§ 3. "That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £10, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 3rst day of March, 1943, for expenditure beyond the sum already provided in the grants for Navy Services for the year."
|Sums not exceeding|
|Supply Grants.||Appropriations in Aid.|
|1. Wages, &c., of Officers and Men of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines and of certain other personnel serving with the Fleet||10||38,000,000|
§ First Resolution read a Second Time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ Mr. Ammon (Camberwell, North)
I want to raise one or two small points, in order particularly to give the Minister an opportunity of answering some of the 1206 questions which he was unable by reason of time to answer when his Estimates were last before the House. I would first call attention to the fact that the hon. Member for the Eye Division (Mr. Granville) raised a Question in this House yesterday, addressing it to the Prime Minister, as to whether or not the Prime Minister was satisfied with the machinery set up for dealing with the U-boats. I did not hear the reply, but upon reading the report I thought that the Prime Minister dealt with it rather curtly; and the answer seems largely contradicted by the news that the Press carries this morning and by the statement made by the First Lord himself in the last Debate. I raise this matter merely in order that we may get some clarification of the position. I understand that the Prime Minister said quite categorically that he was not prepared to consider any change of machinery, but the Press this morning gives a statement to the effect that there has been a conference in Washington between representatives of America, Great Britain and Canada to consider a general policy to deal with the U-boat position. On the face of it, it seems as though there has been some variation in the position. The First Lord stated last Wednesday that General Smuts had visited the Admiralty and had expressed himself as satisfied with the arrangements that were made. I thought of asking, in this connection, whether we can have some statement of exactly what the position is about the conference announced this morning, its ramifications and its powers. Does it differ in any way from the position that has obtained hitherto?
I pass from that matter to refer to some points on which I sought some answer last week. First of all, I want again to ask whether all our shipyards are being fully used for shipbuilding and repair. What is the relative position between the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty and Sir James Lithgow? Can we have any statement as regards shipbuilding output? In that connection I would call the attention of the Minister to the 17th Report of the Select Committee on National Expenditure, which dealt with merchant shipbuilding and repair. In their recommendations there is one to which I call special attention. The Committee suggested there should be a training school for riveters set up in the main shipbuilding 1207 yards under the managements, and that inquiry should be instituted by the Ministry of Labour into the experience gained in the employment of women in other heavy industries and as to whether they could be employed in shipbuilding. They also ask whether the workers were doing satisfactory work, what steps were taken to see whether their reservations should be withdrawn and as to any use that had been made by the Ministry of Labour of consultation and of yard committees in order to smooth out any difficulties that might arise. They suggested that the Admiralty should specifically examine the problems and organisation of the slower and more costly shipyards and that a review should be made of yards engaged exclusively on naval work in order to ascertain whether they could take a certain percentage of merchant shipping.
§ Mr. Speaker
I must call the attention of the hon. Member to the fact that the Resolution of the Committee which we are now discussing deals solely with personnel. We cannot discuss shipbuilding.
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)
May we have your guidance, Mr. Speaker? Should we not be in Order on this Debate in referring to what has gone before in previous Debates on these Estimates in regard to aircraft, or are we debarred from so doing?
§ Mr. Speaker
It depends entirely upon what is said. If reference is made to the Fleet Air Arm, no doubt the personnel of the Fleet Air Arm comes under the Vote which we are discussing. Aircraft production for the Fleet Air Arm certainly does not.
§ Mr. Ammon
May I point out, Sir, that most of the points I have raised concerned personnel, particularly as to the employment of certain types of riveter and as to whether yard committees were being consulted, and so forth. I do not think I wandered very far from the strict bounds of Order. The other point I wish to raise, and which I raised last time, is the position of the security officer. What is his duty and what is his rank, and who is he? I see that that question was raised in another place some time ago. The answer 1208 which was given was not too clear. This will be an opportunity for the Minister to give us some indication on the matter. The only other point, having regard to your Ruling, Sir, which I want to put forward is whether we can have some information about the scholarship entries relating to new entrants. I want to refer to paragraphs 21 and 22 of the 17th Report of the Select Committee, which I think, having regard to your Ruling, will fall within the category of personnel. The Committee there deal with the question merely of the persons employed. I want to call special attention to this matter, and I crave the indulgence of the House while I read the paragraph. My first reference is in paragraph 22, where the Committee say:Though there is general agreement that workers in shipyards are working pretty well and the increased rate of output already referred to"——
§ Mr. Speaker
I have already stated that shipbuilding and shipyards is a subject not in Order on the Vote that we are now discussing.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
I hope I shall be in Order in making reference to the personnel of the staffs concerned with the technicalities of the aeroplanes used in the Fleet Air Arm. The matter was raised in the Debate last week. I am subject to your guidance, Sir, and will endeavour to keep within your Ruling. The unfortunate part about the House of Commons on such occasions as this is that technical knowledge among Members is conspicuous by its absence. My excuse for raising the matter is that I have been engaged all my life upon these technicalities, and throughout the whole of the war on technical matters relating to the Fleet Air Arm. I want to put it to the First Lord of the Admiralty that the staff concerned with the Fleet Air Arm is gravely deficient in one respect. The deficiency is felt equally in the Royal Air Force. It is a lack of a technical staff strong enough, and of great enough experience in aircraft design and construction to be able to 1209 criticise designs and to save the country from having to put up with inferior machines, simply because there is no one at the Admiralty capable of saying what the design should be.
Take the case in point raised by the hon. Member for Broxstowe (Mr. Cocks), of three aircraft in the Fleet Air Arm, I shall call them X, Y and Z. They were designed and produced originally by the same firm. It happens that that firm some years ago broke down to a large extent in the designing of aircraft. What the circumstances were, I do not know. Possibly the firm lost designers, or the skill of their designers fell off as the designers got older; but, notoriously, the productions of that firm became very inferior indeed. Aircraft X, of which there are a large number in the Fleet Air Arm, was, in its day, a most admirable machine for its purpose. At the beginning of the war, a replacement, which I call Y, was designed and put forward by the same firm. The replacement was approved by the Admiralty staff, but I venture to say that any competent engineer would have condemned it root and branch from the very start. I spent the whole of an afternoon in investigating the prototype, and I at once put in a real snorter of a report, pointing out that it was quite hopeless and that it could not possibly be any improvement upon machine X which was already in service.
I may say, as an example of the haphazard way in which these aircraft are designed, that one of the first modifications of the air-frame completely changed the whole principle underlying the design of the machine. But the trouble is this, that although in this particular instance it was clear to—I will not say an able but, at any rate, an experienced engineer—that this machine was unsuitable to replace the machine already in use, and although I put in a complete condemnation of it on the spot, not the faintest attention was paid to the remarks which I made upon it. It seems to me in that connection that a Member of this House on joining the Fleet Air Arm ought to demand to be made an admiral straight away; if that had been done in my case, possibly my views on matters within my experience might have received some consideration. However, as I say, I put in at once a report condemning this machine root and branch, and the operational people also condemned it from an operational 1210 point of view, yet over 600 of these wretched aircraft were turned out, and at least two and a half years were absolutely thrown away in producing aircraft which were inferior to the machines they were intended to replace.
§ Mr. Speaker
I think the hon. Member is now discussing the Ministry of Aircraft Production and not the administration of the Navy.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
Subject to your guidance, Sir, I was endeavouring, perhaps not very successfully, to point out that there was a deficiency of personnel in the Admiralty, and I was giving, perhaps at too great length examples to show how that deficiency of personnel affected the efficiency of the Fleet Air Arm. Subject to your Ruling, however, I shall try to reduce those examples to an absolute minimum. But I trust the First Lord will realise that the fiasco which I have described could not have happened if he had a technical body at the Admiralty capable of criticising the designs of machines. That is what I have asked for, again and again, in past years, both in the case of the Admiralty and in that of the Air Ministry, and why nothing has ever been done I cannot tell. Everything is in the hands of the aircraft firms, and everything depends upon the personnel of those firms. I ask the First Lord, even at this late hour, to consider this matter seriously. The one remedy is what I have been asking for on every possible occasion, namely, the creation of a proper technical staff at the Admiralty capable of saying what the aircraft ought to be like and capable of condemning those which are wholly unsuitable for the work which they are expected to perform.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
Anyone who listened to the Debates of last week and the previous week on the Navy Estimates and even those who have contented themselves with reading the speeches made on those occasions, will understand the deep anxiety of this House in regard to the present position. Usually, the statement made by the First Lord on the Navy Estimates is accepted by the House with a sort of generous enthusiasm, but anyone who attended this year's Debates on the Service Estimates will have realised that, for the first time, the House was giving the First Lord not only an anxious hearing but a rather cold reception. I think the situation was 1211 summed out by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish) in his very remarkable speech, when he said:I hope that public anger, anxiety and criticism will arise in consequence of what we have heard to-day."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1943; col. 796; Vol. 387.]That is a very serious statement, and the situation, of course, is serious—far more serious I should think, than it was at any time during the last war. One has but to consider the difference between the situation existing at any time during the last war and the situation which exists to-day. We all know how near disaster we came in the last war, but consider that in the last war we had at one time five navies fighting on our side and against us only one real navy. At present there are two of us, against two of the enemy. The Pacific, the Indian Ocean, the China Seas were all free in the last war. The really dangerous areas were the narrow seas, the coasts of Spain and France and the coast of Ireland. To a large extent the Mediterranean was free. At that time we had something like 950 destroyers helping to guard our convoys. That total was made up from the five navies which were on our side. In this war we had less than a quarter. That is how we were at the beginning of this war, when we were face to face with the situation as it had existed throughout 1938 and 1939.
There is another matter to which attention should have been called more often, and that is the difference between our merchant shipping position at the beginning of the last war and at the beginning of this. In the last war we occupied a dominating position as far as merchant ships were concerned. We had 8,578 motor ships and steamships, with a total of over 18,800,000 tons. At the beginning of this war we had, unfortunately, lost the dominating position, although we still had the premier position. We started this war with only 6,722 ships—a tonnage of 17,800,000 tons. So, we had 1,856 fewer ships and 1,000,000 tons less tonnage. At the same time, as has been said here time and again, we have 5,000,000 more mouths to feed and longer voyages to make. Not only that, but the Admiralty knew that they would be faced with a new combination of which they had not had any experience before. Previously, 1212 the combination which they had to face was that of the surface ships and the U-boats. There had not been much co-operation between the aeroplane and the submarine prior to this war. But they knew they would now have to meet that combination—that was the position which faced us on 3rd September, 1929.
I cannot do better than to quote these words as a warning:The position of the British Isles and Empire was such that effectual and final interruption of sea communications by any agencies meant—not defeat but destruction. Impotence, starvation, subjugation stalked across the mental screen.You can well imagine who wrote those words. They were written by the Prime Minister in his book "The World Crisis" with a knowledge of what was then the position in front of us. What was the attitude of the Admiralty? It was expressed by the hon. Baronet the Member for Norwich (Sir G. Shakespeare) in March, 1939, on these very Estimates, when he said:…the menace of the submarine will not be as serious as in the last war."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March, 1939; col. 653, Vol. 345.]Why did he say that? Because the Admiralty now thought that they had solved this difficulty with two things. One was the convoy system, and the other was the invention of the thing known as the Asdic. They were now so settled in their minds that they felt that the convoy system would supply the solution, the very Admiralty that had opposed the convoy system during the early years of the last war until they were compelled by criticism from outside to adopt it. Once having adopted it, their mind would travel no further but accepted it as a solution.
The hon. Baronet went on and said that with the Asdic you could locate a submarine nine times out of 10. They thought they were safe—without paying attention to the other side, that the submarines could locate the convoy and get information, not only from one another by radio, but also from the air. No wonder that after 3½ years of war the reception which the First Lord got from the House was a cool one, because what has been the attitude of the First Lord? He has indulged in what have become familiar to us now as his characteristic qualities—vanity, complacency, and a fretful resentment at any inquiry or even 1213 advice; and he assumes an attitude with regard to the Navy and with regard to the Admiralty of almost proprietary rights which is almost ludicrous. Just think what he said. He said that high officers were brought back from sea to advise him on operational matters.
§ The First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. A. V. Alexander)
The First Sea Lord.
§ Mr. Davies
Surely the First Lord was referring to himself. Will he again look, as I have looked, through the OFFICIAL REPORT? No one imagines that the First Lord has anything to do with operational matters. Operational matters are guided by the Prime Minister and the War Cabinet, and the First Sea Lord is his instrument. Operational matters require hour-to-hour supervision. Every moment of the day must be devoted to them, and no man guiding operational matters has any time to spare, as the right hon. Gentleman has to spare, for speech making, for inspection visits, and for social functions, of which I am perfectly sure he holds the record on that bench. Operational matters are not for him. Let him adopt the straightforward frankness of the Secretary of State for War, who, I observed recently, said when he was asked with regard to his position that he was responsible only for administration and organisation, that operational matters and strategy were not for him, but only for the Prime Minister and the War Cabinet. Instead of pretending that he has anything to do with regard to these matters, it would have been better if the right hon. Gentleman had confined himself to his real duty, that is, to provide the Navy with the materials they require.
What is the danger? In the last war the greatest number of U-boats out against us was 169, and in spite of our efforts we were within three weeks of disaster. What are the figures to-day? No one has suggested that less than 20 a month are being built. Varying figures—20 and 30—have been given. Let us take the middle figure; that is 300 a year, and that not without warning. One heard rumours during 1936, 1937, 1938 and the early part of 1939 about the increased preparations for the building of U-boats inland so that they could then be assembled and put straight in the sea.
§ Mr. Davies
That was known to us. There are the numbers. It has never been suggested that at any time we were sinking more U-boats than were being created. And what types? Types capable of going far longer distances than before, capable of far higher speeds, capable of operating in places where we never thought they could get to, capable now of being refuelled at sea, and of operating so far afield that one does not know of any spot where there is complete safety. What were the preparations to meet that? I have already quoted what the Admiralty attitude was just before the war began: "The U-boat menace will not be as serious as in the last war." What is our position to-day? What are our losses? We have been given information of the naval losses, and they are serious. A whole mighty fleet has gone, and with those vessels irreplaceable people. What are the losses to the cargo-carrying ships which the Admiralty have to protect? At one time we were told what these losses were. Why cannot we be told now? Why indulge us all the time with vague phrases such as we are given—"You will possibly have to tighten your belts," "Eat less bread," "The situation is menacing"? Tell us the facts. The people of this country have never been afraid of the truth. Tell them what the actual figures are. What is it suggested that that information would convey? It was given in an answer to-day, that it would convey information to the enemy. Cannot the enemy make calculations which are about nearly right?
§ Mr. Davies
Why not? The hon. and gallant Member for the Pollok division (Commander Galbraith), speaking last week, made a most interesting calculation, based on what? On a statement made by the Prime Minister and the general broadcasting as to what is the production from America and this country. The Prime Minister, standing at the Box, said that building exceeded losses by 1,250,000 tons. The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok says that, broadly, we know that 1215 the American building in 1942 was 8,000,000 tons, and the bulk of that must have been in the last six months. He makes a modest estimate and asks us to assume that the building was 4,250,000 tons and that the building of this country and Canada was 1,000,000 tons. That makes 5,250,000 tons. Deduct 1,250,000 tons from that, and what is the amount of loss in six months? It is 4,000,000 tons. What do the Germans claim? Eight million tons in 12 months. They can make calculations as near as no matter. What is the point of hiding information from them? How will it guide them in anything?
Is this the real truth? Are the Government afraid of publishing the figures because they may show inefficiency or neglect somewhere? The call is going to be much heavier as we go along. The call on these merchant ships and on the protecting ships of the Navy will increase as the American Forces leave America and go to various parts of the world; it will increase as the call of Russia for more supplies increases; it will increase as the call of Australia, New Zealand and India goes up; and of course it will increase the moment the second front starts. What are your preparations? The test of our real position is this. What tonnage is coming into this country under that protection today? What tonnage is coming in in petroleum, lubricating oil, raw materials, manufactured goods and food? We know that prior to the war we wanted 68,000,000 tons of raw material, manufactured articles and food. That was carried not only on British bottoms but on world shipping, upon which we were dependent. Every ship on the sea, belonging not only to us and to our Allies but to neutrals, was an asset to us. Every one lost was a dead loss to us.
The hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) made a most serious charge, which has not been answered. I call attention to his charge—the most serious of all—that the danger point has been passed. Is that true? If it is, it is time the people were told, so that we may know what is expected of us. If it is not true, raise our hearts by telling us what the true position is. What have the Government done to try to meet this menace? What is being done now? In February, 1941, the Prime Minister formed what he called 1216 the Battle of the Atlantic Committee. That is a high-sounding name, but even the name does not come up to the description he gave it. He said:It was formed under my personal direction, to focus and emphasise the need for supreme exertions.How often did this Committee meet? It lasted from February, 1941, to October, 1942. It met, all told, 18 times in those 20 months, and the bulk of those meetings were in the first few weeks of its existence. That is the Committee which the Prime Minister said.was formed under my personal direction, to focus and emphasise the need for supreme exertions.In October, 1942, he reconstituted it, and again put on men with full-time jobs. He is himself the hardest-worked of the lot, and he is Chairman. He put on the Minister of Aircraft Production.
§ Mr. Davies
What is the Admiralty doing in regard to these matters? How does it function in regard to these matters, and how is it really devoting itself to the most serious situation of all? The military situation is better, without a doubt. Production has improved. American production has gone up to almost astronomical figures. But if the Navy and the Merchant Service break down, production in America will remain in America, and not where it is wanted. Even our aircraft will be tied to the ground, for lack of petrol; and what becomes then of our military situation? Faster ships have been suggested. One of the right hon. Gentleman's first stories at that Box was about the seriousness arising from the slowness of convoys. Therefore, they ought to be speeded up. The right hon. Gentleman now puts forward two answers to the demand for fast ships. He says (1) that they take longer to build, (2) that they do not carry as much, and (3) that the losses among fast ships are really as bad as those among slow ships. That is one answer. The other is that we are building them.
§ Mr. Speaker
Shipbuilding comes under another Vote, and the hon. and learned Member cannot discuss it on Vote A.
§ Mr. Davies
I did not intend to go into detail on the matter, but the right hon. 1217 gentleman cannot have it both ways. If fast ships are the answer, they should have been begun before this. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty says that one-third of those on order or under construction are now in the fast category. If the disadvantages of the fast ships are as great as those of the slow ships, why build them? If the advantages are all on the side of the fast ships, why did we not start building them before now? How do we stand with regard to air protection? Coastal Command want aircraft. What is the reply from that Bench? "True," says the First Lord, "they are vital: the menace is serious; but I cannot get them." Is that correct? The First Lord also said that they took complete command over the Fleet Air Arm only in 1939. The Fleet Air Arm was formed in 1924. Complete control over it was in the hands of the Admiralty certainly in 1937; and from 1924, under the Balfour Committee, the Admiralty had full power to say what they wanted and what their demand was. They had full control over that. Air Marshal Newall has said publicly that whatever they demanded they got precisely and exactly.
I suppose that I would be out of Order if I ran through what has happened with regard to the Fleet Air Arm and all the failures that there have been. It is no good telling us about the heroic deeds of the men. We know them. Their story is not merely one of peril and anxiety. What might these boys have done if they had had the proper instruments in their hands. Would those two vessels have been to-day back in harbour in Germany if the policy of the Admiralty had been the correct one? What about the others that were to follow—the Albatross, the Skua and the Fulmar? Now we come to the last, the Barracuda, heard of in 1939. Now we are told that production is coming forward. We were told that nearly 12 months ago, I believe, in those exact words. What is the policy? Indeed, the First Lord pins his faith on what he has got. The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks), in that very able speech giving details and facts, had his doubts. I hope that the First Lord is right. We want to know, not these vague statements that something is now developing or coming forward or that we are thinking about them, but whether they are going to be in the hands of the Navy for operational purposes and in such quantities 1218 that operations can be carried out on a large scale. These are the matters which are worrying us.
May I end with this? The Admiralty has been for a very long time under the control of the right hon. Gentleman and also of the First Sea Lord, who has been there right from the outset of the war. The Navy, the protection of our shipping, the carriage of goods and of our men are the most vital things of all. We cannot possibly retain old methods standing between us and what is necessary for our own salvation, nor in any circumstances should any men or any set of men stand between us and what is required and the proper weapons being put into the hands of our men. It is for these reasons that I consider it to be right to call attention to these matters.
§ Mr. Astor (Fulham, East)
Mr. Speaker, I rise with a certain amount of confidence as I, unlike the previous speakers, really want to speak about Vote A, on the question of naval personnel, but before I start on that I would like to repudiate, disavow, and dissociate myself from, the personal attack on the First Lord for going round and visiting the Fleet. Nothing pleases the officers and men of the ports and fleets more than that members of the Board of Admiralty should take the trouble to visit them personally.
I do not know whether the House realises to what extent the Navy is now manned by men of the various Reserves. It has authoritatively been said that war at sea is no longer being fought by the Royal Navy, assisted by the R.N.V.R. and the R.N.R., but by the R.N.V.R. with a small leven of the Royal Navy. We are going to win the Battle of the Atlantic and the naval war in so far as we use all the talent available in the reserves to the best possible advantage. At the beginning of the war, the first Reservists who were called up were the R.N. retired, the Regular naval officer who had been passed over for promotion and had retired or who had found peace-time sailoring dull and had gone into some other work. It is rather important that, while it is fresh in our memory, it should be put on record that there was in peace-time no system by which the Admiralty could keep track of the capacities, abilities, health and other important points about officers who had 1219 retired. The result was that many officers were sent to climates which their health was completely incapable of withstanding and to work which they had lost the ability to perform.
I need not go into examples of that, but I will make the following constructive suggestions. In peace-time R.N. retired officers should be called up every two years for a medical examination and an interview; secondly, there should be in every county an association of R.N. retired officers, with a county secretary, whose job it would be to keep in touch with all retired Regular naval officers in his area and be able to advise the Second Sea Lord's Department of the kind of work to which they would be suitable in the event of mobilisation. Then the situation arising from putting many square pegs into round holes would not occur again. You get some R.N. retired officers who, in the ordinary course of age and the living of sedentary lives may not be very suitable for active work. On the other hand, some of the very best of Regular officers do get retired. Perhaps they may have had a clash with their immediate superior, or perhaps they have found peace-time sailoring dull, and they have often gone into business and made a great success of it. It is imperative that the R.N. retired officers who come back should be treated on absolute equality and have the chance of going right up after war starts. Striking examples of this are to be found in Admiral Somerville and Admiral Ramsay, two of the most successful flag officers the war has produced, who were both retired when the war began. It should be laid down officially that the R.N. officer retired should have the same right of promotion as the R.N. officer who is not retired.
The next category is the Royal Naval Reserve, who are officers of the Merchant Navy, who undergo certain training in peace-time and who are mobilised when war starts. It is a comparatively small force numerically, but it is very important that, if they are to be taken way from the Merchant Navy, where they are certainly needed, they should be given ample scope. They feel that they do not get an equal chance to command ships, and that the most they can get is the command of the corvette. A R.N.R. officer who might have commanded a corvette and have had 1220 a long sea experience will be passed over by a R.N. officer with far less experience. There have been exceptions, but it would please the R.N.R. very much if it was laid down by the First Lord that everybody should be considered for commands on their personal merits no matter the shape of the stripes on their arm. Another discrimination is that the R.N.R. officer has not the same advantage of progressive pay as the R.N. officer. There is a third point. Those who may not have been R.N.R. officers before the war but have been called up and put into the Sea Transport Department get far quicker promotion than those who have been regular R.N.R. officers and are serving at sea.
These are comparatively small classes compared with the R.N.V.R. As a pure guess, taking rough figures, I should say that the R.N.V.R. constitute about 80 per cent. of the naval officers to-day, yet their prospects of promotion and command are poor compared to what they would have had if they had gone into the Army or into the Royal Air Force. In the Army, if you are appointed to an appointment as a G1 or G2, no matter what your rank may be, you get the rank of that appointment when you are holding it.
That is not the case in the Navy. I have known a case of an R.N.V.R. officer, lieutenant, who took on a captain's job but remained a lieutenant for a long time. The argument the authorities put forward is that, if you know your job, with the prestige of the Navy behind you, you are capable of holding your own with officers who are doing equivalent work in the Army or Royal Air Force, no matter if they hold superior rank to you. That is true to a certain extent, but is it fair on their wives? Is it fair that the wife of a junior R.N.V.R. officer holding a job which would normally be a commander's R.N. job, who may be living in the same place as the wife of the Army officer, should not be able to have the same pay and allowances and to be able to extend hospitality and generally take the position she would have had if her husband had been in the Army and had been given the equivalent rank and pay of the job he was holding? There is no doubt in the Navy that stripes do count, and if an R.N.V.R. officer is suitable to hold a job, he should get the equivalent stripes. At the present moment many R.N.V.R. officers do not get the job for which they are suitable because they have not the stripes. It is a 1221 vicious circle. You occasionally get offices where work is done by an R.N.V.R. officer, and an R.N. officer wears the brass hat.
The Admiralty try to have it both ways. If there is a rear-admiral retired like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) and he cannot be given an admiral's job and is given a captain's job, then they de-stripe him downwards; but they do not stripe reserve officers upwards to their jobs. That is not really a fair situation. In peace-time the argument of the Admiralty is that anybody who holds lieut-commander's rank or commander's rank should be suitable for any commander's job or any job of that rank. He must be suitable to command a destroyer, to be a staff officer or an intelligence officer or whatever it may be. That is a proper ideal in peacetime, but it is not practicable in war-time. Many R.N.V.R. officers are suitable to go up to one particular job, it may be a mine-sweeping job or a staff job, although they may not be capable of being Commander in the "Queen Elizabeth." But you cannot have this standard in war-time although it is a proper ideal in peace. The present system makes it impossible to employ your R.N.V.R. officer to the fullest extent of their capabilities.
I would like to say a word for the regular R.N.V.R. officer who was in the reserve before the war vis a vis the "hostility only" naval officer. We have many officers wearing R.N.V.R. stripes who are not really volunteers or reservists. They are not volunteers in the sense that they were called up in their age group; they are not reservists in the sense that they did not join and train before the war.
There is a feeling among Regular R.N.V.R. officers that they should have some sort of recognition because of the fact that there was very little encouragement given to them. They fitted themselves by peace time training, often in their own time and at their own expense. It is said sometimes that it would be better if they all wore the same stripes, and I know some Regular R.N.R. officers think that R.N.V.R. officers would have more authority if he wore straight stripes. I have spoken to many R.N.V.R. officers, and I can assure the First Lord that many of us are as proud of our wavy stripes as the Highlander is of his wavy kilt and 1222 we would give them up with the greatest possible reluctance. If you are to use the R.N.V.R. to the fullest extent, it would be advisable to have some staff courses in order to train R.N.V.R. officers for such appointments.
An R.N.V.R. officer has an advantage in a staff appointment in that he has a certain degree of independence; he is not making the Navy his career, and he does not have to think of his prospect of promotion later. The present system of confining big ships and destroyers to R.N. officers—with certain exceptions, I know—corvettes to R.N.R. officers and light craft and the Fleet Air Arm to R.N.V.R. officers does mean that in the Fleet Air Arm and the light coastal forces nearly all the practical experience is now in the hands of R.N.V.R. officers. That fact, after only four years of war, should be recognised. If we are to get the maximum efficiency, R.N.V.R. officers should be taken into the Admiralty, high up. I do not think it is unreasonable to hope that we may see an R.N.V.R. officer on the Board of Admiralty before the war is out. Finally, on this question of the use of personnel, may I say that members of the W.R.N.S. are being most useful in many ways, but there are still many jobs ashore, such as paymasters, admirals' secretaries and staff jobs of various kinds for which university-educated women could definitely be trained so that more men could be released for sea duties. A lot has been done, but there is still more to do.
I hope the First Lord will realise that these suggestions have been put forward in a most friendly spirit; there is no question of airing grievances, still less any personal one, as probably the three happiest years of my life have been those I have spent in the Navy. Personal relations between the R.N. and the R.N.V.R. have been, and are, absolutely excellent, and while I am on this question of personnel may I mention two things which do not come directly on this Vote? The hon. and learned Member who spoke last said that we were fighting alone. Well, I have worked with the Greek Navy, which works so closely with us that one never pauses to think whether a man is Greek or English. He is just one of us. Perhaps the House may have heard of the Greek submarine "Papanicolis," which performed the unprecedented feat 1223 of torpedoing three Italian transports with one salvo. They may not have heard the comment of a Greek in a club in Cairo who buttoned-holed everybody who came in and said, "I know the officer in command of that submarine. He was going to be turned out of the Navy before the war because of defective eyesight. Think of how many more he might have torpedoed if he could have seen properly!"
And whatever political and other differences may have arisen between the Fighting French and ourselves, they have never been reflected in the relations of the Royal Navy and the Fighting French Navy. There has been the happiest possible co-operation. In Syria we worked in the same offices, and kept no secrets from each other. It was a real joy to work with them and with the Greeks; we have been a band of brothers. I cannot ask the First Lord to give a detailed answer to all the suggestions I have put forward to-day, but I hope he will look into them sympathetically, because I am not putting my own views but views widely held by R.N.V.R. and R.N.R. officers who are proud to be associated with the service of which the right hon. Gentleman is head.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
I want to commend the speech which has just been made by the hon. Member for East Fulham (Mr. Astor), whose practical suggestions will, I hope, be noted by the Admiralty. The tone and temper of his speech were very different from that which was made a short time ago by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), to whom I would like to utter a word of warning. It is this: When a critic criticises everything, there comes a time when not so much notice is taken of him. When a critic devotes himself to criticism on every subject, his criticism loses effect, and probably his criticism of the First Lord to-day would have been more effective if it had not been his habit to criticise everything. Every time he speaks he seems to be a harsh critic of everything the Government are doing, and I hope he will take a lesson from that and sometimes see the good points in what the Government are doing from time to time.
Now I would like to ask the First Lord whether it is possible to cut out some of the bunkum associated with speechmaking 1224 luncheons. I am not objecting to the speeches, but the fact that they are made at luncheons does not go down well with the public at a time when there are restrictions on food. Is it not possible for meetings or gatherings to be arranged without having a luncheon? I hope the Government will take note of what is being said in the country. I want to refer principally, however, to a matter which caused me grave concern in the Debate on the Navy Estimates last week, when the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) made a criticism of certain things he alleged to have happened and charged the Admiralty with something which ought to have been met more fully than it was met. Dealing with the loss of three ships, the hon. Member said in that Debate:I can tell the House of the conditions in which certain fast vessels were lost. I am not intending to give information to the enemy and therefore I shall not name the vessels. They were three very fast vessels of round about 20,000 tons. I am trying to be as evasive as possible. They were on their way home, possibly in the South Atlantic, and they were torpedoed. They were sailing singly. I have always maintained that these vessels could sail singly and elude submarines. The Admiralty evidently believe that, because these vessels were sailing singly. They were three of our finest vessels but I shall not mention the names of the companies. They were all lost. Why? They were all torpedoed within seven days, because the Admiralty ordered those vessels not to sail at their normal speed but to reduce speed to 15 knots in order to save oil fuel."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1943; cols. 738–9, Vol. 387.]That is a damning indictment if there is any truth in that statement. When I heard it I thought the First Lord would have been on his feet at once to repudiate it. Why he did not was probably because, not having had notice, he wanted to examine the position before replying. Later my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary did make a reply, and this is what was said:MR. HALL: I was about to reply to the specific point concerning the saving of fuel. I want to assure the House that what was done was not done for the purposes of economy. The ship referred to——MR. SHINWELL: Three ships.MR. HALL: One of the ships referred to by my hon. Friend took on sufficient fuel to reach a certain port at full speed. It was discovered that there was an assembly of attacking submarines on the route through which the ships would have had to go, and this ship was, therefore, diverted from the normal route, with the result that the distance it had to travel was 1225 very much longer than the distance allowed for by the amount of oil fuel which was taken aboard. There was no instruction whatever that these ships should go at a slower speed to save oil. As I have said, they started out with sufficient oil for a full-speed journey without deviation. I think the explanation is quite clear. The course had to be altered for safety reasons. Owing to the route being much longer, the ship could not go at full speed, but had to travel at reduced speed. There was no instruction that there should be a saving of fuel.MR. SHINWELL: May I ask one question? There are survivors of these ships, including officers. Has the question of what they think of the slowing down of these vessels been put to them? The officers ought to know.MR. HALL: It is impossible to give a reply to that question.MR. SHINWELL: Will you inquire?—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1943; cols. 754–5, Vol. 387.]What I want to know is whether the Government have made inquiries into that statement made by the hon. Member for Seaham and whether the House can be given a denial of the allegations made in that statement. I cannot believe the hon. Member's statement is true, and for the honour of the Navy and the country I have taken this opportunity of raising this question specifically to give the First Lord or somebody on the Front Bench an opportunity of refuting it if they can. I warned the hon. Member for Seaham and the First Lord that I intended to raise this question to-day if I had the opportunity. It is so serious that one feels that it ought to be brought to light again in order to give the First Lord a chance of explaining the position. I do not know much about naval matters, but I felt that this was a matter which should be straightened out for the satisfaction of myself and the country.
§ Rear-Admiral Beamish (Lewes)
I intend to make only a very short speech and to refer in particular to a question of personnel, but before I do that I would like to refer to the speech made by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies). I welcomed that speech because I cannot help feeling that a great deal of useful light is thrown upon professional subjects when a clear and trained mind which is not professional in respect of the subject under discussion is brought to bear on our Debates. Many of the points raised by the hon. and learned Member were very interesting, but with regard to his reference to losses by submarines may I say that the principal thing 1226 is to leave the enemy in every possible doubt, puzzled as to what is going on? Let the enemy tell his stories. If we once embark upon a policy of publishing figures, one never knows where it might end. It might end by having to give the numbers of ships or even their names. When one considers the different areas of ocean, the North and South Atlantic, the coast of South America, the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean, my own feeling is that we should keep these figures completely from the enemy.
I want to say a word or two about the admirable speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Fulham (Mr. Astor). What he said about officers and men of the Reserve, and not of the Reserve, who now form part of the Navy I cordially endorse. It may be interesting to the House to know that at the end of the last war the number of officers and men who had come into the Navy as compared with the Regular officers and men was something like four and a half or five to one, and I should be greatly surprised if that figure had not been greatly exceeded in this war. I think the claims of officers with R.N.V.R. experience should be carefully considered by the Admiralty.
The personnel question concerns the coastguards, of which the Admiralty have operational control. I understand they are not paid by the Admiralty, and I hope I am in Order in mentioning it, because they must at least have some of their apparatus paid for by the Admiralty, and, as I understand they are an armed force, they must come under the Admiralty Vote in some way or another. These thousands of men are under the Naval Discipline Act, which subjects them to court-martial—and some have been court-martialled—a most serious thing for people to have to suffer, so that the care and consideration of our coastguards is very much an Admiralty question. The answer which the Deputy Prime Minister recently gave to a Question I addressed to him made it clear that this force has been looked after at different times since 1924 by five different Ministries. At the present time there is a thorough muddle about how a man in my constituency, who belongs to the coastguard and was working under the operational control of the Admiralty and was wounded a short time ago, is to be compensated. If I cared to do so, I could 1227 make a big case of this matter, but I do not want to do that; I ask the First Lord to be good enough to look into the matter with a view to seeing whether it is possible to simplify the whole system with regard to this force and for this wonderful and dear old force to come back completely under the Admiralty, as it was when I was a young man. I want, finally, to refer to publicity. I would remind the First Lord that although I mentioned this matter in my speech in the Debate on the Estimates, he did not say what I hoped he would say, that the Admiralty would do everything they could in every way and without stinting the supply of officers, men or money to promote the best possible publicity for the Navy, which for a long time has not had anything like sufficient publicity.
§ Mr. Cocks (Broxtowe)
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) said how tragic it was that the pilots of the Fleet Air Arm had not been provided in the past with the very best machines. All of us are glad to know that in the Martletts, Hurricanes and Seafires they have better machines now. Although those machines are very good, I feel sure the Admiralty will not be satisfied to allow the matter to rest there, but will go on to get better ones. After all, two of those machines are already slightly slower than the latest German fighters and even the Seafire, which the First Lord described as the best naval fighter in existence, is only a modification of Spitfire V and is not so good as the Spitfire IX which is in use by the Royal Air Force at the present time. I was very glad to hear what the First Lord said about new types being developed and I hope they will come into operational use soon.
Some remarks that I made last week about the Barracuda have caused some resentment on the part of a firm of aircraft manufacturers. I wish to say that I made no criticism at all of the workers or workmanship. I said that, not being an expert engineer myself, if I were shown the machine I would not know whether it was a good one or not. I said that certain authorities had criticised the design and told me that it was defective in many ways, and that they did not like it at all. In his reply to me the First Lord said that the defects had been cleared away and that, according to all the professional 1228 advice he had, the machine was first-class. I was very glad indeed to hear that, and, of course, I accept that statement. I hope the right hon. Gentleman's professional advice will have been correct and that the Barracuda will prove a real success and a terror to our country's foes. The last thing I want to say is anything that might discourage either the workers making the machines or the pilots flying them.
May I say a word or two about the men in Coastal Command? The other day the Secretary of State for Air paid a great tribute to them. He described how the crews go out in all weather and sometimes for 24 hours at a stretch, cooped up in the same machine. He said also, on another occasion, that as a result of the work of the crews of Coastal Command, no U-boat dared at the present time to show itself on the surface within 300 miles of our shores. On the American side there has been a similar statement that since 9th September not a single ship has been sunk by a submarine in the 1,000,000 square miles of water coming under the operational area of the First Bomber Command of the United States Army. There is, therefore, on both sides an area dominated by land-based aircraft where submarines have to keep below the water. What we have done on both sides of the Atlantic within 300 miles of the shores we want to do in mid-ocean as well and to drive the submarine from there. To do that Coastal Command ought to be equipped with fast long-range shore-based bombers of the very latest types. As the Secretary of State for Air said, the crews have to be out in all weathers and sometimes for 24 hours at a stretch. Even Whitleys, Wellingtons and Halifaxes are really not good enough for these men. They ought to have the best machines. I hope the Admiralty will insist that they be provided with the finest long-range bomber that exists—the Lancaster. I hope they will do that because this battle against the U-boat is the supreme issue between life and death for this country.
§ Mr. Granville (Eye)
I am sure that no one who heard the speech in which my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks) dealt with the Barracuda would accuse him of desiring to discourage the workers, the designing staffs or the managements in the aircraft industry. I think my hon. Friend did a great deal of 1229 good by raising this matter in a public-spirited way. A little prodding of those responsible for priorities in supply will undoubtedly have done great good.
I want to refer briefly to the question of supply in regard to the Fleet Air Arm, which was raised in the Debate on the Navy Estimates, because I am not satisfied that the House has given sufficient attention to the supply of aircraft for the Fleet Air Arm. The First Lord of the Admiralty, in a public speech, has appealed to the public to see that the Fleet Air Arm get better aircraft, but last week, in the Debate on the Estimates, the right hon. Gentleman said that the Fleet Air Arm were receiving from the factories increasing supplies of better aircraft. I have looked up the OFFICIAL REPORT, and I find that the First Lord said the same thing in last year's Debate on the Estimates. If the supplies of better aircraft were increasing last year, why does the right hon. Gentleman now have to make an appeal to the public to help him out of his difficulty? As public opinion is represented by hon. Members, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will pay great attention to the speech that was made by the hon. and gallant Member for Hythe (Lieut.-Commander Brabner), who is one of the distinguished young naval flyers and who Knows a great deal about this matter. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take heed of the special plea that was made by the hon. and gallant Member to see that the gallant naval airmen are given better aircraft. It is no good the First Lord coming to the House and telling us that he is leaving no stone unturned, that everything in the garden is lovely, and that these things are going to be all right. The public has a very lively sense of the enormous debt which the country owes to our young naval airmen. People do not forget what happened when the "Scharnhorst" and the "Gneisenau" went up the Channel and the young naval pilots went out literally to certain death in those antiquated crates, the Swordfish. It is not enough for the First Lord time after time to tell us here and to say in public speeches that these things will get better.
According to the Prime Minister, we shall have to undertake enormous responsibilities in the Far East when we have disposed of Hitler. An increasing responsibility will then be placed upon the Fleet Air Arm. Can the right hon. 1230 Gentleman give us an assurance now that when the Fleet Air Arm have to go out and fight, as the Americans are having to fight now, in the Pacific, they will be given adequate, efficient and effective aircraft to enable them to undertake their responsibility? I know what the First Lord's position is. He looks over his shoulder and says "I shall be able to look to the United States of America for the supplies of those particular dive-bombers and torpedo-bombers which I may require." But this is an important question for the British Admiralty. Aircraft are vital to the Fleet, as recent actions have shown. Technical design, research and development do not stand still at the present time. It is just as vital to design effective and efficient sea-fighters, 21 inch torpedo-bombers and machines of that kind, as it is to design battleships. They are complementary. If the right hon. Gentleman continues to look over his shoulder and say, "I hope the supplies from America will come forward in quantities which will enable us to face our obligations in the Pacific," he will be taking upon himself an enormous responsibility. Surely, it is absolutely vital to the future of the British fleet, to our responsibilities to the Dominions and the part we shall have to play when we go to the Pacific war, to see that no stone is left unturned to produce now our own 21 inch torpedo-bombers and other effective machines for the Fleet Air Arm.
I think the country is getting extremely tired of general appeals for effective and efficient machines for the Fleet Air Arm. This country has an enormous potential in aircraft production. There are sufficient brains in the industry in this country to enable us to give them efficient aircraft to fly. Why should we, year after year when the Navy Estimates come before the House, have to appeal, almost like the Cinderella of the Services, for better aircraft for naval purposes. I have come to the conclusion that it is not so much a question of production capacity as of Ministerial capacity. I understand I should be out of Order if I developed that matter any further. The right hon. Gentleman has his representatives on the Council of the Ministry of Aircraft Production. Is he satisfied that there is sufficient drive, sufficient control and sufficient contacts with regard to these problems? I hope he will give his attention to this matter. When the Prime Minister returned from 1231 his famous visit to Moscow, he said that Russia is a great land animal and we are a great sea animal. That sort of thing may be O.K. for Kipling, but it is not going to be satisfactory for the great responsibilities of the British Commonwealth of Nations, not only in the war but in the future of sea power as well. We are a sea and air animal to-day, or we are nothing at all.
I asked the Prime Minister yesterday whether it was his intention to set up an Allied Anti-U-boat General Staff on the lines suggested by Field-Marshal Smuts. The Prime Minister said it was not his intention to do this. What Field-Marshal Smuts was advocating was not a General Staff in this country, with the Prime Minister or the Minister of Aircraft Production as Chairman, but an Allied General Staff for combating the menace of U-boat warfare. The Prime Minister gave that a direct negative, but, in reading the newspapers this morning, I see there seems to have been a discussion with the object of some co-operation between the British, Canadian and American naval and air forces. I hope the First Lord will tell us that he recognises that this is the only way we can lose the war and that we are going to play our full share if the Americans are prepared, with members of the British Commonwealth, to come in and form an Allied General Staff for concerted measures. The right hon. Gentleman was attacked in a Sunday paper by Mr. H. G. Wells, who asked for the First Lord's scalp. He thinks he ought to go. As far as I am concerned if the First Lord is finding difficulties in the War Cabinet and cannot get his supplies of up-to-date aircraft, he ought to come to the House of Commons, and we will back him up and see that he gets them.
§ The First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. A. V. Alexander)
I had not intended to intervene at this stage in the Debate, having already spoken twice at some length, but, while some of the points that, have been put can be covered better and in detail by the Financial Secretary, who has had notice of some of them, I think it is necessary for me to say a few things in regard to specific questions which have been put to me and also perhaps to say a few words about the comments of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. Clement Davies), an 1232 extraordinary attack of a somewhat personal kind not reminiscent of his old friendship with me. The statement in the Press to-day that a conference had been taking place with regard to the co-ordination of the U-boat campaign refers to one of a series of conferences. It is not new. We have always been anxious and have been in consultation with our Allies in that respect. The statement is designed to make the position plain. The conference will be followed by further conferences. I have nothing to add therefore to the statement of the Prime Minister with regard to the setting-up of an Anti-U-Boat Warfare Committee. I also tried to make it plain that the general responsibility for the anti-U-boat campaign rests with the Admiralty in its actual daily operations. The Anti-U-Boat Warfare Committee, which is so comprehensive as to cover all the Departments which are concerned, of course meets regularly under the Prime Minister and gives constant attention to the policy and direction.
§ Mr. Alexander
No, it is one of a series of conferences which take place between the staffs of the respective navies and other Forces and will in no way impinge upon or take away from the work of the Anti-U-Boat Committee.
§ Mr. Granville
Does that mean that machinery is being set up for the purpose of closer co-operation in measures to be taken to deal with U-boat warfare?
§ Mr. Alexander
Yes, the whole idea is to get the greatest possible co-ordination and to pool all possible ideas that can be gathered to help us to improve the campaign against the U-boat. I hope that is now quite clear.
The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery seemed to be very concerned because he thought I was developing vanity, complacency, resentment of criticism, and I suppose over-confidence. I must say that I am not able to attend the House as often as I should like because of the pressure of departmental work, but I read the Debates whenever. I cannot come, and I come as often as I can. As for vanity, I should 1233 think there are Members who are constant critics every day and every week on all subjects under the sun who can give me a long start. They may not have any complacency of the kind with which the hon. and learned Gentleman charges me, but no one can say, arising out of the report I made on the year's naval work, that there was anything complacent in it. The situation is much too serious, and it is increasing every day and every hour. When the hon. and learned Gentleman talked about our going out to functions and speaking—for instance, to the Institute of Marine Engineers and functions of that kind or, maybe, to special appeals which they ask the Government to come and support—I wonder if he realises that we have to take it out of ourselves afterwards by working late into the night. I am not prepared to accept a general charge from the hon. and learned Gentleman that this office is not fully seized of the urgency of this great job. We are putting in vastly more hours of work than our critics who talk about these things. I hope when the hon. and learned Gentleman reflects a little on what he has said he will think that perhaps it would have been wiser not to indulge in some of the things that he said. I always accept advice from my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), an old Member of the House who is highly respected, and if his advocacy can help to get me out of some of these things. I shall be very glad of his support, but there is very heavy pressure from other Members to do just the opposite. Moreover, I am often asked to enlarge the publicity for the Navy, to spread abroad their wonderful work and to impress their needs upon the world.
§ Mr. Tinker
It is a difficult matter, but it does not go well with the public when they see big functions being held in times of rationing. I only give it as a warning. I know how difficult it is.
§ Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the so-called banquet on occasions of this kind is simply an excuse for the speech and that it is not a case of guzzling?
§ Mr. Alexander
I do not initiate these things, and if they could be reduced, no one would be more pleased than I. If the hon. and learned Gentleman reads his own speech, I think he will have to agree that it proves conclusively that the Navy, 1234 left alone on the seas as it was from May, 1940, must not only have been very gallant but must have been very well administered and led to have saved the country from defeat. That is my case. Instead of bringing blame and criticism against those who have been in control, the hon. and learned Gentleman should be thanking them very sincerely. He referred to the fact that the First Sea Lord has occupied his position during the whole period of the war. I think we can look back upon it and say, "Thank God for the First Sea Lord." He has pulled us through a naval situation without precedent in the country's history, and I am truly grateful to him for what he has done for me, and far more grateful for what his services have been to the country in carrying us through without risk of defeat.
The general situation to-day is one of continued anxiety. Do not let my hon. and learned Friend believe for a moment that those who are responsible for this sea battle do not know that and are not working night and day. There is not a single thing we can do that we would not try in order to meet the situation. My hon. Friend the Member for Eye (Mr. Granville) referred to attacks upon me in a newspaper last Sunday by Mr. H. G. Wells with regard to the introduction of the helicopter or auto-giro. I wrote Mr. Wells a secret letter in January, 1941, in reply to a letter from him, and he wrote back and said that he had burned my answer. He quoted only one part of that letter in his article last Sunday, probably from memory. The real situation is that, with regard to the helicopter, if it had not been for the action taken and supported by the staff of the Admiralty, we would not be in the position in which we are to-day of coming close to the delivery and equipment of ships with helicopters, which, of course, have yet ultimately to be proved completely to fulfil all that is claimed of them. We will leave no real hopeful thing untried in this great struggle against the U-boats and other forms of modern warfare attack.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh raised—and I am glad he did—the question which was raised by the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) last week. We have looked into it, and I have prepared a statement about it. My hon. Friend had the courtesy to tell me he was going to raise it. I will say, if my 1235 hon. Friend will allow me, the exact words I have prepared, so that I can be quite certain about it. Last Wednesday the hon. Member for Seaham alleged that three ships had been lost as a result of instructions to proceed at less than full speed in order to save fuel. As the Financial Secretary stated, ships are never ordered to sacrifice speed solely to save fuel. I desire to repeat that assurance in the most categorical manner possible. Of course, it must be recognised that naval authorities in route-ing ships often have to make a choice between two or more risks. A ship may have to be diverted on to a longer course in order to avoid a known danger, and this may mean that in order to retain sufficient fuel to have endurance to complete the voyage, the ship may have to reduce speed for a part of the time. This was what happened in the case which my hon. Friend described last Wednesday. The local route-ing authority was faced with the choice of directing the ship to an intermediate port to refuel, which would have meant that she would, have had to cross a known concentration of U-boats twice, going in and coming out, or of sending her direct to her destination on a wide sweep, which meant that for reasons of endurance the ship would have had to drop below her full speed for part of the voyage. The officer concerned chose the second alternative. Officers in those very serious responsible outposts often have to take the most difficult decisions of that kind. They are inevitable, and occasionally it is inevitable that decisions taken after the most deliberate judgment will be frustrated, but we do not hear of the numerous occasions upon which directions of that kind have been carried out and the ship saved.
I have replied to-day to a specific question about one ship which I think the hon. Member for Seaham may have had in mind, though I have made it clear that the circumstances are different from those which he suggested. I have been unable to discover any record of two similar instances to account for the number of three which was mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. It is possible that in similar circumstances similar instructions may have been given to other vessels, but if the hon. Gentleman cares to give me the names of the ships that he had in mind I shall be only too glad to make further 1236 inquiries. I would repeat that in no circumstances would vessels be instructed to reduce their speed in order to save fuel for the sake of saving fuel.
I listened with great interest to two other speeches which I will leave to my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary. My hon. Friend the Member for East Fulham (Mr. Astor) brought points to my notice which I shall be glad to see carefully studied, not merely by the political representatives of the Admiralty but by those in charge of the personnel administration. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will give him some information with regard to the details. As regards the case made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish) about publicity, I took careful note of what was said before, and I will see that every possible step is taken to have the proper staff and money provided as far as we are able to secure what he needs. I feel confident that the appointment of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir W. James) will be a very useful factor in that direction. As regards coastguards, they are not borne on this Vote, but I am having careful note taken of what my hon. and gallant Friend said.
§ Rear-Admiral Beamish
The point I wanted to stress is that, although these men are not paid by the Admiralty, they are borne on ships' books and are subject to the fierce workings of the Naval Discipline Act and suffer from a certain number of shortcomings which seem very unfair.
§ Mr. Alexander
I have taken note to look into it again. Coastguards are not a charge on the Vote, and the question may have to be taken up with the Minister of Pensions.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. George Hall)
There are a few matters of detail which have been put by my hon. Friend the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) and my hon. Friend the Member for East Fulham (Mr. Astor). My hon. Friend the Member for North Camberwell asked whether any information could be given about the Security Officer at the Admiralty. I am not sure whether my hon. Friend has already received a letter from me asking him what he really means. There is a letter in the post for him.
§ Mr. Hall
I am afraid I cannot make it any clearer, but when my hon. Friend sees the letter, which he should have had by now, he will see the difficulty not only of myself but of those who are at the Admiralty. My hon. Friend raised another question of great interest and importance with regard to the entries into Dartmouth under the scholarship scheme. This was started in 1941, and there have been five entrance examinations. At each of them the full number of scholars were entered, namely, 10 from grant-aided secondary schools and 10 from other schools. In addition, two sons of ratings have been awarded scholarships, making a total of 102 scholars entered since the scheme started. Many of the scholars are sons of parents in moderate or poor circumstances. They receive liberal financial assistance and in several cases all fees and charges have been remitted or purely nominal fees have been charged. The scheme is working satisfactorily from the point of view of both the college itself and the material which has been secured as a result of examinations. It can be voted as a really good scheme.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Fulham made an interesting and helpful speech concerning the various branches and grades of officers who are serving in the Royal Navy. He referred to the R.N's, the R.N.R's and the R.N.V.R's. I was pleased that he paid such a glowing tribute to the work of these officers. He referred to the relationship as being excellent and said that many of the officers in the R.N.R. and R.N.V.R.—and he speaks with some authority as he has worked with them—were capable of further advancement. The gap in naval experience between the regular and reserve officers is steadily growing less and the policy of appointing reserve officers to specialist courses hitherto reserved for R.N. officers has proved very successful. As a result of their experience, R.N.R. and to a lesser degree R.N.V.R. officers have been appointed to sea-going commands and other appointments which were hitherto filled with R.N. officers only. My hon. Friend referred to the fact that R.N.R. officers man or command 1238 corvettes and that R.N.V.R. officers command the smaller craft. That is true, and it can be said that four-fifths of the corvettes are manned by R.N.R. officers, whereas R.N.V.R. officers command almost all the minor ships. In addition, a substantial number of R.N.R. officers are employed as commodores of coastal convoys and a number are also employed as commanders or commodores of ocean-going convoys. My hon. Friend can see that there is this steady march forward of officers in both the branches.
With regard to the specific points which he put, as my right hon. Friend the First Lord has said, they will receive the sympathetic consideration of the Admiralty. One point was that there should be some mark of distinction as between officers who serve in the R.N.V.R. and the R.N.R., that is, between what may be regarded as permanent officers and temporary officers. While we are aware that the permanent service R.N.R. and R.N.V.R. officers are anxious that they should be distinct in some way from the temporary officers there are difficulties which it is not altogether easy to explain, but this matter is receiving consideration. The other point he put was that there should be more Staff College and other courses for the R.N.V.R. The majority of the places in specialist courses for naval officers are filled by officers of the Reserves. The staff course has been in abeyance since the beginning of the war, but its reinstitution in a modified war-time form is under consideration both for R.N. and Reserve officers. Further, in accordance with the traditional policy of the Navy that instruction should as far as possible be given at sea large numbers of R.N.V.R. officers are appointed to ships for instruction.
A further point which the hon. Member put was that there should be some system to discover in peace-time who are good and who are bad officers amongst the Reserve of Officers. Before the war the Admiralty were able to pass about 1,000 retired officers through courses of instruction which enabled them to judge in some degree the capacity of those officers. It might be possible to reintroduce this system in a wider form after the war, so that all retired officers should at intervals go through some courses of this sort. The difficulty is that this would only provide a very rough means of 1239 judging an officer's suitability for positions of responsibility. I am not sure that any satisfactory method can be found, but the matter and the points which the hon. Member put in his speech will, as my right hon. Friend said, receive the attention of the Admiralty. I do not think any other points were raised which have not been answered by the First Lord or myself, and I should like to conclude by expressing our thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks) for his interesting contribution and the explanation which he gave.
§ Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.
§ Second and Third Resolutions agreed to.
§ REPORT [25th February]
§ Resolutions reported: