§ 2.52 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH rose to call attention to the Explanatory Statement on the Navy Estimates (Cmnd. 949); and to move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, may I say at the outset that I am sure your Lordships will welcome the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, the First Lord of the Admiralty, is here to see after his business, at any rate, and that he will be defending, for the first time, the Report of the First Lord and the Estimates of the Admiralty. I hope that from now on he will make a great success and achieve some real progress in matters connected with the Navy.
§ I am sure we have all read the Report of the First Lord of the Admiralty with very great interest, but, however sincere our interest has been, I am afraid that there are still some of us who, in present-day circumstances, approach the Navy Estimates with a fair amount of sadness. It is difficult to get into the minds of people like myself that we can sit back at a time when people are talking about the independent deterrent, when people are wondering what the course of armaments in the world is likely to be, and when the Leader of the Liberal Party in another place urges the country at large to remember that we are no longer in the top class; it comes very hard to those who know the history of, and have worked with, the Royal Navy to feel that apparently we are relegated to that kind of approach and situation.
§ I hope that the sadness may be relieved to-night by some answers that the noble Lord, the First Lord of the Admiralty, may make to the debate as to the real strength of the Royal Navy at the present time, and what he may say on the very widespread and general plans that the Board of Admiralty usually have before them from time to time. Our situation is not at all the kind of position that was put to me by the Secretary of State for the United States Navy in 1943. We had a most wonderful visit, and great interest was shown in our past and future by the late Mr. Frank Knox, himself a great newspaper proprietor, brought up, I suppose, mostly on the business side in Chicago and yet probably the best Secretary of State for the United States Navy 1222 in the course of that last terrible and tragic war.
§ I remember entertaining Mr. Knox at the Royal Naval College at Greenwich during his visit, when he made a magnificent speech which unfortunately, in those days of security, could not be printed and repeated. But I remember his saying then—and he was speaking as American Naval Secretary—that one fact stood out in modern history: that the White Ensign had kept the peace of the world for a hundred years and that in that time the world had been free from anything approaching a major war, but that in the circumstances in which he was speaking on that night, in the midst of the strain and with the certain financial indebtedness that this country would have to meet after the war, it was absolutely right for the Americans to consider that in future the United States must always take upon themselves the burden of sharing the defence of freedom in the world, which has for so long been so large a part of the task of the Royal Navy.
§ When I think back on those days I wonder whether Mr. Knox could possibly have foreseen a time when we in this country should be looking at an Estimate of £397 million—as we are for 1960–61—when, at the same time, last year's Navy Estimate in the United States of America was 11,320 million dollars—something a long way over £3,000 million; indicating that the share of the cost of naval defence to be undertaken by the two principal N.A.T.O. naval Powers is in the ratio of 10 to 1.
§ That is a pretty extraordinary story, and I very much doubt whether the late Mr. Frank Knox would have had in mind a vision of that kind. Nevertheless, it always behoves us, when we come to examine an estimate of this kind, to recognise the facts. It is not the case that the Admiralty are now coming forward with a reduced Estimate in line with general national economy. The Admiralty come forward with an increase on last year, I believe, of just about £27 million; and, of course, I find it rather difficult to accept the conclusions put forward on page 9 of the Explanatory Statement (they are printed in italics, so that more special attention may be drawn to them), under the heading, "Twenty years of Change".1223
§ There must be many naval critics at the present time who doubt very much whether, in every respect in our present and possible future naval armaments we are keeping pace with those of the rest of the world. We cannot say definitely that we are not for we do not really know. In these days it is difficult to say. There was a time when in peace time we had a Blue Book published called Fleets, from which we were able to compare with a reasonable amount of certainty what were the current strengths of the respective international navies and what were the programmes of construction; what was the likely outcome in what I might call the general support of diplomatic policy from the respective strengths of this international character. But now we have no such real information. If we want any information I suppose we are likely to be referred to the rather different type of editions we get of Jane's Fighting Ships. There is the fact that publication of a Naval Annual has now ceased, and we get instead a "mixed grill" called Brassey's Annual from which we pick out different facts from different places about the different services which have to be provided for.
§ Nevertheless, we do get from that rather "mixed grill" in Brassey's Annual to-day certain information. And one thing we find is that the present strength of the United States Navy appears to be altogether about 864 ships—though I doubt very much whether they have included in that list of ships some of the very small craft such as were included by the Financial Secretary in another place on March 7 when he said that we had 147 ships in active service. That seemed almost to include four small coastal boats. But there we are. They have 864 ships and 7,200 aircraft; and the Active Fleet will consist of 14 attack carriers, 14 cruisers, 338 frigates and destroyers and 113 submarines; and their personnel for that Fleet would be round about 630,000 men. We on the other hand are reduced to the old pre-1929 standard of a personnel strength of 89,000; and nobody of course can compare like with like because you could man a much larger number of ships with a given number of personnel in those days than you can now.
§ But when we think of the active ships that the United States are manning at 1224 the present time and the extent to which (different from their pre-war practice) they are maintaining operational fleets or task forces, as the case may be, not only in the Atlantic as part of "Saclant" but also operating in the Mediterranean—and, of course, they have their own Far East forces; and I look at the fact (which did not seem to be denied the other day in the debate in another place) that, of our 89,000 personnel in the Royal Navy as such (I am excluding the Royal Marines from that figure for the moment), much more than 50 per cent. are shore-based, it seems to me to be exceedingly unfortunate that there should be such a large proportion on shore and such a small proportion actually afloat in seagoing ships. I think that only about 35,000 are in fact afloat. In these days, when we have a limited number of ships—and, whatever may be the future, the Navy will have to carry out sea tasks—that seems to me exceedingly unfortunate.
§ I should like to have the view of the First Lord of the Admiralty about that aspect. In these questions I am not making any sort of personal attack. For one thing, the noble Lord has not been very long in the Admiralty to look into all these things, and no doubt there are considerations and changes going on all the time. But I submit that in present circumstances, when we shall have more and more to resort to the smaller ship in order to deal with what are likely to be the main tasks of the Navy in the future, it is all the more important that a far larger proportion of our personnel should be at sea, under training; for in war time, in those circumstances, they will have to be constantly diverted into all kinds of different tasks, in small craft, in the lighter ships as well as in the aircraft carriers and the other classes of ships. I hope that some attention may be given to that.
Then I should like to know what are the main dynamics behind our naval policy to-day: what are we really preparing for? I have read the Report with great interest, and I see certain things outstanding with which I have no quarrel at all. I am not criticising the basis of the Report, but I find an absence of the kind of summary that Admiral Arleigh Burke put to the American Senate Defence Services Committee last year. There we had a summary which,
as I see it reprinted by Admiral Schofield, is fascinating to me in its brevity and in its all-embracing outlook. He told the Senate Committee that he found it exceedingly difficult to strike a balance between the forces capable only of mass destruction and those which can also be used for limited warfare, and therefore he proposed the following action.
(a) To modernise the carrier-cum-Marine landing force which is of greater value to counter the threats of limited war in many parts of the world.
And, of course, I must concede at once that we have made a start with that with the "Bulwark". But two years ago we were urging in another place that we ought to be well on at least with the second N.A.T.O. carrier. We have not got that yet.
Second, said the Admiral, action should be taken:
To improve measures for the conduct of anti-submarine warfare.
Now, we have pursued a good deal of work in the Admiralty since the war for dealing with anti-submarine work, and no one would desire to withhold any reasonable tribute of praise about it. But is the provision adequate? I repeat, is it adequate? I have looked at the list of ships which the First Lord presents in this Report and I find among what might be termed anti-submarine vessels a total of 132. And of these the number actually serving at sea and in training is just over 50. More, when I look at the list of the ships which I think is headed "Under repair or in reserve" I find that some of those anti-submarine ships are exceedingly old. I dare say that some of them have been refitted from time to time. The Admiralty does a much better job, when it has the money to spare, when it really puts some of these ships into reserve and keeps them fit, as I found, to my great help, in 1940. But the fact remains that we have in our anti-submarine forces all the vessels of the "Black Swan" type and, indeed, those of the "Bay" class which were being built and launched in my time, in the last war. Some of them are approaching such an age that I am tempted to ask the First Lord whether he will tell us to-day, out of the list of ships under repair and held in reserve, how many they intend to scrap. That should apply, of course, not only to
anti-submarine vessels but to some of the other categories as well.
§ Returning to the second point made by the American admiral about improving measures for anti-submarine warfare, when I consider in general the subject of "Saclant" I find it disturbing to see that we do not seem to get for the information of Parliament—and indeed, I hope, for the whole general public—any real detail as to how our forces, naval, military or air, are being fitted into the joint Defence Alliance, for whose initiation, in the form which is now described as N.A.T.O., the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the Labour Government was responsible. If we are to have confidence in what is actually being done, and if we are to have respect for the amount of money or the number of personnel accorded to the three Services, we ought to know how they are fitting in with the other Services, and whether the arrangements are turning out to be satisfactory and progressive.
The third point made by the American admiral was:
To contribute to the deterrent force of the United States by bringing the Polaris project into operation.
On that point I felt very unhappy when reading the debate in another place of March 7, because the questions were not answered. To-day all classes of the community are pretty worried about what should be their summing up and decision as to what they support and what they do not support as a result of the changes which have taken place in the general aim that the Government have of providing always an independent British deterrent. Some people hold one view, some people hold another. I have delivered my view to the House before and I repeat it: I do not want to be associated in any way with those who, in some war of the future, might find themselves in the position of having to send Britishers into battle inefficiently equipped in relation to the equipment accorded to the men against whom they have to battle. I think that that is a vital and very important thing. That is why I always say that the Government should never forget that it is their duty, and their duty alone, at such a time as this, to put first the proper and adequate defence of their citizens.
§ I therefore make no bones now about saying that I was sad when I read the debate in another place. I want to know now the exact position as to the statement made eighteen months or two years ago: that, so far as we were concerned, the Polaris was "out". I have heard it repeated in a number of circles quite recently, and I want to know: what is the position? When it came to the matter being debated in another place a few months ago, there seemed to be uncertainty as to whether it was in or out. We were told at one time that the Polaris, which is so thoroughly recommended by this American admiral, was likely to be made the basis of an offer to us "without strings"—they, I think, were the words actually used at the time. Therefore, if we have a plan for a naval method of carrying such an instrument as that to the proper place whence it should be despatched, then it could be of very great potential value and service.
§ I should like to know exactly, if I may, from the First Lord of the Admiralty, what is the present situation in regard to the Polaris, and the likelihood of its being adopted in any form. And, if it is adopted, what kind of use is likely to be made of it? Is it to be by submarine, cruiser or aircraft carrier? What form of use is likely to be adopted? I think we really ought to know that in these days, when we have to get the clearest possible thought we can, not only in discussing these matters face to face over the Table, but into the minds of the general public, who will themselves have great decisions to make when they come to vote on issues of the kind we have been discussing.
Then, the last and fourth point in this short summary is that the American admiral says:
To make up for the reduction in the effectiveness of overseas bases by a wider use of naval forces.
I thought that that was a very important statement. I look at the situation to-day and compare it with, shall I say, eleven years ago—the last time I made anything like a world journey in the interests of defence. What was our situation then? There was a base at Gibraltar, which is still there; there was a full naval dockyard base and military and air base at Malta; there was the base in Libya; there was the base at Alexandria; there
was the air base at Habbaniyah in the Arabian Desert; and another base at Basra. Incidentally, I have hopped over the very different position from a military point of view that then existed in Transjordan. We still have small air stations; and I should like to know whether we still have a senior naval officer in the Persian Gulf. I cannot tell it from the Report, or from the Estimates, but there was a very tiny visiting place there for the senior naval officer; it was nothing more than that.
§ At Behrein there is an aerodrome, and there was an air base at Sharjah, in the middle of Arabia. You could do almost anything that you wanted at any time there. Then there was a base at Karachi, and another in South India; we had a great naval station at Trincomalee, and an air force base and an aerodrome of importance in Ceylon, and so on. What is the situation of bases now in relation to that? And if we really admit the position which has arisen from our either withdrawing or being turned out, as the case may be, from these bases, how are we going to formulate our naval, military and air policy for the future?
§ I must say that I am exceedingly attracted by this fourth point of the American admiral, because at the end of the last war, although we had not to face a nuclear weapon at that time—and that has always to be remembered and taken into account—we could never have given the assistance we did in the final stages of the war unless we had been able, out of the brains and the experience of sea-going officers at the Admiralty, to form a Fleet Train to take the place of bases. We had not got full control of Singapore when we planned it, and the Pacific war might have gone on for very much longer than it did; but there it was; we had this alternative.
§ If we are going to face this continuous absence of the chain of bases throughout the world which we used to be able to enjoy and to use effectively for our world influence—influence which I think has always, in the main, been directed in the best possible way—then it seems to me that one alternative is to have a very much more mobile naval policy than we have, even at the present time. I am not suggesting that we have not a 1229 certain amount of mobility; not at all. A great deal of good work has been done in the last twelve months. I join with the First Lord in my tribute to the men at sea, especially those in the fishery patrol. Their work is of a very difficult and delicate nature. But often in the past the Navy has had to get the country out of rather delicate situations. It is not the first time, by any means.
§ Then, the visits that have been paid, which are not fully reported in the First Lord's Reports—they are not all in, so far as I can see; but I speak from my memory of what I have read in the Press—and some of the things which have been done in the way of bringing aid to this place and that (perhaps I have been a little out in my dates), bring, as usual, credit to the men, the ships and the aircraft of the Navy. I should like the First Lord to say how we are going to deal with what is obviouly an important policy for the Admiralty, and it is vastly important in the united strategy of N.A.T.O. If we are going to be permanently without bases which we have enjoyed for such a long period in the past, we must have a much larger provision for the wider use of naval forces to take the place of static garrisons and naval bases. I hope that we may get some reply from the First Lord on this matter.
§ I am concerned about whether we are keep abreast with every type of modern development and equipment. We find words of praise in the Report about the fact that at last a Sea Vixen squadron is afloat on a carrier. We have heard about the Sea Vixen for so many years, it is almost astonishing to wake up and find that it is on a carrier at last. It has been exceedingly slow. We have heard now for three or four years about the possibility of the NA.39 aircraft being available to the Navy. The R.A.F. rejected it but now apparently it is recognised by all air authorities to be a thoroughly good plane. But where is it at the moment? When is it going to be delivered to a carrier? We used to play a counting game as children: "This year, next year, three years, never." I hope we shall not be in the position with the NA.39 that we are in danger of being in with the Sea Vixen, because in view of the current modern developments of aircraft the Sea Vixen will soon be obsolescent. 1230 I do not say at all that we shall not be able to find certain uses for it, but in regard to the general pace of development in aircraft, it will soon be obsolescent. How soon shall we get the NA.39 for the Navy?
§ We have heard a good deal about the Seaslug. In what ships will the Seaslug be available, and when? Could we know that? I have looked through the Estimates, though I found it difficult to go through its many pages—I always found it a pretty difficult document when I was at the Admiralty myself. We hear a great deal about the close air defence weapon, the Seacat; but is there a ship at sea in which the Seacat is installed? I should like to know, because we have heard about it for such a long time, and if the Seacat is of the value put forward for it, then I think that it should be available immediately to the men who have to sail the seas. It is the same with regard to the Seaslug.
§ I have much more to say but I do not wish to bore your Lordships with any further details. My noble friends who follow me will pick up some of the points I intended to make but have not had time to make. All I can say to the First Lord is that I hope he will give us as many answers as he can. I wish the Royal Navy, and through them the First Lord of the Admiralty, success. I hope that they will show the world what I believe to be the case: that they are the greatest utilitarian force of all kinds that we can possibly have. We have had to send them on tasks which have nothing to do with sailing the sea, many and many a time. They have a versatility which is unmatched. I pray that, whatever may be the progress towards disarmament, we at any rate will never let our Navy down to such an extent that we are unable to deal with any naval situation which arises until there is widespread, inspected, acknowledged world disarmament. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.26 p.m.
My Lords, I am certainly not quite so pessimistic as the noble Viscount who has just sat down about the state of our Fleet. I think it is true to say that to-day the majority of our ships in the Fleet are modern and well-equipped, and of much greater capacity than they have been in the past. The noble Viscount raised the question 1231 of the number of men afloat. I think that I am right in saying that a year ago the proportion was about 38 per cent. It has now risen to 42 per cent., and I am sure we all hope that it will go on rising.
I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating the First Lord of the Admiralty on the excellent presentation of the Navy Estimates on this occasion. It is certainly a great improvement on previous years, and I am sure that most of us linked with the Navy appreciate the photographs which now appear. I only wish that the First Lord had more ships to tell us about and perhaps fewer on the disposal and scrapping list. I think it was only a few weeks ago that a Press report indicated that the Admiralty were proposing to sell 6 "Battle" class destroyers and 12 frigates. I should like to ask the First Lord whether he can confirm or deny this report. The Explanatory Statement on the Estimates indicates that we have 7 "Battle" class destroyers in the Operational Fleet and 14 in the Reserve. Why is it necessary to deprive our Reserve of these fine ships? Is it because the Admiralty have not enough money to keep them ready for short service? Could they not perhaps be converted into frigates, as we have done in the past with very many destroyers? And if their hulls are sound, is there any reason why they should not be re-engined? In addition, this Press report went on to indicate that 5 more destroyers were now on the disposal list—the "Chieftain", the "Consort", the "Concord", the "Cockade" and the "Comet". I hope that the First Lord will be able to give a satisfactory explanation of these rumours. It may well be that the older destroyers are now worn out and beyond repair, but I feel that we should be told the truth in these matters.
There is a great deal of disquiet in the country about the shrinkage of the Navy in number of ships. I would say that our Fleet at the present time is barely large enough to carry out our peace-time commitments, let alone our commitments in time of war. I suggest that we must not forget that quantity, as well as quality, is essential in war. Surely it is a great mistake to run down our Reserve in small ships of the escort class 1232 at the present time, when our new programme for guided missile ships has hardly got under way. On the other hand, I entirely agree that in the atomic age it is useless to retain a Reserve Fleet which could not be equipped and put to sea quickly. In fact, I understand that the Admiralty policy is to look upon the Reserve Fleet as replacement for the Operational Fleet as and where necessary. It may be, of course, that the ships on the disposal list cannot be brought to a proper degree of readiness as operational ships at short notice. We do not know.
I should now like to turn for a few moments to the question of equipping the Fleet with Polaris missiles. Undoubtedly the submarine is the best firing platform there is, but why should missiles not be fired from surface ships, which could be deployed in suitable positions when war became imminent? I feel sure that ships for this purpose could be built far more cheaply than any submarine. Again, I see no reason why we should be committed to building the large American-type, 6,000-tons, atomic submarine, at great cost to us, carrying some fifteen Polaris missiles. Why cannot we build the conventional type submarine to carry perhaps one, two or three Polaris missiles—of course, at far less cost? These vessels, the conventional submarines, would be less liable to detection, owing to their size and, particularly, their quietness.
It has been suggested in some quarters that the missile-firing submarine has no possible use outside total war. This is quite untrue. The United States atomic submarines coming into service, in addition to carrying Polaris, are equipped with four 21-inch torpedo tubes which can fire ordinary torpedoes; and they are also fitted with a new anti-ship surface missile, known I think as "Subroc", which starts as a torpedo and then continues above the surface. I wonder whether we on this side are experimenting with that type of weapon. I suggest that we must press on with the design and construction of some intermediate-size submarine to carry two or three Polaris missiles and torpedo equipment. There is no doubt that the survival of surface ships is becoming more difficult year by year against the progress and accuracy of the ballistic and guided missiles. I would say that everything 1233 is now pointing to the fact that we are moving towards a situation in which the only answer to air attack at sea is for the ship to submerge. I am sure that in the years to come we should concentrate on building up an under-water fleet which will replace the surface fighting ship as we know it to-day.
I should now like to turn for a few minutes to our N.A.T.O. forces. I would say—I may be wrong—that there seems to be a lack of co-ordination of supply for ships of the N.A.T.O. forces. I think it is true to say that each country must depend on its own supply system. In fact I believe that ships of one country find some difficulty in refuelling from supply ships of another. Then there is the much greater question: Is the N.A.T.O. High Command satisfied with our present naval contribution? Perhaps the First Lord can tell us a little on those matters.
I should like to congratulate the Government on the pay structure for officers and men, which has certainly gone a long way to make a contented Fleet. I believe that re-engagements are now higher than they have ever been before in the Fleet, and we now have a really good Regular-service Navy. Then I wonder whether the First Lord can tell us something about the proposal to provide another commando carrier. Sooner or later the present commando carrier, the "Bulwark", will have to go for a long re-fit. What happens then to our so-called "fire brigade" service in the Far East? It is well known that a commando carrier cannot carry out her rôle in safety unless she is provided with adequate supporting forces. The question is: have we those supporting forces available to support a commando carrier in the Far East, such as anti-submarine frigates, attendant tankers and so on?—what is at the present time, I believe, known by that rather un-English name "task force"; personally I much prefer the old name of "flying squadron". I suggest that one of the Navy's greatest needs is the replacement of its amphibious forces. We discovered our weaknesses in that direction during the Suez operation. I understand that to-day we have not got much beyond the design stage of these new craft. Perhaps we could have a little more information as to what progress has been made in that direction.
1234 I am certainly not despondent about the state of the Fleet. Undoubtedly the morale is high, and the ships are first-class in every way; but it may well be that more money may have to be devoted to the Navy if, as it appears, it will have to carry the ultimate deterrent in the shape of the Polaris missile. I would again stress how difficult it is to debate these highly technical matters of supply and operation of the Fleet in this age without full knowledge, which, for obvious reasons, cannot always be given to us. I do hope, however, that the First Lord to-day will tell as much as he can about the points that have been raised in this debate.
§ 3.35 p.m.
THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY
My Lords, after listening to the two preceding speeches I feel that I have nothing to say. I thought that the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition made a magnificent speech, and if there is any question of going into the Lobby, I shall certainly follow him. My intention is to speak only of a limited time—namely, the present time we are living in. It seems to me that in the past the Admiralty have tried to look too far ahead and to get modern too fast. I agree that the pamphlet called Explanatory Statement on the Navy Estimates is well got up and is attractive, although sad reading. What I consider is a great omission in this explanation is that nothing is given to weigh what the Navy is at present against what it has to face tomorrow, next week or the week after. At the present moment, in one way or another, we have many ships. Some, of course, are old; but old ships are not useless in war. I happen to have a view about this matter, because in the First World War for some time I commanded the oldest cruiser in the Navy, and she, with a lot of little ships, put the Lawrence revolution on its feet and started it off. Without those ships there would have been no possibility of the Arabs taking the coast ports and thereby allowing reinforcements to get in. I am afraid that the noble Earl, Lord Winterton, is not listening—
THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY
—but he will remember those times and could back up what I am saying: that 1235 without the naval force in the Red Sea there would have been no Arab revolution.
THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY
I mention that only because there are ships now which could very well be used for the purpose of submarine patrols and various other things. It is no good saying that a ship is too old. And even if she is too old, it is just as honourable to have a ship sink under you as it is to be sunk by gunfire. Every ship, in my opinion, has its value, if it can communicate with other ships, pass intelligent signals and fire a gun into a submarine. There is nothing to point out to the public and the countries interested that we may be attacked at short notice—and we must take this seriously after the Prime Minister's warning—by a number of submarines, perhaps four or five times as many as took part in the original German attack; and an attack will be delivered at the time of the enemy's choosing and in the locality where he chooses, not where we choose. Therefore, we get dispersion against concentration, and there is no question which will win. The whole idea seems to me to smuggle the ships out. As the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition said, we have had certain vessels paraded around us for the last three or four years. Is not that the case with these guided missile ships? Four times I think I have heard of these ships coming along. They have not come along at all. They have just been launched and, therefore, they are absolutely useless for the next year or two.
Several things were said about the Admiralty. I cannot say that I sympathise with the Admiralty. By doing away with all these ships I think the Fleet has been let down. I want to ask the House to consider this point. If the enemy have their submarines in position—and there is every reason to suppose they have—what will the conditions be like, say, off the South coast of Ireland? They were bad enough in the last war. They were so bad that we had to put the "Courageous" into the line to help, and lost her in consequence. Now we shall have hundreds of thousands of United States and Canadian troops to get across the ocean, and the sea will be 1236 studded with ships, and the losses will be very great. It will be three or four times as bad as the slaughter of ships and merchant seamen which went on in 1939 owing to our not having enough ships to protect them. Those ships and trained seamen are worth their weight in gold.
I have never heard anybody, except my noble friend Lord Winster, get up in this House and speak for the better protection of the Merchant Navy. The words of the late Minister of Defence were published by the Navy League Magazine, which does such excellent work in this country and to which not nearly enough attention is paid. There are pamphlets showing the various ships, called Our Diminishing Navy. The Navy has not increased since then, and that is a year ago.
I thoroughly endorse all that the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition has said, and also what the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, has said. I remember that four years ago the noble Lord was the first person I heard speak of Polaris and the necessity of getting bases afloat rather than fixed bases ashore. When I said just now that I did not congratulate the Admiralty, it is because I consider that we ought to have more ships. A great mistake has been made in thinking that a ship has to be condemned. Let her condemn herself, and let the bottom fall out. A predecessor of the Minister's talked about ships with rotten bottoms. You may say that because a ship is twenty years old you should rule her out. I have served in ships thirty years old, and they stood up to Pacific seas for a very long time.
§ 3.44 p.m.
My Lords, let me say, to begin with, that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, that the Explanatory Statement is most original in form and gives us a lot of helpful information. Naturally it does not tell us all we want to know, and with your Lordships' permission I should like to remark upon a few of the points that seem to me to require enlarging. In paragraph 23 we are told that most of the frigates now being built are designed as general-purpose frigates, whereas not many years ago, if I remember aright, it was decided that weapons and equipment had become so complicated that it was no longer possible to fit everything 1237 into one hull and, consequently, it would be necessary to build frigates to fulfil special purposes, such as anti-submarine, anti-air, radar pickets and so on. I should be very interested if we could be told what has caused this reversion to the general-purpose frigate. Has some new technical advance allowed us to fit all the requirements into one hull again? If so, so much the better. It will make for greater operational flexibility and we shall be much better off.
May I turn now to submarines? At the foot of the table on page 11 of the Explanatory Statement we are told that the primary rôle of our submarines is anti-submarine, and that the weapons they use are homing torpedoes. In passing, I wonder whether the First Lord could tell us if those weapons are proving generally satisfactory? It is a long time since I heard of them in any way. Dealing still with submarines, in paragraph 25 the new "Porpoise" and "Oberon" class of conventional submarines are described as having "high silent speed and exceptional manœuvrability." These are important characteristics when considering attacking enemy submarines and surface ships and, of course, when acting as targets for our own anti-submarine force. And when taking money into account, as of course we must, the Civil Lord said in the Navy Estimates debates in another place that six of these conventional submarines could be built for the cost of one of the nuclear type.
These are strong arguments for building a number of conventional submarines, but I think we should take care not to be carried away by the more modest cost of these submarines compared with that of the nuclear type. I understand that at present nuclear submarines are very noisy underwater, and clearly this is a serious handicap. But I should be surprised if our constructors and engineers do not before long find some remedy for this. Indeed, there is already a pointer in this direction, for the Civil Lord said in the Navy Estimates debate that the "Dreadnought" and her immediate successor were being equipped to hunt and kill enemy submarines and surface ships. So clearly the noise difficulty is on the way to solution.
And the Civil Lord said in the same debate that 1238the nuclear submarine, with its high speed and under-water endurance, has an immeasurably greater all-round capability"—that is, greater than the conventional submarine. I agree with him; for these characteristics are, in my view, completely overriding. Nuclear submarines can operate submerged and at continuous high speed for days, and even weeks, on end. To me this puts them in a class of warship that is likely to out-class all others. I had the honour of commanding conventional submarines for some years, and I have heard quite enough about nuclear submarines to know that if I were given the choice as to which I would command, I should not have the slightest hesitation in choosing the nuclear submarine. I believe that, taking into account the great difference in cost between the two types, we are adopting the correct policy in building both. But—and it is an important "but"—we must be very careful not to lag behind on the nuclear side. Already we are a long way behind the Americans—a round dozen submarines behind them, I believe. I do not mind that too much, but do not let us for a moment longer risk getting behind the Russians.
In paragraph 38 of the Explanatory Statement, under the heading "Research and Development", we are told thatImproved new experimental facilities will shortly become available for advanced research into the motion and control of ships at sea.I wonder what "motion and control of ships at sea" means in this context. It sounds to me as if some new substitute may have been found for admirals and captains; for so far as I am aware, up till 1959 anyway, admirals and captains were extensively used in controlling ships at sea. In paragraph 66, under the heading "Replenishment-at-sea Ships", it is stated that the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships are manned by civilian crews, and paragraph 67 says that a number of improvements have been made in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service with a view to encouraging crews to serve longer and so achieve that high standard of skill and experience that is so important. Three years ago, in the debate on the Navy Estimates, I suggested that these ships should be manned instead by naval crews. The advantage would be that the Admiralty would have firmer control, and this would result in more continuous and consistent training and, therefore, a 1239 higher standard of skill. And, further, although these ships are admittedly not warships in the strict sense of the term, they would provide additional sea-time for naval personnel, sea-time that is so important and so difficult to provide in these days of small Fleets.
In replying, the then First Lord told your Lordships that the Navy could not afford the extra cost of manning these ships by naval personnel, and that some of these ships, tankers in particular, were sometimes used commercially and that it was undesirable that such ships should fly the White Ensign. I agree that to man these ships by naval personnel would be more expensive, but I suggest that the increase to be expected in efficiency and the additional sea-time that would be provided to naval personnel would be worth the cost. As for tankers being used commercially, I agree again that it is undesirable that such ships should fly the White Ensign, but could not ships such as tankers which are likely to be used commercially be manned by civilian crews? The manning of Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships by naval personnel could be confined to those ships that work exclusively with the Fleet. The United States Navy has for years manned its Fleet Train ships with naval personnel, and so far as I know—and I think I do know—this system works very well indeed.
I now come to the last point I want to put to your Lordships this afternoon. It concerns the strength of our Fleet East of Suez—and I use this as an example, and one example only, of what to me seems the very inadequate size of our Fleets around the world at the present time. It is not possible to tell exactly from the Explanatory Statetnent what the actual size of this Fleet is going to be, but from paragraph 5 it is evident that there is going to be one carrier and one commando carrier. Then paragraph 6 states that there are only four cruisers, which are to be divided between the Home, Mediterranean and Far East stations. Suppose, for the sake of example, that only one of these cruisers is stationed East of Suez. We find then that our balanced Fleet East of Suez consists of 1 carrier, 1 commando carrier, 1 cruiser, with, I suppose, the necessary escorts and a few submarines.
1240 When considering the strength of this Fleet we must also take into account the Commonwealth naval forces in the area. It is not easy to discover exactly what they are but, so far as I can find out, as a maximum they might be 2 carriers and 4 or 5 cruisers. This sounds, and indeed is, a very handsome contribution; but we must remember that the countries that own these ships are as widely separated as Pakistan and New Zealand. Moreover, the interests of these countries may not always be identical with our own.
We must also take into account the size and extent of the area which our Eastern Fleet has to operate. From our main Fleet base at Singapore to Aden is roughly 3,600 miles; to Vladivostok it is 3,000 miles, and to Sydney about 4,500. If the Fleet happened to be at its base at Singapore when an incident occurred off the East Coast of Africa, the Fleet would have to steam rather further than from Southampton to New York before it could bring its weight to bear. It is no use, to my mind, saying that part of the Fleet could have been detached and sent over in anticipation. These incidents often blow up at very short notice and with little warning. Further, we have no reason to believe that this balanced Fleet of ours East of Suez is so large that we can afford to detach ships and send them 3,000 miles away from the main body they are supposed to be supporting. As I understand it, the Fleet consists, as I have said, of a carrier, a commando carrier, a cruiser and some escort forces. If we split that force and send part of it 3,000 miles away we shall be left with two weak unbalanced forces. Sometimes we may be able to afford this luxury, but at others I suggest that we certainly may not.
Take the case a step further. Suppose that the Fleet was off the East Coast of Africa and that an incident occurred in the New Guinea area. The Fleet would have to steam something like 5,000 miles, or further than from Southampton to Panama, before it could bring its weight to bear. As I have said, these incidents often blow up suddenly and with little warning, and to my mind there is little hope of reinforcing from home in time. Even if we had ships available, which seems highly improbable, we must remember that very 1241 likely they will have to go out the long way round, by the Cape. It could be said that as incident in the New Guinea area could be dealt with by the United States Navy or by the Royal Australian or Royal New Zealand Navy. Perhaps it could; but we certainly cannot be sure that it would. For political or other reasons those countries may not wish, or may not be able, to send their forces.
We hear a lot these days about "fire brigade" methods of dealing with incidents—quick and effective action to smother the flame before it spreads. I do not believe that our Eastern Fleet will be able to do this with any certainty. The area is too large; or, to put it the other way round, the Fleet is too small. I believe that two cruisers and two carriers, plus a commando carrier and escort forces, would be rather nearer the mark. In peace time such a force could normally operate as two self-contained balanced units, normally well separated but able to concentrate if required. A Fleet of this strength would be far better able to fulfil its traditional and highly important function of showing the flag in the vast area for which it is responsible, and it would allow better for periodical dockings and so on.
So much, my Lords, for incidents occurring in peace time. Now a word about war. Here I think we need only think back to the first fortnight of the last war. Your Lordships will remember that at the very opening stages the "Courageous", one of our few and most valuable carriers, was sunk at the entrance to the Channel. If the same thing were to happen again now, East of Suez, with the Fleet at its present strength we should at once have lost 100 per cent. of our carrier force and the main core of the Fleet. The argument I have put forward about the Eastern Fleet applies with even more force to our Fleet in the Atlantic, where without doubt we should be fighting for our lives against the main weight of Russia's 500 submarines.
The crux of the whole matter, of course, is money. It has been clearly set out in the last paragraph on page 9 of the Explanatory Statement that the task of the Admiralty in maintaining the strength of the Fleet is governed by money, coupled with the complexity of modern ships, the larger complements of ships, the in- 1242 creased cost of wages and ships and the reduced value of the £. Can we now afford more money for a larger Fleet? I am, of course, in no position to answer this overriding question, but I can say that if we do not afford it I believe we shall be taking a very grave risk. Until a year or so ago it seemed to me that the Navy was a little uncertain of itself and was taking a back seat. I believe that that phase is now, happily, past and that the Navy is once more ready to resume its proper place in the front line of our defences as soon as we give it the means to do so. As a first step in that direction I believe that we should increase our Eastern Fleet as I have suggested, and that we should embark on a much more ambitious nuclear submarine-building programme. If this could be put squarely to the people of this country, I believe that they would respond wholeheartedly; for I am sure that when the strength of the Royal Navy is at, stake they are as sensitive as ever they were.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I am sorry if I intrude a somewhat more critical view of the Royal Navy into this debate. I do so most conscious of the deep love for that magnificent Service that was evident in the speeches of my noble friend Lord Alexander of Hillsborough and of other noble Lords who have already spoken in this debate. I think it is difficult for a member of another Service to make criticisms, and when I do so I hope your Lordships will accept that it is because I believe we must look at our defence in a unified and wholly national way that I feel obliged at least to ask certain questions and to point to certain ambiguities and uncertainties which have existed for some years, and still exist, in the Government's presentation of the rôle of the Royal Navy.
But before I turn to them I should like to express my sympathy with the First Sea Lord and with the Royal Navy, in that that distinguished officer Sir Charles Lambe has so soon been cut short from his duties as First Sea Lord. He, like his successor, is an officer for whom those in the sister Service, the Royal Air Force, have a great respect. I may say that it is a source of some regret that Sir Caspar John will not be sitting alongside the Air Force out at Northwood in 1243 his earlier rôle. But certainly the Navy are to be congratulated on having such first-class men to lead them. I want to make my remarks not in any sense critical of the quality of the men, or indeed of the direction that they, as officers, give, or the service which they give as members of the Royal Navy. It is in questioning the fundamental rôle of the Royal Navy to-day that I want to raise certain points.
I was most conscious, listening to the speeches I have heard, of the extent to which we have come in these last twenty years—a distance which is not always apparent to those who are busy pursuing a course of action to which they have devoted a large part of their lives. The explosion of the atom bomb and, subsequently, the explosion of the hydrogen bomb have produced a situation which has totally altered the defence (if that be the right word) situation. I am one who, on the whole, perhaps more than some of my noble friends here and honourable friends in another place, accept the Government's view of the inevitability, if a world war breaks out, of the use of atomic weapons. I realise that with the collapse of the independent British deterrent—I do not propose to start getting into arguments on whether or not it has gone—the situation has in some ways changed, and the emphasis has moved to some extent back towards a greater emphasis on the importance of what might be called conventional war.
But, even allowing for that, I am still confused as to what, in the event of the break-out of major war, the rôle of the Royal Navy would be. I think it is of real importance to the Navy that they should be told. We had a number of statements in the 1958 Defence White Paper, which clearly set out that in peace time the rôle of the Royal Navy wasto help to carry out Britain's responsibilities in colonies and protected territories, to defend British shipping, and generally contribute by Her Majesty's Ships' presence to the maintenance of peace and stability; in limited war, to protect sea communications, to escort troops and supplies to the theatre of operations and give them support in action.—no doubt perhaps in the New Guinea area. The rôle in global war wasto make an effective contribution to the combined naval forces of the Western Alliance.It is in regard to the last statement that I am still unaware of what our rôle is.
1244 When we look at this year's Memorandum of the Admiralty and of the First Lord we see thatThe Navy must always keep abreast of technical advances affecting sea warfare; the quality of its ships, aircraft and weapons must match that of the other principal navies of the world. That is the basis of Admiralty policy, and the test in peacetime of its success is a comparison of what other navies have.This last sentence is, I think, a fundamentally unsound statement, which goes against what I should have thought was one of the earliest principles of war: that you do not make your own dispositions purely in order to conform with those of a potential enemy.
It is because I think we are in danger of doing this that I have felt obliged to rise to-day to make some of the criticisms that I have to make. I do not find this booklet a model of clarity; nor, I regret to say, is it one on which I should wish to congratulate the First Lord. There are statements which seem to me to be purely obscure on page 9, where we find that the main features of comparison areThe greatly increased capability to-day;then:The Cost of Increased Capability in terms of Complexity;then:The cost of increased capability in terms of cost.That struck me as a slightly obscure statement, and those of your Lordships who may not have read it will perhaps be able to understand the next sentence that I have to read, and the earlier one, where it is pointed out that the more elaborate equipmenthas greatly increased the maintenance load; and largely for this reason, ships' complements have to be more highly trained—and also larger, requiring better living conditions to be found from smaller space.I showed this sentence to a friend of mine and after a quarter of an hour we puzzled out what it meant.
In regard to the last statement:The cost of increased capability in terms of cost",the greater part of the paragraph is devoted to pointing out that cost in fact means that it takes longer to bring new ships, aircraft and weapons into service. I should like to ask the Government, instead of wrapping up these things in long and portentous phrases, to have 1245 simpler and clearer statements of the rôle of the Royal Navy, not merely in peace and in limited war, which I fully accept, but in the event of a global war. I believe it is not necessarily contributing to our security to do it in this way.
If the rôle of the Royal Navy is primarily that of keeping abreast of other navies, the question is, whch navies? It certainly will not be the Indonesian Navy with which we are concerned. If it is in terms of the Russian Navy, we must then be thinking of the possibility of total war and net merely in terms of limited war. The price we pay for this is very high, whether it be in terms of complexity or in terms of cost. The cost of these modern carriers is enormous, and the cost of refitting and of rebuilding is possibly even greater. This is a matter which I believe one of the Committees of another House will be looking into. The question we have to ask ourselves is whether the expensive refitted large carriers with very large displacements are in fact suitable to play a rôle in competition with many other defence weapons in providing for the greater security of this country.
I should like to question whether the concept of the Task Force is still valid. What task, in fact, are these Task Forces likely to have? Many noble Lords, both to-day and on other occasions, have referred to the anti-submarine rôle of the Navy; but we find a quite striking obsession with the strike rôle. Indeed, I would direct your Lordships' attention to the fact that much of the resources of the present-day Western navies, including the Royal Navy, are devoted not to anti-submarine work but to the strike rôle, and it is in the possibility of using these aircraft and carriers against enemy ports and installations that the only possible use for them can be found. I would ask the First Lord to confirm whether this is so. Practically none of the aircraft that I see listed on page 10 is of any use at all in the anti-submarine rôle. Neither the Scimitar nor the Sea Vixen is suitable for the anti-submarine rôle, and the only aircraft that seems to be suitable from the point of view of the Royal Navy and which they are likely to have is a helicopter; and we know that even to-day they have not got an all-weather helicopter.
Again, no doubt the N.A.39 will be most admirable (although I fear that it 1246 may be seriously out of date by the time it appears) as a strike aircraft of the old type—a subsonic aircraft. So far as I know, it is not capable of supersonic speeds and may have to operate against the much more modern aircraft of the Russian Air Force. I would ask when the N.A.39 aircraft are likely to come to the Royal Navy and whether they will have blown flaps and will be short take-off and short landing aircraft. On this particular point it is a matter of primary importance to naval aviation that they should be able to get aircraft able to take off and land at much lower speeds. But if we cannot have them, then I question whether we should not do better to have more smaller, less sophisticated carriers, carrying less sophisticated aircraft of the kind which were made (and were almost invented) during the last war—the escort carrier type aircraft—and whether we should not then have more suitable instruments for keeping the peace and for the limited war rôle than those on the shortage of which the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, expressed anxiety.
In fact, I would ask whether we are not putting too many eggs in these particular baskets—the large carrier, each with its own escort force and guided missile ships which have to be able to shoot down aircraft, and with frigates which have to provide escort to them. I seriously question whether that is the right strategy. I am conscious, in discussing these matters, of the extraordinary difficulty that to-day confronts the layman who is not possessed of the information and equally does not know the agonising thinking that noble Lords like the First Lord have to go through in considering the advice of their professional advisers and arriving at decisions. But I am concerned as to whether, by reverting once again to a separate Service strategy, with each of the Services—whether it be the Royal Air Force, the Army or the Royal Navy—competing for their own particular position, we may not be arriving at a compromise which is not giving this country the best defence we should have.
I would turn briefly to the anti-submarine rôle. I believe, and have always believed, that the Russian submarine strength is greatly overrated. We have 1247 heard about 500 submarines for the last fourteen years except on one occasion when the Prime Minister got a little more excited than usual and spoke about 1,000 Russian submarines; but that was some years ago. I do not believe that these 500 Russian submarines exist in a form that would make them seriously operational in the event of a major war. But that it not to say they have not got enough, not purely nuclear but high-speed battery submarines; and they may even have a few of the hydrogen peroxide high-test submarines. The real danger will not be from those or nuclear submarines but from the successor of the old Type 21 German submarine which, fortunately for this country, never came into operation before the end of the last war.
Again, in dealing with this particular danger which might occur, in the limited war rôle and could also conceivably occur after a major disaster and the use of atomic weapons, I should hope that the Navy will put much greater reliance on the use of aircraft now equipped with the much more efficient sonobuoy detectors which, at last, have been perfected to a much greater degree. I should hope that the First Lord would be pressing his right honourable friend to persuade the Air Force to give more co-operation than perhaps they are giving on that particular deterrent, if he really believes that the anti-submarine rôle is an important one.
I should like to turn very briefly to the question of the deterrent. In my view, the Royal Navy as at present equipped is not fitted or equipped to deliver the deterrent. I do not think we need argue about that. The fact that the particular aircraft which are mentioned are capable of carrying a nuclear bomb is not significant, I think, in the modern deterrent age. But I would echo what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham. I believe we tend to be a little obsessed by these extraordinary technological developments on the other side of the Atlantic and the belief that we must copy them in regard to the development of Polaris submarines. I do not know what are the arguments for and against putting a limited number of missiles of the Polaris type on to a medium-sized surface vessel, or whether such missiles are capable of being put on a conven- 1248 tional submarine; but if we are to continue playing our part in the deterrent, whether or not we adopt Seabolt and put it into an aircraft, I am sure that some should go to sea. In this matter I believe that we ought not to wait until we have a nuclear submarine, and I hope that the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty will perhaps be able to tell us something about that.
In this controversy with regard to the use of deterrents it is extremely difficult for any of us to judge. I believe Her Majesty's Government are finding it difficult to judge; and I do not blame them for that, because the difficulties are immense. But we have had some rather hostile anti-Polaris comments in the past, whether they have been made officially or at Press conferences. At any rate, on the whole Her Majesty's Government in the past have turned their eyes against Polaris, and we should like to know whether that weapon is likely to be coming back into the picture. Having said that I am not in favour of our waiting for a possible atomic submarine to carry Polaris, I am absolutely convinced that we must get into the atomic business at sea, in the same way as I am convinced that we have to get into the space business; and so far as the building of an atomic submarine will contribute to Britain making a development in this field, then I am in favour of it. But I doubt whether, in the short run, it is of very great significance to our defence in the concept of naval war to-day.
There are only two other small matters to which I should like to refer. I wonder whether the First Lord can tell us a little more about research and how far there may be new methods of propulsion, or indeed new types of ships; whether, in fact, the Hovercraft is ever likely to be used by the Royal Navy and whether hydrofoil boats, with which we have been experimenting for so long, are likely to become a practical proposition. I would express my congratulations to the Admiralty and the First Lord on what I hear so often from people about the very high quality of the research that they are doing.
There is one other matter to which I would refer and which, again, is a matter on which I should like to have the support of most of your Lordships. I wish to express my regret that Chatham 1249 barracks are to be reopened. I share the view of those noble Lords who said that they hoped that the greater part of the Royal Navy would be at sea. Obviously, we accept that to-day the "tail" and the ground part, whether of the Royal Navy or the Royal Air Force, will be increasingly longer; but I hope that the assurances that were given that the post of Commander-in-Chief Nore will not be revived will be maintained.
I would end on this note. I hope that my remarks with regard to the rôle of the Royal Navy in the event of an all-out global war will not be misunderstood. If they are misunderstood, then I would ask that the Government all the more should make clear what that rôle is. On an earlier occasion it was said in a Government statement that the Royal Navy was unlikely to have much of a rôle in the event of global war. If this be so, let us face that fact and let us consider defence from a national point of view. This country has depended so greatly and with such certainty for so long on the men of the Royal Navy that I think neither the country nor the men of the Royal Navy themselves ought to be deceived; and I hope, therefore, that we shall have a more forthright statement on the rôle of the Royal Navy in that third possibility than we have yet had.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ EARL HOWE
My Lords, it is always interesting to hear an expert from another Service criticising the Navy, but when he criticises the First Lord and the Government generally about the types of aircraft they have, I should like to ask him whether he has not forgotten the Gannet. He did not mention it, and I understand from those on various carriers on which I have been aboard that the Gannet is looked upon as being the most valuable machine both for general Service work and, if you like, for research.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Earl. I think that the Gannet is the kind of aircraft, on the whole, that might be more useful to the Royal Navy. But so far as I know, it is to-day used only for the airborne early warning rôle.
§ EARL HOWE
The thing that worries me and a great number of people about 1250 the Navy at the present time, as has really been said by other speakers before me, is that the Government have given no sort of idea of how the Navy is to fit into the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. The country has never been told. All we have been told, by a former Minister of Defence, was that the rôle of the Navy was uncertain. One could not help wishing to invite him to study history a little and see what the Navy has done in wars before. And one does not see any reason why the Navy should have other tasks allotted to it than that of seeing that the food comes in and that supplies and so on go out, if that is required.
I would beg the First Lord of the Admiralty, with all the power at my command, to make a clear statement which can be made to the country explaining exactly how the Navy of the present day and the future is going to fit in with the N.A.T.O. organisation: what naval commitments, if any, we have to fulfil to N.A.T.O. Or it may be in reverse: it may be that other countries have to assist us. At the same time, one must remember that they have their own problems, which may step up in the case of another war and may prevent them from helping very much in such a problem as the Western Approaches. I submit to your Lordships that the Navy outlined in this Explanatory Statement is really not enough to guarantee the safety of the Western Approaches, let alone to go East of Suez and all over the world besides. I feel that if only the Government could tell us exactly what the Navy is going to do and what its rôle would be in another war, it would be of great help to the country.
A great deal has been said about submarines this afternoon. A Press conference was held some time ago by the First Sea Lord and he said this:For the Navy's normal function, the protection of sea communications and fighting a war at sea—a limited war or whatever it may be—you do want an attack submarine, and this cannot be combined with the missile-firing submarine; the two are separate.We have been urged this afternoon to have more missile-carrying submarines. I wish we could. But I suppose the fact is that, the finances of the country being what they are, it would be quite impossible to multiply the "Dreadnought", if that were the type of ship 1251 required, several times. At the same time, the first Sea Lord went on to say this:If anybody were to ask me whether I would like to have all our submarine fleet nuclear submarines now, on the wild assumption that we could afford it, I do not think I would say yes at this stage…I believe there is a long future yet for the conventionally propelled submarine, particularly because of the high, silent, underwater speed.One must take that as being a factual statement; and, if that is so, does it not bring us to another problem altogether?—and this is the problem that I want to state so far as I can. The very last paragraph of this Explanatory Statement, is headed "By Scrapping", and underneath that heading there appear these words:One battleship, three cruisers, three destroyers, four frigates, three submarines and a maintenance ship have been approved for scrapping during the year.If the submarines are as valuable as the First Sea Lord said in that statement I ventured to read, is it not rather peculiar that we are going to scrap three submarines? It would cost a great deal of money to replace them, and it seems to me that to scrap three submarines, when we have so few anyway, is taking a very big chance.
There is another point, my Lords, that I want to deal with—it has been touched on already by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham. An Answer was given in another place recently to a Question upon the disposal of ships. First of all, may I say that when the Admiralty are going to dispose of ships, they never seem to tell the country that they are going to do it, or what ships they are going to dispose of. All we know is that a paragraph in some paper states that H.M.S. "Nonsuch" has been passed off to—shall we say?—Chile or some country the other side of the world. And those ships must be of some use, or people would not want to buy them.
This is what Mr. Orr-Ewing, replying for the Admiralty, said:Details of ships for which we could consider offers and of negotiations for the sale of ships are necessarily confidential between the Admiralty and potential purchasers.When ships are required for the Navy the Admiralty of the day come to Parliament and get Parliamentary sanction. But when ships are being disposed of, 1252 ought not this fact to be indicated and the details given to Parliament? It seems to me that when we are disposing of ships in quite large numbers this ought to be done. The Admiralty in the paragraph of the Explanatory Statement that I read, refer to three destroyers. In an answer given in the House of Commons to a Question it was stated that the Admiralty had decided to dispose of 6 battleclass destroyers and 12 frigates, in addition to other ships which it had already been announced were to be sold. That Answer was given some time before the production of this document; and for the Admiralty to tell us that 3 destroyers only are being disposed of, when in actual fact the Admiralty are disposing of 9, with the possibility of a further 5, seems to me to be misleading Parliament.
I should be very glad to hear if I am wrong about all that, and what the position really is; but it does seem to me wrong to dispose of 6 "Battle" class destroyers which were built only in 1945, at the very end of the last war, and are presumably still capable of service. They are only fifteen years old; and surely those ships (and here I entirely agree with, I think it was, the noble and gallant Admiral of the Fleet Lord Cork and Orrery in what he said) would be more valuable kept as a reserve to meet those calls which the Navy might have to meet in another war, rather than for them to be sold off to some Power in whom we have little or no interest at all. If the First Lord could give us some information about those points, I should be very grateful. But I am sure that the most important point of all is to tell the country what the Navy has got to do, and what sort of a Fleet it will have to do it with in the event of another war.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ LORD CONGLETON
My Lords, may I first apologise to the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough? I missed the first part of his speech through being detained elsewhere. When I read the present Explanatory Statement I must confess that I looked for a policy statement; and while I thought that the Explanatory Statement as presented to us was very clear and readable, I found that I had to go back to the previous Defence statement in order to find out what the naval policy was. From that, as I understand it, the policy to-day is that we 1253 should support N.A.T.O., S.E.A.T.O., and C.E.N.T.O.; and, as far as possible, keep the Royal Navy on that work and not on doing our own special defensive jobs. The basis for that, I accept, is that there is not enough money to do both; that we have undertaken these international agreements, and that those we must honour.
But it does seem to follow from that that there is less work being done within the Admiralty in co-operation with the whole of the British merchant shipping industry; and when the research and development side was taken away from the Admiralty and given to the Ministry of Transport (I think I am right in saying, a few weeks after the present First Lord took over the post) it seemed to come rather suddenly, and without very much reason. I should be glad if the First Lord could make some comments on that. I make that point particularly because I think that the development of the new types of ship and new types of engine which we must put in those ships, of both the Royal Navy and of the Merchant Navy, must go hand in hand. They are going to be expensive, but if the programmes are worked out together they will not be as expensive as they will be if they have to compete with one another. I will come back to that point in a minute and will ask a few particular questions on different paragraphs.
The Explanatory Statement covers the dockyard reorganisation in paragraphs 77 and 78. The new system of management in the Royal Dockyards is to go to Chatham, then to Rosyth, and one hopes then on to the other dockyards. I understand that this is working very well and that considerable savings and increased efficiency has come about in the dockyards: but when one looks at the annual naval appropriation accounts which are published in another place, but not here, there always seem to be some very rude remarks made by the Comptroller-General about the workings of the dockyards and about their budgeting. In the 1957–58 appropriations, I think the figure he was worried about was something like £6 million. In the 1958–59 appropriations, his figure is in fact not given, but he refers to minesweepers in particular; and, reading between the lines, and what he actually said, it would seem that in a year or possibly two years the whole of 1254 our minesweeping fleet might be out of action because of a budgeting error, or possibly because these boats were brought on too quickly; that the engines will become defective in that time and will not be capable of replacement. That is a point which the First Lord might clear up for us.
I am not quite sure how these comments are given effect to, whether they go to the Admiralty or whether they go direct to the dockyards; but it seems that, on a straight financial budgeting system, there is something still quite wrong. Is the First Lord satisfied that the new system of management in the dockyards will do away with this quite considerable censure which is liable to come out every year on people who, I am sure, are otherwise doing an excellent job, but who may not have the actual facts presented to them at the right time or in the right place? I wanted to refer to them in particular; but I should add that, if one goes on to the appropriation accounts for 1958–59, the Admiralty is handing back to the Treasury over £10 million. That, from the Admiralty point of view, must be satisfactory, in that they can say to the Treasury, "We have handed back £10 million". But to anyone who feels that the Navy as it is to-day is too small, it must be unsatisfactory.
I was taken to task for that particular point in our debate last year by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, when I suggested that we should do better to keep a larger number of ships, even though they be small boats, which could be used for a short period to fill a gap. His reply was that we must have either a small, modern, up-to-date Navy, or we must have a larger Navy which will be not up-to-date and not modern. My Lords, I accept that argument, and I will try to proceed from that. One of the essential things in building in peace time surely is to build ships which, if necessary, can be built quickly in war time. Are we building at the moment ships, however efficient and well-equipped they may be, that in the event of a hot war can be put in the hands of the dockyards and can be built in six months instead of taking three years to build, as at the present time? I feel that this is very important. Have we the prototypes on which expansion can be built? If we cannot have the ships now, let us allow for expansion.
1255 In paragraphs 41 to 43 of the Explanatory Statement the First Lord talks about the nuclear-powered ship. We have all heard of the nuclear-powered submarine. I feel certain that bulk cargoes will be carried on the sea and not in the air for a long time, and I am convinced as well that ships, instead of sailing on top of the sea, will tend more and more to go under sea. This would seem to be borne out by some information which I have been given from the Research Establishment. This establishment, so far as I know, consists of a dockyard. An assessment committee has been set up under the Galbraith Committee, whose original job was to assess the building of a nuclear-powered ship and of a unit to go into it. Tenders for this ship have to be in by July and so far as I know tenders have been received. It will take to October to assess the tenders as presented, but I have it from a member of the Committee that they are certain that one of these tenders will be suitable. They are convinced that they can build an economically running ship in terms of a 65,000 tons deadweight tanker as run to-day. But it will take money.
The facts as I understand them are that if £50 million is made available, in 3½ years from this autumn it will be possible to have a ship with an atomic engine which can do trials, and at the end of another three years it will be possible to put to sea a ship which will be an economic venture as a merchantman. The trouble has always been that in these ships the fuel cost is immense, particularly if enriched fuel is used. We have all read about the cost of running the American atomic submarine. I gather that there have been new discoveries and that it should be possible to put into a ship an engine with fuel which will cost in the first instance in the region of £1 million, but in which the fuel, when used up, can be taken out, recharged and replaced in the engine. It is estimated that the running cost will be £400,000 a year. That compares very favourably with the running of a 65,000-ton deadweight tanker, paying for oil fuel to-day. The point here is that the fuel is recharged and not lost, so that one finishes up with the original unit. I am sure that this is immensely important.
Following on from that, what is to be the strategic effect of this type of engine? 1256 I am certain that if it can be put into this type of craft, a similar type engine can be adapted to go into naval craft and submarines. That would mean an immensely increased endurance. Let us consider the position of the cruiser as we know it to-day. Ideally, a cruiser should be touring round the world, showing the flag, protecting shipping routes, putting down piracy and being used as a general "dogsbody" when required. But no longer would it be necessary to use such a large, possibly cumbersome, ship. A smaller one could be used and its endurance would be greater than that of the present-day cruiser.
Then what of the fleet train? I have been against all my seniors and betters for a long time in thinking—possibly quite wrongly—that in the present circumstances a fleet train is wasteful. But here seems to be the answer. We are no longer going to require an oil tanker. We have not only got rid of an expensive ship, but we shall also increase the endurance of our existing ships and get over one of the problems of our steadily lessening number of bases overseas. The dockyards and old coaling ports which we used to have will become less necessary. Whether it be possible to refuel these nuclear ships at sea is doubtful, I imagine, at the present time, but I cannot believe that it is beyond the ingenuity of our engineers to think of some device by which we can do this.
To me this picture is very exciting, but it will take seven years before the first practical nuclear ship can be produced and 3½ years before the prototype can be produced. From the industrial point of view, I am told that this will put us ahead of our only known competitors, which are the American works, who, of course, have a ship at sea already; and whether we should discount the Russians who also have a ship I am not sure. But as to how that should affect our thinking to-day is the question that I find so difficult to answer. We have on the stocks, to the best of my knowledge, one atomic submarine; and we have the remainder of our building programme consisting of frigates, submarines and destroyers. Beyond that, there is nothing. Those ships are very good and effective, so one is told; and one is led to believe by people who serve in them, a few of whom I know, that they are good ships to work with and they 1257 like them. But what is going to happen in the gap? We have now seven years to wait and there is apparently no programme. I am sure we should all feel much happier if we knew that something was going to fill in that gap, and if there is an intermediate programme we should all be interested to hear about it.
I am sorry to keep your Lordships so long, but there is one other point that is very dear to my heart and that is the question of the Navy going to sea. I think the last figures officially given were given by the Civil Lord in another place in March and, roughly speaking, they show that of the serving naval personnel 35,000 were serving at sea and 70,000 on land. I must join with other noble Lords who have mentioned the fact that it is no good having the finest ships in the world if the men who go in them are not seamen. There is only one way to learn to be a seaman, and that is by going to sea. It is sad to me when a brilliant staff officer finds that the first command at sea he will have, when he gets to post rank, will be a frigate or destroyer, because he then is in a position when he presumably must rely mainly on his junior officers and it may well be that they will have had more experience than he has. I have served under an admiral who was not a member of the Royal Navy, who had command at one time of a sea-going tug and later was executive officer second-in-command of an aircraft carrier. He had become an admiral. He was a brilliant staff officer, and very clever indeed, but he did not know the sea, and when it came to giving instructions to seamen who were in command of the ships under him, he gave the wrong instructions, and I am afraid his instructions were ignored. How that came back to him, I do not know, but the right things were done and the object was achieved. However, the instructions that he gave were not obeyed.
That, to me, is the basis of all mutinies, and if it starts in that way it is really very serious. I am quite sure that nothing like that is happening in the Royal Navy at the moment, because we are fortunate in still having the senior officers who have spent nearly their whole lives at sea, and shall probably continue to have them over the next five to ten years. But difficulties may start after that. On the whole, I think 1258 that is a criticism of the system, and it certainly is not a criticism of the personnel involved. If it is possible by any means to get all personnel who are in responsible positions to sea for longer periods, whether it be in merchant ships or in naval ships, I am sure it is of the greatest importance. I apologise for keeping your Lordships so long.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ LORD AMPTHILL
My Lords, I rise with considerable diffidence to intervene in this important debate, not only because it is the first time I have ventured to address your Lordships, but because it is difficult, as so many other noble Lords have mentioned, for us who are now laymen to form opinions which enable us to make constructive suggestions in our speeches. Unfortunately I am not in the same happy position that I was when I attended my first naval debate in this House some nineteen years ago. That was a secret debate on a Motion by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, whom I was glad to see in his place earlier to-day, and it was rather critical of the then Government's naval construction programme. At that time I was a serving officer, with an Admiralty appointment, and as part of my duties I had to familiarise myself with the construction programme. Therefore, needless to say, I did not feel that I could with propriety take part in the debate, which I remember well obviously caused the Government of that day a certain amount of anxiety.
The then First Lord, the noble Viscount who opened this debate with a speech which I so much admired, at that time sat in another place. So the noble and learned Viscount who then sat on the Woolsack, the late Lord Simon, was called upon to reply for the Government and to reinforce the Financial Secretary who sat in this House. To-day, as I have said, I am not in the happy position I was in nineteen years ago of knowing most, if not all, of the answers. Then I felt somewhat frustrated by not being able to take part in the debate; but to-day I feel rather frustrated because I have not enough information to make a really effective contribution to your Lordships' counsels. To-day the First Lord, I am glad to say, sits in this House, and I am sure he will know the answers to the 1259 few questions that I shall ask in the course of my speech; and I think and hope that he will be able to answer them without the assistance of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack.
The Memorandum we are debating is admirably produced, as many other noble Lords have mentioned, but it does not help us much. It is quite clear and concise as to the present state of the Navy, but does not give us much clue as to what is behind the Admiralty's thinking. Nevertheless, I feel it my duty to speak in this debate because, in common with many others, both in this House and outside, I am very uneasy about the state of the Navy. I hope that when the First Lord replies he will be able to allay this uneasiness, which is rather widespread. It is particularly disturbing that one meets so many retired naval officers and others who tell one that they would prefer it if their sons did not enter the Service. This is very bad for the Navy and very bad for the country.
Much of this feeling is, I am sure, due to the fact that none of us really knows what the Admiralty present policy is with regard to the training of naval officers. The end of the midshipman received much publicity not so long ago. The next thing we read was an appeal from the Admiralty inviting retired naval officers to hand in their dirks because it had been decided to bring in midshipmen again. This sort of thing, and the many other changes which have taken place in naval training in past years, have caused a great deal of uncertainty to all those who are interested in the Navy. I do not think I am alone in saying that I am not at all clear where we stand. The Memorandum tells us that 700 boys applied for a total of 72 scholarships. This is very satisfactory, but under the regulations the applicants must be between the ages of 15 and 17. It would be interesting if the First Lord could tell us whether the majority of the applicants lie in the lower or upper age bracket. Some of us think that the younger boys are keener to join the Navy than are the older boys. On the other hand, the Memorandum states that there is a dearth of suitable candidates for direct entry to Dartmouth at 18 years of age. Why this is so I do not know. I hope the First Lord can help us in this matter. It 1260 is rather a serious matter, because the direct entry to Dartmouth at 18 has, ever since just before World War 1, formed a valuable part of the officers in the Navy. It seems to me that the Explanatory Statement discloses a satisfactory state of affairs with regard to both recruiting and re-engagement of seamen and marines. I have heard on all sides that we are getting a particularly fine type of man at the present moment.
Before I leave this all-important question of officers and men, I must refer to the reserves, who are so important to the Fleet in time of war. I hope that the First Lord can assure us that the Admiralty will lean over backwards to help these reserves whose zeal and enthusiasm is unabated. They need every possible assistance to give them training at sea and training with modern equipment. A potential reserve, and also a potential source of valuable recruits, is the Sea Cadets. They, too, could do with some help from the Admiralty, particularly in the matter of boats. I mention these questions of manning first because I believe that without officers and men of the right type, adequately trained and led, and filled with keenness and enthusiasm, the best ships and equipment in the world will avail us naught.
As regards our ships and our construction programme—or rather our lack of both—constructive comment must be overshadowed by the fact, so clearly brought out in the Memorandum, that ships of all types now cost six times as much as they did in 1939. I shudder to think how much costs must have increased since those far-off days when those of us who thought we had too small a navy subscribed to the slogan, "We want eight, and we won't wait." To-day the question is, "Eight of what?", and, even more important, "How are we to pay for them?" The Memorandum points out that our modern ships have greatly increased capability, and it goes on to say that increased capability means far greater complexity. All this is very true, but increased capability cannot mean that numbers should be reduced to the extent they are reduced at the moment.
The world's oceans are very large, and our responsibility world-wide. Furthermore, there is such a thing as having too many eggs in one basket. I think we are 1261 in this position, particularly vis-à-vis our aircraft carriers, of which we have 4 in commission and 4 in reserve. The experience of the last War, both in European waters and the Pacific, show that these important ships are very vulnerable to both determined aircraft and determined submarine attack. Several noble Lords mentioned earlier to-day the case of the "Courageous". In this matter I have a good deal of sympathy with the probing questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. I suggest that our designers should concentrate their attention more on designing carriers smaller, simpler and cheaper than our existing ships. I fully realise the problems which arise from the increasing weight, size and speed of modern aircraft, but I think they can probably be overcome by the use of really modern techniques and materials. I think there is great virtue in what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said of examining very carefully what type of aircraft we want to carry in our carriers. There is great emphasis in the Explanatory Statement on strike aircraft, but I, for one, should like the First Lord to tell us what they are going to strike.
The greater complexity referred to in the Memorandum brings in its train its own problems. Not only does it mean an increased maintenance load, but it also means that it will not be so easy to repair quickly action damage. In my view, the increasing complexity of our ships is yet another reason for not having too many eggs in one basket. Therefore, when we come to build more aircraft carriers, I hope we shall keep them as small as possible, and certainly shall not be led into following the American example in building these huge, vast Argosies.
When we come to cruisers, the position can be described only as desperate. The bareness of the cupboard is made painfully clear in the Memorandum. What is even more disturbing than the current position, is that when the "Lion" and the "Blake" joined the Fleet this year, there appeared to be no plans—at any rate, the Memorandum discloses none—for further new construction. I hope the First Lord will be able to assure us that the staff requirements for the new cruisers, or whatever is to take their place, have been settled; that they will be shortly laid 1262 down and in a big enough batch to ensure that the fullest possible advantage can be taken of modern methods of construction, including prefabrication. If this were done, we might be able to get these new ships for something less than £9 million each. Rapid construction, coupled with low costs, will not be obtained, however, unless the Admiralty decide what they want and stick to it, avoiding the usual number of alterations and additions which normally occur during naval construction.
Other noble Lords have dealt with the all-important question of destroyers and escort vessels, without adequate numbers of which we cannot ensure the safe arrival of the convoys which we all agree are absolutely vital to the life and industry of this country. I should just like to refer briefly to minesweepers. It seems to me that we have built up a very adequate force of minesweepers, and that if we were faced with war in the immediate future we should start off, as we have never started before, with a really adequate force of minesweepers, or, at any rate, somewhere near it. And this is right and proper, because from the very outset of any new war we should be faced with a very serious mining offensive. Whilst in the good old days it was reasonably easy and reasonably quick to equip trawlers and such like with minesweeping gear, it is not so easy to equip minesweepers to deal with magnetic and acoustic mines. Therefore, I am very glad that the Explanatory Memorandum discloses quite a satisfactory position regarding minesweepers.
There are, however, two questions about minesweepers that I should like to put to the First Lord. One has been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Congleton; that is, the question of engines. I, too, have heard disturbing rumours that some of these craft have got to be re-engined. I have also heard they have to be fitted with stabilisers. I cannot imagine that stabilisers are being fitted in aid of the comfort of the crews. I imagine that, if it is true, it is because they are jolly bad sea boats. Perhaps the First Lord can tell us about that. If, unfortunately, either of these rumours is true, it means a considerable diversion of all too short funds to 1263 cover up mistakes in our designs. Lastly on the subject of minesweepers, I must point out that it is no use building up an adequate force of minesweepers to keep the swept channels clear if we have not the escort vessels to bring our convoys safely to the entrance of the swept channels.
It seems to me that the submarine will play an increasingly important part in the Fleet, and I am very disappointed that the "Dreadnought" has taken so long to get to sea. I hope that the First Lord will be able to give us some assurance that she will not be too long delayed. As an ex-submariner myself—though not of such recent and wide experience as the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne—I feel full of admiration for the American submariners, particularly after reading 90° North, which describes the voyage of the "Nautilus" to the North Pole, and more recent accounts of the nuclear submarine which has circumnavigated the globe. I must say I feel slightly envious and disappointed that British submariners have not achieved these feats first.
Despite my admiration for these feats, and despite what the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, has said, I still have my doubts whether we should sink too much capital in these nuclear submarines, and certainly in the very large ones. If Polaris or a similar weapon can be developed, it might be worth considering whether this could be carried by a conventional submarine. I should like to remind your Lordships that over 40 years ago we built three submarines of the "M" Class which each carried a 12-inch gun, with all its trappings. I never served in one of these "M" Class submarines myself, but I took a busman's holiday in one. They were excellent sea boats, excellent fighting boats; and I think that something of that size could very well carry a Polaris weapon with one or two reserves, but certainly not the fifteen reserves which I believe the American submarines carry. Moreover these "M" Class submarines carried conventional armaments, although in those days we did not talk about "conventional armaments"; it was just "armaments". They had six 21-inch torpedo tubes as well as their 12-inch guns.
1264 Perhaps I may now take up a few moments on the subject of "Bulwark", the commando carrier. So far as it has gone, this is a very valuable and interesting development; but I do not think it has gone quite far enough. We need up-to-date tank-landing craft and other landing craft to support her. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, who pointed out that one commando carrier cannot always be at sea, so that we should have another, or something else, as well. Whilst I am in full agreement with the conception of having our Royal Marine commando ship-borne and ready for immediate service, I wonder whether the conversion of "Bulwark" was the best way to do it. It means that we have sterilised one of our all-too-few aircraft carriers; and conversion must have cost a lot of money.
I am inclined to think that this money would have been better spent on producing three or four landing ships, tanks (L.S.Ts., as we used to call them), because even the war-time class of these ships were well known to be exceedingly versatile. They were not confined to carrying tanks: they carried wheeled vehicles, and some were converted to repair shops. They carried stores, and did a thousand and one other jobs. I can see no reason why the modern L.S.T. should not be capable of taking on, at quite short notice, the job of acting as repair-and-maintenance base for helicopters. I believe that if these new L.S.T's I have mentioned had the necessary speed and endurance they would form a very valuable part of our Fleet and would be able to carry out more than one duty, and more than just the duty of carrying tanks. The Royal Marine commando would, of course, have to be carried in a different ship. I can see no objection to this, and I think what we used in the war to call a landing ship, infantry, a small passenger merchant ship, would be very suitable—and, incidentally, much more comfortable for our gallant Royal Marines, who are crammed between decks in the "Bulwark".
There are many other matters arising from the First Lord's Memorandum to which I should have liked to refer, if time permitted—in particular the Fleet Air Arm, that most important element in the modern Navy. But as the hour 1265 is late, and we are all anxious to hear the First Lord's answers to the many questions which have been asked, I will refrain from taking up time any longer with the thoughts of someone who was brought up in a very different Navy from the one of to-day—a Navy in which a Fleet was a Fleet, a squadron was a squadron, and a flotilla was a flotilla and not a squadron; where a leading signalman was a leading signalman and not a leading tactical communication operator; where we wore white cap covers from May to October in Home Waters, and a few other things like that, which have been changed, including the modern full dress which I consider a disaster. But for fear that your Lordships should think that, by these remarks, I am a hopeless reactionary "dug-out", who cannot bear change, I should like to make it quite plain that I am a most fervent supporter of change if it is really necessary.
Moreover, I do not propose to hand in my dirk to their Lordships at the Admiralty. This was given to me by my parents when I first went to sea as a midshipman, and I am keeping it in the fervent hope that, in four or five years' time, my young son will elect to join the Navy. I hope he will, because I have never, and shall never, waver in my belief that the Navy offers the finest career in the world, in which it is a great privilege to serve; and, moreover, is a Service which this country can never dispense with. But a Navy can serve this country properly only if it is mobile, versatile and has adequate numbers.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ LORD WINSTER
My Lords, by the happy accident of the "batting order", it falls to my lot to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, upon the speech which he has just made, so full of pithy remarks and of valuable information. I am sure that all your Lordships who have heard him will join with me in hoping that it will not be another nineteen years before he breaks silence again in your Lordships' House.
I should like to tell my noble Leader with what great pleasure I listened to his speech, and how much I sympathise with him in what he said about his regrets at so much of the Navy being shore-based at the present moment—although the figures are slightly better than those that he quoted. I am also sorry to think of 1266 the number of officers who, at such an early age in their careers, find themselves with the knowledge that they will never again go to sea; that though they will stay in the Navy, their future service will be on land. I also venture to say that I agree with him that, for some time now, we have had poor accounts and summaries of the Navy. I am happy to think that matters will improve in that respect in the future. I feel sure that they will.
From what has been said, I hope that the First Lord may feel able to reply briefly to the question the noble Viscount put about the NA.39. If I am right, I think I saw it, if not four years ago certainly three years ago, at Farnborough, and it seems that by now we should be hearing something of its coming along. I also hope that there may be a reply to the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, about our guided missile destroyers, of which I understand there are to be four. I feel, too, that we might hope to hear something about them in the not too distant future.
I know that the trouble about all these modern weapons and equipment is that, just about the time when you think you are going to get them, the scientist comes along with the most earnest face and says that he has thought of something much better, and therefore the time has come to scrap his last bright idea and to get on with his new one, which, besides being much better than his previous idea, is always more expensive—usually far more expensive. To prove the point, what the Americans always say now is that if it works it is obsolete. I am afraid that we have had a great deal of experience of that for some time now.
I was very glad indeed to hear the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, say that he feels quite sure, from what comes to him, that there is altogether a better morale and spirit in the Navy at the present moment. I must say that my information has been to the same effect, and I feel that for some time now we have been getting a much better team at the Admiralty. I congratulate the First Lord upon being called upon to preside over that team. But one thing that I should like to say, and something I feel very sorry about indeed, is that the pace is telling on the Board. I know of Admiral Edwards, who was Comptroller of the Navy and reached what used 1267 to be regarded as the highest appointment open to a naval officer—namely, C.-in-C. in the Mediterranean. But within a short time of taking up that post his health failed, and he has had to give up the Navy. Then, in the last few days, we have had the sad news that Sir Charles Lambe, who again reached the highest post in the Navy, has had to resign because his health has given way. This only shows that our most senior flag officers have had a most strenuous war, on top of which the work at the Admiralty has been really crushing—there is no doubt whatever about that. The strain upon the flag officers who are called upon to take up appointments at the Admiralty is a heavy burden indeed.
Ideas on defence are nowadays invariably considered in the light of nuclear weapons, missiles and so on, although our sea and air defences for the defence of shipping are quite inadequate, and they may be called upon even before the nuclear weapons come into action. The former First Lord completely ignored the matter of the defence of shipping. I remember in one debate on the Navy Estimates, which centred largely upon the defence of shipping and our merchantmen, although he spoke twice, at the beginning and at the end of the debate, he never even mentioned the Merchant Navy, which, I feel, was not only discourteous to those noble Lords who had spoken about the defence of the Merchant Navy but was very negligent as well.
He had something to answer, because the Joint Commanders in the Eastern Atlantic had publicly stated, on the conclusion of N.A.T.O. exercises, that they had insufficient forces to carry out their duties. Admiral Eccles was reported in The Times as saying:We have not got anything like enough forces. We are desperately short of all the hardware needed. I say this as a professional man with 40 years' experience. To enter a war with the forces I have at my disposal would be running a very, very grave risk. The underwater risk has increased to a much greater extent than the defensive capability.Incidentally, shortly after saying that, Admiral Eccles hauled down his flag and, to the best of my knowledge, has not been employed since. I do not know whether or not that is only a coincidence.
1268 Air Marshal Sir Bryan Reynolds agreed with Admiral Eccles that the recent exercise showed that he had not got the forces he needed; and they were both supported by the American Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic, who later confirmed the shortages saying:There are shortages against submarine attack. There are shortages of aircraft for air defence against submarines.I feel that that is pretty strong coming from three very senior responsible officers, and I should have thought that what they said on this subject called from some statement from the then First Lord. I do not know whether the present First Lord is quite happy that with their 500 submarines and over 3,000 aircraft available at sea, Russia could not blockade us. If she could do so, why should she resort to nuclear bombardment? She wants to control us, not destroy us. There are those who think that our economy, our way of life and our way of thought could be destroyed at sea without Russia (if Russia were the enemy) finding it necessary to resort to nuclear weapons; for, after all, why should Russia use more force than is necessary to effect control? Why resort to annihilation if it is unnecessary, if they can achieve their objective without annihilation?
That idea seems to me to be in the Russian mind. I notice that not long ago Admiral Andrev said:For the Imperialist states the possibility of continuing war depends upon uninterrupted operation of ocean communications".Marshal Zhukov, then Minister of Defence, said not long ago:In a future war the struggle at sea will be of immeasurably greater importance than in the last war.I believe that those two remarks are highly significant. Of the 100 million tons we import annually, 99.5 per cent. comes in by ship, and the import tonnage increases yearly as our population increases. Admiral Arleigh Burke, who has been quoted, said in 1957:The need to use the oceans is greater than ever before.Both Russia and America seem to differ from us in this matter. World shipping is not so numerous that a crippling amount could not be sunk within a comparatively short time by the Soviet forces already established, and a fatal blow would thereby have been 1269 dealt to the Free World by the destruction of a few thousand ships or the paralysis of their movement. The 1957 White Paper actually said:The rôle of naval forces in total war is somewhat uncertain.I do not think it is at all uncertain. I believe it is very clear—and the passages from the speeches which I have quoted seem to bear out my view. I prefer what was said by the then First Lord in 1945:It is highly significant that after the trouncing which U-boats suffered in 1943, the enemy should devote so large a part of his resources to this form of warfare. This shows that he considers it his best hope against a nation which lives on seaborne supplies. This is highly important, which will, I trust, never be forgotten by future First Lords, future Boards of Admiralty or future Government.But it has been forgotten—I will not say by First Lords or Boards of Admiralty, but by Governments, because we must always recognise that it is not fair entirely to blame a First Lord or the Board of Admiralty, for they are in the hands of the Government and have to work with the money which the Government allow them to have; and I imagine that for some years now the Admiralty have been kept shockingly short of what they consider their needs. Yet Sir Winston Churchill once said:The only thing that ever really frightened me was the U-boat peril.The fact that Sir Winston said that was very good reason, I think, for the Government to pay attention to what the U-boat problem might be in the future.
As I have said, the Soviet object may be not to destroy but to control her enemy's way of life in a war. They may try to do that by sea blockade, which we should be able to break, without involving the Free World in a nuclear war, as we broke the Berlin air blockade. I believe we are apt to forget that in the past blockades have been broken by sea forces operating at sea; and if a blockade comes it still has to be beaten with our available naval forces. We do not want to be put off by terms such as we often hear—"to defend Atlantic communications". The problems must be precisely expressed in terms of ships, submarines, aircraft, numbers, performance and movements. Once the problems are stated precisely we shall find that the sinkings will come along all right in due course.
1270 In a war the object of the Soviet may be to interfere with and sink our ships; and a rational basis of planning against such a blockade will be essential. In the past we have proceeded by what Professor Blackett once called "emotional thinking". We do not want to think in terms of abstractions, such as sea power and air power. We want to think in terms of submarines, aircraft, numbers, fighting power and operational tasks; and we must think precisely upon these things. Yet I do not think that we do, because if the White Papers for 1957 and 1958 are read over again it will be seen that they paid very little attention to the problem of aircraft attack on our ships. Those White Papers practically ignored any consideration of that subject.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to interrupt, may I ask, before he leaves the question of a possible blockade by the Russians, whether he thinks it is possible that this country, or the Western Allies, would be the object of an all-out submarine attack without the nuclear weapon being used?
§ LORD WINSTER
Yes, for the reasons I have given, I do think that. I think that if Russia felt, as some of her admirals and air marshals feel, that they might conceivably be able to have a win over us by blockade, they might decide to proceed that way and not use nuclear weapons. Otherwise, why have they built 500 submarines, and why have they accumulated this immense force of 3,500 aircraft to back them up when at sea? I cannot help feeling that they have not done that for nothing.
My Lords, in conclusion may I say this? What are some of the lessons of the war? What are the chances that a Russian sea blockade could succeed? After all, we should remember that Japan was not defeated by the dropping of two atom bombs; nor by the bombing of her cities; nor by the destruction of her fleets and armies: she was defeated through the threat to her merchant shipping carried out by a very small number of American submarines and by aircraft in the Pacific. She was defeated by a sea blockade which occupied less than 5 per cent. of American naval and air forces in the Pacific. This is a fact of 1271 very great significance which should be constantly borne in mind; because it is a fact—though I think it is very rarely realised, and not often said—that Japan's ability to wage war depended upon ship-borne supplies.
She started the war with 6 million tons of shipping, and by 1945 she was down to one million tons: she had lost 5 million; and her imports of raw materials and of oil had dried up. Her armies were without supplies, and by 1945 the Supreme War Guidance Council of Japan had decided to terminate the war. They decided to do that months before the great air raids on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Japan had become moribund. Yet the number of American submarines never exceeded 150. The American air effort against shipping amounted to only 4.5 per cent. of air sorties flown. This is the background against which the 500 Russian submarines and the 3,000 or more aircraft ought to be considered, because these are the facts which brought Japan to defeat. Yet, although we were using 800 escort vessels at the end of the war, as the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, told us in his opening speech to-day, we have to-day only 130 escort ships available against a far larger submarine force.
Our national policy seems for some time to have been greatly to reduce our naval forces, and therefore in the event of war we shall have to reduce our imports. If we have not the escort ships to defend our shipping there will be nothing for it but to reduce our imports. I notice that the White Papers completely overlook this need, and the need for provision for defeating air attacks on ships in coastal waters. Though in 1939 ships at sea in coastal waters were completely and absolutely defenceless, no White Paper that I have seen has taken note of that fact.
My Lords, we have 130 escort ships, and I remember that on one occasion when challenged on this point, the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, said that in future we had not got to rely upon our own independent defensive force for our merchantmen; that we should be relying upon interdependence. I thought that that answer was pretty feeble at the time, and I was delighted to hear the 1272 noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, absolutely tear up that theory in his speech this afternoon. Of course the Commonwealth have ships, as he said. But they have very few. They will want them all for the defence of their own coasts and their own interests. They will not have any to lend us. And, again, as the noble Lord said as regards the distances, to talk about interdependent assistance from the Commonwealth Navies is absurd in view of the enormous distances which are involved, of which the noble Lord gave us some instances to-day.
No, my Lords; there is no doubt that all this idea of interdependence is a complete myth. If war comes, we shall defend our merchant shipping with our own Naval forces, or they will not be defended. If war comes, we shall, for the third time in 50 years, face it with a merchant fleet exposed to even heavier attack than in the past. That is not very creditable to the Government. As I have already said, I do not think that the First Lord must be saddled with the responsibility for this affair, which is a Government responsibility; but I think he owes the country a statement on how the Admiralty see the problem. But I must say that the responsibility for what I regard as a shocking neglect is one that rests, of course, with the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is ultimately responsible in all defence matters, and any defence matter which is seriously neglected is one for which the responsibility falls upon the Prime Minister. I hope with all my heart that the First Lord and the Minister of Defence will be able to impress upon the Prime Minister the risks which we are running in this anxious time where our Merchant Navy is concerned.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (LORD CARRINGTON)
My Lords, the first thing I should like to say is how sorry all of us must be that the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, has not taken part in this debate. The Motion was originally down in his name and I know that he has not been able to move it because of illness. But I understand that he is convalescing, and I hope it will not be long before he is back once again in your Lordships' House. The Opposition are fortunate in having the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, who can turn his hand to 1273 anything. I have often suspected that he enjoys turning his hand to the Navy more than almost anything else he has to do in this House. Certainly he has had good opportunities of doing so, since I think he was First Lord longer than anybody else has been since about the 1800s: so he has had a fair opportunity of collecting material about the Navy.
I am very grateful to those of your Lordships who have taken part in the debate this afternoon and I will try to answer as many as I can of the questions that have been asked; but I hope I shall be acquitted of any discourtesy if I do not answer all of them, because I have been asked so many that it really would not leave me any time for anything else; and I have one or two things that I want to say on my own. There is, of course, such a wealth of knowledge and experience about the Navy in this House that I think I am lucky to have had about six months at the Admiralty before this debate has taken place. Without it, not only should I have been more apprehensive than I am, but I should have had to take on trust a good deal of what I have now had the opportunity of seeing and learning at first hand. During this time I have been very lucky in having Admiral of the Fleet Sir Charles Lambe, with all his experience and wisdom, to guide me; and I join with the noble Lords, Lord Winster and Lord Shackleton, in expressing my feeling of sadness and regret that the Royal Navy should be deprived of his services by his illness. We are very fortunate that Admiral Sir Caspar John is to succeed him; and it is, I think, a sign of the strength of the Royal Navy that two such outstanding officers should be available at the same time.
My Lords, we have heard interesting, though not altogether unusual, speeches from the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition, from the noble Lord, Lord Winster, and from the noble and gallant Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, and an excellent maiden speech, if I may say so, from my noble friend Lord Ampthill. I am sorry that he has waited nineteen years before giving us the advantage of his experience in the Navy during one of these debates—although I must say, from the point of view of the present First Lord of the Admiralty, that I would hardly describe some of his remarks as non-controversial.
1274 I should like to answer the case that has been argued against the Government this afternoon by trying to put into perspective our naval policy. I suppose that it would be true to say that the striking development of the Soviet Navy has led to almost continual anxiety about our naval policy since the end of the last war. Noble Lords with first-hand experience, either at the Admiralty or in command at sea, have, quite naturally, cast their minds back to the formidable problems of the war years, and of the years before the war, when the German threat was growing fast; and, not surprisingly, they have been inclined to compare the situation which faces us now with that of the past. They see this Island, as did the noble Lord, Lord Winster, threatened once again by the dangers of isolation and blockade. Lord Winster looks at the Soviet submarine fleet and at the large Merchant Navy on which this country depends, and he then compares the number of ships in the Navy to-day with those in service in 1945. And so it is that one hears over and over again, not only in this House but outside among the more informed members of the public, the questions: What is the rôle of the Navy? Is its present size adequate for its commitments? Is it composed of the right classes of ship, of the right size and capabilities?
The answers to these questions vary enormously with the experience and background of the person who asks them. Some say that the Navy is far too small. Some say that a Navy of small ships is dangerously inadequate. Some, like the noble Viscount opposite, want more cruisers. Others, like Mr. Khrushchev, consider cruisers to be obsolete. Some say that all large ships, and in particular aircraft carriers, are so vulnerable as to be antediluvian. Others go so far as to say that, in a nuclear age, they see no purpose and no rôle for a conventional Navy.
It is probably true (and I think it has been demonstrated this afternoon) that a good deal of these criticisms of our naval policy cancel each other out. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, was hardly in tune with the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition, and I wonder whether that was the reason why he removed himself from the Opposition Front Bench and 1275 went back three places, and why it was that the noble Lord, Lord Winster, moved from his usual place and spoke from the Opposition Front Bench. That is not his accustomed place, because he is usually the one who is disagreeing with them. However, be that as it may, it remains the responsibility of the Government to justify their policy in a positive and logical way, and I thought that I would devote at least some of my remarks to attempting to answer these questions. But first I should put them into a realistic and accurate setting. It is valuable to learn from experience and from history, but not to such an extent, my Lords, that memory clouds judgment. It would be rash to be dogmatic about our strategic situation: but it is a different situation in two significant ways from that of the 1930's.
First, in those pre-war days Germany faced a disunited Europe and a United States of America which was, to a large extent, occupied with its own affairs and isolated from the problems on this side of the Atlantic. To-day the Soviet Union, whatever its mood of the moment, faces a Europe and a United States of America in a state of considerable strength and prosperity and united by the obligations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Successive Governments have followed a policy specifically designed to profit from the lessons of those days of 1940 and 1941, when we were alone and without allies. The noble Viscount was responsible in some degree for the setting up of N.A.T.O., as he reminded us earlier on this afternoon. I do not think the noble Viscount would agree with his noble friend that N.A.T.O. is a myth. N.A.T.O., S.E.A.T.O., C.E.N.T.O.—each in its turn has been established as a military association of like-minded people co-operating in their own defence.
It may be that we are not making as much progress as we should like in following an effective policy of interdependence, but we are making some. For example, the Navy was able to purchase the propulsion plant for our first nuclear submarine, the "Dreadnought", from the United States of America; and I have seen at first-hand the close co-operation between the N.A.T.O. navies, using the same signal books, operating procedures and tactical doctrine. The process is not entirely one way. 1276 Recently, for example, there has been especially valuable co-operation, in which the coastal minesweeper, H.M.S. "Shoulton", has played an important part, on the problem of mine detection.
Bearing this in mind, then, it would not make sense to base our naval policy on the premise that the sole or primary target of the Soviet Union would be Britain and her lifelines, or to plan on the assumption that we had none of our present Allies. As the noble Lord, Lord Winster, himself said only last March:N.A.T.O. is the heart of Western defence plans".However, let us suppose for a moment that the Government decided to meet the threat of the Russian submarine fleet by trying to provide, on their own, sufficient forces to hunt out and destroy these submarines, wherever they might be. This policy might be practicable: but I cannot believe it would be right, for two reasons. The first is that we should have made the error which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, drew to our attention, of allowing the enemy to dictate our strategy, and there would be nothing left over for the rest of the Navy. It would also be fatal to N.A.T.O. if each member country tried to concentrate all its resources against whatever seemed the most dangerous threat to itself. Secondly, the threat which confronts our naval forces goes far wider than the Russian submarine force. It is so varied and widespread, on, above and below the sea—indirectly in the Middle East, for example, as well as directly in the North Atlantic—that we could never counter all aspects of it in strength, except as a member of N.A.T.O., S.E.A.T.O., and C.E.N.T.O.
The other big difference in our situation, compared with that before the war, is that to-day we are nowhere wholly at peace. It is the world of the cold war. The world of 30 years ago was not without its troubles and tensions, and I should be the last to suggest to the contrary; but the dangerous and widespread condition of Communist-inspired unrest was something quite unknown. The German naval threat was directed primarily towards British naval power, very much as it was in the days before 1914. But to-day the Soviet threat, although it has superficial similarities is subtly different. It would, I think, be reasonable to say that the Soviet Union would 1277 calculate that a major war involving the employment of their submarines would be an incomparably greater risk than any that Hitler had to calculate, and I am thinking not only of the menace of a nuclear exchange, but also of the massive forces of the navies of the Western Alliance.
We can never be sure what form aggression may take, and its prevention depends on our ability to go on showing that in all circumstances its risks would be real and its consequences catastrophic. The deterrent is composed of both nuclear and conventional forces, and we must play our part in maintaining the naval element—not only within the alliances, but in those parts of the world where we have particular responsibilities and interests of our own. If we wish to survive, we must do two things. We must collaborate fully with our Allies and be prepared to place our navies under joint commands, trained in peace. And we must understand the nature of the cold war—its unpredictability, its spurts of activity—which sometimes fan the embers into dangerous fires.
In this new situation, what, then, is the rôle of the Navy? The rôle remains what it always was, as defined in the 1958 White Paper—it has already been quoted, but I want to quote it again, because I think it is important to my argument:in peace-time, to help carry out Britain's responsibilities in colonies and protected territories, to defend British shipping, and generally to contribute by their presence to the maintenance of peace and stability;in limited war, to protect sea communications, to escort troops and supplies to the theatre of operations and to give them support in action;in global war, to make an effective contribution to the combined naval forces of the Western Alliance.These rôles were defined when the British contribution to the strategic nuclear deterrent was, as it still is, predominantly the concern of the R.A.F.
It may be that, at some future time, we shall be called upon to face a change in circumstances, but I hope I shall be forgiven for confining myself this afternoon to things as they are, without spending your time on possible plans for a fleet of Polaris submarines. The noble Viscount asked me about the position of the Polaris type submarines. It is exactly what it was three or four weeks ago, when we debated this question. The 1278 Admiralty have been asked by the Minister of Defence to examine the practical aspects of what we could do, and I am afraid that there is nothing more that I can say this afternoon.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, may I ask whether the noble Lord would look at the experiences in Italy and America and at the position of the Russians, who, in spite of the fact that they are going to build more 15,000-ton cruisers, are hoping to convert their partly built cruisers into missile ships?
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, I do not want to get led away into a discussion on the deterrent. The noble Viscount himself will see that there are certain disadvantages in putting a Polaris type missile on a surface ship: for example, such a ship must be much more vulnerable than a submarine; there would be the question of expense, and of the availability of ships. All this is being examined, and I do not want to go into it any more this afternoon, if the noble Viscount will forgive me.
I want to elaborate on the definition of the rôle of the Navy: first of all, the peace time rôle. This means, for example, the vital task which our frigates are performing in the Persian Gulf, where we have essential oil supplies and close ties with local Rulers who count on our friendship. It means having a ship or two in the Caribbean to watch British interests. It means sending a cruiser to help Mauritius after the cyclone in February. It means our ability to protect our trawlers and our fishery interests off Iceland or elsewhere. We are a maritime nation, and I suppose we are inclined to take these jobs for granted. Perhaps that is why some people appear to forget that we must continue to have a Navy, if we are to do any of them, while others complain if we cannot do all of them on the same scale as in the past.
In limited war, the task defined as "to protect sea communications, to escort troops and supplies" and so on points to the increasing extent to which our defence interests depend upon the Navy in a world where the break up of big States and the rise in national feeling tends to prevent free and rapid movement across the world. There are 1279 barriers which may limit reinforcement by air and perhaps sometimes reduce, or even remove, the value of bases where Army units can be stationed. This is true particularly of the area east of Suez, where our interests, both political and commercial, are as big as ever: an area in which the Navy's rôle is perhaps even more important than it used to be. And lastly, as to global war, we are primarily collaborating for the purpose of deterring war, and the significance of what we are doing lies in the clear evidence of the growing ability of the navies of the free world to act together.
These are challenging tasks to ask of the Royal Navy, and I think your Lordships will see that what they demand is variety and versatility in the shape of the Fleet. We must have ships not only to meet N.A.T.O. plans in the Atlantic and Mediterranean: we have also to take account of what may happen at any time in the Far East or the West Indies or even the Antarctic. We have to strike a balance between the need for amphibious forces, afloat support, anti-submarine effort, aid defence, air support where shore-based aircraft cannot operate, and one-hundred-and-one other things. We have to try to look in many directions at the same time.
There are many situations that could arise. We must try to decide which we shall have to tackle on our own and which with our Allies—and design and dispose the Fleet accordingly. We must make a discriminating assessment of our commitments, since it is on this that the size and shape of the Navy depends. This assessment was done very thoroughly three years ago; but, of course, every year we examine the position in the light of the defence resources available. I expect that it is true to say that, looking at all the possible commitments, no First Lord of the Admiralty and no Board of Admiralty has ever said that it could not do with more ships. This is certainly so to-day.
But we must be realistic. On the one hand, we cannot ignore the serious risks—if risks there are—of going short in any particular respect. On the other hand, we must not be blind to the consequences for our economy of devoting too much money and resources to defence. Again, as in all big issues of policy, a balance has to be struck 1280 between what we should like to have, what we can afford to have, and what we must have. Taking all these considerations into account, I am satisfied that the planned size and shape of the Navy is adequate for the tasks which I have outlined. In the last three years some unpleasant emergencies have arisen. Perhaps the biggest was the Middle East crisis of 1958—incidentally a striking example of the way the Americans and ourselves are ready to act quickly together to protect our common interests and stifle wider trouble.
Any of your Lordships who have seen something of a N.A.T.O. exercise, as I did last March at Gibraltar, will have been impressed with the way in which we can still concentrate ships in considerable numbers. On a smaller scale there has been the situation around Iceland, which I have already mentioned. Here again, the Royal Navy has successfully done all that our trawlers required of them. In addition to these operational tasks, we have been playing a leading part in the great alliances to which we belong. A recent example was Exercise "Sealion"—S.E.A.T.O.'s largest exercise so far. Later this year we shall be taking part in one of the biggest N.A.T.O. exercises to be held. Our ships are certainly hard worked—and there is probably nothing new in that, though I believe that now individual ships spend more time at sea than in the past. But they are the right ships for the different tasks of the Navy, and they are doing their job with as much efficiency as ever all over the world. I hope that your Lordships have looked at the map I have attached this year to the Explanatory Statement, which gives a fairly striking picture of how many places they visited last year.
Naval policy is conditioned, not only by a changed world which has changed the Navy's commitments, but also by scientific and technical developments which have changed ships and weapons almost out of recognition. If the picture in your mind is the Fleet of the 1930s, naturally you will not see it to-day. You would be looking for the wrong thing. I have tried to bring out as vividly as I can in this year's Explanatory Statement what twenty years of change have meant. I hope your Lordships may have had a look at these pages in the Statement. 1281 I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, did not understand the sentences in italics. I must say that I thought they were pretty straightforward, but I also illustrated the whole thing by simple diagrams on the following pages, and I draw the noble Lord's attention to them if he still finds himself unable to understand the text.
I think that the most striking thing is the increase in capability: for example, the fire power of the "Tiger" class guns, the range of aircraft and submarines, and the scope of the electronic equipment. Inevitably there is a price to be paid—more men in ships, primarily because of the very much heavier maintenance task; and very much higher costs.
Take the "Porpoise" class submarines: one of these costs us something approaching £2½ million—getting on for double the price of a pre-war submarine, even when that has been converted to present-day prices. Now a word about aircraft carriers. Last February I visited H.M.S. "Victorious" and saw her carrying out flying exercises off the North-East coast of Scotland. I was very impressed indeed by the Scimitars and Sea Vixens which I saw, and by the skill of their pilots. Some noble Lords may remember the raid on Taranto Harbour of November, 1940. Forty pilots and observers of the Fleet Air Arm, flying in 20 Swordfish aircraft, made a crippling attack at a range of 170 miles from the aircraft carrier H.M.S. "Illustrious". This was regarded as a fine example of one of the oldest principles of war—economy of force. But consider what would be needed for a task of the same kind to-day. The Fleet Air Arm would be capable of achieving results on the same scale, and probably a good deal more, with one pilot flying one Scimitar aircraft armed with one nuclear weapon; and the carrier from which this aircraft was launched could be well over twice as far away from the target as the "Illustrious" was.
I saw too, the other day a newly converted carrier of a very different character when I was present at the embarkation of No. 42 Commando in H.M.S. "Bulwark". As I mentioned in the Defence debate, we are confident that this ship will perform a very useful rôle. She has been working up in the Mediterranean, which she has just left for Singapore. The Government have 1282 already made it plain that they intend to have a second commando carrier. We have selected for this rôle H.M.S. "Albion", which is now in the Far East. She is expected to return home at the end of the year, and preliminary work for the conversion has already been authorised.
My Lords, I come to another new kind of ship. We are making good progress with the guided-missile destroyer about which my noble friend Lord Teynham asked—though, as he realises, she is nearer a cruiser than a destroyer in size; she is a very large ship indeed. As your Lordships may know, Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra will be launching the first of these destroyers, the "Devonshire", on June 10. The "Devonshire" will have three main rôles. She will be able to act as an escort to a task group, providing anti-aircraft defence with the Seaslug guided weapon system, about which the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, asked me, and the Seacat close-range guided weapon, which is to be tried out this year in a "Daring" class ship; and she will increase the anti-submarine defence with the latest underwater detection equipment. She will be able to take part in offensive operations as part of the task group, using her 4.5-inch guns to bombard in support of our troops on the ground and to attack light naval forces. She will, of course, be a most useful ship for policing and flag-showing all over the world in peace time. She will carry more than 30 officers and over 400 ratings—more than the "Daring" class ships to-day and a great many more than pre-war destroyers.
I should now like to say a word about the "Dreadnought", the first of our nuclear submarines. I am glad to be able to announce that Her Majesty The Queen has consented to launch the "Dreadnought" at Barrow-in-Furness on next Trafalgar Day. This will be sixteen months after the keel-laying—a pretty quick time—and it will be a most important occasion for the Royal Navy. We are making every effort to get the "Dreadnought" to sea as soon as we can. As your Lordships know, we plan to go ahead with a second nuclear submarine—also designed for the killer rôle. Provided that a suitable contract can be negotiated, we intend to place 1283 an order for the building of this submarine within the next two months or so. I am sometimes a little anxious, in spite of what my noble friend Lord Ashbourne said, in case the efforts which we are concentrating on nuclear submarines will put our new conventional submarines in the shade. This would be very wrong.
By April, 1961, 7 "Porpoise" class submarines and 2 "Oberon" class submarines are expected to have joined the Fleet. These submarines, as my noble friend has said, are, of course, far cheaper than nuclear submarines; have a high silent speed, and are very manœuvrable. We very much need them, not only for possible use in future against the surface ships or submarines of an enemy but also for training our anti-submarine escort vessels here and now. The noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, asked a question about the homing torpedoes in the "Porpoises". These torpedoes are certainly considered satisfactory though naturally we are planning to have more advanced weapons to cope with the faster and more silent submarines expected in the future.
Eleven of these new submarines will be under construction this year, and I saw two of them the other day when I was on Clydeside. During this visit I got an interesting cross-section of our naval shipbuilding programme. There was the new cruiser, the "Blake", which was in that unbelievable state of apparent chaos and confusion which, I believe, proves to the man who knows that a ship is very near completion. Her sister ship, the "Lion", which is being built on the Tyne, is even nearer completion and should be ready this summer. I also saw the second of the guided-missile destroyers, the "Hampshire", beginning to take shape on the slip, and a number of our best new frigates, including one of the Type 12 "Whitby" class, one of the new improved Type 12s, which we are calling the "Leander" class, and the "Ashanti", first of the new Type 81 frigates. The "Ashanti" class is composed of the general-purpose frigates to which the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, referred. We now have a number of specialist frigates such as the Type 41s for air defence and the Type 61s for air direction; and the position to-day is that we 1284 are going for all-purpose frigates, capable of a good performance in the anti-submarine and the anti-aircraft rÔles. The "Ashanti" class and the new "Leander" class frigates will both have excellent operational flexibility.
My Lords, there are some people who try to suggest that we have few or no new ships coming into service. I really do not understand how this charge comes to be made year after year, as we give a good deal of information every year—and have done this year—in the Explanatory Statement. Nor is there anything new or unexpected about our policy. Warships cannot go on for ever; and some, depending on their use, and on the nature of their equipment, become out of date more quickly than others. Naturally I should like to keep all our ships as long as possible, but an important factor is whether a ship's age and condition make it fit for further service with the Royal Navy. What we cannot afford to do is to keep those ships which are uneconomical in peace and would be obsolete in war. This applies, although gradually, to all the anti-submarine ships in reserve, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, referred.
My noble friend Lord Teynham asked about six "Battle" class destroyers. The position is that we have not decided to scrap any "Battle" class destroyers except the "Hogue", which was damaged in a collision last year; but the 6 he referred to are surplus to our requirements and are available for sale. From year to year the Board of Admiralty are closely concerned—as they always have been—with the continuing task of replacing ships in the Fleet. This is what we have been doing. The total tonnage we are now launching is rather above the average of all the years since the war; and the figures for last year were in fact higher than at any time during the last five years. I have particularly mentioned Clydeside because I was there a fortnight ago; but there are also our own dockyards. The Royal Dockyards at home are at present building, in all, four frigates and two "Oberon" class submarines. The ships coming along are of high quality—they have got to be, whatever the cost; and this is one of the Board's most difficult problems. But I can assure your Lordships that we have 1285 every intention of continuing vigorously with our building programme.
The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, not for the first time, complained about the delay in bringing new equipment into the Royal Navy. He said that he had heard about Seaslug and the N.A.39 a long time ago, and that he had heard all about the Sea Vixen. He said that all he did was to hear about them: that he never saw them in service. The noble Viscount cannot have it both ways. He was for ever complaining that he was never told anything about the future ships, aircraft and weapons of the Navy. As soon as we try to put, in the Explanatory Statement, at the earliest possible moment, what our plans are to be, the noble Viscount then says that because in the next year some particular item of equipment mentioned is not available, the Navy is slipping up and things are not coming into service. The N.A.39 has had a most remarkably good record of punctuality. It is keeping to its current programme and is not slipping behind, as the noble Viscount said. The Sea Vixen has been, broadly, up to schedule. I think it was a little late, but not very late. The noble Viscount must not in one breath ask us to give him all the information we possibly can and then, in the next, complain when a piece of equipment is not in service immediately afterwards.
The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, asked me about the N.A.39 and its capabilities. We have had enough experience of this aircraft to know that it operates very satisfactorily from the aircraft carrier, both in take-off and in landing. I am quite convinced that this is going to be one of the finest aeroplanes the Royal Navy has ever had. My noble friend Lord Congleton, among a number of other questions, asked why the responsibility for merchant shipping was taken away from the Admiralty and given to the Ministry of Transport. The short answer to that is that it seemed more appropriate that shipping should go to transport. I assure him, however, that we keep a close liaison on these matters because, as he says, we have the greatest possible continuing interest in them. I should also like to draw his attention to paragraph 43 of my Explanatory Statement.
Before I close, I must say a word about officers and men. I am glad to 1286 say that the level of recruiting and re-engagement continues to be pretty good. We still find it difficult to get as many men as we should like for some jobs, and with a Navy changing in shape it is not always easy to get the right balance of manpower between the different trades and specialisations. We should also like to attract more young men from those parts of the United Kingdom which do not produce as many as other parts. Perhaps I might mention here the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, about the manning of the Royal Fleet Auxiliaries. This is a matter which we have recently reexamined. Whilst I see the advantage which the noble Lord has explained, the main objections to changing our present practice are that naval manning would cost not only more money but also a great many more men. We should have to find some 5,000 extra men from Vote A, and I do not think that at this juncture it would be sound to try to do so for what is essentially a Merchant Navy task, most efficiently performed at present by civilian crews.
I have been to see something of our arrangements for selecting and training officers. At the Admiralty Interview Board I spent a day watching five candidates undergoing the selection process and, like all observers there, came away convinced of the fairness of the Board's work. When I visited Dartmouth and Manadon, I was able to discuss the new tasks they are tackling. The fresh schemes of training announced last year are now about to be introduced, and we are confident that they will be well designed to give young officers the grounding they will need for the increasingly technical Navy.
The noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, asked about the ages of those coming into Dartmouth. They enter Dartmouth at the age of eighteen; and boys who get scholarship two years or so earlier go back to school. The scholarship is designed to pay for some of their schooling during the two years before they come to Dartmouth. We could do with more young able men and we are seeking to attract suitable officer candidates without any special consideration of school or background. I believe we are going to be successful.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
Could the First Lord tell us a little about the progress of the upper yard men?
§ LORD CARRINGTON
The scheme is still going on. We are intending to move H.M.S. "Temeraire" from Scotland to Dartmouth, where it will work closely with the "Britannia."
The Royal Navy continues to have an essential part to play in the defence of this country and her interests all over the world. In my short experience of the last six months I have been particularly struck by the opportunities that there are for initiative, responsibility and exacting, and indeed exciting, service in the Royal Navy, which we can offer as a career to a young man. We can offer, too, a career which gives officers better prospects for pay, long service and pension than ever before.
The story of the Royal Navy in the past year has been set out in my Explanatory Statement. I hope your Lordships will think that it is presented in a readable and interesting form. It shows a year of progress: a year in which new ships are being laid down, new types of ships being launched, and new ships coming into service. It shows the efforts which the Admiralty are putting into habitability in ships and better accommodation ashore. It shows the new career structure which will be available for the officers, and the good pay, pensions and prospects offered to-day for both officers and ratings. It shows the Navy settling down after a period of considerable reorganisation.
I hope that there is nothing I have said in my speech which has not recognised the very real anxieties that noble Lords who have spoken feel about Naval policy. I know very well that several noble Lords have spoken with a life-time of experience, either in the Service or at the Admiralty, and that they have done so with a sense of duty—a feeling that the safety of this country is bound up, as it always has been, with the strength and efficiency of the Royal Navy. The Government are grateful to them. We are lucky as a country that there are those who are prepared to stand up and speak their minds with no motive other than the good of the country. I hope, therefore, that I shall be forgiven if I say that I sometimes wonder 1288 whether some of those who are critical of the Government's defence policy and naval policy are not inclined to oversimplify things.
I have tried in the earlier part of my speech to bring out some of the differences and difficulties which exist to-day and which were not there before the war: the cold war and the thermo-nuclear bomb, and the changes in our thinking and planning which they have caused; the system of alliances in the three main areas of the world: the increasing complexity of ships and their armament; the advent of nuclear propulsion, of guided weapons, of ballistic missiles, of supersonic aircraft, of stand-off bombs; and the economic difficulties which confront us in this island, dependent for its livelihood on its overseas trade.
I do not bring all this up at the close of my speech in order to ask for your sympathy. Far from it. I do so because I am absolutely certain that, when we take account of the changes and differences which must govern our policies in the 1960's, we are doing the right thing, and that the Royal Navy of to-day and tomorrow is, and will be, as efficient and capable as the Royal Navy of the past.
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, could he clarify his reply to my question about "Battle" class destroyers? I understood him to say that 6 destroyers were put on the disposal list because they were surplus. Surely, no destroyers are surplus.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
In the course of my speech I tried at considerable length to explain that point. I would ask my noble friend to do me the courtesy of reading my speech as a whole. I think he will then see that, in the context of what I am saying, this policy of the Admiralty does make sense.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, I must apologise to my noble friend for not having answered his question, but it has been rather difficult as I have had so 1289 many points to answer. The "Contest", "Cossack", "Chieftain" and "Consort" have been approved for scrapping.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, may I first of all thank everybody who has taken part in the debate to-day? It has been an interesting debate, and I am very much indebted to them all. I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, upon his maiden speech, and I hope we shall have the opportunity of listening to him again.
The First Lord of the Admiralty has made a very interesting speech in reply to the debate. He will not expect me to agree with it all. He certainly has not really convinced me about the Sea Vixen as being practically obsolescent almost as soon as you have got the first squadron working. That is what we want to try to avoid if we can. He waxed a little indignant about the NA.39. We have not had a table of the number of years it has been under development, and he has given no indication as to when it is likely to be aboard an aircraft carrier, in operation after trials. It is important also to remember that the First Lord has just told us (to me, at any rate, it came as the first time) that we shall get the Seacat and the Seaslug for the first missile ship that is going to be built. But I just cannot understand why, if the Seacat is so good, it is not already in the aircraft carriers, the "Tiger", the "Lion" or the "Blake". I can see evidence in the list of their being defended against close air attack with 20 millimetre to 40 millimetre guns.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
The Seacat is still under development and it is having trials this year on one of the "Daring" class destroyers.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
I do not think I am to be blamed for asking questions on these things. Without that, I have no indication that Seacat or Seaslug will be any real help at all.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
Seaslug will be in service in the first guided missile destroyer and Seacat will also be in the guided missile destroyer.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
We have been hearing about these for so long that it is extraordinary we have not had them before. I am not attacking the First Lord—he knows that perfectly well. I am attacking the general policy of the Government as being economically wrong in defence. That is why we have never yet really had full delivery of the triennial programme that was promised, with the understanding of N.A.T.O., in 1950–51; and that is why we are so comparatively weak, with costs of personnel and production increasing all the time. No doubt we shall have another meeting on this matter in due course. I thank the First Lord for his reply. I thank him for his kindly reference to my colleague, Lord Hall, which I shall pass on to him, and I ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.