§ NAVY SUPPLEMENTARY ESTIMATE, 1939.
§ MR. CHURCHILL'S STATEMENT.
§ Order for Committee read.
§ 3.59 p.m.
§ The First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Churchill)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
I come before the House, on behalf of the Navy, to ask for a few men, some ships, and a little money, to enable them to carry on their work, which has become important to us all at the present time. In making this request, I am emboldened by the remarkable consideration with which naval affairs have been treated during this war by all parties in the House. It seems to me that since I last presented Navy Estimates in war-time—25 years ago, almost to a day—there has grown up a very much wider comprehension of the conditions under which the Navy and the Admiralty do their duty; of their difficulties, and of the certainty that mistakes will be made both at Whitehall and on salt water, and that, however hard we try, a painful drain of losses will be sustained.
I am grateful to the House—not only to my hon. Friends on this side, but to the right hon. Member who speaks for the Opposition and to the Leader of the Liberal party, for this spirit of tolerance, of understanding, and even indulgence with which we have been and are being treated; and I can assure the House that it will only make us more zealous in the discharge of our task, in order to give satisfaction and win approval by producing good results. The earnestness and vigour with which Parliament is supporting the Crown in waging this very grievous war, and the unstinted money contribution which the House of Commons has made for that purpose, imposes the highest obligation upon the armed Forces, and upon the Parliamentary Ministers entrusted with their superintendence and direction.
I regret that it is not expedient to lay precise facts and figures of the proposed strength and cost of the Navy in the coming year before the House, as we 1924 should naturally desire to do. In the first place, it is physically impossible to make exact estimates for contingencies which are constantly changing; and, in the second place, there is no need to tell the enemy more than is good for him about what we are doing. We, therefore, ask the House to show us a special mark of confidence by allowing us to present only token votes. But this must not in the slightest degree relax or baffle the vigilance of Parliament in preventing waste and exposing errors, should such be detected.
The Parliamentary Committees which the House desired, and which the Chancellor of the Exchequer instituted, are now at work in all three Services. I have given particular directions at the Admiralty that all officials and officers required shall attend before them, and assist them in their work. Many have already been examined, but they can be recalled at any time, and there are many others who have not yet been seen; and all those have full liberty to disclose all matters bearing on the subject except those which, being of a specially secret nature, the Committee themselves would not desire to know. Should any difficulty arise, I hold myself entirely at the disposal of the Committee examining Admiralty expenditure. I hope they will not confine themselves to taking evidence in London, but will go to the naval ports and establishments and see things on the spot for themselves.
Of course, there is bound to be both extravagance and waste in time of war. In our country, accustomed to strict Parliamentary supervision, this waste arises very rarely from fraud or corruption. It arises sometimes from inefficiency, and is capable of correction. It arises most of all, I think, from excessive zeal in preparing against dangers which often change, and sometimes fade as soon as they are faced; and still more from the well-intentioned desire of every branch and section to reach 100 percent. standard of safety, which, of course, is never attainable in war. An officer, in any station, serves his country best by asking for no more than he needs for his task. It is not patriotic to ask for the moon—and you do not get it, either. The Navy has borne, and is bearing, the main weight of the war up to the present, and many vexatious and dangerous forms of attack are directed upon us; but if at 1925 any time in the future it becomes apparent that we have got the upper hand in an even more marked and decisive form than at present, I shall be the first to propose a review of our resources and requirements—and we have quite a lot—in order to aid the national war-effort in other directions.
That time has not yet come. We must clearly expect that attacks will be delivered upon the sea-power by which we live, on which all depends, on a far greater scale than anything we have so far beaten back and beaten down. We have been making, from the outset of the war, immense additional preparations to meet these reinforced attacks, whether they come from U-boats, or from the mine-laying of various kinds, or from the air.
Let me first say a word about the U-boat warfare. I have "opined"—if I may find an opportunity to give such a sorry word a job—and it seems to fit the case—that our killings of U-boats may be estimated at between two and four a week; but I qualified this by pointing out that it only applies to periods of U-boat activity; because, of course, when very few come out we could not achieve these figures. I believe it is safe to say that, by the end of 1939, the Germans had lost, from all causes, at least half the U-boat fleet with which they began the war. If we put that fleet at 70, this would leave them 35. On the other hand, I was in error when some months ago I told the House that the rate of German new building of U-boats must be counted at two per week. This and even more may be true in the future; but it was not true up to the end of 1939. I doubt very much whether even 10 fresh U-boats came into action in that period. Thus the enemy may have ended the year with about 45 U-boats, of which, of course, 20 would be required for training, leaving perhaps 25 for active operations. As these would work in two or three reliefs, the number at any one time cannot be very large. Indeed, our calculations show that it has probably not exceeded 10 operating at any one time. This figure must be compared with the figure of 60 all operating together which on three occasions marked the high peak of the great U-boat campaign which we wore down and broke in 1917.
1926 We are getting an increasing number of U-boats. Since the New Year things have sharpened up on both sides, and we have had some quite exceptional weeks of proved results. I see it is said in the papers that another U-boat was sunk yesterday. We do not make announcements of U-boat sinkings unless there are some features of special interest. We leave them wrapped in mystery, but as this case has been mentioned I do not mind saying that it is an under-statement, because actually in the last two days there were one certain and two almost certain U-boat sinkings. This may be satisfactory so far as it goes, but when we remember the substantial losses we have suffered from just these few U-boats operating up to the present, the House will see how vast must be the preparations which we ought to make and which we have made to cope with the full scale of attack which may come upon us later on.
Hitherto we have been fighting with the very modest number of destroyers we had ready at the beginning of the war, supplemented by several hundreds of other small craft, the bulk converted from civilian use, but all armed with the Asdics, with the depth charge, and the gun. But with the passage of the summer the new building of U-boats will increasingly come into play, and we expect to meet these with our very large new buildings of craft specially adapted to their destruction. The token Estimates provide for an immense programme; in fact, we shall be building all this summer at our extreme capacity, subject only to one condition.
I have also undertaken, as the House will remember, at the request of the Cabinet, to try to make a large increase in the rate of merchant shipbuilding in order to replace inevitable losses. Obviously we have to balance one form of building against the other, and that is best done by making the Admiralty responsible for both. I told the House some days ago about this new responsibility which we have accepted. I hope to get, not only leading employers, but also leading trade unionists, into the new Department, so that both sides will be represented, will have a place in the honour of success, and will, I trust, pull together as they have never pulled before, which is very necessary.
1927 The U-boat has been steadily driven from using the gun, with all its great advantages of speed, upon the surface into the more ruthless but less effective warfare by the torpedo; and it has been largely driven from using the torpedo to the laying of mines, magnetic and others, in the approaches to our harbours. The ordinary moored mines were familiar to us in the last war, and we had at one time upwards of 600 vessels engaged solely on the task of sweeping them up and keeping the channels clear. The use of the magnetic mine produces an additional complication. There is nothing particularly new or novel about it, although mechanically it is very nicely made. I feel entitled to say that we see our way to mastering this magnetic mine and other variants of the same idea. How this has been achieved is a detective story written in a language of its own. Magneticism is a fairly exact science, and its complications and refinements can all be explored and measured. To be modest, we do not feel at all outdone in science in this country by the Nazis. There are, of course, two stages in the process of dealing with the magnetic mine. The first is finding out what to do, and the second is applying this knowledge to practical conditions upon a very large scale. We are now far advanced upon the second stage, and although we must expect, perhaps in the immediate future, further much heavier attacks upon us by this method, we believe we shall find ourselves equipped to deal with them.
To cope with the mining attack, we have had to call upon the fishing fleets and upon the fishermen. Although this year we shall have about a quarter of a million sailors at our disposal, we had at the end of November to call for many thousand volunteers for mine-sweeping duties. There was a most willing response, but the engagement was for only three months. It is now clear that it must be greatly prolonged. The service is, of course, not only dangerous but arduous in a very high degree. However, our volunteers from the fishing fleets seem to have taken a liking to it, probably because everybody knows how very necessary it is to the country and that the job has to be done by men bred to the sea. In many sea ports over 75 per cent. of those who volunteered for three months 1928 in November now wish to continue for the duration, and the Admiralty are going to meet their wish.
In their attack upon our shipping and neutral shipping the Germans have broken every rule hitherto accepted by the world for the regulation of mining warfare. But then, besides, there are the outrages they have committed upon the fishing fleets and upon small unarmed merchant vessels and upon the lightships which warn the mariners of all countries off the rocks and shoals. So execrable has been the behaviour of some of the German aviators in attacking harmless, unarmed vessels, in machine-gunning their crews when in the boats, and in describing on the radio what fun it was to see a little ship "crackling in flames like a Christmas-tree," that we have had to set about arming all our fishing boats and small craft with the means of defending themselves, because it was found that nothing gives better results in respect to one of these raiders than to fire upon it at once. We have reason to know that several of them have sheered off very quickly when even only fishermen newly given a weapon have fired back upon them. Thousands of guns of all sorts and sizes are being issued to our merchant and to our fishing fleets. The Nazis have retorted by saying that this entitles them to break all the conventions which they had already broken many times over. They may, of course, apply their methods on a larger scale, but they have not for some time been able to descend to any new levels of cruelty and disgrace.
I suppose the House realises that Herr Hitler and his Nazis have quite definitely exceeded the worst villainies which Imperial Germany committed in the late war. This brings me to a point that I should like to put to the House. One of the most extraordinary things that I have ever known in my experience is the way in which German illegalities, atrocities, and brutalities are coming to be accepted as if they were part of the ordinary day-to-day conditions of war. Why, Sir, the neutral Press makes more fuss when I make a speech telling them what is their duty than they have done when hundreds of their ships have been sunk and many thousands of their sailors have been drowned or murdered, for that is the right word, on the open sea. Apparently, according to the present doctrine of neutral States, strongly endorsed 1929 by the German Government, Germany is to gain one set of advantages by breaking all the rules and committing foul outrages upon the seas, and then go on and gain another set of advantages through insisting whenever it suits her, upon the strictest interpretation of the International Code she has torn to pieces. It is not at all odd that His Majesty's Government are getting rather tired of it. I am getting rather tired of it myself. For my part, I say without hesitation that in the interpretation of the rules and conventions affecting neutrals humanity rather than legal pedantry must be our guide; and, judging by the "Altmark" episode, which gave so much pleasure last week, this seems to be the opinion, not only of the British nation, but of the civilised world.
We must be very thankful that we have our sea power, that we have our Navy, the champion of freedom across the centuries, strong enough and fierce enough to beat down all this wickedness and degeneracy, strong enough to enable us to help our Allies by land and air in their splendid effort—this great institution, which has lived through so many wars, but is still the foundation, in spite of all the changes that have taken place, of our ability to survive and to serve the causes which are now at stake. But let us look at the foundations upon which our sea power rests. Some people think that great battleships are no use at all, that they are only anxieties at sea and a useless burden in port. Everyone sees this war being fought from day to day by the small craft, and they see that the little ships have always to go ahead to protect the big ones, so they ask, "Why have the big ones at all?"
But this is a very superficial view. If we had not got at the present time an unquestioned superiority in battleships, the German heavy cruisers would come out into the Atlantic Ocean and, without fear of being brought to account, would be able to obstruct, if not to arrest, the whole of the enormous trade without which we could not live. They might make temporary bases in distant quarters of the globe, they might establish themselves in positions where we should have no means whatever with which to attack them, and in this way they would soon bring about our mortal ruin. Happily, we have far greater strength in capital ships than the enemy; and if at any time 1930 they break out, as they may do, we are always ready to meet them with much larger forces and bring them to battle and destroy them, as we did in the isolated case of the. "Graf Spee," although, of course, this would have to be on a much larger scale. Without a superior battle fleet we could not exercise any command of the sea, nor even keep ourselves alive in food.
During the last war we had to keep always ready 30 or40 battleships, with all their attendant squadrons and flotillas at short notice, in order to fight a main battle with the enemy at any time. But now this preoccupation is greatly diminished. The enemy have only two really big ships, and they cannot attempt to form a line of battle. We, on the other hand, have at least three, if not four, possible lines of battle, not one of which the enemy could face in a fought-out engagement. Therefore we are able to dispose our ships much more widely about the oceans, and at the same time to keep ample forces at hand and always at sea ready to engage his principal vessels should they present themselves, and it is upon this fact that the whole of our sea control depends.
However, it must be remembered that at this moment there are no modern battleships in action. Many are building in various countries, but none is in commission. Through the various Treaties into which we entered, and upon which I have sometimes expressed my opinion in former times, all our capital ships are old. Some have been rebuilt, but all except three were approved by me when I was last at the Admiralty more than a quarter of a century ago. In fact, we are fighting this war with the battleships of the last war. This does not affect surface fighting, because our new ships will come along as soon as theirs, and in much greater numbers. In a short time the Fleet will be reinforced by five modern battleships of the King George V Class, against which the enemy, in a similar time, can only bring two. Therefore, we shall not be at any disadvantage so far as surface fighting is concerned.
But the fact that we are using old ships at this present time adds to our anxiety, because the attack from under-water or from the air has become far more formidable since they were built, for the torpedoes, mines and air bombs of 1940 are applied 1931 to the structures of a bygone generation. Where one torpedo with a 500 lbs. head was fired in 1915, six may be fired in a volley with much heavier heads in 1940. The air bombs descending almost vertically are also a menace which ought not to be underrated, and which did not exist when most of our battleships were built. But the new ships which we are building, which we have accelerated, and which will be ready in time, are capable of standing up to the air bomb, and are far better adapted to under-water explosions than anything we have to-day. I do not wish, however, to raise any undue apprehensions about the strength of our existing ships. When the "Barham" was hit by a torpedo, although an old ship, she stood up well to the heavy blow, and was able to proceed under her own steam. She will soon be repaired and ready for sea. Again, when in the early part of December the "Nelson," the Home Fleet flagship, a more modern ship, but still 15 years old, was damaged by a magnetic mine, she was able to return to harbour under her own steam. She too will soon be rejoining the Fleet. This secret, of which many thousands of people were necessarily aware, was very well kept and has only just leaked out into Germany after it has ceased to have any importance. Apart from the "Royal Oak" and the "Courageous," no other large ship has been damaged or sunk—
§ Mr. Churchill
I entirely sympathise with that feeling, but I can assure the hon. Member that I rarely like to be at any considerable distance from a piece of wood. But there is a difference in making predictions and in stating facts about the past, and facts which are known at the moment. So far as the future is concerned, I always speak with the greatest caution, but when you are making a statement of what the facts are at this moment, after six months of the war, on this occasion to the House, I think it is right to say what the state of affairs really is, because it is said that even Heaven itself cannot control the past. Therefore, I say that apart from the "Royal Oak" and the "Courageous," no other large ships have been damaged or sunk since the outbreak of war or during these very difficult winter months. I say difficult months, because not only 1932 have our ships had constantly to keep the sea in sufficient strength amid the storms of a tempestuous winter, amid icy blizzards and high-running seas, but since the "Royal Oak" was sunk we have not had the use of Scapa Flow, which is, of course, our best strategic base, and which would save our ships from a great deal of unnecessary steaming through dangerous waters. "Under the adverse circumstances," if I may quote a hero's phrase, our ships, great and small, have been at sea more continually than was ever done or dreamed of in any previous war since the introduction of steam.
Their steaming capacity and the trustworthiness of their machinery is marvellous to me, because the last time I was here one always expected a regular stream of lame ducks from the Fleets to the dockyards with what was called "condenseritis" or heated bearings, or other mechanical defects. But now they seem to steam on for ever. Even ships with old engines, under modern care, have steamed 90days or more, out of the first 119 days of the war, ending at 31st December. This reflects the very greatest credit on the Engineering Branch of the Royal Navy, and I wish this afternoon to pay my tribute to them here in the House of Commons, and ask the House to join me so that these many thousands of faithful, skilful, untiring engineers may learn, as they will learn, that we here in London understand what they have done and what they are doing, and that we admire their work and thank them for it. We must never forget the man behind the gun, but we must also remember in these modern times the man around the engine, without whom nothing could be done, who does not see the excitements of the action, and does not ask how things are going, but who runs a very big chance of going down with the ship, should disaster come.
§ Mr. Churchill
Certainly, all who are concerned with the engine-room, the stokers, and the engine-room parties equally. I am very much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for including them specifically, because certainly the House wishes to express to all of them, stokers-as well, the sense they have of the fine achievement which has been produced by 1933 their devotion in the actual running of our ships since the outbreak of the war.
I have several times spoken about the destroyer and submarine Flotillas, and the Coastal Command Air Force, which is their ally and friend, but to-day I ask the House to pay its tribute especially to the officers and men in our heavy ships and cruisers who are nearly always out on the rough waters, amid the mines and torpedoes, some of which must often be only very narrowly avoided, and some of which we never hear of at all; and I ask the House to think of them, and particularly of the Commander-in-Chief, Sir Charles Forbes, upon whose indomitable shoulders the direct impact of prolonged and wearing responsibility week after week descends.
When people wonder that we can move so freely about these dangerous seas, and move great masses of men and material from one far point to another, let them recognise that the Home Fleet is the supreme and final guarantee. Upon this our contraband control is erected. The Straits of Dover are, of course, closed and sealed. The Northern patrol is maintained by a strongly supported cordon from Scotland to Greenland. But the distance is 1,000 miles, 800 miles of sea. During the winter when fearful gales blow and snowstorms, rainstorms and mists descend upon the sea, when it is night for three-quarters of every 24 hours, it is not surprising that a certain proportion of enemy ships manage to run the gauntlet, and, striking the Norwegian Coast in the Far North, wriggle their way down the 800 miles of territorial waters which carry them into close protection of the main German naval and air forces. Nevertheless, the majority of German ships that have tried to come home have either scuttled themselves at some point on their journey, or have been captured by us as prizes. Now and again a raider has broken out, has lain quiet in the Atlantic for some time, and then crept back. There was one that did not even creep back.
Neutral shipping in the main comes voluntarily into our contraband control stations, or in many cases avails itself of the convenience of being franked for the voyage by the Navicert documents which can readily be obtained at the port of departure. There is a very little doubt that the whole of this Northern system of 1934 contraband control will become more efficient as our forces increase, as the long nights turn into long days, and as summer weather enables our amphibian aircraft to range constantly over the whole area. For the rest, the efficiency of our contraband control, whether in the North or in the Mediterranean, depends not upon the Navy but upon political decisions; concessions made rightly to neutrals, trade agreements, and the like. There would be no difficulty from a naval point of view in making the blockade more severe. It cost us no more in naval exertion to add the control of German exports to the control already established since the beginning of the war on German imports. But no one must neglect the serious character of the political decisions which must rule and which are dictated by our relations with various neutral countries. A balance has to be struck between the full efficiency of naval control and the hardships it might inflict on friendly neutrals. This is not a matter for the Navy but for the War Cabinet, and it has of course to be reviewed from time to time.
Where then, Sir, do we stand at the end of the first six months of war? We have lost 63,000 tons of warships, or about half the losses of the first six months of the last war. We have lost on the balance of loss and gain less than 200,000 tons of merchant shipping, taking new building and prizes on the one side, out of a total of 21,000,000 of all types-or 17½million in ocean-going shipping, flying the British flag. This figure of less than 200,000 tons in six months may be compared with 450,000 tons net loss in the single deadly month of April, 1917 We have captured more cargoes in tonnage destined for the enemy than we have lost ourselves. During the first two months of war there was inevitable dislocation. But each month there has been a steady improvement in spite of the deterioration of the weather, and in January the Navy carried safely into British harbours, in the teeth of the U-boats, of the mines, and of the winter gales and fog, considerably more than four-fifths of the peace-time average taken over the whole, summer and winter alike, of the three preceding years.
Our exports, measured in tons—and it is with tonnage that the Navy is concerned—were equal in December and January to our exports coming in in those 1935 months of the last peace-time year of 1938. But now with spring and summer at hand, there is to be expected a considerable normal seasonal increase in the volume of traffic by sea, and apart from any new development of enemy action, a matter which can never be overlooked in any provisions for the future, there is no reason why we should not improve upon these figures. When we consider the great number of British ships which have been withdrawn for Naval Service, or for the transport of our Armies across the Channel or across the globe, there is nothing in these results which—to put it mildly—should cause despondency or alarm, or which justifies the idea that we cannot carry on our national life and the war upon which the national life is centred, with increasing vigour. Any reductions and austerities in home consumption, which we have found, or may find, it necessary to impose upon ourselves, are not due to any failure of the Navy to keep the seas open, but to the need of making prudent preparations against the unknown, and of raising our war effort to the highest pitch.
In 1915, speaking from this Box, on the Motion, Mr. Speaker, that your predecessor should leave the Chair—which he did—I was able to say that our command of the seas was more thorough than ever before in our history, and—although I was not allowed to preside over it—it so continued for more than eighteen months. I will not make any prophecies about the future which is doubly veiled by the obscurities and uncertainties of war. But personally I shall not be content, nor do I think the House should be content, if we do not reach and maintain a control of the seas equal to the highest standards of the last war and enable the Navy once again to play a decisive part in the general victory of the Allies.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Mr. A. V. Alexander
I suppose there has been no occasion in the history of our country when the Navy Estimates have been presented in circumstances of greater danger and of greater urgency. I do not think the First Lord would need to apologise for the lack of detailed information in the published Paper for, although on the occasion of the consideration of the Estimates in 1915–1917, we did then have a detailed Vote A, it is 1936 obvious to us that it would be unwise to have such detailed information to-day. We have had to-day from the First Lord, as we expect from him, a statement which was comprehensive and inspiriting and did not lack in the usual light and shade. We would all, I think, like to say to him this afternoon that however much many of us have differed from him, and will continue to differ, on certain political and economic questions, on this matter of leading the British Navy against threats to the security of our nation, and its fight against the aggressor, we not only feel he has done well, but we wish him well. Although the statement has had to be of a certain character necessary in wartime, the First Lord himself—I think he indicated it in the opening of his statement—would be the last to wish to preclude from the discussions in this House anything in the nature of really fair and constructive criticism.
I shall not embark in any party sense this afternoon upon a field of criticism, but whatever we say on this side in regard to this great Service of ours in the present time the criticism will all be in the direction of reaching our national objective, and putting strength and heart into the men and officers of our Fleet. We do desire, from this side of the House, to pay our tribute to the work of the Royal Navy since war broke out; it certainly has been magnificent. There may have been wars of the past in which greater naval forces have been deployed over the Seven Seas at a given time, but there can be few precedents for the pressure upon the time of ships and men that has occurred in the carrying out of their duties of the last six months. I should like to say that I was grateful to the First Lord and the Board of Admiralty for the privilege of going to visit the Commander-in-Chief and discussing the situation with him freely and frankly. I thought it was a good thing for the Board to permit that, and I should like to pay tribute to that great officer, who has done a very great piece of work. What impressed me most of all about him was the complete lack of frills, which, of course, we expect from naval officers, and his quiet confidence and cheerful outlook on the task to be accomplished.
I thought, when I listened on the wireless on Friday afternoon to the speeches of the officers who commanded the 1937 "Exeter" and "Ajax" in the memorable action of the River Plate, that there was something of the true standing, character, and purpose of those who led our naval forces. They have been dealing with an enemy who, however he may have lulled some in this country for the time being by the absence of direct bombing attack, has proved in his actions against our naval forces and the Mercantile Marine how utterly ruthless he has been, and intends to be. In the nature of that attack nothing could have been finer than the work of our Fleet. I do not think the First Lord intended this, because he has already referred to the matter on previous occasions, but I feel that we should recognise in the House of Commons to-day the very great service which the Royal Navy feel has been rendered by their colleagues of the French Fleet. The position of that Fleet, with the very important contribution which it makes to-day, with its two modern battle cruisers and a number of capital ships, apart from smaller forces, is a tribute to the work of its present Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Darlan, during the last decade and a half. I feel that during the last six months they have done magnificent work on the sea.
I would like to say a word or two with regard to what the Fleet has accomplished, if it will not be thought I am painting a lily to the sketch given by the First Lord. May I give it, not as one close up against it in management and direction, like the First Lord, but as one who looks at it from a private position? It seems to me that the Fleet and its work stand out in two special respects, in regard both to defence and offence. It has never slackened in its defence of the vital interests of getting the supplies of food for our sustenance and our raw materials so that we may continue to prosecute our purpose. I do not know whether there is anything comparable in our naval history with the kind of patrols our Fleet have carried out in the Northern passage in the face of increasing use by submarines and raiders of that passage in the absence of the mine barrage we had at the end of the last war. The continuous and ceaseless patrols in the Arctic seas would have tried the finest training, the greatest physique, and strength of spirit that could be found in the world. They have come through that trial with great success.
1938 In the anti-submarine campaign, while we may have hoped that it would have been better, I think in our heart of hearts we must admit that the defence of the Navy has been more successful than some of us feared might be the case. The First Lord has estimated that probably 35 of these submarines were killed by the end of December, and I suppose it is not too much for an amateur to estimate that at the present time we can put that figure at nearer 50. In that case it seems quite clear that if we have not got completely on top, at least we are overtaking and checking the very serious menace of the submarine campaign. Moreover, as compared with the last war, the early introduction and success of the marshalling and conduct of the convoys is a matter for congratulation. We have lost a great many of our ships on this occasion by the action of the enemy through mines, and while the First Lord was able to amuse the House with his reference to the measures taken to deal with the magnetic mine, I feel that the nation has reason to be pleased with what has been accomplished by the Board of Admiralty and its experts in this matter. A very urgent and very great danger had to be met. The losses in the course of a couple of months might have been very much larger, but, as a matter of fact, the record of the destruction and collection of magnetic mines bodes well for the strength of the Navy to deal with any expansion of that menace. In spite of all these menaces from which the Navy has been defending us, the real fact is that in our daily food and in most of the things which we have been accustomed to get, the public so far has not suffered any great inconvenience. That is a remarkable fact at the end of six months of strenuous war at sea, however less strenuous the war may have been in other fields.
Then there is the question of offence. While there are always people who are asking when the forces of the country are going to be put on the offensive and make an effort at shortening the war, there is this fact to be put to the credit of the Royal Navy on the offensive side, that they have cleared enemy commerce and enemy belligerent ships from practically all the seas. You have great difficulty now in finding any German surface ships anywhere on the seas. They rarely come out, and when they do, sooner or 1939 later they are caught. That is a great achievement. The battle of the River Plate was clearly a real offensive as well as being a defensive action. I cannot speak too highly of the nerve, the skill, and the courage of those who led the submarines which came back from their successful attacks upon German enemy ships in the Heligoland Bight. Only those who know the circumstances and conditions can understand exactly what that action meant. On both these grounds I think we can congratulate the Board of Admiralty to-day.
There is one other thing I must mention. I am more convinced than ever that to-day the spirit of our people is behind the Royal Navy. I am quite certain of that. The terrors of German ruthlessness have produced no change in the enthusiasm of our young men. I hesitate to tell the First Lord how many letters I have received in the last few weeks—always repeated in numbers after the sinking of one of our naval ships—from young men who, because I had some acquaintance with the Admiralty in days gone by, think I can do something to get them into the Fleet where they want to serve. It is not merely a question of a spirit to serve, which we all accept with so much gratitude from a body of seafaring men like the fishermen who have been doing such magnificent work, but a spirit which is inherent in our young people, who will volunteer for the most dangerous tasks in the Air Force, and which impels them to ask me to help them on to the lower deck of the Navy, although they have seen quite clearly that up to the present the naval service is the most dangerous and arduous of the three. It shows that the spirit of the people is behind the Fleet.
Having paid one or two tributes which I desired to pay to the Navy, there are one or two points which I desire to put to the First Lord. It is true to say that, taking the Fleet to-day, in spite of the losses which the First Lord has detailed, the Navy in relation to the forces opposed to it is in no way impaired in its fighting strength. I had rather hoped that the First Lord would have told us a little about the circumstances in which some of the losses occurred, provided that he did not give any undue solace to the enemy, and what steps are being 1940 taken to prevent a recurrence of the kind of losses that have happened. The loss of the "Royal Oak" caused some anxiety to some of us, and we should like to think that Scapa Flow will be available for use again as soon as possible. We do not under-estimate the increasing dangers of a base of that kind in view of the known increase of air power in attack, but I hope that by now we have so reorganised our defences in that important base, from the point of view of a normal sea guard and anti-aircraft preparations, that we shall be able once more economically—and economy in this matter is important not only so far as fuel is concerned, but for the rest of the personnel of the Fleet—to use it again.
I have also been rather anxious as to the circumstances in which our three sub marines were lost in the Heligoland Bight. We were all heartened to hear that many of the crews of two of the submarines were saved. We admire the nerve of our submarine commanders and the skill with which they negotiate dangerous channels and avoid many pitfalls of one sort and another, but I have wondered whether there were any mistakes which could have been avoided, mistakes in signals and instructions and in charts; in any case, we should like to be assured that we have learned something from the disaster and that we shall be able to avoid another of a similar character. However, I do not wish to press that matter further. Our losses have not been as heavy as they might have been, but they have been grievous, and I am sure the First Lord will agree that every effort must be made to minimise not only the loss of tonnage and material but also losses in personnel. That is a point on which many of my colleagues and myself have been some what concerned. We recognise that the Fleet have to face many dangers, but when one thinks of the losses after the sinking of the "Courageous" and the "Exmouth" and the "Daring," and the torpedoing of the "Royal Oak," we wonder whether we have yet achieved all that we might achieve in the preparation and use of safety devices. I quite recognise that at the time of attack you may be dealing with a variety of circumstances—
§ Mr. Alexander
You may be dealing with a variety of circumstances, sea and weather, time, light and fog, but what I feel is that although a ship may go down rapidly and in the dark, and some of our biggest losses have been in the night, we ought to be able in these modern days to protect our men by means of rafts and lifebelts and to collect as many of them as possible, subject, of course, to this rather hard overriding rule, which we did not observe when the "Cressy," "Aboukir" and "Hogue" were sunk, that the safety of the Fleet or the convoy comes before the safety of the few. I should like to know whether we are making progress in the preparation and use of new safety devices and some means of identification in the dark when men are still swimming for their lives.
§ Mr. Churchill
The Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give the right hon. Member a reply on these matters when he speaks later in the Debate.
§ Mr. Alexander
Let me take the question of the recognition of the services of the personnel. We are indebted for the early action taken to recognise special services. It has been very well done, but we should like another form of recognition. We should like to see an increase in promotions from the lower deck. We were grateful for the statement of the First Lord on 4th October as to the increase in the number of promotions contemplated in a year, about 75;and he did, in reply to a Supplementary Question, go so far as to say that that was not necessarily the maximum. But with the rapid growth of personnel in war-time, and with, I fear, the possibility of having to keep the personnel at that figure for a year or two after the war, I think it may be argued that we should have a better arrangement for promotion from the lower deck. I welcome very much the announcement made by the Admiralty in the "Times" to-day of a new proposal for speeding up the promotion of warrant officers to lieutenant engineers. That is a good recognition of these warrant officers, and I hope it will lead to a great amount of satisfaction.
The next point I should like to make in regard to the recognition of the personnel refers to a matter which is put to me in a large number of letters which I receive from the wives and relatives of the men. At the present time, with the increasing 1942 cost of food, they feel that there ought to be some reconsideration of the allowances for children. I have heard of no great shouts about the allowances for wives, but I have received a great number of complaints about the children's allowances. I should be glad if the Board of Admiralty could, consistent with the general national interest, make a re-examination of the present scale of allowances for children in order to see whether it can be improved.
I turn now to the question of naval expansion and equipment. I was encouraged by the First Lord's remarks about the growing strength of our naval tonnage, but I should like to be told—as far as it can be stated in time of war—how much the tempo of production has been improved during the last six months. How quickly has it been speeded up?
§ Mr. Alexander
I am thinking of the general programme, including capital ships, aircraft carriers, cruisers and destroyers. I am certain that, as the war goes on, we shall need these ships, and need them very badly. Perhaps I may put the question in this way. Is the First Lord now satisfied with the new rate of progress?
§ Mr. Churchill
The rate of progress has been much accelerated, but, of course, I have also to consider merchant shipbuilding. The measure is the number of men available in the various yards, private and public, and the need for increasing that number of men is very great indeed. Warship building must have priority up to a certain point, but we have equally to replace our merchant tonnage. It does seem to me that at the present time the supply of labour is not adequate to the effort we should like to make in both these fields.
§ Mr. Alexander
The right hon. Gentleman's answer is reassuring in this respect, that the rate of progress is more rapid than some of us may have thought, perhaps; and during the right hon. Gentleman's term of office that rate has been speeded up. I am pleased that it is so, but still, I think that with a little collaboration with the workers' organisations we might get some more labour into the yards—for there are still men 1943 capable of doing the work who are unemployed. For this reason, I was glad to learn of the First Lord's intention to introduce into the new Department at the Board of Admiralty not only representatives of the employers, but representatives of the trade unions. I hope that, not only with regard to the main programme, but with regard to the production of motor craft, something is being done which is effective. There is, however, one matter in connection with naval expansion and equipment about which we on this side are very concerned, and that is the armament of our merchant ships. Weeks and weeks ago the First Lord determined that, in view of the German ruthlessness and cruelty, our merchant ships should be armed. I do not criticise him in any way; the question is simply how quickly these merchant ships can be armed. I was reading again the Debates of 1917, and I came across the following passage in a speech made by Lord Carson—then Sir Edward Carson—on 21st February:In the last two months the number of armed merchant ships has increased by 47.5 per cent."—which did not tell us very much—We had, in the first place, to get guns in competition with the Army. We had to get the mountings, and. above all, we had to get the gun ratings.He went on to say:Of armed merchantmen that escape [that is, escape from attacks by submarines] there are about 70 per cent. or 75 per cent., and of unarmed merchantmen 24 per cent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1917; cols. 1364–5, Vol. 90.]Therefore, in the last war the percentage of armed merchantmen that escaped from submarine attacks was three times as great as the percentage of unarmed merchantmen that escaped. This illustrates how urgent it is that our merchantmen, in these circumstances, should get their full armament.
§ Mr. Alexander
That is encouraging when compared with the experience in the last war, for the statement I have just quoted was made 2½ years after the 1944 beginning of the war. What I ask is that, in view of the intense nature of the menace, the merchant ships should be armed as speedily as possible. Another question that concerns us in regard to the general building on the naval side is whether we are making full use of the dockyard facilities. Certainly, there must be, necessarily, a heavy amount of re pairs to be done, but there must also be a great deal of maintenance to be done. I think we lose severely in this war by the removal of the services which we got from the Irish bases that were formerly available to us. It would be encouraging to some of us if we could feel that at least our criticisms during the last few years of the Board of Admiralty's policy had resulted in the reopening and use of Pembroke. When compared with the East Coast ports, Pembroke would be valuable for services in connection with light flotillas in the anti-submarine campaign at the Western approaches. Something ought to be done in that matter without any further delay. I should like now to say a few words about mercantile building, superintendence over which the First Lord has added to his numerous other duties. It is quite right that he should try to get the balance required between the naval tonnage to be built and the merchant tonnage to be built in replacement. There are many people in the country who are anxious on this subject at the present time. The losses have not been given to us in detail to-day by the First Lord, and I do not blame him—
§ Mr. Alexander
The right hon. Gentleman has given us no other figure of losses of ships except to say what has been the net loss of British tonnage. That is by no means the full story of the mercantile position which we have to face. There is a number of ways in which we can deal with the falling away in this tonnage position. We can purchase neutral tonnage. We can charter neutral tonnage, not merely for single voyages but for long periods. I have not heard of any sensational work by the Ministry of Shipping in purchasing neutral tonnage. I hope they will purchase some. I have not heard anything very sensational in the way of long-period chartering of large blocks of tonnage. I hope that we may get some information on that another day, but in 1945 the matter of building, I feel that we are up against an urgent and vital problem.
The First Lord knows the experience of the last war. In that war, we lost, in British, Allied and neutral merchant and fishing vessels, 5,400 ships, and a gross tonnage of over 11,000,000 by submarines alone, to which must be added the additional losses by mine. We pray that our experience in this war will not be as grave in numbers or volume. I agree with the spirit of the First Lord, in his forward view of the submarine campaign, that we must be ready. Therefore, in our battle for the security of our people, we must build and prepare now on the mercantile side. Last night, I looked up the figures of launchings of mercantile tonnage during the last war. In 1914—for only five months of which we were at war—the figure of launchings was 1,684,000 tons. In the first full year of war, 1915, the figure dropped to 657,000 tons. In 1916, just as the submarine campaign was mounting up, the figure dropped to 608,000 tons. But in 1917, when we had the full burden of the anti-submarine campaign, we raised our tonnage output to 1,168,000, and in 1918 we raised it to 1,348,000 tons.
The First Lord has rightly taken credit for dealing with the immediate naval menace of a campaign which in the early days was more in the style of the campaign against us in the last war than we might have expected. Great losses have been incurred. We speak of the tonnage of the ships that have been sunk, but there are the losses, we know, in respect of ships that are completely out of action—through beachings, collisions, or ordinary founderings. All those have to be included in the calculation. It seems to me that we ought to be making a very earnest effort to deal with this position. I hope that it will be possible for the Parliamentary Secretary to give us, consistent with the public interest, some idea as to what the programme is to be. But as we look at the problem as a whole and think also of the question of the guns for the ships, gun crews, and the actual manning of the ships, it may well be—and I am sure the First Lord will not object to my saying this—that in the near future the Opposition may have to ask for a special day, perhaps on the Ministry of Shipping Vote, to deal with these matters which are so much in our minds.
1946 We face great dangers and anticipate increasing tribulations, but I believe this nation is determined itself to strive for the great objectives of ending the continuous aggression and threat to liberty and peace which has grown up in Europe during the last seven years, and for the creation of the conditions of permanent peace and justice under the rule of law. I believe that this nation, with its Ally, has the good will of the great majority of neutral peoples, a good will which I hope will be maintained, although I must say that we hold the profound conviction that there is no secure future for any one of those neutral peoples unless the cause to which we have given our hearts and hands is successful. We would not and ought not to continue in this state of exhausting belligerency or to risk the lives of our men and relatives for one moment longer than is necessary to secure the path to those great objectives, but until the cruel, relentless, persecuting aggression is withdrawn, and proved to be withdrawn by deeds, or until that aggression is defeated, and defeated finally, we must pursue our task with the courage and tenacity which are so exemplified by the example and service of the Royal Navy, whose work and achievements we acclaim and acknowledge with gratitude, and to whose leadership we wish wisdom, judgment, un-weariness and success.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes
I am sure that everybody who listened to the speech of my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty or who reads it to-morrow will feel confident that the Navy is in sure and resolute hands. It happens that nearly all the Sea Lords who are on the Board of Admiralty to-day joined the Admiralty shortly before the war broke out, and they cannot be held responsible for the shortcomings in our preparation for war which were apparent to those of us who had experience of the last war, and, indeed, to any intelligent man in the street. However, the Board of Admiralty, as it exists to-day, has lost no time in making good deficiencies and in tackling new problems. By the disposition of the fleets and the ready acceptance of great responsibilities, the Admiralty have given the officers and men of the Fleet opportunities of adding glorious pages to the annals and history of the British Navy. I am sure that my 1947 hon. Friends in every part of the House will not grudge me the intense pride which I feel to-day in the younger generation of the Service, in which I spent so much of my life.
The First Lord gave us a brilliant survey of what the Navy means in the struggle which is before us. I do not think that after his explanation of the value of the battleship and of what the capital fleet means in this great organisation, called the British Navy, it will ever be questioned that the Admiralty were wise in the past few years in insisting on building a capital fleet, ready to meet the capital ships which all other maritime nations including Germany are building as fast as they possibly can. I would like to say too how much I appreciate all that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) has said in the great tribute which he paid to the officers and men of my service. I appreciate also the helpful tone of the right hon. Gentleman's speech to-day, and may I say that it has been very agreeable for the last two years to find the right hon. Gentleman fighting on the same side with us and striving to help the Government of the day to provide the Navy which the country needs.
I ventured to come into the House of Commons six years ago to fight for the restoration of sea power, which was at that time at a rather low ebb, and to fight for all those things which I considered necessary for the welfare of the officers and men of the Fleet. I knew from my experience in the last war and when I was in command of the principal Fleet during many peace-time exercises that air power had become of ever-increasing importance in the exercise of sea power, and I have been striving during all those years to regain for the Admiralty the right to develop naval aviation; to get aircraft designed which would carry out the functions required by the Navy in war, to train the necessary personnel and to operate those aircraft in war-time. In fact, my object was to regain for the Admiralty the control, which it held all through the last war, over all aircraft operating with and against ships.
We have now been six months at war and the Navy still lacks any control over a number of aircraft which carry out purely naval functions, an arrangement which has been attended with disturbing 1948 and sometimes dangerous results. In those circumstances, I feel impelled, once again, to call attention to this matter which is of vital importance for the successful conduct of the war. I do so even at the risk of incurring the displeasure of my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty who has, in my opinion, tolerated the existing system which he inherited all too long—no doubt in the hope of coming to some sort of working arrangement with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air. I would like to quote to the House a letter which the late Lord Beatty wrote to me when I was Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet, referring to the working of the dual control of the Fleet Air Arm which was imposed upon the Admiralty by Lord Baldwin's Government in 1923. Lord Beatty wrote:This is no inter-service quarrel capable of compromise but a serious cause of reduced efficiency which time cannot correct as it is due to a fundamental error in principle which no compromise can possibly bridge over.Those are the words of a great sea officer who bore the heaviest responsibilities in the last war and who had the vision to see what was likely to happen in the next war. Nevertheless, all the efforts of the Admiralty to regain control of their air service have been met by a long series of compromises. There can be nothing more important in the conduct of sea war at the moment than the security of British and neutral shipping, and the fishing fleets which operate in the North Sea, and it simply is not fair to leave the Navy under the stigma of having failed to give these vessels the protection which it is the Navy's responsibility to provide, and yet the Navy have no control whatever over the nature of the aircraft employed, the strength of the squadrons, the training of the personnel, or even the operation of aircraft on which the Admiralty have to rely for information about enemy ships which venture into the North Sea and for reconnaissance reports on which the conduct of Fleet operations may depend. Neither have they any control over the aircraft which should be in a position to deliver attacks on enemy ships at sea immediately they are located; nor over the fighter aircraft which should be available at a moment's notice to attack the enemy aircraft which prey on our unprotected trading and fishing vessels 1949 almost within sight of our shores. This is no reflection on the splendid young men who, since the war started, have been carrying out the patrols of the Coastal Command. It is not their fault that the Air Ministry has failed to equip them with the adequate number of aircraft of the type necessary to give the Navy the aerial co-operation which it has the right to expect.
The functions which I have mentioned are all naval functions. One is often asked why the Fleet Air Arm, over which the Admiralty have complete control, cannot carry out these functions and provide all the aircraft which the Navy needs to fulfil its responsibilities. It is not generally understood that the decision made by the Government in July, 1937, only gave the Navy control over aircraft which were actually carried in ships. These small aircraft which have to fold their wings in order to get into their floating aerodromes and which fly on and off very small spaces cannot possibly compete in combat with the powerful great shore-based aircraft which Germany possesses and which can fly wherever they like from the Heligoland Bight to the Shetlands, or with the fighters possessed by the enemy which can operate at considerable distances out to sea. When I am asked, then, what the Fleet Air Arm is doing, all I can say is that it is quietly doing its job without talking about it, and in fact is doing the same things as the splendid young men of the Coastal Command have been doing throughout the war, with this difference, that they are operating from floating aerodromes on storm-swept seas out in the ocean spaces.
Without giving anything away—indeed, the fact has been published to the world—I may say that, shortly before the "Graf Spee" was no gallantly fought to destruction by three light cruisers, the "Ark Royal"—which the enemy claimed to have destroyed in the North Sea during the early days of the war—was at cape Town. A few days later, shortly after the "Graf Spee" fight, the "Ark Royal" was at Rio de Janeiro. It is easy to deduce or to opine, if that is the right word, that the "Ark Royal" and the "Renown" were not very far from the "Graf Spee." I would not deprive those three gallant little cruisers of the credit for that splendid action. I would not deprive the Navy of that glorious 1950 story, but the next time a raider ventures out I hope it will be found by one of our aircraft carriers, attacked by the aircraft carriers' torpedo planes, and destroyed by the accompanying ships. That is what the Fleet Air Arm is for. It happens that Germany has no sea-going fleet at present, but a sufficient force of aircraft carriers must be kept in being to deal with enemy ships which venture into the ocean spaces on raiding expeditions such as that of the "Graf Spee." Each aircraft carrier, in addition to its reconnaissance planes, carries fighter planes to fight the sea-borne aircraft of the enemy and it also carries torpedo planes to attack the enemy ships. It is, as I say, essential therefore that a force of aircraft carriers should be kept in being.
In the meantime, I know there are scores of splendid young naval pilots who have not had an opportunity of getting contact with the enemy and who are spoiling to be allowed to fly in shore base aircraft in order to attack the enemy aircraft which operate against our merchant ships and to attack the enemy's ships whenever they put to sea. That brings me to my point. It is no use criticising unless one can make suggestions. The Navy cannot escape responsibility for protecting shipping at sea, by arming all ships with defensive armament and machine guns. The First Lord told us that this was being done. I suggest that a Naval Air Service should be formed without further delay, first, by placing the Coastal Command under the direct control of the Admiralty and equipping it with an adequate number of machines, so that it can continue to carry out the splendid work which it is doing now more effectively. I suggest, too, that the Coastal Command should be strengthened by a certain number of fighters and powerful aircraft equipped with offensive weapons to help it to co-operate most effectively with the Navy in sea operations. I would suggest, too, that all the naval air pilots that can be spared from the Fleet Air Arm should be equipped with machines the Admiralty consider necessarry to carry out offensive operations against enemy ships and aircraft coming within their radius of action.
When I spoke last in this House on this subject, in March, 1937, we hoped that an unbiased committee would consider this question, consisting of men who had neither political nor Service considera- 1951 tions to influence them; but although the House knew of the composition of the committee, it was shut down. I have pleaded, and I have warned the Government, that there could only be one end to this age-old controversy—that the Admiralty must control all the aircraft the Navy needs to fulfil its responsibilities. I stated, too, that, if war came before the Navy possessed a Naval Air Service, the men of the Fleet would pay with their lives for the shortcomings of the Government in failing to provide what the Admiralty should have insisted upon at the time, and for years past. It cannot be denied to-day that men have paid with their lives—fishermen, lightship keepers and merchant seamen—because the Government failed to provide the Navy with the air service which those best qualified to judge considered it should have.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Horabin
I find myself in a most unusual position this afternoon, because I cannot attack, but can only praise, although, of course, there may be some sort of sting in the tail of my speech. I should like to pay my tribute to the inspiring efforts of the Navy under the energetic and clear-sighted leadership of the First Lord of the Admiralty. We all feel that the expansion of the Navy is being pushed forward with full appreciation of the magnitude and the urgency of its task. If our war effort in other directions was as adequate, we should have no grounds for disquiet or criticism of the Government. To me it is significant that the Admiralty deal with any correspondence I may have with them promptly, and without any evasion of the point at issue in a tenth of the time of many other Government Departments which have very much less to do with the enemy. It shows that the Admiralty have a clearly defined policy and an energetic administration. One has confidence in the determination of the Fleet's First Lord to allow nothing to stand in the way in that part of our war effort for which he is responsible.
I welcome the fact that he is now responsible for merchant shipbuilding. In my view, our greatest danger in the months ahead is a shortage of food. Hitler has made no secret of his intention to try and win this war by a ruthless 1952 attempt to starve us out. He will, I believe, use every available means to achieve this end, concentrated air attacks upon our ports and shipping, submarines and magnetic mines. While, of course, the spirit of the British people can never be quelled, their strength can be destroyed by starvation. Starvation might possibly mean a humiliating surrender. This places a very heavy responsibility on the First Lord both to protect our mercantile shipping from losses and to see that enough new tonnage is coming forward to make good any possible losses. During the last six months our merchant seamen have played their part by heroic persistence in their duty whatever the odds against them. They will carry on with the same grim determination in the difficult months ahead. But, that is not enough. They must have the ships in which to sail. By how much would their task have been lightened had steps been taken to make full use of our capacity for the production of food at home. Instead, their task is heavier to-day because we have 2,000,000 less acres under cultivation compared with 1914 and 5,000,000 more mouths to feed. We must build more, and still more, merchant ships, because, it has been decided, as the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) told us the other day, to dig for victory with a pair of Treasury scissors, and to scratch at our millions of derelict acres of land with a garden trowel. Side by side with this neglect of agriculture is the decline in the deadweight tonnage of shipping available for importation of food and raw materials to this country. It is 6,000,000 or 7,000,000 tons less than in 1914. Besides—and I know that the First Lord of the Admiralty has this in mind—it is not enough to plan our merchant shipbuilding merely to replace current losses. Losses may increase in the future, and past neglect must also be made up. Already these losses amount to somewhere about 1,300,000 tons a year. The "Economist" considers it would be a good effort on our part if we built 1,500,000 tons of merchant shipping during the current year.
To me, it is a scathing commentary on Government policy that in the face of German re-armament not only was the home production of food not accelerated, not only was the tonnage of shipping, suitable for carrying cargoes in time of 1953 war, allowed to decline, but a policy of deliberately destroying a large part of our shipbuilding capacity, was also pursued. I am told that National Shipbuilders' Security, Limited, deliberately destroyed a productive capacity of about 1,350,000 tons. National Shipbuilders Security! Shipbuilders Security; National Insecurity. Skilled Labour allowed to rot and disperse, and we know the effect of that from what the First Lord of the Admiralty has said this afternoon. 2,000,000 acres less for food at home, 6,000,000 tons deadweight of shipping less to bring food from overseas; 1,300,000 tons of shipbuilding capacity deliberately destroyed. Surely, this is to gamble with the future of the British people. There has been lack of vision and failure to prepare, and now the man who prophesied in the wilderness is called upon to save us from disaster he warned us against in those fateful wasted years. I am confident of one thing, that his courage, drive, and tenacity will not be unequal to the task which lies before him.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Major Neven-Spence
The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Horabin) referred to the losses, and other hon. Members have referred to the same thing. The right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) suggested that the way in which these losses might be made good was by the purchase and charter of neutral tonnage and the building of ships. He omitted, however, to mention one method of minimising these losses which is, I think, of extreme importance, and that is by concentrating every possible effort on salvaging damaged ships. Some losses are inevitable, but even in peace-time we take every step to salvage ships coming to grief through storm, collision, fire, or accident. What are we doing at the present time to salvage ships not irretrievably damaged? I put down a Question about this some time ago; the answer was not altogether evasive, and was in the politest terms, but it suggested that I might teach my grandmother to suck eggs.
If it is necessary to make an effort to salvage ships in peace-time, does it not become 10 times more necessary to make that effort in war, when losing so many ships by enemy action? It is strange to reflect that while we prided ourselves on being the greatest maritime nation in the world, even in peace-time 1954 we were relatively the worst equipped for conducting salvage operations at sea. I ask hon. Members to go back to 1927, when we had to send to Orkney for a ship capable of dealing with the "Celtic" at Queenstown. Again and again we have had to borrow foreign salvage ships to carry on operations around our shores. Foreign tugs were constantly stationed at Falmouth. Before the war there were three foreign salvage tugs at Queenstown all the year round, capable of remaining at sea for three weeks on end, and conducting salvage operations in mid-Atlantic. When we wanted to send the great floating dock to Singapore, we had to hire a Dutch tug for the purpose. It is not surprising, therefore, that when war broke out we were not properly equipped for salvage work. We have many small companies with inadequate capital and inadequate equipment and often without experience of certain types of work. I ask whether, at the present moment, there is anywhere on the East Coast a single salvage ship capable of proceeding to sea for a long period. Of all the small salvage companies on the East Coast, has any one of them a 10-inch hemp hawser, or a seven-inch wire hawser? The only place I know where these can be obtained is in Orkney.
Let us look at some of these salvage companies round the coasts. At Aberdeen there is a two penny-halfpenny tug, appropriately called the "Iron Axe," used exclusively by Lloyds for salvaging fishing vessels. At Leith there are three tugs not properly equipped for real salvage work, and with no divers available except dock divers. When we get down to the Tyne, we find two small tugs. The Humber is rather better equipped; I do not know how many tugs there are, but in any case they are not sea-going tugs. The position in the Thames is much the same. On the West coast there is the Liverpool company, which is one of the best equipped salvage companies in the country; but look at the evidence that came to light in the course of the "Thetis" inquiry. A veil has been drawn over that event; otherwise there might have been a lot more said about it. What was revealed there was lack of proper organisation for carrying out the salvage. The gear was in existence, but the oxy-acetylene plant was not transported in the first ship to where it was wanted, and some essential gear was not 1955 in working order. Also the divers were not sufficiently experienced for the work they had to do.
If that is the state of affairs in one of our better salvage companies, what are we to expect from the small and indifferent companies round the coast? There is only one exception to what I have been saying, and that is the salvage company which has been at work for many years in Orkney—formerly Cox and Danks, and now Metal Industries, Limited. There is no doubt that Mr. MacKenzie, the manager, is a salvage king. He and Commander Hughes and others working under him have carried out successfully one of the greatest salvage feats ever attempted. They are highly equipped for the particular job they are carrying out. But again, they are not equipped for work at any great distance from the shore. They have two very good salvage ships, the "Metinda" and the "Bertha," and a tug which is so powerful that when she went to pull a steamer off the rocks near my home she pulled the top of the steamer right off the bottom. These vessels are specialised for the particular jobs they have to do, and in consequence the available space which a sea-going salvage ship needs for the accommodation of the crew and bunkers is taken up with gear. The "Bertha" and "Metinda," both of which ships I know well, left Orkney at or shortly after the outbreak of war to refit. Where are they now? They went away to have some of the compressors taken out in order to give extra space for the crew and extra bunker space and to have oxy-acetylene apparatus put on board, and, in fact, to be fitted properly as sea-going salvage ships. And here we are now in the sixth month of the war, and these ships are not ready yet. I want to know why they are not ready and whose fault it is. This matter needs looking into.
The other day in London I ran into the officer to whom I referred, Commander Hughes. That officer has been in charge of the salvage operations under Mr. Mackenzie at Scapa Flow continuously for seven years, and there is probably no more experienced salvage officer in the country. Ever since the outbreak of the war, however, he has been on the beach. That can only mean that we are not carrying out as much salvage 1956 as we were before the war. Is there any wonder that wherever one goes along the East Coast the same question comes up every time: Why are we not salvaging more ships? An hon. Member above the Gangway approached me the other day and asked about the state of affairs along the Sunderland coast. I feel that much more might be done than is being done. There is overwhelming evidence that thousands of tons of shipping that could have been salved have not been salved, and much will be irretrievably lost if the job is not soon tackled. Salvage is a very critical operation. Every minute may count. If a ship goes ashore on a rising tide it may be possible to salvage her at once. If she goes ashore when the spring tides are making, the case may not be hopeless. The point is that every second counts. A change of the weather may wreck the most promising chance.
I appreciate that there are many ships which it is difficult to salve in war-time. No one expects an attempt to be made to salvage a ship which has been blown up by a magnetic mine and had her back broken, but there are other ships which have been attacked by machine guns and abandoned by the crews and afterwards sunk by our own destroyers. That is the type of ship which can often be salved. One has seen reports recently about ships of which the salvage has been attempted, but when they were towed in they capsized. One cannot be dogmatic about such cases without knowing the circumstances, but they rouse the suspicion that properly qualified people were not tackling the jobs. Only yesterday I read in one of my local papers an account of the salvaging of a burning grain ship in Orkney. No attempt had been made to deal with the ship until a retired sea captain asked whether he could have a try. He had no tackle or gear, although he had had some previous experience, and he salvaged the ship successfully. Such a job should not be left to an individual situated as he was. There should have been some better organisation to deal with it.
The whole position of salvage shows a woeful lack of foresight at the Admiralty. They must have been aware for years of the lamentable lack of adequate salvage apparatus round our coasts. If they were not aware of it, they should have had their eyes opened at the time of the "Thetis" 1957 tragedy. Yet six months after the outbreak of war we still have no sea-going salvage ships. It is possible that the Admiralty have plans, but nothing will make me alter my opinion that they have been too long in getting the plans into action. I hope they have been worked out now and that we shall see something of them in the near future. I should like to see at the stations I have mentioned on the East Coast at least one first-class sea-going salvage ship with complete equipment—compressors for diving, oxy-acetylene apparatus, salvage pumps, general repair outfit, wireless apparatus, and a couple of experienced divers. We have the necessary divers in this country at Scapa Flow. We want the type of men who are accustomed not merely to going down great depths, but to doing a job of work when they get there. I do not think the salvage companies could do the work themselves because they have not the capital or the amount of experience. The work must be co-ordinated and all the stations properly equipped. Whatever the future arrangements are, I hope the Admiralty will see that it is their policy to provide these companies with the capital and equipment they have not got—and at the same time see they do not get away with too much of the swag.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. McLean Watson
I have a considerable amount of sympathy with the hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Shetland (Major Neven-Spence), who has been voicing a great grievance in Scotland, for Scotland has a great interest in the question of salvaging vessels. At the end of the last war the German Fleet found a grave in Scapa Flow. In the time that has elapsed the greater part of that fleet has been salvaged and broken up for scrap. I am pleased to have the opportunity of following the hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Shetland, because these German battleships were brought through the North Sea to a dockyard in my constituency. I question whether there is any dockyard in the country to which the German hulks could have been brought. These battleships were brought to Rosyth bottom upwards, and I question whether there is another dockyard in the country that could have taken them in that state. Yet this is the dockyard which the Admiralty reduced to 1958 a care-and-maintenance basis in 1925. It was kept in that condition until shortly before the present war broke out. I am pleased the Admiralty recognised that there is a need for Rosyth, and I hope that the daft policy that was pursued in the past with regard to it will not be followed in future and that now that they are getting the yard back to something like its original condition it will be kept so long as we require dockyards.
It is lamentable to think that while dockyards in the South of England, which cannot compare with Rosyth, were being kept in full working order, Rosyth was reduced to a care-and-maintenance basis. It was then the newest dockyard in the country. There is no difficulty in docking in it the largest ship in the Fleet. Shortly before it was reduced, the "Hood" was docked there in a dense fog without a scratch. Rosyth has now been reopened, but it has not done as much for the Navy as it could have done if it had been kept in proper condition. The Admiralty have had to re-establish the yard and obtain new labour because the war was upon us before it could be developed to any extent. However, it has again been placed on the map, and I hope it will be kept on the map by the Admiralty. The First Lord interested the whole House with his graphic description of how the war had developed, his account of the losses we had sustained, and his expectations and hopes for the future. We were all interested in that speech, and I dare say that so long as the Government can find as good a cause as they have for the present war they will get support from this side of the House for the Navy, for the Army and for the Air Force.
I do not know how the First Lord or the powers-that-be generally managed to cover up the accident to the "Nelson" for so long. They knew about it weeks ago, but, as the First Lord said, it was only last week-end that it was discovered in Germany that the "Nelson" had met with an accident. Had the Germans been as well informed as they pretend to be, we should have had "Lord Haw-Haw" on the job weeks ago. It is a good thing they do not know everything which they might know concerning our affairs in this country. I hope they will get no information that will be of any use to them in any shape or form. The information 1959 which they ought to get is some of that which the First Lord gave us this afternoon; that while our losses have been serious—not so far as capital ships are concerned; the smaller ships have suffered—we have his assurance that the ships lost will be replaced in a very short time, and that some of the ships damaged in the course of the war will again be in active service before long. That gives us the assurance that so far as the Navy is concerned we have no need to be afraid or to be ashamed.
I have a considerable amount of sympathy with the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes). He raised a matter which is of very considerable importance. We have had many discussions in this House about whether the Air Force should be entirely under the control of the Air Ministry or whether we should have this compromise system of having part of it under the Air Ministry and part of it under the Admiralty. I have great sympathy with the point of view which the hon. and gallant Member expressed. I have sympathy with him for this reason, that in the one serious attack made on this country by the German air force the sufferers were men belonging to the Navy. That was the occasion when the Germans tried to get through to Rosyth Dockyard. They created a considerable amount of havoc that afternoon, and it is possible that if we had had an air fleet wholly under the control of the Admiralty there might have been more co-operation between that section of the Air Force and the Navy than was in existence that afternoon.
The first air raid made on this country was made on Rosyth, and, as I have said, the men who met their death were men who were on His Majesty's ships. It was a most unfortunate business, and it makes many of us wonder whether the advocates of the whole of the Air Force being under the control of the Air Ministry are justified in that claim, or whether we should not, as the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth advocated this afternoon, give the Admiralty much greater power in building up an air force to co-operate with the Fleet than has been permitted to them so far. It is true that in addition to the floating aerodromes to which he referred there are one or two shore establishments 1960 which are under the control of the Admiralty, but I believe that it would be to the advantage of this country if the Admiralty had a much greater and a more efficient air force than they are now permitted to have.
I know that many hon. Members are anxious to take part in this Debate, and I merely wish to express my appreciation of the speech we had this afternoon from the First Lord, and to renew the hope that the mistake which was made in 1925 with regard to the dockyard in my constituency will not be repeated. I hope that Rosyth will be made and kept as a first-class naval dockyard; that the Admiralty will make up their minds once and for all that so long as we require a Navy, Rosyth shall be one of the dockyards which is to serve its needs. In the past the Admiralty have not played the game with Scotland in that respect. They may have played the game with the Clyde, where many of our first-class battleships have been built, but the Clyde is not the whole of Scotland, and I am not sure that it is the best part of Scotland. We who live on the East Coast are as keenly interested in the Navy as any one in the West can be, and we want to see that dockyard made into and kept as one of our first-class dockyards.
§ 6.8 p.m.
Commander Sir Archibald South by
During the last war a great American who was at that time United States Ambassador to this country wrote this:So far as ensuring peace is concerned, the biggest factor in the world in the British Fleet.A Member of this Honourable House in 1751 uttered the immortal truth thata Sea Power should make war by sea.I do not always see eye to eye with the First Lord of the Admiralty, but I will "hand it to him" for knowing how to make war by sea, for organising the naval resources of this country, for stimulating the naval forces of this country, and for catching the attention of the public and heartening the nation in the speeches he makes about our naval forces. He appreciates the dictum of Cardinal Richelieu thatwithout sea-power one can neither profit from peace nor sustain war.We listened with great interest to the account which the right hon. Gentleman gave when presenting the Estimates, 1961 Estimates for an unspecified number of men, an unspecified number of ships and an unspecified amount of money, none of which, this country or this House will grudge to the right hon. Gentleman's Department for the better prosecution of the war, realising that fundamentally and in the end it is the sea-power of this country which will be the deciding factor in this or in any war in which this country is engaged. I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman's tribute to the officers and men of the Royal Navy. There was no one who was not thrilled by the exploits of those three magnificently-handled ships in the action against the "Graf Spee." Their magnificent handling was also supported by very good fortune, as those who have expert knowledge realise. Indeed, there was a considerable amount of good fortune in that action, on our side mercifully. We were thrilled, also, when we found the men who had been concerned in that action amongst us in the City of London, but as I read the accounts of the wonderful entertainment given to them by the city, and the amazing reception they met with from the people, my thoughts turned to the officers and men of the flotillas in the North Sea who for week after week and month after month have endured what nobody who has not experienced the North Sea in such weather as we have had recently, can really appreciate.
Sir A. South by
No, I would not for a moment have it said that I think that:This ought ye to have done, and not have left the other undone.Only I feel that it should be on record that the work which is being done day by day by the men in the destroyers merits not only our appreciation but our whole-hearted gratitude. As long ago as 1907 there was a Hague Convention which laid down certain rules for the conduct of war. The State Department of the United States at that time expressed forebodings that belligerents might, in the heat of a war and for their own advantage, break their word although they had subscribed to the Convention. Both in the last war and in this war we have seen those forebodings fulfilled by Germany's betrayal after 1962 betrayal of the undertakings she had entered into. To any seamen the last, the most beastly and most disgusting of all her actions was the bombing and the machine-gunning of lightships. It can only be described as on a par with shooting a hospital nurse in the back. It has been left for German airmen to do that, just as it has been left for Germany to make the name "submarine" stink in the nostrils of the world.
All through history every effort has been made in times of peace to reduce and to hamstring the sea power of this country. We have had to wage a continuous fight to preserve for ourselves that liberty of action at sea which makes it possible for us to use that last inexorable triumphant weapon of the blockade. Although Germany has broken every rule of decency in the conduct of the war at sea, we should remind ourselves that it is possible to make submarine warfare and to do it humanely and decently. I do not know how many Members have had either the time or the inclination to read the naval history of the last war, but I would crave their indulgence to quote two or three passages from it. Here is one concerning the work of our submarines in the Sea of Marmora:This ended the work of the British submarines in the Sea. of Marmora. They had sunk two battleships of the Turkish Navy, one destroyer, five gunboats, nine transports, more than 30 steamers, seven ammunition store ships and 188 sailing vessels.In every case regard was paid to the humanities. The crews were provided for, often at great risk to ourselves, and the greatest consideration was shown, a fact to which the Turks themselves paid tribute to our commanding officers.
Recently I have had enforced leisure in which to study the speeches and Debates of the past. In considering Germany's tremendous fury and reaction to the "Altmark" incident one might remember what happened to one of our submarines, E 13, in the last war. E 13, when coming back from the Baltic, went aground on 18th August, 1915, between Malmo and Copenhagen, on Danish territorial soil. She had, under international law, 24 hours in which she could either repair herself and get off or be interned. While she was lying there two German destroyers came and, in spite of the presence of a Danish torpedo vessel, they fired a torpedo at E 13 which exploded 1963 on the Danish rocks under the ship's bottom. Not content with that they opened fire upon this defenceless ship which was lying on a neutral shore, under what protection a neutral man-of-war could give to it. They fired some 400 rounds of four-inch projectiles into this ship. The crew escaped, some over the rocks. Some took to the water and a large number of them were deliberately machine-gunned by the German destroyer as they were swimming until the Danish sailors intervened and saved the lives of the remainder. It passes my comprehension and, I am sure, that of any other hon. Member in this House how any country or Government can be so hypercritical, having that record behind them, as to complain of what we did in saving our men from the "Altmark."
My right hon. Friend referred—I took great note of what he said—to the effects of our economic blockade. There we have the one weapon among other weapons which in the end will prove victorious in the struggle in which we are now engaged. The alternative to a blockade as one great writer, Admiral Mahon, who is an expert on the subject, has said, is the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of lives and millions of money. The last war was prolonged because in the beginning we did not exert our full power of economic warfare and blockade. I hope that we shall not make the same mistake in this war. We very nearly subscribed to the Declaration of London, pressed to do so over and over again by politicians and statesmen in this country, but mercifully we did not. Under it we should have started the war with copper, rubber, cotton and even aeroplanes not contraband. Those who took part in the last war and were in service on the North Sea saw cargo after cargo of potential munitions of war including raw materials passing practically unhindered into Germany. When a blockade was exercised the flood of raw materials through the neutrals enabled Germany to keep the war on. In the interests of humanity it is necessary for us to exercise to the fullest possible extent the power of blockade which sea power gives to us.
When the United States have been at war they have always subscribed to our rules of sea warfare. When they have been at peace they have not. Certainly on occasions they have had reservations. 1964 In the last war when they came in they went much further than we were prepared to go in applying blockade. I am sure that the feeling in the United States is one of great sympathy with the Allies and of great understanding of the difficulties—because of their experiences in the last war—which any sea power must have when it is fighting a war of this importance. Therefore, I have no fear about public opinion in the United States of America. Causes of friction will arise, but in the main the United States understand our difficulties in the application of sea power and provided we carry out our duties and obligations with tact and consideration I believe we shall have nothing but support from them.
Mr. Walter Hines Page, perhaps one of the greatest Ambassadors the United States have ever sent to this country, had the fullest understanding of us and of our difficulties. At the time when the Declaration of London was being discussed before the last war he was pressed four times by his Government to exercise pressure upon this country to subscribe to a declaration which would have hamstrung us completely if it had been finally ratified before the war began.
Sir A. South by
No, it was not law. As I said, had it been subscribed to completely it would have hamstrung us. Mr. Page said this:If Lansing (then Secretary of State in the United States) again brings up the Declaration of London after four flat and reasonable rejections I shall resign. I will not be the instrument of a perfectly gratuitous and ineffective insult to this patient and fair and friendly Government, who, in my time, have done us many kindnesses and never an injury, and who sincerely try now to meet our wishes.He went on at the same time to say:The case is plain enough to me. England is going to keep war materials out of Germany so far as she can. We would do it in her place. Germany would do it. Any nation would do it.Then he said:If England be left alone she will do it in a way to give us the very least annoyance possible.He pointed out that we had not then confiscated a single American cargo even of unconditional contraband. I believe that in the hands of my right hon. Friend 1965 the First Lord of the Admiralty, the prosecution of economic warfare is safe. I said just now—although we have not always been able to see eye to eye—that I hand it to him for the prosecution of the war at sea. I believe that with his drive he is the person who will see to it that we do not lose the tremendous advantage that we possess of being able to apply inexorable pressure upon the German people. This is more difficult now because of the circumstances of the grouping of the Powers, but in the end the sea power that we can exercise will be the deciding factor.
I listened to the right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander), whose friendliness and affection for the Navy I as a naval officer would like to acknowledge. He has always been dear to the heart of the Navy. Knowing his interest in the Service and his knowledge of the conditions in the Navy, I could not help casting my mind back to the time when he was First Lord of the Admiralty and when some of us—I have no desire to say "I told you so"—protested against the London Naval Treaty which is at the bottom of half our troubles of unprepared-ness at the present time. He had—I do not know with what pressure behind him—to defend that Treaty at that Box and he did ably defend it, while I opposed it from the other side of the House. That was a wicked abrogation of British sea power, from the effects of which we shall have to suffer until after the expenditure of much money we shall with blood and tears have made up the deficiencies of the Navy which ought never to have been allowed to take place.
§ Mr. Alexander
I take no exception to what the hon. and gallant Member is saying, but I would simply say that if he has ever known what it is to find himself fighting a rearguard action against the Treasury and to come out of it with a programme of replacement of cruisers which prevented the Fleet rusting out from the bottom he will perhaps be a little more generous in his criticism.
§ Sir A. Southby
As I have already said, I have recently had enforced leisure in which to read the speeches that have been made in this House and the arguments brought forward. I realised the difficulties at that time against which the right hon. Gentleman was suffering. 1966 Anybody can make mistakes; it is by the mistakes of the past that we can profit, but let us never make that mistake again. The figure of 91,000 tons was the limit for cruiser replacement. That figure was agreed to even before the nations had come together in London to have their conference. It had been decided upon before there was any discussion with the other nations, and that was the trouble. It was cut and dried before they came here. The cruiser replacement programme, which was utterly inadequate, landed us at the beginning of this war in a position of dangerous cruiser shortage. Had we remained a strong, well-armed sea Power the course of history might have been different, although it is perhaps unprofitable to dwell on that matter now. We should have been able to withstand any threat of aggression and been able to face not only the West but the East, in which case the history of Europe might very well have been something different from what it has been.
We all hated to hear of the insults which were levelled at our nationals a few months ago by the Japanese in China. Does any hon. Member not realise that had we been able to maintain sufficient naval power in the Far East we might not have had to put up with them? A great mistake was made in the past also by the non-continuation of work on the Singapore naval base. I wonder what the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) thinks now. At that time he bitterly opposed the continuation of that work on the Singapore base, not, it is true, when he was in office, but before. If only that base had been completed the history of the world might have been very different.
I beg hon. Members to realise that whatever difficulties there may be in regard to neutrals it is not possible to allow indefinitely the use of neutral waters to a belligerent to whom we are opposed, in a way which enables them to import for themselves raw materials and munitions. Nobody has ever suggested that under international law a belligerent can make use of the whole 800 miles of Norwegian territorial waters to which the First Lord referred in his speech. It is no good our putting out our prodigious effort, expending our money and what is much more important spending our manpower and our young man-power in this 1967 war, if it is to be prolonged because we will not face the fact that, if we are to win the war, we have to stop Germany getting munitions and anything else. I listened at Question Time to the questions put to the Minister for Economic Warfare and to the replies which he gave and I realise the difficulties under which that Department must be suffering at the present time. In the end as in the last war we shall have to ration the neutral countries in order to try to stop the re-importation from them of goods which they bring in from abroad and pass on to Germany.
The naval conduct of the war up to date—and I say it with feeling in regard to the Service to which I long had the honour to belong—has added fresh lustre to the naval laurels of this country and is something of which this House and the country may be proud. I believe the country realises the debt it owes to the British Navy and that there is no sacrifice which it will not make in order that the British Navy may be maintained both in man-power and materials. I am grateful to the First Lord of the Admiralty for his conduct of naval affairs up to date and for the inspiration which he has been not only to the Navy but to the country as a whole.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Ritson
I want to put a question rather than to make a speech. I was amazed at the speech of the hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down. He chastised my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) on account of his share in the slowing up of things when this party was in office. I can assure the hon. and gallant Member that my right hon. Friend is the last person he should try to deal with. He should deal with the people on that side of the House.
I got up to refer to the question of salvage. I am living on the East Coast. I usually take the view that it is not my job to ask questions about Army, Navy or Air Force matters if they are likely to give information to the enemy, so I mentioned to my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough that he might put to the First Lord of the Admiralty a question in relation to salvage. The time has come when the Navy should consider having a department of salvage of its own.
1968 Near Sunderland there was a very large ship lying along the coast. It was of about 12,000 tons, a tanker, and it lay on the rocks close to the shore. The ship was left there with two large consignments of oil which oozed out of her bottom, and crude oil spread along the coast, much to the horror of the inhabitants. A friend of mine, a member of a large firm of nautical engineers and experts, said that the firm was asked to look at this ship and see if she could be put off. They decided that they would have to put her off before the bad weather commenced. She had cost £140,000 18 months ago. She has lain there for four months in heavy seas which started just before December. My point is that not only that ship but others along the East Coast are lying about and ought to be salvaged, because we are in need of ships. This was a wonderful ship and it would be very useful at this time. If salvage work is at all possible it should be done in the national interest. It would be a good national scheme because if we have a Navy we have as much right to have a department of salvage; the two are interlocked. Even now there are 9,000 tons of oil lying there, which could have been salvaged.
If I may put this in my own crude, "pitmanic" manner, I have sufficient horse-sense to know that that oil and the ship could have been saved, and I would add a reminder that the inconvenience and the horror caused by these things lying along the coast do not help towards maintaining the morale of the people. I can assure the First Lord of the Admiralty that I am as sincere in my remarks as he is. That ship is now lying there rotting and rusting. The experts to whom I have referred said that private enterprise cannot cope with a huge salvage scheme because it does not pay in peace-time. Surely this is a job of work for the Navy. We could do with the metal, although it would be far better if we could salvage the ship in good condition than break it up. I believe that the stern is now a mile away from the body of the ship.
I now come to another point, namely this beastly black-out. I say that because I mean it; it is no easy task for sailors to have to navigate in a black-out. Incidentally, hon. Members on the other side should know what it is to go about 1969 in the dark. Think of the difficulty which is experienced when bringing a ship into port; at the particular part of the coast to which I am referring they dare not even have the lightship working. Surely if there is a period of seven minutes between the sounding of the sirens and the expected attack we can give the sailors a hand by supplying a bit of light. I certainly think something should be done in that direction. Apart from the loss of profits, material and cargo, one must remember that when nervous people see these bits of boats lying about they become even more nervous.
No one in this House would pay a higher tribute to the gallantry of the Navy than I do, but we must not forget the men of the Mercantile Marine. While people are fussing over the Navy men and the soldiers, along comes a fellow with his hat on one side, a muffler round his neck and his face bright with humanity, character and pluck—a man who has probably been torpedoed several times—and no one takes any notice of him. Let us pay a tribute to the men of the Mercantile Marine. Speaking for our people as a whole I would say that we have a great admiration for the gallantry of the men of all ranks—never mind the officers, but all ranks—after the exploits of the last few months. Let us not forget that there are in this country men who are often forgotten. In Sunderland and towns like that there are men who are not mentioned nor bemedalled nor praised but who see daily the naval man getting his share of praise.
The other day I asked a shipowner whether his men were afraid. He said, "No, they are not afraid, but certain things are going on in the Mercantile Marine. Some men are getting worse wages at sea than others are ashore, but we are not short of able seamen." A man I met the other day said that he had gone into the collieries for a rest after having been at sea all his life. This is actually true. Then he said he grew tired of lying about in the pit resting, and he has applied to get back to sea again. While we are giving this vote of thanks, let us not forget the man who is on the battlefield from the day he leaves port to the day he comes back, with cannon to the right and to the left of him, and with beastly things underneath him.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question; and to add instead thereof:This House, while paying the highest tribute to the Royal Navy for its achievements, reiterates the urgent importance of ensuring that trade shall be enabled to flow without interruption to and from our shores; that our Merchant Navy is adequately armed and equipped; that our shipyards are employed to their fullest capacity for adding to our existing strength and replacing those ships destroyed; and that every possible measure be taken to anticipate and provide against the new and increasingly-ruthless methods of warfare likely to be adopted by the enemy.As hon. Members will see, my Amendment is neither restrictive nor in any way narrowly drawn. In fact, it is sufficiently widely drawn to enable everyone to take part and to contribute accordingly to his knowledge and experience. It may seem strange to the House that a soldier should have chosen this particular Amendment, but, in view of the reserve and silence associated with the naval Service, I thought it only becoming that its more voluble and chatty junior should not lose the opportunity of giving its fraternal support. I hope the senior Service will appreciate my support, since this is the only time in 15 years that I have drawn one of these Motions from the Ballot, and I give my best in order to pay the tribute which I desire to pay to this magnificent Service which has so far kept our country and our island home intact in this war. In passing, I would like to congratulate this silent Service on living up to its name through its Estimates for 1940. They are certainly giving nothing away either to Hitler or this House, and were I depending on the Estimates for food for this speech, it would be as silent as they are.
Fortunately, however, I have other grounds for moving this Amendment, and I have placed them on the Order Paper in order of seniority. I propose to deal with the various aspects of my Amendment in sequence. In the splendid speech which he made earlier to-day, the First Lord of the Admiralty referred to the achievements of the Royal Navy since the war started. It would need a speech all to itself to deal with those achievements alone. I believe the heart of the Empire has been thrilled to read of the 1971 exploits of the Navy from the time of the battle with the "Graf Spee" down to recent days when that fight was concluded. As the "Times" so well put it:The Navy could not regard its task as completed until having destroyed the Lion they prevented the jack all getting away with the Lion's prey, and so the 'Altmark' was forced to disgorge its prisoners.I trust that my naval friends and colleagues in the House will extend their good will towards me if I become somewhat lyrical in my tribute to the spirit of the Navy. The spirit of the Navy seems to me to be continuous. They may change from timber to steel, from ball firing cannon to shell firing guns, from the process of singeing King Philip's beard to bristling Hitler's moustache, but the quality, the spirit, and the gallantry of our seamen remain unchanged. As the hon. Member on the other side of the Gangway and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby) have made reference to this point, I would like to make it clear that I include in this tribute the officers and men of the Mercantile Marine. As I rest in my comfortable bed at night, I am frequently disturbed by the thought of that constant vigil being kept around our coasts by the trawlers, the drifters, and the minesweepers, realising as I do that it is due to their unceasing and arduous watchfulness that my rest is made possible. Throughout the raging storms and the bitter gales of the North Sea their temper, spirit, and tenacity remain unimpaired. And so, whatever be the future of this great country of ours, whether good or ill befall it, pray God that we remember the men who maintain the freedom of this country of ours. It may be that we will remember them in future, but that thought causes me to think of the present. Are we doing all we can to help the Navy and the Mercantile Marine at the present time?
As I understand the position, the Merchant Navy, in spite of what the First Lord said this afternoon, have not at the moment enough armament protection, nor have they enough sea-going protection. They are not only exposed, save for their own seamanship and courage, to the terrors of nature, but they are left largely unprotected against the attacks of 1972 a ruthless enemy. I would ask the Civil Lord, when he replies, to say what is the position exactly in regard to guns. Have all our trawlers and drifters been adequately equipped with guns? I know that we were given an assurance by the First Lord this afternoon, but I think the whole country would feel happier if we could have it definitely on record, not only that guns are already provided to a great extent, but that provision for the ships not already equipped will be accelerated as much as possible. And what about rafts and safety gear? There was an important letter from a seaman in one of the daily papers the other day, pointing out that, to the writer's knowledge, trawlers and drifters, and many of the larger ships, were very inadequately equipped with safety gear. I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend, when he replies, will again assure the House that that problem, if it is not entirely solved, is well on the way to solution.
There is another question which has been brought to my notice by the wife of the master of a ship and by the wife of a seaman in my constituency. Men in the service are paid only by the calendar month. That means that they are paid for only four weeks out of 30 or 31 days; so that in the course of the year they lose approximately one month's pay. I admit that substantial increases, in pay have recently been made all round, but this ridiculous state of affairs, if true, demands attention. I hope that we shall hear the explanation which, no doubt, exists. The other day my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) asked why merchant sailors were not getting; the same rations as their comrades in the Navy, the Army, and the Air Force. The Minister of Food, to whom the Question was addressed, promised consideration of the matter; but a change has taken place since that promise was given, because it has been announced that no longer will conscientious objectors be posted to the Merchant Navy, as the Merchant Navy must be prepared to fight. In that case, the men of the Merchant Navy should get similar treatment to that of those men whose traditional job it is to fight.
I come now to the essential part of the Amendment, as it affects the country as a whole—that is, our ability to ensure 1973 the free flow of trade to and from our shores. That is the essential guts of this Amendment, because it is upon our export trade that we must live and wage this war. Without it, as we have been told so often, we must perish. Have we destroyers enough, have we protective cruisers enough, and what steps are we taking to replace those that have been lost or to increase the safeguards that we are giving to the convoys? I am afraid that we are not doing enough. I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend will be able to reassure me on that point. Also I ask him to say whether we are using our shipyard capacity to its fullest extent. I know that we are not. I know the reasons that may be given: shortage of skilled labour and of raw materials. But these are two difficulties that, I am convinced, can be overcome.
I have the honour to represent one of the most delightful towns in Scotland, Ayr. Ayr has an up-to-date and well-equipped shipyard. It is not one of those which were closed down by Sir James Lithgow—and, incidentally, why the 40-years condition was put into that disastrous arrangement I do not know. The shipyard at Ayr produced 25 to 30 first-class small craft in the last war, and it is ready now, in every way, to take on the job again at a moment's notice. I approached the Minister of Labour on the question of labour, and I was told that there were only 29 shipyard workers unemployed in the Ayr district. I was not satisfied with that, and I went to the local trade union officials, and asked whether they could give me any better information. I found then that there were 125 skilled craftsmen, 250 painters and 400 labourers accustomed to shipyard work available—quite enough with whom to start operations. Many skilled men had been driven during the years of the shipyard depression to seek other means of livelihood. They had become insurance agents, car drivers, clerks, and one thing and another; yet to-day they are ready, in the country's hour of need, to leave these more highly-paid occupations and go back to their old work. What is the case at Ayr is probably equally the case in other parts of the country. Why should not the Minister of Labour conduct a nation-wide survey, in order to rescue these shipyard workers, and bring them back to the trade that they know so well, and for which their 1974 hands still retain their cunning? These numbers, as hon. Members above the Gangway know, can be increased by dilution and by the new training schemes of the Ministry of Labour.
So much for the question of labour. I come to the question of raw materials. I believe that that problem can be solved by implementing an Answer which was given to me the other day by the Minister of Supply—that is by the proper collection, classification and utilisation of the waste material in this country. There is an enormous amount of waste going on in this country. I know that the Ministry of Supply have started a salvage department, that they have voluntary officers all over the country, that they have inundated local authorities with appeals, advice and instruction; but there are millions of pounds' worth of raw materials going to waste in the backyards of garages and on contractors' scrap heaps. If you come into London by Euston or St. Pancras, you see tons of scrap-iron of every kind lying not only on the railway premises, but in adjacent yards. The collection of waste has not been done on a proper basis. I believe that compulsion will have to be adopted. We are now separated from our oversea sources of raw materials by a lawless enemy, who, while paying lip service to neutrality, does not hesitate to destroy neutral ships which are bringing us goods. We can save transport, save costs and save this "vicious spiral" of increasing wages about which the Prime Minister has warned us on many occasions, by looking after this waste. It would save money for the Government, it would help them in their construction plans for shipping, and it would assist in the conduct of the war, if they were now to appoint a Minister of Salvage, whose sole job would be to deal with this vast problem and ensure that our ships and seamen should not be wasted in bringing material from abroad when it is lying about unused at home.
I come to the last point: how to meet this ruthless destruction of our shipping which is going on at present, and which we must expect to be intensified. For one thing, I would jam the German radio. I admit it may be a relief to our sailors to know that they had not been sunk, as announced by the German radio, but I believe that this doubling and trebling 1975 of our alleged losses does have its effect, especially on the morale of our seamen's wives, and that it prevents many homes from being carried on in that spirit of cheerfulness and wellbeing when people hear these exaggerated stories about our losses. With some regret and with some doubt, I put forward the suggestion that we should consider whether we are right in risking the lives of British seamen in picking up German seamen from scuttled German ships. Let us take a case in point. The crew of the German ship" Wakama" deliberately set fire to their ship in order to prevent its cargo falling into our hands. What happened? They were all picked up, and now they are safe, dry, and well treated. On the other hand, the British lightship, "East Dudgeon," to which the First Lord referred, was bombed, machine-gunned, and sunk by a German bomber. The next morning the seven bodies of the crew were picked up on the sea shore. The time has come when we should say that if there is any more scuttling, the crew of the scuttler must follow its cargo. Hitler, no doubt, would not mind; but Germany would. I believe the time is coming when conditions will grow so grave, according to the First Lord's warning, that we must sink the natural feelings of humanity that we have, and address such a warning. It is all very well to be tender—
§ Sir T. Moore
I am open to conviction, but I am putting forward the suggestion, because sometimes I wonder whether we realise the gravity of the issue which we face. The more I study the strategic difficulties of this war, the more I realise that we must be prepared to take every honourable step in order to win it. It is a war for national, as well as individual, liberty; it is a war, as the Prime Minister has said, to free the States of Europe from persecution, torment, and misery; it is a war for spiritual right against physical might; it is a war for Christianity against barbarity; it is a war for the rights of conscience and religious freedom; it cannot be fought in kid gloves; it is a war of life and death; it is a war for civilisation, which we must win.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral Beamish
It falls to my lot to second the Amendment. One of our greatest poets said many hundreds of years ago:Let not England forget her precedence of teaching the nations how to live.I submit that we are in the process of continuing that lesson, not only the lesson how to live, but the lesson how to make sacrifices in the cause of humanity. We have heard from the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Ritson) with great pleasure a speech of great charm and great human feeling. I am confident that my hon. Friend's words on the work of the Merchant Service must find an echo in every British heart. I am not surprised personally at the attacks which have been made on lightships and on our-fishing craft. They are in conformity with the Nazi habit and, as such, are to be expected, with other similar habits, in the future. But every step that we can take to avoid extreme measures and every step we can take which sets an example of humanity rather than inhumanity, the better for ourselves and for the world, and therefore I can never advocate any such drastic steps towards crews which have scuttled their ships. Naturally, and with great pleasure, I pay my tribute to my old Service, in which I was so happy for so many years, for their recent achievements, which have in my view done a great deal to dissipate some of the false ideas which came into prominence during the latter part of the late war. I am inclined very much to agree with some of the things that fell from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby) in regard to the risks that are run.
Many years ago I made a speech in this House in which I said that until the Navy had control of all the craft both on, in and above the element in which it worked, it would always be subjected to a grave handicap. That sums up my view and it is in accordance with what fell from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes). In 1915 my right hon. Friend who presented the Estimates said he thought it right to remind the House that they were at war. I submit that a repetition of that remark does not come amiss to-day. Even at that time we were alleged to be suffering 1977 from a grave shortage of merchant shipping, but we had a vastly greater tonnage. Sinking at sight by the enemy had not really begun, convoys were hardly thought of, and neutral ships were still trading and carrying foodstuffs to German ports. On the same occasion the First Lord remarked that he thought the seas were now fairly clear. But bad years were to come and serious events were in store for us.
I was delighted to hear the First Lord to-day make some remarks on the subject of a Fleet in being. It reminded me of what he said 25 years ago. The silent, never sleeping and as yet unchallenged Fleet, lost to view amid the Northern mists was the way he put it in his picturesque style, and it was true. I feel that to-day we are fortunate in the possession of a great Fleet of capital ships in being. Surprises are in store for us. It would be idle to suggest that Europe is the only disturbed part of the world. Europe is not the only danger spot, and we are fortunate and right to keep that great Fleet in being. We must remember that the efficiency of ships and guns, and particularly of explosives, has vastly increased, and how vital it is to replace the older ships which were not designed to stand up to the tremendous destructive effects of modern guns and explosives, from mine, torpedo, and gun. One must remember also that the methods of defence invariably lag seriously behind those of offence. No one can foresee the future but, if anyone can make a fairly good guess at it, I feel that we are fortunate in our First Lord. We are suffering to-day from the effects of what is called the London Treaty, in which there was a parity Clause—faith, hope and parity, and parity was said to be the most important of all. I am reminded by my hon. and gallant Friend's speech how it was forced upon us and how it has shackled our Fleet for so long and that we are still suffering from the effects of it. The thought that we were the only nation at that time whose defeat at sea would bring humiliation and ruin touched no chord of sympathy, and it is proper for us to remember that we are the masters of our destiny and that no other nation is in any way concerned with that destiny.
I should like to pay my tribute to successive Boards of Admiralty, and to the 1978 present Board, for their instinct of steady adherence to the principles of maritime war. I find in my experience that people, perhaps even some Members of this House, are not wholly aware that we are at war. It seems to me that our past successes and our present power have, as it were, anaesthetised us, lulled us into a false sense of security. Indeed, the sea affair is a closed book to the average citizen. There is pride in the sea affair and sorrow for the losses and disasters which sometimes fall upon us, but the country does not appreciate the dangers and the incredible magnitude and complexity of the task and the meaning of even a partial failure as it would affect the country, notwithstanding all the eloquence of the First Lord. I have very often reminded audiences that I have addressed that two-thirds of our civilian requirements have to come overseas. They are generally incredulous, and I have noticed this incredulity among other people. In fact, we have had examples of it recently in the House, as exemplified by the, to me, deplorable pressure brought upon the Government, and still being brought, in regard to the importation of feeding-stuffs—about, the most uneconomic cargo you can carry—and petrol. People seem to forget that a convoy of 30, 40, or 50 ships carrying, as it does, aid from overseas from the Empire, from Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, are for the whole of that period completely debarred from using a single ton for the benefit of the civilian population of the country. But for the Fleet, and but for the Merchant Navy, the country would to-day be defeated, ruined, and humiliated.
I want to give an instance of a handicap which affects the action of our Fleet and also has a serious effect upon our cause in general. I refer to our consideration for the tender feelings of some of the more trembling neutrals, and of other neutrals who are waiting their chance, and some of whom are now taking it. I would fortify that point of view by reminding the House that this moment onboard something like 90 or more German merchant ships there is more than £3,000,000 worth of British property taking refuge in neutral ports scattered all over the world. With all our naval might, we do not seem to be in a position to rescue our property from those neutral ports. I hope that perhaps 1979 the Civil Lord may have some information as to what the legal position is in regard to such valuable property. It seems to me a very curious state of affairs, and a very serious one indeed for the owners of that cargo, and it is only one more proof of the shortage of merchant ships from which we are suffering so severely and which—I do not very often criticise the Government—they did so little before the war to rectify. It is well to remember our handicaps.
May I say a word or two about the German submarine campaign and the prospects of the future in that connection? It is obvious to me that the enemy campaign from which we have suffered in the past so greatly is certain to be greatly intensified, remembering that the enemy are hindered by no feelings for neutrals and no fears whatever in regard to our feelings. There are strong rumours that they have a programme of something like 400 to 500 submarines. I believe something like 350 were either built or projected, but mostly built, during the last war, but at that time there was, at any rate, a certain glimmering of conscience in the German mind in regard to the use of submarines. Those glimmerings of conscience have totally disappeared to-day, and there is no check whatever on their brutal and ferocious intentions in regard to bringing pressure upon us through our merchant shipping. I recollect that in the late war our rate of destruction of enemy submarines never quite approached the rate of construction.
Unless we are very careful, we shall find ourselves faced with a very much greater risk than perhaps is present in the minds of people at the present time. The campaign by submarine warfare, aided by mines and by aircraft laying mines, is the lynch-pin of the German war upon this country. They have expended years of concentration, thought, effort, and of design upon it, and no wishes or hopes that we may have justify us in any measure of complacency. I am glad to know that for a long time past the Admiralty have had it in mind that the menace of the German submarines is likely to grow, and are taking precautions and providing a vast number of small craft capable of withstanding such an attack. I am reminded of something which was said by an ex-Member of 1980 this House with reference to the generation of Englishmen during the Napoleonic wars, the generation which he described asThat dauntless and dogged generation that never cried craven and never drew breath.I feel that we have that sort of generation to-day, and that we have the support of the vast majority of the whole House of Commons in prosecuting the war.
I wish to make two small but important appeals to the Civil Lord. The first relates to pensioners and other elderly men who were called up and have now served for some six months or more, many of them over the age of 55, and perhaps not very fit. Many of them were in business in civil life and are longing to get back to their homes. I hope that the Civil Lord will be able to give some assurance in his reply that the fate of these men may be considered and that they may be relieved as opportunity offers and as young men come along under the Military Service Act and under the voluntary system. I know of several cases of what seem to be very great hardship.
The only other appeal that I have to make is that, now that everybody agrees that we are up to our necks in this war, and there is such community of thought and co-operation among our people, we should utilise that spirit and remember the small boys and the youth of the country who are growing up. Many of them have implanted in their minds a deep love of the sea and of their country, but they are not able to gratify their feelings because they are not able to afford the training for the sea. Training for the sea ought to begin at an early age if the best results are to be obtained, and therefore I ask the Civil Lord to try and give some assurance that the Navy League Sea Cadets particularly, and any other organisations which concentrate upon training boys and youngsters for the sea shall receive financial encouragement, and indeed every encouragement from the Board of Admiralty. I have spoken already longer than I intended, but I feel very deeply about the fate of our country, as everybody else does in this House. I realise, as I believe we all do, that the war will be a long and desperate one, but the sacrifice will be worth while. I am reminded again of something which I read 1981 recently which shows how difficult it is to foretell the future. It is as follows:''Oh whither, ere it be fulfilled,Ere its fierce blast be hushed and stilled,Shall blow the wind of doom?
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Ammon
I take this early opportunity of intimating a very unusual happening in this House, namely, that of rising to support the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore). On this occasion we find the House united. The First Lord has already, in eloquent and graphic terms, expressed not only the feelings of gratitude of this House but of the whole country to the men and officers of the Royal Navy for the services that they are performing. But the men of the Merchant Service mast not be forgotten. They probably appear much less in the limelight and get less praise than the fighting men of the Royal Navy. It is well, therefore, to take note that in the speech of the First Lord there was something of a warning to which it is worth while giving heed. When speaking on a similar occasion in 1915, the right hon. Gentleman expressed what was the then opinion, that the Navy was never in greater control or ruled the seas more effectively than it did on that occasion', and yet within a very short time we were faced with one of the most terrible menaces—that of the U-boat campaign—that brought this country very near to the verge of starvation. While expressing our meed of praise and satisfaction because of the position at which we have arrived, it is well to remember that we cannot take things quietly or rest upon our oars.
It is essential that we should extend and strain every nerve in an endeavour to be ready to meet any emergency which may afterwards arise. Although the First Lord spoke as he did in 1915, in April, 1917, we had lost nearly half a million tons of shipping through the U-boat campaign which brought us perilously near to disaster. It will not do to allow any such thing to be repeated in the present war. The Amendment now before us expresses our gratitude to the men of the Royal Navy for their achievements, and reiterates the necessity of keeping a regular flow of trade to and from our shores. The First Lord pointed out that in 1917, 75 per cent. of the 1982 armed merchant vessels escaped, and that only 25 per cent. of those that were unarmed escaped being sunk. It is a very different proposition to-day. There is an additional menace now which did not threaten our merchantmen and seamen at that time—the menace from the air—and it is necessary that even more of our ships should be fully armed.
While not yielding one iota in my esteem or admiration for the men of the Royal Navy and in the desirability of prosecuting the war with every energy to a successful conclusion, it must not be taken amiss if I put a question or pass certain criticisms. This will be done in the hope of pointing out weak spots which may afterwards be strengthened. It may interest the House to know that since the First Lord has spoken I have already heard from representatives of the Merchant Service of some further indications of the success of his drive and energy, and of how it is appreciated by that Service. I was informed that my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) led a deputation representing the men of the Merchant Service asking that all vessels should be armed. I am informed that the very first day that the trawlers were armed, they beat off an attack from the air, which indicates the necessity and urgency of this matter. There was also pressure put upon the Admiralty with regard to certain ships on the East Coast whose crews were suffering because they had not sufficient rafts. That matter was put before the First Lord, and within two days rafts were supplied to the ships. That shows what can be done when there is determination to do it, and it should be remembered with regard to other matters.
There has been very little jobbing backwards or of taking up old controversies except by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish) and the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby). They could not refrain from some criticism of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) with regard to the London Naval Treaty, and an endeavour was made to show that somehow or another the depletion of our Navy was due in a large measure to that Treaty. Surely that is not in accordance with the facts, and one must not let it go unchallenged altogether. In 1930 we were relatively stronger than we were in 1915, 1983 and stronger than any other navy in the world, and that was largely the result of the London Naval Treaty. I would point out, to the credit of my right Hon. Friend, that it was he who started the programme which resulted in the laying down of the "Leander" and the "Achilles," which we remember for the great services they have contributed. There was also the question of what was to be done with regard to Singapore. While I am not going to hide behind the fact that I was only a junior Minister, it has to be remembered to the credit of the Labour Government that they made a very big attempt to bring about some world understanding and made a gesture in the interests of world peace, and though it failed, it ought to stand to their credit rather than to their discredit.
I want to enter a caveat against the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs with regard to the gospel of reprisals. I hope that in no circumstances will this nation or this House ever be led into that sort of thing. It must be remembered that we are in this war against the very thing that is suggested. We are righting against brutality and the lack of civilisation, and surely it is to our credit that we have rescued crews who scuttle their own ships. It is just as well to remember that "Lord Haw-Haw" of Zeesen actually broadcast that we had machine-gunned the very people we rescued. The statement of the hon. and gallant Member only gives a handle to that sort of case. It is a curious thing that we are in this war for spiritual right and the defence of civilisation and that there should be an advocacy of a policy that seems a negation of these things. Everyone of us has felt the burning indignation which the hon. and gallant Member expresses about these people, who can hardly be treated as civilised beings, but we have to keep our passions under control and maintain our position of fighting for something much higher.
As a matter of interest I looked up the Debate on the Navy Estimates of 1917, when the then First Lord of the Admiralty was Lord Carson, and it is melancholy to reflect that of all the people who took part in that debate only two hold the stage at present—the First Lord of the Admiralty and the hon. Member for 1984 Plaistow (Mr. Thorne). If we changed the names of the people who took part then, for those who took part to-day, we would see that the Debate, curiously enough, followed very much the same lines. There was then discussed the need for arming merchantmen, submarine activities, the need for more ships and the necessity for keeping open the trade routes indicating, as far as Germany is concerned, the truth of the French motto, "The more it changes the more it is the same thing." At that time Lord Carson drew attention to the great necessity of keeping public opinion well informed so far as was compatible with safety and the right conduct of the war. It is worth while quoting his words, for they are applicable to-day. He was quoting from a speech he himself delivered in November, 1916:There is no use our shutting our eyes to the great difficulties we are going to have in the future for transport. It is all very well to hide away in the corners of newspapers the submarine menace. It can do us no good shutting our eyes to that fact and we are really not telling the Germans anything they do not know. They know perfectly and no small print in the comer of a newspaper will make any difference."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1917; col. 1363; Vol. XC]I think, in some respects, it would be just as well if these words could be kept in mind to-night, because I trust that we shall get a little more information than we appear to do. I say nothing about the fact that some people knew some months ago of the injury, revealed to-day, to two of our great capital ships, but as regards the number of sinkings it does not do any good if they are not wholly revealed and some time later it is stated what did or did not happen. It arouses in the mind of the people a feeling as to whether more information is being kept back. I only say this because one wonders about the 200,000 net tons of shipping said to have been lost. From the information I get from letters and from my association with another kindred organisation, as a member of the Management Committee of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, I am bound to say that these figures do not seem to tally with some of my information. The information seems to indicate that there must have been heavier sinkings than we have been informed about. There is, undoubtedly, uneasiness as to whether we are using all our resources of money, labour and organisation.
1985 Members should make a careful survey of the Order Paper of the last few weeks, because, from the Questions asked, there have been doubts as to whether we are fully informed with regard to sinkings and other things. My hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. David Adams) yesterday asked a Question as to the rate of building and was told that all yards now in production are fully manned. What does that mean? How many yards are in production and are all possible yards that can be turned to service being turned to service? It is no good our carrying Resolutions like this if we are going to be fobbed off with side-tracking answers of that description, which carry us no further. After that answer there followed Supplementary Questions by the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), the hon. Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson) and the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) who pointed out that in their particular constituencies there are possibilities and facilities for still further consideration. I ask that the hon. Gentleman who is going to reply will take note of these things because it is sheer nonsense to talk about all our resources being used when we have a great army of unemployed, and evidence of vacant and dismantled shipyards.
I want to ask one or two urgent questions, and I know that if there is anything indiscreet in them they will not be answered. What is the rate of production now going on and is all available plant and machinery being put to use? Is full use being made of the powers of requisitioning? Is it intended to open all yards and plant which have fallen into disuse? Are there sufficient crews to man the ships? My hon. Friend the Member for Seaham yesterday asked a question about the rate of production of guns and their calibre, with special reference to the arming of merchant ships. In the last war guns caused submarines to submerge and, therefore, made it much more difficult for them to get accurate shooting with a torpedo. Now there is a different proposition, because of the menace from the air. There must also be anti-aircraft guns. Are these ships so equipped or are any waiting to be equipped? What power is the Government exercising to see that companies carry out their wishes in regard to the arming of merchant ships?
1986 I noticed that the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) made a statement in the House the other day that there was at least one company which was refusing to arm its merchantmen on the ground of expense. When it is a question of the saving of human life expense should not be allowed to stand in the way. The Parliamentary Secretary was also asked the other day whether ships were going without convoy because they could not be given sufficient protection, and the amazing answer was, "I do not think so." Surely this is not a satisfactory answer. We ought to be told whether ships are refusing to go in convoy if they feel there is not sufficient protection or because they are not moving fast enough. On grave issues like this we have a right to expect more definite information. Can we be told how long it is expected to be before all ships are armed and what is the rate of production both of ships and of armaments? Are all guns of an up-to-date pattern and are obsolete guns, such as Lewis guns, being supplied for the time being in order that ships might have some form of protection? I do not know whether this is a discreet question, but will there be sufficient oil fuel?
Having said this, I want to add that I have never been wholly convinced of the accuracy of the statement that time is necessarily on our side. We have heard that there seem to be various ways by which supplies are getting into Germany and that to a large extent she has secured what she wants to do—sit back and await the turn of events. We have got to pursue a policy, such as is suggested in this Amendment and indicated by the First Lord, with vigour, determination and speed. In 1915 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) said time was a hesitating neutral, undecided on which side to swing his terrible scythe. We have to see that time swings his scythe on our side. We cannot sit idly by and wait for it to come. Are steps being taken to see that the ships which are being built possess a speed superior to that of an enemy submarine submerged, and that the guns outrange those of German submarines? These may be elementary things, but in the light of some statements which have 1987 been made it seems to me that the elementary and obvious things are those which need to be emphasised.
The House has resolved itself into a council of State in this matter. There is no division of opinion as to the need for those things which are mentioned in the hon. and gallant Member's Amendment. There is a determination and drive on the part of the Opposition equal to that on the Government benches. I have put forward one or two suggestions and asked one or two questions on matters where it seems to me there is a need for a tightening up and a speeding up in the prosecution of our aims, so that this neutral time shall not slip from our side. I have done so in order that as soon as possible we shall get those things for which we entered the war. We did not do so in any spirit of revenge, but we are determined not to rest or be satisfied until our arms have been crowned with success, not only in a military sense but in the sense that nations will be able to sit down and feel that they can follow their ordinary occupations in peace and security, none daring to make them afraid.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Captain Austin Hudson)
It may be convenient if I deal now with the Amendment moved by the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore), and then the House will be able to return to the main Debate and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will answer the questions which have not been covered by the Amendment. The House will be grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for the interesting subject he has chosen as a result of his success in the Ballot, his only success, I understand, during a long time in this House. The Amendment really divides itself into four parts: trade, the arming of our merchant fleet, merchant shipbuilding, and counter-measures to be adopted against German methods of warfare. I want to say more about merchant shipbuilding than the other three subjects, because it is obviously one of interest to the House and has only recently come under the aegis of the First Lord; also because I find there is really so little that I can say for obvious reasons on the other three parts of the Amendment. Let me deal 1988 with the question of trade. I can claim that the Admiralty have achieved so far considerable success in this direction. We heard something on that subject from the First Lord earlier in the Debate, but, apart from the general cover afforded to our shipping by our main forces, the convoy system has been outstandingly successful. The last figures I have been given are rather striking. Out of 10,097 ships, 10,076 have been brought safely to their destination.
§ Captain Hudson
I think so. It works out at one-fifth of 1 per cent., a figure given by the Prime Minister in his last speech. Our imports and our exports have risen steadily month by month since the war began, and our exports are now up to the immediate pre-war figures, which is satisfactory. I have every confidence that as our forces continue to expand and our arrangements to mature, so also will the trade figures continue to rise. As to the point put by the hon. Member for Camberwell, North (Mr. Ammon), whether ships have been refused convoy, I have no knowledge of it, but, naturally, as we are able to turn out more warships suitable for convoying, this arduous duty will be more easily carried out.
§ Captain Hudson
On that point I have made no inquiry, but I do not think I have heard of any ship refusing convoy. Many neutral ships have accepted it. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to say a word upon that. Then, as regards the arming of merchant ships, steady progress has been made with ships of 500 tons and over, and the number which has been so armed is 1,920 out of 3,125, but I can assure the House that the rate is being accelerated every week. Vessels are now being supplied with machine-guns to deal with low-flying aircraft. I cannot give the actual figures, but I can say that many have been already supplied with this form of weapon, and we are now proceeding, as a very urgent matter, to provide close range anti-aircraft weapons on all vessels in the danger area as early 1989 as possible. The arming of these vessels is paid for partly by the owners and partly by the Government, but the terms as to the percentage is at the moment under discussion. The guns and crews are supplied by the Navy but the fact that there is a certain amount of discussion as to the terms has not in any way been allowed to slow up the provision of these guns.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Can the hon. and gallant Member say what progress is being made in the training of merchant seamen in naval gunnery?
§ Captain Hudson
I think I will leave that question to be dealt with by the Parliamentary Secretary.
§ Captain Marsden
Is not the cost very clear and very definite; the liability of the owners for a 12-pounder gun is limited to £140?
§ Mr. Alexander
Are you training men from the crew of a particular ship, or are you training separate gunners?
§ Captain Hudson
The answer is that we are doing both. Rafts and lifebelts have been supplied to the crews of trawlers and other ships. I cannot say much about counter-measures of warfare, because, obviously, that would be giving away too much, but I can assure the House that effective counter-measures have not only been evolved but are being put into effect, in some cases with very great results. As regards the point put by the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs in connection with the crews of scuttled ships. I answered a Question about that in January and said that we could not adopt his suggestion. It met, I think, with the general approval of the House, but I did say in answer to a Supplementary Question that special orders have been given to the Navy in regard to this matter. Obviously, I cannot say anything further, but we hope that the special orders will have the desired effect of preventing ships from being scuttled, without going to the lengths which the hon. and gallant Member wishes to go.
May we still take it that these special orders do not include leaving men in the water to drown?
§ Captain Hudson
Most certainly. The Amendment also deals with the importance of seeing that our shipyards are employed to their fullest capacity for adding to our existing strength and replacing those ships which are destroyed. We believe that the steps we have taken and are now taking will achieve that effect. The House will remember that as from 1st February merchant shipbuilding and repair came under the Admiralty, and that a new member of the Board of Admiralty was created as Controller of Merchant Shipbuilding and Repair. One effect of this is that when the Board of Admiralty are deciding on their building programme they can make it a balanced programme in which both war and merchant ships take their place. It is our intention to increase very largely our present output of merchant ships in the course of the year. I am not permitted, for various reasons, to give the exact figure at which we aim, but I am allowed to say that the figure which we hope to attain is greater than the figure mentioned as being a high peak by the right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander).
§ Mr. Shinwell
Is the hon. and gallant Member referring to the date when the First Lord took the responsibility for merchant shipbuilding or the date of the beginning of the war?
§ Captain Hudson
I think the date would be that at which these measures commenced to take effect. Our endeavour is to get a yearly figure of tonnage which will be in excess of the figure mentioned by the right hon. Member for Hills-borough.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Does that mean from 1st February, the date on which Sir James Lithgow was placed in charge of merchant shipbuilding, that is, a year from then, or is it a year from the beginning of the war?
§ Mr. Shinwell
Then who is responsible for the position from the beginning of the war until 1st February?
§ Captain Hudson
The date is from the time it came under the Admiralty and, therefore, under the Naval Estimates.
§ Mr. Shinwell
We want to know where we are, as this is most important. The hon. and gallant Member has told us that the objective of the Admiralty in relation to merchant ships is a figure exceeding that for the last war. Is that for the first year of the war, or is it for a year beginning on 1st February?
§ Captain Hudson
We are aiming at the greatest production we can get, and the figure is from the time when the Admiralty took over and made their plans for getting this tonnage. It is a year from 1st February. I cannot deal with what happened in the past; I can only speak as to the future. To get this very greatly increased figure, the first essential is to see that all yards which are immediately available for merchant ship construction are used to their maximum capacity. It may then be possible and necessary to re-open certain other yards, provided that labour and materials are available and that existing yards are not denuded of their man-power by so doing. I have no doubt that hon. Members have seen that discussions are taking place with the Ministry of Labour, the Shipbuilding Employers' Federation and the unions to see how we can obtain these men and the additional number which would be required to open other yards. We estimate that some 20,000 more men could now be absorbed in existing yards. There seems to have been some difference of opinion to-day as to whether skilled men are available now to do this work. I have been in touch with the unions and with everybody who I thought could help, and I cannot see that any skilled man should lack a job at the present time. I have discussed the matter with the dockyard officials and everybody concerned, and I find that there is a great shortage of skilled men. It may be, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr Burghs said, that there are certain types of people who were once engaged in shipbuilding in Ayr and similar places, but unless we can get other skilled men, it may be very difficult to absorb such people. I took careful note of my hon. and gallant Friend's speech. I assure him that the first thing we shall do tomorrow will be to see whether there is anybody in Ayr whom we can absorb at 1992 the present time, and also whether the Ayr yard could be used for war purposes. I believe there is one yard in my hon. and gallant Friend's constituency, called the Irvine yard, which is being used for repairs.
§ Captain Hudson
I think we shall be keeping that yard fully employed right up to the end of the war. If any hon. Member can think of ways—we are negotiating with the unions, the Ministry of Labour, and so forth—in which more men can be brought to the shipyards, I hope he will give that information to the Admiralty. What we do not want to do is to open new yards, and by opening them denude other yards which at the present time are not really being used to their full capacity, because there are still 20,000 skilled men whom we want to take on in those yards.
§ Sir T. Moore
I do not want my hon. and gallant Friend to regard my speech about Ayr from a strictly limited point of view. I want the whole country to be subjected to a survey, and I ask that my hon. and gallant Friend or the Minister of Labour should undertake it. I ask him particularly, in his conversations with the trade unions, to seek out the men in other occupations, who may have been engaged in those occupations for 15 years now, and have gone off the trade union books. I know that is a difficult thing to do, but I think it is the only way.
§ Captain Hudson
That is the very problem on which we are engaged now. We are trying to get the men wherever they may be, and even if they have never before been employed in a shipyard, if they can be used in that work.
§ Mr. Woodburn
May I call the Civil Lord's attention to a small shipyard at Alloa which is capable of repairing small ships and which was very useful in the last war? There is labour available there, I understand, and I should like to know why it is that so far the Admiralty have not made use of it. Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman keep this shipyard in mind?
§ Captain Hudson
This is a very difficult problem. We want to get the present yards working to their full capacity at first, and then we can see what other yards can be opened and how we can get 1993 the necessary men to do the work. Merchant ships are to be built in two ways, either by issuing licences to firms to build ships for private owners, in which case they must be built under certain specifications to ensure that they are suitable for war-time requirements, or by direct orders placed by the Admiralty for new ships of the type most needed at the moment. These Government-owned ships will be run by the Ministry of Shipping, being managed by shipping companies as agents of the Government. In order to speed up the work as much as possible, each yard is doing repeat orders, and those repeat orders of ships which they have already made are being simplified as far as possible. Of the new construction, 47 per cent. will be coal-burning. The biggest class of ships—and these ships will cover all the types which we require—will be 5,000-ton tramp steamers, which take seven months to make. It will interest hon. Members to know that tankers—another most important class—take 14 months to make owing to the fact that they are so much more complicated.
§ Captain Hudson
I have the figure here, but perhaps I had better give it to the hon. Member and not mention it across the Floor of the House. I want to say a few words about repairs, a most important thing in time of war. It is not the function of the Admiralty actually to do repairs, but it is their function to see that such repairs are expeditiously and economically carried out, and—alsovery important in war time—that the necessary material is forthcoming. The principal officers of the Ministry of Shipping in each port act in this question of repairs as licensing officers for the Admiralty. For the privately-owned ships, the cost of repairs is settled direct between the owner and the repairer, and for the Government-owned ships the cost of repairs is settled between the Ministry of Shipping and the repairer, and in order, as far as possible, to decentralise, local officers will deal with supply, materials, and other important matters in the shipbuilding areas themselves.
§ Mr. Shinwell
What about the dry-dock accommodation? Many ships under- 1994 going repairs require to be surveyed and dry-dock accommodation is necessary. Have the Admiralty made any survey of the dry-dock capacity?
§ Captain Hudson
A survey has been taking place and is not quite finished at the present time. I agree with the hon. Member that that is one of the most important questions in connection with merchant shipbuilding and repairs. I do not wish to detain the House any longer, as there are many hon. Members who wish to speak, and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will answer various points that have been raised in the Debate. I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr will now feel it possible to withdraw the Amendment in order that Mr. Speaker in due course will be permitted to leave the Chair.
§ Mr. Woodburn
May I raise a point on which I am not quite clear? The hon. and gallant Gentleman says that present shipyards could absorb a further 20,000 men before working to full capacity. If there are other shipyards, perhaps small ones, in other parts of the country which have the men and the ability to repair or build small ships, does the hon. and gallant Gentleman mean that the big shipyards will take these men away from the small shipyards, in order to develop the big yards to capacity, and in so doing perhaps denude other areas of skilled men?
§ Captain Hudson
I do not mean quite that. We would not open a small shipyard and allow certain of the men to come from the other shipyards and thereby slow down the work that was being done in those yards.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I do not think I have made myself clear. If the small shipyard is at present working but not being utilised, does the Civil Lord mean it will not get any work until the big shipyards are working to full capacity?
§ Captain Hudson
No, it does not mean that. We are frightened that if we opened new yards before the present yards are working to full capacity, it might drain men away from the present yards and slow down construction, which, of course, is the very thing we want to avoid.
§ Sir T. Moore
Although my hon. and gallant Friend the Civil Lord was somewhat reluctant to give information—which is understandable—he has shown such a willing spirit that I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Question again proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede
Unlike most hon. Members who have spoken in the Debate, I represent one of the great seaports of the country, and one whose men in the Mercantile Marine have been compelled, by reason of the situation of the port, to play a very great part in this war. During the present week, one of my constituents claimed that the vessel of which he was master rammed a submarine. On the high seas an aeroplane, belonging I believe to the Royal Navy, descended beside a ship and assisted in saving the crew. The master of that ship was a constituent of mine. On the "Graf Spee" there were more masters from my constituency than from any other port in the country, and I believe it is claimed that there were at least as many men from my constituency on the "Alt-mark" as from any other port in the country. Therefore, it would be making representative government a farce if I were not this evening, on behalf of my constituency—and not merely the men of my constituency, but the wives of the men in the Mercantile Marine and the dependants of those men—to express our thanks to the Royal Navy for the way in which they have looked after us during the six months of this struggle.
To my mind, one of the most heartening things that we have heard so far was of the faith that still burned in the hearts of the men on the "Altmark" that, although the ship was wriggling, as the First Lord so graphically said, down the coast of Norway, before she could reach a German port the British Navy would save them from the fate of being interned in Germany. That was the kind of faith that upheld the British Army in the dark days of March and April, 1918, and it is the spirit which we shall have to keep alive if we are to sustain ourselves during some of the dark and troublous days that lie ahead of us in this war. Therefore, I am certain 1996 that the House will rejoice at the spirit that was shown by the men on the "Altmark" as well as by the men of the British Navy who obeyed the order given by the Admiralty to rescue those men from the fate that might otherwise have overtaken them. I am sure that the very moving speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Ritson) represents very fully the feeling that animates everyone in the country with regard to these men upon whose continued courage the fate of this country depends.
I do not wish to say one syllable which would appear to belittle the courage of the men of the Royal Navy who have been enduring the hardships of the seas, in Arctic weather, during recent months. I have spoken to some of them whom I knew as Naval Reservists in civil occupations, and I have been astonished at the way in which they have sustained those hardships and perils and their willingness to return to sea after a short period of leave. But let us be sure of this: However high the courage exhibited by the men of the Royal Navy, their task cannot be completed, unless the men of the Mercantile Marine are prepared to keep the seas and to go about their occupation, which if more humdrum than that of the Navy is, none the less, vital in these difficult days. I am bound to say that my hon. Friends and I find it difficult to follow some of the statements which have just been made by the Civil Lord. I gather that it will not be until after the first 17 months of war that we shall get a year's production of merchant tonnage under this programme. The statement made certainly did not appear to go beyond that.
§ Captain Hudson
I could not understand why the hon. Member kept on cross-examining me. The position is that the rate of progress shall be x tons per year—a figure which I could not mention but which I was permitted to say was in excess of the figure mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) as the high figure of 1918. That is to be the yearly production. Therefore, for the 18 months it will be that figure, plus whatever has been achieved in the first six months of the war. That figure, I regret to say, I was not permitted to give to the House but it would be x tons—which 1997 is a higher figure than that mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough as being a good figure—plus the production of the first six months of the war.
§ Mr. Ede
I reached the figure of 17 months in this way. From 3rd September to 1st February is, roughly, five months. I had not thought, from what I heard, that the production during those five months represented any substantial figure at all. I notice that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Shipping shakes his head, but, certainly, while the work remained in his Department, we seemed to get no very great satisfaction about the rate of production then taking place.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Shipping (Sir Arthur Salter)
Perhaps I may point out that the output of ships in the first five months of the war could hardly have depended to any extent on the work done by the Ministry of Shipping which did not come into existence until some time after the war began. After all, it takes seven months to make a ship.
§ Mr. Ede
We are gradually getting a complete confession from the various Ministers who occupy that bench. I did not imagine that a ship which was laid down between 3rd September and 1st February would have been launched by 1st February, but some work ought to have been done on it. Our complaint with regard to the whole question of merchant tonnage was that the Ministry of Shipping too long delayed its action and that we ought to have had these plans ready before the war. Now that this matter has been handed over to the Admiralty, we must hope that the energy and drive of the First Lord will be more successful in producing ships than the character and experience of the Minister of Shipping—the possession of which qualities was the excuse for appointing the right hon. Gentleman to his office—have been in the time during which he was responsible. We understand now that a programme covering the period for which the First Lord became responsible has been started and that it is hoped to produce a figure higher than that mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough during the period between 1st February, 1940, and 1998 31st January, 1941, which will be the first complete year for which the Admiralty will be responsible. During the period of 17 months from 3rd September, 1939, to 1st February, 1941, it is hoped to get a higher tonnage than that mentioned by my right hon. Friend, plus such tonnage as may be due to the efforts of the Ministry of Shipping in the period between 3rd September, 1939, and 1st February, 1940, and we are told that after 1st February, 1941, there will be an annual programme at least as great as that announced by the Civil Lord.
§ Mr. Ede
When I think of some of the ideals that have been enshrined in the heart of the hon. and gallant Gentleman I feel that is a very unsatisfying interpretation. I had just got a grain of comfort out of his silence. I regret that his eloquence should have completely wiped it away. At any rate, one must hope that the First Lord will give the merchant tonnage question the same attention as he gives to the building of war ships, because unless we get the ships for the merchant navy, all the building for the Royal Navy may prove useless.
I am bound to say, also, that having regard to the condition in my constituency, which is a great shipbuilding and ship-repairing centre, I cannot understand the present position with regard to labour. A year ago 1,500 shipwrights and ship-repairers were unemployed in my constituency. Since the outbreak of war, the monthly figure has varied but it is always over 500 and in some cases is nearly 800. Some yards are fully occupied; others are not. There is one of which I know, a very fine yard in which I believe at one time practically all the trawlers for Norway were built. It is the yard of Charles Rennoldson which was put out of commission by the body over which Sir James Lithgow presided. It could well be used for building the type of vessel of which, according to the First Lord's statement, we are still urgently in need. I can only express the hope that at an early date these 500 to 800 men will be absorbed in the building programme of which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has spoken. These men have built some of the finest vessels ever launched from British slips and it is 1999 difficult to understand why they should be out of employment when, according to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, we need their labour so badly.
I wish to ask whether the Government have ever gone to an Employment Exchange like that of South Shields? After all the war has been going on for six months now and there have never been fewer than 524 shipwrights unemployed in South Shields. Have they ever sent someone like the hon. and gallant Member for Chertsey (Captain Marsden), who, I understand, plays a prominent part in the shipbuilding programme on the Tyneside, to ascertain whether these men are tit to be put into work straight away? In the various shipbuilding centres in the country there must be a large number of men who, at any rate, claim to be shipwrights, and are unemployed. What efforts are being made to put them to work, and those men formerly employed in great yards like Palmers at Jarrow, where a number of my men work—men who have turned out vessels, whether they were small ships or great liners, which have never been equalled for workmanship in the history of shipbuilding. If they are not engaged on essential war work in industry, they should be, if possible, brought back to work in shipbuilding. If necessary, some kind of refresher course could be given to them before they are put on the urgent task of building ships for the Navy, or the Mercantile Marine.
From what I have seen in my own constituency, I should like to reinforce what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Ritson), and by the hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Shetland (Major Neven-Spence) in regard to salvage. In my own constituency one vessel was beached inside the Tyne and another a few hundred yards to the South of the Tyne; and near the mouth of the Wear there were other vessels. It seems a pity that these vessels should be allowed to be broken up by the sea when they might be salved and used at this time with great advantage. It should take less time to repair a salvaged ship than to build a new one. I earnestly hope that the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty will pay attention to what was said by the hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Shetland and my hon. Friend the 2000 Member for Durham, and enable this problem of salvage to be dealt with.
I am sure that representatives of the Admiralty in the House to-day can have no complaints about the way in which their Department has been handled by speakers in any quarter of the House. We all realise that on the British Navy and its sister service, the British Mercantile Marine, the fate of this country, and the fate of the civilisation we desire to defend, depend. The Admiralty can be sure of this, that if they are zealous in the prosecution of the war, and in looking after the men, replacing lost tonnage and salvaging tonnage, they will have the full support of the House. They must expect from time to time, realising as we do the importance of their task, that we shall be insistent that they pursue that policy with zeal and do not slacken in the task which the country has called upon them to do.
§ 8.30 p.m.
I wish to endorse everything that has been said in regard to the extremely efficient manner in which the Royal Navy has carried out its arduous duties since the beginning of this war. I hope the House will pardon me if I say it is my greatest regret that instead of standing here making a speech I am not playing my part, however humble it might be, beside the officers and men of my old Service. It is said that opportunity makes the man, but that is only true providing the man is trained and prepares himself to take full advantage of it when it arises. I think it is true to say that, so far as the Royal Navy is concerned, the officers and men have fitted themselves in a most efficient manner in peace-time, so that when the opportunity has arrived during the war they have taken full advantage of it. In no instance has that been more fully borne out than in the brilliant execution of the plan, thought out beforehand, and made known to the officers in command of the other ships, by the officer commanding those three ships which eventually at the end of the action resulted in the destruction of the "Graf Spee." It was not just good chance, or good fortune, but a question of putting into practice the preparations done beforehand so that when the opportunity came these units of His Majesty's Navy would be able to take full advantage of it.
2001 The country has been thrilled with the rescue of the prisoners from the "Altmark." These things have been made public, and due credit has been rightly given to the officers and men who have taken part in these enterprises, but we should not be fair in our admiration of the work of His Majesty's Navy if we did not fully realise that hour after hour, day by day, and week by week, every unit in the Navy, large and small, under the most arduous conditions of this terrible winter, have all equally fulfilled their duty in the most efficient manner possible. There is no doubt that the great sea traditions of the past have been nobly upheld by all ratings in the Navy at the present time. The same spirit which animated the seamen of the past exists in our men to-day, and will continue to exist in this struggle, however arduous and long it may be. There is no doubt that the nation can rely implicitly upon the whole of the personnel of His Majesty's Navy to render a good account of itself, whatever may come for the remainder of the war. But the issue does not entirely depend on the personnel. The trouble is that, in post-war years due to our policy of the reduction of armaments and the signing of the London Treaty, to which reference has already been made, having tied our hands, we are, as usual deficient in those cruisers, destroyers, and small craft so absolutely essential for the efficient protection of our trade routes. The cry has always been, as it was in the days of Nelson, for frigates. It was so in the last war. There was a scarcity of destroyers, and the convoy system had to be put off because of the shortage of small craft. There is the same shortage to-day, and the sooner the nation is able to provide the Navy with an abundance of these craft the greater will be the security which can be given to His Majesty's Mercantile Marine who, in the final issue, is the service on whom we depend for the further prosecution of the war.
The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty said that a battle fleet was necessary. Of course it is. I realise that the battle fleet to-day is very antique, and out of date, and that we have to bring new battleships into being. At the same time, I hope that a black-out will be put across the construction of those monstrosities, the 40,000-ton battleships, because they are not 2002 necessary. It is a waste of time and money to construct these huge vessels, and it would be much better to spend the money on smaller battleships or on increasing the number of small craft. With regard to the Naval Air Arm, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) referred to the fact that the whole of the coastal patrol had to-day nothing to do with the Admiralty and that the Admiralty had no say in the matter of their training or operation. I agree with what he said about the absolute necessity of turning the coastal patrol over to the Admiralty in order to get the maximum efficiency from it. It is a purely naval matter, and I regretted at the time when the alteration took place that the Admiralty did not stand up for a complete turnover of all the aircraft which were required for naval operations. There is a point which I would like to make with regard to trade protection. Aircraft play an important part in this protection, particularly in reconnaissance work in the open sea. Aircraft are able to cover an immense area of the ocean very quickly and to provide valuable information to the cruisers and so on which are out on the trade routes. It would assist very materially in the protection of our trade if we constructed small aircraft carriers for that purpose.
I was very disturbed to hear what the First Lord had to say about Scapa Flow. As I understood him, Scapa Flow is not in a position to be used. It is appalling to think that after six months of war the greatest harbour that we have for our Fleet in this country is still not in a position to be utilised by the Fleet. It is beyond one's comprehension why such a thing should be. During the whole of the last war Scapa Flow was used, and it never came into anybody's mind, as far as I know—and I spent two years there, on and off—that once you got inside at anchor you were in any real danger of attack by submarine. I realise that to-day there is the extra danger of attack from the air, but that danger exists anywhere along the coast. It seems an extraordinary position that we cannot place at Scapa Flow sufficient anti-aircraft guns and means for countering or warding off attacks by aircraft. We have been told by the First Lord that the ships at our disposal have to put in an immense amount of sea time. That has 2003 two effects. It causes a tremendous strain on the ships themselves. I have in mind particularly the old destroyers and the smaller ships. On account of that strain it is vitally important that we should increase the number of destroyers. Then there is also an immense strain on the personnel, conscious or unconscious. They may not think about it, but hour by hour and day by day when a ship is at seaunder modern conditions of war there can be no relaxation on the part of the officers and men who are on watch. They never know at any hour or minute when they may be subject to attack. That is a tremendous strain, and I suggest that when these ships come into harbour full opportunity should be taken to send the officers and men on leave, if it is for only 48 hours, to break the normal routine of the ship and to let them go home to be in another atmosphere and in different surroundings. It would be an immense help to the officers and men to stand the severe strain through which they have to go by being constantly at sea.
I must add my tribute to those which have already been paid to the efficient service and willing devotion to duty of the officers and men of His Majesty's Mercantile Marine. Nothing could exceed the efficiency of that service, and the only desire of the men after a ship has been sunk is to ask for another ship and wonder when they can be taken on again. It is common practice to talk about the fighting Services, but it rarely comes into the minds of the British public when they do so to think of anything other than the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The Mercantile Marine is not a fighting Service in the true sense of the term. The ships are permitted to carry armaments only for their own defence, but under the conditions of warfare carried out by Germany, with all its brutalities and its negations of international law, without any respect for humanity, it is true to say that there is no Service which has been more in the firing line and at the front in this war than that magnificent body of men in the Mercantile Marine.
We are suffering very greatly from lack of tonnage to carry on the trade of this country to import the things that are necessary for the prosecution of the war and to export those things which are 2004 necessary to pay for our imports. That is reaping the whirlwind where we sowed the wind by neglecting in the post-war years to maintain an efficient and sufficient Mercantile Marine for our needs in time of war. I am sorry to say that we let down our Mercantile Marine, and therefore it is absolutely essential that the whole effort of the country shall be employed not only in building new ships for His Majesty's Navy but in building, up to the limit of our capacity, and using every shipyard available, new ships for the Mercantile Marine. It is a truism to say that it is upon sea power, in which term is included His Majesty's Navy and His Majesty's Mercantile Marine, that we depend ultimately for our security. Any weakening in that greatest link in our Imperial chain will mean a weakening of our effort, and if it were destroyed it would mean the destruction of ourselves and the whole of the Empire.
In connection with the construction of new units of the Mercantile Marine which the Admiralty is now undertaking I hope that, apart from the size and type of ships which it is decided to build, particular attention will be paid to the amenities provided for the officers and the men who will have to serve in those ships. They ought to have the greatest possible comfort when carrying out their very arduous duties on board. It should be remembered that there is no comparison at all between the amenities provided in all ships of His Majesty's Navy of the size of about a light cruiser, with their drying rooms, hot and cold baths all day and all night, hot meals all day and all night, warm mess rooms, and every other convenience, and the conditions which exist in the Mercantile Marine. Now that the Admiralty have undertaken the construction of new merchant ships, I beg the Parliamentary Secretary to see that they do their utmost to provide the best possible amenities for the officers and men in all those ships. The nation can undoubtedly rely upon these two great sister Services. The one is really of no use without the other; together they form what we know as sea-power. The more we can increase the number of our ships, the greater the protection we can give to the sister Service, the Mercantile Marine, and the more certain and the sooner shall we be able to bring this war to a satisfactory conclusion.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Sir Annesley Somerville
I have been for some time the only back-bench representative of this side. If a stranger looked in, he would say how little interest the House of Commons takes in the Royal Navy, but the truth would be the exact opposite. We are engaged in the traditional service of providing funds for the senior of His Majesty's Services. We do not know how much we are providing, but we are providing all that is necessary according to the White Paper. The traditional function of this House is to air grievances, to bring forward complaints, before granting supplies, and if there are no complaints, then it is not necessary for the Members of this House to attend. Well, there have been practically no serious complaints to-day, and therefore the emptiness of the House is a testimony to the trust which is shown by the House in the Navy and to the manner in which the Admiralty is carrying on its duties, and that is really the meaning, I take it, of the state of the House at the present time.
We had a crowded House to listen to the speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty. In that speech he said that the Government were getting tired of one thing, and that he himself was getting tired of it. I was glad to hear him make that remark. What they are getting weary of is the one-sided use which is being made by the Germans of neutral territorial waters while at the same time they cry out whenever we appear to make any sort of misuse of those waters. The First Lord said that the neutral nations seem to attach more importance to possible slight breaches of neutrality than to the sinking of scores of their own ships and the drowning of hundreds of their own seamen, and that is a point which the neutral nations would do well to ponder.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Gibson
The topic before us is one which is of great interest to the constituency which I represent. So far as naval matters are concerned, if not in active engagements yet in association with the shore, the centre of gravity has shifted rather to the West, and Greenock is seeing a very great deal of the Navy and of naval men in these days. The people of Greenock are responding to the call upon their work and energies in that connec- 2006 tion and I have very good reason to know that the relations which are thereby engendered are most happy. The people of Greenock, for reasons that I shall not disclose to the House, took a very great interest in a certain broadcast concert to naval men, a concert in which Gracie Fields was taking part.
We in Greenock are interested in the Mercantile Marine. Many of the dwellers in Greenock are men who go down to the sea in ships. There was an incident recently in my own experience which indicated the shortage of men for the Mercantile Marine. There called upon me in Edinburgh a man from Greenock who had been shipwrecked. He had been a stoker on a vessel. As I talked with him and endeavoured to comfort him in the difficulties in which he found himself, I learned to my amazement that he was not a man who had been bred to the sea but normally earned his living in another calling. He was by occupation a compositor in the printing trade, but through lack of employment there he was out of a job and had readily accepted work as a stoker on board a vessel sailing from Greenock.
That is rather an illuminating fact, and one upon which I could ponder and for which I could draw very obvious inferences. But I pass from that topic to consider one which for long has been a burning question in Greenock. It concerns the men who are employed in the shipbuilding and ship-repairing industry in and around Greenock. Hon. Members know that I have repeatedly called attention to this question, and I am rather amazed that during the last month the relevant figures and facts dealing with this situation have been excluded from the pages of the Official Report. On 1st February, I put a Question to the Minister of Labour asking for the figures. The reply was that they were not available but that they were being looked out. I have in my hand a communication from the right hon. Gentleman's Department. It is dated 9th February of this year and gives these illuminating facts:At 15th January, 1940, the number of insured men aged 16 to 64 in the shipbuilding and repairing industry recorded as unemployed at the Greenock Employment Exchange was 840 or 17.5 per cent. of the approximate number of men classified in the industry.That is a matter that calls for some explanation. Those figures did not 2007 appear in the Official Report. They were sent to me privately, and no later than Thursday of last week I put down a similar Question and did not get the figures. I was told that the figures were just the same as those which had been supplied to me already. That figure of 840 is alarming. My hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. David Adams) put down a Question for yesterday (Monday), to find out how many men formerly in the shipbuilding and ship-repairing industry who might have gone into other industries, particularly into municipal enterprises, might be withdrawn from those industries or enterprises and brought back into shipbuilding and ship-repairing. In a Supplementary Question, I asked about Greenock, where there are men in the shipbuilding and ship-repairing industry who do not require to be brought back from other industries. They are unemployed. That was the position at 15th January, 1940. The figure compared with 806, or 16.8 per cent. on 11th December,1939, which shows that the number of unemployed shipbuilders and ship-repairers in Greenock is going up.
In the words of the hon. Member who last spoke, that is a very serious grievance. Here are men in this most important business which is vitally important to us at the present time, but they are unemployed. We have had no explanation from the Government. The matter now lies in the Department of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, who is sitting on the Front Bench. I hope that he will look very carefully into this position and will see that it is rectified. The obvious rectification is the bringing into employment of these men in Greenock in this vitally necessary industry. The question is correlated with another which I have time and again brought before this House since I was elected at a by-election at the end of 1936. It relates to the Caird shipyard, which at that time was equipped but was not in use. It had been cast aside by Shipbuilders' Security, Limited. I have brought up this question of the utilisation of the Caird shipyard time and again, and different Government Departments have had their attention drawn to it, but nothing has been done. The answer of other Departments has been that the obvious use of the site was for ship build- 2008 ing, and the matter has been turned down by them for that reason.
Strange to say, rather over a year ago a great deal of the equipment at that yard was sold. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to look into this question. Why was that equipment sold at a time when the international situation was difficult and was becoming delicate and dangerous? Why was this valuable asset at Greenock interfered with in a manner to create difficulty in making it readily available as a truly national asset and not as a private asset that had been put into cold storage? It would not have been so bad if it had remained in cold storage. Something very unfortunate was done at that time. I have reason to know, from moving among business men in and around Greenock, that much of the machinery at that yard was sold at a very low price. Some was sold at a higher figure, but it is not now available for the vital purpose of building ships.
Only yesterday I put a Supplementary Question to the Parliamentary Secretary about the Caird shipyard. His answer, which I did not gather at the time, but I saw it this morning in the Official Report, was that I might put down a Question with regard to it. I have framed a Question, but this evening I have a better opportunity of receiving his answer on the situation. What is to happen to the Caird shipyard? The matter is notorious in Greenock. This old shipyard built P. & O. liners for about a century. Just before the war it was enlarged. It occupies a central position in Greenock, and the enlargement of the shipyard necessitated great alterations. Parliamentary powers had to be obtained on representation made to the Parliamentary tribunal which inquired into the matter at that time. Caird is a household name in Greenock. The enlargement necessitated the alteration of streets, the taking down of houses, and the shifting, stone by stone, of one of the old churches in Greenock. It meant also the shifting of "Highland Mary's" grave. She was a friend of Robert Burns. That is what happened to make the Caird shipyard big, so that it might be possible to build in it ocean greyhounds.
The war came, but after the war the Caird shipyard, which had been sold to Messrs. Harland and Wolff, was stopped 2009 from operating, and the Caird shipyard then became a great aching void in Greenock. It was so at the time of the by-election. It was a heart-sore. Why was it not being used? It was immobilised by that company which had decided that a certain proportion of the shipyards in Great Britain should not be used for their ordinary purposes; but the day when it was to be used was coming. That day has arrived. We have now in Greenock men who are unemployed, and we have the site there to employ those men. What are we to do about it? The Government are in control. They are responsible to the country, and in particular to the people of Greenock, who have seen before their own eyes this great and venerable asset thrust aside. The employment question in Greenock was very serious indeed in the days of the deep depression, largely because of this situation. Yesterday I was informed that the position was known and was being investigated, and then I received an invitation from the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary to put the Question down, so that I think I have said enough about the Caird shipyard.
We have in Greenock other works. So far as Admiralty work is concerned, Greenock is fortunately employed. There are ship-repairing yards that might quite easily be enlarged and equipped, but that will require certain financial assistance from the Government before these yards can be so altered as to be in a position to build the smaller ships which were mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member who spoke last but one. We have need of many things. I am glad of having had this opportunity of bringing the situation of the shipbuilding population in Greenock and the position of the Caird shipyard definitely and pointedly before the House at this time.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Shakespeare)
I should like to start by thanking sincerely hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in all parts of the House for the way in which they have received the Navy Estimates. I desire to thank, first of all, my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Sir A. Somerville) for his short interruption, in case "Lord Haw Haw" ever got hold of the news that during the dinner hour in the House of 2010 Commons a large number of Members, as is their wont, went out to dinner.
§ Mr. Shakespeare
If anything had gone wrong and if there had been occasion to criticise severely our administration, the House might have been full even during the dinner hour. I am sure that my colleagues, the naval members of the Board, will be exceedingly gratified at the very kindly expressions of confidence from all parts of the House. I am also sure that when they see in the Press tomorrow morning the extent to which they have the confidence of this House and therefore of the country, it will give a sense of great gratification and a further inspiration to the whole Navy, officers and men, wherever they may be.
I thought my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty, who has made his apologies for his absence this evening, sat here almost as embarrassed at the references to himself as the sailor, one of the "Ajax" crew, who was given a bunch of flowers by a passing girl, and whose photograph was taken last Friday. Hon. Members who saw that photograph in the Press will appreciate his embarrassment. My right hon. Friend sat here something like that when he heard those remarks from all parts of the House. Hon. Members have paid a tribute to nearly all the personnel of the Navy, be they in large ships, cruiser squadrons, hunting squadrons, or mine-sweepers, but there is one branch to which I want to refer and to which my right hon. Friend asked me to refer, and that is the branch whose men provide food, refresh with water and supply with oil the whole of our Fleet. This essential work is performed by the men of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and the Mercantile Fleet Auxiliary. They do not come into the limelight, but they share the common dangers, and they enable the Fleet to function. Our gratitude is due to them for their unremitting toil.
I will try to deal with some of the points raised by successive speakers. I will not say that I will deal with all of them; if I do not, I will see that a letter is sent picking out a point and giving a full answer. I have chosen those which I think are largely of public interest. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) made one of his usual vigorous speeches giving his 2011 warm approval of the Navy. As he is not here, I can say what I think about him—
§ Mr. Shakespeare
I find that the whole Fleet, officers and men, have a very tender spot for the right hon. Gentleman. They have a very warm regard for him, and frequently during discussions about Members of the House of Commons some officer who had been with him at the Admiralty pays very high tribute to him. I can say that in his absence. He raised a question which is in the minds of all of us: How can we, by some method or other, strengthen the means whereby the lives of the officers and ratings, always suffering hazards and dangers, can be saved when risks occur? For some time a very strong committee has been in existence to review all the conditions. I would point out that every one of the personnel of the Royal Navy has his own safety device, a belt. Appropriate ships are fitted in all cases with Carley floats, but this committee is examining in the light of the experience gained whether anything further can be done in the way of providing safety devices, and from time to time we receive reports indicating that that matter is being actively pursued.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough also asked how we are going to get a supply of officers during the war period. Both he and I are very keen on the question of promotion from the lower deck. I will be candid with the House and admit that four or five years ago the system of promotion was not working adequately. In my opinion there was not sufficient opportunity for promotion by merit. Since we took a particular interest in this question, two years ago, the whole system of promotion has been changed. Instead of allowing the men to study for the various examinations in their spare time, we now segregate them; there they are, selected, and they are given a thorough nine months' course under suitable conditions. The number of promotions from the lower deck is rising year by year. We are inviting to the House of Commons early in March to hear the Debates the 46 ratings who are now undergoing a course at Portsmouth, and they will come 2012 and have a look at the House of Commons. I mention that figure to show how we are accelerating this process. That relates to those for whom the Navy is a permanent career.
§ Mr. Shakespeare
They are under 24. Now, how are we to meet the difficult question of finding officers during the war? It may surprise the House to know that this year—the first year of the war—some 5,000 temporary officers are required, and have been entered. About half of them are in the executive branch. These come from various sources. A large number come from the normal Naval Reserve for officers, the R.N.V.S.R. There were about 1,500 men in this Reserve, and 900 have been called up. Of the others, some came from the universities; some were selected because they had particular technical or professional experience. We reckon that this year in addition we shall want another 600 or 700, and we intend to take all those from the ranks of the Royal Naval Special Reserve, the "hostilities only" group, or the Royal Naval Volunteer ratings—which are the naval equivalent of the Territorial Army. There will be a very wide field for promotion from the lower deck. Taking into account the Fleet Air Arm and the executive branch of the Navy, we hope to take about 700 of these ratings, and to enter them for commissions this year. Next year, I should say, the minimum number of commissions will be about 1,000, and all those entered will come from those groups that I have mentioned. Here is a very great chance of promotion by merit.
§ Mr. Ede
Will all branches of these various Reserves be eligible? I wrote to the hon. Gentleman about a gentleman whom I know who, because he lived in a Midland town, could enter the Navy only as a telegraphist, although he belonged to the Reserve, and at one time he was barred from applying for a commission. Is that bar being removed now that these men have actual experience of Service conditions?
§ Mr. Shakespeare
I will answer that question as shortly as I can. The scheme was announced a month ago. Broadly, it is this. Any temporary rating, when he goes to a training establishment, can have a confidential report started; then he goes to sea, and, after three months at sea, he is eligible to be considered for a commission. From the first day on which he joins the training establishment he comes under consideration, and within six to nine months he is eligible for a commission.
§ Mr. A. Jenkins
The Minister mentioned 5,000 commissions that are being given this year, and then he went on to say that 500 or 600 are to come from the lower deck. Are they the only officers who will come from the lower deck, and will the remainder of the 5,000 be recruited from other sources?
§ Mr. Shakespeare
I am sorry that I did not make myself quite plain. Those 5,000 officers have been required in the first year of the war. I went on to say that 600 or 700others will be required, and that those will be taken from the categories I mentioned, and from the lower deck.
The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Horabin) said some nice things about the Navy, and even about the Admiralty. He said that he got his letters answered quickly. I think it is important to see that letters are answered punctually. The staff at the Admiralty take a pride in giving a full answer as soon as possible. On behalf of the Admiralty staff, I thank the hon. Member for paying that tribute. He can be sure that his letters will be answered as quickly in future. I may add that, under the leadership of my right hon. Friend, we are all learning the urgency of settling problems as soon as may be after they arise. I hope that we are also learning to speak and write better English under his tuition.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Major Neven-Spence), the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Ritson), in his inspiring speech, and the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) referred to salvage. Let me tell the House what has been done in that respect. Some time ago, a new salvage department was started at the Admiralty, under a very competent head, and we are taking over control of all the 2014 existing salvage associations or companies, on an agency basis. If there are any shortcomings, we shall try to make them good. We shall try to strengthen the organisation. We are building or acquiring new vessels. I do not think it is true to say that there are no vessels on the East coast. I shall be very pleased to tell my hon. Friend what they are. He asked where "Bertha" and "Metinda" are now. I am not sure that it is in the public interest, or in their interest, to say; but "Bertha" has been completely refitted, and "Metinda" is very nearly ready.
I should be very pleased to look into the point raised by the hon. Member for Durham with regard to a particular ship. I agree that, if possible, we should try to salvage her. We have already salvaged nearly 30 trawlers and merchant ships. It is well worth doing; but it must be realised that in war time it is much more difficult to do so than in peace time. Subject to that, I agree with what has been said by the three hon. Gentlemen. The hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson) raised the question of Rosyth Dockyard and of what we were going to do with it after the war. I am afraid I cannot look as far ahead as that, but I will promise the hon. Member a very busy time for his constituency during the currency of the war.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) raised, not for the first time, the question of the Fleet Air Arm, and advised the Admiralty to take charge of the Coastal Command. I think we have our hands full at the present moment. A question like that is one of large policy, which can be settled only by the War Cabinet, but, as far as the Coastal Command and ourselves are concerned, our relations remain very friendly. There is day-to-day co-operation; I was going to say there is co-operation at every moment. In the Admiralty at present there are officers from the Air Ministry in close touch with the Coastal Command, so that immediately messages come through, the Navy and the Coastal Command can co-operate. I am sure there has been no war in the past where the relationship between the Services has been so close and intimate.
§ Mr. Shakespeare
You cannot get everything you want in this world. Every naval man would like the whole charge of the Air Force, but we came to a compromise two or three years ago, and by that the Admiralty abides. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish), in his very charming speech, raised the question of the pensioner coming back and asked if there was any chance of getting relief. I must make another reservation here due to the shortage of our personnel in relation to our duties, but it is our intention to relieve the older pensioners at sea—all those above 48 years of age—as soon as may be. It will not, however, be operationally possible to carry that out all at once. That will be done over a year.
§ Rear-Admiral Beamish
I made a further appeal in regard to financial support for the training of small boys.
§ Mr. Shakespeare
I will look into that. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) stressed the great importance of small craft, with which anyone associated with the conduct of the war must heartily agree. I should be very happy to give him, or any other Member, the figures of our production, but I would rather not give them in public. I can say broadly, however, that if I gave him the increase in the number of our hunting craft to-day as compared with six months ago, and if I gave him the increase six months hence as compared with to-day, it would warm the cockles of his heart. My hon. and gallant Friend raised a point which I consider of supreme importance, that is, to give the men who come in from the hunt the maximum relaxation. No one knows, except those who have had an opportunity of visiting the Home Fleet and seeing some of these destroyers, what times they may be going through, and we have made arrangements and given orders that when the crews come in from the arduous time they are having, in all weathers and subject to every conceivable risk, the boiler work, engine work, and repair of the ships is to be taken over by bodies of workmen or naval personnel all ready where that is possible, and the crews are to be given the utmost relaxation.
The only other point I have here was raised by my hon. and gallant Friend 2016 the Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby). I want to cross swords with him on one point that he made. He used the word "luck" in connection with the River Plate action. I think he said it was a lucky action. I have a few remarks to make about that word. That victory was due, in the opinion of those who have studied the engagement, to two things. The first was the very efficient peace-time training that our squadrons had had. Captain Bell at the Guildhall said that, once the action was engaged, no further signal was given by Admiral Harwood to the cruisers. He was really carrying out in practice the theory that he had so often lectured upon at the Naval Staff College at Greenwich, and for once in a while theory and practice accorded.
§ Sir R. Keyes
I hold no brief for my hon. and gallant Friend, but I think probably he meant lucky, because one salvo of 11-inch guns would have sunk any one of those cruisers, just as one salvo sank the "Invincible." I am sure he only meant lucky in that way.
§ Mr. Shakespeare
Then I must have misunderstood him. It may well be that. He may have been repeating the sentiments of Captain Woodhouse, who said that to have a sunny day and an open sea made him the envy of the Navy, and to that extent it was a very lucky ship. But the main reason why we won that battle was, first of all that the training was good and, secondly, that we have something which is worth more than a well equipped cruiser. We have that spirit of the Navy traditionally there. I should like to give one or two examples of this spirit of the Navy—this spirit of daring, what they call the "Nelson touch," because it was that that won the battle. Why should the "Graf Spee," that ship of superior calibre, when it had got the "Exeter" almost knocked out, with only one gun left, turn and fly before two little six-inch cruisers unless there was something in the enormous moral superiority of the personnel? Take the "Altmark." I wonder whether the country has fully appreciated that it was 20 men armed with fists, with, I believe, a boy-scout knife, a hatchet, and bayonets who mastered 130 armed German seamen. Can anyone conceive of 130 British seamen in a ship being attacked and mastered by 20 German sailors? That is what one means by moral superiority. It is that intangible 2017 asset which is going to win this war. As Napoleon said, the moral is to the material as three to one.
I should like to give one or two examples that I have come across in my visits to the Fleet during the last Recess. I was in a big capital ship which had been engaged in the ceaseless hunt before Christmas for the "Deutschland." Everybody was keen on getting the "Deutschland" as a Christmas present for the nation. One night after dusk it was bruited abroad that a light had appeared on the horizon, and it was conceivable that it might be the "Deutschland." Every man in the ship rushed to some point of vantage. The Maltese steward boy, aged 15, who was in a hot bath, rushed up into 20 degrees of frost, in a freezing gale, and stood naked on the pompom deck while he surveyed what to him was the Mecca of his dreams, but what turned out to be a mirage. Imagine the keenness and enthusiasm of that ship's company when at last they learned that they were face to face with the ''Deutschland."
Let me give the House another example. A capital ship was damaged, and it came into a certain port to dock. It was badly down, and to get it on to an even keel some 350 tons of ballast was put into the after part of the ship. Before the ship could be repaired the ballast had to be turned out, and with the men available the captain was told that it would be a 24-hour job to get the ballast out of the ship. The ship could not afford to wait 24 hours, and the ballast had to be got out as urgently as possible. The captain appealed to the ship's company, and, led by the chaplain, they took their coats off, metaphorically speaking and in an hour and a half the job was done. That shows the spirit of the men of the ship's company. I will give one other example, if I am not tiring the House. It concerns fishermen, the men not in uniform but "men with scarves." It was a Grimsby trawler that had been bombed and its decks riddled by machine gun. The captain and the mate were killed, and when the ship's company came into port every man volunteered immediately for service in the next available trawler. As long as we have that spirit there is no doubt as to the final issue of the war.
I agree with so many Members who have spoken to-day who have said that 2018 the country has learnt to appreciate the Navy as probably never before in our history. It is not only the people of this country who have realised that the Navy is their lifeblood, but I think, too, it is the people of the Dominions who have seen the safe convoying by the Royal Navies of Dominion troops from across the other side of the world. I had the wonderful experience of being present at a northern port on the arrival of the second Canadian detachment. The Canadians told me that the most wonderful experience in their lives was when they approached these shores. It was a day of low visibility and cloud. Suddenly the mist cleared, and through the mist loomed the great capital ships and the squadrons and flotillas of the Home Fleet bringing to them a feeling of comfort, security, protection, and might. Hon. Members who were versed, as I was when a boy, in Bible stories, will remember how Elisha was once surrounded in the city of Dothan when the King of Assyria came down and compassed the city roundabout, and how Elisha lifted up his eyes and prayed to God, and lo, the mountains were filled with horsemen and chariots of fire. And so I felt it was with regard to those Canadians in their homecoming, encompassed as they were with the hazards of the deep. There appeared the spectacle of the Royal Navy as the symbol of the majesty of sea-power and of the welcome of the British nation.
§ Mr. Shakespeare
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding me. There are two points. The first is that of the shipyard itself. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that there is now a conference going on between the Admiralty and the Ministry of Labour as to the further capacity to be used for our shipbuilding programme, and he will not expect me to anticipate the decisions of that conference, in which the employers and the trade unions themselves are cooperating. The question of labour is one of our most anxious problems, and I was very interested in the speech of the hon.
2019 Gentleman about the unemployment conditions in certain shipyards at South Shields, Sunderland, and elsewhere. The particular case brought to my notice related to a firm engaged mainly in repair work. The man who works on repair work works all out for long hours for several days, and then takes it easy for a few days. It may have been also that it was the bad weather, but if there is any unemployed skilled shipwright in this country who is not doing a full day's work within a very short time, I shall be very much surprised. If hon. Gentlemen with a knowledge of the craft and of these skilled men, and the various organised bodies can help us at the Admiralty, either to absorb those who are now unemployed or to get back those who have left those unions into the shipyards, no one will be more grateful than the Admiralty. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman who mentioned these points will see me at the earliest opportunity and will co-operate with us, for their purpose is the same as ours, namely, to get the maximum out of the shipyards, and we can only do that by getting the maximum employment
§ Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.
§ Supply accordingly considered in Committee.
§ [SIR DENNIS HERBERT IN THE CHAIR.]