Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £34,655.000, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund, to defray the expense of scientific services, including a subscription to the International Hydrographic Bureau, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on 31st March, 1968.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Wall
During the conclusion of our debate on Vote A last week, I expressed concern about the morale of the Royal Navy and particularly of the officers. I made it clear that this was due to the Governments failure to appreciate the true rôle for the Navy and uncertainty about the future of certain types of ships and particularly of weapons.
Vote 4 relates to research and development and, therefore, perhaps more than any other Vote, concerns the future of the ships and the missiles which we can expect in the Fleet in the next 10 years. The Opposition therefore feel that we must spend some time in probing in some detail on this Vote. I do not apologise to the Minister of State in advance, because most of the matters which I wish to raise—and I believe that the same is true of many of my hon. Friends—were raised in the debate on Vote A. I therefore hope that we can now receive answers to some of the questions which were not answered in the short time available for the Minister to wind up that earlier debate.
There has been much talk from the Government benches about cuts in defence expenditure. Indeed, it has seemed to some of us that some hon. Members on the back benches opposite do not want to cut defence expenditure so much as to abolish it altogether. I am, therefore, particularly pleased to see that the amount allocated to research and development under Vote 4 has increased over the past three years. In 1965–66, it was just over £28¼ million, in the following year it was a little over £31¼ million, and this year it is just under £35½ million. That is an increase of about £7 million in three years, and I congratulate the Government on this, because this is extremely important for the Fleet of the future.
588 I want particularly to discuss Subhead A—Pay and Allowances—and Subhead B, which concerns ships, hulls and machinery, weapon systems, radio and navigational equipment, scientific research and technical services, and so on. That covers practically all the hardware of the Royal Navy now or in the future. These are the "teeth" of the Royal Navy and paragraph 15 in Chapter IV of the Statement on Defence says:New ships, which the Royal Navy will need for its future tasks, are being planned …If that is so, I hope that we will be able to get answers to some of the questions which we put this evening.
I should like to start by discussing ships' hulls. A very strong case was made from this side of the House during our previous debate on the need for a cheaper aircraft carrier. It is obviously impossible for the Government to guarantee that forces employed say in the Indian Ocean area would be employed only where there was no opposition. I referred previously to the "red carpet treatment". Therefore, any maritime force, whether naval or ordinary merchant ships going about their lawful occasions in time of war, would need air protection. What happened to the "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse" demonstrated what happens when there is not adequate air protection.
It was made crystal clear in last night's debate that the so-called island base strategy could not provide the air protection required by either naval units or the merchant services in time of war. I merely remind the Minister of State that I made the point that the lessons of Vietnam, which are the most modern lessons possible, show what use can be made of the aircraft carrier. I see that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) is about to rise and I know which words caught his ears, so I will hastily put my question. I want to know what research and development are being put into the development of a cheaper aircraft carrier hull.
It is not for the Opposition to explain the details, but it is our concept that a much cheaper aircraft carrier could be built than the CVAO-1 on a form of hull such as that of an oil tanker. Such a carrier could probably be produced at 589 less than half the cost of the conventional carrier—it might be a smaller vessel—and it could certainly operate vertical takeoff aircraft such as the Harrier which would be manned by both Navy and R.A.F. personnel, so that there would be complete flexibility and interchangeability between the two Services. Only in this way can there be a maritime strategy in areas such as the Indian Ocean or the Pacific.
It is true that with a hull of this size and a ship costing about £20 million one would have to have all the very expensive radar and communications equipment and guidance systems in a smaller ship, and it will be recalled that we suggested that it should be concentrated in a frigate from which, with modern computer techniques, to provide the necessary information for the vessels which we have dubbed "Healey carriers".
I hope that we shall be told that a certain amount of research and development is going on into some such vessel so as to give the Fleet naval air cover from naval ships, because we do not believe that, even with the modern American aircraft which we are buying that this cover can be provided from mainland or island bases which may or may not be swamped as some of them, as we heard last night, have only a 5-foot freeboard, if I can use a naval term.
The Government are obviously putting some research and development into the refitting of the three "Tiger" class cruisers. These are fine vessels, although I remember that when hon. Gentlemen opposite were in opposition they begged us not to continue with these vessels, which in the event have proved to be very useful. They are being equipped to take helicopters—I think, four Sea King helicopters. I wonder whether this kind of dual purpose ship, with guns forward and helicopters aft, will be of value. It may he recalled that the Japanese developed this type in the last war and that the two ships concerned did not serve very useful purpose.
The point I am trying to make is that instead of spending more on the research and development needed to convert these three cruisers into half cruiser and half helicopter carrier, it may be better to spend the money on developing a cheaper 590 form of aircraft carrier which could not only guarantee air protection to the Fleet, and to other surface vessels, but make it possible to have an effective strategy in the Indian Ocean area. We do not believe that a maritime strategy can be exercised in the oceanic areas of the world unless air cover is provided from some form of ship.
I turn now to another form of hull. This is a matter which I have raised in previous debates on Estimates. There is a need for research to see whether we should follow the Americans in adapting older ships, or building new ships, as headquarters ships. I commend the example of the U.S.S. "Northampton", or of the small aircraft carriers now being converted into headquarters ships. It would be well worth spending money on this form of concept. We would then have one ship which could operate naval or maritime or amphibious forces and have the communications equipment and all the essential electronics which are necessary for these operations.
At the moment, we have a large command headquarters in Aden with a large amount of communications equipment ashore. If that equipment had been concentrated in a ship moored in Aden harbour, when we moved from Aden, we would move the ship and not leave very expensive buildings—I hope that we will not leave any equipment—such as have littered the Middle East in the years since the war.
To be fair, the Government have provided some form of headquarters ship in the two new assault ships "Fearless" and "Intrepid", with communications equipment and facilities for operating a brigade group in an assault landing. But I ask for research and development into a larger form of ship which could be adopted as a maritime headquarters or serve as a joint headquarters for the three Services wherever needed throughout the world. I wonder whether any thought has been given to the development of such a ship, which the Americans have found so successful that they are building others.
I should like to discuss briefly the question of hovercraft. This is a British invention, which is an extraordinary advance on any previous concept. These craft are now being developed under 591 licence in most other countries in the world. What I am anxious to discuss is the application of these craft in the three Services.
I believe that the Army has the first operational hovercraft squadron in the world and that they are also being used by the R.A.F. The other day we saw pictures of them being used by American forces in Vietnam. What about our Navy? These are perhaps more ships than anything else, and it seems, when one sees a picture of a Cunard cruising liner with a hovercraft on board to take passengers ashore, that we should have done more to develop these very important craft for the Royal Navy.
I know that there has been a certain amount of experimenting in using the hovercraft for replacing the L.C.A. in the amphibious assault, but have we given much consideration to the development of the hovercraft as an anti-submarine vessel? The Minister will know that the modern nuclear submarine's underwater speed could be considerably in excess of that of many of the hunting vessels. Many of our frigates are slower on the surface than the nuclear submarine under the surface. The hovercraft, which is far faster in reasonable weather conditions than surface ships, might have a very important part to play in anti-submarine warfare.
From hovercraft, I turn to hydrofoils, which rise on a couple of stilts when they are going very fast. The Americans are putting in a lot of research and development on these vessels, particularly for anti-submarine purposes, because they also are considerably faster than any other form of surface vessel. They suffer, as do hovercraft to a lesser extent, in bad sea conditions. Can the Minister say what is being done to develop hydrofoils in the Royal Navy, and whether he feels that this craft could be of use as the anti-submarine vessel of the future?
I want to deal with submarines and, in particular, with the hulls of these vessels. I was glad to hear that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), both in the previous debate and a moment ago, on the Navy, praising the defence correspondent of The Times. I quite agree with him, I think that The Times defence correspondent writes some extremely useful and interesting articles. 592 They are certainly useful to the Opposition and Government back benchers, who do not have access to information
§ Mr. Wall
I am sure that my right hon. Friend is correct.
On 11th March The Times defence correspondent wrote an article about the steel used by nuclear submarines. What he said was that the British steel used in the first nuclear-powered submarine had proved not very effective, and that hairline cracks had developed which matter we have discussed in the House on a number of occasions.
He said that to get over this problem we had to buy American high quality steel and that this had, presumably, gone into the vessels after "Dreadnought", the "Valiant" class and the four Polaris submarines. He said, and I hope that it is true:Successful experiments have been carried out in Britain by the Consett Iron Company to produce the special steel required for building nuclear submarines. British steel will be installed in the seventh hunter-killer submarine to be ordered later this year.I hope that the Minister can confirm this. What I would also like to know is what happens in the earlier submarines? Is he satisfied that the problem of these hairline cracks—I know that they are no danger to the crew—can be overcome, because, again, The Times defence correspondent says:The cracks occur in all the submarines, but do not prevent them from going to sea. Should the cracks occur in an unexpectedly high desensity, an excessive amount of welding work would be required between cruises.I am not suggesting that this is impairing the operational efficiency of any of our submarines, but it would be a little unfortunate if a lot of time had to be spent in welding over cracks which are invisible to the normal eye. Perhaps the Minister can clear up this point.
§ The Minister of Defence for Equipment (Mr. Roy Mason)
I can clear that up now, because I answered a supplementary question which the hon. Gentleman posed to me a few days ago, saying that the problem of the steel had been solved.
§ Mr. Wall
I am very grateful for that assurance.
593 I want now to deal with nuclear propulsion. In the Statement on the Defence Estimates, Chapter 6, paragraph 25, we find, under sub-paragraph (a):The nuclear-propulsion programme, including work on a new submarine reactor and investigations into the application of nuclear propulsion to surface warshipswill be continued. I am delighted to hear that, because I remember that the hon. Gentleman, when he was on these benches, used to clamour for a surface nuclear-propelled merchant or naval ship, as I did when I was on the back benches on the Government side.
§ Mr. Wall
I am glad to hear that, and I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us later what has actually been achieved.
I notice that he had a good "write-up" in the Daily Express on a recent speech that he made when he visited the Rolls-Royce plant in Derby a few days ago. The headline says:Navy may go atomic, says Defence ChiefI hope that this is true. The report says, quoting the Minister of State:We have considered the possible application of atomic power units like those designed here for surface propulsion and it is a possibility that the Navy could go atomic.That would be a very great advantage. Atomic propulsion is obviously of more value to the Navy rather than to the mercantile marine, because in the mercantile marine one has to consider the economic problem. In the Navy, long-distance cruising, a saving of fuel tankers and on oil bases throughout the world are factors to be taken into consideration.
The Minister also got a good write-up in The Times of today, which said:During today's Commons debate on research and development, Mr. Mason, the Minister of Defence (Equipment), is expected to give details of the Ministry's latest thinking on such vessels"—that is, nuclear surface warships. I hope that my appetite having been whetted in this way, the Minister will have a long statement to make. We feel that many other countries are getting ahead of Britain in the development of a nuclear reactor for surface vessels which we, in some ways, pioneered.
We have always been one of the premier maritime countries and now there 594 are nuclear-powered ships in the United States Navy and there is the "Savannah" in the U.S. Merchant Navy. The U.S.S.R. Navy has such a vessel, and I understand that Japan, Germany, Italy and possibly Sweden are contemplating building surface ships with nuclear reactors. I hope that the Minister will decide that the Navy will set the pace in this country, and go ahead with a nuclear-propelled surface ship, perhaps a supply ship, or perhaps even a "Healey Carrier", and that this will be something that the Merchant Navy will be able to follow, having gained experience from the Royal Navy.
I now turn to weapon systems and, first, Sea Slug. This is an excellent weapon, rather large, which is possibly why it has not been taken up by other navies. Is any more development work being done on this weapon? It seems that the American Tartar, which is not as good a weapon but is smaller, has had a much larger order from foreign countries. Can the Minister say whether the Mark II Sea Slug, which will be going into the "Fife" and "Glamorgan", the last of the guided missile destroyers of the "Devonshire" class has a bombardment capability? I know that it has no surface-to-surface capability.
I come now to Sea Cat, a short-range surface-to-air weapon. This has been sold abroad to many foreign navies. Is it to be developed further, or is the new surface-to-air weapon referred to in paragraph 18(g) on page 47 of the Statement on the Estimates which is now in the experimental stage to replace Sea Cat completely? In other words, is the life of Sea Cat confined to those vessels in which it is now mounted?
I turn to another question which we discussed in the debate on Vote A, and that is Sea Dart, a new surface-to-air longer range weapon which is to go into the Type 82 destroyers. The hull of these destroyers is 5,000 tons. Is it necessary to have such a big hull to accommodate this weapon, with all its guidance requirements, or are there other reasons for making the Type 82 destroyers so large? I repeat that the Germans appear to be mounting the American Tartar in a 1,000 ton hull, which obviously will be considerably cheaper.
We read in the newspapers that the development costs of Sea Dart are about 595 £40 million. I was told in an answer to a Question the other day that Sea Dart is not yet afloat. We hope that it has a good future. Does it have a bombardment capability? I take it that it cannot be used as a surface-to-surface weapon?
That brings me to the hardy annual—the surface-to-surface missile. We this side of the House think that this is a very important matter. It was referred to twice in last year's Statement. It is not referred to at all in this year's Statement. I mentioned it in column 654 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the debate on Vote A and pointed out that not only the Soviet Navy but smaller navies, such as that of the U.A.R., or Indonesia, have fast patrol boats armed with two or four guided missiles which have a much greater range than the guns mounted in our larger ships. Unless we have a surface-to-surface missile we could not deal with those vessels once the carrier and fixed-wing aircraft were phased out.
If the Government adhere to what we believe to be a thoroughly mistaken policy and phase out the carrier in the mid-1970s they must have a new surface-to-surface missile available and operational at that time. Otherwise, there will be very little defence against these midget vessels and surface-to-surface missiles mounted on larger vessels in the navies of foreign powers.
I wish now to mention briefly underwater weapons, because the question of research and development on underwater vessels falls under these Votes. I deal, first, with torpedoes. "Dreadnought" was armed with torpedoes similar to those first introduced in 1934. The Under-Secretary of State, when he wound up the last debate, talked in column 668 about the development of two new anti-submarine torpedoes—one to be fired from submarines and the other to be dropped from helicopters. Will those new torpedoes be ready to go into the last "Valiant" class vessels as they become operational or will they only go into the new type of hunter-killer submarine to be ordered towards the end of this year?
I refer, secondly, to mines, which are a defensive weapon. I do not know whether they are considered to be com- 596 pletely old-fashioned, but certainly they caused us to devote an enormous proportion of our effort to anti-mine operations in the last war. They are cheap and a useful form of weapon for coastal defence and sometimes for inhibiting enemy movement in narrow channels. Are we still developing acoustic mines and other forms of pressure mines, or is the mine regarded as an obsolete weapon?
I come now to the question of radio equipment. That is if one can call variable depth sonar "radio equipment". The "Leander" class frigates are probably the best class of ship we have designed. Certainly, they are the finest looking ships we have seen for many years. They have a large ramp in the stern for their variable depth sonar. At first, Canadian equipment was installed which I believe was not very satisfactory. I believe that the Government decided to experiment with either a new British sonar or American sonar. Could the Minister tell us the results of those experiments. Are we producing our own form of variable depth sonar? If so, is it satisfactory and is it in operation?
Turning to the question of antisubmarine devices, as I have said, the nuclear submarine moves faster than most surface vessels. I therefore hope that we shall hear more about hovercraft and perhaps about maritime aircraft. I cannot say much about that matter in this debate as I should be out of order. It is immensely important, however, to ensure that the maritime Comet being designed for the R.A.F. fits in in all respects with the anti-submarine vessels of the Fleet.
Do the computers in the aircraft and in the anti-submarine vessel correspond? I have heard rumours that there has been a lack of co-operation between the two Services in this matter. I hope that the Minister, whose direct responsibility this is, will be able to assure me that I am wrong.
I have touched on a number—perhaps too large a number—of points affecting the hulls and equipment of Her Majesty's ships. Nearly all of them were made during the debate on Vote A and, therefore, I think that the Minister has had sufficient warning to phrase his reply.
To sum up, new ships and weapons take seven years to develop. It is obvious, therefore, that the question of research and development on them must be 597 included in the Vote which we are considering. Can the Minister say whether any research and development is being carried out on some cheaper form of carrier—say, the "Healey carrier"? Are the Government considering headquarters ships? What is being done about nuclear propulsion for surface vessels? Are we producing fast anti-submarine vessels—perhaps hydrofoils or hovercraft? Would the Minister say exactly what will happen about the development of surface-to-surface weapons which must be in service and operational by the mid-1970s if the carrier is to be phased out? Assurances that these matters are under active consideration will do much to raise morale in the senior Service and will encourage the Opposition to approve these Estimates.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
I know that I cannot discuss appropriations in aid in detail, but I should like to relate what I have to say to appropriations in aid. I note under subhead C the amount of £334,300 for the production of charts, the repair of instruments and miscellaneous expenses. In subhead B there appears the sum of £24 million for research and development. The Department responsible for hydrography and the production of charts is successful in marketing on behalf of Her Majesty's Stationery Office charts and hydrographic publications through agents to merchant ships and the general public. It earns through its marketing department £526,000 as against an expenditure of £334,000. This is a very useful operation.
In the development of hulls and machinery and navigational equipment it spends £24 million but it appropriates nothing from anybody. The Navy is spending £24 million on ships, hulls and machinery, weapons systems, radio and navigational equipment, scientific research and technical services and naval medical research. Cannot it get someone to buy some of the fall-out from all this research and development?
When I read the Note at the back of this Vote, I am amazed that we can sell charts, but apparently we cannot recoup anything from this vast expenditure on research and development.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles
Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that the South 598 Africans would be happy to buy these things?
§ Mr. Bence
The present Government have appointed a Minister whose responsibility it is to see if, in our research and development of weapons systems, we could not develop systems which might be shared with Commonwealth countries by the adoption of common standards. That is reasonable, but it is not reasonable to employ scientists and technicians in Admiralty yards to do splendid research and development work if we cannot dispose commercially of any of the results, especially developments in navigational systems.
Surely the Admiralty should be able to dispose of some of these developments to merchant shipowners. After all, it sells them charts. Why cannot it sell some of these navigational systems? What happens to them, otherwise? Are they handed over to British or foreign shipowners for nothing? They have to pay for the charts. Why should we not 599 get some appropriation from selling the results of all this £24,728,000 worth of research and development?
I have always believed that from military research and development there is a small fall-out for civil industry. For example, from the aircraft industry we get the development of new alloys, and that has always been so. But it is increasingly unfortunate in a modern civilisation, when we have sophisticated weapons with tremendous destructive power, that we have a Department of State concerned with research and development which does not seem to be co-ordinated with research and development in all sorts of private institutions.
I should have thought that a lot of the items included in this Vote could be moved over to one of the Votes of the Ministry of Technology. We heard in the debate on the Air Estimates that some of the costs of the AFVG, in co-operation with the French, did not figure in those Estimates but came under the Ministry of Technology. Why should not some of this research and development come under that Ministry? Why should not that Ministry co-operate with different private industries in this sort of research? Why should it be purely the responsibility of the Admiralty and be confined to the Navy Estimates?
Weapons systems peculiar to naval warfare must come within the Navy Estimates. I understand that. However, I should have thought that medical re-search, and research on navigation, hulls and machinery could come under some universal research department dealing with all aspects of marine engineering, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering. Again, when we consider navigational aids, surely navigational aids in ships have something in common with those used in aircraft.
I am shocked to see such a large slice of the taxpayers' money being spent on research and development in this period of economic difficulty when we are all tightening our belts, and that all that we can get back from the people who will benefit from it is £536,000 for the sale of maps and charts. I should have thought that out of all this research, the ship owners and shipbuilders of the United Kingdom receive considerable benefit. I cannot see why there should 600 not be in the appropriations in aid something from them by way of a contribution towards that research.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
I shall confine my remarks to the Subhead which deals with scientific research and technical services, which totals some £5 million. I disagree with the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence). One of the troubles is that there is not a sufficiency of concentration of research at the Navy level, and that there has been a dissipation of research elsewhere.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about industrial application, and I agree that there is a great chance for that, but it must flow eventually from the type of deep research which is carried out into Navy matters.
I gather from the Department that some of the £5 million mentioned in this Vote is devoted to what I would call deep research, by which I mean oceanographic research of a profound nature which clearly is a matter of great importance and an area in which we seem to be lagging behind some other countries.
When one looks at the amount of money spent by other countries, one is presented with an alarming picture of the deep and profound research in oceanographic matters which is being conducted. The United States of America are spending more than £100 million a year on profound research into sea use and the future of warfare at sea. My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) referred to the problems of the deep travelling submarine, and those problems are by no means overcome.
We have heard of the problems of the Russian submarine fleet, but if one considers Russia's investment in profound oceanographic research, one arrives at an even more startling position. Russia has no less than seven large laboratory ships at sea. In addition, there are countless trawlers which, apart from their honest work of trawling, undoubtedly also carry out considerable research for the Russian Government. If one looks at what is happening with Japanese investment, we see that here again there is a bigger investment than we are making. If one looks at deep oceanographic investment by a country like Canada, one finds that it is something like £20 million a year. 601 If one looks at oceanographic investment by the French Government, one finds that it is running at a much greater level than is ours today.
I believe that this flows from two profound mistakes which are being made. The first is the organisation of oceanography, and the second is that there has not been sufficient thought given to this subject and a sufficient programme prepared.
Turning for a moment to the question of organisation, you may remember, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that when the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) was the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy, he came to the Box on 15th March, 1965, and said that there had been this great changeover, and that from 1st April, April Fools' Day, the Navy was going to lose the "Discovery", and that the Oceanographic Council was going to pass into the control of this remarkable body called the National Environment Research Council.
The National Environment Research Council is a very odd body indeed. I see that the hon. Gentleman is laughing, and with cause, because the National Environment Research Council, with regard to oceanography, is responsible to the Secretary of State for Education and Science, but the actual payment for oceanography is to be made by the Ministry of Technology. This is really a most fantastic way to try to spearhead an important programme, and the Government stand condemned in the most extraordinary fashion for having this set-up in which the Navy was said to have an important interest.
I hope that the Minister will look at this most carefully. Here is the Soviet Union, with seven deep research vessels. Here is the United States, with a programme running over 10 years at a cost of £1,000 million. Here is the United States, building three—I am not a naval man—what they call deep-diving craft, one of which will work at the 5,000 fathom level, one of which will work at the 8,000 or 10,000 fathom level, and one of which will operate in the Mindinao Trench, which is about 35,000 ft., which, as a landlubber, is how I express these things.
But what do we have? We have this great step forward, where we have a Department which is paid for by another 602 Department, which is responsible to a Minister who is largely concerned with fighting the students at the L.S.E. No wonder people say that the naval glory of this country is over.
We really want to look at this most seriously. The people of this globe, as hon. Members opposite know, occupy 25 per cent. of the earth's crust, and 75 per cent. of it is covered by water. This is a new area into which we should be going. We must conduct research on this area and get out of it the resources which are there. This does not mean just using plankton. It means that we will have to turn seawater into water which can be used to refresh the desert.
This year there is a conference in the United States on desalination, something in which this country and our engineers from the naval yards are as expert as any-one in the world. Who is setting this up? It is the President of the United States. Yet we have here a Minister who is not responsible for the Department for which he should be responsible.
It is notable to see what is happening regarding this question of desalination. In Glasgow there are probably the most skilled engineers, and in our form of atomic power, we probably have the most suitable machinery, but where are the contracts going? They are going to Kuwait and Mexico. They are not coming here. The responsibility lies with the Government, who have not seen fit, despite all this great talk of technological advance, to switch a beam of light onto the problem which faces us.
I suggest that the best body and the best person to switch on the beam of light to be a positive laser in the encircling gloom is the Navy Department. It has a great tradition of naval inspiration It has the tradition of Captain Cook of the eighteenth century, and moving into the nineteenth century, there is Biscoe, the adventurer in the 'forties, and then we move through to the whole history of Polar exporation by this country, the technical advances which were made here before the war, the technical advances which even now are being made, and when I was Air Minister I saw the American advances in sonar equipment, and we were as good as they were. In addition, we have the question of giving the people and the scientists some sort of inspiration.
603 Sea use is going to be one of the greatest problems during the next hundred years or so. We are a maritime people. We ought to make full use of this. It will be an inspiration to our scientists and young people if we can make full use of what is there. I know that in the discipline of mass technologies we always get an advantage by the problem of major projects. We get microminiaturisation and all these other things, and what is called the fall-out. But we get something far more important here if we use the sea and the oceans and the problems which lie therein.
If we could be certain that we were able to break through these changes, which we are not certain of today, we would be in a far better stamp. But, above all, there is a discipline which can be imposed, that of a growing shortage of food, a growing shortage of minerals, and a growing shortage of water. This is why I say that the Government have a great chance. They have failed so far to make this into a major and dynamic science using the brains, the industry, and the power of our people.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
The right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) brought in a wave of eloquence which had hitherto been missing from the debate. Unfortunately, we are dealing with statistics, and I should like an explanation of why the money in Vote 4 has been increased. This year we are spending £4 million more than last year. The number of scientists employed by this Department is increasing, and we are to spend £34,655,000 on scientific services purely for the Navy. The Ministry of Technology and all the other Ministries are spending their money, too. The result is that we are using a large percentage of our scientific brains on what is called defence work. I think that this is likely to increase. I think that the amount in Vote 4 will increase in the future, because if we employ more scientists, they will want to spend more money.
We are told in Subhead B that they are studying weapon systems. I wonder which ones. If they are studying the Russian capacity for destroying submarines they will have discovered that 604 for the last nuclear test before the Test Ban Treaty came into being the Russians had a megaton bomb which could destroy everything within a radius of 200 miles of the area in which it fell. As the Economist pointed out at the time, this bomb could destroy the hull of a submarine in a radius of 200 miles of the area in which it fell.
I wonder how far they are studying the United States weapons systems, as The Times correspondent has been doing. Those scientists studying the American weapons systems and the Polaris submarine have discovered that the system operating when we ordered the submarines is now almost obsolete, because the Russian defences can prevent the launching of missiles from that type.
Thus, the Americans are now changing from the Polaris to the Poseidon missile. The Times correspondent tells us that only eight of the American Polaris submarines now carry the old weapon. To enable the Polaris system to penetrate the Russian defences, the scientists must now advocate the enormously expensive Poseidon. Therefore, I view these researches with some apprehension. If, as The Times correspondent says, they produce evidence for the Government that these weapons are obsolete, we shall presumably have to take their advice and adapt our submarines to the new missile.
I also view with apprehension the fact that the number of scientists is going up like the cost of the new weapon, so the Department's expenditure will also rise. This applies not only to this Department, because it is a key Department. These scientists do not think in terms of pounds, shillings and pence, but of weapons which are likely to be effective in the nuclear age. So this Vote is going up, when we should be reducing our expenditure.
What else are the scientists doing? I am glad of my hon. Friend's assurance that the steel problem is solved, though I am not so sure about the terms. The scientists have presumably examined these submarines and discovered that the steel can withstand the stress of modern warfare, although the specification is different in the American one. I hope that we will not in a short time have to spend more money on the Polaris submarines because of this research.
I wonder how many of these scientists are employed in the Polaris school at 605 Gareloch. They must be, because of the extraordinary expense of the school. Its cost of £10 million shows that an enormous amount of research must be going on. The expenditure on this school is envied by every scientific institution and technical school in the West of Scotland. They say, "Why should the nation be spending £10 million on one technical school when we cannot get the money in Scotland to build ordinary technological institutes and colleges of research"?
In the first debate on the Navy Estimates which I heard in this House, Mr. Winston Churchill, as he then was, viewed with great alarm the growth in the number of people who were planning and studying to make a stronger Royal Navy—and at the same time providing jobs for themselves. At that time Mr. Churchill was scathing on this issue. I shudder to think what he would say at the enormous growth that is taking place in the Navy Estimates each year. I recall how he attacked the then Labour Government in 1948. That was 20 years ago, and today another Labour Government are spending far too much on the Navy.
Why is the sum for research and development increasing at this rate and when do the Government propose to reduce it? We should not go on diverting our scientific brains away from studying matters which could modernise British industry. A large portion of the sum involved in Vote 4 is being misdirected and is not being spent on scientific research for the benefit of the nation as a whole.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I will not comment on the remarks of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) because those of us who have been in the House for the last 20 years recognise his speech each year. He always adopts the same theme and can be relied upon to follow a pacifist line. I am sure that he speaks with great conviction, but I wish to concentrate my remarks on discussing what is happening to the money that is being spent under this Vote.
I apologise to hon. and gallant Members who served in the Royal Navy and who may be wondering why I am intervening in this debate. I intervene 606 because of my interest in science and technology, and particularly because of a statement made by the Minister of Defence for Equipment in a speech on the subject of marine nuclear propulsion. I have a report of his speech with me. My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) referred to the Minister's remarks of 13th March last in Derby, when the hon. Gentleman said:We could now build an atomic-powered ship but cannot yet say of what size or class or of what cost it would have to be".The date on which the hon. Gentleman made that speech is important because it so happens that it was several days after the new Select Committee on Science and Technology—which is meeting in public and that is why I can refer to its proceedings—had had an opportunity of cross-examining Sir William Penny, head of the Atomic Energy Authority, on this matter.
I am appalled at the inconsistency between what Sir William told that Committee upstairs and what the Minister said in Derby. According to the report I have, Sir William made it clear that the outcome of the Padmore Committee's consideration of this matter two years ago was an opinion which Sir William still holds today, namely, that the time has not yet arrived when we should commit ourselves to a programme involving a nuclear-propelled surface ship. Sir William emphasised that the most efficient union for surface propulsion was an oil-burning unit. When I asked him whether he thought the time had come to resuscitate the Padmore Committee and go into the matter all over again, he said that we should not—certainly for several years. It seems a very grave thing that the Ministry for Defence should not be in the closest possible communication with the Atomic Energy Authority before any Defence Minister makes speeches on nuclear marine propulsion.
I want tonight to give the Minister for Defence for Equipment an opportunity of clarifying this matter. It is a subject of very considerable concern. I find it all the more extraordinary in the light of what Sir William Penney had to say, and of what is said in paragraph 25a of the Defence White Paper, which refers to:The nuclear-propulsion programme, including work on a new submarine reactor and investigations into the application of nuclear-propulsion to surface warships.607 Are we to understand that this paragraph was included in the White Paper without any consultation with the Atomic Energy Authority? If so, it certainly seems utterly wrong. In the United States, the Atomic Energy Commission has a very special relationship with the United States Navy—
§ Mr. Mason
Perhaps I may intervene here, as there is no point in getting hot and bothered about something if there is a misunderstanding, and it looks as if there is a misunderstanding of the position here. Sir William Penney was talking of merchant ship nuclear propulsion, whereas I was talking specifically about nuclear marine propulsion for naval vessels only.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
We now see a distinction being made in what Sir William Penney said. Are we to understand that if nuclear surface propulsion is considered to be an uneconomic and silly thing at present for the mercantile marine, for example, it is advisable to provide it for the Royal Navy? I should have thought that one experience which we might gain from is that of the United States atomic-powered ship the "Savannah". I understand that that vessel has been a dead loss, and there is no prospect of it being repeated as a type of nuclear-propelled surface ship.
What sort of ship is the right hon. Gentleman proposing for the Royal Navy that is to be powered by nuclear energy—
§ Mr. Mayhew
The hon. Gentleman must recognise the enormous difference between the naval vessel and the merchant vessel from the point of view of nuclear propulsion. For naval vessels, nuclear propulsion provides range, freedom from refuelling. The naval vessel is so much more expensive—and precious even—than the merchant vessel that the equation does not begin to exist.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
I am very grateful to the former Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy for intervening, but I am asking the present Minister of Defence for Equipment. I hope that we shall get from him even more up-to-date information than that with which we have just been provided Having sailed 608 in both at various times, I am fairly clear about the distinction between a ship of the Royal Navy and a ship of the Mercantile Marine. All I would say is that if we are so desperately short of money for carrying out a defence policy which renders the country as safe as we can make it, we must be very careful before we start to embark on a form of propulsion that is far more expensive and not necessarily very much more effective than oil-burning vessels.
I am inclined to feel that it is extraordinary that, when Sir Francis Chichester is trying to sail through the "Roaring Forties" around Cape Horn, when our wonderful new nuclear fleet submarine the "Valiant" is making what is almost a record underwater voyage, and when we are co-operating with the French in producing a supersonic airliner, we should still be thinking of yet another way of propelling ourselves across the ocean. I feel that this is not perhaps the moment, in the light of the stringency we are always being reminded about by the Government, to embark on this sort of experiment when other things are much more important to meet at an early date. This is what concerns me. There may be surface nuclear propulsion in the end, but I am inclined to think that it is not very likely that what is found to be unwise for the Mercantile Marine will be wise for the Royal Navy, especially when we come to the economics of it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice has mentioned the hovercraft. I have been down to Hythe, near Southampton, to talk with the N.R.D.C. people there. I believe that this is the most tremendously important development. I find it extraordinary that the Royal Navy should be the one Service among the three which is not apparently fully committed to this type of conveyance on the surface. With the Defence Estimates, it is becoming more and more difficult to unravel and discover what has been spent on any one project. For example, the Army is spending £1,100,000 on ships this year over and above what is being spent under the Navy Estimates.
I am inclined to feel that, soon, we must have the Estimates presented in a slightly different form so that we can be shown some of these new projects, such as marine nuclear propulsion and 609 hovercraft, each coming under one heading for all three Services. We could then see what we were spending on these individual developments. At it is, we have to try and extract little bits of information from different Votes in order to assess what is being spent on one project.
A certain amount has been said about fal-out of know-how—or "spin-off" as the United States calls it—which comes from what the Services spend on research and development. I agree that it is very important that civil industry should be given as much opportunity as possible to take advantage of the technology which does not have to be covered by strict security rules. But I have never thought that we should embark on a particular defence project with a view to getting civilian "fall-out". Certainly we should take full advantage in civilian industry where there is real value to be gained, but let us not start defence projects in order to get civil fall-out. That would be a preposterous exercise.
With the hovercraft, we are in danger of overdiversifying activity in research and development. The N.R.D.C. was originally the Government-sponsored body which took up Mr. Cockrell's great invention. He is very dissatisfied about the way it is now going and feels that its application commercially has been kept too much under Government auspices.
The N.R.D.C. has done a splendid job on the hovercraft along with Hovercraft Ltd. Indeed, even the Ministry of Housing and Local Government is coming into the business in refusing to decide where the English terminal should be for cross-Channel traffic designed to be conducted, I understand, by Hover-Lloyd, of Sweden. All these projects are coming up and we have civil, military, naval and air force activities in their development. They are all doing a little bit and we do not know what it is all costing. Perhaps there is duplication where there should not be.
I should like to see hovercraft development for the Service Departments coordinated into one project. If we diversify the development of the hovercraft throughout the three Services, we shall probably waste public money by duplication not only of Service activity but also of N.R.D.C. activity. At the same time, those developing the hovercraft for civil 610 activity have a better chance of financing their research and development from the money market.
Let us at least get a sound policy on this matter. I should have thought that the Royal Navy had a prior claim on such an exercise, although I know that there is an aviation aspect to it. N.R.D.C. should be able to provide the unifying forces for the Government and advise the Service Departments as to how best to go about it. Obviously the Service Departments will require experience in usage. The Army deserves credit for the way it is going about that. I am concerned here with the research and development aspect, which is what this Vote is about. We are in great danger of not getting full value for the money we are spending.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
I am a little worried about that. British Railways have a vested interest in stultifying to as great an extent as they can the hovertrain project, but that does not come under this Vote.
We always ought to be prepared to spend on the Royal Navy before we spend on any of the other Services. I say that as a soldier. I have always held this view. We are a maritime nation. Our position on the globe demands this. Therefore, I like to see the Royal Navy getting value for money. I am not sure that it is getting it. As long as there exists the sort of confusion which the Minister of Defence for Equipment perpetrated the other day, there will be great uncertainty in our minds as to whether we are getting value for money. I hope that this evening the hon. Gentleman will clear the matter up.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Ogden
The hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) had a long and distinguished Army career. Though he was right to apologise to the House for intervening on naval matters, he redeemed that at the end of his speech when he said that the Royal Navy should have priority over the other Services. The hon. Gentleman is allowed one bite. He has had it. We shall 611 watch the hon. Gentleman if he is contemplating making a take-over bid in accountancy. Once the accounts of the three Services were brought under one heading, there would be the danger that the whole of the three Services might be brought under one heading.
I want to refer particularly, first, to Subhead B—(1) Ships, hulls and machinery; (2) Weapon systems, radio and navigational equipment".Can my hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Equipment give an assurance that the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Technology are in continual consultation? Is there an exchange of information between the Service Departments, the civil Departments of the Government and civilian organisations outside the Government so that there is a continual exchange of information?
Some research is controlled from old Admiralty buildings. These have been cleaned up recently, but I am sure that if my hon. Friend the Minister of Defence were to look at the inside of these old Admiralty buildings he would agree that only one description can be applied to them—that is, tatty. It is a shame and a disgrace that the administration of the Navy should be carried on from such completely inadequate buildings. If they were civilian factories or offices, they would have been closed down long ago. Such action would result in a saving in the long term. I hope that an indication can be given of what is likely to happen to these old buildings.
I ask the Opposition to think again about some of the ideas they are advancing in relation to the Healey carrier idea. The phrase "Healey carrier" is not the best description. A ship, as the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely knows, is definitely a lady. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is definitely a gentleman.
I ask the Opposition to think again about the idea, which seems attractive, that we can get the type of ship we want to fulfil the purpose we want fulfilled at half the cost, with a utility hull and getting two for the price of one. I appreciate the arguments which have been advanced about equipment and a 612 cheaper hull, but the Opposition should give us more information about what their thoughts are. What effective range do they envisage for such a ship? How long would she stay at sea? Where would its bases be? What sort of operational zone would it have? What sort of zones would it cover? How many will be needed to do the kind of job which the four, five or six full carriers would do? We need more information in order to consider the point which the Opposition are putting forward.
The Opposition have made a great point of nuclear propulsion for surface ships. The Russians have their nuclear-powered ice breaker, the first to conic into service, I think. Then the "Savannah" came along, only to be laid up 18 months or two years ago. There were great hopes and high expectations from these developments at one time. I suggest to the Minister that in this field it might well be better to be a little late with the best than to be first in. We should be prepared to take advantage of the research done by other countries.
Have we any information about the propulsion units of either the "Savannah" or the Russian ship? There have been great changes in our nuclear power stations at home. How much of the knowledge gained here has rubbed off? I think I see the point in the Minister's mind in his approach to this matter. We have had roughly 20 years of discussion, research and information into what kind of unit there should be. I am sure that most hon. Member with naval experience of one kind and another will agree that a nuclear-powered merchant ship is a very different proposition from a nuclear-powered surface ship for the Royal Navy, but it is time that we got away from the idea that we can have nuclear power only in submarines and got back to the idea of nuclear-powered surface ships.
If the Minister will give us an indication of his thoughts about the concept, "Let's go atomic"—a dangerous phrase—the House will be grateful.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
I am much obliged to the Minister for giving me three minutes. My constituency is very much concerned about the future of research and development. It is essential 613 that the Royal Navy be allowed to continue to do its own research and development. I am sure that the Navy would be horrified at some of the suggestions made regarding the future.
The Royal Naval Dockyard at Chatham, in my constituency, has just been assigned the task of being one of the depots for the repair of nuclear submarines. Constant research is going on there in a great number of directions, into weapon development, into hull construction and welding, and into the whole gamut of submarine construction and repair.
When I hear hon. Members complaining about the money which is spent on research, I am worried about the effect there will be if the men in the yards who are engaged on research are not paid adequately. There are many firms outside which are only too anxious to get hold of these men and engage them. I hope that the Government will always keep in mind the need to ensure that the highly skilled men in the naval dockyards who are necessary for the doing of research and development and the ordinary routine work are assured of incomes which encourage them to stay in the dockyards. It is no good having nuclear submarines and it is no good talking about research and development unless the men in the naval dockyards are paid adequately so that they remain there and are not encouraged to leave by outside interests.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ The Minister of Defence for Equipment (Mr. Roy Mason)
I am sorry that other hon. Members who are interested in the debate have been squeezed out because of the lack of time. I rise with some caution to make my in entry into defence affairs. Perhaps I should call it a reentry, because at one time, as the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) knows, I used to take a keen interest in these matters. Since those days, there have been rapid changes. Weapon technology is changing so rapidly that, having re-entered the Ministry of Defence, or, rather, having taken a new interest in Ministry of Defence affairs, I find that I have to learn afresh.
I cannot at this stage pretend to answer every question which has been put during the debate. It would be foolish of me 614 to try, and I do not suppose that the House would expect me to do so after having been in my job for only about two months.
My new job at the Ministry of Defence, under my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, includes responsibilities for research and development for all three Services. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for Defence for the Royal Navy for giving me the opportunity of dealing with this research and development Vote.
During the past two months I have been making myself acquainted with this work, and have visited a number of establishments—the Admiralty Research Laboratory, at Teddington, the Services Electronic Research Laboratory, at Baldock, the Admiralty Surface Weapons Establishment, at Portsdown, the Royal Aircraft Establishment, at Farnborough, the Royal Research Establishment, at Malvern, and Rolls-Royce and Associates and the nuclear division at Derby who are working on the nuclear propulsion programme.
The hon. Member for Haltemprice, who opened this debate on behalf of the Opposition, spoke particularly about naval weapons systems and hulls and machinery. I am glad to be able to say something about them so early in my term of office. It will be agreed that much more information is now published about those matters than there used to be, and that that is a good thing. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) made that point earlier in the debate. He wanted to see the information expanded in various forms.
In the Statement on the Defence Estimates, 1964, there was a single paragraph describing work in progress in naval research and development establishments, in terms so broad as to be almost meaningless. In this year's White Paper there is a whole chapter on research and development giving details of expenditure and major projects. A great deal of information can be gleaned from that.
Research and development is in progress on weapon systems working in all the naval modes and without going into every aspect of air-to-air, air-to-surface systems and so on, I can say that on every aspect of requirement some basic research is being carried out. The hon. 615 Member for Haltemprice is perturbed by the omission of a surface-to-surface missile. I can assure him that research is being carried on in that, but it is difficult for us to make a positive announcement about it. First, it is dependent on how many weapons we may require and to what extent it may be too expensive for us to do alone, and we are thinking to what extent there can be a collaborative venture with other countries.
We are spending a good deal of money on hulls and propulsion, particularly on nuclear propulsion. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) questioned the increase in the Vote. There is an increase, partly because of S.E.T. and partly because of increased pay and prices but at least £3 million is because of increased research on nuclear propulsion techniques and weapon systems.
§ Mr. Burden
How does S.E.T. affect the Vote. Who must pay S.E.T. among those who might be engaged in this?
§ Mr. Mason
I think that it is because of the civil employees of the Navy. Consequently, all the Services must carry a percentage of S.E.T. in their Vote this year.
A number of hon. Members mentioned the future of nuclear propulsion—the hon. Members for Haltemprice, Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke), my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) and, indirectly, the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden).
I am glad to see that some of the remarks I made last week when I went to Rolls-Royce, at Derby, have attracted attention. We now have a very big building programme of nuclear-powered submarines; the first two Polaris boats, "Resolution" and "Renown", have been launched, the first two Fleet submarines, "Dreadnought" and "Valiant", are in commission, "Warspite is nearly ready for acceptance, "Churchill" and two more are on order. We are looking ahead to submarines incorporating an improved reactor plant.
Rolls-Royce and Associates and Rolls-Royce, Nuclear Department, at Derby, design and procure the nuclear propulsion plants for us and manufacture the 616 nuclear cores. In all those activities they have very remarkable achievements to their credit already, although they are comparatively new in this business, including the completion and successful running of the nuclear propulsion plant at Dounreay as well as in submarines.
As for the future, they have succeeded in improving their designs to such an extent that the new power plant on which they are working is expected to have twice the life of the present plants in our submarines, with obvious benefit to submarine deployment. These developments make it quite sensible to look again at the possibilities of putting nuclear plants into surface warships. In such a short time this is a remarkable achievement which should be applauded. We got the nuclear know-how from the Americans in 1958 and in this short time we have developed a new nuclear core, core B, which can lengthen the life of submarines at sea between refits to double what it is. This means that we can think about putting it to service on surface vessels.
Here considerations of need and cost come in. We have to make sure that the future Fleet is going to need nuclear propelled surface ships before we can go far along the road of development of surface plant. This is something which will depend on the studies still going on and which my right hon. Friend has described. What was mentioned by the hon. Member for Haltemprice about the headquarters ship is also bound up with that study.
Another point about this particular programme, the Rolls-Royce and Associates programme producing this new core, which pleases me very much, is the good effect it is having on a wide field of related industry. About 40 firms are involved in the nuclear plant procurement programme which means that Rolls-Royce's world famous standards of quality assurance are spreading through these fields. This is one of many examples where the defence or research programme is proving a worthwhile investment for the British economy generally.
§ Mr. Burden
There is, of course, another area in which there has to be concern about safety. Will the hon. Gentleman say a word about how safety has also been improved with these new units?
§ Mr. Mason
I do not think that the hon. Member should be unduly concerned about this. The Americans have already nuclear surface naval vessels as well as many underwater nuclear-propelled vessels, we have four Polaris coming along and six hunter-killers. Our minds are already being conditioned to the fact that they are safe.
The hon. Member for Haltemprice asked a number of questions about hovercraft. We are, of course, interested in the application of hovercraft techniques, including application to larger vessels, and we are keeping in close touch with the Ministry of Technology, which is responsible for the techniques involved. Two hovercraft have been ordered. We are currently evaluating this material, and are considering a design study for a small hovership. I was interested when I went to A.R.L. to find that research was being carried out into the possibility of a hovership. There could be great potential there.
The Type 82 mentioned by the hon. Member for Haltemprice is a ship of the planned size because it incorporates not only Sea Dart but also Ikara, Broomstick and Ada equipment. We could have a smaller hull if there were Sea Dart and not Ikara. As for the aircraft carrier, I understand that for it to be really cost-effective it would have to be at least a 50,000-tonner and would cost £65 million or more. This would be too expensive. No current research and development expenditure is going on on such a hull.
The right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) has asked about the efforts we are putting into oceanography. He mentioned the American oceanography programme. I think that most hon. Members would accept that we cannot seriously claim to match this sort of standard although, of course, we benefit from the American programme in the exchange of information.
There is not much I can properly say on this Vote about British oceanography because, as hon. Members are aware, the National Institute of Oceanography is now the responsibility of the National Environmental Research Council and all that part of the national programme to which the Navy Vote used to contribute a large share is now borne entirely on 618 Civil Votes. However, we still have a very strong defence interest in oceanography for defence purposes which is covered by an Oceanographic Branch in the Hydrographic Department and by the recently reconstituted Oceanography Group at A.R.L., Teddington. These work in close contact with the National Institute of Oceanography. Overall the scale of effort in this field is growing, but it is limited by the national shortage of physical oceanographers. We are intending to keep up the pressure to find them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) and the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) mentioned the civil application of defence research. I am particularly keen on this. A great deal of work done in naval establishments could have valuable applications in the civil field. Bearing in mind especially the comments published yesterday about liaison between universities and Government research establishments, I would emphasise that naval research covers a very wide spectrum and time-scale from bright ideas which may have applications 20 or 30 years on to post design of equipment already in service. The trouble is that much of this work, as I say, could have very valuable applications in the civil field, but present arrangements for ensuring these are rather varied and not all of them are very effective.
At present, the machinery for spreading knowledge of naval R. & D. includes contractual arrangements like those for Co-ordinated Valve Development—C.V.D.; the National Research Development Corporation—N.R.C.D.; selling, lending or giving away particular information or devices; and various methods of linking R. & D. with industry. These methods vary a good deal in effectiveness, C.V.D., for example, involves 12 major firms with our R. & D. establishments; we benefit from the work done, so does industry, and Navy Votes profit in return for commercial rights to exploit new advances. In many items of the programme, the firms concerned make a special contribution, but other methods are less satisfactory and I am already satisfied that this is a subject for examination.
Let me give some actual examples of civil application of defence research: 619 one a success story, and the other the reverse. The success story is a neutron source developed at the Service Electronics Research Laboratory—S.E.R.L.—Baldock, for defence purposes. This does not sound the sort of thing that could have a useful civil application, but it happens that there is growing interest in the use of high intensity fast neutrons for the treatment of cancer. The theory behind this belief stems from the fact that some malignant cells are difficult to destroy by treatment with X-rays or gamma radiation, but that they are more susceptible to damage by neutron irradiation. The neutron source produced at Baldock is now being developed to produce an experimental prototype of a kind of source which could be used for cancer treatment.
As far as we know, no other work in this field is going on in any other country, so that it looks as if we might achieve a break-through in treatment here. I do not need to emphasise how much this could mean in human terms, the curtailment of suffering and possible saving of life, quite apart from the obvious possibilities of domestic and export sales if everything turns out as we hope. One could not have a better case of making the best use of a piece of research and development begun for purely military purposes. S.E.R.L. is working with two firms and Manchester Hospital in this rather exciting development.
The other example is a device developed at the Admiralty Research Laboratory—A.R.L.—Teddington, to prevent the onset of cavitation corrosion in diesel-engine piston liners. Having talked to the scientists on the spot, I have experience of this. This most useful device was made available to industry through the National Research and Development Corporation—N.R.D.C.—but no one in Britain has so far showed enough interest in it to take it on. This is a case of failure to make a civil application, through no fault of the defence establishment.
In this second case, the N.R.D.C. and the A.R.L. have tried for eight years, during which N.R.D.C. has held the patent, to interest British industry, and only one firm got so far as to ask what royalty would be payable. We are still trying to encourage someone to make an 620 offer for the licence, but the results so far are disappointing. This is work done to lengthen the life of diesel propulsion units for the Navy—with a direct civil application, but not yet grasped by our diesel engineering manufacturers. This is not a give-away and I hope gradually to establish that our defence R. & D. establishments are not to be at all times regarded as a milch cow for industry: rather there should be a higher degree of co-operation and, where possible, a fair return for work done.
What can we do to improve matters? It seems to me, at first sight, that there are several sizeable obstacles to making more and better use of naval R. & D. for civil applications. To some extent defence security causes difficulty but much less than is thought. So far as this is concerned, I intend to encourage wider use of the "open days" which are already a feature of several of the establishments I have been to, and more frequent professional seminars held on particular subjects at which scientists of related disciplines can discuss current affairs. I find that our scientists are not really too inhibited in this field, and restrictions are, so far as I can judge, applied only where they are absolutely necessary. However, exchanges of this kind should be encouraged.
Another obstacle, which I think is a harder one, is commercial security, coupled with a definite lack of interest and organisation in some industries. I suppose that it is quite reasonable for an industrialist to consider that information supplied from a Government establishment, which is free to everybody, is not likely to be of much value to him personally. On the other hand, a valuable application is much more likely to be exploited for the profit of a particular firm, and the benefit is not widespread.
Here, I think that what is needed is to encourage more people in private industry to become aware of what is going on, in the hope that as they take a more active interest, they will develop further for civil uses some of the work which is started in aid of the defence programme. Britain's resources of qualified scientists and technologists are scarce, and we have got to make the best use of them.
Now I would like to deal with a problem very much on my desk, that 621 of cost escalation and cost control. There is a tendency for the costs of research and development programmes to escalate, even in the best regulated establishments. This is a most important matter, because value for money is crucial, and if costs tend to rise during research and development, the price of production too is going to escalate. It is no good our producing the best equipment of this sort if it is too expensive to give our own Services enough of it, let alone sell it to our friends.
For this reason, if ever I visit the establishments or the firms engaged in the defence programme, I give them the message that we have got to curb the constant tendency for weapon projects to escalate in cost during research and development through to production. If the price is right, then the firm will work itself into further orders. If not, we shall go elsewhere—price is the paramount consideration.
My chief adviser in the projects sphere is Sir William Cook, the Chairman of the Weapons Development Committee, and he and I intend to subject every defence R. & D. project, new or existing, to the most stringent examination of cost-effectiveness. If the project fails that test at the R. & D. stage, it will not go through to production. But if we can secure real cost-consciousness at an early stage and carry it through to production, then Ray Brown, the Head of Defence Sales, and I will help to the limit to sell that equipment to our friends.
It is in the interests of the Defence Department, as much as of industry, to secure longer production runs by sales which keep down the price to us, and increase profits for the firm. What is good business for me as Minister of Defence for Equipment will be good business for the firms as exporters—and, I think, good business for the taxpayer, which is where the money comes from in the first place.
This is a new job of mine. It has not been tackled before; we have never had a Minister of Defence for Equipment. I am the Government agent, or the customer, which will mean, and has already meant in some instances, talking toughly to our suppliers. Some would 622 describe me, although I hate the term, as a trouble-shooter. In the past I have keenly felt the necessity for this type of job to be done. It may prove difficult, but with the support of the House there is no reason why we should not succeed.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles
It really is astonishing, having sat here all day, to hear this discussion on defence matters wound up by an Under-Secretary who is responsible for the equipment of our forces and who, at a very rapid speed, dismissed the aircraft carrier in just one sentence. "Oh", he said, "that would cost us £65 million. No, we cannot consider that". Not, be it noted, "We do not need one". Not that it is not necessary, because everyone concerned with defence affairs knows very well that this is the one type of ship which will secure the possibility of our carrying out the declared policies of the Government in the Far East.
This is dismissed with a wave of the hand, as being too expensive. We have had all this astonishing stuff about civil applications, and nothing about the forces and this ship which the Government must have. This subject has been debated regularly during the last couple of weeks. We have constantly asked that there should be consideration not of a £65 million carrier, but of a cheaper carrier, which would be able to carry seaborne air power. This is what we want to hear about, rather than the sort of stuff that we have had.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That a sum, not exceeding £34,655,000, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund, to defray the expense of scientific services, including a subscription to the International Hydrographic Bureau, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1968.