§ 4.49 p.m.
§ Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That", to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House, being convinced that the maintenance of adequate armed forces in the post-war era is a necessary condition for the preservation of world peace, the unity of the Empire and the welfare of our people, is of opinion that to enable us to discharge our obligations and ensure the integrity and security of the Commonwealth and Empire the strength of the Royal Navy should at all times be sufficiently maintained.We have had from the First Lord of the Admiralty this morning a very wonderful review, during which he naturally dwelt on the past for the greater part of the time. The Amendment which I am moving, deals, for the most part, with the future, and I hope that the House will forgive me if, at least in my opening remarks, I make some reference to the past.
At the conclusion of the last war, there was a belief held by people generally in many parts of the world, and not least in this country, that the war to end war had been fought, and that war, in the future, 2101 would be abandoned by the nations as an instrument of policy. That belief was reinforced by the setting up of the League of Nations, whose main purpose was presumed to be to settle by reason and not by force, any dispute which might arise between the nations. It was recognised that sanctions might be required, but the final sanction of war, though it was allowed for, was considered to be remote and probably unnecessary. That led to the days of disarmament. If armaments could only be swept away, it was felt that the rule of law, as represented by the League of Nations, would become unchallengeable. The outcome, so far as the Royal Navy was concerned was this: the strength of the British Navy was ordered by a formula which failed to take account of our peculiar situation and our complete dependence upon sea-borne trade. You cannot regulate the strength of the British Fleet by any automatic process. If it is to serve its purpose, its strength must depend on a great variety of factors, such as apply to no other country in the world and of which no fixed formulae can possibly take acount. So far as I am concerned, no matter what the strength of other navies may be, the British Fleet must always be sufficient to ensure a constant flow of supplies to this country; but that apart, the result was that the great peace-loving democracies reduced their Armed Forces below the point of danger, while the aggressor nations built up their strength. The frequent disarmament conferences which we had merely provided a fertile field for the growth of international suspicion, misunderstanding and national jealousy.
The desire of this country for peace, and our belief that disarmament pointed the way, led to our being unprepared in many respects to face the present war. It would serve no useful purpose if I were to enter into details at this stage, but I often think how different the position of the British Fleet would have been but for those conferences, and how much better we might have been prepared to face another U-boat war. Memories are very short. We are inclined to forget those things, but in truth this country was placed in the utmost jeopardy from which it has been rescued only by prodigious effort, great skill and high good fortune. Never again, I suggest, should the strength of the British Navy be regulated by treaty. It should be decided rather by 2102 ourselves, in the light of our obligations to others, and in the light of our requirements and our needs.
Now we appear to have learned that, if any international authority is to succeed in the future as an arbiter between the nations, it must have force made available to it, to enable it to uphold its judgments. Accepting that realistic point of view, the new authority proposed by the United Nations is to have available to it, the fighting forces of the British Empire, the United States, and Russia. These three nations, it seems, are, in the future, to guarantee world peace. As I understand it, the forces of these Powers would not be limited. The Powers will be expected to maintain such forces as to ensure their own security, and to enable them to play their part in the maintenance of world peace. In the post-war era, then, we are to have two responsibilities, one to ourselves and the Commonwealth, and the other to the world. In those circumstances, the responsibility of the Royal Navy will be very great, greater in fact than at any previous time, for never hitherto have we undertaken such a commitment to the world at large.
It is not my intention this afternoon to endeavour to prove to the satisfaction of this House that the Navy is the predominant Service, and that its needs must be met before those of the other two Services. Far from it, for in my opinion this war has proved once more that the three Services are entirely inter-dependent and arc indeed three branches of one great Service. As I see it, a strong Navy with a weak Army and a weak Air Force would be a far less effective weapon for our purpose, than would be a smaller Navy with a proportionate Army and Air Force. In the inter-war years, it became fashionable to press the claims of one Service to the detriment of the others. That, in the national interest, was highly mischievous. I trust that we have learned that no one Service can secure our defence nor yet defend our sea communications, which is the principal function of the Navy.
May I give one or two examples of the kind of thing I mean, to illustrate the point I have in mind? It is generally held that the Battle of Britain was won by a mere handful of intrepid and courageous men who, fighting in the air against great odds, succeeded in overcoming the mighty air force of Germany. All honour is due 2103 to those men, and it is true that, but for their skill, courage and endurance, this country might have been conquered. But that is only half the story. The Battle of Britain was but a continuation of the Battle of the Atlantic. Had we lost that battle, which was fought by the men of the Merchant Navy and the Royal Navy with equal courage and determination, the Battle of Britain would never have been fought at all, for the motive power would not have been available to enable the aircraft to fly. Those two were, indeed, one battle to keep our country inviolate. The Navy and the Royal Air Force had both their parts to play, but neither of them alone, nor the two together, could guarantee the safety of this country because the Army also had its part to play.
So, as we have been told to-day already, and yesterday were told by the Secretary of State for Air, in every big operation which has taken place during this war, the invasion of North Africa, of Italy and of France, and the conquest of Madagascar, no one Service could have succeeded by itself. It was the Navy's part to provide transport for the troops and the ground staff of the Royal Air Force, their stores and equipment, to guard them from attack by surface ships and underwater craft, to provide artillery for the opening phases of the landing and see the men taken ashore. The Royal Air Force had to provide against attack from the air, to soften up the enemy before the landing, disrupt his communications, obtain information as to his position and to help the troops to advance. The Army had to fight the enemy on the ground. As in war, so in regard to the control of the lines of communication across the sea, which it is the Navy's duty to secure; and to enable the Fleet to gain and obtain that control, bases in all parts of the world are essential. To protect these bases is the duty of the Army and the Royal Air Force. In future I hope that protection will be adequate. We do not want any more Singapores. The loss of a base of that magnitude may well entail loss of control over a wide area, as in fact it did in the past. Again, the Army and the Air Force bad to protect the bases for shore-based aircraft which play to-day a very considerable part in the control of sea communications.
The Royal Air Force has yet another part to play, for while Coastal Command, 2104 as this war has proved, must be under the operational control of the Navy, which must also have a voice in the type of aircraft, equipment of the aircraft and the training of the personnel, it is convenient that it should be administered by the Royal Air Force. That system has both its merits and its defects, but it has worked well under the stress of war and it has led to a most valuable understanding and liaison between the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy. It has often been said that the Navy is not air-minded. The Navy has always been air-minded, and experience is making it more so. In the future, there will be an increasing number of naval personnel who will be airmen. That is not to say that the day of the battleship, the cruiser, the destroyer or the escort vessel, is over. That can never be, so long as this country is dependent on overseas trade, which has to be carried in ships, ships subject to attack from surface vessels and submarines.
When the public read of the many victories by aircraft over ships, they are rather inclined to think that the greatest menace to the safety of our trade comes from the air. That is not so. The greatest threat has come and the greatest damage has resulted during this war from attack by submarine and mine. But there is an even more potent form of attack. The submarine is the weapon of the weaker Power. If ever we found ourselves at war with a Power as strong as ourselves at sea it might well be we should not have to face attack from submarines at all. Powerful fighting vessels lying athwart our trade routes would, automatically, bring our trade to a complete standstill. The strongest surface unit, call her the battleship or what you will, is still supreme, but just as she requires to be protected by destroyers against submarines, so she requires protection in the air against attack from that element. That protection cannot be provided by shore-based aircraft, except in comparatively narrow waters. In the wide open spaces of the ocean, aircraft must accompany our ships, whether they are men-of-war or merchantmen. Hence the ever-increasing importance of the Fleet Air Arm and the carrier. Carriers are extremely vulnerable and are unable to protect themselves against powerful fighting units, particularly if they happen to have carriers in company.
There have been various illustrations in the present war of the relative weak- 2105 ness of both the battleship and the carrier, experience which goes to prove that the one is complementary to the other. For example, we have the case of the carrier "Glorious," which unprotected by any fighting ship, fell an easy victim to the "Scharnhorst" and "Gneisenau." The battleship "Prince of Wales" and the battle cruiser "Repulse," unescorted by aircraft, fell easy victims to the torpedoes from Japanese carrier-borne planes. It is possible though no one can tell that we may not see again the great line of battleships we knew in the Jutland era. Nevertheless, the days of the battleship are not over. The carrier and the battleship must work together, each giving the other that strength which the other alone does not possess, and each depending on smaller craft for defence against the submarine. There you have the conception of the task force, powerful gun units working together, with carriers and smaller craft.
As I have said, the primary duty of the Navy is to secure our lines of communication across the seas. To that end, aircraft, whether carrier-borne or, shore-based, are becoming ever more important. Flying over the sea is essentially different from flying over land, and the airmen working with the Navy must have a completely different training. They must understand naval tactics, they must be able to pick out the type of ship they sight, be able to see beyond the enemy's screening forces and anticipate what may lie behind. Their navigational difficulties are much greater than and quite different in character from those of other aircraft. The type of aircraft which carriers have, are also different. The responsibility is a naval responsibility, and the Navy must see that they get the type of aircraft required, and that those who man them are properly trained. How that can best be be accomplished I am not quite sure, and I have no wish to be dogmatic on the subject. But I am sure that the voice of the Navy must be listened to on these vital matters. On the other hand, if there is any failure, either on the part of personnel or machines that will be laid at the Admiralty's door, for the responsibility is theirs.
At the conclusion of this war there will be a great outcry for the reduction of taxation. There will be a very great demand for money for social purposes, and, in those circumstances, the Navy and 2106 the other Services will require to be conducted with the utmost economy. But I hope the House will keep constantly in mind that any permanence in the advance of our social services must be founded on a sure defence. There are, as I see it, two great binding forces which hold our Commonwealth and Empire together. Those are the Crown and the Navy. Of course we must have ideals in common, there must be interchange of trade, but be that as it may, the Crown and the Navy predominate. I may well be asked how the Navy comes into that position. As I see it, the great Dominions are quite capable of providing themselves with armies sufficient for their reasonable defence. They are also quite capable of providing themselves with air forces also sufficient for their reasonable defence, but navies operate over far wider areas.
A vital line of communication may be cut thousands of miles from its source. A world-wide network of bases is required. Indeed the naval defence of any one of our Dominions may well involve a Fleet of a size and cost which can only be provided by pooling the entire resources of the Commonwealth. Every part of the Commonwealth has an interest in the Navy, for it is essential for their welfare and defence. I do not want it to be thought for one moment that I am advocating here the discontinuance of those naval forces which are to-day maintained both by the Dominions and by India. It is very desirable, from practically every point of view, that these should be continued, but the types of ship they provide and maintain should fit into the whole, and give us a balanced Fleet. There must be common training, a common doctrine and a constant interchange of personnel and ships. During this war the Dominions and India have maintained the very highest traditions of the Royal Navy, which are indeed our common heritage. I hope they will be given every encouragement to continue so to do in the post-war years.
When the days of economy return, I hope we shall not fall into the many errors we made after the last war. There must be continuity of building, so that we can try out, in practice, new technical developments, new scientific advances, so that the skilled craftsmen so essential to naval shipbuilding shall be retained, and so that progress can be continuous. After the last war, no capital ship, with the 2107 exception of "Rodney" and "Nelson," was built for some 18 years. In consequence we did not really know what we wanted in a battleship, and we found that many of the artisans had either lost their skill, or had gone elsewhere. In future, though our programme may be small, it must be continued in respect of every class of ship. The Navy must be kept at a reasonable size, and reasonably up-to-date. Ships cannot be built, nor can men to operate them be trained, quickly ire case of emergency. Notice of these emergencies is getting ever shorter, as we well know from the unprovoked attacks which have been made in this war on Norway, Belgium and Holland, and the equally unprovoked attack at Pearl Harbour.
The Navy must be prepared to fight at short notice, and it has always to be ready. In the Autumn days of 1939 and in the opening days of 1940, there arose in France a situation which was known as the "phoney war," but so far as the Navy was concerned, it was fighting all out from the start. The enemy's surface ships were out, and had to be rounded up and destroyed; his submarines were active; convoys had immediately to be instituted and escorts provided, and our mine-sweepers had to go into action right away. There can be no delay for the Navy in going to war, for we starve, if our imports are interrupted, even for a few days. Scientific research and development are essential in the future if we are to keep abreast of the times. That is even more essential in times of retrenchment than when the Government is lavish in expenditure. In the past, and even to-day, the Navy spends far too little in that direction. I am credibly informed that it spends less than either of the other two Services, and a mere fraction of what is spent by the United States Navy. To be niggardly in regard to research is the very falsest economy.
I have already alluded to the need for bases throughout the world, adequately protected and equipped. May I, as a Scotsman, be allowed to say just one word about a matter which has already been alluded to by many other hon. Members, and which I feel to be of the utmost importance not only to my country but to the Navy? The home ports, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for West Edinburgh (Lieut.-Commander Hutchison) said, are all situated in the 2108 South of England. The great naval depots are attached to those ports, and in consequence the Navy draws its personnel mainly from the Midlands and Southern England. Per head of population the Northern counties and Scotland fall far behind those areas. The reason for that is, as my hon. and gallant Friend said, that for men from the North to join the Navy they have completely to uproot themselves from their native soil. On grounds of security and increased immunity from air attack, and because of large stretches of sheltered waters in the vicinity I would advocate—rather differing from some of my hon. Friends—that a great home port should be established on the West coast of Scotland. If for any reason of finance that proposal should be ruled out, I would support the plea that Rosyth should be retained. There is an excellent dockyard there at present, and it is more immune from air attack than the present home ports. It has a deep-water channel from the open sea to the entrance lock, while a sheltered exercising area exists in the vicinity. I suggest that if a depot were established there we should attract a wealth of first-class material of which at present the Navy only scratches the surface.
That leads me to this point. To enable the Navy to shoulder its great responsibilities, it must have made available to it the very best of our manhood, with an assured career, with prospects equal to those in any other walk of life and with equal remuneration. To-day we draw our officers from the lower deck, the preparatory, public and secondary schools. I have no fear whatever for the future of the Navy, no matter from what source the men come, so long as the sole criteria are ability and character. I think it would be wrong if any fixed number of scholarships were granted to the secondary or any other schools, because if that is done, a boy may well get into the Navy with qualifications that are not so high as those possessed by candidates from other sources. That is not in the best interests either of the Navy or the country. Give scholarships by all means, but only to those boys who, in any case, would qualify for entrance to the Navy. What we require is the best the country can give, and no obstacle should be allowed to stand in the way. In regard to the higher training, in view of the interdependence of the Services, I wonder if the time has not 2109 come when there should be one staff college for all, or three staff colleges placed in the closest possible proximity, so that our future commanders and those who will be their staffs will get to know intimately the problems and the difficulties of the sister Services, and, even more important still, that they will get to know each other individually.
For the rapid expansion of the Fleet in a time of emergency, adequate reserves are essential. The Navy cannot plan these reserves until it knows what the Government's policy is to be in regard to National Service after this war. I claim, however, that the Navy should not look to the Merchant Fleet for its principal reserves. The strength of the Merchant Navy in time of peace is an indication of the country's need for shipping. The need for shipping in time of war is never less than in time of peace. We require the same imports, and at the same time there are great demands made on the Merchant Navy for war-like purposes—troopships, munition ships, store ships, and others. As was said this morning by my right hon. Friend, shipping is the bottleneck. If we had only had more shipping available the progress of this war would have been greatly accelerated. When the Merchant Navy is put to that strain, if personnel can be got from other sources do not let us take it from the Merchant Navy. This nation has the sea in its blood. The R.N.V.R. was completely starved before the war, and it is capable of great expansion if only it is given the proper encouragement, such as attractive headquarters with facilities for training, and an opportunity to serve with the Fleet in some active capacity during holiday periods, I am certain that we could then increase it 10 or 20 fold, or even more. The present war has proved that a reserve from that source would provide us with the most admirable material.
I have tried to produce a skeleton, on which I hope that other Members taking part in this Debate may hang some flesh and blood. Let me say, in conclusion, just this. The future responsibilities of the Navy are very great. It is not too much to say that the whole future of civilisation may depend on its ability to play its part, in co-operation not only with the other Services of this country but with those of our great Allies, the United States and Russia, if aggressors ever raise their heads again. So far as 2110 we are concerned, the Navy is not only that Service on which the safety, welfare, and prosperity of this realm chiefly depend, it is one of the great binding forces holding the Commonwealth and Empire to the Mother Country, it is the greatest of all our ambassadors, a great stimulant to trade. On it the prestige of this country largely depends, and it will depend more upon it in future than in the past. So far as the world is concerned, it is an invaluable stabilising influence. A great responsibility rests upon those who administer the Navy, and a great responsibility rests upon this House, to ensure that at all times it has the men, the ships, the aircraft, the bases, the strength, to perform its functions, to guard the integrity of the Commonwealth, and to help preserve the peace of the world.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ Admiral Sir William James (Portsmouth, North)
I beg to second the Amendment.
The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) said that he only produced a skeleton, but, as a naval officer, I find it such a well filled-out skeleton that there is really very little more to be said. I would like first to stay a word about the peace-time functions of the Navy. I was on the Board of Admiralty before the war, and I used to read the reports from the foreign stations. It was astonishing how often His Majesty's ships raised steam for full speed to go to the help of someone in distress. One day it was an earthquake, and a whole squadron would go; another day there were floods; then there were British subjects in difficulties; civil authorities for help; and always piracy in the Eastern seas, and shipwrecks. In 1937 not a week passed without one of these calls. Those calls for help can only be met by a man-of-war, because a man-of-war can proceed very quickly in bad weather, embark large quantities of medical stores and so forth, can embark the number of people required, and, perhaps more important still, it can take to the area a large number of well-disciplined men, who can aid the civilian authorities. I wish I had kept a record when I was at the Board of this work of the Navy, because it would be an astonishing record of what they do in peace-time. It seems to me that this work is not going to diminish in post-war years. The world will be in a restless state for a 2111 long time, and very busy years lie before the Royal Navy.
Again, keeping to peace-time, there is the function of the Navy in times of strained relations. It has been suggested that there should be an international air force to keep order in the world. I have asked a lot of people what that force is to do in periods of strained relations, and I have never got an answer. The Foreign Secretaries of the different countries are surely not going to meet at Geneva and order this air force to bomb the towns and cities of people who are not at war. I do not believe that the world would stand for that. It is approaching midsummer madness to look upon an international air force as the sole means of keeping order in the world. Surely the only method at the stage of strained relations is the method that the League of Nations would have used if it had been effective—sanctions, blockade, occupying the enemy's ports if necessary. Therefore, I suggest that what the Powers will need to keep the peace at that stage will be a strong Navy that they can order about. An international air force will come in later on, after first shot is fired, but I do not believe that it will ever come into play when nobody has fired a shot. There will be a great deal for the British Navy to do in the post-war years, and, as the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok said, it will be the nucleus of our main defence if we are ever at war again.
But many difficulties will face those who will be responsible for balancing our post-war defence structure, whatever its size, so as to be sure that we have adequate sea forces. There was a time when balancing our forces was quite easy. We had an Army whose strength was governed by the strength of overseas garrisons, a Navy whose strength was governed by the strength of the Navies of countries that might attack us. The Board of Admiralty of those days had to think only of battleships and cruisers. Then the Navy felt the impact of all those new wonders of science, and very soon a well-balanced Fleet had to be composed of about 10 different types of ships. I well remember our difficulties over that when I was on the Board. We had only so much money, and yet we wanted at least 10 different types of ships. The other point is that no one dare prophesy 2112 to-day what sort of weapons and counter-weapons will be in existence in five or 10 years. The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok referred to these new compositions of the Fleet operating in the Pacific. That is a new advance. It is the air arm that is now taking such a large part in the Pacific war, but, as the hon. and gallant Member said, the air arm has to be guarded by battleships, cruisers and destroyers. Science is moving ahead at such tremendous speed. We have seen in the last few years the bombing-plane grow to its present great size and strength, and then, suddenly, the pilotless bomb appears. We are told by the scientists that in a few years that pilotless bomb will become a weapon of precision. We are told by scientists who are working on these wonderful developments of radio that it will be only a short time before a projectile fired from the ground can be held on to a moving object. I have said this in order to point out the great difficulty that lies ahead in balancing our forces of defence.
But in this picture of everything gaining speed, and every weapon gaining more and more power, there is one constant, the merchant ship, the ship of simple construction, that can cross the ocean with large cargoes at economical speed, the ship on which the whole life of this country depends. As the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok said, if that ship stops we stop, everything stops in a very few weeks. Therefore, it follows that our basic defence requirements after this war must be a sufficiency of force to defend our seaborne trade. Our sea armament must be commensurate with the sea armament of every country that might at some future date attack us. The battleship is always changing its form, its speed, its armament, and so on, and it follows that we must have a sufficiency of surface vessels to drive off any surface vessels that attack our seaborne traffic. The hon. and gallant Member mentioned the submarine. I was a delegate to one of the Treaty Conferences in 1937. We tried very hard to get the Powers to agree not to go on building submarines, but they would not agree. I have some doubt whether the submarine will remain a major weapon of war—for reasons which I will not go into here, as they are too long—but if the submarine continues to be built we must have sufficient forces, 2113 air and surface, to make sure that it cannot destroy all our seaborne trade.
As to the air, that is the difficulty. It may be, as some scientists tell us, that the answer to air attacks on ships is going to be the gun—this new form of gun with a projectile that can be held on to what it shoots at. It may be seaborne aircraft, in carriers; it may be land-based aircraft; but whatever it is, we must have a sufficiency of the right form of defence against attack by air, because we have run things much too fine—dangerously fine—twice in the last 25 years. We came very near to disaster in the third year of the last war, through not having sufficient anti-submarine forces. In this war we have run things very fine, not only through not having sufficient anti-submarine forces but because we did not deflect sufficient of our air potential from bombing the Continent early enough for it to take part in the Battle of the Atlantic. A third time we might not be so lucky.
One difficulty which will face those responsible for maintaining this adequate Fleet will arise from the fact that we are the only Power in the world which in recent times has come near to unbalancing its defences by accepting the claims of enthusiastic believers in a new world. I am not going to indulge in any inter-Services talk. I am dealing with a weapon. I say "the only nation," because it has always surprised other nations that we do indulge in that sort of thing. Shortly after the last war, a campaign was launched to abolish all large men-of-war on the ground that the submarine now dominated the sea war. Many hon. Members here now will remember big headlines: "What is the use of a battleship?" That campaign never stopped to inquire how the submarine could defend our ocean trade or how the counter-weapons were progressing. A few years later another campaign was launched to abolish all men-of-war on the ground that aeroplanes now dominated the sea. Again, the campaign never stopped to inquire how the aeroplane was going to defend our ocean trade, nor did those people take any heed of the possibility of counter-weapons being developed.
That campaign, like the previous one, shook the confidence of the people of this country, and the Government of the day ordered a Committee to inquire into the whole matter. I had a good deal to do 2114 with that Committee, because I helped to prepare the Admiralty case, and that Committee, after hearing all the evidence, recommended that the shipbuilding programme should continue, The Government accepted the recommendation, and I think it is no exaggeration to say that that was one of the most important decisions ever made by a Government in this country in its long history. If we had turned down battleships and built no more, the German capital ships would have been in mid-Atlantic and at focal points at home at the outbreak of war, complete with anti-submarine forces and with the necessary oil. No ship would have sailed from the United Kingdom, no ship would have sailed from America, not one, until these German ships had been removed.
But we would have been powerless to remove them. We would have had nothing with which to remove them. Therefore, I have always said that, had the decision of the Government at that moment gone the other way, had they said: "Do not have any more battleships," in the second week of October we would have been asking for terms from Hitler, because there would have been nothing else for it. Our people would have been starving, and there would have been no petrol for any transport. That is why I say it was a most important decision.
What is to happen after this war? I have already suggested that there will be a lot of new weapons. Are we going to experience these periodical campaigns which threaten to unbalance our system? I hope those days are over. We will always have our young men in a hurry, and we all sympathise with them. We will always have our enthusiasts who never stop to think. We will always have a sprinkling of old men who have run to seed but who think they are still fine. There is always a sprinkling of them, but I hope that we are going to be quit of all that after this war, and I think there are some grounds for hoping so, because the policy of purposely disintegrating our Forces at the beginning of the war has now become the policy of the complete integration of our Forces in order to deal the maximum blow at the enemy. On all levels, as I know from experience, the officers are working together, sharing each other's trials, understanding each other's difficulties and sharing each other's 2115 resources; and the officers who are doing this to-day will be the officers who, in a year or two, will be advising the Government on the set-up of our defences. On that account, I think we may have hope that those bad old days, when we got so terribly excited about new weapons and were thrown off our balance by propaganda, are gone for ever.
We must hope that future Governments of this country will always take, as the basic requirements of defence, the defence of the merchant ship, and will maintain a Navy adequate for that purpose, because, if that ship stops we stop and there is nothing more to be said. We might as well adopt the policy of the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) and put down all Army, Navy and Air Forces because they would be no use. We must hope that the most searching inquiry will be made into the war value of any new weapons, and, particularly, into the counter-measures—not only what the new weapon itself can do in battle but also what its possible counter-weapon can do. That is where we have so often nearly come to grief. The Government must never forget that the Navy has very many duties to perform in peace-time which only the Navy can perform, and that it can stop, and very often has stopped, a war breaking out.
§ 4.36 p.m.
Mr. McNeil (Greenock)
I am sure the House is in the debt of our hon. and gallant Friends who moved and seconded this important Amendment. I hope they will forgive me if I neither follow nor join in this endless Debate into which the House has once more been tempted on the value and continuance of the capital ship. Perhaps, most diffidently, I may be forgiven if I add one rider to the general arguments. I take no part in this highly technical discussion. I have myself again and again become a little impatient with even the most distinguished of technicians, of whom my hon. and gallant Friend is one, who assume that, at some time, had we decided to depart from the capital ships nothing else would have been put in its place. That is not the story of any of our Forces, and it is certainly not the story of His Majesty's Navy. If these men and yards had been told to depart from the capital ship, then it is certain that this nation, above all 2116 nations on the earth, would have produced something in substitution and replacement of it.
§ Sir W. James
I made the statement about capital ships dominating the sea and preventing our trade, because there was nothing we could have built to defend the merchant ships.
Perhaps I do not make myself clear. It would be an impertinence for me to offer a technical opinion against that of my hon. and gallant Friend, but I will never have it accepted that scientists and technicians in this country, if given the command from the Government to pursue a line to produce a definite weapon, could produce nothing. I am certain that we would have produced something in substitution for the capital ship, and if my hon. and gallant Friend is trying to twist my tail—
§ Mr. A. V. Alexander
The whole point is that it would have been no use if the other Powers, conference or no conference, had themselves insisted on keeping capital ships.
I did not mean to be drawn into this Debate at all, but, if my right hon. Friend is now going to line up against me, then, if for no better reason than that I am a Scotsman, I am prepared to take him on too. The proposition is not that we should, or should not, have any capital ships. The proposition is whether we should have capital ships or something other than capital ships. [HON. MEMBERS: "What?"] Well, I have already said, most humbly, that I cannot offer a technical opinion, but I am going to suggest that the capital ship, about which my hon. and gallant Friend is concerned, is not the capital ship of to-day. I want to suggest that only once in this war have we used a capital ship as one presumes a capital ship should be used, and it was disastrous.
I suggest that no one would any longer argue that a capital ship could be used as a capital ship was used 10 years ago. Nowadays, it would be disastrous, as the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok argued, to send in a capital ship without its complementary carriers. Someone says: "What are you going to substitute for capital ships?" Quite plainly, although I cannot answer defin- 2117 itely and technically, that was the line upon which our scientists would have gone if the other decision had been taken. However, my purpose is not to argue with the mover and seconder of the Amendment, but to agree with them, mainly, in their proposition. I am sorry that my hon. and gallant Friend the mover of the Amendment is not back in the House—I see he now is—because, while I want most warmly to associate myself with him, I cannot forbear to say that I am delighted to see in him the conversion which I see in some parts of his party to this line, which my party has taken for some time—that, in times of retrenchment, the remedy is not to cut your cloth still further back, but to set to work, and I agree with him in hoping that research will not be cut back if the time comes for retrenchment. I can remember sitting in another quite important, although minor, body, compared with this House, when my hon. and gallant Friend held other opinions in time of stress and retrenchment.
I want, however, to commend to the House two points without which we cannot hope to have this arm, which the mover and seconder argue is essential to world peace. First the right hon. Gentleman, in his most moving and arresting speech to-day, gave due praise to the little ships. I want to urge the claims of the little ships, and of the little men who man those ships, in our postwar times. If we had yielded to the technical opinion which was urged upon this country in the early thirties, the boatyards, as distinct from the shipyards, which mainly produce these little ships, would have been closed down, and, if we had permitted our fishing industry still further to decay nine-tenths of the men who man these craft would not have been available with the skill they have displayed in these five years of war.
That is the particular argument; my interest in it is that the Admiralty, if they agree that these things are important, should declare their position now. Equally, I want to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) in arguing that there is an almost unanswerable case for developing a dockyard on the West coast. We have had the case for Rosyth argued, and I do not dispute that Rosyth, in two wars, has plainly carried everything that was said for it. But in both wars the 2118 Clyde and the West coast had to make the most Bairnsfather kind of adaptations to meet naval needs. My right hon. Friend this morning talked about the miracles of improvisation which came from Dover at the time of Dunkirk. Equally, at the same time, and for three years thereafter, he could tell us about the miracles of improvisation that took place on the Clyde and the North-West coast of Scotland. It is said that the Admiralty cannot make up their minds on this question just now for two reasons. The first is because we are not sure whether it is to be a national or an international force. But no matter what its composition may be, that force at any rate will have to defend this country and our routes against enemies, who do not come from the West. Wherever our enemies may come from, we do not know, but we know that they cannot come from the West.
I am certain, without entering into any further argument, that the Navy will not be unduly perturbed by whatever force Mr. de Valera could or would put against them. I am told, secondly, that the Admiralty are unwilling to come to a decision because they are still speculating about how rocket projectiles and mechanical projectiles can be hurled against them. Again, if my first postulate is right, then the West coast offers 50 or 100 miles additional distance against such attacks which cannot be purchased on the East coast and certainly not on the South coast. I hope I may say this and that I will not be misunderstood. There is an attractive reason which almost inevitably causes naval experts always to come down on the side of the home ports, and that is their proximity to London. There is a temptation for a man home from arduous sea duties to say that he wants to be near to London, and to him the North-West coast of Scotland, the East coast of Scotland, the Clyde and the Forth, seem distant and unfriendly places. But we are concerned with much more than convenience. We are concerned, as the mover and the seconder of the Amendment have argued, with our safety, and unless my right hon. Friend, or the hon. Gentleman who is to reply, can show that there is no increased safety on the West coast, there is no reply to my argument; and if there is no 2119 increased safety on the West coast then he must explain why, in both areas, these miracles of improvisation had to be accomplished during both wars.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas)
I hope it will be for the convenience of the House if I intervene at this stage of the Debate. The Amendment is so wide and so important that the House will be glad to know that my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty has decided to wind up the Debate. I think we would miss a very great deal if he did not. The House heard from him this morning his faith and his affection for the Service over which he has presided during five continuous years of war. That feeling and affection we, who have the privilege of working with him at the Admiralty, see daily, and I know that it is reciprocated by the Service to the First Lord himself. I, therefore, think it would be very unfortunate if he had not an opportunity in this Debate to talk about the future of the Royal Navy, which he has served so well.
I am most grateful, and I am certain that the House is grateful, to the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) for moving this Amendment to-day. It sometimes is rather a mixed blessing for the Admiralty when Members of the Service, past or present, are fortunate in the Ballot, but to-day the House showed the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok that they thought his speech a most excellent one, and, from the Admiralty's point of view, it was most encouraging and very welcome indeed to us.
My right hon. Friend the First Lord gave this morning the record of the work of the Navy during the past year. He warned us also of the increasing commitments which the Navy has to face in the Far East, as she joins our American Allies and the navies of our Dominions, in the final blow against Japan. None the less I feel, and I am sure we all feel, that the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok is wise in asking us, at this stage in the war, to look to the future of the Royal Navy. I should like to make it clear at once that I have no intention in this Debate of speaking of the Royal Navy in a sense of rivalry with the other Services. I was very glad indeed that the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok also made that per- 2120 fectly clear in his speech this afternoon. The greatest lesson of this war has been that of the inter-dependence of the Services and it is good to know that this tendency is growing. Surely the important point now is that the correct balance of the three Services should be found and held.
The House will realise that intervening in the Debate on the Naval Estimates it is not possible for me to deal with the whole future of our naval policy. The hon. and gallant Member talked about our co-operation with the Dominion navies after the war. That, of course, is a matter of high policy and a matter for the Imperial Conference in the future and frankly, I am afraid that I am not in a position to deal with a question like that this afternoon. Nobody at this moment can say what future Boards of Admiralty will require, or what the policy of postwar Governments may be. There are, however, certain facts, on which the broad principles of our naval policy must always rest, and I feel that the House today can most usefully consider them.
Ship design and technical equipment may change in a way which is often very bewildering to a layman, and it is certainly very bewildering to me at times. We are constantly made aware of new types of ships and small craft, of new designs of mines, and of new applications of radio-location. New weapons and fresh tactics are always being invented both by ourselves and by our enemies. But I wish to-day to agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok and emphasise that the essentials of naval strategy, the fundamentals of sea power, do not change, for behind them lie the unchanging facts of geography and economics.
It is true that a limited maintenance by air is now possible in certain theatres of war overseas. But with this exception the entire imports of the United Kingdom and the material for the maintenance of our armies abroad, as the hon. and gallant Member said, have to be carried overseas in ships and without the vast imports of oil fuel which come to these shores in tankers, none of the Services could continue to function at all. Our dependence on sea power for our imports is as fundamental to-day as it always has been, and is likely to be so as far as we can foresee the future.
2121 The Amendment speaks of the welfare of our people. We have been considering this welfare particularly during the past months in this Parliament. The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok said that social progress depended on the sure defence of the country. I am sure hon. Members felt, as I felt, a sense of very great relief when they read in the opening sentence of the White Paper on Social Insurance, that the first duty of Government is to protect the country from external aggression. The House, I am certain, agrees that this war, like the last war, has brought us up with a jolt to realise how that welfare depends upon those cargo ships, which we remember so gratefully in wartime but are apt to forget in times of peace. These are the links and they will continue to be the links which connect us, not only with our Empire overseas but with those millions of consumers who sell to us, and who buy from us. We have seen during the last five years how hard the enemy has tried to break those links. The workers of the country have done magnificently, as the Government White Paper on the war effort wisely pointed out, to increase the home production of vital commodities, but, after all is said and done, it still remains true that, if our lifeline across the Atlantic had been broken, we should have been unable to fight on. The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok said that the Battle of Britain could not have been won if the Battle of the Atlantic had been lost. How true that is. Those facts are apt to be forgotten behind other and more stirring incidents of war, but they are continuing facts which are taken for granted, and which do not get into the headlines. The arrival of another Atlantic convoy does not necessarily get into the newspapers. The headlines may carry news of a great air raid on Berlin, or a break-through on the Western front, or of reaching the Rhine, but all these would be impossible without the arrival of these convoys and without the control of sea lines bringing goods to these shores or carrying armed forces to territory which the enemy holds.
One of the strongest arguments for maintaining a strong Royal Navy in times of peace can always be seen most clearly in the opening months after hostilities break out. At the beginning of every war this country and this Empire have found that it is the Navy of all the Services which is called upon to take the strain. The 2122 hon. and gallant Member has reminded us that during the first six months of this war, from September, 1939, until the invasion in April, 1940, of Norway, the expression "a phoney war" was used to describe the static kind of war that was going on in Europe at that time. I can most gratefully and most emphatically back his statement that it certainly was not "a phoney war" at sea during those months. From the moment that war was declared the Royal Navy was winning the command of the seas. There was the very notable example of the powerful "Graf Spee" driven from the Atlantic by the concerted action of three much weaker ships. A very fine result of training in peace not only in this country but also in the Dominion of New Zealand as one of her ships the "Achilles," as hon. Members will remember, was involved in that action.
The House may remember that by Christmas 1939 the number of days spent at sea by a large number of His Majesty's ships since the outbreak of the war was published. In many cases those ships had not remained in harbour more than 10 whole days in 100. Some ships, particularly in the South Atlantic, had spent less, and the result of that great effort in the first months was to drive many German ships off the ocean and to enable us to exercise effectively our maritime belligerent rights over neutral shipping.
It is, as I have said, because the strain falls upon the Navy in this way at the outbreak of the war that the size and contribution of our post-war fleet is so important. To train men to manipulate the equipment of a modern warship, to turn civilians into sailors, takes time and demands all the facilities that our training establishments and our instructors can give.
The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok spoke of the welfare of the shipbuilding industry, and other hon. Members have also spoken of that in the general Debate to-day. The building of warships, as certain hon. Members know so well, cannot be undertaken in a moment. It depends upon our national resources in the shipyards and shipyard labour, and those resources cannot be expanded overnight to meet a sudden emergency. We must never allow the skill of our craftsmen to be lost, or trained men to be dispersed, for it is too late when the crisis comes to put right the mistakes that have been made. We 2123 have been reminded so often that this is total war, that the Services depend upon each other and that they all, in their turn, depend upon the efforts of the civilians behind them to keep the war machine manned. Hon. Members read of strikes in our shipyards, and very often the reasons for those strikes are deplorable, but what I want to bring home to the House to-day is that these strikers form a very small percentage indeed of the thousands of workers in the shipyards who are giving their best to see that the Royal Navy and the Royal Merchant Navy are manned.
§ Mr. Gallacher
When the hon. Gentleman says that they are giving their best in the shipyards, would it not be good if the Admiralty saw to it that the best was given to them?
§ Mr. Thomas
I will come in a minute or two to the future of the shipbuilding industry and to the Committee dealing with that, if the hon. Gentleman will allow me to make my speech in my own way. I would like first, however, as a member of the Board of Admiralty responsible to the First Lord for industrial relations in the shipyards, to pay my tribute to-day to the managements, to the workers, the men and the women, in the shipyards who have done a magnificent job during this last five years of war. If I may also say so, I am particularly grateful to the hon. Members of this House in whose constituencies these shipyards lie for, without their help—and I have had it from every hon. Member—my work would have been far more complicated and difficult than it has been for the last one and a half years.
The welfare of the shipbuilding industry, and all the details connected with it, is a matter of the greatest concern to our future security, just as it is to our economic prosperity. Therefore, we have to relate the need for maintaining our fleet with the need for replacing our losses of merchant ships and regaining our seaborne trade. That is one of the reasons why the First Lord told the House in the Debate a few weeks ago that a Committee to watch the whole welfare of the shipbuilding industry had been set up. It includes the experts in shipping and shipbuilding and also includes the representatives of shipbuilding labour. From what I know of the com- 2124 position of that Committee, I think this House will realise that anything that can help the industry itself, or the workers in that industry will receive very great sympathetic consideration from a Committee composed as that Committee is to-day.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
Before leaving that point, the last time we debated this question in the House I took it up, and the First Lord of the Admiralty in reply spoke of this Committee. Well, even with that Committee, another month is gone and we are still waiting for a reply on behalf of the men for their increase in wages. What is the First Lord going to do now?
§ Mr. Thomas
I think I have quite unintentionally muddled the hon. Member. The Committee are not dealing with wage negotiations, they are dealing with the future of the industry as a whole. I am sorry if I misled him. Hon. Members dealt with that question of wages in the shipping industry in the general Debate and it is not for me now to deal with that point. I think when this Debate is wound up, the question of wages will be dealt with.
§ Mr. J. J. Davidson (Glasgow, Maryhill)
Surely the hon. Gentleman will agree that wages play a very important part in any welfare arrangements for the future of the shipbuilding industry?
§ Mr. Thomas
Yes, certainly, but we have divided up the different subjects for this Debate to-day between the different Ministers of the Admiralty, and the questions raised in the general Debate will be answered when the general Debate is wound up at the end of to-day.
§ Mr. Thomas
By the Civil Lord, who is winding up the main Debate.
The early months of the war in the Far East were mentioned by hon. Members, and I am sure it is only necessary for us to remember those tragic events to realise how quickly things can move against us once the command of the seas is lost. At a time when our own Navy was fully stretched in the West, the speed with which the Japanese over-ran territory which is so vital to our Empire and to our Allies amazed people who had forgotten the value of sea power. It was not until the American Fleet began to recover from the treacherous blow of 2125 Pearl Harbour that it could begin to win back, assisted by the Australian Navy, in a series of sea battles, the command of the sea in those Far Eastern areas. Then it became possible to concentrate our ships and shipping, to enable our soldiers to obtain a footing abroad from which to advance on that enemy. Each successive invasion needed hundreds of war and amphibious vessels manned by the Navy to assault the beaches and to convey soldiers and airmen ashore and cover their landing, and to bring a proportion of the equipment needed to exploit the initial success. Surely the whole history of those early months of the Far East war give reasons, unassailable reasons, why it is so important that the strength of our Navy and its reserves should be maintained in times of peace.
We have been asked in the Debate to-day whether air power can take the place of sea power. The answer in brief is that so long as bulk cargoes, on which we depend for our national existence, are carried in ships, then it will be necessary to have ships to protect them. Sea power is exercised not only by surface vessels and submarines but involves the control of the sea by whatever means we have. The combination of aircraft and ships in this war has demonstrated what an effective weapon both can be in our armoury when both are used together. The House knows, and it has been shown again today, that there are two schools of thought upon the battleship. The House also knows, I hope, that in every war every arm of the Navy has been required, and not least the battleship, but I think it has escaped the notice of the hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) that our American Allies have had to make the battleship an essential feature of their various task forces. So far as Great Britain is concerned, I think this House will agree that the battleship has done its full share. The whole question, of course, will have to be considered at the end of the war, as a result of examination arising out of the experience of battle itself, but this surely applies not only to the battleship but to all types of weapon and to every arm of the fighting Services.
The real question is whether we in this country should be the first to dispense with the battleship. The answer is that we cannot afford to be without battleships so long as other foreign Powers possess them. Again, when weather conditions 2126 or action damage or other causes make it impossible for aircraft to take off from carriers or from aerodromes, the protection of convoys is bound to rest with the guns and the torpedoes of surface vessels. When ships are beyond the effective support of the nearest shore-based aircraft, their defence—whether against air attack, submarine attack or surface raider—must be carried out by ships and by the aircraft they operate.
So it seems to me from all this that the implication is that, in the foreseeable future at any rate, battleships and cruisers will continue to have a very vital function. The aircraft carrier needs protection from enemy attack. She has space in her hull for part only of the anti-aircraft guns required and no space at all for heavier anti-ship guns. This is where the battleship comes in as a support ship capable of swelling the volume of anti-aircraft defensive power as well as inflicting a death blow to the most powerful surface ship.
I hope I have said nothing which would appear to be belittling the value of shore-based or carrier-borne aircraft. Nothing is further from my intentions. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that the Navy has always been air-minded. Aircraft have indeed been the most powerful ally of the escort vessel in the war against the U-boat, which has been waged so relentlessly in the Western approaches to this Island, and in finding, shadowing and attacking enemy surface raiders and warships. Surely my hon. and gallant Friend was right in saying that the battleship and the aircraft carrier are complementary to each other, but I am not quite sure that he chose a very good example in mentioning the "Glorious." She was not at the time of her sinking a carrier in actual fact. Her deck was cluttered up with Hurricanes from Norway. She had no defence nor the ability to search for the enemy. Had she been a carrier at that time with reconnaissance aircraft out, the "Scharnhorst"—if it was the "Scharnhorst"—and the other German cruiser would have been sighted and the "Glorious" might well have evaded them and sent in an effective air strike. So perhaps it was not a very wise case to take. But although the illustration may not be an argument in support of the vulnerability of carriers, it is an argument for a battleship to accompany an undefended ship.
2127 Coming back to the general terms of the Amendment, I hope I have said enough to show that the role of the Navy has been the same historical role which has given us so much pride in the past and that the security of these islands and the Empire depends no less in the future than in the past upon the strength and efficiency of our fleet.
I have been asked about scientific research and development. We have often spoken during the war of the important part played by our scientists in the technical battles that have gone on behind the scenes. The aggressor, with long years of preparation behind him, has frequently had the initial success in these technical battles. Where this has been the case our scientific and technical staffs have always succeeded in overcoming the initial disadvantage. The menace of the magnetic mine, and later the acoustic mine, are examples of the way in which the thrust of the enemy was parried by counter-thrusts of our own, which were very effective in operation. But it has not always been the enemy that has had the initiative. There are many cases in which we have had it. For security reasons I cannot dilate on them now, but the House may feel great pride in the part played by our scientists in the collapse of the U-boat campaign in 1943, when the enemy expected to achieve final supremacy in the Atlantic. We also realise how different scientifically the fighting has been in this war from previous wars, in which capital ships fought chiefly by day and retired to a safe distance at night. It was the development of Radar by our scientists which made it possible for the battle of Matapan and the action of the "Scharnhorst" to be fought out in darkness.
It is always a problem in a defence Service, that the scientific staff is too isolated from the scientific world in general. Secrecy has its disadvantages but, taken over all, secrecy pays a pretty good dividend. In the period before the war, the Asdic was a carefully guarded secret and scientists working on it were, I am afraid, kept secluded with considerable severity. We might possibly have had a better Asdic when the war broke out if we had not had so much secrecy. On the other hand, by these methods of secrecy the Asdic caught the enemy completely unawares. It was over a year before he 2128 could take any counter-measures. I can assure the House that the Admiralty is determined after the war to make proper provision for research and scientific development, not only because it has taken to heart the lessons of its shortcomings in the past but also because modern war equipment has become so increasingly complex.
The problem of finance is not the only one. A much greater one is how to attract into the research service of the Admiralty the right kind of man. We believe that the problem will be solved by the reorganisation of our scientific staff into the Royal Naval Scientific Service, about which a preliminary announcement was made a few months ago. The House might like to know that this will be a civilian service. Its members will be expected to spend a certain amount of time at sea, especially in their early years, and when at sea will wear uniform according to their rank. They will be kept in close contact with naval officers, executive specialists and naval constructors afloat, all of whom play such an important part in development work. But, if we are really to succeed, we must alter the general conditions of service so as to attract the best scientists. We are meeting with a considerable measure of success in our plans and I hope that, in future, the Navy will no longer have to compete on unfavourable terms with the universities, or with industry in general, so far as scientists are concerned. Beside the permanent staff, the Admiralty is considering, when the war is over, setting up a research and development Reserve, and the value of it would be that it could be expanded very rapidly the moment an emergency came along.
The importance of peace-time Reserves is not limited to the field of scientific research. I have also shown that it is because the Navy is called upon to bear the chief burden in the opening months of a war that its peace-time strength is so important. A very fine body of men, to whom great tributes have been paid today, have entered the Navy during the war and have become part of our first-class fighting Forces. But it is still true to say that it is upon the regular personnel and the reserves that the initial strain must necessarily fall.
I have said a good deal about our ships and weapons, and our intentions regarding scientific development, but, whatever progress is made in any of these directions, 2129 the hard fact remains that in the end the nation's security depends upon the efficiency and well-being of the officers and men of the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines on the sea, over the sea and under the sea. We may devise the most perfect weapons and instruments, but their efficient war use depends upon the skill, endurance and courage of individual human beings.
I cannot say to-day what decisions will finally be taken, but I can assure the House that plans are being drawn up at the moment to make sure that the naval reserves are kept up to strength and to a very high degree of efficiency. I hope that as a result of the measures that the Admiralty has in mind and upon which it is working at the moment we shall have adequately trained and keen reserves who will perform a purpose which is more than useful in peace-time to this country. The hon. and gallant Member also spoke of care and welfare, and I assure the House that the Admiralty does not forget, and does not mean to forget in the future, the care and welfare of the officers and men of the Fleet. It is determined to see that the best conditions for them are provided in His Majesty's ships. It is constantly our policy that our sailors should be proud of the Service and that each man should be proud of his part in it. The First Lord has rightly said that it is the traditional affection and admiration which have always been felt by the British public for its Navy that so inspires the Fleet.
I understand that the House would like me to speak about our naval bases overseas for the post-war Fleet, and especially about Singapore. I hope the House will realise, however, that these are very big questions and must obviously await settlement until the shape of the world security organisation has been more fully worked out. At the moment, it is not possible for me to go further, except to say that, if we are to discharge our obligations under any international order of security, it is perfectly clear that we shall not only have to have adequate bases from which to operate, but bases both firmly protected and strongly equipped.
The Amendment mentions the need for adequate armed forces to make our contribution to preserving world peace. I am certain that this country and, indeed, the world, knows that, whatever means are devised for the ordering of our inter- 2130 national life after the war, whatever instruments are used for that purpose, the Royal Navy, together with the Navies of the Dominions can be relied on to play its part in the future as she has done in the past. But if we are to play this hand in the post-war world, let us be sure that we lead from strength and not from weakness. We are all agreed that it is in no spirit of aggrandisement that we look upon our exercise of sea power, but that it is in the same co-operative spirit which we saw behind the conference at Yalta.
In summing up, it seems to me that the value of a Debate of this kind is that it makes one turn instinctively to the past, not necessarily to the past of this 20th century, but sometimes far beyond it, in order to draw our lessons for the future. How wise that instinct is, for if ever our past proclaimed our future, it is surely so in the history of the Royal Navy. Here in this war in Western Europe, we have a parallel in strategy to the Napoleonic wars at the beginning of the 19th century. In diplomacy also we find the same danger and mercifully the same deliverance. Lord Auckland, who was a friend of Pitt and one of the wisest diplomats of his day, whom I think I am in Order in bringing into a Debate on the Navy Estimates because he was the father of a First Lord of the Admiralty, looking back on the broken Peace of Amiens, said of Napoleon:Had he amused us a year or two more our dupery would have been complete and we should not have had a chance of effectual resistance.Nearly a century and a half later, fortunately for us, the Feuhrer of the Third Reich made the same mistake. It is because we have forgotten our past that we have to re-live it in these grim years of war. Surely this country and the Governments of the future must practise once and for all, the vigilance which this Amendment brings home to us to-day.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha (Devonport)
Second only in importance to the instruction and guidance which we receive so eloquently from the First Lord on these occasions are the pleasure and satisfaction which we obtain from the speeches of my hon. Friends the Financial Secretary and the Civil Lord. My hon. Friend the Financial Secretary has just comported himself with grace and elegance. As a Parliamentary Private Secretary he was loyal. He shows 2131 himself now to be a Minister both modest and competent. He has been replying to an Amendment which, as he has said, is drawn in wide terms. It raises in a global way the future of the Royal Navy. It is an Amendment which was commended to the House in speeches of great skill. Among the services rendered by the Royal Navy to the country, we must reckon the contribution which that fighting force has made in providing the House of Commons with the ability and attractions of my hon. and gallant Friends. I would like to congratulate them on their speeches, which were, of course, as we would expect of sailors, technically well-informed.
My hon. Friend, in replying to them, painted, I thought, a rosy picture of the Fleet which we are to have after the war. It is true, and it was said by the mover of the Amendment, that the efficiency of that Fleet will depend upon the policy to be pursued in the bases on which the ships depend. After the last war the policy was pretty miserable. Rosyth and Pembroke, having rendered most useful help to the nation and given of their best—of their utmost—were reduced to a care and maintenance basis. Houses were left derelict, churches were no longer attended, money ceased to ring on the counters of the shops and desolation prevailed. His Majesty's Government to-day offer a better prospect to those who live in the ports. They are embarking, indeed, on expansion. Not only in monetary policy, but in naval policy, the currency is, as it were, to be enlarged. My constituency is to be either a beneficiary or a victim of this policy—it depends on which way we look at it. So are some of the other ports. That is the reason why I rise, late in the day, so as not to interfere too much with the general Debate, to ask for some more precise declaration.
The Navy has been built upon places like Devonport. The Admiralty is to acquire there 220 acres, for the purpose of enlarging the Devonport dockyard. On those acres, 24,000 of my constituents live. They are to be dispersed. The House will see at once the importance of the question which I am going to put to my right hon. Friend. I am not in antagonism to him; he will appreciate that. I am simply doing my duty on behalf of my constituents and, I hope, on behalf of the Royal Navy. The 24,000 people 1ive on the sites to be acquired by the Ad- 2132 miralty in Devonport, for the purpose of enlarging the dockyard. This means that many of the landmarks of my constituency are to be erased—the shopping centre, the Guildhall, the noble column which records the change of the name from the rather commonplace "Plymouth Dock" to the better sounding "Devonport," together with some thousands of houses. They are to be swept out of existence. [An HON. MEMBER: "Including the Member of Parliament?"] If this were the 18th century, I should call this buying of my constituency under me a corrupt practice, but living in better times I must defer, hard as it may be to do so, to the national interest, and put the intentions of the Admiralty upon a better footing.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
Does that mean that the headquarters of the Liberal Party will have to be abolished?
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
One of the pleasantest edifices in my constituency is called "The Hore-Belisha Hall." I am sorry to have to inform the House that will also go. It was a tribute to my modest efforts, and it will be wiped away, and posterity will be deprived of the benefit which it would hava had from listening to speeches in its rooms. However, these 24,000 people will be reconciled to this policy if it is in fact to be operated. They will make their own desires, memories and traditions subordinate to the higher claims of the nation. It is important, however, that they should know precisely how the Admiralty is going to put this intention into effect, and over what period of time.
This is the present situation: The area has been heavily bombed; nevertheless, 17,000 people are living on it. Many of their homes—their shops and places of amusement also—are damaged or destroyed. They want them repaired or rebuilt, but they are told that they cannot have them repaired beyond what can be done at a very cheap cost because the Admiralty are going to acquire the area. These people have been reading—I want to put both sides of the case—about the Conferences at Yalta and San Francisco. Many have also read of the necessities of the community in regard to housing and the shortage of accommodation generally. They want to be satisfied, before they are uprooted, that the Admiralty are going on 2133 with this purchase. They want to know whether, in fact, after the war, not in the general terms to which we have quite naturally been treated in my hon. Friend's excellent speech, but in more precise terms, if possible, that the Government are in fact going to expand the Navy and are going to use labour for which there will be a great demand, for housing and other needs, in order to construct a bigger and better dockyard. If that is, in fact, to be the policy, and we can be told so authoritatively, this decision will be accepted; but it is not fair to leave those people in doubt and these areas in decline, and the homes of the people concerned in a state of partial repair, and to put off those who are clamouring to return—as I well know from my correspondence—if this policy is not to be operated.
That is the subject matter of the speech which I wish to address to the House. If the Admiralty are only in a vague way going to acquire an option, it will act unnecessarily in restraint of the amenities of my constituency. If, after the war, the Treasury is going to say: "During the war we thought we would require this extension, but now we have entirely changed our mind and we want to spend the money on other and more urgent purposes," that will not have been fair. I am bound to put this question to the Government, and it is not in the least intended to be hostile, as I am sure Ministers realise. If they represented my constituency in Parliament as well as representing the Navy, they would understand the importance and the gravity of this matter to the thousands of people who have made their homes in this place. I will not further detain the House, but I shall be obliged to the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Civil Lord if they can give me some satisfaction on this point.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Commander Prior (Birmingham, Aston)
In the very interesting speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) and the speech of the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty reference was made to training. I desire to raise an extremely controversial matter, the training of seamen in sail. There are great training establishments in the Service for gunnery, torpedoing and navigation. Young officers go to Greenwich, where they learn higher mathematics. In 2134 all the curricula of those establishments seamanship is greatly neglected, yet it is the foundation of all sea warfare. It has been essential to train our men in material. The modern ship is so complex that all their time is taken up with electrics, gunnery and navigation, and very little time is given to seamanship, but unfortunately, in battle, and even in peace time, machines fail, ships sink and, in the last resort, the seaman is left to depend on his own skill.
Time and time again, in the course of the centuries, our great admirals and seamen have saved themselves and their country from destruction only by their sea sense and anticipation. Their sea sense and skill did not descend upon them like dew from Heaven. It was gained by the unending patrols off Brest, or by chasing the enemy across the Atlantic. Hon. Members may say that all this history is academic, but I should like to remind them that in the Napoleonic wars, there was continual boat work—spiking of guns, taking of batteries, cutting out expeditions; not very different from what takes place in our assaults in this war. I instance two parallel actions. One took place on 20th February, 1814, when Wellington was held up at Bayonne and wanted to cross the River Adour. It was necessary to build a bridge of boats. Admiral Penrose in the "Porcupine," a ship of 22 guns, was given the task of carrying that out. At the mouth of the river is a bar. Across that bar the sea was very tempestuous. The operation was successful, though many lives were lost. Sir John Hope, the soldier in charge of the Army, wrote:The zeal, courage and skill of the British seaman had never shone forth in a more conspicuous manner than on that memorable occasion.I now come to 1942, at about the same date. An expedition went to the River Adour to deliver an assault. There was a slight swell in the bay. Once again across the bar was a tempestuous sea. The officer in charge of the craft considered it was too rough and rightly we were ordered back. I, myself, returned to my ship an extremely dejected and disappointed man, with the bitter knowledge that the seamen in the Napoleonic era, in 1814, carried out a feat, which we, with all the resources of the 20th century, failed to perform.
2135 Plans are now being made for postwar training, to create reserves and to train our men. I submit to the First Lord that we should organise a training squadron, send our young men away from the eternal machine to the best practical school for learning seamanship, to battle with the wind and seas in a ship under sail. In March, 1932, Sir Bolton EyresMonsell, who was then First Lord, introduced the Navy Estimates. In the course of his speech he made the following remarks:In my opinion, there is no training in the world for a sailor like the training provided by masts and yards, making and shortening sail, reefing top-sails in a strong wind and all sail drill, which necessitates the closest cooperation and trust between all hands, and nothing can surpass it for imparting smartness and discipline, and for developing character and self-reliance. The curious thing is that nearly all other countries in the world have this form of training in sailing ships, but we, who depend upon the sea more than any other country, have none at all, and I think it is the height of folly for us to ignore it any longer. I believe that an early training in sail is the only way to develop that spark of seamanship which is latent in every inhabitant of these islands. Seamanship in the past, in the face of tremendous odds so far as material is concerned, has always been the supreme factor in drawing round this country a ring of fire which nobody has got through for centuries."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th March, 1932; Vol. 262, C. 1502.]That speech was made in 1932. As far as I know, nothing has yet materialised. Immediately after the battle of Quiberon Bay, one of the greatest examples of seamanship we have ever seen, the following doggerel verse ran round the Fleet:Ere Hawke did bangMonsieur ConflansYoa sent us beef and beer.Now Monsieur's beat,We've nought to eat,As you have nought to fear.Will hon. Members of this House, casting their mind to the future, say we have nought to fear, and that we shall always be living in peace and security? Although the idea is very pleasing, it is very improbable and unlikely. There is no doubt whatever about the courage and devotion of our seamen, but let us see to it that they acquire that skill on which the safety of the Empire and the world may well depend.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. McLean Watson (Dunfermline)
We have had two speeches from the Government Front Bench to-day, both of them 2136 very able speeches During the whole time I have been in this House I do not think I have ever heard a First Lord deliver a more interesting and inspiring speech. He had a great story to tell, and I am glad that he told it to the House. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) has moved an Amendment, and although he has had a reply from the Front Bench, I do not know whether he has learned very much or got very much satisfaction from the reply of the Financial Secretary. It was a very able and interesting speech, but I am afraid that the hon. and gallant Member did not get much satisfaction out of it, any more than some dockyard Members who have been approaching the Admiralty on other matters during the past year.
It is very difficult to get the Admiralty to make a declaration of any kind. It may be that the international situation is still so complicated that they hesitate to commit themselves to definite statements. They lost a very important naval base in the Far East, and I suppose they will have to keep at the back of their minds the possibility of having to rehabilitate that dockyard. Then there are the home dockyards. My right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) has expressed the anxiety of the people of Devonport over the future of that dockyard. I do not need to tell the First Lord that I am just as anxious about Rosyth. I do not believe that the Admiralty will repeat the incredible folly which they committed after the last war in reducing Rosyth to a care-and-maintenance basis, because this is the one dockyard where they have been able to rely upon having ships repaired during the whole period of this war I think it is the only dockyard that has not been bombed. Though it was the first to be attacked I would be surprised if any bombs have fallen on that dockyard. I have said in previous Navy Estimates Debates that it is the best protected dockyard in the whole country. There is plenty of deep water outside and inside the dockyard and it is far enough inland to be well protected, and it is because of the protection that can be given to it that it maintains its reputation as the safest dockyard.
I wish to try, once again, to see if I can get any ray of hope that the Admir- 2137 ally really intend to make and keep Rosyth one of the principal dockyards. Until the First Lord removes some elements which give the dockyard an air of being of a temporary nature, he will not convince the people of that area that the Admiralty intend to keep the dockyard as a working concern. It is almost incredible that, after all the time that has elapsed since that dockyard was created, the Admiral Superintendent is housed in the place where the engineer or the manager had his quarters when the dockyard was being constructed—in temporary buildings. The First Lard should give an air of permanency to the dockyard by erecting really creditable administrative offices. These temporary buildings have been there since the Admiralty began to construct the dockyard, in about 1906, 1907, or 1908. The dockyard was hardly finished when the last war started. Yet the admiral superintendent and his staff still occupy these temporary offices. The administrative staff are scattered all over the dockyard, and now a considerable part of the administrative offices are outside the dockyard, because, with the amount of work that has been done in Rosyth during the war, it has been impossible to carry on with the facilities provided in the dockyard.
In addition, I want the Admiralty to consider the claim of Rosyth to accommodation for something smaller than a first-class battleship. When Rosyth was reduced to a care-and-maintenance basis, in 1925, the then First Lord of the Admiralty argued that Rosyth was all right for capital ships, but that it was not economical to repair smaller craft there. During this war Rosyth has had to take anything—there has been nothing too big and nothing too small to be repaired in that dockyard. But it is true that the dry docks there are for the biggest battleships afloat. There is no trouble at any time about docking even the "Hood" in that dockyard. I claim that, in addition to the big dry docks, there should be accommodation for smaller craft. I agree that it is absurd to see three or four destroyers lying in a great dry dock that is meant for a battleship. In the development of Rosyth consideration should be given to the construction of some smaller dry docks than those there at present.
The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok pleaded for a dock on the West coast of 2138 Scotland. Far be it from me to say one word against the construction of a dockyard on the Clyde. I am not going to offer any opposition to that proposal; but I am afraid my hon. and gallant Friend will have to carry on the agitation for a long time, because the Admiralty have not yet finished constructing Rosyth Dockyard. What I am asking for now was part of the original plan for Rosyth. We were told that Rosyth was to be a second Portsmouth. It is very far from being that yet, but we hope that the mistakes that were made in the past will not be committed again, and that Rosyth will be properly developed. Already suggestions have been made to the First Lord for the proper development of Rosyth Dockyard, and while I have no objection to other Royal Dockyards being constructed in Scotland, I put forward the plea that before the First Lord starts a second dockyard in Scotland he might finish the first, and, let me say, the best—or, at any rate, it ought to be No. 1 dockyard on the Admiralty list.
I am not going to enter into the echoes of bygone battles. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) had an argument this afternoon that reminded me of battles that were fought in the past when we were considering the Navy Estimates. I can remember my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) having great arguments about whether we ought not to abandon battleships and concentrate on bombing. I am not going to enter into that argument, but I am reminded of past Debates on Navy Estimates, when the experts, the men who believed in the big battleships and the men who believed in the bombs, had quite an interesting time. At that time the discussions were largely confined to Members for dockyard constituencies and to naval officers or ex-naval officers.
§ Rear-Admiral Sir Murray Sueter (Hertford)
I think the hon. Member will agree that those who contended that battleships were vulnerable to air attacks have been proved right in this war.
§ Mr. Watson
I shall not rise even to that bait. I am not going to commit myself. All I am saying is that I listened with the greatest possible attention to the experts—to the men who believed in the big battleships and also to the men who believed in the big bombs. At any rate, I hope that what I have said will be taken 2139 seriously by the First Lord. The right hon. Gentleman was very good to us in the Rosyth area some time ago, when he met a very large and representative deputation which fully expressed the anxiety not only of the dockyard workers but of the whole community of the East of Scotland. To-day, again, we have had one hon. Member after another urging upon the First Lord the necessity of keeping Rosyth as a going concern and not going back to the situation after the last war, and reducing it to a care-and-maintenance basis.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral Sir Murray Sueter (Hertford)
I wish to join with other hon. Members in congratulating the First Lord on the wonderful survey he gave of naval work during the past year. I agree with the hon. Member who has just spoken that it was the best speech I have ever heard from a First Lord during the last 24 years. I want to deal with something which has not been mentioned in the Debate, that is the high level administration of the Navy. It is not profitable to dig into the past too much, but I am afraid I must do so. An hon. Member has said that the Admiralty has always been air-minded. He must not say that in my presence, because I recollect when the Admiralty would not build aircraft carriers, even when Messrs. Beardmore offered to build them one before the war. The consequence was that they had to convert cross-Channel steamers into aircraft carriers and we had great difficulty in progressing with aircraft carriers. In the last war, too, the Admiralty did not develop torpedo aeroplanes when they might have done. A very different story of the Battle of Jutland could be told if they had done so. Admiral Beatty asked for 200 torpedo bombers and they were built towards the end of the last war but delivery was too late to be of any use. No hon. Member must come down here and say, in my presence, that the Admiralty were air-minded in the last war.
I came into this House 24 years ago, and, shortly afterwards, feeling very much concerned about the way in which the Admiralty had stopped air progress, I introduced, under the Ten Minute Rule, my Ministry of Defence Creation Bill, which was received very well by hon. 2140 Members of this House. Afterwards, several hon. Members said: "You were on the right lines, Admiral; we want some questioning authority over the three Fighting Services." After that, we disarmed for many years, and, as we disarmed, our prestige and influence in the councils of Europe and in the whole world went down, until they became almost microscopic, and towards 1935 many hon. Members were rather perturbed about our defence position. We questioned what was being done, particularly when we knew that Germany was building a large number of aeroplanes and was drilling her people with spades. We were told that the Chiefs of Staff looked into this, and into how many aeroplanes Germany had got, how many tanks they had got, how they were drilling, and so forth. They were watching the thing closely, we were told.
Then, on 14th December, 1935, we had a letter in "The Times" from Lord Trenchard, who had done great work for the defence of this country, particularly in the air, and to whom we all owe a very great debt of gratitude. Possibly we might not have won the Battle of Britain if it had not been for the efficient way in which Lord Trenchard built up the Royal Air Force. In his letter to "The Times," Lord Trenchard said this (I speak from memory):The Chiefs of Staff have not studied the problems of defence, much less attempted to solve them.Yet we had been fobbed off with the statement that the Chiefs of Staff were going to do everything to look after our defence interests. Many hon. Members, and people outside the House, were very much concerned about the defence of out country then. In February, 1936, I won first place in the Ballot for Private Members Bills, and I was offered Bills from all over the country, Electricity Bills, Water Bills, Matrimonial Causes Bills and many others, but I went back to my own Ministry of Defence Creation Bill.
We had a Debate one Friday in a full House, and many Ministers and ex-Ministers came down. I recollect that the late Sir Austen Chamberlain made a great speech supporting me in asking for a Minister of Defence and that very fine Liberal statesman, the right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. G. Lambert), who was a very great Civil Lord at the 2141 Admiralty, supported me very strongly and said that it was very necessary to create a Ministry of Defence. During the Debate, two Whips came to me and asked if I would withdraw the Bill because the Prime Minister would do something. I thought I had landed a salmon, but I only landed a very large minnow, because the Prime Minister, shortly afterwards, created the post of Co-ordinating Minister of Defence and appointed Sir Thomas Inskip to that post. Sir Thomas Inskip did great work in trying to bring the Services together, but he was not there long, and he was followed by Lord Chatfield, who did equally good work, but was not long in the post.
When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) became Prime Minister he took over the post of Minister of Defence. At one time, there were certain criticisms about the high level administration of the Fighting Services in this war, and many hon. Members pressed for information on what was being done, and we were then given a White Paper called "Organisation for Joint Planning" (Cmd. 6351). Anybody who reads this interesting paper can see that it was drawn up in a hurry. At the end of the paper, it lays out the work of the Chiefs of Staff Committee—Joint Planning Staffs, Strategical Planning Section, Executive Planning Section, Future Operational Planning Section and Intelligence Sections and so on. It was a most valuable statement, and I think every hon. Member will agree that we owe much to this planning staff for the wonderful way in which they have planned this war. We owe them much, but are we, at the end of this war, going to tear this White Paper up and go back to the Committee of Imperial Defence with one secretary? Surely we are not going to do that. We have some of the best brains in the three Fighting Services here, and I hope that something may be done to establish a Ministry of Defence with the assistance of these officers.
There are great problems ahead of us after the war. When one remembers what happened after the last war, when there was great financial stringency, one is led to ask who is going to settle whether we have a big programme of battleships or multiple-engined bombers or both. Surely, not the Committee of Imperial Defence with one secretary. This question will have to be gone into very carefully in- 2142 deed, as will also the question whether we are going to have aircraft carriers of large displacement or of medium displacement, what sort of tanks we are to have, and so on. There are great problems to be faced. We must go into these problems carefully and, if possible, study all those weapons of war, particularly aircraft, rocket bombs, and so on.
We have obligations to our Dominions. Canada has done wonderfully well in this war. As the First Lord said to-day, their shipbuilding programme has surpassed what we thought they could do. Their Armies have been great and they have done fine work in training our airmen, and we owe much to Canada. The same applies to South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. I read in the Press that on Wednesday of last week Mr. John Curtin, the Australian Prime Minister, gave to the House of Representatives a three-point post-war policy of national security drawn up by the Australian Government. The points were: "Adequate defence policy," "Development of maximum co-operation in the British Commonwealth," and "Participation in an effective system of collective security." We have these Empire commitments to see that our Empire is secure and is helped in every possible way. We also have world commitments. I do not know what the outcome of the San Francisco Conference will be, but I understand that the three Great Powers are pledging the security of the smaller nations. I am certain that the United States will not like a weak partner, and that Russia will not like a weak partner. We have to study all these things after the war and have our fighting Services as efficient as possible.
When I was at the Admiralty I received some hard knocks for pressing for air developments and warning the Admiralty that battleships were vulnerable to air attack. It did not concern me much because I only laughed at those who criticised all air effort. The First Lord deserves and has earned many laurels in this war. He has worked with the distinguished Admirals he mentioned, but he must not forget the work of the late Admiral Sir Dudley Pound, who helped him so well and rendered great service to our country. The First Lord has earned great laurels and I want to give him another laurel. Will he go to the War Cabinet to-morrow and say to them that the whole question of the administration 2143 of the Fighting Services has been raised in the House, and also say: "Cannot we put all these officers engaged in planning round a table to draw up a White Paper to be submitted to the War Cabinet and then to be brought to this House?"
I am certain he would do a great service to the country if he did that. We should set up a Defence Ministry, if possible. The right hon. Gentleman should go to the Prime Minister and say, "I think that something ought to be done by the appointment of either a Defence Minister or a Minister of Security to carry out the obligations that we have undertaken." I understood that the father of the Prime Minister, the late Lord Randolph Churchill, was the first to suggest a Ministry of Defence and that he did so because there were dog fights between the Army and the Navy in those days over questions as to whether the Admiralty or Army should run the Brennan controlled torpedo mines to defend our harbours and searchlights round our coast. He suggested the creation of a Ministry of Defence to settle the differences. Now we have a third Service—the Air Service—and it is more important that we should have high level bridge administration of these three Services and not go back to the old days of the Committee of Imperial Defence, and sub-committees and sub-sub-committees which never came to any decisions at all. They never helped us much in connection with the air.
One of my tasks in the last war was to create the first anti-aircraft corps for the defence of London. When I looked into the matter I found that there were only three one-inch pom-poms provided for defence of London against enemy air attack by Zeppelins—one over the Admiralty Arch, one over the Crown Colony Buildings, and one over the Treasury. Mr. Edwin Montagu, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury at that time, went to see how the gun was getting on and found no crew there. The poor men had to eat. They had no food provided for them and had to go out and get their food. Surely, we are not going back to that sort of thing.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)
We certainly should not go back to that on the Navy Estimates.
§ Sir M. Sueter
I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and you are right, 2144 but I was saying that I was given the task at the Admiralty, as Director of the Air Department, to create the anti-aircraft corps for the defence of London. I hope that the First Lord will convey my remarks to his colleagues. I am only a Back Bencher but I have studied these defence problems for many years. Something ought to be done to get better planning for our Fighting Services so that in emergency we can efficiently serve this country, the Empire and the whole world.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
I rise as a Member of the Labour Party to add my tribute to the most generous tributes paid to-day to the speech and performance of the First Lord. It was a speech full of vigour and interest, which we, on this side, and indeed on all sides, were proud to hear from him. I would like also to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) on his good fortune in the Ballot, and on giving us the opportunity of discussing a matter of such importance to those of us who represent sea-going communities like that in my own constituency. I do not want to be drawn into any questions of pre-war policy and armaments except to say, in partial reply to the hon. and gallant Member, that, even though preparedness and great armaments by themselves are essential in war-time, they are not, in themselves, by any means a guarantee that you will not be attacked. There was no such guarantee to Russia and no one can say that they were not prepared. There are greater issues of international organisation to prevent war; and it would be folly not to relate to the wider question of alliance against aggression the important but narrower question of armaments alone.
§ Sir Joseph Nall (Manchester, Hulme)
Would the hon. Member agree that their absence might prove to be a guarantee that we would be attacked?
§ Mr. MacMillan
It is a question of being armed at the right time and in the right way and of the right policy in foreign affairs. For several years pre-war Governments neglected this duty.
§ Mr. J. J. Davidson
Will my hon. Friend expatiate further on the point and point out that, while we had no preparations, and nothing at all, so to speak, we 2145 paid, with the consent of the party in the majority, handsome profits to munitions manufacturers for many years?
§ Mr. MacMillan
I do not want to be drawn into this subject any further. I cannot say whether we should have battleships instead of bombers or vice versa; or what the actual ratio should be. I have a layman's great respect in the meantime for the visible battleship; and I am not certain what is going to come out of the scientists' test tubes or laboratories until I actually see it. I was most interested in one point made by the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok on the question of a West coast dockyard and, I take it a major naval base as well. In so far as we can have protection against the new weapons—and we can only look ahead within the limits of what seem to be the likely progress for the next few years in the matter of new weapons and new methods of attack and defence—it is, I think, quite logical to say, as he said, that the West coast is obviously better for strategical defence and, therefore, for naval establishments than any other part of the country.
I do not need to add anything more to what has been said to-day in tribute to the men of the Royal Navy and the ancillary services and the Merchant Navy. These men are men amongst whom I have been born and grown up, and while I was not in the Navy myself—I occupied only a very humble position in the Army—I have a deep and sincere respect for the performance these men have put up, many of them completely untrained before the war in life at sea and in methods of naval warfare, and some of whom had never been to sea in their lives. To tell them to their faces what fine chaps they were would only embarrass them, so it comes better perhaps from Members of this House sitting here to-day to pay tribute on behalf of the nation than it does to speak to them as individuals. They do not like any direct praise, however well-earned.
One of my hon. Friends spoke some time ago about the importance of widening the opportunities of promotion from the lower deck, and I for one know that there is a great deal of feeling, sometimes very bitter feeling, about the very small number of promotions which have been made from the lower deck. There may be many reasons given officially for it, 2146 but there is a strong feeling that when men went up for interview before the Selection Boards and the deciding officers, they were treated in practically the same way as the Selection Boards treated the interviewees before the war. Too much is asked for in the nature of graces. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes—most definitely—too much of social veneer and the social graces are expected of these men in many cases instead of sheer merit, and some of the questions which have been reported to us as having been asked by members of Selection Boards and the officers who decide in these cases make one think that some of these people are perfectly childish in their attitude towards what constitutes merit for the purpose of promotion in the Royal Navy. That is not an unfair statement. These things have been reported to us by men and women we know and it is most disappointing that at this stage of the war we cannot have the assurance that men with merit can have proper and adequate opportunities for promotion in the Navy in sufficient numbers in the interests, not merely of the men alone, but of the nation itself.
§ Commander Agnew
In that case the House ought to know that, as the war went on, eventually the Selection Boards at sea were abolished altogether, and all these candidates were sent up to Portsmouth to undergo the beginning part of the course.
§ Mr. MacMillan
I know that; and my hon. and gallant Friend has opened the way for me for my next point, which is in respect of the Y-scheme for training. A very attractive publication was issued by the Admiralty some time ago which raised a great deal of hope that boys going forward for this special training were very likely, if they passed the grade of examination at the end of that training, to be commissioned. A great deal of interest was aroused and a large number of boys came forward. Now, however, I understand the situation is that not very many for commissions are required; and many of those boys are now being drafted 2147 to overseas or general duties, and being told that there is little further need for Y-scheme entrants. That publication roused an exaggerated hope, and I think it would do good if my right hon. Friend could clarify the issue and tell the cadets whether the chances are less of getting commissions now and that they are going to be drafted into different branches of the Navy, perhaps specialist branches, perhaps for general or for overseas service. He should tell them now, instead of dashing their hopes after they have come forward full of interest and enthusiasm, believing the opportunities are many.
There is one other point in connection with my own constituency, and constituencies like those of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Major Neven-Spence), and that is the question of travel time of men going on leave. I know they get a certain amount of time, but by the time a man has arrived home it is not only a question of needing time to travel but very often he is in a much more exhausted condition from the long land and sea journeys and bad traveling conditions than he is "after a major naval battle"—as one sailor put it to me. They have hardly time to get home and to recover from the journey before they have to go off again. I know concessions have been made in travel time and in agricultural leaves; but perhaps the right hon. Gentleman could make that more elastic in the case of men who have to travel long distances from their ports to their home villages.
The point has been raised with me of pay for men and women on compassionate leave; especially when that leave is extended. I know that special grants are available in certain cases, but it means going through a sort of means test and a lot of trouble. In the case of a man going home for a few days or weeks, he does not want to take all the trouble to do that in many cases, and is sometimes diffident about declaring his means, and so forth, so I think a little more generosity might be shown in cases of that kind, instead of adding to their anxiety at such a difficult time. Then I have heard objections about the payment of R.N. gunners on Merchant Navy ships. I do not know whether that question has been solved, because it is some time since I have had the complaints that these men 2148 are paid a bonus and ordinary R.N.R. rates instead of Merchant Navy rates. When they go ashore, they find themselves short of money compared with other chaps on the same ships, and I think it would be good if the right hon. Gentleman or the Financial Secretary would look into that question once again.
Then there is a point upon which many of us feel strongly, the problem of men who have had the misfortune to be unemployed before call-up and so are not able to qualify for dependants' allowances on behalf of parents or dependants at home. These men have had enough misfortune already by being unable to earn for themselves, and that is miserable enough, without, when they are called up for the Royal Navy, finding that their dependants are disqualified because of their previous misfortune. Over and above the far too low scales of pay, they have the added burden of giving more than other men to maintain dependants at home. The only other point I want to raise is the question of technical education in connection with that matter of promotions. That is another extremely important aspect of the future recruitment of the Navy.
We have been agitating for a long time for a technical school in the Hebrides in which, with other things, navigation and the practical side of seamanship and of the fishing industry, the study of Diesel engines, and other new methods and subjects can be taught. I hope the Admiralty will give us support, not only in connection with the matter of helping generously the local Navy League cadets who under the resourceful leadership of Canon Meaden have done such good pioneer work, but by giving support for a full-time fully equipped local technical school in which navigation and knowledge of the theoretical and technical requirements for promotion to commissioned ranks in all the Services can be taught. If this school is established, and if that type of training is given, I feel that a great deal of bad feeling can be eliminated, because we are bound, then, to get more men with theoretical and technical kowledge added to their love and knowledge of the sea and seamanship. Some theoretical and technical knowledge added to an inborn and inherited love of the sea and its lore, should give an excellent type of naval officer, a type of which we have had too few from the Islands in the past. The local autho- 2149 rities in Stornoway and in Lewis, representing places which have been extremely useful both in the last war and this, have a feeling, as I certainly have long had, that we ought to establish there permanently a naval training base. There is no reason why men should go away from the Hebrides several hundred miles to the South of England for a few weeks in the year with inadequate retainer fees and pay, to be trained, when, in the atmosphere of the fishing industry, within reach of all the North-West coast of Scotland as well as the Outer Hebrides and the open Atlantic, they could be trained for all the purposes of the Royal Navy. If, therefore, a concession can be made in the matter of establishing a naval base in Stornoway, we shall be extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend.
These things are not simply selfish constituency points; they are all made in the interests of the better training of these men for the Royal Navy and National Service and for the many important purposes served in this war; and to give all our men of ability, keenness and merit full and equal opportunity with all, regardless of means and social status. Even without all these things I am demanding, they have done a marvellous job. Lacking these opportunities, they have still deserved and earned every compliment that has been paid them, and I can gladly and sincerely add mine to those tributes. In view of what they have done, lacking all the opportunities and the training and equipment that I have suggested for promotion and special tasks, what could they not do provided that these other things were added to the natural mariners' and fighting qualities that they possess?
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. A. V. Alexander
The general character of the Amendment and the subjects that have been covered are of such importance that the House might think it not courteous if I did not say a word or two, although the Financial Secretary has already made a most excellent contribution to the Debate. The character of the speeches that have been made is most gratifying to the Admiralty. I wish we were always in such full agreement with intervening Amendments, put down in the Debate on the Navy Estimates. The criticism that was advanced later as to whether my hon. and gallant Friend was right in all his 2150 tactical and strategical conceptions of the work of the Fleet, did not impress me very much. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) was ready to do battle with all the technicians from the layman's point of view, as to whether the scientists could or could not replace the battleship with something else which would suit the purpose. That is what he really meant. That depends, not on the ability of the scientists to produce something else, but upon whether that something else will deal with the fact of other nations insisting in putting on the sea, and using ever and ever stronger and more greatly protected capital ships. If they do, you will certainly have to meet them. I recalled, as he was speaking, the Debate in 1940 on the Estimates, when the present Prime Minister was the First Lord and he referred to the fact that some people thought it was not much use having capital ships. Here is an extract from the speech:This is a very superficial view. If we had not got at the present time an unquestioned superiority in battleships, the German heavy cruisers would come out into the Atlantic Ocean and, without fear of being brought to account, would be able to obstruct, if not to arrest, the whole of the enormous trade, without which we could not live."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1940; Vol. 357, c. 1929.]That was very well stated, and it is a view to which we could very well subscribe today. If the suggestion that has been made by an hon. and gallant Gentleman, for whose opinion and experience I have the utmost respect, that the battleship—which he said was vulnerable to air attack—might not be the ship that was wanted in the future, was intended to convey that the battleship was finished, I would say it depends on the air protection that you send with it. The suggestion made by some in this Debate that the battleship has not been doing its job against surface ships in this war is really not true. The great fight with the "Bismarck" is a case in point. That was a full-dress action between the "Hood," which was sunk, and the "Prince of Wales," which was damaged, and the "Bismarck," and, afterwards she was brought down by the heavy fire of the "Rodney" and the "King George V."
§ Sir M. Sueter
When the right hon. Gentleman talks about the "Bismarck" may I say that she was turned into a lame duck by a torpedo from an aeroplane first?
§ Mr. Alexander
Again, that is not in conformity with the case of the hon. and gallant Member who moved the Amendment. She was turned into a lame duck by the despised Swordfish, flying from the "Ark Royal." That is how she was crippled. In the case of the sinking of the "Scharnhorst," no such position was created at all. She was within reach, if the weather and the light had been suitable, of shore-based aircraft, but we had no possibility of any air protection there at that time. It was a straight action between one capital ship and another, and ours happened to be the better of the two.
I agree, and the Admiralty agree, and I think I may say that the Government agree with the whole spirit and drafting of the Amendment. We cannot say "Let us proceed to pass it" because we should then not get you, Mr. Speaker, out of the Chair. Before I ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman to withdraw it, I would mention one or two other points on which I was not quite certain that I agree with him. He referred to the question of the future entry of officers into the Navy and to our scholarship scheme. I have a great personal interest in that. I had more to do with its introduction than anyone else. I was rather disturbed at the suggestion, which seemed to lie behind his speech, that any such scheme might not make sure that the sole criterion for entry into the college and the Service was ability and character. The change that we made in 1940, which came into operation in 1941, certainly takes nothing away from the requirements of ability and character. But I cannot agree for a moment with the suggestion that the scholarships that are given at Dartmouth should be put up for "free-for-all" competition, between boys from any class of school.
We never had any general entry up to 1940 from State-aided schools into Dartmouth. Entry had been the sole perquisite of the preparatory schools. The boys had come from parents who could afford to pay the fees in the preparatory schools, and the preparatory schools were working on the curriculum necessary for them to take the common entry examination of the public schools, which is practically the examination for entry into Dartmouth. Those boys from the preparatory schools have three and a half to four and a half years' training for the 2152 curriculum. The boy from the State secondary school rarely enters it from the elementary school until he is 11, and he takes the ordinary school course—as much as he can get—based upon the course laid down for the examination for boys from 16 to 17 for the school certificate or matriculation.
Therefore, we had to deal with a situation, in laying down the conditions of the scholarships, through which we could first get boys from the secondary school into Dartmouth. They must be of ability and character. Therefore, we fixed a minimum standard of educational attainment below which no scholarship was to be given. That minimum standard is well above the minimum we adopt for the admission of cadets into Dartmouth as fee payers. Therefore, no boy gets a scholarship from a State-aided or preparatory school unless he is above the minimum standard required for a fee payer.
§ Commander Galbraith
What my right hon. Friend is saying is really that no boy having a higher standard who goes up for that examination is excluded because some other type of boy is due to get a scholarship.
§ Mr. Alexander
He is certainly not excluded from the college. What we lay down is that there are to be 10 scholarships open to secondary school scholars who reach the minimum qualifications for a scholarship, and there are 10 given to the preparatory schools. You might get, I suppose, in fact from public or preparatory schools a boy who would get slightly higher marks over and above those needed for entry on a scholarship. He would not be kept out of the school, but he would not be eligible for a scholarship. Nevertheless, if his parents are very poor we would be able, as we have always done at Dartmouth, to consider, after a little experience of the boy, whether some part of his fees could be remitted. That has always been done.
May I suggest that there is a possible danger of cramming with regard to these scholarships? Once you have scholarships there is always the danger of cramming.
§ Mr. Alexander
If we want to get a Royal Navy which will truly stand in all the difficult circumstances that are coming 2153 in the future, I want it based upon the whole of the people. There should be no favouritism of any section over any others. If we are to have the Dartmouth system of entry, we should have a system under which boys who come from the elementary schools through the secondary schools shall have a chance, irrespective of their financial position, to get into Dartmouth. I will not budge from that, and if anybody tries to take it away I shall fight it, because it is not right to try and take it away. It is the only reasonable basis we can get.
I seem to sense behind letters of the kind that appeared in the "Sunday Times" last Sunday from Admiral Tweedie, and other comments I have seen, an idea that we are on the wrong tack in giving a chance to boys from the State-aided schools in order to get a wide system of entry for officers put on a firm and secure basis. If that is not going to be accepted by some of the people who take up the professional side in the Navy, I will not advocate any entry of officers except from the lower deck and training thereafter provided. I have met the people who favour the Dartmouth system pretty handsomely. I have made provision for entry from the secondary schools, and, at the same time, and for the first time, have allocated 10 scholarships to preparatory school scholars.
§ Commander Galbraith
My right hon. Friend will realise that the only point I want to make is that these scholarships should not exclude any boys of even greater ability, I do not care where they come from.
§ Mr. Alexander
If you are going to have a "free for all" among boys who come from differing conditions and have had different curricula, you will always get a section from the preparatory schools who would not need these scholarships. Provided that we have a minimum standard for scholarships, I am satisfied that I am doing the right thing for the needs of the Nation. I wanted to make my position clear. I do not intend to give way, at any time while I am at the Admiralty, on that particular point, and critics might just as well know right away.
As regards the future, my hon. and gallant Friend made a speech which was sailing near the wind all the time, owing to his nearly being out of Order, and I 2154 find it difficult to answer now that you, Mr. Speaker, have returned and will be watching the terms of the Amendment. There is certainly no general argument from the experience of this war against the manner in which the Services themselves have worked together. If there has been from time to time a roughness of tongue and an apparent lack of cooperation at the right moment, I think it has mostly been at the higher level and not among the gallant chaps themselves who have been doing the job. I feel that it would be a very great thing indeed if we could have the same kind of cooperation as we have had in the joint war planning staffs to meet our commitments in peace time. From the point of view of accepting that in general principle, I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that he is pushing an open door with me. Therefore, I shall be able to pass on the opinions which he has expressed, sometimes very nearly out of Order on the Amendment. The great thing I want to come out of this Debate is that the House will feel committed to the main principle, that co-ordinate how you like, allocate expenditure with the greatest justice possible, one thing is essential, and that is that we shall keep an adequate minimum Naval strength to meet the commitments of the Nation.
§ Commander Galbraith
In view of the very satisfactory replies which have come from the Front Bench, for which I thank my right hon. Friend and the Financial Secretary, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," again proposed.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite (Holderness)
I regret it should be necessary to detain you in the Chair a little longer, Mr. Speaker, but this is the only occasion on which we have the opportunity of raising what are technically known as grievances. I would like to preface my remarks, even though at this hour they may be a little redundant, by adding my warm congratulations to those which have been showered upon the First Lord from all quarters. I do that, not only as an old political opponent of his, but also as what I may describe as an ageing subordinate now working under his Department.
2155 Last year, when the Estimates were before us, the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price) moved an Amendment on the subject of education, and it occurred to me that hon. Members would like to have a first-hand report of the progress that is being made in this sphere. I returned only a week ago from a tour of the Mediterranean theatre which I made on behalf of the Admiralty Education Department. My duty was to give lectures to officers and ratings on the procedure of this honourable House. Great strides have been made during the past 12 months in giving information to the Fleet on current affairs, developments on the various fronts, lectures by experts on the Japanese Fleet and the mentality of the Japanese people, together with the various strategic problems which will have to be faced in the Pacific. There has sprung up in all bases and in many ships, information rooms excellently planned, containing the latest maps showing developments on the various fronts, and home newspapers of all sections of opinion. One is glad to see HANSARD appearing frequently in information rooms, where facilities exist for both ward-room and lower deck to keep the personnel abreast with public affairs in a manner not thought of a few years ago. I am sure that the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean will be glad to hear of the fruits of the Amendment which he brought forward a year ago.
In addition to that, the Navy has embarked upon what would have been regarded as revolutionary before this war, discussion groups among ratings upon the problems of the day, emphasising particularly the various aspects of post-war reconstruction with which we shall shortly be faced. I am delighted to find that these subjects are being handled objectively, and are refreshingly free from party bias or party nostrums, such as one might have feared would happen in such an experiment. In regard to the subject on which I was called upon to give talks, I found, what will be extremely gratifying to hon. Members upon whatever benches they may sit, a growing interest in the franchise and its responsibilities. That is undoubtedly bringing to light very rapidly a new point of view. One of the things about which I was asked most frequently was whether election addresses of candidates could be supplied to men serving on 2156 foreign stations when the Election takes place. I was glad to see, on reading the back numbers of the OFFICIAL REPORT, that the Home Secretary gave a pledge to that effect during the Committee stage of the Representation of the People Bill.
These men want a bit more than election addresses. They want photographs of candidates; they want to know the ages of candidates. They want to know whether they are too old and, if the candidates are young, they want to know whether they are of military age and the part they have played in the national war effort in the past five and a half years. The question I was asked most frequently—open confession being good for the soul—showed that there was far more interest taken in how to get rid of hon. Members than in how to elect them. It was: "What do you do if, after an election, a Member absents himself from the House or from his constituency?" I used to reply that this matter was rather like getting married; one must take great care beforehand, because there is not much one can do later on.
In the Mediterranean, there is little or no party allegiance among the new voters, in the terms which we understand in that connection. In fact, the party system, and particularly what we describe as "the usual channels," come in for the most criticism. They want to know to what extent we are the slaves of those who form "the usual channels" in this House. They tend to say: "A plague on both your houses," or, in fact, "A plague on all three of your houses," but not a plague on the Prime Minister. The First Lord, in the concluding remarks in his introductory speech, waxed somewhat whimsical about his future. He told us that this might be the last occasion on which we should have an opportunity of hearing him introduce the Navy Estimates. He looked rather sadly into the future, at parting company with the office he has filled with such distinction. That gives me the opportunity to mention a constantly-recurring question at these lectures, and I pass it on because it may give the First Lord food for thought. The question was: "Why break up the Coalition which has achieved so much? We like our Prime Minister and we like our First Lord. Why should they be forced into opposite camps?" That question came up over and over again.
2157 Apart from the lectures and discussions, much has been done by the Education Department on the lines of vocational training and correspondence courses, preparing men for demobilisation. I found that the education officers had pushed along very well in that direction, and that the vocational training and the correspondence courses were proceeding apace. That brings me to the complementary topic of those who are conducting this naval education. The hon. Member for the Forest of Dean last year raised the question of the status and pay of schoolmasters in the Navy. I have no doubt where the sympathies of the First Lord lie in this matter. I understand that progress is being made. I merely mention in passing to-day, that there are no volunteers in the Mediterranean, among the temporary instructor officers, to turn over to the regular service. That fact is eloquent on the point raised by the hon. Member a year ago, and I desire to express the hope that an early and satisfactory announcement will be made on this matter, when I am confident that the necessary numbers will then be forthcoming. Once the problem is dealt with, I believe that the question of volunteers for the schoolmaster branches, will be solved.
Now let me turn from education to welfare and amenities in the Mediterranean, which have reached a very high standard. I do not think a finer example can be found anywhere in the world than the Fleet Club which I visited in Alexandria. It was second to none in the general standard of amenities provided. At Malta, conditions were equally satisfactory. I had the good fortune to be there at the same time as the Prime Minister and President Roosevelt, and I took the opportunity of visiting the club to see what was provided for the officers and the ratings. Even among the hardships and handicaps of Northern Italy, good efforts were being made to improvise comfortable recreation rooms. These amenities are not confined to male personnel. I was extremely impressed by the standard of comfort and efficiency which prevailed in the W.R.N.S. establishments, both for officers and ratings. These compared very favourably with conditions at home. I mention this because of ill-informed remarks which have been made, some of them unhappily in this House, regarding the physical and 2158 moral perils to which our girls are exposed, if they proceed on foreign service. I will content myself by saying that I wish some parents took as much care over the welfare of their daughters as does the Navy, through the welfare organisation of the W.R.N.S. In addition to what was said by the Noble Lady the Member for Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor), I would like to say that I have had an opportunity of studying this matter at very close quarters. I would endorse the statements that the W.R.N.S. are not only doing work of the highest value to the Service, but that their bearing and conduct are exemplary. I have seen them under active service in four countries bordering on the shores of the Mediterranean, and their bearing and conduct do the utmost credit to themselves and to the country of their birth. Show me higher praise than that, and I will use it. A high standard of morale obtained among officers and ratings of both sexes.
I did find two points not so much of dissatisfaction but of criticism, and I would like to take the opportunity of placing them before the First Lord. The first is rather a psychological matter and relates to the constant use of the adjective "temporary" in official documents, not so much from His Majesty's ships or establishments on active service conditions, but in those which emanate from a certain salubrious West country spa, or on the Welsh border, where they conduct what is known as the "paper war" with unflagging ferocity. I have been asked to suggest to the House that, after 5½ years of active service, the officers of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, who now form a very large percentage of the Fleet, and who, in some cases, command destroyers and submarines, have by experience removed the stigma of amateurism which might have applied to them in the earlier phases of the war. Most of them have now achieved a long record of honourable service, first on the lower deck and later in commissioned rank. This adjective "temporary" while technically correct, displays a certain lack of tact. It is rather like the term "Hostilities only" applied to ratings, which is surely a masterpiece of over-simplification and under-statement. It was very strongly felt in many quarters which I visited, that those who have fallen in action—and the toll has been heavy among the Royal Naval 2159 Volunteer Reserve—have made no temporary sacrifice for their country, and their loved ones have certainly suffered no temporary bereavement. I do not ask the Civil Lord for a reply but put these observations on record, in the hope that the Board of Admiralty will give them sympathetic consideration.
The other topic which is arousing criticism is the "black-out" on news of naval operations in the Adriatic, and it is being said, "Forgotten Army—Burma. Forgotten Navy—Mediterranean." Many gallant actions are being fought which receive little or no publicity. The work of our minesweepers in the Adriatic remains constant and arduous, and I was glad to hear the First Lord pay the tribute he did to the work of the minesweepers. I think he will confirm that they have had no more arduous work than the work in the Adriatic.
§ Mr. Alexander
I agree, but I ought to point out that the Commander-in-Chief's staff in the Mediterranean has the control of the issue of communiqués of news of actual actions there. If there is any criticism arising, it cannot be directed at the Admiralty or the Chief of Naval Information.
§ Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite
I was coming to that point. Surely much more could be done to acquaint the people at home of the details which can now be released without fear of giving information to the enemy, who is only too well aware of the wounds he is nursing. It is no reflection on the zeal of the distinguished author who is in charge of this matter, on the staff of the Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean, to suggest that he should be supported by someone with more experience in the journalistic and public relations technique of to-day. There is the "Union Jack," which circulates in Italy, primarily under the control of the Army, and deals largely with military matters. Members of the staff have told me how much they would like to publish stories regarding the Navy in that theatre, and feature them in the "Union Jack," but, over and over again, their attempts to obtain information have failed. I pass that on, in the hope that the matter may be investigated.
Finally, I wish to endorse what the First Lord has said to-day about the long sea struggle, and the essential factor of 2160 naval power in this war, as in previous wars. The country owes far more than' it realises to Rear-Admiral Morgan, Flag Officer Commanding in Italy, and Captain Dickinson, Senior Naval Officer, Northern Adriatic, two distinguished officers who have achieved great things in the highest traditions of their great Service, in what has become, owing to tremendous events elsewhere, something of a backwater. I would like to pay my tribute to the services they have rendered, and to the gallant, cheerful and efficient officers and men, who gladly do their bidding.
§ 7.5 P.m.
§ Mr. Gretton (Burton)
As has already been mentioned by a number of speakers, the number and kind of ships which will be required in the post-war Navy will be an important consideration. Equally important will be the kind of men who will be called upon to man them. In this connection I should like to refer for a moment to the important work which has been, and is being, undertaken by the Sea Cadet Corps. This is no new movement, nor is it a movement which has been born in war. It has already proved itself over a long period of years. In every walk of life in this country there are boys who are longing to learn about the sea and about seamanship, and who are looking forward to the day when they can put that knowledge into practice. If I may quote the words of a distinguished naval officer who has had many opportunities during this war of seeing the type of young man who has come forward to serve his country in the Navy:I thought I knew the extent to which a love of the sea flows in our veins, but I never knew to what extent we are a web-footed nation.There is no doubt that, given the right guidance and lead, we have the young men. It has also been proved from experience that the form of training is one which appeals to those who have the opportunity of taking part in it. No doubt this is to some extent the secret of its success, irrespective of whether a boy ultimately decides to go into the Royal Navy or into the Merchant Navy or whether he chooses some other career.
There is, however, another reason, and it is very well summarised in an admirable little book which has recently been published entitled "The Ship's Company." I should like to read what is said in the foreword: 2161A ship's company provides the finest example of team work that the world has to offer. It is something far wider and far greater than the team work manifest in games and sports. The ship's company is a team both in work and play. We are accustomed to speak of the Ship of State, and in doing so we should remember that that Ship needs a good ship's company if it is to be a good ship. A good seaman who has been a member of a good ship's company has acquired all the essential qualities of a good citizen. Herein lies the prime value of the Sea Cadet Corps.If I may try to put that into one sentence, I think it means that a boy who has been attached to a good corps instinctively seeks opportunities to try and serve others before he thinks of himself, and it is not very long before he becomes self-reliant and a natural leader in one sphere or another. These are the kind of young men we want to see coming forward, not only for the Royal Navy but to help this nation as a whole.
May I refer to the special needs of the Merchant Navy? There is no reason to believe that the competition between the mercantile fleets of the world will be any less severe after this war. Again, the Merchant Navy will be expected to make an important contribution towards the expansion of our export trade. Therefore, I suggest that they will need the finest type of young man that the nation can produce. There is another point, which I think is very often overlooked. Every ship's company has great opportunities to further the cause of peace, by fostering friendly relations with the peoples of other countries. It is true that we have our Ambassadors, our Ministers, and other representatives in foreign countries. It is also true that they have opportunities of meeting the leaders of those countries and other interesting people, but I believe that, in the end, it is the man in the street who has the power to do the most good. He will be judged according to the way he behaves and the courtesy which he shows, not only in regard to his own value, but as a representative of the nation from which he comes. We are led to believe that some form of National Service will be introduced in this country when the war in the West and in the East is over. May I express the earnest hope that the Admiralty will not only continue to recognise the Sea Cadet Corps but will continue to give it active support, and that every boy who is a member of that Corps and has reached a given standard of efficiency will have the opportunity of 2162 going to sea and manning a ship as a member of the ship's company?
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Price (Forest of Dean)
I also want to congratulate the First Lord on his admirable statement. I think he can be assured, both from the Debate on the Amendment and from the general Debate, that we are all proud of the Naval Service and are determined to see it kept up in peace-time at whatever strength may be needed to maintain the peace, order, and security of the world. I can remember the time when Britain alone ruled the waves, when we set so-called two-Power standards for the construction of capital ships over other Powers. Times have changed somewhat, and the Royal Navy has to share the glory of maintaining law and order on the seas with other great naval Powers, particularly, of course, with that great Republic across the Atlantic. But even if conditions have changed and the Royal Navy shares the honour with another great Navy, that honour is still none the less.
I want to raise one point, to which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) referred in his interesting speech, when he gave his own personal experiences in the Mediterranean, to which I referred on the Estimates last year, when I was fortunate enough to draw a place in the Ballot, namely, naval education and particularly the status and conditions of the naval schoolmaster branch. On that occasion the First Lord was good enough to make certain statements, and to indicate that he would make a special investigation into the matter. I should like to know what results have been attained, because I have reason to know that there is still a feeling in the schoolmaster branch that reforms are urgently needed. Frankly speaking, there is a danger that a caste system may develop in the educational service of the Navy, and an undesirable line be drawn between the schoolmaster class and the instructor branch. In fact, I am informed that the educational qualifications for these two branches are not so different as they are supposed to be on paper, and that many members of the schoolmaster branch have high university degrees—degrees often as high as those of members of the instructor branch. Moreover, the schoolmaster branch have manifold and very important 2163 duties to perform. The schoolmaster has to be a specialist in many branches of the Service, and to be able to instruct in those specialist branches. He also has important operational duties, both in the plotting room and in meteorological work. He often needs a very high technical training. There is a feeling that the pay and prospects of this branch are still not sufficient.
I know that some steps have been taken, as a result of the inquiries that were made, as the First Lord promised me, but in regard to pay I think I am right in saying that the negotiations which went on with the Burnham Committee have to some extent been reflected in the delay in coming to a decision on the pay of the schoolmaster branch. But recently le Burnham Committee has reported, and there is a new scale of pay. I hope that we may now have an end of this delay, and a statement as to what the pay is to be. In regard to prospects, there is still that long wait for promotion. Formerly, promotion to the senior schoolmaster grade took eight years, but now, I understand, the period has been extended to 14 or 15 years. The chances of promotion are very much less in this schoolmaster branch, and I ask that I may be given a little more hope of improvements in this direction, particularly in regard to the status of the schoolmaster in the Service. I know that this subject is all bound up with the status of warrant officers in other branches of the Service, and that we cannot deal with one without dealing with others, and that consequently this is bound to take some time, but I hope that the Financial Secretary will be able to give satisfaction along the lines which I hoped I had extracted from the First Lord on the Navy Estimates last year.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Tufnell (Cambridge)
I intervene only for a very few moments to support the suggestion of one hon. Member, who asked that great encouragement should be given to the Sea Cadet Corps. I have been amazed at what I have seen in the depths of the country, where the boys are very anxious to form these cadet corps, and all they ask is that they shall be encouraged by the Admiralty. I hope the Admiralty will do their very best to encourage them, 2164 because these Sea Cadets are the source from which the Navy should obtain the men to man its ships in the post-war period. They have the necessary enthusiasm, and they naturally acquire that initiative and resourcefulness which is necessary in a Navy which is called upon to deal with all the different events and difficulties which are bound to face it in the future.
For that reason I am very glad to hear of the proposal to have research and scientific boards going into all the new inventions and dealing with counter measures against new weapons. This should be dealt with by practical men afloat, who can study all these measures and produce the necessary counter measures which will ensure, when the moment comes, that we shall be abreast of all the new forms of weapons which are continually being introduced into naval warfare. If these boards encourage the scientific brains in the country, those brains should receive a very high reward. If we are to encourage the very best men in the Navy, we must tell these people that, if possible, we are going to produce a Navy worthy of this country. I am quite aware that it is impossible for us to know what sort of a Navy we shall be allowed, but, at least, we can map out and consider what are the essential needs of the Navy to guard our ships over the blue waters and save us from the strangulation which has very nearly happened in so many different wars.
I know that much has been said about the capital ship, but I feel that, whether the capital ship is with us or not, the fact is that the capital ship takes four or five years to build, and, therefore, when the moment comes and you have not got a capital ship, you are left in the lurch. We do not want to be left in the lurch, as we have been before. Small ships—cruisers, aircraft carriers, escort vessels—can, as they were at the beginning of this war, be improvised and can be built comparatively quickly. Capital ships take five or six years to build, and it takes a very long time to train officers and men for them. If you maintain your fleets on the basis of the capital ship, you are giving a sound basis to the fleets, and you are encouraging the construction of the smaller vessels which can form the nucleus of the necessary protection of our waters against submarine attack and other forms of attack. Therefore, the capital ship is, to 2165 my mind, a very necessary basis upon which to build our Fleet.
I feel I must add this word. I hope that, in considering the basis on which our Fleets are to be established, the First Lord will take advantage of the opportunity when representatives of the Dominions will be over here at our conferences, to get into consultation with them to see to what extent they can co-operate in maintaining the Fleet in the Far East, a Fleet to which the Dominions themselves contribute ships, bases such as Singapore, and men to man that Fleet. I feel that Dominions like Australia and New Zealand would never wish again to be let down by not having a Fleet in Far Eastern waters as they were at the beginning of this war. If we maintain our Fleet, permanently based on its different bases, I feel every confidence that our Navy will be built on a sound basis, and the basis upon which we can rely that in the future the strength of the British Navy will be able to secure and help towards the peace of the world.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor (Paddington, South)
I desire to preface my remarks by congratulating the First Lord upon the admirable speech which he made to-day, and also by congratulating him, if I may, on the great service which he has rendered to the country during his very high office as First Lord during this war, and, finally, to congratulate him on his concluding words. I feel that his experience at the Admiralty during the war has now, for all time, convinced him of the absolute necessity of having a powerful Navy maintained by this country. Throughout the country there is universal admiration for the services which have been rendered by the Navy during this war, and for the unsurpassed manner in which it has carried out the multifarious duties imposed upon it—duties more varied than in any previous wars, and, in many cases, much more exacting.
I wish to pay a special tribute to the R.N.V.R. officers and men who have served in every type of ship in the Navy. They have carried out their work in a most admirable manner. Their officers have filled the most important positions, and in many cases they have been the commanding officers of the ships to which they have been appointed. There is no section of the Navy, including, of course, 2166 the W.R.N.S., which is not worthy of the highest praise. To-day the officers and men of the Navy not only require to be seamen but also to be highly skilled in numerous types of technical apparatus required on board a modern ship, very often of a highly complicated and technical nature. That calls for an even higher standard of intelligence and elasticity of mind than was necessary in the days gone by. In saying that, I do not mean at all that seamanlike qualities are not just as important as, or more important than, they were in the past. For many reasons they are more important than ever they were. Initiative, quick decisions and high seamanlike qualities are essential.
It is in view of these facts that it is essential that the Navy should be certain of attracting to itself a very high standard quality in both its officers and men. In this connection it is important to realise that after the conclusion of the war with Germany and Japan there may very well be a natural reaction against service in the armed Forces of this country, just as there was after the last war, both on the part of the young men and of their parents, and, further, the Navy and the other armed Services will be competing with industry for highly skilled personnel to a far greater extent than ever existed before. On account of that, apart from the natural attraction of a sea life for our people—we are a seafaring nation—it is essential that the personnel of the Navy should receive a reward for their service comparable with the reward for service received in industry. That applies both to officers and men, and I submit for the consideration of my right hon. Friend that the time has come for a reconsideration of the pay in the Navy; and in that particular I would stress the great desirability, as far as it is possible, of a simplification of pay and allowances.
I now come to the particular question with which I rose to deal, and I must apologise to the House for once more taking up the cudgels on behalf of the naval officers. I have fought this battle in this House on many occasions, and I propose to continue to do so till I have won the battle for them, but I hope that this may be the last occasion on which I have to state the case for the naval officer. In 1919 the Jerram Committee was set up to revise the pay of the officers and men of the Navy, and as a result of their delibera- 2167 tions the pay was increased to a considerable extent. After that Committee had sat the Fisher Committee was set up to do exactly the same for the Army and the Air Force as the Jerram Committee had done for the Navy. As a result of the findings of the Fisher Committee the pay in those Services was also increased. At this point I would like to say that in connection with the rates of pay which the Jerram Committee suggested they expressed the following opinion as detailed in the famous Appendix 5 which I chased for so long but a copy of which my hon. and gallant Friend very kindly sent me. This is what the Jerram Committee said:The Committee are very strongly of the opinion that if a marriage allowance of any sort can possibly be avoided it will be for the good of the Service. In fact, we consider that it is very undesirable to make any difference in the Navy between the married and the single officer. We have, therefore, in computing what we considered to be a far wage for every rank, taken into consideraton the annual income necessary in our opinion for a naval officer to live in moderate comfort, and that state of life which his position and rank in the Service demands.At this point I would, therefore, give a comparative table of the pay of the officers in the three Services. A lieut.-commander in the Navy received £1 10s. a day; a major, his equivalent in rank in the Army, £1 11s. 6d.; a squadron leader in the Air force, £1 14s. A commander received £2 a lieut.-colonel, his equivalent in rank, £2 7s. 6d.; and a wing commander £2. A captain received £3, a colonel and a group-captain each received £2 15s. But the Army and the Air Force officers, in addition to the basic pay, also received a marriage allowance. The naval officer did not. It has always been the contention of the Treasury that in 1919 basic pay in the Navy contained an element of marriage allowance which was not contained in the basic pay of the Army and the Air Force, because they received marriage allowance as a separate payment. That being so, one would imagine that in the case of naval officers that their pay would be higher than that of their equivalent ranks in the Army and the Air Force. However, the facts are that a commander received 7s. 6d. a day less than a lieut.-colonel although he received the same as a wing commander. A lieut.-commander was lower paid than the corresponding rank in both the Army 2168 and the Air Force by 1s. 6d. and 4s. a day respectively.
We thus have the situation that after these Committees have sat and after the pay of the officers has been raised and stated to have resulted in an equitable equalisation of pay of the officers of all three Services, that so far from that being the case, in the instances I have stated, not only was Army and Air Force pay higher than in the Navy, but in both the Army and the Air Force officers were receiving marriage allowances in addition. Therefore for the space of 19 years officers in the Army and the Air Force were, in the majority of cases, better paid than the officers in the Navy and received marriage allowance in addition, so that the naval officer was very much at a disadvantage.
In 1938, the naval officers' marriage allowance was introduced and, on its introduction, it was specifically stated that as the 1919 payment contained an element of marriage allowance it would be necessary to reduce the basic rate of pay of the naval officer by 2s. a day. This, I would like to inform the House, applied not only to the married officer but to the bachelor as well. In the case of the commissioned warrant officer, his pay was reduced by from 1s. to 1s. 8d. a day, depending upon his seniority. Two shillings a day was considered to be the amount of marriage allowance increment included in the 1919 pay.
I mentioned that the 1919 comparison made the naval officer's basic pay not higher, but in most cases lower than that of the corresponding ranks in the Army and the Air Force, and that situation was still maintained in 1938, before the reduction of 2s. a day, the figures being as follow:
This comparison shows that the same relationship existed in 1938, when the naval officers' marriage allowance was introduced, as in 1919, namely, the commander was worse off than the lieutenant-colonel, and the lieutenant-commander 2169 was worse off than either the major or the squadron-leader. When the 2S. a day was deducted from that basic rate of pay, the naval inferiority was still further aggravated.
£ s. d. Lieut.-Commander in the Navy 1 7 2 Major 1 8 6 Squadron-Leader 1 10 10 Commander 1 16 2 Lieut.-Colonel 2 3 0 Wing-Commander 1 16 2 Captain 2 14 4 Colonel 2 9 10 Group Captain 2 9 10
One may ask at once, what was the excuse for this unfavourable position with regard to the naval officer? It was understood to be that the naval officer was generally younger on promotion than obtained in the Army and the Air Force, but I trust that argument was finally disposed of and buried for ever by the answer which my right hon. Friend the First Lord gave to me in reply to a question, when he stated that the emoluments of naval officers related to rank, which, of course, is as it should be. In any case, this argument—so far as it was valid in 1938—very soon became obsolete. In the same year, in 1938, the Hore-Belisha reforms were brought in with regard to the Army, which reduced the age at which officers were promoted to captains and majors, and, since the war, the pendulum has swung heavily over on the other side of the Army and the Air Force.
The marriage allowances of the three Services are not on identical lines, which makes a direct comparison very difficult and very confusing. For example, in the navy there is a marriage allowance for a wife, and in addition there is an allowance for each child, whereas in the other two Services, there is a comprehensive allowance for a wife and children—in their case there is no additional allowance given for children at all; there are also other differences. As an example, let me take the case of a lieutenant-commander living with his wife, not provided with Service quarters. He does not receive his lodging allowance of £80 a year to which he is entitled because the Service cannot provide him with quarters. He receives instead marriage allowance under the latest scheme, which has only just come in, 2s. a day extra marriage allowance. Although he receives this 2s. a day extra for marriage allowance, he is, on balance, £44 a year worse off. Whereas in the case of a major in exactly similar circumstances, he receives marriage allowance, and also other allowances for fuel, light, etc., which, I may add, gives a major 4s. 10d. a day more than the lieut.-commander.
On the childless basis the captain in the Navy is 4s. a day worse off for marriage allowance than a colonel in the Army, 2170 and the captain has to have three children before he gets more for marriage allowance than the colonel in the Army. The commander is 5s. a day worse off than the lieut.-colonel for marriage allowance, and he also has to have three children before he gets more than a lieut.-colonel. In the case of a lieut.-commander, he is 3s. a day worse off than a major, but in his case he only has to have two children before he gets more than a major.
In addition to this, in accordance with the latest scheme, 1s. of the marriage allowance of the naval officer is subject to Income Tax. It may be said, "Well, that is very small," but all these things add up. That does not apply to the officers in the other Services, whose allowance is free of tax, and quite rightly so. The naval officer has to be subject to income tax on 1s. of his marriage allowance—
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor
No, they get them free of Income Tax entirely. No admiral receives marriage allowance, but the officers in the highest ranks in the other Services do receive marriage allowance.
To sum up, in the case of the majority of naval officers, their basic rate of pay is lower, their marriage allowance is less favourable, and their age for rank to-day is higher. Their responsibilities—and I say this without fear of contradiction from any quarter of the House or the country—are far greater than the responsibilities of a corresponding rank in the other two Services. I have not raised this matter in order that the pay and allowances of the officers in the other Services should be reduced—far from it; I would never dream of doing that—but I do maintain that at least the officers in the Navy should be as well paid as the officers in the Army. On the facts that I have given, which are indisputable, they are worse off. This is not a state of affairs which I consider should ever have obtained. It is certainly not one which should be allowed to continue. I am at a complete loss to understand why successive Boards of Admiralty have been satisfied that naval officers should be worse off all along the line than their opposite numbers in the other Services. I am sure my right hon. Friend is desirous of having the matter put right. I believe he is anxious to 2171 see that naval officers get a fair deal. I ask him with all earnestness to have the whole matter of pay and allowances reviewed afresh.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Commander Agnew (Camborne)
No one who heard the speech in which the First Lord introduced the Estimates could have failed to feel a sense of gratitude for the work of the Royal Navy during the past year. It was indeed a remarkable achievement that he unfolded, all the more so when account is taken' of the fact that all but a very small percentage of the Navy consists of officers and men who before the war had no experience of naval life and training. May I include in the credit which has been given to the Navy the work of the Women's Royal Naval Service? Its members have played an increasing part in assisting the Navy in its task. Not only has the increase been one of numbers but the scope of the duties that they have been allowed to undertake has been very greatly widened in the task few years and we owe very much to them. As the result of this the Navy is today all one. It is almost impossible, except for the uniforms, to distinguish the attributes which their wearers possess. There never was only doubt that, when the test came, the Navy would be equal to the colossal task imposed upon it by the fact that we are an island Kingdom with an ocean-wide Commonwealth and a maritime Empire.
I should like to say a few words about the problem of the post-war manning of the Navy. Any plan that is made when peace comes must be based on two assumptions. The first is that we are going to have a large Navy. I am glad to say that, if we lacked it before, which I do not think we did, we have ample evidence that that question is not going to be any matter of politics. The whole country will be agreed about it. The second assumption is that in peace-time some form of compulsory National Service will be retained for young people. Any plans for the manning of the Navy must be fitted into the framework of those two assumptions. Before the war the main source of supply—to take the ratings first—was the continuous-service system, by which a man joined as a boy to be trained and thereafter signed an engagement to do 12 years and, if he wanted to 2172 do it, and the Navy wanted to have him, a further 10 years, and then retired with a pension. In more recent years, to supplement that, there was introduced a short-service scheme by which men came in for three to seven years straight away as ordinary seamen.
How are we going to make our postwar arrangements fit in with those two ideas? It is essential to retain, and indeed to start at the earliest time that we can, the continuous-service system. I think it is not an over-statement to say that the Navy could not have successfully undergone the great expansion that it did but for the fact that there was a nucleus of long-service trained officers and men who could train others to take their places and undertake greater responsibilities themselves. Then, if we are to have compulsory National Service, I am sure it will be the case that a proportion of younger men, as they come up to the appropriate age, will be allowed to select service in the Royal Navy. Obviously it cannot be said now how long that period should be. It might be two years, or even three, but I can indicate what I hope would be a feature of that scheme: that, just as the system during the war of producing temporary officers after they had had a period of service on the lower deck has been so successful, so I should hope that in any conscript sailors scheme after the war there will be a provision that those most fitted shall, half way through their time for example, have a chance of being selected to be temporary officers and undergo a period of training and experience at sea as officers. Then they will pass out into their occupations in civil life. But, when war comes, we shall have a greatly increased hidden reserve at once, able to take up their positions as officers without going through the mill once again. I hope the Financial Secretary will be able to give me some indication what the post-war plan will be in regard to ratings.
I doubt very much whether the system of creating officers from the lower deck permanently ought to continue. I wonder whether it is not very much better to take them younger, as the First Lord has begun to do, straight into the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth. They have the advantage of being trained as officers at a much earlier age and they will not find it so difficult to acquire the higher educational attainments that an officer must 2173 need with all the technical detail that he has to master. What is to be the system for producing officers? Is the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth to continue? I think it is inevitable that it must continue, but I should like to see even greater steps taken than have already been taken to broaden the education that is given there. It is not so narrow as it used to be and some improvement has been made, but it is still, in my submission—although perhaps I am prejudiced, because I was a public school entry—not so broad as that given at public schools. I am certain that a greater emphasis could be placed on such subjects as history, literature and languages even at the expense, temporarily, of some of the mathematics that they study there. There will be resulting benefit to the boys, because I think that the senior officers of the Fleet will agree with my right hon. Friend that the public school entry officers are able to acquire all the necessary technical and mathematical knowledge after they have been taken into the Navy.
May I ask the Civil Lord a point with regard to the actual building where the Royal Naval College is to be housed? At present the cadets are housed in a mansion at Eaton Hall, near Chester. Although I say "housed", the cadets live and have their being in Nissen huts. Unless a move is quickly made back to the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, where the cadets ought to be, there are some who will pass straight out to sea after having lived all their time in Nissen huts without the proper naval atmosphere and sailing facilities which the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth provides. I hope that this matter is receiving the earnest attention of the Board of Admiralty and that there will be no delay in moving the cadets back.
May I pass to a subject which was introduced by my hon. and gallant Friend in such great detail, that is to say, certain anomalies in naval pay? The pay of the ratings has properly received the attention of the Government on more than one occasion during the war. I think that when the final post-war scheme comes forward, the whole of the naval pay, as the pay of all the Services, will have to be raised again. I do not think there is any particular anomaly with regard to the pay of naval ratings, but in officers' pay there are still certain matters that need to be 2174 put right. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) gave a lot of figures with regard to the pay of lieutenant-commander, commander and captain, which are the main ranks under consideration, because an officer spends at least 12 years on the average in the rank of lieutenant-commander and commander, and, if the rank of captain is added, he spends 20 years in the three ranks, in fact, the bulk of his career. The position is that, taking a married officer who is childless, a lieutenant-commander receives no less than £115 a year less than his opposite number, a major, in the Army. In the case of the commander the anomaly is even more glaring. He receives £252 less than his opposite number, a lieutenant-colonel in the Army It levels out approximately when the rank of captain is attained, in that a captain only gets £27 a year less than his opposite number, a full colonel. When all those sums are added together, however, in the course of that 20 years it does mean that, taking a married naval officer with no children and a married Army officer with no children and the marriage allowance and basic pay that each receives, the naval officer is over £1,300 down on the deal.
I do not want to say anything else at this moment, but I think, especially after the repeated assurances given in this House by the First Lord himself that the pay was worked out on the basis of the rank held in the Services, that such a state of affairs and such an anomaly as this ought not to continue. Not only ought it to be rectified, but it ought to have been rectified a long time ago. No argument that can be put up as to whether marriage allowance is included or not could vitiate the figures which I have given. They are actually taken from those which were kindly furnished to me in connection with my interview in the Admiralty itself a few days ago. I hope that this matter will receive very earnest and speedy consideration by the Board of Admiralty with a view to its being rectified.
At this very late hour I do not want to say very much more except that we have had ample evidence to-day of the work that the Royal Navy has done during war time. Many hon. Members have begun to fasten their thoughts upon the role of the Navy in peace-time. In the troublous years that lie ahead, when con- 2175 fidence and good will among people all over the world has to be created once again, I believe that the calming influence of the Royal Navy will be of very great help to that end. I trust that my right hon. Friend the First Lord, who has been holding the helm at the Board of Admiralty for so many years of tempestuous seas, will have the opportunity before he relinquishes office to guiding the Admiralty back into the calmer waters of peace.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Hubert Beaumont (Batley and Morley)
I do not propose at this late hour to keep the House for more than a few minutes, because I know that there is not only a great desire to hear the Civil Lord but also great expectation of the rescue operations that may take place after this Debate is concluded. The majority of speeches that have been made this afternoon were by representatives of dockyard constituencies who have used the Debate as a means of presenting certain particular features and matters peculiar to and advantageous to their constituents. It is desirable that the voice of one who represents an industrial constituency far away from the sea should be heard in the Debate. I would congratulate the First Lord on his magnificent exposition of a most wonderful story. The industrial constituencies, though they may be remote from the sea, are conscious of the daring, gallantry and resourcefulness of the Navy, and they recognise that in the dark days of the first two years of the war the Navy saved not only the nation and Europe, but possibly humanity as well. I want to express the hope that closer contact may be possible between the Navy and the industrial towns of this country. It is obviously not possible to take a battleship into my constituency in the heart of Yorkshire, but it is possible to take the personnel of the Navy there. Perhaps one of the things that did most of all to bring the Navy close to the industrial constituencies of this country were the Navy Weeks. The association of towns with specific ships is not only of great advantage during war-time and during the War Savings Campaigns, but can wisely be carried on after the war is over, preserving contact between ships and individual towns.
Years ago the First Lord was the doughty warrior and exponent, in this 2176 House, of Co-operation, and it seems to me that in the Admiralty and the Navy he has found perhaps the highest form of co-operation. In presenting his speech to the House to-day he could have said: "This is what it has cost to maintain our freedom. This is the dividend you have got from the Navy" and what a dividend. I am glad to think we are beginning to be conscious of the greater debt we owe to the Navy. It is known as the Silent Service and the majority of its deeds are unknown to the great mass of the public. Will the First Lord and his colleagues give consideration to the possibility and desirability of bringing to the notice of the general public, the common people of this country, in some way, the exploits and deeds and the work of the Navy.
The other night I listened on the wireless to a very brilliant dramatisation of the "Mulberry" Harbour and its operation. I became conscious of knowing only a little of what had been involved in all that wonderful, magical work which was done, not only in creating "Mulberry" but in putting it into the place desired. I realised how little I knew of what had been done by the industrial workers of this country, and of the great part which the Navy played in taking "Mulberry" across and fixing it in position. I am convinced it would be possible to dramatise many other exploits of the Navy in such a vivid form as to bring home to the people of this country not only the debt we owe to the Navy, but furthermore, that this country, though it may be an industrial country, does produce men, and women too, fit, ready and willing to undertake service in the Navy.
I am glad that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Camborne (Commander Agnew) made reference to the W.R.N.S. Anyone who has had contact with the Navy is conscious of the great work the W.R.N.S. have done, and the magnificent way in which the women have taken on what were hitherto thought to be men's jobs. They have justified themselves and proved that they are as worthy to belong to the Senior Service as the men of the Royal Navy themselves. My last word is this: We have to remember that after this war our Navy must be strong. We are not a Continental country, and perhaps the greatest contribution we can make to world security is having a great Navy, powerful in effect 2177 and swift in action, a Navy which can contact all the various parts of the Empire. Therefore I hope that in our post-war planning we may see to it that we have a Navy powerful enough to prevent aggression and to preserve peace, and that that Navy shall offer to those who wish to join it not only a tradition of the past, not only a glorious service, but an advantageous and favourable career. I hope that we may continue to consider, as some folks still do in the towns, that it is lucky to touch a sailor.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Captain Pilkington)
It is a very pleasing fact that so great an amount of this Debate has been carried on with so much harmony. I am particularly glad that I can agree with all that was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. H. Beaumont), especially about the need for the nation to realise fully the tremendous debt which all of us owe to the Navy. My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Dobbie) paid a tribute to my right hon. Friend which has been endorsed by practically every other speaker. My right hon. Friend himself spoke of the great esteem and affection which he felt for the Royal Navy. I believe that that is reciprocated by the Admiralty and the Navy, for they realise how he has thrown his whole heart and soul into the work which he has performed so admirably. It has been an honour and an education to serve with him. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rusholme (Major Cundiff) said that it was most important when this war is won for us to profit by the lessons we have learned in ship construction and in armament. There, too, I am in complete agreement, and I can assure him that we are endeavouring now, and shall continue in future, to tap as wide a field of knowledge and ingenuity as we can. We hope to learn both from our Allies and from our enemies, just as our Allies are learning a certain amount from us.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) aroused the interest of the House when she referred to getting gin at 5s. 6d. a bottle, but I was not able to follow the plan she had in mind when she said that officers who did not drink should derive some alternative financial benefit. No doubt she will elaborate it on another 2178 occasion. She referred, and so did other hon. Members, to the part which the W.R.N.S. have played in this war. It was my good fortune about two years ago to reply to a Motion dealing with the W.R.N.S., and during the time that has elapsed since then the W.R.N.S. have done even more to earn the admiration of this country. Their greatest test came in the months immediately prior to and after D-Day. The work they did then was invaluable to the success of that great operation. Also it should be said that the degree of security which was maintained at that time has dispelled for ever the myth that a woman cannot keep a secret, at any rate so far as some things are concerned.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for West Edinburgh (Lieut.-Commander Hutchison) raised the very complicated question, as he himself admits, of the Ordnance Inspection Department and their pay. He described how the anomalies arose in 1929, when the pay was consolidated. I hope he realises some of the difficulties in the way of getting rid of those anomalies. To make a change in their case would mean excepting one particular group in this country from the effects of Income Tax, which applies over a very wide field indeed. It must be realised that officers who are called up out of civil life because of the war are obviously given the normal pay and allowances. But working alongside the permanent inspectors, does, I admit, give rise to a certain degree of anomaly. Still, the fact remains, that the permanent inspectors, unlike the others, had their jobs before the war, during the war and, we hope, will have them after the war. The war has not completely upset their system of livelihood, as in the case of the others. At the same time, my hon. and gallant Friend made a very strong case, and we will look into it and see if anything can be done.
My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar (Mr. Guy) and also the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. MacMillan) raised the question of promotion from the lower deck and quoted certain figures which have been given. I would like to repeat that promotion is given on merit, on ability, and on nothing else. Our need of officers in the different Services fluctuates from time to time, as is only natural. Sometimes it increases; sometimes it de- 2179 creases; but promotion depends upon ability and upon ability only. The hon. and gallant Member for Aston (Commander Prior) raised the question of training in sail, and put forward some of the arguments for a reintroduction of this training into the naval curriculum. This was most exhaustively considered by the Board of Admiralty 12 years ago, and they came to the conclusion that, whatever the merits, the disadvantages would outweigh the advantages, for the reason that the curriculum for training was already so crowded. Whatever merits might accrue from training in sail could be achieved in sufficient measure by the present methods of training, which would also have the advantage of being of real practical value to the man in later life and in the rest of his career. If that applied 12 years ago, it applies even more to-day, when there has been such a tremendous advance in the technical and scientific knowledge which seamen are called upon to possess. If we are to insert training in sail into the curriculum we should have to take something out. It is not proposed to do that for the reasons that I have given.
The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) said there was discontent on the Clyde because of the low wages, and he quoted some figures. What he did not say was that those figures ignored piece-work and overtime, and in reply to his figures, I will quote these: The average gross wage for a man over 21 in the marine engineering industry in June, 1944, was £6. 8s per week. I do not think that the picture which the hon. Member drew was completely accurate in all respects. My hon. Friend said that the A.E.U. were still waiting a reply to their claims, but, of course, he knows that their claims apply not only to these men in the dockyards but to the men throughout all the other types of the engineering industry in the country—that cannot be discussed to-day. My hon. Friend emphasised the need of keeping up employment in the shipyards, and said that his family's ambition for him was that he should either be an engineer or a minister, and I would congratulate him upon being in the transitional stage at the present time.
My hon. Friend, and almost every other Scottish Member who spoke, advocated the desirability both of maintaining Rosyth after the war and, perhaps, of 2180 having a manning port in Scotland as well. These Members of Parliament have put forward their case to-day, and they have put it forward on other occasions, I can assure them that we are kept very much alive to all the arguments, but there are a great many considerations which we have to take into account. There is the broad strategic post-war set-up, there are demands the demands for employment and of industry and also technical considerations. If, for instance, there is to be a port in the North, we have to investigate the possibilities of building a large dock in the various areas we may have under consideration. I realise the desirability of making a pronouncement on the subject as soon as we can, as pressed for by the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart). Work is going on, if not very speedily, at any rate steadily. The hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson) asked whether we could give him to-day a ray of hope. Though I cannot exactly do that, I can at any rate, say that the window is open through which the ray may come.
I hope that the hon. and gallant Member will not depart from the subject without dealing with the case of a West coast dock.
§ Captain Pilkington
I should have mentioned that. Some rival claims were put forward by hon. Members as to which side of Scotland the manning port or main dockyard should be.
§ Captain Pilkington
There were claims put forward and I cannot add very much to what I have said, beyond saying that both sides of Scotland are being considered. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha), again dealing with dockyards, mentioned that we were making provision for taking over a large area in Devonport. Our reasons for this are threefold. First, we felt that, if ever the Royal Dockyards were to be enlarged, now was the time to do it. We could not afford to wait for some other war to come along. Secondly, it must be accepted that a great naval power should have not only adequate but excellent dockyards, and that was what we hope to have by taking in some extra land. Thirdly, one of the lessons of this war has been that we should have a certain degree of dispersal and also that we 2181 should have a margin for expansion in future years. Those were the considerations which led us, some time ago now, to start negotiations with a view to taking in some more ground. We appreciate the argument which the right hon. Gentleman advanced that his constituents want to know at the earliest possible moment when we are going to take over which particular piece of land. We shall certainly try to tell them that, and, in fact, we are arranging a meeting with them to tell them as much as we possibly can. I agree with him that it is only fair that we should do that as soon as possible.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) stressed the great improvements—and I am glad he did so—which have been made in education during the last year or so. Any one visiting naval establishments now would agree with that. Both he and the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price) referred to the pay and status of schoolmasters in the Navy. I am afraid that at the moment we cannot say anything further about that. He will appreciate, as he himself said, that the suggested introduction of the Burnham rates of pay has some reaction on this and at the moment I have nothing to add. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cambridge (Lieut.-Commander Tufnell) and the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Gretton) stressed the role which Sea Cadets had played in this war and asked for the future support of the Admiralty, and I can assure them that that will be forthcoming.
I now come to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) who, curiously enough, raised the question of marriage allowances. He quoted certain figures, which I will not go into now beyond saying this, that one cannot judge this case merely upon basic pay without taking into consideration a host of other allowances and the like. He asked why successive Boards of Admiralty were satisfied with the position. The answer to that is that we are familiar with that mosaic of details—and I agree it is a mosaic of details—which makes up the whole. We have to take into consideration the different circumstances in the three Services, the different allowances, the different ages at which officers attain different ranks—
§ Captain Pilkington
The answer of my right hon. Friend, to which he referred, does not qualify that in any way.
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor indicated dissent.
§ Captain Pilkington
Again, the instances which he advanced to the House were in every case of childless officers. I submit that unless those four considerations are taken into account, one cannot get a complete picture. However, let me just say this: We realise that it is almost as important that it should seem that justice is being done as for justice, in fact, to be done, and my hon. and gallant Friend's campaign has had, to some extent, at any rate, the effect of people feeling that perhaps they Are being unfairly treated.
§ Captain Pilkington
Well, that is the fact. What I can tell my hon. and gal-land Friend is that we are considering a revision of pay with these two considerations in mind—first of all, the principles upon which the pay rests and, secondly, the object of getting the greatest degree of simplification that we possibly can.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Camborne (Commander Agnew) spoke of post-war manning, and there again I can say that we are examining that. I am not going to comment upon the very useful suggestions which he made, beyond saying that we will take them all into account. He asked one specific question about the Royal Naval College. As I think he probably knows, it is being used for an important function at the present time. We want to get back there as soon as we possibly can, and we shall do so, though he will realise that a certain amount of reconstruction has to be put in hand first.
I have dealt very quickly with a number of the different points which have been raised and, in conclusion, I want to say this. As my right hon. Friend said, the main focus of our effort now is rapidly being transferred to the Far East. We have to keep the two great Fleets commanded by Admiral Power and Admiral Fraser maintained over tremendous lines of communication. I do hope it will be realised by hon. Members that even when Germany has surrendered we still have to 2183 have in this country very substantial training facilities, storage space, and so on. We shall not be able to give up as rapidly as we would like to all the things which we are now using. We have said that we shall make the biggest contribution we can to final and complete victory in this war. We have promised that to our Allies, but that is not our main incentive. We have our own account to settle with the Japanese, and we like to pay our debts. We remember not only Hong Kong but also the brutish behaviour which has characterised the Japanese on land and sea and has long since robbed them of any claim to being a civilised nation. The iron ring to-day is tightening round them. The invincible core of unbeaten China, the British Armies moving South under General Leese through the Burmese jungle, the mighty springboard of India and Ceylon, the great continent-base of Australia, and the powerful blows which are being delivered by the Americans ever closer and harder against the heart of Japan. The momentum of our onslaught will increase in force and fury until victory is won. We have brought peace to Africa, we are bringing it to Europe, and soon we shall bring it to Asia as well.
§ Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.
§ Supply accordingly considered in Committee.
§ [Major MILNER in the Chair]