§ The 806th squadron, Royal Navy, began its appearance in the Golden Jubilee opening air show at Idlewild Airport by just about startling the gizzards out of the men in charge of the field, not to mention tightly constricting the throats of the spectators.
'Don't ever do that kind of thing again without telling us you are going to' an operations man pleaded. 'When we saw those two planes coming from opposite ends of the runway—'
It was obvious from the way he dropped the phrase how they all had felt.
§ This exhibition was held in front of several hundreds of thousands of people, including the President of the United States, and there is no doubt about it from all the reports which we have received of the squadron from the Royal Navy that it, together with the squadron from the Royal Air Force, completely stole the show. The Americans realised as a result of it that, although we may not have quite the same numbers of planes and ships as they have, the quality is as high as ever.1004
§ Finally, a word on co-operation with the Commonwealth. During the past year we have helped with advice, ships and equipment. I would only mention one particular instance in which we have been able to assist, and that is in the transfer of the Light Fleet carrier H.M.S. "Terrible" to Australia, the transfer ceremony of which was performed by my noble Friend. That ship is now H.M.A.S. "Sydney" and forms the beginning of Australia's new naval aviation. At the same time the Light Fleet carrier "Magnificent" has been lent to Canada. Since the war we have transferred six cruisers, 32 destroyers, escort destroyers and frigates to the Dominions. These all form a vital part of naval defence of the Commonwealth. Equipped with all the latest weapons and manned by well trained crews, our united Fleets will, if ever they should unfortunately be called upon to do so, play as distinguished and successful a part in any future war as they have played in every war throughout our history.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ Mr. J. P. L. Thomas (Hereford)
I am sure that it is the wish of the House that I should congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on having the honour for the third time to introduce the Navy Estimates to the House and on the manner in which he has done it. In regard to the matter, I could have wished, as I shall show during my speech, for very much more information than he has given the House, although I would agree that he has perhaps given us more information than on the two previous occasions when he has introduced these Estimates.
I also feel that the House would wish me to say that we are very glad that he recovered in time from the gloomiest and most depressing of diseases in order to be here today. At least, I hope he has made a complete recovery. I noticed one or two still rather jaundiced shafts at His Majesty's long-suffering Opposition and one or two back kicks at the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence when he referred to messing under previous Governments and previous régimes at the Admiralty. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence should remember that when I had the honour to serve under him there, we made a very great contribution towards many of 1005 the improvements which the Parliamentary Secretary has mentioned as belonging to the present Government.
Hon. Members in all parts of the House will want to pay a tribute to the officers and men of the Royal Navy for the success of their efforts in restoring the Home Fleet and its formations to the high state of efficiency at which they are today compared with what they were when the Estimates were introduced a year ago. It was obvious that the morale of the re-vitalised Home Fleet when it returned to home ports after the Autumn cruise last Christmas was at a very high pitch indeed. The exercises, the manœuvres and the drills had all been performed with the old competence and keenness which we have always learnt to associate with naval tradition. I am sure that the same can be said of the Spring cruise and the exercises which are going on at the moment, about which we are most interested to read in the Press today. The country and Parliament owe a debt of gratitude to those officers and men.
We have also been very fortunate in having had this vital year given to us in which to recover from the blow of immobilisation which struck the Home Fleet so improvidently in the Autumn of 1947. However, do not let us think that the country went unscathed during this period. It is a truism, which I am not ashamed to repeat today, that for countless generations the country's prestige in the world has been associated with the fortunes and the activities of the Royal Navy. This prestige suffered very grievously from the forced inactivity of the Fleet a year ago, and especially—I am afraid I must say so—from the maladroit way in which the whole matter was handled by His Majesty's Government at that time. On that occasion the Parliamentary spokesmen were inclined to shelter behind the opinions of the Service chiefs, who were said to have advised this sudden and rather violent acceleration in the plan of demobilisation.
I can certainly sympathise—we all can—with the Board of Admiralty in wanting to get the Navy manpower position straightened out as quickly as possible, but if it was justifiable to do this in 1947, when international relations were deteriorating, surely it would be far wiser 1006 if the same step had been taken at least 12 months earlier. However, that is past, and now we are thankful that no further advantage was taken of our period of temporary naval unpreparedness. I repeat that we are glad today to pay our tribute from these benches to the resilience of the Royal Navy in withstanding the shock tactics of His Majesty's Government and to congratulate all ranks on the recovery they have made since the Navy Estimates last year.
Although the reports of the activities of our Fleet and of our squadrons are now so very much more reassuring and the scene is a good deal happier than it was 12 months ago, the Opposition still feel that the country should be given a far clearer re-statement of our naval defence preparations. I understand the difficulties of secrecy about the money spent on research, but we could know much more whether or not we are getting real value for our money. We are asked to sign a cheque for the privilege of having a lucky dip, and when we have got our parcel we still do not know what it contains because the Government refuse to allow us to cut the tape. Today we are asked to approve a Vote of 153,000 men and women and £189,250,000. It is true that the Estimate and the explanatory memorandum give us more information as regards the employment of the personnel and the proposed expenditure than anything we have had since the war, and the Parliamentary Secretary has added to that knowledge during his speech, but not as greatly as we would have liked him to do. I must also say how much we welcome the fact that once more, the Navy List can come out of the Library for general use and general study. We welcome this very belated decision which the First Lord announced in another place a week ago.
Our main criticism is that nothing appears in these Estimates, or in the other documents, or emerged during the Defence Debate last week, to show that the Government have any real appreciation of the problems of the strategic requirements so far as the Navy is concerned. It may be that they have a plan. I hope and trust they have. If so, why cannot we share their secret just as the American nation, and, indeed, the whole world, shares the same secret of 1007 the United States Government? It seems more than ever true that our naval commitments depend to a very large extent upon the defence plans of the Commonwealth, upon our association with the maritime Powers of Western Union and upon the closest possible co-operation of all these powers with the United States.
However, platitudes of this kind—heaven knows we have had enough of them of late—do not reassure the British people who have to dig very deep into their pockets to pay for their naval defence, nor, so far as I can see from the Estimates this year, do they form any sort of directive upon which the Admiralty can set to work. I want to be fair to the Government. We have had more information than usual, but I still maintain that we could have a great deal more. We are still starved of much information which we ought to have, and therefore I hope the House will bear with me if for a minute or two I review some of the considerations which the Opposition feel should be taken into account in an appreciation of the present naval situation.
It should be clear that the organisation of sea power in time of peace today is very different from what it was in the 20's and the 30's. Instead of having several countries with navies of considerable size which might at any time be lined up against us, there is, bluntly, only one country. There are no longer any battle fleets, as we understood them before the war, to which our forces might find themselves opposed. If, however, we have little to fear from surface craft, the same thing certainly cannot be said of the air over the sea or of the water under the surface. There are, in my judgment, two major factors standing out from all others which have transformed warfare at sea at the present time. They are the emergence of air power with its effect on the range of bombardment and of reconnaissance, and its use for the detection and the destruction of submarines, and the enormously increased range and speed of the modern submarine, as the Parliamentary Secretary said, through the use of the "Snort" or "Schnorkel," and other new devices.
The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned submarine research, and we were glad to hear about it, but we should be ready now to deal with the modern submarine. 1008 We do not yet know the speed of the latest Russian submarine. It has been reported that the newest American vessels can make a speed of 25 knots submerged, while the Parliamentary Secretary mentioned 15 or 20 knots. We are told reliably that much of the German knowledge of submarine design and some German crews are now with the Russians. Therefore, we cannot discount the possibility of the development by the Soviet of submarines of comparable performance—I think it would be folly to do so—and it is known that Russia has upwards of 250 submarines. We must presume that most of those are of modern type. Therefore, I suggest to the House that 250 modern submarines have a power of destruction equivalent to that of 1,000 submarines of pre-war speed.
It is not for me to calculate the possible menace to convoys of merchantmen of squadrons of submarines manoeuvring submerged for long periods below the surface and capable of speeds up to three times that of the convoy, or for me to attempt to suggest the final answer to the problem. It is obviously a question which is causing the naval staff of the Admiralty considerable exercise of mind at the present time. However, it must be clear to the House that anti-submarine vessels, which we now call frigates, and which have a speed of only 20 knots, will hardly be effective against submarines when they have not the speed to catch them. Therefore, in any future war aircraft must play an even larger part than in the last in all anti-submarine measures.
The war in the Pacific established the fact that the aircraft carrier is the most important class of warship today, and there is little doubt that sea power will centre round these mobile air bases rather than round battleships in the future. In saying that, I do not wish to convey that the battleship no longer has its uses, for it has indisputably an important rôle to play, but if a reasonable definition of a capital ship is the unit which can combine the greatest power to strike and to protect itself, then the battleship must yield pride of place to the aircraft carrier, with its necessary escorting craft under the sea, upon the sea, and in the air above.
The modern attack force—and let the House remember that the most effective 1009 defence lies still in attack—will comprise aircraft carriers, both large and small, cruisers and destroyers, submarines and very high speed surface craft for submarine chasing. We must realise, as those who haved served in the Admiralty know so well, that the Navy has to be fully deployed in time of war from the first day. It would be quite wrong, however. to measure our sea power solely in relation to that of a possible enemy.
British sea power must always be proportionate to the tonnage of our seaborne trade and to the extent and breadth of our sea communications. Whatever considerations may or may not justify a small, highly efficient Army or metropolitan Air Force, nothing justifies a small Navy. The cutting of our sea communications at any point may well immobilise proposed military or air operations. Therefore; the Navy must at all times be large enough to cover our communications and powerful enough to be concentrated quickly where the occasion demands.
That brings me to the fact that it is of the utmost importance today that we should retain in a constant state of readiness our far-flung naval bases. I would particularly ask the Civil Lord if, in winding up the Debate today, he can tell us what is our policy about our bases in Africa and at Hong Kong. After all, we have lost Alexandria, we have lost Haifa, Simonstown is now a matter for Dominion responsibility and I suppose Colombo is also a Dominion responsibility. Have His Majesty's Government made up their minds with regard to our bases for the future? If so, we shall be glad if the Civil Lord can tell us tonight.
I have given the House these rather broad considerations of naval requirements because it is from this angle that this year we have approached the subject of the Naval Estimates from these benches. Turning to page 6 of the First Lord's statement, we find that the active fleet comprises two battleships, five aircraft carriers, 15 cruisers, 33 destroyers, 25 frigates, 30 submarines, and numerous other attendant vessels. The total number of our aircraft carriers, including those in the training squadrons and in the Reserve Fleet, do not number more than 12. In view of what I have said about the importance of this vessel and of the air-arm in future naval strategy, we have to examine carefully the shipbuilding 1010 programme contained in the Estimates. I have a number of questions which I wish to put to the Civil Lord and to which I hope to obtain answers this evening.
On page 234 of the Estimates, we find that one Fleet carrier and one light Fleet carrier are on the stocks. With regard to these I know the House will want to be told whether their construction is being pressed on with all speed, and perhaps later this evening the Civil Lord will assure me that it is. However, we are dismayed to see that constructional work on three of the seven light Fleet carriers, which have been launched, is still suspended. We cannot believe that there is any justification for holding up the building of these vessels which are vital to our naval strength and to the security of our country. Can the Civil Lord tell us the policy of His Majesty's Government with regard to the building of these ships? When is their construction to be resumed? What are the dates when we may expect that all these carriers, which have been launched, will be ready for service?
Let me turn to the question of cruiser strength. Here our total strength, including those ships which are being used for training and for other purposes as well as those in the Reserve Fleet, is only 29. There are only three at present under construction—launched in 1945 and not only has their building been suspended, but, according to the Estimates, the details of their armament have not yet been settled. While cruisers are vital for what we call a shooting war, they are, as my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) said last week, also vitally important in the cold war when there is any risk of disturbance in our Colonial possessions or elsewhere. The many incidents which have occurred during the last 18 months might well have been avoided if our cruiser strength had been greater than it was. After all, a farmer can hardly complain when small boys steal his fruit if he seldom visits his orchard.
Before leaving cruisers, I see on page 7 of the First Lord's statement a most ominous reference to one cruiser which has either been sold to a foreign Power or is about to be sold. May I ask the Civil Lord a very direct question as to whether that cruiser is H.M.S. "Ajax"? The Parliamentary Secretary promised us an answer at the end of July. It is high 1011 time we had one, and I hope we shall get it from the Civil Lord tonight.
I must in fairness say, having read the Estimates and listened to the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary, that the Silent Service has been less oyster-like than some of their colleagues in the other Services during the past 12 months. Again, however, we must protest at being told so little of what we are getting for our money, especially on the whole question of naval aviation. I have here the Annual Report of the Secretary of the United States Navy, a document corresponding with our own Estimates, which is infinitely more forthcoming. This is a very informative report, and amongst a wealth of information which it gives to the American people—who know exactly what they are getting for their money—is the number of operational aircraft in the Navy as more than 5,000, with 2,000 operational reserves and a gross total of all aircraft of 14,500.
We heard in the First Lord's statement that the re-equipment with modern types is steadily continuing, and the Parliamentary Secretary repeated that remark today. I am very glad to hear it, but we should be far happier if the Government would give us more information which would allow us to judge the number of aircraft available for immediate service and whether or not the number will be sufficient to enable the Fleet to be operationally effective. We want to know also how many and what types of aircraft we have available in reserve. All these questions I address to the Civil Lord.
I should like to know how much of Vote 8 is being expended on the repair, renovation and maintenance of ships in the Reserve Fleet. That information may be in the Estimates; but I have failed to discover it. In the explanation of the Supplementary Estimates for 1948–49 appears the enormous sum of an increase of £12½ million for the work of refitting ships in reserve. No doubt this staggering bill is due partly to the decision to accelerate the programme, but it must mean also that the ships must have deteriorated to a shocking extent since they were laid up at the end of hostilities.
I am astonished to see in this year's statement that the apparatus for "cocooning" the armament and other installations has not yet been com- 1012 pleated, and the Parliamentary Secretary in his speech held out no hope that it had been. I am sorry to quote myself, but two years ago, in the Debate on the Navy Estimates, I recommended this American system of preservation. which the First Lord's statement calls, not "cocooning," but "de-humidification." The Civil Lord assured me that the matter had been looked into but that the equipment was very expensive. It gives me no satisfaction to stand at this Box today and say that it appears that the neglect to follow the advice then given from these benches has proved to be far more expensive still.
I turn now to Vote A and the provision in the Estimates for 153,000 officers and ratings, of whom 5,000, I see, will be on release leave. Seventeen thousand seven hundred of this total are National Service men, which gives a Regular strength of about 130,000, including the 7,200 members of the W.R.N.S. I am very glad that the Government have now had them established as a permanent component of the Royal Navy. There is no doubt that the extension of compulsory service from 12 to 18 months will make the National Service element of some use to the Navy instead of being an actual liability. I hope the Navy will see also that the men themselves get full value from their service and that some, therefore, will want to sign on for Regular engagements. It is important also that those who do not sign on should at least approach their compulsory period in the R.N.V.R. with something of the pride and keenness which we have always learnt to associate with that particular Reserve.
As the Parliamentary Secretary said in his speech today, however, the most disturbing feature of the Regular manpower situation is the unwillingness to re-engage for pensionable service. This matter was referred to in the Debate in another place last month, when the First Lord admitted that the average rate of re-engagement was less than half of what it was before the war; it is less than 30 per cent. today. compared with 65 per cent. before the war. No doubt there are many reasons for the urge to leave the Navy and seek jobs ashore. Pay is higher, hours are Shorter—
§ Mr. Thomas
Jobs may be temporarily easier to get—and a man and his family, if they have a home, have a chance of remaining in it. These facts must be faced. Their effect on the morale of the younger men is, frankly, very disquieting, and in the interests of the fighting efficiency of the Service, if no others, Parliament has got to face the facts and try to stop the rot.
There have been minor increases in the rates of pay and allowances which may play some part in the solution of this problem, but it is questionable whether these changes and increases have gone far enough or have been applied in the best way. The First Lord admitted—again, in another place last month—that the more senior ratings had a grievance that there was an insufficient gradient in the pay scales; in other words, there was not enough financial incentive to the men to qualify themselves for promotion. I will repeat to the House what these increases have been: 6d. a day more for an able seaman, 1s. a day more for a leading seaman and 1s. 6d. a day more for both petty officers and chief petty officers. This has only steepened the steps slightly and in the absence of additional pay for non-substantive rates it still fails to restore much of the incentive which used to exist in the pre-war system, when added responsibility would bring its reward.
I realise that this question of pay is one which cannot possibly be considered for the Navy in isolation, but the Admiralty have a responsibility to the country for the efficient manning of the Fleet upon which the country and the taxpayers are being asked to spend an enormous amount of money. The Navy has an old saying that it is folly to spoil the ship for a ha'porth of tar, and if fighting efficiency is going to suffer because of a niggardly policy with regard to pay, or if the Socialist principles of excessive equality fail to keep the long-service ratings in the Service, then the Board of Admiralty must face up to it and press their case upon the Treasury for a necessary revision of the pay code.
The Minister of Defence said last week in the Defence Debate—and I agree with him—that conditions of pay are not the only factors in maintaining recruiting and encouraging re-engagement. I should like to ask the Admiralty whether they have 1014 considered shortening the period of re-engagement. This is not an original question on my part, but was put in another place ten days ago by an Admiral to whom the Admiralty have always listened—the Earl of Cork and Orrery. Ten years for re-engagement is a long time, and it might well be that men would be willing to re-engage if they could do so for a shorter period. In all the American Forces re-engagements can be entered into for periods as short as two years. They have a certain system of paying a re-engagement bounty, the amount of which depends upon the length of a period chosen. Thus, signing on for six more years qualifies a man for substantially more than the aggregate bounties for three periods of two years. For a period of two years in the American Armed Forces a bounty of 40 dollars is given; for three years, 90 dollars; four years, 160 dollars; five years, 250 dollars: and for six years, 360 dollars. I put it to the Parliamentary Secretary and to the Minister of Defence that it might be worth while giving that system a trial in this country.
There is also the question of barracks and married quarters. It is not surprising that men do not re-engage when the programme for rebuilding barracks is proceeding, unfortunately, in a very dilatory fashion. The plans for rebuilding were made a long time ago. As is usual, I expect that during this Debate hon. Members opposite will ask why we, the Government of the past, did not put those plans into operation. but I am not sure that it comes at all well from hon. Members who voted with monotonous regularity against all the Service Estimates to make that comment. After all, the money which was voted had primarily to be devoted to the building up of our defences.
§ Commander Pursey (Hull, East)
I have been reluctant to intervene, because although this speech does not tie up with the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary, that is a point with which I can deal later. The particular point about which I rise is that the votes to which the hon. Member refers were on matters of principle. Will he explain why his own side of the House voted against the National Health Service?
§ Mr. Thomas
If I begin to speak about the National Health Service on the Navy Estimates, I shall soon find myself out of Order.
§ Mr. Thomas
The hon. and gallant Member says that my speech does not tie up with that of the Parliamentary Secretary. I am not surprised to hear that, for I am doing my best to fill the enormous gaps which were left by the Parliamentary Secretary in the statement with which he introduced the Navy Estimates this afternoon.
I turn to a question which is one particularly for the Civil Lord. I wish to ask him some questions about married quarters. Hon. Members will see that provision was made in last year's Estimates, on page 147, for the construction of 690 married quarters. This year we find that the number has fallen to 646. Two points arise here. Perhaps the Civil Lord will correct me if I am wrong, but is it a fact that only 44 quarters have been completed during the past 12 months? Secondly, in spite of the re-engagement figures, which have obviously been causing anxiety, no provision is being made this year for increasing the number of quarters to be constructed. It has been represented to me—I read it in the Press, but I must admit to the House that when I came to prepare my speech I could not find the actual quotation—that some naval wives have been turned out of council houses when their husbands were sent abroad. Is that correct?
§ Mr. Medland (Plymouth, Drake)
I should be obliged if the hon. Member would tell us where this is happening.
§ The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Walter Edwards)
As I shall probably have to answer the Debate, I shall have to ask the hon. Member to put me in touch with the editor concerned so that I can get the information from him.
§ Mr. Thomas
I said that I remembered reading the statement but that I could not find the actual quotation. I am asking the Civil Lord whether I am right in thinking that that statement is true. If it is not true, I shall be delighted to hear it.
§ Mr. Thomas
I thought that the information might have reached the Civil Lord's Department. If his Department has not read it, and there is no proof that it is being done, I shall be delighted. If it is being done, I rely on the Civil Lord to get in touch with the Minister of Health to have a stop put to it at once.
The Government appear to have little hesitation in paying enormous salaries and expense allowances to heads of the nationalised boards. I do not think that they are therefore in a position to criticise hon. Members on this side of the House when they ask that something should be done for officers of the Armed Forces. We on this side of the House are far from satisfied that the conditions of service for the officers of the Royal Navy are good enough. There is much evidence from applications by junior officers for the, resignation of commissions and from the premature retirement of senior officers that all is not well so far as the conditions of officers are concerned.
I return to the question of married quarters. I see that in Vote 10 only 2 per cent. of the married quarters to be constructed are for the use of officers. Last year the figure was 5 per cent. It is not easier for an officer to find accommodation than it is for a rating to do so. It is more difficult for him to get his name put on the waiting list of a local authority for a council house. Proper provision for accommodation ashore is one of the vital factors in improving both the recruiting figures and the re-engagement figures.
I turn to the question of manpower reserves. The Parliamentary Secretary asked us whether we would join in an appeal from this House to increase the number of Reserves. Of course we will. I can give him the fullest assurance on behalf of those who sit on this side of the House. But on this point I would remind him that out of nearly £200 million asked for in the Estimates this year only £1 million is asked for in Vote 7 for the Reserves. Surely this is a case of faulty allocation of priorities? As I have said earlier, in the event of emergency the Royal Navy has to be ready for immediate action on a vast scale. The speed at which the Reserves are mobilised and the degree of their 1017 efficiency are perhaps of even greater importance in the case of the Royal Navy than in the case of the other two Armed Services of the Crown. In another place, on 23rd February, the First Lord said that it was not yet possible to come to a decision about the Royal Naval Reserve. This question has been going on for month after month, almost year after year. Surely it is high time that the Admiralty and the Ministry of Transport resolved their differences, and that His Majesty's Government let the House know what decision they have reached about the Royal Naval Reserve.
The strength of the R.N.V.R. calls, as the Financial Secretary said, for close examination. The Estimates show that the Admiralty have set the established strength they require at nearly 15,000 officers and men. Yet the target set for 1949–50 is only 7,000—rather less than half the number fixed by the Naval Staff for the necessary strength of the Reserve. This in itself would be bad enough, but even more serious is the fact that it appears that there are only about 1,400 ratings at present in the Reserve out of a target of more than 5,000, while the establishment was fixed at nearly 13,000. It is true that this number will eventually be augmented by the arrival of National Service men, but it appears that for a long time the R.N.V.R. will remain at a strength considerably below the safety line.
In view of this position, it becomes hard to understand the attitude of the Admiralty towards the R.N.V.(S.)R., whose members are accepted in name as a dormant Reserve. I cannot find out from the Votes that they are given any financial provision for training whatever. These officers, who served during the war and who acquired a very high standard of efficiency, are being wasted. Many of them are being released to join the Territorials and the R.A.F.V.R., and will eventually have to be replaced by untrained men in the event of hostilities. I could say a lot more about the R.N.V.(S.)R. but as it will be the subject of an Amendment to be moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) I will leave the matter there.
There is, however, one aspect which I wish to impress upon the Government. I refer to the question of Reserves of 1018 aircrews for naval aviation. It appears that the Navy have no comparable Reserve to the R.A.F.V.R., since the four air squadrons of the R.N.V.R. are a small active Reserve of about 100 pilots flying operational types of aircraft This Reserve corresponds not to the R.A.F.V.R. but to the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. They should indeed really be renamed the Royal Naval Auxiliary Air Service. There is no provision, as in the case of the R.A.F.V.R., for a pool of pilots and other aircrew members being kept in training. In view of the evidence which the Parliamentary Secretary gave today of the growing importance of air power over the sea. and to which I referred earlier, this neglect to provide adequate aircrew Reserves seems to me to be absolute folly. Naval flying is one of the most hazardous of all Service occupations, although one might not realise it from the meagre pay, and losses in war are very heavy. It is particularly vital that there shall be maintained a large reserve of aircrews. But there is no provision at present for their training, and we shall lose these men altogether. They can no longer keep in flying practice. Those who do so can only do it as members of an Air Force instead of a naval Reserve.
To sum up, I have said that we rejoice in the improvement in the Royal Navy today compared with what it was a year ago, but I must also say that we on this side of the House are dissatisfied with the Government's general attitude towards maritime defences. We are not told what we are getting for our money. The country has not been given a full statement of naval defence policy. There is no evidence of any new construction being planned to exploit the increasingly important element of the air, nor to deal with the greatly increased danger from submarines. We see that the failure to maintain the ships of the Reserve Fleet has resulted in excessive expenditure to bring them back to a state of usefulness. The construction of new aircraft carriers and cruisers is still suspended and no decision appears to have been taken for the resumption of this work.
The manning of the Fleet, though in a better state than the other two Services, is still causing great anxiety to the country and hardship to the officers and men, and the Naval Reserves are in a parlous condition, particularly with re- 1019 gard to naval aviation. In spite of all this, we rejoice that the morale, fighting efficiency and keenness of the officers and men of the Royal Navy are as great as they are, and deserve the highest praise and the thanks of the nation. We in return owe it to them that in ships, equipment, conditions of service and Reserves, they are given nothing but the best.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu (Huddersfield)
The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) has dealt with these Estimates with all his customary pleasantness, but I do not think that he has had any major criticism to make either of them or of the speech which was made by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. I think that that absence of major criticism was due not to the hon. Gentleman's pleasantness but to the fact that there is nothing in these Estimates, or indeed, in my hon. Friend's speech, of which major criticism can be made. The main burden of the hon. Gentleman's complaint was on the score of lack of information, and, on the whole, I am bound to say that I think there is much in that complaint. I think we are tending still to carry over into peace time a little too much of the war-time mentality which enforced secrecy upon everything to do with these Services.
With the hon. Gentleman's estimate of the major problem which faces the Navy today I entirely agree, and I have no doubt that everybody else in the House agrees; that is the tremendous new problem which faces everybody concerned with the Navy as a result of the development of the true submarine. I must say that I myself have no great doubts that the Admiralty will be able to solve that problem satisfactorily and that they will be able to provide for the defence of this country the fast chasers which are obviously needed in place of the frigates for dealing with the submarines, and indeed the necessary defence from the air.
Of all Government departments, the Admiralty is the one which I tend to admire most. It seems to me to be about the only Government department which has really learned the art of dealing with the Treasury. Where other people take "No" for an answer, the Admiralty seems merely to bend slightly before the 1020 Treasury's frown, and invariably in the long run to get exactly what they want. My fear, however, is that what the Admiralty want, is not always what the Admiralty ought to get.
There is always a tremendous emphasis placed by the Admiralty, and quite rightly so, upon the need for the best best type of equipment, but less emphasis has been placed on the requirements of the men. The German Navy had quite a distinct policy. They used to make certain that their ships were fighting units, and fighting units only. They did not bother to any great extent about the comfort and convenience of the men at sea, but because their ships were fighting units and in many ways were uncomfortable to serve in, the Germans took great care that when these ships were in port the men themselves were housed in extremely good barracks. They did not live to any great extent aboard ship when they were in harbour, but they were taken into barracks which were extremely good. It is true that our ships at sea, certainly in the immediate past, were almost as uncomfortable to serve in as were those of the Germans, but it is also unfortunately true that we had no such provision as the Germans had for the comfort of the men ashore.
The hon. Member for Hereford made references to the bad effect on re-engagement of conditions in the Royal Naval barracks. Like him, I do not wish to keep on repeating myself on these subjects, but this is the fourth Debate on the Navy Estimates in which I have had the pleasure of taking part; this will be the fourth time I have brought up certain points about the Royal Naval barracks, and I have not the slightest doubt that it will also be the fourth time that the Civil Lord will ignore everything I have got to say.
I do, however, wish to repeat one or two points about the whole question of the rebuilding and redesigning of barracks. I do not know whether plans are very far ahead for the redesigning of barracks. I hope they are, and if they are I hope it is now the intention of the Admiralty to make all Royal Naval barracks very much smaller in the future than they have been in the past, for two reasons. The first reason is that a very large establishment is difficult to control; 1021 it is difficult to maintain discipline and anything like a decent morale in such an establishment. Secondly, a large establishment is a particularly vulnerable target for atom bombs, and there is a serious danger that in any future war if we persist in maintaining those three very large depots at Devonport, Chatham and Portsmouth, they can be wiped out in a single day with all the men in them.
Besides being made smaller, I hope new barracks will also have substantial changes in design. In the old barracks a mess deck was a sort of utility place where everything was done. The men slept, ate, smoked, sweated, cooked and did their "dhobying" there. Because so many activities were carried on in one place, the atmosphere was terrible. I hope that new barracks will be properly designed for men to live in, and that, for example, there will be dining halls quite apart from the mess decks so that the men will not have to sleep with the smell of stale food.
I now come to some points about the treatment of men at sea and about the design of ships and its effect upon the conditions of men in the Navy. I am not myself qualified to talk about the seaworthiness of the ships in which we send men to sea. I am a layman in that respect. It has been disquieting to find that our ships have a tendency to go down when other ships can stand up to very heavy treatment indeed from bombardment. It may be that the loss of the "Hood" was just an accident; I do not know. But there is one aspect of design on which I have some qualification to speak. I believe that our ships are not designed as a whole; they are not designed as complete units. What happens is that the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors—that hardworked and admirable body—design a ship and put into it all the essentials. The less "essential" things—for the comfort of the men—are put in as an afterthought as it were, and not as part of the general design.
In one ship in which I had experience during the war there was a typical example of this sort of thing. All the things which were nearly essential, but not quite, were put anywhere in the ship, parked wherever there happened to be a space. Things like hoists and winches 1022 for bringing ammunition from the ammunition room were parked slap in the middle of the mess deck, or were lying about the iron deck. Quite apart from things like hoists and winches, in the few ships in which there is a pretence of modern comfort, such as the provision of refrigerators, to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred, such things, not having been allowed for in the original design, are dumped just anywhere.
I believe it to be true that British ships are probably the cleanest in the world but it is astonishing to me that the are not, in fact, the dirtiest. Taking into account all the apparatus which clutters up space it is astounding that officers and men can keep ships as clean as they do. Apart from cleanliness, the lack of consideration for the men who have to serve in ships affects efficiency. It really is not good enough that seamen should be made to serve their four-hour watches in open gun-shields without any form of heating whatsoever. The Americans have electric heating in their gun-shields, which helps to keep the men warm; and unless the men do keep warm they cannot do their job properly when they are called upon suddenly for action.
Apart from that kind of comfort which is essential to efficiency the comfort of men in our ships in other ways has been neglected in the past. I was delighted to hear the Parliamentary Secretary talk on the very mundane subject of washrooms. We had a dreadful experience of washrooms during the short time I was at sea. The space in which 40 seamen could wash was about the size of the Clerk's Table, and at rush hours it was almost impossible to get near it. The only way in which I could manage to have anything like a bath was to use the bucket in which I had been sick, had done my washing and had made cocoa for the rest of my messmates. That was the main means by which I had to keep myself clean. I am therefore delighted that washrooms are being modernised, and that showers are being provided. I have heard, however, that although showers are being provided, the water tanks are of such small capacity that it is impossible to draw water in sufficient quantity. That is not an untypical example of the design of some of our ships—things are put in as an afterthought, and not as part of the original design.
1023 All this seems to be to some extent a criticism of the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors, but it is much more a criticism of the Admiralty. I understand that the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors have to work in extremely difficult conditions. Because of their necessarily long training, which keeps the members of that body learning until the age of 25, they are inevitably rather apart from the Navy as a whole. I regret that that "apartness" is intensified by the status of that Corps. They are neither one thing nor the other; they are part Navy, part Civil Service, and part civilian. I believe it would be helpful if the Corps were to become an integral part of the Navy, just the same as any other branch of the Service.
I think it would give them greater standing if they were part of the Navy; I think, too, it would help them better to understand their own job. If they spent a little more time at sea in the ships they designed, and talked a little more to the men who actually use the ships, they would be able to improve design and avoid the mistakes they have made in the past. That, to some extent, is a criticism of the Corps. But I criticise the Admiralty, too, on the grounds that the Corps is much too small. There are far too few men for too much work. I know that a committee has been looking into questions of pay and conditions of the Corps, and I hope their recommendations will be published soon, that they will be favourable and will be acted upon quickly. I hope they will lead to an increase in the number of men who are prepared to go into this absolutely vital service. Unless ships are designed better and more efficiently than they have been in the past the efficiency of the Navy will be rather curtailed.
In this short and very inadequate speech I have been trying to make a plea for fuller and better consideration for sailors. Whenever a civilian goes into a Service and spends a war there and comes out again he tends to make two resolutions: first, that he will never go back into the Service if he can help it; second, that wherever he goes in civilian life he will try to do something to improve the conditions of the men with whom he served. Unfortunately, one of these resolutions tends to weaken as time passes. He tends 1024 to forget the people with whom he has served and think only of the organisation as a whole. He remembers the Navy, but he forgets the sailors. In that respect, I think this Parliament has been very much better than some of its predecessors. One has only to hear the speeches made on the Navy Estimates or read the Amendments on the Order Paper today to realise that those in this House who served in the Navy have not forgotten the men with whom they served. I ask the Civil Lord to make sure that the Admiralty are made fully aware of the determination of this House of Commons that British seamen shall be treated like human beings, and given the best possible chance to continue to render great service to their country.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor (Paddington, South)
I agree with what the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) has said about the necessity for ensuring that the personnel of the Royal Navy, both ashore and afloat, should be able to serve in the best possible conditions. I should, however, like to turn to the White Paper on Defence, which lays down three main factors for Defence—(1) Reconstructive, building and equipping new and efficient units; (2) maintaining our existing forces in a condition to resist aggression if suddenly and unexpectedly called upon to do so; and (3) arrangements to meet our current commitments throughout the world. According to the Navy Estimates there is to be no new construction, although construction is to be continued on certain ships which have already been laid down. Owing to the advance of science and new weapons of offence, the construction of a new Navy both as regards design and type of vessel must be a very difficult task.
The Royal Corps of Naval Constructors, which has rendered such splendid service in years gone by, will, I am sure, continue to do so in future in the construction of our new ships. We do not know whether any decision has yet been come to with regard to the design of the particular types of ship which are considered necessary to bring the new Navy into being. I hope that this decision will not be long delayed. When the types of ship have been decided upon it will be a very long time before the new Navy is 1025 built, launched and in full commission. Pending that time we have to rely, in order to carry out the three factors of defence, upon ships that have been left to us after the last war, the majority of which are at the present time in reserve. We cannot wait for getting these new types of ships for a Navy powerful and efficient enough to carry out the objectives of defence as laid down. We must have them immediately ready.
The second factor is that of maintaining our existing forces in a condition to resist aggression if suddenly and unexpectedly forced upon us. Such forces do not exist today. We have not got them in commission. If we have to meet a sudden attack we have not the ships with which to do it. At the present time the strength of the Home Fleet, as given in the White Paper, consist of one battleship, two light Fleet carriers, four cruisers and two destroyer flotillas. That undoubtedly is a big advance over the striking force which we had at the time of the last Estimate and which was one cruiser and the famous four battle destroyers—a marvellous striking force. Therefore I suppose the country can congratulate itself upon having an increased strength in the Home Fleet.
The Minister of Defence, who I am glad to see is present, and the Civil Lord of the Admiralty, with his experience of the Service, will know that the force in the Home Fleet is totally inadequate to satisfy the second main factor laid down in the White Paper. We are particularly deficient in cruisers, of course, and in aircraft carriers, destroyers and vessels to counter submarine attack. These last vessels should be of sufficient speed to cope with the latest submarines, but, so far as I know, we have not got them. None have been provided for in the new Estimates. That is a very serious matter. If no further ships have been added to the Home Fleet since last September what have we got in the remainder of the world in order to carry out the kind of defence laid down in the White Paper. It amounts to this: one battle ship, one Fleet carrier, two light Fleet carriers, 11 cruisers and 17 destroyers. Also we have 35 frigates, 30 submarines and 14 mine layers. The Minister of Defence, above everybody in this House, will know how inadequate we were in the last war in respect of cruisers, and he must admit that the force which I 1026 have just read out is totally inadequate to meet sudden attack or a sudden act of aggression. Therefore I think that the Navy Estimates entirely fail in that respect.
The speech of the Parliamentary Secretary was not at all encouraging as to action that is being taken by the Government in order to secure a sufficiency of ships to meet that sudden attack. I am sure that it is agreed that there will be no warning at all for the next war. Because there will be no warning, unless we have a Fleet ready for instant action we shall not be able to meet the initial attack, and we cannot afford to be in that position. I think it is also agreed that the menace is from Russia. We know that Russia has a very large number of submarines which are particularly dangerous to our world-wide trade and for blocking our harbours and the approaches in the Channel and in the North Sea. So far as I know, we have no ships sufficiently fast to counter the modern submarine.
In addition to the danger of sudden attack at home, there is the additional danger of Communist risings all over the world in places where Russia either has complete control or has Communist organisations at the same time. It is certain that as soon as there is an act of aggression here by Communist Russia there will also be aggression in all other parts of the world against our trade and against our ports. How are we to meet it? Not with the force I have just read out. That would be impossible. We could not defend our trade, on which we depend, and we could not convey troops or whatever else is required overseas. We have not the ships to provide protection for convoys or for trade. They are not provided in the figures I have read out to the House and, so far as I understand the speeches made this afternoon, no steps are being taken to see that we shall have them.
The White Paper on Defence states that the attempt of the United Nations to build up an armed force has proved a grievous disappointment: that collective security upon a world-wide basis has not been achieved. I mention those facts for a particular reason. It is just because of them and for the other reasons I have stated, that it is essential for us to go ahead and to provide for ourselves such force as it is possible for us to do. We 1027 must obtain that force by commissioning the ships of the Reserve as quickly as we can and particularly the ships in which we are deficient—cruisers, destroyers, small craft and submarine chasers—in order that we may be ready to meet sudden attack.
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor
I repeat that in order to meet this sudden attack we must have a Fleet in being at the earliest possible moment in order that the personnel manning our ships may have the opportunity of becoming efficient. That applies not only to gunnery and torpedo and other exercises, but also to the question of the commanding officers practising the handling of their ships and the commanders-in-chief practising the controlling and exercising of the vessels under their command. We have had technical and strategical exercises carried out this year and last year. That is all to the good. From reports in the newspapers we were led to imagine that there was a tremendous Fleet at sea. There was, of course, nothing of the sort. We had not a large Fleet to send. It was a skeleton Fleet. It was a make believe exercise. It had to be a make believe exercise, because there were so few ships. No doubt it was very good, up to a point, but what we want is a sufficiency of ships in order that these exercises may be practical and real.
There is another very important point to which I wish to refer, and that is the policy laid down in the White Paper. I honestly do not understand it. It states:Policy during the forthcoming year will be directed to the improvement by all possible means of the state of readiness of the Fleet.What does that actually mean? We have not been told. Does it mean that there are to be additions to the Fleet? I hope that the Civil Lord will tell us something about that. Then it goes on:to the welding of the new Royal Navy, that has now emerged, into an effective fighting instrument.Will the Civil Lord tell us what is this new Royal Navy? I have not the fog- 1028 giest idea. We have not a new Royal Navy. We have the bits and pieces which are left after the last war—[Laughter.]—hon. Members may laugh but that is a fact. We have not a new Royal Navy, and I hope that the House will be enlightened about that matter. We cannot have a new Royal Navy until we get the newly constructed ships. "Welding it together"—what does it mean?
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor
With regard to a general defence plan we have been told that there have been various discussions and conferences and visits by officers, officials and scientists and all that sort of thing. That is all to the good. But surely it is about time that all these discussions and conferences came to an end and we decided on a defence plan. I do not know whether we have a plan. But with all those nations coming in with us the matter will take some time, and we cannot afford to wait. In my opinion we must have a plan now within the British Commonwealth and Empire. I congratulate the British Colonies on their decision to have navies of their own so far as they are able to provide them. It will be an immense asset in regard to defence, and we must have a British Commonwealth and British Empire defence plan. Perhaps we have. I do not know. We have not been told. I hope we have.
Such a plan can only be a real plan providing every unit in the Commonwealth and in the British Colonial Empire will now carry out the purpose they have set themselves and the part which they will play in war—providing ships, training their crews and so on. We must be absolutely certain that when war breaks out, if unfortunately it does break out, every single unit in the Commonwealth and every British Colony will play their part. They have played their part magnificently in the past. Nothing could have been better. We owe a deep debt of gratitude to our Colonies and Dominions for the part they played, but they were not ready when war broke out. We are no longer able ourselves to carry the whole burden of defence. We must rely on the assistance of units of the Commonwealth and the British Colonial Empire. They must therefore get ready 1029 now. The plan should be accepted now so that, should we unfortunately be suddenly attacked, we should be prepared to meet that attack at once. The only way in which we could meet such an eventuality would be by having an Empire plan and everybody agreeing to it and everybody carrying it out in peace time in order to be ready if, unfortunately, war should come.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Commander Pursey (Hull, East)
I am very pleased to follow the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) because if any one were to go through his speech sentence by sentence, they would find that either his fears did not exist or else that the greater number of questions which he has posed have been answered. The hon. and gallant Member is appealing for the Fleet to be ready immediately. He is appealing for the new ships to be built forthwith. I prefer to put my trust in the present Sea Lords, with their vast war-time experience, rather than trust in the experience of the hon. and gallant Member, which is 30 years out of date. But let us take his argument back to a contemporary of his, the world-renowned First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir John Fisher—the great "Jacky Fisher." His maxim was, "Build last and build fast." Then when war comes you will have new ships and not obsolete ones. If the Admiralty were to be led up the garden path by the arguments of hon. Members opposite and of the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington, we should be building ships now which when the guns fired would be obsolete.
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor
Of course I do not advocate that ships should be built until their design has been settled. Then I strongly advocate that they should be built. The hon. and gallant Member says that if we build now in so many years time the ships would be obsolete. Therefore I suppose he means we should wait and wait, and when war breaks out then we should build. Is that the policy of the hon. and gallant Gentleman? If so he will not be in time.
§ Commander Pursey
The hon. and gallant Gentleman should not try to twist my arguments to suit his own. I did not interrupt him during his speech. He was asking for new ships to be built. Anyone 1030 would imagine that we built battleships like Ford cars and discarded them every year. Apparently he has no idea of the length of life of a battleship. He went on to make the equally idiotic statement—because there is no other word for it—that there have been no new ships since the war. The "Vanguard" has been completed since the war, admittedly not with improvements as the result of postwar experience. In addition, several other new ships, from cruisers down, have been completed. I hope that the Civil Lord, with the figures at his disposal, will completely shatter the argument that there have been no new ships completed since the war. The argument about starting new construction is fantastic when we have in existence ships which are partly completed.
I could go on at length through practically the whole of the hon. and gallant Member's speech and tear it into smithereens for the bunkum that it is. It was purely a Navy League speech on the argument, "We have got 'nowt,' we have nowhere to go for "owt" and when the day comes we shall have 'nowt.' "It was quite fantastic nonsense because actually and relatively we are stronger at sea than ever we have been in the centuries since this country became a maritime nation. Moreover, the hon. and gallant Gentleman's argument about producing a plan is fantastic nonsense, because more information is given about the Navy today than has been given at any other time of possible crisis. Whenever there is any question, as the hon. and gallant Member tried to suggest, of a sudden threat of attack he is asking the Government and the Admiralty to produce their plans on a plate to the enemy. I never heard such bunkum in the number of years that I have listened to Debates in this House both before I became a Member and afterwards. I hope that that torpedoes the hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech.
§ Commander Pursey
I have given way to the hon. and gallant Member once. He had a fair innings with no interruptions. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has been torpedoed, so he should fly the non-intervention flag.
It is my purpose today to deal with a totally different subject. I refer to the 1031 more humane factor of welfare. I do so with the knowledge and experience of 10 years on the lower deck plus 20 years as an officer. I use the term "welfare" in its widest sense, namely, vocational training in the Service, the placing of men in employment after leaving the Service; the welfare of the families of serving men; the welfare of the man himself when he leaves the Service and, particularly, the rehabilitation of invalids. These factors are of vital importance today when we have full employment. Full employment is the major reason why we cannot get the recruits. It is a state of affairs we have never had before in the history of this country. Previously, in the time of the Governments of right hon. Gentlemen opposite, general starvation was their main recruiting factor.
§ Commander Pursey
I refuse to give way to every fish that rises to every bit of bait that I throw down. I have not got the Floor of the House indefinitely.
These factors are of vital importance today when it is difficult to recruit and more difficult to get the men to re-engage. The reasons for the importance of this matter are that a man when he is in the Service rightly wishes to be sure that his family will be looked after if they are in difficulty, and that he himself will be able to get a worthwhile job when he returns to "Civvy street." I appreciate, none more, that more has been done by this Government than by any previous Government. The Service man and the ex-Service man today is better off actually and relatively than he has ever been before. In spite of the nonsense talked by hon. Gentlemen opposite, the vast majority of Service and ex-Service men will support my statement. I fully appreciate that both the Admiralty and the Ministry of Labour have done far more for Service and ex-Service men than any Department has done before. But I say to the Admiralty that I want them to go still further in the matter of vocational training not only in the amount done but also in the variety of jobs for which they train the men. I ask also that they should take more steps to ensure that a man completes his vocational training before he leaves the Service. He should com- 1032 plete his training in Service time and, if that is not done and he must do it in his own time after leaving the Service, it should be done at no expense to him. I have had cases where that has not been so.
On the question of obtaining worthwhile jobs, the National Service man has a right to his old job. Therefore, the main problem is with the long Service man, the regular whom we want to join to make the Service his career. Fortunately, here we have the advantage of the National Association for the Employment of Regular Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen, whose short title is the Regular Forces Employment Association, which was founded in 1884. This Association has over 60 years specialist experience, and is the main employment agency for both the Navy and the R.A.F. In the last couple of years, however, the British Legion—I do not want to be controversial about that tonight—has been trying to encroach on a specialist task which they are not competent to undertake. I notice that the hon. and gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) has started to register a private protest.
§ Commander Pursey
The question of the British Legion was raised from the opposite side of the House first, and I will deal with it later. The number of people placed in jobs will show the success of these two rival organisations. In the last year for which figures are available, the Regular Forces Employment Association placed in jobs over 54,000 ex-Service men, whereas the British Legion placed only 16,800 men and women, no distinction being drawn between the sexes. There is no necessity for this duplication. The Admiralty should ensure that every man leaving the Service is fully acquainted with the work done by the Regular Forces Employment Association, and they should render every financial assistance from nonpublic and other funds in conjunction with the other two Service Departments so that this organisation can continue its good work without the disgraceful business of cadging charity from the public for ex-Service men.
I turn to the problem of the welfare of the serving man's family. The main 1033 cause of concern has always been illness, doctors' bills and the like. Fortunately, that worry has been removed by the Labour Government's National Health Service.
This is a great boon, not only to the man's family, but also to the man himself, in removing the fear of financial hardship in the event of illness at his home. There remains the question of obtaining information about his family, and the question of rendering help, preferably voluntarily, to a family in need. Several "private" organisations have grown up over the years and have "cashed in" on this subject, with much unnecessary duplication, and, unfortunately, the majority of them depend for their funds on cadging from the public. This national cadging from the public by tin-rattling, whether by flag days or poppy days, is most distasteful, both to Service people and ex-Service men; it is also a disgrace to the country, and it should be abolished. The Navy itself abolished this tin-rattling and cadging for charity over 20 years ago, and, for a quarter of a century, they have had their own benevolent fund—the Royal Naval Benevolent Trust, which has never itself engaged in this tin-rattling and private cadging. Nevertheless, this organisation has largely looked after the welfare of the Service man's family and the ex-Service man, and today has assets of over £2,500,000. In addition, there is the Royal Naval Old Comrades' Association, about which I shall say a few words later.
The point I want to stress here is that the Admiralty should make more use of these two naval organisations for all their naval welfare work. There would then be little or no need for them to make use of these "private" organisations, such as the Soldiers', Sailors' and Airmen's Families' Association, the Forces Help Society and similar organisations. Representatives of these organisations are relics of a bygone age—[An HON. MEMBER: "Like you."]—Thank you—when the pay and pensions paid to Service men were mere pittances. and, if his family were in trouble, he had no alternative but to apply for private charity. Today, with better emoluments, the sailor reckons to provide his own funds, to abhor private charity and hold his head high as a true Britisher, independent of every one and of all charity.
1034 The representatives of these "private" organisations are usually women taking a leading part in Tory propaganda and activities. [Interruption.] If I am challenged, I will gladly give details, if the hon. Member wants them. Ex-Service men and women have the greatest objection to their welfare questions today being dealt with by a woman who, tomorrow, comes to canvass their votes for the Tory Party. It happens all over the country. These women took up this work as war work, instead of going into the factories and doing some really national war work, and so they have no practical knowledge whatever of Service life and conditions, and they have no business to be "mucking about" now with ex-Service men's welfare.
In any case, with the increasing anti-flag day complex of the public, the funds of these organisations must obviously diminish and the organisations themselves close down for want of financial support from the public. The same argument applies to the British Legion. It is the greatest national tin-rattling and cadging organisation, and, with its excessive expenses, is the greatest charitable scandal of the century, and the Royal Navy has very little room for it.
I now want to say a few words about the men leaving the Services. I have dealt with the question of employment. There are also the problems of pensions and allowances, and other problems on which they wish to have the help of experts. Consequently, the Admiralty should make full use of the Royal Naval Old Comrades' Association and allied organisations, which were in existence long before the Legion, and were doing this job admirably in the first three years after the first world war, which was the most important time, with a sheeny Government in power denying ex-Service men their pensions and allowances. Admittedly, the Royal Naval Old Comrades' Association is mainly on a unit basis and has only a skeleton national organisation, but, last year, the Admiralty gave encouragement to the amalgamation of these units into the Royal Naval Association, on a somewhat similar basis to the Royal Air Force Association. The most important factor which can help this amalgamation is that of giving to the Royal Naval Old Comrades' Association some responsibility and some responsible work 1035 to do. The obvious task is the welfare of the Service man's family and the welfare of the ex-Service man, in which direction they could be the voluntary agents of the Royal Naval Benevolent Trust. Today, the Admiralty also have the advantage of a large number of ex-W.R.N.S. in the W.R.N.S. Association, and these men and women, both with special knowledge of naval problems, are better able to deal with these matters than these women who have never served in any of the Services at all but "dodged the column" the whole war through.
There are also available to the Admiralty the services of various retired naval officers and petty officers in their own recruiting offices, in the Regular Forces Employment Association, and other similar organisations. These officers and petty officers are closely in touch with everything happening locally as far as employment is concerned, as they are with any other considerations affecting ex-Service men, and they are able to render invaluable help to their colleagues who were in the Services either with them or after them. Obviously, ex-naval men would definitely prefer to be dealt with by ex-naval men and women who appreciate their problems, rather than by old soldiers of the British Legion, who know nothing about the sea service.
The short point here is that the Navy, with its own benevolent fund and with its own ex-Service men's organisations, can be independent and deal with all its own welfare work. Largely, this is what is actually happening now, and it is like the Royal Air Force Association, which also has its own fund and organisation and largely handles all its own welfare work. Both Services can make their funds self-supporting, and so avoid this disgraceful cadging of charity from the public in the name of the ex-Service man, whereby the ex-Service man has not only been exploited financially, but politically as well.
My last point is with regard to the rehabilitation of invalids. There was an Admiralty Fleet Order, No. 7350 of 1945, which gave the Navy an after-care scheme, but that Order largely refers those invalids to the care of the Red Cross, again a private voluntary organisation, albeit a very fine one, and I pay my 1036 tribute to the good work it is doing. In addition, there was a pamphlet, B.R.1008, "Notes for the Guidance of Ratings, Men and Women, Invalided from the Services." There, I understand, there is a reference to the Royal Naval Benevolent Trust, which I wish the Admiralty would amplify. The principle should be that when disabled ex-Service men, invalids and others, are discharged they should be dispersed in the countryside, with their own friends and relatives.
The policy of segregating them in hostels, in villages, and so on, where they are literally taking in one another's washing, and where their wives have to listen all their lives to the backchat about somebody else's bomb is wrong. This rehabilitation should be brought into touch with the Royal Naval Benevolent Trust and the Royal Naval Old Comrades' Association so that the Trust which has done such invaluable work should be able to get into touch with these people as soon as they leave the Service. As a consequence the Navy and the Admiralty should take a greater interest in the ex-Service men, and with these two organisations looking after the Naval ex-Service men and their families the Navy can stand four-square on its own feet, self-supporting and providing its own funds, because today there is no more reason why there should be a flag day for an ex-Service man than for any other member of the community.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite
After the earthquake comes the still, small voice. I am sure, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that when you called upon the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey) we all realised that it would not be long before he found in the Navy Estimates a vehicle for attack on the British Legion. Should the hon. and gallant Member catch the eye of the occupant of the Chair next Friday when the House is discussing simplified spelling, fox-hunting or tied houses, I am sure his remarks will lead to a similar conclusion.
The Minister of Defence, were he still with us, would recall that when he occupied the honourable position of First Lord during the closing stages of the war, the Navy launched out like the other Services with an excellent scheme 1037 of adult education. I want to ask whether that is proceeding with the same efficiency in time of peace as it did then, and whether the system of information rooms, which were established on board His Majesty's ships and in the shore establishments, and which contained the newspapers of the day, HANSARD and other publications available to the ratings, is still being pursued.
I should like to add my voice to the plea of the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite that employment on discharge should still be a first interest of their Lordships, and, indeed, that the problem of resettlement becomes no less acute because we are at peace than it was during the general demobilisation, and that officers and men coming out of the Navy, whether after long-term engagements or under the National Service scheme, still need that provision. I hope and believe that the Board of Admiralty still have them very much in mind. While on the subject of welfare and education, I would inquire whether there is now a sufficient inflow of schoolmasters and instructors. I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary will remember, because he was in the House then, that in the Estimates debated in 1945—the last Debate that took place before the end of the war—that question was raised in several quarters of the House, and there was then some dissatisfaction and anxiety about the pay and terms of service of that particular branch. I thought I would take this opportunity of asking whether the situation has now, four years later, cleared up satisfactorily.
When speaking earlier this afternoon, the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) returned to the question of naval barracks. I wish to say a word about that, too, because I well recall that in the early days of this Government we were told that this question was going to be tackled as it had never been tackled before, that Chatham, Devonport and Portsmouth were all going to be razed to the ground, not by atom bombs, but by His Majesty's Government, and that new and splendid structures would rapidly rise. On that occasion, I took the opportunity of saying, as I have said before to other Governments, that I should believe it when I saw it, because during my lifetime, anyhow, all these things have followed one monotonous 1038 course. In time of peace, the Estimates are cut so low that the money is not available for the rebuilding of barracks, and when war breaks out there is a shortage of material and labour, and infinitely more men have to be crowded into the accommodation than is the case in time of peace. However, we all wish the Government well in their blueprint, and I hope that, in due course, it will result in the building of new barracks. There is much to be said for the suggestion that they should be smaller and more dispersed than is the case at present.
A Motion will shortly be coming before us, moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis), on the subject of the Royal Naval Volunteer Supplementary Reserve upon which it would not be in Order for me to touch now, but I should like for a few minutes to draw the attention of the House to the question of the Royal Naval Reserve—not the R.N.V.R. but the R.N.R.—upon which a Committee has been sitting for an inordinate length of time. I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that the R.N.R. is really a link of tremendous importance in the general set-up of our Naval organisations. The Royal Navy men are the professionals, those who devote their whole lives and careers to the Service, and who become expert in their various branches and departments. The Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve is, and always has been, a collection of amateurs, men who are fond of the sea, who knock about in small craft, and who in time of war have to learn a great deal about navigation, as well as everything else, gunnery and the various branches of the Service. But the Royal Naval Reserve has always consisted of men of the Merchant Navy who are constantly at sea in the following of their normal vocation. To them the sextant is an instrument of daily use, for them a chart has no mystery, and the rule of the road at sea no terrors.
They are a potential force of rapid recruitment, and it is said—I do not know whether justifiably or not, but the Minister can tell us—that this delay is due to a prolonged tug-of-war between the Admiralty and the Ministry of Transport for the bodies of these men, and that the Ministry of Transport feel that in any renewed war they should remain in the Merchant Navy and sail solely under the Red Ensign. I hope that is not so. because 1039 there were no more valuable officers acting as commodores of convoy in the recent war, both ocean and coastal, than the men who had stepped straight from the Merchant Navy into the Royal Naval Reserve, and who had the confidence and understanding of those sailing in company with them in the merchant ships.
The point which the House has to consider at the moment is that those who were commodores of convoy in the years 1939–45, with the rank of commander or captain, were two-stripers round about the year 1930 in a period of naval disarmament when the 10-year peace was still the formula being followed by the Admiralty and the War Office. But should hostilities recommence in the next five years, these men of the Merchant Navy will be essential to the successful conduct of a naval war. It used to be the tradition, particularly in the big shipping companies, that their officers joined the Royal Naval Reserve as a matter of course and as a matter of tradition and were thus brought into the most valuable annual contacts with the officers of the Royal Navy and the routine of His Majesty's ships.
There is another reason which I want to impress upon the Parliamentary Secretary. If only these officers can come in now as juniors they will begin immediately to climb the ladder of promotion. I think that is important because in the two wars within the experience of most hon. Members sitting in this House, upon the outbreak of war their Lordships have had an all-consuming passion to make everybody, whatever their age, a sub-lieutenant; and not only a sub-lieutenant, but a sub-lieutenant prefixed by a series of most humiliating adjectives—temporary, acting, probationary; terms which are almost as offensive to my ears as the general phrase applied to the lower deck—and we have heard it again today—"hostilities only," as if engaging the King's enemies were a secondary or almost trivial matter. I hope their Lordships will give thought to this subject, because these are psychological points which, to my mind, bear upon recruiting to a very considerable extent.
The long delay in deciding the future of the Royal Naval Reserve is gravely endangering this fine tradition of the automatic joining of it by sea-going officers in 1040 the Merchant Navy and, should hostilities break out within a reasonably short period of time—say five years—we should be confronted with a serious shortage of junior R.N.R. officers with experience of naval routine and method. Even if they are to be retained under the Red Ensign, even if the Ministry of Transport win this tug-of-war, if tug-of-war it be, surely it is important that these gentlemen should be instructed in gunnery, signals, and convoy organisation in all of which they will have to take part should they be sailing in convoy of merchant ships or otherwise.
I want also to ask about the clerical branch of the Royal Naval Reserve, now called Supply and Secretarial, which used to be largely recruited from the professions of banking and chartered accountancy. Are the Admiralty still searching that field for junior officers to take over these duties, in the event of hostilities? Are they being encouraged, and if so, is the intake satisfactory?
There is another important source of manpower to which I must refer before I conclude. It is the ex-officers of the Royal Naval Reserve who have gone through a process known as swallowing the anchor, who have retired from the sea and been lured ashore, by financial or matrimonial inducements, perhaps in some cases both planned simultaneously, thereby assuring them at one and the same time of full employment and freedom from want. Whether connubiality and security have come together or not, the point I would put to the Parliamentary Secretary is that these men still exist. What surely is more important to the nation is that their knowledge still exists, their training still exists and, most valuable of all, their war experience still exists. Is anything being done about refresher courses for ex-officers like that who could be brought back and polished up in the latest methods of convoy organisation, D.E.M.S., naval control and the like? Is the Admiralty still in contact with these gentlemen?
On this topic, there was a very interesting and valuable article in the "Sunday Times" of 27th February, written by an officer who has had a rather unusual experience. It was Admiral Sir Charles Morgan, whose name the Parliamentary Secretary obviously recognises at once, who was Flag Officer Commanding in Italy in the later stages of the war and 1041 until, I think, only 18 months ago, was Admiral Commanding Reserves—I think the last to hold the appointment before the officer who holds it at present—and who since his retirement from the Royal Navy has taken an appointment in the Merchant Navy and has been to sea in the situation of something approaching staff officer, captain or commodore with the Blue Funnel Line. In this article he used words which I would like to read to the House because they seem to me to sum up what I have been endeavouring to say. He is writing of his experience sailing under the Red Ensign and he says:Not only were the large majority of Merchant Navy officers anxious to know about the organisation, administration and system of advancement in the Navy, but they were also keenly interested in the employment of the men, gunnery control, navigation and the general routine in a man-of-war. The desire for knowledge about their sister Service was particularly noticeable among the younger officers, and it is this interest which the Admiralty must actively encourage. The spirit and determination of the men of the Merchant Navy, so much in evidence in the days of the Malta and Russian convoys, is still there, but it is lying dormant. A regular interchange of officers will revive and strengthen it, and in so doing make a vital contribution towards the defence of the Empire and the preservation of World Peace.I commend these as wise words coming from a wise man. The Royal Naval Reserve has an unrivalled record in two world wars. Let it neither perish nor decay.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Edgar Granville (Eye)
The hon. and gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) has succeeded in pouring oil on very stormy waters after the speeches of the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) and the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey). The hon. and gallant Member for East Hull was certainly forthright and he conducted a terrific attack upon the British Legion. He gave the British Legion a great deal of publicity in the House this afternoon and if he wanted to do them a lot of good, that was the best way to do it. Whatever the merits or demerits of the case, I do not think it will be settled by speeches of that sort in this House. I was sorry that the hon. and gallant Member made something of a personal attack upon the hon. and gallant Member for 1042 South Paddington, who has been in this House a long time. Whatever the case may be for battleships or for the traditional conception of the British Navy, the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington has pursued the interests of the welfare of the British Navy with a single-minded purpose second to none in this House.
§ Commander Pursey
As the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville) has made a personal reference to me, perhaps he will permit me to intervene to point out that my concern today was not the British Legion but the welfare of the naval serving man and his wife and of the ex-Service man, so that they might be entirely freed from the stigma which they have suffered for the last 20 years—this public cadging and box-rattling on behalf of the ex-Service man.
§ Mr. Granville
The hon. and gallant Member is merely repeating the attack with more abuse and hardly any different phraseology. I still believe that large numbers of ex-Service men in the villages and towns of this country will have great respect for the good work done by the British Legion, irrespective of the fact that it is denounced by a crank in this House who inserts his hobby horse into a naval Debate.
The hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington referred to decentralisation with regard to naval policy, and I hope that the Civil Lord will be able to tell us a little more than the Parliamentary Secretary told us of the sort of co-operation that he anticipates between the growing Fleets of the Dominions and the Fleet of this country. Of course, this is an important factor. If the Fleet is responsible for policing a very large and growing area, then the Dominions must bear a greater amount of the cost. The Dominions are always generous, and if the case is put to them they will, I have no doubt, do what they can. It is all the more necessary, in view of the decentralisation or dispersal which is contemplated in over-all planning.
I should like to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on recovering from his attack of jaundice and upon the manner in which he introduced the Estimates today. He gave the House more information than he did last year, but I agree with the hon. Member for Here ford 1043 (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) that we should be told a little more. The hon. Member for Hereford referred, for instance, to the information which is given by the Navy Department of the United States of America. Is there really any reason why we should not be given information similarly of our activities and developments? Of course, quite rightly the taxpayer will always want to know that the public money is being well spent. He is painfully aware of the fact that £2,000 million spent on defence in four years before the war did not give us fair value for money, as was evident when the war broke out. However, I should like to pay my tribute to the Admiralty for this, that of all Government Departments the Admiralty are the most proficient in getting good value for the money they spend. I think that it is remarkable how the Admiralty have adapted our naval forces to the rapid changes of a technical and scientific character that have taken place in the last three or four years, while yet preserving their traditional organisation and efficiency.
§ Mr. Granville
I have always said that. The Admiralty are head and shoulders above all the Departments in that respect.
§ Mr. Scollan
Is not the hon. Gentleman aware of the reluctance of the Admiralty to adapt themselves to changing circumstances at the beginning of the war, when they used old-fashioned, out-of-date Seafires instead of more up-to-date aircraft?
§ Mr. Granville
If the hon. Gentleman had seen the landings of jet fighter aircraft on British carriers at sea under difficult conditions he would have been quite overcome by the great proficiency displayed—the proficiency not only of the pilots, but of all concerned—in making such a feat possible, for it was one of the most difficult technical problems to solve.
I was hoping that the Parliamentary Secretary would tell us something about the experiments in "winterisation"—in the tests in the Arctic in relation to Arctic strategy. There was the test which the United States of America made, which was called "Musk Ox" and the "Operation Frigid," in conjunction with the 1044 Royal Canadian Navy, and, I think, the Royal Canadian Air Force. I understand that we have sent ships—there have been reports in the Press about this—to test men and equipment in the Arctic and in training to overcome the enormous problems of Arctic warfare. These tests are very severe and grim for the men and the technical equipment. As the Parliamentary Secretary did not say anything about this, I hope that the Civil Lord, when he winds up the Debate, will tell us something about this vital development. It is not enough to leave these important tests to the American Navy alone or even to the Royal Canadian Navy.
I am wondering whether there has been any development in regard to standardisation of equipment, more particularly of measurements, between the Royal Navy and the United States Navy. I should like to know whether the Canadian Navy is to work upon American standards or upon our own, or whether we are envisaging some sort of standardisation between, Britain, Canada and the United States in the supply and interchangeability of types. I understand there has been a committee in existence which has been tackling this problem. The solution of it is the prerequisite of an international defence force and in itself will save hundreds of millions of pounds, and simplify the task of the United Nations in defending themselves against any aggressor.
I should like to see a new and modern scheme instituted for the training of Reserves. The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned the fascinating subjects of electronics, atomic power, radar, jets, and so on. I believe that, in conjunction with the development of our industrial war potential, there should be a scheme whereby the men in the Fleet, who man, service and fly the naval aircraft and other equipment, should go into the workshops, into the laboratories and scientific research stations, to see how the weapons with which they fight are invented and designed and made, and to see how much they depend upon the scientists and research engineers. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give some consideration to this suggestion which, I believe, has been made before, and which is in keeping with these modern days. Such a scheme for the men in the Fleet, in conjunction with 1045 their technical training, would enable many of them, who will in any case have to work upon this kind of thing themselves while they are in the Navy, to be prepared for a first-class career in civil life when the leave the Navy. I conclude with the reminder that the safety of these islands, even in these days of atomic power and jet aircraft and so on, still depends upon the Royal Navy; on the sea and in the air.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Paget (Northampton)
As an extemporary acting probationer sub-lieutenant I enter upon this naval engagement with some anxiety. I wish to preface what I want to say by stating one or two general strategic propositions, and then I shall seek to show how these naval proposals fit into them. The first general strategical proposition I wish to put forward is this, that this country at this moment is threatened, and very immediately threatened, by a very obvious danger. That danger is Russia. When the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) talks about our wanting naval defence all round the world and not against any particular enemy, I think he is saying something very dangerous. We are faced with a very immediate and real danger. Our defences against that danger are necessarily inadequate, and if we do not concentrate upon that danger our defences will be hopelessly inadequate.
The second general proposition which I would like to make is this: In any event, owing to the nature of Britain's position, her defences always must be inadequate. The hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) said, the other day, that he hoped that our defence policy would be designed next time to win the first battle. Frankly, I cannot imagine any more disastrous defence policy than that. If we attempted to plan for winning the first battle, it would mean that we would have to compete in mobilisation with a great Continental Power; and we should exhaust ourselves hopelessly in the process and have expended our reserves before we ever got to the first battle. We have to plan for surviving the first battle. We have to bear that always in mind. In the military field we want a very small and efficient army, because it is an army which, in the initial stages, will have to do the most difficult of all 1046 military manoeuvres—a fighting retreat. That must always be our position at the beginning of a war.
We have to design our defences with regard to Atlantic defences generally and the Atlantic Pact. That is to say that in a defence system which generally must be inadequate overall, we should give priority to those things in which assistance from across the Atlantic is likely to be least adequate and to come most slowly. Having said these three general things, let us consider for a moment what is the case for giving priority in expenditure, which we have given in these Estimates, to a surface fleet. The hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) said at intervals throughout his speech that the surface fleet was inadequate. We waited some time to hear for what it was inadequate. Obviously, its inadequacy could not be measured against the Russian fleet because there is no Russian fleet. Eventually, we got it; it was inadequate to carry out proper fleet manoeuvres.
That is an attitude of mind which, I am afraid, does carry weight in naval circles. Battleships are such lovely toys; they are so useful for naval manoeuvres, and they tend to be kept on that sort of basis. [An HON. MEMBER: "They cost a lot of money."] We have to look at what we want a surface fleet for. I should have thought that there was no possibility whatever of the Russians being able to put a surface fleet into the Atlantic. Apart from any fleet question, they could never get through the air. There is the radar barrage between Iceland and the Shetlands and they could never pass a ship through without an air strike being put on it.
Therefore, I should have thought that the only possibility of requiring in war a surface fleet would be for the Norwegian communications, and so far as that is concerned, I should have thought it very unlikely indeed that one would want anything larger than a cruiser. If we wanted to hold open, Norwegian communications, it would mean that we had Norwegian airfields and British airfields. That would be the purpose for which one would want to keep open the Norwegian communications. I should have thought that the air would have kept those communications far more effectively than any surface fleet would do. Therefore I would 1047 say with regard to the surface fleet that its usefulness in war is highly problematical. It is the first thing that the Americans could let us have, because America has an enormous number of surface fighting ships. I think, therefore, that in our defence, which in the general economic picture must always be inadequate, the priority given to the very expensive job of maintaining a surface fleet of the size we have got is too great. I would myself say that one or two battleships and three or four carriers ought to be sufficient. For our general world policy—a peace-time policy largely; Communist outbreaks and that sort of thing—we require a number of cruisers, but I think that the cruisers want re-designing in order to carry a great many more troops. We should look in these sort of terms at the question of our surface fleet.
The next question is air. What is the Fleet commitment with regard to air? I would have thought that so far as the Norwegian passage was concerned, land-based air was likely to be the most effective. Again, so far as the Northern waters are concerned between Iceland and Shetland, I should have thought that land-based air was likely to be the more effective. I should not have thought that in the early stages, at any rate, there was much likelihood of a Russian air threat in the Atlantic, which could not be adequately dealt with by the intercepting base, which is Britain. I should have thought that this was a possible but not very probable or immediate danger. It is also one of the things as to which American assistance would be immediately available. I feel, therefore, that air commitments so far as the Naval Estimates are concerned receive too great a priority as against the terribly urgent things which the Army and Air Force want.
Finally—and this would seem to me to be the overwhelming necessity so far as the Navy is concerned—there is the submarine threat, and that threat will be immediate. I think also that my hon. Friend in opening this Debate did not do full justice to the extent of that threat. He referred to the difference between the modern submarine, which is a genuine three dimensional fighter, and the old-time submarine, which was merely a surface ship which could sometimes take 1048 cover under the water. That is only part of the story. The new submarine will not only be able to live under the water, it will be able to do its fighting under the water. The old submarine could only fight from periscope level, whereas the modern submarine will be able to direct its torpedo by Asdic apparatus and will be able to discharge its missiles from 500 feet or 600 feet under the water. That is an appalling threat. I personally believe that just in the same way as we first dealt with the three dimensional aircraft by land defences and eventually found out that the only adequate defence was to go up in the air and meet it there, so with the genuine three dimensional submarine we shall find that the only way to meet it is to go down into the depths and meet it in its own element. With improved Asdic and other directional finding apparatus under water, and with improved homing torpedoes it will be a question of battles right under the sea between two forces operating in those elements.
I hope that when this Debate is wound up we shall be told that something is being done about research upon those lines. Of course, that does not merely mean scientific research; it means operational research into new methods so that surface defence will not be confused as to recognition when there is also an under water defence. These are all very difficult problems which need a tremendous amount of working out, but I hope that in the future the Government will recognise that the essential priority job is the submarine, that far more will be spent on that and far less be spent on the problematical threat from the surface and the air.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Sir Ronald Ross (Londonderry)
I always like listening to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), for, although I do not always agree with his conclusions, he does show a depth of study and opens new fields of thought. Certainly the most staggering new field of thought he opened up tonight was that anyone too well prepared for war always lost it. One can imagine the Prime Minister, when war is on the horizon, asking himself: "Am I sufficiently unprepared?" If he were he would, according to the hon. and learned 1049 Member, win the war, whereas if he were thoroughly prepared he would be bound to lose it. My only comment on that is that the hon. and learned Member should remember that some wars have not occurred, and that some first battles have not had to be fought, because the obvious victim was so well prepared that he might have won the first battle. That is a thing which never happens to us, and that is the ground upon which I normally would advocate rearmament or the maintenance of armaments—to prevent wars rather than to win them.
I have spoken in previous Debates on this Motion on many occasions, some of them a very long time ago, and I never imagined then that I should be in the proud position of having in my constituency substantial naval establishments, ships based upon the principal town thereof, and a large naval aerodrome as well. This privilege carries with it a certain responsibility. I am astonished at the Admiralty policy on civilian employment. One would imagine that their policy would be to reward those men who had volunteered for the Armed Forces. The position in Northern Ireland is wholly different from that in Great Britain, because in Northern Ireland there was no compulsion; the National Service Act did not apply. Those who joined up did so as volunteers; but they are now being excluded from Government employment by men of military age who did not volunteer. The principle which may be appropriate over here, where it is the same for all, did not apply in Northern Ireland, so that in Britain this gross injustice did not take place.
When I asked a Question about this the Civil Lord—who I am sorry should be momentarily absent—made a statement which was entirely contrary to the fact. He did so quite innocently and by inadvertence. He said that the reason there was no compulsory service and the National Service Act did not apply in Northern Ireland was because the Government of Northern Ireland did not desire it. For many reasons that was entirely contrary to the fact, and I hope that the Civil Lord—who enjoys the goodwill of the House to a remarkable and, I think, exceptional degree—will take the opportunity, when replying. of putting this matter right and explaining 1050 that he made an innocent mistake in suggesting that we do not always, both in this House and by representations from the Government of Northern Ireland, wish to bear our share in National Defence. Hitherto the Labour Party has invariably voted that we should not be able to do so by having National Service Acts apply to us. I have voted, not only against a Labour Government but against a Conservative Government, and against a National Government in that respect.
It is preposterous to expect—as the Government do—employers to pay the difference between men's ordinary pay and what they are getting when performing Territorial training, when the Government as an employer prefer to employ those who are not ex-Service men, Eirean citizens who do not owe any allegiance to this country, while allowing the ex-Service man, because he has sacrificed his chance by joining up, to be left unemployed as a consequence. That is a disgrace, and it is farcical for the Government to call for sacrifices from private employers when they have set this wretchedly bad example themselves as an employer.
Having said those few trenchant words of criticism I will now do my best to say something more appreciative of the Parliamentary Secretary's speech today and of the White Paper which accompanies the Estimates. It is the best White Paper we have had with any Estimates since the war ended. That is not a particularly high standard, but certainly this White Paper is more informative than any on previous Navy Estimates, and certainly on those for the Air and the Army. The First Lord is rather like Old Man River—"he must know somethin' but don't say nothin' "for a very long time. Now he has said something; but I wish to ask the Parliamentary Secretary: why not bring back the Return of Fleets in its old form? What is the objection to that? What objection can there be? To those hon. Members who have not seen it, I would just recall to the notice of the House these words:The information relating to foreign navies contained herein is that furnished by the various Powers mainly from publications in this form. It is no longer the practice of the Government of the U.S.S.R. to furnish particulars for this purpose. All reference to the Soviet Navy has now been omitted.We do not have any account of the Soviet Navy in this document, which is dated 1051 1939, the last that has been issued, but I cannot see what objection there can be to publishing the information—leaving out, of course, those countries which do not furnish us with an official account of their Fleets.
§ Sir R. Ross
I do not want any interruptions from the hon. and gallant Member, who never lets anybody else interrupt him, and who is incapable of making a speech without using the language of the gutter. His references to the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) were most unfortunate, to say the least, and I should be proud to be associated with objects which are abused by the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey), because his language is the manure upon which others flourish. To return to the Navy—[Interruption.] We do not want any interruptions from the hon. and gallant Member. We have heard a long discourse from him during which he would not allow anyone to interrupt.
There is one point to which attention should be drawn in the Estimates, and that is the fantastic cost of the Admiralty Office. The extra cost is not due to any extra naval officers being there, because the percentage increase is very small indeed. We are told in the White Paper that the number of people employed there has decreased by 600, but the amount of money has gone up by £500,000. The cost is now running at over £5 million per year, where before the war it was about £1½ million. What has produced this vast increase in the expenditure of the Admiralty Office? [An HON. MEMBER: "Increased wages."] I do not think that is so. It they employ 600 fewer, it should not increase the amount by that much.
§ Sir R. Ross
In regard to the Fleet generally, I do not think there is much to be said, except to ask whether there is any truth in the rumours of this large Russian battleship. I do not think there is any truth in it, but suggestions have appeared in the Press that there are one or more large capital ships of a new type, 1052 and I should be very interested to hear whether that is so.
The question of cruisers is a very important one. It used to be said in the old days that 70 cruisers were essential to protect our commerce and sea lanes upon which our life depends. I have looked at the situation as it was in 1939, and I find that we then had 62, of which a number were over-age. Although that was short of the minimum required, we now have only 29. It has to be remembered that our ships go all over the world and that we need, therefore, an adequate number of cruisers. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton appeared to forget that there is a Pacific as well as an Atlantic, and that our potential enemies have outlets both to the Pacific and to the Atlantic. I thought his speech was a little optimistic. It was very much like the speeches we used to hear about how unnecessary it was to fortify Singapore, when the trouble was that we did not fortify it in the right place or well enough.
§ Sir R. Ross
I do not know whether I am to have this verbal encouragement throughout the whole of my speech. I listen with pleasure to the hon. Member from time to time and derive benefit from what he says without interrupting him. I hope he will do the same in my case. Our trade must be protected, and if we do not have the cruisers, we get incidents like the "Rawalpindi" and the "Jarvis Bay." We get ships invaluable in war-time and peace-time to carry troops or cargo being used as warships for which they are quite unfitted, and being sunk, as these ships were, in most gallant actions which would never have occurred if we had had sufficient cruisers. The present policy seems to be to hand out ships in all directions. Any ship approaching over-age—and even an overage ship can be quite useful—is handed out, and one of our cruisers, a ship passed to China, is now behind the iron curtain already in Communist hands. I hope the Admiralty will consider the matter very carefully before sending out any more of these ships.
The prime responsibility of the Navy is to the Merchant Navy, and I, too, regret that we have not started again the Royal Naval Reserve. What we want 1053 is a close bond between the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy through the Royal Naval Reserve, or some such body. I think it would be appreciated. There is one other point in regard to the Navy's duties to the Merchant Navy in peace as well as in war. I think that "Research," that very special vessel which is very nearly completed and has been built to assist seamen on their lawful occasions in matters of navigation, should be finished. It would be worth while to finish that ship so that she can take up the important scientific work for which she has been designed.
The Prime Minister told us the other day that it takes a long time to build up a Navy, but that we should have a long-term programme. But I do not see any long-term programme in construction. As far as cruisers are concerned, three are lying incomplete, with not much needed to be done. I suggest that they should be completed. The same applies to the light aircraft carriers. I should like to say how delighted I was to hear that H.M.S. "Formidable" is to be brought up to the most modern standards. I saw that ship launched—indeed, she launched herself before the whistle was blown. After going through a long war and suffering a good deal of damage, she is still considered by the Admiralty to be capable of renovations to make her the latest type of aircraft carrier. That is a great tribute to the shipbuilders in Belfast who built her, and they will be delighted to hear that this, the first big carrier to be built in Belfast, has been singled out for the distinction of such a big re-fit and alteration.
It is rather hard to expect the Navy to fulfil its duty in protecting our trade routes with so few aircraft carriers. During the war we had a large number of escort carriers, but now we have only one because they have had to go back to America. The functions of the light carrier against submarines is not ended, as the hon. and learned Member for Northampton seemed to suggest. The light escort carrier has an important part in anti-submarine work. A most important feature is protection against underwater attack, and in this connection I was rather surprised that no mention was made of the danger from mines. I assume that the organisation and provision of suitable mine-sweeping flotillas is still in 1054 hand and is a matter of consideration by the Admiralty.
We have fewer destroyers than in 1939, and I beseech those who speak for the Admiralty not to try to count destroyers more than once. In the Debate on the Naval Estimates last year, when we on this side of the House spoke about the shortage of cruisers, we were told by the Parliamentary Secretary that although there might be a shortage of cruisers, destroyers were so much more powerful now. Of course, destroyers are more powerful, but that does not make it possible to count them twice, first as destroyers and then as cruisers. A cruiser has rather different functions, and the destroyer has not much endurance at sea, and has to be re-oiled. Of course, that can be done at sea, but it is not always possible. It is a problem which more than any other is more likely to turn an admiral's hair grey. In 1939 there were 159 destroyers and there are only 113 now.
As regards frigates, I am glad to see that the destroyers of the Hunt class are now counted as frigates. The thing that is worrying me more than anything else is whether those frigates, as anti-submarine craft, are really up to their present or future job. The whole question of submarine catching has changed since the end of the war. The arrival of "snort" and the fast under-water speeds, as well as various other factors which arrived at the end of the war, have meant a great change in anti-submarine measures. If those in operation at the end of the war were applied now, it would result in terrible losses. Are our frigates as we now know them capable of fulfilling the useful function which they should fulfil? Although they are a good deal faster than the average corvette, sloop or frigate of the last war, we do not want them to have the small radius of action of the Hunt class destroyer.
I have looked up the figures and I find that the Bay frigate, which is the latest frigate, would have 5,500 horse power and carry 720 tons of oil. The Hunt class destroyer has more than three times as much horse power, 19,000, and about a third as much oil, 280 tons. The problem seems to me to get a craft with the radius of action of the Bay class frigate and the speed of the Hunt class destroyer. 1055 I should like to hear more of experiments in that direction. It may be that by the use of high-speed diesels—and we learned a good deal From German vessels captured towards the end of the war—or by some other method of propulsion we shall produce the required craft.
I am anxious about relying on the 127 frigates we now have, which performed such excellent service in the last war, and I think the Admiralty should be very much on their toes to try to provide themselves with adequate antisubmarine craft in case we are threatened again with war. The solution to the problem lies a great deal in research and experiment, and I hope there is no truth in the rumour that research is being reduced. To go through the Estimates and find the sums to be expended on research is a very difficult task. In Vote 11 (K) I see that research in certain directions has been reduced. That is rather ominous, and I do not know of any other Votes which cover research.
In that respect I urge upon the Admiralty the extraordinary importance of having not only highly skilled aircraft such as we have at present, but a highly skilled reserve of pilots, because the lesson of the war in the Pacific was the difference in the efficiency of the Japanese Fleet for and after the battle of Midway Island. Before the battle it was an efficient navy, but after the battle, when all the well-trained pilots were shot down, it was an entirely different thing. That was what the Americans call the Marianne's turkey shoot, when they shot down nearly 500 planes for the loss of about 40. It showed that courage alone—and we all know that the Japanese have plenty of courage—is not enough.
As we have been told, in the future it may be that attacks on submarines may be made by other submarines. I hope that research is going on, particularly in the recognition of submerged submarines by their own surface forces, which is a very difficult and tricky proposition. Those seem to me to be very urgent problems, and a large number of ships left over from the last war is not, to my mind, a satisfactory answer. I very much hope that the Admiralty will devote themselves to solving this problem and keep the Navy, as it has always been, the sure shield of the country.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Austin (Stretford)
The hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) and his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) seem to demand the expansion of the Navy without having regard either to the resources of the country or of the needs of the other Services. Every year when I hear views of such a character put forward, it occurs to me that what hon. Gentlemen opposite really want is to have one Service only in this country, that of the Royal Navy with the Army as an auxiliary in the form of Commandos or Royal Marines and the Royal Air Force an auxiliary in the form of a naval controlled Coastal Command.
§ Sir R. Ross
The hon. Gentleman is being a little hard on me. I served in the Army for 11 years though I never intended to, and I realise its importance. For two years in the last war I was associated with the R.A.F. and I realise its importance. The Navy at the present time is getting less money than either of these Services.
§ Mr. Austin
Notwithstanding the hon. Gentleman's association with both Services, it seems to me he implies the necessity for hara-kiri in those two Services and their absorption by the Royal Navy. In defining expenditure for the Services, the Government have to bear in mind the requirements of all three.
I wish to turn to one aspect which has not yet received much attention from the House, although my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty and the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) talked of it for a short time. The question I have in mind is that of naval aviation. Following on the comment of the First Lord of the Admiralty a fortnight ago that the Navy was in good heart, I thought I would like to go and see for myself what the position was. On Tuesday last I took the trouble to go down to Lee-on-Solent, where I visited two shore establishments. One was the Royal Naval aircraft repair yard at Fleetlands, which is a most important establishment, and the other was the Royal Naval Air Station at Lee-on-Solent, of which I had some personal experience during the war. At the outset I wish to put on record my appreciation of the kindness shown to me by 1057 the officers concerned at both those establishments.
At the Royal Naval aircraft repair yard I was allowed, through the courtesy of the captain in charge, to meet members of the Whitley Council who put certain matters to me. First, it was felt that a greater variety of repair aircraft could be directed to this yard in order to stimulate interest in repair. At present a great deal of activity in the yard is engaged only on various modifications which tend to become monotonous, and the personnel feel that they need a greater variety of repairs. This could be done by attracting or diverting naval aircraft repairs from civilian aircraft repair yards to this establishment.
The second point put to me by the Whitley Council members concerned the complete blackout still in force in the hangars at Fleetlands where the repairs take place. In view of the hundreds and perhaps thousands of lights burning there, some attention should be directed to this if only on the grounds of economy. The chairman of the Whitley Council told me—it was corroborated by medical officers—that a good deal of illness is caused through this permanent blackout, including a great deal of eyestrain and a need for spectacles and a great many headaches, and he also considered that it caused a great lowering of morale among the workpeople. I inspected the place—I am conversant with factory conditions—and I thought that the north lighting there would be eminently suitable if the asbestos were replaced by glass. I hope that the Civil Lord will give this his urgent attention.
I had known Fleetlands earlier and had often seen aircraft deteriorating in the open owing to lack of hangar space. After all these years I still found that all the hangars were crammed to capacity with aircraft equipment, engines, mainplanes and other paraphernalia, and certain aircraft were standing out in the open, subject to deterioration. I cannot assess the loss in monetary terms, but I am certain that if my hon. Friend searched other Royal Air Force airfields or naval air stations—we have closed down certain naval air stations—he would find one or two hangars which could be made avaliable for use at Fleetlands and thus avoid deterioration of aircraft.
1058 I went on to the Royal Naval Air Station at Lee-on-Solent which I inspected. The first thing that caught my eye near the airfield was the grim gaunt sight of two hangars which were blitzed in 1940 still standing there without roofs. It seemed a most demoralising thing to visit that station and to find that after eight years those roofs had not been replaced. Again, the deterioration of aircraft which are not able to be kept under cover is involved, and I hope that my hon. Friend will pay attention to that matter.
I had a discussion about various matters with junior officers at Lee-on-Solent, and what I hope to put before the House is a reflection of the views which they gave me. I met a number of officers who had continued under extended service engagements in 1946 and 1947, which applied to all who had been connected with the air branch—pilots, observers, fighter direction and flying control officers and so on. These young men find themselves in a dilemma. There are only a few hundred of them. When some of them originally entered the service they were boys who had just left school and they have known no other life but Service life. They have extended their service for a further four years, and apparently the need for them was desperate because the Admiralty not only put the offer forward in 1946 but renewed it in 1947 and attracted further response. Some of these young men have no jobs to go to when they leave the Service. Some of them have married during their service and find themselves with a child or two, and they do not know where to turn when they leave the Service. The first of these young men are due to leave the Service in October of this year. I want my hon. Friend to consult his colleagues at the Admiralty and consider this matter.
I understand that recruiting for aircrew for naval aviation is still below standard and that we are desperately in need of recruits. How can we reconcile getting rid of these young men, most of whom are aircrew personnel, with an agreed shortage of aircrew volunteers for that branch of the Service? I suggest that my hon. Friend puts before the Admiralty a scheme whereby not only can these young men be offered extended service again but during that period of extended service 1059 they can be allowed the pension rights and all the other rights which belong to orthodox and complete members of the Royal Navy.
Another point was put to me by many of these young men who fly naval aircraft. They feel that their morale would be strengthened if they could serve under commanding officers who were air-minded. For example it was put to me that in the American Navy all commanding officers of aircraft carriers and naval air stations—senior officers down—are aviators, but that in this country that is not so. A lieutenant told me that at a certain air exhibition great astonishment was caused by the arrival of three American admirals flying their own aircraft. He said that they stepped out from their aircraft much to the surprise of those present. It would be hard to imagine that sort of thing happening in this country. These young men say they would feel happier in the Service if their senior officers had known and flown aircraft and, above all, were still active in flying aircraft. I put that to my hon. Friend as a suggestion which has some bearing on morale in that branch of the Royal Navy and on future prospects.
Another point advanced by these young men seemed to show a certain amount of resentment against other elements in the Service. The Admiralty have allowed executive officers a six weeks' flying training course at Gosport Royal Naval Airport under the provisions of Fleet Order 2406/48. These young officers feel that, having completed a six weeks' course at Gosport, certain executive officers imagine that they know everything there is to know about naval aviation when they go back to their watch-keeping and other duties. They feel that injustice is being done to those in naval aviation by allowing these executive officers just to touch on the fringe of flying and then forget all about it.
I talked to these officers about their training and one of the facts which came to light seemed to confirm a point I made in a recent Question to the Parliamentary Secretary. I asked him at the time whether, in view of the natural attachment of the naval officers to their own Service, he would consider whether it was not now possible to provide an 1060 elementary flying training establishment for naval personnel. As I had it from these chaps, they have to train with the R.A.F. and, after their initial training with the Navy, they say they resent having to leave the Service and go into the confines of another Service, sometimes finding themselves at variance with members of that other Service. The answer of my hon. Friend was that he could not foresee the provision of elementary flying schools on the grounds of the question I put to him. Perhaps not purely on the grounds of a natural attachment to their own Service, but I believe one could make out a case on the grounds of economy.
I understand that payment is made to the R.A.F. for the training of all naval flying personnel. We have the Tiger Moths available in the Service, we have naval airfields that have been closed down and which could be reopened, we have naval air instructors in the Royal Navy who could be used to train Service personnel. I see no reason whatever, on grounds of sentiment or economy, why that could not be done. I hope that something may be done about that because the question seems to date back to what was known as the Inskip Award of 30th July, 1937, when it was decided that Coastal Command would come under the aegis of the R.A.F. and the Fleet Air Arm would come within the orbit of the Navy. It seems that at that time it was laid down that elementary flying training would have to be undergone through the R.A.F. but I think the time is ripe for a change and for the Navy to be completely self-contained in this matter.
The next point put to me was that of pay. They said that they get 3s. a day extra flying money. I am certain that I do not need to impress upon the House that there are hazards in flying. Of that 3s. a day, ls. 9d. is left because it is subject to taxation. They said to me, "Can you wonder at the poor response to recruiting for flying duties?" I suggest to my hon. Friend that if he wants to stimulate recruiting for aircrew duties in naval aviation, he will have to do something about this pay question, because most of these fellows feel that, apart from their love of flying, it is not worth while taking all the risks for the sake of 1s. 9d. a day. I hope that when considerations of further pay increases, already ventilated by hon. Members in 1061 this Debate, are discussed by the Admiralty, they will consider also this question of pay for flying personnel.
I revert to a point which I have raised previously at Question Time, namely that of flying training for R.N.V.R. personnel. As I understand it, the only facilities that exist in this country for training R.N.V.R. flying personnel are those at Culham, Stretton, Abbotsinch and Bramscote, and training is available only to personnel who live in the immediate vicinity. The sooner the Admiralty come to some amicable arrangement with the R.A.F. whereby members of the R.N.V.R. flying personnel are engaged in flying practice with the Royal Air Force, the better for the Service. I was reading in either "The Fleet" or the "Navy" magazine the other day a passage to the effect that men were leaving the R.N.V.R. to join the R.A.F. Volunteer Reserve because it was only in the R.A.F. that they could obtain flying training. That is another important matter to be considered by the Admiralty.
I was glad to hear my hon. Friend refer to the Dartmouth entry. He said that the Admiralty was completely satisfied with the scheme and that it was anticipated there would be no difficulties. As far as I can gather from information obtained after putting down a Question, the September application and examination was 500, of which there were only 25 entries. That does not seem to me to be a high figure. The January application and examination was 319, of which there were only 27 entries. Are those figures sufficient for the needs of the Service? At Dartmouth that entry covers the Executive, Engineering and Supply branches, and if those entries are distributed over the three branches, they do not represent many in actual numbers.
Is there some method of guidance whereby entries into Dartmouth who are Executive are in any way attracted to flying duties? If we are to abolish the "A" Branch, as I understand will shortly be the case, something will have to be done about attracting more members of the Service into flying duties and into naval aviation. Perhaps, after due consideration and in the light of experience, it may be considered advisable to set up something in the nature of a mean between "A" branch and the Executive branch to promote a tendency in the direction of flying amongst the new entries there.
1062 About the abolition of the "A" branch, very little has been said except a brief statement which I obtained after a 'phone call to the Admiralty. It was as follows:The intention to abolish the branch was promulgated to the Fleet in a brief Admiralty message on 5th November, 1948, but this has not yet been put into effect and no A.F.O. on the subject has so far been issued.As far as I know from my discussions with naval personnel, they do not know the reasons why the "A" branch is being abolished. On Tuesday last I heard arguments for and against its abolition. It would be in the best interests of the Service if the Admiralty can see their way to promulgating an A.F.O. on this matter giving all the necessary reasons as soon as possible.
With regard to the aircraft being used in the Service, is the Admiralty doing something now about giving naval aviation modern aircraft? The flying personnel are happy that the Barracuda and the Firefly are going out of service, and that the Hawker Sea Fury is coming into operation. Some of them say that the latter is the first aircraft that ever had the feeling of being an aircraft for the purposes for which it was intended. I know that there are developments in regard to the Mosquito and the Vampire for service in naval aviation, but at Lee-on-Solent I could not see any squadrons of Sea Furies or Mosquitos or Vampires. If I read the feelings of the personnel there aright, they were anxious to know when they would be supplied with these up-to-date aircraft.
Finally, I should like to know if my hon. Friend is satisfied with the accident rate in flying training. This is a most important question. Everybody knows that numbers of lives were lost needlessly during the war through accidents in flying training and that last year the Admiralty took the step of expanding their branch which deals with accidents and their prevention. I hope that in his report my hon. Friend can give the House some reassurance that these questions are being dealt with adequately.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Langford-Holt (Shrewsbury)
I had intended to follow the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Austin) on the question of the flying personnel in naval aviation, but he has covered much of the 1063 ground that I had in mind. I will, however, refer later to the subject of allowances, to which he referred, in very much the same way as he dealt with it. I should like to re-emphasise his point about the blitzed hangars at Lee-on Solent. He said they had been there for eight years. They have not; they have been there for nine years—I was there when they were blitzed. The hon. Gentleman referred also to senior officers having insufficient knowledge of flying. Very strong feeling about this has existed for very many years in what is now known as the Fleet Air Arm. There is nothing new in this criticism. It is a trifle irksome to junior officers, when they read reports such as one I saw which stated that five admirals of the American Navy had arrived flying their own aircraft.
When the Navy Estimates came before the House last year, I had reason to cross swords with the Parliamentary Secretary on the amount of time he devoted in his speech to naval aviation. On that occasion he devoted, I think, about 45 seconds. This year he has improved, and has devoted two minutes and ten seconds to the Fleet Air Arm. That is not enough for a branch of the Service which contributes one-third of the personnel of the Navy. A mere two minutes and ten seconds is wholly inadequate. In the statement by the First Lord 13 lines out of some 11 or 12 pages are devoted to naval aviation. This, again, is altogether inadequate, and the rather casual attitude at present being adopted must cease.
In the past the Navy has been, as it undoubtedly will again become, the first line of defence. It will have to take the first shock of any attack. It will be aided and assisted by the Air Force, who will have to bear the attack from the air. I want, therefore, to deal particularly with the aircraft being supplied to the Navy and the men who fly them, for without a good supply of both we shall not be successful in achieving a satisfactory air branch of the Navy. The aircraft supplied to the Navy must be of the most modern type and as numerous as the money—and this we must realise—which is available can provide.
It is worth while looking at the procedure through which an aircraft has to go 1064 from the stage when it is on the drawing board until the time when it arrives on the flight deck. First, a Staff requirement goes out as to exactly what type of aircraft is required. This Staff requirement is put out on tender to various aircraft building firms. The tender designs are subsequently considered by all the interested specialist departments. Eventually there is a final consultation to ensure that the chosen aircraft conforms as far as possible, down to the minutest detail, with what is required.
On paper this is quite a good process, but it has drawbacks. First, it is not always complied with or followed and, second, it takes far too long. Anybody who has had any connection at all with the Fleet Air Arm will remember the cases of the Fairey Fulmar, which was out of date even before it took to the air, and the Barracuda. I remember seeing a prototype of the Barracuda flying in 1941. As far as I know the Barracuda may still be flying today, but it did not take the air in any numbers until 1944, three years after it started to fly. At what time the Barracuda was first designed, goodness only knows, but it was not until some three years after it first took the air that it finally went into service. What happened to that aircraft is common talk and knowledge throughout the Fleet Air Arm. New additions or modifications were required; first the tailplane was lowered, then it was put up, and finally I do not suppose the designer knew what would happen next. I am convinced that the technical advice that is being given to the Minister of Supply on naval aviation is inadequate. I should like to know whether the Civil Lord is satisfied that the right persons are representing the Royal Navy in the Ministry of Supply when advice is given on technical matters—I emphasise the word "technical"—regarding aircraft for the Fleet Air Arm. The naval representation certainly does not compare in any way with that of the Royal Air Force.
What of the more recent products of this system of developing aircraft? Doubtless many hon. Members visited Farnborough during last summer and saw a demonstration of modern aircraft. One of these was the N7/46. I am not giving away any secrets, because all that I am saying has been published in such journals as "Flight" and "The Aeroplane" and 1065 has been seen by hon. Members. First, this aircraft was not a naval aircraft. Second, it became a general purpose naval fighter. Third, it was built round an engine which, I am assured, is obsolescent if not obsolete. This aircraft has the chance of being another perfect example of what happens if the present system is not speeded up and altered radically. I believe I am right in saying that in the original version of this aircraft—which shows what little consultation had taken place—in order to arm the machine guns the armourer had to be lowered in by his heels. That is no way to build a naval fighter, especially when it never started out as a fighter in any case. To be effective a naval fighter must be up to date.
The Parliamentary Secretary spoke about research, but research is no good to aviation if it was, made three, four or five years ago. Research must be up to date and the aircraft must be new, modern and well equipped, and at the same time be the result of a definite plan and idea. It is no use—as, for example, with the Barracuda—starting off as a dive bomber, continuing as a torpedo-dropping aircraft and finding that as a dive bomber the aircraft cannot dive with its brakes and has to glide-bomb without them. That is nonsense and we cannot go on like that.
The Admiralty and those responsible in the Ministry of Supply must know what types of aircraft they want and must adhere to their views. The aircraft must be the result of consultation with all the technical authorities interested and that consultation must take place at an early stage. In the early days it can be consultation, whereas at a later stage it is not; it has to be modification, and this has been the cause of half the trouble. I have expressed my view that the Minister must investigate the whole question of how the supply of aircraft works within the Ministry of Supply, as well as naval representation within that Ministry. In the second place, he must reduce the time for the production of the aircraft from the first staff requirements, past the drawing board stage on to the flight deck. So much for the aircraft.
The one point which one must make about the personnel, when dealing with naval aviation, especially shore-based, is the question of amenities. By its very 1066 character, most of its effective war-time bases are in outlandish places in the extreme parts of Scotland, Wales and the West Country. In this respect the Royal Navy compares most unfavourably with the R.A.F. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary would wish to look into this matter. I draw his attention to it and invite him to do so. I am told, for example, that the conditions at the Royal Naval air station at Eglinton, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) are little short of a disgrace. Then there is the question of married quarters in naval air stations, especially these outlandish stations. It is all the more important there, where there are no boarding houses, hotels or "digs." There one finds that married families are having to go back into huts which were vacated by civil engineers, six, seven and eight years ago.
The hon. Member for Stretford mentioned the question of pay and allowances. The increases which were announced with somewhat of a flourish by the Minister of Defence on 24th November last, were an improvement but were not nearly as good as the right hon. Gentleman probably believed and certainly encouraged the House to believe. The hon. Member mentioned flying pay. He pointed out something which I should like to state in other words, namely, that if we are to give 3s. a day flying pay—and it is not a lot of money for danger money—it is not a bit of good, having decided that it is worth 3s., then to cut it at once to Is. 9d. That is what is happening today. Another allowance, which is rather a different one, but which goes to show how the general tendency of allowances in the Royal Navy is quite inadequate, is the allowance for those living in London of 3s. 6d. a day. At the beginning of this Parliament we put up our own pay by £8 per week; yet a naval officer who works close by, in the Admiralty, gets just 3s. 6d. per day, and that is taxed, while ours is considered to be expenses, and is not taxed.
The question of information has been raised again and again in this House. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he cannot see his way to give us more information? We have heard from another place that the Navy List is again to come into circulation in a more general 1067 form. It is quite impossible to get out of the hon. Gentleman opposite information which I can get out of the Navy List. I can find the names and numbers of the squadrons and the numbers in them, although I cannot find out anything about aircraft. Yet, if I were to put down a Question to elicit information to the same effect, I should receive the answer that it was not in the national interest to give it. The hon. Gentleman surely does not intend to tell me that it is not in the possession of every Embassy in London? Of course, it is. He is inviting hon. Members to take the trouble to look it up themselves. It is his duty and the duty of the right hon. Gentleman to provide the House with all the information which hon. Members need to consider adequately the defences of this country.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman will go into the question of planning procedure in producing aircraft. I want them also to remember the causes of discontent in the aircrews of the Fleet Air Arm which were brought out by the hon. Member for Stretford. Finally, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to remember, in connection with this question of how much he tells the House, that it is not only his responsibility but also ours, in whatever part of the House we sit. In the writing of history it is not only he who will be held responsible, but hon. Members, not only on the other side of the House but also on this side.