§ 2.48 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLS-BOROUGH rose to call attention to the Explanatory Statement on THE NAVY ESTIMATES, 1961–1962 (Cmnd. 1282); and to move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I think perhaps those of you who will remember the debate last year on the Navy Estimates will recollect that I had something, which I thought at the time was fairly strong, to say about the role of the Navy; what were the real values of sea power, especially in relation to the changing circumstances in the world, and particularly the removal of many of the bases of the Services in many parts of the world; and what I considered to be the value of naval sea power in the future where you had to cover places that were formerly covered from nearby bases. Therefore, may say to the First Lord that I welcome the first page of the Explanatory Statement, entitled "Report on The Navy: The Value of Sea Power."
§ I am particularly pleased with the first paragraph, in which reference is made to the continually changing political and strategic situation in relation to sea power. I do not think that at any time in our history have greater problems been put to our Naval authorities in maintaining the position that is essential to us as a great maritime nation. I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Shackleton has been absent from your Lordships' House for some weeks with illness. Perhaps he might not have agreed wholly with my unstinted compliment to the Admiralty on this page and might have given us his own views about the ambiguity that exists to-day with regard to the rôle of the Royal Navy. However, I think that this is a much better statement than we have had, and I should like to say to the First Lord that I welcome it very much.
§ But when we look at the mounting Naval budget and what we are getting out of it in the face of the general world situation, we see that there are faults. We shall be spending a long way over £400 million in 1961–62 and, while making all due allowances for the change in money values since before the 1364 war—a very big change, indeed—there is a great contrast between the number of ships of size and power and the number of personnel compared with the pre-war Navy. Therefore, we have to pay the greatest possible attention to modernising both the ships we have and those we are building, and also to the modernisation of thought in relation to the strategic problems which lie before us.
§ One thing is quite certain: the statement made in the first Lord's Report has been well justified by the recent occurrences in the Middle East. When we look at the manner in which the operation for the relief of Kuwait was carried out, at the request of the Ruler of Kuwait, the statement in the Report about the rapidity of action with which the Royal Navy can give assistance in such circumstances is absolutely justified. I hope that that may always be the case. On this, we must give praise to the Admiralty for originating the idea of converting aircraft carriers into modern commando ships, having space and facilities both for landing equipment and for the use of helicopters for reconnaissance and landing operations. I think that the Royal Navy is to be complimented on its share on the build-up of the relief forces brought to the assistance of Kuwait, and I should like to pay my tribute to those who have been engaged in it. And I hope that, in spite of the desert conditions in Kuwait, it will be possible to give them such stores and assistance as to make their stay not too uncomfortable, whether the time in which they are engaged there be short or long.
§ I want to ask the First Lord a question, about which I have been in correspondence with him—that is, whether or not the officers in the Royal Marine Commando have really been properly treated in regard to promotions? It is extraordinary how the work of the Royal Marine Commando has developed since the end of the war. The services which they have rendered can be clearly built up in one's mind. Not least among these services was that which they accomplished in Palestine in the difficult days soon after the Labour Government came in. I have strong recollections about that. Then there was the great contribution they made in changing the initial situation in Korea in 1950–51 and the 1365 part they had in support of what afterwards, I am glad to say, became the first Mixed Commonwealth Division we have ever had in the field.
§ We have had other examples since of the services they have rendered. Yet somehow there seems to be a feeling, which I have tried to convey by correspondence to the First Lord, among officers of the Commando that they are not getting their fair share of promotions in the Royal Marines. I hope that special attention may be given to that point. I have had two or three cases specially brought to my notice, and I think that there are others. I do not think it is a question of a single officer becoming disgruntled: it is the comparison between promotion in other sections of the Royal Marines and those actually in the Commando section. I hope that we can hear something more about that.
§ The state of the Fleet is set out on three pages of the Explanatory Statement—the strength on page 4; then the Fleet support and auxiliaries, and then the ships in reserve. I should like to say a word or two about these—first of all about the cruiser strength. Apparently at the moment the Royal Navy possesses altogether eight cruisers, five—"Belfast", "Bermuda", "Tiger", "Lion", and "Blake"—which are either in commission or preparing for service. Of course, the "Belfast" and the "Bermuda" are now quite old ships. The "Belfast" is certainly well pre-war, though I dare say she has had a good deal of refitting and modernisation. We are left with three modern-type cruisers. I think that that is rather a difficult position to have to face, and I do not get much encouragement in looking at the ships in reserve, "Sheffield", "Gambia" and "Mauritius", all of them now becoming aged—the "Sheffield" the oldest of them—and, I would gather, from their position in the Report, in process of either being scrapped or disposed of.
§ What is the target of the Admiralty with regard to cruiser programme? I think that we ought to know about that. I complained last year that since we no longer have the publication of Fleet strengths, we can hardly make an authoritative comparison. However, we have seen such statements as that made in the Evening News a couple of nights ago with 1366 regard to Russian cruiser strength and equipment. We all know something about them because we have seen, in the "Sverdlov", an example of a class of quite powerful ships. It is said that many of them are specially equipped with missile weapons. I do not suppose that we have a cruiser to-day carrying exactly that type of equipment. What is to be the comparative strength? I know it can be said that we are in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and that the question of the balancing of naval strengths for security would be taken under N.A.T.O. advice and a counting of ships guns and equipment, spread over the whole Alliance. But I am not too happy at the comparative strength of the Royal Navy in this class of ship.
§ I suppose it can be said that, whereas in the old days the cruiser was the best type of ship to send to a great many of our places of interest in I he world for showing the Flag, this can be done just as well nowadays by a destroyer, if available, or (what is perhaps the only one more frequently available now) by a frigate. It is good to show the Flag in this type of ship, but on some occasions I think we could make better use of the larger ship, if it was available. But, above all, we ought to be satisfied, as a member of N.A.T.O., that when we come to fulfil one of the objects of the policy in this Paper, namely, to make our proper contribution to the N.A.T.O. forces, we have a proper balance in the categories we possess from which we can make the contribution. Therefore I should like to have some more information from the First Lord of the Admiralty on that point.
§ Turning now to the submarine question, I am glad to see, when I look at the list of 30 submarines on the first page under "Strength of the Fleet", that apparently the Admiralty are going ahead with the construction of submarines; and that of the conventional type, after you have received the last "Porpoise", it is proposed to concentrate on the "Oberon" class. Are these just fundamentally remaining on the purely conventional lines on which that class of ship was originally laid down? What are the changes? Are there any differences in the rôle? Are they to be surface-gunned, as well as carrying other submarine weapons? I think we ought to have a little more 1367 information about this of an explanatory kind, if possible, although I daresay I might find some of it, if I had the time, in the detailed lists in the Navy Estimates. I should like to know at any rate something about the programme of submarines. It is a vastly improved and greatly increasing potential naval weapon of the future if it has the full modern equipment that is possible.
§ I should like now to come to the question of minesweepers. I see that there are 38 in commission, of which 26 are coastal and 12 inshore. I do not know whether the First Lord can tell us how many more there are in training, in addition to that, but it seems to me extraordinarily few for the carrying out of the kind of serious and widespread training we need, in view of any possible future threat from mines, perhaps of a quality that we have not met on previous occasions. Does the First Lord think that minesweepers of all classes have been built in sufficient numbers? Have we in the reserve class any that are to be scrapped? It looks very powerful if you look at page 6 and see that there are 22 ocean, 67 coastal and inshore minesweepers in reserve, but I should like to know their condition and just what use is likely to be made of them. I think this is a fundamental part of our programme.
§ Now I would say a word or two about the age of our depôt ships. I was hunting for, and eventually found, the name of one of the oldest ones, the "Woolwich". The "Maidstone" is being refitted. How many times has she been refitted; and how many more refits will she stand? The "Forth" is fairly old, as is the "Tyne" which I know extremely well. It is true that you can get a great deal of life out of this kind of class of ship compared to some of the more war-like ships; but I hope that we may get some information about these ships, including whether it is proposed to build any replacements. We are not very strong in coastal craft. I should like to know what the First Lord thinks about that.
§ I come to the operational and other activities. I have already referred to Kuwait. Paragraphs 17 and 18 are the usual annual story of the great assistance which the Royal Navy has been in very 1368 difficult, and sometimes less difficult, circumstances, and we express our appreciation of their work in that capacity.
§ I turn next to the Commonwealth Navies. The position of the Commonwealth Navies now is not nearly so well-known to me as I should like it to be. I do not know whether it is due to some remissness on my part, or to lack of study of information which may be available. I think it would be a good thing if at some time or other we could have a short White Paper showing the overall strength of each of the naval ship and similar contributions to our Commonwealth naval strength, and if we could be reminded from time to time how far we have come to any agreement with the new free Colonies who are now becoming independent within the Commonwealth about developing their help in our control of security at sea. I should like to have some information about that.
§ Then I want to ask a question about the guided-missile destroyers. We had a programme of four. I should think that in modern circumstances they are likely to be most important ships. They will be ships specially constructed to fire these missiles. They will be quite a size (much more like a medium weight cruiser of the old days—about 6,000 tons, I think) and we have four building.
VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLS-BOROUGH
Then I will put them in, although they are not in the Report, and I was sticking to the Report. I am glad to hear that we are going on with another two. But the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation gave authority to Germany to build eight, and it made me begin to wonder just what the German naval strength is going to be in comparison with our own if this is the kind of category development which is likely to take place within the sphere of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. You must forgive a little nostalgia in the First Lord who was in charge of a particular sort of function in his Department during 1369 the whole of the war. I should like to have a little information, if I may, upon what are the category strengths of Germany now and planned. It would be a very interesting comparison indeed.
May I say that I am greatly interested in paragraph 30. It is planned to build an assault ship to replace the amphibious warfare squadron. Is this a new type of ship which is to be experimental, or are you going to build a number of assault ships? I think of the number of L.C.T.'s we had to deal with, and I hope we shall never have occasion to use them in the same strength again, but, nevertheless, we ought to be ready for all reasonable contingencies, and I should like to know exactly what is behind the announcement of our likely development of this class of ship.
I gather from paragraph 32 that the Seaslug, has been pretty successful in its developments. I am interested, however, to see that, apparently as a result of these successes, you have discovered that it needs improvement, and that although it has not been in service for long you are proceeding to develop a Seaslug Mark II. I hope that does not mean that the Seaslug as at present is going out of use. Perhaps we could know how long it is going to remain in use, and how long it will be before the Mark II version appears. The suggestion in the paragraph is that it is likely to be fitted in the two guided-missile destroyers soon to be ordered. But you are just ordering those ships. You can reckon that the Mark II Seaslug will not be anything like operational for training or use for the next three and a half years, and that is quite a considerable time. I hope, in the circumstances, that the First Lord can say be is thoroughly satisfied with the position of the Seaslug for continuous use during that period.
I notice that the N.A.39, about which my noble friend Lord Shackleton had something to say last year, has been renamed, and is now to be called the Buccaneer. I should like to have some idea when this will be an effective part of the strike air system of the Navy, because although I read that it is hoped that an intensive flying trials unit will be formed before Midsummer, 1961, I remember that it is thirteen months ago that my noble friend Lord Shackleton was pointing out the delay in delivery 1370 of this aircraft. Even now they are not ready to join, apparently, and perhaps we could have more information about this 'plane, which seems to be so satisfactory and could add so much to the strike power of the Fleet Air Arm.
The next paragraph on the Wessex interests me very much, and I am sure it intrigues the First Lord, because I remember my noble friend Lord Shackleton last year saying, "You have not got an all-weather helicopter." I understand that the Wessex, which is going to be used as an anti-submarine weapon, is still undergoing trials and development, and it is an all-weather helicopter. If the noble Lord could tell us in the course of his answer what have been the developments to make this so, I am sure it would be good news to those of us who are interested in the Royal Navy to think that, not only is this an all-weather helicopter able to take off and land so much more easily, but that it is also able to continue operations with the new strike provisions that the helicopter is clearly going to be able to carry against submarines, according to this Report. I think it would he very interesting to hear about that from the noble Lord.
If I am taking too long, I hope the House will excuse me, because I am so interested in this subject and I should like to get all the information I possibly can. May I ask about nuclear submarines? When is the first nuclear submarine going to be in commission? I am not quite sure whether that information has already been given, but perhaps the noble Lord will tell us. Whilst they are not of the complete operational value of the nuclear submarines which are being built by the United States—they are going to be used in normal submarine hunt capacity—nevertheless they can be both silent and very dangerous to enemy submarines. I should like to know when the first will be in operation, and how many more are proposed. I am a little anxious about that, because I know they are very expensive.
Now just a word about research and development. Is the First Lord satisfied with the amount of money and personnel which is allocated to research and development required for the expansion of naval efficiency? We are not always 1371 sure you get your fair share, and perhaps the noble Lord would let us know about that.
Now Vote A strength. You have at present made provision in paragraph 52 for 100,000 during 1961–62. I seem to remember that that is more than you were planning for. Is that going to be about the general ceiling each year in succession, or are you going down to the figure, which some of us protested against, of 88,000 or 89,000? I should like to know, if possible. As regards recruiting, I should like to know whether you are continuing, as I hope you are, the recruiting of the voluntary, almost Territorial, Corps of the Royal Marines, equal to the Territorial reserve of the Royal Marines. I have an idea that, although they are a small force, last year the recruiting was better than any other voluntary unit in the country for which we were asking for recruits. I should like to have some information as to what is the position there.
Up to the moment, I have been speaking about what I find in the Statement of the First Lord to the House. I do not want to keep the House any longer, but I cannot sit down without referring to a matter of some difficulty for me. I think we have proved, since the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, came to the House as a Minister, after being in Australia, that he has made a good Minister. He has spoken his mind in the House. We have had tough debates with him sometimes, but we do not object to a debate being tough, so long as it is clear in its objective and is not otherwise offensive. So we think that he has made a pretty good Minister.
But the whole country was very anxious and concerned about the Portland spy case—very anxious, very concerned. It threw a reflection on the Royal Navy and the Admiralty in regard to what has always been thought as a very highly efficient part of naval organisation; that is, its organisation of security. It is a difficult question to talk about and, in the circumstances, one which I certainly am not going to enlarge upon to-day. I am thinking, too, of the position arrived at in which the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, offered the Prime Minister his resignation, which the Prime Minister did not accept.
1372 Now I believe that the First Lord presently occupying the office had not been back at the Admiralty very long before this matter arose, but I think it would help quite a lot if those who rather take the line that when difficulties arise in a Department over which a Minister reigns supreme and for which he is responsible if it goes wrong he must "carry the can", as it were—take the consequences—could be told something of the real position. The impression has been on the public mind from the Romer Committee Report that nothing was done in time, even in the last eighteen months, to tighten up the situation when it was felt that things were going wrong in the line of the Portland case. I should therefore be very glad if the First Lord could find it within himself to-day to report to the House, so far as he can, upon the security arrangements in the Admiralty. I should like to know whether, in fact, before the appointment of the Romer Committee there was, shall I say, anxiety in the Admiralty about what was happening; whether steps were then taken to tighten up security, and what is likely now to arise out of the consideration by the Admiralty and the Government of the Romer Committee's Report in regard to the provision of future security. My Lords, I apologise for having been rather long. I now beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.22 p.m.
My Lords, I should like in the first place to congratulate the First Lord that he has again found it unnecessary to put forward a Supplementary Estimate this year. I suggest this indicates that the Board of Admiralty are in firm control in matters of Estimates and are keeping close watch on finance generally. It has been argued by the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, that although there is an increase in the Navy Estimates for this year amounting to £15½ million there are fewer ships afloat. This of course is unfortunately true, but I think I am right in saying that the increase in the Estimate is largely due to agreed wage and salary awards and also, of course, to price increases.
I should like to add my congratulations to Her Majesty's Navy on its efficient assistance in the build-nap of our 1373 forces in Kuwait, and not least to H.M.S. "Bulwark". She is certainly justifying her designed rôle, and is proving invaluable in her present service. Apart from the "bush fire" of Kuwait, I should say that we are now faced with a revision in N.A.T.O. policy. N.A.T.O. is no longer thinking in terms of full nuclear retaliation to aggression on a large scale but rather to what one might call graded retaliation; and for this reason I feel that the Navy will become more important as time goes on. If this is true, it would also mean that defence would be based on retaliation of every kind of weapon as judged necessary for any particular situation, with more emphasis laid on conventional weapons. I fully support this realistic policy of graded retaliation: it would give time for wiser policies and counsels among the great Powers to prevail.
In sea warfare I have little doubt that nuclear weapons will be used in the limited tactical rôle where they are unlikely to do injury to civil populations, and I think that brings us to what one might call, and I think is called by many people, the ultimate weapon, the Polaris submarine. I would not go so far as one Member of another place, who is now one of Her Majesty's Ministers, who took the view that the aircraft carrier must give place to the missile submarine us the capital ship of the modern age. I rather think that aircraft carriers will be required for a number of years yet. On the other hand, it is vital that we have a Polaris plan.
I think it is true to say that at the present time the declared policy of Her Majesty's Government so far as our contribution to the Western deterrent is concerned will be the V-bomber force, at any rate during the 1960s. But what happens after that time? I should say that it is not by any means too soon to consider the next phase of Naval armament. In fact the First Lord has already publicly stated that very shortly the next generation of aircraft carriers would have to be considered, although I think it is true to say that none of our present carriers has less than ten years' life. I cannot help feeling that the next phase must be Polaris submarines; and we must prepare for that now.
1374 As many of your Lordships are aware, the Polaris submarine is not just a nuclear weapon; it is also fitted with conventional torpedo tubes. It should also be remembered that, in addition to firing a long-range nuclear missile of some 1,500 miles' range, it can also fire a very short-range missile of only a few miles' range which would mean absolute destruction to any surface craft in that area and to helicopters. I should say that it is absolutely vital that we have a Polaris plan for the future. Cannot we get an American one, say a few vessels on lease-lend? Or perhaps we could offer to man some vessels ourselves, with an American liaison officer, so that we could make a start with this new method of submarine warfare.
There is no doubt that with the Polaris submarine we can say goodbye to all rocket bases and nuclear bomber bases in this country, which I am sure would be welcomed by all of us. V-bomber forces, I should say, must be gradually run down and replaced by Polaris submarines. It is true, of course, that the Polaris submarines cost a great deal of money; but that is equally true of the V-bomber force and the ballistic land-based rockets. I understand also that in the near future, with the improvement of the atomic pile and fuel used, costs are likely to come down. If we have a Polaris plan in a few years' time we should have a number of very versatile vessels of war and a deterrent which is far less provocative than land-based nuclear weapons. We must face the fact that the Polaris submarine has now made it possible to combine the functions of the V-bomber and functional submarine, and should be able to protect our sea communications and at the same time provide a most powerful deterrent against total war.
I wonder if the First Lord could tell us something about the policy he has in mind about the carriers of the future. I know that it is early days, but does he envisage carriers of large dimensions of say 45,000 to 50,000 tons, or something of 23,000 tons like H.M.S. "Hermes"? I suggest that the light fleet carrier will be necessary for many years to come lot cold war purposes, but I should like to hear something more about the rôle of the large fleet carrier which costs a great deal of money. I am rather inclined to 1375 believe that it would be better to economise in the large carriers and to turn to Polaris submarines, unless there are very good reasons to the contrary.
I should like to devote a few minutes to our guided-missile destroyers which are now building. May I respectfully suggest to the First Lord that before any of them are commissioned they might be reclassified as cruisers? Perhaps that would help the views of the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, as regards the shortage of cruisers. That is in face what they are; they are cruisers. As your Lordships know, they are 5,000 to 6,000 tons, and I would say that the term "destroyer" is quite out of keeping with their size or rôle. It would also give a psychological fillip to the public. I suggest it would be interesting to know the apparent size of the Russian guided-missile ships which passed down the Channel recently and which were so well photographed by, I think the Daily Telegraph. It would appear to me they were vessels of only about 3,000 tons, and possibly converted destroyers. Perhaps the First Lord could say whether conversion of some of our older destroyers has even been considered.
The noble Viscount has mentioned the shortage of coastal forces vessels. I only hope a little money can be made available for this class of ship, which certainly provides first-class sea training for officers and men when they are of a young age, and they have of course considerable anti-submarine potential. I would also ask the First Lord whether he can say anything about the possible use of hovercraft for amphibious purposes. I understand a number of these craft are now being built on a commercial basis, and I suggest that they might prove useful not only for minesweeping but also for air/sea rescue work.
I should like to close by saying how much I appreciate the presentation of the Navy Estimates and the pictorial Explanatory Statement; if I may say so, that is very concise and clear, and each year it seems to get better and better. I would say there is no doubt that we have a very efficient Navy, although perhaps on the small side. It is in first-class training, but I would say it cannot yet become a great power for peace until we have the Polaris submarine, and I 1376 urge Her Majesty's Government to consider the Polaris plan I have proposed to-day.
§ 3.35 p.m.
My Lords, in the debate on the Navy Estimates last year I remarked on the excellent lay-out and the useful content of the First Lord's Explanatory Statement. I think this year it is even better, and I must say I find the illustrations, the diagrams and the tables the greatest help in portraying the state of the Royal Navy. Turning first to page 17, I think it very satisfactory and not the least surprising to learn that centralised drafting has proved highly successful. It is far more logical than the old port division system, and, quite apart from any other advantages, it must be a tremendous boon to the rating to know that he can now state a preference as to where he will serve and, better still, to know that that preference is very likely to be met. This is bound to give him a feeling of security and contentment that could never have been attained previously. I sometimes wonder whether officers are treated with the same consideration; I very much hope they are.
Turning over the page now to the table on pages 18 and 19, we see briefly set out four typical careers in the Royal Navy, and I think that nobody, except possibly the sailor himself, would suggest that the pay and allowances are anything less than good. This, coupled with the career prospects, should be sufficient to attract the right sort of man to the Navy. There is just one point on which I would remark on this table. On the left-hand side of that page is "Petty Officer B": we see that at the age of 30 he is now available for drafting to a destroyer or frigate as coxswain, which is virtually the senior rating in the ship. There is nothing wrong with youth at the helm, and indeed it is one of the essential ingredients of the Royal Navy.
But looking across to the opposite page now at "Commander D" we see that at the age of 40 he is in command of a frigate. I realise, of course, that in this technical age there is a lot more for an officer to learn than there used to be, and it may be that as a result his climb up the promotion ladder is a little 1377 slower. Of course, for all I know "Commander D" may already have commanded a frigate previously. Nevertheless, it seems to me that by the time an officer has reached the age of 40 he should be commanding something rather larger than a frigate. Perhaps it is that there are so few ships larger than frigates now that the chances of his getting a larger command are remote indeed, and certainly a frigate at 40 is a great deal better than nothing. But perhaps the First Lord can say when he comes to wind up if indeed 40 is now a normal age for the captain of a frigate.
Turning now to page 21, we read about the greatly increased maintenance problems, particularly in destroyers and frigates, and of the measures being taken to deal with them, but neither on this page nor, indeed, anywhere else in the Explanatory Statement is there any appreciable information about the Royal Dockyards. I realise that the Fleet, its composition, its manning and its employment, is, as it were, the end product, and therefore it very naturally and very properly occupies the limelight. But the Fleet cannot operate without the dockyards, and the dockyards are therefore very important and, indeed, very expensive establishments.
A great deal has happened to our dockyards in the last few years, and, as your Lordships very well know, with the reduction in the strength of the Fleet there has been a drastic reduction in the number of Royal Dockyards available to it. Sheerness, Bermuda, Malta, Simonstown, Trincomalee and Hong Kong have all either closed down or have passed out of Admiralty control. Indeed, the only two Royal Dockyards that I can think of outside the United Kingdom left available to the Fleet are those at Gibraltar and Singapore. This is a sobering thought. I am not saying it is wrong; indeed it is entirely right, but it much underlines the importance of Fleet maintenance and afloat support. I am not drawing any other important conclusion from this, but I suggest that in future years the Explanatory Statement might include a paragraph or two on the Royal Dockyards, and might also mark the Royal Dockyards on the excellent map at the end.
1378 I turn back to page 6. Facing it there is a fine picture of three of our aircraft carriers exercising in the Mediterranean. The note underneath it reads:The reduction in the number of overseas bases has increased the strategic importance of these mobile airfields.My Lords, indeed it has. Yet we find that, like last year, we have only four carriers in the operational fleet. Of those four, one, according to the Explanatory Statement, is refitting, leaving only throe immediately available for operations. Of those three, one is in the Far East and two are either at home or in the Mediterranean. For as long as that situation lasts this picture of those three aircraft carriers steaming in line ahead must remain as a picture and cannot be reproduced in real life.
In the debate on the Estimates last year I suggested that one aircraft carrier in the Far East was insufficient for an area of that magnitude and importance. Surely weight is given to this argument to-day. If Press reports are correct, "Victorious" left Hong Kong about a week ago, and if my estimation is anywhere near right she must now be in the Arabian Sea getting somewhere near the Persian Gulf. From Hong Kong to her destination—if indeed the Persian Gulf is her destination, and I cannot imagine it is anything else—she has to steam well over 5,000 miles and will take, I suppose, eight to nine days. She may have been given this time on this occasion, but perhaps it may not always be such an easy run. It is not only because of the size of the area that I say that we should have more than one carrier in the Far East, but because it is most unwise to have all one's eggs in one basket. In the last war we lost the "Hermes" off the coast of Ceylon very soon after hostilities commenced in Japan. In that case, serious though the loss was, it was cushioned by the fact that we had two large fleet carriers on the station at the same time.
If I remember aright, the First Lord suggested last year that it was important that noble Lords should be realistic when advocating a larger fleet. I took that to mean that there was no point in making suggestions that could not possibly be paid for. No one will quibble with that advice; but, in spite of that, I think I am being realistic when I say that one aircraft carrier East of 1379 Suez is insufficient. I do not know precisely what notices our carriers are at when they are in reserve or refitting. Paragraph 22 just says "short notice". But if I could be told that they were at very short notice, or if I could be given the precise time, I should be less anxious than I am now. In default of that, I can only repeat what I said last year: I believe that it is vital that we should have at least two carriers East of Suez. Of course, what I am really saying is that instead of four carriers in the operational fleet we should have five, so that with one away refitting (and, of course, the refit programme must go on) we should still be left with four effective carriers for immediate operations, which would allow for two for East of Suez.
§ LORD CHATFIELD
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord—I apologise for interrupting the interesting speech he is making—what is the outlook he has in mind with the advice that we should have more carriers East of Suez?
My Lords, last year I pointed out, and I think I said again to-day, that it is because of the size of the area. You cannot have a carrier to cover the whole of the enormous space of the Far Eastern station, which now really stretches from the Persian Gulf to the Philippines or further. There is also the point of having all one's eggs in one basket.
§ LORD CHATFIELD
Surely, you must also have an enemy in sight if possible before you can make your plans on those lines. I know that this is a difficult problem. I ask only out of my own interest.
My Lords, I think the present situation does much to underline the reason for having a second carrier. The "Victorious", so far as we know, left Hong Kong a week ago, and if things had blown up rather more quickly than they had done, she might not have been in time. It looks now as if she may well be in time, but the circumstances might well have been otherwise.
Now a word about our anti-submarine forces. Once more, I do not believe that we and our N.A.T.O. allies have yet nearly sufficient large modern, high-speed frigates to deal with Russia's submarines. 1380 I am not going to dwell on this point to-day; but to me, this shortage will have disastrous consequences in the event of war. A large number of large, high-speed frigates is what we want—nothing less will do. There is no short cut; there is no easy way out. When I say "high-speed" I mean 30 knots or more. I understand that some of our modern frigates have a top speed of something under 30 knots. In my estimation, this at once enormously reduces their effectiveness, and will often render them impotent against the nuclear submarine. With the modern submarine, as soon as she has attacked or has been otherwise detected, all she has to do is is to turn upwind and go off submerged at her full speed of 25. 30 or 35 knots, whatever it may be; and there are few days in the year in the Atlantic, or for that matter in the Arctic or in the North Sea, when a small surface ship, heading into the sea, could for long keep up with her. Helicopters will help to solve this problem, but they want a fairly steady platform for landing on, and in my view nothing smaller than a large frigate will do for this. I had intended to refer briefly to hovercraft, but this the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, has covered sufficiently, and broadly speaking, I agree with what he said.
Now one final word on the Portland spy case and the Romer Report. I have no personal interest in or connection with this affair apart from the fact that I have a son in the Royal Navy. I have no wish whatsoever to belittle the seriousness of the matter, but I am pleased beyond measure that the Prime Minister was not prepared to accept the First Lord's offer of resignation. I am sure that I am right there. I am equally sure that my feelings are shared by a large proportion of the officers and men of the Royal Navy; and when I say "a large proportion", I mean all those officers and men who have worked with the noble Lord and who have had personal contact with him.
§ 3.47 p.m.
§ LORD CONGLETON
My Lords, I must first apologise to your Lordships in that I have a long-standing engagement and have to leave before the end of this debate, and for this I claim your Lordships' indulgence. I should also 1381 like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, who has kindly allowed me to speak before he speaks on this occasion. From that point of view, I will try to be as brief as possible, but where I repeat what has been said already it is merely to emphasise what has been said.
The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, commenced by referring to the Report and its heading "The Value of Sea Power". I cannot but agree with him that this is the finest opening to a Report that I personally have seen and read. I think, in particular, that the last three sentences of the first paragraph are most important, and of course they are high-lighted entirely by the troubles in Kuwait at this moment, where there have been sandstorms and difficulties of airspace. I do not think one need say more. Surely the whole problem that is posed by that question is one of mobility. The whole secret of the Royal Navy has always been mobility. It has always been, everywhere in the world, covering a particular part of the world. Up to a point, it is like a large fishing net; there have been small units dotted around covering that particular area while, in the wooden and particularly strong end of the net there has been a strong force. It used to be the Grand Fleet; it was the Home Fleet during the last war, and surely now it must become the Polaris submarines.
It was said, I believe, in the 1914–18 War that there was only one man who could lose the war in one day, and that was the noble Admiral who sat in Scapa Flow. It was, without doubt, the Home Fleet, which also remained in Scapa Flow, or thereabouts, during the last war, that controlled the surface vessels which were liable to come out and would have destroyed our convoys, in some ways far more satisfactorily, from the enemy point of view, than the submarines were ever able to do.
In addition to that, to-day, with changing conditions we require a "fire brigade" force. In fact, surely the Navy has always provided that "fire brigade" force. There were times, I think in the 'twenties and 'thirties when Royal Marine detachments in the West Indies were put on board cruisers, as they then were, to deal with rioting and troubles in the area and to assist anyone who required assistance. The natural follow-up of 1382 that, of course, is the Commando carrier that we have to-day. That, my Lords, is surely what the Navy is required to do. It must be the "fishing net" to cover the whole world if possible; and it must have a large force which is capable of dealing with the major threat if it should come. It also requires to have the additional forces of all arms combined with the other Services which can be used on minor occasions. It is beyond me, I am afraid, to work out the economics of this and I have no doubt I shall be told that what am proposing is entirely beyond our resources. But those are the three jobs which must be done.
Where at the moment are we falling down? I would suggest that a small vessel, if it has a greater endurance and a greater speed, can cover a larger area of water on this earth's surface. I suggest that a modern frigate of to-day, of the present size and with a nuclear propulsion unit, would be able to do that in much the same way as the old cruiser was able to do it. I would ask the First Lord what has happened to our nuclear-power projects for surface vessels. I understood from the Report we had last year that tenders for a merchant ship of 65,000 tons dead-weight were to be considered, and the result of the considerations was to be reported by October of last year. So far as I know, nothing has yet been said. I myself should feel much happier if one knew whether this project had been abandoned for some reason or whether it is to go forward.
That brings up another rather difficult point at the moment: the question of the new "Queen" which is to be built for the Cunard Steam-Ship Company. I feel that a great many people would be satisfied if they knew that this ship would be capable of adaption for a nuclear unit of some variety, because it would then be an immense fillip not only to the whole of the shipping industry but to the whole of the merchant fleet. One must not forget that it is the merchant seamen and the merchant fleet with whom the Royal Navy so often have to co-operate and work. It is very important that they should feel that they are being properly backed.
To follow that up, I was very interested to see that when it came to pursuing the dissident Portuguese liner the "Santa 1383 Maria", the only ship (or boat, one may like to call it) which was really able to "shadow" her efficiently was an American nuclear submarine. All the other surface vessels had to turn to harbour to refuel. I would suggest that if there had been one surface vessel with that same endurance power as the submarine had the situation would have been very different. I am thinking particularly with regard to general police work which navies have to do all over the world. There is the anti-piracy patrol and work of that sort, and that very often entails the boarding of ships. Trying to board a liner of the size of the "Santa Maria" from a submarine would, I think, be virtually impossible and certainly very difficult. If one had had a surface ship with that form of propulsion and that endurance one might have been able to get somewhere. However, I will not pursue that thought further for the moment.
May I turn now to the question of development and research in our Report? It is noticeable that all our active ships are becoming more and more modern; that the old ships are being scrapped and disposed of. The reserve gets smaller and smaller. I accept the principle that the Royal Navy must not become obsolete, and that there is no point in keeping obsolete ships and just leaving, them there in case they are required. But, my Lords, it is surely no good to run down the Navy to the extent where it is not able to carry out the jobs which are given to it. I recall what the noble and gallant Field Marshal, Lord Harding of Petherton, said and has said quite often in your Lordships' House when referring to the size of the Army: "It is much better to have enough men and materials to do the job than to have too few and to overload them, because, while that may work for a short while, it will not work for ever, and then you are in real trouble." In fact, my Lords, I suggest that the Fleet is too small as it stands at the moment. I imagine that to correct that would require an expansion in manpower, which would cost money, and that I shall be told that it is not available.
However, on the development and research side I am sure that everybody will be glad to see that there is to be a 1384 new "Discoverer". The work done by the Oceanographic Department is, I think, very little known and could well be better publicised. I am very glad to see that they are to have a modern ship and will be able to continue with their work. And, in the same breath, I should like also to refer to the Hydrographic and Survey Department of the Admiralty. They tend rather to be forgotten, but they are always there and they are always providing charts for everybody in the world and covering the world. I think that we owe an immense debt to them for the fact that our charts are always up to date and that when we go round the world we can navigate in reasonable safety. Another particular department or class of people who seem to have been rather left out in connection with development is the Corps of Constructors. The Admiralty's Corps of Constructors consists of highly skilled men who are responsible in the main for producing our new vessels; thinking up the new designs and also repairing the existing ones. For a very long time they have been dealt with in a rather offhand manner, and I should like to ask the First Lord whether at the present moment those in the Corps of Constructors are, in his view, adequately paid and whether there are enough of the constructors to do the work they are required to do.
Also, on that point of research may I return to nuclear propulsion? I understand that the "Savannah", the ship which the United States have now built and installed for nuclear propulsion, has in it engines and boilers and subsidiary machinery which has been built and made and manufactured by a firm which originated from this country and is still associated, in a large measure, with the firm in this country. It would be interesting to know whether the "know-how" which that firm is gaining is being passed on to industry at this end. It may not be possible to answer that question to-day, but I am sure it would be very interesting to know the answer; because one would then feel happier that, even if we had not got a ship of this type at sea and doing trials of our own, we were at least gaining some of the knowledge which was essential for this project.
1385 Finally, my Lords, may I turn to the question of manpower? On the manpower side, the most encouraging thing that I have seen for a long time is the figure for re-engagements. I do not think one can stress too highly how important that is. It is quite impossible to train men if you have not the experienced people to train them; and one must congratulate the Admiralty on having arrived at the situation where they can retain their people in the Service. Having said that, I would always return to my old hobby-horse, which is to refer to the fact that two-thirds of our Naval personnel are still on shore. To me, my Lords, it always seems wrong that in a sea-going Service two-thirds of that Service should be on shore, not gaining essential experience of the different conditions of the life one lives at sea. Having said that, I would leave the point.
In addition, I should like to ask what is the position about wastage after training. There have always been excellent dockyard training schools, and the various training establishments for boys and juniors have always been good. Entirely from a Service point of view, one of the sad things, if you go to a lot of trouble to train up a young man to a skill, in the hope that he will carry on and produce a fine result in the Service, is to see him leaving after he has completed his training and going into industry. My Lords, I am told that industry likes this, and that, for them, it is an admirable means of getting highly-skilled men into industry. I am sure that for the country as a whole it is a good thing that that should continue to happen, but for those people who do the training it is possibly a little frustrating when they see, not always their best but some of the lads they have trained going elsewhere.
My Lords, I will finish by referring again, if I may, to the Portland secrets trial. The noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, said that everybody in the Service and attached to it was very glad that the Prime Minister felt he could not accept the First Lord's resignation. I can only echo those words, both from my own knowledge and from that of my friends, who have all said exactly the same thing to me. He is very highly thought of by them, and they would be very sorry to see him go.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ LORD AMPTHILL
My Lords, with other noble Lords who have spoken I should like to congratulate the First Lord, his colleagues and the Admiralty staff on this production, the Explanatory Statement on the Navy Estimates, which we are considering to-day. I think it is excellently produced and very interesting, and is a very good document. I believe that this document shows that our naval thinking and planning is on the right lines. It also shows that we are still woefully weak in many respects, particularly that of numbers. The only other direct comment I want to make on the Explanatory Statement is that, like the noble Lord, Lord Congleton, I think it would be very interesting to your Lordships if next year, perhaps, we could have a paragraph on the surveying service. I had made a note to mention that before the noble Lord, Lord Congleton, mentioned it. I also strongly support all that he said about the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors.
In these days it is the Minister of Defence, subject to the responsibility of the Cabinet and the Defence Committee, who has authority to decide:all major matters of defence policy affecting the size, shape, organisation and disposition of the Armed Forces, their weapons and warlike equipment and supply, including defence, research and development".This is the constitutional position, though I do not think it is the reason why the First Lord, if I may be permitted to offer him my sympathy, is not allowed to occupy his own house. However, for these reasons I thought it might be useful to refresh my mind on the contents of the Report on Defence, 1961, the White Paper Cmnd. 1288, which we have already debated, just to see what references to naval matters were con-contained in that document. There are not many, though, happily, there is no repetition of the statement in an earlier White Paper that the role of the Navy was not clear, or words to that effect. The only direct references in Cmnd. 1288, other than finance and manpower, are two in number. Paragraph 14, under the heading "The Conventional Force", refers to "increased naval strength", while paragraph 3 has this to say:The Soviet fleet of submarines is of great size. Mr. Khrushchev has claimed the possession of nuclear submarines. We must expect 1387 the number of these to increase and that they will carry nuclear missiles".My Lords, I am glad that the submarine forces of a potential enemy obviously occupy such a prominent place in the thinking of the Ministry of Defence, because in my view it is this force which presents the greatest menace to us and to our Allies—to us probably more than to our Allies. All in your Lordships' House will remember how near we came to disaster in both world wars, due to the depredations of the U-boats. To-day, as then, we require at least one million tons of supplies a week to keep this country going, and it is the fundamental duty of the Navy—and here I must add Coastal Command—to ensure the safe and timely arrival of the convoys.
The Explanatory Statement which we are debating to-day shows clearly how many (or perhaps one should say how few) vessels we have for this essential convoy work; but, of course, it does not show what contribution could be made by the Commonwealth and the Allied navies. For this reason, I do not intend to pursue the question of numbers in detail, though I am pretty sure that the combined naval forces available to the Alliance are inadequate in number. All that I feel I can usefully add to-day is to draw attention again to this all-important question of convoy protection and anti-submarine measures, and to make a few brief comments thereon.
First, we hear and read a lot about the versatility of our ships, and they certainly are most marvellously equipped with real compendiums of armaments, radar, and so forth. But I wonder, as I mentioned last year, whether we are going too far in this direction of cramming everything into a comparatively small number of ships. These ships cannot be everywhere at once. They cannot be available all the time. Refits and maintenance are necessary, while in war time we must expect action damage, or total loss. Furthermore, under active service conditions ships are driven very hard indeed in all sorts of weather, and it is not only the enemy which causes damage.
An American friend of mine, who served in the United States Navy throughout World War II, and is still engaged in some studies on their behalf, 1388 with whom I have discussed this important question of proper protection for the Allied sea communications, summarised it like this in a recent note to me:We"—that is, those in the United States—are coming so regard it"—that is, protection of our sea communications—as one of the matters where quality, as stressed by the scientists, technologists and even some strategists, in weapons and ship capabilities, simply has to be `traded off' in favour of quantity capabilities.That is a slightly American expression, my Lords, but that is how he wrote it. I believe this to be an important point, and that we should develop without delay, if only in prototype, a simpler and less complex ship, a type of escort vessel which can be readily, and comparatively cheaply, produced in numbers. We have had to do this in both World Wars. In World War I we had the "Flower" class sloops—the so-called "herbaceous border"; in World War II we had the corvettes. I agree strongly with my noble friend, Lord Ashbourne, that both the "herbaceous border" of World War I and the corvettes of World War II are too slow. At this point, I again must mention Coastal Command, which has a vital part to play in the protection of our sea routes.
VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLS-BOROUGH
My Lords, would the noble Lord excuse my asking him a question? I am very interested in his argument. It is a very important thing to consider when you have to consider a naval programme. What would his view be about the personnel who would have to be provided for and safeguarded, with the changing methods of warfare? Should we be justified in multiplying the classes of our ships, and having perhaps half the personnel in simply-armed ships with practically no protection at all against the new weapons? That is a rather difficult thing for me to face up to in my mind as an ex-First Lord. How does he propose to deal with that?
§ LORD AMPTHILL
My Lords, I think this is a highly technical matter which, at my stage of life, I do not feel really competent to discuss in detail. Ships are very expensive to-day. The equipment which goes into them is very expensive, and I think that our research and 1389 development, and those who have the "know-how", should be devoted, as my American friend said, to "trading off" some of the quality in favour of quantity. Of course, a ship with a less complex armament would have a smaller complement, and the said complement would not require quite such lengthy and technical training. It is a very difficult question, but we have too few ships in every class, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, showed, and we have certainly too few ships in the convoy protection business. I am just throwing out an idea—which may be nonsense—because I believe that in anti-submarine work quantity, subject to some minimum scale of armament, has an important part to play.
VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLS-BOROUGH
I am very much obliged; but when we go back and recollect the awful revulsion of feeling when we had trawlers doing escort work on the East Coast, or even in the far Western Atlantic when the Americans were short at the opening of their phase in the war, with nothing but a Lewis gun on board, I think it is a shocking thing. We really have to try to find not only the right number, but the right power to give some reasonable protection to the men who form the crews.
§ LORD AMPTHILL
My Lords, I said in my remarks that I thought the "herbaceous border" class of World War I were too slow; that I thought the corvettes of World War II were also too slow; and I certainly agree with the noble Viscount that trawlers are too slow. I do not think the answer lies in calling upon trawlers for anti-submarine measures. They may have certain limited uses inshore, but I do not think we can use them for any serious anti-submarine escort work.
What I think is even as important as the ships—and maybe the answer lies in this—is, first of all, in building up these Wessex helicopters in their antisubmarine role, getting great numbers of them, or as many as we can afford; and secondly, in building up Coastal Command. I referred to this in the recent Air debate, and the only reason I mention it again to-day is that Coastal Command is intimately linked with the Navy in convoy protection and anti- 1390 submarine work. Since I spoke in the Air debate, I have received further information which rather confirms my suspicions that Coastal Command is not as strong as it should be. All I was going to do in this debate—which is, in any case, a naval debate—was to ask the First Lord whether he could add his weight to representations to the Minister of Defence to give a little higher priority to more equipment for Coastal Command.
From our defence against enemy submarines I should like to turn to our own submarines. The Memorandum shows that we have 30 conventional types in commission and 24 in reserve. Since our potential enemies do not possess a very great number of capital ships, except cruisers, perhaps, I presume the main function of our own submarines would be in the fields of patrol reconnaissance, anti-shipping, and many other subsidiary duties, such as landing commandos, agents, and so forth, all of which they did on many occasions in the last war. I do not know how many, if any, of our submarines are fitted for minelaying, but however that may he, it seems to me that our own conventional type submarines will, in the main, be required to operate in narrow, confined waters. Therefore I do not think we require conventional submarines any larger than those joining the fleet now.
Talking of large submarines, I think your Lordships may be amused to be reminded of the distinguished submarine officer in World War I who took one of the early "K" class submarines out for her initial diving trials. As soon as she had reached periscope depth on her first dive ever—which is quite an exciting moment—he went to the voicepipe and spoke to his first lieutenant, who was in the fore end by one of the torpedo tubes, to see if they leaked, I suppose, and said: "Number One, my end is diving; is yours?"
Large or small submarines have another function, and that is, of course, hunting and killing enemy submarines. It is not so easy, as the records of successful kills in both World Wars show clearly. High underwater speed is essential, and if this can be combined with high surface speed and long endurance, so much the better. The "R" class submarines of World War I were built specially for anti-U-boat work, with an 1391 underwater speed of fifteen or sixteen knots, but they only had eight knots on the surface. However, they had only one small diesel engine and it took literally hours to charge their batteries. I think that perhaps the noble Viscount who initiated this debate may remember this. These inherent disadvantages are probably the reason we did not develop any anti-submarine submarines in World War II. It seems to me that this is where the nuclear-powered submarine comes into its own, for anti-submarine work, particularly in the oceans. Their high underwater speed and ability to remain submerged more or less indefinitely should make them most formidable anti-submarine weapons. For this reason, I hope that the "Dreadnought" will be completed without further delay, in order that we may gain early experience of this type of ship in operation. It is very satisfactory to note from the Memorandum that a second submarine of this type is on order. I Saw from the papers the other day that material is well ahead for laying her down.
With our limited resources, I hold the view that it is right and proper for us to give priority to this class of nuclear-powered submarine rather than to vessels equipped with Polaris weapons or weapons of that type. I say this because I think that we, of all the Allies, must give priority to those ships and weapons directly applicable to the maritime strategy so essential to our development. From what one reads in the papers, the United States Navy has a very efficient production line for Polaris armed nuclear type submarines. In fact, I have seen it suggested that they are off the production line so quickly that the Americans are going to have difficulty in finding trained crews. I am not suggesting, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, did, that we should ask them to lease-lend them; but I would suggest that we should see if we cannot make a hire purchase deal with them, on the basis that we man four or five of these Polaris armed submarines. It seems to me that that would be a more sensible way of conserving not only our limited resources but also the Allied limited resources, instead of trying to set up a production line for Polaris armed submarines in this country.
1392 Personally, I do not know enough about these Polaris submarines (if I may abbreviate the name) and their capabilities to appreciate whether they should be regarded as a specialised weapon solely in aid of the deterrent, or whether they have wider potentialities. But, certainly I believe that the Polaris type submarine in the hands of an enemy could be a real menace to our convoys, or to any shipping for that matter. It might be that such a threat would cause us to sail our convoys very considerably dispersed, and this would mean a requirement for even larger numbers of escort ships, Coastal Command aircraft, and the rest of the anti-submarine team. This is another reason why I hope that in future years Coastal Command will receive particularly high priorities.
I should like briefly to refer to the guided-missile destroyers. I agree very much with the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, that "guided-missile destroyer" is really not a suitable name. Through the courtesy of the First Lord some of us were able to see a model of these beautiful ships, a photograph of which is reproduced in the Memorandum. I think that they are going to turn out magnificent ships. I question whether, with their 6,000 tons displacement, it is right to class them as destroyers. Some of your Lordships will remember, as I do, that "destroyer" is merely a contraction for torpedo boat destroyer—the T.B.D.'s of 1914. I really think that these beautiful (because they are beautiful) and useful ships, the "Devonshire" and her sisters, should be more properly classed as cruisers, or light cruisers. They look to me as if they should have good sea-keeping qualities, and if, as I hope, they also have good endurance, they will prove a most valuable addition to the Fleet.
From ships to men. Again thanks to the First Lord, some of us were able to see a film of apprentice training in the Royal Navy. I was very much impressed by this and full of admiration for what was being done and for the way it was being done. When I spoke in the Navy debate last year, I expressed some bewilderment as to the Admiralty policy for training officers. Towards the end of last year I found in your Lordships' Library, a publication called Officer, produced by the Ministry of Information for the Admiralty. I 1393 cannot speak too highly of this publication—I have a copy here if noble Lords are interested. Not only is it beautifully produced, but, more important, it gives the information and encouragement needed by any boy who contemplates joining the Navy, or by his parents. It supplements, more usefully for the layman, pages 18 and 19 of the Memorandum, which are also very useful.
On the subject of officers, I have only one question to ask the First Lord. It refers to retired officers. At the outset of the last war, we had no fewer than 8,000 retired officers available. They were called up for service, most of them before the Royal Proclamation. Today I suspect that there are about the same number, maybe even more, of whom I am one. Until a year or two ago, I used to receive a piece of paper annually from their Lordships in Queen Anne's Mansions, inquiring as to my state of health, my address, and whether I was prepared to serve anywhere. This has now ceased—I do not know why. Maybe it is because I am too old. But if that is so, my answer is that I am not so old as many who performed valuable service in the last year, including one distinguished officer who served with the Commandos and got a bar to his World War I D.S.O. I have a suspicion (I cannot be quite sure about this, but at any rate it is before the time of the present First Lord) that this annual roll call ceased at the same time as the then current White Paper on Defence stated that the Navy's role in any future war was not certain—or words to that effect.
Nobody can have a higher opinion of our reserves than I have. I served with many of the retired officers in both world wars. Nevertheless, Regular officers now retired, many of them still young—much younger than I am—will be required if another emergency arises. Lastly—and I have deliberately kept this to the last—I would remind your Lordships of the distinguished services in the last war of Sir Bertram Ramsay and Sir James Somerville, who were both on the Retired List at the beginning of the war and who, I am glad to say, were retired to the Active List and promoted to full Admiral before the end of the war—and jolly well they deserved it!
1394 The Memorandum sets out very clearly the available vessels for Fleet support, or The Fleet Train. The Fleet Tram becomes ever more important, as the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, has pointed out, as our bases overseas diminish. One sees every day, when one opens one's paper, that some nationalist leader threatens to kick us out of a base. I am wondering whether it would be wise to spend £3 million on a base in East Africa. Only the other day, I met somebody back from Ceylon, who had a connection with the Navy there, and he told me that it was run right down now and overgrown. Even if these independent countries said: "Yes, you can come in and use your base again", it would not be ready for us.
I would remind your Lordships that the Fleet Train does not only have to supply fuel oil; it has many other functions to perform. I have been reading the history of the United States naval operations in the Pacific during the recent war, and I found a record of the largest logistic operation ever performed on the high seas. In three days' refuelling and replenishment at sea at the end of July, 1945, the American fleet took aboard 6,369 tons of ammunition, 50,000 tons of fuel oil, 1,600-odd tons of provisions, 99 aircraft replacements and 412 officers and men replacements. Task Force 38, that well-known American force, was by any standard a very large fleet, and almost certainly larger than anything we are likely to see in the near future. Nevertheless, I think it worth while to bring these figures to your Lordships' notice to show the magnitude and scope of the job when we are divorced from our bases.
As regards our own provisions for a Fleet Train as disclosed in the Memorandum, I only want to say that I think we need at least one more fully equipped repair ship. I realise that in the event of an emergency many gaps in our Fleet Train can be plugged by taking out suitable merchant shipping—store ships and so forth; but repair ships are not easily and quickly come by, and they are invaluable in war time. Other units which should be thought about sooner, rather than later, are water-distilling ships and carriers, because the general shortage of water at Gibraltar, Algiers and other Mediterranean ports, as well as at Sierre Leone, to name only a few, 1395 caused great difficulties for Her Majesty's ships and transports alike during the last war. It also gave us a lot of trouble in the First World War, and we did not learn our lessons between the two wars. I believe that in 1945 one floating brewery (if not two) was supplied by the Admiralty to join the Fleet Train that had been created for our Pacific Fleet. I must reluctantly state that I think water carriers and distilling ships must take priority over floating breweries.
I am sure that we all welcomed the First Lord's statement the other day that another Royal Marine Commando is to be formed. Events of the past week show how right it was to get the Royal Marines afloat again, and there is no doubt that "Bulwark" has proved her value in the recent operations at Kuwait. Now that we have a Fleet, small in both numbers and size, it is no longer possible to land, as we did in days gone by, the seamen and marines of the Fleet to deal with what it is now fashionable to describe as a bush or brush fire (I never know which it is) or a fire brigade operation—although past performances of this nature are somewhat scornfully referred to as "gunboat diplomacy". However, the great thing is that we have the Marines afloat again in larger numbers and better equipped possibly than ever before; and, because they are trained together, better trained than ever before.
I imagine that the reason why "Bulwark" and "Albion" were selected as commando carriers was that their hulls and machinery were immediately available and that they still had some running life in them. I say this because I cannot regard them as being by any means ideal for the purpose. I believe that the United States Navy refer to this class of ship as "vertical envelopment ships", because I suppose their principal method of landing the Marines is by helicopter. They have only four landing craft. From accounts of the exercise "Pony Express" (I have not seen any details of the Kuwait landing, but I read about "Pony Express") it took over three hours to land 440 men with their equipment, although they had the advantage of an uninterrupted shuttle service of helicopters; and in this exercise in North Borneo there was no opposition. Fortunately for us there was no opposition at Kuwait, 1396 but if the Iraqi Migs had appeared on the scene there might not have been an uninterrupted shuttle service of helicopters.
I see from the photograph on page 6 of the Memorandum that "Bulwark" carries no fewer than 90 vehicles and guns on her flight deck. I do not know if these were landed in Borneo, but when watching "Panorama" the other night the announcer said that the background pictures were the Marines' vehicles being ferried ashore. I do not know how they got ashore, but perhaps it was in one of the ships of the amphibious squadron from Bahrein. The weight of vehicles on the flight deck must add considerably to the top weight, which is the bugbear of all naval constructors. Nevertheless with all these disadvantages, I think that, as an ad hoc measure, the use of "Bulwark" has certainly proved her value in a big way in Kuwait, and I should like to add my humble congratulations to those who were responsible for ensuring that she was in the right place at the right time. But I think eventually we must have something better than "Bulwark" and her sister ship "Albion" to carry Her Majesty's "jollies" about the oceans and land them wherever required. Landing by helicopter is an interesting new technique, but I think it has strictly limited application, even when helicopters are enlarged and improved.
The new assault ship, details of which appeared in the Press earlier in the year (mentioned in paragraph 30 of the Memorandum), may be the answer, but I am a little apprehensive about this ship, because again we seem to be trying to do too much in one ship. As I understand it, she is to be a multipurpose ship, carrying not only the assault troops, their equipment, stores and landing craft, but also the headquarters staff and combined staff. If that be true, she will make a really "juicy" target for an enterprising submarine commander or aviator, and the whole expedition can be "in the drink" very quickly.
Before I leave the sphere of combined operations, I should like to say how much I welcome the statement which I have seen somewhere (I think probably in the Press) that the Royal Artillery are to train with the Royal Marine 1397 Commandos. I imagine that this training has not yet started, because the Royal Artillery Parachute Regiment was flown straight from Aldershot to Kuwait last week-end, which I think was a very hard thing. But I am sure that it is a wise move to train the men of the Royal Artillery with the Royal Marines, seeing that we no longer have that fine body of men the Blue Marines—in other words, the Royal Marine Artillery.
That leads me to a question which I should like to ask, although it may not be possible for the First Lord to answer it to-day. I would ask whether the Royal Engineers are likewise going to embark for training with the Royal Marines; or is it the intention (and this is a course that I personally should prefer) to reconstitute the Royal Marine Engineers? The Royal Marine Engineers did fine work in the last war, and they could have done a lot more if the Admiralty had really understood their role more properly.
I have had some opportunity to study not only the work of the Royal Marine Engineers in the last War—their heavy battalions did a remarkably good job of clearing up Le Havre before the Americans had anybody available—,but also the work by the United States Navy Construction battalions, generally referred to as the "Sea Bees". It seems to me that, with this mobile conception, it is necessary to have with the Royal Marine Commandos or assault troops elements of engineers or sappers with equipment to clear a rear landing strip, or something Like that. I think that possibly the simplest way in which the Royal Marine Engineers could be reconstituted would be to form yet another wing of the Royal Marine Fleet Volunteer Reserve. This already has a commando wing, or ship wing, and it might have also an engineer wing.
Before I leave the Royal Marines, there is one other question I should like to ask. It is a minor one, and again I do not expect the First Lord will answer it today, but it is of no urgency. In 1943, when we landed in North Africa, we found ourselves in considerable administrative and disciplinary trouble, if I may put it that way, because some of our marines were embarked and some were not—I do not, of course, mean "embarked" in a ship: "embarked" is an Admiralty expression, meaning that the 1398 marine is under the Naval Discipline Act. If he is not embarked, he is under the Army Act. A marine who was not embarked and who misbehaved would be taken before an Army Officer and it would cause a lot of trouble. When I came home to rejoin Admiral Ramsay for the Normandy Operation, I reported these troubles to my Admiral. He promptly made a signal to the Admiralty, and we had all the marines embarked in the Royal Navy, which saved everybody a lot of trouble. Those are just some of the things which caused so much trouble.
My Lords, I fear that I have spoken too long, but before I sit down I must refer in a few sentences to the Admiralty. I did a two-year war-time stint at the Admiralty, and therefore I read with very great interest the Report on the Admiralty Headquarter Organisation by a Select Committee in another place. When I joined the Admiralty, the director of my department said to me: "This is a weird and wonderful place. If you take the trouble to find out how it works and which buttons to push, there is nothing you cannot get done, and get done jolly quickly". He was perfectly right. I, and those with whom I worked, found the right buttons, and did manage to get things done, just as he said. In fact, I even succeeded in getting a Board decision reversed by a little quiet button-pushing on a Sunday morning; but that is too long a story to tell here. The noble Viscount opposite was first Lord at the time, and I shall tell him the story outside the Chamber.
After reading the Select Committee's Report I could not support their recommendation that the whole Admiralty organisation should be concentrated in London. I admit that certain economies and other advantages might well arise from such a concentration, but I believe that these would be more than outweighed by the advantages of dispersal, certainly in war time, and also in peace. The war-time advantages are obvious, but even in peace time too great concentrations of staff are undesirable, for more than one reason. The main impression left on my mind by this Report: of the Select Committee is that the Naval Staff would benefit considerably by a certain amount of streamlining and tidying-up of its naval organisation. Although 1399 finance is not strictly a matter for this House, I think there is a need for some tidying-up or cleaning up of the estimating system, because there is more than a suggestion that sometimes the Board have been given estimates that have been wrong. They decide to go ahead, and the job eventually costs much more, whereas if the correct estimate had been presented at the time they might have decided to do the job another way. I know that that sort of thing often happens. It should not happen, but it does sometimes happen in business. Good estimating is most important from the point of view of the Board's deciding what is the best policy and how we are to get the best possible value for every pound we spend.
In conclusion, I am of opinion that we must, as matter of urgency, try to provide more ships and more aircraft for the protection of our sea communications. In this connection, we must try to strike the correct balance between quality and quantity realising, as we must, that our resources are limited.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Congleton, I also have to apologise to the House for rising to speak when I was unable to be present earlier. Because of that, I missed the privilege of listening to the noble Viscount, the Leader of the Opposition, and also to my noble friend Lord Teynham. I would therefore crave your Lordships' indulgence should I repeat what has already been said. I should like first of all to congratulate my noble friend the First Lord on the excellence of his printed Statement and of the photographs which are printed in it. Taken together, they present a vivid picture of the activities of the Fleet during the past year, of the worthwhile life which the Navy has to offer, and the wide range of interests which it is able to satisfy. Indeed, if I may say so, the Statement is a model of its kind, enlightening and full of interest.
The part of the Statement which interests me most, and which I believe is of far the greatest importance to this country, is that which appears on page 3, under the heading, "The Value of Sea Power". In paragraph 2 on that page we are given an admirable state- 1400 ment of the Navy's rôle in time of peace, and the influence which the Fleet can bring to bear in maintaining peace, to which I should like to add, with all due deference, when the balance between the different types of ship which compose the Fleet is suitable to the circumstances of the time and the strategic disposition of the Fleet is in accordance with the realities of the existing situation in the world.
In the third paragraph we are told of the Navy's rôle in limited wars and "bush fires", which I find to be altogether unexceptionable until I come to the last two lines of the paragraph. Here I hope that I am not being pedantic, but I doubt whether it is absolutely correct to say that the traditional rôle of the Navy is to seek out and destroy hostile warships. Might I suggest that it would perhaps be more correct, and certainly more in accordance with what I was taught, to say that the rôle of the Navy is to keep open the lines of communication across the sea, and that experience has proved that the best means of doing that is to seek out and destroy the enemy's ships of war. Be that as it may, I would not presume to lay down what should be the present composition of the Fleet, or what should be its strategic disposition. These are jobs which should be handled by the experts.
I am reminded in paragraph 4 of the First Lord's Statement that we must prepare not only for limited wars, but also for global war. In that connection, we are told that the Navy's rôle would be as an integral part of the combined naval forces of the West. But, I would ask, what is the rôle of the combined naval forces of the West? One can only presume that, in consultation with our Allies, that has been decided, but perhaps the First Lord might see fit to tell us whether that is so, and what the decision arrived at is. I, for myself, cannot think that it could be other than what I have understood the rôle of the Navy always to have been, and that is to keep open the lines of communication across the sea so that all may pass on the sea upon their lawful occasions. If that is not the rôle of the N.A.T.O. fleet then it can be of little or no interest or value to this country.
From the First Lord's Statement I take it he is reasonably satisfied that 1401 the Navy is adequately equipped to meet such situations as are likely to arise in limited wars. But I ask, is that enough? Although the outcome of a limited war might be unpalatable and unpleasant to us, it could not threaten our future as a free and independent people; but sever the lines of sea communication between this country and the outside world for even a few weeks and we should be forced to accept whatever terms our enemy saw fit to offer, no matter how severe these might be.
In two world wars, as has already been remarked, the submarine came very close to interrupting the lines of communication to such an extent as to face this country with the shadow of starvation. I wish, therefore, to develop a little more closely the question on which the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, touched lightly, and which was developed rather further by the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, who I understood to say considered it to be the most important of all the questions facing us at this time.
In 1939 the Germans had 116 submarines, not all of them ocean-going. To oppose them we had 202 destroyers and 58 escorts, a total of 260 ships capable of anti-submarine escort duty. To-day, according to the First Lord's Statement, we have 47 destroyers and 89 frigates, or 136 ships capable of escort duty. We know from bitter experience that the 260 ships of 1939 were far too small a force to deal adequately with the German submarines. How, then, can we expect the 136 ships we now have to protect our merchant shipping against attack by a submarine force some two or three times more numerous than that which the Germans had operating in the Atlantic during the last war? And that particularly when we consider the enormous development in submarine design in recent years which has made them much more difficult to locate and greatly increased their under-water speed, while they have also been provided with weapons of much greater precision and accuracy as to ensure a proportion of hits many times greater than was possible in 1945.
Of course, I realise that the methods of detection and the weapons of destruction carried by our anti-submarine forces on the sea and under the sea and in 1402 the air have also been greatly developed, but, even so, I should be most pleasantly surprised if the First Lord were able to claim that our present anti-submarine forces could compete with the attack which could be mounted by even 50 modern submarines, far less by possibly 200 or 250. Further, I think we have to remember that the modern submarine has great endurance and can operate in waters far distant from her home ports, indeed anywhere in the oceans of the world, so that it might well be that wherever our trade went it would have to sail in convoy. From all our past experience, then, it appears highly improbable that our existing anti-submarine forces could provide adequate protection to our shipping in the North Atlantic, far less in the waters of the Mediterranean, the South Atlantic, the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
What, then, is the answer? Perhaps the First Lord has already given it in paragraph 4 of his Statement, which I take to mean that this country can no longer rely on its own Fleet for the defence of this trade, but on the naval forces of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation—at least, that is in so far as that part of the world is concerned which is covered by that Alliance. I do not for one moment doubt the good faith of our N.A.T.O. Allies, but I think it is always dangerous to rely on others to defend us, particularly when it is life itself that is at stake, and that is what is at stake here. Although I do not doubt the good faith of our Allies, war is apt to present us with unforeseen situations such as might preclude our Allies from making their full strength available for the protection of the trade routes. But even assuming that everything they have is devoted to that purpose—and at this moment I exclude from that the United States—it amounts to some 70 destroyers and 140 escorts. Adding these 210 vessels to our own provides the total anti-submarine force of 364 ships.
May I consider for one moment the situation of the United States of America? In a global war she might well have to fight on two fronts, in the Pacific and in the Atlantic. It might be that she would see a greater threat to her security from the Pacific than from the Atlantic. But, in any event, have we any knowledge, and is there any 1403 agreement, as to the proportion of our anti-submarine forces which she would be willing to devote to the protection of trade passing between British and European ports and those of North America, the Commonwealth and other friendly countries?
Assuming that she felt able to devote all her anti-submarine forces to that one purpose, the N.A.T.O. forces would be augmented by 375 destroyers and 340 escorts, so that the total force available would now become 1,061 ships, of which the United States would contribute 715, our European Allies 210, and Great Britain 136. That is not, I submit, a very satisfactory position for a country whose life depends more than any other on the maintenance of sea communications and which in 1944 contributed 500 to the 1,800 vessels then employed against enemy submarines. I repeat these figures: 1944, 500 out of 1,800; 1961, 136 out of 1,061.
It seems to me that certain unpalatable conclusions emerge from these figures and considerations. While the British Fleet can still play a valuable part in maintaining peace, while it is still capable of subduing "bush fires" and has possibly a vital rôle in a limited war, it is, by itself, incapable of performing its traditional function of keeping open trade routes so that our merchant shipping can pass to and from this country, bringing to it the food and raw materials essential to the nation's life, and taking from it to other countries finished goods necessary to pay for these essential imports. That appears to me to be the situation implicit in the First Lord's Statement, a situation the like of which has not faced this country for centuries. And there is reason, my Lords, to doubt whether the N.A.T.O. Fleet, even if fully committed, could adequately protect the trade routes. In that connection, I do not know whether we have any knowledge as to the extent to which our N.A.T.O. Allies have committed their forces to the defence of trade. But perhaps here again the First Lord might, be able to tell us whether they have entered into any specific commitments and, if so, what.
I do not believe that the British public in general has yet appreciated the very great change in our circumstances which has come about since the end of the war. 1404 The majority of people, so far as I can make out, still think of the Navy as our sure shield and as the first line of defence. Therefore, I would ask Her Majesty's Government whether the time has not come when the people of this country should be told plainly and bluntly, without equivocation, that neither the British Fleet nor the naval forces of N.A.T.O. are capable of meeting and mastering an attack on the trade routes such as could be mounted by Russia to-day, and that, consequently, peace more than ever depends upon our possession of the bomb, on which also, if global war should come, our ultimate survival might well rest.
My plea, then, to the Government this afternoon is to let the people know the plain facts of the situation so that they may be under no delusion when they choose butter rather than security.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, once again we are very grateful to the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition for the opportunity he has given us of having our annual discussion on the Royal Navy. I do not think that the noble Viscount would take me to task if I suggested that he was not a very warm admirer of Her Majesty's Government or a very stout supporter of the Government's defence and naval policies. But he is a very stout supporter indeed of the Royal Navy, a fact which has come out very clearly in the speech he made this afternoon; and, if I may say so, very properly. Because Governments may come and go, but the Royal Navy continues; and within the limits of money and material and men which the Government of the day allots to it it is to-day as efficient and up to date as ever it has been. I am grateful to those of your Lordships who have spoken in this debate, too, for what you have said, and I will make it my business to study your speeches, which have been interesting and constructive.
My Lords, you will notice that in my Explanatory Memorandum I have laid emphasis on the continuing and indeed increasing importance of sea power, and I have tried to set out the steps which we take to fit the Navy to carry out its task in the most modern conditions. It is hardly necessary to remind you of the twin problem which faces the Government: the problem of steadily increasing 1405 complexity and the rising cost of modern weapons, and, at the same time, the need to achieve a proper balance in our Armed Forces within a Budget which leaves our economy capable of contributing effectively to the cold war and of meeting all the many other calls upon it. It is a familiar problem and I will say no more about it except to ask your Lordships to bear it in mind when you consider the problems of the Royal Navy, its size and its equipment.
For example, my noble friends Lord Ampthill, Lord Ashbourne, Lord Congleton and Lord Strathclyde have all expressed concern about the size of our escort and anti-submarine forces. I, too, should like to see these increased, but this can be only at the expense of some other section of the Navy and at the risk of unbalancing the Fleet. I do not think we can devote a substantially greater share of our national resources to defence, and so we have had to plan with the knowledge that our expenditure is limited.
Speaking generally, where we have had a choice between quantity and quality we have gone for quality. By equipping our forces with the most modern weapons at our disposal we think we shall get the best value for our money in terms of the best contribution we can make to the Western defence, as well as to the best protection of our own national interests. I should be reluctant to do as my noble friend, Lord Ampthill, suggested and have what one may call a "second eleven" Navy with not so good ships as we could have. Anyway that has been our policy, quality rather than quantity; and if it has meant relying on a smaller Fleet it has also meant a Fleet of more modern and powerful ships than ever before, which in any major conflict would be combined with those of our Western allies.
My noble friend behind me rather took me to task for paragraph 4 of the Explanatory Statement and suggested that we should be capable of meeting entirely on our own the sort of situation he had in mind. I should have thought that the figures he himself gave would have made him realise that economically this would be quite out of the question. If we ourselves were asked to build up an escort fleet of over 1,000 ships we should not have the remotest prospect of having any other sort of Navy and any other 1406 defence forces of any kind at all. I believe it much wiser to put our trust in a policy of interdependence and alliances with those who think as we do.
Whatever the changes that have taken place in the last twenty years, and despite the dominance of the two industrial and military giants, Russia and the United States, we are still a Power with worldwide responsibilities. We have our special interests in the Middle East and in the Far East. We have taken upon ourselves many new military obligations as a result of the emergence of the Commonwealth from Empire. But in that evolution the facilities we enjoy in the shape of bases for carrying out our obligations have grown fewer. The barriers to the free movement of troops have greatly multiplied. The one free highway which remains open to us is the sea. As long as our world-wide obligations continue we must ensure that the Royal Navy can make use of it. In short our strategy is tending gradually to become maritime.
I do not think I am being too fanciful when I say that the wheel is now beginning to turn full circle: that the Army's dependence on the Navy in the days when the Empire was first established is now returning in the very different circumstances of the twentieth century. To-day, of course, the Navy shares that role with the Royal Air Force. But the Navy's special contribution, an increasingly valuable one, is its ability to remain poised and ready near the scene of trouble and its capacity for rapid intervention in the early stages of any incident. This, as your Lordships will readily appreciate, is the real significance of the commando ships "Bulwark", very often in the news, and the "Albion", which will join the Active Fleet next year; of the Fifth Royal Marine Commando which we shall form this year; of the assault ship which is to replace the Amphibious Warfare Squadron, and of the Fleet Air Arm with its most modern aircraft the "Sea Vixen" and soon the new "Buccaneer".
My Lords, it is easy enough to use phrases of this kind to describe the rôle of the Navy, but so often in the past it has been difficult to clothe them with real meaning. To-day, however, we can point to an actual example of the value of sea power as it has been used to support the operations in Kuwait. The 1407 Navy's power of rapid intervention has been demonstrated in the most striking fashion in the last week, and the success of these operations has shown as nothing else could do that the Navy is ready and able at a moment's notice to vindicate the claims that have been made for it.
The first British troops to land were the men of No. 42 Royal Marine Commando, who were brought, with their vehicles and equipment, over 1,000 miles to Kuwait by H.M.S. "Bulwark" in under two days, and the presence of this ship alone did a great deal to restore confidence there. H.M.S. "Bulwark" was soon joined by a force of two frigates and five tank-landing vessels from Bahrein, and the whole force was made fully self-supporting by the redeployment of tankers and replenishment ships. Other naval forces are converging quickly on Kuwait from many parts of the world at short notice. This quick and decisive action undoubtedly helped to discourage and deter any move to overrun the sheikdom. Your Lordships could have no clearer demonstration than this of the mobility and effectiveness of the Royal Navy in amphibious operations, and if this afternoon I have particularly mentioned what the Royal Navy has done in this context, because this is a Naval debate, that, of course, does not in any way detract from the success the Army and R.A.F. have had also in the operation.
But the increasing emphasis which has been laid on the amphibious capability of the Navy has not detracted in any way from its other traditional tasks which remain as important as ever: the maintenance of law and order and of peace and stability in as many corners of the globe as possible; the protection of British shipping, both in peace and war, and keeping command of the sea; or, to be more precise, the ability to use the sea wherever we wish and whenever we wish for our own purposes while denying it to the enemy. This sounds a formidable range of tasks, but to a large extent they overlap. When you hear that 75 per cent. of the Fleet is earmarked to N.A.T.O., for example, you must not suppose that only 25 per cent. remains available for the non-N.A.T.O. task. There is nothing rigid about the deployment of the Fleet to-day. Thanks to 1408 their mobility—and, as I shall explain in a minute, to the combination of qualities which we are now building into them—our warships can be switched very quickly from one role to another.
As part of this new flexible pattern we have split our Fleet into two main divisions, one East of Suez, based on Singapore, the other West of Suez. Virtually all the ships on the Home and Mediterranean Stations are now interchangeable; and as Kuwait has shown, the Fleet East of Suez can be deployed rapidly over the whole area from the Persian Gulf to Hong Kong. The importance of the Navy's new "fire brigade" role is reflected in the build-up of our naval forces at Singapore, where we now have a numerically bigger Fleet than at any time since 1945.
My noble and gallant friend Lord Ashbourne mentioned the need for a second aircraft carrier East of Suez. He is, of course, making a case for increasing the size of the carrier fleet. This would be very welcome, but with our limited resources we must rely at present largely on rapid reinforcement from the area West of Suez. We are, however, looking to see whether we can improve carrier availability East of Suez with our present Fleet, and I hope this will be possible.
I had an opportunity about two months ago of seeing for myself how the Fleet was getting on in Singapore, and I was very greatly impressed with the spirit and morale of the officers and men I met, often in very hot, humid and trying conditions. I visited the "Bulwark" at that time and was given a very interesting, and I think satisfactory, account of her first commission. I also discussed with the Commander of the 3rd Royal Marine Commando Brigade the problems which he has to face in this part of the world. My noble friend, Lord Ampthill, raised the question of artillery and "Sapper" support for the Commandos. Any support of this kind is at present supplied by the Army, and we are exploring with the War Office the possibility of associating an Artillery Regiment more closely with the Commandos; and it is, of course, the normal practice for the Commandos, whenever they are ashore, to work very closely with administrative units of the Army in the area.
1409 Now, my Lords, what are we doing to equip the Royal Navy for all these tasks? We have been steadily replacing the large number of ageing and obsolete ships, which was the inevitable legacy of the last war, with efficient, modern units. From time to time noble Lords have criticised our scrapping policy, and have suggested that we ought to have kept more of these old ships. But I can assure your Lordships that we have only been practising good forestry; pruning, thinning and replanting. Old ships cost men and money to maintain, and we have had to husband our resources of both. As I said earlier on, we have chosen to concentrate on quality rather than quantity, and I am quite sure that this policy is right. At the same time, we have been careful not to cast away any ship which has a useful and worthwhile life ahead of it.
The centrepiece of my Explanatory Statement illustrates our performance in rebuilding the Navy during the past ten years. Our main effort, after the completion of the four aircraft carriers, which, with the rebuilt H.M.S. "Victorious", will carry the Fleet Air Arm through the next ten years, has been devoted to the frigate programme. The frigate is the modern Navy's "maid of all work" and we have built 32 of them since 1951, starting with the "Whitby" class of anti-submarine vessels and going on to the improved "Rothe-say" class. The sea-keeping quality of these ships is outstandingly good, as I found out for myself when I took passage in a Force 9 Gale across the Channel last February in H.M.S. "Rhyl".
VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLS-BOROUGH
I seem to recollect that some of the programme completed since 1951 was a continuation of the programme already in existence in 1950.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
That may very well have been. I am not in any way trying to take away from the noble Viscount the programme which was laid down when he was Minister of Defence. I am saying that in the ten years, taking ten years as a figure, the Navy completed 32 frigates.
The new general purpose "Tribals", of which the first H.M.S. "Ashanti", with her revolutionary gas turbine boost machinery, has just successfully com- 1410 pleted her trials, will shortly be in service. Work is progressing on our next generation of frigates, the "Leanders", which are a later development of the "Rothesay" class. Four of these ships are already under construction, and the first, H.M.S. "Leander", was launched a week ago to-day. The three next ships are to be named "Penelope","Dido" and "Ajax". Three more were ordered as a result of competitive tendering last December, while orders for a further three ships, one of which will be built in Devonport Dockyard, will shortly be placed. With these ships, and with the "Tribals", we have developed still further the concept of multi-purpose ships capable of fulfilling anywhere in the world the anti-submarine, as well as the anti-aircraft, air-direction and bombardment rôles. To anyone who knows the complicated equipment needed for any one of these rôles to-day the combination of all of it in one hull is a really remarkable feat of design. The "Tribals "and "Leanders" will also be the first frigates to carry an anti-submarine helicopter, which will extend the range of their weapons to match that of their modern detection apparatus.
The other great step forward which we are taking in the anti-submarine field is, of course, the construction of our first two nuclear "killer" submarines. Good as the newest conventional boats are (the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, asked me the difference between the new conventional boats and the old ones) they differ only in the sense that they are an improvement on the previous ones; and a considerable improvement in the qualities of speed and silence. But good as they are, the nuclears have great advantages of speed and underwater endurance.
As your Lordships know, our second nuclear submarine has already been ordered. We have decided to call her H.M.S. "Valiant" and she will give her name to the class of boats, whose machinery will be largely British, which we hope will follow her in due course. I think it was my noble friend Lord Ampthill, who asked me the question about H.M.S. "Dreadnought". She will be commissioned at the end of next year. Work on the guided missile destroyer programme is going well. Two of these ships, the "Devonshire" and 1411 the "Hampshire", have now been launched, and the "Kent" and the "London" will follow this year. The fifth and sixth ships of the class will shortly be ordered. These last two will have an improved version of the Seaslug weapon, with greater height, range and lethality, and this will in due course be fitted as a modification to the first four of this class. But I am quite satisfied that the Seaslug Mark I is a good weapon, and in any case Seaslug Mark II, would not be ready to put into the first four of these guided-missile destroyers.
I have been taken to task about this description of these ships. I hesitate now to get into an argument with two noble Lords who have spent a lifetime in the Royal Navy. I would only say that I think that the whole name, "guided-missile destroyer" is really nonsense, if one thinks of it. After all, the one thing they do not destroy is guided missiles. But I take them to task for speaking of cruisers, because in point of fact they are not cruisers. As I understand it, the definition of a cruiser is a ship which has a built-in maintenance capability, and these ships have been designed according to destroyer standards. Although the main task of these ships will be air defence, they will carry a helicopter and will be very effective against submarines.
Finally, a word about the new assault ship—only one at the moment. One thing at a time, I think. Operating on the principle of a floating dock, she will carry her landing craft internally and release them through the stern by flooding the after part of the ship. The ship will be able to carry 700 troops, together with their vehicles and heavy equipment, and she will be able to operate helicopters. The great advantage which she will have over the Amphibious Warfare Squadron will be her ability to remain at sea and keep up with the Commando carriers, which the Squadron cannot do at present. She will be ready by the time when the ships of the Amphibious Warfare Squadron reach the end of their useful lives. I can assure the noble Viscount opposite and my noble friend Lord Ampthill, that the need for modern, fast Fleet supply and replenishment, depôt and repair 1412 ships is being borne in mind. It is being taken account of in our new construction plans, and we have comprehensive plans both for modernisation and for building.
Before leaving future developments, I think I should say something about the next generation of aircraft carriers, because my noble friend Lord Teynham asked me about them, and I noted with interest what he said generally about aircraft carriers. As I said earlier, our present carriers, with the regular modernisation and re-equipment which we are giving them to enable them to operate the latest aircraft and weapons, will last until 1970 and beyond, and we will take the necessary decisions to replace them, if we do, in good time. But new carriers would cost a great deal, and any ship which we build now must last until the 1990's. We must be quite certain that we arrive at the right answer to this matter.
On the helicopter side the Fleet Air Arm is continuing to expand as plans are laid for the second commando ship in commission and for fitting greater numbers of our escorts with helicopters for anti-submarine work. The noble Lords, Lord Ashbourne and Lord Teynham, both asked me about hovercraft. The Admiralty is co-ordinating Service interest in this machine, for which several potential Service uses have been seen. For instance, it may be valuable for anti-submarine warfare, amphibious warfare and ferrying duties, for coastal forces, logistic support for the Army, air-sea rescue and mine hunting.
VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLS-BOROUGH
My Lords, could I just revert to what the First Lord has been saying about aircraft carriers? Could not we be a little clearer as to whether costs and other difficulties do not rule out altogether the possibility of building aircraft carriers of up to 55,000 to 60,000 tons? If we could have some guidance along those lines it would be helpful. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, who put the question. We considered the matter away back in 1942 and 1943 and we were building a class of ship which was 20,000 to 25,000 tons but very fast. Some of them you have converted since. We ought not to be content, I think, in the long programme with having only, say, 1413 four in commission at a time; and you cannot hope to have much more if you are going to build big ones.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, nothing I said was intended to imply that any class of aircraft carrier was ruled out. All I meant was that these ships are going to be extremely expensive, as indeed are the aircraft to put in them; and before we decide what to build and when to build it we must be quite certain we have it right. That was all I was trying to say.
If I may return to the hovercraft, we are still building up information which will enable us to decide whether it has a Service future. But we are very much bearing in mind the potential of this new device.
I should like to turn now for a moment to the way in which we have been trimming the administrative backing of the Navy in the last ten years to match the new streamlined Fleet. There is hardly any part of it which we have not thoroughly examined during this period. As with the Fleet, we have been trying to cut out the dead wood; but in this part of the forest we have been trying not to encourage new growth. We have critically examined the task and organisations of nearly every one of the Fleet's supporting shore establishments, the dockyards, and aircraft repair yards, the naval air stations and training establishments and the stores, depôts of all kinds, both large and small, in this country and abroad.
This review has brought about such measures as the abolition of the Nore Command; the closure of Fleet establishments in the Chatham area; the closure of the dockyards at Sheerness, Portland and Hong Kong; and the transfer to commercial ownership of the Dock Yard at Malta; the concentration of the Home Air Command, as a result of which we have been able to dispose of no fewer than four operational air stations and the aircraft yard at Donibristle; the concentration of a number of research establishments, and the closure of over 50 stores and other depôts in different parts of the country.
The theme of this reorganisation has been to cut out all unnecessary tasks and to concentrate the remainer so as to increase efficiency and reduce the overhead costs. As a result of all these measures, 1414 we have saved some 40,000 civilians and about 7,000 uniformed posts ashore, and estimate that the support of the Fleet has decreased in cost as a result by £15 million annually. More recently we have turned our attention to the naval barracks. Now that our system of centralised drafting (I am glad my noble friend gave a pat on the back to it) has had time to settle down, and the run-down of Vote A is complete, many fewer ratings need to be accommodated in the barracks. We have just carried out a review of the administrative and training tasks at Devonport barracks and have found that, with the smaller naval population there, several of these can be eliminated or transferred elsewhere. We have also decided that some 140 jobs now done by sailors can be turned over to civilians. These changes will shortly be put into effect, freeing over 400 naval officers and ratings for other duties.
The task of H.M.S. "Drake" in future will be to serve as an accommodation centre for men in transit and for the crews of ships refitting in the dockyard, and to act as an accounting centre for ships and establishments of the Plymouth Command which do not carry their own accounts. That, of course, does not mean the end of the Royal Navy's historic association with Devonport, and the Navy will continue to play a prominent part in local activities, though on a somewhat reduced scale. We are now considering whether similar changes are possible at Portsmouth.
Against the background of these reviews of the Navy's shore support we have also examined very thoroughly and comprehensively the organisation of the Admiralty itself, and a number of far-reaching changes have been made with the object of improving the efficiency of naval administration. We are also overhauling the management structure of the Royal Dockyards and have introduced general managers at two of them, Chatham and Rosyth, and we will consider in due course when similar changes can be made at Devonport and Portsmouth. I have mentioned these measures because with a smaller Navy it is vitally important that we should not be administratively top-heavy and that the ratio of sea-goers to shore-based should be as high as possible. We have been vigorous and ruthless in streamlining the Navy ashore as well as afloat, and 1415 I can assure your Lordships that we shall not rest content until the tail and support of the Navy is as small as is consistent with proper backing and efficiency.
With regard to manpower, we do not see any great problem for the Navy on account of the end of National Service, because we have never had to rely very heavily upon it. It will, of course, throw up difficulties in certain categories, such as medical, dental and instructor officers, and the need for them will have to be met entirely by volunteers in future. I very much hope that there will be a good response to our efforts to recruit them.
Last autumn we introduced the Seaman Supplementary List, which I mentioned in my Explanatory Statement. The entry standards here are not quite so high as they have to be for the General List, but the prospects we offer are good and, apart from some of their training time, virtually all the officers' service will be sea time. Commissions are for ten years and officers have the option of leaving the Service after five years if they do not wish to be committed for too long. On the other hand, if they wish to stay for longer they have the chance of being considered for a permanent commission on the Supplementary List or for transfer to the General List. I very much hope that any boy who cannot quite attain the educational standards of the General List will apply for the Seaman Supplementary List, because, if accepted, he will also go to Dartmouth; he will undergo training which, for the first year, will be very similar to that of the General List cadet.
I should like to mention, too, the Fleet Air Arm. We depend on getting in a fair number of short-service or Supplementary List pilots and observers each year in order to supplement the General List. The entry standards for Supplementary List aircrew do not need to be as exacting as those for the General List, but our latest naval aircraft require a very high degree of skill and determination, and only young men of good calibre are likely to be successful. Our need for Supplementary List aircrew is increasing, chiefly because of the more extensive use of helicopters in the Fleet: and, in addition, we have been failing recently to get enough candidates of suffi- 1416 ciently good quality. We have therefore decided to introduce very shortly new and more attractive forms of Supplementary List aircrew commission. The principal change will be that officers who enter, or have entered, under the age of 22 will be able to serve until the age of 38 and then leave the Navy with a pension. If they prefer, they will still be able, like those who enter over the age of 22, to return to civilian life after a shorter period of service with the tax-free gratuities which we offer at present. A more flexible commission of this kind will also be available for helicopter pilots, who at the moment can enter only for a short commission of five years.
My Lords, recruitment of ratings has been quite brisk during the first six months of this year. The noble Viscount opposite asked what the total strength of the Navy was designed to be. It is now 100,000 and we are running it down to our figure of 98,000 by next year. The figure of 88,000, which he quoted, is only the figure of adult males born in the United Kingdom. The other 10,000 include W.R.N.S. and personnel locally entered abroad. The highlights of the past year have been the large number of applicants for the Navy and the flourishing re-engagement rate, which are both signs of the general popularity and health of the Royal Navy. I must say that, as I have been round the Fleet in the past twelve months, I have been very much aware of the fine spirit among our sailors, and this I found very heartening indeed.
The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, asked me a number of questions, some of which I have answered, and I will now try to answer some of the others. He asked about the guided-missile ships for the German Navy. They have been authorised to build eight guided-missile ships, which are about the same size as the "Hampshire". The ships are needed so that Germany can play her full part in N.A.T.O., and the requirement has been approved by the Council of the Western European Union who, acting on the recommendation of SACEUR, lifted the restriction imposed on German building by the Brussels Treaty. My noble friend behind me asked about Polaris submarines. Of course, this is a matter of Government policy and not of 1417 Admiralty plans for the Navy; and, as your Lordships will know, the Government have decided that in the present decade V-bombers will carry the British nuclear deterrent. It is not yet necessary to decide on the vehicle that will eventually replace the V-bomber, but certainly, if the Navy is asked to take on the job, we shall be ready and willing, given the money, to do so.
My noble friend Lord Congleton asked me about a nuclear-powered surface warship. We are considering the problem of the nuclear-propelled surface warship, but I think my noble friend will understand that nuclear power is still very expensive, and it is by no means clear yet whether it has worthwhile advantage in a surface ship. Of course, nuclear power offers special advantage in submarines, and that is where our first effort is going to be applied. I would remind him that the responsibility for the building of merchant ships no longer rests with me, or with the Admiralty, but is with the Ministry of Transport, to whom I think he ought to address his other questions.
The noble Viscount opposite asked about promotion in the Royal Marines, suggesting, I think, that the commandos were treated differently in this respect from the rest of the corps. My Lords, that is not so: promotion is on a corps basis. Naturally, in the Royal Marines, where morale and efficiency are about as high as they could possibly be, competition for promotion is very keen, and a number of people are bound to be disappointed; but I can assure the noble Viscount that the opportunities for promotion and the percentages that get promoted in the Royal Marines are, if anything, rather more favourable than they are in the Royal Navy.
VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLS-BOROUGH
What I should like to try to satisfy the people who write to me about it is this: in the promotions in the Royal Marines from, say, Captain to Major, is there as good a percentage from the commando officers as there is from the rest. There seems to be a feeling that it is not so; that unless you are doing the more social and other matters which come within the duty of the Royal Marine officer you do not get quite the same consideration.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, I really do not think that that is so. The commandos are almost the élite, I think, of the Forces to-day, and I assure the noble Viscount that there is no question that the Commando officers are getting their fair share of the promotions—which, as I say, are made on a corps basis.
My noble friend asked me about the ages at which officers command ships. I perhaps gave a rather unfortunate example in my Explanatory Statement, because the commander there was aged 40; but it was a particular example that I wanted to get over, because if my noble friend will look at the Statement he will see that the officer there was in point of fact an aviator, and I wanted to show that he could be an aviator and still command a frigate. But the average ages at which officers command ships are these. A small frigate would be commanded by a lieutenant-commander aged about 33, and in a large frigate or destroyer the commander would be aged between 37 and 38; so Commander D is just about finishing his command at this moment—and, of course, he is a real figure.
My noble friend Lord Ampthill asked me whether the Admiralty has stopped its annual muster of retired officers. The Admiralty has not ceased its annual muster of retired officers but, unfortunately, it has ceased to muster my noble friend, who has now gone over the age limit. However, if any emergency arises, I shall remember that he is very willing indeed to volunteer and do some more work. He also asked me about discipline in commando ships. The commandos, when embarked, are subject to naval discipline in order to preserve the responsibility of the captain for all the men who sail in the ship, but day-to-day discipline within the commandos is administered by the commanding officer of the unit, in accordance with the Army Act.
My Lords, before I close I want to say something about the Portland security case, and the steps which I have taken about Admiralty security since the arrest of Houghton and Miss Gee. Perhaps I may be allowed to say how very grateful I am to the noble Viscount opposite and to my noble friends Lord Ashbourne and Lord Congleton for what they said about me personally. Your 1419 Lordships will realise that it was impossible to take any overt action before the arrests were made, because it was important not to alert the spies. Indeed, it was only after the arrests were made that the extent of the weaknesses which have since been disclosed became apparent. As soon, therefore, as I was free to do so, I instructed all departments and establishments to review their security arrangements; and at the same time all senior officers were reminded of the special features of personnel security in the Report of the Committee of Privy Counsellors in 1956. I then set up an internal committee to review the organisation for security within the Admiralty, and at the same time ordered an examination of the working of the security system, both at headquarters and elsewhere.
All this was before the Romer Committee was appointed. The second examination is not yet complete: but, as a result of the internal Committee's report, I have now decided to set up a new Security Department within the Admiralty, in which all the threads of personnel and material security as they affect both the civilian establishment and the Fleet will be brought together. The detailed organisation and staffing of the new Department is now being worked out, and I intend to appoint a Director of Security as soon as possible. This step will remedy what I think was the most serious weakness criticised by the Romer Committee. As the new Department will deal with both naval and civilian security—which, of course, does not happen at the moment—it will have to be staffed by both Naval officers and civilians, since there are a number of differences in the conditions of service of uniformed and civilian personnel and the Head of the Department will be the best man I can find, whether he be a naval officer or a civilian. The new Department will be responsible for ensuring that the security arrangements at headquarters and Naval establishments are working properly, and for seeing that the regulations are fully understood and applied; and it will have the staff to enable it to test this by inspection in the field.
Another duty of the Director of Security will be to look into the whole question of the appointment, training, 1420 status and duties of security officers. There is, however, one thing I should like to make clear. If, on security grounds, it becomes necessary to take any disciplinary action or to make any decisions likely to affect the employment or career of any individual, then these decisions will be taken by the Board of Admiralty, as they always have been in the past, and not by the Director of Security. This new appointment should not be looked upon in any way as interfering with the accepted conditions of service of our naval and civilian staffs. Finally, my Lords, I am examining the Admiralty system of maintaining personal records, which was another weakness to which the Romer Committee drew attention, to see how it can be made more effective. I shall, of course, wait and see what other recommendations may emerge from the broader review which is now being carried out by the Radcliffe Committee.
My Lords, perhaps I might end by saying just one more word about the size and the shape of the Navy. From some of the things which are said to me by your Lordships, in the House and outside it, and also by people outside the House, there is a tendency, I think, to compare the size of the Navy to-day with that of the Fleet with which we finished the last war. This comparison is not valid, because the Navy which we are building to-day is a different kind of Navy, designed to fill a different role and to operate in different conditions. The old Navy, which has disappeared, was allowed to do so as a conscious act of policy designed to clear the way for the new modern, versatile Fleet, which we must have if we are going to play our proper part in the combined defence of the West, and if we are to protect our own national interests.
The running-down process is nearly complete, and the pattern of the new Navy has steadily been taking shape. Our object was not to reduce the power of the Navy, but, within the resources which we could allocate to defence, to produce a Fleet which, though not so large, would nevertheless be so powerful, up-to-date and flexible that it would be able to carry out the whole range of tasks which might be laid upon it. In coming to this decision, we had to take account not only of the increased efficiency of modern warships, but also of the Alliances of which this country 1421 forms a part. I think it would be true to say that in the middle of the 'fifties there was uncertainty, both in Parliament and in the country, and also in the Navy itself, about the Royal Navy's future in a nuclear age. As a result, there was a certain amount of malaise and lack of purpose in the Fleet. I believe that to-day this has entirely disappeared. The events of the last few days have proved most strikingly the need for the sort of Navy that we are building. The officers and men of the Royal Navy can see the new ships we are building and have, I believe, confidence in their equipment and in the importance of their task. Certainly anyone who has been lucky enough to visit them must come away with the assurance that their skill and their spirit is as high as ever it was.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, first of all, I must thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate on the Royal Navy this afternoon. Unfortunately, two of my colleagues on this side who had intended speaking were both prevented by illness from being here. As regards the reply of the First Lord of the Admiralty, I must say that I thought it was most interesting, and I shall study it with great care. I am guilty of the charge that I am not very favourable to his Government; but I am quite guilty also of the fact that I am devoted to the Royal Navy, and shall continue to be so, whatever else may be said.
The point I should especially like to add at the end is this. The statement that the First Lord has kindly made as to his intentions with regard to stepping up security arrangements in the Admiralty, I shall look at with great care. I am happy to think, from the opening of what he said in that part of his speech, that obviously he was taking steps to tighten up long before the Romer Committee was actually set up. A sort of impression had got abroad that he had not clone anything about it. Whether that was through the wording of the Romer Committee's Report, or the absence of anything like an adequate publication of the reasons for the Romer's Committee's findings, I do not know; but I am glad that he has made it clear this afternoon. If that is what happened, it is what I should have ex- 1422 pected of him. I am sure that he will continue his task until we have a complete renewal of the confidence we have always had in the tightness of the security of the Royal Navy. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.