§ 3.58 p.m.
§ The First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. A. V. Alexander)
When I addressed the House a year ago as a member of the Coalition Government, I suggested that, as a result of political events in the coming year, I might not stand again at this Box as First Lord in that type of Government. The qualification about '' that type of Government" showed perhaps greater foresight than I then realised. I come before the Committee in this first year of peace, with feelings of pleasure and gratitude on behalf of the Service with which it has been my fortunate lot to be associated for many years—years of peril and years of glory. I think that it would be the wish of the Committee 531 that on this first peace time occasion, I should give at least a short account of the part played by the Royal Navy in the second World War.
For the Navy there was no period of "phoney" war. The war at sea began the very first night with the sinking of the "Athenia" by a German U-boat in the Atlantic. In the first fortnight, 27 British merchant ships of 131,000 tons were sent to the bottom by U-boats. In the early weeks we lost the Aircraft Carrier "Courageous" and the Battleship "Royal Oak." Within three months of the outbreak of the war, the Germans launched the first of their "secret weapons," the magnetic mine. This had some success at first. Ports were closed; shipping had to be diverted, transport was impeded. The Navy did not fail to counter these early strokes, just as it did not fail to counter later and more weighty attacks. Thus, the first two convoys were organised and sailed four days after the outbreak of war. The Navy's counter-offensive against the U-boats soon took effect and the loss of British ships fell sharply. A combination of gallantry and skill disclosed the secrets of the magnetic mine, and the ingenuity of scientists and the devoted work of craftsmen produced the antidote. The magnetic mine soon ceased to be a serious menace, though it was later to be followed by acoustic and other ingenious forms of this weapon which required similar efforts to overcome and, at all times, the gallant and arduous work of our minesweepers.
Before the end of 1939, the "Admiral Graf Spee" had scuttled herself in the River Plate, after an action with British cruisers which showed beyond doubt that none of the British genius for fighting at sea had been lost between the wars. In 1940 Germany invaded Norway. Whatever the success of her military strategy, she suffered considerable losses at sea. Eleven of her destroyers were wiped out at Narvik, "Blucher" was sunk in Oslo Fjord, the "Konigsberg" was sunk by the Naval Air Arm, the "Karlsruhe" by a British submarine, the "Hipper" was damaged by H.M.S. Glowworm and the "Scharnhorst" and the "Admiral Scheer" received serious damage. The Royal Navy also suffered losses, but of far less importance. During this year, the war against British, Allied and neutral 532 merchant shipping intensified. In the quarter following the fall of France, we were losing merchant ships at the rate of over 14,000 tons a day. Here was the greatest peril at sea, the peril which never greatly diminished until the middle of 1943, the peril which, at times, threatened to engulf our whole cause. The year 1941 was one of bitter struggle. In the Mediterranean the Fleet under Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, as he then was, fought a fearful battle against great odds. Just after he had gained a brilliant and crushing victory over the Italian Fleet at Cape Matapan it fell to the Navy's lot to withdraw our military forces first from Greece and then from Crete. These tasks were carried out against concentrated air attacks, and, inevitably, there were grievous losses. Admiral Cunningham has described the conflict during the year as some of the hardest fighting at sea on record.
Meanwhile, the war against merchant shipping was severe. Between March and May we lost over 18,000 tons a day. There was a fall in the losses in the middle of the year, but by the end of 1941, after the entry of Japan into the war, we were again losing over 16,000 tons a day. Nevertheless, at the end of the year we could claim that the German main units were held. The full resources of our escort forces and of Coastal Command of the Royal Air Force were engaged in the Battle of the Atlantic. Regular convoys were carrying supplies to North Russia. We were in full control in the eastern basin of the Mediterranean. The Home Fleet under Admiral Sir John Tovey had sunk the "Bismarck." In the Far East, on the other hand, we had suffered a cruel and temporarily crippling blow in the loss in a single day of the "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse," and control in the Pacific and in the Malayan Archipelago was rapidly passing into the hands of Japan. So the battle continued year by year, relentless and unceasing. It was a battle of ups and downs, and at times our affairs looked black indeed. For the greater part of 1942, the losses of Allied and neutral merchant shipping, now world wide, averaged well over 20,000 tons a day. The rate of loss of British tonnage was more than any maritime nation could sustain indefinitely, or indeed for long.
533 But in every month that passed, we were gathering the strength and the forces to counter the enemy's attacks, and finally to turn them against himself. By the end of 1942 we were able, with our Allies, to undertake the great expedition which landed our armies in North Africa and which led on to the landings in Sicily and Italy. The lessons of these operations were all of inestimable value in ensuring the success of the later landings in Normandy which were the beginning of the last stage of the war.
In 1943 the science, labour and skill which had been accumulated against the U-boat came rapidly to fruition. The losses of merchant ships, which between March and May averaged over 14,000 tons a day, fell between June and August to less than 7,000 tons a day, and remained at an even lower figure for the rest of the war. This was the decisive turning point in the war at sea. The year 1943 saw the end of one of the Navy's bitterest fights. This was the year in which Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham made his historic signal to the Admiralty:Be pleased to inform Their Lordships that the Italian Battle Fleet now lies at anchor under the guns of the fortress of Malta.These brief and simple words marked a very great achievement in cur naval history; a triumph of skill and courage over size and numbers. By the end of the year, the enemy was losing more submarines than the Allied Nations were losing merchant ships. Our coastwise shipping moved freely from port to port, almost without interference, though in the last months of the war the U-boat campaign in coastal waters was to reappear in a new and menacing form. The light forces and light coastal forces of the Royal Navy had intensified their crippling attacks on the enemy coastal convoys. Our strength was gathering for the great assault on the Continent in the following year that was to lead to Germany's final downfall.
For the Navy, 1944 was, above all, the year of Operation Neptune—the operation which landed the Allied Armies on the coast of France by a unique combination of strength, strategem and skill. This may well be regarded as the climax of the Naval war in Europe; the fruit of the years of struggle and toil which lay behind. This classic operation is an 534 enduring monument to the late Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay whose loss we mourned a year ago. By 1945 the focus of naval strategy was in the Far East, where the powerful British Pacific Fleet had assembled under Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser. In addition, a large fleet under the command of Admiral Sir Arthur Power was operating in the Indian Ocean, in support of operations in the South-East Asia Command.
When the "Cease Fire" sounded in Europe, Admiral Fraser's Fleet was fully engaged against the Japanese. Throughout May, the Pacific Fleet, organised as a fast carrier force operating with the United States Fleet, struck repeatedly at the Ryukyu Islands, in continuation of the series of attacks carried out in April, with the object of neutralising the enemy's air power and protecting the left flank of the United States forces attacking Okinawa. In June the Fleet resumed the onslaught on Japan. Throughout July and early August our naval forces, in close co-operation with the United States 3rd Fleet, launched a series of heavy and successful attacks against the mainland of Japan, including the Tokyo area. Important industrial, shipping, and air targets received the full weight of the Fleet's ship and air bombardment. Our midget submarines carried out a gallant and successful attack on Japanese cruisers in Singapore harbour. Offensive operations ended on 15th August. On 28th August units of the United States 3rd Fleet, and the Pacific Fleet with Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser flying his flag in His Majesty's Ship "Duke of York," entered Tokyo Bay, to be followed by the remainder of the United States 3rd Fleet with His Majesty's Ship "King George V" and other British and Dominion ships in company. Admiral Fraser represented Great Britain at the signing of the formal terms of surrender on 2nd September On 30th August, Hong Kong, liberated from hateful bondage, received a British naval force, led by Rear-Admiral Harcourt in His Majesty's Ship "Swiftsure," with a tumultuous welcome, deeply moving to our officers and men. Rear-Admiral Harcourt was appointed Commander-in-Chief, Hong Kong, and on 16th September received the surrender of the Colony from the Japanese.
Meanwhile, the East Indies Fleet under Admiral Power was bearing its 535 part in the operations in South-East Asia. The capture of Mandalay and the British advance of the 14th Army down the Irrawaddy and Sittang rivers virtually ended the Japanese advance in Burma. The British advance through difficult country was aided by the operations of the Navy, in collaboration with the 15th Indian Corps, on the Arakan coast. Coastal force craft manned by British, Indian, South African and Burmese crews, operated up the Chaungs at night, harassing and causing casualties to the enemy in their attempt to cross the river. The arduous and daring operations by our submarines in the Malacca Straits and Andaman Sea virtually stopped the enemy's seaborne supplies and considerably increased his difficulties. A full-scale assault on Malaya, carefully prepared and mounted, had been planned to take place between Port Swettenham and Port Dickson, but the Japanese surrender took place first. On 9th September, however, the landing was carried out as planned to ensure the effectiveness of the surrender.
Singapore was recaptured on 5th September, and the surrender of the Japanese force in Malaya was accepted by the Supreme Allied Commander on 12th September. It is a source of pride to the Navy that the Supreme Commander to whom this honour fell was a distinguished naval officer, Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten. The peaceful occupation of Malaya was not repeated in Siam, French Indo-China or the Netherlands East Indies. The Navy, therefore, had to carry out landing operations and to establish naval officers-in-charge and port parties in many ports, often at a great distance from the main base at Singapore. The Royal and Merchant Navies also gave the fullest possible help in evacuating and repatriating Allied prisoners of war and internees of all nations from these countries. There can be no doubt that the Allied naval strategy designed to destroy the enemy fleet and effectively cut his sea communications was a principal factor in the rapid collapse of the enemy forces. The complete success of the operation is one of the most outstanding naval victories in history.
I wish especially to draw the attention of the Committee to the part played by the Naval Air Arm in all these operations. Between the time when the British 536 Pacific Fleet left Leyte on 18th March, 1945, and the end of the war, our naval aircraft attacked the enemy on 33 strike days, flew 7,255 sorties of all types, dropped nearly 1,400 tons of bombs, fired over 1,000 rocket projectiles, and about a million rounds of smaller ammunition, destroyed 288 enemy aircraft and damaged 247. Naval aircraft also caused considerable damage and dislocation to the enemy's industries and communications, and sank or severely damaged 309 of the enemy's ships, both warships and merchant vessels, totalling 356,760 tons. I am glad to say that the successes cost only small losses in our own aircraft and, despite repeated attacks by the Japanese suicide bombers, we did not lose a single ship. This is a remarkable testimony to the design and construction of our aircraft carriers. The first line strength of the Naval Air Arm at the outbreak of war was only 232 aircraft. In 1945, it reached 1,357 and would have risen still higher had the war continued. In the course of this notable expansion the Naval Air Arm carried out many fine operations, notably in the Mediterranean, in the reinforcement of Malta, at the Battle of Taranto, covering the landings in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. In addition they have done an enormous amount of work in the protection of North Russian convoys and the like. The Naval Air Arm will assuredly play an ever increasing and important part in the Naval defence of the future. In the past it has often been less well equipped than we should have wished. We believe however that those difficulties are over and that this branch of the Navy now has equipment worthy of the splendid officers and men who serve in it.
As soon as the Armistice with Germany was signed His Majesty's ships entered ports in North-West Germany, Norway, and Denmark to enforce the German surrender. 2,463 German war vessels fell into Allied hands, of which 1,962—including 203 U-boats—were operational or capable of repair within a short time, and 501 were damaged, scuttled in shallow waters, or still under construction. By far the greater part of these vessels surrendered to naval units under the command of Admiral Sir Harold Burrough.
Thus the tale of the Royal Navy's wartime tasks, which I have, perforce, sketched briefly and most inadequately, comes to an end. Over the many years 537 of struggle brilliant actions, such as the victories at Taranto and Matapan and the sinking of the "Scharnhorst" by the Home Fleet under Admiral Fraser and Vice Admiral Vian's famous Malta convoy, stand out like beacons. They gladdened and heartened us when they occurred and they will join the long roll of naval victories in our history. Yet these actions, important though they were in their effect on the war, form but a part, I would even say a small part, of the Navy's share in the overthrow of tyranny and the saving of the world for freedom. The Navy's great task in the war, as always, was to keep open our sea communications through which alone the means of life and of waging war can come. The fulfilment of this task demanded unceasing vigilance and toil, day and night, from the first day to the last. It demanded unending patrols, often in small and uncomfortable craft, in every kind of climate from the bitter cold of the North Russian convoys to the sweating heat of the Pacific; patrols which might last for many days without any incident to relieve the monotony of isolation in the ocean spaces, yet with senses ever on the alert to discern the danger which was never far away.
The following facts about the war against the U-boat give some measure of the magnitude of one part of this daily and unending task: A total of 996 commissioned U-boats, German, Italian and Japanese were destroyed by the Allies: an average of nearly one every two days throughout six years of war. Of 1,174 U-boats commissioned by the Germans since they re-started building their Fleet before the war, no less than 781 were destroyed. The two outstanding months of the war against the U-boats were May, 1943, when 46 U-boats were sunk, and April, 1945, when the Germans were evacuating the Baltic ports and 65 U-boats were sunk. The intensity of the U-boats' concentration against the British Isles is illustrated by the fact that of the 996 U-boats sunk throughout all the oceans of the world, over 300, or nearly one third, were destroyed within 500 miles of the United Kingdom, an area equivalent in size to only about one-fifth of the North Atlantic Ocean. Over 600 submarines were killed by British Forces, or Allied Forces under British control. Certain statistics concerning the forces by which these U-boats were sunk will be 538 found in a White Paper being issued today. There may be minor alterations as the full history of the war is pieced together.
Teamwork between ships and aircraft at sea, between operational, training and scientific staffs on shore, and between different Services and different nationalities has been the secret of the remarkable success of the campaign against the U-boats. It is to perpetuate one aspect of this team work that a Joint R.N.-R.A.F. Anti-Submarine School has recently been established by the Admiralty and Air Ministry. On Admirals Sir Martin Dunbar-Nasmith, Sir Percy Noble and Sir Max Horton, successive Commanders-in-Chief, Western Approaches, fell the main burden of the naval direction of the war against the U-boats. To their great gifts of leadership and organisation much of its success must be ascribed. Another of the Navy's continuing tasks, not often mentioned, was minelaying. Our highly successful campaign caused the enemy by this means about 1,540 shipping casualties, and greatly assisted the disruption of his communications and hence his defeat. Altogether 263,000 mines were laid by surface minelayers, submarines and aircraft. About one-fifth of these were laid by aircraft of the Royal Air Force.
All this could not be achieved without grievous losses of officers and men and of H.M. ships. The total casualties of all our Forces in the recent conflict were mercifully less than in the first world war, but the toll exacted from the Royal Navy, for whom this war was fiercer and far more widespread than any in its history, was even heavier.
In the whole course of the war nearly 51,000 officers and men of the Royal Navy, excluding the navies of the Dominions and the Royal Marines, were killed or are missing. This number exceeds by over 20,000 the numbers killed in the Navy during the war of 1914–1918. This figure is some indication of the price paid for the preservation of liberty and the destruction of tyranny. The cost has to be borne in homes in all parts of the Kingdom. It is the most grievous part of the cost of the war and one which cannot be in any way repaid. We can only be grateful for the example of the gallant lives so freely given. Gallantry itself is not to be measured. There must always be 539 so many deeds of heroism which go unseen or unrecorded. But some indication of those which were seen and recorded is given by the fact that up to the end of 1945 nearly 15,000 awards had been made to officers and men of the Royal Navy, including the Dominion Navies, the Royal Marines and the Reserves. These included 23 awards of the Victoria Cross, and 29 awards of the George Cross. The standard required for any of these awards as the House knows is extremely high, and these bald figures represent a sum of heroism of which the Navy may be proud.
Losses of H.M. ships and craft, including requisitioned ships in naval service, that is ships of all sizes and sorts, from the beginning of the war to 31st August. 1945, amounted to no less than 3,282. These figures include three battleships and two battle cruisers, or one-third of our capital ship strength at the outbreak of war, five fleet carriers, 23 cruisers, 134 destroyers and 77 submarines. This again is an example and a warning, if warning is needed, of the terrible cost of modern warfare. There are many officers and men and many branches of our naval Forces of whose part in the war I should like to speak before leaving this part of my account. I should like to describe the great part played by the navies of the Dominions, of India and our Allies with whom bonds were forged in adversity, never, I trust, to be weakened; I should like to tell of the Royal Marines, that gallant corps so peculiarly fitted for the amphibious warfare of the recent conflict, and the source, in my estimation, of perhaps the finest commandos in the world; of the R.F.R., R.N.R., and R.N.V.R., young and old, who showed themselves so adaptable, and who gave such splendid service throughout; of the Women's Royal Naval Service, who performed an immense variety of tasks, often difficult and sometimes dangerous, with an efficiency and, may I say, charm, which will ever be remembered with gratitude; and finally of the men of the Merchant Navy, whose brotherhood with the Royal Navy has never been closer, . a brotherhood born of danger shared and common difficulties overcome. Time will permit me to mention but twoindividuals—the two distinguished officers who have between them held the office of First Sea Lord throughout these momentous years. I cannot recall the name of 540 Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound, who was First Sea Lord when the war broke out and until just before his death in October, 1943, without considerable personal emotion. His above all was the hand which guided the Navy through our years of greatest peril, the greatest in our history. The occupation of France, Belgium. Holland and Norway, the entry of Italy and then of Japan into the war, faced us with odds which could never have been foreseen, and were so great as to daunt the stoutest heart. Admiral Pound was undaunted. Complete master of his profession, with a judgment founded on a full knowledge, he weighed the dangers and the possibilities with a sure touch and laid the plans which brought us from the extremity of peril to the threshold of victory. I remember, in that week of Dunkirk, when everything looked to be going to rack and ruin, how he fixed my soul in its outlook and purpose, when he said:There is one thing that cannot happen. The Royal Navy cannot be defeated. If we are prevented from fighting from here we will fight from any part of the globe until it takes us through.It may sound very impossible but that is the spirit which got us through. Wise in counsel, steadfast in adversity, staunch in friendship, his selfless service to the country, the Empire and the free world, was beyond price. May we never cease to honour his name.
In Admiral of the Fleet Lord Cunningham, England found, in her time of greatest need, a sea captain in the great tradition. In his own theatre at sea Admiral Cunningham was brought face to face with the dangers seen so clearly by Admiral Pound from the Admiralty. It fell to his lot, for a period, to contain a major fleet of battleships, and numerous cruisers and destroyers, with no more than a few cruisers, destroyers and submarines. He conducted operations of great hazard such as the withdrawal from Crete; he fought convoys through the Mediterranean on which all depended; he took momentous decisions with little time for thought, in conditions most unfavourable to considered judgment. The line between the bold seizing of opportunity and initiative, and engagement in rash and fool-hardy enterprise, is not firmly or clearly drawn. . It cannot be laid down by a mathematician's rule, and there would be many people even in an assembly like this, 541 who would be very critical which ever way it went. Admiral Cunningham possessed the judgment, seemingly instinctive in our greatest seamen, which showed him on each occasion where the line lay. He is also endowed with that touch of magic which has ever enabled our greatest Admirals to infuse the whole of the forces under their command with something of their own spirit, so that officers and men alike follow unquestioningly and with complete confidence, however hazardous the undertaking may seem. I do not hesitate to describe Lord Cunningham as the greatest sea captain since Nelson. Lord Cunningham's services to the Allied cause in war are incalculable, and his services to the Navy will not end when the time comes for him to lay down his present office, for the inspiration of his deeds in battle and the fruits of his work as First Sea Lord will live on.
The war against Japan ended suddenly, and far sooner than could have been expected on any prudent calculation. I have described how a full-scale assault was poised ready to strike Malaya when the war ended. At home as well as abroad, despite such cuts in our war production as we had felt it possible to make both before and after VE-Day, a gigantic war-making machine was still in being with the sole object of ending the war as quickly as possible. The needs of the nation changed overnight. We are no longer a nation at war, fighting for its life and putting every ounce of its manhood and treasure into the battle, but a nation much impoverished in material things by the ravages of war; a nation much in debt in terms of money in many parts of the world; a nation no longer able to count on the plentiful aid from other countries which enabled her to devote her maximum strength to the fighting fronts. The crying need is for men, materials and money at home to rebuild the national economy on the ruins of war. The urgent duty of the fighting Services is to release their men and to reduce their demands for money and material as rapidly as is humanly possible and consistent with the fulfilment of our commitments abroad, and with due regard to the just treatment of the fighting men themselves.
There still remain naval tasks to be done. For example, mine clearance is a vast and pressing labour which had to be performed before the trade on which 542 we, above all others, depend could move freely about the world. Half a million British and German mines had been laid in European waters alone. On the initiative of the British Government, an International Mine Clearance Board, under the presidency of a British flag officer, was set up with headquarters at the Admiralty in May, 1945. All major ports of Europe were open to trade by the autumn of 1945 except in Yugoslavia, which joined the International Organisation later. The burden of this immense task, during the opening stages, necessarily fell on Great Britain. Very large areas of water have been declared open to navigation and fishing. We have been able to release all minesweeping trawlers, drifters and whalers to be reconverted for fishing. All this is a naval task, but it is also an essential part of reconstruction.
More than 7,000 British naval personnel were required for the occupation of Germany, with small naval forces. In Japan, and throughout her area of conquest, the repatriation of many thousands of prisoners and internees from Britain and the Empire was an urgent problem. Ships of the British Pacific Fleet were employed to the fullest possible extent on this duty. These were a few of the tasks still remaining for the Navy when the war ended. Since V.J. Day, however, our main problems have all been concerned with demobilisation in the widest sense. The Coalition Government decided on the plan for release by age and length of service and the present Government has faithfully followed that plan. It could be argued that the plan does not provide the quickest possible return of men from the Forces to civil life that could be devised, but it is undoubtedly the fairest to those most closely concerned, and the Government and, I believe, the country are satisfied that, on the whole, the principle is the best that could be followed. In May 1945 when the release plan started, there were 778,000 officers and men in the R.N. With the Pacific war, essentially a Naval war, on our hands, release at first could only be slow, but 41,000 were released by the end of August. With the fall of Japan demobilisation went into full swing and, by 31st December, a total of 199,000, or 26 per cent., had been released. By the same date, over 35 per cent .of the W.R.N.S. had been released. It is hoped to release 543 another 200,000 from the Navy by 6th May, and by 30th June it is expected that the W.R.N.S. will be little more than one fifth of its maximum size. By the end of 1946 it is planned to reduce the Navy to not more than 200,000 including the W.R.N.S. and new entries and men under training; that is to say to very little more than one quarter of its maximum size.
To achieve this result very drastic steps have, of course, been necessary, and it is inevitable that the efficiency of the Navy should suffer in the process. If we succeed in our object, while at the same time maintaining the age and length of service principle, I claim that it will be a considerable achievement. It is only in the face of the tremendous need to build up our civil national economy that the Board of Admiralty have felt able to accept this very rapid reduction in the size of the Navy. The Committee will realise that in these circumstances the figure for Vote A which is before them is of no special significance It is merely the figure to which the process of demobilisation will have brought us at the beginning of the financial year, and it therefore represents the maximum bearing in the year. It has no relation to the ultimate size of Vote A.
The end of the war also found us with a large programme of naval vessels under construction. This is inevitable at the end of any great war, and especially of a war which came to an end, as I have said, much sooner than we had dared expect. Warships take a long time to build and there is a constant need to make good the losses of war so long as the war lasts. Yet, as long ago as November, 1944, the Board of Admiralty reviewed the warship building programme and decided that only work on warships which could be completed in time to fight in the Far East before the end of 1946 should be pressed on. At the same time, it was decided that merchant ships should take precedence of all the other warships building, except in a few cases where it was desirable to complete a warship already laid down in order to clear the slip for merchant work. With the end of the war, it was necessary to decide what vessels already under construction were to be completed and which were to be cancelled. The facts of which we were most keenly aware were the need to economise to the utmost in money and 544 labour and the need to free labour, material and capacity for merchant ship construction, repair and reconversion. Other factors were the amount of money already spent on a particular ship; whether the vessel was of new design, incorporating the lessons of the war, or whether it was of older design; whether it was economical in the light of contract conditions and the need for clearing the stocks and slipways to complete a vessel to a stage at which it could be readily removed for sale or disposal; the possibility of sale to other countries; the needs of the postwar Fleet.
All these factors have had to be carefully weighed, with the need for economy always uppermost in our minds. The result is that since V.E. Day we have cancelled some 727 vessels, from Fleet Carriers downwards, whose total cost, had they been completed, is estimated at £158 million, of which approximately £32½million had already been spent or was a liability under break-clause conditions, giving a net saving of £125½ million. The effect is that on 1st April, 1946, the new construction remaining in hand will consist mainly of the larger vessels for which normal replacement was suspended during the war, or of new types of vessel such as light fleet carriers needed for the post-war Fleet. Considerable numbers of vessels were also cancelled before V.E. Day, when the course of events showed that it was unlikely that they would be completed in time to be of value. The savings resulting from these cancellations are estimated at an additional £64 million.
These decisions, I assure the Committee, have not always been easy. It is difficult to make up your mind to scrap a vessel on which considerable sums have been spent. It is often not so much a matter of spoiling a ship for a ha'porth of tar as of losing a ship altogether for the sake of two-pennyworth. But my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made it clear that it would be right to sacrifice past expenditure where this would make for present and future economy, and the Board of Admiralty have been rigorous in their cuts.
We have applied the same principles to naval works, buildings and repairs at home and abroad. We are only completing those works which were at such a stage that it was more economical to 545 complete them than to close them down, or those which were required for the postwar needs of the Fleet, with suitable modifications. Buildings requisitioned for naval use during the war are being released as rapidly as progress of demobilisation permits. When buildings which are of the highest priority for civil use, such as dwelling houses and schools, cannot be vacated at once we endeavour to find alternative accommodation so that release can be effected at the earliest moment. The Committee will realise, however, that most naval establishments are in the neighbourhood of the three home ports, two of which suffered most severely from air attack. We lost a large part of our buildings and their replacement imposes a heavy burden of new building, and must affect the rate at which we can release other buildings.
The naval new construction programme for 1945 was reduced to the absolute minimum at the end of the war, and now consists only of two escort vessels, one submarine, two surveying ships, six small floating docks and some miscellaneous small craft. We have at the present time only one battleship under construction, the "Vanguard," which is practically finished. It was decided early in the war not to proceed with the "Lion" and "Temeraire," of the 1938 programme, or the "Conqueror" and "Thunderer," of the 1939 programme, as none of these ships could be completed before the end of 1944, and all our shipbuilding resources were required for more immediate needs. It is not intended to proceed with any of these four ships. Future decisions upon capital ships will, of course, depend on many factors, and I am not in a position to make any statement at present. The Committee may be assured, however, that any decision we may arrive at on this matter will not only take full account of the lessons of the war, but of the probable conditions of the future. His Majesty's Ship "Van-guard" will be a vessel of 42,500 tons estimated standard displacement with a main armament consisting of 8 15" guns. Her estimated cost is approximately £9 million, excluding the cost of the mountings and guns for the main armament which were already available.
I am asking today only for a Vote on Account, and the Committee will realise that, as in the case of Vote A, its amount is not of any special significance. It 546 represents a sum which will enable the Navy to carry on until the full provision for the year has been voted. The Committee may, however, wish me to say something about the proposed total for Navy Votes which has already been published. The total cannot be com-pared with either the total for Navy Estimates before the war or with what the total is likely to be in future years. There has, of course, been a substantial general increase in prices and wage levels since the beginning of the war and this is the first factor which must be taken into account. We have had to increase the pay of all officers and men, and the Committee, surely, will not grudge what has been done in that direction. Secondly, because we shall be demobilising for at least the greater part of the year, we have to provide for a much larger Vote A than in a normal peacetime year. Thirdly, despite the heavy cancellations to which I have referred, large commitments in respect of wartime production have to be met in the forthcoming financial year which cannot by any means be escaped. Again, we have to provide a large sum to meet our liabilities for personnel leaving the service in respect of leave allowances, war gratuities and postwar credits. These also are inescapable There are further exceptional charges for rehabilitation of requisitioned premises, and expenditure on merchant shipbuilding, which is a wartime addition to Navy Votes. When all these factors are taken into account, I think the total of the Navy Estimates, in any reasonable judgment, must be considered surprisingly low, and I can assure the Committee that it will need our utmost endeavours to keep within the sum proposed for this still abnormal year.
If the Committee requires any further reassurance that naval expenditure in the coming year will be kept to the least possible, I would inform them that the vigilance of my colleagues in the Cabinet who are concerned with the economic reconstruction of the country is something which has to be experienced to be believed. They all have great, pressing requirements for men, materials and money, and they all look with hungry eyes and very stern expressions at the-poor Service Ministers, who seem to be regarded as the sole providers of those most desirable commodities. In my view, the risk is not so much that we shall spend too much on the Navy in this coming 547 year, as that we may unduly lower its efficiency by attempting to achieve too great a reduction in too short a time. But my faith in the strength and resiliency of the Navy is such that I believe we tan survive successfully even the very rapid process of reduction which is now going on.
I do not wish the Committee to think that in the process of this transition from war to peace the Board of Admiralty is forgetful in any way of the welfare and efficiency of the Service for which we are responsible. Very much thought and labour has been and is being devoted to future conditions of service, to the entry, training, accommodation and welfare of personnel, and much research to the form which Naval ships and weapons must take in the future. As the Committee is aware, the Government have produced a completely revised pay code for Service personnel, which we believe will provide a foundation on which we can build with confidence in the future. I am aware that there have been criticisms of certain aspects and I would not claim that the scheme is perfect. There will no doubt be modifications, if necessary, as time goes on. I am sure the Committee will welcome the announcement yesterday that the men referred to in the pay code of last December, who hold the same rank on 30th June next, are not now to have any chance of losing their rates of pay, but have only to await adjustment on a rising scale of future promotion and increments. There have also been criticisms about the accommodation and living conditions of naval personnel, and I am aware that there is substantial room for improvement. Many naval barracks are old and poorly equipped by modern standards. Before the war a programme of improvements was contemplated. The war prevented its fulfilment, but we shall press on with the programme to the fullest extent that the money and labour allotted to us will permit. But the Committee will realise that in this immediate postwar period, in which the country is faced with enormous requirements for houses and replacements for buildings destroyed by bombs, we cannot hope to achieve anything very startling.
We are faced with another very real difficulty in the accommodation of per- 548 sonnel in His Majesty's ships. It is said, and with some truth, that there is less and less room for the officers and men who live in the most modern warships. The scientists and technicians have produced so many ingenious devices in such fields as radar and gunnery that the modern warship, though doubtless a scientist's dream, is to the layman something of a nightmare of fearsome and complex machinery. I do not for a moment say that these devices are unnecessary. Success at sea, as in other kinds of warfare, demands the latest and best of technical equipment. But all these devices take up room and add to weight, and they have all got to be manned by extra men. Either some space available to personnel must be given up for the devices, or ships must be built bigger and cost more. If we built ever larger ships, the country, I fear, would soon be unable to afford to provide as many as we require for the area we have to cover. These difficulties are, of course, being tackled, and I can assure the Committee that the importance of good living conditions in our ' ships is very much in our minds. I hope that research into design and construction in the future will find many ways of providing ships which are not too large, which contain all the equipment we require, but at the same time leave sufficient room for those who live in them.
It is the Admiralty's intention to devote in future a considerably larger proportion of Navy Votes to scientific research and development than before the war. I believe that this intention will have the full approval of the Committee. One of the main lessons of the war was the absolute necessity for keeping ahead in the application of science to warfare in all its forms.
Concurrently with the battles at sea, on land and in the air, were waged battles no less intense between the scientists and technicians in the laboratories and workshops. The powers released by applied science have grown with terrifying speed. The share of science in warfare grows correspondingly. In the war our scientists held their own, and more than held their own, with those of the enemy. We must ensure that in future we do not fall behind in this field. The experience of the war and developments in scientific knowledge will, no doubt, profoundly affect the Fleets of the future. The Board of Ad- 549 miralty believes that expenditure on scientific research and development must have priority so that we may produce the right weapons and the best weapons. We believe that sums wisely spent in this way will save us very much larger sums which might be spent in making warships and weapons of an ineffective or inferior kind.
There are those who would say that there can be no fear of war for some years to come and that we should therefore concentrate all our expenditure on research and call a halt to the production of warships and weapons of all kinds. Even if the hypothesis were accepted, this policy is not practicable. The warship building and armament industries cannot be turned on and off like a tap, at will. They depend on knowledge, experience and skill, all accumulated over many years of specialised work. If this accumulation was once dispersed it could not be recovered for many years, if ever. I have already informed the Committee that we have reduced the new construction programme for 1945 to extremely small dimensions, but while it will be our policy to continue production of warships and weapons to the extent that is necessary for the postwar Fleet and for the conservation of the industries on which the Fleet depends, we shall give priority to expenditure on research and development. At the present time the greater part of the Admiralty scientific and technical staff is housed in temporary quarters, and difficulties of housing will inevitably limit to some extent what we are able to do in the coming year.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of War Transport and myself have given particular attention to the future health of the shipbuilding and ship-repairing industry. The two world wars have shown us as never before how utterly dependent this country is on its shipyards. It is a vital need of peace, as of war, that the industry should remain prosperous and efficient. The Minister and I have made proposals, which have been approved by H.M. Government, for setting up a Shipbuilding Advisory Committee, to take the place of the Committee set up in 1944, temporarily, to advise the Government on all matters affecting the efficiency and stability of the industry; to advise on any steps required to safeguard the war potential of the industry; to promote the co-operation of shipbuilding employers 550 both with shipowners and the representatives of shipyard labour; and to advise on organisation, practice and cognate matters, with a view to maintaining and improving the efficiency and stability of the industry. The Government have decided that the Committee should have an independent chairman, with representatives of the Admiralty, the Ministry of War Transport and the Ministry of Labour, together with representatives of the shipbuilding industry, the shipbuilding trade unions, shipowners and the officers' and seamen's union in the Merchant Navy.
We believe that this Committee will play a valuable part in one of the most important fields of the national economy. By contributing to the prosperity and stability of the industry, we believe that the Committee will make a great contribution to the welfare of the many thousands of workers engaged in the industry. These workers have done a great job during the war. They have turned out a tremendous volume of shipbuilding and ship repairs, and maintained the traditional high quality of British workman-ship. They have often carried out their work in difficult and dangerous conditions, for our shipyards were amongst the main objects of the enemy's air attacks. For all this they deserve well, and a Labour Government are not likely to forget that. But I should like to remind the workers themselves that we are still fighting; not now fighting a vicious and tyrannical enemy on the seas, but fighting for the recovery of our country, for its rebuilding, and for the recovery of our standard of living—and then its improvement. This can be done in one way only: by continuing the hard and steady labour which enabled us to overcome our enemies in the war, and which is now required in no less measure if we are to enjoy any of the fruits of peace.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, may I say that I notice with regret there is no mention of the fishing industry being represented on the new Committee of which he has been talking. He will no doubt remember the part which not only fishermen but fishermen's boats have played during the war.
§ Mr. Alexander
The fishing industry will be looked after by its own side, and 551 by its committee operated by the Minister of Agriculture. We really cannot make the Ship-building Advisory Committtee into a complete Parliament.
Now, for a moment, may I look to the future? What form will the Royal Navy take in the years that lie before us? What will be its role? Will it, some have asked, have any role at all? These are large and grave questions. It is much too soon to give considered or final answers to some of them, and what I shall say is no more than a few preliminary thoughts of my own. There are some who may say that the release of atomic energy has destroyed the need for navies in the future; that any future war would be so rapidly decided by this new and terrible weapon that a navy could have no part to play; but there are the strongest reasons for refusing to act now as though this possibility was a certainty. So far we have only seen the atomic bomb used against land targets, in conditions of complete surprise, virtually without any opposition to its conveyor. Possible means of defence have yet to be devised and applied. This new weapon will tax the resources of defence obviously more than any weapon previously known. In the past, powerful defence has been provided against any weapon which at its first appearance seemed to be invincible.
The release of atomic energy is still so much in its in fancy and may yet develop into such annihilating danger to mankind, that, as suggested by an hon. Member on Monday last, the second world war may be the last occasion of its use. We must, in thinking of a precedent, be thankful that gas was not used in the war. There were powerful considerations which deterred even the most unscrupulous aggressor we have ever known from the use of gas for example. We do not yet know the limit of effectiveness of the atomic bomb against ships at sea. Experiments of a most comprehensive and searching kind are to be carried out by the United States authorities into this matter. Their results may lead to big changes in the methods and tactics of naval defence and the form of ships, but it would be premature to attempt to say what these changes may be.
One thing is certain. Not only the freedom, but the standard of life of our people in this country, depends on the maintenance of our sea communications. We 552 must, to maintain 45,000,000people, continue to import the larger proportion of our food and raw materials, and export to pay for them. Our experience in the last war demonstrated once more that if we ever neglected the security of our communications we should be at the mercy of any aggressor. He would have no need to incur the hazards of using the atomic bomb. He would simply, surely and swiftly destroy us by cutting our arteries at sea. We could no longer defend ourselves, or, as we have done in the last war, carry munitions and food to the sustenance of our Allies, whether through the darkness of the Arctic Ocean to Russia or through the warmer seas to the Middle East. So long as we live by seaborne supplies neglect of naval defence would be a policy of abandonment and despair. It is certainly no policy for the British Commonwealth on the morrow of a victory won after long years of fighting to save ourselves and the world for freedom. We may hope never again to have to engage alone in a struggle for liberty, but we must be able and ready to bear our full part within the United Nations organisation in maintaining the peace of the world, and, if need be, in defending ourselves.
Throughout the second world war the House has been most generous in its support and encouragement to the Navy and as I look back I think with gratitude of that support hon. Members have given us in good times and bad. Today, with the dark years behind us and the victory won, I venture to claim that the Navy has deserved well of the House and of the country which bred it and sustained it. I claim also that the House and the country owe a duty to the Navy. It has almost become a tradition that this country should be unprepared, when, despite all our efforts for peace, war may overtake us. It is a very dangerous tradition. We have survived our un preparedness in earlier wars because behind the shield of the Royal Navy we have gained sufficient time to repair our deficiencies and accumulate strength finally to overthrow our enemies. But each time the safety margin has grown less. We all know that we might very easily have lost the second world war and now be living, if such an existence could be called life, under Nazi domination. We must never again dare the risk of unpreparedness. This country, this Empire has demonstrated its desire 553 for peace again and again, to the point of sacrifice and even of humiliation. We ought by now to have learned, by the loss of life and resources entailed in war, that a weak Britain is not an aid to peace. We are resolved to play our full part as a member of the United Nations organisation. I hope indeed that every nation has now recognised the truth:Ye dare not stand alone.The Royal Navy must ever be. prepared to play its part behind that organisation in support of justice and freedom. We may hope that the United Nations organisation may become so well established and so trusted that the Forces required in its support may steadily be reduced, but in the meantime this House owes the Royal Navy the duty of vigilance. Vigilance now and vigilance in the years to come, so that we may never again be unprepared. It is in the light of this duty of the House that I confidently ask the support of the Committee in the Motion which is before them.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Mr. J. P. L. Thomas (Hereford)
I should like to congratulate the First Lord on his speech, and also on his success in the role of prophet, exactly a year ago. It is quite true that the type of Government in which he finds himself today, compared with a year ago, is vastly different, but I propose to turn a blind eye to that, because on these occasions the Navy rises well above all party political considerations. The Navy is a national, not a party question, and this always sets the standard for our Debates on the Navy Estimates, and I am sure it will be so today. So far as the First Lord himself is concerned, I can go further than that and say from these benches that not only do we understand but that we congratulate him on the personal pleasure he must feel, after these five anxious years as the Navy's ruler, to be still there as First Lord, and able to present this final chapter of the history of the Navy during the years of war.
Having said that, I would also say that this side of the Committee, perhaps the whole Committee, noticed one gap in the tributes paid during the First Lord's excellent speech, which I should like to try to fill. We cannot pass on to the rest of this Debate without recalling, in great gratitude, the services of my right hon. 554 Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), the Leader of the Opposition, to whom we owe so much for the courage and inspiration he gave to the Royal Navy, during those six months of hideous strain at the beginning of the war, and, in later years, as Minister of Defence.
I thought that the First Lord painted his picture extremely well. If he put in the forefront of it the more vivid actions like the sinking of the "Scharnhorst" and the "Bismarck," and the scuttling of the "Graf Spee," he did not let the Committee throughout his speech forget the importance of the general background of the work of the Royal Navy behind the screen of silence of those war years. How much of that background was brought back today by his speech. To take only one example, there was the Battle of the Atlantic, or, as I prefer to think of it, the first Battle of Britain, which made it possible for the armaments and aviation spirit to get to this country for that triumphant later battle, the battle in the air, and so enabled us to be victorious. The first Battle of the Atlantic was a silent battle, compared with the battle in the air, with its falling enemy aeroplanes in the Southern counties, but it was no less momentous for this country. Much of the background work of the Navy, as the First Lord well knows, has remained unseen and unsung. It is disclosed so long after it has happened. Very often that is necessary, though not always—but, whether necessary or not, that delay makes it difficult for people to piece the whole picture together at a later date. I know it is the intention of the Admiralty, and I hope it will bear fruit, that apart from any proper official history of the Navy at war which may be written, there should be written a simplified story which can appear on the bookshelves of the average family household, and which will record those years of travail and of triumph.
I would like to join in the tribute to Admiral Lord Cunningham for his brilliant command at sea. But my personal knowledge of him only began when he was at his desk at the Admiralty as First Sea Lord. There was some doubt expressed at the time of his arrival whether he, as one of our greatest sea captains—and the First Lord said he was the greatest since Nelson—would adapt 555 himself to anything so stationary as that desk. After all, we had never tried the experiment with Nelson. But the results in Admiral Lord Cunningham's case were the greatest possible success. He inspired both the Service and civilian staffs of the Admiralty in the same way as he had inspired his action command, with confidence and devotion.
Before I come to the wider issues with which these Estimates deal, I must point out that the First Lord's speech still leaves us with many questions which have been put to him during Question time in the House during the past months unanswered, especially as to the future of certain branches of the Service, and the W.R.N.S. These questions, undoubtedly, will be asked again by hon. Members in the course of this Debate. I do not know if they can be answered today, but I hope the answers will not be delayed very long. I hope it will be possible to answer at least some of these questions when we have another Debate on the Navy Estimates at a date which, I understand, is not very far distant. I realise also that these decisions may rest with powers higher even than that of the Lords of the Admiralty. But I know the First Lord will bear in mind that this delay is causing anxiety and speculation among the branches of the Services concerned, and no one will be more glad to hear his decisions than right hon. and hon. Members of this Committee.
I propose, Major Milner, to leave the detailed comments on the new pay code to other speakers, if they are fortunate in catching your eye. I leave it to them, because they may be speakers who have seen service in all ranks and can tell the Committee from first-hand knowledge of their own experience of Service pay. I think, therefore, the Committee would prefer to hear those first-hand testimonies and complaints from other hon. Members than from myself.
I should like to add a word to what the First Lord said about Item 10 of these Estimates, and that is the question of Admiralty buildings and barracks. I realise many improvements were to have been carried out by the Admiralty if war had not come. I realise that the bombing of our ports made things 100 per cent. worse than they were before the war. Of course, as he said, the homes 556 of the people have got first priority; but these barracks and buildings are the places where the men have to spend most of their lives when they are on shore. The barracks at Portsmouth, Chatham and Devonport were all built, I think I am right in saying, at the very beginning of this century. By modern standards the overcrowding of the men is really worrying. The arrangements for feeding and writing are very inadequate and the arrangements for recreation are almost non-existent. There is another need connected with this question of barracks and buildings, and that is the need for married quarters. The accommodation for naval families at each of the ports is insufficient, and the men have to compete with industrial workers for what houses are available. I am sure the Committee would welcome an assurance that in their plans for rebuilding and extending the barracks they will keep to the fore the needs of the married men. I was at the Admiralty when the battle of the postwar priorities was just beginning. I can imagine what a struggle they are having today. All I can do from this side is to wish them the best of good fortune in their fight for a high priority, as high a priority as possible, in building materials and in building labour in order to better those living conditions.
§ Commander Pursey (Hull, East)
If I may interrupt the hon. Member before he leaves that point, will he make it clear whether he is advocating married quarters in the barracks, or houses for married families clear of the barracks? The Navy does not want to have married quarters in the barracks in the naval ports at home. They want ordinary houses with the civilian population. The impression I got, perhaps wrongly, was that the hon. Gentleman was advocating married quarters in the barracks.
§ Mr. Thomas
No. I entirely agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman. The sailors want houses near at hand, alongside perhaps, the ordinary civilian community and outside the barracks. I am sorry if I gave the impression that I was talking about married quarters inside the actual walls of the barracks.
I would also like to say a word about Items 8 and 16 of the Estimates which relate to shipbuilding. Prime Ministers, like other distinguished personages, are apt to move in a mysterious way. But 557 no move can have been more mysterious than the one which sent me to the Admiralty to succeed the right hon. Member, the present Secretary of State for the Colonies, as a liaison between the First Lord and the Admiralty dockyards and shipyards. I must confess that when I first went to take the chair at the Admiralty Industrial Council I was hardly comforted to find, on inquiring into the past lives of the two Scotsmen, the temporary civil servants, who were to be two of my main supporters at that gathering, that one had been a French don and the other had been a professor of philosophy. But they were both, brilliant, which is a tribute to Sir Henry Markham's positive genius in picking his men. I understand, incidentally, that the French don has left the French language permanently for trade union law, but, alas, the professor of philosophy has hurried back to his university claiming that he has collected sufficient material for a new treatise, the publication of which the Admiralty Industrial Council, and I, myself, are awaiting with some anxiety.
It was an unforgettable experience to be in contact with the shipyards while they were preparing for VE Day, and later for the war in the Far East. I should like to add my tribute to that which the First Lord paid to the industry. The workers are entitled to be proud of their contribution to the war effort. I am not sure that it is always fully realised by hon. Members who do not sit for shipyard towns just how exacting is the work of shipbuilding. Most of it is carried on with very little protection from the wind or weather. In war time were added the black-out and the bombing, yet in spite of all these difficulties, the flow of ships to supply our life-line never failed. It was never even interrupted. The yards turned out ships of every conceivable type from the largest battleship to midget craft.
At times, and I know this well, we asked much of them. We asked them to abandon temporarily many of their trade union demarcation rules and regulations. We asked them sometimes to leave, much to their bewilderment, a job half done because something of greater importance had suddenly come along. But I believe any number of strikes and troubles were avoided by one golden rule, that, unless security made it impossible, it was always 558 the object of the Admiralty in their connections with the men's leaders and the production committees in the shipyards, to take them into their confidence and tell them why the job had to be done. I found that there was nothing like the knowledge of what a special job was, to break down suspicion and to queer the pitch of the would-be agitator. In the shipyards, as the First Lord knows, these Production Committees were started early in the war. I became a great believer in them, and I trust they will go on. The opportunity to meet the men face to face and discuss their problems, to see both sides of the picture, and to foe able to explain the Admiralty requirements, was worth more than any number of reports. To iron out the difficulties on the spot kept, I think, the men in good heart and up to their jobs. I am absolutely certain that could not have been done merely by issuing directions from Whitehall.
Here, I know, it is the wish of hon. Members from shipyard constituencies that I should pay a short tribute to the late Controller of the Admiralty, Admiral Sir Frederick Wake-Walker. The work of the Board of Admiralty was divided in such a way that Admiral Wake-Walker and myself worked as a pair in the dockyards and shipyards. His way of handling the production committees was perfection. His patience and tolerance and complete understanding of the workmen, whether shipwright, electrician or riveter was admirable and he has left behind him with these men, as well as with myself and other hon. Members of the House, an admiration and affection which may surprise those who had not seen him at work on this side of his job, He died from overwork last year, and almost literally at his desk at the Admiralty, with the European and Far East wars won. But his knowledge and influence in our shipyards will be tragically missed in the years ahead.
I was very glad to hear what the first Lord said about the Shipping Advisory Committee, and about its width of composition, and the bringing in, for the first time, of the trade unions as members. I am sure it is going to have a great influence in developing the machinery for industrial consultation which already exists in the shipyards. I am sure it is going to get co-operation going, and to develop the idea, which is so important, of co-partnership. I am quite certain 559 that, before long, the shipyards themselves may well be able to set an example to many other industries. They have still got a very heavy task before them in reconverting the many ships from war purposes to peacetime purposes, and the speed at which they do that task is of the utmost importance to us in our daily life and to our export and import trade. I am quite sure that a call to these shipyards for full output now is not going to fail, and I am sure that one reason for the response to that call will be due to the knowledge that this Shipping Advisory Committee is watching over their destiny, because the one dread they have, as Admiral Wake-Walker and I found out on our visits to the Clyde or the Mersey or to Tyne side, was the fear that the unemployment after the last war was going to repeat itself in the early years following the end of this war.
This Committee will also help in planning economically the building of naval as well as merchant ships, and I should like to say how very satisfactory is the saving of these many millions of pounds —I think the First Lord said that it is £190 million—by the foresight of the Admiralty in reviewing and adjusting their programme of warship building both before and after V.E. day. I should like to praise this foresight much more loudly, but modesty reduces me to silence when I remember who was Financial Secretary to the Admiralty when that decision was made. In return for that barbed shaft I will tell the First Lord that I have received a most unexpected and generous contribution to my speech from a distinguished Army officer and Member of this House, who has told me to ask why the Admiralty does not put up a strong claim to the Treasury that the money spent on building landing ship tanks and landing craft tanks for other Services should be shared between the three. I pass on that piece of ammunition to the First Lord, because I know he has need of all the ammunition he can get.
I have left the question of the future of the Navy till the last. The Prime Minister gave us a figure of 175,000 men at the end of 1946. I understand why the First Lord cannot tell us today what the postwar final figure of the peace time strength of the Navy will be. Personally 560 I hope very much that we shall not drop below the figure which the Prime Minister gave. The First Lord today talked about 200,000, but I think he was adding the new entrants and men under training, and that, otherwise, his figures are the same as the Prime Minister's. I hope very much we shall not sink below them. I notice that Admiral Nimitz, the United States Chief of Naval Operations, is thinking of a fleet between 500,000 and 600,000 strong. He is not being deterred by thoughts of the atomic bomb from keeping a strong naval force and we were delighted to hear in the Debate on Tuesday that the British First Lord is also undeterred.
The atomic bomb may change the type of ship, but it does not alter the mission of the Navy in controlling the sea. If our Navy were to be abandoned, there is no need to use the atomic bomb, because all an enemy has to do is to cut our arteries at sea and destroy us, and the question of those life arteries leads me to the subject of aircraft. Aircraft grow larger year by year and. they are becoming increasingly independent of weather conditions, but the time when air transport will entirely supersede surface transport is not, I think, in the foreseeable future. I cannot indeed imagine that such an eventuality is ever likely to materialise, and I would ask those who have a tendency to talk glibly about vast modern argosies of the air; and to regard ships as already becoming obsolescent, to remember sober facts.
Let us take the hypothetical but quite probable case of 7,500 tons of freight having to be shifted 1,000 miles. It could fit quite comfortably into the average merchant ship, but, if one were to use Dakota aircraft for the purpose these Dakota aircraft, placed nose to tail, would stretch from this House to Oxford, and the petrol they would require, if the two gallon tins were placed side by side would stretch from here to Dundee. I would call the attention of the House to those facts, and would add that, so long as there are. surface vessels on the trade routes of the world, a surface fleet will be necessary to secure their safety.
After the 1918 war, and between the two wars, many voices were raised, and one or two of them in the House of Commons on Monday and Tuesday of this week, saying that the capital ship 561 was an obsolete type of vessel. I see nothing in the naval history of this war that would lead us to that conclusion. Admittedly, the use of aircraft carriers and shore-based aircraft has changed tactics of naval warfare, and nobody will deny that the aircraft carrier is now the recognised core of the modem Navy, but we must remember that it is a most vulnerable target, requiring much anti-aircraft protection and long range fire power which cannot be borne by the carrier itself.
The First Lord has said that the British people are determined that the work of the United Nations shall be successful this time, and, to see that it is successful, we are determined that the British Navy shall make a full contribution to it. This is no new job of work for the Royal Navy, and I should like to remind the House of what the Foreign Secretary said on 7th November last, when he remarked how cheaply we had policed the world for 300 years with the British Navy. The right hon. Gentleman also said that he did not like to see police or military forces regarded as being only weapons of offence. How right the right hon. Gentleman is. The British Navy, as a police force, is a benevolent, not a malevolent power, and I am certain that the Royal Navy will do much to bring this home to the nations of the world in their present state of suspicion in these early post war years.
One of the best contributions we can make to the cause of international peace is to see that if our Fleet is to be cut down to a quarter of wartime strength it is at least as well equipped on the scientific side as modern research can make it. I was very interested to hear what the First Lord said about scientific research today, and I am sure the Committee welcomes with me, the substantial sums allotted in the White Paper to the scientific services. I hope they will be enough; if they are not enough, I am sure we can rely on the First Lord to see that he has no hesitation in asking for more.
There is one other field of research which I think makes for efficiency and which I should like to mention to the First Lord and the House this afternoon. It is the research in personnel. My right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) raised this subject in. the House on Monday, and perhaps I may be allowed to enlarge 562 upon it so far as the Navy is concerned. I know the Admiralty have started this work, but what I am after is to try to get that work enlarged. Modern seaman-ship, as the House knows, is a highly technical job, and, while pure seamanship has lost none of its skill, the devices which the seaman has to operate grow more and more complex every day. Therefore, this problem develops into three problems—the selection of the right man for the job, the training of that man, and the design of equipment so that the least skill is required to operate it efficiently.
Before the war the United States to a great degree and this country to a large but lesser degree used the psychological test in the selection and training of men and women in industry. Enormous strides have been made to develop this particular science, and this country cannot afford to lag behind America. Whether a boy should be trained as a radio operator or a stoker, a seaman or a cook, should not, I think, be left wholly to the boy's own unguided choice or to the particular drafting requirements of the moment, especially when methods are available for finding out the line upon which the boy's mind is moving and developing. It has been proved, over and over again, that men selected by these methods are happier in their occupations and more efficient than those selected by other means. Selection by means of the psychological test has saved an untold number of misfits, and training methods have been invented which minimise the amount of time needed to train a man for a given job. In the design of equipment, whether gun-sights, turret-training or engine-room controls, greater accuracy and less effort have been attained through research and experiment. I earnestly beg the First Lord and the Admiralty to extend the opportunity also to research in this human problem. Not only will it save public expenditure, but it will result in an even more efficient Fleet and in contented men who will find more satisfaction in their work.
The First Lord has produced abundant proof today that the Navy has deserved well of Parliament. I should like to add our tribute from these benches in this Debate on the first Navy Estimates in a world at peace, to the regular members of the Service, to the reservists who 563 bore the brunt of the first months of the war at sea, and to all ranks. This House expresses its greatest admiration for their unswerving devotion to duty at sea, on shore and in the air.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Skeffington-Lodge (Bedford)
I would like to add my tribute to that which has just been paid by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) and to say, as he said, that the First Lord has indeed presented, once again, a most encouraging report to this House. He stands well with the officers and men of the Navy. That was proved pretty conclusively during the General Election—if I may refer the House to a somewhat notorious incident at Chatham—when a certain noble Lord was addressing an election meeting there and when he tried to draw a distinction between the position of the present First Lord and the previous First Lord.
To turn to something more serious, I was very glad to hear that the First Lord is quite determined to have all the money he can for technical research. It is a very important side of the Navy's work. I hope the Admiralty will learn the technical lessons in ship construction and armament which the war in its unfolding has taught. Very much, too, I think, can be learned from ex-enemy sources. We should not neglect those. Whatever may be said about the cutting out of big ships in favour of smaller ones, we should do well to bear in mind that there was very little, or comparatively little, alteration, except in armaments, between those which we had in the 1914–18 war and those which served us so well during the last six years. If other Powers possess these big ships, then, it seems to me, we must also maintain them.
The First Lord touched upon the effect of the atom bomb regarding the future of the Navy. The atom bomb, in my opinion, is not likely to be quite such a potent force in dictating the types of ships we should regularly maintain as, for example, is the development in the use of rockets. In all this we ought to rely on evolution in the light of relevant factors, rather than on any hasty and radical changes. The process of evolution—and perhaps this is even more im- 564 portent—must be applied to raising the. standard of conditions for the personnel in the Royal Navy. The Royal Navy should be based on the whole of our people, irrespective of background and irrespective of geography. I am sorry we have not drawn more of our regulars from the Midlands and the North of England. The sea is in our very blood, and the steadfastness and dependence of outlook of the Northerner should, in the past, have had more opportunity for expression among the regulars of the Royal Navy. Just as this House is a reflection of every facet of our national life today, so the Royal Navy should be the same. Its personnel, which have been such splendid ambassadors throughout the war, should be able to minor and represent from the top to the bottom all phases of feeling and impulse in our people. The Navy must, for a very long time to come, be the very heartbeat of a united nation.
Very much has been done already towards achieving the objective I am dealing with—the raising of the standards of the personnel in the Service— but I still think a great deal can and should bed one. I look to the First Lord to encourage such organisations as the Sea Cadet Corps. I have a very fine Corps in my own constituency, and there is no doubt that the Royal Navy inculcates a sense of self-respect in the people who join it and in the people who are trained for it, which is most valuable and which they are unable to get in any other way in quite the same manner. A self-reliant comradeship is bred in the Navy as it is not bred in any other walk of life. There is a feeling of community service which is extremely valuable, and the idea to serve others before thinking of one's self, which is the one thing worth while developing in our respective walks of life.
My last point is to urge on the First Lord the need for the closest collaboration with the Dominions with regard to naval strategy and policy as it affects the English-speaking people all over the world. Indeed, one might hope that the forthcoming conference of Dominion representatives in London might be used as an occasion for consultation about this very vital, question. Never again must it be said that we have. let down New Zealand and Australia, for example, as it was said at the time when things went 565 so badly in the Far East. To Canada we owe the very greatest debt of gratitude for her magnificent efforts in connection with shipbuilding. The views of the Dominions, therefore, should be carefully sounded and sifted in connection with all developments of strategy and policy. I will never subscribe to the view that there is. any malaise developing in the Royal Navy. In fact, it may interest the House to know that so far as complaints are concerned—and we all have a great many of them in our postbags—the number I have had from the Navy is infinitesimal compared with the number I have had from R.A.F. and Army personnel.
§ Mr. Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
Was not the hon. Gentleman a commissioned officer in the Navy, and might that not explain why he has not had many complaints?
§ Mr. Skeffington-Lodge
I was a commissioned officer in the Royal Navy, and in the course of my activities there I came across many hundreds, and even thousands, of ratings who knew me on an extremely friendly footing. I am sure that they are the last people to hold back from writing about any specific grievance or complaint if they felt like doing so.
§ Wing-Commander Millington (Chelmsford)
Is it not true that, although the hon. Gentleman represents a town where naval personnel are stationed, there is an enormous number of R.A.F. and Army personnel, and does not the hon. Gentleman agree that, if he represented a town where there was a naval port, he would be very likely to have a much larger number of letters from the Navy?
§ Mr. Skeffington-Lodge
I do not entirely accept that suggestion, because the personnel in the Navy are drawn from all over the country in these days, and a great many of my constituents are serving in the Royal Navy. I think it is most unworthy to spread around any suggestion that there is general dissatisfaction developing in the Royal Navy. Some things are wrong, of course. We know there are things which are wrong in every organisation. What we have to do is to improve conditions, and for that I am pleading with the First Lord. We have every reason to be proud of the part which the Royal Navy has played, and I 566 would add that I have even had correspondence from people who have been demobilised asking if I can help them get back into the Service. That shows that when they are demobilised they feel they have lost something extremely valuable. I am not advocating that everyone should remain in the Royal Navy for the rest of his life, but I stress this because there is a tendency in some quarters to disparage what is being done to help people. There is also an attempt to pour cold water on the efforts of those who are whole-heartedly determined to try to help the men in the ranks and provide better conditions for them in the Service. The Royal Navy has, indeed, done much to bring peace to the world, and, in the uncertain days which lie ahead, and until our civilisation is far enough advanced to banish all armaments in the world, it can act as a benign protector of the peace which it has done so much to bring.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Commander Maitland (Horncastle)
If during the course of my remarks I deal in detail with some technical points, I apologise to the Committee, but I do not apologise very much because the First Lord has been in Office so successfully and for so long that I am certain he understands the technical points very well, and he will recognise, in the details, points which affect the wellbeing of the Service.
The first point to which I would like to draw the attention of the First Lord is the question of the construction of our ships in the future, and the machines with which they are fitted. During the war we had a large number of machines—instruments and so forth—which were very well designed, but there was no time to design them so that they were manipulated by the minimum number of men. There is a tremendous field for research there, in order that we may design our ships and the machines which go inside them so that they cap be manipulated by the minimum number of men. If that is done, it follows that the machines themselves will probably be more complicated and, therefore they will require more base maintenance. At first sight, therefore, it does not seem to be a very good point for saving manpower. It is true that it will save enormously in space, which may result in better living conditions and better health conditions, but it does appear at 567 first sight that it will not result in a saving in manpower There is, therefore, a second point involving a staff requirement from a very high source, and that is to introduce more standardisation and more interchangeability between the basic parts of the various machines which go to make up a battleship From my experience during the war. 1 know there is a tremendous field for research in that direction, but 1 would warn the First Lord that he is bound to meet a certain amount of opposition from his own colleagues, and possibly from the public and Members of this House, because it is not a field in which the expenditure of money shows a very good result at first. However, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that if he perseveres it will be a tremendous investment for the Navy.
I now wish to turn to the main part of my speech, which concerns the White Paper on the new code of pay. If I criticise it—and I shall criticise it very severely—Iam sure the First Lord will realise, that it is in the best interests of the Service that I do so, because I realise how hard it is to produce a code of pay which satisfies everybody. The war in the Pacific and in the Atlantic is over, and we have won it; we have now to start a far harder war against the Treasury, and I am not at all certain that the foe we have just defeated is not the fairer fighter of the two. Any new code of pay which is introduced for the benefit of the Navy must cover three essentials. First, it must create a career which will attract—I repeat that word "attract "—the right type of men. Secondly, it must be subservient to the efficiency of the Navy. Thirdly, and perhaps most important of all, it must be immediately adaptable to wartime conditions. I do not think Command Paper No. 6715 does satisfy those three conditions. The Navy is being fitted into a pay code rather than that a pay code is being arranged for the Navy. The Navy has done better than to deserve to be made a Paymaster's holiday.
My chief complaint is the apparently almost deliberate attempt to offer no incentive to initiative and leadership or to the ready acceptance of responsibility. Neither does it offer any reward or encouragement to men who have consistently observed the honour of the Navy and taken great pride in their con- 568 duct. I would like to give some examples of what I mean, though I am afraid they may be somewhat detailed. Let me take an example which has come across my own service experience, not once but on many occasions, namely, the question of a chief ordnance artificer. I was a gunnery officer. In every ship the gunnery officer has a team of ordnance artificers upon whose good work depends very largely the standard of efficiency and maintenance of the weapons of war. That team is led by a chief ordnance artificer, and on his capacity depends very largely the capability of the whole team. As I think the First Lord realises, in the past we have had great difficulty in getting the right type of young artificer to go in for the difficult course to make himself into a chief ordnance artificer. This new pay scheme cannot be said to help that in any way, because under the new scheme it is possible that a young chief ordnance artificer of the right type, the sort of man we want, will be receiving less pay than an ordnance artificer second class or first class, who either has not taken the trouble—and it is a trouble—to qualify as, chief ordnance artificer or has not been good enough for it and could not hold the job down if he had it.
Next I want to know why—and I would be only too pleased to be told I am wrong —the good conduct medal has been abolished, with the gratuity attached to it. That is something that is very highly appreciated by sailors. Also, in the short term service engagements which are contemplated in the White Paper, why is it that a man who is a "King's hard bargain "gets exactly the same gratuity as a man who has worked hard and got a continuous "V.G." certificate. Before I leave this point, I would like to ask why there is so little difference in pension between a chief petty officer, who has taken every opportunity to gain promotion and to be fitted for it, and the rather less praiseworthy seaman, or petty officer who has stuck on the way up. The man who does not get any further than leading seaman, but who gets leading seaman at a fairly young age—and there are many such cases in the Navy—gets only 2d. less in pension than a chief petty officer who has borne all the heat and burden of the day. I do not think that is right. The Navy is an adventurous career, and the great Admirals—Drake and Nelson—I knew he would come into it—did not go to sea for 569 a quiet life. They served their country and succeeded because they had energy, character and inborn leadership. Surely, those are virtues. Why are they no longer rewarded? I can see no reason for that.
I now come to the question of the non-substantive rates, a thing which very few people who are not intimately connected with the Navy fully understand. On page 8, in paragraph 18, these are just swept away on the principle that, now we have a stabilised rate of pay, they are no longer necessary. I want to explain. to the Committee why I think that, far from being not necessary, they are essential to the Navy. The whole Navy, as far as the seamen's branch is concerned, is manned on the principle of technical non-substantive rates. Here are some questions I should like to have answered. Is it proposed that all ordinary seamen are to be able to pass a third class rate? They could not do it before the war. I think about eight per cent. used to fail. A third class rate is a high standard nowadays, and the rate is becoming even more difficult. Are we going to lower the standard of the third class rate, or what is going to happen? Let us consider for a moment the quarter bill of our newest battleship mentioned by the First Lord, H.M.S. "Vanguard." In H.M.S. "Van-guard" the whole quarter bill, as the Committee will understand, is arranged on the technical needs of fighting the ship. Substantive ratings really drag along in the rear. That is how it has been done in the past. In H.M.S. "Van-guard" there have to be 76 chief petty officers, 57 first class rates, 79 leading seamen and 169 second class rates.
One of two things has to be done. The first thing is to have more chief petty officers and leading seamen to cover the number of non-substantive rates. That is obviously going to be more expensive to the Vote on personnel, and it is going to be extremely wasteful. Therefore, I do not think that is very likely to happen. The other way is to write down the position of the non-substantive rates. It may be said to them," You have been doing a job which was a first-class rate. You are now no longer doing that; you are doing a second-class rate job." That is pure cheating. That is not getting the rate for the job, a very proper principle, which, I understand, this Committee up- 570 holds. If by a stroke of the pen one writes down to second class the job which the man is doing, I can assure the Committee that is something the Navy will not appreciate, to say the very least. I had a good deal to do with the very difficult problem of drafting during the war. It was terribly hard to keep the ships manned with the right number of men doing the right kinds of job. It is now to be made fantastically difficult, and I cannot see how, in the strain of mobilisation at the beginning of a new war, it is to be possible for the drafting officers to compete with their problems.
The port numbers are made up on a non-substantive basis. In gunnery alone there are six different types of rates. Every one of those rates has three classes, and the numbers in those rates and classes differ from class to class. This means that there may be a man in a second class rate who, because promotion in his rate is very slow, may be working next to a man who is not nearly so good but is, nevertheless, in the next substantive class above him. Men of entirely different calibre may be working alongside each other; one man, who is known to be a good man, may be kept down to being a petty officer, while another, who is known to be not so good, is a chief petty officer. I think it is an important point.
§ Mr. Alexander
I am very much interested in all this, but I think my hon. and gallant Friend should remember that it will be the intention, in all these matters, to educate the men and get them to qualify for their different rates. In that way, only those who are qualified will get promotion. I think that in the end it will give a great encouragement to men to try to qualify. We were advised by the Naval Staff.
§ Commander Maitland
I am afraid I have to disagree slightly with the First Lord. I am very surprised to hear that he has been advised on this by the Naval Staff. I wanted to ask him who was consulted when these matters were discussed and who was on the Committee. Was, for example, the captain of H.M.S. "Excellent," or the captain of H.M.S. "Vernon "consulted?
§ Commander Maitland
Was it discussed with the Second Sea Lord, who is responsible for the welfare of all men?
I turn with some relief to the more human side of this discussion and I want to make a brief plea for the pensioner. In this code there is no mention of any retrospective assistance for the pensioner. There are men who have just left the Navy, who have borne the heat and burden of two wars. They were young Able Seamen during the last war, they went on and became chief petty officers, and had just retired before the war. They came back and served again, and it is only just that we should improve their pension. They are still liable to recall and service in the Navy. It is true that they got their pensions while they were serving, but they had already won that in their previous service. Why should they not have a bit more? It is equitable and proper that they should.
I particularly want to appeal to the First Lord on behalf of the warrant officers who have been promoted to ward-room rank. During this war I served alongside a very fine officer who had actually reached the rank of lieut.-commander on the active list, coming up the hard way—and those of us who have served in the Navy know it is a hard way. They are first warrant officers, then commissioned warrant officers and then lieutenants. When the officer to whom I have referred retires, unless something is done about it, he will get a retiring pension of £280 a year, while the lieut.-commander who is passed over, who may not have done very well, leaves with a pension of £475. That is not right, and the Navy for many years has bitterly resented it.
§ Commander Pursey
That criticism does not apply to the Navy. It was a mistake made before the war when a Tory Government, and a Tory First Lord, introduced a scheme whereby these warrant officers, instead of being put on the cadet officer's rate of retired pay, were put on the Royal Naval Reserve Officers' rate of pay.
§ Commander Maitland
Today I am more a naval officer than I am a Tory, and whatever Government were in power 572 I should have raised this point. I hope the First Lord will put it right.
In conclusion, I appeal to him to reconsider some of the points I have raised. They are not just little points; there is substance in them. We all know the great affection the right hon. Gentleman has for the Navy, and, incidentally, the affection that the Navy has for him, and it would be a great pity—I know it would nearly break his heart—if the Navy got a raw deal through any deed of his. He will only enhance his great reputation if he takes time to consider these matters, which are affecting the whole wellbeing of the Navy very deeply indeed.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Major Bruce (Portsmouth, North)
I have the honour to be one of the three Members for the Empire's premier naval. base, Portsmouth, and I am fortified this afternoon by seeing in the House my two colleagues, the hon. and gallant Member for South Portsmouth (Sir J. Lucas) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Portsmouth (Captain Snow) to give me moral support. The naval traditions of our city are well known, and need no elaboration in this Committee. It is sufficient to say that the whole life of our city, its culture and its customs, are bound up with the sea, the craft that sail the sea, and the personnel who man them; while in the background are the men and women in the Royal Dockyards who keep our fleet in proper working order. During the war, the Committee may recollect, my city paid its price for being the Empire's premier naval base. "Pompey" was a nightly target for the Luftwaffe, and in common with London and Coventry it has suffered much. But never once did the dockyard service, or the city, fail the Navy which it serves. It was from Portsmouth that the invasion fleet sailed for France in those fateful days of June, 1944, and the world knows that in that colossal operation the Navy's part was heroically and magnificently discharged.
The Committee may think it a little peculiar that the first naval port of the Empire should be represented here by three officers from the Army. I myself, have the honour to follow in succession to three admirals, including that famous and gallant officer the late Admiral Lord Keyes, whose memory will be for ever cherished, not only in my city but 573 wherever the simple sacrifices of sea-going life are honoured in the world. Just as Service matters tend to become more and more a combined operation, so in social, cultural and political affairs there tends to be a greater sympathy between the Services, and wider appreciation of each other's problems.
The Navy needs no praise from me. The deeds of its personnel in all quarters of the globe have received the rightful praise which is their due. But it seems to me that the finest tribute this nation can pay to these gallant gentlemen, officers and ratings alike, is to ensure that the conditions under which they work and live are made ever more worthy of the high traditions that they themselves have upheld. Naval personnel are not given to complaining. It is part of their tradition as the silent Service to do their job, however difficult their conditions are. Too often, in the past, has the country taken advantage of this naval stoicism, by refraining from granting to its personnel those conditions of service to which it is legitimately entitled. No greater tribute can be paid to the sailor than by stating the fact that despite the most adverse circumstances our Fleet's fighting proficiency is second to none in the world.
The peacetime size and composition of our Navy have yet to be determined, though as the Prime Minister said on 4th March, its personnel, at any rate in 1946, is 175,000. I think I share with the majority of Members of this Committee the hope that war will never again come to our country. I share the hope of the majority of this Committee that it may be possible for the United Nations under Article 20 of the Charter to secure the regulation of world armaments, in the uneasy years that lie ahead. But the fact of the matter is we have our obligations under Article43 of the Charter, wherein we are required to enter into agreements to provide for the United Nations those Forces in personnel and armaments it must have to carry out its task as a world organisation. It is, perhaps, reasonable to think that when our time comes to make those agreements our contribution from these islands may be principally a naval contribution. We have long skill and unsurpassed experience in the conduct of naval warfare, and it does seem to me that our naval contribution to the Forces of the United Nations might constitute our principal 574 effort. It will be a very proud day for me, and many other people in my city, when we see the Fleet sailing from Portsmouth under the flag of the United Nations and under the Union Jack, on the duties which, in due course, will be allotted to it by the United Nations.
It is up to us, in my view, to provide the most efficient instrument for the use of the United Nations, and for this purpose adequate personnel are required. Are we really convinced that conditions in the Senior Service are such as will attract those young men in our country who have always been its sinews? If we are, there is little more to debate upon, except the technical composition of our Fleet. I should like, however, to offer my humble and inexpert opinion as a member of a sister Service that conditions within the Senior Service are in need of considerable improvement. I am fortified in this respect by the opinions, based on the long experience of my numerous friends on both decks whom I have been privileged to know during the last six months. The people of our country, who take such pride in our Fleet, are well acquainted with our mighty ships, their armaments, their beautiful curved lines.
But I would ask the Committee to go deeper than that, to go into the heart of the ships, which are not only instruments of war but are, also, the homes of those who serve in them. I recently had the opportunity, at the invitation of a member of the lower deck, to go aboard one of our latest battleships. I should like to give the Committee some of the impressions I formed and some of the conclusions that arose to my mind, inescapably, from those impressions. I should like, at the same time, to make it quite clear that although I am afraid much of what I say will emphasise the difference between classes in the Navy, I do not wish to imply for one moment that there is any ill feeling between the lower deck and the upper deck in that Service. To my mind, that is absolutely out of the question. The first thing that strikes one on entering a battleship of vast size and wandering about it, is that when you are in the quarters occupied by the officers of the ship you can walk upright; but, in my own experience, the moment I entered into the quarters which were occupied by the ratings£and I am making allowance for my, perhaps, rather 575 unusual height—I was obliged to bend nearly double to go about from place to place. And then the sleeping space. So far as I was able to find out, every officer had been provided with adequate sleeping space—not, perhaps, commodious, but a comfortable bunk and a reasonable amount of room in which to move about.
The wartime complement of the ship is 1,650, and the peacetime complement is in the region of 1,200. The ratings have to sleep if they can in hammocks in the mess decks, if, that is, there is any room for them in which to sling their hammocks. In fact, in a very large number of instances, the ratings in these big battleships have to sleep on the plates and often in the corridors. Even chief petty officers, who are reckoned, quite rightly, to be the backbone of the Navy, were crowded, some 30 of them, into a small mess which was about twice the size of an average civilian sitting room, normally accommodating three people. And then the recreation space. I was informed that the officers had large ward rooms; not too large, I suppose, but large enough for ordinary civilised life, and large enough for their various recreations. The ratings, however, were limited to recreation space which could not possibly accommodate, even on a three-shift basis, the personnel on board the ship. Then on the hygiene side. In this battleship I found that for 1,500 men there were 30 latrines, or "seamen's heads "as they call them. I do not think that is adequate at all. No argument, to my mind, is convincing which says as an answer to these problems, purely that armaments and radar requirements prevent the allotment of more living space to the ratings. I do not wish to make invidious comparisons between the navies of our Allies, but the American Navy appears largely to have solved this problem, and has far more recreation space and far more adequate living space and far better living conditions—that is, at least, in certain ships of the American Navy—
§ Mr. Alexander
Not in large ships of the American Navy built under the Treaty. May I point out to the hon. and gallant Gentleman that I have been to sea in these American ships? I do not know whether he has. They carry a far larger number of men. They have far larger crews than we.
§ Major Bruce
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I would admit straight away that I have not had any experience in American ships, but I have reliable reports which indicate to me that, in general, the living conditions of the ratings in, at any rate, some of the American ships, are far better than those in our own. The fault seems to me to lie in the manner in which ships are designed. I speak here with an absolutely inexpert mind—
§ Mr. Guy (Poplar, South)
Before the hon. and gallant Gentleman leaves the subject of amenities, could he say whether, in the instances he saw of the officers' quarters and of the lower deck quarters, he saw any sheets?
§ Major Bruce
I did not see any sheets. The first requirement in. design must be to make a ship a fighting unit, and first regard must be paid to its speed, armament and durability. But after these requirements have been satisfied, then the officers appear to have their traditional comfort—and I do not begrudge them that —while the ratings have the rest. I suggest that there should be revised methods for allocating available space on a more equitable basis. I am making no complaint at all against officers of the Navy; it is not their fault if anything has to be done; it has to be done by the Board of Admiralty. Another point which strikes me relates to destroyers. In a destroyer, with 12 officers and a complement of 150ratings, each officer has a cabin containing a bunk, a desk, an armchair, a chest of drawers and. in addition, the officers have a fairly commodious wardroom, whereas the ratings just have the mess deck where there is considerable over-crowding. In addition, each of the 12 officers has a wash bowl, whereas the ratings, I am informed, have to be content with six. There are other differences in clothing.
§ The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Walter Edwards)
Can the hon. and gallant Gentleman tell us the name of the ship to which he is referring?
§ Commander Noble (Chelsea)
Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman bear in mind that there are no offices on destroyers, and that the reason why each officer has a desk in his cabin, is that it is there where he has to do all his work?
§ Major Bruce
I have no desire to over-paint the picture. The name of the destroyer concerned is H.M.S. "Zodiac." On reading the White Paper on the postwar code of pay, allowances and Service pensions, I observed, in paragraph 20, these words:It will also be necessary to review the wartime scale, and provisions of various amenities at public expense.These words filled me with a little misgiving, because, in the context in which they appear, it may be that wartime amenities are to be cut down. I hope that we can obtain an assurance from the First Lord that, if conditions are to be reviewed, they will be reviewed upwards and not downwards. I was pleased to hear the remarks of the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas), because it seems to me that we have a tremendous amount of leeway to make up, on the question of naval barracks. Too often in the past have our naval personnel, when they go into port—and very often they do not return to their own portx2014;have to rely on hostels provided by voluntary bodies. No one doubts the excellent intentions of these charitable bodies who have done so much to alleviate the conditions under which our personnel have to live, but it should be borne in mind that many of our ratings do not like to be reminded, in some of the hostels, of their great indebtedness to their benefactors by large plaques which appear on the walls over their beds. Responsibility for the provision of such accommodation rests clearly on the Board of Admiralty, and I welcome the assurance by the First Lord that he will press for the greatest possible priority in the provision of such accommodation.
I welcome the new pay and allowance code which has been recently introduced. No one in this House, or in the country, would contend that our naval forces should not be paid more in time of war than in peace. It is an excellent thing that the new pay code rates have effected drastic simplification and revision. I consider that the position of the petty officer needs to be reconsidered. I welcome the assurance which the First Lord gave in connection with those of certain ranks on 30th June—their pay in my view should be brought more into line with comparative ranks in the Army and Air Force. We say that the chief petty officer 578 is the backbone of the Navy, and I hope that the First Lord will not only remember that sentiment, but will secure more adequate opportunities for promotion from the lower deck. One thing which troubles all Service personnel—and I know from my experience it troubles personnel in the Navy—is their position in relation to Service pensions. A short time ago I asked the Secretary of State for War whether he could clarify the position, because there was an impression that ratings and other ranks, who became entitled by regular service to Service pensions, were likely to have their pensions reduced if they contracted for a State national pension. If that is so, it is very unjust. A person who contracts for pension under the National Insurance scheme should be entitled to the benefit.
I propose to touch upon another matter which has a bearing, not only upon serving sailors, but upon their wives. There is an impression that the method of allotting foreign and home service is inequitable, and that the methods employed for drafting are unsatisfactory to meet current conditions. There is an impression, too, that these methods can be considerably improved. The Committee may be aware that a deputation on this subject came from my city recently to see the Admiralty. It was a unique occasion, and I do not think any such deputation has been received before. I am grateful to the First Lord, who made arrangements to receive them so graciously, for the many assurances he gave—assurances to which I think they were entitled. The Navy does not ask for pampering, but at a time when the standard of living and the march of social progress in the world is advancing, the men of the Fleet look to the Board of Admiralty, almost Nelson fashion, to do its duty by them.
§ 6.29 p.m.
§ Commander Noble (Chelsea)
I was tempted to follow the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Major Bruce) into his argument about accommodation for officers and men, but I feel sure that I can leave that matter safely in the hands of the First Lord Perhaps I can contain myself until the Army Estimates are being considered. May I associate myself with the congratulations to the First Lord, expressed so well by my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford
579 (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas), who spoke first from this side of the Committee? I feel that it is a great satisfaction to us all that the First Lord, who was at the wheel of the Admiralty throughout the rough weather and tempestuous seas of the war, is now able to carry on his great task in the calmer seas of peace. One of our great national songs starts with the words "Some talk of Alexander. "I think that we might say that those words would be just as appropriate in "Rule Britannia" as they are in "The British Grenadiers."
I do not wish to dwell on the future of the Navy. Suffice it to say that so long as our trade sails the seas in ships, it is the Navy's duty and proud privilege to defend it. I maintain that we must have an adequate Navy, and its size must vary with what one might call the blood pressure of the international situation. We must, therefore, have an adequate, active Navy, an adequate reserve, and adequate forces laid up. On the subject of combined operations, it was suggested from this side of the Committee in the recent defence Debate, that if the Admiralty had to make cuts on account of economy, that landing ships and craft might be the first to feel the cut. No doubt, the hon. Gentleman who winds up the Debate will say something about this new arm of the Service. From personal experience, I can assure the House that the Navy fully appreciate the significance of this new arm. The value which it can be in peace as well as in war may not be fully appreciated. Before the war, when troops were required in a hurry at a certain place, perhaps to quell a disturbance, they would be taken in a cruiser. Now their tanks and vehicles can be carried in specially constructed ships.
May I turn to the subject of personnel, in which I have been very interested during the 19 years I have had the honour to serve in the Royal Navy? In common with other hon. Members, I am not at all happy about the new pay code for the lower deck, which has come as a great disappointment to the men after all the publicity it was given. Other hon. Members have dealt, and no doubt will deal, with points of detail, but for the sake of my argument, I must make one or two points. Although most of the new rates and allowances are an increase on those of prewar days, there are many cases of 580 decreases on the existing rates. That was in some way due to the fact that the war service increment was not going to be paid. I was delighted to hear yesterday that this matter has now been reconsidered, and that where a man would lose, owing to war service increment not being paid, he will now be paid what is called a "war excess," until he has made up the money by service or promotion or perhaps by having more children. That is a step in the right direction, but it is hardly an incentive to ambition. The fact that marriage allowance is now subject to Income Tax is also a great blow to the men. Above all, I maintain that nobody should be a loser when going from one rate to the other. One point that requires great emphasis is that the new rates are to the advantage of the lower ratings at the expense of the senior. It may be said that the gap has been closed too much. The closing of the gap may be suitable in other Services—I do not know —but I do not think that it is at all suitable for the Navy. It is not, I think, the way to attract men of the type who will make senior petty officers in the future, and who have been the backbone of the Service for so long. I feel that they will leave the Service at the first opportunity, and I do not think they will be attracted to the Service in the first place.
On the subject of senior rates, I should like to take up a point mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland), concerning the merging of substantive and non-substantive rates. I will try to make the picture clear, and I hope that the Committee will excuse me for going into details because I think it is a most important point. A seaman wears distinctive badges on each arm. The badges on one arm indicate the degree of responsibility which he shoulders, and the badges on the other, his technical qualifications, such as gunnery or torpedo. In the past, a man could progress on either one of these routes or along both of them. He might have nothing on one arm and quite high qualifications on the other; so it was possible for the Navy to make the proud boast that when a man was promoted to leading seaman, he was promoted because he could lead and for no other reason. Similarly, the man who did not want responsibility, and who perhaps was not suitable for responsibility, could make up his money in other ways by taking a 581 higher rate on the technical side. In that way one got the leader, the man who did not like machinery and who would become a great seaman; and one also got the men who were not born to lead, but whose services were invaluable. Now they are to be combined. I do not see how that will work, and I am very surprised that the Service officers agreed to it. For example, I will take a modern cruiser which is entitled to a complement of say 20 leading seamen. It may require 60 men of a certain type of gunnery rating to man the guns and armaments. Now we may find that these 60 gunnery ratings have got to be leading seamen. I do not know who will be led by them; it is a matter of doubt whether they be able to lead. I do not think that they will be leaders in the true sense of the word, and of the type we had before. I think that these points and the changes in pay may lead to great fundamental changes in the type of man attracted to the Navy.
I will not say a great deal about the officers' pay code announced yesterday, as it requires considerable study. So far as I can see at present, it is a pleasant surprise, but I do not think that it goes far enough. I hope that it will not stop there, and that the matter will be kept under review. I am sure that we all agree that an income of about £800 a year at the age of 30 is not at all bad, but I hope every one will bear in mind the commitments of a young naval officer. He has to be prepared to go abroad at short notice, to hot climates or cold climates; he has to, have expensive uniform and accoutrements, and plain clothes suitable for all occasions. He must be prepared to go abroad without his wife and family, because, on many stations, he is unable to have his family with him, and to get them there is most expensive. Transport, of course, is now extremely difficult. If he has a shore job in this country, he wants to take the rare opportunity—it is a rare opportunity for naval officers—to live with his wife and family. This entails another move of his home, and should it be to London, as in the case of officers serving at the Admiralty, it is a very expensive move and at the present time a highly problematical one. This "war excess" is also being paid to officers on the "rising tide "principle. I hope that in this case, as well, it will be reviewed, because it cannot encourage ambition. I feel that no one on these new rates should 582 be a loser, and there is no doubt, at present, some officers will lose.
May I ask two questions of the hon. Gentleman who is to wind up? One is with regard to the payment of qualification pay to Army officers, which is mentioned in the White Paper. The pay is for staff college qualifications, or university honours degree of special use to the Army. I see no reference to that in the naval section, which prompts me to ask if naval officers are also eligible for extra pay if they go through their own staff college. The next point is in regard to naval officers who specialise in gunnery, torpedo and the like, for which extra pay is not now to be given. I ask whether in the new system it is envisaged that there will be the same volunteers for the extra responsibilities and the extra hard work, without the extra 2s. 6d. a day. I do not think there will be.
May I refer next to the subject of publicity? When we are able to offer really good pay for officers and men comparable with the civilian rates, in relation to their work and the responsibilities that they bear, let us make sure that every boy, every parent and every school master is fully aware of the conditions. Do not let it be forgotten that he boy's enthusiasm for the sea means a very great deal to the Navy and a very great deal in his career.
I should like to say in conclusion a little about minesweeping, to which the First Lord has already referred. It was stated in the recent statement on defence that minesweeping would go on until the end of the year. That will mean that men engaged on this hazardous work will have been doing it for one and a half years after the end of the war. Let it be borne in mind that many of them now and in the year to come will be new men as demobilisation goes on, and that only a few will have the experience of the war veterans. I hope it will be possible to recognise these men in some way, by some award, perhaps of the General Service Medal. To sum up, it is accepted that we want an adequate Navy, and we hope the good constructors, research and modern science will make it materially of the first order. There is absolutely no excuse if they do not, but unless we ensure that the conditions are attractive, compared with those of the civilian, I do not think we shall get the men we 583 want in view of the unsettled life of the sailor and the time spent by him away from home. I think the experience of both men and their families during this war, when perhaps the periods of separation were longer than ever before, will have some considerable bearing on this aspect. I close by quoting the first two lines of an old verse, written I believe in the days of Queen Anne and probably not unknown to many Members of this Committee:God and our sailors we adore, When danger threatens; not before.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
I am a little dismayed at this Debate on the Navy Estimates. It is rather different from the impression which I had of such occasions before I became a Member of Parliament. The impression I formerly had was that someone moved a reduction in the amount of the Estimate to call attention to some particular factor. I am not at all certain in regard to matters in which I am particularly interested whether the Estimate is going to be sufficient to cover these needs in the coming year, or whether it will prove too much, of a lack of volunteers on whom to spend it. I happen to come from a town which, though not a naval port, has seen a lot of the Navy. I represent one of the Liverpool constituencies, but I live in the next borough —Bootle—where we had the opportunity of meeting a lot of naval personnel in the war I think Bootle was one of the most heavily bombed towns in the country due to the fact that naval craft were always in the docks of the borough. I had the opportunity last year of visiting some of the ships, because I was in office at the town hall when we invited the ships, companies to spend the night with us so as to give them some expression of our thanks for what they were doing, and what they would still be called upon to do. As mayor of that borough, I also went down to the ships and I must say that I saw nothing wrong with them. To me the conditions seemed to be all right, but then I was nearly always in the ward room. I did not visit anywhere else. I can truthfully say that many of the ratings whom I knew personally, came to me, because they knew me years ago. They told me how glad they were 584 to see me mayor, and then they told me what they thought about the Navy and the conditions under which they lived.
I was rather concerned to hear what the First Lord said about the American Navy. He denied what was said by the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Major Bruce) that conditions in the American Navy were much better. I know a few of the boys who have been to America and that is what they have told me. I have a letter here which I understand was sent to the "Daily Express." Whether it was published or not I do not know. If the First Lord or the Civil Lord want to know anything that is in this letter, from which I will quote, or the name and address of the party concerned, they can have it. Amongst other things this rating said:At sea, on many occasions, as leading seaman, I had to take aft samples of food which few could eat despite empty stomachs. On these occasions various evasive moves were made by those who should have known better, but often the complaints had to be admitted as justified. There was no hope of improvement. For three months I was aboard ship daily eating bread made from sour flour. There is no limit to the number of men to be crammed into a small space. I am not speaking only of life at sea now. On ship and on shore I have seen almost unbelievable over-crowding with its attendant ill-health. I have experienced the American way of housing their ratings, having lived in barracks in Boston. while my ship was undergoing repairs. The difference was so great that I would require a book to do justice to a comparison.I am taking a few sentences from the letter, largely because the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeffington-Lodge) said he never got any letters—
§ Mr. Keenan
As a result of the publicity given in the Press to a Question which I put and the answer I received, I got a lot of letters and I know that other Members of the House got many letters also, because somebody brought to light something about which naval personnel were feeling very sore. Here is an extract from another letter I received:I am afraid that I share the common view that complaints are so much waste of time and there is a very real fear of victimisation for complainers "—
§ Mr. Skeffington-Lodge
I do not know whether my hon. Friend is aware of it, but all complaints are most carefully investigated by the commanding officer, so that when he talks about victimisation he is entirely wrong.
§ Mr. Keenan
If my hon. Friend will let me finish reading this letter, I will say a few words to him about that. The letter goes onI also feel that I am wasting my time writing this, but I feel strongly about it, and I wish you every success in your efforts to clear up the ' Andrew.'—Yours sincerely, R. A. Wilson.Here is an extract from another letter, which I felt like reproducing because it makes some valuable suggestions. Perhaps I may be able to pass them on, with advantage, to the First Lord or the Civil Lord. It says:The system of punishment by warrant officer is wrong. One man should not be allowed to send a rating to detention for three months, or less. A junior officer should decide the punishment and fate of a defaulter. It should not be allowed to be decided by the state of the C.O's kidneys.Because of the serious conditions in regard to discipline in the Navy, I asked the First Lord, some time ago, what was the total strength of the Navy in September, 1939, and at the end of last year. He stated that in July, 1945, there were 68,317 officers and 710,862 ratings. At the end of December there were 54,858 officers, or 13,463 less than there were five months earlier. The number of ratings had been reduced from 710,862 to 557,000, a reduction of 144,000. I asked how many officers, commissioned officers, and ratings had decided to remain in the Service, and I was told out of 13,400 officers 6,727 had volunteered to remain, and that out of 144,000 ratings only 1,694 had decided to remain. Fifty percent. of the officers had volunteered to continue, but less than 1½percent. of the ratings wished to continue to serve. That is justification for everything which I and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth have said about conditions in the Navy.
Bad conditions mean ill-health. I have had letters from parents complaining that their sons had contracted tuberculosis. When I asked the First Lord how many men had been invalided out of the Navy with pulmonary tuberculosis he gave me the astonishing information that 8,144 had been so discharged from September, 1939, to the end of the war. That justifies all that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth said about conditions in ships, and we know they are worse in the smaller ships. We have lately been talking about conscrip- 586 tion. I hope it will not be necessary but, being a realist, I share the view that our Services must be retained at a high level until we can afford to reduce them. But it will not do to have discipline such as there was in Nelson's time. That must be altered. I am assured by those who have served in the Navy that it has not been altered since Nelson's time. Those in the Navy now know that as well as I do. The Navy is the silent Service for which, up to now, men have been obtained by conscription. The Government will not get men to volunteer—
§ Captain Marsden (Chertsey)
Is the hon. Member aware that up to the war the Royal Navy was manned by volunteers, and that there was no conscription?
§ Mr. Keenan
They were caught. Moreover, poverty entered into the question. When I was young the Government had to depend on getting Irishmen to join the Services. Poverty drove them in; it will not drive them in today. Unless conditions are made worthy of the great Service which it is, the Government will not get conscripts to go into that Service.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Major Sir Jocelyn Lucas (Portsmouth, South)
Not being an old naval officer or having been in the Navy, I speak with some diffidence today in this Debate. But I do not wish to enter into technical questions; I wish to deal with some matters connected with welfare. First of all, may I say how much we all appreciated the inspiring speech of the First Lord? He has been in his high office practically throughout the war, and a great deal of the credit for the Navy's success must go to him. I would also like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) on his able speech, and the part he also played during the war.
While we all welcome the White Paper, which sets out the new pay code for the naval officers, it appears there are many who may think there is a hidden snag in the payment of Income Tax on allowances. One of the advantages of the Services before the war was that officers got certain allowances tax free. In these days of high Income Tax it makes a lot of difference if a man suddenly receives more money, only to have it immediately taken away in taxation. High taxation 587 is partly one of the reasons why pay has been raised. For instance, in civil life, a typist who applies for a job decides that it costs so much to live and so much more for taxation, and that she must have more money in consequence. For serving seamen, the new rates of pay are largely and rightly designed to give them a chance of making the Navy a career, at a decent rate of pay, but it does leave men like the chief petty officer with a very definite sense of grievance when they feel that their skill, hard work, and responsibility are not sufficiently recognised. The Navy requires many specialists, but if their skill is not properly rewarded there will be an increased shortage. At the present time, these men get extra time at sea, less leave, and they suffer in that their hard work and efficiency is without adequate recompense.
It is said that the cheapest way of learning by experience is to learn by the experience of others, and, therefore, I think we might look at the Russian experiment. At the outset the Russians had the idea that all men were equal and should be paid equally. Nowadays, the worker there, if he exceeds his norm, has his pay stepped up, and the more he exceeds it, the more the rate of pay he gets. The Russians pay for skill with better wages, better houses, and increased rations. Even today we read in the newspapers that their scientists are to be paid more. That, they have found, is the only way in which they can get a satisfactory increase of skill and output. Our system of paying the N.C.O. and the petty officer more and then taking away half in Income Tax does not give sufficient encouragement and, in fact. has the opposite effect.
There are one or two local points which I would like to discuss. First, there is the question of hotels in Southsea, which is part of the constituency I represent. All along the front there is a series of hotels and flats which were taken over by the Services during the war. quite rightly, and very conveniently in some cases, because when there is heavy bombing hotels and houses on the front are not very convenient for visitors. Now that peace has returned, however, Southsea, which has no big industry, requires some means by which it can obtain its rates, put its house in order, and enable its 588 citizens to make a living. The boarding houses and hotels are largely occupied by W.R.N.S., but much as we like the W.R.N.S. we should prefer to have the hotels back.
Next there is the question of accommodation for families. At Bedhampton, for example, there are hutments, which, I understand, were requisitioned by the Navy from the local authorities. If my information is correct, they are used at present for storing surplus naval furniture. Could not this stuff be sold— it is badly needed in the country—and the hutments used to house naval families or returned to the civilian authorities to help the sadly overtaxed housing position? I imagine the case could be duplicated elsewhere.
Thirdly, I would refer to the question of the "Pierhead jump," as I believe it is called. Leave is held up for two or three months and then orders come from some part of the world that the particular ship is needed urgently, and it sometimes happens that men who are waiting for leave have no opportunity to take it. When this happens the position should be explained to the men in order to remove some of the bitterness. Everything should be done to allow such men to have leave before they are sent off again. Another question is that of length of overseas service, which is, we believe, largely a matter of manpower depending on the numerical strength of the Navy. Both men and wives understand the necessity, but would like to have the period reduced as soon as possible.
I am very glad that more opportunities are to be given for promotion from the lower deck. Under conscription many of the officer type— I say type, not class— are going into the ranks of the Navy, and these men should be given every opportunity to get their commissions. There are also young men, adolescents, who are going to public schools and trying for the Navy, but owing to the large number of candidates and the small number of vacancies it is about 20 to 1 against their getting a commission. They would probably make very suitable officers and if they knew there was a chance of having another shot through the ranks they would have the chance to engage in the career on which they have set their hearts, it would mean a great deal to them. My colleague the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Major Bruce) 589 raised the point about pensioners who, when they leave the Service, contract in for national insurance and then find that their naval pensions suffer as a result. I think that is very hard indeed.
I hope that His Majesty's Government will keep up the naval strength. The atomic age will bring in new methods which must affect the future design and number of ships, but whatever happens I hope that never again either by treaty or neglect shall we be forced into the position of having to trade parts of the British Empire for over age destroyers, however useful they may be at the time.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Benn Levy (Eton and Slough)
I want to discuss only one point tonight, and I should like to say at once that I do not want to sail into this Debate under false colours. There are in this House many hon. and gallant Members who have known the Royal Navy intimately in peace and war during most of their lives. I can claim only a few years' wartime service as a rather elderly gentleman who, in headlong flight from the rigours of civilian life in wartime, managed to insinuate himself into the Service and strove to convince himself, without much hope of convincing others, that a mere change of apparel could somehow transform the most congenital of civilians into an authentic sailor. I am, therefore, not disposed to make any very sweeping and dogmatic generalisations, but because I intend to venture upon one serious criticism which I feel rather strongly. I want to say straight away that in that short time I have conceived for the Navy, like so many better men before me, a shamelessly sentimental affection and respect.
None the less, like all human institutions, the Navy is not faultless, and it seems to me that perhaps the most serious fault is that which relates to the whole question of promotion to commissioned rank. I want to speak very briefly on that subject. I donot think anyone will deny that, whereas merit and suitability should be the sole criteria, there exists in fact the strongest possible class bias. In my own ship from which I graduated—it was not a large ship—there were at the time only two ratings, of whom I was one, whose C.W. papers went forward together. The other was a friend of mine. He had fathered me since 590 the time I joined the ship, knew 10 times as much about the job as I did, had served four times as long, and was a first rate human being. But he had a humble past and, moreover, his vowel sounds did not approximate so closely to the B.B.C. ideal as mine. He was not commissioned. I was. I do not think that is an uncharacteristic example.
Now it is quite proper that examinations should not be the sole test and that due account should be taken of the imponderables, but I do not think anyone could avoid the impression that all too often what is described as" officer-like qualities and the power of command "do in fact mean nothing more than the right kind of accent.
This bias and this tradition are symbolised by Dartmouth. Broad and large, Dartmouth is an instrument for recruiting officers from a restricted social class. I say broad and large because, thanks to the present First Lord, this system has been modified and it is possible now for a limited infiltration. Boys outside the favoured caste are now allowed in, but only on condition that they have exceptional ability. There are 10 scholarships every term assigned to boys from grant-aided schools, and, by way of counterpoise, 10 more assigned to boys not from grant-aided schools. And there are a few additional sources of financial aid. There are special funds, for example, for sons of naval officers, and sons of clergymen of the Church of England. There is even a fund to provide financial assistance for "the younger sons of Highland gentlemen."
What does this add up to? Leaving aside the younger sons of Highland gentlemen, it means that 25 percent. of Dartmouth entries are reserved to boys who have sufficient ability to overcome the handicap of their birth and circumstances. Another 25 per cent. are assigned to boys who have the ability, and also the right kind of parents, and the remaining 50 percent. go to boys who merely have the right kind of parents. I do not object to the second 25 per cent., because I do not in the least want a boy to be excluded merely because his father is a stockbroker or company director any more than because his father is a baker. But I do object to the remaining 50 per cent., that is to say, to the admission of boys who, though 591 they may barely scrape through the examination, are admitted simply because their parents can afford it, and would not be admitted if their parents could not afford it. The Royal Navy deserves a better yardstick than this for the recruitment of its officers. It deserves that not merely 50 per cent. of its places, but all of its places, should be available to the best available candidates.
What are the objections that are advanced? One excuse is that in point of fact there exists a similar shortcoming in the public schools and that there too, there exists a closed class shop with just a minority of places thrown to grant-aided scholars. I fail to see why the shortcomings of civilian education should be used as an excuse for perpetuating the same thing in the Navy. Why should the Admiralty not take the initiative and set an example, instead of waiting for the right hon. Lady the Minister of Education to take the lead and follow docilely in her wake?
The second excuse which is sometimes advanced is the question of cost. It is argued that by throwing open all places to all comers on merit, whether they can afford it or not, we should raise the cost of Dartmouth to the Treasury. It should; but by what amount? According to my calculations, if all fee-paying scholars were replaced by children whose parents could not afford a penny—which is unlikely—the total annual cost to the Treasury would be the vast sum of £36,000. I suggest that neither of these arguments really holds water. The plain fact of the matter is that this system of reserving places for a small social caste is not based on good sense, nor on good morals, nor on the interests of the Navy, but is merely a hangover from days dead and gone—at least from days dead, but unfortunately not yet gone.
§ Mr. Levy
That is what I am proposing, subject to examination and interview as well. All this may seem to be a very small point, but it is one which a Labour Government, surely, cannot fail to clean up. The best way of cleaning it up is, probably, to abolish Dartmouth altogether. For to harbour the notion that we can 592 build an ideal officer corps by discerning" officer-like qualities and the power of command "in children of 13½ is to ascribe a degree of clairvoyance to the Examining Board of Admirals, which I doubt if any but the most senior of them would claim for themselves. If we do retain the college, I suggest that its cadets should at least not be exempted from a substantial spell of service on the lower deck. I say that in fairness to them themselves; because what it means at present is that in addition to being cut off at the age of 13 from the whole heterogeneous mass of their fellow-countrymen outside the narrow circle of the Service, they are to be deprived of the opportunity of intimate and knockabout contact with the ordinary rating on his native heath, from whom there is so much they—and I—and any man, can well learn.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Sir Ronald Ross (Londonderry)
I have heard very many speeches, but I never heard a more modest speech than that given by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Benn Levy). He started off with a complaint, not that any harm had been done, but rather that he had been preferred to someone else of greater merit. I would be out of Order if I accused him of not being strictly accurate. I think he did have a lively time and made a good choice in the Navy, but the hon. Member gave a very quiet account of his naval life.
The curious thing about this Debate is that while the First Lord devoted 90 per cent. of his speech to matters connected with the effective use of the Fleet as a fighting force, since then 90 percent. of the speeches have been devoted to very important questions of the welfare of the men who serve in the Navy, and little has been said about the Fleet as a Fleet. It is very difficult for us to be of the assistance we would wish to be, as Members of the Parliament, because we have not the ordinary material on which to base such remarks and criticisms as we would normally make.
I suppose we shall eventually get the Navy Estimates in their customary form, together with the explanatory statement which was normally issued in the past. We have not, of course, the annual Fleet Return, which is almost essential to a knowledge of the material situation. One has only the vaguest idea of what 593 ships there are in the Navy at the present time. When we receive these things, I shall hope to address myself to various points in the Estimates on which we have no detailed explanations now. However, comparing the Estimates with the last complete year of peace, 1938, it is interesting, and probably very creditable, that naval armaments have gone down by a number of millions of pounds; but it is rather odd that the Admiralty Office has gone up to a figure three times what it cost in 1938, that it is rapidly overtaking naval armaments, and may in a short time surpass them. I shall follow that matter with very close attention:
I do not propose to say anything much about the technical side, except that the Debate today has avoided one error which hon. Members—myself not least—are very apt to make; that is, to take the didactic line of telling the Navy the best way it should carry on, the best kind of ships for it to have, and so on. There has been none of that today, and I am glad of it, because there has never been a time so technical, or a time when the value of the various craft used in the operations of naval warfare, whether carriers, battleships, or any other craft, was so uncertain as it is at the present time. It is a matter for the Naval Staff, and the Naval Staff above all others, to decide what it requires and what is the best Naval policy Many hon. Members have spoken today of the importance of having a strong Navy I am sure that a strong Navy is as vital now as ever it was to the welfare of this country. One must remember that it is not something that can be improvised, and that there must always be a lag of years between the designing of a ship and the ship taking its place in the Fleet. Another thing which it is vital to remember is that one cannot start a very big shipbuilding programme for the Navy without other countries assuming that one has some aggressive intentions. Consequently, it is particularly important that the strength of the Navy should not fall too low.
There are two suggestions I wish to make. I should think the first is self-evident to everybody. However much the Royal Air Force may dislike it, in due course Coastal Command, the aircraft that fly habitually over the sea, must come under naval control and form part of the Fleet. They are part of the Fleet, but 594 they are administered by a different Ministry. I do not think they will be very keen to leave the Royal Air Force; in fact, I know definitely they will not be. They are a very fine force. As things are developing at present—and it may well be that the influence of the air, great as it is now, will become even greater in the future—it is absurd that aircraft habitually used over the sea should not come under the Admiralty simply because they touch down on lane, rather than on a carrier.
My second suggestion concerns the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. I do not think anything stands out more markedly than the extraordinary achievement, not only of the "Hostilities Only "ratings, but the R.N.V.R. officers who learned their trade and who, as many sailors of the regular Navy have told me, were as good as any regular naval officers. It is very important that the R.N.V.R. should be kept up in peace time. For that purpose, it has to be attractive. What is the thing that will make it most attractive to any seaside port? I suggest it should be peculiarly associated with the motor torpedo boat, because it was in the motor gunboats and the motor torpedo boats that the R.N.V.R. officers got the brightest laurels in the whole service— and that is saying a good deal. I suggest to the First Lord that if the R.N.V.R. were associated with the motor torpedo boats and the motor gunboats, that would be a very great consideration in getting men to join.
I have often spoken on the Navy Estimates. As an old stager, I am a little puzzled when I look at Vote 4, which used to cover aircraft, and find that it has been slyly changed to "Civilians employed on Fleet services. "In all the times that I have spoken on these Estimates, I never thought I should find myself in the position of a dockyard Member as I now do. The Anti-Submarine School, to which the First Lord referred, is very properly situated at Londonderry.
§ Mr. Medland (Plymouth, Drake)
Was the hon. Member casting any aspersion on any hon. Members when he used the term "dockyard Member? "Was he using the term in an offensive manner?
§ Sir R. Ross
On the contrary, I was claiming that I had joined what I have always thought was a remarkably fine 595 body of men, who should have special privileges in discussing the Navy Estimates, and whose sound position I have envied for many years. As I was saying when this misunderstanding arose, Londonderry is an ideal place, not merely because it is my constituency, but because, in training to fight the submarine there, they are doing so in the very waters where they fought it during the worst period of the German U-boat warfare— the period when the U-boats could recharge their batteries without surfacing. Work against submarines in more clement waters certainly would not be a wise procedure. Train the way you have to fight. It was a wise decision to establish a school there, particularly as Londonderry had been the main base for small craft taking convoys across the Atlantic. A large amount of work has been put into it.
As the First Lord said, the great task of the Navy is to keep open our sea routes. I am proud to think that Londonderry has had that privilege in wartime. I hope that Londonderry will not be neglected in peacetime. The First Lord said that the vital need in peace was a prosperous and efficient shipbuilding industry. There is a small yard there which has done good work all through the war. I know that there has been no complaint of the work, either of the men or the management. There is some difficulty over the firm who used to supervise that work, and because of it there has been a suggestion that this small repairing yard should be closed down. In these times, the need for repair work and shipbuilding is as great as ever. It would be a tragedy if enough work were not found to keep these repair facilities in operation and to see that these skilled men, and the unskilled, for that matter, who have worked so hard throughout the war keeping ships fit for the sea, are employed. If they are to have hard times once again or are to be turned off, it will be as sad a thing as one could wish to see.
§ Mr. Alexander
I am anxious to understand the detail of the case now being put forward by the hon. Member. How many men have been turned off? A good many of those who were employed there are going back to Belfast to Harland and Wolff's. I take it there is nothing to prevent the two firms who worked the dry 596 dock there, from taking on similar work in peacetime. I would like to understand the full extent of the hon. Member's case.
§ Sir R. Ross
I am very much obliged to the First Lord for his intervention. I would not like to tie myself down to a precise number. I do not think the number of men who have gone back to Harland and Wolff's in Belfast is very large. I think the bulk of them live in the area, and are employed by two local firms who have been associated with the work. I very much welcome what the First Lord has said about peacetime work there and I will do anything in my power to be of assistance.
I am convinced that this country must preserve her naval position, which cannot be extemporised. It has always been our support. In this time of rapid reduction we must not get carried away into reducing, what has always been the shield of Britain, into something which would not fulfil that purpose.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Professor Gruffydd (University of Wales)
I can put forward one claim to intervene in a naval Debate in that I spent four rather undistinguished years as a naval officer during the last war, in comradeship with the hon. and gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite). Most of my time was taken up in seeing that my delightful but bellicose Friend did not eat too much fire.
First I want to pay a tribute from a civilian officer in the Navy to the British sailor, whether he is officer or rating. When first I came into contact with him he seemed to be a different genus, a different kind of Englishman altogether from anything I had met before. I am certain that the traditions of the Navy have been different, even from those of the very best people in the British Army, and I have no reason to think that the men of the Navy in 1946 have any fewer qualities or fewer distinctions than they had in1918. Then, they were unchallenged in the respect and affection of the country, both in its literature and in its ordinary thought, for their devotion to duty, for their modesty and tolerance, and for their respect for personality. I would particularly like to emphasise the country's affection for them because of their great freedom from mean and petty ambitions.
597 I have no reason to think that the sailors of today are any different from what they were in those years, or from what they have been during the last 30 years. Indeed, I can only deplore the physical necessity which cuts off those officers and men from the rest of the community during a large part of their lives. It would be a real education to the rest of us to come into contact with them. That observation applies to all landlubbers— politicians, bishops, trade union leaders, civil servants, and in particular, university professors. I go further and say that if the same quality of loyal and uncalculating service had been found in all sections of the British community, we should not be in the plight in which we find ourselves today.
I hope I have prepared the ground for making my first point, which follows. I am afraid the First Lord will not like it. It is not a reflection upon him. It is a reflection upon the Admiralty of all times. The Admiralty has always taken undue advantage of the character and morale of its sailors. Just because the Navy in the past, and especially the lower deck, put up with conditions which no civilian, and certainly no soldier, would tolerate; just because the Navy in its large sufferance has always treated grousing and grumbling as a kind of sea humour; just because Nobby Clark and Taffy Jones, after an orgy of grumbling, carried on with their work, joking and whistling—I am sorry, no whistling on duty, I know —and because of their cheerful submissiveness, conditions in ships and in some of the shore establishments are still almost as primitive and inhuman as they were in the days of Nelson.
I refer in particular to the terrible over-crowding on the lower deck, in the sleeping quarters, and to the absurd system of compelling fully grown men to sleep in hammocks when the hammocks are so crowded together that they overlap one another.
§ Captain Marsden
Does the hon Member realise that I slept for seven years in a hammock much better than I ever sleep now?
§ Professor Gruffydd
The result on some people of sleeping in hammocks is pleasant, and upon others it is unpleasant. Some of the barracks, I believe, and 598 especially in Malta, are absolutely mediaeval. The result of this state of affairs, especially in the ships, is something that we do not mention very often, an alarming rise in the rate of tuberculosis among sailors, and that is among the very people who, according to medical opinion, should be the most free from infectious disease.
The traditions of collective complaint in the Navy make it almost impossible for men's grievances to be properly ventilated, the reason being that the line which separates collective complaint from mutiny is far too narrow. At the same time, the fault does not lie with the officers. For the most part the officers in the ships are as conscious of the shortcomings under which the men suffer as are the men themselves. The fault lies with the Admiralty, with the civilians and politicians of the past, who have certainly not done enough to make life more tolerable for the men on whom we must depend for our very lives in time of peril.
There have been vast and beneficent developments in the Army and Air Force in the provision of amenities, the opportunities for education and in a more humane approach to the men. Yet, although it is obvious that the men who are cooped up in a ship for months on end require even greater consideration than those in the Army and Air Force, who are always in the open air, the Admiralty is content to remain sleeping in the bosom of Nelson. Is it to be wondered that such a large proportion of the men in the Fleet should not choose to remain when the time comes for their release? I hope we shall hear from the First Lord that he will initiate a searching inquiry into the conditions of service at sea, with a view to a speedy remedy, and that he will not appoint the late Lord Nelson as the president of it.
My second and last point is concerned with the new pay code. A comparison of this code with existing rates shows that the senior ratings will get less than they did in wartime. When it is realised that their allowances are now to be subject to Income Tax, it will be seen that their position is made still more difficult. I know that the White Paper covers all the Services. I am only concerned with the Navy, but there is a general point which is applicable to all the Services. The White Paper assumes an average civilian wage of 89s. per week, and the pay code 599 has been related to this. According to the Monthly Statistics, the average wage of men between 21 and 65 is about £6 per week, so that there is here a serious discrepancy. I do not know whether the Treasury would contemplate the reconsideration of these scales, but I am quite certain that the First Lord would be only too glad to do so. As they are, these calculations are misleading.
§ Mr. Alexander
In referring to statistics, has the hon. Member in mind the monthly statistics as to earnings, that is, earnings including special emoluments and overtime, or is he referring to ordinary rates?
§ Mr. Alexander
I think the hon. Member will find that the figure of £6 per week relates to earnings.
§ Professor Gruffydd
I wish to reinforce what has already been said by more than one Member about pensions. The position in that respect should be clarified. It is not at all clear.
§ 745 P.m.
§ Mr. Medland (Plymouth, Drake)
In the first place, I wish to say, as a West countryman who has lived all his working life in a naval port, who has brought up his family on the proceeds the authorities have deigned to dole out to him from time to time, who has come to the end of his time and receives, as a result of his labours for the Admiralty for nearly 40 years, a pension of 25s. a week, how much I enjoyed the speech of the First Lord today. No one who has been associated with the Navy could listen to the right hon. Gentleman without emotion and pride as they heard the recital of the deeds of our lads during the whole period of the war. I would also like to say how much I enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas). Of the two I thought that his was the better Labour speech, because he dealt with things that appealed to me more than some of the things said by the First Lord. The First Lord has had many years as head of the Admiralty, under all sort of conditions. He held office first under a Labour Government which had a very pre- 600 carious existence, and then under a Coalition Government, when he had a couple of good Tories put in with him as Financial Secretary and Civil Lord to see that he did not get off the rails. Now he is First Lord in a Labour Government with a huge majority behind him which will give him the opportunity and the facilities for carrying out all the reforms for which we have been working so long that instead of the naval ports sending nine Tories to the House of Commons, they now send eight Labour men and one Tory.
§ Mr. Medland
I included the hon. Lady in the eight— equality of status. With all that background I was looking in the right hon. Gentleman's speech for some of the things that we might anticipate from the new set-up in the Government. I thought I saw the first evidence of this in the pay code. Let me say at once that among the hundreds of letters I get, I have had complaints about the pay code from only one class in the Navy, that is the petty officers and the chief petty officers. Generally speaking, I think the pay code has been well received by the men in the Navy. I hope that the First Lord will look at the anomalies that are created among the chief petty officers and the petty officer class. Also, why he wants to define a plumber otherwise than as a skilled mechanic in the Navy, I do not know. Perhaps he will look into that as well.
In the Estimates submitted to us, in Vote 8, the amounts indicate the division of the money as between private contractors and the Royal Dockyards. The Royal Dockyards are a national institution. This Party believes in nationalisation, and I am asking the First Lord to practise it in the future. But the allocation of the money would appear to require a little consideration. The money set down for personnel on shipbuilding repairs and maintenance—which is the dockyards—under Vote 8, is£23,595,000. The money for contract work is £32,250,000 approximately, and for material £28,626,000. That makes a total of £60,000,000, because all the material comes from private contractors. So that you have a distinction between £23,000,000 as against £60,000,000.
601 That may be only a passing figure, but I ask the First Lord if he is now prepared, at this stage, to give a clear indication of what Admiralty policy is with reference to the Royal Dockyards. Is he able to say that they are going to be maintained to their maximum capacity, because we could never get that assurance from hon. Members opposite in all the 30 years in which I have been trying to get it from them? Are the Royal Dockyards to be maintained so that their full equipment can be used to its maximum capacity? I know that rumour is a lying jade, but we have rumours to the effect that the building slips in Devonport and Portsmouth dockyards are to remain idle for the next three years, when hundreds of thousands of pounds were spent immediately before the war in equipping them and in making them some of the finest building slips in the world. Is new construction to be brought to the Royal Dockyards within the next period? If not, what is the reason? I know the Admiralty reply we used to get. It was said that the dockyards could not compete on an economic basis with outside firms. I have heard so many First Lords say that for years.
§ Mr. Medland
The right hon. Gentleman says he does not believe it. Thank heaven for that. It is the first time I have heard a First Lord say so. I think the attention of the First Lord has been called to a report which was issued in 1940. In that year, the then Minister of Labour, now the Foreign Secretary, had occasion to doubt whether the best use was being made of the manpower existing in the dockyards, and the right hon. Gentleman appointed a Commission comprising the chairman of Lloyds surveyors, and an Admiral friend of mine, with whom I have been associated all my life, and he asked me to serve as well. We made a survey of all Admiralty establishments during the time that the blitzes were on, and it was not very comfortable. We produced a report on the best use of the manpower in the dockyards and made certain specific recommendations. I want to ask the Civil Lord, if he is to reply, whether any use is to be made of those recommendations; whether they are being accepted or whether they are even being looked at. I would also like to ask him whether the workman's side of the Admiralty joint industrial councils has been consulted as to the future of the Royal Dockyards and 602 these establishments. Further, I would ask him whether he has looked into the machinery of these joint industrial councils. Let me advise him that the Whitley machinery, as it at present exists, has no touch with the men in the yards and is confined to the executive councils of the national unions, instead of getting into direct touch with the men actually employed. I beg of him to look at this matter so that he can get the pulse and feeling of the men actually working in these establishments. If he did so, I am sure that he would bring into being some of the cooperation that —
§ Mr. Moyle (Stourbridge)
Is it not a fact that the appointments to these joint industrial councils are entirely determined by the unions concerned?
§ Mr. Medland
I think the Admiralty are entitled to say, "We are going to have direct representatives from the dockyards concerned," and it has been put to them on more than one occasion. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to look at that question.
One other question I want to raise is that of apprentices. It is a very strange and singular thing that between the two wars, we went, time and again, to the Admiralty to beg and pray of them not to decrease the number of apprentices in the Royal Dockyards The persistence with which they cut down this vital factor in the yards tended to show that a time would come when they would very badly need them. I hope the First Lord will say that the apprenticeship system is to be retained and more facilities offered to the sons of the people who live in these naval establishments and towns, to take up work inside those establishments. The dockyards were left without the men who had been trained in those establishments—men who afterwards had to go all over the world to form the nucleus to serve the Fleet in various parts of the world, as inspectors supervisors and so on—and who were sent to every shipbuilding yard in this country acting as Admiralty representatives, only to become scarce and found wanting. I beg of the right hon. Gentleman not to lose sight of this question.
The other thing I want to say about naval towns is this. I listened with very great interest to a point made by the hon. Member for Hereford who asked that the Admiralty would not only regard it as 603 their duty to make better conditions for men serving in ships and in shore establishments, but would also regard it as a duty upon them to provide married quarters. We know that married quarters in naval towns means houses mixed up with everybody else In my city, probably more than any other dockyard town, at the time of the blitz, we received a lot of attention from the Germans The Admiralty decided that they would require some acres of land for the development of the dockyard establishment. Is that development to go on? In that development, there are 14,000 people to be rehoused. Is the full cost of that development and that rehousing to fall upon the local authorities? I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that, if he takes into account the suggestion of the hon. Member for Hereford, he will now be able to help me, as a former lord mayor of my city and present member of the city council, in rehousing this population, and will be able to make a considerable contribution towards this scheme by helping us with the terrific bill which we have to meet.
I suggest now that the best thing to do is to set up a liaison committee between his organisation and the local authority to state how we are going to rehouse these people. Most of these people's houses have been damaged and torn asunder by German bombs. At present the people are spread all over the place. Every one of those men was either a sailor or a dockyard employee. They saved their money. They bought their houses on mortgage. Most of them had paid for them. Now the houses are wiped out. Because the Admiralty are going to take this land for redevelopment, instead of a cost of works payment, they are now to get a mere value payment and lose hundreds of pounds of their life savings. It should always be remembered that they have had to pay rent during the whole of the six years since we were bombed. They have lost that amount. I suggest to the First Lord, and to the Board of Admiralty, they ought to be able to go to the Treasury for help to rehouse their own people.
I am pleased indeed to hear the First Lord say that he believes in the persons who live in naval establishments and has great faith in them. I want him to give us more real practical acknowledgment 604 of the services which have been rendered by these men and women in the garrison towns during the war period, and help us to solve the problems which have arisen entirely as a result of the war. If he does that, then we shall say to him "Well done, First Lord of the Admiralty. You have got over the inhibitions thrust upon you by your Tory friends, and now, because you have a great Labour majority behind you, we are beginning to see the results we have hoped for for so many years."
§ Mr. Brendan Bracken (Bournemouth)
The hon. Gentleman the Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Mr. Medland) is a formidable representative of dockyard Members who are always such a comfort to the First Lord. Life will certainly not be dull for the First Lord if the hon. Gentleman continues to take such a deep and consistent interest in the Admiralty; but I think he is less than kind to the present First Lord if he thinks that he would allow such conditions to develop in Plymouth to the great detriment of former members of the Royal Navy. I think he can be quite sure that the First Lord will give his suggestion careful attention.
Today we have had a Debate which has been singularly peaceful. Members from all sides of the Committee have made interesting and, indeed, most constructive speeches—a thing that does not often happen here. The Committee listened with particular pleasure to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P L. Thomas). It was an admirable speech worthy of one who has served with such distinction as Financial Secretary to the Admiralty If I may say so, his speech is another example of the way by which the Admiralty rightly captivates the politicians who have had the honour of serving in that great Department. On both public and personal grounds, therefore, the valuable suggestions made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford will, I think, be welcomed by the Board of Admiralty. We listened to a series of other very interesting speeches. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) made some points about the new pay code which are disquieting and seem to me to need a full answer. My hon. and 605 gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea (Commander Noble) reinforced all that was said by the hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle and brought out some new points which I feel certain the Admiralty will seriously consider. I do not profess to know all about the pay code but I am certain that these former naval officers have made points today which will not be neglected by the Civil Lord tonight, or, if a little more time is required, on some future occasion when an Admiralty spokesman comes to the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) paid a high tribute to the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. He used language which we all envy. We, of course, all agree that the services of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in this war were almost beyond price. It was a pleasure to the First Lord and to people who sit on this side of the House to listen to what the hon. and gallant Gentleman said about the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. He also paid a high tribute to Londonderry itself, which is always a wise thing for a Member to do; but in this case the tribute was well deserved. The First Lord knows very well that if we had not had the full co-operation of the people of Ulster in the late war we should have paid a very heavy toll of sacrifice. Therefore, it is good to hear an Ulster Member making a speech in this Debate and putting in a claim to the Admiralty for consideration for his native city or, at any rate, the city which has the honour of having him as its representative.
The other day the Prime Minister described the Defence White Paper as something of a stop gap affair. These Estimates may also be described as a stop gap affair. Therefore, it is not altogether inappropriate that a stop gap First Lord, one who served that office for the shortest time in the history of the Admiralty, should now make a few amateurish comments on a few naval matters with which he was fleetingly connected. One does not require any particular knowledge of naval affairs to reach the conclusion that it would be unreasonable to ask the Government to lay before the House precise facts and figures of the proposed strength and cost of the Navy in peace time. But I hope that in a reasonable space of time the Minister of Defence—
606 I am now talking about the Prime Minister in his capacity of Minister of Defence—may be able to lay before us well coordinated plans for the future of the Navy and all the Services. I also hope that next year he will achieve a great reform by presenting combined Estimates for all the Services. By doing this he will advantage the nation and the Admiralty, and greatly increase the usefulness of our Debates on defence matters. The best argument in favour of such reform was made by the Prime Minister when he spoke here this week. If the Committee will allow me, I should like to quote his words:Every operation of war today demands the closest co-operation of all three Services, and economy and efficiency demand that the three fighting Services should regard themselves as part of a single service with a common doctrine, rather than, as used to be the case some years ago, as rival claimants on the resources of the nation."— [Official Report, 4th March, 1946; Vol. 420, c. 39.]In making that statement the Prime Minister was not, of course, suggesting the fusion of the three Services. All that one need say of this idea of amalgamating all three Services is that no man living, not even my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), could bear the intellectual strain and administrative burdens of heading all three Services. I think it is fair to say that a combined Service Department would create limitless red tape and confusion and would, therefore, stifle all new ideas and full co-operation between the Services. There is a good deal of difference between fusing the Services and having a common Budget statement as to the expenditure of the Services, and stopping what often happens in this House, fierce competition between Departments for more than their share of the meagre sum which is often allotted to the defence Services.
§ Mr. Alexander
I take it that the right hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that we should prepare an Estimate in which the detailed Estimates of each Service Department are presented by a Minister of Defence. If that were so, I do not think we should get the best economy in each Department concerned. If a bulk budget for a common programme submitted on the defence budget is desired, I think that might be done.
§ Mr. Bracken
I do not mind whether it is a bulk budget or a detailed budget 607 although I imagine it would work better as a bulk budget. I maintain that it would be in the interest of this country if the Minister of Defence would make a budgetary statement for all the Services.
Today the First Lord has been solemnly asked—how tired he must be of this question—Has the Navy learned the lesson of the atomic bomb? Perhaps the best way of answering that question is to ask another one, Have the nation and Parliament learned the more important lesson of the need for maintaining adequate Armed Forces in peacetime? I well remember the day when my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford returned to the Admiralty as First Lord. He spent many hours examining the resources of manpower and weapons we then possessed with which to wage war against one of the most formidable and certainly the fastest moving military Power the world had ever known. The more he analysed our meagre resources, the more anxious he became. I do not suppose that any one in this House, however critical he may be of the Conservative Party or of my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford, would say that our late Prime Minister was faint of heart or small of brain, or lacking in resourcefulness. But, having considered our woefully inadequate supplies of trained men and good weapons, he said to me, "I pray we will not be licked." We very nearly were. Never in our whole history have we faced such mortal dangers as we did in 1939. How often then did one listen to hon. Members of this House declaring that that sort of thing must never happen again. They said that we must never pull down our defences. I hope it will not happen again, but I am not over-optimistic, and any help we can render the First Lord, or any other Service Minister, in maintaining adequate defences for this country will be more than freely given from this side of the House.
To go back to the Navy, let us make quite sure that we maintain the seapower by which we live and upon which most depends. The more vocal critics of the Navy who, include a surprisingly large number of retired air-marshals, are once again lifting up their voices against what they call the Admiralty's foolish passion, or foolish fondness, for large battleships. It is, of course, difficult to argue with 608 these critics. One can only disbelieve them, and one certainly cannot persuade them. All one need say by way of answer is that if we had not got unquestioned superiority in battleships we could not have exercised any command of the sea nor fed our people during the last war.
Anyone with the slightest knowledge of the present leaders of the Royal Navy knows that they are thoroughly well aware that great changes must occur in the composition of fleets in the future. They have every reason to know that there has been an evolution, if not a revolution, in weapons, and so I feel quite certain that the Board of Admiralty need no preachings about the part that battleships and aircraft carriers will play in our defence arrangements. I am not going to burden the House with any more of my amateurish thoughts on naval policy; I am going to turn to the points in this Debate.
§ Commander Pursey
Would the right hon. Gentleman argue that if other nations agreed to abolish battleships it would be necessary for us to maintain them at the price of £9 million plus, simply for the fun of this country alone having them?
§ Mr. Bracken
When other nations have abolished them, and we are certain that they have done so, we might consider the hon. and gallant Gentleman's argument. Let me remind him that on one occasion we limited the size of our battleships in order to meet the promises made by the Germans that they would not build above a certain tonnage, and what happened?
§ Mr. Bracken
I am pointing out that by accepting the German promise on that occasion we suffered grievously in this war. No Board of Admiralty are likely to accept the proposition that if they abolish their battleships other countries will do likewise. Let us be certain that other countries fulfil their promises.
Let us return to the less controversial question of buildings. The few visits I paid to some of our great naval bases stirs me to give all the support I can to the arguments put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford. He pleaded for a great improvement in all the buildings owned by the Admiralty and, above all, of the barracks. I must 609 say that I cannot imagine a more depressing experience than to visit the barracks at Devonport and Portsmouth. They might have been built as a suitable place of penance for Trappist monks, and Mr. Heath Robinson might. have been their architect. I doubt if anything can be done to improve them. The only thing to do is to pull them down. Their destruction would be a great advantage to the taxpayers, for they are an awful combination of discomfort and waste. Let me suggest to the First Lord that when he has an opportunity of rebuilding these barracks he should not leave their planning to overworked officials in the Admiralty. I have the greatest admiration for the Admiralty, but their aesthetic performances are not very visible, and they are much too inclined to give a job which should be done by an architect to an engineer. Therefore, I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should put all new barrack buildings, or any other buildings he has got for that matter, out for competition so that the best of our young architects may have a chance of designing really attractive and sensible buildings. He should follow the advice of his predecessor in this matter, because it is about the only good advice he is likely to get.
I want to touch on another point in connection with buildings. As I have a great consideration for the First Lord, I would say that if there is any money available for buildings after the barracks have been rebuilt, that money could very well be expended on pulling down the Admiralty itself, because that architectural horror is one of the most uncomfortable and wasteful of buildings in the world. I am not suggesting that we should pull down Admiralty House, but I am suggesting getting rid of that hideous rabbit warren which has been a tremendous obstacle to the efficient work done by the sailors and civilians who work in the Admiralty.
I would also like to say a word to the First Lord about what I might call the neglect of the Marines by the Board of Admiralty. I am not blaming him or his administration, but I make the assertion that for 20 or 30 years successive Boards of Admiralty have grossly neglected the Royal Marines. Their pay has been inadequate, and their system of pro- 610 motion is antiquated. The Marines deserve better of Britain. The First Lord today paid them a noble tribute, and with every word of that tribute I fully agree. Their achievements are beyond praise, and so I hope the Board of Admiralty, freed now from their tremendous war tasks, will take a far more lively interest in the Royal Marines whose tradition and achievements are no less great than those of The Royal Navy. As I said a moment ago, I am not attributing any blame to the present Board of Admiralty, but I am suggesting that they should take a special interest in this question of improving the conditions of service and promotion in the Royal Marines. It is due to that great Service, and the task should be undertaken as soon as possible. In fact, it should be one of the duties which the right hon. Gentleman imposes on one of his able assistants while he himself is visiting India.
The strength of the Royal Navy does not lie in compositions of Fleets, or in the evolution of new weapons. Its real strength is the quality of its sailors. The United States Navy has a classic maxim: "A ship, like a Navy, is as good as the men in that ship." Our sailors are not merely good. They are the very best. No men were more resourceful, tireless, gallant and gay in six hard years of war; and I, who do not pretend to understand the details of the White Paper on the postwar code of pay and allowances, make an appeal to the First Lord that if he finds any injustices—and these are only discovered through Parliamentary Debates and Press criticism—to these serving sailors or pensioners, to put them right, because there is no reward high enough for these sailors who played such a splendid part in securing victory for us. Some of my hon. Friends tell me that this pay code is good only in parts, and I am bound to say that the pay of some naval officers, particularly those attached to the Admiralty, is woefully low. My hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea raised this point today in his excellent speech. I had some small opportunity of looking at this question when I was a fleeting tenant of Admiralty House, and I am shocked to know that many officers with no private means have to work in the Admiralty at the present moment and find accommodation for their wives and perhaps children in London, where even 611 the smallest furnished fiat at the present moment seems to fetch an astronomical rent. It is very wrong that officers should have to live on their pathetic savings in order to do their duty by the Admiralty in London. Adequate allowances should be paid to those officers serving in London, because it is quite clear that officers who come to London must incur such heavy expenses as were never contemplated by the people who drew up such inadequate allowances as exist in the Admiralty today.
I would like to say a word about the Naval Air Arm. The First Lord has found better language than I have to praise them. I think it is common ground between us all that the Naval Air Arm was starved before the war, and it is now described by some gentlemen—again retired Air Marshals—as unnecessary because of the growth of the Royal Air Force. Was there ever a more assinine assertion? There is a silly rumour going the rounds that members of the Board of Admiralty are not really great encouragers of the Naval Air Arm. I am absolutely sure that that is wrong. They want to develop it with all their might, but they rightly insist that the Navy's airmen should be trained by the Navy, for they must live and fight in conditions totally different from any known to the Royal Air Force. Let them, of course, have plenty of post graduate courses with the Royal Air Force, and sometimes they may be able to teach the Royal Air Force a little about certain details of flying, but let us always remember that the sea is their element, and so their early training must come from sailors. The reason I make that point is that once again an attempt will be made to reduce the Admiralty's interest in their own Naval Air Arm. It will be suggested that the Royal Air Force could provide them with much better training, in foreign countries or in one of the Dominions, but it would be the most fatal error for the Admiralty to allow the Naval Air Arm to receive their early training from any people other than sailors.
Feeling, as I do, that the amateur has babbled too much, I shall say no more save to add a few words of tribute to what was said by my right hon. Friend the First Lord about Admiral Lord Cunningham. The First Lord described him as 612 the greatest sailor since Nelson. That is very high tribute, but I feel quite certain it is well deserved. Certainly the terror of his name and deeds often kept Italian warships in their ports, and the way in which he acclimatised himself to his desk at the Admiralty is an example of his infinite variety. I was pleased to hear from the First Lord such high words of praise of Admiral Pound, Lord Cunningham's predecessor. If Admiral Cunningham has been the greatest sailor since Nelson, I think it is true to say that Admiral Pound was one of the greatest staff officers in all naval history. He was immensely able, grim, tenacious and supremely wise, and his improvisation of our meagre naval resources was a tremendous contribution to victory. He was one of our saviours in this war, and he killed himself by overwork. Nobody will ever know quite what we owe him. I had the advantage, and the sorrow, of travelling back with him from the United States after he had suffered a grave stroke, and I may say that his gallantry and courage in his misfortune were the same as his tremendous courage and superb optimism in the darkest days of the war, when even the prospect of invasion seemed to threaten us. It is, alas, no longer possible to give any earthly honours to Admiral Pound, but we can, at any rate, pay honour to his memory, and I must say that I was delighted to hear his achievements recalled to the attention of the House today by the First Lord.
I must not stand betwen the Civil Lord and the Committee. Perhaps for the first time in his life he is a little nervous, but we on this side pleasurably await his speech. In conclusion, I would like to say a word by way of valediction to the First Lord. We wish him every success in his important mission to India.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Walter Edwards)
Today, I feel, is rather a great day in my life inasmuch as four years ago today I was serving as a stoker in the Royal Navy, and sailed in Russian waters assisting the convoys which were going backwards and forwards to Russia. I may say that it seemed rather doubtful at that time, that four years hence I should be standing at this Box, either. defending or praising the work of the Admiralty.
613 So far as the Debate is concerned, I think that if every other Estimates Debate proceeds like this one, the Government will have no cause for complaint. I think it will be agreed by all that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) has been most helpful, and it is appreciated by us. I must also add that I—and I am certain my colleagues, too—greatly appreciate the speech of the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas). It proved that he certainly learned something during the time he was at the Admiralty. I only hope I shall be able to learn as much in such a short time.
Many points have been raised, and one of the important points which I think it well to answer at once, was with regard to the question of accommodation ashore and aboard ship. There has been quite a lot of publicity in that connection in the form of letters to Members of Parliament and in the form of Press statements. I believe every hon. Member of the Committee understands that the conditions which apply at the moment—the overcrowding conditions which we have to admit do apply in some cases at the moment—are due entirely to war exigencies. During the war we had to have a Navy seven times as large as these establishments were built to accommodate. As a result of the limitations on the size of ships, as laid down by Treaty, we had to limit the number of personnel for peacetime work in those ships. With the commencement of war, in order that we could safely defend the nation, and for the protection of the men aboard the ships, it was necessary for different appliances to be placed in them, with the result that there was a subsequent loss of accommodation, not only to ratings but to officers as well. I was rather perturbed about the statement of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Major Bruce) when he was describing the accommodation. I have served on a ship and I am certain that the comments were most exaggerated. If, unfortunately, as a result of war conditions—and we are not really out of the war yet—we find that we cannot make the men as comfortable as we would like them to be, I do ask hon. Members of the Committee at least not to exaggerate the point but to let us know the exact position.
With regard to naval establishments and ships afloat in the future, I can say 614 that we have already gone into the question of a 10-year plan for improvements. From my own personal experience when I first went to Devonport 28 years ago, I can agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth that, if enough money could be provided and we could put up another place quickly, they would be blown up. They should have been blown up before I went there 28 years ago. I would like to assure the Committee on this point: The trouble about naval establishments is that Governments in the past have not provided naval staffs with the money to make them decent. I assure the Committee that it has not been for want of trying on the part of the naval staffs that these improvements have not taken place before. In 1939, schemes were put into operation for improving naval barracks. However, the war came along and those schemes, like many others, had to be left until the war was over. Much as we want greatly to improve the accommodation for naval personnel, particularly ashore, I would ask every hon. Member to appreciate that at the moment we have competition with regard to materials and labour in the building trades. There are plenty of people who are homeless who would complain very bitterly if we were to get priority with regard to housing labour. I assure the Committee that, if they will be patient about it, they can safely take it from us that everything possible will be done in that respect.
In connection with the accommodation for men serving afloat, as I have said, one of the difficulties has been due to ships which had to be built under Treaty conditions. Another difficulty was that at the beginning of the war we had to use a tremendous number of ships which were built for the last war. Owing to very little building taking place, and very little money being allowed to the Navy, a large number of ships which were commissioned at the beginning of this war were those which had been built for fighting the last war, not this one. In fact, one of those used at the beginning of this war was one commissioned before the beginning of the last war. That being the case, because of modern improvements, modern technical alterations in ships to make them absolutely efficient—such as the most necessary anti-aircraft defences, a very important point—when we went aboard those ships it was no surprise to 615 find we were to be overcrowded. Quite frankly, none of us complained about that. We were glad to have those defences in order to be able to stand up to the attacks of the enemy. So far as I am concerned, even if I went back to the lower deck again, I would rather have good defences on the ship than have plenty of space and probably be sunk next day. I can assure the hon. Member who complained about it that that is the view of the men on the lower deck. I trust that now we shall hear a little bit less about those accommodation difficulties in the Navy.
Before I pass from that point I would say, on the question of accommodation afloat, that, as many hon. Members may know, in a few weeks' time there will be coming out what I believe to be the biggest battleship in the world. We are making improvements aboard her with regard to accommodation and welfare. This is the first opportunity we have had to do so. We are going to try to make the catering arrangements of the ship entirely separate from the living part of the ship. That is something which has been looked upon with great approval in the past by people who took a great interest in welfare. Even with that benefit, I am certain that there will be something better for the man who has to serve afloat, and we can safely rest assured in regard to the design of ships in the future that whatever can be done, consistently with the safety and defence of the ships, will be done to improve the lot of the officers and men who serve aboard those ships.
A number of questions have been asked with regard to the officers' pay code and the men's pay code. Perhaps, if the White Paper on officers' pay code had not come out yesterday, I might have been saved the duty of having to talk about it today. Whether or not it was timed in order that it should be out before the Service Debates, I cannot say. So far as the men are concerned, there has been very careful consideration by Members of the Committee, by the Press and by the public in connection with those conditions. According to some hon. Members who have spoken, one would imagine that there is widespread dismay in the Navy, particularly with regard to the rates for men. I do ask Members of the Committee to look at this pay code in its 616 proper perspective. After the last war, when the cost of living was even higher than it is today, according to the official figures, the pay of a first class stoker was 4s. a day. If he had a wife all he would get for her was 18s. a week, and in fact he had to make a compulsory allotment of 14s. a week in order to receive that 18s. for his wife. That gave her the sum of 32s. a week and left him with 14s. a week. That was when the cost of living figures were much higher than they are now. In 1925 or 1931—I cannot remember which—there was a reduction. In 1939 the rate was still far below 4s. a day for a first class stoker. This year the rate will be 4s. for a first class stoker and 35s. for his wife. His wife will be assured of the 35s. and he will certainly be far better off than he was in 1939 or 1920.
It is better to compare these rates with what the man would receive in a job in industry. If a first-class stoker, for example, receives 4s. plus the increments, he will be brought up to an average of £4 10s. or £5 a week, with marriage allowances. I maintain that that is up to the average which will be paid outside in industry. The only point I would concede is that the petty officers and chief petty officers are not perhaps quite so well paid as they might have been, and that the adjustments have possibly operated to their disadvantage. But, as was announced yesterday, so far as those who are now in the Navy are concerned, they will not go below the rates they are now receiving, if they are receiving them on 30th June next. They will receive a war excess to keep their rates up to that figure. Those who are made petty officers or chief petty officers after 30th June will have a rate different from that which applies today, but we still maintain that the differences between first-class stokers, able seamen, leading seamen, seamen petty officers and chief petty officers are those which are warranted by the difference in rank. Actually, I think that even most chief petty officers would agree with the raising of the rates for the men who in war days were receiving 2s. to 4s., even if it meant a slight reduction for them.
It has been said that the incentive to promotion will be interfered with. I really think I know the men on the lower deck; they are out for promotion all the time, particularly when they are continuous service men, and they do not neces- 617 sarily look to see whether promotion will mean an extra 2s. 6d. a day. They want to rise in the Service, and I do not think that this will interfere with the incentive to promotion. It will certainly not interfere in any way with the men's desire to become petty officers and chief petty officers. That is my personal view, and I am certain that when we settle down to the operation of the pay code and the men know what it means over a fairly lengthy period, we shall have no fear with regard to recruits.
§ Commander Maitland
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that it is no longer advisable to hold out encouragement to the men in the Navy?
§ Mr. Edwards
I am not saying that they are not to be encouraged. I feel that they are encouraged by these rates, and after all, a chief petty officer gets more pension than he would if he were an able seaman. Surely, if any hon. Member of this House was an able seaman, and could get 4s. a day extra by making himself fit to become a chief petty officer, he would do it?
§ Commander Maitland
Would the hon. Gentleman make the comparison between leading seaman and petty officer, and the chief petty officer? Leading seamen and petty officers often get exactly the same pension as a chief petty officer, and, surely, that is not right.
§ Mr. Edwards
There may be a point there, but the hon. and gallant Member will not complain if we bring the leading seamen's pensions up, will he?
§ Mr. Edwards
The trouble in the past has been that leading seamen or able seamen got somewhere about 25s. We are now going to lift this up, but because we- are doing so, and are bringing them nearer to the chief petty officer, surely, there will be no complaint about that? Perhaps something more is wanted for the chief petty officer, but we are increasing the pay of the men who were getting least, and that is our policy in the pay code. As it will affect the largest number, that has been accepted as being the most satisfactory. A question was raised with regard to the good conduct medal.
§ Commander Noble
I am not sure that I heard the hon. Gentleman correctly. Did he say that the only reason why a man on the lower deck wanted promotion was for the sake of promotion, and not for the financial gain?
§ Mr. Edwards
No, I did not say anything of the sort. Almost every continuous Serviceman in the Navy is rather keen to get something on his arm. He wants to be a leading stoker, first of all. Apart from the money, it gives him a little authority, and sometimes a little bit of privilege. When he becomes a petty officer he has somebody like me to Wait on him, and when he becomes a chief petty officer he probably has two people to wait on him. He gets all that, besides the increased rates of pay, because of his promotion. And I can assure the Committee that even if petty officers and chief petty officers get no extra pay for it, in many cases, it is worth quite a lot.
However, that does not deal with the question of pensions. I was about to tell my hon. and gallant Friend that he was under a misapprehension with regard to the good conduct medal and gratuity. That still remains and they can still get their £20. The hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) also raised the question of non-substantive ranks. I can assure him that this question has been gone through very carefully with the Naval Staff. If he has any fears in his mind that civilians with no knowledge have come into this, he can rest assured that it has received very careful consideration. The reason that we have felt it desirable to make this change on introducing the new pay code is one which I am sure most Service Members will understand. The Navy is becoming far more technical now than it ever was before. Previously, for a substantive rating such as a torpedo-gunner, there was only one specialised job on the ship for him to do, but on account of the increase of technical knowledge required now, even by the lower ratings in the Navy. that substantive dividing line is not quite so necessary.
We feel that under this new system, with the training we must introduce to meet the new technical ideas, nothing will be lost. We are going to train the men in as many of these matters as possible, in order that they may be moved from one 619 job to another without any great difficulty. It does not necessarily follow that they will have to do the work without getting paid for it, as the hon. and gallant Member suggested. So far as this type of man is concerned, I think we can claim that, although he is not getting his non-substantive rate, by the incremental system we have introduced he will find himself financially better off in the long run. This really has received the very fullest consideration, I can assure my hon. Friend, and I am afraid it will have to remain as it is.
Two dockyard Members have, I believe, today given us the benefit of their experience. One was the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth. I should not wish to sit down before I had dealt with the dockyards, because as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hereford knows, if you leave the dockyards out of any naval discussion, heaven help you the next time you go down there, and we have to pay them visits occasionally. I feel, however, that the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth went a little bit too far in his statements. He mentioned the fact that ratings have to sleep in hammocks. I would commend anybody who has to go to sea in a warship and any hon. Member who has not experienced it to try it for himself, and then to decide for himself whether he is going to sleep in a bunk or a hammock. The finest way of deciding anything like that is to experience it oneself. I can assure hon. Members that when you are rolling about in the Atlantic, or being tossed about—[Hon. Members: "Why do the officers not have them? "] I would not exchange a hammock for an officer's bunk. Why the hammock is supposed to be wrong, I cannot understand. I have slept in hammocks for almost eight year—
§ Mr. Edwards
In the Navy we had to wash our feet. We get these remarks thrown at us in a naval Debate. There are hundreds of sailors who have slept in hammocks who have not worried about it. Then we get this complaint about the men wanting more space for sleeping. There may be good ground occasionally for that complaint, but I can assure hon. Members of this, that when a ship is in for repair 620 and half the ship's company is away on leave, you feel far less comfortable with so much space than you are when there are more sleeping together. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am speaking from experience—I know. I should not like to sleep on a whole mess deck of my own. In any case, so far as the vast majority of sailors are concerned on the lower deck, they know quite well that that is the only system that can prevail. If you are to have plenty of room for sleeping you have to have less room for something else. People talk about extra room for recreation and things like that. They would leave no room for armament.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South)
The Civil Lord is entitled to case his case on the fact that there is no room for more space, but let him not try to convince us that we like being crowded, because we do not.
§ Mr. Edwards
I am not saying so. I do not know whether the hon. Member is talking about the men, but I am talking about my experience—
§ Commander Maitland
Is it not a fact that the tuberculosis rate in the Navy is higher than it is in any other form of life or work in the whole of the British Empire? Is that not largely due to over-crowding on the lower deck?
§ Commander Pursey
Does the Civil Lord justify men having to sleep on lockers and tables because there is not enough sleeping accommodation, so that they lose all the advantage that he had of swinging in a hammock?
§ Mr. Edwards
In reply to that interjection, all I can say is that none of us wants overcrowding. I am not trying to defend overcrowding. What I am saying is that it is not always necessary to have this tremendous amount of room. Some other things are required aboard ship I do not defend sleeping on tables. It nay interest some hon. Members to know that although there was room in one ship of which I know for slinging hammocks, three or four men never would sling their hammocks. They preferred to sleep on lockers. It is a matter of opinion. [Hon. Members: "What about bunks? "] I am not defending overcrowding. We are going to try to do all we possibly can in that respect. But I do feel it is neces- 621 sary for me to point out to the House that many of these allegations are exaggerated, and that they serve no useful purpose for the men or for the Navy.
§ Captain Marsden
Is it not also the case that when hammocks are lashed up and stowed away, there is far more air and space on the mess deck than there would be if there were bunks and cabins?
§ Dr. Morgan (Rochdale)
Are there any statistics available in the Navy showing a relation between the tuberculosis cases among those sleeping in the hammocks in crowded conditions and the number of cases in other more modern ships, where there is more room and ventilation?
§ Mr. Edwards
We have stated that, so far as we possibly can, we are going to improve accommodation, but the point I want to make very strongly indeed is that that cannot be done at the expense of the defence of the ship. The men themselves would not like it. With regard to the point raised about tuberculosis in the Navy, I suppose this is to be expected. When one has quarters like those in the Navy and when one has to go into different climates—we were up in the Arctic on one occasion—and this travelling applies to peacetime service as well as wartime service; and when one is travelling all over the world, one is liable to catch a number of diseases one is not so likely to catch if stationed in one place. We have a lot of travelling especially for the continuous service men. I am informed that during the war the rate of tuberculosis was down, despite this overcrowding. However, I can assure my hon. Friends that the matter is being closely watched, and that whatever can be done to lower the rate of tuberculosis will, obviously, be done.
§ Mr. Keenan
Has the rate of tuberculosis declined? During the war period there were 8,000 cases. Is that a better figure than before?
§ Mr. Edwards
We had close on 1,000,000 men going through the Service 622 during the war. Those 8,000 cases were out of nearly 1,000,000. Really, it is not a bad record, though nobody defends it at all. We do not like to see those cases, and we will try to do all we possibly can to eradicate the causes in the future.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Commander Noble) raised the matter of landing craft. We have not disposed of all our landing craft. A fair number of them are still being used in the Far East. But the matter is still under consideration, and I am afraid that there is nothing that we can do about that. The hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan) dealt with conditions in the Navy, which I have already spoken about. He went so far as to say they are better in the American Navy As I have already explained, at the beginning of the war we had a large number of ships built in the last war. We had, in fact, very little time to build our ships, whereas the United States were able to build when we were unable to do so, both before and during the war. This gave them a start in regard to accommodation, which may have given the impression that they were providing better accommodation I can assure my hon. Friend that the Admiralty is alive to this question, and that they will do all they possibly can; they have not cut down accommodation to keep below the standards provided by others. The hon. Member referred to discipline being the same as in Nelson's time. I was not alive when Nelson was alive, but I can assure him that things are a little different during this war than during the last war, which was certainly my impression after being away for 16 years or so. There has been a marked improvement, and there has been a marked recognition as between officers and men which did not apply many years ago. I do not think that we have good grounds to complain to the Sea Lords about conditions.
I should like now to return to the hon. Member for Hereford. He wishes to know the future of the Navy, and also referred to the Ship Building Committee. I can assure him that we consider that this industry needs as careful handling as any other industry. During the war we have been let down to the extent of possible defeat as a result of neglect. We hope that we shall make good progress, both from the union side and from the employers' side, to ensure that never at 623 any other time shall we be in danger of collapse as a result of possible failure of the industry. With regard to the future strength of the Navy, my hon. Friend said that it is fixed at 175,000. With the numbers which have to come in, that brings the figure to approximately 200,000. and we are very glad that he feels it should not go below that figure, although I believe the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) said not long ago that 160,000 was far too high. However, we have the assurance from the experts—the hon. Member for Hereford and the hon. Member for Bournemouth— who feel it must be 175,000 or higher. Therefore, we feel safe.
§ Mr. J. P. L. Thomas
I think if the Civil Lord reads again the speech of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) on that occasion, he will find that the right hon. Gentleman did make it clear that the Fleet Air Arm might want to add its numbers. Therefore, this difference does not really exist between us.
§ Sir R. Ross
Has the Civil Lord taken into account that his Government have made the situation much more dangerous since then?
§ Mr. Edwards
Perhaps there are some hon. Members who would say that, but. on the other hand, perhaps the right hon. Member for Woodford has made it even more dangerous. A proposal was made for more research regarding personnel.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
Before the Civil Lord leaves shipbuilding, will he say whether the Committee on shipbuilding are to have terms of reference which will enable them to include in their examinations the possibility of building ships for the fishing industry, which can be reconverted and used by the Navy during another war, as has been the case in past wars?
§ Mr. Edwards
The Committee covers shipbuilders and shipowners, but it does not include representatives of fishing vessels. The purpose of the Committee is to plan the industry for the benefit of the nation and not to allow it to revert to the state in which it was between the 624 wars. There is nothing to prevent the fishing industry, if a particular type of ship is required, from submitting suggestions.
§ Mr. Stewart
The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in England and the Scottish Fishery Department in Scotland are vitally concerned that there should be a strong fishing industry, which is linked with the Navy in time of war.
§ Mr. Edwards
We are aware of that. We do not stop the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries or the Scottish Fishery Department from making representations. That is one of the great advantages of the Committee, that whatever matters affect the industry can be put before it, and receive the consideration of the Committee for submission to the Government.
I promised the hon. Member for Drake (Mr. Medland) that I would say something about the Royal Dockyards scheme. I must admit that he was rather convincing in his argument. We feel that in the interests of the Navy and the country there should be a redevelopment scheme in Plymouth and in that, I believe, we have the support of the Plymouth authorities. It has been represented to me by the hon. Members for Plymouth that unless we do something quickly in Plymouth there will not be enough work in that district. They feel that it is essential, in the interests of their constituents, that the Navy should play a big part in that port. The idea of the reconstruction scheme is to make the docks as efficient as possible for the Navy, particularly in view of the devastation caused there during the war. Much of the property which may have to be taken over will be bombed property. This, of course, will be a long-term project. As to the other points raised, they are of such magnitude that I am afraid I cannot now go into them. They include such matters as rehousing under the town and country planning scheme and questions of compensation. We will certainly go into the points raised, and if anything can be done we will endeavour to do what we can to help. They concern matters, however, which are largely dependent on the Treasury and on Acts of Parliament.
The hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Benn Levy) raised one contentious note with regard to Dartmouth College.
625 I was expecting quite a lot of criticism, and I believe there has been some comment among hon. Members of my own party in connection with it. What we have considered with regard to Dartmouth is that we have a scheme which at least served the Navy well up to the beginning of the war, but the First Lord of the Admiralty felt that it should be democratised to a certain extent with the result that in 1941 a scholarship system was introduced. That scholarship system, it will be admitted by every Member of the House, has made a great improvement from the point of view of the democratisation of the Dartmouth scheme, and it is expected that 45 out of every 100 will be going there as a result of scholarship.
§ Mr. Edwards
That is true; but, at any rate, they come in through the scholarship scheme and it is a scheme whereby a lad can have his maintenance paid by the Admiralty if his parents are unable to find the money.
§ Mr. Edwards
Yes. In that connection there has been a distinct improvement, and we are just about to see the result of that experiment. I am certain that hon. Members on both sides of the House would not wish the Admiralty to abandon a scheme though it may have had a little bit of class bias about it, without knowing the full implications of their action. We are justified in the first place to wait and see what is the result of the scholarship system which was introduced in 1941, and we shall be seeing that very soon. In addition to that the new Education Act will be coming into operation very soon, and that will no doubt cause some alteration, particularly with regard to the age of entry into Dartmouth college. That being the case, we feel at the moment it would be unwise to rush into changes too quickly, and we would ask the House to let it rest for a time.
I am sorry that I cannot go into all the points that have been raised tonight, but I think that I have dealt with the most important. I do want to say this, that to those questions which I have not been able to answer hon. Members will receive 626 a communication. Finally, I would say that I wish to thank the Committee for its indulgence towards me in my maiden speech from this Box. I really have enjoyed making it—[An Hon. Member: "A jolly good show."]—and perhaps I have persuaded some hon. Members to change their views in regard to officers and the ranks, hammocks versus bunks, and a wardroom with a dartboard below deck. If I have not satisfied everybody I have endeavoured to do so, and I can assure hon. Members that the Admiralty greatly appreciate the interest taken in the presentation of the Estimates today. We promise you we will do all we possibly can to see that the Navy is going to remain as efficient as is consistent with the opportunites provided.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
In the moment that remains may I draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that, in spite of the knowledge which the First Lord has of the anxiety felt in Scotland about the future of Rosyth, not' a word has been said about that naval dockyard? That is a great surprise and disappointment to those of us who come from that part of the world. It may not be the prime naval dockyard of the country, but during the war I think it can be claimed that it rendered greater war service than any other establishment of its kind in the world. That dockyard is under penalty of death. At the moment, no one knows its future. After the last war it was abandoned, and had to be reconstructed for this war. Is it to be abandoned again? The Government ought to tell us, and I invite them to do so, in the few seconds that remain.
§ Mr. Alexander
I have explained to the House that we have to consider the position of all dockyards, and not only Rosyth, in future, in relation to whatever forces are allowed to us by this House, and in relation to our commitments. I cannot be rushed into making a statement about one dockyard. The Government must deal with the whole position when the time comes.
§ Question put, and agreed to
§ " That a sum not exceeding £150,000,000 be granted to His Majesty on account, for, or towards defraying the charge for Navy Services which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1947."