HC Deb 05 March 1941 vol 369 cc927-65

Order for Commitee read.


The First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. A. V. Alexander)

I beg to move, '' That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."

I little thought on the last occasion when I had the honour of presenting the Navy Estimates to this House that if I ever had that proud duty again I should have to ask my hon. Friends to be content with symbols and tokens, which are all that is possible under the present circumstances. But if the documents which I have to lay before them contain only tokens, I can give them the assurance that the Fleet for whose maintenance and increase I seek Supply is no token Fleet. Nor are our ships phantom ships, though they may, I hope, be a nightmare to our enemies. On the contrary, to reinforce this Fleet I ask unhesitatingly for many more ships, very good ships, for large numbers of men, very fine men, to man them, and for great quantities of stores of the most substantial kind to equip them.

Never in the long history of the growth of our sea power have we had such need of numbers of ships and of men. For a war against an adversary of consequence, the volume of our trade which has to be protected, and the length of our lines of movement and supply, necessitate a certain absolute naval strength in the various classes of ships which is essential for the full exercise of our sea power. But these absolute needs, calculated by the Naval Staff on the basis that we should fight this war with a powerful naval Ally, have been very much magnified by the collapse of France, a collapse which altered the whole fabric of our strategy much as an earthquake changes the face of the country which it ravages.

I do not propose to describe the effects of that collapse in detail; its implications are already too well known to this House. In brief, it meant that we lost the help of the second naval Power in Europe, equipped with some of the most modern ships in the world. It gave the Germans a new naval Ally in Italy, stronger numerically at sea than the Germans themselves, and possessed not only six new or modernised capital ships but also powerful cruiser squadrons and numerous submarine and light forces. Moreover, this new foe, as Mussolini was never slow to boast, was geographically well placed athwart our short cut to the East in the Mediterranean. But the collapse of France did more than turn Mussolini into the accomplice of a pirate; it gave the pirate himself new lairs from which to sally forth against us. By the conquest of the Channel ports and the bases on the French Atlantic coast, the German submarines were able more than to halve the distance to their hunting grounds in the Atlantic. They could attack our ships much further West and much further South, whilst our escorting forces remained tied to the same bases as before. By the use of their new bases, German aircraft were enabled to prey upon our convoys far out to sea and not merely, as before, in our coastal waters.

When this threat first loomed up— overnight, almost—the Navy had just completed a vast series of operations from the mist-shrouded cliffs of Narvik to the sun-bathed beaches of St. Jean de Luz, operations of which our naval history had probably never seen the like. The Royal Navy is proud to have borne its part, together with the Merchant Navy and gallant civilian volunteers, in extricating hundreds of thousands of our troops from both Norway and France. But this task was not one for which our ships were designed, nor which any prudent naval commander would have chosen to undertake. So heavy losses had to be expected and, with such a great object in view, accepted. They were, indeed, considerable, especially in damage to our destroyers. Although the damage was considerable, I may say that by skilled seamanship and great devotion the enemy was deprived of anything like the toll he confidently expected.

The Navy was, therefore, seriously depleted at the very moment when the whole problem had become much more complex and more difficult, with the exit of France from the war and the entry of Italy into it. By what seemed to me, I confess, in those clays—dark days—very slow degrees, but which as I look back appear now to be swinging strides, we immeasurably improved our position. Thanks to a great effort by the men in the workshops, in the dockyards and the repair yards, the damaged ships were put back into service. Then, with forces initially much inferior, Admiral Cunningham and Admiral Somerville have not only kept the Italian Fleet cooped up in the Mediterranean but have neutralised it even in the waters which Italy specially claims as hers. By a superbly executed stroke of the Fleet Air Arm at Taranto, the Italian capital ship strength was temporarily halved, and in every encounter with the Italian Navy our ships and our crews have shown such superiority in fighting power and morale that the other units of the Italian Navy now scarcely venture to dispute even the waters around their bases.

The last six months have not, of course, provided an unbroken spectacle of progress, and a good case does not need to be over painted. During the winter gales our convoy escort forces have paid the price of all navies whose tradition it is to keep the seas, whatever the weather, if there is duty to be done. We have naturally also suffered a certain amount of damage. in action, and particularly to our light forces. From time to time we have suffered naval losses, inevitable, but certainly not excessive, considering the magnitude of the Navy's task. I always remember in this great fight of ours today that we follow a leader in this House who, if you show courage and go out for the object aimed at, is prepared to stand behind those serving him and to accept the risks. In regard to our naval losses, 1 think we have no surer proof of their smallness in relation to our task, than a comparison of the facts with the falsity of German propaganda. When I look at that, I find that their official communiqués alone would seem to show that we have lost, roughly, twice the number of capital ships, aircraft carriers and cruisers with which we started the war, and more than all our submarines. In fact, however, the daily work of the Fleet, and such outstanding achievements as those of the "Ark Royal," which has many times answered the German questions as to her whereabouts, prove that the great body of the Fleet of August, 1939, remains intact. I may perhaps repeat the very apt remark made last year by the Prime Minister. I would say to the German Navy that we are quite prepared to take them all on with only those of our ships which they profess to have sunk.

We have also had to reckon with the effect of the enormous amount of sea-time our ships have put in throughout the war. Even the best-built ships must eventually be refitted, and this winter many vessels reached the stage when work on them became inevitable. A great deal of the short-term repair and refit work has been done, and, looking to better weather ahead, damage to His Majesty's ships due to the buffeting of Atlantic gales and the ordinary hazards of navigation should decrease. The number of ships in most classes, and especially in the destroyer class, now at sea or instantly ready for sea, is, at the moment, greater than at any time since the war began. Further, we are beginning to reap the benefits of the large programmes of light craft put in hand upon the outbreak of war and immediately afterwards; while, as the visit of His Majesty's ship "King George V" to America has demonstrated to the world, the heavy ship programmes of the years of re-armament are also in process of completion. The ships which have come or will come into service during 1941 of themselves make up a formidable force, judged by almost any other naval Power's standards. I do not pretend that all our new ships have been delivered on the date first stipulated. The very heavy demands for urgent repairs following on Dunkirk and the other operations in support of our Army on the Continent, inevitably had a delaying effect on new-construction. So did the extremely varied rush jobs connected with our efforts to strengthen the defences of these islands against invasion on land and in the air, to allow of which the Navy accepted the grant of higher priorities for the requirements of the other Services.

Even in face of enemy bombing, the efforts of the workers in our shipyards and workshops, and the untiring persistence and professional skill of the managements and the Admiralty production officers have maintained naval production in a remarkable manner. The widespread use of the spotter system has put an end to idle hands and idle machines when there is no immediate risk of attack. We have also been constantly adding to our capacity, and no fewer than 154 new factories or extensions to existing works have been completed during the year, for Admiralty work, or are in hand. To-day, therefore, we are in a far better position than I would have dared to expect, in view of the adverse situation nine months ago. Our long-term programmes of construction are maturing, and a high output of short-term construction has been reached.

Although, therefore, the out-turn of new ships may be slightly less early than was originally planned, and rather more spread over the coming months than the first Estimates contemplated, we have every reason to be encouraged by the results which our productive efforts are showing. Nevertheless, I shall, of course, see to it that we always strive to improve our output. With the help of the measures which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour is taking, I feel sure there will be still better results. We must impress upon both employers and workers that in facing the Battle of the Atlantic now opening upon us, we need every ounce of their energy, and ever-increasing production.

So much for the chief ups and downs of the naval situation during the past year. The main actions of the Fleet during that period have been given to the world as they occurred, and time does not permit a repetition, much as the tales merit re-telling. Combined, they unfold a story of great, majestic and unrelenting sea power. I believe, however, that the House will welcome some account of various aspects of the Navy's work which, by their nature, are unsuitable for day-to-day publication, or which may not be fully appreciated.

Some months ago, though I believe no longer now, one used to hear in ardent but impatient circles that the Navy was not showing enough offensive spirit. The various encounters in the Mediterranean have proved clearly enough, I think, that the Navy is no less anxious than in times past to come to grips with the enemy, in Fleet or ship actions, and that the battle of the River Plate was no mere flash in the pan. But there are many other ways in which the offensive spirit is being demonstrated almost day in and day out. It may not be appreciated, for instance, how frequently our ships, though not designed to fulfil the role of bombarding artillery, have carried the war into the enemy's ports. We must not forget how intensive that has been. In the last six months the Navy have shelled Calais, Dunkirk, Ostend, Cherbourg, Valona, Genoa, Kismayu, Mogadishu and other East African ports, as well as carrying out incessant bombardments in support of our Army in the Middle East, at Sidi Barrani, Sollum, Bardia, Derna and Tobruk.

Perhaps also it is not fully realised what a weapon of offence the Fleet Air Arm has become. Such an exploit as that at Taranto will never fade from the memories of British folk the world over, yet this was only a crowning achievement among many similar blows against the enemy. Naval aircraft have taken part with their comrades of the Royal Air Force in numerous bombing and mine-laying operations in all theatres of the war. They have been constantly out over the sea, waiting to pounce upon enemy warships and shipping. The skill and daring of these sea hawks can be grasped only from a catalogue of their victims. Since the war began they have destroyed one enemy battleship, one enemy cruiser, three destroyers, four submarines, four other naval vessels and 15 transport or supply ships. They have damaged at least two enemy battleships, two cruisers, four destroyers, four miscellaneous craft and 20 transport or supply ships.

Consider also the work of the submarines as an evidence of the offensive side of our relentless war. They cannot hope for the relatively easy prey of an enemy fleet at sea prepared to accept battle, or for great streams of enemy merchant traffic crossing the oceans, such as we present to the enemy. Even to obtain a bare chance of coming within striking distance they must be prepared to press close in upon the enemy's coasts, accepting the hazards of unknown minefields and confined waters easily and thickly patrolled by the hunting craft of the enemy. These great risks the officers and men of our submarine Service accept as a matter of course, in order that the enemy may not enjoy undisturbed possession of his own coastal routes. These brave men, however, have had the satisfaction of destroying something like 100 enemy warships and supply ships, and they confidently expect to carry on the good work.

As a last instance of the continuing offensive waged by the Navy, I will mention the minelayers, submarines and surface craft alike. This is a task that requires of those who perform it great endurance, the cheerful acceptance of discomfort and frequently also of great hazards when mines have to be laid in enemy waters. Yet other evidence of our offensive activity is apparent to-day wth regard to certain operations in Norway as the House will have no doubt seen on the tape.

It is these arduous but unsensational duties which must not be forgotten if we are to obtain a true picture of the very essence of our command of the seas. The safety and feeding of these islands depend on an infinity of tasks, each of which, while not spectacular, demands not only high professional skill but great patience, resourcefulness, determination, and above all, devotion to duty. A great feature of the last few months has been the very intensive mine-laying effort made by the enemy, and especially by air. If these mines are not promptly swept up the efforts of our convoys and their escorts at sea would be brought to nought. There can be no regular hours in a minesweeper, no certainty of a day off. All hands must be ready instantly to proceed to sea and to grapple with the engines of destruction laid about our coasts. Truly the task of the minesweepers is never done.

The qualities of resource and attention to detail are also well exemplified by the work of the units under Admiral Cunningham's command in the recent operations against the Italians. With limited forces, Admiral Cunningham's staff had to provide for the movement of supplies to Greece, to Malta and to the main bases in Egypt. They have had to dove-tail into their offensive operations against the enemy flank in Libya the business of a veritable world transport agency, carrying troops and stores to newly-conquered beaches and harbours, transporting by the thousand great crowds of Italian prisoners and even pumping water ashore to the thirsty troops as they swept on. All this had to be done, mark you, not without forethought, but yet suddenly each day as required.

Then there is a large body of officers and men throughout the two Navies who work entirely out of sight. I think the House always does well to pay a special word of appreciation to the engineers who toil away below decks without the excitement which stimulates those up above and yet on whom success in action and in escaping damage so much depends. Often a merchant ship has escaped because the engineers and stokers have been able to coax an extra half knot from the engines—not always in the best condition—and often we have, in effect, added a ship to the fighting fleet for a time, when, but for the skill and devotion of her engine-room complement, she would have had to go into dock much earlier to have her engines refitted. One of His Majesty's ships recently returned home for her first refit for some four years. Engineering officers in a ship such as that deserve highly of their country.

I turn now to the greatest of all the tasks laid upon the Navy, the protection upon the highways of the sea of the trade by which we live in these Islands, and by which we sustain our power throughout the world, and which we need to win this war. It was an inevitable consequence of the French disaster, for the reasons I outlined earlier, that from the middle of last year onwards the enemy's attack upon our main life-line should be much more intense and more widespread and therefore more difficult to combat. Up to last May the losses of British, Allied and neutral ships from enemy action had averaged some 40,000 tons a week incircumstances, of course, in which we had the assistance of the French Fleet, when the Italian Fleet was not hostile and the enemy not in possession of the far-flung Western bases, which they now cover. For the next seven months the losses remained obstinately at an average of just under 90,000 tons. During the last 11 weeks for which statements have been published, we have on the whole been more successful in keeping losses down, and they have averaged about 51,000 tons a week, a substantial diminution. I do not attribute this reduction entirely to the various measures we have taken to improve our methods of protection, but I do think we are justified in counting these as at least one certain reason among other possibilities. While I put that reduction before the House, do not let us forget that we must expect the enemy to make heavier attacks and that we may expect to receive grievous blows. The enemy uses every conceivable means to attack us in this vital spot—the lurking mine, the powerful raider, the aircraft—a menace to merchant shipping not known in the last war—the stealthy E-boat, as well as the submarine. The first of these, as I have already mentioned, is being dealt with. With the help of scientists, technicians and gallant crews we face the peril from the mine not with complacency but still, on experience, with considerable confidence. Aircraft attack became an entirely different problem when the enemy acquired bases on the western coast of France. Up to then his bombers had attacked only our coastal convoys as they continue to do, and the counter-weapon was there to hand in the short-range fighters of the R.A.F. From the French bases, however, the enemy is now able with long-range aircraft to attack ships far out in the Atlantic. I can give the House this assurance, that counter-measures to this new form of attack are being developed, though I hope, in fact I know, the House will not expect' me to reveal what they are. In this crucial period of the war, and in view of the enemy's attack upon our vitals, it behoves all of us in this country to stand fast, to avoid the waste of a single ounce of any commodity we have to import, and in every sphere of our daily activity to redouble all our efforts.

The enemy raider, whether warship or converted merchantman, is, of course, another major problem which the Navy must deal with. We are exercising all our ingenuity within the limits of our resources to frustrate this form of attack. As those resources grow, so will the raiders' opportunities become fewer. During the past few months our ships have gained contact with a number of raiders. Sometimes the action was broken off by the enemy, but he did not get away without suffering damage. In fact not every raider met has lived to raid another day, although I fear I cannot tell the House about that. There have been one or two occasions when a raider has encountered a convoy with inferior protection, and has inflicted relatively heavy loss, though nothing like up to the claims of the enemy. To see these episodes in the right perspective it must be remembered that for every convoy thus attacked scores have come through without molestation and that very great armies indeed with their equipment, very large equipment, have been successfully shepherded by the Navy to the Middle East, without the loss of a single ship.

The enemy has undoubtedly gained great advantages from his acquisition of French submarine bases, while we are handicapped by now having to perform a world-wide sea task undertaken in 1918 by five fleets. The Admiralty never relaxes its efforts to maintain constant attack on the U-boats, and I have no doubt that the German commanders will find it progressively less easy to exploit the advantage which they have gained from the successes of the German Army. With the expansion of the reconnaissance forces available to the Coastal Command, which I hope will take place progressively throughout the year, the watch from about will become more difficult for the enemy to avoid. No doubt, too, the Royal Air Force, for whose assistance the Navy is most grateful, will continue to dislocate the organisation of the U-boat patrols by attacking them in their bases. At sea an increased number of escorts will enable us to provide greater protection for the convoys themselves. To these advantages will be added all the improvements in antisubmarine tactics and devices which experience and experiment can suggest to us.

Let me say, also, that although it is not our policy to make regular statements as to U-boat sinkings, we continue to inflict loss upon the enemy submarine flotillas. The very success of our earlier antisubmarine methods has given rise to a new wariness on the part of the U-boats themselves. To give the German Naval Staff their due, they have changed their U-boat tactics frequently and whenever they have become too costly; and new tactics demand changes in our own measures, which sometimes take time to perfect. Moreover, the results of the war against the U-boats are, by its very nature, uncertain. To establish a kill it is usually necessary to take prisoners, which is in such an action, of course, a comparatively rare occurrence. But there have been, and continue to be, a number of attacks accompanied by most promis- ing signs where the submarine, if not destroyed, has been badly damaged and probably put out of action for a considerable time.

Apart from the protection afforded by warships and aircraft escort, we have continued to give merchant ships weapons with which to defend themselves against enemy attack. We are continuing, moreover, to increase and improve the scale of defence provided, and particularly of antiaircraft armament. This defensive arming of our merchant ships has proved itself justified. By timely and resolute use of their guns our merchant seamen often preserve themselves from danger and turn the tables on the enemy. In the month of December there were three cases in which merchantmen fought duels with submarines and had the better of the exchange. They have also been successful against aircraft. Up to the present 27 enemy aeroplanes attempting to bomb merchantmen have been brought down by merchantmens' guns, and 15 others have also probably been destroyed.

The House and the Press have recently shown some anxiety about the position of merchant shipping in relation to both new construction and repairs. I think it is possible in such a time as this to be misled by deliberately exaggerated enemy reports, detailed replies to which in public would reveal just what the enemy wants to know. Hitler tells us all about his successes and still more about his manufactured successes which do not occur. For example, the claims which the enemy official communiqués have made about merchant tonnage sunk total up. to just double the losses which the enemy have really inflicted, even though some of these losses, as, for instance, those from mining, cannot be known to the Germans. We faithfully publish the whole of the losses due to enemy action. On the other hand, the House must remember that Hitler never informs us of his internal difficulties, whether they be in the realm of shortage of skilled labour or materials, or anything else. He does not even need to have periodical secret sessions of the Reichstag to stress his needs.

To turn to the other side of the shipping question, I think it is worth while to say that the tonnage of new ships delivered from our own yards, plus the tonnage of ships acquired by the Ministry of Shipping abroad, and in addition the con- siderable volume of tonnage of captured enemy ships now in our service, has replaced more than two-thirds of the tonnage of British ships lost by enemy action. In addition, we have had the advantage of chartering ships of States overrun by the enemy, some which were not previously used in the wider oceans. This should be contrasted with the position of the merchant fleets of the enemy. Do not let us forget the attacks made upon the enemy and upon his merchant fleets. Altogether they have lost over 2,000,000 tons sunk, captured or scuttled by themselves to avoid capture, and to-day they have over 1,000,000 tons more still lying useless in neutral harbours. The House will appreciate that there will perhaps be other opportunities of a more secret character, when I can take hon. Members into confidence about this question of shipping losses and replacements. It seemed that there might be a little anxiety on the opposite Benches about this point. When I referred to secret discussion, I was contrasting the position in Germany with what we are prepared to do here. I will say, however, that just as by means of special priorities the provision of aircraft and guns was speeded up to defeat the enemy air attack, and to replace the Army equipment lost through the defeat of the French, so there is now a case for the application of equally effective measures in order to help fill the gaps caused by loss and damage to our mercantile fleets. Taking into account the many tasks which have had to be carried out during the last 10 months, there is no reason to be ashamed of the contributions which have been made by way of delivery of completed new merchant ships, the aggregate tonnage of the ships which have been repaired, the acquisition by purchase of foreign tonnage through the Ministry of Shipping, and the support of our own building programme by orders placed abroad for new ships.

The Government have, however, fully in mind both the vital importance and the urgency of expediting still further the output of repaired tonnage, of new tonnage and the expansion of building abroad. The provision of increased. labour forces required for the work in this country has been a problem, but I am indebted to my colleague, the Minister of Labour, for the effort he is making in this direction, I am confident that the measure of agree- ment he has secured from both employers and workers, details of which he will deal with himself on the proper occasion, will give us an expansion of production in the fields I have indicated and enable us to maintain our vital supplies, especially during the period in which the major programme of overseas building is being developed.

As a further contribution to the maintenance of our shipping position, the Admiralty salvage organisation has been considerably expanded during the past year. The total tonnage rescued and saved up to 31st December last was over 1,000,000 tons, and in some cases, where the ships themselves could not be recovered, cargo and valuable equipment have been saved. The number of salvage vessels available is nearly twice what it was a year ago, and more are being obtained, whilst the number of salvage officers has increased accordingly. I am pleased to say that all the salvage firms are co-operating wholeheartedly and efficiently with the Admiralty organisation, and that in accordance with Admiralty policy their resources have also been augmented.

The House will realise from what I have already said that this has been a strenuous year in the fields both of operations and production. At the same time, we have also had to press forward in the sphere of administration, and there are a number of measures which I should like to mention in passing. Firstly, we have recognised the growing importance of motor craft by appointing a flag officer specially to co-ordinate and superintend the maintenance and development of our greatly increased motor flotillas and the training of their crews.

In the field of research I am very much indebted to the Director and his Department for the good work which they have done, always in close collaboration with the naval officers who represent those who will use the new devices. Co-operation has also been maintained with a large number of scientists not in Admiralty employ, and with the private firms and we have not hesitated to seek specialist assistance when the occasion demanded. I must specially mention the late Professor Haigh, of the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, who, unfortunately, recently passed away and whose advice on many problems has been of outstanding value. Those who have had to deal with the answer to the magnetic mine will never forget his service. To strengthen still further this co-operation between the Research Department, outside scientists and the Navy itself, we have decided to set up a scientific advisory panel, under the chairmanship of the Director of Scientific Research, composed of two eminent scientists and two specially selected naval officers.

We have also made two changes affecting the recruitment of naval officers and their advancement. On the one hand, the prospects of the best officers will, I submit, be materially improved by the decision to make promotion to flag rank by selection from the top five years of the captains' list, instead of by the old method. On the other hand, there is the new scheme of scholarships at Dartmouth which I announced a fortnight ago. This I had intended to explain, but I believe it would be better not to do so in order to give more time to the House. There has been very strong support from the country and very little criticism indeed.

So far I have dealt with ships, strategy operations and administration. But let us not forget the cornerstone on which our sea power is built—the officers and men of the Navy and its sister Service of equal importance and merit, the Merchant Navy. I have referred to the qualities required of officers and men—endurance, resolution, resource, devotion to duty, unflagging vigilance in all the routine details of the profession of the sea. Apart from constant risk, shared in the fullest measure by our merchant crews, men afloat often have to put up with cramped quarters, discomfort, days and nights of toil with little sleep and long separation from their homes and families. We do all we can to even out the rough with the smooth and to see that leave is given as freely as possible. But sea warfare is not a business that can be organised into set periods and a fixed routine. Dispositions cannot be made subject only to the wishes of those who look after the welfare of the personnel. The imperious demands of our widespread responsibilities and the changing strategical position must be met. We try to see that mails reach and leave ships or distant stations as rapidly and as often as possible; but the best organisa- tion for forwarding mails cannot always keep pace with the lightning changes in dispositions which in the circumstances of active operations are inevitable.

My hon. Friend the Civil Lord will deal later in the Debate with these and our other labours for the comfort and welfare of the men. What I have said of the hardships of service afloat underlines the debt of gratitude owed to the men who man our ships, whether of the Royal Navy or the Merchant Navy. That the sea still exercises its immemorial hold upon the British race is shown by the fact that there are to-day far more men wishing to enter the Navy than we can accept. Those who are entered apply themselves wholeheartedly to their new profession, and the formidable task of training the large numbers required for the great expansion of the Navy which has taken place and still continues is considerably eased by the zeal and keenness of the new material. I wish the House could have heard a talk which I had last week with a young man who 12 months ago was a first-class window-dresser in a dry goods store. He had entered on the lower deck, and then after going through His Majesty's Ship "King Alfred," was commissioned as a sub-lieutenant R.N.V.R., commanded a drifter and sank an E-boat in a few weeks, has been promoted to command a trawler, and is now undertaking a regular and dangerous patrol. That is evidence of the call of the sea in the blood of our people.

Nevertheless, I am sure the House will agree that praise is due to the Second Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Charles Little, and to all who work under him, and to the drafting officers, for the way in which every demand for new crews has been met, not only for the larger ships but also for the innumerable small craft which have been brought into service for mine-sweeping, anti-invasion patrols and similar services. This is a great achievement especially if it is remembered that the general shortage of skilled labour has affected the Navy as it has affected every Service connected with the war. The personnel Departments have had to cope not only with the expected but with the unexpected, for instance, when the United States came to our aid in the autumn of last year with the welcome gift of 50 destroyers. I am proud to say that not one of these vessels had to delay its departure from Halifax for lack of a crew to bring it across the Atlantic to the waters where the battle for the survival of the democratic idea is being fought out.

This brings me to one of the outstanding features not merely of our naval war but of our struggle as a whole. It is true that in one sense the British Commonwealth of Nations is waging this war almost alone, but in spirit and in various material directions, we are receiving invaluable assistance throughout the world from men who value freedom. The United States, where a great people have developed in the New World the ideals of representative government conceived in the Old, have already given the most positive evidence of their determination to ensure that those ideals are not trampled to death. Of the destroyers which in our hour of greatest need they handed over to us, some have already delivered attacks on enemy submarines and yet others have, in the course of their escort duties, borne their part in the rescue of British seamen, victims of enemy attacks. American aircraft are now in service with the Fleet Air Arm, and many more are yet to come. During the course of the year we shall receive from America great reinforcements of ordnance and stores which will go to swell the fighting power of our Fleet.

The peoples of the British Commonwealth of Nations have given unstinted support in the war at sea. Canadian destroyers are taking no mean share in the vital task of protecting our seaborne trade across the North Atlantic. Australian cruisers and destroyers and New Zealand cruisers have participated, with great distinction and success, in the operations in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, as well as in the protection of most important trade and military convoys. The names of "Achilles" and "Leander"—and of "Sydney," "Perth," "Hobart," "Australia" and "Canberra"—have been indelibly written in the most stirring pages of the history of the Navies of the British Commonwealth of Nations. South African naval units are also making a very welcome contribution in the Mediterranean, and the small, but efficient, Royal Indian Navy is doing valuable patrol work in the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. Dominions and Colonies in general—sometimes we forget to men- tion the Colonial Empire, but they have helped us a great deal—have lent invaluable aid by the raising of local naval forces, by the conversion of merchant ships into naval auxiliaries, by fitting the defensive armament of merchant ships, by naval shipbuilding, and by sending us some of their finest men to help man the British Fleet. I was particularly impressed on a recent visit of inspection to those most hardy craft the minesweepers to find there sturdy seamen from Newfoundland.

Just as the free men of our own blood have pressed forward to help us, so those of our Allies who love freedom best and could escape the Nazi clutches have also joined us in our struggle. Side by side with the British Navy, there are fighting to-day naval contingents of Free France, of Poland, Holland and Norway. I cannot betray the strengths of those contingents, but they are a most useful reinforcement, and one which is steadily expanding. All are anxious to take an ever greater part in the war, and to come to grips with the enemy. All have suffered losses in the common cause, many of them in operations of the most hazardous kind. When they have lost a ship, their one desire has been to obtain another in replacement without delay, in order that their flag may be kept flying at sea, and their contribution to the fight not diminished. Nor has the effort of the Allied contingents been limited to the manning of their own warships and the warships placed at their disposal by the Royal Navy. Whenever possible, they have given men to man His Majesty's ships, or Allied ships, and the Merchant Navy. The Belgians, in particular, having no naval vessels of their own, have come forward to help in this way, and I am glad to say that there is now a Belgian section of the Royal Navy. Similarly, the Allies are affording the aid of their highly important merchant fleets to the common cause.

Before I leave this subject I wish to pay tribute, as I know the House would wish me to do, to the valiant fight waged by the small but heroic and efficient Greek Navy. The whole of the world that remains free has been moved and heartened by the exploits of the Greek submarines, which have sought out the enemy in the mine-infested waters of the Adriatic and torpedoed Italian transports within sight of the very bases for which they were making. Nor shall we forget the service they rendered in facilitating the rapid mobilisation of the Greek Army—without which the Greek Army's fight would not have been so successful.

In our solemn hour of national testing, we find the Royal Navy bearing an immense responsibility. This is no new thing. So it was when the Spanish' Armada threatened our coasts, but Howard and Drake were there to repel it. So it was in the days of Dutch naval ascendancy, and a man from my own county, Blake, arose and gave England her victories. So it was when the legions of Napoleon spread like locusts over Europe, and his Fleets lay off the shores of France, seeking an opportunity to invade us. Then the cool directing brain of Barham and the fiery fighting skill of Nelson brought us through.

To-day, many of our dangers are similar in character, but modern forms of warfare and the twentieth-century element of speed make our task of once again resisting a Continental oppressor and defending liberty far more complex. But as has been demonstrated by the Army in the Middle East, by the Royal Air Force over these Islands, and, I submit, by the day-to-day exploits of the Royal Navy, the spirit is the same as ever, and the leadership in no way inferior to that of the past.

I desire to pay my tribute to the courage, the wisdom and the skill of the First Sea Lord and his Staff, to that great Sea Captain, Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, to Admiral of the Fleet Sir Charles Forbes, and the Commanders-in-Chief on all stations, for the services which they have rendered and continue to render. All of them, with the loyalty and devotion of the men serving under them, will prove again that the path of duty is the way to glory, but their greatest glory, and the greatest reward of the whole Fleet, will be the day when victory is ours and Freedom, now in chains in Europe, will once more hold up her head.

Mr. Ammon (Camberwell, North)

The House, I am sure, will wish to pay tribute to the First Lord for the forceful manner in which he has presented so thrilling an account of the stewardship of the Royal Navy. All of us are glad to acknowledge the great debt that this country owes to the Navy for its unsleeping vigilance, its courage, its devotion and its skill. In that, it yields nothing to the glories of the past; and to our rapidly-growing and fascinating body of naval history, as the First Lord has reminded us, new pages are being written by our Dominions and by our Colonies. The First Lord spoke of the tremendous developments that are taking place, not only through the skill of the seaman and of the artificer and of those in the dockyards, but also through the skill of those in the laboratories, who are vigilantly and unceasingly endeavouring to counteract the machinations and inventions of the enemy, and to provide further methods of defence for our own country. The very mention of the name of Professor Haigh should recall to us that we are sometimes very remiss in acknowledging our indebtedness to those people, who have done so much. The solution of the magnetic mine problem occupied the Germans for years, and they did not find it. It took our scientists days, and they were then able to save us from a dreadful danger. 'However long this nation lasts, our debt to the men of the Royal Navy and to the men of the Merchant Service cannot be repaid. To these men there are no memorials, except the memorials that are in the hearts of the people themselves, who have been preserved in safety during these difficult times.

The Votes of expenditure that are before us are token Votes; x represents the total. No one will grudge for a moment any amount spent upon this sure shield of our defence; the First Lord has told us how sure it is and how much it has done for us. I hope that if, here and there, one raises what may seem to be the voice of criticism, my right hon. Friend will not resent it. Sometimes I think he is rather inclined to do that, and I can quite understand it. He is representing a very gallant and fine Service, and one might sometimes think it a little ungracious if here and there, there is a point of criticism. The criticism does not show a want of devotion and thanks to the Navy, but rather that the House is anxious to perform its duty to these gallant officers and men by seeing that they are properly protected and provided with all that is essential and necessary to enable them to discharge their great task. That is why I differed somewhat from the First Lord of the Admiralty when he tried to show the difference between the meetings of this Parliament and that of the Reichstag. They have quite different methods and systems altogether. We take the view that there is added strength behind our methods of being able to discuss things, because we have the good will of the whole of the people behind us. It shows that we are a free nation and a free Navy and that our people are unremitting in their desire to see that all is done that is necessary for their comfort and safety.

There are some things which have been raised once or twice in this House of which the First Lord has told us something, yet there are occasions when one wonders whether a little more frankness may not have been very much more helpful to us and the nation, in order to meet some of the difficulties with which we are confronted. I will run over some of the outstanding things. Many of them are old history. It must not be thought for a moment that I am ignoring or minimising in any way the glorious feats, such as those at Taranto, the River Plate and other places. Everyone will give full testimony to these, and I for one would not yield one iota, even to the First Lord himself, in my admiration, gratitude and thanks for the services that have been rendered. But there are one or two things such as the Scapa Flow incident, the loss of the "Royal Oak" and the mystery surrounding the loss of the ''Glorious." I have sent the First Lord letters from people whose relatives went down, because these people are very disturbed concerning the loss of men in that ship. There is the muddle of Dakar, the escape of three French cruisers through the Straits of Gibraltar, and our own Intelligence Service with regard to Norway. The House has a right to expect some explanation to be given with regard to these matters.

There is a growing disquiet in the increase in the toll of sinkings of merchant shipping The First Lord indicated that there had been some falling off in these losses, but he also said that he did not lay claim that the whole diminution of the sinkings was due to methods we had adopted to counteract these sinkings. I think that we should be able to obtain a better perspective if we could be given an idea of the proportion of the sinkings to the shipping afloat and the amount of shipping on the high seas. That is what I imagine the First Lord meant when he said that he could not wholly ascribe this diminution to the methods of defence.

Mr. Alexander

That may have been my modesty.

Mr. Ammon

I am sure that everyone recognises that modesty is an outstanding attribute of the First Lord, but I am equally sure that he would not by his modesty wish in any way to depreciate the merits of the Navy itself. One has the right to draw the conclusion that, in order to give a better understanding and appreciation of what the diminution means we ought also to know the tonnage on the high seas. I have been interested—and I have mentioned this in a former Debate —in looking up the past records of Debates in this House in 1917, when the late Sir Edward Carson, afterwards Lord Carson, was the First Lord of the Admiralty. He opened his speech on one occasion by saying that he for one felt that the fullest information ought to be given to the House, and that it was simply nonsense to think that the enemy did not know as much as we did with regard to these things. I will not carry this any further, but it is worth noting that that was the opinion of the First Lord at a time when things were not too easy for us at sea during the last war. I know that it may be said that times have altered since then.

I have received letters indicating a certain amount of disquiet and dissatisfaction with regard to questions affecting the higher command, and one has the right to ask who has been responsible for some of the admitted failures to which I have already drawn attention? One was admitted by the Prime Minister himself when First Lord of the Admiralty. Somebody was to blame for the disaster at Scapa Flow, but we have not heard whether anybody has been disciplined for it. We have the right to ask whether the persons responsible for any of these things are still in the same positions and may, therefore, be likely to be responsible for similar trouble in the future. That can give away nothing, and it would, at least, go a long way to hearten the people to know that there is a strict vigilance kept with regard to these things.

I now wish to touch upon something very delicately, and to put it in the way of seeking such information as the First Lord feels that it is safe and proper to give. My hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), a few days ago, called attention to a report in American newspapers of the heavy sinkings of ships in a convoy, and the First Lord answered him by saying that it was enemy propoganda and was an exaggerated statement. The subsequent reports that have come in prove that the numbers of the sinkings were exaggerated, but they have also demonstrated that the convoy was unescorted, and that is a serious matter indeed. One gathers, even from what the First Lord has said just now, that the new construction turned out from the yards has not been all that could be expected, and that our merchant ships still have to run considerable risk in crossing the seas because they are not having that escort and protection that we all hoped they would be able to get. I want to ask my right hon. Friend a question which I asked at Question time some time ago, and which I only repeat because it has been put to me by people who are serving. Everyone welcomes the construction of the new small ships—the corvettes—that are being turned out to counter the U-boat menace. I am told that it is one thing to be able to chase U-boats and another to catch them up, and one wonders whether these ships are fast enough to meet the menace of the new U-boats that are being turned out. A simple assurance from the First Lord will be ample, but I have had information from two or three people serving in these ships that things are not all that we might expect with regard to the speed of these particular vessels.

Mr. Alexander

Speed is very important, and we should hope to get increased speed if we can, but we should also get a far smaller output of vessels if we went on turning out ships of higher power. I would point out that even to-day His Majesty awarded decorations to men of two of these ships for actual "kills" of submarines.

Mr. Ammon

I hope my right hon. Friend does not think I am suggesting for a moment any lack of gallantry or skill on the part of the officers of these ships. Neither am I suggesting that they will not sometimes catch and destroy U-boats, but I think my right hon. Friend has rather conceded a point I have just made. Evidently these ships. are not fast enough to meet the menace of the U-boat.

To come to another point, the First Lord announced some time ago—and he referred to it to-day—the new Dartmouth scholarships which have broken through what might be described as the caste system in the officer class. Everybody hopes that they will develop with the increasing range of educational standards. I wonder, however, whether he could also make greater use of some of the material which has already resulted from some scholarships, such as the Whitworth scholarships. I have a bulky volume here which gives the list of very distinguished people who have been holders of Whitworth scholarships. Men have gone through the yards and engineering shops and then, having displayed their ability, have been turned out into the world, with the result that the Admiralty and the Navy have not had the services of men they might have used. Some of the leading men of this country have won Whitworth scholarships and are proud to signify the same by putting the appropriate letters after their name. During the last 18 months we ought to have had the help of these men; they ought not to be lost to the Service. This war might be won as much in the technical schools of the country as the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton. More and more, greater demands are being made on the technical qualifications of our people.

At a time when the First Lord has broken down the "old school tie" system in the Navy, I feel that the differentiation between what are termed secondary schools, technical schools and trade schools can no longer be justified. They are entitled to be placed on an equal footing. So I hope that the First Lord will look into this question of Whitworth scholarships to see whether something can be done to break down the differentiation which exists between the engineering and naval sides. With the development of the Service, greater demands on the engine-room and the growth of mechanisation in the Navy, these old naval differentiations ought to be abolished and brought more into unity of purpose and design, each and all recognising that in these matters, as in others, the nation must move forward on the same plane. I do not want to say any more; one is naturally handicapped at a time like this and does not want to criticise too much, although I frankly admit that I do not see very much to criticise. I regret that there was not a bigger House to hear the fine, stirring statement made by the First Lord, which will hearten the country. We are all proud of the men who go down to the sea in ships, in both the Royal Navy and Merchant Service, each of which is caught up in the defence of our nation, and nothing we can say or do will ever repay the debt we owe to them for their devotion, skill, bravery and courage.

Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes (Portsmouth, North)

I must congratulate my right hon. Friend for the stirring tribute he paid to the work of the Navy. No one is better able than I am to appreciate the magnitude of the task which confronts the Admiralty and His Majesty's sea services from day to day in the maintenance of the sea communications on which the life of Great Britain and that of our Army and Royal Air Force overseas depend. I do not think it is generally appreciated that, apart from the troops and personnel which are carried overseas, an immense quantity of supplies has to be carried in merchant ships, guarded by the Navy, for the two sister Services.

The First Lord paid a glowing tribute to the Navy's offensive spirit. It burns in the Navy and is spoiling to express itself. He told us what had been achieved lately in the Mediterranean and by our submarines throughout the war. During the last few months I have been in contact with a splendid body of young officers and men of the Navy and Army, including a number of young men from civil life who have the call of the sea in their blood. The First Lord described to-day the feats of one of such men. Some time ago, at the beginning of 1918, I had between 70 and 80 of these men under my command. I do not think any of them had seen much war. They were young stockbrokers, bank clerks, wine merchants and the like, who had spent their holidays in small craft. I should like to mention that they were led by a very gallant Member of Parliament who will be remembered by some hon. Members present—Ian Hamil- ton Benn. He was always in the forefront of every action. Within four months these young men had won three Victoria Crosses, six or seven Distinguished Service Orders, and about a dozen Distinguished Service Crosses. Many of the young men with whom I have been working are the sons of those people and are spoiling for an opportunity of doing what their fathers did. On behalf of these young soldiers and sailors, I should like to say how ardently they envy their brothers in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, and how eagerly they are straining at the leash to emulate their deeds, and to prove that they are ready to face death as contemptuously as their brothers in the Royal Air Force do day after day and night after night. The dangers and difficulties which loom so large in Whitehall to those who have the responsibility of launching an offensive disappear, in the case of those who have to carry it out, in the glory of the goal beyond. I can only say that when they are given their opportunity—and it will come—the country will not be disappointed.

Captain Meriden (Chertsey)

I wish to congratulate my right hon. Friend the First Lord on his very stirring and vigorous speech. That is what we had expected from him, and that is what we got. It was particularly interesting to some hon. Members who, like myself, have for years past been asking for the ships, the men, and the equipment. We were not always supported and sometimes we were opposed. We were told that if the Government's foreign policy was right, there would be no need for these armaments. I hope that now hon. Members and the country realise that we cannot have a strong foreign policy unless we have strong Armed Forces and, in particular, a strong Navy. Our foreign policy, such as it was, came up against the foreign policy of a determined country that was organising and equipping itself for one purpose—the defeat of the British Empire. The First Lord has told us of the steps that are being taken to frustrate that attempt. When peace again comes to us, and all the Left wingers get busy— the pacifists, the Penguins, the Priestleys, the peace ballots, and that lot—I hope the First Lord will remember his brave words, and repeat them again.

I want to raise two small matters, one of which I have mentioned already to the First Lord. My right hon. Friend announced recently the introduction of the Dartmouth Scholarships. I hope he will give up the use of the word "scholarship" "Cadetship" is the proper word. There have been Colonial Cadet-ships and King's Cadetships in the past; let my right hon. Friend think of some word to describe the present type of cadet-ship. When making that announcement, my right hon. Friend said that the midshipman could live solely on his pay. I am doubtful of that. Knowing more or less who are the First Lord's advisers, I would not dare to make any criticism of the admirals' point of view on certain subjects, but on the question of midshipmen, I think I am just as qualified—if not more qualified—to speak. There may be people who think that it is unnecessary to change a scheme that has produced officers of the sort to whom so many glowing and well-earned compliments have been paid to-day. These people may persist in their attitude, but as the new scheme has been launched, I can assure the First Lord that everybody will endeavour to make it a success.

The question is whether the midshipmen will be able to live the same life as other officers on their pay. I say "no." I assume that the intention is to grant these cadetships to young gentlemen whose parents cannot afford to help them otherwise. Therefore, they will have to go through their time not being able to live the same life as their contemporaries. I do not think hon. Members want such a position to arise. It is true we have been promised that they will start off with full equipment of uniform. I have a clear recollection of my time as a midshipman, although is "how some years ago. We received is. 9d. a day, less 3d. which we very reluctantly paid to our naval instructor. Our parents had to give £50 a year. Together, these two sums are practically the same as the amount which a midshipman gets at present. In those days we went to sea at a very early age; I was at sea shortly after I was 15. These young men will go to sea two years later. In those days our midshipman's pay was enough for our simple, childish, innocent amusements. Now we live in a much more sophisticated age; these young men want motor bicycles, golf clubs, and so on. I cannot help thinking that the First Lord would willingly grant the money if he thought it necessary.

Mr. Alexander

Since my hon. and gallant Friend raised this matter with me, I have made a number of inquiries, not, I beg him to believe, of flag officers, but of younger officers. The majority of them, although not all of them, assured me that they were able to live on their pay as midshipmen. I do however promise that the matter shall be revised in the light of circumstances and our experience of the scheme, and that I will consider what steps should be taken when the time came for these young men to become sublieutenants. I think the matter might be left there.

Captain Marsden

That is very reassuring. I am glad that the First Lord has made that statement. I had views of these young men going home after three years abroad and, instead of being referred to as young officers of His Majesty's Navy, being referred to as members of Alexander's Ragtime Band.

There is another matter which I want to bring to the notice of my right hon. Friend. It is a matter which, as a serving officer, I could raise by means of letters to admirals; if I did so, probably several admirals would be asked their opinions, the matter would be considered by the Board, and eventually some decision might be arrived at. I propose to take advantage of my position here to short circuit all that, and bring the matter to my right hon. Friend's attention now. It is the question of commissioned warrant officers. We have had certain schemes of promotion to commissioned rank in the Navy, and on the whole they have not been very successful. Although some good officers have emerged, the schemes have never quite risen to the hopes of those who sponsored them. But one method has always been successful, and that is the promotion of warrant officers to commissioned rank. I am referring only to the retired list and not the active list. These men have been called out of their retirement, and all the seniority which might have been accruing to them on the retired list is not allowed to count. I do not suppose there is one of these officers serving who is not thoroughly appreciated by those senior to him. They have in the warrant officer promoted to commissioned rank someone on whom they can absolutely rely. But with whom is he working? He is working with officers who are given a commission immediately. It is true that now every effort is made to give commissions to those who have been through the lower deck for a very short period, but they are promoted to be lieutenant in a very short period, too, and sometimes higher up than that. On the other hand, the stout old commissioned officers can get no seniority.

What I ask is this. In the calling-up of retired officers, there are many officers of senior rank who have to serve in a rank below, but receive the pay of a higher rank. So long as they are receiving the pay, they are not bothering much about the stripes on their arms—the pay is more important. I am asking for the exact opposite. I am asking that these men be promoted either to lieutenants or lieutenant-commanders on the recommendation of their admirals but that they retain the pay to which they are entitled in the lower ranks. There is no money attaching to this scheme. Perhaps the First Lord will think it over. He will do a lot of good to a deserving group of men if he can bring that about. I had already noted a reference to hostility officers and men. The First Lord stated that he saw one at the Admiralty who was a window-dresser. Hostility officers who can get into the Admiralty and see the First Lord are pretty lucky, and I endorse all that he has said. Some think they are lucky if they can see even me. One acting A.B. whom I saw last week was a tea-taster, but that did not stop him bringing down a couple of aeroplanes. I, personally, interview a lot of these men and recommend them for commissions. We follow them up pretty closely, and they are proving very successful indeed.

I should now like to refer to shipbuilding and ship-repairs, for which the Admiralty is responsible. I see a great deal of this work, but I fear I shall be out of Order if I raise all the points that I desire to mention on this subject. I understand they come under the purview of the Minister of Labour—the conditions in which some of the workers are employed. I assure the First Lord that he needs to keep his eye on the Minister of Labour, who has been speaking a lot and making a lot of statements. In many cases the Minister of Labour is not helping to accelerate the work in the yards. I will mention only one point which cropped up recently. They talk about men going back promptly when the siren sounds, but the siren does not sound, and they are not allowed to sound, with the result that there is a loss of a few minutes. A certain type of man who should knock off at 12 will not finish five minutes afterwards but five minutes before. One well-known yard which I recently visited plays gramophone records at the end of the dinner hour, and the tune it was playing at that time was, "Will ye no' come back again?" I hope that I may have an opportunity to raise these points with the Minister of Labour, but somehow or other Members like myself seldom seem to be called upon to speak on these subjects. There are many points which I recommend the First Lord to follow up very closely. Another year has passed, and no corner has been turned. I do not suppose any corner will be turned, because it is a straight and a long, slogging road. The great secret if you have a long march is always to march within your strength, and that is what we are doing. We are getting stronger and stronger every minute, and when we come to the journey's end I am sure the Navy will have played its full part in bringing that about.

Mr. Liddall (Lincoln)

Like the three previous speakers, I should like to begin by expressing my thanks to the First Lord for the speech he has made. It is a speech which will be read with the widest satisfaction by the general public and by all ranks in the Service. I wish to take this opportunity of stressing the importance of Naval Reserves in war-time, and in supporting the statement of the First Lord in regard to the urgent need for ships and still more ships to bring the vital supplies of food and munitions required by this country. The House will know that the Naval Reserves do not exist as a separate body in time of war. On mobilisation their numbers are incorporated into the Fleet. The nucleus of Reserves in war-time must be built up in peace-time. That being so, every form of Naval Reserve and Volunteer Reserve, not only in this country but throughout the Empire, should have every encouragement from the authorities now and always. We have heard to-day from the First Lord encouragements which are being, given at the present time. It is Admiralty policy to give temporary

R.N.V.R. commissions to all Reserve ratings and those entered under National Service Acts deemed fit for promotion from the lower deck. At the beginning of the war on account of their greater experience R.N.R. officers were naturally sent to reinforce the Fleet. All R.N.V.R. executive officers and temporary R.N.R. officers are now permitted to join the submarine service, which was hitherto restricted, to permanent R.N.R. officers— some R.N.R. officers are already serving as second-in-command and will, in the course of time, be in full command.

Officers and men of the R.N.R. are nearly all in peace-time members of that matchless civil service, the Royal Merchant Navy. To-day I want to pay tribute to those other matchless men, the trawlermen, the driftermen and the bargemen of Britain. No finer or braver men exist than those men, in their cloth caps and weatherbeaten jerseys, who use the ports in my own county as well as in other counties of not so great importance. I appeal to the Admiralty, who, I believe, appreciate the great national importance of their work, to give them what their brothers in the Fighting Services receive in the direction of rewards. Recognition of service and war medals should be given to these maritime heroes on a scale comparable with that of the Royal Navy. The value of our sea-loving people was shown when our British Expeditionary Force was evacuated from Dunkirk. Even the eloquent words of our Prime Minister are inadequate to express our admiration and fine regard for their duty, which enabled destroyers, small naval craft, Mercantile Marine, lifeboats, civilian yachts and hosts of small boats to rescue our Army of over 300,000 from the shores of Dunkirk. As the First Lord has said, these small craft were not designed to evacuate an Army, and it was almost a miracle that success came our way. Without taking one ounce of credit from our Regular Forces in the Navy and Air Force, this evacuation was made possible by the fine seamanship of these Reserve seamen and others and those who handled the numerous small craft with such skill and daring.

I would also mention the Naval Reserves of several of our Colonies, notably that of our oldest Crown Colony, now a Dominion — Newfoundland — which has sent some fine seamen to help the Mother country. These fishermen are a hardy race, used to the wildest of weather and the thickest of fog. The Dominions have indeed made a fine response in sending their seamen. But where are the superfine fisherfolk from Southern Ireland? They alone remain unhelpful in our hour of need. Surely the old music-hall song of thirty years ago, when the men of Southern Ireland were proud to serve under the British flag, might make some appeal to Southern Irishmen to-day. The chorus ran something like this: Why do they call us hooligans, A name all Irishmen are proud of? Don't they know that they bring disgrace, Upon a noble name of a noble race? Why do they call us hooligans, This seething, restless mob? Every true-born hooligan Is an Irishman and a British soldier too. The officers and men of the Naval Reserve are called upon to serve in all types of naval ships. Their gallant work in mine-sweeping, submarine hunting and fighting hostile aircraft is appreciated by all, and it is a remarkable achievement that so many enemy aircraft have been brought down by the crews of trawlers, minesweepers, etc. The accuracy of their gunfire has been astonishing. These men have most certainly obeyed Oliver Cromwell's instructions when facing considerable difficulties: Spare not, but be expeditious and industrious. You must act lively. Do it without distraction. Neglect no means These war orders from a great soldier have been carried out most successfully by our Naval Reserve and, for an outstanding example of skill and gallantry, I would remind the House of the exploits of Lieut.-Commander R. B. Stannard, R.N.R., the only surviving naval V.C. of this war. When enemy bombing attacks had set on fire many tons of hand grenades on Namsos Wharf, with no shore water supply available, Lieutenant Stannard ran "Arab's" bows against the wharf and held her there. Sending all but two of his crew aft he then endeavoured for two hours to extinguish the fire with hoses from the forecastle. He persisted with this work till the attempt had to be given up as hopeless. After helping other ships against air attacks, he placed his own damaged vessel under shelter of a cliff, landed his crew and those of two trawlers and established an armed camp. Here those off duty could rest while he attacked enemy aircraft which approached by day, and kept anti-submarine watch during the night. When another trawler nearby was hit and set on fire by a bomb, he with two others, boarded "Arab" and moved her 100 yards before the other vessel blew up. Finally, when leaving the fjord, he was attacked by a German bomber, which ordered him to steer east or be sunk. He held on his course, reserved his fire till the enemy was within 800 yards, and then brought the aircraft down. Throughout a period of five days "Arab" was subjected to 31 bombing attacks, and the camp and Lewis gun positions ashore were repeatedly machine-gunned and bombed, yet the defensive position was so well planned that only one man was wounded. Lieut. Stannard ultimately brought his damaged ship back to an English port. His continuous gallantry in the presence of the enemy was magnificent, and his enterprise and resource not only caused losses to Germans but saved the ship and many lives.

That is an account of the only V.C. R.N.R. officer in the present war. These trained and gallant men of our Naval Reserve will play an important part in any attempted invasion. It is not impossible for the Nazis to make a landing in a light fog or mist, or under the protection of a smoke screen, on a calm, moonless night, which would be an advantage when the tide was high. Fortunately for all of us, these conditions do not often prevail in the precincts of our island shores, and, if they do, their duration is short. Wind velocities are very variable round our coasts, and it is seldom calm for long. Many people believe, as I do, that Hitler desires above everything else to destroy British power in Britain. That is no doubt true, but it is not a new idea. In 1852 Tennyson wrote these inspiring words: Should he land here and for one hour prevail, There must no man go back to tell the tale. No man to hear it, Swear it! We swear it! Although we fought the bonded world alone We swear to guard our own. This celebrated poet's guidance is as applicable to-day as it was to our forefathers nearly 100 years ago. In repelling any attempted invasion, our Naval Reserves will be full out to play their part. Are we doing everything possible to ensure that they have the ships? The Government were wise in the early days of 1939 to encourage shipbuilders to lay down more ships, and about 100 keels were immediately laid. When we consider that about 120,000,000 tons of cargoes entered through our ports in peace time every year, we see how serious the U-boat campaign may be for us. Germany knows it would be easier to starve the people of Great Britain than to invade Great Britain. That is why she is concentrating on her U-boat campaign. That is also why we want plenty of reserves in the way of both ships and men What are the Government doing about all this? It was heartening to hear the Prime Minister say on 5th November, and to hear the First Lord emphasise it to-day, that the fleet of American destroyers is rapidly coming into service.

Have we told America that what we require even more urgently than aeroplanes and money are ships, and still more ships? Are the Government satisfied that the naval advice at present being accepted as to how to handle the position is the best available? Is the provision of A.A. batteries to enable our ships to keep off the bomber being accelerated? In view of the admitted danger of our war effort failing for lack of ships, are the Government taking steps to see that every man in the Fighting Services who is a skilled shipyard man, boilermaker or engineer, is being sent back to the place where his services are absolutely essential for the building of our ships? Can the Government give an assurance that every shipyard in the country where keels can be laid are in full use? If there is a single shipyard not being utilised because of the lack of shipwrights and other skilled labour will the Government give an assurance that this will be rectified at once? If there is a shortage of steel or other raw material will they see that ships shall have priority over every other form of war material, not excluding aircraft? We must have more ships and more armed ships, for the sinking of ships involves much more than the loss of vessels and cargo, however valuable they may be. More often than not they take men down with them, men whose courage and endurance are more valuable to this country are the present time than much fine gold.

It is a grim ordeal that our magnificent seamen are facing at all hours and in all weathers. They are subject to attack not only from the air, but on and under the sea. They have not in the majority of 1 cases, like their naval brothers, the satisfaction of striking back, nor, like their shore-going compatriots, do they receive notice, brief though it may be, of coming danger. At any time an enemy aircraft may come diving down without warning to attack, and at any instant, day or night, a torpedo may blast a gaping hole into a ship's side. Our seamen know that unless the food and munitions which our ships are bringing can arrive in sufficient quantities we must collapse and they will carry on as long as there is a single ship left for them to sail. I want to refer to the question of using coal instead of oil whenever and wherever possible. I cannot put it more concisely or effectively than it was put by Mr. Geoffrey Bowles in a letter published in yesterday's "Daily Sketch." He wrote: Foreign oil can be largely replaced by. our own coal, but food which we cannot grow ourselves cannot be replaced by anything else. All possible ships and vehicles should be converted to or be built for oil. Many oil bunkers—only able to carry one commodity one way on one route—should now be converted, as they could be, into general purpose ships—able to carry anything anywhere on any route. Those converted would carry at least twice as many cargoes, and of goods more essential to us than oil. We may soon be faced with the choice between oil and famine and defeat, or coal and food and victory. I say to the Government with all the sincerity and emphasis of which I am capable that the chief problem confronting us is unquestionably the grave menace to our shipping, and unless satisfactory answers can be given to the questions I have put to the Government, then notwithstanding how well they are doing, they cannot claim to be doing their best.

Captain Cunningham-Reid (St. Marylebone)

Considering how careful the First Lord has to be in any public utterances that he makes in the House, his speech was both interesting and heartening. I was rather surprised though at an answer that he gave to a question of the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon). The hon. Member asked whether the corvettes that are being made in fairly large numbers were fast enough for their purpose of catching the latest and speediest enemy submarines. The First Lord interjected and replied that if we were to have more speed, we would not be able to have the mass production which he considered was necessary. I consider that to be a somewhat surprising reply, because what is the good of building these fast, small ships if they do not meet the purpose for which they are being constructed, which is the catching of all types of enemy submarines? No doubt ray hon. Friend on the Front Bench will elucidate that matter later on.

I was recently in Portugal, and while I was there I obtained some naval information that may possibly be of interest to this House. It is already officially known, has been known for a long time past, that the Germans have been concentrating their naval construction on submarines, to the exclusion practically of all other naval vessels, and they have been doing this since the beginning of the war. In Germany and in German-occupied countries there are innumerable bases that are suitable for the building of submarines, and they are being employed at the present time at full capacity for building a new type of submarine, the new simplified submarine that Hitler hinted at in his last speech. It was my American informant in Portugal, who had just come from Germany, who told me what was meant by this word "simplified." At the time I considered that what he told me was improbable, but as events nave turned out I consider that to-day it is more than probable, and I feel in consequence that the House should hear this first-hand definition.

This simplified form of submarine that is being turned out in mass production amounts to this: It is nothing more or less than a suicide craft. It is quick and cheap to build, small, and is being equipped with only the very essential machinery. Safety devices, I am informed, are practically non-existent. Of course, such simplicity means simplifying, and consequently shortening, the training of crews. I was further informed that each of these submarines can be manned by a third of the crew that are usually to be found in even former small-size submarines. All this can be done because these new submarines have only a very small fuel capacity, for they are expected to go only as far as the coasts of our Islands, and they are not expected to return. They are being manned by young, fanatical Germans, youthful volunteers of the death-or-glory breed. The principle is this, that having sighted their victim, they would go straight into close range and fire their torpedoes before the escorting ships had an opportunity of dealing with them, though, of course, their chance of subsequent escape would be negligible, that is to say, provided the victim was properly convoyed. As is already well known, submarines do not generally take the risk of attacking until they have manoeuvred for a position that will give them a good chance of getting away from the escorting ships.

Providing the enemy have enough of these "suicide craft," and providing they have enough crews to man such craft, undoubtedly the menace is going to be a grave one, and I think we should consider means of bringing food into this country other than by sea, should our stock be getting dangerously low as a result of serious shipping losses. I hope that no such emergency will arise, but as starvation, and consequent lowering of morale. is the only thing that can defeat us and can make successful invasion possible, I feel that no aspect of this problem should be overlooked and no preventive should be neglected. If serious damage is caused by submarine attack, it will, as everybody realises full well, be carried out during the coming spring. Our essential foods would hold out for several months and, as the First Lord pointed out today, by the end of the year many new ships would be well under way. Therefore, the critical period would be at the end of this coming Summer. That period, in the event of the crisis that I have envisaged—if such a crisis occurs—would be the zero hour, the psychological occasion for invasion, and I for one do not believe that it will occur before, if, indeed, it occurs then. It is no good invading a strongly fortified country when morale is as high as ours is at the present time.

How can we be sure of tiding over that period and importing sufficient food in the event of a temporary though a serious, shortage of shipping? On first consideration it would appear that if that occurred, we should be "up against it." But there is an answer, and that answer is air transport. As to how this could be done, I am afraid that if I attempted to pursue that subject on these Estimates, you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, would very rightly call me to Order, so I shall have to leave to another occasion the conveying to the House of what I consider to be an essential antidote, it not the only antidote, to possible successful enemy submarine blockade.

Mr. McLean Watson (Dunfermline)

The moving of Mr. Speaker out of the Chair on Navy Estimates used to be the occasion for dockyard Members to air their grievance. I am afraid the war is having an effect even on the dockyard Members, but I am pleased to have an opportunity of intervening for a short time, and I am prepared to give the First Lord all the money for which he is asking for the purposes he has in view during the next 12 months. I listened with very great interest and very great pleasure to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and I congratulate him upon the very excellent picture of the Navy that he presented to the House. He has shown us that despite our experiences during this war the Navy is still in first-class condition. We have had our losses, but our losses are being made good. The men in the shipbuilding yards and in the Royal Dockyards are doing magnificent work in repairing any damage that has been done during the war. When we read from time to time of certain naval losses we begin to get apprehensive as to whether they are not making serious inroads into the reserves of the Navy. We were very pleased to hear from the First Lord of the Admiralty that we are still in a very strong position with our destroyers. We have every reason to be proud of our Navy. It has stood up well to all the tasks allotted to it during the war, and we are confident that, no matter what comes against us in the future, the Navy will be equal to it.

We heard a lot of boasting before and in the early days of the war about what the German Fleet could do, but that Fleet has not troubled us very much, the surface craft, at any rate. We readily agree that the U-boats, on which the German Government have mainly relied, have caused grievous losses and a certain amount of damage to our shipping, but we are carrying on very well, in spite of it. The words of the First Lord respecting the Merchant Navy in this connection were very encouraging. We are capable of standing up to all that has been put upon us, and we are confident in regard to the future.

While our Navy has achieved great things during the war, one or two other things are not so pleasant to contemplate, including the Narvik business and other incidents which were regrettable. We must be prepared, however, for things of that kind in war, when we are engaged with a very serious enemy whom we cannot treat lightly. Before Italy came into the war we were led to believe that she had a great fleet. Undoubtedly she had. She also had a great air force. For some reason, which we can leave to the Italians to determine, neither that navy nor that air force has come up to what we expected from the great preparations that the Italians made for war. We were not well prepared for war, because we were not seeking war, but we have done very well against one of our antagonists. We have a comparatively stiff task before we overcome the other, but we hope we shall see cracks before long in the facade which the German organisation still presents.

I am pleased to see the Civil Lord on the Front Bench, and I understand that he will reply to the Debate. Perhaps he will speak about one or two little matters that I wish to bring up. On previous Navy Estimates I have repeatedly drawn attention to the dockyard in which I am interested, and have been interested since I came to this House, namely, the dockyard in my constituency. In 1925, the Admiralty came to the conclusion that that dockyard should be reduced to a care-and-maintenance basis, and I did not admire the intelligence of that decision, but the Admiralty were out for economy. They were able to save a certain amount of money, but they did not give sufficient attention to the fact that they were closing one of the best dockyards. Shortly before the war the dockyard was taken off the care-and-maintenance basis and opened again, but too short a time was allowed for proper arrangements to be made for its development. The result was that a great deal had to be done in a hurry, and a considerable amount of inconvenience has been caused.

Accommodation has had to be found for thousands of dockyard workers. The Admiralty have done everything they could to meet the needs of the men who have to be brought into the dockyard, but very considerable inconvenience is still being caused to the men employed there. If this dockyard had been allowed to develop from the state in which it was in 1925, we should not have been in the present position. There should have been a gradual development, including a system for housing the men employed in the dockyard. I have the greatest sympathy with the Admiral and his officers at the dockyard. They have had to tackle a most difficult job, but they have done it very well, considering, in addition to other things, the shortage of houses on both sides of the water. A great deal of credit is due to the Admiral and his officers, but everything is not yet as it should be. Housing accommodation is not adequate. Other Services have made demands upon the available accommodation, and this has complicated the difficulty of the task. I hope that, when we settle down again after the war and consider what to do with the resources at our disposal, a proper review will be made of the dockyard situation and that the same mistake will not be made as was made at the close of the last war. I hope this dockyard will not be reduced to a care-and-maintenance basis, after all the trouble and expense incurred since it was re-opened. The dockyard should be kept in commission.

I understand that a welfare officer has been appointed in connection with the arrangements that have been made at the dockyard and that a good job of work has been done in connection with the welfare of the dockyard men and the naval services. It was good to appoint an officer to attend to the welfare of men coming newly into the district and requiring advice and guidance. We have reason to congratulate ourselves on the present position, despite the fact that we are at war with such an enemy as our old enemy Germany. As I have already said, I believe that we shall overcome the enemy in due course. It may be a long and difficult path, but, at any rate, from the speech which we have heard, we have every reason to feel confident that we are going forward to victory.

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