Motion made, and Question proposed,
That 112,000 Officers, Seamen and Juniors and Royal Marines, who are borne on the books of Her Majesty's Ships and at the Royal Marine establishments, and members of the Women's Royal Naval Service and Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service, be employed for the Sea Service, for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1959
§ 3.49 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Robert Allan)
Sir Charles, you were in the Chair when I made my maiden speech in this House on the Navy Estimates. Since then, my association, first with the Whips and then with Prime Ministers, put me in almost continuous political purdah. Therefore I approach this, which is virtually my maiden speech from this Box, without the confidence that I would have wished. In my only previous speech from here, the benches opposite, although beautifully carved, were entirely empty.
I derive some comfort, however, and also hope, from knowing that the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) is to speak after me. Nearly ten years ago the hon. Gentleman defeated me by a fairly small margin at a by-election. Despite that very unfortunate event and the agony of a recount, we have remained good friends. I know that he shares with me a very real affection for the Navy.
Before we consider the Estimates for 1958–59, the Committee will want an explanation of the Supplementary Estimate for the year which has ended. It is required for four general headings: to meet the increased payments to personnel; to meet increased prices for material and transport; to allow for a shortfall in receipts; and to pay for extra services and higher production.
979 The first three items, which account for £26½ million, are not within the control of the Admiralty. Increases in salaries and wages during the year, for instance, amount to £5 million. Increased prices and freight charges are costing us an extra £9½ million. Compensation payments to officers and ratings for premature retirement will amount to £2½ million. This makes a total of £17 million under the first two headings which I have mentioned.
I am afraid that we overestimated our receipts. We expected to receive just over £3 million more than we are likely to get for work for other countries. This has been due partly to delays and partly to accounting difficulties, but mainly to the simple fact that we did not get the amount of orders which we expected. Our sales of equipment and stores will be about £2¼ million lower than was expected. We did not succeed in selling certain oil-fuel stocks as we had hoped to do, but we are using that oil ourselves and so avoiding future purchases. The Committee will know that there has been a sharp fall in tanker-charter rates which has reduced our income. All these items, taken together, reduced our expected receipts by £9½ million.
As regards the fourth heading, "extra services and higher production", we were able to buy earlier than expected a number of Hunter training aircraft from the Air Ministry to enable us to give naval pilots a training in swept-wing aircraft. This involved no additional charge to public funds. It was a transaction between the Admiralty and the Air Ministry and it benefits us in the Admiralty by letting us get Scimitars more safely and more quickly into operational service.
The most important item under this general heading was the unexpectedly rapid progress made with the naval new construction programme, which accounts for the remaining £7 million of our Supplementary Estimate. In preparing our Estimates each year it is the practice to allow for probable underspending on contract work and other services. Long experience shows that some such allowance is nearly always necessary. Indeed, the Admiralty has a very good record in carrying out these Estimates.
If, however, as happened this year, the programme goes better than expected, 980 there is not enough cash to meet it. When, during the course of the year, the Admiralty received indications that this was happening, it examined the whole field of expenditure to see where economies could be made. Substantial savings were achieved and some items were deferred or cancelled altogether, but, particularly in the shipbuilding field, there is an economic limit to such action. It is almost always more expensive in the long run to delay a programme than to complete it at its natural speed.
The Committee can take satisfaction in that we are getting some of our ships more quickly than expected and that this year's spurt in production should bring its financial reward in a later year. Even with this Supplementary Estimate, taking into account the general rise in prices, the Navy is spending less in real terms this year than in any of the last six years. The Estimates for the coming year show that we shall be asking Parliament to make a grant of £339 million or £12 million less than we shall have asked for in 1957–58.
It has long been known that the naval programme would be particularly costly in 1958–59, and in the following year, too. The gross cost of the original programme for this year, as increased by new commitments such as higher Service pay and compensation, would have been well over £450 million. In reducing this to £410 million we have made economies of nearly £50 million. The way in which some of these savings have been made is described in paragraph 3 of my noble Friend's Explanatory Statement. The Committee will note that we have done all we can to avoid further cuts in our new construction programme.
If the Committee will forgive me, I will not take it through the details of the Votes. I will only draw attention to two things. First, is a change in presentation in Vote 8, II. Here, subhead A, which previously covered a very wide range of stores and equipment, has now been broken down into four more detailed subheads. This was done at the request of the Select Committee on Estimates.
The second is that, on Vote 8, III, as a higher proportion of refitting and modernisation of our ships will in future be done in the dockyards, there is less to spend on contract work of this sort. 981 The gross expenditure on all Votes is estimated, as I have said, at £410 million. We have no reason to expect the same setbacks with receipts that we experienced this year. We put these receipts at £71 million and so our net Estimates come to £339 million.
The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West remarked last week that the plan for the Navy appeared to have been changed since last year. In fact, it has only been more closely defined. No one can really complain about that. [Laughter.] I would like to get this straight. There have been considerable doubts in Parliament and in the country about the future of the Navy. Both from the point of view of the confidence of the public and the confidence of the Navy itself, it is important that this point should be cleared up.
The Defence White Paper and the debate we had last week have already gone far to clear it up. I will now go a little further. Some of the doubts have arisen from a misinterpretation of the statement in last year's Defence White Paper that the rôle of the naval forces in total war was somewhat uncertain.
§ Mr. Allan
This did not mean that the Navy had no rôle in total war, or, indeed, anywhere else, as some critics of the Navy tended to infer. It meant only what it said. It meant that in total war the duties of the Navy could not yet be exactly defined. Nobody can be certain what will happen if we have total war, but we are clearer on some points. Today, defence cannot be explained in terms of any one single Service.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that his predecessor has already described the rôle of the Navy in the event of nuclear war? The rôle of the Navy was described as to go to sea and save itself and leave the country behind.
§ Mr. Allan
I intend to develop a recent pronouncement of my right hon. 982 Friend, the statement he made in the defence debate last week.
For reasons of efficiency and economy, on which the whole defence policy is based, the three Services have to take their place together in a single pattern, and the pattern is outlined in the Defence White Paper. It is the Navy's part in that pattern that I want to discuss with the Committee today.
The Navy's tasks have been defined. They are: in global war to make an effective contribution to the combined naval forces of the Western Alliance; in limited war to protect sea communications, to escort troops and supplies to the theatre of operations and to give them support in action; and, in peacetime, to carry out Britain's responsibilities in Colonies and protected territories, to defend shipping, and generally to contribute by its presence to the maintenance of peace and stability.
In examining the first of those tasks, an outstanding fact is that the Russians continue to build an extremely large and powerful navy. The number of 500 submarines was frequently mentioned in the House last week. That number is not static and it is certainly not being reduced. There are 23 Sverdlov cruisers and a very large number of destroyers and supporting ships. The Russian naval air arm consists of 3,500 planes.
There must be some purpose behind all this. The Kremlin cannot like spending the vast sums such forces require any more than Whitehall does. A Russian admiral recently wrote in Red Star that if an enemy managed to break England's sea and ocean communications in the event of war this would prove catastrophic for her.
§ Mr. Allan
Marshal Zhukov's much-quoted comment, that in a future war the struggle at sea will be of immeasurably greater importance than in the past, is along the same lines. The Russians are quite obviously thinking in terms of some form of naval warfare. This must be, indeed is, the only possible explanation of the emphasis on submarines. The Western Powers must be able to make it plain that they can at least contain this fleet. This can only be done by the N.A.T.O. fleet which, like 983 the forces of SACEUR, forms part of the deterrent to war.
From this, it emerges that the Royal Navy must make the most effective contribution to N.A.T.O. that it can. In this contribution we are giving greater emphasis to anti-submarine work. The Committee already knows of our antisubmarine and other new construction programmes. We are increasing the numbers of anti-submarine helicopters in our carriers in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, although those carriers will continue to carry strike and fighter aircraft for without them they would be defenceless against air or surface attack.
The great advances in methods of submarine detection—in which, incidentally, the Royal Navy is well to the fore—and in weapons of submarine destruction, have greatly helped defence in the battle against at least the conventional submarine. Many exercises have by now given the N.A.T.O. Navy the greater strength which comes from unity of command and action. This is all to the good, but we cannot say that we have got complete mastery. There are as yet, so far as we know, no fleets of nuclear submarines. Their coming, however, is inevitable and is bound to transform the position.
The Admiralty, of course, is working on this, but it may be that the most effective counter to the nuclear submarine will be another nuclear submarine. The great battles for sea supremacy have for centuries been fought on the sea. For a period, they have been fought over the sea. Perhaps in future they will be fought under the sea.
The almost unlimited underwater endurance, speed, manœuvrability and the great diving depth of the nuclear submarine are revolutionary in naval war. The tactical superiority of these submarines may be minimised by new defensive devices, but their strategic value especially when armed with Polaris, is incalculable. Polaris, the importance of which was recognised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wells (Lieut.-Commander Maydon), is a ballistic missile now being developed in the United States for launching from a submerged submarine. It is stated that it will have a range of about 1,500 miles and beyond, with a megaton warhead.
984 Nuclear submarines thus armed—it is said that they can carry up to 20 or more missiles—will be able to place themselves within missile range of almost any target in the world with little fear of detection or, indeed, of counter-attack.
§ Mr. Allan
The facts have all been given in the Press.
As I have said, this makes the development of our own H.M.S. "Dreadnought" even more urgent, but, however urgent it may be, spectacular progress cannot be expected because of the largely experimental nature of the work involved. Nevertheless, we have made some progress. Hon. Members will have read in the Explanatory Statement that in November, 1957, the Zero Energy Reactor, Neptune, was brought into use. The purpose of this reactor is to enable scientists to work out the basic problems connected with a high-pressure, water-cooled reactor.
Operating experience with Neptune has so far been highly satisfactory. The construction of the Admiralty experimental site at Dounreay has gone according to plan and the main building for the prototype reactor and its machinery should be finished this May.
Last April, agreement was reached with the United States for the exchange of information on nuclear submarines and we have already received a good deal of assistance under that agreement. Admiral Rickover, who is in charge of the American nuclear submarine project, came over to this country in January, at our invitation, and had talks with the Admiralty, with the contractors and with the Atomic Energy Authority. He gave us most helpful advice and we discussed with him what more might be done to hasten the completion of the first nuclear propelled ship in the Royal Navy.
So far, I have been talking about the first task of the Navy in the general defence pattern. The second and third tasks—
§ Mr. Thomas Steele (Dunbartonshire, West)
Before the hon. Gentleman continues, has he anything more to say about the committee, under the chairmanship of the Civil Lord, which is considering nuclear propulsion for merchant ships?
§ Mr. Allan
I am grateful to the hon. Member for raising that matter, but as the Civil Lord is chairman of that committee, it would, perhaps, be better if I left it to him to explain later this afternoon what it has done; and it has done something.
The second and third tasks are those undertaken by the Navy in limited war and in peacetime. In peacetime, the Navy provides frigates or destroyers for detached duty at focal points of British interest. They have proved that they can be adequate by themselves to control situations of potential trouble. They can only do that because it is known that behind them lie reinforcements in the form of composite, mobile naval squadrons grouped round the aircraft carrier. The sentry, by himself, is often good enough, but the guard must be in the background to be called out if necessary.
Here, I should like to stress the importance of the rôle of the commando carrier assigned to H.M.S. "Bulwark". This ship will give the Royal Marines a new and exciting job to do with the Royal Navy. She will carry a complete commando unit of about 600 officers and men. Helicopters will put the whole force, including its vehicles, well inland. In addition, landing craft will be carried.
When landed, that force will be able to undertake some weeks of intensive military operations on shore without further reinforcement. I hope that the decision on this ship, which should be in service in her new guise in the summer of next year, will make it quite clear that the Admiralty attaches the greatest importance to the Royal Marines. They figure largely in all our plans.
The naval squadrons I have just mentioned not only reinforce the detached ships on outlying stations, but also provide the naval contribution to the United Kingdom forces for any limited war in which we might be involved. Here, the Tiger class cruisers will prove their value. Incidentally, these cruisers, when detached, are very powerful independent 986 units, and can mother attendant ships which, without them, could not operate on their own for any great length of time. If total war came, all our forces would be grouped together in the N.A.T.O. fleets, to honour our obligations to that alliance.
It is not only total war that we seek to deter, it is any war. We must smother even the first flickers of war. The Royal Navy has an important part in preventing, containing or even smothering all degrees of conflict, from local trouble to limited war. This is all part of the Navy's contribution to the general deterrent against war. For the Navy to be effective in this way, it must be a fighting Navy. There can be no bluff about this. Dummy ships will not do, and second-rate ships with inferior equipment will not do, either—
§ Mr. Allan
That is a first-rate ship.
They must be first rate ships, and the quality of the equipment and the men in them must be such that it can be judged first-rate by all who see them. This is all the more important now that an increasing number of countries are receiving up-to-date military equipment from behind the Iron Curtain. In fact, the Navy must be a fighting Navy if it is to do its job of keeping the peace.
Up to now, I have been discussing where the Navy fits into the broad pattern of defence. Rather than discuss, as is often customary on these occasions, the details of individual ships, I thought that since my noble Friend has already given a great many details about them the Committee might perhaps prefer to look into the future and have an appreciation of how our naval forces would be used in action.
The submarine attack would be the most deadly against any naval squadron, whether on convoy or other duties. To meet it, our modern anti-submarine vessels are fitted with an underwater detection and attack system that has been developed since the war. A technique of attack from the air by helicopters has also been developed, and these machines will make a vital contribution to antisubmarine warfare.
Our own submarines themselves are, of course, playing an ever more important 987 anti-submarine rôle. This whole field is one where continual research and development is necessary to meet the increasing threat. The United States rocket-assisted torpedo and nuclear depth charges are examples of the sort of work that is being done. The recently-announced concentration of our underwater research activities will speed up our own developments.
Air and surface attacks might also coincide with a submarine attack. In this case, the squadron will have a distant screen of radar picket ships and aircraft to detect attacking bombers and guide its own fighters on to them. These bombers will, in due course, be capable of delivering stand-off guided bombs. Those bombers that get through and, indeed even their bombs, will be attacked by the Seaslugs of the guided-missile ships. The air defences will also have to deal with reconnaisance aircraft, which will be guiding the enemy submarines in to an attacking position. The surface attack will be primarily met by the carriers' aircraft, but also by attendant surface ships.
In a more peaceful vein, I should like to mention the value of naval visits. This is derided sometimes, but only by those who have not seen it. Last summer, H.M.S. "Maidstone" and H.M.S. "Ocean" visited Helsinki in connection with the trade fair there. Our ambassador reported that, although the fair was a great success, in earning the good will and admiration of the man in the street the naval ships and R.A.F. aircraft "stole the show", and had a general effect in a far wider field than that of trade promotion.
The Committee can see from my noble Friend's Explanatory Statement the number of visits paid by the ships of the Royal Navy. The praise they have evoked—and I must say that I have been astonished on reading this in the files of the Admiralty—is proof that these visits, which are deemed by some to be as outdated as courtesy itself—still have a very real value.
These, then, are the jobs that the Navy has to do. The same ships can do them all, because they are so versatile. The ship that is part of the battle squadron that I have just described can, at any time, be detached to perform police duties, or can show the flag with dignity—
§ Mr. Walter Edwards (Stepney)
Does the hon. Gentleman think that these visits of Her Majesty's ships abroad do far more good than does the Foreign Secretary when he goes abroad?
§ Mr. Allan
I do not think that the Committee would expect me to answer that. There is no doubt that these visits do an immense amount of good.
The authorised ceiling for recruiting is 98,000 men, of whom 88,000 will be—to use that rather ghastly phrase—"U.K. adult males." The run down to that figure will be completed by 1963. In the meantime, the Admiralty has had the unpleasant task of starting the rundown by retirements. All those to be retired have now been told, and the minimum of hurt to pride and prospects has been achieved. The Committee will be glad to know that resettlement seems to be going well.
We are sure that the future of the Navy that has now been shown will give encouragement to those in the Navy, and to those wishing to join it. Service in the Navy is something to be proud of, and something to enjoy. The new pay scales make it not unrewarding in a material sense, either. The manpower strength I have mentioned can be maintained by an annual rate of recruitment no greater than we actually achieved in 1956–57, and may now confidently expect, again.
The Committee will be glad to know that we mean to bring the W.R.N.S. up to full strength. This will be popular because, after all, it gives the aspiring sailor a double chance. If he cannot marry the Admiral's daughter, he may, as I did, marry his flag lieutenant.
Hon. Members on all sides may wish to hear and discuss the Admiralty's plans for what is commonly known as the "tail". Perhaps I may first mention the Reserve Fleet. The strength of the Reserve Fleet is governed by the need to keep an operational reserve, and to meet, in an emergency, the requirements of N.A.T.O. Apart from this, however, the Admiralty has no desire to hoard old ships for which it can see no use, and the reduction of the Reserve Fleet is being accelerated.
To enlighten and assist hon. Members, my noble Friend has included in his 989 Statement a section on civilians. From this it will be seen that 75 per cent. of the Admiralty's civilian employees are concerned with the construction, maintenance and distribution of the ships, weapons and equipment that are needed by the fleet. Nowadays, the sailor has to have three separate characteristics—those of a fighting man, of a technician, and also of extreme mobility.
It is extravagant to employ men with such triple qualifications in posts which could be adequately filled by the civilian with trade qualifications only. The general policy of the employment of civilians by the Admiralty cannot be challenged. Whether it employs too many civilians is a matter which must be, and is, being continually probed by hon. Members and by the Admiralty itself. If hon. Members wish to take this matter further, I can assure them that they will be pushing against an open door as far as the Admiralty is concerned.
I must say one word in defence of the civilians. Those who serve in ships, and, I suppose, those who serve in tanks and aircraft, too, are sometimes apt to think that all that the civilian does, when he can be torn away from his teapot, is to wield a large rubber stamp marked, "No". As I have already said, civilians provide the equipment and services for their uniformed colleagues. The better they do this, the more powerful is the fighting arm which can be provided, and the more sailors are freed to use it.
The dividing line which is sometimes drawn between teeth and tail can be an over-simplification. I am not saying this in the hope that I might find a bunch of flowers on my desk tomorrow morning, but because I think it is right that we should realise that civilians, certainly in the naval service, are essential to the whole team, and that they are as conscious as anyone of the need to get the maximum number of ships and sailors to sea.
I will not take the Committee through the details of the measures to reduce shore support which were announced last month. They are fully set out in my noble Friend's Statement. The Admiralty has already expressed its great regret for the hardships and the breaks with tradition which result from these measures, but it is determined that its 990 policy of getting the most effective possible fleet to sea should not be thwarted by shore administration swallowing up too much of the Navy Votes. As paragraph 60 of my noble Friend's Statement says:These eventual savings total about 23,000 civilian posts at home and abroad, between 6,000 and 7,000 Naval posts ashore, and mean a saving of £15½ million a year. They will make available more men to serve at sea; and more of our resources will be released for the paramount purpose of maintaining the strength of the sea going fleet.Partly as a result of this policy, but due more to the leadership of my noble Friend and of the First Sea Lord, the Royal Navy today has a new faith in itself. In submitting these Estimates, I ask the Committee to record its faith too.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Steele (Dunbartonshire, West)
I should like to say, first, that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty has acquitted himself very well indeed as a new recruit to the Government Front Bench in debates on the Navy Estimates. I must say that it has not escaped the notice of my hon. Friends behind me, or perhaps of hon. Gentlemen who sit on the opposite benches, that the Parliamentary Secretary is a Scotsman and comes from the Clyde. Both the Clyde and the Forth will be well represented in this debate.
Although I have said that, it does not necessarily follow or mean that I agree with all that the hon. Gentleman had to say. I think that would be asking too much of any two Scotsmen in any place at any time anywhere, and, as I proceed with what I have to say, I will take up a number of the points he made. Thinking over his speech as the hon. Gentleman made it, and remembering the number of announcements which have been made by the Civil Lord and the Parliamentary Secretary over the past few days about closures, reorganisation, and so forth, I think it is true to say that this debate is one of the most important on the Royal Navy that we have had for many years.
The Parliamentary Secretary began by telling us that he wanted a Vote of £339 million for the Royal Navy, and, in effect, that is £24¼ million more than last year. He went on to say that the reason for this was higher costs of 991 materials, transport and other things. Reading the first paragraph of the First Lord's Explanatory Statement, I found an interesting note, and the Parliamentary Secretary himself mentioned it this afternoon. The White Paper says that, despite the fact that the Navy is asking for £24¼ million more this year, taking this figure on 1957 values, it is, in effect, having £6 million less in spending power. What is this? Merely an apology for the general inefficiency of the Government as a whole. That is what it seems to me to be.
Each year, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty comes to the House and has a particular task to perform. It falls to him to explain the rôle of the Royal Navy, and, in the last three years, we have had three Parliamentary Secretaries all giving their different versions. This year, we have another Parliamentary Secretary, and he has told us that the more things appear to be different the more they remain the same. While we have had four Parliamentary Secretaries in the last few years, we have not yet reached the record of Ministers of Defence. We have had seven of them.
However, all the Parliamentary Secretaries have shown a fair amount of consistency. They have not always agreed with the Minister of Defence, but that is understandable. I have taken the opportunity over the weekend to re-read all the speeches of the Parliamentary Secretaries on the rôle of the Navy, and, quite frankly, while they have been consistent in a way, while there has been emphasis this way and the other, there has been one constant factor. At the end of the day, we have had a smaller Navy than we had before. That has been consistent, and this year, not only is it ships that have to go, but dockyards, air stations, and various other things as well.
We had a long list of closures given to us by the Civil Lord, which appears in HANSARD for 28th March last year. Various announcements have been made throughout the year, and we had the drastic announcement of 18th February about which, by the very nature of things, a great deal will be said today. I shall have a word or two to say about it myself. On the question of the Nore Command, I understand that my right hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) would 992 like to say something about that. Many of my hon. Friends behind me, and no doubt hon. Members on the other side, will deal with particular points where their constituents are affected.
Last year, the Parliamentary Secretary, who is now the Secretary of State for War, delighted us all with a vigorous exposition of the rôle of the Navy. I can remember the clear picture that he painted of the operational aspect of the fleet. He gave us a picture of a streamlined peacetime Navy; I think self-sufficiency, mobility and versatility were the key words he used to illustrate the merits of the scheme. The scheme was for a number of task groups around which the Navy was to be formed for service in different parts of the world.
I have searched the White Paper on this occasion, and, as far as I can see, there is no mention of task groups whatever. All this has been explained to us by the Parliamentary Secretary this afternoon. Although, in the past, various Parliamentary Secretaries have expounded to us the rôle of the Navy, there are still some doubts, but, in effect, his point this year is that the rôle of the Navy is being more "closely defined." Those, I think, were the words he used.
To my mind, the really significant thing about the rôle of the Navy and about what is said in the White Paper is this. Apparently, the decision has been made that the Navy now will have no rôle to play, and will not be expected to play any rôle, in the delivery of the deterrent. The idea of a mobile, floating base is obviously out of consideration altogether, though whether this applies to the submarine or not, I am not quite sure. During the recent defence debate, the hon. and gallant Member for Wells (Lieut.-Commander Maydon) deployed the argument that the submarine, with Polaris, should be used for this purpose, and perhaps the Civil Lord can tell us whether anything is being done in that connection.
The Minister of Defence has, I think, come part way with the Admiralty on the question of broken-back warfare after the initial exchange in global war. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would either nod or shake his head to show whether that is so.
§ Mr. Steele
The right hon. Gentleman did say, in the defence debate, that opinions still differ as to the rôle of the Navy in global war, although the Parliamentary Secretary today and all Parliamentary Secretaries have told us that that really does not matter. In effect, the Navy has a job to do and will do it. However, the right hon. Gentleman did mention—this is why I thought he had gone some part of the way with the Admiralty on broken-back war—the submarine threat, going on to say that this threat could arise and might have to be dealt with, without total war or global war coming on.
Much of the debate on the Defence White Paper last week touched on this very point about "black and white" and what was to happen in the "grey" period. It looks as if there is here a situation, as described by the right hon. Gentleman, in which there is a threat of starvation to this island by submarine, a situation in which, in effect, the Minister of Defence is doubtful whether the ultimate deterrent should be used. This adds some weight to the expert exposition by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) on this very matter during the Defence debate. However, at the same time, the right hon. Gentleman was very careful, as always; he told us that the effects of all these changes should not be exaggerated and, obviously, he is not yet convinced about what the rôle of the Navy should be.
If my interpretation is correct, all these decisions are not being brought about by consultation and agreement with our allies in N.A.T.O. but are made in the context of keeping defence expenditure down to the figure decided upon by the Minister of Defence.
As regards task forces, the only balanced operational fleet which will now be in operation will be at Singapore. As I understand, this is the only task group to be in operation. I should like to ask what contribution New Zealand, Australia or any other Commonwealth country might be making to this fleet. Some of my hon. Friends, and others, were invited to "Exercise Fairlead" last year. We were all very impressed by what we saw. As I understood it, the purpose of the exercise was to emphasise the co-operation and co-ordination among the Commonwealth Navies, and 994 I wonder whether a contribution is made by New Zealand, by Australia or some other country to the fleet based in Singapore.
In the debate on 7th November last year, the Minister of Defence stated that the areas in which limited war seemed most likely to occur, if it did, were in the Far East and the Persian Gulf. No doubt, it is for this reason that the commando carrier H.M.S. "Bulwark" is to be in that area. This is an idea put forward by hon. Members on both sides during defence debates, and I have no doubt that it will be warmly welcomed. Perhaps it is too much to assume that there has been some inter-Service planning here and that H.M.S. "Bulwark" will be in operation to help and assist in the rundown of other forces overseas.
As I understood, the Parliamentary Secretary indicated when H.M.S. "Bulwark" would be deployed, but I found it very difficult to appreciate from the White Paper that it would be next year. After all, H.M.S. "Albion" is going out to relieve H.M.S. "Bulwark". We all had a very pleasant day on H.M.S. "Albion" during the summer. The ship went to the N.A.T.O. exercises, and cannot possibly have had much work done on her up to the present. Or are we to take it that H.M.S. "Albion" is not to have an extensive refit at all? If so, she will not be up to date. If H.M.S. "Albion" is afterwards to go to the Far East and H.M.S. "Bulwark" is to come back, it seems more likely to be a two-year or three-year job, not something that can be done by the middle of next year.
The Parliamentary Secretary said that the Admiraly was very clever in recognising that certain work they hoped to have done would not be done. This may be one of the cases, and in another year we shall see how matters are proceeding. It seems to me that this is the kind of job—apart from global war, on which we had a great deal of discussion in the defence debate—which the Navy is much more likely to do, something very different from global war. This is just the kind of work for which a mobile force is required. There does not, however, seem to be any sense of urgency about it. However, if the Parliamentary Secretary says that it will be done by the middle of next year, that will be a very different matter.
§ Mr. R. Allan
She is relieved by H.M.S. "Albion" in August and comes home in August. She then starts immediately, and it is expected that it will take about a year.
§ Mr. Steele
When I was probing the frigate programme and the other programme, while we had promises, the performance was not up to the promises made.
While I am dealing with that part of the world, I might say a word about the Minister of Defence's plan to have a series of dumps of heavy equipment in various parts which will be linked up with Transport Command, the idea being that if an emergency should arise Transport Command will be able to take men and light equipment from this country quickly and efficiently to the spot where the emergency arises.
As I said in the defence debate, there is not much point in having the men flown out quickly if the heavy equipment is still in the dump in the place where the Minister of Defence has put it. No doubt it will have to be moved, perhaps by sea. I do not know what the Minister of Defence has in mind, but will ships be available, has there been close collaboration between the Services on this matter, and will the Admiralty have some responsibility? If the Admiralty has no responsibility, perhaps we can be told to whom we might direct our questions on this matter.
I have been reading some of the ideal sentiments expressed in the opening paragraphs of the Explanatory Statement, and they make me uncertain not so much about global war, but what the rôle of the naval forces will be in N.A.T.O. I wonder whether anybody really knows. It may be true that the anti-submarine rôle will turn out to be the best, although the notorious paragraph 12 makes this doubtful. The Parliamentary Secretary said this afternoon—and I have heard and read it on a number of occasions—that the best anti-submarine weapon is another submarine. We did not get very much information as to whether any progress was being made about this idea by the Parliamentary Secretary.
I feel that the use of the aircraft carrier and helicopters on anti-submarine work might be a rather expensive way of tackl- 996 ing this problem. However, if the main emphasis is on limited war, protection of the fleet from submarines should not require greater resources. For this, fighter and strike aircraft with transport helicopters might be more important. After all, this is another argument and might form the basis of the Parliamentary Secretary's speech on the rôle of the Navy when we debate the Estimates next year.
It is clear that we cannot get appropriate forces unless we know what functions they are to perform. Despite what the Parliamentary Secretary said, I think that there are still different opinions in the Government about the rôle of the Navy. The Government have all the information and it is about time that they made up their minds.
I would like to say a word now about the new construction. From what has been said in this debate and in the defence debate, it would appear that no aircraft carriers will be built after H.M.S. "Hermes". The United States plan to build one each year during the next five years. It may be that we are still in the nuclear deterrent race, but we are obviously not in this one. We are also told that four guided missile destroyers have been ordered; but we were told that last year and, if my memory serves me right, we were told that the year before. I have looked up the programme of construction and have examined Vote 8, and so on, but there is no indication that provision is being made in this year's Estimates for the construction of these missile ships. Perhaps we can be told whether construction will begin this year and where they are to be built. I think that that is a pertinent question for the Civil Lord which he will understand.
I have also had a look at the submarine programme. In this respect, the United States plan is very substantial indeed. As I understand, they have three nuclear submarines already in commission. Three are planned for 1958, six for 1959, eight for 1960 and five for 1961. That is a very substantial programme. We, of course, have just started. The point that I would like to put is this. As the United States have got so very far ahead in research, development and construction, it is not surprising that when Admiral Rickover came over here rumours got around that our project was to be stopped. If that was true, I was 997 worried in case the stoppage of work on the Dreadnought would hold up the general development of nuclear propulsion for other forms of ships.
I want to put this question to the Civil Lord to try to get his answer to it. I hope that the Committee will bear with me on this technical matter. As I understand it, H.M.S. "Dreadnought" is to be powered with the pressurised water reactor which is similar to, but, we hope, better than, that used for powering the American submarine "Nautilus". I am not sure whether it is this type of reactor with which the Civil Lord's committee is concerned. As I understand, the Civil Lord is much more concerned about the gas-cooled reactor, which is the Calder Hall type of reactor. If that is so, I wonder what we have to gain by expenditure on H.M.S. "Dreadnought". I said last year, and I repeat it, that we as politicians find it very difficult to follow the technicalities of this matter, but we do, however, recognise its importance.
What I want to be assured about is this. In view of our limited resources, are we spending too much money and making too great a use of material, scientists and technicians on H.M.S. "Dreadnought" to attempt to get information which is already in the possession of the Americans and, at the same time, neglecting the Calder Hall gas-cooled type of reactor on which we are far ahead of the Americans, a type of reactor which will, I understand, prove to be the cheapest and best for ship propulsion? I would like to put that to the Civil Lord, because I would like to have an assurance that the two projects are not competing with one another, but, in fact, are complementary. I hope that he will say something about that matter.
I note that we have five submarines under construction. Perhaps we can be told how up to date they will be, whether they will be suitable for conversion to nuclear propulsion, and whether they will be suitable for the firing of guided missiles.
There is one final point concerning construction. The Parliamentary Secretary told me, in reply to a Question the other day, that the new construction in the dockyards amounted to about 5 per cent. I have gone through the Navy Estimates 998 and carefully scrutinised all the work on new construction, but all I can find is two hulls for frigates and part of the machinery for a submarine. When one looks at what is being constructed—one aircraft carrier, three cruisers, five submarines, 14 frigates and 34 other ships—it is difficult to believe that two hulls and part of the machinery for a submarine represents as much as 5 per cent. of the total new construction.
The Civil Lord said that he hoped to put new construction in the dockyards up to £1¾ million. He did not say when or how or what percentage this would represent. Neither did he say—nor could he—that the dockyards could not undertake new construction. He told us that the prime purpose of the dockyards is to repair ships and not to build them. They have, however, built ships in the past. The dockyards are specifically equipped to deal with naval vessels. It is clear that fewer ships will be built and fewer refitted and repaired. Hon. Members will want the Board of Admiralty to give more consideration to this aspect.
I have been asked to put another point to the Minister on this subject. I have been told that before the war the dockyards undertook all the work of repairing and refitting the Post Office cable ships. Since the war, this has not been done. The dockyards have not been given this work. As these are Government ships, there does not seem to me to be any reason why they might not be repaired and refitted in the Government's own dockyards. It is a fair point to make and in view of the fact that the dockyards had this job before, perhaps the Civil Lord will have a word with his Ministerial colleagues and impress upon them, as he has tried to impress upon me, that the prime purpose of the dockyards is the repair and refitting of Government ships.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis), who will wind up the debate from this side of the Committee, will have a word to say concerning aircraft. I content myself by drawing attention to the interesting exchange between my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) and the Minister of Defence during last week's defence debate. The effect was to raise considerable doubt in my mind about the NA39 and even the DH110 and the N113 as to whether they are much too heavy for an 999 aircraft carrier. This doubt should be cleared up.
I have been comparing the list of ships of the Reserve Fleet as given in the White Paper with last year's figures and there is no doubt that there has been a considerable reduction. The Admiralty has even been getting rid of landing craft, which seems to me a very doubtful proposition, since we did not have any when they were required before. Now we are being told that we are getting rid of them.
We are, however, still holding on to H.M.S. "Vanguard", about which one or two Questions have been asked. We have never had a satisfactory answer. Perhaps we can be told what it is costing. The other four battleships have now gone to be broken up. Can the Civil Lord tell us, either tonight or at some other convenient time, how much we have got for these ships, what price they have brought in the open market and whether all the other ships have gone to the yards or whether some of them have been sold to other countries?
I should like now to turn to the statement made by the Civil Lord on 18th February. I do not want to cover all the ground I covered in last year's debate, when I dealt extensively with the social consequences of the likely changes to the men and the families concerned. Last year, it was a fear; this year, it is a reality. I know that the Admiralty is appreciative of this problem and has said as much. It is not an easy one to tackle. The solution will not be simple and must be tackled with resource and energy.
Some of the areas affected will be difficult and others, where the whole population is more or less dependent on the Service, will require a great and sustained effort. We are not against economies—we never have been; but we are concerned, and rightly, about the welfare of those who are affected by the changes.
It is all very well for the Minister to say that the Minister of Labour and the President of the Board of Trade have the matter in hand. They are busy men and have many problems. In view of the special circumstances of this matter and the long and faithful service given by those concerned, the Ministers responsible for the Navy must not imagine that having handed over the problem to 1000 their colleagues, they can escape responsibility. We look to them to use their influence and to prod their ministerial colleagues accordingly.
There is some action which can, and must, be taken by the Admiralty which might be of assistance. In the dockyards, at the air stations and elsewhere, there are buildings, workshops and sites which will become available. The first duty is to ensure that early notification of what is available should be given to the Board of Trade or to anyone who is responsible.
I utter this word of warning. I hope that the Admiralty will not sterilise a whole area, because it might want to keep part of it for use in the future. We had correspondence from Invergordon on this matter when the Admiralty decided to put Invergordon on a care and maintenance basis. The local authority and the people of the area complained bitterly that what was happening was the sterilisation of the area. The Admiralty must bear this in mind and, when it has made a ruthless decision of this nature, carry it right through and make sure that the whole area is not sterilised.
Who is to determine the price of buildings or sites that become available? I have been making inquiries and I understand that the matter is left to the Service Department itself. A case has been brought to my attention involving, not the Admiralty, but another Service, in which a building and a site became available and a prospective tenant was found, but the price demanded was quite unreasonable. In effect, the prospective tenant was able to purchase a site and build a new factory at less cost than to purchase the site from the Department. This seems to me to be wholly unreasonable. If the Service Department is to determine the price, it cannot hold on and bargain all the time; other Departments must be brought into the picture. I do not think that the district valuator has any function in this at all. I understand that the Service Departments do it by themselves. The really important thing is to get the right tenants and, having got them, to ensure that they have the tenancy as cheaply as possible so as to encourage them to do what we would hope would be a worthwhile job.
I know that my hon. Friends and others will deal with certain areas which 1001 are affected, but I want to deal with a point which applies to them all. The problem of the unestablished worker will have to be dealt with by the Ministry of Labour. I want to say a few words about the established worker. Despite any plan and anything which the Admiralty may do, it is quite obvious that there will not be jobs for all of them. The established worker is afraid that he will be offered a job which in effect does not exist. The Admiralty must "come clean" on this matter. The Admiralty is bound to have some calculation of the number of jobs that are available, and I wonder whether it is basing its calculations on the number of established workers who will be offered jobs but who will not accept them because they will refuse to move.
There are 700 established workers at Donibristle. One hundred of them might find work at Rosyth. Another 200 might decide to retire in view of the nature of the opportunities given to them and the conditions laid down. That would leave 400 established workers to be provided with work. It may be that in the South there will be only 200 jobs available. In that case, what will the Admiralty do? Will it tell the 400 established workers that there are only 200 jobs, or will the Admiralty go round the 400 established workers one after the other in the hope that 200 of them will refuse to go and will quit the Service without any compensation? That would be an unfair thing to do. The Admiralty must play fair in this matter. It must negotiate with the trade unions and give the necessary information about the number of jobs that are actually available. On any question of hardship, the Admiralty must also see that there is fair play for the individual.
Two problems arise in this connection. The first is the problem of whether or not to transfer. Once that has been decided, there is also the problem of a man being transferred to a job at lower pay, so that the established worker will not only suffer all the difficulties involved in the transfer but also suffer a reduction in his rate of pay compared with his previous employment. The Admiralty ought to be able to give some assurance on this matter. There is no reason why it should not be able to treat established 1002 workers in this respect in the same fashion as good employers in industry treat their workers.
Cases of redundancy often arise, for example, on British Railways, and jobs are down-graded and men moved from one place to another. In those cases when, for instance, a foreman is moved to another job for which the rate of pay is less he does not suffer any loss of remuneration. He goes to the other job on the wage rate which he received in the job that had become redundant. In the special circumstances of these established workers, there is no reason why the Admiralty should not act in the same way as other responsible employers. If that were done it would be very helpful in this situation.
We know that in the South the Admiralty, by proper planning, might ease the situation considerably, but there are certain places, particularly Greenock, Donibristle and Northern Ireland where it would be quite impossible to find jobs for established workers. In all those cases the men concerned must be given information quickly, so that they may have as much time as possible to weigh the pros and cons and make the right decision.
As far as I know, none of us has had any complaint from officers and men of the fleet about lack of generosity in the compensation paid to them. I hope that when this reorganisation takes place there will be the same lack of complaint, though I have my doubts about it. In the meantime, it will be our job to keep up the pressure on the Ministers concerned to face their responsibilities and to ensure that in the time that is available they act as a team to get new industries and new employment for those who can no longer serve the Navy.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ Miss Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
Before I say a few words on the Estimates, I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box, particularly because he happens to have been for many years the Member of Parliament for the division in which I live in London. I hope that he will continue to represent me, even though I do not think that at the moment he is listening to a word I am saying.
1003 I could not follow in detail the remarks made by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele), because I have not the knowledge or the experience. Therefore, I shall address my remarks to the shore establishments and divide those remarks into two halves, the first dealing with some general points about dockyards and the second dealing with other civilian establishments.
On 8th March, 1956, I said:I recognise that there is a need for economy. I know that the Civil Lord will have to look for his pound of flesh, but I hope that he will not take it from Devonport. If he does, he will be cutting the main artery and letting out the life-blood of the City of Plymouth."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1956; Vol. 549, c. 2399.]I pointed out that this applied to many other dockyards, and I said that suitable industries should be established in these areas.
I mention this again because it is very difficult to know from the Explanatory Statement issued by the First Lord and from the Report on Defence whether we are at the end of these cuts. The Report on Defence states:The naval construction and modernisation programmes are being aligned with this policy, and the dockyard and base facilities will be curtailed to correspond with reductions in the size of the Navy,as also will be the Reserve Fleet.
My own area has been fortunate not to have suffered any great cuts, but today, when we wish every success to the summit talks, people in the dockyard areas would like to have some idea of what will happen in the future. I hope that the Government will not leave matters until the cuts are made before finding industries for these areas.
All the time we should be putting small and, if necessary, light industries into the areas, so that when the cuts come the effect will not be so drastic. Devonport, for example, is on a par with Malta. The Admiralty employs 23,000 people in the area. The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) who supports me in this matter, will know that there are very few other industries to offer to the great many people concerned. We hope that the Government will bear this in mind.
In looking through the Explanatory Statement, I notice that we are to have 1004 what I call a "new look" for the dockyards. The Fourth Sea Lord is to be responsible for them and he is to be the first special Sea Lord, and I hope he will see that we get our fair share of naval activities in the future. I am only sorry that we are not to be allowed to see the Nihill Report, because it would tell us more about the future working of the dockyards. It would be useful not only to Members of Parliament but would help individuals working in the yards to understand the new system.
I understand that in addition to the Admiral Superintendent we are to have a general manager and a production manager. Paragraph 124 of the Explanatory Statement states:A steady increase in efficiency should arise from the introduction of systematic planning of work for the dockyards. It will, however, take time to train men for this work which will increase the ratio of non-industrial to industrial staff.I would appreciate an explanation of that paragraph, because I thought that what we wanted was that industrial staff should work in the dockyard, and I hope that this will not be made top-heavy by the non-industrial staff. The actual work of repairing and building ships is done in the yards, and if it means that there is to be more supervisory staff, I should like to know whether the men in the dockyards will be trained for those positions. Can we be assured that men will not be brought in from outside, as apparently will be the general manager, to take over this work?
I support what was said about new construction by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West. The dockyards are capable of this work, and I have made certain calculations about the 5 per cent. mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. I can only say on the figures quoted that we have about 3½ per cent. of new construction in the dockyards. We have been told that we can build more cheaply, and, if that is so, I suggest that this work should continue to be given to the dockyards. I also support his point about the Post Office cable ships. We want constructive and productive work. We do not want to go back to repayment work as we did between the wars, because it is the most dispiriting type of work one could have.
1005 On civilianisation, paragraph 104 states:Civilianisation is good policy; it saves money, and it leaves uniformed men to do the jobs for which they have been trained and which only they can perform.It may be good policy, but I do not think it should necessarily save money. I think that the wages of many civilians in the dockyards are completely out of line with the new rates of pay given to the Navy. I hope that civilians will not be given jobs to save money but because they are really efficient and the appropriate people. In that case, I hope they will be given the rate of pay that would have been given to someone in the Navy, because I do not want savings made at the expense of the civilians.
I hope that the "new look" for the dockyards will provide a new basis on which to work, because I am worried about the situation. There was the same position in some Royal Ordnance factories at the end of the war. People living in areas where there had been vast unemployment, particularly some of the older and very patriotic men, probably did not work as hard as they might have done because of the fear of working themselves out of a job. When people have seen other dockyards closing they may think that if they work harder and go in for new construction they may work themselves out of jobs. So, when this new basis is adopted, I hope the level of productivity will be held and improved and that the men will be able to see also that there is some gain to themselves. At present, for instance, labourers can earn a maximum of only about £8 a week, and there is no incentive for them to work harder, as they have no chance of overtime. I hope, therefore, that if we get increased productivity in the dockyards the basis will be more businesslike.
Now I will take up one point made by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West about sterilised areas. We have been suffering in the West Country, particularly in Devonport, for a long time in this respect. In 1945, 182 acres of land were taken over which have been completely sterile until today. Gradually this land has been handed back, first 72 acres, then another 27, then another 10½. I am certain my hon. Friend will realise that it is difficult to plan a city with this 1006 kind of thing continually happening. I hope that this year will see final action taken by the Admiralty on this land so that we may get on with the job of development. I also hope that other areas will not be similiarly affected.
I have had a considerable number of letters from apprentices on the closing of dockyards from as far apart as Germany and the Far East. They are anxious to know what will happen on their return to those on National Service who have already served their apprenticeship. I hope that today it may be possible to make a definite statement on the recruitment of apprentices. I know that those now on National Service must be taken back for six months on their return, but what will happen afterwards? If a definite statement is not made in the near future there will be a great falling off in the recruitment of apprentices. Again I should like to know what will happen to the armament depôts. We know that a number are closing down in the West Country, and we have 150 people redundant at present. Will they be taken into the Service, either in the dockyards or in some other Department of the Admiralty?
I was pleased to hear the reference made by my hon. Friend to the Wrens. Each year for some time now I have advocated increasing the number of Wrens and giving them better pay. I ask my hon. Friend to consider a suggestion I made last year, namely, that we should recruit what might be called immobile Wrens. This would be an easy thing to do in towns such as Portsmouth or Plymouth, when vast establishments are not needed and where they could give just as useful a service to the Navy.
Now I turn to the medical services. I see that the hospitals will now serve the Navy, the Army and the Air Force, and I cannot see why the administrative side of the medical services should not also be put under one head. We are told that there is a shortage of nurses in the Royal Naval Hospital at Plymouth, and an interchange of staff between the various hospitals might help to meet this shortage.
I should be interested to know the average cost per head per bed in Royal Navy hospitals compared with those under the National Health Service. I have often been told that we are short of nurses, but in many cases we seem to 1007 be short of patients, and it may be that the ratio of nurses to beds includes some beds that are empty. Are we being as economical as possible in this service?
For some time—and this view has been supported by a number of my friends in the Service—I have thought it unnecessary to have three separate services for chaplains. One presumes that they are putting over the same gospel, and I should have thought they could have done it equally well to any of the Services.
I was interested to notice in the Estimates that rents for victualling stores are to be increased. We are now paying more than £1 million a year in rents for victualling stores, an increase of £147,000 compared with last year. With the reduction in the Navy, why should we have an increase in rent for victualling stores and why are more victualling stores being built? Some stores have been closed down and comments have been made about the new victualling establishments at Wrangton, which are now nearly double the size they were last year. Can we have some explanation about that?
I have taken a special interest in married quarters, and I have taken a look round many of the new dwellings. The houses are very nice and well-furnished. However, with centralised drafting it is extremely difficult for families to know for how long they will be allowed to stay in one house. They settle in and send their children to school but, because they are not attached to one port, every time the husband goes to sea the family has to leave the accommodation. Are general instructions about this to be issued, and are arrangements to be made with local authorities for inter-changes of families, not necessarily physical transfers, but paper transfers arranged by the authorities concerned?
In the building of shore establishments, progress would probably be much easier if the middleman, in other words, the Ministry of Works, could be eliminated. The Ministry of Works has a part in a great many of these constructions. The people who are to use the establishments, possibly the officer-in-charge, could probably deal much better and more directly with the architect or contractor—once the contract has been agreed by the Navy— 1008 than going through the middleman, the Ministry of Works. Such a procedure would save time and money and be more satisfactory.
One local matter which I want to discuss concerns H.M.S. "Raleigh." This is situated on the Cornish side of the Tamar, and it is contemplated bringing it into the old Engineering Headquarters in Devonport. Although it may in some ways be detrimental to my constituency to suggest it—because the more people we have living in the area the more money is spent—I believe that the facilities in Devonport will not be nearly as good as those or Torpoint, especially recreational facilities. We are here dealing with very young men, and it would be much better for them to remain where they are where they can lead a life freer than that which they would have in town.
When I was overseas, I had the opportunity of seeing something of the new East African Navy. I spent a few hours on H.M.E.A.S. "Rosalind," and I was very impressed by the way the Africans are taking to the Navy. If small and new navies could be brought into more frequent contact with the Home Navy on some exercises, that would not only help inter-Commonwealth relations but would be an inspiration to those navies and thus increase their interest.
I hope that my few words will bring some answers from my hon. Friend when he comes to reply to the debate.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. A. G. Bottomley (Rochester and Chatham)
I join in the tribute paid by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) and the hon. Lady the Member for Devon-port (Miss Vickers) to the performance of the Parliamentary Secretary today. I am sure that he will not misunderstand me if I say that, speaking politically, I hope that this is the first and last time he will have the opportunity of introducing the Navy Estimates.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, West, in a very full and comprehensive speech, opened the debate for this side of the Committee. I had that privilege on an earlier occasion, but I am delighted to see that tonight the winding-up will be undertaken for this side by a fellow countryman of my hon. Friend whose knowledge of naval affairs 1009 is such that I can well leave it to him to answer matters about general naval affairs, thus leaving myself free to devote my time to a constituency interest.
It is fair to say that of the economies resulting from the First Lord's statement and that of the Civil Lord in this House, my constituency has had to bear the largest burden. The heart has been taken out of the Medway towns. I hope that the Committee will permit me to refresh the memories of hon. Members by saying that by closing down the Nore Command we are ending an association of the Royal Navy with Chatham which has extended over a period exceeding 400 years.
As a matter of fact, it is fair to claim that the Royal Navy was founded in Chatham. It was King Henry VIII who laid the first ship of the line, the "Great Harry." Drake learned his first rudiments of seamanship on the River Medway, and Nelson joined his first ship at Chatham. I am not putting it too high when I say that it is tearing the heart out of Chatham to take away the Nore Command; but economies have to be made.
It is not for sentimental reasons alone that we shall miss the Navy. It will be a material loss. Shopkeepers of all kinds will suffer—naval tailors, wine merchants cafés, taxi drivers, innkeepers, boarding-house landladies. An unemployment problem is growing already and will add further to the complications. I need hardly add that there will be a loss of rate income which will be an additional burden on the citizens as a whole.
When the Nore Command economies were announced earlier, there was also, subsequently, a statement about rocket bases. On reflection, I am bound to say that I wonder whether the Government have made the best use of the opportunities presented. Greater economies could have been made if instead of having rocket sites on land they had been based on submarines. One of the difficulties about a land-based rocket is that even if the base in underground its position is known, but if a submarine is used the situation is different. I used this argument in last year's debate on the Navy Estimates. Not only would there be greater economies, but the method would be more effective strategically. I hope 1010 that it is still not too late for the First Lord to press this view strongly in the Cabinet. It would give great satisfaction not only to the Navy but to people generally.
When the Nore Command goes, as buildings are vacated, I hope that the Admiralty will not hold on to them just for the sake of doing so. Chatham has already had a sad experience of what happens in this respect. The Civil Lord will know what happened in the case of the Royal Marine barracks. They were vacated during the late period of office of a Labour Government, and they have been empty ever since. Hon. Members should go there and see the way in which those buildings have been neglected. They are now letting in water. Nothing has been done with them. Grass is growing all round the barrack square. It is a shame to see it as it is.
My hopes rose two years ago when the then Civil Lord, in answer to a Question by me, said:I can now confirm that the main part of the existing buildings could not be converted satisfactorily or economically for any naval use. The possibility of using the site for a combined dockyard technical college and apprentices' training centre is therefore being further examined. This scheme would certainly offer many advantages."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th March, 1956; Vol. 549, c. 2080.]Can the Civil Lord tell us whether anything will be done with these buildings? Are we to get this technical college, or will the buildings still be left barren, to go to waste?
Last week, the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a statement about establishing a university in the south of England, and he suggested that the site should be in Sussex. The Royal Navy barracks at Chatham are to be vacated, and I understand they would provide suitable accommodation because they have been used as a teaching establishment. I pass that suggestion on for the Government's consideration.
The vacated buildings should be made available for the local authorities to pass on to industry, or for industry generally. I can only draw on my own experience in this matter. Soon after the war, Short Brothers had to close down its flying boat industry in Rochester, and the Labour Government took over the buildings and directed industry there. We then had 1011 continued full employment. What was done then can be done today if the Government have the will. I hope they will seriously consider directing industry to the Medway towns as the unemployment problem grows.
I make a plea that when land and buildings are made available excessive prices should not be charged. The hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), whose illness we regret—which keeps him from the House today—has asked me to refer particularly to the case of an Admiralty site in Gillingham. One of the firms in the town wanted to take over the building and made an offer, but I am told that this was turned down. In due course a price was fixed by the Admiralty at a sum greater than the amount it cost the firm to erect a new building on and buy a site at Ashford, a little way away. This firm would have remained in Gillingham if the Admiralty had been more reasonable about the price it quoted for the site.
I suppose that we should take some consolation from the fact that the dockyard itself is not being closed. I do not accuse the Civil Lord of misleading the House; it was a genuine mistake that he made, but many people assumed that as a result of the economies in the dockyard in Chatham about 500 men would be unemployed, whereas the figure will be considerably higher than that. At least 1,000 will go by 1961, and if the men from Sheerness go into Chatham also it means that still more will be affected.
Not only will there be cuts during the next two years; I fear—as do my constituents—that once we take away the limbs the torso will begin to decay and it is very likely that the ships will be taken to places where men are available to man them rather than be left in a dockyard which has no naval establishments to provide the men. We are not looking forward very hopefully to the future. I recall the great war-time service which Chatham Dockyard rendered, when over 1,300 ships were handled and re-serviced there. It could still provide a service for the future. The First Lord and the Admiralty should think very carefully before they run down the dockyard even more.
Nobody can deny that there is a loss of morale. The men are uncertain and do 1012 not know what is going on. The only thing they know is that a submarine is being built. The men of Chatham Dockyard have a skill greater than that of the men in any other dockyard for building submarines. In the Navy Estimates debate last year I stressed the necessity of building submarines—and not only for reasons of strategy. I suggested that Russian submarines were being built for the purpose of launching missiles into the heart of the United States, and a few weeks afterwards Admiral Wright, the Commander-in-Chief of the Atlantic Forces, said the same thing. Submarines are a very useful means of defence and attack, but they also provide a basis for the future modern underwater atomic fleet that we must have in order to hold our own as a mercantile nation.
I hope that the Civil Lord will say that the submarine now being built in Chatham Dockyard is not merely evidence of a short-term process, but that submarines will be built there continually for many years, so taking advantage of the skill available.
But we do not want only to build weapons for defence; the dockyard could be employed on other kinds of work. When I suggested last year that the dockyard should carry out new construction work, the Civil Lord said that the yards were so full up with repair work that it was not easy to allocate construction work to them. The yards are not full up with repair work now, so I would ask the Civil Lord to see whether new construction work can be allocated. The Auditor General and a Select Committee have both confirmed the fact that naval dockyards can do that work more efficiently and far cheaper than private enterprise. On the ground of economy alone, therefore, it is worth giving them this kind of construction work.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, West suggested that the General Post Office might put its cable ships into the dockyards for overhaul and repair. I would go further than that and appeal to the other sections of the public service. What about the British Transport Commission, the gas boards, the electricity industry and the National Coal Board? They all have ships of one kind and another. Could they not be built and repaired in the dockyards? Here is an opportunity for one public service to help another.
1013 Unless the Civil Lord can give us some assurances about these matters, it necessarily follows that many men in Chatham Dockyard will assume that their days of employment are numbered, and they will be looking for jobs elsewhere. In addition, a good many will suffer because they will be put on to the scrap heap at a time of mounting unemployment.
The trade unions concerned will look after the interests of the men, but I would like to make one point in that connection. Compensation to naval dockyard men has been paid, under a procedure that has existed for a long time, when individual dockyard workers left. Now, with large numbers of men coming out, it is not going to be easy for them to find employment, and I suggest that, just as we rightly gave more generous compensation to retiring Service personnel, we have an obligation to give it to dockyard personnel, established and unestablished, who have served the nation just as faithfully and well. I hope that the Admiralty will meet the expenses of unestablished men who may be called upon to go away from Chatham in the same manner as is done for established workers.
In industry generally, where there are joint industrial councils, a workman getting a higher rate of pay who becomes redundant does not suffer a loss of pay so long as he is in employment, but at the end of his service a lower rate of pay applies to the job he vacates. The same treatment should be meted out to dockyard workers. To sum up, we ask for adequate and reasonable compensation for redundant employees; for work to be provided for the dockyards—which can and should be done—and that the buildings vacated because of the closing down of the Nore Command be made available for industry so that full employment may continue.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Humphrey Atkins (Merton and Morden)
As he said he would, the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) devoted most of his speech to dealing with problems which affect his constituency more than anywhere else. No one in the Committee will fail to share his regret at the severance of the Navy's connection with that part of the world, despite the necessity for it.
1014 The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the strike weapon which the Navy may have in the form of nuclear submarines armed with rockets. This has been mentioned several times and I wish to join with those who have already referred to it. The strike rôle of the Navy seems at the moment in doubt. I got the impression last year when we discussed the Navy Estimates that the new aircraft, the NA39, could and perhaps would deliver the hydrogen bomb. We have not heard anything about that this year and I am not clear whether it is still planned that this aircraft, when it comes into service, shall be earmarked for this purpose. I have said before and I say again that the idea of a mobile floating platform of some sort for the delivery of the deterrent is better than having established missile bases on land which can be pinpointed and knocked out.
I do not know whether this idea commends itself to the Admiralty and I should like an explanation about it. Whatever may be the present position, clearly the aircraft carrying the hydrogen bomb will in due course be superseded by a missile of one sort or another. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary seemed to imply that the future strike from the Navy would come from some form of rocket discharged from a ship. I urge that work on this project be pressed forward. We know that it takes a long time to build ships and that the development of projects takes an enormous amount of time. A lot of money may be spent with little to show for it, but the best way to spend money on developing the strike of the Royal Navy is to devote it to the nuclear-powered submarine armed with some sort of ballistic weapon.
The item in the Explanatory Statement which I like best is the reference to the development of the Eastern Fleet into a well-balanced and effective unit. Compared with what we have been used to it is small, but it seems to be the intention to make it very effective. The inclusion of the converted aircraft carrier "Bulwark" as a commando carrier is an excellent project. It will give much more authority to the fleet in the East and will enable it to command much more respect in spite of its small size.
In the last war the Americans developed the idea of mobile fleets with 1015 supporting ships. We are told that fast fleet replenishment ships "Retainer" and "Resurgent" are to come along later, and I take it they are designed to form part of the mobile eastern fleet. Last year we were told that the aircraft carrier "Triumph" would be converted into a heavy repair ship. We do not find any mention of that in the Explanatory Statement this year. I imagine that this work is proceeding. Without extensive repair facilities the mobility of the fleet in the East will be diminished. The effectiveness of this fleet will depend on its ability to travel vast distances and to stay away from its base for long periods.
We are told in the Explanatory Statement that it will be able to deal with any kind of threat; with small outbreaks of trouble and with the submarine threat should that develop. It is stated that the emphasis is to be shifted to the antisubmarine rôle of the Navy. That is a proper job for the Navy which has always had the task of keeping the shipping lanes clear for merchant traffic. It will have that task for a long time to come. The submarine is the menace to these shipping lanes, and one of the difficulties about attempting to counter the threat from an enormous number of submarines is that it is expensive to do so. Antisubmarine frigates and other surface vessels used for defeating submarines are extremely costly. The idea of using helicopters more and more, as is explained in paragraph 24 of the Statement, is a help in this direction.
My hon. Friend the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary said that helicopters for anti-submarine work would work from aircraft carriers which at the same time must carry strike and defensive aircraft, otherwise they would be vulnerable to attack from surface ships and from the air. The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) said that the employment of aircraft carriers on antisubmarine work was expensive, if an aircraft carier was to be armed with all sorts of aircraft. I suggest we take a lesson from the last war and develop a slightly different sort of carrier. The German submarine menace was never really surmounted until the advent of the escort carrier, a smaller vessel designed for a special purpose.
We could now, as it were, take a leaf from our own book and go in for a 1016 smaller carrier. We might call it either a helicopter or an anti-submarine carrier. It would not be able to cope with every kind of threat, but neither can the anti-submarine frigate. It would not be nearly so expensive. An aircraft carrier from which the Scimitars or Sea Vixens can fly off and with the most up-to-date launching devices, will need to be a big ship. We shall not need such a big vessel if it is just an anti-submarine carrier carrying helicopters, which I understand are to be the weapon against the submarine. One of the difficulties is that all these things are infinitely more expensive than they were before the war so that we cannot maintain a fleet as big as we should like. We should get the best value we can for our money.
I should like to hear the reaction to the suggestion that helicopters be one of the main weapons against submarines and that we should go in for a small carrier which can take helicopters about the oceans and from which they can operate against the submarine threat. It is all important that the Navy we maintain should be as efficient as possible because it will be small. The suggestion I have put forward seems a way of improving its efficiency and I should very much like to see it adopted.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Edwards (Stepney)
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Merton and Morden (Mr. Atkins) in his technical survey. I want to deal with the Estimates a little more generally. I would congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on his first visit to the Dispatch Box to present the Navy Estimates. I know that one trembles a bit on the first occasion. I sincerely hope that the hon. Gentleman's party will not be in power long enough for him to occupy that office for as long as I did myself.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) said that the Estimates this year were very important and I entirely agree with him. They are the most important Navy Estimates ever submitted, because they make a startling change in the sphere of the Navy from now on. Long before the last war, Navy Estimates were brought forward with the intention of building the Navy on conventional lines more strongly each year. The present Estmates change 1017 that picture completely. This is the first time for thirty years that a First Lord of the Admiralty has announced that a number of dockyards are to be closed permanently. Rosyth was placed on a care-and-maintenance basis after the First World War, but now some dockyards will be closed, while with one or two others under the control of the Admiralty it is touch and go. We are told that the Malta dockyard may have to go, and that Chatham may not he called upon to do as much as it has done in the past. All this must cause great disturbance in the minds of the people affected.
It will also have serious effects on the industrial side of naval work. What also makes the Estimates the most important we have ever had is that the industrial effects are being felt at the same time as the Service personnel situation is causing anxiety. It is well known that it was decided in the past year that a very substantial number of officers and senior ratings were no longer required in the Navy, and were to be given a reasonable gratuity when they left because their services were no longer required. That situation is not conducive to confidence. What worries me is whether the Navy is going down a slope on which things will get worse rather than better. I am sorry that the Minister of Defence is not here because I am convinced that under that Minister the Navy will go down that slippery slope much more quickly than under any other Minister of Defence.
The Parliamentary Secretary was almost apologetic for the amount of money he was asking for. "Cut here and cut there, but we have done all that we possibly could," he said. No doubt defence expenditure has to be cut and no doubt naval dockyards and air stations have to be closed, but unless the situation is carefully watched by those who are in charge of the Admiralty the confidence of those who seek a career in the Navy or the dockyards will be wiped out. No member of this Committee wants that to happen.
There is not much cause for complaint about the gratuities to discharged officers and senior ratings, but what effect will their discharge have on recruiting? That is another problem. We are trying to get rid of National Service, and it depends 1018 upon Regular recruiting whether we can do so. Pay will be increased by 1st April, while at the same time we are telling people to get out. In this perplexing situation I am terribly sorry for those who will have the job of persuading people to join the Navy. If there is uncertainty about the naval career, even though there will be increases of pay people will not be willing to join.
Many men have already given their lives in the ships and dockyards of the Royal Navy. Most men who work in the Royal dockyards went straight there from school. They have given their lives to the Navy every bit as much as those gentlemen who went to Dartmouth when they were 12½, 16 or whatever age it may have been. They have more or less been born with the Navy and now they have received this shattering blow to their future.
Some of these development, such as the closing of dockyards and air stations, are inevitable if we are to move with the times; but every consideration should be given to those whose lives are adversely affected as a result of these decisions. I maintain that an industrial employee of the Admiralty should certainly receive just as reasonable consideration as men who have served in uniform. Many men who are now to be discharged have given just as much service to the nation as have those in uniform. If it had not been for the work of many of these men in the dockyards it is difficult to say whether our ships would have been able to do the grand work they did in the last war. Having served in the war, I know of the work they did.
I beg the Admiralty to ensure that everything possible is done for these people. When there is full employment, if any established man does not accept an offer to transfer to somewhere which is inconvenient for him, it may be said that he should be got rid of and given a gratuity as he can find a job; but many of these established men will have to be offered employment in places hundreds of miles from the towns in which they live. If they accept them they will have to break up their family life and leave the social atmosphere to which they are accustomed in the various ports from which they will be called upon to move.
If the Admiralty is questioned, I hope it will not reply that the trade unions have 1019 been consulted on this matter. When the Civil Lord made the announcement about the closure of dockyards and air stations, he said that the trade unions had been consulted. Many people who read that in HANSARD would take it to mean that the trade unions had been called to the Admiralty to discuss the matter and had agreed to everything the Civil Lord said. That would be consultation. On the contrary, I imagine that what happened was that the trade unions were told in the same way as we in the House of Commons were told. I do not know how far one can go with consultation on a question of policy, but we can go further with consultation when it is a question of giving reasonable and proper treatment to old, faithful servants of the Admiralty. That is not a question of policy, but a question for the Treasury. I hope that the Admiralty will not be economically-minded when it considers the question, as appeared to be the case from the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary this afternoon.
Other questions arise on the new set-up of the Navy. For many years there has been a Naval Dockyard Reconstruction Programme. All of us who know anything about the dockyards know that Devonport and Portsmouth dockyards suffered severe punishment during the war. That reconstruction programme is essential in the interests of the efficient working of the dockyards. I am the first to admit that even during the life-time of the Labour Government the dockyards were in a shocking state, but we did set out to try to bring them up to scratch. We had a programme. I do not know what is happening to that programme. We also had a married quarters programme. I wonder what has happened to that. I wonder what will happen to the married quarters built since the war at the air stations which are now to be closed.
We are in a complex situation of uncertainty. What about the married quarters programme in the home ports? I imagine that, as Chatham is to be closed, the programme there will now come to an end. Are we to continue with Portsmouth and Devonport, and perhaps find in a few years that some alteration is to take place there?
These Estimates are very serious and dangerous for those who have at heart 1020 the life of the Royal Navy of the future. The Admiralty must make abundantly sure that anyone who has any idea of making the Royal Navy a career, whether in the Service or civilian spheres, shall have a much more certain future than he has at present.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Dr. Reginald Bennett (Gosport and Fareham)
The hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. W. Edwards) has a lifelong connection with the Navy, which we all recognise. We all know how much he has the Navy at heart. There is a lot of truth in what he has said about these Navy Estimates constituting something in the nature of a watershed in the history of the Navy. The hon. Member is particularly concerned about shore establishments and I hope to follow him in considering that matter, but perhaps from a slightly different point of view.
I am informed by the Zoological Society that the fat-tailed lemur of Madagascar stores food in its tail during times of plenty and uses that store during hibernation or times of shortage. I wonder whether there is some biological similarity between that animal, the fat-tailed Gerbil of Egypt, and the Admiralty. We have seen a lot of discussion in The Times and elsewhere about the Navy's tail. It seems that there is a tremendous disproportion which is apparent between the uniformed and the non-uniformed servants of the Navy as compared with either of the other two fighting forces of the Crown.
I have not got the figures by me, but I believe that for every 10 uniformed men in the Air Force or the Army there are fewer than 10 civilians. According to the Statement accompanying these Estimates, at present for every 10 uniformed men in the Navy there are 14 civilians. Last year, I calculated that the ratio was as 15 is to 10 and it is now as 14 is to 10, or 1.4 to 1.
I gather that there are about 7,000 fewer people in uniform under Vote A this year than there were last, and about 12,000 fewer civilians, but I still think that the Admiralty is grossly inflated with civilians—grossly inflated. Here, I state my interest by saying that, as may be well known, I represent a dockyard port, and one of the things that has filled me with the greatest consternation is that 1021 when establishments have to be closed, we have the closure of H.M.S. "Hornet"—what one might call one of the teeth of the Navy—and the closure of Sheerness, another place that deals with ships.
But the jolly sailor boys are still up aloft in Queen Anne's Mansions, and Bath is still full of Admiralty employees. The Navy has gone far too far inland, and has got far too bulky in ways that have little to do with the sea. I do not say that it is overstocked with industrial employees, but I think that the Admiralty's office employees are far too numerous.
I have just said that the ratio between civilian and uniformed personnel has gone down from 1.5 to 1 last year to 1.4 to 1 this year, but, if I read the Statement aright, when the uniformed personnel have been reduced to 98,000 and there are 23,000 fewer civilians, that ratio will again rise to 1.5 to 1. I therefore do not believe that the Admiralty is yet taking any notice of what is said either by The Times, myself or anyone else in this respect. It has still to do much more to bring itself down to being a seafaring Service, or at least a type of Service connected with the sea.
It is a great shame that we should have closed Sheerness Dockyard while still keeping numbers of fine country establishments inland, in Hampshire, and in Bath, London and other places. Why should not some of those establishments have been shifted back to the dockyard places now found redundant? Why should the Navy be so reluctant to return to the coast? I ask my hon. Friend, when considering any future redeployment, to bear this point in mind so that we may get the inland establishments closed and their personnel moved to the coast and be able to maintain those ports which, as the hon. Member for Stepney has just said, have looked after the Navy for many years, and to which the Navy certainly needs to remember its duty.
That is my main point, but there is something else that I should mention. This may be rather fantastic, but I have heard it in my own constituency, and it is something that at least should be given thought and, if the need be, scotched. In my constituency, I find a lot of strong feeling against the senior Admiralty civil servants. When I have 1022 said that they only carry out the policies of the political and uniformed leaders of the Service, I find that there is a suspicion that their power within the Admiralty is so strong that they themselves are diverting the resources of the Admiralty so as to support a bigger civilian arm.
It should be recognised by everybody that the decisions of the Board of Admiralty about its establishments are the decisions of the Board as a whole; that the Ministers and the uniformed advisers are equally implicated, and that the decisions are not taken by the civil servants to proliferate their numbers in the Service. I bring that to my hon. Friend's attention because that point of view, by those who hold it, is held with great violence. It should be put right, and Her Majesty's Ministers at the Admiralty should take full responsibility. Responsibility should not be left with any section of the Civil Service.
The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) referred to H.M.S. "Guardsvan"—I mean "Vanguard"—which lies alongside the south railway jetty at this moment doing—I wonder what? We should not keep this immensely anachronistic ship and I should like to know why we continue to retain it. It cannot be operated without swallowing up enormous numbers of men who are already all to difficult to get. Its operational usefulness is no greater, to say the least, than that of battleships that have preceded it to the scrapyard.
If N.A.T.O. wants it for its infrastructure, then, surely, N.A.T.O. should accept responsibility for it, as I do not think that this ship is necessary for our fighting forces. The personnel needed to man it would man probably 20 anti-submarine craft for which, I am convinced, we have much greater need.
I will close, as I began. With the hon. Member for Stepney, I say again that the Admiralty should look after its naval ports in the way that those naval ports have looked after the Navy.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Wells (Faversham)
The hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett) will pardon me if I do not follow him in his researches into the ratio between civilian and uniformed staff in the Navy. I would like to thank him for 1023 his references to the Sheerness Dockyard, and say that as it is about that that I wish mainly to speak, I hope he will excuse me if I do not pursue his arguments any further.
I should like, first, to ask the Civil Lord to convey to his noble Friend my thanks for the readiness with which he agreed to meet a deputation which I hope to introduce to him on 19th March. If he would also use his persuasive powers to enable me to emerge from that interview with more assurance than I can give my Isle of Sheppey constituents at present, I would be doubly thankful.
The crippling burden of defence expenditure is such that no one, even an hon. Member like myself upon whose constituency there has fallen a very severe blow in the form of the closure of the Sheerness Dockyard, should lightheartedly oppose any reduction that can be made. Having said that, it is only right that I should point out to the Government that they have certain responsibilities to those directly affected, be they individuals or local authorities. In this case, of course, this has been a severe blow to both of those categories.
First, there is the necessity of satisfying all concerned that this operation will, as it is said to be intended, effect a saving in the overall expenditure of the Navy. Paragraph 44 of Cmnd. 371 mentions that… the decline in naval repair work resulting from the planned reductions in the Fleetis the reason for closing Sheerness and other establishments. I know very little about the other establishments, but since the announcement about Sheerness I have received masses of suggestions, and much information as to how and why it should be continued on a basis that would provide useful work there
The trade unions, for instance, tell me that while they agree that the character and the size of the Royal Navy have changed, a very large proportion of the fleet of the future will consist of vessels which can be very effectively refitted and repaired in Sheerness Dockyard, which is especially suitable for the refitting and repair of that type of vessel. May I give two quotations in support of what I have just said?
The first is from the Sheerness Dockyard Whitley Committee minutes of 1024 8th October last. The Captain-in-Charge had made reference to the changes which were foreshadowed, and he went on to say thatHe hoped that any decisions taken would not be adverse to the yard, particularly as he was convinced that the yard was excellent for refits of small ships. At Sheerness, refits of small ships were undertaken more efficiently than in the bigger yards, and there was no doubt that the ships' officers preferred Sheerness, as many told him. He hoped that the yard would go forward to a settled future with greater output.He did not appear to be a very good prophet.
My second quotation is from a local newspaper's report of a speech by a former Captain-in-Charge, Captain Boord, who is described as saying:Throughout the submarine world, the work of refitting and repair carried out at Sheerness Dockyard was known to be of a very high standard.He went on to say that Sheerness Dockyard had a rosy future.
The question which I particularly want to ask the Civil Lord, because it is the one which has been put to me so frequently, is why Sheerness Dockyard should be closed when so much work which could be done there is at present going to contractors. If we look at pages 224 to 241 of the Estimates, dealing with new construction, we find that they show what a tremendous amount of Admiralty work is done in private yards. This has been referred to already by previous speakers this afternoon. I believe I am right in saying that this work could be done at least as economically and certainly as well in naval yards. The trade unions say that if more of this work were properly fitted into the dockyard programme, both the Navy and the taxpayer would certainly benefit, and that it would not be necessary to close the dockyard at all.
But it is not only new construction about which we are concerned. There is much repair, refitting, conversion and preservation work which a dockyard such as Sheerness is much more favourably placed to carry out than a private contractor. It is said of this type of work that it could be done as cheaply as, and, in some cases, much more cheaply than, it is done in private yards.
I have one case, out of a number which I could quote, which concerns the C.618. I should like the Civil Lord to inquire 1025 into its refitting, because if the information supplied to me is correct, it is rather striking. I am told that the refit for C.618 at Sheerness cost £2,927, and that a similar refit in a private yard would have cost £7,856, which is £4,929 more. I have other examples, but I will not trouble the Committee with them.
I have been given a list, not, I am informed, a complete list, of vessels having refits in contractors' yards which could be adequate and effectively dealt with in Sheerness Dockyard. The list includes nine frigates, six destroyers, 12 C.M.S., 13 I.M.S., four M.F.V., five F.P.B., two M.C., one submarine, one tug, two T.R.V., two S.T.V., two P.N.S., and a number of miscellaneous craft. That seems to be a very long list of vessels to be refitted in private yards, but, in addition, contracts are being negotiated for six frigates, two F.P.B.8., one L.C.A., and one submarine. At present, the ships in hand at Sheerness are seven C.M.S., three I.M.S., and 12 miscellaneous craft.
If we look at paragraphs 61–62 of the White Paper, it will be seen that large numbers of these craft will be required in the Navy of the future, which makes it all the more difficult to understand why Sheerness Dockyard is being sacrificed when such work could be made available to it.
I have not so far mentioned repayment work, a great deal of which has been done at Sheerness in the past, including, for instance, a type of vessel of which we have heard this afternoon—the G.P.O. cable ships. For many years these ships were refitted at Sheerness Dockyard, and I am told that the work always gave satisfaction. I have met the trade union representatives, and I must tell the Civil Lord that they are convinced that some reorganisation could be agreed that would not only save the dockyard, but would save the nation money as well. Certainly, they are convinced that, after taking into consideration pensions, gratuities, subsistence and other allowances, plus unemployment benefit that will have to be paid out to the men discharged if this closure is persisted in, while some saving may be shown on the Navy Vote, actually there will be no saving at all.
I have been told that, as there is very little accommodation in the Medway towns—I am sure that my right hon. 1026 Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) will bear me out—and it is most difficult to get accommodation there, it will cost the Admiralty about £36,000 a year alone. Let us take the question of gratuities, about which much has been said today. If we take the average of twelve years' service, 23 weeks' pay at £9 per week will cost about £200,000 a year. Have these things been taken into consideration?
The trade unions tell me, after going into the matter very carefully, that they feel that the normal wastage should be allowed to operate, and that with that, the retention of naval work in the yard and the drawback of some of the work which now goes out to contract, Sheerness Dockyard could continue and still play a very useful part in the servicing of the fleet. The trade unions say that between 1,100 and 1,200 established men are being directed into other yards to do work that could be done just as efficiently at Sheerness, and they feel that this is a decision that is most unwise.
There is a further important matter to which I wish to draw the attention of the Civil Lord. I have received a communication from a marine surveyor to the effect that it will be deplorable if Sheerness Harbour is allowed to fall into disuse. He states that there is at present 27 ft. of water at low tide, with a rise and fall averaging 13 ft. for neap tides and 17 ft. for spring tides, giving high water with neap tides of 40 ft. and with spring tides of 44 ft.
This surveyor also points out that within 50 ft. of the dockyard, there is a depth of from 40 to 50 ft. at low water, so that if the quays were extended outwards it would be possible for vessels of almost unlimited size to lay always afloat. Sheerness Harbour, he maintains, is the deepest natural harbour between Milford Haven and the Firth of Forth. It seems to me that a duty rests squarely upon the Government to ensure that this valuable national asset should not be wasted.
During the recent debate on unemployment, we were told that firm inquiries had been received about Sheerness Dockyard. These raised tremendously the hopes of my constituents on the Isle of Sheppey, because, as I pointed out during that debate, if this closure takes place and other industry is not brought into that island, we shall be making it another 1027 Jarrow. There is no alternative work on the Island of Sheppey.
It seems to me that that is something which should have been dealt with before the closure was even contemplated. However, these three offers or, rather, inquiries, have been made, so we are told. I have tried to find out from the President of the Board of Trade and other sources just what these three inquiries amount to. I am sorry to say that the President of the Board of Trade is very cagey about it; I can get no information from him at all. I hope that the Civil Lord will be a little more forthcoming.
Much has been made of the pensions and gratuities which will be available to some of these men, and, while I do not for a moment wish to detract from their importance, I would remind the Minister of Labour, whom we are pleased to see on the Front Bench, that even he made much play the other day of the disinclination to direct workmen to jobs. He said that we cannot do that; and I am very pleased that the Government cannot do it.
But what is the position of an estalished man who is directed into a job in some other dockyard, who has serious domestic responsibilities which he feels he cannot leave? He may, for instance, be buying, or have bought, his own house. Such a man may, therefore, decline to take the offered job. He not only loses his pension, but the right hon. Gentleman's Department will say that he may not have unemployment pay because there is a job available for him if he likes to take it. The result is that a man loses both pension rights and unemployment pay.
I hope that the Civil Lord will take due note of some of these things. I hope that he and his Department will consider them very seriously, and I hope that, as a result of what is being done in various quarters, the cloud will be lifted from the Isle of Sheppey.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Commander J. W. Maitland (Horncastle)
The whole Committee has, I believe, listened with sympathy to those hon. Members opposite who have been so anxious and worried about the closures at Chatham and Sheerness. I can sympa- 1028 thise with them most sincerely because fate sent me to Chatham and Sheerness during a great deal of my time in the Navy. They are both places for which I have a very great affection. I must, nevertheless, point out that these things invariably happen when we disarm. On many occasions, hon. Gentlemen opposite have appealed for disarmament. I want disarmament, too; I want total disarmament. But we must remember that, with it, disarmament brings very great problems and very great personal tragedies to many people.
We are now going through the period of the White Papers. We have had a White Paper on Defence, and we have seen the White Papers on the other Services. I sometimes think that we are shown up at this time in all our democratic weakness and, I suppose, our strength, too, for I can imagine—I say this quite seriously—nothing more dangerous to our position than to display to the world at large, at a time when there must be great doubt in all our minds about what is the best thing to do with our limited resources, almost exactly what we propose to do. It may be very un-parliamentary; it may, perhaps, be a little undemocratic, but I, for my part, would gladly have us not display to the world all our difficulties and problems as we do. I would make that sacrifice, and I believe that it would be for the good of the nation in general if we were to make it.
The decision announced in the Explanatory Statement to create the commando carrier interested me enormously. Many of us have spoken on this subject before, and I am sure that we all welcome what we hope is but a first step. This, surely, is the beginning of a new idea. After all, when we talk about the Services, we often talk about integration. We talk an awful lot, but not an awful lot is done. Now it has happened. Inside this ship, at any rate on the technical side, integration has come about under the same roof or, I suppose I ought to say, under the same flat top. It really is there. There are the functions of the Air Force, the soldier's functions and the old-fashioned sea functions being carried out. I hope that the experience which we shall soon gain of this particular form of weapon will really lead the Navy and the other Services to realise, in this new 1029 world, the enormous value of mobility which the British Navy can confer on our defence forces.
I have argued before, and I propose briefly to argue again now, for mobile bases. Even since I spoke on the subject last year, the number of bases available in the Commonwealth has declined, and some of them have become more difficult to use. With every year which passes, as the Commonwealth grows up, those bases, I am perfectly certain, will become more difficult and, what really affects Governments even more, they will become more expensive. Unless there are a large number of bases about the Commonwealth, they really lose their value.
We have been extraordinarily fortunate in the past, but, in the changing world of today, we really must face the need to change our technique and our way of thinking about bases. The commando carrier is a beginning. It should be possible really to concentrate our attention and, at least, to plan—I see no mention of this—what it would mean to have a mobile base which really enabled us to operate our full strength, small though it may be, concentated as quickly as possible wherever we wanted it.
I hope that the idea behind the commando carrier will not be limited to the Royal Marines. Nobody in the House has greater admiration for the Royal Marines than I—I have said that before—but I really believe that it would be a great mistake if we did not take the opportunity to bring in the Army and let the Army see what it is like to carry out the same sort of work in a carrier. I believe that one can make the Army flexible. I do not believe in the inflexibility of the Services, which is always regarded as so severe a handicap. The Services can be interchanged to a considerable extent. Quite seriously, I hope that, as this idea develops, the Army will be allowed, as it were, to play with the idea too.
Lastly, I come to training. This may be thought rather impertinent, for here am I, a mere Member of Parliament, right away from the Navy; yet I spent a good deal of my time in training when I was in the Service, and I have recently been trying to find out what has been happening. What I have found has not made me feel very confident. After all, naval training has always been a little 1030 behind the times. It started off in the old days of the press gangs, when it was the boast of the good naval officer that he could turn anybody into a topman. That type of training persisted rather longer, perhaps, than was necessary.
Now we have a Navy of vastly complicated instruments and vastly complex machanisms which really it needs a considerable amount of skill and intelligence to understand. From what I hear, I think it would pay the Admiralty seriously to consider having their training schemes examined by experts. Boys are going to sea at a later age and the Education Act, 1944, has done a great deal to improve the intelligence of young men. The Navy should try to train men to understand well what they have to do. Many times I have been to sea with people who frankly had not the slightest idea what they had to do. It is almost the essential of happiness to have no fear of the job one has to do. One should so thoroughly understand it that one takes a pride in it. That is a great psychological help to the happiness of the men in the complicated Navy of today.
There is one other rather more practical point, and that concerns the enormously high percentage of maintenance expense, repairs and damage caused at sea by ignorance—damage which costs the taxpayer a great amount and sometimes great dislocation of the organisation for repairs, and so on, simply because one man, perhaps an able seaman, has not understood the job that he was told to do. That offers a great challenge to the Navy. It is something which the Admiralty might consider it worth while to investigate.
Finally, I sincerely believe that every year we shall find that the Navy is more indispensable than it has ever been before. We are beginning to see that in this curious world of change and mobility the Navy is one of the forces that can do—and I say this quite frankly—almost any of the other Service jobs in some way or other; and if asked to do it, it can do it superbly. I frankly believe that as it has always been in the past, the Navy is the basis on which we must build our future defence.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu (Huddersfield, East)
In every debate on the Navy Estimates in the last ten years some hon. 1031 Member at some stage has let off a blast about the number of civilians in the Admiralty. From those speeches one gets the impression that the Admiralty is manned entirely by a lot of glorified pen-pushers whose one job is to make ever-widening circles around ever-widening empires. We have had it year after year. Year after year it is ignored or brushed off by the Civil Lord or the Financial Secretary saying that these civil servants are harmless, and the matter is left until the next year when one finds that there are more civil servants than ever. Then somebody gets up and gives exactly the same blast. The hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett) has done it again today. I am getting rather fed up with it.
Either these men in the Admiralty are not doing a proper job, in which case it is rather hard on the taxpayer, or else they are doing a proper job and it is very bad luck on them to be continually abused. It is not right that representatives of the Admiralty should let those speeches pass any longer. Let us find out the facts about what is happening in the civilian staff at the Admiralty. If necessary, give them some more pen-pushing to do. Let us have a White Paper. Let us know exactly what the jobs are and whether these figures are or are not justifiable.
Another thing that has happened in Navy Estimates debates in the last two years is that either I have followed the hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) or else he has followed me. I am glad that that has happened again, because I agree very much with a great deal of what he has said. I agree, for example, as we all do, with his remarks about the closing of the dockyards. Of course, that is an effect of disarmament. Disarmament, which we all desire, brings with it problems. Our point on this side of the Committee is that these problems of disarmament are foreseeable. They can be planned against, and I am not at all sure that the Admiralty has done its full duty in that respect.
It has been a growing Navy tradition, dating, I think, from Nelson's time, that the Royal Navy looks after its own. These men who work in the dockyards are every bit as much our own as those who 1032 serve in uniform. It is not merely a question of compensation; it is a question of work. They have their lives before them. It would be wrong for the representatives of the Admiralty in the House of Commons to make do with pious comments and pious sympathy and not to go to the President of the Board of Trade and say to him, "Use the powers that you have to bring industries into these areas which will now be abandoned by the Navy".
From the dockyards it is a fairly easy jump to the Royal Naval barracks. I am absolutely delighted that at long last somebody has decided to close the Royal Naval Barracks, Chatham. Unfortunately, I am afraid that they are doing it for the wrong reasons. They are not doing it because they think that it is a good thing to close down these dumps. I am sure that that is not so, because we had a very admirable exposition of the Navy last summer called "Fairlead," where people went out of their way to say what wonderful things these barracks were and how they must at all costs be preserved. I am afraid that this decision to close Chatham is merely a question of economy and not one of efficiency, and that it is generally thought that these places are excellent. They are horrible things. They are most inefficient; they are thoroughly bad for discipline; they are very costly and I think that they ought, one and all, to be closed down.
I am prepared to make an offer to the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) who has batted on this wicket ever since he became a Member of Parliament. It is obvious that we shall not get Pompey Barracks Devon-port closed down unless we are prepared to agitate seriously. If he will come with me—and perhaps we can take along the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis)—I will take it in turns with them to lie down in front of the main gate of the Royal Barracks, Portsmouth, until the Admiralty has closed that wretched place as well.
I turn to the very interesting topic which the hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle raised a few moments ago, that of the rôle of the Royal Navy in our defences. I read the OFFICIAL REPORT of the defence debate which we 1033 had in the House for two days last week. I read every speech. However, when I had finished the last speech, I wished that I had not read even the first, because I was far more puzzled after I had finished reading than before I began.
I find it extremely difficult now to understand what our defence policy really is. It seems that we are to have a small police force to deal with local affairs. We are also to go in for the hydrogen bomb and rocket bases and the rest in a big way to take our part in all-out nuclear war. In between, in the "grey" areas, we are to have tactical nuclear weapons and also, presumably, substantial conventional forces. We are to have all this and the Welfare State, too. I am not surprised that the right hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) should have said that we were trying to do too much. That sort of programme, if it really is our programme, is the most utter nonsense.
I disagree with probably every hon. Member opposite and most of my hon. Friends on the subject of the hydrogen bomb. I do not believe that we in Britain should have any part of it. It is absolute folly for us to have it and I am not impressed with the argument that by giving it up we should increase our dependence on the United States. The United States has been dependent on us for the best part of a century—dependent on the Royal Navy. It was an American President who propounded the Monroe Doctrine, but it was the Royal Navy which maintained it and the fact that America was dependent upon us did not notably stunt her growth in the 19th century.
This word "dependent" is out of date. We are inter-dependent. We are dependent upon the United States in some matters of defence, but the United States is dependent upon us in some other matters. I want us to decide what is the contribution which we should make to the N.A.T.O. alliance, the contribution which we can best make. I know that we have had some very good soldiers in our time and we have had some first-class airmen—although I sometimes wish that their aim was slightly better. But good soldiers though we have had and good airmen though we have had, what we have had best through the years has been our seamen, whether in the Royal 1034 Navy or in the Merchant Navy. The sea is what attracts us most.
Despite the forebodings of my hon. Friend the Member for Stepney (Mr. W. Edwards), we have had no difficulty in recruiting for the Royal Navy, which is one of the great problems which will face us if we are to get rid of National Service. There is precious little recruiting problem for the Royal Navy and there would be none at all if we made some of the necessary improvements in the Navy.
In promotion from the lower deck, we are behind the other Services. I do not understand why the possibilities of advancement through the Upper Yardman Scheme seem to be so limited, but I believe that if we corrected that, the Navy would be even more attractive in future than it has been in the past. Even with such defects as it has, the Navy is a Service which attracts ordinary Britons.
Our object should be to reduce the Royal Air Force virtually to a taxi service, virtually to Transport Command, and to build up, around the Navy as its heart and core, the sort of combined Service which the hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle has advocated today and in previous debates.
I remember in the debate last year making some slight criticisms of the Royal Marines and getting into trouble for it. Obviously, with their experience of being "first in and last out", the Royal Marines are the nucleus on which to build a combined Service. I should like to see a very small Air Force with the Army being progressively reduced, and, as our main contribution to the defence of these islands and to the alliance of which we are members, a reformed Navy combining with it all that we mean by "combined operations". That is the thing which we can do best, and it is something which we can afford.
Only last year we deleted some words from the Preamble to the Naval Discipline Act, words suggesting that it was the Royal Navy on which the safety and welfare of the country chiefly depended. We took out those words last year, but it might be a good plan this year if we began to put them back.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)
I hope the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) will forgive me 1035 if I do not follow him, except to say that I entirely agree with that part of his speech in which he stressed the importance of the Royal Navy. It was agreeable to see the debate being opened out away from the rather more dockyard aspect which, quite understandably, it had at the beginning. The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. P. Wells), whose sincerity we all recognise, spoke about Sheerness, but I am told that in the case of his dockyard plenty of employment will be available in the large refinery close by. That may or may not be correct, but it is what I have been told.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on his first speech from the Box. I was very interested in what he had to say about H.M.S. "Ocean" going to Helsinki, because I was on board at the time. She was the largest ship ever to go to Helsinki, and the "hole" through which she had to go was very small. I was extremely glad that I was not the captain, because I should have had heart failure. One could look over the starboard side and see people down below almost touching the side of the ship so narrow was the channel through which she had to go.
Things like that have a tremendous effect abroad, and it was obvious to the people who were there, as our Ambassador said, that the Navy stole the show. It is so much better to take a ship rather than an aircraft to places like Helsinki, because people cannot go over aircraft and mix with the people on board; and so the R.A.F. or the Army cannot be ambassadors in the same way as the Navy can.
It was a matter of regret to me that when I returned and tried to say something about the visit on the B.B.C. I was told that it was too light a subject and that the B.B.C. preferred a talk on the Wolfenden Report on homosexuality. It seems to me much more important that an aircraft carrier like "Ocean" should be stealing the show on Russia's doorstep than that there should be time devoted to discussing the Wolfenden Report on homosexuality.
One lesson which I learnt from the trip was the full realisation of the importance of sea training. I was surprised to hear my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland), who was a well-known gun- 1036 nery officer, being doubtful about the efficiency of present training. This is a matter which is a little worrying at the moment. I understand that there is no training squadron at all in the Service and, therefore, no sea training as such is going on, with the exception of the Dartmouth squadron, which is either now in the Mediterranean or has just returned.
Unfortunately, there have been two cases recently of ships going aground. The rocks remain in the same places and the tides continue to do the same thing, and however gadget-minded the Navy may become, however many shore-training establishments are set up and however efficient the Navy becomes in pushbutton warfare, men can never be trained in seamanship unless they go to sea in ships. Whatever the future rôle of the Navy, it is important to get ships to sea and back again without going aground.
Paragraph 60 of the Explanatory Statement on the Navy Estimates states that eventually there will be savings of about 23,000 civilian posts at home and abroad. Some of us have heard expressions of great disquiet by what is termed in Civil Service circles as the "uniformed branch" about the cuts which are now being made. But it is fair to say that according to the White Paper and recent statements there is ample evidence that the Admiralty is considering these matters and that the civilians are taking their fair share of the cuts.
It is important that those who serve in the Fleet should know this. I found in H.M.S. "Ocean" that there was a considerable feeling and officers said, "We may get axed, but the civilians remain entrenched." We must make it clear to the Navy that a fair run-down of civilians is taking place as well.
When I spoke to chiefs and petty officers I was impressed by the fact that they were not really worried about what would happen to them when they came out of the Service. They thought that Service training gave them a good chance of civilian employment, but they said that it would help if the Admiralty could consider some such scheme as is carried out in Canada. This, naturally, must depend on the exigencies of the Service, but I understand that in Canada certain selected chiefs and petty officers are allowed before their time expires to get jobs in industry. While they hold those 1037 jobs they receive their pay from the Navy, which is made up to the civilian equivalent by the firm for which they are working. If there is a crisis or the Navy needs their service, they are, of course, subject to immediate recall.
I thought that such things had come to an end after the war, therefore, I was sorry to hear the complaints which were made to me about the refitting of ships in the dockyards. Men spoke to me about an engine being brought on board to produce hot water which was about as efficient as Stephenson's Rocket and just about as dirty. They said that this frightful contraption was wheeled aboard belching coal dust and smoke over everything and was most inefficient. The men also complained about "the heads" and the washing facilities. Generally, surely these things could be put right. These are not extravagances. In these days of modern electrical heating appliances, it cannot cost very much to provide decent washing arrangements and other facilities for men who must suffer inconvenience anyway during a ship's refit.
Another point put to me concerns the rating of cooks in the Service. One man who had been training in the Fleet Air Arm said to me, "I had two chaps come to me who were going up for a commission. They were so 'solid' that the only thing I could recommend them for was as officer's cooks." I thought that that was a pity. It seems to me that the job of cooking in the Service should be rated very much higher. The happiness of everybody depends to a great extent upon how well they are fed, and in that respect the cafeteria messing will contribute a great deal. I am sure that anything we can do to give the job of cooking in the Navy a higher status and to make it more attractive will pay dividends in the end. When one considers the modern washing-up facilities now provided, I am sure that those who went on board during the Navy's "shop window" last summer will agree that there are great advances in the equipment afloat. Therefore, everything should be done to help the cook.
The Commando carrier has been mentioned in the debate. I believe that it is an excellent idea to give the Royal Marines an idea as to their future in this kind of ship. Are their Lordships at the Admiralty satisfied with the number and 1038 type of landing craft now available? I hope that we may be told what researches are now going on into the problem of providing better types.
My hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Mr. Atkins) mentioned merchant aircraft carriers. I should have thought that it would have been rather difficult and expensive to produce them now, but I wonder whether there is any liaison between the Admiralty and the merchant shipping lines about the possibility of earmarking certain hulls for this kind of work in the event of hostilities, and about bearing in mind this possible duty when designs suitable for conversion are being considered. After all, the space necessary to land helicopters is not so great as with fixed wing aircraft.
I was glad to note a new emphasis on the importance of the anti-submarine rôle. Some of us have been talking about that in the House for years. We feel that its importance to the Service cannot be overstressed. Can we be told how much training in anti-submarine detection is carried out by helicopters at night, and what are the difficulties?
As to nuclear research, I wonder whether it would not be better, if it is at all possible, that we should rely to a much greater extent on the United States for nuclear development in submarines and that we should throw all our emphasis into nuclear development in merchant ships, particularly tankers, especially in view of the size of tankers today and the size envisaged for the near future. I believe that at the moment a Greek firm has an oil tanker building of 110,000 tons. It seems to me that if Britain is to lead in marine engineering we should be pressing ahead as fast as possible with these nuclear developments. I hope that we can be told something about them. I know that people in the shipping world are thinking along these lines. I hope their Lordships are as well.
During the debate on the Air Estimates the other day, we were told that fixed bases for missiles would be an improvement on aerodromes because there would not be any noise. But if war broke out there would be no worry about noise because there would be nothing left of these missiles bases within a matter of minutes. We should stress upon the Ministry of Defence the importance of 1039 developing the missile in submarines. We are told in the Explanatory Statement on the Navy Estimates that the sea covers 70 per cent. of the earth's surface. Surely it must follow, therefore, that a submarine could be more or less anywhere in that area. To quote my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wells (Lieut.-Commander Maydon) during the defence debate on 26th February last:I believe that we have to set our hearts on Polaris—the Pole Star, well named. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February, 1958; Vol. 583, c. 465.]I can recommend that speech to many hon. Members.
It seems to me that we have some frightening potentials to consider. I spoke last year about the possibility of submarines operating under the ice. Let us think about that. Let us think about the difficulty of detecting a highly mobile and fast-moving target. Let us consider also the justifiable uneasiness of the people of this country who will be subjected to living near one of the proposed rocket sites. Let us also consider the expense of putting down structures all over our country which can be pinpointed by the Russians. Would it not be better to concentrate our effort on submarines? Believe me, from a little experience I had during five years of the last war at sea, submarines can be very difficult things to find. I know that the Americans are worried about this, and we ought to consider it carefully.
My last point is on the subject of Commonwealth dispersal. I mentioned this last year, and I do not apologise for referring to it again. We are again experiencing the laying up of certain civilian tonnage. I wish we could make an arrangement to disperse that tonnage throughout the Commonwealth. It would be of enormous value to us and to our reserve ships in the fleet. I understand that there are difficulties involved in this for the Commonwealth, but if we could persuade those countries to take ships on loan for training their young and growing navies, then if war should come and they came in with us as they would and as they have done in the past, we would have the ships we needed, instead of our having ships laid up around our coasts.
Finally, in thinking of the wonderful work being done at present by Her Majesty the Queen Mother and the visit 1040 of our Prime Minister recently to the Commonwealth, I feel that this is the moment when we could impress on our rapidly growing family of nations the importance of their having ships from us so that we can carry on together the great tradition of the Navy.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Joseph Slater (Sedgefield)
It is not my intention to take up much of the time of the Committee on these Estimates. I am not a naval man, but that is not to say I have not an interest in the Service. I believe that as long as we have this Service we must ensure that it receives serious consideration along with the other Armed Forces of the Crown. I would that we were in a position to say that we were within reach of the apex of our desire for total disarmament. Like many others in the Committee and throughout the country, I long for the day when that will come to pass, but it may not come in our day and generation, and in the meantime we cannot escape our responsibility to those in this Service.
In 1951, I was privileged to travel from Rosyth to Penzance in H.M.S. "Gabbard," a destroyer, during the course of the naval manœuvres. For a week I lived with the young men who comprised the personnel of the destroyer, and I had great respect for their work. I also remember an incident during the last war at the time of Dunkirk, when our boys were chased through France and Belgium to the coast, when thousands of lives were lost. One Saturday morning, as I was walking down the main street of Durham City, I saw a young man in Army uniform. According to the reports circulating near his home, he had gone down in one of the ships. I shall never forget the expression he used when I met him on the street. It was, "Thank God for the Navy." The Navy also played a great part in bringing supplies along the various routes, not only to our own personnel throughout the world, but also to Russia.
I can understand and respect ex-naval Members of this House for fighting for the Service in which they have spent the greater part of their lives, as I have spent mine in a major basic industry. Just as they seek to fight for their Service, I would do likewise if the future of my industry was under consideration. The closing of the dockyards is bound 1041 to upset the local communities and I can understand hon. Members representing such areas raising objections and asking what will be done for those who become redundant. I hope, therefore, that serious consideration will be given to offsetting this kind of redundancy.
In my constituency I have the Furness shipbuilding yards, which turn out oil tankers. I am also deeply concerned about another matter which bears upon men so heavily that I am bound to bring it to the notice of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty. I want to know what consideration is being given to accommodation for the personnnel of the stores depôt at Eaglescliff, both naval and civilian. As far back as 1951 my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) and myself waited upon the then Financial Secretary regarding the application which had been made to his Department for building houses for the personnel of that depôt. We were then given to understand that these people did not come within the same category as those in the Army, which was in a position to erect married quarters for their personnel.
Must the Service remain dependent on finding accommodation through the local authority? Why should local authorities have to try to provide accommodation for people from, say, Portsmouth, Southampton, and elsewhere because of an agreement which might be arrived at with the Admiralty? This arrangement will not work.
I am given to understand that the housing problem has become so acute that many of the people who have come into the area have been unable to find it and have returned to Portsmouth. As a result, those who are responsible for the stores depôt are unable to retain the services of those whom they are anxious to keep, because there is no accommodation for their wives and families. I can well understand the reluctance of these people to come into the area and I should very much like the Financial Secretary to explain the position and to say why there should be a difference between the respective Departments, so that the Army can make provision for living quarters whereas the Navy cannot.
§ 7.22 p.m.
Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett (Croydon, North-East)
The Committee has listened to a most interesting and sympathetic speech from the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Slater), which will be read with pleasure and appreciation by Service personnel and by civilians employed by the Services.
Like many other hon. Members, the hon. Member touched upon the question of redundancy among civilian labour. I do not wish to develop the point. I confess at once that my own constituency is in no way affected. I would, however, say this. Surely, it is a mistake to try to swim against the stream. Many of the reductions are due to the run-down of our forces, but that is not the whole truth. They are also due to change and to the development of new techniques and the need for new kinds of establishments and weapons. Tennyson wrote:The old order changeth, yielding place to new".The great difficulty with Government Departments is to get the second part of that quotation carried out.
Young men are taught—at least, they were taught in my day—never to be on with the new love until they are off with the old. A Government Department, however, works on exactly the opposite principle. The new love—even several generations of new loves—may be acquired, but in no circumstances if it can be avoided is the old love released. Just as in private life it is expensive to maintain a number of wives simultaneously, so in the Services it is expensive simultaneously to maintain several different brands of weapons and establishments.
I listened with interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu), whom I had the pleasure of following in last year's debate. While I still share his views about barracks, I am not wholly in sympathy with the method he suggested for bringing them to an end. After all, barracks have more than one gate, and even his hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis), with his well-upholstered form, would offer little obstacle to the liberty men in their evening rush.
1043 I join with those who welcome and congratulate my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on his appearance at the Box for the first time today. He comes at a critical time, and I am sure that everyone on both sides of the Committee wishes him all possible success.
I want to say a word about the Navy's rôle in global war, as it is described in the White Papers. The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) touched on this problem when opening the debate for the Opposition. He rather took my hon. Friend to task for having dropped the expression "naval task group". Curiously enough, I had already made a note to congratulate my hon. Friend on having substituted the expression "composite naval squadron", which means exactly the same thing and is in somewhat older tradition.
I have no quarrel with the suggested rôles of the Navy either in peace or in limited war. I agree with the shape and size of the new Navy as it is visualised. Some of us would like to see a rather bigger size, but not, I hasten to add, unless it could be achieved without additional expenditure. I am not entirely happy, however, about the Navy's rôle in global war. In paragraph 13 of the First Lord's Explanatory Statement, for example, it is stated:It will be equally clear that the Navy will have a part to play in global war. A large proportion of ships have been assigned their duty in the maritime plans of N.A.T.O.".In paragraph 44 of the Defence White Paper, under the heading "Sea Power", the rôle of the Navy is stated to bein global war, to make an effective contribution to the combined naval forces of the Western Alliance.Neither of the White Papers tells us, however, what is the rôle of the N.A.T.O. forces. We are not, therefore, taken any further forward.
My intention tonight was to make a plea for the rôle of the Navy as the missile carriers of the future. I was very glad, therefore, to hear my hon. Friend devote part of his speech to this subject, and a number of hon. Members have said the same thing. It is not necessary to waste time enlarging upon the enormous advantages, both from the point of view of those of us who live in these islands and from a strategical viewpoint, in having our missiles afloat in ships 1044 which are mobile rather than in fixed positions. Looking at the widest aspect, our prospective enemy today is Russia, but—who knows?—in thirty years' time it may be Peru. I suggest Peru only because it is geographically far removed from Russia. I have no other reason for naming that country. The point I wish to make is that if the deterrent is carried in warships it is as capable of dealing with an enemy in one part of the world as easily as it can deal with an enemy in another part.
I have no wish to repeat all the long arguments that were used during the defence debate about the meaning of paragraph 12 of the White Paper on Defence. I thought, however, that the views of the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman)—and also, perhaps, the more detailed letter which appeared in The Times from the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas)—were effectively, if unconsciously, answered by the speech of the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) in winding up the debate for the Opposition.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
Because his conclusion was not the same as mine. When talking about West Berlin, the right hon. Member showed how easily it would be possible to drift into a nuclear war.
The bearing that that has upon the Estimates and the future of the Navy arises from the reliance that a small Navy such as ours would have to place upon tactical atomic weapons. We are often reminded that there are twenty-three Russian heavy cruisers, and it is suggested that they can be controlled and dealt with, if necessary, by an air strike. I submit that this could not be done by aircraft manned with conventional weapons. An enormous effort would be needed in that case, far transcending anything that we possess or could possess. We have also been told about the 500 Russian submarines. I have a strong suspicion that, in spite of our improved devices for detecting and hunting submarines, the real killer to use against them in the future will be the small atomic depth charge, or whatever it may be called.
We must face the fact that on the high seas a small Navy such as ours would 1045 have to be equipped with tactical atomic weapons. I see no reason why that should trigger off a general nuclear war. Submarines, nowadays, when operated by aggressor Powers, invariably operate by attacking our merchant ships. That is contrary to the Geneva Convention and to the laws of humanity, and those who take part in that form of warfare cannot complain if they are blown up by atomic depth charges. I ask—without any confidence of getting a reply—whether we can be assured that the Navy will have an adequate supply of this type of weapon in case of war.
I now turn to the question of finance. The seeds of very great economies have been sown. We have heard about the reductions in establishments. It is still too early to say with any confidence that the harvest will be reaped, and I should like to refer briefly to one or two specific votes. I do so now because I understand that it is in order in discussing Vote A and past experience has taught me that the Opposition have a habit of selecting for detailed discussion only those Votes which have decreased. We do not have the opportunity of discussing those which have increased. One that has increased is Vote I—notwithstanding a reduction in Vote A—because of the increase in Service pay.
People are a little disturbed about the repeated large increases in Service pay. I do not myself criticise them, but many people do. It would be an unfortunate thing, however, if the Services were to get into the frame of mind that there will be automatically a considerable pay rise every year unless the right number of recruits come forward. That would be a demoralising state of affairs, as well as being extremely expensive for the taxpayers. My first suggestion, therefore, is that Parliament should take a very long and deep breath before agreeing to any further big pay rise unless it is necessitated by a dramatic change in the cost of living.
Secondly, I suggest that we should publish the pay rates in a way that can be understood by the public, and, what is more, by the prospective recruit. I entirely agreed with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence when he told us in the defence debate that the only category of Service man who can be compared with his civilian counterpart is 1046 the married man living in his own home in the United Kingdom. My right hon. Friend proceeded to give a few examples of the aggregate pay for those people. This can be found by adding up the basic pay, the marriage allowance, the ration allowance—which is free of Income Tax—and, in some cases, the London allowance.
It may be said that anybody can do this sum, but I am not so sure. I made an attempt at one or two calculations, and one of the examples I took was of the able seaman or private soldier. I am sure that my right hon. Friend got his figures right. He told us that in this case the total was about £11 a week, but I made it £13 8s. Had I been younger and enlisted I should have been extremely disappointed at the appropriate time to find that I had got the sum wrong. It is not easy to do these calculations. The pay rates should be published, and the difference for the bachelor and the person living in Service accommodation would be better shown as a reduction.
My third and, perhaps, most important suggestion probably applies to the other Services as well as the Navy. It is partly because of the high rates of pay which now prevail that the time is overdue for a very careful review of complements both ashore and afloat. What is more, outside people should take part in the review. The first question that arises is whether all the posts are necessary. It is a little difficult to understand why some of the senior posts at the Admiralty, which were introduced at the time of the Korean crisis in order to cope with the great expansion which then took place, still exist.
We still have two Assistant Chiefs of the Naval Staff. Until 1951 we had only one. Again, after the war a senior officer was appointed as Deputy Chief of Naval Personnel. I am not saying that this appointment was not necessary, but I see that there are now three of them, and I ask why it has become necessary to have three. Again, we were told that the Fourth Sea Lord would in future be the Vice-Controller of the Navy, but anyone who imagines that the separate post of Vice-Controller has been done away with as a result is mistaken; he has been renamed the Deputy Controller. I am not criticising that, because as long as the Design Departments are at Bath an officer 1047 holding that post is undoubtedly necessary. Again, during the Korean crisis a Deputy Controller was appointed to work in London—and he is still shown in the Navy Estimates, but is now called the Assistant Controller. Furthermore, I notice that the Naval Assistant to the Fourth Sea Lord has risen to the rank of Vice-Admiral. My recollection is that the Fourth Sea Lord managed without any assistant until the Korean crisis, when a retired captain filled the post.
I have gone into some detail in connection with those posts, because they show that the enormous size of the Admiralty divisions and Departments requires very careful scrutiny. In saying that, I must admit that the Secretary's Department—which is the one most often criticised—has slightly decreased in size. I will name no names, but anyone who cares to go through the Estimates will see which of the Departments has expanded Then there are the huge staffs ashore, which should certainly be considered more closely.
The second question that arises from a review of these complements is whether some can be down-graded or civilianised. One of the most disturbing things that has been going on for many years in the fighting Services, and especially in the Navy, is the great difference in the degree of responsibility which an officer of a given rank carries when in command in comparison to that which he has when serving on a staff. Of the hundreds of commanders serving at the Admiralty and upon shore staffs, not one in ten carries a responsibility comparable to that which an officer of the same rank has to carry when he is in command.
That was not always so. When the staff system first began the staffs were small and an officer of commander's rank very often had an extremely responsible advisory job. If the Committee says, "How can a layman judge these things?" I sugegst there is a simple test. There are a number of specialist posts which have direct civilian counterparts. By examining those, anyone with knowledge of ordinary business can judge whether or not some of the posts are being filled by officers or civilians of unduly high rank. Before leaving the point, I would comment that there are one or two posts which should be up-graded. When we 1048 have only two or three big carriers in an operational state, it is curious that they should be captains' commands. Each one of them represents a big percentage of the total striking power of the Royal Navy, and with the large number of Flag officers available they might be made Flag commands.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Civil Lord on the substantial reductions which have been made in Vote 10 this year. I should like to ask whether he is quite certain that we shall reap the full economies which should result from closing down some dockyards, air stations, barracks and so on, with all the dislocation and sorrow, if not hardship, that these closures will cause. It would be a tragic thing were we to close down these places and yet save no money. I recognise that a great deal of valuable property is involved, including incidentally, quite a large number of dwelling houses. I appeal to my hon. Friend not to hold out for too high a price when disposing of these properties. The point has been made already, but it cannot be emphasised too strongly.
I fancy that the Treasury come into this; that Treasury approval is necessary before these properties may be sold. With respect to the Treasury, I think that sometimes it is very foolish. By holding out for two or three years, it is possible to show a small gain on paper because a bigger sum eventually is realised; but in the meanwhile great stagnation has been needlessly caused in the area. Let us not forget the tremendous cost of maintenance when places are being kept ready for sale. Most important of all, may I remind my hon. Friend that every day that one of these places is, so to speak, up for sale and unsold, there will be a large number of extremely clever men in Whitehall trying to think up new purposes to which to put it. What is the system? Do the Admiralty advertise? Why not turn the thing over to Knight, Frank and Rutley? One sees in The Times beautiful pictures of big country houses up for sale, but I have yet to see a picture of Chatham Barracks on the back page of The Times, or even of that tremendous mausoleum at Greenock, the torpedo development establishment.
The Navy is on the eve of a new era. Some excellent policy decisions have 1049 been made, aimed at cutting out some of the non-essentials. But I repeat, it is still in the balance whether the harvest of the savings will really be fully reaped. I feel that the size of the Admiralty Office itself will set the pattern throughout the Service by its example. That is why we should pay careful attention to the Admiralty Office.
I am quite sure that the outcome will depend more upon my hon. Friend the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary than upon anyone else on the Board of Admiralty. After all, he is the Financial Secretary. Probably he is the only man left in the Admiralty able to devote his whole attention to the economy with which naval policy is being executed. The Accountant-General has long since gone and my hon. Friend is left alone to perform this vital task. I appeal to him to let no one divert him from this task of pursuing economy, and I warn him that plenty of people will try to do so. May I assure him that in these matters of economy he can count on the full support of every back bench Member on this side of the Committee, and probably a great many hon. Members opposite, who have the interests of the taxpayer as well as the true interests of the Navy at heart.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Victor Yates (Birmingham, Ladywood)
The hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) raised a number of interesting questions. We all appreciate his knowledge of naval matters, but when he congratulated the Government upon a considerable reduction in naval expenditure I began to wonder what he meant. I hope I have not calculated incorrectly, but according to my reading our net Estimates for this year are £339,400,000. There has been a decrease of £8,228,400 and an increase of £31,628,400, so that the net increase, as I see it, is £23,400,000.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
The hon. Gentleman is correct, but the point I tried to make was that the policy decisions had been made. I think that the expression I used was that we had sown the seeds of economy, and one hoped that the harvest would be reaped. The only specific economy upon which I congratulated my hon. Friend related to Vote 10, and the hon. Member will see 1050 that there is a substantial economy in that Vote.
§ Mr. Yates
I appreciate that there have been some economies.
I say, as an hon. Member who is keen on disarmament, that one might have gathered from some of the remarks made by hon. Members opposite that we were embarking upon a disarmament programme. In fact, this only goes to show that even with the economies which have been made, small as they are, the Government have not shown the capacity to plan alternative employment for men who have been displaced. If this is the record of the Government at the beginning of a disarmament programme, heaven help us when they have to deal with a large disarmament programme, if ever that point is reached.
The hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East said that he had intended to discuss the rôle of the Navy as the missile carrier of the future. That is the new rôle he wants for the Navy. The remarks of the hon. and gallant Member and those of the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard), who also advocated the use of seaborne missiles, completely destroyed the arguments on which the defence policy of the Government is based.
§ Mr. Paul Williams (Sunderland, South)
Is not the difference that missile bases on land are in the course of construction, whereas missiles to be put in submarines which do not exist cannot be effective for quite a period?
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir Norman Hulbert)
The hon. Member must not discuss land missile bases on the Navy Estimates. He may get an opportunity on another occasion.
§ Mr. Yates
I appreciate that, Sir Norman, but I was coming to the point that hon. and gallant Members argue that the missile bases which it has been agreed to establish should now be taken out to sea.
1051 The suggestion is that we should make our aircraft carriers into missile carriers and have floating carriers for delivering the deterrent, on the assumption, I suppose, that Russia would not have anything like that. What would the great fleet of submarines under the control of Russia be doing while all our ships were being equipped with missiles with which the world could be blown to pieces? Hon. and gallant Gentlemen are asking that the danger they see here should be transferred to the sea. I realise that it is attractive to say to people, "It is much better to launch these missiles from ships," but the danger is enormous. I would much rather our ships were used for better purposes than that.
I did not intend to join in the general debate, but to introduce a personal case with which I have been dealing. The Parliamentary Secretary said, in opening the debate, that service in the Navy was something to be proud of and to enjoy. I appreciate that, because, strange as it may sound, I was very anxious to join the Navy when I was 17. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It is not surprising that minds change in the course of years. If I had not been allowed to change my views the consequences might have been serious.
During the past year I have been dealing with cases of men who wished to leave the Services, but I have had more than one case where a man wanted to go into a Service. I felt it my duty to assist my constituent to do what he wanted. On this occasion I was asked to assist a boy who wanted to get out of the Navy, so I desire to put the facts of this case to the Committee.
This boy was 16 years of age. He joined up at 15½. His mother could not understand why he wanted to go away, but she did not want to stand in his way and she agreed to sign for him to go, although he was very young. After he had been in the Navy for a few months he wanted to come out. His mother appealed to me as the boy's Member of Parliament, and I therefore wrote to the First Lord of the Admiralty on 30th October.
I pointed out that his mother was in a very precarious state of health and that 1052 she had been in receipt of sickness benefit for at least ten months during the last year and a half. I said:She now feels some anxiety concerning her son and would naturally prefer that he should be at home.I suggested that the First Lord of the Admiralty should look at the matter.
Like all the Service Departments, the Admiralty does not seem able to answer a letter from a Member of Parliament in less than one month, but eventually an answer came from the Minister. I had taken steps to find out whether the boy really wanted to come out of the Navy. I had a letter from him on 20th November thanking me for taking this matter up and stating his reasons. He said he was worried about his mother because he felt that she was lonely and that he could give her support.
The Minister's reply to me was that the boy was finding his feet and was showing promise of making a useful career in the Navy, but he declined to agree to his discharge and did not mention at all the health of the boy's mother. I was so surprised when I received this reply that I wrote to the boy informing him of the Minister's reply. I received a letter from the boy saying:I cannot understand what the First Lord of the Admiralty means by saying he feels that I am beginning to like it.He said exactly the opposite, so I felt it necessary to write to the First Lord again, which I did on 30th January, pointing out this case. In the meantime, the boy came home on a weekend leave. He came to see me. I submit two very serious matters to this Committee. He informed me that a first divisional officer had sent for him. The officer had intercepted one of my letters and said to the boy, "You notice the House of Commons stamp on that letter?"
§ Mr. Yates
It is shocking. The officer said to him, "Why did you not go through the proper channels?" I ask the Minister: is a Member of Parliament not permitted to write a letter to a man in the forces? I want to make it clear that he was not writing to me. The mother approached me and I wrote to the boy. I wanted to know whether it was true or not. It is a disgrace for an officer to send for a boy and say, 1053 "There is the House of Commons stamp". That, of course, is intimidation. I object to it, and I raise this matter tonight, the first occasion on which I have ever intervened in Navy Estimates debates. I raise it as a point of vital principle.
The boy told me that a second divisional officer said to him, "You want to get out of the Navy, do you not?" The boy said, "Yes, Sir". The officer said, "Well you are going about it the awkward way." A threat was implied in that. That boy saw me a week last Friday. He returned to his unit on the following Tuesday, yet yesterday I received a letter from the First Lord of the Admiralty, from which I propose to read to the Committee. I do not think that the First Lord of the Admiralty is to blame in what he has written in that letter. I am questioning the information given to him, which is not true. It cannot be true.
I have letters in which the boy says that he wants to come out. A week last Friday I said to him, "Do not mislead me. If you do not wish to come out, well, that is clear. Then I shall not proceed with the matter. Are you still of this opinion?" He said. "Mr. Yates, I want to come home. I do not wish to remain in the Navy." A boy of 16 ought to be entitled to change his mind. Certainly his mother, whose health is rather precarious, ought to be allowed a say in the matter.
This is what the First Lord of the Admiralty said in his letter:you asked me to reconsider the decision not to discharge Junior Seaman H. Castello on compassionate grounds.I have now seen the up-to-date reports on this man. They show him as having improved in almost all respects: on 16th January he was rated Junior Seaman 1st Class. Although he is not happy at being away from his mother and sister, Castello has carefully considered his position and decided that the best way he can help his family is to do as well as he can in the Service.Then comes this sentence:He now realises that his letters have caused needless anxiety to his mother, and he has promised not to exaggerate his difficulties in future.To whom did he promise? Who asked him to make such a promise? If it is true, as the Parliamentary Secretary said, that a boy should not only be proud to be in the Navy, but should enjoy it, he 1054 should be allowed to raise the question of being intimidated by officers.
I ask that there should be an inquiry into this matter and that its result should be submitted to the House. The First Lord says that he appreciates Mrs. Castello's anxiety about her son's well-being. This boy's father died of tuberculosis. His mother is a widow with a child aged nine and the only other child is 16. I think it quite reasonable that she should be allowed to raise the question of her anxiety and that of her son without the boy being put into this position.
I appeal to the Civil Lord to investigate this matter and let us know whether it is considered right or proper that any boy in the Navy who receives a letter from a Member of Parliament should be questioned by his officer about that letter. I thought it was laid down during the war that boys in the Navy should have the same privileges of writing to their Members of Parliament as those in the Army and the Air Force. I trust that the boy may be given freedom to decide and that he will be able to come out of the Navy, as he desires.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
During his speech the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. V. Yates) got a little involved on the question of mobile rocket bases, a topic which I hope to develop in my speech. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) said that the Navy is on the eve of a new era. I believe that statement to be profoundly true.
My quarrel with my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench is that the Navy does not appear to have a rôle in this new era, in the main aspect of war we have to face—the global war, which occupies all our thoughts. Perhaps the reason is that it is thought that the ships of today are not fitted to take part in that war. Therefore, my second quarrel with my right hon. Friends is that they have not pressed on fast enough with the development of the nuclear submarine, which is the fundamental weapon of the Navy of the future.
Hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the Committee agree on the use and importance of the Navy in conventional war and cold war. That it is of 1055 vital importance to this country; but, even after the speeches which have been made today, the exact rôle of the Navy in global war is left incredibly vague. I go back to the Defence White Paper of 1956, in which the rôle of the Armed Forces was redefined. In page 7 of the White Paper it was stated:The further development of new weapons and technique should enable it …that is, the Navy—to strike whatever may threaten us by sea in the future whether in limited or global war.That sounded all right in 1956, but in the following year, in page 6 of the White Paper on Defence, we got only this:On account of its mobility the Royal Navy, together with the Royal Marines, provides another effective means of bringing power rapidly to bear in peacetime emergencies or limited hostilities.That White Paper included a paragraph on the nuclear deterrent, but the Navy is not mentioned in this paragraph. The third of the series of White Papers this year also does not mention sea power in the paragraph on the nuclear deterrent. It says that the Navy in global war will:make an effective contribution to the combined Naval Forces of the Western Alliance.This brings us to the question of whether the Navy is to have an offensive rôle. If it is to have only a defensive rôle, such as mine-sweeping and anti-submarine work, I suggest that the morale of that great Service will decrease astonishly rapidly. I hope my right hon. Friend will be able to clear up this matter today. I believe the trouble lies, not in the Admiralty, but in the Ministry of Defence. I hope that speeches made on both sides of the Committee today may help my hon. and right hon. Friends in the Admiralty to persuade the Minister of Defence that the maritime strategy, the historic strategy, of this country, is as effective today in nuclear war as it was in the past.
I believe that one of the reasons why the Navy's rôle in global war has not been fully accepted by the Ministry of Defence is that it is believed that existing naval weapons are in a state of transition and not fully effective in total war and the Minister pins his faith, rightly in my view, on the rocket as the weapon of the future. But the rocket is to be put on static land bases, which is, I believe a development of the Maginot mentality of the Second World War.
1056 I should like to quote from a report in a magazine called "Aeronautics." It should be noted that this is not a naval magazine but an air magazine. It states:The long-range missiles that will replace the V-bombers will certainly be limited in a nuclear rôle. They will sit in Britain sterilising the Russian weapons, and sterilised by them. That will be the limit of their contribution, at the best. At worst the balance may prove to be unequal, for while Britain is an ideal missile target, the U.S.S.R. is not.I should be fair and say that the article goes on to suggest that the Minister of Defence should put his money in V-bombers and not in static rocket bases. But of course the V-bombers are tied to large airfields, as we have seen in the new airfield built in Cyprus. Bombers are not mobile, being tied to airfields.
The only truly mobile platform for these rockets in the future is the nuclear-powered submarines. What are we doing about this? Once again I have searched the statements of the First Lord for the past three years. In 1956 he said:The Admiralty's intention will be to employ nuclear power in the first instance in submarines.That was fair enough. In the next year he said:In addition progress is being made with the design of the nuclear submarine 'Dreadnought'.Again, fair enough. This year we read:As regards 'Dreadnought' … much experimental work has been done.He added that the buildings intended for the shore prototype plant were well advanced. But this is only buildings for a prototype; I do not think that is good progress in three years. I believe that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary shares my views, but finds it difficult to say so in view of the attitude of the Minister of Defence. I was heartened by his excellent speech today when he stressed the importance of the development of all forms of nuclear propulsion, particularly in submarines.
In case the Committee feels that I am riding a hobby-horse, may I call to my support two brief quotations from the United States Congressional Record for May last year. When this matter was being discussed in the Senate, Mr. Jackson made a long speech on the subject 1057 of nuclear submarines. The two quotations I should like to read are extremely important. The first one reads:A submarine missile base could move in close to the aggressor's shores to launch missiles. It would compete favourably with any landbased system in target coverage. There is this vital difference, however. The Kremlin would know the location of our land-based launching sites. The Kremlin would not know where our ballistic sea power was deployed. Land-based sites will not be tiny dots on the landscape. They will be relatively large, relatively easy to identify, and fixed in place. It is doubtful whether we or our allies could conceal their location.After a long and interesting speech, the Senator concludes with some remarks about this country. He said:The problem"—that is, the problem of the defence of this country—however, would be very different if Britain were primarily defended by a force of submarine-based missiles. These weapons would not be dotting the British countryside, near London or Manchester or Edinburgh. They would be deployed far out at sea well beyond direct fall-out range of Britain's population. A sneak attack from Moscow, if designed to eliminate this sea-based deterrent, would not fall on the densely populated British countryside; it would fall instead on the empty stretches of the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans.That factor should be given careful consideration when deciding the amount of money and priority that we allot to the development of nuclear-powered submarines.
If I may briefly sum up the advantages that such a submarine would have, it is an offensive weapon; its missile will have a range of 1,500 miles and the Americans hope to have one such missile capable of operation by 1960 or 1961. This Polaris weapon is fired from below the surface, not like the missiles the Americans have at the moment, where the submarine has to surface before firing.
It is a defensive weapon, as it has been truly said that probably the only answer to the nuclear-powered submarine is another nuclear-powered submarine. It has enormous speed. I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett) who mentioned some form of mammal which came from Egypt. I should like to refer to the porpoise, because we can draw a lesson from this interesting mammal. We are told by the experts that it has muscles that 1058 develop 2 h.p. and when it is on the surface its maximum speed is 8 knots. Because of its shape, when it is swimming under water, as a true submarine would proceed, it can develop from 28 to 30 knots. We can learn a lot from the porpoise.
Instead of thinking of the conventional submarine, even those with hydrogen peroxide engines and equipped with a "Snort", we should be thinking of something quite different—something even beyond the American "Nautilus", something like the American "Skipjack". A true submarine should never need to surface and it should be able to attain speeds which could not be equalled by surface vessels. The true submarine will always go faster than a surface vessel and even if our main defence consists of aircraft, since the submarine does not need to surface, it would be extraordinarily difficult to catch it.
§ Mr. Wall
Today our main strike force consists of aircraft carriers. To keep two aircraft carriers at sea in war we need a fleet or a task force of, say, two cruisers, eight destroyers, two radar pickets and two tankers. The number of men required to man that task force would be in the region of 11,500, sufficient to man 150 submarines. The Russians have 500 or 600 submarines manned, I understand, by 45,000 men afloat and 20,000 ashore. A tremendous economy could be achieved by concentrating on the nuclear submarine as opposed to surface warships, and economy of force is one of the principles of war.
This development, which after all is primarily for war purposes, could also be of very great value in peace. After all we know that the development of the atomic and the hydrogen bomb has resulted in great benefits to humanity in that it has led to the peaceful development of atomic energy. The same is true of the nuclear-powered submarine, because this could lead to the development of nuclear propulsion for merchant ships.
Do not let us forget either that it is conceivable, and indeed it has been argued in respectable nautical journals, that the freighter and the merchant ship of the future may well be a submarine. 1059 Such a vessel would be particularly useful when we consider the passage between Europe, Asia and America. Let us not forget that "Nautilus" proceeded within 80 miles of the North Pole and at a speed of 25 knots, it would take only three days to go from the coast of Russia to the west coast of Canada. The true submarine may have a speed in excess of 50 knots. This could be the commerce route of the future if nuclear submarines are developed for peaceful as well as war purposes. I believe, therefore, that the Admiralty should bring all possible pressure to bear on the Ministry of Defence and should give adequate and urgent support to the development of nuclear propulsion and the nuclear submarine.
I leave that subject to touch briefly on conventional warfare, on which there are two points I should like to make to the Committee. Until we get a nuclear powered missile-firing submarine the principal striking weapon will be carrier-borne aircraft, and the strike weapon of the immediate future is the NA39. I would tell the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele), who has been leading the Opposition today, that this aircraft is manufactured in my constituency, and I am convinced that his criticism that it is too heavy to be operated from modern carriers is entirely wrong. I hope that my hon. Friend will take up this question when he replies to the debate. I am informed that this strike aircraft was specially designed for operation by a steam catapult, and I understand that it can be operated from all modern carriers equipped with a steam catapult. It is the most flexible and powerful strike aircraft in the world today.
I would say, I hope without giving offence, that sometimes in our debates we are apt to make such suggestions as that which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dunbartonshire, West made about this aircraft, suggestions which reflect badly on our products and could deter many allied and other foreign Powers from pursuing their interest in this unique weapon.
§ Mr. Steele
I drew attention to an exchange which took place between my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) and the Minister of Defence on this matter, which raised doubts in our 1060 minds. I thought it was only right and proper that it should not go without being answered. I wanted it to be answered.
§ Mr. R. Allan
I would point out that the NA39 is perfectly capable of being operated from a carrier and that there is no question of its being too heavy.
§ Mr. Wall
That is fine, and I thank my hon. Friend very much. I hope that he and the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West will forgive me for raising the matter, but I particularly wanted it cleared up, especially as the prototype is to fly this year. It is a most remarkable aircraft and I did not want it given a bad name.
I see from the Estimates that there are now only ten carriers and I was wondering what had happened to the others until my hon. Friend answered a Question by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Arundel and Shoreham (Captain Kerby) yesterday saying that five carriers are to be scrapped—the "Unicorn", "Perseus", "Glory", "Ocean" and "Theseus". However, does my hon. Friend feel that ten carriers are enough to carry the strike aircraft which will be required in our Eastern fleet and the aircraft required in the anti-submarine rôle and in support of N.A.T.O. in the Atlantic and Mediterranean? It seems to me that ten carriers, which includes H.M.S. "Hermes" is the irreducible minimum.
I believe that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee support the scheme for having a Commando carrier. I know there are hon. Gentlemen on this side who would like to see that idea carried further, so that the Commando carrier may, perhaps, form the nucleus of an integrated force, which view I fully endorse.
This concept, which is ideal for the colonial type of operations, or what used to be called imperial defence, or even for some minor war, would, if involved in any large-scale conventional war, have to be followed up. That follow-up will have to be brought in by air or by sea. Have we sufficient transport aircraft? What about the new Beverley. Has that new long-range transport aircraft been ordered yet?
What, perhaps, is even more important is the question of new landing ships. The LST3 and the LCT8 were built in the 1061 war and were slow even in those days. Heaven knows, anyone who saw them operating at Suez will know how much they delayed that operation. Is there any development of a new prototype of landing ship capable of doing 16 knots? This is vital to ensure the mobility and flexibility which the Navy requires, and which would certainly be required by the integrated force which has been mentioned today.
The neglect of this form of amphibious warfare is an historical one, a neglect which always occurs after every war, and I hope that this will not happen again and that the Admiralty will ensure that that is made good during the change-over period in the next few years.
I come next to personnel. The sailor and the Marine today have good pay, good quarters, good uniforms, but I believe that the Navy must be assured of an offensive rôle in global war if morale is not to slip, and adequate active training is essential. Economies in active training can be most frustrating to keen young men. I believe that we should give more thought to pensions and the necessary security for a man's old age rather than to increasing his pay. I think this is most important, particularly for senior ratings. Of course, there is also the old demand for more married quarters, and it is important, because when a sailor gets married his wife wants him to live at home and he is pulled by the love of the Service and the love of his wife. Adequate married quarters at home and abroad should therefore be provided if the Navy is to retain its keen young sailors.
Does my hon. Friend realise the importance the Reserves play as recruiters? I shall not go over a debate we had not long ago about the closing of H.M.S. "Galatea", but I think that, from the psychological point of view alone, this was a mistake and that the Reserves can do an enormous amount of good and are excellent recruiting agents for the Navy.
Their keenness will be kept up only provided they are given adequate training facilities, and I am told that these facilities are being cut down as a measure of economy. I think my hon. Friend will agree that there is nothing more frustrating to a keen young man than to find that he is allowed to fire, say, only one round once a month, or that if there is 1062 an exercise some long distance away there is not sufficient petrol to drive him there.
The Sea Cadet Corps and the naval section of the Combined Cadet Force will have an ever-increasingly important rôle to play during the time when National Service in the Navy is ending. I believe that it is now well supported by the Admiralty and that the Admiralty is doing all it can for the Corps, and I hope we shall have an assurance that this support will continue. My information is that 10 per cent. of all the entrants into the Navy and Marines are ex-sea cadets. That shows the value of the Corps even with National Service, and its value will increase proportionately as National Service goes.
Now that there is a combined Reserve, the Royal Naval Reserve, what is to happen to the status of Sea Cadet officers who were called in the old days R.N.V.R.(Sp.)? I hope that they will still be allowed to have their associations with the Navy expressed in their rank, because this means a great deal to officers of the Sea Cadet Corps, and, after all, those officers are very important for the future training of our youth.
In conclusion, I reaffirm my belief that the overriding importance of the Navy is found in its mobility, which confers on it the attribute of surprise. Mobility will be obtained only if we have, not only an adequate Navy, but adequate logistic support forces with landing ships and transport aircraft. I believe that the ultimate weapon may well prove to be the nuclear-powered missile-firing submarine. I am quite convinced that every effort should be made to bring this vessel into the fleet at the very first possible opportunity, for a maritime Power such as Great Britain needs this weapon of the future just as soon as she can possibly get it.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Northampton is a great and splendid town, but since it possesses neither a dockyard nor at the moment a young sailor who wants to join his "Mum", it leaves me free to discuss the Navy Estimates. The first thing that we may say about them is that they are a formidable achievement by the Admiralty. The First Sea Lord has many achievements to his name. We remember the "Kelly". We 1063 remember the Burma campaign. We remember his part in the birth pangs of the great Indian nation. It will, however, be regarded as perhaps the most remarkable of all his achievements that he succeeded—in this year—in putting up the Navy Estimates. I do not know, however, that that is his best service.
The Estimates to me seem to be a confusion. I can find nothing in them to show where the rôle of the Navy has been thought out from a strategic point of view and where people have really tried to apply their minds to how we are to provide something to fulfil that rôle. On the contrary, they started with a Navy and said "How can we find a splendid reason for keeping every last bit of it?" All the way through we find quite contradictory arguments being produced as long as they will justify the purpose of keeping one bit; for each bit kept appears to have been considered a victory in itself.
Having made those general observations, I want to come to the various rôles of our national strategy, and on this point, at least, I am extremely glad to find myself in intense agreement with the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) and the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall). The Navy will be the carrier of the deterrent. It has the capacity to carry it. Above all, it has the capacity to keep it out of harm's way, and the only place where it will be reasonably safe will be at the bottom of the ocean, and that is where it should be.
Let us, for instance, consider "Nautilus." When armed with her full complement of the Polaris missile her broadside will be the equivalent of 48 million tons of T.N.T. On a single cruise she will be capable of doing more damage and of killing more people than was caused or were killed in the whole of the last war. If she spreads her missiles at intervals of about 25 miles, she will be capable of sinking or at least of crippling everything on the surface over an area of 15,000 square miles. That is the level of power that is available to this almost invulnerable instrument—because this terrific blast can be discharged from right below the ocean.
Do we need to increase that level? I cannot believe that we serve anything by simply adding to that power, because, 1064 to my mind, for all practical purposes the deterrent in its scope and size has already passed infinity. If I am told that a star is one or ten, or a hundred or a thousand light-years away, it means exactly the same thing to me. It is a distance beyond my capacity to imagine. So is the existing destructive power of these weapons. I cannot believe that anybody makes a very different decision if the effect is to cause 5 million, 10 million, 15 million, 20 million or 50 million casualties. We are dealing already with figures beyond our capacity to conceive.
That is really where one comes to the conception of the limited deterrent, and I must say that during the defence debate, and again today, my main anxiety has been the apparent incapacity of the Government to appreciate what limited deterrence means.
May I take a perfectly good example, which certainly seems to me to be very striking, which has not yet been mentioned in either debate, and that is what happened in Turkey two or three months ago. Turkey is a member of N.A.T.O. She is within the assurance of Mr. Dulles's "massive retribution," the destruction of the sources of power of the Soviet Union. Yet she was being threatened by the Russians, who were not deterred by that, but as soon as the limited deterrent was mentioned, the moment it was said that, not this massive thing, but the embarkation ports would be attacked, at that moment Mr. Khrushchev called at the Turkish Embassy and had some cocktails. We had reduced the deterrent from the incredible to a very much smaller but credible threat, and I believe that credibility is the essential factor when we are thinking of deterrence in future.
If the Americans, and theirs is the great deterrent capacity, launch their attack, they know now that they can only do it at a minimum cost of 8 million casualties. Can we believe that they will accept that for anything that happens in Europe? Supposing that Russia decided suddenly one morning to deal with the sword of Damocles which is to be erected over her cities in the rocket bases here and were to destroy them as she so easily could. Do we think that the Americans would promptly accept 8 million casualties? Would we want her to 1065 knowing it meant our destruction? No, I venture to say that we would decide to report the matter to U.N.O. instead.
These are the realities we are up against, and that is why, if we are to have a deterrent, we must have one which can be protected because it is at the bottom of the sea. We must have it capable, not of all these enormous things, in which nobody any longer believes, but of doing specific acts which will make the proposed aggression of the enemy not worth while.
This seems to me to be specifically the rôle of naval deterrence. When the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East talked about a general submarine war in which, as submarines offend against the Geneva Convention, we would be able to use atomic weapons, he seemed to me to stray right out of the field of reality. A war in which Russia uses that fleet of submarines in order to starve us out is not a war which could conceivably remain an unatomic war, or with atomic weapons being simply comfined to the water. It would be very dangerous for us to allow it to be thought that that was possible. Our anti-submarine weapon, to my mind, would be the destruction of the submarine bases. It would be done from there.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I do not see the drift of the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument. The point I was trying to make was that atomic weapons would be used in these circumstances against the submarines. Is the hon. and learned Gentleman suggesting that they would not be? If I may say so, to talk of destroying bases is a complete red herring. We heard that in the last war, and we shall hear it again in the future, but it is a very long-term project.
§ Mr. Paget
In the last war, we did not have atomic weapons. I believe that today, within a matter of hours, every base establishment could simply disappear. We have been considering these weapon tests, and I remember when one blew a hole three miles wide and over a mile deep in the bed of the ocean. What would remain of bases if that happens?
§ Major Wall
Would not the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the nuclear submarine would be virtually independent of bases?
§ Mr. Paget
That may very well be, and they will be equally invulnerable to any other sort of attack. That is where the deterrent comes in. This is the sort of war that cannot be fought; it can only be prevented.
The idea that we have to prepare to deal with 500 Russian submarines and all those cruisers is really quite illusory. That is the atomic war, and, if it ever happens Britain is expendable anyway. The Parliamentary Secretary asked what the Russians had the fleet for. It certainly is not for us. We can be destroyed so much more easily and so much more quickly. That fleet is directed against the Americans. That is Russia's means atomically of attacking American cities which are in the farther range.
It seems to me, therefore, that we are right off our practical target in thinking of this purpose for our naval forces. We talk about task forces, or whatever their new name is. The day of the battle fleet on the surface controlling the oceans is completely past. I believe that aircraft carriers in atomic war are just as obsolete as the battleships. They are fare too vulnerable. Powered bombs in almost any time now will have a range of at least 100 miles. To say that one could not get a land-based aircraft within 100 miles of a carrier—the pilot could have a six-mile miss and still destroy it—is to conceive something quite unreal. For total, atomic war we are concerned with the atom-powered, atom tiring submarine, and nothing else.
We must now consider what are the tasks, short of total war, for which we require a navy. Immediately we realise that we want a navy for tasks when Russia is not a belligerent. We are not concerned with Russia. We are concerned with other navies, with other Powers, with whom we may come into conflict on lesser but, none the less, formidable issues.
The thing of real value to us, not only individually but within the Atlantic Alliance, in the councils of Washington, is the power to deliver force in the critical area, be it Indonesia, South Asia, Africa or the Middle East, the power to deliver force quickly, in sustainable form. The idea of a task force which sails about the seas in order to sink other task forces is quite off the mark. The naval force 1067 which we require today is a force which can land and support troops.
I am delighted at long last to see the "Bulwark". Doubtless it is forgotten, but for the last three, four and five years I have urged this in these debates. But I believe it is crazy to throw away five other carriers which would be ideal for this purpose. What we require is a mobile reserve, and it is beyond our capacity to make anything airborne except a very attenuated brigade group at the most. Today we have nothing like a brigade airborne. If we cannot get our reserve airborne, then at least let us get it seaborne. That provides us with mobility.
What do we require? First, we require the carriers. We have the "Bulwark" and five other fast aircraft carriers with a great capacity. They need not carry all the helicopters which are needed for putting down the commando. What they need is the landing craft, vehicles which an aircraft carrier can carry. This type of landing craft may not be ideal, but they can be carried at 30 knots, which is much better than to get there later—and that is with self-propelled craft capable of only 16 knots. One can design a force which can get very effectively on shore with portable craft—I commanded some in the war; I have done this job—which go very well in an aircraft carrier.
Again, I repeat what I have urged in the last two years in these debates. The mobile reserve of this country ought not to be the Army, but the naval Marine. Scrap all the irrelevant activities which are vaguely connected with the concept or broken-back war which was abandoned last time but which was resuscitated this. Make the equivalent of a couple of naval divisions which live on the sea, with "Bulwark" as a commando to go into the bridgeheads which the commando wins. We must realise that the task force is today useless save in so far as it can be an effective power on shore. That does not mean that one does not need an antisubmarine escort. Of course, an antisubmarine escort is needed, but it should be an escort for the mobile force and not directed against the vague cloud of Russian submarines which are irrelevant to our strategic purpose. They should be the escorts of this force.
We also want with this force an aircraft carrier which can provide protection for 1068 the sort of aircraft which are below the Russian standard. We want to have perhaps an old aircraft carrier which can either carry helicopters or very slow aeroplanes, because in the sort of operations that one is likely to have the slower the aircraft will fly the better it is for the purpose.
These are the sort of problems that we ought to be thinking about. I feel that the time has come when the problem ought first to be thought out and then we ought to set about thinking how we are to fulfil it instead of approaching it as we do year after year by saying, "We have the following forces at our disposal. How can we justify them?"
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. John Baldock (Harborough)
The constituency of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) is removed from the sea almost as far as mine, but that certainly does not seem to prevent him from thinking about matters of naval strategy or giving considerable attention to the statement on our maritime policy for defence.
I found it a little difficult even to follow the trend of the hon. and gallant Member's argument the whole way, and towards the end it became considerably confused. I certainly cannot subscribe to the idea, which the hon. and learned Member seemed to be putting forward, that because this new form of propulsion, this new weapon, this new armament—the nuclear submarine with a missile fired from below the surface—is on the point of being developed, every other form of naval armament is therefore completely obsolete and we should concentrate solely upon this new device and build vast numbers of this kind of vessel, even if we can possibly afford to do so, remembering that only two have so far been constructed by a nation with infinitely greater resources than our own. We must keep some sense of proportion and remember that police actions will still be necessary in other parts of the world, and possibly minor wars and things of that kind which could not possibly be suppressed by this new weapon.
§ Mr. Baldock
I was trying to follow the hon. and learned Member, but possibly his practice, in the courts and elsewhere, of wrapping people up in involved arguments, proved too much for me.
I have, perhaps, a simple mind in these matters but the hon. and learned Member seemed to me to be putting nearly all his emphasis on this one new weapon and saying, in effect, that it made everything else obsolete except for the "Bulwark" type of carrier, which he was prepared to send out. That kind of over-simplification will not help us.
I do, however, subscribe entirely to what was said by the hon. and learned Member and by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes-Hallett) and my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) about the importance of getting on with developing our own nuclear-powered submarine as quickly as possible. If we are able to get assistance in this direction from the Americans and to avoid using up our own resources, that will be a form of co-ordination with our Allies which is highly desirable.
At this stage of the day, it is inevitable that a large part of the subject has been covered and that a great many aspects of naval defence have been discussed and given a fairly good run. Many hon. Members who have spoken and who continually interest themselves in matters of naval defence feel that they can extract a degree of satisfaction from this year's Explanatory Statement. Most of us who have spoken feel that it shows that policy is moving, even if, some of us think, too slowly, towards the acceptance of the aims which we have stressed year by year.
Those aims have principally been that the Navy has a new rôle. It has the old traditional and accepted responsibilities, even in this nuclear age, of being ambassadors of good will, of being able to put out the small fires, to keep the seas open in limited wars and in the broken-back stage of a nuclear war—nobody can say positively that that would not occur—as well as dealing with other kinds of hostilities with conventional arms and particularly in providing our contribution to N.A.T.O. against the vast submarine fleet and the huge stocks of mines which, we know, the Russians carry.
1070 I was quite unable to follow the hon. and learned Member for Northampton, perhaps again entirely because of my stupidity, in his belief that these submarines would have no meaning for us at all and were entirely directed against the Americans, in order to carry an atomic attack. I cannot believe that when these submarines were laid down about ten or twelve years ago the Russians were convinced that they could produce an underwater missile which they could fire from them. I very much doubt, also, whether these submarines are suitable for firing such weapons. I believe that we must have suitable means in N.A.T.O., with our allies, for protecting surface ships against conventional attacks from these submarines.
The Navy has a new rôle in attack which, of course, is completely out of line with its traditions and history. This is a new development which makes the Navy of infinitely greater importance than the country understood a year or two ago. Unfortunately, there were doubts about the rôle of the Navy and we in the House of Commons did not help in that respect. These doubts had a considerable effect on morale and on recruiting for the Navy, but those of us who had followed the matter realised that the importance of the naval aspect of our defence was a growing and not a diminishing one, not only because of the Navy's traditional rôle but because of This new offensive rôle in being able to deliver a nuclear attack by aircraft.
We have been confirmed today in the belief that the NA39 will be able to carry a nuclear weapon, and the Explanatory Statement says the same thing of the Scimitar which is already in service. Then there is the new and, if one can use that expression, the most ultimate of all forms of deterrence and of attack—the nuclear submarine able to fire rockets from below the surface of the sea.
The second point which we who are interested in these matters have stressed is the need to reduce the stranded tail-end of the Navy in favour of the floating head-end. It is a well-known fact of nature that the tail is the part of the beast where the fat is stored, and now is the time to move that surplus energy up to the business end. It has been said often in this Committee that sailors want to go to sea, and there is nothing more 1071 frustrating than the lack of opportunity to do that. There is nothing better for morale and for recruiting in the Service than to have the greatest possible proportion of personnel under Vote A afloat.
The Explanatory Statement says that there will be a reduction in shore establishments, as a result of measures being taken over the next four years, leading to a saving of 6,500 men. This is not a very large number out of a total of 260,000 men in uniform.
§ Mr. Baldock
I agree. I should have said 6,500 men out of 100,000. Perhaps I was confusing the Committee by bringing in the others.
Paragraph 60 of the Explanatory Statement states that this reduction of 6,500:… will make available more men to serve at sea; and more of our resources will be released for the paramount purpose of maintaining the strength of the seagoing fleet.That is what it seems to me will not occur. The saving of 6,500 men in four years may save the fleet from diminishing more rapidly than it would otherwise do, but it does not seem to be maintaining the strength of the sea-going fleet, which has been steadily diminishing over the last three or four years. The numbers of every type of ship, with the exception of aircraft carriers and frigates, have been declining. The number of frigates has actually gone up by two in the last three years, and the figures for aircraft carriers have stood still although now these appear to be declining by one; if we count the "Bulwark" the figure would still be four. But the numbers of cruisers, the destroyers, the submarines, the minesweepers, coastal craft and landing vessels, which are set out in the Explanatory Statement, are all declining and it appears, will continue to decline, in spite of the reduction in the number of sailors ashore.
That is a rather disappointing result. I had hoped that the strength could at least have been maintained. I hoped that the process will be carried out a little more vigorously, because it does not seem to have gone far or fast enough to halt the decline in the number of ships at sea.
1072 Another continual theme in this Committee has been that there is too much civilian support required for the Navy. Here again, although the number of civilians at home and abroad will have been reduced by 20,000 by April, 1959, the proportion of civilians to sailors will still stand at three to two at the end of the operation. Most hon. Members appreciate some of the reasons why the proportion of civilians to sailors has had to increase—namely, the greater complexity of the equipment which has to be ordered, procured and put into the ships, the requirements of the Fleet Air Arm, the need to provide personnel for N.A.T.O., and so on. I still feel, however, that the proportion of three civilians to two sailors leaves much to be desired.
This may be an unpopular thing to say, although I believe there is only one hon. Member in the Committee at the moment representing the dockyards—
§ Mr. Fernyhough indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Baldock
Perhaps it would have been more accurate to say that there is only one hon. Member representing the dockyards left to speak. I do not feel that the dockyards have been reduced in proportion to the reduction in the size of the fleet. That is an indisputable fact and I would have hoped that the process of the commercialisation of the dockyards might have been extended further than Malta, where it is to be tried, I hope successfully.
Another theme which the Committee has had in mind, but which has not been expressed very much today, is anxiety over new construction. I believe that no important ships have been laid down now for many years. We hope that the four long-heralded guided missile destroyers which have been discussed now for three years will be laid down this year, but apparently no new cruisers, aircraft carriers, or other important ships are expected to be laid down.
The ships already in the fleet, apart from declining in numbers, are ageing; so that, if replacement of an important ship now takes at least seven years, the fleet will be getting pretty old, and the teeth will be rather long, by the time replacements are available, even if they are ordered right away, and there is no word that they will be. Perhaps major reconstructions on the lines of the 1073 "Victorious" are intended, or perhaps we are waiting to build nuclear submarines and to make them the capital ships of the future. However, without information on these subjects, and perhaps none can be given, I for one feel anxiety that no more ships are being ordered or laid down.
In conclusion, I join with those who have welcomed the decision to convert the "Bulwark" into a Commando carrier. The Explanatory Statement says that it is the first carrier to be converted. I very much hope that means what it appears to say, that this is the first of several and not the first and only one.
The use of Commando carriers seems to be a sphere where the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines, if successful in their recruiting—and some of the proposals put forward today could certainly help recruiting and the regaining of morale and the restoration of understanding of the immensely important rôle which they have to play in our present defence plans—can fill a gap in our defence system which will otherwise have to be filled by conscription. I believe that every hon. Member wishes to see that done by volunteers and I can think of no better arms to do it than the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
I listened to the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Baldock) with some interest and I wondered what sized Estimates we should require if all he wants to do was permitted. We know the difficulties which the former Chancellor of the Exchequer had, but the present Chancellor would be bound to go the way of his predecessor if the hon. Member's suggestions were given the necessary financial backing. He took no account of the nation's present economic plight; indeed, many hon. Members opposite have taken but little note of the changed circumstances in which we are now living.
§ Mr. Baldock
I suggested that economies could be made in both the number of men serving ashore in the Navy and in the number of civilians serving in dockyards, economies which would help to finance the amounts I mentioned.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
If the hon. Member compares those savings with the capital costs of his suggestions, he will see that a Board of Admiralty or Chancellor of the Exchequer would not consider them for one moment.
The Parliamentary Secretary told us about the future rôle of the Navy when he opened the debate. The Navy still has the job of protecting sea routes and maintaining supplies. We were told that it would do that not only in small conventional wars but, presumably, if we entered nuclear warfare. As I listened to the naval experts—some are still present—discussing what the Navy's rôle is to be in a nuclear war, I could not help feeling that I was in a dream world. We are told how our ships will control the seas. Apparently they will be immune from any of the effects of nuclear warfare which, the experts tell us, will obliterate our island if it breaks out.
Twelve months ago last April we carried out an experiment in the Pacific. We dropped a hydrogen bomb and, before doing so, warned the world that from April to August 75,000 square miles of the Pacific would be dangerous to shipping. I do not know whether we were told the truth but, if so, if hydrogen bombs were dropped in the Channel, the Irish Sea and the North Sea it would be difficult for us to maintain the supply lines to this country.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
And the Americans have now given notice of a clearance area of over 500,000 square miles in the Pacific for their tests during April.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
Precisely. That is why I said that I thought that I was living in dreamland.
I admit that if the next war is to be like the last one, or the 1914–18 one, the Navy will have a very important rôle to play, but if it is to live up to the expectations of the nuclear experts we must face the simple fact, distasteful though it may be, that no armies, navies or air forces will serve any useful purpose after the first five or six hours. If nuclear war breaks out there can be no victors; there can only be vanquished: there cannot be any life; there can only be death: there cannot be any civilisation; there can only be cemeteries.
1075 We can have these weapons and nuclear ships; we can spend all the money we like, but if nuclear war breaks out our policy fails, because it is a policy of defence and deterrence. It is a policy not to wage war, but to prevent it. Every thinking man knows that if a global nuclear war breaks out it will be the end of everything that we love and cherish.
If only hon. Members would face that fact I should not be critical of what they have been saying. So long as they agree that our preparations are made to fight a war on the basis of the last one I go along with them, but if they pretend that we have nuclear-powered submarines, able to fire rockets, or rocket bases in this country, or any other paraphernalia and, at the same time, that there is any defence for our people, all I can say is that they read into the language of the experts something that I have never understood them to mean.
Reference has been made to the closing of the dockyards. I am not opposed to economies, but I am bitterly opposed to a situation in which men who have given good service to their country are cast aside like old shoes, with no thought of what will happen to them in the future. I represent a constituency where that happened to thousands of ordinary men. Because of the decision of a handful of men thousands of men in my constituency were forced into almost permanent unemployment. Although my constituency is not affected by the latest cuts, I can understand the anxiety and the worry of those hon. Members representing constituencies where the economies now imposed by the Admiralty will be felt.
I remember the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) writing some articles in the Daily Express last year in which he said that it would pay us to pay some admirals and other people not to do their jobs. I remember asking the hon. and gallant Member, outside this Chamber, whether he would carry that policy a little further and apply it to the men being made redundant because of various changes in Government policy in relation to the Services.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I made similar observations when I spoke in the debate at this time last year. If the hon. Member will be good enough to read 1076 them, he will find that I referred, in terms similar to those which he is using now, to the civilian employees who would be displaced.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
I am delighted to have the support of the hon. and gallant Gentleman.
We have just said, and I do not disagree, that we have 14,000 officers for whom there are no useful duties to perform. The House of Commons is making provision for £50 million to compensate them. Therefore, we shall not be creating a precedent or imposing a burden on the taxpayer which has not already been accepted in relation to redundant officers if we say that ordinary men and women who lose their jobs because of Government economies and changes of policy should be generously compensated. The best compensation, however, would be for the Government to plan alternative employment.
Everyone knows that during the war we planned and mobilised our resources, materials and manpower alike so that none was wasted. We are now asking that the Government should plan with the same enthusiasm and determination so that alternative employment may be found for those who will be dismissed from the dockyards. Jobs and the right to work mean life to many of our people. The right to work should be an inherent right for men and women. Particularly should it be the right of those who lose their jobs as a result of economies and changes in Government policy.
I hope that we shall not be given a "bromide" tonight. I hope that we shall not hear promises that the Government will explore every avenue and leave no stone unturned. I hope that we shall get real and tangible evidence of the determination of the Government to plan to provide work for those who have now become redundant following changes in Government policy.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
My hon. Friend says that I have "some hope." Let me tell Government supporters that if there is one thing which will lose them the next Election it is unemployment. It will break any Government. It therefore behoves them, and especially the Ministers 1077 representing the Admiralty, if they want to be on that side after the next Election, to give us evidence of the Government's concern about the people who are to be put out of their jobs.
One thing that bothers me is the attitude of the experts in this Committee about Russian armaments. We were told seven years ago that the Russians had 500 submarines, 270 divisions and 30,000 front-line aircraft. Does anybody, however, expect the Russians to stand still while we were developing the kind of armament which has been suggested in this Committee today. It does not mean that we should be any stronger in relation to the Russians than we were at the beginning; but there is one certainty, which is that we should be economically weaker. We have heard a lot in the last few months about the standing of the £ in the international money markets but, in the opinion of those who—
§ Lieut.-Commander S. L. C. Maydon (Wells)
Has the hon. Member read this evening the news about our gold and dollar reserves? If he has not, I suggest that he goes out and reads it.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
I do not expect to take part in a debate on the Navy after sitting in the Committee for only about an hour. I come in at 3.30 and wait here until I am called. That is why I have not been able to read the newspapers and am not so up to date as the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I hope that he will be able to say the same thing in six months' time.
Almost every nation in Europe is destroying its economy by the heavy arms burden it is carrying. Why did the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Financial Secretary and Economic Secretary resign, and why did the last-named make that speech which we heard in the defence debate? Everybody knows why. The proposed expenditure is primarily for the purpose of meeting the challenge of Communism. In speech after speech I have said that I have never been afraid of the Communist challenge, because I do not believe that the Communists would try to achieve what they want by military means.
I have always been more afraid of their challenge in the economic and social field. The Foreign Secretary has 1078 recently acknowledged that that is now where the real challenge is coming. If the challenge is coming from those sources, how can we stand up to it and meet it so long as we spend such a considerable proportion of our resources on defence?
§ Mr. Fernyhough
Of course they did. I hope that the hon. Member is not going to say that that was a challenge to us, any more than what we did in Egypt was a challenge to them. If the hon. Member does not know the price they paid, I will tell him.
Tens of thousands of men and women who, for the best part of their lives, believed that Communism was the hope of the world, tens of thousands in this country and in every other civilised country, deserted the Communist Party because of what happened in Hungary. That is the price which Russia has paid. Tens of thousands of her unpaid missionaries, doing her work in all parts of the world, deserted her because of events there. It is not unknown that Britain also lost some friends in various parts of the world because of what we did in Egypt.
I can understand the anxiety of the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams) to get into the debate. I have suffered similarly. I have often waited in vain.
One of the ways in which the Estimates should be increased is in relation to the provision of housing. If a man has entered a contract of service with the Army, the Navy or the Air Force and has done his duty there should be some housing accommodation for him at the end of his service. It is impossible for local authorities to make that provision. Most of them are able to build only for what I would call slum clearance purposes, because of the absence of subsidies and the high Bank Rate. That ought not to be. A man who has come out of the Armed Forces after 22 years' service ought not to be denied the right to a home.
The Admiralty and the other Services should grant local authorities a specific sum to enable them to build special houses to be set aside for those leaving the Services. These men have a right to 1079 that consideration. I think that the Government ought to make that provision. I do not believe the Government have the right to expect local authorities to rehouse these people and to put them at the head of the queue in front of everyone else.
It may be said that that would mean further expenditure, but I can tell the Government where a little further might be saved by way of compensation. There is the Royal Yacht. I hope that at Question Time tomorrow I shall have an answer to the various Questions I have put down. I should like to know just how much the Royal Yacht is costing us. It seems quite fantastic that a ship which is operational, on an average, for only three months of the year should have so many refits. It seems to me that if the rest of our shipping had to be refitted every three months, as the Royal yacht is; we would never be able to compete in the shipping world.
Another point that I would like to raise concerns the staffing of the Royal Yacht. I understand that its complement is such that if it were an ordinary naval ship it would have a commander or a captain, but because it is a Royal yacht it has to have an admiral, which means that there are several captains on board who would not be there but for the fact that the man in charge is an admiral. I am not a naval man, but I am anxious—
§ Lieut.-Commander Maydon
How many captains does the hon. Gentleman think are borne on the books of the Royal Yacht?
§ Mr. Fernyhough
I do not know; perhaps there are three. I am asking for information. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman does not know, now is the time to get the information.
It seems to me that some economies might be made on the Royal Yacht. If the ship is in service for only three months of the year, I should like to know what those at the top are doing in the other nine months. I know that, in the Army, field marshals who are unemployed are put on half pay. All I am asking is that when the Parliamentary Secretary replies he will give me the information for which I ask. Apart from the questions of the Royal Yacht and housing which I have raised, I hope he 1080 will be able to give to my hon. Friends who represent areas where unemployment is rearing its head a more satisfactory assurance than they have had so far.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul Williams (Sunderland, South)
If I do not follow the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) in his remarks I hope he will understand that it is not out of any sense of discourtesy to him, but because there are a number of hon. Members on both sides of the Committee who wish to speak and I wish, therefore, to cut my remarks that much shorter.
First, I support the plea which has been made in a number of speeches on this side of the Committee in relation to the building of submarines for the launching of missiles. It seems to me that this is the sort of line along which we should be thinking, but I would never go as far as the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who seemed to put his whole faith in that development and to have no faith in anything else.
To put it no higher, there is obviously a time lag between the development stage of this type of vessel with this type of missile and the time when such a vessel can become fully operational. One must know something more about the cost of such a development and about the time it would take. However, as a broad line of thought I hope that our planning will proceed along the line that this is our surest method of facing the deterrent in the years to come.
Like a number of my hon. Friends, I would look carefully at some of the manpower figures. I picked out two years at random, and obviously, having done that, they are totally unreliable figures, although I think there is a slight moral to be drawn from them. Taking the years 1947 and 1957, the following figures become apparent. In 1947, there were 189,600 serving personnel and in 1957 116,000—a drop of 73,600. In the former year—and this information was given in a Parliamentary Answer—non-industrial civil servants both at home and abroad numbered 32,600, and in the latter year 32,450. In other words, there was a drop in the number of serving personnel of over 73,000, but only 150 fewer non-industrial civil servants.
1081 It is possible, by taking years at random or to suit one's choice, to draw almost any conclusion, but I draw only one conclusion from those figures, that serving personnel may come and serving personnel may go, but non-industrial civil servants both at home and abroad appear to go on for ever. I do not want to draw too large a conclusion from those figures, but I do draw the inference, to put it no higher, that the number of civil servants has not been reduced at all proportionately with the reduction in the number of the serving personnel.
The second matter I want to mention is mentioned in paragraphs 35 to 37 of the Explanatory Statement on the Navy Estimates. I refer to H.M. Submarine "Dreadnought". I follow some of the remarks made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele), who opened the debate for the Opposition today. The Committee has not yet received sufficient information about the means of propulsion for the "Dreadnought", or about the progress being made in the building of it. The Statement is remarkably reticent on this matter, perhaps advisedly so, but I should like to know whether there is any prospect of applying commercially the lessons of H.M.S. "Dreadnought", applying them to the merchant marine. I shall come again in a moment to the question of nuclear propulsion in merchant ships, but I doubt whether the lessons of the "Dreadnought" have any commercial application in the immediate future.
The Committee deserves a little more information than there is in the White Paper and a better explanation of the state of the building of this vessel. As one of my hon. Friends has already remarked, paragraph 36 of the Statement refers to shore work going on, but what is the state of building in the yards, if there is any building at all?
I, too, have hesitations about what information we may or may not be getting from the United States on this. I hope it is as full as we want it to be. I hope it is as full as the declaration of interdependence would lead us to expect it to be. I wonder, does the McMahon Act preclude us from getting the sort of information on the American developments that I hope we shall be able to get from them?
1082 The third matter I want to mention, while it is the last I am allowing myself time to raise, is the question of nuclear propulsion for merchant ships There is a fairly lengthy reference to this in paragraphs 112 to 113 of the White Paper, but having read those paragraphs I am not convinced that sufficient importance is being placed by the Admiralty and the Government on this whole issue of the commercial application of nuclear propulsion. I realise that there is considerable difficulty over security in this matter and that some reticence is absolutely essential. However, I think that there is far too little information available. I hope that the Government will not use reticence as a cloak for smugness, although I would not suggest that they are being smug in this matter.
I should like to place on record some quotations from the American Congressional Report, dated 10th February, merely to show the Committee the lines along which the Americans are thinking and what distance ahead they are thinking and the amount of information they are willing and able to give in public. These are remarks made by Louis H. Roddis, Jr., who, I gather, is Deputy Director of the Reactor Development Division of the American A.E.C. He stated:At the present time, the Atomic Energy Commission and the Maritime Administration are engaged in a joint programme aimed at development of competitive propulsive power. We believe this objective is obtainable, although probably not before 1965.As far as I know a statement of that nature has not been made here.
Mr. Roddis also said:Work is continuing both in the practical engineering and construction of the N.S. Savannah and in a research and development programme to improve the nuclear propulsion art to a point where industry can step in and build nuclear plants in privately owned vessels for commercial service.. We have assumed that the Government must accept the initial high costs of construction of nuclear power plants and the major financial risks. Once the industry has had an opportunity to study these operating nuclear ships, they will be in a position to assess the degree to which such vessels would be of value in private operation.That short quotation gives the House some idea of the development and public debate that is taking place in the United States. By comparison, paragraphs 112 and 113 of the Explanatory Statement are too coy by half.
1083 I propose now to put two short propositions to the Committee on this matter. The first is that technical research is of such a vital nature not only to the whole shipping industry, but to the economy of the entire nation. I believe that the Admiralty understands the importance of the British Merchant Navy, I am not convinced that the whole Government do. The second proposition is: if technical research is so vital, I believe that the highest possible priority must be given to the development of nuclear power. If those two propositions make sense, I have a number of questions that I should like to put to the Government. I regret that the Civil Lord is not present, because he himself is heavily embroiled in this matter, and it is on the work of the Galbraith Committee that I want to ask a few questions.
My first question is: is industry itself doing enough both on the building and on the operating side? Are builders and operators sufficiently keen to drive forward this idea? From my own knowledge, slight though it is, of the shipbuilding industry, I believe that the shipbuilding side is keen, and that the owners are keen, also, but it would be helpful if the Government could be a little more forthcoming on the way in which the matter is being discussed. My second question is: are the owners, the builders and the scientists working sufficiently closely together?
My third question develops directly from the second. Are the builders sufficiently consulted by the scientists, or has there, in the past, been a tendency for the scientists to say, "You provide the hull. We will put in the motor, and run the vessel." Quite frankly, I believe that there is a danger of the scientists wanting to operate ships. They may be very good at scribbling numbers on the backs of envelopes, or on pieces of paper, but I do not believe that they are the right people to operate ships. That is why I say that if the work of the Galbraith Committee is to be of value, the effort must be co-operative, and that that committee must be sufficiently highly-powered.
My fourth question is: are the Government satisfied that the Galbraith Committee is a sufficiently high-level committee? I say that with no disrespect 1084 to the Civil Lord at all, but I am not sure—and, because of the lack of information, I think that the Committee cannot, as yet, be convinced—that sufficient priority and drive is being put behind this whole matter. After all, we do not even know how frequently the committee meets. How often has it met so far during its life? I hope that it meets at least once a fortnight, but perhaps I am too optimistic. I do not know.
I believe that the work of the committee should be one of the main works of the civil side of the Admiralty, for it is upon the success of the Galbraith Committee that our British Merchant Navy to a large degree depends in the future. I should have thought that Britain's survival as a leading maritime Power depended on the Government, the shipowners and the shipbuilders all co-operating with sufficient drive to enable us to be the first nation to provide nuclear-powered ships capable of operating commercially. I ask the Government to assure the Committee at the end of the debate that everything possible is being done to achieve this end.
§ 9.44 p.m.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
I hope the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams) will forgive me if I do not follow him in the intricacies of his technical speech, though I agree with its general purport. I am particularly glad he emphasised that the Government are one of the important partners in the future of nuclear-powered ships. Unquestionably, we are a maritime nation. We always have been, and I hope that we always will be. The achievements already accomplished by our atomic scientists on the civilian side make us very proud of them, and I am quite sure that if they are given a free hand they will develop the nuclear-powered ship for commercial purposes as well as perhaps, if need be, for naval purposes.
I must not take up the time of the Committee talking on technical subjects with which I am not familiar, nor do I wish to say very much about questions of high strategy. It seems to me that most ordinary thinking people find themselves in a very great difficulty in these days of atomic weapons. As I see it, it is a terrifying choice between preparation for atomic warfare and complete 1085 pacificism. It seems difficult to foresee any middle road, but I suppose that when one is uncertain one must stick to the path one knows.
Therefore, I come down to the bread-and-butter type of speeches and topics of this afternoon, and I will say at once, as a West Country Member, that I am glad that Devonport has been scheduled as one of the great naval ports to be retained. Equally, I say that the Government ought to do everything they can to plan for commercial work in the dockyards that are being dispensed with.
Having said that I am glad that Devonport is to be retained, I should like to make a short quotation from paragraph 108 of the Explanatory Statement, which reads:A comprehensive plan is now being put into effect for the concentration and amalgamation of fleet and civilian shore establishments, and the reduction of two home dockyards has recently been announced. These, and other schemes which are still under consideration will, it is hoped, make more economies possible, all aimed at reducing the cost of the supporting services in order to strengthen the front line.It is the words—and other schemes which are still under considerationwhich leave a doubt in the minds of people in the West Country about what Devonport can expect next year or the year after.
Can the Civil Lord, when he replies to the debate, give us some assurances that at any rate the line of development for Devonport is likely to continue at least for some years? It is most important that, in these things which are the life and death for a community or affect the vitality of a community, there should be some years of stability. We fear the effects of redundancy in the next year or two, and I feel that the Civil Lord ought to dispel doubt about it, or at least, if there are to be redundancies, will say that the Government will plan ahead to see that alternative work is available for the men who are displaced.
The reason why some of us who are not in Plymouth but in the West Country have a great concern about this is that already there is a much higher level of unemployment in the south-west region than in the country as a whole. Indeed, only an hour or two ago I had a letter from the President of the Board of Trade 1086 giving me some information which was asked for in the debate on local unemployment last week.
We on this side of the Committee feel that the Government simply will not plan ahead. They seem to be devoted to a doctrinaire policy of economic drift, but surely the very fact that we are spending many hours today planning the future of naval development shows that we ought to be just as much concerned about commercial and ordinary economic development. We do not want Devon-port to become a monument to a Navy which has disappeared.
Why should not ship construction work be given to the Royal dockyards? The hon. Lady the Member for Devonport (Miss Vickers) told us that the proportion of ship construction work in the Royal dockyards at present was 3 per cent. We understand that order books are full for some years ahead in the shipbuilding yards. It is surely possible for some shipbuilding work, particularly on small ships, to go to the Royal dockyards, wherever they may be, to ease the problem of redundancy. Also, when civilian yards have a high level of unemployment, such as the shiprepairing yard in Falmouth in my constituency, consideration should be given to repair work going there in these times of severe shipping depression.
The hon. Lady the Member for Devonport referred also to the sterilisation of the centre of Devonport. As one who has known Devonport and Plymouth from childhood days, I can sympathise with her distress in seeing that great derelict area. For a year or two after the war, the future development of Devonport dockyard was, no doubt, uncertain, but by this time the Admiralty ought to know its mind and should enter into arrangements with the City of Plymouth so that proper redevelopment can take place.
Lastly, I have a small point to put to the Civil Lord, which I think the hon. Lady the Member for Devonport has also dealt with by correspondence. I am told that there is an ashes contract at Devonport for which £16,000 is allocated annually for removing ashes. These ashes are removed from oil-burning ships. It seems a ridiculous state of affairs, and I hope that now it is brought 1087 to the notice of the Admiralty in this debate a very thorough investigation into the matter will be made.
§ 9.59 p.m.
§ Brigadier Terence Clarke (Portsmouth, West)
I know that the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) will forgive me if I do not follow his speech very closely, although I agree with a number of things he said and hope to elaborate on some of them.
I have no particular quarrel with what appears in the Explanatory Statement by the First Lord. My worry arises more from what has not appeared in the Explanatory Statement. I should like to know what the Admiralty proposes to do about certain establishments which it is proposing to release. For example, there is one with a funny name, the Underwater Countermeasures and Weapons Establishment, Havant. There are four more of these underwater training establishments. I pass by this particular one at least once a week. The building of it has only just been finished, and now it is to go somewhere else. I know that that sort of thing is inevitable in the Services, but, since the Admiralty are to vacate that place in a year, we should remember that much money has been spent in putting it up, and the Admiralty should ensure that it is put to some useful purpose or disposed of.
The Admiralty, rather like the War Office, is always most reluctant to disgorge anything. It is understandable. The Admiralty came into bits of requisitioned land and buildings during the war. In peacetime no one will give the Admiralty money to buy anything. Once the Admiralty has them it says that it will keep them and will find another use for them. But with the run-down of the Nore and the closing of Sheerness and what appears to be a run-down in the Navy generally, I feel that some of these establishments will have to be released.
One I would suggest that they can release—I referred to it last year—is the Phoenix, which belches smoke all over Portsmouth, and although it may have served a useful purpose in Portsmouth during the war because it taught firefighting and the rapid repair of damaged ships, I feel that that work could pos- 1088 sibly go on very well at this underwater establishment at Havant which has only just been completed. If we can arrange to burden that part of the country instead of the more valuable island of Portsmouth, many housewives will be delighted not to have smoke all over their washing, and Portsmouth will be glad to put up some more useful buildings on this site which is at present rather wasted.
The Parliamentary Secretary might also consider whether he could not move some of the establishments which will surely be redundant at Bath and send them to Chatham. Other people have suggested a number of other things that he could do with Chatham, but they are a long way removed from the matter with which I am concerned. I feel that the good old City of Bath could very well be relieved of a lot of shore-ridden sailors who would be happier nearer the sea at Chatham.
There is another establishment that I pass regularly, and I have done so for the last ten years. It is full of vehicles with a lot of radar and radio equipment sticking up. It is all going rusty and it is in an excellent field which would make very good agricultural land. I cannot tell the Civil Lord exactly where it is at the moment, because it is out in the blue, but I can pin-point it on a map and give him a map reference so that he can look at it to see if he can put these vehicles somewhere else in order to release this land for more useful purposes.
To continue this theme, I suggested to the Civil Lord the other day that if Sheerness is to be closed down in two years' time those deep water quays there might well be used as the basis of our future fleet of trading vessels between Britain and the Continent if we are to enter the free trade market. We have to think ahead and try to get decent ports to get commodities out of this country rather quicker than we do at the moment through Harwich and Dover and a few cross-Channel steamers. If that idea appeals to him I would go further and point out that our deep water quays were adequate for ships like the "Nelson" and "Renown". Now that we have no such ships these quays might be used commercially.
There are plenty of quays in Portsmouth where frigates and destroyers and smaller vessels that we have now to be satisfied with could easily go alongside. 1089 The deep water quay could easily be shut off from the dockyard and give room for an enormous new industry for Portsmouth and be of great benefit to this country as another great exit for our trade. Already, as I know, a French line has wanted to discharge its passengers by tender at Portsmouth, which in my opinion would be a very difficult way of getting people ashore; but they considered that that was a possibility they would like to pursue. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will draw to the attention of his noble Friend the First Lord the fact that there is a possibility for these liners to come alongside there, where there is a railway line and other facilities. These quays could be used in conjunction with the Admiralty who would always have priority.
I feel, however, that the Admiralty will put up a thousand and one reasons why a portion of the dockyard or any other naval establishment should not be given up. When I was a soldier, I invariably thought out a hundred and one reasons why anything which anybody wanted to take from me should not be removed, and I was generally successful in seeing that it was not removed. Nevertheless, I now see things from a different angle, and I suggest that these places could be more usefully used for the benefit of everyone.
Let me give an example of how the War Office has progressed. At its gunnery ranges, the War Office allows farmers to grow wheat, barley or any-think else between the firing point and the target. There are arrangements whereby farmers have to stop tending their crops when the red flag is displayed, and they can return to their ground again when the red flag is taken down. The War Office even allows cars to be parked on Horse Guards Parade, which twenty years ago would have been considered a heinous crime and every red-hatted policeman would have gone raving mad at the sight one now sees on this parade ground. The Army has helped the country in this matter. Perhaps the Admiralty will now allow some of the deep water quays at Portsmouth to be used for civil purposes. I feel that they could be of great benefit to the country.
Those are my remarks on dockyards. There are, however, a few local and 1090 Service problems to which I want to refer. The unskilled personnel working in the dockyards get an average of about £7 a week. We were told the other day that the national average wage is £11–£12 a week. If these men were getting £11–£12 a week I would say nothing about it, but the recent increase in the National Insurance contribution is quite a burden to people with a wage of £7.
As these dockyard people are not highly represented by trade unions, the only thing that can be done to help them is for their Member of Parliament to speak up and ask the Admiralty to look into their wages and not wait until forced to do so by trade unions which do not really understand dockyards as one cannot compare dockyards with shipyards where people work overtime and earn £11 or £12 a week. There is is very little overtime in the dockyards. Consequently, the men get this rather small wage, which again makes Portsmouth a very poor city financially.
A permanent grievance in the dockyard is that established personnel can count only half of their unestablished time for pension. I know that it was only a recent concession to allow them to count this time for half, but there are anomalies even in this. One man of whom I have details, whose name I will give to my hon. Friend the Civil Lord later, joined the dockyard as an apprentice in 1917. After serving five and a half years, as an apprentice he was made redundant in 1927 because of unemployment and he was consequently discharged. He was taken on again when work was available and became established in 1945. He can count for establishment only half the period from the time he rejoined. He had signed as an apprentice to make the job his work for life, but through no fault of his own he was discharged and, therefore, he has broken service.
It may be said that the case is comparable with that of a Service man who breaks his naval or military service and who cannot count all his time for pension, but such a break is made deliberately by choice. In this case, the man was actually put out of the Government Service.
Another matter which has been brought to my notice is that naval officers who have joined the Service since 1947 are having their pensions abated by a certain 1091 amount, which I have not yet been able to ascertain, due to part of National Health contributions being paid by the Admiralty and what they will receive by way of old-age pension when they are sixty-five is going to reduce their pension. That may be a Treasury ruling, and it may be necessary, but I think that these officers should be informed when they join the Service about this abatement of their pensions. The Army made a backdating of one year and the Air Force informed officers eighteen months later, but it was six years before the Admiralty announced that officers who joined after 1947 would have their pensions abated.
I do not know how this matter was forgotten, but surely officers who joined in 1947, before the Admiralty order was published, were induced into the Service on a false pretence. There was nothing to inform them that this would happen and that this would be the result thirty years later when they came to retire. I should be very grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary would answer that point, because I have a series of Questions which I have been asked to put down about the matter by the officers concerned. If my hon. Friend will also give some indication of what will be done about the various naval establishments which I have mentioned, I shall be very grateful.
§ 10.7 p.m.
§ Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)
Relying upon the principle underlying the debate, which I propose to exercise, like the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke), namely, redress before supply, I wish to raise a matter of the transfer of the torpedo experimental establishment at Greenock to Portland. I do not apologise for raising it. It is a matter affecting not only my constituency, but the next-door constituency of the Secretary of State for Scotland, the constituency of the Chairman of Ways and Means, and the constituency of the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Sir D. McCallum).
For reasons of sickness, the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll cannot be here, the Chairman of Ways and Means obviously cannot speak in the debate, and the Secretary of State for Scotland has had his say, though most unsuccessfully. Therefore, I am the remaining member of the four-man party interested in raising this matter. We in Scotland believe that 1092 the decision was lamentable and that the process by which it was reached was extremely shabby.
I say that with no disrespect to the First Lord of the Admiralty, or to any officers of the Admiralty. They were very courteous in the treatment of our representations. Nevertheless, we feel that the whole matter has been handled extremely badly and has given rise to a feeling of injustice among the men in the establishment.
I should like to carry with me hon. Members who may know little or nothing about this. Unlike most matters mentioned in the Explanatory Statement this is not a cut. It is a transfer. Obviously, if it were a cut one would not have a good case to argue, because most of us welcome the cuts that are to be made in the fleet and all forms of defence where they can be usefully realised. I should like to take the Committee chronologically through this matter and try to show why bitterness exists among the men in the establishment and what might be done at this stage in the debate to try to secure redress.
On 9th August, the secretary of the official side of the Admiralty Industrial Council wrote a confidential letter to the secretary of the trade union side of the Council, Mr. Heritage. I have a copy of the letter. Although it was confidential at the time, that does not matter at all now that the facts can be revealed. The letter read:Dear Mr. Heritage,The Way Ahead Committee, in its search for economy by streamlining the shore support of the Navy, has had under consideration economies in the Navy's Research and Development Establishments. As a result of this, the Board of Admiralty has approved a scheme which, generally speaking, would concentrate research and development in Above Water Weapons at Portsdown, Hampshire, and in Under Water Weapons at Portland.I would emphasise that this first passage speaks about economies. Economies are the motive power behind the idea of merging these various establishments into one. Later, the same letter states:There were clearly many alternative schemes by which concentration of all these Establishments could be achieved.There are four of these establishments, one of which was mentioned by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Portsmouth, West namely, the Underwater Countermeasures and Weapons 1093 Establishment, which is at Havant and which the hon. and gallant Gentleman says he passes almost every day. That establishment, together with the Underwater Detection Establishment and another one, are being merged, and my establishment, the Torpedo Experimental Establishment at Greenock, is to be taken away, also. These are the four concerned and, obviously, there are various permutations by which they can be run together. They could be put in four difference places, but the one chosen was Portland.
This is argued in the sixth paragraph of the letter, which reads:Equally clearly, any answer would have involved the closing of one or more major establishments. The key to the decision now reached was housing.It goes on to tell us about the careful investigation of the housing position in Greenock as distinct from that at Portland.
This became known to myself and the town council by means of the Press making inquiries. I do not know how the Press got the information, but it was very good fortune that they did. When this became known to us, we asked the Admiralty whether this was the case. The First Lord was good enough to receive a deputation from my town on 28th August, the letter being dated 9th August.
When we visited the Admiralty it was confirmed that the letter was substantially correct. Greenock's appalling housing position excluded it from being able to take on the men from the other establishments, so our establishment, which was the largest of the four, was involved in this telescoping.
After the meeting with the Admiralty the Greenock Council, the Port Glasgow Council and the Gourock Council took a courageous decision. It was a courageous decision, taken by Conservative, Labour, Liberal, Independent and Communist councillors. They decided unanimously, desperate as they were to try to keep the establishment there for the sake of employment in the community, to put the housing queues back and to reserve places for men coming up from the South. What more courageous thing could such a community do in those circumstances? It testified to their deep, 1094 burning anxiety to keep the establishment there, for it represented 800 jobs in an area where unemployment runs at 8 per cent. now and, at that time, was running at 6 per cent.
So that pledge was given to the Admiralty, about a week after we came back on 28th August. On 5th September, one of the town clerks of the three burghs concerned—not Greenock, but one in the constituency of the Secretary of State for Scotland—wrote to the Admiralty conveying the decision of his council to put back the housing queue and give priority consideration to key workers from the South. The letter which he received from the First Lord said that he was grateful for the town… undertaking to guarantee a proportionate number of houses for key workers, but … should make it clear that shortage of housing is not a decisive or even a major factor in our consideration of this problem.I ask hon. Members to imagine the effect on people locally of first being told that housing was the reason why the establishment had to be transferred, having that impression confirmed after the town clerk, the provost and I had seen the Admiralty, after we had persuaded local councils to make this politically tremendously difficult decision and then, in a matter of days, being told that housing was not in the words of the lettera decisive or even major factor.That shows the fundamentally unfair way with which these people have been dealt. Whatever was the intention, this was an unfair tactic. It was the first time that the Admiralty had changed its ground. I went to the next interview in September and found that from housing the issue had suddenly become one of economy.
I asked time and time again—and, admittedly, it may have been difficult then to get the figures—for the Admiralty to supply me with figures to demonstrate where economies could be achieved. If it is true that I was not entitled to ask for those figures, or that it may have been unreasonable to ask for them, I am certainly entitled to ask for them now. Where are the economies to be effected? Has the cost which the transfer will involve ever been calculated? Has the Admiralty ever costed what the delay will mean?
The hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) made an excellent speech 1095 and put some very pertinent points about the rôle of N.A.T.O. fleets. I hope that we can have answers to those points. His speech reminded me very much of that of Admiral Eccles, shortly after a N.A.T.O. exercise, after the fleets had been at Greenock. Admiral Eccles made a very frank and courageous speech on the wireless and I recommend hon. Members to read it. He said that the Navy was short of essential weapons, some of which are being designed in my torpedo establishment, weapons which we have to develop more and more if we are to keep our proper place in this form of warfare.
What will the cost in terms of delay be in transferring this experimental establishment from one part of the country to another? Have we any figures about that? Have we tried to evaluate the cost in terms of our position in the world if we allow the delay to occur? Then there is the costing of compensation of redundant personnel and of retraining men to take the places of those who will go to Portland. These are relevant costs which we are entitled to know.
I want to be fair to the Government, and certainly to the Civil Lord. When the announcement was made on 18th February about the closing of so many other places for economy reasons, I asked the Civil Lord whether it was primarily for economy reasons or for technical considerations which, as I submitted in my no doubt coloured question, were highly contentious matters, even within naval circles. The Civil Lord was good enough to confirm that the primary purpose of the transfer was not economy, but technical considerations.
It is on this issue that the men in Greenock who are to go to Portland have a grievance and those who will not go to Portland are very annoyed that these questions have not been answered. They are naturally suspicious for two reasons: first, because the first canard was on housing and the second that it was a matter of economy; and, secondly, they are now told, in effect, that there is a mysterious aura surrounding the technical considerations.
Before his tragic death I had the very great honour of being with the late Walter Elliot on a deputation to the Admiralty in connection with this matter, together with the hon. Member for Scots- 1096 toun (Sir J. Hutchison) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele). I remember that Walter Elliot argued the point about technical considerations. He put very well many points which have not been answered, and which I hope will be answered tonight. This was an all-party deputation, and it was very much a question of the hon. Members concerned being against the intention of the Government, no matter who the Government were or what parties the Members belonged to. All along we have pursued that line.
Even though it seems that I am involved from a constituency point of view, I have always tried to balance it against the interests of Britain, and I honestly cannot reconcile the transfer as being in the best interests of Britain. Even men in the establishment who have nothing to do with Greenock, and owe it no loyalty, do not think that this is a wise decision in the interests of Britain, and I cannot think of any better judgment than that.
What are the technical grounds? What are the advantages and disadvantages? As I understand, the Way Ahead Committee came to the establishment in February, 1957, at the very time that, during a debate on the Navy Estimates, we were being assured that there would be no difficulties in regard either to the Royal Naval Torpedo Factory at Alexandria, or to the Torpedo Experimental Establishment at Greenock. Perhaps it was an unfortunate and unhappy coincidence that the very committee that was going to recommend the transfer of the Experimental Establishment was there when we were having these debates last year.
The four officers came, and all the men at Greenock felt that they came with a definite view that the transfer was taking place, and that their job was simply to rationalise the decision. It may be that the views of the men at Greenock were very highly coloured in this matter; that their judgment was not a good one, and that that was not the view of the Committee, but they have been consistent in their view, ever since I first visited the establishment last August, that the Committee was seeking to rationalise the transfer of the establishment from Greenock to Portland, and that it was not so much a committee of inquiry as a committee of justification.
1097 At one juncture one of the principal members of the establishment—a very distinguished man who has contributed a great deal in naval scientific service to this country, and could continue to do so if he remained in the Service—was told by the First Lord, in answer to an admittedly leading question, that it was not impossible that some independent arbitrator, from another Service Department, or the Ministry of Supply, or even a representative of industry, might be nominated to decide the technical pros and cons of the transfer.
I submit that if a man like that had been appointed, or if an inquiry had been made which the staff and the industrial side felt was a fair one, the men would have accepted, albeit reluctantly, as fair and proper the decision that the Admiralty has taken. But that is not the feeling of the men, and that is the point of redress that I seek to have resolved tonight. We were told initially that the reason for the transfer concerned housing, and yet I have been told on the telephone this morning that two men who hoped to go to Portland had gone there and found great difficulty in getting housing accommodation. They were prepared to buy houses and not merely to rent them, but they found great difficulty in doing so.
What a commentary this is—that initially Greenock is ruled out on account of the housing problem, and it then turns out that many of the men who have to go to Portland, although they do not want to, cannot find houses there. Are the Portland local authorities now to provide houses for these key workers?
Will Portland be as generous as Greenock, Port Glasgow and Gourock Councils in providing houses? I doubt it very much, I have not heard anything about it. On the contrary, I understand there is to be no attempt made to help these men to find houses. How unfair all this is. The men left behind are annoyed because no inquiry was held. They feel that it was an unjust and biassed decision taken by several men who knew nothing about the matter. The words of one of these men are written in the hearts of every man on the establishment. He said that he had little time for "Bolshie Clydesiders". What an unfortunate remark to make.
When the establishment came in 1910 the local people called them "Wool- 1098 wichers" because many of them came from Woolwich. Now they are Scotsmen by adoption and wish to stay in Scotland where their children have been born, reared and educated. Had they any Bolshevik tendencies, whatever they are, it may well have been because of their location on Clydeside—
§ Dr. Mabon
As one Menshevik to another I would not like to comment on that. Let us stick to the point we are discussing.
If it were the case that these men have been criticised in that way, no one can criticise their actual technical skill. The Secretary of State for Scotland, in an unfortunate statement for which I will excuse him and which he attempted to repair immediately in the Press, suggested that there might be something lacking about the skill and ability of these men or about their technical know-how and so on. The right hon. Gentleman quickly remedied that and made amends. I am glad, because there is a feeling that there is some reflection on the ability of these men and I should like the Civil Lord to make the point tonight that there is no reflection on the ability of the men in that establishment.
I am sorry that I have taken so long about this matter but I have tried to put what I feel is a reasonable and sensible point. There is the feeling among these men that there has been an injustice and unfair treatment because of whatever departmental vested interest there may be—I am sure that in the Admiralty like other places there exists vested interests. The men feel that they have received unfair treatment. I should like to know whether there has been an independent inquiry or if one can be considered, not only to make sure that justice is done but so that it appears to be done. After all, that is just as important.
These men who have to go to Portland for the sake of their jobs and who wish to carry on in Admiralty service should not go there feeling that they were unjustly treated in the transfer. I should not like any other men to stay behind out of pique or annoyance, because Britain depends on their skill and we cannot afford to lose it. I raise this grievance and ask redress tonight.
§ 10.29 p.m.
§ Sir James Duncan (South Angus)
Every Scotsman likes a fighter, and no one can object to the hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) fighting for his constituency tonight. On the whole, although the hon. Member for Greenock would not agree, Scotland has come out fairly well from the Navy Estimates. Perhaps the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) might agree that, with the exception of Greenock and Donibristle, Scotland has emerged more or less unscathed. I am delighted that the Admiralty is retaining H.M.S. "Condor" at Arbroath in my constituency. We should remember in future debates on the Navy Estimates that there are not so many dockyards about, but quite a lot of naval air stations, and that hon. Members who represent constituencies where there are naval air stations are just as much interested in the Navy as are those hon. Members who represent constituencies where there are dockyards. I am therefore delighted that the Admiralty has decided to maintain H.M.S. "Condor" at Arbroath and to reinforce and extend it in certain respects.
I do not wish to talk about constituency matters but about one or two aspects of the Navy. I particularly want to refer to the Eastern Fleet to which my hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Mr. Atkins) referred earlier in the debate. I am delighted with the development of a balanced Eastern Fleet, although, in passing, I must also refer to the fact that the Western Fleet is to be unbalanced and this at a time when there are 23 Russian cruisers which may be anywhere on the outbreak of war.
When one remembers what these cruisers are, and when those of us who went to the Coronation Review and saw the "Sverdlov" realise what a ship she is, I think that the Admiralty are assuming a very great responsibility deliberately to unbalance the Fleet in the Atlantic and to rely on our allies to protect the very lifelines of this country. It is a case of relying on our N.A.T.O. allies to protect our lifelines, and, for the time being, I am prepared to accept that risk. On the other hand, I think that it is a big risk to take, and that we in this Committee and people outside ought to realise that we are relying on the Americans to protect our lifelines and to protect our people from starvation in the event of 1100 the Russian cruisers getting out and doing very heavy damage to our commerce in time of war.
§ Mr. R. Allan
My hon. Friend will realise that the cruisers can be attacked by strike aircraft from the aircraft carriers.
§ Sir J. Duncan
I quite agree, but the emphasis of the Western Fleet—if I may call it that—on the anti-submarine aspect unbalances the Fleet at the expense of a balanced fleet which could deal more effectively with the 23 cruisers which may be knocking about the ocean anywhere between Greenland and the Cape of Good Hope. With regard to the Eastern Fleet, I am glad that it is balanced, but it seems to me that there are one or two things which must be very much developed if that Fleet is really to be as efficient as it should be.
In at least two White Papers reference has been made to one aircraft carrier. I think I am right in saying that two aircraft carriers are four times the value of one aircraft carrier. It is a much increased ratio to the actual number of carriers. Therefore, I should like to see the Fleet reinforced by another carrier based on Singapore.
§ Sir J. Duncan
The hon. Gentleman seems to be deaf tonight.
There is a technical reason for this, and I should like to put it in this way. In the old days when Egypt was friendly towards us we used to reinforce aircraft in the Indian Ocean by flying them in hops and landing them on the decks of aircraft carriers. Now we cannot do that. We have not got a naval aircraft that will fly far enough in between hops to reach a place anywhere near the reinforcing area in the Indian Ocean. Therefore, the problem which arises is how we are going to get reinforcement aircraft on to the carrier, which is to be based on Singapore, in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Are spare aircraft to be housed at Singapore, Mombasa, Port Darwin or the Maldive Islands? What is the policy of the Navy? If aircraft are damaged or destroyed in action, what is the Admiralty's policy for quick reinforcement so that the one aircraft carrier can remain operational?
I would much rather there were two carriers, because one could reinforce the 1101 other, and thus there would always be one carrier operational in that part of the world. I urge the Admiralty not to close its mind to reinforcing the balanced Eastern Fleet with another aircraft carrier. There are two possibilities. One is the "Ark Royal". What is to happen to her? She is coming home. As far as I can tell from the White Papers and the Explanatory Statement, there does not seem to be any future planned for her. Is she to be moth-balled, sold or destroyed as out of date, or what? She is a comparatively modern vessel. Why not send her to the Eastern Fleet? Alternatively, there is the "Leviathan", which is half-finished. Why not finish her? That operation would provide a good deal more work for the North East Coast. We should at the same time modernise her, and she might be sent out as the second aircraft carrier.
There is also the matter of the fleet train for the Eastern Fleet. According to paragraph 39 of the Explanatory Statement:… a Fast Fleet Replenishment Ship (Retainer) has completed conversion, and will shortly be joining the Fleet. A second ship (Resurgent) is at present undergoing conversion. A fast freighter has also been acquired for conversion.Will they go to the Eastern Fleet, or where? The Explanatory Statement does not say where they are to go. If they are to become the beginnings of a fleet train, I congratulate the Admiralty on its foresight. I am certain that for a well-balanced fleet based on Singapore which might have to go into the Pacific or the Indian Ocean or perhaps operate in both oceans at once, we must have a fleet train which can keep the aircraft and the fleet in action more or less independent of land altogether.
People talk about nuclear war at home and what would happen to the Navy here. The first thing that would happen in war in that part of the world would be that the aircraft carrier and the fleet would lose themselves in the Indian Ocean or the Pacific and operate from there perhaps for months on end, and if there is not a fleet train to keep them operational with spares, fuel and other supplies, I believe that policy may well be frustrated. Therefore, I hope that the fleet train development will be gone into very carefully.
1102 I welcome the commando carrier development. It gives a new rôle to the Royal Marines, and it may well be of very great use in the part of the world where it will be sent. I should like to make a suggestion to the Parliamentary Secretary for his consideration. In the commando carrier, even with its defensive ships and with its own fire to protect itself, we are putting a lot of eggs in one basket. I should like to see decentralisation by putting some of the helicopters on merchant ships, which could be converted easily for carrying them to sea. This would be very suitable for tankers in the Persian Gulf; they would probably have to go round the Cape. A tanker would be very easy to alter in such a way as to put the helicopter landing-deck on top of the tanker. The helicopters, although under the orders of the commando captain, might very well operate independently of the carrier, and thereby spread the risk of the loss of the commando carrier itself. The helicopters could be operational and within range, but none the less spread round the decks of merchant ships.
If that were done we should not have all our eggs in one basket. Convoy defence would be much easier, and we should be able to run a lot of convoys without so many helicopters and other naval vessels as we would if they were all under the commando carrier. We cannot economically be entirely on our own in the Atlantic, but we can in the Pacific. It would be making a marked advance in naval strategy and in the conception of the Royal Navy if this plan were adopted.
The Government are to be congratulated, on the whole, on the businesslike way in which they have thought out these methods of putting more teeth and less tail in the Navy, and I hope they will go on as well in the future as they have done in the past.
§ 10.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) and others in their strategic sub-aqueous exercises.
§ Mr. MacMillan
Other speakers have done so, and I have been trying to catch your eye, Sir Gordon, though not to 1103 answer the more technical points they made. I must not get into technicalities or I shall be at sea in another sense.
I really rose to ask a question. I shall not apologise for raising a number of local constituency points for the reason that my constituency happens to be one of the very few that are entirely surrounded by water. In fact, in the Western Isles, it is difficult to know whether one is on shore or at sea. On these Navy Estimates we are considering the new set-up of the streamlined Navy; and my first question concerns the Royal Naval Reserve.
I should like to hear a little more about the future of the R.N.R. and recruiting for it under the arrangements under the new merger. I will not criticise the merger, which is a perfectly sane arrangement, but there is a good deal of doubt and questioning about what the position will be in such areas as the Western Isles and the Shetland Isles. I remind the Civil Lord that in pre-war years the Western Isles recruited not less than a quarter of the total United Kingdom strength of the R.N.R., and for many reasons there is considerable interest in the matter now. People do not know where they stand at the moment, and it would be helpful if the Minister gave some information about the position.
There is a short paragraph in the Explanatory Statement relating to promotion for the lower deck. We have a special interest in that, because in the Western Isles we have established a new technical college where navigation is one of the main subjects. The principal purpose of this navigational course was to give greater opportunities for lads who are natural seamen, born of seagoing families, to obtain promotion in the Service once they have entered it—and I refer not only to the Merchant Navy but also to the Royal Navy. Will those opportunities still be available for them? If opportunities become fewer, some of us may have a sense of possibly having misled them about it. It is through nobody's fault in particular; there has been a reshaping of the Services and a reduction in the opportunities. But I should like the Minister to say a few words about promotion for the lower deck.
The next question which I wish to raise concerns resettlement. Little has been 1104 said about that in the debate. There is a certain amount about it in the Explanatory Statement, but I should like to hear rather more, because we shall have a spate of economy drive retirements from 1958 for about five years. Already there are difficulties, and I can foresee great pressure arising suddenly this year and next year because no clear provision has been made to settle men leaving the Service in new employment. Can the Minister say something about that, because a special effort will have to be made to meet a very special situation?
I myself have had difficulties at times in assisting officers and others coming out of the Navy who are not fitted by any special training to earn their living in civil life and who have the utmost difficulty in fitting themselves into a job. In view of the coming rush of retirements, a special effort must be made to assist them.
Returning to the isles, what we must remember is that the seamen and the fishermen from whose ranks the R.N.R. has to a large extent been recruited in the past—and in war-time they also manned the minesweepers and the small ships generally—do not live at sea all the time. Nor do their families live at sea. Even regular Service men do not expect to live in ships forever. It is therefore very important that we should look after their home base adequately.
Unemployment has featured considerably in the debate and at Question Time recently in the House because of the streamlining and the economies in the Navy and the other Services. This is a human problem to which the Admiralty must address itself, with the other Service Departments and other Government Departments, including the Ministry of Labour. I am very alarmed about the unemployment position in the islands at the moment. In the Western Isles we have by far the heaviest unemployment in the country. I sympathise with Greenock and other Scottish towns in their difficulties through Admiralty economies; and the fact is that Scotland is bearing by far the heaviest share of the unemployment arising directly out of these economies.
In this old recruiting area for the R.N.R.—the Western Isles—we have a percentage of unemployment of 33 per cent., with the figures running at over 1105 2,000, nearly all men. It was from these men that, through the generations, we recruit for the Merchant Navy and the Royal Navy to a large extent, as well as for the R.N.R. We cannot afford to have such a situation of heavy unemployment developing and becoming chronic and permanent; because the obvious result is that men become disenchanted with their own homeland and with the fishing industry from which we recruit so many men to the R.N.R., and they emigrate. If we do not have a fishing industry and fishermen or fleets, we shall not have the traditional training for the Navy and the Admiralty will not be able again to recruit from the area. This appeal should go home directly to the First Lord and certainly to all the professional sailors on both sides of the House. The Admiralty would be wise to consult and put pressure upon the Government to find employment for these men. The First Lord should be advised to get in touch with the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Labour, if we are to sustain in that area some hope of a livelihood among the fishermen, sailors and others from whom the nation may still expect to recruit a large number of men in the future.
The Parliamentary and Financial Secretary must not look upon the Western Isles merely as a remote area or a semi-colonial area, or an outpost of this country; because in past years, while Greenock and Portsmouth and other areas received something from the Navy and the associated Services, the Western Isles at no time received anything. The Western Isles have contributed through the generations. They have been always a recruiting area, a place to which the Government have gone in times of peace and war for the defence of the country, but into which nothing has been put in time of peace. That applies to the Army and Air Force as well.
I am not going to attempt to follow the hon. Member who spoke earlier in terms of the new structure of the Navy. I know very little about the operational side of the Navy, but I know plenty about the sea. Like my constituents, I have had almost daily experience of it since childhood. I know how these men feel when they are neglected in peacetime after being among the first to be mobilised in time of war. I hope that 1106 my pleas on their behalf will not fall upon deaf ears in the Admiralty.
§ 10.52 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
Owing to pressure of time, I will not follow the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) into the problems of the Western Isles as a nursery for the British Navy, important as those islands are to our welfare.
You and your predecessors in the Chair, Sir Charles, have heard in this debate a number of naval experts and representatives from constituencies which have either dockyards or naval bases within them; so perhaps it is appropriate that before the winding-up speeches are made you should hear the views of an ordinary layman, the taxpayer, who, after all, keeps the Navy going.
Those of us who are interested in economy in our financial affairs can congratulate the Admiralty on the steps it has taken in paragraphs 42 to 60 of the Explanatory Statement, merging and closing redundant establishments. But despite the Admiralty's gallant efforts, the expenditure on the Navy has gone up this year, unlike the other Services.
I think some doubt is still felt in the country about the size of the tail of the Navy. I realise that a large number of personnel are required for building and repairing ships and repairing the complicated apparatus, but it came as a shock to me to discover the other day that of all the personnel employed by the Admiralty only about 15 per cent. are sea-going personnel. Of course, it is particularly difficult—almost impossible—for the layman to discover from these Estimates the number of civilian personnel employed by the Admiralty, but I believe that something like 60 per cent. of the Admiralty personnel are civilian. There are 100,000 more than before the war.
I suggest to the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary, who I am sorry is not in his place at the moment—perhaps the Civil Lord will take note—that in future it should be easier to find out from the Estimates the total number of civilian personnel employed by the Navy. Incidentally, there are twice as many in the dockyards now as there were in 1933, although I believe that there was then more shipbuilding going on. These 1107 figures therefore indicate that there is room for further pruning on the civilian side of the Navy, and I have no doubt that the Financial Secretary will get substantial support from those taxpayers interested in economy.
In January, I had the advantage of being in Norfolk, Virginia, at N.A.T.O. headquarters, SACLANT, and was able to see the submarine that fires a guided missile. I saw the missile prepared for firing in about five minutes, and it has a range of about 500 or 750 miles. It is certainly a most formidable weapon. It is not a rocket, but really a development of the German V.1, powered by a modern gas turbine. It was obvious, after watching that, that a large part of the future strategy of all the navies of the world must be based on these submarines carrying guided missiles.
I do not for a moment suggest that they can be substituted for the rocket missile bases here in the next year or two. Although there is no doubt that submarines, as I saw, can be adapted to carrying missiles, it is obvious that further development is required and that it will need some time to develop that type of weapon and to build a substantial fleet of submarines. Therefore, it seems that we must proceed with rocket missiles on land in the meantime while that fleet is being built to substitute them. I repeat that any efforts that the Admiralty is making or can make in the future further to prune the civilian tail will, I am sure, receive much approbation in the country.
§ 10.58 p.m.
§ Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)
The debate has followed the usual course of Navy Estimate debates. We have had a number of excellent speeches made with considerable knowledge from both sides of the Committee, all displaying a considerable interest in the Navy's problems. It was natural that during the debate we should hear quite a lot about the effects of the announcement made by the Civil Lord on 18th February. I do not wish to add to what has been said freely and very forcibly on that, but I would reinforce the statements made that there is a responsibility on the Government to take positive steps to see that the men displaced get a fair deal by being provided with employment.
1108 Having said that, I want to return to the Navy itself. The seagoing forces are still based on the concept of the aircraft carrier task force. It is true that, as the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) pointed out, it has a different name, but the concept is the same. The Parliamentary Secretary was at some pains this afternoon to tell us that there was no change in the ideas behind this, but I must point out to him that there is a very considerable change in emphasis on the purpose of the task force.
If we look back to the various White Papers that we have had during the past three or four years, we find that in 1955–56 the carrier was described as the "fist of the Fleet." This was good, vigorous English. It was described as the "fist of the Fleet" that would deliver the punch. In 1956–57, a great picture was painted of how the aircraft carrier would be capable of carrying the aircraft of the future and capable of delivering atomic weapons. Last year, we were told that it would reinforce the hitting power of our allies. No matter what the hon. Gentleman says, all these statements conveyed to people the impression that the aircraft carrier would contribute to the long-distance strike forces of N.A.T.O.
That, however, is not claimed in the present White Paper. In fact, the strike rôle of the aircraft carrier has been watered down considerably. It has been watered down still further by the Minister of Defence, and the emphasis now is in paragraph 15 to the effect that the Navy's contribution to N.A.T.O. should be predominantly the anti-submarine rôle. This was not mentioned in the 1955–56 White Paper.
Last week, the Minister of Defence went further and said:We have no aircraft carriers large enough to operate the long-range bombers which would be needed for an effective strike operation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February, 1958; Vol. 583, c. 388–9.]I found that difficult to reconcile with paragraph 23 of the Explanatory Statement, which tells us thatThe N.A.39 will give the Fleet Air Arm the long-range strike weapon which it has long desired.Apparently, there is still some conflict between the Minister of Defence and the Admiralty.
§ Mr. R. Allan indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Willis
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. I do not know how he reconciles those statements. Somebody is wrong somewhere. I hope to show later where there is another conflict also. I have no doubt that there have been considerable conflicts during the past year between the Minister of Defence and the Admiralty, and I do not think that they have all been fully resolved.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
Might not the discrepancy be caused by the rather loose use of the term "strike"? In one case, striking was thought of in terms of attacks on Continental targets, whereas the second quotation related to naval strikes.
§ Mr. Willis
That is true. My point is that during the past three or four years we have been led to think in terms of striking targets ashore and not of ship-to-ship strikes. Now we are brought back to the modified version, which the hon. and gallant Member says is the correct one, and that, I think, is true. There has been a considerable change, therefore, in emphasis on the purpose of the aircraft carrier. I have no quarrel with this change in emphasis. If we are entering the missile age, we must recognise that and act accordingly. When once we face this change in emphasis, however, we are led to ask a number of questions which the Admiralty has not answered.
What it means, first, is that we are depending, particularly in N.A.T.O., upon the strike forces of the United States of America. Is that what we intend to do? A good case could be made for that, but is that our intention or are we trying to seek and develop a new form of strike weapon? If we are doing the latter, it seems that the existing concept of the aircraft carrier task force is on the way out. It is true that it might have some rôle to play for a year or two, but it seems definitely to be on the way out.
I was interested in the leading article in the Scotsman at the beginning of the year when the "Victorious" was to undergo trials. The Scotsman had this to say about the "Victorious":After seven years the aircraft carrier Victorious emerges the most up-to-date ship of her kind—but how up to date is that? Vic- 1110 torious might very well be the obsolete carrier of an obsolete weapon. Britain's new naval strike aircraft the N.A.39 is claimed also as the best of its kind in the world. But it remains an open question whether any aircraft will be able to escape the chaser missile by the time the N.A.39s appear in quantity.The article goes on:If the usefulness of the aircraft carrier is problematical, that can be said of nearly every modern weapon. The carrier and what it carries are certainly on the way out, but argument is possible about the length of time which must elapse before they become no longer worth maintaining.If that is true, we have to consider carefully the extent to which we can financially commit ourselves to something on the way out, even though that may take a certain length of time. We ought also to have some clear indication from the Admiralty about what the Admiralty itself considers future developments should be.
The main naval threat still remains the same as in the last half-century, submarines. We were told by the former Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty on 11th December last year that the most potent weapon to use against the submarine was another submarine, particularly a nuclear submarine. The present Parliamentary Secretary himself said exactly the same thing this afternoon.
§ Mr. Willis
It may be, but there seems to be a considerable volume of opinion along those lines.
If that is so and if the missile submarine is to be one of the chief weapons of the future, surely we should be pushing forward with its development, as the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) said. I reinforce what was said by the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East and by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), that we cannot do everything else, too.
We have to stop having a lot of out-of-date things which we have been having, because it is obvious that we do not have the material resources to do everything. It is also fairly well known that the Admiralty likes to keep most of the things it has and to adapt them to modern needs, not always very successfully, but certainly frequently at considerable cost to the taxpayer.
1111 When I was reading the White Papers and trying to fathom out the purposes of the Admiralty, I thought that the changing nature of the strike weapon and the desire not to commit ourselves too heavily to weapons which were going out of date led to a new doctrine. This is to be found in paragraph 50 of the White Paper on Defence where it is said:… the plans for the Reserve Fleet are being revised. In so doing, it is proposed to follow the principle that the Reserve Fleet should comprise only sufficient ships to keep the Active Fleet up to strength, allowing for accidents and long refits.That is not what the Parliamentary Secretary said this afternoon. He said that it was to consist of a part of the reserve to meet the needs of N.A.T.O.
§ Mr. Willis
And to meet the needs of N.A.T.O. That means that it is to be bigger still.
How does this fit in with what the Minister of Defence said, because the doctrine formulated in paragraph 50 of the White Paper on Defence is that our reserves are no longer to reinforce the Fleet but simply to replace the Fleet? It is a new doctrine in naval history that we replace and do not reinforce. Who is correct, the Minister of Defence or the Parliamentary Secretary? We ought to be told. This is most difficult for anyone outside Government circles to follow. It indicates that there is still conflict between the Minister of Defence and the Admiralty. When I read that I hoped that the Admiralty was recognising the limitations of means and did not wish to commit us to weapons which were going out of date.
Turning to the Estimates and looking at some of the figures, as did the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East, I looked first at our expenditure on scientific services, which I found will decrease—in interesting contrast to the expenditure on the Admiralty Office, which will increase. That is strange when numbers in the Navy are being reduced and when there is increasing urgency for scientific research both for the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy, and I do not know how the Admiralty has managed to bring it about.
This year the Estimates amount to £24 million more than last year. It is interest- 1112 ing to note that it is exactly the sum to be raised by the new National Health Service contribution which we shall debate tomorrow. It is interesting to compare the ease with which we accept the idea that we should meet this £24 million in accordance with the ability of people to pay while we fight for days over the other £24 million because it is a flat-rate charge.
Although the cost is more, there is an overall reduction in personnel of 9,000. A lot has been said about the personnel at the Admiralty, and I wish to draw attention to one or two features in connection with that. I notice that the number of officers in relation to the number of men has increased again. Last year the Financial Secretary gave a solemn promise—it will be found in column 196 of the OFFICIAL REPORT for 5th March—that this matter would be watched and that the Admiralty would try to stop the process. Despite that, we find the ratio has become smaller. We also find that there is a larger percentage of officers at the Admiralty Office than last year.
I calculate that boys who join the Service at 15 or 16 today may be sure that when they leave everyone in it will be an officer and every officer will be at the Admiralty. I commend that idea to the Financial Secretary and the Civil Lord to use in order to obtain recruits for the Navy. It sounds funny, but that is the process which has been going on for ten years, and it is time something was done about it.
I think it was the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) who used to tell us to purge and cleanse the Admiralty, which means that we should winkle out a few of the people who seem to have been kept there far too long. How is it that the staff of the Directorate of Officer Appointments has more than doubled this year? I notice that the figure has increased from 25 to 57. Perhaps we can be told why?
Another interesting feature about the Admiralty is that although we have nearly ten thousand fewer men we have a bigger Department of Psychology and more psychologists. There are fewer scientists and more psychologists. What sort of Admiralty office is this? We ought to have some explanation about some of these happenings in the Admiralty office.
1113 I come now to the wider question of manpower. Whatever the changes in the Navy, the requirement in manpower remains the same. We wish to obtain a highly skilled, long-service, regular force. I hate to say this again, for I have said it in every Navy Estimates debate for a number of years; but it remains true. On the whole, recruiting figures are relatively good, excepting for artificers and one or two other branches. I notice that the number of re-engagements is still only about 44 per cent. Hon. Members opposite always argue that this is a good figure. But it surely cannot be good to have a wastage of 56 per cent. of men above the age of 30 or thereabouts. After the taxpayer has spent a considerable sum of money training men, and after these men have reached the point where they become of greatest value to the Service because they have experience, knowledge and are more mature and capable of taking responsibility, 56 per cent. leave the Service.
That brings me to the only criticism I would make of the new White Paper dealing with wages. I think that in the Navy it would probably have been better had something been done about pensions and terminal grants rather than wages. It is very easy to say "We cannot get men, so we will pay more and get them in," but there are far more factors in the mind of a man than consideration of his immediate wage.
This question of pension and terminal grant is a very important one, because a person entering the Service as a boy aged 18 or 20 comes out of the Service at the age of 40 or over. To go into civilian life at over 40 is a bit of a problem. Many people are frightened about it, and they tend to think in terms of what they will receive at the end of their service. I am not, of course, against an increase in pay, but if we have a certain sum of money to spend on inducing men to join the Navy, to make it a career and to stay in it for twenty-two years, the question of pay is not the only consideration.
From my experience last year, and I asked a considerable number of men what they thought about certain things in the Service, the question of pay was rarely raised. When I asked them about pay, the invariable answer was "We can't grumble much about that now." In other words, there were other considerations.
1114 A year ago the Civil Lord told me that there was an inquiry being made into the question of lower deck classification and the rating structure itself. I appreciate that this is a big and complicated job, but I would be glad if the Civil Lord could give us some idea how this inquiry is getting on. I would express the hope that, in the course of this inquiry, the question of a master rate for chief petty officers will not be forgotten by the Admiralty.
We have had this argument over and over again, but it still remains true that in practically all the technical branches a man becomes a chief petty officer before he completes his twelve years. Unless there is some remote possibility—and, of course, it must be a fairly remote possibility—of becoming an officer, the man has nothing else to look forward to during the ten years for which we ask him to sign on. That is not a great inducement to a man to sign on for another ten years. Pension and the terminal grant are. Surely something ought to be done to give a man a senior status, a master rate, in order to try to induce him to stay in the Service so that we might reap the benefit of his skill and experience.
Another matter, of course, that is important is the quality of the entrants. I say this for two reasons. One reason is that the White Paper takes special care to point out that the quality of entrants is exceedingly good so far as cadets are concerned, and that there is a very wide choice of entrants. That leads me to think that, maybe, things are not quite so well in other branches. I think that we ought to be told about that. It is not good enough simply to say that we are getting sufficient recruits. We need to get sufficient recruits of the right quality.
In the artificer branches, about which there is still considerable difficulty as far as recruitment is concerned, there is, of course, as the hon. Gentleman knows, a wastage of some 10 per cent. The area of choice is also considerably limited. I can remember the time when the choice was one out of six or seven, whereas today it is possibly one out of two, and probably not as much as that. It is exceedingly limited, and that means that we are bound to have a fair wastage rate. We must try, of course, to get over that.
1115 I suggest that the Admiralty ought to consider new ways of interesting students of the technical and modern schools in the technical branches of the Service. There is still a large number of boys to whom the sea would appeal if only they could be told what the prospects are. It is true to say that in a large number of these schools the boys have never heard of these careers in the Navy, and, therefore, something ought to be done to draw their attention to the possibilities so as to enable the Service to get a better choice than it is getting today and so that the quality of entrants may be of the highest.
Whilst I am on the subject of the artificer branches, I wish to ask the Minister whether now that the future of the dockyards is settled we can expect some start to be made on the replacement of the temporary accommodation of H.M.S. "Caledonia". I have asked this repeatedly in the past. I visited H.M.S. "Caledonia" last August, and I am bound to say that I was not impressed by the accommodation. I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that there is no comparison between the accommodation at the new hostel at Rosyth, which he has seen, and the accommodation offered by H.M.S. "Caledonia". I can quite understand a boy of 15½ or 16 being very disappointed when he sees the accommodation in which he has to live.
Another thing that surprised me in the Estimates was the very great reduction in building work, a reduction of something like 30 per cent.—from £17 million to £11 million or thereabouts. Is it not being penny wise and pound foolish to make a cut like that at a time when we are trying to attract the best type of men into the Service? I should have thought that it would have been money well spent to have carried on with this building programme.
The Civil Lord asked me to give him as much time as possible, and so I will draw my remarks to a close. I should have liked to have said something further about status and conditions in the Navy, but I have said a great deal in past debates, most of which still seems fairly sound when I read it, and so I will say no more this year.
To conclude, no one can consider our Service Estimates today without feeling a very great sense of anxiety about the 1116 future. The outstanding fact about defence is that by ourselves we cannot afford the physical cost involved in adequate maintenance of our defence, and even though we overcome this problem by the closest possible co-operation with our Commonwealth partners and N.A.T.O. and S.E.A.T.O. allies, we are then faced with the fact that any use of arms carries with it the potential threat of our destruction.
In these circumstances, my hon. Friends and I will agree to the Vote tonight with a feeling of deep concern, firmly convinced that by far the most urgent need for our defence today is a start to be made along the road of negotiated multilateral disarmament. That would certainly give a far greater sense of security to those we represent than the provision that we are making tonight.
§ 11.27 p.m.
§ The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith)
We have had a very interesting debate. The number of speeches covering a wide variety of subjects shows that there is no lack of interest in the well-being of the Navy. That is a very good thing. I will answer as many points as I can. Those which I cannot answer tonight I will answer by letter later.
My hon. Friend the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary, in opening the debate, dealt in detail with the rôle of the Navy. I want to concentrate on the other main topic of the debate, the reductions and the size of the shore support of the Navy. As the hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. W. Edwards) said, in this respect the Estimates are very important.
First, I wish to say a word about Polaris. Many hon. Members this evening have seemed to suggest that the missile is in existence today. My information is that it will not be in service until the early 'sixties. We are watching its development just now, and are considering the extent to which provision should be made for it in the Royal Navy.
This leads me to the subject of nuclear propulsion, which was raised by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams).
§ Mr. Galbraith
All I was saying was that it was not in operation a[...] this moment and that we are keeping our eye on the developments as they go ahead.
The Admiralty regards the development of nuclear propulsion for ships as of the greatest importance both for the Royal Navy and for the Merchant Navy. While we shall be only too willing to profit from any help that the United States can give us in research and development, we think it will be a great mistake to reduce the effort on the "Dreadnought" project. We intend to go ahead with that, and at the same time we intend to go ahead with nuclear propulsion for merchant ships.
The Committee of which I am chairman was formed less than a year ago, and in that time it has examined a great many nuclear propulsion systems to see whether any of them could be put straight into a ship without first building a prototype on shore. Unfortunately, this has turned out to be impossible, and it will first be necessary to build a shore prototype.
The Atomic Energy Authority, in collaboration with the various shipping and shipbuilding interests, is now engaged on preliminary work for this project. What we want to do is to build an economic, or near-economic, ship to start with. The atomic-powered ships which one hears so much about and which are supposed to be building in other countries now do not even profess to be paying propositions, and we believe that it is much better to go for what is economic rather than to seek to make a splash with a machine which can have no commercial application.
The Atomic Energy Authority has supplied my Committee with a lot of useful information and it is now giving priority to an advanced feature of atomic technique which we hope will pave the way for the development of a smaller unit suitable for ship propulsion. There is still a lot of hard technical development work to be done before anything approaching an economic unit can be produced, but at least during the last few months my Committee has weeded out 1118 the non-starters and work is now proceeding on what we hope may turn out to be a winner.
§ Mr. P. Williams
This is an exceedingly important statement. Can my hon. Friend give even an estimate of the date when a project of this nature can take shape?
§ Mr. Galbraith
I hate to give an estimate, but if everything went well—and in this kind of work there is no saying whether it will go well—we think there might possibly be a ship in the water about 1964, but I should not like to be held down to that date in any way.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis), in a most interesting and powerful speech winding up the debate for the Opposition, asked me one or two questions about the Committee which is looking into the organisation of ratings. That Committee is still proceeding and it has not yet produced its Report. He is right when he says that recruiting has not perhaps been all that it might have been, and we believe that the main reason for this has been the doubt about the rôle of the Navy. Now that that has been established we hope that this fact, together with the improvement in pay and allowances, will attract over the years the numbers and the quality of the recruits that we need.
The hon. Member is right when he says that in certain respects we are not getting all the young men in the right quality that we should like to have, particularly for training as artificer apprentices. Probably it is not known widely enough outside the Service what splendid training an artificer apprentice gets. The hon. Member suggested that we should put this across, and in order to do so we have been arranging for visits by schoolmasters in order that they can see for themselves what goes on in an artificer training establishment. We hope that those visits for schoolmasters will produce more recruits later.
The hon. Member referred to the conditions in "Caledonia," and it is true that there has been a cut this year in Vote 10. One of the reasons has been that we did not want to waste public money by doing building in places which would be closed. Now that we know the future shape of the Navy we hope gradually to put that right.
1119 The hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon), in a powerful speech, suggested that the closure of the T.E.E. had not been impartially considered. I assure him that that is not so. We went into every single aspect of the matter in the most exhaustive and sympathetic fashion.
I am very sorry therefore to have to tell the hon. Gentleman that the inquiry which he is looking for is quite out of the question. If it had been possible there is nothing I should have liked better than to see a reorganisation of underwater research and development taking place the other way round, and at Greenock. I feel in this matter as he does. Unfortunately the weight of argument was in favour of the move to Portland, because it would be more economical to centre this work at Portland than anywhere else.
While we were trying to make up our minds in the Admiralty what to do, various other factors were mentioned such as housing and closeness to the torpedo trials area in the lochs. In those matters the balance of the argument tilted perhaps in favour of retaining the T.E.E. at Greenock, but the cardinal point which the hon. Member should recognise is that if the T.E.E. had stayed at Greenock while the rest of the research and development was in the south, it would have perpetuated a split in the organisation. The advantage of having the work close together is that whenever a serious snag occurs in one project the scientists can easily be switched to it from other projects and so overcome the difficulty with the minimum delay. That is obviously not possible if one establishment is 400 miles away from the other.
Indeed, the more we in the Admiralty look at the problem the more we become convinced that real efficiency depends upon concentration, and that to have our research on underwater development taking place at four different localities, which is happening now, is not the way to make speedy progress. Having decided upon concentration the question was whether it should take place at Greenock or Portland. Portland turned out to be the place where it can take place more cheaply. A move to Greenock would have meant a capital expenditure of about £1 million more than at Port- 1120 land, and it would have cost about £25,000 a year more to run. For these reasons the Admiralty decided with great regret to leave Greenock. There is no reflection upon the technical competence of the workers there. It was a decision that went very much against the grain. The move would not have taken place if it had not been proved conclusively on the facts that that was really the right thing to do.
I turn to the dockyards and to some of the points raised by the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) and by the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. P. Wells). It must be for the convenience of the Committee if I explained the background against which we reached our decision to close the three dockyards at Sheerness, Portland and Hong Kong.
At present we have so much repair work that some of it has to be done in private yards. As the size of the fleet declines, our intention is to bring all this work into the Royal Dockyards but even after doing this there would have been a large gap between our dockyard capacity and the load of repair work necessary for a smaller fleet. It was the existence of this gap which forced us to close those three dockyards.
The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West suggested that we could have got over the difficulty and bridged the gap if more new construction were brought into the dockyards. He will be glad to know that in making our plans that is precisely what we decided to do. Our intention is to do as much new construction as possible in our own yards.
In simple terms, this means that against two frigates being built in the dockyards now, three will be building at Devonport and Portsmouth and a similar number of submarines at Chatham. The right hon. Gentleman may hanker after even more new construction work than this. He or one of his hon. Friends referred to the amount built before the war. Conditions and methods of building then were different from what they are today. The figures which I have given represent the maximum amount of new construction work that it is physically possible to build in the dockyards without incurring great capital expenditure which in an era of run-down is quite out of the question.
1121 I am glad to say that this new construction work, taken together with the naval refit and repair work, will provide an ample and steady load for our remaining yards as far ahead as we can see, even allowing for increases in productivity. I hope that this assurance will dispel the gloomy fears of the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham about the future of the dockyard at Chatham, but I am afraid that nothing that we could possibly do would have Justified us in the expense of keeping open the yards which are now to be closed.
I can assure the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West, that even if we had succeeded in obtaining all the Government repair work available, such as the repair of Post Office cable ships which he suggested, that work would have provided only enough to occupy the smallest of our yards for less than four months in the year. In fact, what we must recognise is that a smaller fleet with fewer ships inevitably means a cut in dockyards. We are very sorry that this cut means that the dockyards at Sheerness, Portland and Hong Kong have to go. They have served the Navy well and the need to close them is bitterly regretted in the Admiralty and throughout the fleet.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) and several other hon. Members asked me what we intend to do about the dockyards and other establishments which we no longer require. I know that there is a suspicion that a Service Department is always reluctant to give up land and buildings even though it no longer needs them. I realise how galling any delay like this can be to a local community which is already suffering from the loss of Government employment and is anxious to get new industries as soon as possible.
It may be that normally we are a little slow in disposing of assets we no longer need, but I can assure the Committee that that will not apply this time. We are out to save money, and the quicker we can get rid of what we do not need the better will we be pleased, because if there are long delays, obviously we will not make the savings that we are expecting. I can also give the assurance that we will not pay too much attention to the price that we ask, with one proviso—if 1122 we can get concerns to take over in a manner likely to maintain employment.
The procedure which we adopt is, first of all, to find out from other Government Departments whether they would like the site. If they do not want it, we do our best to bring the facilities to the notice of suitable commercial and industrial interests, and in doing this we have the assistance of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade who is most helpful. We are, of course, always willing to take into account any requirements which local authorities may have.
It may interest hon. Members, and particularly the hon. Member for Faversham, to know that already at Sheerness we have had inquiries from four large concerns. It is too early yet to say what the outcome of these inquiries will be, but at least they do show that we in the Admiralty really are trying to find some organisation to take over in the places which we are leaving.
§ Mr. Bottomley
Has the hon. Gentleman anything to say about the Royal Marine barracks at Chatham which have been empty and derelict for over six years?
§ Mr. Galbraith
That is a long story, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. I prefer not to go into it at this time of night.
I should like to turn to the question of the men who are affected by these changes, to which many hon. Members have referred. I can assure the Committee that the Admiralty is well aware of the problem and, indeed, of the special responsibility which it has for these men. In the Estimates debate last year the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West said that when we had made up our minds we should make sure that everybody knew about it in plenty of time. That is exactly what we have done. At the earliest possible moment after these decisions had been taken, we announced them publicly, and we have spread the run-down over as long a period as possible in each case. In this way we hope that a good deal of the reduction will be made by normal wastage rather than by discharge.
The hon. Member expressed some fears about the established men. I can assure him that all those men will be offered jobs, and in the majority of cases they will be offered new jobs near at hand. 1123 We hope that those who can only be offered jobs further afield will be willing to move; otherwise, as I think the hon. Gentleman is aware, except in cases of extreme hardship they will stand to lose the benefits of establishment. We will, of course, look at difficult cases with sympathy.
The hon. Member also asked whether established men would get compensation if the new jobs they were offered were less well paid than the old. The answer is that compensation along the lines that he suggested does not come within the present arrangements. What is guaranteed to the established man is that he will be found a job in his substantive rank. Additional earnings due to special features of his old job, where he may already have higher acting rank, cannot be taken into account. It is according to the basic substantive, not the higher acting rank, that alternative employment is provided, and guaranteed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Miss Vickers) asked me some questions about apprentices. I can say that the intake of apprentices has been reduced somewhat in order to ensure that there are good career prospects for them. We are confident that, on our present plans, there is little chance of an apprentice being discharged. Indeed, many of them will have improved prospects as a result of the implementation of the Nihill Committee's recommendations.
The terms of compensation and gratuity for the hired men are covered by the Superannuation Act, 1957. It has been suggested that there should be some special terms of compensation in the same way that there have been special terms of compensation for the Service men who have suffered under the present "axe." We must remember, however, that there is really a great deal of difference between the Service man having to take a civilian job and the civilian having to change his job. The civilian has probably acquired a particular civilian skill, whereas the Service man has probably not. For that reason, it is much more of a blow for a Service man to be "axed" than for a civilian to be discharged.
In order to soften the blow when hired men have to be discharged, we intend to give as long warning as possible to the individuals concerned. We hope that this 1124 will mean that they can be told a month in advance of notice, and that the notice itself will be for a further month. In addition, the offices of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour will be co-operating closely with us in order to make the switch-over in jobs as quick and as easy as possible.
I know that these discharges are bound to seem heartless, but I can assure the Committee, and the men concerned, that we would certainly have retained their services if we could. It gives us no pleasure to leave places like the Nore and Sheerness, which have had a long and valuable connection with the Admiralty, and to have to say good-bye to men who have given loyal service to the Navy over a great many years.
These discharges really raise the whole question of civilian employees in the Navy, about which we have heard something from several hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke), who put out to sea tonight, I think, for the first time. I think that it would be true to say that in spite of the reductions that have been announced, amounting to about 23,000 civilian posts, there is still a feeling, a suspicion, not only in the Committee and the Press but—as the hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett) told us, in the fleet, too—that there are a great many civilians in the Navy who are doing no useful job but who are being retained for some disreputable reason.
The hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham said that it was rumoured that one reason was to bolster up the amour propre of the secretariat in the Admiralty, or, perhaps, because it would be politically inexpedient to discharge these men. This is a confused picture, which is, to a large extent, quite out of touch with reality. Certainly, this Government have never hesitated because of political difficulties to do what they consider right. It will be noticed, I hope, that the recent cuts affect a good many marginal constituencies, and so I hope we will hear no more suggestions of political favouritism of the sort suspected so unworthily by papers like The Times and the Economist.
As for the picture of the Secretariat in the rôle of empire builder, this again is a product of ignorance or imagination. While I am sure that Parkinson's law 1125 applies to the Admiralty just as it does to any other Department, or any large private organisation—and it is something that we must all the time guard against—the Secretary controls only about 6,000 civilians of a total of 169,000. The bulk of the 169,000 comes directly under the control of the Sea Lords. If they felt that bread was being taken out of the mouths of sailors or that money which might pay to modernise the fleet was being used to maintain a lot of unnecessary civilians, they would be the first to want to cut the civilian numbers. What is much more important is that they have the power to make these cuts. They must, therefore, consider that these civilians help to make the fleet efficient.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East had quite a lot of fun about the size of the Admiralty. During a time of continual change like the present, however, the headquarters of an organisation is the very last place where the effect of the reductions should be felt, otherwise there is no guarantee that the reductions will be carried out as planned with the necessary firmness and dispatch. Once the outlying stations have been reduced and the whole Navy has been streamlined, it will then be the proper time to deal with the Admiralty itself. Reductions at headquarters now would only impede the speed and efficiency of the run-down and would mean that we should not get as big savings as are possible and necessary.
In fact, only a small proportion of our civilian employees are civil servants, as that term is normally used. The great bulk of them are technical and professional men—skilled workmen engaged in productive business, making torpedoes, maintaining—[Interruption.] I am not talking about the Admiralty now; I am talking about all the Admiralty civilians. The great bulk of them are skilled workmen, engaged in productive business, making torpedoes, maintaining armaments, building and repairing ships and repairing aircraft. When one thinks of the complexity of a modern ship compared with one before the war, which was little better than a tin box with an engine and a gun stuck in it, I at least am not a bit surprised at the number of civilians required to look after what may be numerically a smaller fleet but what is certainly a much more complicated one.
1126 This complexity of equipment is reflected not only in the cost of building the ships and in the number of civilians needed to maintain them. It is also reflected in the greatly increased number of ratings needed to look after the equipment.
§ Mr. Frederick Gough (Horsham)
To which war was my hon. Friend referring? I had the honour of serving in the Royal Navy and I would not have said that His Majesty's Ship "Ramillies" was a tin box with an engine and a gun stuck in it.
§ Mr. Galbraith
It may be that my hon. Friend has not visited one of our modern ships. I suggest that he might visit "Victorious" if he gets an opportunity and compare it with "Ramillies". I did not wish to be at all disrespectful, but I still maintain, speaking figuratively, that the one is like a tin box with a gun and an engine stuck in it compared with what we have today. Indeed, however much against the grain it goes, to be realists we must accept that the shore support of the modern highly technical Navy built around the aircraft carrier is bound to be bigger than it was before the war. The war to which I am referring is the 1939 war—although in fact it is just about as much use to refer to the 1939 war in this respect as it would be to refer to the Napoleonic Wars.
Because I say all this, I do not want the Committee to think that the Admiralty is in the least complacent about the size of its shore support. Long before there was any talk of a new look in defence and long before public interest in our shore structure had been aroused—to a large extent by ill-conceived and ignorant articles in the Press—the Admiralty had set up its own Way Ahead Committee for the very purpose of docking the tail of the Navy. One result of this inquiry is that civilian numbers will be reduced by 23,000 and another is that 7,000 naval posts ashore have been saved. The closure of Nore Command is part of the heavy price which we have had to pay for this saving.
It is not at all an easy task to cut the Navy's tail. All sorts of considerations are involved, but it is a task which we believe must be done, and I can assure the Committee that every sinew in the Admiralty is bent upon making further savings, for we know that it is only by 1127 the most rigid economies in our overheads that we will be able to afford the up-to-date fleet which the defence of our country requires.
I want to say to the Committee and, indeed, to the country at large that civilians and naval personnel alike are both engaged in this task; and it does no good at all to the Navy as a whole for people outside the Service, who are ignorant of conditions within the Service, to try to create a rivalry between the two sides, the sea side and the land side, which does not exist.
Admiralty civilians are just as much part of the Navy as the men in uniform and just as proud of its traditions. The two sides are complementary. Each gives it strength and each, as we have seen, has to suffer when reductions are made. They are part of the one Service, a Service that is alert, progressive, efficient and able in the defence of our country to play whatever rôle the chances of war and fortune may dictate.
It is for this new Navy, lean perhaps by the standards of the past, but full of energy and purpose, that I now ask the Committee to let us have the Vote this evening.
§ Mr. V. Yates
Can the hon. Member say whether he will inquire into the case of the victimisation of a boy to which I have referred?
§ Question put and agreed to.
That 112,000 Officers, Seamen and Juniors and Royal Marines, who are borne on the books of Her Majesty's Ships and at the Royal Marine establishments, and members of the Women's Royal Naval Service and Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service, be employed for the Sea Service, for the year ending on the 31st day of March 1959
§ Resolution to be reported.
§ Report to be received Tomorrow; Committee to sit again Tomorrow.