own country.
I expect that many hon. Members have seen that excellent film, produced about a year ago, "Cockleshell Heroes". It told the story of how a party of Royal Marines of the special boat section, as it now is, made their way down the River Loire to St. Nazaire by canoe and then destroyed a number of enemy ships by means of limpet mines. It was one of the epic stories of the war, one of the most unorthodox of all operations, requiring the very highest degree of imaginative planning, leadership, initiative and improvisation.
Hon. Members who have seen the film will remember that the commanding officer of the expedition, played by Jose Ferrer, was one of the type of commando officers favoured by the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East—a temporary officer, impatient of all the normal forms of training and discipline, and adopting a free and easy manner with the men under him —whereas the second in command, played by Trevor Howard, was the typical "old sweat", a Regular Royal Marine officer brought up on the parade ground at Eastney and determined that the men's training for this operation should include the maximum possible amount of close order drill.
As the film went on, it showed how quite a lot of that old-fashioned type of training and discipline, in addition to the newer methods, was needed to fit the men for that particular operation. Although the film was an accurate presentation of the facts, it differed from them in one very important particular, in that the commanding officer who inspired and planned and led the operation was, in fact, the "old sweat", the Regular officer, who joined the corps in 1933 and who had been brought up in the old-fashioned methods, in the strict form of discipline that we have, or had, in the Royal Marines, whereas the second in command and administrative officer was the temporary officer.
There are many other proofs that the high and intensive standard of discipline 117 required by the Royal Marines in no sense saps their initiative or moulds them into a common form. For instance, since the war Regular officers of the Royal Marines have, apart from serving in the special boat section and in commando work, been fulfilling such very varied jobs as instructors to the Naval Staff College, the Army Staff College and the United States Marine Corps Staff College. They have been attached to the King's African Rifles and to the Special Air Service in Malaya. One of them was in command of the police college in Cyprus, another was a joint commander of the Anglo-American mountaineering expedition to the Himalayas; two are now sailing round the world in a small sailing boat and one rode in this year's Grand National. I think, therefore, that the Marines are very fully fitted by their training and by their background for the work of commandos and other forms of amphibious warfare which go with it.
We have only to look as far as the Middle East—say, Aden and the Yemen —to realise that further similar limited operations such as those to which the White Paper refers are only too likely to take place at some time. if they do, there is no doubt whatever that commandos and the other amphibious forces with them are likely to play a leading part, just as they did in the operations in Egypt.
For that reason, I feel that the existing Royal Marine Commando strength is not adequate, for it is the only commando force that we have in this country. It consists at present of one Royal Marine Commando brigade of three commandos, a total of 2,000 men. I believe that it should be expanded at least to a force of two brigades of six commandos and 4,000 men; that is to say, it should be doubled. That would not mean in any way a big increase, as I see it, in the expansion of the corps as a whole. The first duty of the Royal Marines, that is, the continued one of providing Royal Marine detachments, is now rapidly decreasing. At present the number required is down to 2,000 men for that purpose, and as our battleships and cruisers, the larger ships in which Royal Marine detachments can serve, decrease progressively and rapidly, those numbers will fall until, in a few years, they may well be down to either 200 or 300 Marines.
118 This brings me to my final point. For that reason I believe that it is now illogical and undesirable that the Royal Marines should remain an integral part of the Royal Navy, administered by it and paid out of the Navy Vote. As I was saying earlier, they have now a real and distinctive task to perform, their old traditional task. In fact, not long ago the Chiefs of Staff recognised them as the parent arm for amphibious warfare, and they have amalgamated their amphibious training centre at Frernington with the Royal Marines Amphibious Training School at Poole.
The White Paper issued last month has been described in several quarters as a blueprint for the integration of the Services. I hope that it is, but it will be some time before the Minister of Defence can gain control of the three Services. Meanwhile, let him make a start and get some practice by himself taking over the Royal Marines in their new capacity as this country's amphibious warfare force.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I was very interested in the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Nottingham, Central (Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux). During the war, I had the honour, as a naval landing craft officer, of serving with the Marines and I have the highest admiration of their qualities. Indeed, I was a little surprised at the praise of the film mentioned by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, which made me furiously angry when I saw it. I thought that it was an exposition of brash incompetence which was a bit of a libel on the Marines with whom I served, and who, I thought, were a lot better than that. Equally, I agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman as to the great importance of expanding the capacity for amphibious warfare, and I will come back to that point later.
We have a Defence White Paper which tells us that for modern conditions we should get back to volunteer forces. This applies not merely to the Navy, but equally to the Army and to the Air Force. I agree wholly with that conception, but what does the White Paper say next? It says that we will break faith with, and dismiss, a large number of our existing volunteers, and that in the rudest manner we will sack and close down every volunteer organisation we 119 can find. The Naval Reserve is to go, the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve is to go, the Auxiliary Air Force is to go, and, having given that exhibition of how they treat volunteers, the Government imagine that they will get more.
I often wonder whether I am mad or everybody else is. How can such obvious lunacy parade as government? If we want volunteers—and the basis of this White Paper is that we are short of them —for heaven's sake be sure that we treat them, if not well, at least honourably. When we have got them by persuasion, by propaganda, by the most solemn assurances given time after time on this and other occasions that, unlike the last war, there would be no axe this time; that people could have confidence if they chose to go on in the Services instead of taking the opportunities of civilian life, which were so much greater after the war and so much more available then than they are now; that, indeed, they could trust the Government to give them a career—it is the height of folly suddenly to break faith with them.
At the time and age when it is most difficult to become absorbed in civilian life, they should not be thrown on the market. We cannot compensate them with money. Men do not choose the Navy or the Army or the Air Force as a career because they want to make money. We all know that they could make more money somewhere else.
§ Mr. Paget
Of course, anywhere.
Men choose the Services because that is a way of life, a future, a service, something which they desire to enter. Having got people to do so, having given that pledge, it is dishonourable to break it. It is not only dishonourable, it is staggeringly foolish. Lord Tedder was right; the effect on the morale of the Services has been appalling. So has the effect on the morale of people going into the Services and on boys at school. I have a boy at Wellington and I know the feeling going right through schools which, by tradition, have produced officers. Will parents continue to encourage their children to go into the Services?
That is the first thing I want to say about these Estimates. It applies equally 120 to the other Services. If we cannot find them jobs, let us make jobs rather than break that pledge. It will be infinitely cheaper than all the propaganda methods for getting the troops, because this is the greatest propaganda against volunteering in the world. It is infinitely more efficient than anything produced by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) against people going into the Services.
§ Mr. Paget
So much for the question of the way to get volunteers. The next and general subject which I want to cover here is what is the Navy for, the Navy which is pictured in the White Paper? We are told about the task forces surrounding a single aircraft carrier. Nobody has yet told us what is the task contemplated, and I find it difficult to imagine.
As I understand, the White Paper deals with atomic war upon the basis in which I have always believed. That is as far as we are concerned, that we cannot wage atomic war. Our geographical position means that as regards a war-making unit we are not concerned with D-2 of atomic war. In an atomic war, this island is necessarily an expendable unit. Our sole method, our sole answer to atomic war, is to stop it.
In other words, with atom war we pin ourselves to the deterrent, we make the deterrent our policy, because, indeed, we have no other. The idea of broken back war, which, appeared in some of the -earlier Defence White Papers, I understood to be now abandoned. Yet I find it difficult to discover anything in this Navy White Paper, except the hang-over from the broken back war idea.
What will be the contribution of these task forces to the deterrent? One hon. Member opposite said that it would be that they would have aeroplanes capable of launching atomic bombs. Who is to be deterred? It is the only other atomic Power, Russia. What deters Russia? It is the massive air might of the Americans, the massive air might both of Britain and America, or even the vast air power of the American Navy.
Are the planners at the Kremlin to say, "We can take the might of the American Air Force, the might of the 121 British Air Force, the American Fleet; we can take all that—but these four carriers, that is too much "? Is that what will sway the argument? Will that be why we will not have war? That, of course, is nonsense. These air task forces do not and cannot conceivably contribute materially to the deterrent.
What will they do? For what sort of war are they conceived? Sea-based aeroplanes are wanted to support troop landings like the Suez sort of operation. I do not deal with the morals, but with the efficiency of Suez and how it worked. That is the sort of operation, an operation in which Russia is not involved. If Russia is involved, then it is atomic war, where we are the frontier post which will have "had it" on the second day. However, in the sort of war in which Russia is not involved we require a mobile reserve with mobile air support and that is what the Navy should produce.
The Defence White Paper calls for a mobile reserve. It is nonsense to say that it will be carried by air. The very utmost which we could afford to carry in that way would be a very thin brigade with only very light armour, if any armour at all. The substantial mobile defence should be seabourne. That is what will give it mobility. It has to be volunteer. The Navy and the Marines are the people who get volunteers. They have a tradition which brings them volunteers. I do not want to see the Marines taken out of the Navy, but more closely brought into it. Let the Marines and the Navy take from the Army the job of the mobile reserve. Let that be the Navy's job and let us have not only Marines but sailors, too, fighting on land. Sailors have fought some splendid actions on land throughout our history.
Let them handle the tanks of this force. After all, the tank was a land ship. When the Army first wanted to know how to use a tank, it asked the Navy to teach it, because Navy men were the only people who had any experience of firing from a moving platform. Let us build an adequately equipped reserve of 20,000 or 30,000 men and let us say that the job of the Navy and the Marines is to provide this force, transport it, support it from the air, and provide the capacity to land it. That should be almost the whole of the Navy's job. It is the one function which can be real and 122 effective and add to our power throughout the world.
These task forces of one carrier in each ocean with nothing to support and nothing to land do not contribute to either the cold or the hot war. What the country needs is a mobile force which can be landed, which can be supported, which can be made a self-contained force. If we had had that sort of force, what a different story Suez would have been! I do not want to say "I told you so," but this is what I have been advocating for years. This is what the country needs to make its power effectively felt.
At present, we have these rather curious task forces wandering round to perform tasks that nobody has as yet been able to define. We have cruisers, but it is difficult to find what cruisers are for, although it may be that for flag display they are an expensive form of perambulating diplomacy. It may be that there is something to be said for them in that. But when it comes to destroyers, anti-submarine frigates and the fleet of minesweepers, nobody will conduct a submarine war against us except the Russians and that will be an atomic war with an atomic answer. Minelayers should go with the mobile force which the Navy ought to supply, but we do not want minesweepers all round our coasts, because, if there are minelayers around our coast, that will be atomic war.
If we really want a deterrent weapon, an anti-submarine weapon. it must be the atom-launching submarine. If we had one of those within 30 or 40 miles of each of the Soviet submarine depôts, then, within ten minutes of the start of the war, there would be no Soviet submarine bases. The life of Soviet submarines would be just how long they could stay at sea where nobody could seriously interfere with them anyway, because it is vastly beyond our capacity to deal with 500 submarines. However, if we had some atom-launching submarines, we could deal with their bases immediately. That would be the answer to submarine warfare, and must also be the answer to any attempt which we make to conduct naval warfare in the atomic age.
It will not be necessary to block the Atlantic sea routes. All that needs to be done is to atomise the termini. That is what will happen. Let us get out of the hang-over of broken back warfare. It has 123 been logically abandoned in the White Paper. Why should we wander back to it in this debate? Why provide for all these functions—which can be needed only in the sort of war with which we are not concerned—instead of providing what we do require, namely, mobile power?
We are scrapping five battleships—splendid ships, with great power. Why throw them away? Why not take out their main armament and leave their secondary armament, which can provide magnificent support fire, and equip them as transports for landing craft? They could be our barracks and our mobile bases. They are available, but we are thinking of throwing them away. Surely there is no sense in that. Apart from that, we have our light fleet aircraft carriers. What better for tank transport and lorry transport, or for carrying all the troops' equipment? We are proposing to scrap them. There, we have the real means of providing a mobile force which can be immediately available.
Instead, we are talking of years in the future and of providing aircraft which will never be available. In any case, if we did get the airborne reserve it would be very much more difficult to find a place to put down sufficiently large numbers of aircraft to fly out a division than it would be to send the troops by sea, with landing craft.
I urge the Navy to think again; to think sense, and to put this broken back warfare nonsense out of its mind. Let it forget about the submarine menace, because that is as dead as the dodo. It simply does not exist. The fact that the Russians are wasting their money building submarines upon this basis does not seem to me to be any reason why we should pursue their folly. Let us provide ourselves with the one thing that the Navy can provide—a mobile reserve, which the Army cannot transport and, in any case, cannot find the volunteers for. The Navy can do it. Let that be its function.
§ 8,2 p.m.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
Much as I should like to follow the points made by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) I fear that I must refer to more parochial matters, since mine is a dockyard town and I am 124 profoundly disturbed by some of the statements made today by the Parliamentary Secretary. Very serious concern exists in the dockyard towns because of the production of the White Paper and the formation of the new concept of the Navy.
The hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. W. Edwards) made a very good point when he said that this was a very serious human problem. I can do no better than ask my hon. Friend the Civil Lord—who is particularly responsible for work in the dockyards—to consider the question from that aspect. and to apply himself to the task of trying to resolve the fears of my constituents and others in the most human way, and in a way which will ensure the continued happiness and prosperity of people in the dockyard towns.
Let us make no mistake; these towns rely for their welfare and the happiness of their people upon the work supplied to them by the Admiralty. and upon employment in the Royal naval dockyards. Let us be perfectly frank about this situation; at the moment, they cannot view the position with equanimity. I have told them that in my view there should be no great cuts and no considerable redundancy in any of the dockyards. It seems to me that the need for the Navy, of all the Services, is greater than ever before.
Whatever the position may be with regard to atomic warfare, and whatever may be our difficulties in that respect, there is no doubt that, ultimately, unless the sea lanes are kept open this country will starve; indeed, Lord Montgomery made this point not so long ago, and it is just as true today as it was in the last war. In any case, there is no doubt that the Russians are placing great reliance in the submarine, and the main purpose of the submarine is to destroy the shipping of the opposing naval Powers.
It is also clear that with the new concept of the Navy, and its small mobile task forces, there will be much more sea service for members of the Royal Navy. This, surely, will mean that considerably more repair work will have to be conducted in the dockyards. It is absolutely essential that at the earliest possible moment a statement should be made so that these people will know exactly where they stand.
125 Chatham Dockyard, of which 75 per cent. is in my constituency, has very great traditions. The "Victory" was built there. There must obviously be a considerable amount of new construction, in view of the tremendous advance being made in new and tried weapons and in the ships which will have to carry them. The new types of submarine which will be used and the guided missile ships, will mean that many reconstructions will have to take place. Practically speaking, the hulls will be all that will remain of many of the ships now in use. This new concept will entail a tremendous amount of work, and where better could it he effected than in the Royal dockyards?
There is another aspect of the question which should make it quite clear that the work could best be carried out in the naval dockyards. If it is true that many new weapons are being developed it is absolutely essential that they should be installed in conditions of the greatest secrecy—and secrecy can be safeguarded much better among the workpeople in the dockyards than among those in private yards.
The mayors of the Medway towns have joined together in asking that one of the four new guided weapon ships—which I believe is to be named "Kent "—should be built in Chatham. I believe that this ship has already been allocated to a private yard. I should like my hon. Friend to make it quite clear what the position is in that matter. Even if that is so, will my hon. Friend, in view of what has been said, and despite whatever may have been decided before the new Defence White Paper was brought out, reconsider the position of the dockyards and ensure that even if it was decided to pass to private yards the construction of some of these new naval vessels, every effort will be made to switch over if it can be done, to construction within the Royal dockyards. It is quite evident that private yards have enough work to keep them occupied for a very considerable time. In view of the uncertainty which exists in the Royal naval dockyards, I believe that where construction can be switched to them it should be so switched.
If my hon. Friend can give no such undertaking, I turn to a further aspect. My own experience of my constituency leads me to the knowledge that there is in Chatham considerable "know how" 126 about submarine construction and repair. I should like my hon. Friend to let me know whether it is the desire or the intention—because that is much more important—of the Admiralty to use the knowledge which has accumulated in Chatham Dockyard and see that some of the new submarines will he constructed there, and that the dockyard will be particularly developed as a submarine repair and maintenance base.
One other point gives me considerable concern. My hon. Friend quite properly —I am most grateful to him for doing so—sent me a letter on 9th May in which he advised me that the plan to build a big new married quarters at East Hoathy in my constituency had been slowed down. My hon. Friend said he wished to repeat that this process was not something confined to Chatham but that the works programme in many parts of the country and overseas would be affected. For the life of me I cannot understand why it is necessary to slow down the construction of new married quarters.
It is perfectly evident to anyone who has taken an interest of naval affairs that one of the greatest needs is for married quarters. The extraordinary thing about it is that if what we are told is true, and the duties of naval task forces will demand of men that they remain at sea much more, it would seem more than ever necessary that adequate married quarters should be constructed so that those men may know that their families are well and decently housed while they are overseas on foreign service.
I ask my hon. Friend to look again at that matter. He must know and the Government must know—if the Minister of Defence does not know, I suggest that his attention should be drawn to the fact as quickly as possible—that if we are to have a volunteer Navy and volunteer forces recruited on a long-term engagement—and unless they are they will not be adequately trained and capable of carrying out the job for which they are intended—one of the first essentials is good married quarters. One of the greatest drawbacks to recruitment today is the fact that there are not enough adequate homes for the families of men serving in the Navy.
I believe that these are points which need examination. I can assure my hon. 127 Friend that tonight he can do a great deal to allay those fears which exist, and which are growing, among my constituents and people in other dockyard towns. I am quite convinced that there will be adequate work for the Royal naval dockyards if the Government organise the necessary work in such a way that it is canalised into the ports which are represented by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee.
Although the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) is a member of the Opposition and although we represent different Medway areas, and differ strongly politically, I am sure that in this his interests are similar to mine. I think it would be wrong for any impression to go out that the right hon. Gentleman has not taken an interest in the subject of this debate. The fact that he is not present today is because of his absence in America, and I think that that should be known.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
These debates always fascinate me. We have heard some extraordinary speeches from hon. Members opposite. I have never heard such ardent pleas from them for the transference of work from private enterprise firms to a nationalised industry. When I hear the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) applauding the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden)—
§ Mr. Burden
Since the hon. Gentleman has referred to me, may I say that on grounds of security I think it right that this work should be done in the naval dockyards. Not only for that reason, but also because the private dockyards are full to capacity with forward orders for ships for export. If the construction of ships which will not earn foreign currency can be diverted to some of the Royal dockyards, that seems to me common sense. What I said was in no sense a plea in favour of a nationalised industry.
§ Mr. Frederick Gough (Horsham)
Can the hon. Member tell the Committee when the naval dockyards were nationalised, and under what Act of Parliament?
§ Mr. Bence
I think that King Alfred the Great started it with his long ships, and the dockyards have been carrying on ever since. I believe that Samuel Pepys when he was Secretary of the Navy, encouraged shipbuilding, and King Charles II had a lot of ships built. For hundreds of years the building of ships has been the business of the Navy. It was done efficiently and it still is.
I have been doing some reading on this subject, and I find that in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries British naval architects employed by the Admiralty were the finest in the world. They were the leaders in the development of iron and steel ships. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Gillingham seems to think that it is only so long as private enterprise firms are full with orders that the Navy should take its place as the major constructor of ships for the Navy.
There seems to be conflict within the Government. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty—quite rightly, in my view—said that we must regard the defence forces, including the Navy, not in the nationalised sovereign framework of "going it alone". Those may not be the actual words he used, but he said something to the effect that we must not think in terms of our own defence, that the whole defence policy—and, therefore, naval policy—was based on our Western alliance, upon our association with the United Nations and the nations of the free world.
I agree with him. I think that most of my right hon. and hon. Friends would entirely agree with that. In fact, these annual debates are on the defence of the Western world, because that is what it amounts to. It is not merely the defence of these islands which we are discussing, but our contribution to the unity of defence of the Western world against a threat, similar to that which we had in 1939 from authoritarian and dictatorial Powers, to destroy the things we value most. It is in that sense that we are making a contribution, and the heads of Governments in the free world should be 129 getting together to thrash out how much each contribution should be.
But what are we doing? My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget)—he is an expert in these matters and I am not—rightly said that we are again thinking in terms of Britain acting as a belligerent nation in a situation where we ought not to be alone as a belligerent, but where we should be joined with other forces. Surely the United States is the greatest naval and military power in the world today. She must make the greatest contribution. What we contribute, not merely in manpower but in genius, to Atlantic and Pacific naval strategy is to preserve what we wish to preserve in Western civilisation. That follows up the point made by hon. Gentlemen on the Government side of the Committee.
I have been here for six years. When I first took part in a Navy debate there were over 200 ships of the line and about 70 admirals. The next year there were 190 ships and the admirals had gone up to about 80. Now I find that the ships are down to 167 and the admirals have gone up to 91. I calculate that if I am in the House of Commons for another eight years we shall have 130 ships and 130 admirals. Is that an example of geometrical progression?
The navy is like a big engineering enterprise. Every naval man is a technician. It has more engineers than it had, and wireless operators and admirals are all becoming expert technicians. With the division of labour that takes place in the Navy it is surprising to note how far the development of experts can go. Every expert can manage to create a niche, and if it seems to be filling up he creates another. We all know what an expert is: an expert is one who learns more and more about less and less until he knows everything about nothing.
That has happened in the Navy. It reminds me of a story I heard about Liberia. When it first read about the wonderful British Navy, with its great traditions and long history, it sent a delegation to the Admiralty in Portsmouth. They were told about the great organisation, and British officials showed them over the great Admiralty establishments, which the Liberians admired. When the delegation went back to Liberia and reported these things, the Liberians 130 decided to start a navy. First, they bought two old cruisers from the British Government, and after they had set up the organisation and had decided upon the ranking of the officers, they had just enough room on the ships to put the crew.
We are very much in that position today. There is a tendency in the Navy to preserve functions, such as flag ranks. where they are not necessary. I am not suggesting that they should be abolished, because I do not want to reduce the Admiralty's establishment in this way. Many of these people are experts. I would employ them in building tankers or in building merchant ships. Our naval establishments were building ships in the Tudor age and in the first Elizabethan period. Now we have no use for battleships and the fighting forces are decreasing; let us not sack the Admiralty experts, but use them in the way I have suggested.
If we are ever involved in war again we shall want a lot of ships. Many of them may be sunk. Hon. Gentlemen now in the Government assured us when they were in opposition that the Russians had 1,000 submarines. Now that they are running down the Navy they assure us that the Russians have only 500 submarines.
§ Mr. Soames
I think that the hon. Gentleman knows how difficult it is to get accurate information when one is in opposition.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Is not the figure of 500 Russian submarines, given by the Minister today, enormously different from the figure of 1,000 submarines given by the Prime Minister in his speech in 1951?
§ Mr. Bence
I remember very well the statement that the Russians had 1,000 submarines. It is a shock to me that the Government have discovered that 500 of them were illusory. The Russians may have sold them to the Syrian Government. or to the Egyptian Government, or 131 they may have turned them into tanks. Goodness knows where they have gone to; they have disappeared. I have not the answer to this problem of the missing submarines.
I promised that I would be as quick as I could be, but I must emphasise that the time has gone when this little island of 50 million people near the north coast of Europe, between two giants whose power, whatever we do, is bound to be superior to ours, can enter into the race. We cannot do it, and if we tried we should bleed ourselves to death. The most we can do is to make our contribution within our economic strength to the United Nations and to the Security Council. We have had one humiliating defeat by trying to "go it alone". It was a complete failure.
I am not discussing the merits of it now, but it was a complete defeat, and it has taught us that we cannot "go it alone" in the modern world unless the majority of the Powers of the free world are on our side. If they happen to support us, while Russia supports the other side, we are at once in a third world war, in global war and atomic war.
As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton said, we must forget the broken back warfare because there will be no broken backs anywhere. If we are plunged into a situation in which the forces of the Western world oppose the forces of the Eastern world, then this island, a great producer, with the finest harvest in Europe, the finest steel plants in the world and great engineering techniques, will be the first target. There will be nothing left of our home life despite our aircraft carriers and our ships.
I hope that as the years go by we shall think of our Service Estimates as factors in the United Nations defence forces rather than as something which gives us the possibility of taking unilateral action.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Brigadier Terence Clarke (Portsmouth, West)
I am sure the Committee will forgive me if I do not follow exactly on the lines of what the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) said, although I could not possibly agree with the pessimistic view that we are dependent on anyone else. I think that Britain 132 should stand on her own feet. I am not in the least worried about the two great giants on either side of us. They never give me a sleepless night.
§ Brigadier Clarke
We were also told that we had suffered a defeat. We did not suffer a military defeat—we could have seen the enemy off at any time—but we suffered a political defeat, greatly assisted by hon. Members opposite and people across the Atlantic. Britain did not suffer a defeat, and it would have been perfectly all right with a little more assistance from hon. Members opposite.
I was not able to speak in the previous debate on Navy Estimates, but, as a Member representing a constituency in which there is a naval dockyard, I have a number of dockyard matters to raise. I am sorry that the Civil Lord is not present, but I know that the Parliamentary Secretary will pass on the information. In some respects, the Navy has been least hit by the new Defence White Paper proposals, as it is not so dependent as the other two Services on National Service men. In addition, it has been able to save quite a considerable amount of money by scrapping battleships. That has left a little more money for the Navy than the other two Services have been able to save. The Army and the Air Force have to do other things in order to save money, but the Navy can scrap battleships.
I should like to continue where the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) left off when he asked whether it is really necessary to scrap battleships. I am perfectly certain that it was a right decision not to use them any longer as battleships because they were long overdue for scrapping, but the hon. and learned Member suggested that they could be very useful for troop carrying or for carrying aircraft. A large amount of money has been spent on them, and I am surprised that the ingenuity of naval architects cannot find some way of utilising them in future. No doubt the Parliamentary Secretary will say that is impossible, but I do not think all these things are impossible. Money might be saved for the public, and we should have a lot of useful armoured transports for the mobile force which has been mentioned.
133 On balance, the Navy seems to be spending about the same as in previous years. It has been slightly cut, and I welcome the fact that it is only slightly cut, because I feel that the safety of this country mainly depends on the Navy. I ask the Admiralty to place no reliance on the American Navy. As we have learned to our cost in the past nine months, we cannot rely on the United States to help us at any time unless it is to her own personal safety and convenience. America will help Britain only so long as it is in her interest to do so. How do we know that when we next have a crisis America will not be having an election? Then we know the Americans will not make a decision for eight or nine months. We have no assurance that the hydrogen bomb would come to our assistance in that respect.
I suggest that hon. Members opposite, who seem to be frightening all the women of England about what will happen if we test the hydrogen bomb, are taking a great risk, because we cannot rely on the American bomb, which seems to be their object. I suggest that we should pipe down on that. I get no letters from my constituency referring to that except letters sponsored by the Opposition, who tell people to write to their Members of Parliament to stop the hydrogen bomb test.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Is the hon. and gallant Member aware that his constituents have long ago given him up and now write to me?
§ Brigadier Clarke
I will send to the hon. Member the letters that his constituents send to me so that he can answer them.
We heard from the Parliamentary Secretary that Russia has 500 submarines. Previously, we heard that she has more. I am not concerned as to where the other 500 have gone, but merely with the fact that 500 is an awful lot of submarines.
§ Mr. J. Harvey
Because I rather doubted the figures which were quoted I have just been out of the Chamber and have brought in HANSARD for 1951. I should like to put this point right. It was suggested that the Prime Minister had misled the House in 1951. What my right hon. Friend actually said was:…Russia has not 30 but between 300 and 400 submarines. It is said by some authorities 134 that they are likely to have 1,000 within two years."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th February, 1951; Vol. 484, c. 439.]It was not what my right hon. Friend said, but what was said by some authorities.
§ Brigadier Clarke
I was not going to press the argument about whether they have 500 or 1,000. I have no doubt that when the Parliamentary Secretary said that they had 500, he was far more likely to be right than the hon. Gentleman opposite, who said they had 1,000. In time, no doubt, the Russians will have 1.000.
I suggest that the Royal Navy, in the task of defending this country, has a great responsibility for seeing that our antisubmarine defences are maintained at the greatest efficiency to which they can he raised. The submarine menace could mean our being cut off completely from our supplies of food and everything else, and this country could be brought to its knees without any hydrogen bomb being exploded at all. We do not want to see ourselves entirely dependent upon a hydrogen bomb which has not yet been tested. If we are prevented from using it, or if we do not want to use it because we do not want to start an atomic or nuclear war, we might well be defeated purely by the submarine menace, and I think that that is a matter which we have to watch.
We also have to consider the possibility of other than nuclear war. We have recently been engaged in a minor affairs off Suez, and I am not one of those who believe that that is the last example of that sort of thing that is going to happen. We have had similar experience previously in Malaya. Kenya, and elsewhere, and I am perfectly certain that we may well be required once again to use our own strength. If we were to scrap the three Services and reduce them purely to "press button" warfare requirements, the time would no doubt come when we should find ourselves once more in the same sort of position that we were in at the beginning of the last two wars.
I know that it is extremely difficult to try to spend a limited amount of money on both nuclear weapons and the more standard type of weapons to which we have been accustomed. At the same time, we have our overseas interests to look 135 after, and I hope that we shall not go completely nuclear mad and think that that is the only type of warfare that we are likely to have in the future. That is, of course, assuming that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite do not get into power within the next two months and stop the test of the hydrogen bomb, because then we shall be in a mess and have nothing fixed.
The Royal Navy is also charged with the responsibility of putting our troops ashore wherever the necessity may arise, and that is an argument which has been pursued, from the point of view of the Royal Marines, fairly effectively by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Major Wall). I should like to ask the Admiralty what they are doing to modernise the tank and troop landing craft. I have heard both from soldiers who were conveyed in some of these craft and from Royal Navy personnel who manned them, that the bottom of the craft sometimes almost fell out and that the engines practically fell through. At any rate, they are extremely out-of-date, and while they were plugging their way between Malta and Suez, I understand that they were practically driven to a standstill. Are we to have any of these craft in future? In the lovely little pictures that we have in the Estimates, we have everything from—
§ Brigadier Clarke
No, we have tugs, attendant vessels and victualling stores carriers. We do not seem to have any of these excellent little craft, which are essential for the landing of troops, tanks and that sort of thing. Perhaps they are too small to be referred to in the Navy Estimates, and perhaps some lump sum about which we do not know is allotted to them. I hope that that is the case.
A question which I should like to ask the Civil Lord is why he has to build his nuclear submarine up in the North or in Scotland, when there are perfectly good Navy dockyards at Portsmouth, Plymouth and Chatham, all with excellent arrangements for secrecy and everything else. Yet we do this building in a private yard, and build our most secret ships where there are none of these security arrangements.
136 If the Navy is to be reduced in size to a certain extent and is to have fewer ships to repair in the dockyards, that seems to me even more reason why these nuclear ships should be built in the naval yards. If the Admiralty reply that we have no naval personnel with sufficient skill to build them, I suggest that the Admiralty has been very slow and backward in not ensuring that its naval architects and others should visit civilian yards and learn the technique of building nuclear ships. It is no excuse to say that the dockyards could not do the work. The men are sufficiently skilled, if we can find the necessary skill amongst the naval architects, to construct the nuclear ships in the dockyards.
May I raise one or two constituency matters? Recently Portsmouth seems to have covered its lovely green belt, known as Portsdown Hill, with a huge glass emporium. Here were forts built by Palmerston and well concealed. Before going to Normandy I spent three or four weeks doing planning operations with the Navy in those forts. Now we have enormous glass gin palaces all along the top of Portsdown Hill. If the Navy must have these gin palaces, cannot they take them further inshore and away from Portsmouth, which is very short of space?
We also have another concrete ship—or it may be made of corrugated iron—H.M.S. "Phoenix." It is right in the heart of the Island of Portsea, close to the dockyards. That place is used to teach naval personnel fire fighting. It is essential that they should learn it, but it could be taught on a piece of waste land anywhere inland, and it is not essential that it should be taught in the middle of the Island of Portsea, where land is extremely scarce, where there is an enormous housing problem and where people are already required to travel many miles to work. if the Navy were to give up that land it could accommodate a few thousand people near to the dockyards. All this belching fire school does is to cover the place in smog and smut. That training could well take place miles inland on a piece of waste ground.
While on the subject of the dockyard in Portmouth, may I ask the Parliamentary Secretary when he intends to raise the pay of the dockyard workers and bring it into line with what is demanded in shipyards outside? These men are extremely 137 loyal. They have never been on strike, but that is no reason why their pay should be withheld from them. They should be made an offer and they should not have to obtain money by concessions forced out of the employers.
Less than 40 per cent. of the dockyard workers belong to the trade anions. If we do not look after these people, we force them into the trade unions. I do not mind them joining the trade unions, but they do much better work by not always being over-lorded by shop stewards. They have a certain amount of independence. As a result of what they have done recently, they ought to be compensated and given a rise in pay before the trade unions try to force it out of the Admiralty.
There is a certain amount of discontent about the new structure of ranks in the Navy as applied to retired officers. The new officer structure is very popular with most people, but the Admiralty has set its face against allowing those who have retired to accept these new ranks. I am at a loss to understand this, unless it is purely a matter of laziness or else is not thought worth while. The men concerned are liable to be recalled to the Service. It has been pointed out to me that a man who retired over six months ago had one type of rank, which automatically shows him as a branch officer, whereas someone who is junior to him but who left the service perhaps on 1st January this year has an enhanced rank to show to a prospective employer, suggesting that he is more senior than the officer who retired six months' earlier. It is a little hard on those who retired only six months or a year ago not to be allowed to assume the same rank as those now serving and who will be retiring in a few months' time. I should be very grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary could answer that point.
I was glad to hear that reasonable terms are to be offered to the officers and ratings who will be forced out of the Navy by this reduction in the Service, and I hope that an announcement will be made very soon so that those people will know who is to go and when they are to go.
I am sorry to have taken so long, but as I am a Member for a dockyard constituency there are always many local 138 problems for me to raise. If the Parliamentary Secretary would answer those that I have mentioned, I should be very grateful to him.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Emus Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I have the greatest sympathy for the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) when he states the case for the dockyard workers in the sea ports which have hitherto been regarded as the naval bases of the United Kingdom. I believe that if we accept the theories of the White Paper on Defence we must be prepared for a radical change in the work that is being done at Portsmouth, Chatham and Rosyth, and that those naval centres must expect to meet much the same kind of problem encountered at Invergordon.
Some change in the population of these naval centres is absolutely unavoidable, and I should like to hear from the Government that they have a practical scheme of alternative work for the people in these seaport towns. I believe that the problem is permanent. There may be hundreds of thousands of men who, by the very nature of the evolution of modern warfare, will have to find work elswhere.
I do not believe that we shall solve the problem of these workers by calling on the Government to go ahead with building battleships which are obsolete. I share the view of those who think that very large numbers of the ships now in the Admiralty list are obsolete. We have to set ourselves the task of finding jobs for those men in other industries.
I say exactly the same about the naval personnel who may be redundant. It is not their fault that this change has come and it is up to the nation to find opportunities for those men by using their labour in productive industry. I share completely the anxieties expressed by hon. Members who have spoken for the dockyard constituencies.
There has been some dispute about the number of Russian submarines. I believe that it was my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) who asked the Minister what the figure was that was mentioned by the Prime Minister in 1951. Like hon. Gentlemen opposite, I have been carrying on my researches in HANSARD, and it cannot be disputed that the figure of 1,000 Russian submarines was introduced into that debate by the 139 Prime Minister, in the sentence in which he said:It is said by some authorities that they are likely to have 1,000 within two years.Who those authorities were, I do not know, but the figure of 1,000 was given to the House by the Prime Minister when speaking in that defence debate.
§ Mr. J. Harvey
What the hon. Member is saying infers, in fact, that the Prime Minister said that there were 1,000—and that is what the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) said. He did not ask the Minister any question. He said that he remembered the Prime Minister saying in 1951 that Russia had 1,000 submarines. If he will read the whole of that passage, he will come to the same conclusion that I have already suggested to the House; that what the Prime Minister said was:…but Russia has not 30 but between 300 and 400 submarines.That was 1951, the year which the hon. Member for Dudley mentioned, and while I agree that the figure of 1,000 was mentioned by the Prime Minister, he did not mention it as his own figure but as a figure attributable to other experts, which might be achieved, not in 1951 but in 1953. So let us be clear about it and let us not delude the Committee any further.
§ Mr. Hughes
I have no desire to misrepresent the Prime Minister. Let us see exactly what the Prime Minister said, and how the figure of 1,000 was mentioned. He said:It is said by some authorities that they are likely to have 1,000 within two years.That was in 1951. So the whole basis of the Prime Minister's argument was that in 1953 Russia would have 1.000 submarines—
§ Mr. Hughes
Of course, we cannot interpret it in any way except that the figure of 1,000 was introduced, for some reason or other, by the Prime Minister, who then used the phrase:It is said by some authorities …"— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th February, 1951; Vol. 484, c. 439.]I am assuming, Mr. Blackburn, that the figure of 1,000 given by the Prime Minister, and his reference to authorities meant that the speaker on the Opposition 140 Front Bench, as the Prime Minister then was, must have had some authorities on which to rely when he gave that figure. I do not think that we can go any further than that. Does the hon. Member want to intervene?
§ Mr. Harvey
I was only wishing to say that I see little point in going on playing with these figures. I would only say that, as one who spent much of the last war in the Merchant Navy, I can assure him that 500 submarines is far too many to have on the other side.
§ Mr. Hughes
I quite agree that if Russia has 500 submarines it is far too many. It is far too many for the Russians, because to make 500 submarines. especially if they cost as much as the American "Nautilus", which is nuclear-power driven, will cost a sum which the Russian economy cannot afford. If I were a Russian, and had an opportunity to speak in a Russian naval debate, I would argue in precisely the same way—
§ Mr. Soames
If I might intervene, do I understand that at any moment now the hon. Gentleman will quote the Russian HANSARD on their Navy Estimates?
§ Mr. Hughes
If it were available, I certainly would. And if the Russians provided a document such as the Minister has provided, we would be able to settle our argument about the figures of 500 and 1,000.
I say that the Russians are spending far too much on submarines. If I were a Russian and were able to express myself in any way at all, I would say to the Russians exactly what I say to the Government here, that to spend money on 500 submarines, in the very problematical position of modern naval warfare, is extravagant expenditure and a burden on the economy. I cannot make it any plainer than that. But as I am a Member of the British House of Commons and have to pass these Estimates, I have to use my sense to put the point of view of my constituents.
Why do the Russians go in for 500 submarines? Presumably, they want them in order to sink aircraft carriers. If the argument is that we must have these aircraft carriers with their task force, then, naturally, the Russian who thinks in 141 terms of naval warfare says that he must have submarines to sink our aircraft carriers. Therefore, we have this circle in which the Admiralty says that we must have the aircraft carriers with which to conduct operations off the coast of Russia, and in which the Russians say, "If you are going to carry out operations in the Black Sea or the White Sea. we shall build submarines to sink your aircraft carriers ".
I believe that both countries are wrong. Both are wasting manpower, money and technical brains in pursuing a form of warfare which is obsolete. The Admiralty is asking for £316 million this year. Last week, we were discussing the provision of assistance for the herring fleet. I represent some fishermen. We were told that all that the Government could afford for these men, who have their living on the sea and work very hard for it, was £300,000. I believe that if we were to transfer some of the £316 million to the herring fleet we would be spending the money much more usefully.
What can be in the minds of the Russians? If the Russians were thinking in terms of an aggressive war, they would surely be building aircraft carriers. As the Minister said, the Russians have no aircraft carriers but they have in mind the recollection that at one time the French Fleet was bombarding Odessa, the British Fleet has been near Kronstadt, and that the West have been the aggressors in naval warfare off the shores of Russia.
§ Mr. Hughes
Hitler took the same view of the outside world as the Russians are taking today, and the Russians are making the same mistake as Hitler made. We, too, are making the same mistake in so far as we are thinking in. terms of obsolete warfare.
As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) asked, what will be left of Portsmouth, Devonport and Chatham in the event of another war? People will have no home towns to return to. These considerations are irrelevant to the problem of securing 142 the safety of this country from the greatest of all dangers in an atomic war, namely, the threat from bomber aircraft.
In these calculations, we forget the American fleet. I should like someone to explain what is the position of our fleet in the Mediterranean vis- à-vis the American fleet. Do we co-operate with the American Sixth Fleet or not? We talk about the number of Russian submarines, but if the Russian submarines came out through the Dardanelles they would presumably have to meet that fleet. If hon. Members will read the American "News Review" of 11th February, they will find an account of the very formidable nature of the American Sixth Fleet.
I should like to know whether we may have an authoritative reply to the statements which have been made that during the Suez crisis we were threatened by the American Sixth Fleet. We had a statement made by no less a person than the present Under-Secretary of State for War that we were definitely threatened by the American Sixth Fleet during the Suez operation. I should like to know from the Minister who is responsible for the Admiralty whether at any time during the Suez crisis, which is referred to in these Estimates and in the Explanatory Statement, there was a serious threat to a British submarine.
I ask that because there is a passage in the "News Review" article which reads:Shortly after the Anglo-French attack on Egypt, and Russia's threat to intervene, a Sixth Fleet "Hunter-Killer "unit reported it had tracked down an unidentified submarine. Replied the Sixth's commander, Vice-Admiral Charles R. Brown, in a typically worded order: ' Hold the b…down—that's code, Bub '.Whose was this unidentified submarine? I do not know whether that is considered the sort of naval language that is exchanged—
§ The Temporary Chairman
Order. I do not know whether it is naval language or not. It is certainly not language for this Chamber.
§ Mr. Hughes
I agree, Mr. Blackburn. I would certainly not use the word even in my most excitable moments. There is, however, a precedent that this word has been used, and I do not wish to repeat it. but I hope that in HANSARD 143 tomorrow morning it will not be printed as the letter "b,"followed by six stars, which looks as though it is an advertisement for whisky.
What I am driving at is: was this telegram part of an operation against a British vessel? I should like to have it either confirmed or denied that the American Fleet in the Mediterranean took any hostile action at all towards our ships during the Suez crisis.
Now I turn to another matter. I want to know exactly what the Minister is going to do about something which, I believe, has become an absolute scandal. That is, the cost of the "Britannia." I have raised this matter at Question Time and I have had very unsatisfactory answers. I agree that the Explanatory Statement supplied by the Minister is far more informative than any memorandum that we have had before, but I have searched in vain among the list of ships to find any reference to any kind of hospital ship.
The "Britannia" was built as a hospital ship and over and over again in the Navy Estimates the justification has been given that the vessel was needed as a hospital ship. I have failed to find the name of any hospital ship in the catalogue of vessels in the Explanatory Statement. Why was it necessary to boycott the "Britannia"? Surely something should have been said about hospital ships.
Were any hospital ships in use during the Suez crisis? I asked what happened to the "Britannia" when it was needed as a hospital ship. It was cruising along merrily to St. Helena. What was it doing there? The Admiral in charge of the "Britannia" gave a Press conference on its return to Portsmouth and said that he was taking Buckingham Palace round the world. Surely we do not want to take Buckingham Palace to St. Helena.
When will the Admiralty close down on what I regard as extravagant expenditure? This vessel cost £2½ million, there has been £416,000 extra since she was commissioned and until recently she was costing £7,000 a week.
When the Admiral who gave the Press interview was asked about the cost, his reply was, "It is not costing so much as a destroyer." And with great glee the the Minister found a slight miscalculation 144 I had made and proudly announced to the House that, instead of costing as much, the cost of the "Britannia" was £7,000 a week and that a destroyer was costing £8,000 a week. He forgot to mention that the destroyer was escorting the "Britannia", so that we had to pay the £8,000 and the £7,000 as well. A previous First Lord of the Admiralty was taken aboard the "Britannia" in order, presumably, to superintend the navigation of the ship when all the other navigation broke down.
When we are talking in terms of economy, however, I submit that some definite action should be taken to cut down what I regard as extravagant expenditure. It is not only I who am saying this. It has been said by a very anti-Socialist writer, Mr. John Gordon, in the Sunday Express, and it is commonplace talk throughout the country that this ship is costing too much.
I believe that the £316 million a year which we are to spend represents a very big slice of national expenditure at the time when we are demanding economy and are cutting down on such things as the National Health Service, the Welfare Services, and all the other social services.
The Admiralty is a very strong, powerful, vested interest with great political power and traditions behind it. Active propaganda is now being carried out to sabotage any attempt to economise on the Navy. There is the Navy League. I actually received an invitation to subscribe to the funds of the Navy League the other day. What a hope! But, like others who have watched controversies about naval expenditure for many years now, I know that the Navy League represents powerful vested interests. There are powerful industrial interests engaged in the manufacture of all kinds of machinery for ships. There are the admirals; there are the dockyard interests; there are powerful vested interests that want to keep naval expenditure high when the real need for extravagant sums cannot be proved.
Many years ago I advocated that a committee of businessmen should be set up to inquire into the Navy, and I believe that that is still essential. We must end the romantic view of the British Navy. When I first heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) speak in a debate on the Navy 145 Estimates, I remember that he nearly wept because somebody suggested scrapping the Navy's battleships. The right hon. Gentleman talked about the "Agamemnon" and the "Victorious", and all the beautiful, high-sounding names. He nearly wept when he said they were to be taken to the knacker's yard. Well, the knacker's yard sometimes carries out a useful function. If anything is obsolete, there is no justification for spending huge sums of public money on it.
We should take the advice the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wood-ford gave in the time of the Labour Government. I have never heard such a scarifying attack on the Admiralty as was delivered by the right hon. Gentleman when in opposition. He used exactly the arguments I am using tonight, only in more forcible and colourful English. He talked about the need to examine Admiralty accounts very carefully, because there were far too many people finding jobs for themselves and their relatives. He said that it was the duty of the House of Commons to examine, prune and cleanse.
That function is still necessary and I hope that next year we will have considerable reductions in the Navy Estimates, in spite of the opposition in powerful traditional vested interests which always cost money and which make excuses for spending huge sums of money on a Navy which is obsolete.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Commander J. W. Maitland (Horn-castle)
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has made his usual Navy Estimates speech. I sometimes wonder whether he is not a little ungenerous, because if there had been no Navy, it is very unlikely that he would have been alive today. He would probably have been starved out during one of two wars. He might, therefore, be a little more generous in the way in which he thinks of the Navy. Luckily, some of his hon. Friends do not share his views.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) is one of those who do riot share his views. The hon. and learned Member began his speech by wondering whether he was mad and the rest of the world sane. I agree with him. I will not say anything about 146 the rest of the world. I am afraid that nothing will be done about the views which we both hold about mobility and which he will find I stated almost word for word in my speech in the defence debate, so perhaps it is true, after all, that we are both mad.
§ Commander Maitland
I want to refer to something which the hon. Member for Dunhartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) said and with which I entirely agree—the very great importance of more progress in nuclear propulsion. We cannot go into that work hard enough and we cannot work fast enough on it. We are behind in this matter and as a great peaceful maritime nation we cannot afford to be left behind in this new and vital power which will revolutionise the maritime world. I have heard it said, and I should like the Civil Lord to say, that arrangements have been made between private enterprise and the Admiralty to try to work together to experiment with a tanker. It is always very sad that in asking questions about this we are always told how far ahead these matters are. I am perfectly certain that the House and the country are most anxious that they should be pursued as vigorously as possible.
Many hon. Members have referred to the need to do our best for those who have to leave the Services. One aspect which I want to stress is that of housing. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence, when Minister of Housing and Local Government, did very good work in getting local authorities to agree to include in their lists Service men who had retired and who had no official place of residence. He got a very great measure of agreement from the local authorities, but it was never contemplated then that there would be this very considerable addition to the pressure upon the housing needs of local authorities because of the acceleration in the run down of the Armed Forces. Therefore, I beg my hon. Friend together with the Ministers for 147 the other Armed Forces, to make a special approach to the Minister of Housing and Local Government to make quite certain that that point of view will be very carefully considered when officers and men leave the Navy, Army or Air Force.
The Explanatory Statement is really the first instalment of the five-year plan outlined in the Defence White Paper as it concerns the Navy. This is a great moment of crisis for the Navy. I therefore want to dwell upon the long-term proposals rather than the first steps which are considered in the Navy Estimates.
Like every other reasonably sane person I am entirely in agreement with the principle that our strength is vitally dependent upon our economic position. But we must get clear in our minds the fact that this is simply not a case of getting butter instead of guns. All politicians like butter. It means votes; it makes one popular—and one does not have much opportunity of being popular. A little butter can make one very popular. All Governments and politicians must strive against the temptation to try to use for political butter the savings that we are making by reducing our Armed Forces.
Rather we should be anxious and searching in our inquiries to determine that such economies as can be made are made in the spirit to which the Chancellor referred recently, in the Second Reading Debate on the Finance Bill, when he said, referring to a speech made by the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. V. Yates):We have to put part of this saving, quite a substantial part of it, to investment in productive industry, because it is on the foundation of an efficient productive industry that the social services must really rest."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th May, 1957; Vol. 569, c. 931.]Of course that is true, although I would rather my right hon. Friend had not referred to "part of this saving". He should have said that all that saving should go to productive industry.
I think we should all be anxious—and this is the time to ventilate our anxiety—about the question whether the slice of the defence cake given to the Navy is sufficient to enable it to carry out the functions allotted to it. It is impossible for anybody to give an answer to that question because, at the moment, we simply do not know what the 1962 Navy 148 will look like or consist of. I hope that the Government will take the House into their confidence as soon as possible, not only in regard to the dockyards but as to the size of the Navy in 1962, so that we shall at least have some chance of knowing what it will be like.
It is we who are responsible. In the case of the Navy the Government probably depend more upon technical advice than they do in the case of any other Service. Nevertheless, the naval officers who serve on the Board of Admiralty cannot resign if they think that the tools are inadequate; they are not allowed to, by Order-in-Council. Therefore, it comes down to the fact that it is finally our responsibility whether the Navy is adequate for the tasks allotted to it.
Taking it all round, our defence in the last 200 years has been a success story. We have never been invaded. That has had a tendency to make us careless. I am sure that the Government will be courageous about this matter. They will never be forgiven—perhaps there will be no chance for anyone to forgive them—if they are mistaken about this matter, and if they have reduced our forces below the safe level.
I wish to be assured that we are the leaders of a rational and commonsense approach to world relief from the burden of armaments and not the first victim of the cold war. I must admit that I am in some doubt. I hope and pray that what we have done is right. But this is a moment when surely we should have some doubts and anxieties on the matter, and I wish to state some of my anxieties. First, I am anxious about N.A.T.O. and our position in N.A.T.O. Here I part company with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton, as he will see when I develop my point.
Obviously, we have to rely to a considerable degree on the forces of our allies in N.A.T.O. to enable us to contend with the potential menace of Russian submarines. Whatever we may think individually, I do not consider that any Government can possibly take no notice at all of such a menace. There may be 500 such submarines or, as was said by the First Lord in another place in the defence debate, the figure may be 700. As the figure of 700 was mentioned by the First Lord in the defence debate, that 149 is probably the last word from the "horse's mouth".
The trouble is, as was pointed out by the Economist in its current issue, that our fellow members in N.A.T.O. are not at all happy about what appears to them to be the unilateral reduction of our contribution. After all, we have had a successful defence policy over the last 200 years, but that is because our battles have been fought on their battlefields, and if we have forgotten it they have not. We may well find, as is pointed out by the Economist that our fellow members in N.A.T.O. will not be so anxious to provide the forces to help. Perhaps they will follow the example which we have given and reduce their forces, and we may find that the forces available to compete or contend with the submarine menace are far below what they should be.
Another point arises which I consider even more important. I do not think anyone would deny that we have naval knowledge, experience and technique to a far higher degree than anyone else. Heaven knows, we have paid dearly for it in two world wars. We are also the people most vitally affected. If we reduce our contribution to N.A.T.O to the degree which it seems to me possible that we may propose to do, who will have the naval commands? Shall we find that one of our foreign allies is in charge of our end of the pipeline which may be so vital to us? Shall we find a foreign admiral in charge in the Mediterranean? What naval commands in N.A.T.O. shall we have? After all, we have a long experience in naval matters, and I think we should say so openly. Although our Navy is small today, we need not be ashamed of our ideas about how to carry on naval warfare.
I am anxious about the shortage in the number of ships. I am not in the least anxious about the power of the individual ships. The Navy is probably stronger than ever. Today for the first time, we have heard that the Navy w ill have tactical atomic weapons. That was not mentioned in either of the White Papers, and I think that more publicity should be given to that fact. I agree that it is not easy to see how and when they are to be used, but they enormously increase the fighting power of the ships as units. 150 I am worried about the actual number of ships. Speaking in another place, the First Lord of the Admiralty said:Part of our mobile force is, of course, the Royal Navy. In this field the Navy will continue to play its part."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 9th May, 1957; c. 554.]How can it do that in peace time, when there are so few vessels? For example, we should have three "Tiger" class cruisers. I am sure that hon. Members present are aware, but people outside may not realise, that that does not mean that at any one time there will be three cruisers at sea. One will be at sea and one in the dockyards. Another will probably be carrying out training duties somewhere.
The world is a very big place. Whole stations in which the British Navy has been available for many years will have to be abandoned, although the people there have become accustomed to be able almost to "whistle up" a ship of the Royal Navy in time of trouble to put out a fire before it became a blaze. That is one of the traditional peace-time jobs of the Navy. We may have too few ships to carry out that duty in the cold war and properly to fulfil our diplomatic obligations.
The third point, which many hon. Gentlemen have raised, concerns the dockyards. We should take a sane view about it. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire put forward by far the best argument that has been used yet when he said, "We cannot have disarmament unless we disarm". We cannot have a smaller Fleet and still maintain the dockyards and men who served the larger Fleet that we had before. We must face this matter, and the Admiralty must face it in the very near future. It must not be put off by the vested interests of my hon. Friends, let alone by the vested interests of hon. Gentlemen opposite, in keeping the dockyards any bigger than they ought to be.
In the naval situation that is ahead we shall need every ship about the world that we can possibly have. It may be they will have hidden in them atomic weapons, but what the world will see will be our ships, and it is that which has been our great strength in the past. All over the world the ships of the Navy have passed and repassed on their lawful occasions; now they will not 151 be able to do so. We shall have to try to see that there are the maximum number of British ships all over the world looking after British interests.
§ Mr. P. Wells
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman arguing that the Government have no responsibility to the men who will be displaced?
§ Commander Maitland
No, I am not. The hon. Member will recall that I referred, in what I thought were glowing terms, to what the hon. Member for South Ayrshire said. I added that it was up to the Government to take charge of the situation and find opportunities for work for the various yards, whether they were run by private enterprise or not. That is a responsibility which has to be faced, and the Government should make clear what their action is.
I have noticed, particularly in speaking to my friends in the Navy, a sort of "it-may-never-happen" attitude. I do not like it. It is very unfortunate and it does no good. We must make it plain that this is to be our policy. The Government will get far more support if they tell us exactly what they have in mind for the Fleet than if they try to lead us along in blinkers. If they do tell us we might be able to realise what we are doing. There is no doubt that we do not know at the moment—I sympathise with the Government—and that nobody at this moment can quite see ahead to what the situation will be in 1962. So long as we realise that, and so long as we are told as we go along, we may not do too badly.
The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. P. Wells) said at the beginning of his speech that the Navy is more necessary now than almost ever before and will become more and more necessary as time goes on. I believe that. I believe that the people of this country should be told that, and get to know it themselves. The Government should be aware that these feelings are growing in the country.
Recently we had a debate on the Naval Discipline Act and we discussed the Preamble at some length. I remember the hon. Member for South Ayrshire taking part in that debate. He was rather torpedoed by a first-class speech by his right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). That Preamble reads: 152whereon, under the good Providence of God, the wealth, safety and strength of the Kingdom so much depend.That is how it refers to the Navy. I believe that, far from proving that statement untrue, the future will show that we shall need the Navy as much as we have ever needed it.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
We are dealing here with Estimates of more than £300 million. Things have gone fairly quietly for the Parliamentary Secretary and he must be very pleased with the effect that his speech had on the Committee. It was a good speech, because he managed to impress us while concealing his own fears and, I am sure, the intentions of the Admiralty in respect of the Navy.
The hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) has been frank with the Committee in voicing his fears and at the same time recognising that cuts have to be made. I think that he wants to see that those cuts are properly planned for a well-defined goal towards which the Navy should be steered. I wonder whether the hon. and gallant Member listened to the speech of his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke). That hon. and gallant Member, although his whole speech was fogged by an anti-American attitude, seemed to give the impression that we are spending about the same amount of money as last year and that nothing really drastic is happening.
We are proposing to spend less money than last year. That leaves out of account the Supplementary Estimate of £11 million. I hope that we do not run into another Suez crisis, or that would go by the board. When we examine the Estimates we find in Vote after Vote that old bogey inflation which, when taken into account, gives us an entirely different picture. There have been very considerable cuts in respect of the Navy Estimates, but most of the savings have been swallowed up by additional salaries and costs. One has only to look at some of the Votes in relation to the Admiralty itself to see that personnel is being cut down. About 40 or 50 typists or clerical staff are to be sacked. The Admiralty works on the principle of about one senior officer to 50 or 70 on the lower deck. 153 Despite all the cuts that are made in staff, it spends more money on salaries for a reduced number.
The hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle was quite right in saying that it is no use talking about cutting the cost of defence, and then, when defence is cut, to start complaining about it. We have to recognise the fact of it. I think there would be less talk if we were satisfied, first, that the cuts were of the right kind, secondly, that they were permanent, and, thirdly, that the social and human considerations following upon these cuts had been properly taken into account. I hope to return to that subject later.
I believe that we have not got the truth about these cuts in these Estimates. I would like to think that the financial changes for which we are to vote this money tonight are due to long-term planning, on which the Admiralty has a fixed idea about what it requires for the Navy in the modern world. I do not think that it has the slightest idea. I should like to think that the savings were the outcome of the integration of the three Services that has been spoken about for years, and, indeed, the savings that ought to be available with the co-operation of our Western allies. I have a feeling that these are frantic but admittedly reluctant savings—economies rather than planning cuts. Regarded as such, we have only to examine this Explanatory Statement to see right away that the wide sweep of the Fleet is more or less paralleled by the wide sweep of the paragraphs in the Statement.
Let us take paragraph 10, which discusses the rôle of the Navy in total war. We find this in the opening sentence:The course of total war is necessarily speculative, but this uncertainty does not interfere with planning and shaping the Navy, since there is no question of having to provide a separate kind of Navy specialised in the tasks of total war.It is all swept into about eight lines, and we get this final sentence:In such circumstances, by reason of their mobility Fleets are themselves unlikely to be affected by nuclear bombardment with ballistic missiles, and consequently would be available to play their part in these important tasks.On this question the rôle of the Navy in the nuclear age, these eight lines are asking us far too much. What do they mean? If they mean anything at all, they mean that the Navy must, in these days, 154 be one which can meet threats from all the most modern weapons. Does that apply to the "Tiger" class cruisers, about which we have already been told that they are not to be equipped with modern weapons? There we have this reluctant proposal to do something and a reluctance to admit defeat, because we go on building them without properly equipping them, instead of taking the hard decision as to their future.
Obviously, the hope is that in future we will be able to spend more than we can today and properly equip them. I doubt very much whether, in future years, we will be able to equip and maintain them and also maintain the other classes now being equipped; and the decision has been taken to try to slide out of making on this matter.
It is said that the Navy has to meet threats from all the most modern weapons, but that last sentence has said that the Navy could not meet any such threats from modern weapons. For some reason or other, the naval task forces with carriers are not going to meet the full blast of the nuclear age. I must say that I have no confidence at all in the planning behind this White Paper. The Explanatory Statement also says:It will also, therefore. to a large extent be the kind of Navy which could provide the most useful contribution to N.A.T.O. in total war.There is then a most delightful jump to the next sentence:A global war might be fought to a quick end by the use of nuclear missiles.The Statement does not say what happens to the Navy after that, but it adds:It might well on the other hand, drag on.Can anyone accept an assumption like that—that there will be total war and it will not be nuclear war; but that if it drags on, there will be a task for the Navy? More or less all our planning, if planning there be—and I doubt whether there is much planning in the Explanatory Statement, and certainly there is not in the Estimates—is built on the assumption that total war will be non-nuclear, but, if it is nuclear, that it will not affect the Navy.
The statement says:It might well on the other hand, drag on, and in that event the Navy would be needed to protect our merchant ships, as in the past. 155 and to reinforce the hitting power of our allies; in such circumstances, by reason of their mobility Fleets are themselves unlikely to be affected by nuclear bombardment—Frankly, I think that that is complete nonsense. It is asking us to swallow far too much in considering this as the basis for the future shape of the Navy. I feel that the Admiralty is either shutting its eyes to facts or is refusing to face facts which are grim and which will mean certain sacrifices in the traditional rôle. This reluctance to face such facts is a characteristic which I have not associated with the First Sea Lord, and I certainly hope that by next year we shall have a Statement which is much more realistic.
I have only one comment to make on the peacetime rôle of the Navy. The Parliamentary Secretary told us today that amongst other things it had to be able to show the flag. He said that a prestige visit of the Navy to foreign ports was worth a thousand ambassadors. I am not concerned about what is happening in the South of France or what has happened there, but I am concerned about what is to happen in Norfolk, Virginia. I believe that we are to pay a social call there and that the naval ratings are to have the glorious sum of one dollar a day during that visit. They will not go far on that.
I think that that very strongly emphasises paragraph 14 of the Explanatory Statement:The Navy of the future will provide a career, whether as an officer or as a rating, which will combine travel and adventure with the interests of a job which calls for technical skill and initiative.There is no doubt that to be able to enjoy oneself in Norfolk, Virginia, on one dollar a day will call for all the technical skill and initiative imaginable.
§ Mr. Soames
The hon. Gentleman's statement is not quite correct. The rule is that when naval vessels visit ports in the dollar area those serving who go ashore are allowed to draw out one-third of their pay in dollars. I am speaking without the book and taking a bit of a risk in saying this, but I think that they are allowed to draw out one-third of their pay in dollars plus their foreign allowance. No rating in Norfolk, Virginia, will be allowed only one dollar a day. It will certainly be at least double that.
§ Commander Maitland
I do not know whether the hon. Member has ever had experience of American hospitality, but I can tell him that the one dollar a day will be needed for buying aspirins.
§ Mr. Ross
I am quite sure that the ratings will be able to use their initiative, but it becomes embarrassing sometimes when one has to do that. When one enjoys hospitality one sometimes wishes to return it without the formality of shipboard parties. It is a position of embarrassment which many of us have found ourselves in because of this shortage of money. I am glad of the statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary, because to a certain extent it clears up some of the misunderstandings to which a certain amount of publicity has been given.
I want to come to one or two important points which are more parochial, but are still a matter of concern. Scapa Flow has gone so far as the Navy is concerned. Invergordon is on a care and maintenance basis. What about Rosyth? We are moving slowly south. I think that these are the sands that are sweeping over the Scottish interests in the Navy.
I know that Invergordon is on a care and maintenance basis, but the Navy could help the local authority considerably if it considered the amount of land and building that could be made available to the civilian population. I hope that it will be able to co-operate with the local authority in that respect.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) mentioned our concern about Rosyth. It is our annual concern about Rosyth, but in view of the proposed changes in the Navy I think that it is one that we must continue to voice. Not only was it mentioned from the Front Bench on this side of the Committee at the opening of the debate but I am sure that it will be mentioned again from the Front Bench of this side when we close it.
One branch of the Navy that is gaining considerably in importance—it is one upon which I have missed hearing a familiar voice—is the engineering department, the engine room artificers' branch, but the voice, I am glad to say, is still to be heard. It is that of my hon. Friend 157 the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis), who is hoping to speak from way down below decks on this matter. Can we have some information about Rosyth?
Finally, I want to become very parochial indeed. I had occasion the other day to write to the Civil Lord about what is happening at Beith, Ayrshire. I may be anticipating, but I am sure that have one supporter in respect of this matter. During the war, at the Royal Naval Armament Depot, women were taken on to do a particular amount of work. Now, after seventeen years, these women are being paid off and we are told that the reason is that this work originally was intended for men.
That may be all very well, but surely, after all this length of time, when women have given as much as fifteen years to a job. and have done it with a certain amount of satisfaction and pride, it is unfair to evoke a rule which was signed so long ago, and to say that they must go. This may be a hardship for some married women and for single women, who have spent anything up to fifteen or sixteen years on this work for the Admiralty. Surely they are entitled to a little consideration. It may well be that the application of that rule could be made a little less hard.
I have heard it suggested that as soon as they had been paid off—some have already been paid off—and men taken on, there have been accidents there. I should like to know whether that is true. Why has it been necessary to wait until 1957 to pursue this policy, when the change obviously ought to have been made soon after the war? In that part of the country there is unemployment in the furniture industry and women may be unemployed. This change is being made at a time when it will be much more difficult for the women, because of the employment situation and because of their age, to get employment.
I hope that the Admiralty will think again about this. There are 150 women involved. Fifteen married women and 15 single women have already been given notice to go and I believe that between May and June another 56 married women and 63 single women have been warned. It may well come to that. After doing the job for fifteen years, this is not easy to accept. At the end of that period, some people think that they should be more 158 or less established. I really would like to know whether this decision has anything at all to do with the reshaping of the defence policy, or whether it is merely related to local circumstances and local male unemployment. Is the Admiralty satisfied that even the invoking of this rule now is just to women who have, all along, served the Admiralty with devotion and to its satisfaction? I sincerely hope that we shall get some satisfaction on that point, and on the point in relation to the reshaping of the plans generally.
The Royal dockyards have been mentioned time and time again. What we want to see, if changes are to be made, is that the Admiralty will not be afraid of the ideas put forward not only from this side of the Committee but from that side as well. If there are to be new developments, with new weapons, are these to be farmed out to private enterprise? Or should they be dealt with within the organisation that is already there, and which has stood the test of time in respect both of skill and secrecy—
§ Mr. Ross
And cost, yes. I was a member of the Estimates Committee which made a very valuable Report on this. It could not be disputed, though hon. Members opposite tried to push —and still push—the idea that this work should be put out to private enterprise to save money, that this work can be done much more cheaply by the Royal dockyards.
I sincerely hope that one of the cuts will not be on research and development. I would very much object to that, because if we are to have a Navy it should be the best that we can afford, and that we should not save money on is research and development. The paragraph dealing with that does not entirely reassure me. I want research and development to go on, and I want the new weapons which may be developed to be developed within the Royal dockyards and the establishments which have already proved their worth in the past.
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ Mr. John Baldock (Harborough)
As there are only a few minutes left to me, I shall not attempt to follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross). In any case I want to make only two very brief points, one about morale 159 and the other about the dockyards. It is being widely said that the Defence White Paper has spread alarm and despondency, but I see no cause for either in the Royal Navy at present. I do not believe that they exist to any extent. Not only is it perfectly clear that the Royal Navy has a rôle but that, in several possible phases of war, that rôle is actually becoming increasingly vital.
Of the three phases generally discussed, the first is the police action, the fire brigade, the minor war, showing the flag. The whole cold war aspect has always been extremely important to this country, with its widely spread interests and with a Commonwealth and with a Colonial Empire. In the past, much bloodshed has undoubtedly been saved, and riots and potential conflicts have been prevented, by our being able to send ships to trouble spots. But whereas in the past it was usually possible to operate from a base relatively close at hand it is now becoming more and more essential, as these bases are being closed or are in territory which is becoming politically unreliable. to have a completely mobile force to deal with the problems which are just as likely to arise in the future as hitherto.
Only the Navy can produce ships, aircraft, men—and even armour—at any point on the seaboard at any time, and without supporting bases. For that reason, if for no other, I hope that we are to maintain a number of cruisers. There has been some criticism of the decision to continue with the three "Tiger"-class cruisers, and opinions have been expressed that these ships are obsolete before they are completed. I think that there is no ship more valuable than the cruiser for this limited type of war—for fire brigade and police action—and I hope that we shall not allow the number of cruisers that we have to diminish.
I think that those who have expressed anxiety about new construction do so from well-founded reasons, because, so far as I can see from the Explanatory Statement, there are no ships of any size under construction at all, other than guided weapon ships and some frigates. A policy of "stop and start" in the construction of the larger ships is dangerous; the process should proceed smoothly. There are no aircraft carriers, 160 no large guided weapon ships and no cruisers on order at the present time.
As to the second rôle, relating to nuclear weapons, there is, as several hon. Members have said, an important rôle here which the Navy can fulfil. If the bases from which aircraft operate are destroyed, naturally the ship-borne aircraft will be able to strike back with nuclear and atomic weapons. These can now be carried, and perhaps at a later stage it will be possible to launch ballistic missiles from the sea if the shore bases have been eliminated.
Then I come to the broken back phase. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock said that the Navy would only be useful in a conventional world war. That was a complete misreading and misunderstanding of the Explanatory Statement and of the Defence White Paper. The point, as I understand it, is that after a nuclear war there might be a broken back phase and that then the Navy would have its conventional rôle to play. No one can tell what would be left after such a war, after nuclear weapons had been hurled about the world—perhaps very little indeed. It would certainly be difficult to imagine great convoys going to sea again.
We must not make the mistake. in the event of another world war, of fighting it according to the last two wars. Nevertheless, some anti-submarine precautions would obviously be necessary with these enormous Russian submarine fleets at sea. Although the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) said that the Russian submarine was a rather innocent form of retaliation against our aircraft carriers, in fact the submarine is the most aggressive form of vessel in existence. It has always been recognised as such at all disarmament conferences. The submarine is purely an aggressive vessel. Another possible reason why the Russians may be building such an enormous fleet is that the antidote to the submarine is exceedingly expensive and puts a very heavy burden on those who seek to defend themselves against the submarine.
My last point relates to the dockyards. The Parliamentary Secretary, in his opening speech, appeared to support those who consider that the dockyards represent the cheapest way of carrying out major 161 refits to ships of the Royal Navy. I think it can be agreed that this is the case with specialist repair work. The apparatus which has to be put into ships of war nowadays is so intricate that the commercial yards would have very little experience of it and would not easily be able to install it. But for ordinary commercial work I cannot believe that the commercial yards are not able to carry out the operations at least as economically. and probably more so.
If we are seriously going to make this attempt to save money on armaments, we must consider the dockyards with the utmost care. I see no cause for alarm and despondency in this direction because in most of the highly prosperous towns in this country prosperity stems from many different industries, and nothing could be healthier than that some of the personnel should be released from the dockyards to work in other industries of a more diverse nature. That would be a far healthier situation.
Above all, the dockyard at Malta should be most carefully examined. If we are to be able, as I hope we shall, to support a task force east of Suez as a self-contained unit, I cannot believe that a task force in the Mediterranean could not operate in the same way. Is there really any necessity for retaining the dockyard at Malta at all? It is a very expensive commitment. In the last war, as I saw for myself, Malta was almost untenable, as it is likely to be in any nuclear war. That dockyard could perhaps be turned to commercial uses for the many tankers which pass through the Mediterranean, but it should be scrutinised thoroughly in respect of its use as a dockyard for naval repair work.
§ 10.1 p.m.
§ Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)
All those Members who have listened to the debate today will, I think, agree that we have had a most interesting debate and that the speeches have been rather better than when we last discussed the Navy Estimates, on 5th March.
As usual, it has been quite obvious from the speeches that the Navy is held in very great affection in the hearts of the people arid that most of us admire those who serve in it. Even my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, West (Mr. Randall), who delivered a hearty broadside against some of the practices in the 162 Navy, nevertheless expressed his affection and admiration for those who serve in it. We cannot, however, allow that affection and admiration to lull us into overlooking our job of examining the policies of the Admiralty and the expenditure that goes with them.
We are dealing with an Estimate of £316 million for the current year. As a Scottish Member, I am bound to bear in mind that we could deal with the whole of the vast slum problem in Scotland for the amount that the Navy costs us in nine months. I could mention a number of other things that could be done with this money.
We must remember, too, the background against which these discussions take place. We discuss the Navy Estimates against the background of the hydrogen bomb, against which the Defence White Paper admits frankly that there is no defence. I notice a tendency amongst those dealing with defence to try to minimise the exchange of hydrogen bombs by using the euphemistic phrase "the nuclear exchange." We should not allow ourselves to be lulled into any false sense of security by it. That is the grim reality of the day and no matter what we call it, or what nice sounding phrases we use, it remains the reality.
The second thing we have to remember is that with the development of modern weapons, every limited war is a possible nuclear war, and in future will probably be a nuclear war; and every nuclear war will, of course, be a possible global war. That was the lesson of both Korea and Suez. We cannot tell what will be a limited war and what will not. What starts as a limited war can develop rapidly into a possible nuclear war. It is in the light of these facts that we have to examine the Estimates and the Explanatory Statement.
It is true that we have a much clearer picture than we had on 5th March of what the Admiralty has in mind. Like my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), when I read the Explanatory Memorandum the first thing that puzzled me a great deal was paragraph 10, from which it was obvious that in spite of the general conception which seems to have grown that we have now given up the idea of broken-back warfare, it was, in fact, the basis 163 of the Admiralty's policy. That seems to be clear at present and it raises a number of questions.
On reading paragraph 10, I was also struck by the implicit assumption that, somehow, the Navy would not be affected by this initial nuclear exchange—to use the Admiralty phrase which I do not like. That cannot be what will happen. The Parliamentary Secretary told us this afternoon that the aircraft carrier groups, upon which the Navy is now to be based, will be capable of contributing to the deterrent. We know that the aircraft carriers are to be equipped to carry aircraft capable of delivering kiloton bombs. I do not think that the Admiralty will be content with that, but I do not know.
If, however, the Navy is to do this, surely it will itself be a target in that initial attack, and the naive assumption in paragraph 10, that, somehow, it will escape, baffles me altogether. I should have thought it would have been much more honest to have admitted that this was likely to happen. We already know the views of Marshal Zhukov—they have been expressed in the debate today—as to the importance of the Navy in this type of war. In the light of his views it must be obvious that these aircraft carrier groups will themselves be the subject of attack right away, and it is wrong to assume that they will not.
The second question that occurs to me is as to whether or no we are able to deal with the potential submarine threat. It might be true, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton said, that it can be dealt with, but what we have to look to in the future is not the submarine as it is today but the high-speed, nuclear-powered, guided missile submarine, capable of remaining under the water for a long period. That is rather a different proposition.
The third thing that occurs to me is whether we are wise or not in proceeding to complete the three "Tiger" class cruisers, in spite of what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Harborough (Mr. Baldock) said. I thought that one of the weakest parts of the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary was that part in which he dealt with the rôle of the cruiser. What really is the rôle of the cruiser if 164 we have aircraft carrier groups? All that the Parliamentary Secretary said about that, curiously enough, was that they were able to stay in port longer than aircraft carriers. I thought that that was a strange argument to advance for proceeding with the completion of the three "Tiger" class cruisers—the fact that they need not go to sea.
§ Mr. Soames
The point I was making was a straightforward one, namely, that there are times when we may want to keep a ship for a considerable period in the same place at sea in an area of unrest. The cruiser has the ability to stay there, so if we want a big ship we can keep a cruiser there. The aircraft carrier cannot be kept at anchor in the same place. She has to be constantly on the move in order to keep her squadrons flying.
§ Mr. Willis
Of course, the aircraft carrier keeps on the move so that the airmen can get training. The same thing applies to a cruiser. A cruiser keeps on the move to give its personnel training. When I was in the Navy that was one of the reasons we went to sea, so that we could be trained. I may be wrong, but that is what I thought.
There might be an argument if it were suggested that the cruisers could be used for carrying out some kind of experiment, but if that were the argument one cruiser would have been sufficient. I cannot help thinking that we ought to have said, "Let us call it a day. Let us finish with this and use the money on something more important to the Service and much more important to civilian shipping, namely, the problems of nuclear propulsion."
There has rightly been great concern in the Committee today about our position in nuclear propulsion. Certainly, anything we read tends to deepen that concern rather than to lessen it. I notice that the Rear Admiral, Nuclear Propulsion, has said that there are still many basic unknowns, most of which can be solved only by lengthy and very costly development work. We should be trying to proceed with that work. We are behind Russia and behind the U.S.A. as far as we can understand. This subject is important not only for the Navy, but for our position in the maritime world as a whole. There is concern about our position, not only among people concerned 165 with the Navy, but among those concerned with our merchant shipping position.
Certainly, we should be doing much more in this connection than we have done. I can mention some of the problems which ought to be tackled fairly soon. For instance, the Rear Admiral, Nuclear Propulsion, has pointed out that in spite of the fact that we are experimenting we may need auxiliary machinery for taking ships out of harbour. No decision has yet been made about whether the risk of operating reactors close to populated areas is acceptable. We must find out something about that. We ought to he pressing forward to make a decision about that, if we are to save large sums of money in the future. I should not have thought that we were doing very much of that work and I think that the money we are spending on cruisers could have been better spent in that direction.
I want to refer to Navy personnel and to say a few things about officers. I am still not satisfied with what the Parliamentary Secretary said on 5th March. The Navy is, of course, the most highly officered of all our Services at the present time, one officer to every seven men. The interesting thing is that the number of officers does not diminish with the number of men. In 1947, we had 16,800 officers with 156,000 men, an average of one officer to nine men. Today, we have 12,900 officers with 94,000 men. We have more officers today than we had in 1950–51 when we had 17,000 more men in the Service. This position certainly ought to be examined and the hon. Gentleman ought to tell us something about it.
The flag officers' position is that in 1948–49 we had 65 flag officers with a certain number of officers relative to flag rank, and, in 1950–51, 68 flag officers. and then, with 17,000 fewer men in 1957–58, we have 83 flag officers. Surely there is something wrong with that. I want to consider the Admiralty officers. The figures here are even more alarming. One hon. Member opposite said that the staffs of the Admiralty had increased from 3,000 to 10,000 since he was in the Service. That is roughly the proportion by which the number of naval officers has increased. In 1947–48, with 156,000 men, there were 267 officers at the Admiralty. With 94,000 men—62,000 men fewer—there were 687 officers at the Admiralty. 166 Surely this question ought to be looked at. All the excuses that we have had do not justify the position.
One excuse was that we had to contribute 20 officers of the rank of captain and above to the N.A.T.O. Command. That does not account for these figures. The second excuse was that we had now decided—it was a pity that this was not decided before—not to create a new post without wiping out an old one. That has certainly not obtained during the period to which I have referred. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) rightly said, it is time that we examined, pruned and cleansed, quoting the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill). The position should be examined and an explanation given, because very soon, as far as we can calculate it we shall have almost as many officers as men.
The new policy, necessitating a. reduction in the size of the Navy and its personnel, creates a number of problems, and the debate has made it quite obvious that very great concern is felt by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee as to the position of naval officers and men, and also men working in the dockyards. I wonder whether the Civil Lord can tell us when we are likely to hear what scheme the Admiralty has for naval officers and men.
As for the dockyard workers, it is quite obvious that the Admiralty must make an urgent attempt to try to assess what the future will be. To do so, it ought to have very close consultations with the Board of Trade, the Minister of Labour and the trade unions to see that the men concerned get a fair deal. This is urgent. From what has been said today it is obvious that we ought to be told how long we must expect to wait before we hear anything about the matter.
I should not have thought that the problem of officers and men in the Services was a very great one. I should not have thought that it would have been very difficult to bring out proper terms of compensation for loss of employment and pensions. Whatever the new policy might do it does not affect the basic requirement of the Service, which is for a highly-skilled, long-service Regular force. That has been the aim for some time now, and nothing can alter it. In fact, the new policy makes that a much more urgent necessity than it was before.
167 Is the Navy now recruiting sufficient men to meet its reduced needs? I asked this question on 5th March, but did not receive a reply, and when the hon. Member was tackled about recruiting, during an intervention in his speech, he said that the recruiting position was excellent. I do not know what that means. Does it mean that the Navy is recruiting sufficient to meet its needs? We should have a detailed answer to that question instead of a lot of generalisations. We know from the White Paper that in certain branches the Navy is not recruiting sufficient men to meet its needs.
Secondly, it is not sufficient simply to recruit a sufficient number of men; we have to recruit a sufficient number of the right type and quality. I say this because in the artificer branches—and I do not think that hon. Members would expect me to speak about the Navy without saying something about those branches—it appears that there is considerable wastage during the men's years of training. I understand that a considerable number are discharged during the training period. If that is so, it would appear that there is something wrong with the method of examining them before entry, or that we are not getting the type of man we require.
I am still not convinced that the Navy is getting a sufficient number of men to re-engage. During our last debates, after I had raised this matter at some length, I was told by the hon. Gentleman that we are getting 40 per cent. of re-engagements, which was considered highly satisfactory. I should not have thought that a 60 per cent. wastage was highly satisfactory but, on the contrary, that it was anything but satisfactory. More serious is that in the electrical branch, which is becoming one of the key branches of the Service, the number re-engaging amounts to 29 per cent. Surely, that is an exceedingly low figure which would indicate something is wrong somewhere.
I should have thought that the Navy was not wise over the decision to abolish the extra five years. Surely there is a case for retaining the extra five years. In the artificer branches, which cause a great amount of trouble at present in the Service, most artificers finish their twenty-two years of service at the age of 40. Surely a man aged 40 is able to serve for another 168 five years. These men have twenty-two years of experience behind them and they are not to be re-engaged for another five years. Rather than abolish what we used to call the "fifth five", I should have thought the Admiralty would be considering ways of increasing the period in order to solve the manpower problem.
§ Mr. Soames
It is not a question of abolishing the "fifth five", from twenty-two and twenty-seven years. What is abolished is the ability to sign on for one or three years. The "fifth five" is kept, but the standard is being raised somewhat. It is being done as a temporary measure to tackle the problem of a surplus of senior ratings in certain branches.
§ Mr. Willis
I am glad to hear that, but I should have thought the same arguments applied to the additional three years. If they are good for the five-year period, they are good for the three.
What is needed to get these men in the Navy is, first, good pay and a good career structure for the men and good conditions and amenities and a proper status. In many of our previous debates on the Navy Estimates I have said what I think about pay and that I do not consider it to be as high as is imagined by many people. I have quoted figures to show that most of the lower deck personnel are not much better off than they were in the 1920s, in view of the general position of the country.
I do not want to deal with that matter at length today, but I would say that the pay, which is not extravagant, should be kept under constant review because of the steadily rising wage rates outside the Service. It is no good leaving it for years and then examining it, to see whether it has to be raised. It must be constantly under review in the light of wage changes.
I understand that inquiries are going on into lower-deck classifications and rating structure. That is important. I hope that the position of the senior chief petty-officer will be taken into consideration again and that Admiralty Circular of 11th February, N.C.W. 4380/56, is not the Admiralty's last word. There are good answers to most of the points in the circular. I would refer the Minister to the "Naval Engineering Review," in 169 which he will find them dealt with very well indeed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, West had a good deal to say about conditions in the Service. We have seen the new mock-up mess that is to be fitted on the "Tiger." It looks very nice, but I cannot see that it will be the mess of the future on the small ships. There is to be bigger and better Asdic gear, better radar. and bigger missile loads, but all this has a tendency to increase the load and to cut down the accommodation for the men. That can only mean that conditions on the small ships will not, by and large. be so very good.
Certain principles ought to be kept in mind. One is that accommodation must be fairly divided between officers and men. My experience has always been that officers get this and that, while the men are thrust into odd corners. The accommodation must be as comfortable as possible. It follows that if conditions afloat are difficult then conditions on the parent ships and shore establishments must be of the best.
A word on status. I noticed a report in theDaily Herald,of the Commonwealth Naval Conference, that the First Sea Lord intends to introduce bellbottomed trousers for stewards, store assistants, sick-bay men and artificers. I hope that this report is wrong. Let me assure the Minister that he will never solve his recruiting problems in this way and that if, as he says, his aim is to cut down store-keeping by making for greater uniformity, that uniformity would be achieved by giving ratings the same kind of uniform as officers. Let them all wear jacket and trousers. In that way he will not offend the men, which he will do, while preventing many men from joining the Service, if he does as was reported in this suggestion from the Commonwealth Naval Conference.
The idea that a sailor is a kind of lovable, rollicking, seagoing, fighting animal ought to be dead, even if it is not altogether dead today. The realisation of that has to be part of the Admiralty's outlook towards the men in the Service. These are usually first-class men and today they are highly trained specialists. They have to be treated as that. If they are not, then in spite of the traditions of the Royal Navy, the Minister will not 170 attract the men into the Navy that he requires to carry on the work.
I would like to say a lot more, but my time has passed. Earlier in my speech I referred to the grim reality of the background against which we are discussing these Estimates. As the Defence White Paper says, in paragraph 30:This makes it more than ever clear that the overriding consideration in all military planning must be to prevent war rather than to prepare for it.That is profoundly true.
It is more urgent than it has ever been in our history that we should seek by every means possible to pursue peace and that we should endeavour, no matter at what sacrifice, to promote disarmament and international co-operation. The degree to which we achieve that, of course, will change the character of our debates on the Navy Estimates. Certainly, we on this side of the Committee would welcome that, because it would indicate that we were getting nearer to the goal we desire. We look forward to the time when these Estimates will be discussed on the basis of our Navy forming part of a genuine international force.
§ 10.31 p.m.
§ The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith)
One unusual feature about this debate is that, while the Navy has always been regarded—historically at least—as England's first line of defence, tonight three of the four Front Bench speakers come from Scottish constituencies. I do not think that that fact should be taken by those who wish to denigrate the Navy as a sign of its decline, but rather as an indication—which is most appropriate in the 250th anniversary year of the Treaty of Union—that the whole island, north and south, is convinced of the importance of the Navy to our general welfare and is anxious to take an interest in its efficient administration.
Another unusual feature is that within a couple of months we are having a second general debate on the state of the Navy. I have not noticed that this fact has lessened the number of questions which hon. Members are anxious to have answered. I shall do the best I can to satisfy them, but, if I cannot answer all the questions now, I shall do so by letter afterwards.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) asked me some questions 171 about the quality of recruits, and referred to reports which he had heard of artificer apprentices being discharged within a few years of commencing their training because they were not up to standard; but I must say that the figures I have been able to get do not entirely bear out the contention of the hon. Member. Apart from those who are discharged because they have been accepted for cadet training, the numbers who are discharged on other grounds are fairly small, averaging 20 out of an intake of approximately 200. I should be very glad to send these figures to the hon. Member so that he can study them. I shall be very glad to have any comments which, as a result of his experience, he can make on them.
§ Mr. Willis
The hon. Gentleman will find the comments in theNaval Engineering Review,in which the editor says:We were shocked to hear of the numbers of apprentices who fail to finish the course ' and are discharged from the Service as unfit for further training.
§ Mr. Galbraith
Perhaps the hon. Member will let me have a copy of that, and I shall be glad to have a look at it.
The hon. Member also asked about recruiting generally, and the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) asked why we were confident about recruiting. The new defence policy was published only a few months ago and it is admittedly too early to assess its effects on recruiting with precision, but, in general, recruiting is now good, except in a few branches where sea time, perhaps, is rather high. In general, recruiting is well up to the level necessary to maintain the naval strength demanded by the Defence White Paper. It has been improving, and it has been possible to raise standards of entry. The Admiralty feels confident that it can offer conditions of service and a long-service career, within controlled entry rates, which will continue to attract a sufficient number of recruits of good quality.
I should like to turn, briefly, to the question of the Royal Marines, who were mentioned by several speakers, particularly my hon. and gallant Friends the Members for Nottingham, Central (Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux) and Haltemprice (Major Wall), both of whom paid tribute to the splendid qualities and achievements 172 of the Marines. As an Admiralty Minister, I am most happy to endorse those comments. I can assure hon. Members that we in the Admiralty will do our best to equip the Royal Marines to carry out the tasks for which they are so well suited. I should like to emphasise that no one should have any doubts but that the rôle of the Royal Marines is of the first importance.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Haltemprice also asked about the future of the reservists. While it is true that we have had to restrict the R.N.R. rating section and abolish the R.N.V.R. Air Division. we have every confidence in the continuing importance of the Reserve Forces. They will certainly have a part to play in any future mobilisation. We look to these people to man our Reserve minesweepers, to bring our active Fleet up to war complement, and to fill many dormant war appointments for which these ratings and officers have been specially trained in peace. The Navy is proud to welcome volunteers to the Service.
§ Mr. W. Edwards
I presume that under the new set-up a number of ships will be in reserve against the possibility of war. Is the hon. Member satisfied that almost to cut out the Royal Fleet Reserve will be useful to the Government should any emergency arise? He may not know, but I can tell him, that it was this Reserve which manned the ships in 1939. Without them the Navy would not have been able to fight.
§ Mr. Galbraith
I appreciate the point, but in the new concept the idea is that the Reserve Fleet will be highly operational. That is one of the reasons why we have had to take this step in connection with the Royal Fleet Reserve.
I should like to turn to a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Mr. Atkins), who asked about the civilian element in the Navy. Indeed, concern has often been expressed that the Navy, with a Vote A of approximately 120,000—I will speak in round figures—has a civilian backing of 180,000. The general tendency, I believe, when one talks of Admiralty civilians is to think of them, subconsciously at least, as being red-tape desk workers. Actually, of course, 140,000 of these Admiralty civilians are industrial 173 employees, some of them building and repairing ships. others staffing victualling and ordnance depôts, and all of them doing work without which the Navy simply could not go to sea, or at least could not go to sea in a fighting condition.
The non-industrial element amounts to about 13,500. Half of these are professional men—scientists, draughtsmen, and other technically qualified people—whose services are needed because the Navy not only sails ships and fires guns—which is all that a great many people seem to suppose is its task—but is also a technical service with responsibilities for new developments. It has to keep the ships and equipment of the Fleet up to date, and that entails a constant process of designing and developing the practical application of new ideas. Thus, out of 180,000 civilians, only about 13,500 are what may be called Whitehall civil servants, and 11,000 of those are clerks and typists.
When people criticise the size of the shore side of the Navy I think they ought to remember this diversity, and they should state specifically whether it is the number of dockyard workers, of storekeepers, of scientists and technicians, or of civil servants properly so called, that they think is too large. I have mentioned this matter perhaps at rather greater length than was necessary, but on my recent visit to Malta I found that the same attitude towards the shore side of the Navy as was expressed by my hon. Friend was common in the Fleet. I think that that is rather a serious matter because I do not believe that the Navy can be a healthy or efficient organisation if there is any suspicion that one side is looked at more leniently than another when size is under review.
In fact, of course, as I am sure the Committee realises, both sides of the Navy form part of one integrated interdependent body, and both sides are treated in exactly the same way. The existence of the sea side creates the need for the land side, and without the help of the land side the sea side could not function efficiently. [Interruption.]
I hear an hon. Member talking about Parkinson's law, but I can assure him that Parkinson's law applies just as much to the sea side as to the land side. What I am trying to get the Committee to agree with me about is that it is no good sea 174 officers thinking that the land side gets preference. Both sides are essential to each other, and both form equally an important part of our naval forces.
I can assure the Committee, in spite of saying that, that the Admiralty is most anxious to keep numbers as low as possible compatible with efficiency. The Way Ahead Committee, as has already been stated, started work on that task long before the present cuts were announced, and has already made considerable economies. This process will be intensified because though the Navy certainly needs shore support, the smaller it is the better will the Admiralty he pleased. I can therefore give the undertaking that as the size of the Navy afloat declines, the number of those employed ashore will be kept under the very closest and most constant review.
As well as consideration being given to the numbers of civilian staff ashore—the hon. Lady the Member for Devonport (Miss Vickers) will be glad to know —the organisation and methods of administration in the dockyards are also under constant review. As a result of inquiries at present in train, we hope to be able to get more men on to a job at one time without them getting in each other's way, and we also hope to provide increased scope for payment by results schemes.
As to the question of management, in which I know the hon. Lady has a particular interest, the duties of the Director of Dockyards and his superintendents are mainly administrative, and it is general administrative competence, not purely professional qualifications, which is the prime requirement for that post. Of course, I would agree entirely with her that civilians are as competent administrators as are naval officers but I think there is obvious gain in having in charge of the dockyards men who have themselves been in command of ships and can anticipate the kind of help which a ship may require.
The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele), in the opening speech for the Opposition, expressed concern not only for employees who may be discharged as a result of the cuts which are now contemplated, but also for local authorities in areas where Admiralty establishments may have to be closed down. That concern was echoed by 175 several other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. W. Edwards), my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) and the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. P. Wells).
There are, as I think these hon. Members recognise, two distinct problems—the personal problem and the civic problem. From the personal angle, the first thing to remember is that our reorganisation will be spread over a long period, up to five or perhaps even more years. That means that we can take steps to lessen the shock of the run down—for example, by not replacing normal wastage due to retirements or death. It also means that we can often give long notice of our intentions, which will enable those who are affected to make arrangements to find new jobs.
The second thing to remember is that not every employee at an establishment which is closed down thereby loses his job. A high proportion of Admiralty workers are what are known as established people, and the Admiralty, as a result, has to offer them alternative employment. They may, of course, have to move to another part of the country but that, after all, is one of the conditions of establishment which has been undertaken.
The problem, therefore, of redundancy, as opposed to that of redeployment, is confined to non-established employees. There are various ways in which those people can be helped. First, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister explained to the House in March, the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Labour inform employers when factory space and labour are likely to become available. Secondly, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour announced in the House last Wednesday, there is a Government scheme to help workers who have to leave their families in order to get new jobs. Finally, those non-established workers who have been employed in the Admiralty for seven years will receive a gratuity.
It is, of course, most disagreeable for us in the Admiralty to have to discharge people who have worked well and long for us, but these discharges are the reverse side of the coin which appeared so bright when the Minister of Defence announced his new policy. In the previous debate which we had, on the Vote on Account, I 176 asked for the co-operation of Members in implementing cuts which, in some areas, may be most unwelcome. It is not a pleasant task that we have to perform, but we are all agreed, I think, that defence cuts are necessary in the national interest, and therefore we must, however painful it is, face the effects of these cuts manfully when they come and wherever they come.
Apart from the personal side, local authorities may also be affected. One of my first duties on coming to the Admiralty was one which was especially distasteful to me, as a Scotsman, and that was to announce that Invergordon was to be reduced to a care and maintenance basis. It is possible, however, by giving long warning of our intention to close, and by giving details of any buildings which may become available for factory space, to soften the blow somewhat.
I was particularly delighted to receive the other day a letter from the Orkneys which hon. Members might be interested to hear. It says:Resolved: That this Council…place on record their grateful appreciation of the employment, amenities and other benefits provided by the Admiralty…which have done so much to improve the standards of living throughout these Islands…It is not often that gratitude for past service is expressed in this way, and I hope that other areas which we may have to leave, much against our inclination, will feel the same, and will respond to our going with the same adult manner of appreciation as these worthy Orcadians have done. I can assure their Member that the points which he raised today will be looked into, and I will write to him about them.
However, until our plans are announced, I would warn hon. Gentlemen not to worry unduly about rumours which they may hear of impending closures. As I have informed my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe) in answer to a Question recently, we have, wherever possible, stopped new building work. That is a precautionary measure only, and it does not necessarily mean that the Navy is on the way out in any particular area where it has stopped work. It has been done because, until we have decided on the new shape of the Navy we cannot tell exactly what our new requirements are and where they can best be met.
177 My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) asked a question about the effect which naval cuts might have upon our position in N.A.T.O. Of course, as he will appreciate, the allocation of N.A.T.O. commands is not only a naval problem. The N.A.T.O. organisation, its strategic concepts and plans, are never static, but are constantly under review to take account of the change and threat to the alliance, and of new developments in military weapons.
Thus the recent review of the United Kingdom's defence policy and the plans now being produced mean that, though the United Kingdom's contribution may be less in respect of numbers, the forces available to N.A.T.O. will be powerful, streamlined and much more up to date. In fact, in terms of punch. both atomic and conventional, the naval contribution will compare favourably with that of our allies, and the task group organisation which we envisage will add flexibility, mobility and versatility to our naval organisation.
My hon. and gallant Friend also asked me a question about nuclear development. I can assure him, whatever the signs in public may be, that we arc pressing ahead with that as fast as we possibly can. We realise its importance and we want to get development on the sea side as economic as we have succeeded in getting it on the land side of nuclear engineering. The point raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke)—
§ Mr. Steele
Has the hon. Member's attention been drawn to an article by the science correspondent inThe Timestoday in which it is said that everything in the garden is not lovely? If he has not read it, will he have a look at it?
§ Mr. Galbraith
I have not read it, but, as the hon. Member will know, any garden which is worth while has to be weeded. Flowers do not spring up without a lot of hard work, and that is what we are now engaged in doing. I will certainly read the article to which the hon. Member has referred. I do not ask the Committee to expect anything quick. I am merely trying to assure hon. Members that we are aware of the 178 problem and that we are pressing ahead with work on it as fast as we can.
The hon. Member for Gateshead, West (Mr. Randall) spoke very feelingly—
§ Brigadier Clarke
Will the Civil Lord finish what he was saying about his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West?
§ Mr. Galbraith
All I was going to say to my hon. and gallant Friend was that the points that he made about Portsmouth with regard to nuclear development will be borne in mind.
The hon. Member for Gateshead, West spoke about habitability. Considerable efforts have been directed recently towards improving the standard of living accommodation in Her Majesty's ships. As the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East pointed out, it is not an easy problem to solve, but we are doing the very best we can, and in new ships, particularly the smaller ones, the mess decks have been redesigned to incorporate improved kit lockers and modern furnishing material.
The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West has criticised some of the remarks that I made, in winding up the Vote on Account debate, on the subject of aircraft. He seems to think that the Navy was rather casual in the attention that it gave to the speedy production of aircraft. He is quite wrong in that. The Fleet Air Arm is an integral part of the Navy. In fact, it is the very existence of aircraft which makes the carrier the capital ship of the Navy today and, far from being lukewarm, the Navy is most anxious to press ahead with these weapons. If the hon. Member will look at Votes 8 and 9, the principal production Votes, he will see that though there has been a substantial cut overall, the money to be spent on aircraft is higher this year than last year.
I now come to another matter raised by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) today, that of Admiral North. I should like to congratulate the Committee on the restraint which it has shown on that subject. It would have been very easy to turn to the dramatic events concerning Admiral North rather than discuss the drier subjects of naval administration. Nevertheless, I am sure that the Committee's choice was wise, and that we have been right to spend most of our time on the nuts and bolts of the Navy.
179 The relief of Admiral North from his post as Flag Officer commanding North Atlantic is a matter which has received a good deal of publicity lately. I can well understand that this matter should have been raised, but I hope that the hon. Member will forgive me if I do not attempt a reply. As the Committee knows, a number of Questions to the Prime Minister are on the Order Paper, and I do not wish to anticipate anything that my right hon. Friend has to say.
I think I have time only to deal with one more point, and that is to answer the question raised by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West, who made great play, as did several of his hon. Friends, with some conflict which they appeared to detect between the policy enunciated in the Defence White Paper and that contained in the Explanatory Statement. I think that the hon. Member must be suffering from some kind of psychological illness, for this is an inversion of the troubles which afflict his own party. I can assure him that there is no conflict on this side of the Committee, and that in matters of defence, as in others, the Government speak with one voice.
I am sorry that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton has left the Chamber. He made a very interesting suggestion regarding an actual extension of the rôle of the Navy, which I am sure my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence will study carefully.
With regard to uncertainty, as the White Paper states, there is some uncertainty as to the rôle which the Royal Navy might play in a global war, but it is not because there is any doubt or uncertainty as to the Navy's capacity; the uncertainty is as to the course which a war might take. Obviously, at the moment, if there were a sharp exchange of nuclear weapons and that was the end of the matter—I do not know what is amusing the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey). If he listened to what I am saying he might be able to understand the Government's policy.
§ Mr. Galbraith
I am not discussing the Foreign Secretary; I am discussing naval policy.
180 If there were an exchange of nuclear weapons that might be the end of the matter, and the Navy would not have had time to play its part. But wars have always lasted longer than has been expected in advance. In 1914 the war was to be over by Christmas—in a matter of months—yet it lasted for years. Now, although the pundits speak in terms of days or, at the most, weeks, if the unexpected happened again and we must be prepared for that—and if the war were not over at once, we should be lost without a Navy, and in danger of defeat by starvation.
Fortunately, the need to provide against that danger creates no difficulty, because the Navy is a utility article. Its ships can undertake a variety of different rôles, and its use is not confined to one type of war. Thus, the ships which at the moment are disposed throughout the world, engaged in the cold war, and which are ready to deploy force wherever it is wanted at short notice in a limited war, are the very same ships which, in a global nuclear war, might be decisive in preventing defeat by starvation. For it is not the first round which counts; it is the capacity for sustained and lasting effort which tells in the end.
That, it has been proved time and time again, despite all forecasts to the contrary, is what is required to win a war, and that is precisely what the Navy provides by its ability to reduce the danger of starvation. Thus, the Navy, in the new shape which is being cast for it, looks forward with confidence to executing, admittedly in changed circumstances, the same traditional rôle that it has discharged so brilliantly through the centuries.
The need for a Navy is as strong as ever it was, and so I ask the Committee to let us have the money which will enable the Navy to play its part effectively—
§ Brigadier Clarke
Will my hon. Friend give a categorical assurance that he will support what two First Lords have said in the last eighteen months, namely, that there will be no need to worry about work in the dockyards; that there is plenty of work for the foreseeable future? Will he confirm that?
§ Mr. Galbraith
If my hon. and gallant Friend reads my speech tomorrow in HANSARD—I am sorry if he did not hear 181 what I said—he will see how far I can go in that matter.
As I said, the need for a Navy is as strong as ever, and I would therefore ask the Committee to let the Government have the money which will enable the Navy to play its part effectively in defending our country from any dangers which may beset it.
§ Whereupon Motion made, and Question,That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again—[Mr. Oakshott]—put and agreed to.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.
§ NATIONAL HEALTH SERVICE
That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to make provision fur requiring persons who pay, or are liable to pay, contributions under the National Insurance Act, 1946, as amended by subsequent enactments, to pay contributions towards the cost of the national
health service, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of—
§ Resolution agreed to.
§ Instruction to the Committee on the Bill that they have power to make provision therein pursuant to the said Resolution.