§ Order for Committee read.
§ The First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. A. V. Alexander)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
The naval war in 1943 has been marked by three dates which stand out like peaks along our road to victory. The first, which is rather a short period than a date, was the last 10 days of March; the second, 11th September, and the third, 26th December. The last two will be readily identified. On 11th September, with poetic justice, the major units of the Italian Fleet anchored under the guns of the fortress of Malta. On 26th December, the "Duke of York," and other ships of His Majesty's Home Fleet, destroyed the "Scharnhorst," which, following upon the amazing attack on the "Tirpitz" by our midget submarines, was the last of the effective full-sized German capital ships. The few days from 20th March onwards were, perhaps, an even more important turning point, for, in that short space of time, the trend of merchant shipping losses changed with a suddenness which it is hardly possible to exaggerate.
In the previous December, January and February, merchant losses had shown a welcome reduction, after the peak which they had reached in November, 1942. This reduction in the winter was, however, partly due to the weather, for that winter in the North Atlantic was one of the worst on record, hampering the U-boats and subjecting their crews to considerable strain; but, of course, the escorts and our aircraft were also affected, indeed more than the U-boats, since they suffered more severely from weather damage. Nor did the U-boats in any way relax their efforts, notwithstanding the stresses which they had undergone. In the first 20 days of March, the losses leapt up again, and 1897 among ships in convoy those losses reached a new high level. On a superficial view, it might have seemed as if perhaps after all, the U-boats with their pack tactics might defeat the convoy system, but all the time, our maritime forces, that combination of ships and aircraft which nowadays is the foundation of sea power, were constantly expanding. With our growing strength, we were able to make new dispositions, including the formation of special reinforcement groups of ships which could be sent to the aid of threatened convoys. In the last 10 days of March, the merchant sinkings dropped headlong by two-thirds. The losses have fluctuated about this lower rate, and at no time have they approached the level they reached before this dramatic change.
The great actions, lasting as much as four days and nights, which preceded this remarkable turn of the tide continued for some time after, and I think it is well that our people should comprehend their size and their significance. Sometimes the enemy deployed as many as 30 U-boats against one convoy, and, on our side, the number of surface ships and aircraft together, acting in close co-operation, would be of the same order. When the last U-boat is safe at the bottom of the sea or in our ports, and we are able to look back over the vast panorama of the whole war, these actions may well be seen worthy to be counted among the decisive maritime actions of history. When they had been fought out, the U-boats had received such a battering that they virtually abandoned the North Atlantic for several months. As a result of this success there have since been periods, as the House will know from the monthly statements issued by the President and the Prime Minister, when more U-boats have been sunk than merchant ships. The total sinkings of merchant ships for 1943 were, in fact, below our most optimistic hopes at the beginning of the year, and indeed were little more than half of the working estimate that we then thought it prudent to adopt. The average for the last eight months is actually below the level of 1918. The reduction is further exemplified by the falling proportion of ships lost in main North Atlantic and United Kingdom coastal convoys. In 1941, one ship was lost out of every 181 which sailed; in 1942, one out of every 233; in 1943, one out of every 344. The 1898 losses in these convoys during the second half of last year were less than one in 1,000.
This change in the situation is due to a number of causes. At times the enemy have ascribed it almost entirely to the improvements which have taken place in our weapons and devices. Great credit is certainly due to our scientists and technicians but naturally there were other reasons also. It would be invidious to attempt to place them in any formal order of importance, but equally it would be right for me, speaking for the Admiralty, to give prominence to the growth and efficiency of Coastal Command of the Royal Air Force, the ability of its Commanders and their excellent co-operation with the Navy. I would emphasise again that these aircraft, especially adapted, and with crews specially trained, for work over the sea, are an essential component of the forces required under modern conditions for the exercise of sea power. I cannot speak too highly of the skill, the courage and the endurance which the crews of Coastal Command have shown in succouring convoys and developing offensive operations against the U-boats. The past twelve months or so have witnessed not only a global expansion of the Command, but also an increase in the proportion of very long-range aircraft which are able to provide cover for convoys hundreds of miles out to sea and even right across the North Atlantic.
A no less important cause of the turn in our fortune is, of course, the skill and the leadership of the senior officers of our escort groups. Naval action operating round a slow moving convoy, unlike battle between surface vessels, is, as I have said, a long drawn-out affair, imposing great strain on the officers and ships' companies of the escorts, and upon crews of the merchant vessels. These escort group commanders have not only to control and operate their groups against the enemy, but also, and at the same time, to hold their very large convoys together, often in adverse weather, and force them through the ocean danger areas.
All the time, of course, as a result of the plans made long ago, our surface escorts were increasing. They have continued to increase in number. The American forces have similarly expanded, and we are very much indebted to 1899 America, not only for many of the very long-range aircraft but also for a considerable proportion of the escorts now manned by the Royal Navy. Apart from the frigates, corvettes, the destroyers and the sloops, our two Navies now possess tens of escort carriers, which can provide air cover for convoys at any point on their route. These ships have indeed proved most valuable, whether they have been used in offensive hunting groups, or in the no less exacting and responsible duty of providing close protection for the convoys.
This growth in the numbers of air and surface escorts has enabled us to do three things which lack of resources previously prevented us from doing on anything like the scale we should have wished. I have already mentioned the special groups which we have been able to form to reinforce the escorts of convoys actually threatened with attack. Next, it has enabled us to take the offensive with other special forces against the U-boats in the areas, principally the Bay of Biscay, through which they must maintain a dense traffic on their way to and from their patrolling grounds. This offensive has been principally conducted by Coastal Command with some American air squadrons, who have most resolutely carried out this dangerous task with skill and gallantry, and great success. Naval forces—sloops, destroyers and escort vessels of the Royal and the Canadian Navies and escort carriers of the United States Navy—have also taken an important and very effective part in this offensive.
Thirdly, our increased resources have made more training possible; and enabled us to keep the composition of the escort groups much more stable, and thus to develop the high degree of team work which produces the most astounding results. I will not compare the achievements of the different services and units which have been engaged, because the number of kills obviously depends to a very great degree upon opportunity. As an example, however, of what can be achieved by intensive training, highly developed team work, and skilled leadership, I would mention that there are escort groups, composed of just a few ships each, whose total score of U-boat kills already exceeds half a dozen. The Second Escort Group, under Captain F. J. 1900 Walker, C.B., D.S.O., has been out-standing, both in special operations and in the defence of convoys. The kills of that one group have now reached the respectable total of 17. Two other groups have also been particularly successful, mainly in protecting convoys—the Seventh British Escort Group, commanded by Commander P. W. Gretton, D.S.O., and the Third British Escort Group, commanded throughout most of its history by the late Commander A. A. Tait, D.S.O., who unfortunately was killed in action shortly after scoring his final success against the U-boats.
This description of our anti-submarine forces would not be complete without a mention of the headquarters which is principally responsible for their training, development, organisation and operation. The Western Approaches Command under Admiral Sir Max Horton, himself an old distinguished submarine officer, comprises not only this headquarters, but also the bulk of the training units and of the escort and support groups which actually fight the U-boats in the Atlantic. From the Commander-in-Chief himself and his directing staff to the most junior members of the ships' companies, the whole Command is entitled to great credit on their record of the last twelve months.
The reduction in the loss of tonnage has been happily reflected in the Merchant Navy casualties, and in 1943, I am glad to say, the number of officers and men lost was roughly only half of that of 1942. The Admiralty, in consultation with the Ministry of War Transport, has been able to increase substantially the number of the special rescue ships, which are sailed with convoys for the sole purpose of rescuing survivors and giving medical attention. Each carries a naval doctor and a hospital staff and they are now an integral part of the convoy system. There have been many reports from the naval escorts praising the high standard of seamanship and efficiency of the Masters, officers and crews of these vessels, which have been operated with magnificent courage and efficiency. A special scheme has been in force for some time now with the object of enabling merchant ships to eliminate funnel smoke and thus reduce their chances of being detected. Over 600 sets of equipment have already been 1901 delivered under this scheme, and large-scale arrangements have been made to train firemen in the best methods of stoking. The results are most encouraging and they have already helped materially to reduce the number of convoy stragglers.
Similarly we have been successful in cutting down the losses from ordinary marine risks by 25 per cent., as a result of improved navigational aids, added to, of course, the growing experience of the personnel themselves of the navigational hazards peculiar to wartime. The total effect of these and all the other measures to help merchant ships protect themselves, can be gauged from the estimate which the Admiralty operational research section have made that, since July, 1942, the saving effected by those means has been at the rate of, roughly, 100 ships per year.
Having thus described the great improvement in the situation which has been wrought by unremitting effort, I am anxious that no one should begin to think that any relaxation is possible. Indeed, we must recognise that there may yet be periods when losses will mount again. The Germans have probably at least as many U-boats now, as at the beginning of 1943. In the early months of last year the production of U-boats exceeded kills, and in recent months the U-boats have often sought to avoid destruction by avoiding action. The bombing of the U-boat building centres has certainly reduced output; but there is not the slightest evidence that the enemy has in any way abandoned his intention to cripple our sea communications if he possibly can. On the contrary, the Germans are still making every endeavour to improve the performance and the equipment of their U-boats. They have provided them with greatly increased anti-aircraft fire power; they have brought their new acoustic torpedo into service; and we must expect further developments still. Recently the Germans seemed to be trying to develop tactics based upon an increased use of very long-range aircraft, acting in co-operation with their U-boats. We have already reported in the Press a number of successes against these aircraft by our shipborne fighters to whom credit should be given. Perhaps the best indication that Admiral Doenitz aims at putting more U-boats into the fight, is the fact that more and more concrete shelters 1902 are still being built by them in the operational bases. It can, therefore, be regarded as certain that he will try, and try again, to stage a comeback, and these efforts may be more sustained than that made in September last, when the U-boats sallied out once more in force on the main Atlantic routes, but failed on that occasion to keep the campaign going. We must also expect that the U-boats will, as at present, seek to expand their effort in far distant waters such as the Indian ocean.
Many may, of course, be tempted to ask whether, since the net shipping gains of the United Nations in 1943 so much exceeded estimates, there will now be cargo space to spare for less essential imports, and whether economy in the use of the ships themselves is as necessary as it was before. It is true that we are better off than we expected to be. The re-opening of the Mediterranean through-route to our shipping is worth a gain of about a million gross tons, and the liberation of North Africa and Italy together, have brought in half as much again as that in actual ships. And yet the fact remains that all these unforeseen profits must be firmly, indeed ruthlessly, ploughed back into this business of war. It is the policy of the United Nations to use these extra resources to accelerate the pace of the war. In his speech a fortnight ago the Prime Minister warned the House that the European war may well take a good deal longer than many people had thought. I feel sure, therefore, that there will be every support for the policy of using every additional ship in the most direct way possible to prevent the war lasting a day longer than it need. I can say now, that in order to launch the North African landings nearly eighteen months ago, we had to withdraw merchant ships and escorts from other duties, on a scale which our economy could not possibly have stood indefinitely. The risk was justified only because we had already entered upon a period when each month was witnessing an expansion of the shipping resources of the Allies. Ever since, the United Nations have been preparing new operations both in Europe and in the East, and as these grew, so the service demand for shipping space rises without ceasing.
I have spoken of the dramatic suddenness with which the statistical picture of the Battle of the Atlantic changed last 1903 March. As the House will have realised, this change was actually the result of a long, planned build-up, and those officers at the Admiralty with the greatest knowledge and acutest judgment predicted a radical improvement even in the dark days a year ago. I remember in particular the calm confidence expressed at that time by the late First Sea Lord, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound; and I could not allow this yearly review to pass without paying tribute to the memory of this great sailor. His one idea was to serve his country to the last with all his power, and this indeed he did. With this all-consuming purpose always in mind, he shunned rather than courted public notice. But his great qualities are now more and more appreciated as it becomes more apparent how steadfastly he brought the naval affairs of this country through the most critical period we have ever known in our history. Possessing great vision and a practical sense of which I have never met the superior, he declined firmly to be diverted from the primary objects which he always kept in mind; and the incomparably brighter picture which I am able to present to the House to-day derives more from his steadfast planning than from any other professional source. I am glad to say his place has been filled by another distinguished sailor, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew Cunningham, who I feel certain the House will recognise has the most brilliant record of any of our sea commanders in this war. The House will no doubt join with me in expressing the hope that, having now received the surrender of one enemy fleet in person, he will, as First Sea Lord, still be guiding the destinies of the Navy when messages reporting the surrender of the other two are received.
I have dealt in some considerable detail with the so-called Battle of the Atlantic, because, situated as this country is, that Battle is fundamental to its fortunes. The past year, however, has seen many other notable achievements of which I could speak—the deathless courage, so typical of the submarine service, of those crews in the midgets which struck the "Tirpitz"; the combination of superior gunnery and tactical manœuvre which sank the "Scharnhorst"—but these have already been well described in the official communiqués and Press reports, and I 1904 am anxious to pass to less well-known matters which may be of some interest to the House. For the same reason I do not propose, much as I should like to do, and highly though they deserve it, to catalogue again the ever-growing contribution of the Navies of the Dominions and of our Allies. I was able recently to pay tribute in the House to the outstanding part played by Canadian industry and the Royal Canadian Navy and Air Force. All the Dominions, India and all the Allies have pressed forward as eagerly as ever to bear the biggest share of which they are capable, and the mutual support of the Royal Navy, the Dominions Navy and the Allied Navies is a source of strength, moral as well as material, which our cause could not do without.
Nor can I make more than a passing reference to the meritorious service of all the various branches of the Navy—the never-ending hazardous work of the minesweepers: the superb courage shown by the submarines wherever they operate, from the Norwegian Leads to the tropical straits of the Malay Archipelago: the ceaseless vigil of the battleships and the large carriers providing together the battle fleet cover which still remains the ultimate foundation of naval strategy: the skill and devotion of the Fleet Air Arm in the small carriers flying on and off their restricted landing decks in Atlantic weather, occasionally even in gales blowing at 60 miles an hour. Nor ought I to forget the constant, devoted and efficient service of the Women's Royal Naval Servicé. All these and many more activities each merit a chapter to themselves, but time unfortunately does not allow more than these few words of sincere admiration and gratitude.
I pass accordingly to some aspects of that wide sweeping subject which may be termed the maintenance of the Fleet. There was a time when our ship production came in for a great deal of criticism. No doubt there are many people who are still not satisfied with what has been achieved. Nor for that matter are the Admiralty. We never are, and are always seeking to do better. Nevertheless, there is much in the record on which we are not ill-content to rely before the bar of history.
The number of skilled men in the labour force available for shipbuilding 1905 and ship repairs must, of course, progressively decline, since wastage from natural causes and the indispensable recruitment of tradesmen for the Services, can no longer be entirely replaced now that the man-power of the country is fully mobilized. These disadvantages the Admiralty, with the co-operation of the industry, have sought to overcome by further dilution, by the adoption of new techniques, and by the installation of more modern equipment. As regards dilution, I must confess the employment of women in the industry did begin rather slowly, but it now proceeds at a much more satisfactory rate, and the number of women workers increased by about 60 per cent. in 1943. In the result, the output of warships in this country up to the end of January was only very slightly less than that of the last war, if one makes allowance for the difference in the number of capital ships which were in hand at the beginning of the last war. The output of merchant ships up to the end of the year appreciably exceeds the total output of the last war. That is the result judging by tonnage figures alone. Judged by the amount of work per ton, that is to say taking full account of the much greater complexity of ships to-day, and particularly the tremendous increase in the detail of equipment, the achievement in ship output in this war is incomparably superior.
The burden of repairs has certainly not diminished, but tends to rise with the growing number of ships using our ports. Added to this, there is the great volume of conversion of ships and refitting work which has become heavier during the past year, partly because so many ships have had to be converted for use in combined operations and partly because the development of weapons and equipment is so rapid, that ever more strenuous efforts are called for to see that our existing warships are fitted with the latest models at the earliest possible moment.
Once more, the merchant ship target output was achieved, in spite of an increase in the number of special jobs which that side of the industry was called upon to undertake at short notice during the year. At the same time, the quality of the vessels coming off the stocks was again improved, and we have heard so much in past Debates about the speed of ships that I am certain the House will be glad to know that the horsepower per gross ton 1906 of ocean going ships completed in 1943 was 12½ per cent. above the figure for 1942. The provision of special fittings to meet special operational needs continued on an expanding scale. For example, all tramps and cargo liners completed were equipped with heavy derricks; all oceangoing cargo vessels had more water ballast tanks—and that brings great comfort to many a Commodore—and more accommodation for defence personnel; several ships were specially strengthened to enable them to operate in the ice conditions which our North Russian convoys have to face. Fourteen small tramps were specially fitted out as crane ships, and have done invaluable service in ports lacking sufficient equipment to handle all the traffic which the war places on them. We estimate that the extra work required, for example, on these fourteen ships to fit them for their special duties would have been sufficient to produce between four and five ordinary tramps of the same tonnage.
The year 1943 saw the general completion of the scheme launched the year before for the provision, with Government assistance, of more modern equipment for the shipyards and improvements in layout. We are now beginning to see the return in increased output. The use of welding was further expanded; and the number of welders, many of whom are women, is now over 30 per cent. above what it was on the 1st January, 1943. The greatest advance was, perhaps, in the field of prefabrication and pre assembly. In the most recent class-of frigates at least 80 per cent. of the structure has been prefabricated, and certain deck-houses have been pre-constructed and fitted out to enable them to be delivered complete to the shipyards for lifting into the vessels. This has enabled a substantial proportion of the load of building to be transferred from the shipyards to the structural engineers. With the ready co-operation of the shipbuilders, the structural engineering industry, and the classification societies, the Admiralty was able to organise for this prefabrication in a comparatively short period, but with, the most gratifying results. Again, with the help of the structural engineers, we have been able to superimpose on the ordinary shipbuilding programme, a vast programme of landing craft of all sizes and shapes, from small boats holding a few men, to tank-carrying craft up to 200 feet 1907 in length. In 1943, in the one year, many hundreds of these landing craft, large and small, were produced in this country.
The Admiralty are not only concerned with the production and maintenance of ships. They are equally concerned with the training and contentment of the officers and men who serve so faithfully in them, and there are some matters connected with personnel administration which I should like to report to the House. First, there is the continued progress of the Dartmouth scholarship scheme in which I take a special personal interest and pride. This has now been running since 1941, and the scholars, who are equally divided between grant-aided secondary schools and other schools, number not far short of half the total entries. It seems undoubtedly to have achieved the purpose I had in view of opening this doorway to boys from every income group. A large proportion of the parents of the scholars receive very substantial financial help, and in over 30 per cent. of the cases they have been relieved of all expenses. The scholars include—already admitted—the sons of labourers, mechanics, clerks and naval ratings. The scheme has also achieved another purpose, the widening of the field from which our naval officers of the permanent service are drawn. Reports from the College say that the scholars settle down well, and that their presence has tended to raise the general standard of effort throughout the College in work and play. I think that is a very great tribute to the boys entering from the working classes.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
Would the right hon. Gentleman tell us how many scholarship entrants there are?
§ Mr. Alexander
I am giving to the grant-aided secondary schools 10 scholarships each term, three times a year, so I should say there would be about 90 from the grant-aided schools already in the College.
In spite of the very serious difficulties of fitting in all the special training and courses under wartime conditions, we have more than maintained the improved system of direct promotions from the lower deck to permanent commissions which scheme, you will remember, was inaugurated in 1931. Thus in the executive branch, whilst there were only four such 1908 promotions in 1936, and 17 in 1938, the last three years have shown an average of 37 each year. A similar avenue of promotion has now been opened up in the Fleet Air Arm where a special scheme was started in 1941; and also in the Accountant Branch where the first promotions were made in 1942.
Special attention has also been devoted during the past year to the arrangements for selecting and training temporary reserve officers. In order to accelerate the training process without sacrificing quality, the psychological testing element in the course has been greatly strengthened, and during training the candidates are now given stringent leadership exercises and tests, which greatly facilitate the task of the authorities who will subsequently appoint them to their various duties. Furthermore, it is now possible to provide special seagoing training for officer candidates. Before last year, the imperious demands of operations left us with no ships to spare for this work, and sea training was, therefore, done in ships on operational duty to which the potential officer was drafted for a period of some weeks. In general, ships were too busy to devote much time to the special care of those officer candidates, and the impossibility of predicting the movements of ships on operations, made it very difficult to maintain anything like a regular flow. Three warships are now specially set aside to receive and train these candidates, and as this is their sole duty, the instruction is now much more intensive and beneficial. This new method is already accepted as an indispensable part of the officers' training scheme and I trust that there will be no fresh dearth of resources during the war to force us back to the previous arrangement.
The other main channel of entry to temporary commissions is through the Universities and, I must say, is most valuable. Under this scheme suitable candidates who are at least up to School Certificate standard and are recommended by the Headmaster of their school, are given six months' free education at one of six Universities which are co-operating in the scheme. The candidates spend not less than one and a half days a week on naval subjects in addition to their ordinary University courses and they are free to select 1909 these University courses according to their bent. As a result of this free entry training, their preliminary naval training, once they join, can be reduced; and the quality of the officers derived from this source has been so good that the scheme deserves to be called an unqualified success.
Hon. Members who take a special interest in the higher training of officers will, I think, also be glad to hear that the Staff Course has been revived, though necessarily in a shorter form than that of pre-war days. The new Course is open to officers in the R.N.R. and R.N.V.R. as well as the Royal Navy, and is designed to give them a thorough grounding in the duties which a staff officer is actually called upon to perform in wartime. The second of these courses is now in progress, and the other Services, as well as the Dominions, are represented.
I should like to return, if I may, to my main theme of the war at sea. To-day the Fleet is stronger in relation to enemy naval strength than it has ever been since the fall of France brought us to the brink of disaster, and the United Nations have regained much of the general freedom of movement throughout the seas of the world which was so drastically restricted in 1940 and so seriously threatened in 1941 and 1942. The Mediterranean has been reopened. The Battle of the Atlantic has taken a favourable turn. In the Pacific the forces of the United States, aided by the Dominions, are sweeping forward through the outer bulwarks of Japan with a speed that would have seemed beyond expectation a year ago; and they are not only winning one brilliant victory after another, they are also waging a successful war of attrition against the Japanese Navy and Mercantile Marine throughout the whole of the Far Eastern theatre of operations. In the far Northern waters the Naval situation has also improved, and we have continued to deliver weapons of war, machinery, railway material and large quantities of miscellaneous stores to the North Russian ports.
The naval forces engaged in this task and the merchant ships of many nations who have carried the cargoes to Russia, have had to endure heavy strain and sacrifice. Since the commencement of these Russian convoys 13 British war ships have been sunk on this duty, and in some periods there were very considerable losses of merchant ships. Yet, over all, 88 per 1910 cent. of the cargoes consigned have got through. That great effort has been more than rewarded for those cargoes, so costly in ships and blood, have surely been most magnificently turned to account in the hands of the Red Army.
Conversely, the Axis hopes of limited but highly valuable trade between Japan and Germany have been largely extinguished. Of the 11 blockade runners which set out during the past 12 months on the long, furtive voyage to Europe, only two reached port, and both were damaged.
It is not only the enemy's trans-oceanic trade which has suffered. His coastal movements have also been subjected to dislocation. In conjunction with the strike wings of Coastal Command and R.A.F. fighters our Light Forces have constantly attacked enemy convoys in the Channel, off the Dutch coast and in Norwegian waters. In these vigorous operations, surface and air forces have acted in the closest combination, the efforts of the one being complementary to the other. In the Mediterranean, also, our Coastal Forces, together with the destroyers of the Fleet, are making the Adriatic uncomfortable, to say the least, for the enemy.
German coastal navigation has also been much impeded and, I am certain, suffered many losses as a result of our minelaying activities. I am sorry that for reasons of security those activities cannot be described in detail, but we have sufficient information to warrant the statement that they are a great deal more than a thorn in the enemy's side. This is another aspect of maritime warfare in which ships and aircraft work together in the fulfilment of a single comprehensive plan. The fast minelayers, submarine minelayers and Coastal Forces minelayers sow their deadly cargoes in the more accessible waters, but the plan requires that enemy traffic should be attacked in waters which ships cannot penetrate, and here Bomber Command takes up the task, as far afield as the inner recesses of the Baltic. Air crews and ships' companies alike have shown the utmost keenness, skill and devotion to duty, and the co-operation between the Naval and Air Staffs concerned has, I am certain, been admirable.
The present commanding position at sea has only been reached by dogged persistence after many disappointments, and we recognise that it will only be retained 1911 by the same strenuous efforts in the future. But, however hard the struggle, the Navy can be relied upon not to spare itself in holding what has been won already; nor will it do so in discharging the other heavy responsibilities to which it is committed in support of our armies and air forces in the field, both now and in the larger operations yet to come.
The scope of these burdens which the Navy is pround to assume, is, I believe, difficult for the layman to grasp. The Prime Minister has already mentioned to the House the 716 bombardments carried out in support of the Army in the Sicilian and Italian campaigns and which are continuing almost daily. There is every evidence that these bombardments have rendered most effective assistance to the land operations. Such under takings are not carried through without less, and already the Navy's share in the struggle of the Nettuno beach-head alone has cost us two cruisers, the "Spartan" and, as we announced early this morning, the "Penelope", a great ship with all her wonderful record in this war, and two destroyers, the "Janus" and the "Inglefield", and five major assualt vessels. The total losses of the Royal Navy and the European Allied navies in the Mediterranean since the start of the Sicilian campaign amount to these two cruisers, a minelayer, 10 destroyers, two submarines, and 10 minor war vessels. The support of the Navy in these amphibious operations is given only at a great price.
When one considers the many hundreds of landing craft already produced in this country, and adds to this the large assignments from America, it will readily be realised that the business of organising all these diverse vessels into flotillas and larger units has indeed been a formidable one, more especially seeing that we had to begin on that job from the beginning not much more than three years ago. Special repair facilities have had to be created, and large numbers of men specially instructed in the maintenance of highly-specialised craft. Living conditions vary considerably. In the larger ones the crews can live on board, but in others, except for very short periods, they have to be accommodated in depot ships or at shore bases; in either case, the administration of this vast number of small mobile units has 1912 a whole crop of new and complex problems.
Then, again, the officers and men of the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines who man them, have had to receive intensive training, which in many respects differs widely from that required in the other branches of the Service, and this has often had to be arranged in a very short space of time, because of the speed with which some of these craft have had to be turned out. It is a matter of no little credit to all concerned that a great many of these vessels sailed to the Mediterranean, through the storms of the Bay of Biscay, under their own power, and that in all the recent landing operations the report has always been that the Navy got the troops to the right place at exactly the right time.
But the preparations are by no means finished when these special craft and all these converted ships have been provided, manned, maintained, and organised into tactical formations. Each operation demands, as well, its special parties to control the disembarkation on the beaches, and to maintain communications in the hectic early stages of the landing. The number of officers and men of the Navy now engaged upon these different duties connected with combined operations is very large indeed, and a charge upon our naval man-power far greater than ever experienced before. Nor must we forget the large part played by the officers and men of the Merchant Navy in the landings in Sicily and Italy, and in other Combined Operations. They have carried out their duties most ably and resolutely, in novel and dangerous circumstances, and nothing could be better than the mutual loyalty and admiration with which they and their comrades in uniform have co-operated.
We have, of course, while devoting our immediate endeavours to preparing for the further operations in Europe, to look beyond them to the time when we shall descend with our full might upon the Japanese. This is not to say that we are idle in that quarter of the globe even now. Our submarines are taking an increasing toll of Japanese shipping, and we shall at every stage contribute to the Far Eastern war to the maximum of our power at the time. But, whether one has an eye only to the present or to the future as well, the Far Eastern theatre of war 1913 presents certain special problems of its own, which are of such importance that it would be well to remind the House of their essential features. These problems all spring from the fact that thousands of miles separate the Far Eastern theatre from all the chief bases of British power, and that even within the Far Eastern theatre itself, very long distances will have to be covered between one assault and another. This means that all the additional forces which will be turned against Japan, and all their vast stores of weapons and equipment, except perhaps some of the aircraft, will have to be brought by sea to the Eastern bases. It means also that most, if not all, of the steps in the great campaigns still to be fought in the Far East will be fundamentally maritime operations, at least in their initial stages.
It accordingly follows that when we bear down upon Japan for the final blow, our maritime forces will be more obviously than for generations past the corner stone of our whole strategy. The services of the Navy, and the men who man it, will be needed. They will be needed more acutely, and probably in as great, or nearly as great, strength as hitherto. What is more, the fight that we face with this other island sea power will demonstrate most pointedly once more that the ultimate sanction and final arbiter of sea-mastery is still the battle fleet, supported, of course, by the air element, which is now inseparably part and parcel of maritime dominion. The responsibilities resting upon the Navy will be enormous, but the merit and glory of the task still greater. The distances between one point of attack and the next, also impose upon us the necessity of ensuring that the fleet, and the large amphibious forces that will be required, possess the greatest degree of mobility that we can bestow upon them, and, within the limits allowed by our resources, we are working to fulfil this obligation. For the same reason it seems clear that the Fleet Air Arm will be called upon to play a peculiarly vital part. In the North African landings and at Salerno the Fleet Air Arm had a foretaste of providing the spearhead of protection for a landing, but it was a foretaste only; and at present the Fleet Air Arm, still expanding, is equipping and preparing itself for these greater duties which appear to lie ahead.
1914 The Navy thus stands to-day in a more commanding position than it has held since 1940, strenuously preparing for further and greater responsibilities. Heavy sacrifices lie before it, as before the other Services, and, indeed, before the whole of our people, but the House will, I know, readily agree that, on the Navy's record so far—and I have no apologies to make for that record—the country can have the utmost confidence that it will not for one moment falter or spare one ounce of effort of which it is capable. I will only add that I have felt grateful during the last 12 months for the good will and the tolerance of Parliament, which has recognised, as we have gone on, month by month, how greatly the Navy was serving the nation.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
It is with fear and trepidation that I, an ordinary mortal, intervene for the first time in a Debate of this kind, before a formidable array of experts, both Service and lay. But it may have this one advantage: that, speaking, I am sure, for all the men and women of this country, I, as one outside the Service itself, am able to pay a tribute to the work which the Royal Navy has done, is doing, and will do. The First Lord has given, in his usual vivid manner, a very fine account of the past year's work of the Royal Navy. He, and those associated with him, can take pride in the fact that it has been a year of real, solid achievement. It is perhaps even more true of the Navy than of the other Services that in this war its main work is of an unspectacular nature. Occasionally there are great decisive battles, and, as the First Lord has told us about the prospective battles in the Pacific—on which I want to say a word later—we assume there may still be very great decisive battles in front of us. But, in the main, the work of the Navy has been that solid day-by-day work the results of which we do not see until we look back, as the First Lord has done to-day. If I were asked to offer a motto for the work which the Royal Navy has done in the last few years, I should have to fall back on my mother tongue, and offer this:
§ Dyaal donc a dyrr y garreg.
For the benefit of those poor mortals who do not understand the best language in the world, I will give a free translation:
It is persistent hammering which breaks the biggest stone.
That is what the Navy is doing. The day-to-day work, the persistent work, the unrelenting work, which goes on, which does not get headlines in the Press, is the work which in the long run brought results in the last war and which will bring results in this war.
§ When the First Lord gave us his review 12 months ago, he was disturbed, and the House was disturbed, about the U-boat campaign in the Atlantic, and we had a very disturbing Debate. I heard most of that Debate, and I recall the words the First Lord used in describing this battle in the Atlantic. He told us then—on 3rd March last year—that in the preceding months and at the time when he was speaking the U-boat attack constituted the greatest threat that we had ever experienced to our sea communications. In the Debate that followed, concern was expressed and criticism was voiced. A good deal of it was constructive criticism, and it was all imbued with the desire to help us to overcome what we realised was the crucial battle; because if we did not win that, it would be almost impossible for us to win other battles. It is with pleasure and pride that we learn that in the last 12 months we have won the first Battle of the Atlantic—there may be more, but we have won this.
§ I would like to express my own debt of gratitude to all those who have contributed to winning this Battle of the Atlantic. I say that as one who had the privilege of being brought safely across the Atlantic quite recently. First, we should pay tribute to the devotion and the sacrifice of those thousands of men who man the ships and pilot the planes and perform all the other services which are required. This nation feels to the depths of its heart the gratitude which these men have earned by their devotion and sacrifice. I would also join in paying tribute to those who planned this campaign, for, behind it there must have been an immense amount of complex organisation, with very great detailed problems, hour by hour, day by day, and night by night. Often these battles are battles of wits as much as anything else, and I want to pay my meed of praise to the scientific workers of this country, whose capacities have been mobilised in this struggle. Hitler and his gang are continually boasting of their secret weapons, and threatening us with 1916 what they are going to do with some other secret weapons. We, as a nation, are not given to boasting, and we are not given to using idle threats. I hope that we never shall do so. We are perhaps masters of the under-statement rather than of the over-statement. But the war has shown that in the field of scientific research we need take second place to no nation on earth. We have the ability, and we have the young men.
§ I meet some of these young men, drawn from my own area, drawn from our secondary schools. I hope that we shall remember them when we come to discuss education. Our expenditure on education has paid handsome dividends in this war, and I hope that we shall learn to use this capacity in solving the problems of peace, just as we are using it in the service of war. There will be thousands of young men and young women, trained in our schools and in our universities, many of whom have gone straight from the schools and universities into serving the nation in this great battle of scientific research. They fear that, at the end of the war, they will not be required in these Services, and I hope that the Government are giving real attention to ways and means by which their scientific ability, so devotedly given to the country in war, will be adequately used at the end of the war for the purposes of peace. The winning of the Battle of the Atlantic, the change in our fortunes between this year and last year, and the change in tone as well as in the content of the speech of the First Lord, will be welcomed all over the country as being a relief from the threat which last year was so great, and will be a very good beginning for the great events which we expect in the future.
§ I was interested in what the First Lord said about our shipbuilding programme. Last year there was a good deal of debate and criticism. Some of it we all felt, in some ways, to be justified. We were not happy about our shipbuilding programme. We know—and this is true of all our basic industries—that we began the war with a crippled shipbuilding industry. The First Lord and the Admiralty are not responsible. We began it too, with a crippled coal-mining industry. I hope that the nation has taken firm note that it was the fact that we allowed the basic industries of this country to run into decay in the inter-war period that 1917 crippled us to such an extent, as to make it very dangerous during this war. We have built them up as much as we can. Sometimes, we have thought that it could be done better and more quickly, but the report of the First Lord to-day of the shipbuilding capacity, and of the work done by shipyard workers shows that we owe a deep debt of gratitude to these workers and to the women who have so willingly given their services to the nation. Women in this industry—which was formerly entirely closed to women—are, indeed, playing their part, and are becoming an increasing percentage of the number of people employed.
§ I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend pay tribute to the work done by the men. Recently I paid a visit to the United States of America and I had the privilege of seeing some of the shipbuilding yards. They publicise much more than we do here. They are doing a magnificent job. I saw new methods being adopted over there, as I have seen new methods being adopted here, as the First Lord said, by prefabrication, assembly and the use of welding. I was able to talk to these men. I have not the technical knowledge to know whether these developments are going to be permanent, but some perhaps will be permanent and some may not. If these new processes are a success, obviously they will revolutionise our shipbuilding in the future. I was immensely impressed by what I saw, and when I came back I made some inquiries. Our shipbuilding industry is on a smaller scale because we began with a crippled industry, and we are able to disperse man-power much more widely over other fields. But man for man, hour for hour, the work done in our shipbuilding yards compares favourably with that of any other country in the world. Per capita, ours is as good as, and sometimes even better than, the magnificent work that is being done over there. I do not think that friendly competition between the two countries would do any harm. Greatly as we admire them, in our own way, we too, are doing equally fine work, particularly in shipbuilding, and increasingly so as the war goes on.
§ This applies to the men engaged in that industry and in other industries—I am glad to see the Deputy Prime Minister here—and increasingly, as the tempo of 1918 the war increases, the men engaged in all these tasks, just as the men engaged in all the Services, begin to think about the future in those industries which mean so much now, and which had such a miserable time in the pre-war years. If, in addition to paying tribute to the work done in shipbuilding—and that before too long, because delay takes away the real joy of it when it comes—the Government could make a statement indicating to these basic industries, and particularly to shipbuilding, that it is their intention to maintain them and to give security to these men after the war, nothing could more galvanise our men to supreme effort in the coming months. As one who has spent the whole of his life with, and in the service of, the workers, I feel confident that, in these crucial months ahead, the men and women in this country, in the shipyards and elsewhere, will think of the fact that their services have never been more vital than they are at the moment. I believe that there will be industrial peace and the galvanising of all effort in readiness for the supreme one. The Government could help very much if, before very long, they made a pronouncement to this effect, "You are helping us to win the war and we intend to give you a secure place in the life of the nation when the war has come to an end." I hope that that can be done in the shipbuilding industry.
§ I was glad to welcome what the First Lord said about the personnel of the Navy, and particularly about utilising, in the very best possible way, the very fine material which is attracted into the service of the Royal Navy. It attracts the best in our country, and it is our bounden duty to use it in the best way possible. Last year I listened with a great deal of interest to my hon. Friend the Member for White-chapel (Mr. W. Edwards)—I am afraid he is absent to-day because news has come that he has just lost his son. He was speaking with many years' experience of the lower deck, and he told us with much concern that the work of the lower deck is very hard, and that it often seemed that the main consideration in making promotions was the financial capacity of the man and not his ability to serve.
§ From what the First Lord has told us to-day there has, since then, been an improvement. I hope that it is merely a beginning and that it will go on. We have 1919 to learn, as a country, that if we are to win all the problems of peace, we must get the best men to serve us, irrespective of the place from which they come. The men in every field should be judged by their capacity, and not by their bank books. This is true of the Navy and also true outside. Some time ago I raised this question in this House. The schoolmaster of one of the best secondary schools in my constituency said to me that he was frightfully disturbed. He had been anxious, he said, to encourage boys to enter a wider diversity of careers but he found our educational system was too narrow; we turned out too many teachers and did not encourage boys to take up other trades and professions. He encouraged boys to take the opportunity of joining the Services. One of the boys, one of the best fellows in the school, a very good scholar, a leader among his fellow-pupils, captain of the school, who had obviously the qualities of leadership, was encouraged to sit for a naval cadetship. There was an examination in which he came out 18th and this was followed by an interview. Admission was on the aggregation of marks as a result of the examination and the interview. When the boy went for an interview, he was given only 40 marks and put outside. Of the 89 who were declared successful, 79 had fewer marks than he had had, in the written examination.
§ This headmaster later told me that he believed that there was, among headmasters, a belief that there was a prejudice against their boys in the older Services and that they did not get a fair chance. He said, "It discourages us very much. Here I am, having encouraged these boys to think of going into this Service, and when I have encouraged them, what happens? All the other boys say, 'Do not bother about it. You will not get into the Navy as your father has not enough money. You do not stand a chance against the public school boy.'" I hope that we shall see the end of that sort of thing, because the Navy, like the other Services, will in future require the best brains in the country, and often in these days many of the best brains are to be found among the boys who come from the cottages and go to our secondary schools.1920
§ Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)
Whatever may be said about the selection of candidates, and the special examination for entering the Navy, would the hon. Member agree that there is no snobbery of any kind in the Navy at the present time?
§ Mr. Griffiths
This all relates to the period before they enter the Navy. I do not want to go into the whole of the details, as I have raised this matter before. For the time being, we have our own methods of recruitment, and when we get to the end of the war we shall have different methods. I want the First Lord to take full note of this. I will send him the fullest particulars and I am certain that he will go into them very fully indeed.
There is another point which has been raised before, and it has been raised by trade unions and the Trades Union Congress. I refer to the engineer-fitter apprentices, and their entry into the Navy. I will send all the facts that have been brought to my notice to my right hon. Friend and I am sure he will give an assurance to consider them very fully and give a reply. I would rather do that than enter upon the subject now.
§ Mr. Griffiths
May I say a word about the future. We have listened during the last few days to all three Service Ministers; we have listened to them this year with perhaps a new note even for the war. We have all been conscious of the fact that we are on the eve of the great combined operation that we have come to regard as the second front. There has been a tendency among Ministers and others, in speaking about this, to warn us about its perils. We do not object to that, but I would like to enter this note of caution. If a thing is told too often, it loses the effect it is intended to convey. In these days I suggest rather too much gloom is being caused about this coming operation. I do not think that the nation is in any doubt about the perilous nature of the operation. The nation, deep down in its heart, is very conscious of the fact that the price may be a heavy one, the highest we have ever paid. I believe that the nation is prepared to face up to it, 1921 because it realises that we have to do it in order to win the war and keep our pledges to our Allies in this war.
The nation expects of us, as Members of Parliament, realising the perilous nature of this great operation and the price that will have to be paid, to urge upon the Government that no effort shall be spared in providing the best equipment possible and in organising, as efficiently as possible, the utmost degree of co-operation between all who are responsible. If it were discovered that there was some defect in organisation or in equipment, which we could have foreseen and prevented, it would be something the nation would not forgive. I am certain that, when the time comes, the Royal Navy will have a very great part to play. It will very largely, in co-operation with the Air Force, condition the circumstances in which this great operation will be undertaken. There is one thing of which I am sure, and that is that when the people of the country read the speech of the First Lord they will feel happy and more confident and realise how much the Navy will have to do with the success or otherwise of this adventure. I am certain that the people will feel that the Navy is right, and will play its full part in the success of this operation.
I was glad to hear the First Lord make reference to the war in the Pacific. Recently I was privileged to visit the West coast of America and speak to the men and women and discuss the problems of the war. At meetings all over the country, and particularly on the Pacific coast, I was asked, "Will you go all out to beat the Japs after you have beaten Hitler?" That was the question that was being asked, and I was very glad to hear the words of the First Lord today. I gave my answer, speaking for those with whom I am associated, and, I believe, for the whole of the nation, that we intended to go all out to beat the Japs after we have beaten Hitler; that we regarded this as one war and would not rest until the whole war had ended victoriously, both in the Pacific and in Europe.
It is clear that the war against Japan may be a different kind of war in some respects from the war in Europe. It will be an oceanic war. The combined navies will have duties to perform there, perhaps more spectacular than in the European war. It may be that before the Pacific 1922 war is over, we shall see great decisive naval battles. It may be part of the policy to seek out the Japanese Navy, and to determine the war by a great naval battle, in which we shall conquer and submerge them. Whatever may be the tactics, the Royal Navy will have a very great part to play. I believe that the words that my right hon. Friend has uttered to-day will re-echo over that other great Continent and that they will feel satisfied that it is the intention of all of us to go all out to win that war just as it is in the war in Europe. They will also have the satisfaction of knowing that the Royal Navy, which has in the last four-and-a-half years of war brought us through many perils and dangers, and many threats, will be equal to those duties when the war in the Pacific comes. I end by saying to the First Lord, to those associated with him and to all concerned, and, to more than any one else, the brave men who man all these Services, that we owe a debt of gratitude, which I hope we shall continue to remember in war time and shall not forget in peace time.
§ Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)
I feel that the House has been privileged to listen to-day to a record of achievement on the part of the Royal Navy such as can rarely have been surpassed in its long and glorious history. I am sure that the sense of the House is, that we should convey our congratulations to my right hon. Friend, to the Board of Admiralty and also to every officer and man in the Royal Navy and in the Royal Marines. What my right hon. Friend has told the House of the valour and enterprise of the Navy in action simply proves to us once more that the spirit of the Navy remains unsurpassed. If we read between the lines we can be assured, also, that the technical efficiency of the Service is being maintained at the very highest pitch and that scientific developments are constantly being applied to render the fighting units of the Fleet ever more effective, ever more formidable. That is something which will gratify the House and will heighten our appreciation of all the work that is being done by the scientists and by the technical officers. I feel with my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) that the report which the First Lord has given to the House to-day will indeed be an inspiration to the country as a whole. The brilliant actions of which 1923 he has spoken against the "Tirpitz" and the "Scharnhorst,"' and those long drawn out battles which have been fought by the convoy Escort Forces are but the high-lights of a campaign that goes on continuously. They are the reward of months of watchfulness and unremitting labours. They are achieved by the work of thousands of men who, though constantly in danger, may never see the enemy at all. I speak—and my hon. Friend has already referred to them—of the work that is done by the men in the minesweepers, by men employed on the patrols around our shores and also, to a certain extent, by those who man the convoy Escort groups for whom life, except for brief occasions, is one of long drawn out monotony. Their work is never done, and without their service and the co-operation of all of the Merchant Navy, behind the shelter of the bulwark of the main Fleet, many vital supplies necessary to our existence would never reach these shores. These men are working for the most part in obscurity, far from the limelight, and they are often apt to be forgotten, but to them the country indeed owes a very deep debt of gratitude.
As the hon. Member for Llanelly has reminded us, a year ago this House was very gravely concerned as to the progress of the war against the submarine. To-day that menace, as the result of the increased use of aircraft in co-operation with more sufficient surface forces for which many of us pleaded on that occasion, has reduced that menace to proportions which would not have been believed possible 12 months ago, and the Fleet Air Arm and Coastal Command deserve credit for that great achievement together with the surface forces. It is not only in naval combat that the Navy has enjoyed a very glorious year. It has shepherded armies across the intervening ocean and landed them safely on hostile shores. It provided the foundation for these unprecedented and successful amphibious operations in Italy and Sicily which, I think, every hon. Member here will agree, were masterpieces of organisation. The House will not forget those who planned and carried out these great and complicated operations, nor the manner in which those of every Service submerged their individuality to achieve that complete co-operation 1924 which was essential to success. As they approach a greater, a more hazardous, and a more momentous occasion, I am sure that the confidence and the good wishes of this House go out to all these men. My right hon. Friend spoke for some considerable time on the process of education in the Navy. That is a matter which will come up for discussion later to-day, but I do feel that the House will be very satisfied with what he told us.
I think it is right, on this annual occasion, that we should express our appreciation and our thanks to the Navy for the great service which it has rendered not only to this country but to our Allies. I cannot, however, but feel that if there exist in the Service, and under Service conditions, things which give rise to dissatisfaction, fair words are not enough, and that the Navy will look to this House to show its appreciation in some more tangible form by seeing to it that any real cause for dissatisfaction is removed. On Thursday last we had a Debate on Army pay and allowances when, from every quarter of the House, the Government were pressed to increase the emoluments of that Service, and when we obtained an undertaking from the Leader of the House that cases of hardship would be looked into, that allowances would be reconsidered, that the door was not closed for the reconsideration of basic rates of pay, and that, in fact, any matter whatsoever concerned with pay and pensions was open to discussion. I assume naturally that that undertaking applies to all three Services. Therefore I do not propose to reiterate the arguments which were then set forth, because obviously they applied equally to the Navy and to the Air Force as to the Army, but I would like to say this to my right hon. Friend—and I trust he may make it clear in the proper quarter—that from the information at my disposal the feelings of the Navy on this matter are equally as strong as they were represented to be in the case of the Army.
There are two points in the reply of the Government to which I would like to refer very briefly, because they puzzle me, and I am certain they will also puzzle the men in the Services. The Secretary of State for War said that the great increase necessary to bring Service pay into line with industrial wages—at a cost which he estimated at about £200,000,000 a year—would result in a vicious spiral of inflation. 1925 I am not going to argue whether it will produce that result or not, but it would clear the air if we could be told to-day why it is only Service pay which produces that result, or why Service pay alone requires to be stabilised to balance other inflationary influences. I really cannot think that that bogy of inflation, though it may be very real, and though it may indeed come home to roost, will carry much conviction with Service personnel so long as the Government continue to accept without demur the award of higher wages to almost every section of industry and, in most cases, to meet the bill itself. The other point I would like to refer to in connection with the reply we got from the Government is that the Leader of the House flatly rejected the suggestion that Service pay should be equal to industrial earnings. What he said was this:We are not prepared to have a discussion with a view to raising the basic rates in our Army to those levels."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd March, 1944; col. 1736, Vol. 397.]One of the levels to which my night hon. Friend referred was the level of wages in industry. I do not want to get at cross-purposes on a matter of words, but what I think the House had in mind, and what certainly was in my mind, was that the total remuneration of the serving man—that is, pay plus allowances should approximate to that of the man in industry. Why not? Surely the Service man gives an equal amount of service. Surely he works as long hours, and surely, at least, he undertakes an equal amount of risk. Is there anything unreasonable, therefore, in asking that he should receive equal remuneration? I would be glad if whoever is to reply to the Debate could tell us why the Government consider that suggestion so outrageous that they are not even prepared to discuss it. Might I point out that the Navy to-day is not a pre-war voluntary service Navy, but is recruited at the direction of the Government while that Government is directing others of its citizens into highly remunerative employment. We learn from the "Ministry of Labour Gazette" that the average earnings in the manufacturing industries in July, 1943, amounted to £6 is. 3d. per week, or an increase of 76 per cent. over the level ruling in October, 1938. The figure in which I am interested is the monetary figure of £6 1s. 3d and not, in 1926 view of the low rate of pay ruling in the Service, the percentage figure of 76 per cent.
Before I leave the question of pay I would like to make a brief reference to the pay of members of the Women's Royal Naval Service, to whom my right hon. Friend paid a very fine tribute. The ordinary mobile "Wren" receives between 25. and 2s. 8d. a day and a specialised mobile "Wren" between 2s. 4d. and 3s. a day. I do not know whether there are any deductions from these rates. I am under the impression that there are, but perhaps we can be told that later. But apart from that—and I do not wish to make any comparison with the level of wages in industry in this connection, because we all know the gap is very great—does my right hon. Friend consider that this is sufficient for a young woman, stationed far from home, in strange surroundings and with probably no friends in the vicinity, to defray the upkeep of her clothing and provide her with a small measure of recreation? Is 14s. a week really sufficient for these purposes? I am given to understand that many of these young women cannot even scrape together enough to pay their train fare home when they happen to get a week end or a short period off duty. It is right to keep in mind that many of these women are now doing the kind of work which was previously done by able seamen or other naval ratings, and are doing it with great efficiency. If they are performing that kind of work as efficiently as men they are entitled to equal pay.
There are one or two other small matters I would like to speak of for a few moments, because I find that it is often the smaller matters which create the greatest irritation and the most discontent. The uniform allowance given to an officer granted a commission amounts to £55. This has been raised from £40 at the beginning of the war. I have calculated what that £55 will provide. It will provide two suits of uniform, two caps, two pairs of shoes, a British warm and a raincoat. Those articles take up the whole sum. Nothing is left at all for uniform shirts, ties, southwesters, oilskins, seaboots or the warm woollen clothing which is absolutely essential. I presume from the fact that an increase has been given that the matter is kept under review, and I would like to express the hope that it will be 1927 kept constantly under review, and the allowance be kept adequate to meet the need.
Another matter which has caused considerable grievance is the compensation which is paid to officers who lose their kit through enemy action. I have had a number of cases brought to my notice and as far as I can ascertain the compensation received is about two-thirds of the officer's estimate of the value of his loss. I am informed that the Admiralty pays compensation on kit which they consider necessary for war-time purposes but I have never heard the details of that kit disclosed. The most unsatisfactory feature of all this is that the claimant is not informed how the compensation is arrived at. He is merely presented with a cheque for a sum which he is not in a position to question, he does not even know whether the amount has been properly calculated. If he makes inquiries he is told that no information can be given to him because the scales of compensation are secret. Officers should be able to check the amount to which they are entitled. It is unreasonable to keep them in the dark. I am sure that it is the wish of the House and people in the country that in circumstances like these officers should be treated with the utmost generosity. Might I appeal to my right hon. Friend to look into that matter again and see whether it can be put right, because it does not redound greatly to the credit of his Department and, moreover, it raises a sense of grievance which is not in the best interests of the Service.
To-day, junior officers are in command of important fighting units of His Majesty's Fleet, that is, officers junior in rank to those who normally command such ships in peace-time. They are junior to officers in the Army and Air Force who hold commands of similar responsibility and importance. As will be readily appreciated, that may well place a naval officer who is co-operating with the other Services in a somewhat invidious position. But in any case I think an officer should have the rank and receive the pay which are applicable to the importance of the vessel which he commands. In the Army, when you are short of a battalion commander, you do not put a captain in command. You raise him to the appropriate rank. The same thing applies in the Royal Air Force. Why not in the Navy? I know that my right hon. Friend has on previous 1928 occasions given an answer to this question, but it did not either satisfy or convince me or many others, especially the officers concerned. Will my right hon. Friend look into the matter again and see whether acting rank cannot be given to officers in command of ships where normally a senior officer would hold command? For at present great anomalies arise. May I close by congratulating once again my right hon. Friend and the Board of Admiralty on the highly satisfactory statement which has been to-day presented to the House on the achievements of the Navy, both at sea and in the air, which redound greatly to the credit of the Service over which my right hon. Friend has the honour to preside.
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor (Paddington, South)
I, too, desire to congratulate my right hon. Friend on his most satisfactory report of the proceedings of His Majesty's Navy during the past year, and to associate myself with what he has said about the services rendered by the officers and men of the Royal Navy. The duties of the Navy, as has been pointed out, are many and various during this war but whatever demand has been made upon it, whether it has been with regard to the security of our vital sea communications, to submarine operations, to the operations of our light coastal forces and the keeping clear of the Channel, or combined operations with the Army, that demand has been met in a manner of which the nation and Service may well be proud. The officers and men of our Navy have added great lustre to the records of their Service, a record which has never been surpassed in efficiency, courage and sacrifice. I would also like to pay a sincere tribute to the exemplary manner in which officers and men of that great sister sea Service, His Majesty's Merchant Navy, have carried out their duties, often in the face of very great hardships and dangers. I was glad that my right hon. Friend included in his thanks the officers and ratings of the W.R.N.S. Those who have had dealings with "Wren" officers and ratings, as I have, will agree with me as to the amazingly efficient manner in which they have carried out the many duties which they now have to perform. Their work has been of inestimable value to the Service.
My right hon. Friend described at great length the improved position of our offensive 1929 against the U-boats in the so-called Battle of the Atlantic. It was most satisfactory to hear what he said. That position is no doubt due to the increased strength of our surface vessels and to our seaborne aircraft, which have been able to provide for security for the convoys. The combined operations of surface craft and air craft in force have been the dominating factor in our great successes over the U-boats. We have been told of the immense increase in the sinking of U-boats, but to my mind that is not the most important fact. I think the most important fact is that in so many instances, owing to the increased forces which have been provided for escorting the convoys they have been able to prevent U-boats carrying out their attacks on the convoys at all. In many instances convoys have gone the whole range of their voyage and, though menaced by the U-boats, have not been attacked by them. That most clearly shows the necessity of not only maintaining the strength of the escort—I am not suggesting that measures are not taken—but of constantly increasing it, especially with regard to the provision of aircraft carriers. Great credit is due to the officers of the merchant ships for the exemplary manner in which they have maintained their position in the convoy, often in face of extremely difficult conditions. Any straggling, any getting outside the fold of the escort, renders them a very easy prey for the U-boat.
I should like to refer to the Naval Air Arm. In the past the Navy suffered to a very considerable extent because the Admiralty did not have sufficient say as to the type of aircraft with which it was provided and which it had to use. Since the Admiralty have taken over complete control of the Air Arm that position is immensely improved as far as ship-borne aircraft are concerned. I was always an advocate of the turning over of the Fleet Air Arm to the Admiralty and I think Coastal Command should also come directly under their control at the same time, though I realise that at this stage of the war it would be most inadvisable to bring about any alteration in the present position. At the same time I am firmly of opinion that in the future development of the efficiency of the operations carried out by Coastal Command it should as soon as possible be turned over to the Admiralty. In the main the work carried out by Coastal Command is essentially naval 1930 work, and therefore the manning, training and running of the work should be under the control of the Admiralty.
I think the tendency in the development of air power has been to concentrate upon land and ship-borne machines to the detriment of the development of what, in my opinion, is a most useful and practical type of aircraft for use by the Navy in peace and in war. I refer to the flying-boat. If I am right that the flying-boat has not been seriously developed there is a danger of our lagging behind in its development in future. The flying-boat is essentially a practical type of flying-craft for use not only by this country but throughout the Empire, because of the innumerable harbours and port facilities for them. There is an ever increasing demand for increasing the size of land-borne transport planes. That is only natural. We have nothing like reached the limit of size and with the increase of size arises the necessity of providing them with an increased length of runway to enable them to get off the ground. I am informed that even to-day a runway of some 6,000 yards is nothing out of the ordinary. In many parts of the Empire where transport planes will have to be provided it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to obtain the necessary length of runway, whereas if the flying-boat is developed there is no limit at all, because nature provides the runways in the harbours that are available to us in all parts of the world. Therefore, I hope the Admiralty will not lose sight of the great importance which the flying-boat can be to the Navy in peace and in war and will not let development lag behind.
During the war the torpedo as an offensive weapon of attack has come into its own as it has never done before. It has proved a most dangerous weapon of offence against us. It is particularly so with regard to aerial attack, where you get a number of aircraft carrying torpedoes attacking our ships in volume—a very difficult problem to deal with. We have the example of the sinking of the "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse" in the Far East. We have the great advantage obtained by the lessening of the speed in the attack on the "Bismarck" and we have the beneficial results of the attack on the "Scharnhorst" by torpedoes in lessening her speed prior to contact being made by our battleships. It would appear that in the design of our 1931 heavy ships the defence against this form of attack does not give sufficient security against torpedo attack. It is a difficult problem to solve, but it should be a matter for most serious consideration how defence, especially from the air, can be countered.
I should like to make a few remarks about the war in the Far East. Japan is an island Power, as we are in the West, entirely dependent not only for her maintenance but for the prosecution of the war on the security of her sea communications, just as we are. Sea communication is the Achilles heel of Japan. Those sea communications are extremely lengthy. They absorb an immense tonnage of merchant shipping to carry commodities to and fro and equally large naval forces to give security to their merchant ships. Japan's shipping position and power of replacement of ships sunk, whether merchant ships or men-of-war, is none too good from her point of view. The ultimate defeat of Japan will entirely depend upon the destruction of these sea communications. There is no question about that at all. We have received information of very successful operations carried out under General MacArthur, which is most encouraging considering the forces that she has at her disposal, and great credit is due to all concerned on the success of those operations which are still going on; but to bring about the defeat of Japan her battle fleet must be brought to action and her sea communications must be continuously and relentlessly attacked. Her armies in Burma, Malaya and Singapore depend upon these sea communications to a considerable extent; her Island conquests entirely depend upon them.
It is very natural that people may become a little impatient with regard to the operations against Japan. There is a natural desire, not limited to this country, to increase the naval forces that we can send out and without which we cannot possibly bring about her defeat, but however great may be the desire to send them and to increase our effective operations the overriding consideration above all others is the fact that success or failure of the United Nations in the war depends primarily and entirely upon the defeat of Germany in the West. Japan must be dealt with intensively 1932 later on. Therefore, this impatience, this desire to increase naval operations against Japan, must be curbed and not one single ship sent to the Far East that would in any way reduce the necessary force that we have at our disposal in the West to bring about the defeat of Germany. With the elimination of the Italian Fleet, with the sinking of the last of the German battleships, the "Scharnhorst," our position has immensely improved in that respect, and no doubt the Admiralty are taking full advantage of that fact.
Lastly, I wish to deal with the question of officers' marriage allowance. I put down three Questions on this subject today. I have the answer here, and I am dissatisfied with it. I fought this scheme tooth and nail when it was introduced. I thought it was a mean and parsimonious scheme which made a differentiation against naval officers, and I feel just as strongly about it to-day as I did then. The present First Lord did not introduce the scheme. He is not responsible for it, but he is the head of the Admiralty, and is in a position now to alter the scheme. I hope that he will pay great attention to the points I propose to make. The three Services have the pay of the officers more or less synchronised in accordance with rank and length of service. Prior to the introduction of marriage allowance, a Naval Committee had deprived a lieutenant of the pay due to him owing to length of time he had passed in the Service. It was a long time before that matter was put right, and then the lieutenant had his pay increased, and rightly so. Marriage allowance is given to the officers in all three Services, and, in accordance with the revised rates, the allowances for a wife and children are identical in all three Services. That is as it should be.
In the answer I received to-day I am told that officers' pay in the Navy was increased and that, taking that fact into account, they had to contribute 2s. a day for their own marriage allowance. That argument was never produced on the Floor of the House during the Debate on the marriage allowance. I brought forward many instances showing that the naval officer was worse off than officers in the other Services. One would imagine, if one did not know the facts, that as the pay of the officers had been synchronised, the marriage allowance was identical in all three Services and that the naval officer 1933 would be in the same position as the officer in the Army or the Air Force. That is far from being the case. Alone of the officers in the three Services, the naval officer has to contribute to his own marriage allowance whether he is married or unmarried. Officers' pay from lieutenant-commander up to and including captain has been cut—that is the Admiralty expression—by 2s. a day to provide marriage allowance. Therefore, when the Admiralty publish what the naval officer receives in marriage allowance for his wife he is, in fact, receiving 2S. a day less. He has had his pay reduced by 2s. as a contribution towards paying for marriage allowance.
What is the result of this reduction in pay? I have it here in a book which anybody can buy. My right hon. Friend no doubt knows as well as I do what is inside this publication, which is called "Appendix to the Navy List." It shows all the rates of pay and allowances to naval officers. An officer of the rank of lieutenant-commander up to and including captain receives under the revised rates of pay 14s. a week net for his wife. The able seaman on the lower deck receives 18s. I am very glad that he does, but I ask the First Lord how the Admiralty can justify an officer receiving 4s. less a week for his wife than the able seaman.
§ Mr. Alexander
I think that that statement is made in good faith, but when my hon. and gallant Friend says "net" I do not think he has recognised that that allowance is not subject to deduction of Income Tax.
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor
Whether it is subject to deduction of Income Tax or not has nothing to do with the question. The officer is deprived of 2s. a day. Does the First Lord deny it? Will the First Lord say I am wrong in stating that the officer has to pay 2s. a day as his contribution to his own marriage allowance? Will the First Lord deny that?
§ Mr. Alexander
I certainly will not deny the fact that there was an adjustment of 2s. a day at the time, but in the reply given to the hon. and gallant Gentleman to-day it is pointed out that in 1919, when the level of pay was adjusted, there was no marriage allowance and officers received a higher rate of pay than they would otherwise have got if they had had marriage allowance then.
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor
The question of deduction of Income Tax from the marriage allowance has nothing to do with the matter. There is no deduction from the marriage allowance of officers in the other Services. I am not satisfied with the First Lord's statement and I want more details of this higher rate of pay. A lieutenant who is promoted lieutenant-commander has to pay 2s. a day as his contribution to his marriage allowance. My right hon. Friend will not deny that. He is then receiving as lieutenant-commander 2s. a day less than he would have received if there had been no marriage allowance. My right hon. Friend will not deny that. Therefore he is 2s. a day worse off. In addition to that, he has his children's allowance for the first two children reduced by 1s. a day. On promotion from lieutenant to lieutenant-commander, when his children are a little older, he gets 1s. a day less for the first two children, and, therefore, he is on the whole 3s. a day worse off.
How can that be justified? Why should a naval officer alone have to pay towards his marriage allowance? Why should the scheme in the Navy, alone among the three Services, be a contributory scheme? What justification is there for this differentiation against the naval officer? Is it the opinion of the nation or of the Admiralty that by his services he is not entitled to the same treatment as the officers in the Army and the Air Force? I consider it a disgrace that the conditions which I have stated—and nobody can contradict them—are as they are. The naval officer looks to the First Lord to see that he gets a square deal and fair play. He has no one else to look to. I would put this with all respect to my right hon. Friend. If similar conditions to these existed in industry my right hon. Friend, an ardent supporter, as I am, of trade unions, which do not exist, cannot exist and never will exist in any of His Majesty's Services, would be, I imagine, in the forefront of the champions of the employees who were treated like this. Therefore, naval officers look to the First Lord to see that they get justice and to take steps to have this matter put right. I trust he will not fail them.
§ Mr. Guy (Poplar, South)
I do not intend to keep the House for a long time, because my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) has expressed 1935 most of the sentiments which I desired to express. I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down, will forgive me if I do not follow the lines of his speech; I confess straightaway that I am more concerned with the lower deck than with the upper deck. There are very few occasions on which this House has listened to a member of the lower deck. Until the advent of my hon. Friend the Member for White-chapel (Mr. W. Edwards) last year and myself, the House was rarely privileged to hear a speech on behalf of the lower-deck service. My hon. Friend the Member for Whitechapel has served in this war; I was privileged to serve for a time in the last war. Speaking on the Estimates last year, I ventured to hope that it would be the last occasion on which the right hon. Gentleman would be addressing the House in a war-time capacity. That hope has not, unfortunately, been fulfilled, and to-day again we have listened to what was, in my opinion, a great speech about the work of the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy during the past year. If I venture to make one or two criticisms I feel sure that my right hon. Friend will take them in the spirit in which they are offered, and if he finds that the grievances can be remedied, I shall certainly be very glad.
We listened to a glowing record of achievement of the Navy against the U-boats in the Atlantic and other spheres, and my right hon. Friend stressed the fact that we should not be over-confident, or relax in any way, because we have to be prepared for the many dangers that confront us in the year to come. I am deeply interested in the class of work which has been performed by our section of the Merchant Navy, namely, the coastwise traffic, and I want to utter a warning. The right hon. Gentleman made no reference at all to the danger of the E-boat. I do not know why he left it out of his speech. Perhaps it was for some good reason, but I am sure he will forgive my mentioning it. One does not like to hear of the sudden appearance of the E-boat in the "E-boat alleys," as they are called. I would like to be assured that our coastwise convoys receive all the protection which it is possible to give them; I hope that the First Lord will look very carefully into this point so that we can 1936 be reassured, and feel that every protection is being given to this kind of shipping.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Whitechapel—with whom, I am sure, every Member has sympathy in his recent loss—I am very keen about one matter, and I am sure the House will forgive me if I stress it, as I did in my speech last year. I refer to the selection from the lower deck of candidates for commissions. I asked my right hon. Friend whether he could give us facilities for seeing the kind of work which was being carried on, as we have seen it in the Army. We have visited various places in the Army, and many hon. Members have seen the work that has gone on, in the selection of officers. I repeat my request this year. Will my right hon. Friend give us facilities to see the kind of work that is being carried out in the selection of candidates for commissions in the Navy? We want to be assured in this matter. The selection too often depends upon the old school tie, and we want that sort of thing cut out. We want a candidate to go before the Board of Admiralty confident that he will be given equality of treatment, whether he is the son of a labourer, or the son of a lord.
My right hon. Friend spoke about Dartmouth College. It is a great piece of work and I hope that he will continue it and press it for all he is worth. Why cannot the Government make entry entirely free by paying all the expenses of every candidate going to that college? That would be also a fine piece of work, and would receive the admiration and good will of every Member of this House.
I was glad to hear of the great improvements in ship construction and of the output of shipping and ship repair work, which has so increased in volume as to be a record output. I am sure that my right hon. Friend appreciates that that result is due entirely to co-operation between the works committees in the ship repairing yards and the managements, and I think he will agree that ships have been repaired twice as fast as previously. That says much for the fine work our ship repairing workers have carried out during the past year.
I have taken the trouble to look up the history of Navy Estimates in this House, and I find that many famous men have stood at that Box in the past and 1937 presented the Navy Estimates. My right hon. Friend has placed before this House to-day such a record of work and achievement, standing to the credit of himself and those who serve under him, that his speech, if it does not excel, at any rate equals in interest and importance that of any previous First Lord of the Admiralty who has stood at that Box, and presented the Estimates in days gone by.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
We have just listened to two speeches which were remarkable for their style. Happily, one was from the quarter deck and one was from the lower deck. They had, in common, a desire to improve the status and pay of the gallant officers and men in the Navy. I hope, that at the conference on Service pay and allowances which is to be summoned as a result of our Debate last Thursday, representatives of the senior Service as well as of the other Services can be present, because they have a point of view to present. I hope also that the men who are fighting for us so well in the three Services will feel that they are going to get a square deal.
With a modesty characteristic of the Navy, which never indulges in self-advertisement, the Navy Estimates have been presented third in order although they were entitled to come first, as the Estimates for the senior Service. We hear all too little, in my view, of the exploits of His Majesty's ships. It is only when an officer is decorated by His Majesty that we hear of his deeds of valour. That does not mean that there is less affection among us for the Navy. Situated on an island, we all realise that we should be powerless without the Navy, but so much publicity is given to the gallant deeds of the other two Services that the Navy has, to some extent, gone into the background. I am very glad that an hon. and gallant Member of this House has been charged with the duty of giving more publicity about the Navy, not because there is any doubt among the people of this country in regard to the Navy, but because people abroad, I think, do not fully appreciate how much we and they are indebted to the work of the Navy. We are all proud of the great deeds the Navy has done.
The right hon. Gentleman had a good story to tell, and he did not in any way fail in the telling of it. Much of the work of the Army and of the Royal Air Force 1938 would not have been possible but for the Navy, who have kept the sea routes open. If they had not continued to do so, the great work of the Army, for example in North Africa and in Italy, would have been paralysed. We have sung the praises of Malta—quite rightly—and the island has been decorated, and immortalised by its deeds. But if it had not been for the Navy, the great deeds of Malta would not have been possible. I am glad to know that the Navy has produced great leaders, in the Nelson tradition. Two names occur to me at once. One is that of Admiral Cunningham, now the right-hand man of the First Lord, who did such great work in the Mediterranean. The other is that of Admiral Fraser who, a year ago, was in the Admiralty and who has shown great leadership in the North Sea. I pick out only two; it is just as well not to forget the admirals, while we sing the praises of the generals of the Allies.
The First Lord gave a deserved tribute to the builders of the ships. However gallant our admirals and sailors may be, if the work of the Naval Construction Department, the dockyards and the shipbuilders were not constantly brought up to date, all that gallantry would be in vain. One of my justifications for intervening in this Debate is that I had two happy years, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, as chairman of a sub-committee of a Select Committee to investigate in detail the organisation of the Navy. We did not merely investigate the Board of Admiralty; we went all over the country. We visited dockyards and went on board ships. I must say that anybody who has come into direct contact with all those activities must be inspired and impressed. I felt that good work was being done.
One thing I am very glad to be able to emphasise is the disappearance of an old bitter controversy which used to disturb our Debates on these occasions between the friends of the Navy and those of the Royal Air Force about the Fleet Air Arm. I think that here we might very well pay a tribute to the First Lord and to the Secretary of State because it is on account of their good will, and active co-operation and their preparedness to give and take, that this old controversy has sunk into the background. I would be glad if the Minister who is to reply, would give some sort of guarantee—I am sure that we would all like to be satisfied—that the 1939 Navy is being supplied with a fair share of up to date models of aircraft and that all the planes they have to use, particularly in the aircraft carriers, are of the very latest design. We know that the United States have made great progress in invention in this direction. I am told they have now a design of a very fine model with folding wings that in speed and efficiency can compete with land based models. We know the difficulty of providing planes which operate from a ship with the speed and power of those which operate from land.
Reference has been made to the Pacific. Quite clearly, when we concentrate our sea power on the Pacific the aircraft carrier will play a very big part. We have some very fine aircraft carriers—probably the finest in the world—and I would like to be sure that, in our building programme, added attention is given to aircraft carriers and that they are being provided with the right type of machine in fair proportion in the inevitable competition with the R.A.F. I understand that the aircraft industry is now the biggest industry in the country. The R.A.F. have a tremendous appetite; their casualties are heavy. But it would be a misfortune if, as a result, the Navy were not getting its fair share of the output of our aircraft factories.
I would like to say a word on something which I learnt a lot about in my experience earlier in the war—the little ships. One of the wonderful things the Navy has done is in the production and manning of thousands of little ships by men who, before the war, were mostly occupied in offices and banks and in industrial workshops and factories. There is the mine-sweeper, the landing craft, of which we have heard something to-day, and there are the M.T.B.s—a great variety of types, employing thousands of men under the gallant leadership of, I think I am right in saying, Admiral Kekewich. It is a wonderful organisation. It is almost an independent section of the Navy, which is almost completely manned, I think I am right in saying, by temporary officers and men who have joined the Navy since the outbreak of war. They provide a complete control round our coasts, and in addition hold their own with some of the larger and faster and more heavily armed types of 1940 E-boats. When the E-boats appear and see some of our coastal patrols, these little ships that patrol round our coasts, they rapidly take flight.
One thing I have never been able to understand is why it should be necessary to emphasise the difference between the temporary officer and the permanent officer in the Navy. It is a distinction which has long since disappeared in the Army; it is disappearing now in the Air Force, and though the officers themselves do not object, I think the Navy might well recognise that it is one Service, instead of there being one section known as the "Wavy Navy" and the other as the "Permánent Navy." They might very well be regarded as one Service. They do the same work, suffer the same risks and attract, of course, a splendid type of man. I would suggest to the Board of Admiralty who are, I know, conservative in these things, that they should consider whether the time has not come now, when the distinction might disappear. I am sure very few men will be dispensed with until we have tackled Japan, and many of them will have been in the Navy for seven years before Japan has been accounted for. The distinction between the permanent and temporary naval officer might, as I say, disappear now, and instead of the "Wavy" badge, all might have the magic straight gold line. On the larger ships I am told it puts a temporary officer at a disadvantage compared with the "Regular" officer, because he has a different badge on his arm. It does not matter on the small ships.
There is only one other subject I would like to touch upon, and I do this with the greatest diffidence, especially as there is an Amendment on this matter of education. I am not thinking so much of education in the Navy for promotion. The right hon. Gentleman was able to give a very good account of the fine work done in that direction. Here I pay tribute to that war creation of the Admiralty, "King Alfred," one of the finest pieces of work that has been done, for training rapidly men from the lower deck and making them into good officers. But I wish to refer more particularly to general education. There is nothing in the Admiralty like A.B.C.A. or the A.E.C. I appreciate the great difference between the two Services. It is one thing to be able to organise these things when men are in 1941 camps and barracks, and far more difficult when men are in ships scattered all over the world. But the Naval man, just as the soldier and the airman, will have to return to civil life. I think the Lords of the Admiralty might see whether, in co-operation with the Army, they can provide more opportunities for general education in the Navy. It is done, I understand, in the big flagships, but in the smaller ships and in the depots very few facilities are provided. As a matter of fact, when a man is shut up in a ship or limited to a port, his need is really greater than that of the member of a land force. Time hangs heavily on his hands, and the officers have consequently to devise ways of keeping him occupied and out of mischief. I suggest that the time has come for the Admiralty to do something for the Navy similar to what has been done by A.B.C.A. and the Army Educational Corps.
I wish to put in a word for the engineer officer, as I have done on several previous occasions. I think the time has come when the engineer officer should be given improved status. One of the great things which Lord Fisher did when he was First Sea Lord was to improve the status of the engineer. He, with his vision and insight, saw the increasing importance of the technician in the development of the Navy. At Dartmouth, the officer who is to become an engineer goes through the same course, the same training, as the officer who is to become, say, a navigator. I am sure that many parents are reluctant to admit their sons to specialise as engineers, because the opportunities for promotion to the very top, are so much less in that branch. There are many posts that could be opened to them at the present time. I was amazed when going round the country, to find that in every dockyard there was an engineer officer, but in no case was he allowed to be a superintendent of dockyards. Obviously, in a matter of technical supervision the training of an engineer officer would qualify him particularly to control and manage a dockyard. I would like to see a suitable engineer admiral on the Board of Admiralty, in one of the higher posts. I think the time for that has come. Ships are becoming, more and more, mechanised. A ship now is a mass of gadgets, largely run by electricity. The design and running of a ship depend largely on the engineering, and though I may be trenching on a very conservative 1942 tradition, I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman might use his persuasive eloquence to secure a better status for the engineer officer, on whose efficiency and capacity and ability depends so much the success of the Navy. In conclusion I would testify again to the magnificent work of the Board of Admiralty and the splendid service that the officers and men are giving to safeguard our shores and to help us to get our Armies to the places they have to attack.
§ Mr. Gretton (Burton)
I have never had the privilege of serving in the Royal Navy but I now have the honour to represent a constituency which, although it is in the centre of England, many miles distant from the sea, takes a very real and sincere interest both in the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy. In addition, many of its sons are serving in both Services at the present time. I should, therefore, like to add my tribute to what has already been said by the First Lord and by other speakers, on the achievements of the Navy in this war and what it has done throughout the whole of our history. It would be invidious to try to draw comparisons between the three Services, and I take this opportunity of saying that I have no such intention. I have, however, asked myself one question. It is this. Which of the three Services, ultimately, is really fundamental to the security of this country in both peace and war, and which of these Services is vital to the prosperity of this country in times of peace? I think the answer is, undoubtedly, the Navy. First of all, there is the fact of our geographical position in the world. We are an island. There is also the fact that many thousands of miles divide us and all parts of the Empire which is distributed throughout the world. We know that the aeroplane has made great advances and, periodically, we learn how it is now able to transport an ever-increasing volume of goods and, when the necessity arises, also a greater weight.
But if we look at the position a little more critically and closely we cannot help but be struck by the fact that no large expeditionary force can reach this country or leave our shores except by sea. Then, again, no matter what part we are taking in our contribution towards the national effort, whether we are civilians or whether we are serving in any of the three Services, including the Navy, we are 1943 dependent in this island for a large proportion of our food from overseas. It is evident that without food a man can neither work properly nor do his part in fighting. Again, we are dependent on the Navy for large quantities of fuel oil, raw materials, and heavy equipment, all of which has to come by sea. I raise this point to-day because I hope that when the Financial Secretary comes to reply he will be able to assure us that thought is being given, even at this time, to both the type and the number of ships which we shall require, not only after hostilities have ceased in Europe, but when peace once again returns to the world.
I should also like to take this opportunity of expressing the hope that the question of the part which the Navy can play will be on the agenda for discussion among the Dominion Premiers when they meet and, especially, the greater contribution which the Dominions can make in the future. In conclusion, I am sure that all of us look forward to the time and very much hope that it is not now far off when we shall want to know very clearly what form of League of Nations, or whatever it may be called, is to be set up. When that time comes, we shall want to know what is the major contribution or one of the main contributions that we can make from this country and from the Empire. I suggest that we are best fitted to play our part with our Royal Navy, not only because the sea, as a lifeline of communication, is vital to us, but because—and let us always bear this in mind when we are pondering the question—the United States of America, Russia and China are first and foremost Continental Powers. We alone are vitally dependent on the sea. There is one further reason; through Providence we are and have been a seafaring nation, and therefore we are among those best fitted not only to continue to build the finest ships in the world, but also to find the men to man them.
§ Lieut.-Commander Hutchison (Edinburgh, West)
Earlier to-day the House listened in rapt attention to the First Lord giving his annual review, and it was, indeed, of a most encouraging nature, although the satisfaction with which we all listened to it must, unhappily, be tempered with regret at the thought of the 1944 large numbers of officers and men who have lost their lives in upholding the traditions of the Navy during the past year and also of the fine ships which have gone to the bottom, in particular the famous cruiser "Penelope" whose passing I know will be mourned throughout the Navy and throughout all circles interested in naval affairs. It may well be that when history is written the "Penelope" may take a place alongside the historic little "Revenge." Whatever else may be said of this war, when its history comes to be written, at least the historian will say this of our sailors—the officers and men of the Fleet, between the years 1939 to 1944 and onwards lived up to the very highest traditions of the Navy and, indeed, their endurance has exceeded anything that has ever been known in the past. I feel, therefore, that this House, in paying a tribute to the personnel of the Fleet, ought to look very carefully to the care and treatment of those who are serving them so faithfully and, for that reason, I do hope that the Government will pay heed to what has been said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) on the subject of pay and allowances, and that they will take a wise view of this question, upon which the feelings of so many hon. Members run very strongly.
Unlike all the other hon. Members who have spoken to-day, I propose to adopt an entirely different line and to bring to the notice of my right hon. Friend the First Lord and my hon. and gallant Friend the Civil Lord certain points in connection with one of the Civil Departments of the Admiralty. I was serving in the Department concerned, the Naval Ordnance Inspection Department, until last autumn and, therefore, when the Estimates were discussed in 1942 and 1943 I felt it unwise to intervene in the discussion in case, however unwittingly, I should be the cause of any embarrassment to my colleagues in that Department, although I hasten to assure my hon. and gallant Friend that anything I should have said on a previous occasion and which I intend to say to-day would have been of a friendly and constructive nature. However, this year, being in a position of greater freedom, I feel disposed to speak 1945 out, knowing that I will not cause difficulty in any Service quarter.
There are two specific points which I wish to bring to the notice of my hon. and gallant Friend the Civil Lord, and to which I hope he will allude in his reply. The first is policy and concerns the future of the Naval Ordnance Inspection Department, and the second is the system of pay and allowances in force for the industrial staff of that Department. So far as the future of the Naval Ordnance Inspection Department is concerned, there is a feeling of apprehension among the technical officers in that Department that it may be amalgamated or absorbed into the much larger Departments of the Chief Inspector of Armaments and Aeronautical Inspection Department, which are the two equivalent Services in the Army and the Air Force. Indeed, a vague hint to that end was thrown out in a Report by the Select Committee on National Expenditure last year. I am, I think, speaking for every technical officer in that Department when I say that I consider it is essential in the interests of the Navy that that Department should not be amalgamated with these other two Departments. I think I am the only person in this House who has served in that Department and therefore I want to put the arguments against amalgamation.
It is highly probable that very few hon. Members and very few members of the public know very much about the Naval Ordnance Inspection Department, which does a great deal of useful work in a somewhat unobtrusive manner and, for security reasons, I do not propose to say much about it. It is, in fact, a fairly modern Department, founded, originally, about 1912 and developed to a considerable extent during the last war. But in its present form it really dates from the re-organisation period after the Armistice. The work of the Department, as its name implies, lies, of course, in the inspection of filled and empty ammunition stores, the components for guns, torpedoes, mines and other weapons used in naval service. The personnel of the Department functions in the various naval armament depots attached to the dockyards and also in industrial firms up and down the country where munitions for the Navy are being produced. The justification for its existence lies in the fact that during the present war there has not been a single catastrophe of the nature 1946 which overtook us during the last war, when owing to defective ammunition, we lost by internal explosion a number of fine ships. I would cite, for instance, the battleships "Vanguard" and "Bulwark" and the cruiser "Natal." But thanks to-day to the efficient inspection service no similar disasters have occurred in the course of this war.
Many hon. Members may say, "That is all right; we quite agree that there must be an inspection service, but why cannot you combine it with the inspection services of the Army and the Air Force in the various industrial firms?" I am going to submit that there are powerful technical objections to any too close form of combination or amalgamation although there is a field for co-operation, and, in fact, there is quite a considerable degree of co-operation between the three inspectorates. The arguments against amalgamation are twofold. The first concerns the very high degree of accuracy required for weapons used in naval service which arises out of the very conditions of naval warfare itself, which are, in many respects, entirely different from land and aerial warfare.
For example, if I may illustrate the position simply, in the Navy the gun platform itself, that is the ship, is subject to vibration and to the motion of the sea, the target is usually a very small one moving at high speed and zigzagging, and probably at great range, and there is very often poor visibility, which means that to obtain hits is a matter of difficulty for the gunnery officer and personnel, however good they may be. On the other hand, unless you get a hit the shell is wasted altogether, because a near miss is useless in marine warfare, although in the case of the Air Force and the Army, even if a bomb or a shell misses the target, a near miss may do great damage. Therefore, there must be accuracy in the naval guns and sights. Again—and this was borne out very strikingly by Lord Chatfield in his book—great trouble was caused in the last war by ammunition not being up to standard, and shells failing to detonate. One has to be very certain, therefore, that shells and fuses are of the highest quality, and that the filling is done correctly. Without casting any aspersion on the inspectorates of the Army and the Air Force, the Navy requires a higher standard. In the other 1947 Services one may accept, shall I say, a more mass-produced standard of weapons.
My next point, which is of great importance, concerns the safeguarding of life and material. In the case of the Army and the Air Force, explosives and ammunition are stored in places remote from where people are living. If, as sometimes happens, there should be a fire or an explosion, damage to material and personnel is minimised. In a warship large quantities of very dangerous explosives must be kept in the magazines, and the crews live above these magazines, day and night, in all weather and in all climates. It is of the highest importance, therefore, that the examination of those explosives should be most rigorous, otherwise, our sailors will be exposed to unnecessary perils, and disasters may occur, such as the blowing up of the cruiser "Natal" in the last war, to which I have aleady referred. It is essential, for the lives and morale of our sailors and the protection of our ships, that the naval inspection service for ammunition should be kept at the highest pitch of efficiency. I hope that my right hon. Friend the First Lord and my hon. and gallant Friend the Civil Lord will see that any proposals to absorb the Naval Ordnance Inspection Department into any of the other Departments are resisted to the last, in the interests of the efficiency of the Navy.
The next point also concerns my old Department. It is a much narrower one, but it is important as it bears on the wellbeing of the industrial staff in the Department, the people whom we call Examiners. I speak with a good deal of feeling on this question of pay and allowances, because I had to struggle with it for four years, as the officer in charge of a sub-area. The time has come for an overhaul of the system. I might explain briefly that the personnel of the Department are located either in naval armament depots attached to dockyards or in Government factories or private firms all over the country. For purposes of administration, the country is zoned into inspection areas, such as the Portsmouth area, the Sheffield area, the Birmingham area, the Scottish area, and so on, and the pay arrangements for each area are concentrated in the hands of an Admiralty civilian cashier, situated in the dockyard or specially assigned to that area. There is 1948 no objection to decentralisation; the Department was more centralised before the war, but, for obvious reasons, it was found convenient to decentralise it. What is disturbing is the lack of a clear-cut pay code.
I do not want to exaggerate. I will admit that the basic rates of pay are fairly clear—although I will underline the word "fairly". But when we come to the allowances—subsistence allowances, travelling allowances, proficiency allowances, and so on—we find that the whole system is in a state of chaos. The cashier for each area puts this own interpretation on the regulations I am all for private enterprise in its proper place, and I admire sturdy independence, but it becomes a grave nuisance to have all these different local interpretations. The personnel of the Ordnance Inspection Department are not static; they may move from one area to another. Thus, you may find a mechanic moved from Woolwich to Glasgow or from Birmingham to Leeds, and when he puts in his weekly expense sheet at his new station he will find that instead of receiving x shillings, to which he thinks he is entitled, he gets x-2 shillings. Then the fat is in the fire. He comes to the officer in charge of the area, and wants to know the reason for this different treatment in the new station. The officer in charge of the area has to initiate a voluminous correspondence with the various cashiers. The matter is then eventually referred to the Director of Navy Accounts, who is the arbiter in these matters, and there either the correspondence dies a natural death or, a few months later, there comes back a totally irrelevant reply. I speak with feeling on the subject, having had to deal with it.
In my opinion, the root trouble of all these difficulties is a semi-mythical volume called the Home Dockyard Regulations. I call it "semi-mythical" because whilst I was the Assistant Inspector in Edinburgh I and my superior, the Deputy Inspector in Glasgow, frequently had bits of this volume quoted to us by various cashiers, but whenever we asked for a copy of it we were told either that it was out of print or that we could not get one. So I am rather in the dark as to what these regulations are, but, so far as the cashiers are concerned, this volume appears to occupy a position somewhere between the Koran and the Domesday Book, and provides an 1949 alleged answer for all pay questions. So far as I know, the Home Dockyard Regulations may fill the bill so far as dockyard workers are concerned, because dockyard workers have the advantage of being more or less static, being attached to established dockyards, but "Home Dockyard Regulations" simply do not cover the special position of examiners in the employment of the Naval Ordnance Inspection Department, who are constantly travelling from firm to firm, from district to district, and from town to town.
I would summarise the defects of the present system as being threefold; first, the lack of a standard practice in dealing with the pay and allowances of the industrial staff causes discontent; secondly, the lack of clarity in the regulations is the cause of a great deal of unnecessary clerical work to the office staffs in the various inspection areas; and third—and this also is a very important point—a great deal of time has to be spent by the technical officers in charge of areas in trying to sift out all these minor problems instead of devoting themselves, as they ought, to their technical duties in inspecting materials and components for the Naval service. I submit to my right hon. Friend the First Lord and to my hon. and gallant Friend the Civil Lord that it would be easy to remedy this state of affairs. I know that they themselves are far too busy to look into these wretched Home Dockyard Regulations, but I suggest that they should get hold of one of their bright young civil assistants and give him a mandate to go over the thing and try and bring it up to date. I have a strong suspicion that it was written at the time of the Armada, or the Battle of Trafalgar at least. Let them revise the Home Dockyard Regulations, or, perhaps an even better suggestion, let them draw up a new pay and allowances code for the Naval Ordnance Inspection Department and for every similar department, such as that of the Warship Production Superintendent. At least give us something that is clear and can be followed and will cut out a good deal of the friction and unnecessary correspondence on pay matters which exist to-day. I would urge my hon. and gallant Friend the Civil Lord to look into this matter, which is quite capable of being remedied by administrative action.
Finally, I want to say a word on the subject of the scale of allowances in force in the Department. These allowances are 1950 not, in present circumstances, entirely adequate. A great many of the industrial staff, more especially the mechanic examiner staff, have to do a lot of travelling and may have to be away from their station for three, four or more days. The scale of allowances is 10s. 6d. a night for the first week, that is, for the 24 hours; 7s. 6d. per night for the second week, and 5s. 6d. thereafter, up to one month. That may sound reasonable, speaking about it in this House, but in actual practice, it does not work out so well. We have noticed in the newspapers in the last day or two articles about extortionate charges for board and lodging levied upon troops in the Midland area and other places. It is very difficult for these mechanics and others to get board and lodging at any reasonable price when they go to a strange town. A year ago I was advised that a certain new device was to be manufactured in my own area.
I had not any practical experience of it at the time, and so I sent one of my mechanic examiners twice to London and Birmingham in order to get detailed information about the thing. On each occasion he had to spend several days in those towns, and on each occasion, when he came back and worked out his expenses, it was found, that with the best will in the world and the utmost economy on his part, he was out of pocket. It is wrong that men should be sent on important duties and have to pay money out of their own pockets and not have their expenses fully covered. I therefore urge my hon. and gallant Friend the Civil Lord to try and wheedle a little more cash out of the Treasury for these allowances. If, as it may well be, he meets some obstruction in suggesting a flat rate increase, let him press that the officers in charge of the inspection areas be authorised to make up the difference between the scale rate of expenses and the actual out-of-pocket expenses, so that a man does not have to pay any of the cost himself when proceeding on duty. Something in the nature of a discretionary allowance might be permitted in cases of that nature.
I have spoken longer than usual in this House, but, like all other hon. Members, and particularly those in the naval contingent here, I am very anxious that my old colleagues in this Department should get a square deal, and I hope that the First Lord and the Civil Lord will give 1951 due weight to the points that I have made and do their best in these matters.
§ Mr. Viant (Willesden, West)
The House has had a most pleasant record placed before it to-day by the First Lord of the Admiralty. It was one of those reports from his Department which must be, and I feel will be, most reassuring to the people in the country. It would be impossible to place any value upon the services rendered by the men and women both in the Royal Navy and the Mercantile Marine. With others, I desire to express my gratitude and thanks for the sacrifices and efforts that have been made both by those men and those women, and I hope that the Government will not lose sight of those facts when they consider the results of the Debate that took place in this House on Thursday last. I hope facilities will be offered whereby this House, on behalf of the people of this country, will be enabled to express their thanks and gratitude in a far more tangible form.
I am not going to roam over a wide field; other speakers have covered a considerable amount of ground, and I shall touch on one or two subjects. A week or so ago my attention was directed to questions that were put by the Selection Board of the W.R.N.S., the Board appointed for the purpose of selecting candidates for promotion. After due consideration I thought it wise to put a Question on the Order Paper. That Question was down to be answered this week, and in view of this Debate, I informed the First Lord of the Admiralty that I should raise the question to-day as I thought it would be preferable if he had an opportunity of making a very much fuller reply than would be possible by question and answer. These were the questions that I was informed were being put to candidates by the Selection Board. "What is your father? Who are your bankers? What was your school?" and, finally, "Who recommended you?" I am raising this in no hostile spirit, but there is a very important principle involved here. I thought over those questions very carefully and tried to make up my mind as to whether they were likely to enable any Selection Committee to ascertain the most suitable candidates to be recommended for commissions and, up to this moment, I am 1952 persuaded that these questions will help very little indeed, if they help in any way whatever. I know the difficulties which confront any Minister in a Department of State. He cannot know everything that is going on in his Department. Therefore, I thought it wise to bring this to the notice of my right hon. Friend. Since the Question has been on the Order Paper, I have been inundated by letters of confirmation. One letter states that the main qualifications for a commission are:A good social standing in private life, a private income, a higher school education, influential relatives or friends.From my point of view it is serious indeed if these are the questions that are put. There are three outstanding questions which should determine the fitness of a candidate for a commission. First of all, integrity of character; secondly, ability; and, thirdly, personality, If a Selection Committee are satisfied on those three points, the economic position of the candidate's parents is of no concern.
§ Mr. Alexander
I think that is a most excellent statement, if I may say so, because that is exactly the basis upon which we proceed.
§ Mr. Viant
The right hon. Gentleman will avail himself of the opportunity, I hope, to answer this in full. I have correspondence here from persons who must be telling an untruth, or the right hon. Gentleman must be misinformed. I want to develop my case in my own way. Those three tests I consider to be the most important to put to any candidate. I am informed that it seems to be the business of the officers responsible to select the most intelligent young women in order that they shall become petty officers and assist very materially the officers of higher rank in doing duties that they are quite incapable of fulfilling. We cannot afford to joke about this matter, it is most important. If this kind of thing obtains, it is bound to develop a spirit of frustration, if nothing else, and I know of nothing that contributes to the undermining of morale more than the spirit of frustration. This is a modern Service and I can appreciate the difficulties with which the Department were confronted when developing it. It has developed most rapidly and it has not been an easy matter to find the officers to take up responsible posts. I can appreciate all that, but I cannot appreciate questions 1953 being put to a candidate as to whether they have a bank balance, and who are their bankers, much less asking what their father was.
The point we have to consider is that this is no new thing to the Admiralty. We know that questions of this kind—if not at the present time, within the near past—have been put to male candidates who have submitted themselves to Selection Boards. If this is the case, I am persuaded in my own mind that we are not getting the best type of candidates and that, in itself, is bound to undermine the morale and efficiency of the Service. In weighing this up, and knowing my right hon. Friend as I do, I ask myself this question. If, in our early days, he and I had appeared before a Selection Board, as we have done from time to time, and they had invited us to state what bank balance we had and who our bankers were, we should have stood very little chance of getting here, much less of becoming Members of the Government, and I submit that the country would have been very much the poorer had my right hon. Friend not had an opportunity of filling the position he occupies to-day.
§ Mr. Alexander
I really must interrupt my hon. Friend. I was commissioned from the ranks in 1916 or 1917. I was not asked what my bank balance was, but I was asked exactly what we ask the W.R.N.S. to-day—who are your bankers, and do you wish your money, when you get your commission, to be paid through a bank or paid direct?
§ Mr. Viant
Excuse me, but that is not the way in which the questions are put by any Selection Board. If that is the explanation given to my right hon. Friend, he may accept it, but I would not, and I do not think the majority of reasonable men and experienced men in this House would be prepared to accept an explanation like that. I know the country will not. I am making an appeal to my right hon. Friend to go into this matter more thoroughly because we cannot afford to allow it to remain there.
I want to touch upon one other question. The Admiralty has, in no sense of the word, made the progress that has been made by the Army and the Air Force in regard to giving commissions to those who have been called back into the Service during hostilities. What I mean 1954 is best explained by a quotation which I will give him from a letter I have in my hand:It has been conspicuous that no rating of the equivalent rank of sergeant-major in the Army has been given a temporary commission on the same lines as the War Office has done. To ex-R.N. reservists and pensioner reservists a few dead-end promotions to acting temporary officers have been given, but it is impossible to advance from that rank. In 1943 a C.A.F.O. was issued, giving temporary commissions to ex-Royal Fleet Reservists, and some were recommended, but on appearing before the selection board candidates were told by the Admiral that they were more use as petty officers than they would be as R.N.V.R. lieutenants and the R.N. captain told each of them that they had been too long on the lower deck.If the War Office has seen the wisdom of giving of this character to men who have seen a considerable amount of service, why has not the same concession been made by the Admiralty? I think it would be very valuable. Furthermore, it would undoubtedly be an encouragement to these men, who are playing their part in acting as instructors to the young recruits who are at the present time being brought into the Service. They feel they are not getting a square deal and I want to know whether my right hon. Friend will give consideration to this matter.
I make no apology for having butted into this Debate on the Navy Estimates. I happen to be the son of a sailor. I was born in a seaport and I have always been interested in the Navy. I do not wish to take up any more time of the House except to say that we were all delighted with the record given to us by my right hon. Friend. I want to prevail upon him to use his influence to see that the appreciation of all of us for the sacrifices and efforts of the officers and men of the Navy will be expressed in a more tangible form than by mere platitudes.
§ Lieut. - Commander Tufnell (Cambridge)
We have listened to a Debate ranging over a large number of subjects and I want, first of all, to pay my tribute to the speech made by the First Lord of the Admiralty. It was an account which should make the Navy feel proud of its achievements and hearten it in its great task of keeping our sea highways clear for the supply of food to this country. The words of praise which have gone out to-day to our silent and gallant Service have been richly deserved. I also want to pay a tribute to those who were brought 1955 into the Service at the beginning of the war and who are plying on the seas with different small craft—men of the R.N.V.R. and temporary lieutenants who came to the assistance of the Regular Navy when it was short of personnel. These men have taken to the seas like ducks to water. My right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) suggested that they should be given the same status as men of the Regular Navy, but I am not quite sure that I agree with that, because the House will recollect the position of the Navy at the end of the last war, when it was flooded with men who came into the Regular Service from outside, so that the latter became a dead-end Service for those who were left in it. Many who had entered the regular Navy suffered because of the axe which fell on them and entailed their having to retire or resign and accept some tribute from the Admiralty.
§ Sir P. Harris
I did not say that they should be absorbed into the regular Navy. I merely said that their ranks should be equal, as in other Services. Instead of a "wavy" Navy let us have a "straight line" Navy.
§ Lieut.-Commander Tufnell
I am sorry, I thought my right hon. Friend said that they should have the same status as regular naval officers. The Admiralty have recognised the ability of these men and have given them their chances of rapid promotion. I would like to support what was said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) about the position of junior lieutenants in the regular Navy. Since the war started many have been given jobs which, in peace-time, were carried out by officers with two and a half stripes on their arms. The junior lieutenant has to wait his full eight years before he can achieve that extra half stripe. They are taking on jobs in big ships, such as gunnery and torpedo specialists, and they are commanding destroyers and they should, at least, be given the acting rank of the extra half stripe and that sense of dignity to which they are entitled.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider sympathetically the idea that the skill and ability of these men should be recognised by giving them their acting rank and removing a well-founded grievance I should also like to support my 1956 hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) in the suggestion that we should take a very active part in the investigation as to the proposed alterations in pay from the naval point of view. When the marriage allowances were revised, I remember suggesting that it was like giving a dog a bit of its own tail to eat. These allowances could very well be revised, and officers and men placed in a very much better position. There must be bitter resentment amongst wives of naval personnel living next door to industrialists who are getting very much better pay, though the sailors bring in the raw material, on which the industrialists work.
With regard to future policy, I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman suggest that the future of the Navy would depend upon the battleship. I hope he is considering, even now, what is to be the position 10 years hence. In pre-war years we had the finest Navy in the world, yet it was inadequate for its responsibility of defending this country and the Empire, without the assistance of naval allies. When we found ourselves alone after Dunkirk, we were barely able to maintain our superiority at home and in the Mediterranean—certainly, not in the Far East. Who knows, if we had been able to maintain our superiority in the Far East, whether Japan would ever have dared to enter the war? That was our position then when, thanks to naval conferences, our Fleet bad been very much reduced. We had 15 capital ships, 10 of which were warn out, and unsuited to modern conditions of naval warfare. Not only that, but we were not able to supply our battle fleets with the necessary escort, as the result of which we lost those two ships at Singapore. I want to be sure that the country and the Government realise the necessity of the battleship, During the war the battleship, with air and underwater escort, has shown itself a very effective weapon. It was by the co-operation of those three Services that the "Bismarck" and "Scharnhorst" were sunk. When the "Graf Spey" escaped, it was a very grave menace to our shipping, and the fact that the Japanese had such complete naval superiority in the Far East enabled them to carry out that swift and sweeping invasion of our possessions there. I hope we shall always, in the future, base our fleet on battleships, with 1957 the necessary air escort of carriers, cruisers, destroyers and submarines, because we depend on that for our very existence.
The great expense of battleship construction makes it necessary that they should either be continually reconstructed in order to meet modern naval conditions, or scrapped and replaced by other vessels. The fact that they take three or four years to build, means that we have to look ahead. We should start now replacing battleships that are out-of-date. It has been pointed out that the building of these battleships, with their necessary escorts, means employing the dockyards, keeping them going ready for any emergency, with a permanent nucleus of skilled men. For all these reasons, I hope the First Lord will consider a policy of laying down at least one or two battleships a year, so that in to years' time all the old ships will be replaced and we shall be able to man the Mediterranean, the Home stations and the Far East. We must never forget the lesson of Singapore. If we can always keep these fleets or battle squadrons maintained in peace time, it will be the most effective obstacle against war in future.