§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Hollis (Devizes)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That," to the end of the Question, and to add:This House deplores the absence of training facilities for the Royal Naval Volunteer (Supplementary) Reserve, which has resulted in the loss to the Royal Navy of a substantial number of trained reservists.I must begin with an apology to the House for being the beneficiary of what I think must be a unique bounty of good fortune. About 400 Members put down their names in the ballot in the hope of drawing one of the first four places. The odds are a hundred to one against drawing that place once. By an obvious mathmatical calculation the odds are about ten thousand to one against any 1068 hon. Member drawing first place for two years running. I do not know whether in the history of Parliament anyone has been so fortunate before, but that has been my good fortune here.
I would begin by remarking that the Parliamentary Secretary showed himself in his speech to be something of a Janeite, not so much a student of "Jane's Fighting Ships" as a student of the works of Jane Austen. I can only recall to him and to hon. Members opposite the words of Mrs. Bennett, when she said thatwhen a person receives exceptional luck it is a proof that Providence approves of what he is doing.I hope that, bearing that in mind, he will agree with all that I shall ask him to agree with.
I am raising a very small, definite and limited though important subject, not the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in general, but the Royal Naval Volunteer (Supplementary) Reserve. As hon. Members doubtless know, the R.N.V.(S.)R. is at the moment little more than a list of officers—"dormant" is the word which the Admiralty have used—who can be called up in the event of an emergency, something like the Officers Emergency Reserve which some of us remember from before the war. One of the main reasons for the existence of this Supplementary Reserve is because, as the Parliamentary Secretary told us in his speech, recruiting for the Reserve in general has been by no means satisfactory, and the numbers of officers who have been recruited for the Reserve are greatly out of proportion to the numbers of other ranks. Therefore, it would not be possible to include in the R.N.V.R. all the officers who have offered themselves. Accordingly, a sort of waiting list has been created in the form of the R.N.V.(S.)R., which consists at the moment of between 7,000 and 7,500 members divided into 22 units.
The general policy of the Admiralty towards the R.N.V.(S.)R. is to treat it as a dormant list, to refuse to give any money to it and to take the line that what money is available to be spent should rather be spent on the R.N.V.R.; and that when it becomes possible to train the present members of the Supplementary Reserve it would be better to give them their training by transferring them into the R.N.V.R. as that might become pos- 1069 sible, rather than to hold out any hopes of giving training to the R.N.V.(S.)R. as such.
I think the Parliamentary Secretary will agree that that is a substantially accurate description of Admiralty policy. I want to make it clear that I am not challenging the general Admiralty policy towards the R.N.V.(S.)R. I am not asking the Admiralty to treat it as something entirely different from what, in point of fact, it is, but I am addressing my mind to the question whether within those limits, and accepting those limits, there is something rather more that we can do with it than is at present being done with it. The R.N.V.(S.)R. is, as I say, something like the pre-war Officers Emergency Reserve.
I think we must all recognise that when enthusiastic people are anxious to offer themselves for service and at the same time it is not immediately easy to see to what Service they could be put, it is a great temptation, but a temptation that ought to be resisted by Service Departments, just to give them a list and tell them to write their names down on the list, let them go away and then think that one has got rid of them by doing that. That is a temptation, but it is a fatal temptation, because nothing is more likely to kill enthusiasm than by fobbing people off in that fashion. I think a good many of us remember that a good deal of disappointment was caused before the war by the treatment of the Officers Emergency Reserve in that way.
I remember that I myself volunteered and heard nothing from the War Office for six months. Then I happened to be returning from the West Indies and, reaching Madeira, I received a letter from the War Office stating that they were unaware of my father's Christian names. I sent them my father's Christian names, and the last obstacle to international development had then apparently been removed, because the next day Hitler marched into Prague and all went ahead. I am not suggesting that if Hitler had been aware that the War Office knew my father's Christian names, that would have deterred him from his subsequent actions. What we have to try to address ourselves to is to see how, granted the nature of the R.N.V.(S.)R., we can improve upon our present method of maintaining interest and keenness in those men which at present is being so dangerously dissipated.
1070 I have a number of practical suggestions, and I shall be grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary if he will give us an answer to them. They are all small points; some are apparently trivial, but some are psychologically important, and some are of greater importance. The first is a small point, but is one about which some of these men have considerable feeling. These men have been officers; why should they not be allowed to call themselves officers, rather than members, as they are called at present?
My second and more practical point is: at present no training facilities whatsoever are given by the Admiralty to these members. They have to get in touch with naval officers themselves, and see what private arrangements they can make for getting lectures given to them and other facilities granted to them. At certain places, notably at Portsmouth, they have received very considerable facilities. I should like to ask whether what has been done at Portsmouth might not also be done equally well at other places, so as to give more encouragement to them all over the country.
My third point is to ask whether it is possible to arrange day cruises for these men on motor launches, motor gunboats or motor torpedo boats. It is highly probable that in the event of a future war, boats of this sort will be the only craft which will be able to sail in the North Sea or in the English Channel, and it is very desirable that these people should have a certain amount of sea experience on those boats during these intervening years. The advice which Gilbert gave in the last century, toStick close to your desks and never go to sea,And you all may be Rulers of the Queen's Naveewas the advice which was given to politicians, but was not the advice which politicians were asked to impose on other people who were anxious to go to sea.
My fourth point is that even when members of the R.N.V.(S.)R. arrange to go on board a ship, they cannot be appointed to that ship, and therefore they cannot do even the most pedestrian things such as taking part in watches in port and activities like that. Could not they be allowed to play some part in the life of the ship when they are able to get on a ship by their own arrangements? I am 1071 not challenging the general policy of the Admiralty or of the Government in not making this Service a substantial charge upon the taxpayer. I am accepting that policy. I think it is the right policy, but there is no reason why it should be applied in an absolutely pedantic and rigid form. There is no reason why, when they are on board ship, they should not be victualled and why they should have to pay their full messing expenses. There is no reason why they should not receive, if not travelling expenses, at least Service rates, when they go to this Service which they are themselves voluntarily undertaking.
Then again, if we turn to the Navy Estimates we read:In addition to the Naval Reserves specified in the subheads for which financial provision has been made, there are the Royal Naval Volunteer Supplementary Reserve, The Royal Naval Emergency Reserve, the Royal Marine Emergency Reserve, and the Women's Royal Naval Reserve. In these reserves there is no training commitment and consequently there is no financial liability in connection with them.That is all. It is a somewhat negative and chilly and not very constructive policy, that they should be dismissed in that single sentence. I am not asking for a substantial grant of money towards them, but it would be a good thing if a token vote could be given to this Service so that it could appear in the Navy Estimates.
Again, cannot such training as they arrange for themselves, whether it be on merchant ships or on naval vessels, be recognised as reservist training? If it were recognised as reservist training, it would then be much easier for them to get their fortnight's holiday with pay from their employers, which sometimes they can get and sometimes they cannot get, according to the taste and fancy of their employers. Incidentally, so far as I can make out, of all employers the most difficult are Government departments in granting them this opportunity for recognised reserve training. So much for the purely naval personnel of the R.N.V.(S.)R.
I now want to say a few words about the aspect of the Service in which I am particularly interested, and that is the air section of the R.N.V.(S.)R. My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. 1072 Langford-Holt) has referred to the Fleet Air Arm, and the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Austin) spoke of the Fleet Air Arm Reserve. Naturally, I should be out of Order if I discussed the whole problems of the Fleet Air Arm in general or, indeed, of the Fleet Air Arm Reserve in general, but the position as regards the Reserve is that at present there are four R.N.V.R. squadrons. That is not very much. It means that there are about 100 pilots; 100 pilots merely means about 4 per cent. of the naval pilots who were trained during the war, and it is a serious and a sad situation that the country should be allowing this enormously and important asset to run to waste.
For that reason, and in the hope of preventing it, the R.N.V.(S.)R. formed its own air section which has more members than the R.N.V.R. air section. They have 850 members. Far from asking anything of the country, they are willing to pay £1 a year each for the privilege of being members of the R.N.V.(S.)R. The objects which they have set out for themselves in their statement are these: (1) to promote interest in all aspects of aviation and to foster enthusiasm and efficiency in all aeronautical matters amongst its members in collaboration with the Air Division, Admiralty; (2) to enable members of the R.N.V.(S.)R. who served with the Fleet Air Arm during the war to keep up to date with naval flying duties; (3) to provide facilities for members of the R.N.V.(S.)R. wishing to learn to fly ("A" licence standard); (4) to enable members of the R.N.V.(S.)R. in possession of civil licences, but who did not serve with the Air Arm during the war, to be trained in naval flying duties; (5) to enable members of the R.N.V.(S.)R. interested in ground duties in support of flying personnel to be trained; (6) to provide opportunities for members of the R.N.V.(S.)R. to visit aircraft carriers, naval air stations, civil airports, air displays, exhibitions, etc.
Those are six admirable and desirable patriotic objectives, but to none of them have the Admiralty made any contribution whatsoever. Without interfering in the least with the general policy of the Fleet Air Arm there is no reason why certain facilities for flying should not be given to these people. It is said, "Where are the aeroplanes?" The Ministry of Supply are willing to supply Tiger Moths. It is true that the Admi- 1073 ralty have said that the Tiger Moth is no use, but the Royal Air Force, who are entitled to an opinion about what is useful when it comes to flying aeroplanes, think the Tiger Moth is useful. After all, one is likely to learn more about aeronautics through flying the Tiger Moth than by walking on the ground. The Tiger Moth must be better than nothing.
Then there is the question of maintenance. A number of naval officers have said that if they were allowed to do so by the Admiralty, they could be of great assistance in the maintenance of the Tiger Moths. If they are not allowed to do so then members of the R.N.V.(S.)R. are willing to use the facilities of flying clubs to keep the Tiger Moths in the air. They are not in a position to pay the full fee of the private flyers but are willing to pay up to 25s. an hour, which is a considerable sacrifice when we realise that they are not doing it for their own amusement but entirely out of patriotic motives. The Admiralty give no encouragement, and the result, is that 100 have resigned and joined the R.A.F.V.R. I am myself a member, of the Royal Air Force, and it is gratifying to me to learn that gallant naval officers are joining the ranks of the R.A.F. But from the national point of view I think no one can welcome the news that people whose natural loyalty is to the Navy are in despair transferring themselves to the Air Force.
These are suggestions by which, within limits which I understand and accept. the Admiralty can show more imagination than they have shown up to the present. Instead of letting the enthusiasm of the gallant and patriotic people dissipate they can preserve their keenness and enhance the strength of the Navy against the day of adversity. I do not wish to exaggerate the importance of this comparatively limited subject; I do not want too much to be made of it; but at the same time, I do not want too little to be made of it. It is far more than a question of 7,500 men. The Parliamentary Secretary said earlier today that it was difficult to get people to join the Reserve. That being so, this is the worst time for the Admiralty to pursue a policy which advertises the fact that they are not making the best use of the keenness and patriotism of these volunteers. The good effect of a keener, positive and more imaginative policy would stretch far beyond the 1074 boundaries of the R.N.V.(S.)R. itself, even as the bad effect of a negative and unimaginative policy causes despair and spreads disillusion far beyond the boundaries of the R.N.V.(S.)R. itself.
In a Debate in another place a fortnight ago a number of noble Lords raised the question of this Service. The reply of the First Lord of the Admiralty, which was confined almost to one sentence was brief, negative and depressing. Matters cannot rest where they are; we must have a more imaginative policy, and I hope the Government will take this opportunity to announce that more imaginative policy tonight.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)
I beg to second the Amendment.
The Amendment has been moved ably and eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) and I second it with some hesitancy because I am a member of this force myself and declare my interest in the matter. I feel sure that Members opposite will, however, realise that the points I wish to make are purely in the national interest, and would be made in exactly the same way whether I was a member of that force or not. My hon. Friend has, I think, left little for me to say. Perhaps the Minister of Defence will remember that I raised this matter in October, 1945, that is to say, just two months after the cessation of hostilities with Japan. At that time I made a point of the R.N.V.(S.)R. being resuscitated in the national interest. I said it would be to the benefit of the nation if that was done. The right hon. Gentleman, who at that time was First Lord of the Admiralty, said in reply:The hon. and gallant Member may rest assured that sufficient modern equipment and ships will be available for training purposes when a decision on the future of the Reserve has been taken."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st October, 1945; Vol. 415, c. 411.]I pressed the right hon. Gentleman on this point through 1946 and through 1947. If, arising out of the few remarks I have to make, it may be suggested that I am putting a further burden on the Navy Estimates I would like also to refer to what I said on 18th March, 1947:Most of the comments and criticisms are on the question of why so much money is wanted for this or that purpose. I am not 1075 going to make criticism of why the amount is so much, but why it is so small."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th March, 1947; Vol. 435, c. 261.]It is true that in the admirable White Paper which is before us today there are the words:No provision is necessary for the recently created Royal Naval and Royal Marine Emergency Reserves since enrolment in these reserves does not involve either peace-time training, or payment of retainers or bounties.We know that to be the case, but what we are trying to do is to see whether, within those narrow boundaries a little more can be done to benefit the Royal Navy by utilising to the full the immediate volunteering of all these men.
How can that be brought about. It would appear that where these units have been formed—and a goodly number have already been formed by the enterprise, the wish and the will of men who have volunteered—the commanders-in-chief, when they try to do as much as possible within the conditions laid down by the Admiralty, may find themselves in a difficulty. If they wish to put a room at the disposal of the men, then comes the question how to get chairs and tables, and the nuts and bolts for the unit to work with. Under the rigid rule which is laid down at present, in no circumstances must a single penny be borne upon the Vote. The restriction against which the commanders-in-chief find themselves is impossible to get over. It may seem absurd when I mention such things as chairs and tables, but what I have said is true.
There are other points to which we should address our minds. There is the question of going afloat during the weekend, to be able, for example, to tour the Royal Dockyards. There are other suggestions I could make in order that they might be considered with a view to the men concerned being made to feel that they are part of the Service which they have volunteered to join. Is it not possible, at bases where there are recreational facilities for sports like cricket and rugger, for these men to join in the games? It would make them feel that they were part of the Royal Navy. It is psychological factors of that kind that make very much difference. Such is the position, however, that owing to shortage if the men even want to buy an R.N.V.(S.)R. tie they cannot obtain one. There is nothing to make them feel part 1076 of the Navy, except the urge which made them want to join it.
Surely it would be possible without any fuss to utilise these men in the recruitment programme? Here they are, volunteers. I should have thought they could be used. In the "Bulletin" which is issued to members of one unit of the R.N.V.(S.)R. one sees that the Admiralty sends a message. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether the Admiralty could not circulate that message to every member of the R.N.V.(S.)R.? If not, why not? Even if 7,000 copies had to be duplicated, the cost would not be very much. Why should this message apply only to one unit? Is there any reason, moreover, why the Admiralty should not notify yacht clubs asking them to give honorary membership to R.N.V.(S.)R.'s so that they could use the facilities and thereby freshen up their knowledge of small boats? These are times when people cannot afford to go on paying out money themselves, but it might be helpful if they could take advantage of the facilities that the Admiralty might get for them. Joining in regattas might be of very great advantage to the R.N.V.(S.)R.
My last point concerns fishery protection vessels. Members of the R.N.V.(S.)R. would no doubt like to take advantage of the great opportunities that exist in our seaports for getting to know more about these vessels. Again and again I have asked in this House whether we have a sufficient number of these vessels. We know that we have not. I am not going into that question now, as it would not be right to do so on this Amendment. Is it not possible to give the R.N.V.(S.)R. some experience in these matters and thereby to give full value to their knowledge, and also to bring out the fact that the fishery protection vessels are of great value to our fishing fleets? In that way I think we should all secure great benefit.
When I asked in October, 1945, for the resuscitation of the R.N.V.(S.)R., I put to the right hon. Gentleman the point that if something were not done fairly quickly on the question of reinstating this force, their uniforms would get moth-eaten and wasted. We know that that has happened, and the point I am now going to make applies to the Royal Navy as a whole as well as to the R.N.V.(S.)R. These articles of necessary uniform should be freed of Purchase Tax.
1077 In expressing my great pleasure and privilege in seconding this Amendment, I wish to assure you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that without any question at all you would find the R.N.V.(S.)R. always willing and proud to serve the Royal Navy. All that is required is that they should be given the facilities so to serve.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lipton (Brixton)
If I may presume to say so, the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) and the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall) have rendered a useful service in drawing attention to the important question of training facilities for the R.N.V.(S.)R. and for the Navy as a whole. I have in my possession a copy of the communication that was issued by the Admiralty in January, 1946, in which it was indicated that the Admiralty were anxious to foster the teaching of radio technique by educational establishments, particularly in relation to radar. It is clear that there is a great need in all the services for people with high technical qualifications who can keep themselves up to date with recent developments in radar technique and other scientific methods used at the present time.
In January, 1946, the Admiralty were considering how to assist with the necessary equipment those who might be interested in providing those training facilities. For that purpose a letter was addressed to educational establishments of various kinds up and down the country in which they were invited to set out, for the information of the Director of Radio Equipment at the Admiralty, details of the equipment that would be required. The Admiralty, of course, made it clear at the time that it was not possible to indicate on what terms the equipment, if supplied, could be made available. I quote the actual words of the communication:It is generally the intention that supplies should be on such terms as to stimulate an added interest in the teaching of these subjects.It so happens that in my constituency there is a school for telegraphy. It has been in existence now for some 43 years and was one of the institutions which received this circular communication to which I have referred. The recipients of this communication were asked to communicate with the Admiralty within 30 days. My constituent, who is the 1078 principal of this school, did so, and received no reply to his letter. He sent a reminder 14 days subsequently and to that he received no reply, not even a formal acknowledgment. That was three years ago. The other day, to his surprise, he discovered that the Admiralty had actually supplied radar equipment for instructional purposes to four institutions, the University College at Southampton, the Technical School at Hull, the Marine School at South Shields, and the Nautical College at Leith. My constituent, and I do not blame him for feeling so strongly on the subject, is somewhat annoyed by the treatment he has received.
During the war, as the Parliamentary Secretary is aware, wireless operators were sadly needed by the Admiralty and private training schools made a very valuable contribution towards the needs that manifested themselves at that time. These private schools readily came to the assistance of the Government and did their utmost to help the Admiralty and the Service Departments generally to get out of the difficulty in which they were placed. It appears that there has been some negligence or carelessness or lack of initiative on the part of the authorities in connection with this need to stimulate interest in the various technical requirements, both of the Navy, and of the other Services. I hope that my hon. Friend will look into this aspect of the matter. It seems to me to be most important that provision should be made for whatever interest there may be in various parts of the country and a ready opportunity given for that interest to be satisfied. In that way a useful contribution could he made towards the encouragement and continued training of people who would be a very useful acquisition to the Reserve Forces of the Crown.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Beechman (St. Ives)
I wish to support the Amendment. I have asked in the House and outside, and I have even asked myself, in the hope of getting some sort of an intelligent reply, why nothing is done about these Naval Reserves. The hon. and gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) has spoken about one form of Reserve, and we have heard about the others. I have the greatest liking and respect for the Admiralty and the Navy, as we all have, 1079 but it does seem that the Admiralty is here throwing to the winds a very great deal of enthusiasm which might be utilised.
I remember on one occasion seeing a fisherman going off to a conscientious objectors' tribunal. I asked him what was his conscientious objection, and he said he was going to state that he had a conscientious objection to joining anything except the Navy. That is very much the feeling with which I am familiar in this matter. I wish to pay a tribute to what the Admiralty has done. The other day we had a visit from the "Anson" and everybody was delighted. Sir Rhoderick MacGrigor came to St. Ives. We also had the splendid frigate, the "Tremadoc Bay," which came to Mounts Bay. There was great enthusiasm, and everyone was most proud of that visit. But what happened? The enthusiasm which had been engendered was allowed to dissipate in a most extraordinary way. There are so many people, not only members of yacht clubs—we are not all interested in regattas—but fishermen, who are anxious to be associated with the Royal Naval Reserve.
§ 8.17 p.m.
I am very appreciative of the spirit in which this Amendment has been moved, and I assure hon. Members that we are not at all unmindful of the fine work that has been done in the past by these officers, nor of their public spiritedness in coming forward and joining the R.N.V.(S.)R. I do not think that the position is quite as bad as the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) made out. I sympathise with him very much over his problem about his father's Christian names, but unfortunately that has nothing to do with the Admiralty. I may say that I had difficulty when I attempted to enter the R.N.V.R. I was told I had no yachting experience and so I was forced to join another Service instead.
We are doing a certain amount for these officers. I admit that it is not as much as we should like to do and it is quite obvious that hon. Members would like us to do more. There are some small but important things that we are doing. In the first place, there are special identity cards which enable them to visit ships and naval establishments which it is 1080 not possible for the ordinary civilian, or somebody who is not a member of the R.N.V.(S.)R. to visit. The second thing is that they can attend lectures on gunnery, aircraft recognition, radar, meteorology, and lectures on other subjects are arranged. The third thing is that from time to time they have opportunities of going in warships. These arrangements are made locally through each individual commanding officer, but quite a number of members of the R.N.V.(S.)R. can and have made these arrangements, and we should like to encourage them so far as circumstances permit. I would add that the position was the same before the war as it is now. Evidently the Admiralty then experienced the same difficulties as it is now experiencing.
The difficulties are very simple. We have a certain amount of butter to spread and we have to spread it very carefully. We feel that, by and large, these men are trained; they may not be trained as much as we should like, or as much as they would like, but they are trained to a far greater degree than other men whom we have to train. We therefore have to give them less training in order that we may give other men and other officers more training. In the first place we have to see that we give as much as possible to the R.N.V.R. so that that can be developed to the greatest possible extent. Only when that is done can we then give all the training that we should like to give to the R.N.V.(S.)R.
We fully appreciate the way in which these men have allowed their names to go forward to join the organisation. We appreciate also the spirit in which this Amendment has been moved. A very large number of important suggestions have been made. I could not possibly reply in detail; that would take a very long time. However, we shall give them every possible consideration, but I cannot promise any immediate change. As hon. Members know, my noble Friend spoke on this subject only a few days ago in another place.
§ Commander Maitland (Horncastle)
Might I make a suggestion? The hon. Gentleman says that he cannot reply in detail now. Might he not perhaps reply by letter to the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) so that he might know what is the decision of the Admiralty on these matters? That course is often taken.
By all means. I am perfectly willing to do that. I do not dismiss the suggestions but they are detailed and, if that is a method which the hon. Gentleman would prefer, I shall write to him and also to the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall).
§ Mr. D. Marshall
Instead of writing to me, would it not be possible, as the Royal Navy interests all hon. Members, to have the reply printed in HANSARD?
I do not think that that would be possible. I think that a much better way would be for me to write to the hon. Member. If the hon. Member is not satisfied with my reply he can put down a Question or take other action which is open to hon. Members.
In fact, we are paying attention to these matters. We have received a number of valuable suggestions this evening, but this is not easy and I cannot hold out any promise that a lot will be done very soon. As a result of this Debate we realise the strong feeling that there is on this matter and we shall do out utmost to satisfy hon. Members.
§ Mr. Hollis
Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, can he not say something about the problem of the air section?
That is really the same as the problem of the sea section. There is no great difference. In both cases there are men who want to be trained and who want to be embodied either in the sea service or the air service, though they are, of course, all one Service. We want the men to get all the training possible. I realise that it is unfortunate if these men have to leave the R.N.V.R. (Air) and join the R.A.F.V.R. Naturally, we have not got all the facilities, such as airfields, which the R.A.F. possess. We are using the facilities which we have for the R.N.V.R. If in any way we can extend the facilities for members of the R.N.V.(S.)R. to get practice in aviation we shall be only too glad to do so, but we are faced with exactly the same problems in the air as we are on the sea.
That is why I did not refer specifically to that problem. I simply treated it as one of the problems with which we are faced and as one of the suggestions which we shall consider in detail. I am sorry that I really cannot say more than that now. J receive this Amendment in a 1082 friendly spirit and I hope that as a result of this discussion we shall be able to put forward various suggestions, though naturally I cannot promise anything definite at the moment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Plymouth, Devonport)
This Debate on the Naval Estimates has taken place in a somewhat different atmosphere from that which we experienced during the same Debate last year. On that occasion we were treated to one of those flashing raids from the Leader of the Opposition, one of those raids which always leave the Opposition in such a state of discomfiture. It has been a very different state of affairs today when the right hon. Gentleman has been absent, and a very different attitude has been presented by those who have spoken from the Opposition Front Bench. What happened a year ago was that there had been considerable criticism of the Admiralty by those on the Front Bench opposite who are supposed to be experts on naval matters, but the Leader of the Opposition turned up and contradicted all the arguments that had been used during the previous four or five months by his fellow spokesmen on these matters. In fact, the intervention of the Leader of the Opposition last year had such a destructive effect on his right hon. Friends that they were not quite sure whether they were in Bournemouth or Bikini. It was, therefore, a most remarkable display.
It is an extraordinary state of affairs that after a Debate of such violence and heat a year ago we should have had a Debate of such a quiet nature today. The Opposition have come forward and congratulated the Admiralty on everything that has been done. They have told us in what a high state of efficiency the Admiralty have kept the Navy. They have paid tributes to the efficiency shown in the activities which have taken place during the past few months. It seems that a remarkable transformation has taken place in the past year. I think that all those tributes to the Admiralty are very well deserved.
1083 The truth of the matter is that the Opposition have never had a clear idea of what was meant by a demobilisation programme for the Navy at the end of the war. Last year we had the extraordinary state of affairs that the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) was complaining because the demobilisation had been too fast, and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition was complaining because it had not been swift enough. I am glad to see that they have been able to reconcile those differences. The truth is that in carrying out the demobilisation of the Navy and reducing its strength from something just under one million to the figure at which it stands today, the Admiralty have carried through very smoothly and with considerable skill a most difficult task. They deserve the applause which has come from all sides of the House on that matter today. I am glad to add my compliments on the skill with which the Admiralty have carried through this task. I do that partly because I think that the compliments are true and partly because I do not propose to continue the rest of my speech in such a complimentary tone.
There is another reference which I wish to make to matters discussed by the hon. Member for Hereford. He referred to the question of the barracks in Devon-port and elsewhere. As a reason for nothing having been done about these quarters in the past when the hon. Member and his party were in charge of affairs, he seemed to advance the excuse that in any case the Labour Party had voted against the Naval Estimates and therefore they could not be expected to have gone ahead to deal with the barracks and to provide decent quarters. That is not a very powerful argument. Of course, the Opposition know perfectly well that these Amendments on the Naval Estimates were put down by the Labour Party in the period before the war as a protest against the foreign policy of the Government of the day and also as a protest against the disrepute into which the party opposite had brought the British Navy.
One of the troubles with the Conservative Party is that its members were not taught very much history at the public schools they attended. If they had 1084 known a little more history, they would have known that the British Navy has suffered some of the worst periods of its life under Tory Administrations. From the days of Charles II to those of Neville Chamberlain, the Navy has always had to look with a very careful eye on the conduct of Tory Administrations. It was a protest against the disrepute into which the Conservative Party had allowed the British Navy to fall in 1935, when they were not even prepared to stand up to Mussolini, that the Labour Party voted as it did.
§ Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
Would the hon. Gentleman like to explain to the House his own attitude during that period? Was he not agitating at that time to get total disarmament?
§ Mr. Foot
I am afraid the hon. and gallant Gentleman has been misinformed. I was not engaged in agitation of that kind at all, but was agitating to ensure that we should prevent the war which actually happened, and one of the ways in which I think we might have prevented it was if the British Government of that time had placed a higher reliance upon the capacity of the British Navy. I think it was perfectly possible for the Government to have stood up to Mussolini, to have imposed sanctions against Italy and thereby to have prevented the war from occurring at all.
I do not think it was an adequate excuse for not going ahead with reorganisation and rebuilding, or providing new naval barracks, to suggest that the Labour Party had voted against the Naval Estimates. I am glad there is pressure in the House on that subject today, and also that the question of married quarters has been raised. I hope the Admiralty may also be able to give us some information on the subject of the period of foreign service, because I would say that that is the major grievance which exists amongst naval people and people now serving in the Royal Navy. We had a statement from the Admiralty two years ago that they were looking into this question eagerly and closely, and that, as soon as possible, they would reduce the period of foreign service. I do not know whether they can tell us more about it today. I realise there are considerable difficulties, but I hope the Admiralty will always keep in mind the desirability of 1085 reducing effectively, as soon as they can, the period of foreign service of men serving in the Royal Navy.
The matter to which I wish to direct my chief attention and that of the House tonight concerns the Royal Dockyards. I imagine that the Admiralty might have supposed that they would have a pretty easy run from the representatives of the Royal Dockyards in this House on this occasion, because the money is being increased and because employment is being increased. Because of those facts, it looks as if there is going to be a better opportunity of easing some of the unemployment that exists in some dockyard towns, and it might even have been expected by the Admiralty that we who represent constituencies containing dockyards would rise in this House and say "Thank you" in unison, and leave the matter there.
I want to say, as the representative of a dockyard town, that we are not content. Just because the Admiralty have been successful in squeezing more money out of the Treasury does not mean that they have faced the real problem of reorganisation and overhaul which they should face in dealing with the dockyards. I think that the policy they must apply to the dockyards is that which was laid down by the Parliamentary Secretary when he opened the Debate, and when he said that every penny must be examined and they must take the greatest possible care in examining how they spent the money which was made available for them by the Treasury.
One of the features of the Estimates this year is that there is a further big cut in the provision made for the repayment or commercial work in dockyards. There was a big cut last year from more than 4,000 men engaged on commercial work to about 2,400, and in these Estimates, in effect, the number of persons in the dockyards to be employed on repayment work will be reduced to negligible proportions. I am sure that that fact makes the Admirals very happy, but it does not make me very happy. Everyone must agree that the main work of the Royal Dockyards must be concerned with the repair or construction of naval vessels, but I should think it was equally obvious that, however great and important the amount of repairs to be done in the Royal Navy, the numbers of persons whom it is 1086 desirable to employ, or to have available for employment, on repairs in peace-time cannot be as large as the number it is obviously desirable to have available for repairs and construction in war time.
I had, of course, thought that the idea of introducing the repayment and commercial work was to maintain in the Royal Dockyards a pool of labour engaged on useful work for the country, a pool which could be turned over to full war-time production in times of necessity. I am, therefore, somewhat distressed at the severe reduction which has been made in this proposed repayment work. The scheme was introduced only three years ago, but it is now to be curtailed very severely. My fears are increased because it is my belief, and I am sure it is the belief of the great mass of the workers in the dockyards, that the admirals themselves were never very keen on this repayment work. I think there is a fear that they have now jumped at the opportunity provided by the extra money from the Treasury to do away with it to a great extent.
It does stand to reason that we will need a bigger force engaged solely on naval work in wartime than in peacetime, and therefore this reduction of the repayment work means that either we will not have the numbers required in, war-time working in the dockyards, or, alternatively, when less money is provided by the Treasury, it may be difficult to start up again the kind of repayment and commercial work which I think is necessary to maintain the numbers required in the dockyards. We had a statement from the Parliamentary Secretary in his speech today that, if the necessity arose, they might reinstate the repayment scheme, but I do not think there has ever been created in the dockyards, in the three years during which this scheme has been in operation, a real belief that the Admiralty were making the best of it and pushing it as much as they might do.
This brings me to my main contention which I want to put to the Admiralty, which is that if, in fact, the Royal Dockyards were more efficiently organised, it would be possible for them to do more repair work and retain the commercial and repayment work at the same time. Whatever may be said by the Civil Lord or his officials, nine people out of ten in 1087 Devonport Dockyard would agree with me. We have been battering away at the Civil Lord on this subject for three years, and I thank him for the courtesy and patience which he has shown, for the great work which he has done for the dockyards in many directions, and for the constant help which he has given to hon. Members representing the dockyards, but I do not thank him for his activity in this respect. We have been battering away at the Admiralty on this subject for a long time without getting much response.
We have asked, in each Debate on the Naval Estimates, for an independent inquiry into the work of the dockyards and for a working party which would examine the facts. In response to that request, we have seen the Civil Lord, the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Minister of Defence each in turn giving a plausible imitation of Mr. Molotov. I hope that recent events will act as a warning to them. We did get a concession a year ago, when we were told by the Civil Lord, in answer to a Question, that he was setting up a small committee to examine the commercial working of the dockyards, but it was a Committee which was permitted only to deal with one department in the dockyards, and it had no powers to examine the question of general efficiency throughout the dockyards. It was a committee composed of three distinguished gentlemen who were supposed to conduct an examination into the engineering department alone. That Committee visited Devon-port Dockyard for exactly one day and only two out of the three distinguished men who were appointed to the Committee turned up. None of the workers was asked to give evidence to that Committee, and so far as I know nobody knows what has happened to their report.
I do not think that is a very satisfactory state of affairs. We all know the story of the blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat which is not there. Believe me, for sheer organised futility that scene has nothing on a departmental committee set up by the Admiralty to discover whether their Lordships are properly doing a job which, in any case, they do not want to do. That is what we are faced with in this situation. I think that my hon. 1088 Friend's Committee has probably done more harm than good because it has increased the frustration among workers in the dockyards. It is a really serious situation when there is a group of patriotic men, as they all are in the Royal Dockyards—and in this I am sure that my fellow dockyard Members would agree with me—who have been saying for three years, "We believe we could do more work for the nation." Surely when they go on saying that year after year, and when they say, "We really must have the opportunity of trying to see whether we cannot organise this job better," it is right that the Admiralty should take more notice.
Although we have not had a real committee examining this question, we have been able to lift one corner of the veil. It was not thanks to the Admiralty that we were able to do that, but thanks to the Report of the Select Committee on Estimates, Cmd. 200, which was presented to the House of Commons last July. I congratulate hon. Members of this House who were members of that Select Committee and who put several questions to the Admiralty which support some of the things which we have been trying to present to the Admiralty for so long. Although this Committee was only examining the work of naval establishments in connection with the production and export drive, what they reveal does cast a light on the whole organisation of the Royal Dockyards. Perhaps I might first quote the conclusion of the Committee which is not directly concerned with my main argument. At any rate, the conclusion reached by this Committee about repayment work was quite different from that reached by the Admiralty before. Having cross-examined the Admiralty, the Committee suggested that an effort should be made to maintain the repayment work and to keep it going. That was their main conclusion. But I am more interested in the questions which were put to the representatives of the Admiralty by the members of that Select Committee and in the answers that were given.
One of the main arguments we have always used with the Admiralty in this respect is that we suspect that the costs are not so low as they could be if there was a more efficient organisation. The Admiralty have always replied, "We 1089 think our costs compare very well with the costs in private yards, and therefore there is nothing to be alarmed about." But let us look at some of the answers given in this discussion. For instance, one member of the Committee asked the representative of the Admiralty:Do you know how the costs of the work carried out in the Admiralty dockyards compare with the costs of similar work carried out by private contractors?The answer was:No, I am afraid we have not got that information.That seems to me an extraordinary answer. Another member of the Select Committee went on to say—and I congratulate him on it:That does raise rather an important general question, surely, in order to provide a satisfactory answer to which we ought to have some sort of documentary evidence, I should have thought. Would it not be possible, Mr. Chairman, to find, either by information given to us from the Department or by inquiries made in other directions, typical examples of work which interests not only the Dockyards but outside firms, and compare quotations or costings with the eventually approved costs after the work has been done.I should have thought that was a simple process and certainly one which should have been carried through, but in the answers given to the Select Committee there was no indication that the Admiralty had made any such real examination about costs. Later on in their replies they go even further. The question was again put, on page 57:You have no knowledge at all of how your prices in fact do compare with a commercial basis?The answer was:Not with the rejected prices of somebody else or of the actual costs of somebody else.Very naturally, the member went on to say, "Well, if you do not know exactly how your costs do compare, then how do you know what is your profit and loss account on this general repayment work you have been undertaking." The question was:If we could cover the whole of the work we have been discussing this afternoon, this non-service work, are you in a position to say what the profit and loss account is?The answer is:I think that would be very difficult, Sir. I would say on the whole we probably would come out about even.It does not seem to me to be a satisfactory state of affairs that the representative of the Admiralty, when cross-examined 1090 about this work, should say, "We probably break about even, but we are not quite sure about it." That seems to me to be a state of affairs that discloses a situation in which something ought to be done.
There are very extraordinary replies given in this document. One of the questions, for instance, about which the Admiralty are concerned, is recruitment of skilled workers in the dockyards. They say they have been having some difficulty in getting all the skilled workers and apprentices they want. It is explained by the representative of the Admiralty to the Select Committee that one of the difficulties is that they now have to compete more with some outside firms and organisations.
Finally, at the end of this discussion, as to how the dockyards are to recruit apprentices in the future in order to provide the skilled men they will need, the question is put:Can you suggest any way in which they [the dockyards] can be made more attractive?The answer is:No. With all the experience I have, I cannot suggest anything.That, again, seems an extraordinary state of affairs, when the representative of the Admiralty cannot suggest how they are to deal with the failure to recruit apprentices which they will need in order to maintain skilled workers in the dockyard.
We could go on to other statements made in this Report. Questions were asked, for instance, about the establishment system. I am very glad that a change has been made in that system, and I congratulate the Admiralty on that. But certainly the representative of the Admiralty who appeared before the Select Committee did not seem to understand how the failure in the past to deal with the establishment system had acted as a very big brake on the recruitment of people to the dockyards. Again, further questions were asked by this Committee about a subject which causes great interest in the dockyards, whether it is really a right and proper thing that a great business organisation—for that is what the dockyards are—should, in fact, be under the sole control of the Admiralty. The question was asked about how admiral superintendents were appointed. I am not making a criticism 1091 of any admiral superintendent, and have no desire to do so.
This is a matter of general principle. One of the Members of the Committee asked how long an admiral superintendent would remain in charge of a Royal Dockyard carrying out the work of constructing the vessels we need, and the answer was, "Four to five years." The questioner went on,So that continuity is not maintained beyond that period?The answer was "No," and that apparently is a principle which the Admiralty are quite ready to accept. Take again the question of how this repayment and commercial work was obtained for the dockyards. In replies given in the Select Committee it is admitted that they did not have any organisation really to go out to discover whether they could get more work, but were quite content to do it in what I think can only be described by anyone reading these answers as a most haphazard fashion.
This is the only kind of inquiry which has been made, so far as I know, in recent years into the organisation of the Royal Dockyards. It occupied a matter of an hour or two's cross-examination before the Select Committee. I suggest that that is not good enough, because this is a great business in which, as was admitted by the representative of the Admiralty before the Select Committee, they have no particular ideas about recruitment of apprentices in the future; it is a great organisation which took up commercial work three years ago and which now, in effect, is to drop it; it is a great organisation which according to these statements had no real comparison of costs for repayment work between Royal Dockyards and commercial firms; it is a great organisation which is in the main controlled by persons who have not primarily been trained for their industrial efficiency; it is a great organisation in which a deep-seated frustration does exist amongst the workers who are engaged in that industry; and it is a great organisation into which, as I said, no kind of inquiry has been made for generations.
I suggest it is high time we really discovered whether we are getting full value for the money which is spent on the Royal Dockyard and I suggest that 1092 the only way in which we can do that is to have an independent inquiry, a working party, such as we had in the case of the cotton industry and other industries. I believe all hon. Members will agree that those working parties produced most valuable reports. They produced reports which gave an insight into the inefficiencies in some of those industries. The cotton industry and the pottery industry and other industries have been subject to many inquiries, many more than have been made into the Royal Dockyards.
The fact is—and tribute was paid to this fact earlier in the Debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu)—that the Admiralty are, second only to the Treasury, if second to the Treasury at all, the most powerful Department in this country. It is one of the closest corporations in the land. Talk about a closed shop! This is an industry with an iron curtain around it, and I suggest, therefore, that we must have the power to break through that iron curtain and see really what is going on. If the Admiralty are so content with the situation, as they have said to us they are content, I am sure the working party will provide another encomium for the occupants of the Front Bench and they will have nothing to worry about, but if in fact an independent inquiry which really went into the organisation of this great industry were to produce a report saying that behind the monastic walls of Devonport Dockyard, the Admiralty has for years been conducting a busy, active, 100 per cent. efficient, streamlined organisation—if the report were to say that, I can assure the hon. Member that there is no one who would be more surprised than the people of Plymouth. They could not be more surprised if they woke up tomorrow morning and discovered that the directors of Plymouth Argyle had just spent £30,000 buying Stanley Matthews.
I therefore suggest quite seriously to the Admiralty that when this demand is going on as persistently as it has been going on, it is really time that they should consider whether they should not have the examination we have asked for. It is an examination which can assist the Admiralty in doing the work they want to do—building the efficient Royal Navy we want in this country.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Captain Marsden (Chertsey)
The hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) made his customary start, full of venom and inaccuracy. After that he settled down to a very interesting talk on Plymouth Dockyard. If a committee such as he suggests found that the dockyard was working very well and the system was efficient, I do not think for one moment he would be satisfied with that.
I return to an early remark which he made about this side of the House suffering a transformation in their views on the Navy Estimates since last year. That is partially correct. But we had something to be surprised about. Twelve months ago we did not know what Navy we had. We were suspicious that we had very few ships in commission. Eventually, a paragraph appeared in the Press saying that the Home Fleet, consisting of one cruiser and four destroyers, was under way and going south to Gibraltar. Naturally, we were alarmed. We on this side of the House have always believed in parading our naval strength. Unfortunately, the party opposite, during the time they have been in power, have had to take a quite different line and devote their, publicity, such as it is, to concealing our weakness. That is admitted. That is admitted by the Minister of Defence. The White Paper issued last week says about the recent cruise to the West Indies that it isan encouraging sign of the recovery of our own naval strength.There is the Minister of Defence talking of our recovering our naval strength From what are we recovering? We are recovering from our naval weakness. High time for that, too. Of course we are pleased, and, of course, our views this year are slightly more enthusiastic than they were last year.
I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary can complain about the speeches made after he started the Debate. Of course, there was the usual extraordinary comment by the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey). I will only say about that, that of all the people I have heard talking about the Navy, including people who have served in the Navy, he is the only one—and mind you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, the Navy treated him pretty well—he is the only 1094 one who has not a single nice thing to say about it. It was such a relief to hear the hon.—and the gallant—Member for Huddersfield (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu), who served both on the lower deck and as an officer and, who, although he had several comments to make, some of them quite strong, yet drew an agreeable picture of naval life. He, as he said, does not regret a moment of the time that he spent in the Navy.
There are, of course, awful difficulties aboard a man-of-war, especially a small one. The naval constructor has to consult so many interests. First there is the gunnery department. There is so much room required for that department. Then the engineers need so much room in which to get up a ship's speed. Other departments clamour for room too, including, of course, the navigating department. The naval constructor has to meet the problem of satisfying all those needs. We know what the difference is said to be between a big French passenger ship and a big English passenger ship. The French passenger ship is said to be a hotel with a hull built around it, whereas the English are said to construct a passenger ship by building a hull and putting a hotel inside it. The naval constructor building a man-of-war has to build both, has to do both things. But we must never forget that the efficiency of the ship comes first. First the requirements of efficiency must be met, and then with the space that is left over, the naval constructor must do what he can to provide for the ship's company to eat, sleep, and wash. That is his job. The better the constructor we get, the better the job will be done.
One of our difficulties in latter years has been that we have not paid sufficient attention to the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors. Witness has been given to that by almost every high officer that we have, including Admiral of the Fleet Lord Cunningham. We have had a committee on this matter. Their report has been in the Admiralty for some time. Why it has not been published already, goodness only knows. I assume it is because of the customary fight between the Admiralty and the Treasury. Apparently, the Treasury is very strong and the Admiralty not quite so strong. However, unless we pay these men properly and make their posts worth while, we shall 1095 not get the best men. If the recommendations of the committee are carried out, we shall be quite certain, I think, that the strength of the Corps will be very much strengthened and improved.
The Parliamentary Secretary quite rightly—because this is in everybody's mind—spoke of the conditions of the men serving afloat and ashore. I shall not say much about the conditions of those ashore. As to the conditions of those at sea, I am glad that so many matters are being dealt with for the sake of the men's comfort. I suggest only one other thing. The hon. Gentleman talked about bringing in refrigerators and potato peeling machines, and so on. Why cannot he bring in some more washing machines? I ask him to do so. I ask this especially for the men serving in ships in hot climates, where they wear white uniforms. I remember in the West Indies in past days, the old washerwoman, who always swore that her ancestors had washed for Lord Nelson, would come off shore and do the washing for a shilling or so. But now it is a most expensive operation. In those ships which are on service where white uniform has constantly to be worn, it would be a tremendous relief and save officers and men a great deal of trouble if some such equipment could be provided.
The Parliamentary Secretary was rather pleased about the fact that new. entry officers get a free uniform, and I particularly ask whether the allowance is free of Purchase Tax. It seems silly to give a sum of money, £60 or whatever it may be, and then to require Purchase Tax to be paid. It is very foolish and is uneconomical; what is more, and this should appeal to Government, it is not good planning. Another piece of information given to the House for the first time is the fact that warrant officers no longer exist but are now commissioned officers, if they feel themselves any better for it; if they do feel better for it, it is about the only benefit they will receive. They are to be commissioned officers and will get a commission instead of being warrant officers. The Government have already made things thoroughly uncomfortable for them by taking them out of the cosy officers' mess and putting them into the overcrowded wardroom.
§ Captain Marsden
In order to satisfy the social aspirations of a few, they have brought discomfort to many. Cannot we get some better names for the newly commissioned officers than the rather lengthy titles they are to be given? In the old days there used to be an officer known as "Fleet Officer," and there was the "Master of the Fleet "—that was in the days of Napoleon. He was not a commissioned officer but a particular sort of officer. When we imagine at some ceremonial occasion the announcement being made, "Senior Commissioned Bo'sun So-and-so," it seems rather a lengthy title. What is the matter with calling him "Fleet Officer So-and-so?" There are a large number of executive officers called commanders, lieutenants, captains or whatever it may be, with the initial letter of their special qualifications interposed. Why not do that with these ex-warrant officers that are now to be commissioned officers? In the eyes of the world it would make no difference.
The Parliamentary Secretary alarmed me, and no doubt he alarmed other Members, with his remarks about submarines. The Russians are supposed to have 250, although any number might be correct—it might be 100 or 300 and be just as near to the truth. We might say that they will do nothing as they have done nothing before, but as far as the Navy is concerned, we never under-estimate but have to assume that all the submarines the Russians have are efficient and up-to-date vessels, capable of going to sea and keeping at sea for long periods. If they are fitted with Schnorkel apparatus, it means that they are more of a danger than ever before, and if they can go up to 15 to 20 knots it does not do for us to have slow ships to chase them. It means we must have ships that are sufficiently fast, and that does not mean ships of the same speed but ships that are definitely faster, to chase them. We have about 130 ships of the frigate class, but they cannot do the necessary speed.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) gave us an interesting treatise on naval tactics of the Jules Verne type, but he seems to overlook the fact that what we want are surface ships, because the only antidote to the present submarine is a surface ship. Radar is no use against submarines and aeroplanes rarely are and have done 1097 very little. The surface ship, fitted with the Asdic, can locate submarines and then plant depth charges round them forcing them to the surface or with any luck destroying them under water. I do not suppose the Russians could follow all our convoys everywhere, but across the North Atlantic our ships would have to be in convoy and every convoy protected by quite a number of surface ships.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman not leaving out of his consideration that if there were a war with the Russians, the American Navy would be on the side of the British Navy?
§ Captain Marsden
I hope they would and I shall come to that later, but the Americans would not think much of us if they had to do all the work. The best way we can get help from the Americans is to assure them that we are doing our share, which I am perfectly sure we would do.
The Parliamentary Secretary gave us some good news about the fitting out of the "Cumberland" as a trial ship. Never before in history is experiment more necessary than at the present time. We are passing through a curious period, and the Navy must be equipped with the most recent and the best methods of attack and defence. Our difficulty is that we must always be ready for war. In spite of what was said by the hon. Member for Devonport, the Navy was ready for war in 1939, and thank God it was. It has always been ready and, far from having to wait a bit before it can get into action, the Navy usually strikes the first blow. We can be perfectly sure that in future, the blow will fall before war is declared. Anything further that we can devise in the way of experiment and science would be for the strengthening of the Navy.
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) mentioned the United States and I am glad he did, because about two years ago I asked a Question about reciprocal arrangements with that country whereby we could use their ports and they could use ours in the event of another conflict. The Parliamentary Secretary told me that the idea was a good one and he would inquire into it. I imagine that we have got such 1098 an arrangement now. I am quite certain that if we had to go to war the United States ships would be welcomed in our harbours. But if there is such an arrangement why not say so? It seems to me that we lose a lot by not publicly announcing that fact, because it would have great psychological effect on other countries. If other countries realised that there was an alliance with the. United States, it would suggest to them great material and physical strength while it would have a great moral effect everywhere. Indeed, it might dissuade many from going over to the enemy, and even induce neutral nations to come in with us, because between us, representative as we are of two great nationalities, we are agreed on the important things, and the preservation of the peace of the world is our main aim and object.
§ 9.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Swingler (Stafford)
I have promised to be very brief, and, therefore, I resist the temptation to be drawn into a general discussion on naval strategy with the hon. and gallant Member for Chertsey (Captain Marsden). Those better qualified than I am will no doubt reply to him tonight. I rise to raise one point of special interest—the question of the administration of justice in the Navy. Some hon. Members may regard this as a Committee point, but I think it of sufficient importance to be raised in the general Debate on the Navy Estimates in view of what happened recently.
As hon. Members on all sides of the House know, a statement was made on 23rd February by the Minister of Defence on the major recommendations of the Lewis Committee, set up in 1946 to inquire into the constitution and procedure of courts martial in the Army and Air Force. In 1946 when that Committee was set up, the Navy was specifically excluded from its purview. In the first place tonight I want to draw the attention of the House to a statement which was made at that time in regard to naval courts martial and the Lewis Committee. I refer to a Question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) on 31st October, 1946. He asked the Prime Minister:Whether the Government intends to take early action to standardise and overhaul court martial procedure in all three Services.1099 In his reply the Prime Minister said:The standardisation of court martial procedure in all three Services would encounter many difficulties owing to the entirely different conditions under which the Services operate. The closest attention will be given to the effects on the naval court martial system of any recommendations by the committee, which is being set up by the Secretary of State for War and the Secretary of State for Air to review the military courts, and in all respects I think it would be best to await the results of the committee's investigations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st October, 1946; Vol. 428, c. 774–5.]The first question I want to put to the Civil Lord is in regard to the consideration which has been given at the Admiralty to the Report of the Lewis Committee on Court Martial Procedure in the Army and the Royal Air Force, not on the minor recommendations following which certain reforms are being carried into effect, but the major recommendations concerning civilian judge presidents, unanimity of findings and the establishment of a court of appeal. Hon. Members know what has happened. The Minister of Defence has announced that, owing to the fact that the Navy was excluded from the purview of the Lewis Committee and owing to the radical recommendations which were made by the Lewis Committee, the Government have now decided to set up another committee to inquire especially into the system of naval courts martial. That committee has already started under Mr. Justice Pilcher and its terms of reference have been announced.
On 23rd February, 1949, when the Minister of Defence made his statement, I raised an Adjournment Debate on the subject of that statement. I want to draw the attention of the Civil Lord to one or two statements which were then made by the Minister of Defence about the Pilcher Committee and its terms of reference and the way in which it would work. One point which was raised then was whether the Committee would have its attention drawn directly to the recommendations of the Lewis Committee in order that its work should be shortened or whether it would have the same terms of reference. The Minister of Defence stressed the fact that as far as possible the work of the Pilcher Committee would be expedited so that it would report as soon as possible and that its terms of reference would be such as to eliminate much of the work which had had to be 1100 done by the Lewis Committee in relation to the system of justice in the Army and the Air Force.
Next day when one saw the terms of reference of the Pilcher Committee, namely to consider whether any changes were desirable in the administration of justice under the court martial system based on the Naval Discipline Act, the reaction of any Member who had followed this matter must have been that those terms of reference were about as wide as they could be fixed, and there was no reference whatever to the Lewis Report or to its recommendations. It meant that in regard to the history of justice in the Navy the Pilcher Committee had to go over the same ground as the Lewis Committee did for the Army and the Air Force.
I want to ask my hon. Friend whether the Pilcher Committee has had its attention specifically drawn to the major recommendations in the Lewis Report and whether the work of this Committee will be expedited. Another thing said by the Minister of Defence on 23rd February was that the. Pilcher Committee would report within the lifetime of this Parliament. That is a most important question which concerns many hon. Members who are anxious to see these reforms implemented as soon as possible. If the Pilcher Committee goes over the same ground in regard to the administration of justice in the Navy as the Lewis Committee covered in the Army and Air Force, it will take at least 12 months to do the work. That is the opinion of competent lawyers. Therefore, within the lifetime of this Parliament not only will nothing be done in the Navy but nothing will be done in the Army or Air Force.
I hope, therefore, that the Civil Lord will be able to give an assurance to the House this evening first, that the Pilcher Committee is directly considering the recommendations made in the Lewis Report and how they can be applied in the Navy and, secondly, that the Pilcher Committee has at least been given to understand that it should report within a period of six months or so in order that the reforms can be carried into effect in all the three Services.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ Commander Maitland (Horncastle)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Swingler), who has spoken 1101 about courts martial, will not mind if I do not follow him because I spent all my time in the Service in avoiding courts martial and I intend to go on avoiding them. When I was serving at sea, I could never understand why the Navy was called the Silent Navy, perhaps because I served some time in a Devonport ship. Now at last, after having served in this House for three and a half years, I have begun to understand it because the number of important reports which the Admiralty is sitting on, and about which nothing whatever is being done, is quite astonishing.
For example, it needed three Admirals of the Fleet, firing on all cylinders, to get anything at all out of the noble Lord in another place about the question of the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors. It is a most disgraceful business that nothing has been told to the people of this country, and to the Navy in particular, about the condition of that important and admirable section of the Navy. Then again, to descend to a smaller question that has been mentioned by hon. and gallant Gentlemen opposite, there is the Naval Recruiting Service. The pay and conditions of the Naval Recruiting Service are under consideration. Why cannot we be told something about them?
Then there is the Royal Naval Reserve. We have put down Questions about the R.N.R. and we can find out nothing except, from the Estimates, that entry is restricted to those who have already served, and there does not appear to be any money allowed for any expansion in the coming year. Last but not least, there is the question of the "Ajax," about which we have put down Question after Question on this side of the House. For some reason or other the Government have stalled us off every time. Why should we not be told whether or not the "Ajax" has been sold to a foreign country, and if so, to which foreign country? After all, the foreign country itself must know. Without being impertinent, the First Lord of the Admiralty and his two junior Ministers remind me strongly of those three monkeys who sit with their hands in front of their eyes, ears and mouth and see nothing, hear nothing and say nothing.
Now I want to talk about three points of great importance. The first has not been mentioned at all in this Debate— 1102 the question of the Naval Ordnance inspecting officers. That is another of the points about which the Admiralty have kept silent. As the hon. Gentleman knows, a Committee was set up in 1945. It has reported and the matter is still under consideration. I will tell the House briefly the situation with regard to the Naval Ordnance inspecting officers. Since it was consolidated in 1935 they have had no change in pay except for a £90 a year allowance for rising cost of living, which is the same as has been made to all officer grades of the Civil Service. Incidentally, when their pay was consolidated in 1935 it had to include victualling. Of course, naval victualling—the 3s. 4d. a day which an officer gets—cannot be taxed, but these men have to pay taxation on their full pay, so that they do not get the benefit of their victualling allowance.
What does it really amount to? A lieutenant-commander with two years' service in the Naval Ordnance and who is married, and who, of course, has to live ashore, is getting £769 plus £90 a year. A lieutenant-commander in the Royal Navy who is married and living ashore, and has two years' service, gets £1,019. It is really ridiculous that this totally inexplicable difference of some £160 should be allowed to continue without some form of explanation. Is it because this is a small body of men? I believe there are only about 50 Ordnance inspecting officers in the Navy. I see that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence immediately recognises my point. These men do not have very many people to talk for them. They do not have a wages board, a trade union or anything like that to which they can take their grievance. They have only us in this House to speak for them. We speak for them tonight, and we want an answer about what is happening in their particular direction.
The second important point is that of the re-engagement of petty officers and chief petty officers, both artisans and artificers and those serving on the upper deck. Recently I put a Question to the hon. Gentleman. The answers I received were really devastating. In the case of artificers and artisans, for example, only 50 per cent. of those available to reengage are now re-engaging; of leading seamen, who should be the absolute 1103 coming core of the Navy, only 16 per cent.; and of petty officers, 29 per cent. That is a most disgraceful state of affairs. It cannot merely be written off by saying that there is full employment outside. We cannot get on without these people. We must see that the conditions and opportunities which we offer compete with the full employment, which we all want to see a permanency in this country.
Since I have been in this House I have always criticised very strongly the pay code, which in my opinion has brought about this state of affairs. I want to quote briefly from a letter I have received. It is from a marine officer to his brother. It was not intended for publication in any way, but I have obtained the brother's permission to read it in this House. This is what he says:During the past fortnight I've been touring all R.M. Establishments. Every place one goes to the feeling about the pay code is the same. There is now no incentive to promotion or to better oneself in the Service, and this is reflected in the complete lack of interest in promotion, and in volunteers to become instructors in the various branches of the Corps.What more damning evidence than that spontaneous letter could there be about the pay code and what it is doing to the Royal Navy?
§ The Minister of Defence (Mr. A. V. Alexander)
As I said last week, these declarations are all very well, but hon. Members cannot deny that the provision which has been made by the present Government is the best, comparatively and in every way, that has been made for the Services by any Government in the history of this country. If these cases were stated in a rather different spirit, it would be more helpful.
§ Commander Maitland
I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman gets so cross. This is a perfectly straightforward argument, and one about which he himself should be worried. It is a most astonishing thing that the right hon. Gentleman always defends the indefensible. He is always looking for a wall to put his back against or a last ditch to get into. There is no defence on this question; it is absolutely indefensible, and the right hon. Gentleman should be the first man to say so if he wants to get the Armed Services of this country 1104 into their proper position. After that heated moment of what I might call poppycock, I will get back to the rest of what I have to say.
The last question I wish to raise is one which almost every Member who has spoken tonight has raised. It is perhaps the most vital point of all, namely, the question of our preparedness to deal with the submarine. I should like to know whether it is a fact that the Russians have at least five times as many submarines as the Germans had on the outbreak of war in 1939? Is it fully realised by the House and the country in general that the latest improvements in submarines have enormously magnified that number, that they are much more effective, and that at this moment there is a great potential menace to this country? What are the Admiralty doing about it now? Is it realised that these later inventions have Jargely nullified the advantages which we had when we were hunting submarines with aeroplanes? It is no longer so effective as it was to hunt them with aeroplanes.
I think that the Parliamentary Secretary tended to lull the House when he told us of the situation and what was being done about it—that two frigates are being experimented with. I quite agree that this is a great problem. We may have to take great decisions over this quesion. We may have to put our battleships to sleep and concentrate on fast escort vessels. It is essential that, because the question is difficult, it should not just be shelved. We want to hear what are the proposals of the Admiralty to deal with this menace to our country. When I was speaking in the Defence Debate last week, I put forward much the same argument as I am putting forward tonight about the submarine. because it is a national problem and a great danger to this country. I was told by the Prime Minister that it was a mere matter for the Navy Estimates. We are now considering the Navy Estimates. Let us have the answer.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ Major Bruce (Portsmouth, North)
While I cannot share a good deal of the synthetic emotion which has been displayed by the hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) I must say that it is a little surprising, 1105 indeed very pleasant, that we should have a member of the party opposite advocating adjustments of pay and allowances in an upward direction, more especially as he is a member of the party which on at least two occasions in the inter-war years was responsible for both pay and pension cuts in connection with the Forces. I am extremely pleased that his conversion has taken place. It is also interesting in view of the general declarations of the Opposition in favour of decreases of Government expenditure. We find, as usual, that the Opposition always recommend reductions of Government expenditure in general, and then advance reasons in public why it should be increased in particular. I will not say that I regard the existing pay code or the allowances code as in any way final. I do say, and I think that the country at large realises, that this Government have at any rate shown very good faith in the matter, and have made very important steps in the right direction.
I should also like to refer in passing to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Chertsey (Captain Marsden). His theme, as I understood it, was that we should be in an eternal state of war preparedness. I do not think that there is anyone on either side of this House who would wish us to be in a position in which we could at any time be pounced upon defenceless by anyone who was bent upon aggression against this country. I think it should be realised that we are not necessarily the more prepared for war if we have everything in the front window. It is no use having a strong magnificent Navy, a strong mannificent Army, and a strong magnificent Air Force unless the economy of the country can sustain the effort which must be made.
Running through one or two of the speeches this evening there was this idea of putting everything into the front window. References were made to increases of expenditure and effort, without regard to the effect on the economy of the country as a whole. One of the problems over which the Government must find considerable difficulty is this business of maintaining the balance between what must be regarded as the physical expression of our armed power and what is economically necessary in terms of the effort of the individual and the financial 1106 stress that must arise from the economic position necessary to sustain a war effort that sooner or later may have to be made.
For that reason I wish to support, albeit not in the same terms, the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Devon-port (Mr. Foot) who asked for an inquiry to be made into the organisation of the Royal Dockyards. It is quite true, as a perusal of these Estimates will reveal, that a very considerable sum is expended in the repair and refitting of ships, and in the hundred and one other services provided by the Royal Dockyards.
I cannot for the life of me see why it is not possible for the First Lord of the Admiralty to set up a working party on those lines. It is all very well, from the official standpoint and from the Whitehall end, to be able to advance a hundred and one reasons why this is not necessary. One can always obtain the best of all satisfactory reports from below. One can occasionally, shall we say, make a flying visit. But these things really do not bear any relevance to the experience of hundreds and thousands of people on the spot. The fact of the matter is that the average dockyard worker in the Royal Dockyards—who has been working in the yards day after day in many cases for 30 or 40 years—thinks that things can be improved.
I do not wish in any way to belittle the intellectual power which their Lordships of the Admiralty can bring to bear in the study of a problem of this kind. All I wish to say is that I prefer to take the sentiments of the average "dockie" on the subject. There is a general feeling throughout the Dockyards that there ought to be an investigation, and that is a good prima facie reason why one should take place. Having said that, I would not wish to support some of the rather more severe strictures on the Royal Dockyards which my hon. Friend was good enough to make. It is important that one should view the whole conduct of the Admiralty in relation to the Royal Dockyards and the dockyard towns in its true perspective. It is right that we should have that divine discontent which enables us continuously to press for reforms, but unless we know what has occurred so far we are liable eternally to nag and nag without appreciating what has already been done. As a matter of fact a very substantial change 1107 has taken place in the relationship between the Admiralty and the Royal Dockyard towns since the end of the war.
I make no apology for bringing the position of the Royal Dockyard towns into this Debate. Every Member of this House is the Member for a particular constituency. Those who represent agricultural constituencies participate with special interest in Debates on agriculture, and those whose constituents are in the cotton industry show a similar interest in Debates upon that industry. Therefore, I repeat, I make no apology for introducing the special position of the Royal Dockyard towns. In the pre-war years those towns were very much at the mercy of the Estimates passed by this House year by year. For example, in the City of Portsmouth between the wars the average unemployment was running at about 11 per cent. What happened was that if the Admiralty had their Estimate cut as a result of action by the Treasury, or for any other reason, there would be mass discharges from the Royal Dockyards. I am afraid that would not mean very much to the rest of the country at the time, but to thousands of people in the City of Portsmouth who were suddenly slung out on their necks with seven days' notice, it meant a great deal.
I am pleased to see that in the last few years the Admiralty have taken what for them must be the revolutionary step of declaring that they take a responsibility for endeavouring to secure the maintenance of a constant level of employment in those cities and towns where they are the predominant economic interest and the predominant agents of employment. They are also represented on the regional boards for industry and they participate more and more in all the discussions which take place as that the economy of the country as a whole shall be developed properly. That policy should be encouraged. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport that it may be most short-sighted to say that repayment work should be decreased. There is a case for exploring its maintenance at, for example, the figure at which it stood last year in order that experience may be gained administratively as well as by the workmen themselves. Then, if at some future stage real peace breaks out and there is the 1108 necessity for large-scale repayment work to preserve the economic balance of the area, there should be adequate experience.
During the last three years in the Royal Dockyards many reforms have been carried out by the Admiralty which reflect great credit on the new attitude which the Admiralty have for those for whom they are responsible. I must mention the changes which have taken place in relation to what is called "establishment." Before the war a man could work in the dockyards for 40 years, and in many cases more, on a weekly wage, and at the end of that period he could be given seven days' notice on the grounds of redundancy and pushed out of his job with a gratuity. The Admiralty would wash their hands of him.
That state of affairs was not very encouraging for the people in the dockyard towns. I do not suggest by any means that that evil is ended, but the figures given in these Estimates of the number of people established show what a revolution has taken place. In the year 1949–50 there are to be roughly double the number of people "established," and therefore entitled to pension, than there were in the year 1948–49. Of course, in all these matters there are marginal cases. Always somewhere a line must be drawn, and some people think that in this case the line has been drawn too high up the scale with the result that other people are left the wrong side of the margin. This will always happen where a line is drawn, and it is to be hoped that, as time passes. the Admiralty may be able to make further concessions in this matter of "establishment," so that, when people do enter the Government service they are entitled to reasonable security.
It is not for me to go through the whole series of reforms, which are indeed numerous, which have been carried through by the Admiralty in the last three years. There have been various increases in the expenses allowable, more paid holidays, the guaranteed week of 44 hours, the introduction of the five-day week and a whole series of reforms brought in under this new era of Admiralty administration affecting the Royal Dockyard towns. For example, the men are now getting sick leave, which for them is something entirely new, though people engaged in private industry have had it for quite a long time.
1109 I speak here with deliberate caution. There have been so many reforms in the last three years that there is a danger, and I am sorry to have to mention it, that undue advantage may be taken of some of the reforms granted. This is something which I am quite sure the ordinary trade unionist employed in the dockyard would wish to avoid, but the fact of the matter at present is that only a little over 50 per cent. of the industrial workers employed in the Royal Dockyards are organised in trade unions. It does not, therefore, give a chance to the trade union movement to secure voluntarily that industrial self-discipline which the men employed in the dockyards would like, and I ask my hon. Friend whether he can see his way clear to give the trade unions in the Royal Dockyards more facilities to organise the workers.
This is nothing new to private industry or to the Royal Ordnance Depots. I know that it is not officially on the cards of the Royal Ordnance Depots, but it does happen, and I do not see any reason why facilities should not be given to the trade unions to organise the workers within the dockyards, because the more trade union organisation there is in the yards—and I think that here the enlightened Tory would agree with me—the more chance there is for the preservation and enlargement of that self-discipline by means of which the full benefit to the country of these reforms can finally be realised.
There is another point which arises out of that. Some little time ago, the Civil Lord was good enough to go down to the various dockyard towns and have interviews with the staff side of the Whitley Council as well as the official side with a view to the establishment of joint production councils. I think the Civil Lord is under the impression that these councils are functioning well. I am sorry to have to disillusion him, but they are not. The fact of the matter is that there remains a tendency—I am not going to say it is purely because the admirals are there for some of them are most enlightened—that the joint production councils are not functioning in the way in which I am quite sure the Civil Lord would wish them to do. Very little information is passed to the trade union side about what is happening in production, and far too little use is made of the undoubted skill, knowledge and experience available 1110 to them. I hope the Civil Lord will take another look into this matter, because, unless the trade unions are encouraged to do their utmost, the best productive efforts cannot be obtained from the Royal Dockyards.
That is all I have to say on the position of the Royal Dockyards as I see it, and, incidentally, it emerges from some little personal association with them, because one endeavours to take a fairly close personal interest in matters of this kind. I hope it will be possible for the Civil Lord not to view this matter from the Whitehall angle as if everything were completely tidy and in its place. I beg of him to realise that the people in the Royal Dockyard towns, alive as they are to their own defects—and all of us in this House have our defects—are nevertheless as determined as they could be to give of their very best. I ask him to pay attention to their demands for an inquiry into dockyard organisation, and hope that he will see that their full productive capacity and energies are effectively used in the interests of the nation which they have served so well.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Brendan Bracken (Bournemouth)
There is no doubt that the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Major Bruce)—
§ Mr. Medland
On a point of Order. Am I to understand, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that this closes the general Debate?
§ Mr. Bracken
The hon. Gentleman has his consolation from one of the most gifted Members in the art of soothing nerves. Now, perhaps, he will allow me to get on with the purport of my speech. The hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth is a diligent dockyard Member. There is nothing wrong with that. Hon. Members must serve their constituents, and I think, in his own way, he has done it very well tonight, even though he may be rebuked tomorrow by his lord and master the Minister of Health, because the Minister of Health has put it on record that Britain needs no exports, and, of course, if we do not have any exports, we will not have any ships. But I leave the painful domestic interview between the hon. and gallant 1111 Gentleman and the Minister of Health to the imagination of the newspapers; I shall not dwell upon it tonight.
So far as I could summarise his remarks, the hon. and gallant Member said that he was rather disappointed by this Government. So am I, but it is quite obvious tonight that he is anxious to placate them, and if I were a dockyard Member I should certainly do so, because it rests in the hands of the noble Lord in another place and the archangel who guides him, the Minister of Defence, and his two, let me say, trusty servants, to make it possible for the hon. and gallant Gentleman to have his ambitions fulfilled. But I doubt if he will succeed.
First of all, I was rather surprised by his appeals to the workers for self-discipline. What right has any hon. Member opposite, in view of their election addresses, to appeal to the workers for self-discipline? Furthermore, nobody on this side of the House has any right to appeal to the workers for self-discipline. We live in a democracy with greater judgment than any in the world, and we know that the workers will not take it from politicians that they should discipline themselves. We ought to show, perhaps intermittently, just between elections, a respect for electors. I do not think this exhortation of self-discipline is going to do any good in Portsmouth, or elsewhere. In fact, I think it will add to the growing feeling of dissatisfaction with the hon. and gallant Gentleman who now represents North Portsmouth.
I will now turn to the remarkable speech—I say it is remarkable merely because I have never heard such a speech from the benches opposite—of the Parliamentary Secretary. He added little to the Estimates or to the First Lord's meagre explanatory statement. I have no doubt that he has had his orders, and that it was necessary for him to tell us about the trips he has made, and about the First Lord's trips. He felt, presumably, that it was his duty to fill up perhaps 35 or 40 minutes on those rather inadequate topics, but I must also say that his speech was livened up by zoological comparisons with myself. I think that I could reluctantly, most reluctantly, brace myself up to provide an adequately insulting answer, but I refrain from doing so, because in these naval Debates I think 1112 we ought to respect the noble naval heritage. The people who are serving the Navy at sea—and I do not know how many there are now—have always expected a certain moderate standard of politeness and courtesy in this House. I certainly shall not follow the hon. Gentleman, nor would I think it a good thing that HANSARD should be sustained by squalid extracts from the class warfare vocabulary of the very well-endowed Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty.
§ Major Bruce
I should like the right. hon. Gentleman to inform the House whether he is holding himself up as a model of courtesy.
§ Mr. Bracken
Considering the provocation, I should think my courtesy was angelic. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty was very angry with me today—I think that was the reason for this zoological characterisation—for correcting his reference to Jane Austen. He told us today that he had found a new mine for quotation. He prided himself on the discovery that a quotation in praise of the Navy could even be found in the novels of Jane Austen. I think he is ignorant of the fact that Jane Austen had three brothers of whom two served in the Royal Navy; one rose to the dizzy eminence of an admiral of the Fleet and the other was one of the best respected admirals in the Navy. It is really surprising that when the hon. Gentleman's secretary started looking up quotations he did not bother to find out whether the Austen family had any connection with the Royal Navy. I forgive the Parliamentary Secretary if he will promise me to read Jane Austen's books. They are wholly delightful and obviously the Parliamentary Secretary is going to approach them with a fresh mind He will find in those books constant references to the Royal Navy, so I hope that in the future he will not come down to this House so ill-briefed by, his unfortunate private secretary.
Apart from his passionate devotion to the unknown Jane Austen—unknown as far as he is concerned—the only other statement he made of any importance was his talk about the future submarine warfare beneath the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. There are other oceans. I do not know whether the Admiralty have charted the Atlantic and Pacific oceans or other oceans. I dare say they 1113 have thought all this thing out, for in future they are going to stage battles hundreds of thousands of miles beneath the sea. If our sole protection in future is to be the Jules Verne-like imagination of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, no doubt endorsed by the First Lord, whose ideas are less plentiful than those of the Parliamentary Secretary, all I can say, considering naval tradition, is:Oh God our help in ages past.Our hope for years to come.
§ Mr. Bracken
I intend to make a few quotations from the Secretary for the American Navy. But the hon. Gentleman forgot to point out that the Secretary for the American Navy has newly arrived in office and has not yet had the discipline of the Civil Service. I should like, as I have to say a word or two later about Mr. Forrestal, to believe that he would not endorse the proposition of Mr. Sullivan. I have no doubt Mr. Sullivan is a great fighter. John L. Sullivan is a famous name in pugilistic lore. However, it is of no use for the House tonight to rely on the prophecies made by the Parliamentary Secretary about the possibility of arresting attacks on this country by sending large numbers of scientists and mariners beneath the deep seas. Honestly, I do not think the hon. Gentleman's answer was a proper answer to the very remarkable speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. T. Thomas). It really is quite silly to think we can depend upon novelists to do the duty of the Admiralty.
As I seem to have upset not only the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth, who has now departed—I do not blame him: he has been waiting here a long time—but also the Parliamentary Secretary and one or two others, for a brief moment let us get away from controversy, and let me refer to a gentleman whose salary appears in the Estimates. Since the last Estimates were presented a new First Sea Lord has been appointed, and I think we should welcome that appointment. He has indeed rendered great services to the Royal Navy. He is a gunnery expert of rare distinction, one 1114 who has wrought great things for the Fleet Air Arm. We have heard a very interesting discussion here tonight about the growth of the Fleet Air Arm, hitherto known as naval aviation, now, apparently, once again absorbed in the general list of the Navy. It was due, I think to Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fraser that night fighting from aircraft carriers was first begun. That was one of his many services to the Navy. The First Lord has had great experience of him in peacetime, and I had remarkable experience of him in war-time. He was one of the ablest of war leaders.
If the Royal Air Force—and here I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan), who was formerly Secretary of State for Air—are to be believed, the new First Sea Lord was one of the worst poachers who ever held the exacting office of controller of the Royal Navy in war-time. I must say, as the Navy always travels first class and as I have an enduring affection for the first and greatest of our Services, that I admire his poaching activities. But I must also say about this poacher that he is a man of singular unselfishness. Some years ago he refused an opportunity of becoming First Sea Lord because he believed that another great sailor was better equipped for that office. That was a noble decision. However, he got a consolation prize. His opportunity came when he sank the Scharnhorst, and he would regard that as a much greater accomplishment than that of holding for years the office of First Sea Lord.
Having paid a compliment to the Admiralty on this wise choice of the new First Sea Lord, I must now draw attention to the Estimates. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Members who applaud the remark probably do not think the First Sea Lord comes into the Estimates, but thank heaven he does, because if we come up against times of trouble, he will be far more important than some of the politicians who appear in the Estimates. As I said, the Estimates and the First Lord's statement have the merit of being a little more informative than those submitted last year, but they are still marred by silly secrecy. I am afraid that the First Lord must be described as an "ennobled blackout." The First Lord shares, with the Minister of Defence, an inability to understand the difference 1115 between secrecy and security. The right hon. Gentleman and I had many arguments about this matter during the late war. I shall not refer to them, but I certainly feel that he has an apt pupil in the First Lord of the Admiralty. Both of them believe in blackouts of news and information necessary to the public.
The First Lord is, of course, rightly security minded, but is it really necessary to carry security to the point of ridiculousness, as he does in his statements? He reminds me of some trouble we had in the Ministry of Information in the early days of the war. This story concerns a Hereford bull. The censors, who were almost as busy in war-time as are the Minister of Defence and the First Lord in cutting out important information, were suddenly faced with a newspaper report that a Hereford bull had been killed by a bomb; and so they met together, just as the First Lord and the Minister of Defence meet together, and the other unfortunate Service Ministers, and they thought over what should be done. I am sorry to say that our censor at the Ministry of Information cut out the word "Hereford" and made it a "West country" bull. He really ought to be chief of staff to the Minister of Defence and adviser on publicity to the First Lord of the Admiralty.
I want to ask the Minister of Defence, who after all is our war lord—his Service Ministers, although they rebel frequently, have on the whole to take some note of what he says—and the First Lord to remember that there are ways in which excess of secrecy can weaken not only security but the safety of the country. I should have thought Members opposite would subscribe to the belief which we strongly hold on this side of the House that a well-informed public opinion is the foundation of a democratic State. They used to say that on the platform, and I hope that tonight they will remember their past utterances and endorse those remarks.
The public are entitled to some information about the state of our naval defence. I am not suggesting for one moment that we should tell the public about our latest weapons, if we have any, but I say that security and publicity can be well-balanced, provided we do not 1116 start, as the Minister of Defence does, with an absolute bias against all forms of publicity, save personal publicity which he expects to receive and did receive during the war—because no man made better speeches for war savings than did the right hon. Gentleman. No man is more inclined to get on the platform today and make observations which are certainly hallowed by the mark of antiquity. I have no desire to follow the right hon. Gentleman in his political lucubrations, but I ask him to believe that the British public are entitled to better information about naval affairs, and, indeed, about the affairs of all the Services.
We are willing to make great sacrifices to strengthen our defences, but the public cannot do so if they are kept in blinkers. There is a shortage of everything in this country, but there is certainly no shortage of blinkers in Whitehall. Foreigners have better information about the state of our defences than have most Members of Parliament and the public. Owing to the contrivance of the Minister of Supply and the President of the Board of Trade, a large number of purchasing agents from unfriendly foreign Powers have been allowed to rove about factories, which are of great importance to our defences. These gentlemen have had ample opportunity of picking up information which is not available to this House, and the Minister of Defence knows very well that naval attachés are not sent here for social purposes.
What is the good of blindfolding the public? The British people always have responded to daring leadership and to being told the facts about our situation, however dangerous that situation. The First Lord and the Minister of Defence ought to console themselves with the fact that publicity is often a good deterrent to aggression. No one in this House wants war. We want to prevent war, and one of the best ways is to let unfriendly Powers know that our forces are well trained, equipped and, above all, operationally prepared. They will certainly hesitate very long before attacking us or our neighbours if they know that truth.
The First Lord and the Minister of Defence, as well as the junior Ministers at the Admiralty, are very anxious to encourage recruiting. Excess of secrecy 1117 greatly damages recruiting, and I believe it has affected re-engagements in the Royal Navy. If the truth is told to the public, does anybody believe that they will not swell the Territorials, and that faithful sailors, having served their turn, will not re-engage when they feel the call of duty. If one wants to appeal to the British people, one may for a while succeed by bearing them gifts, but in the end the best of all calls is the call to duty. I recommend the Minister of Defence to recognise that and to call off this fog of secrecy which he has distributed in all the Service Departments in Whitehall.
I have explained the difficulties of following naval affairs. The First Lord does not believe in publicity because his lord and master the Minister of Defence never has, and the Secretary of State for Air has to follow in the footsteps of the First Lord, and the Secretary of State for War is a rather unreliable fellow traveller on the Minister of Defence's disciplinary ark. However, I suggest that Ministers opposite, more especially the Parliamentary Secretary, who has quoted the new Secretary for the Navy in the United States, should recognise that anyone who tries to follow naval affairs in Britain is advantaged by reading the regular statements of the American Secretary of Defence and Secretary of the Navy.
Let me digress for a moment by saying a word—I thought I might have heard it from the other side—about Mr. James Forrestal, formerly Secretary of the Navy of the United States, who has now given up the great office of Secretary of Defence. I dare say he found his office almost as thorny as that occupied by the right hon. Gentleman my former colleague in the National Government, but I feel certain that all those who served in the National Government in war-time have every reason to remember Mr. Forrestal as an unfailing friend to Britain. I am sure that the Minister of Defence will agree with me that Mr. Forrestal was always consistently friendly and helpful to the Royal Navy. I know that Mr. Forrestal holds the right hon. Gentleman in great esteem and I am sure that that esteem is reciprocated, and I think the right hon. Gentleman will join with me in saying that if character and ability are tests of statesmanship, Mr. Forrestal may certainly be described as one of the first 1118 statesmen of our time. He will of his modesty repudiate that description, but nevertheless we here in Britain, recognising his very great services to our country, ought to say on his going out from great office how much we owe to him. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]
The American naval authorities are certainly security-minded but they give the public a great deal of information about the United States Navy. My hon. Friend the Member for Hereford produced a bulky document today almost as big as the Encyclopaedia Britannica, at any rate as big as the London Telephone Directory, showing quite clearly how much the American Navy feel the public should know. American naval authorities and naval correspondents close to them are constantly asserting—I wonder whether any Member of the Front Bench opposite will deny this—that Russia is building up the greatest submarine fleet in history. They assert that this submarine-building programme is guided by German scientists and that submarine crews are being trained by experienced German submarine commanders.
I want to say one word about this matter of commanders. The First Lord knows very well that during the war the greatest depredations to British shipping were done by a handful of German submarine commanders. If they are now in the service of Russia we had better look out. These new submarines—the Government have plenty of information about them—can overcome Asdic and other detector devices that were almost our salvation in the late war. If this information is accurate—and I accept the view of the American Navy Department—we should look closely at our naval resources.
I need hardly stress the mortal menace of the German submarine in the last war. Apart from the heavy losses inflicted on the Royal Navy by German submarine commanders, nearly 30,000 British merchant seamen lost their lives, and no fewer than 4,786 merchant ships went down largely through the operations of German submarines. I am sure that the Minister of Defence will agree with me that all through the war in our darkest hours at the Cabinet—because he and I were both what are called "constant attenders"—we were worried beyond all telling by sinkings. We could put up 1119 with many reverses, military reverses or even air reverses, but when I saw the right hon. Gentleman accompanied by that great sailor the then First Sea Lord, Admiral Pound, in the recurrent days when the German submarine was once again on the ascendant. I am sure that all their colleagues in the Cabinet had the most profound sympathy for them.
If the right hon. Gentleman lives to the age of Methuselah, he will, I think, accept the view I am putting to him now that the hardest time of his life was when the Germans really developed their submarine menace to Britain in the last war. I am sure he will agree with that, and I am sure that the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) our former Leader, will endorse it. I believe that our remembrance—hon. Gentlemen opposite are apparently not much interested in this, but they did not bear the responsibility of the Minister of Defence and other Ministers in coping with this submarine attack. One of these days, the brains trust or quiz on the benches behind the right hon. Gentleman will remember what I say to them. Whatever happens, do not let us have a repetition of the menace we had to face from German submarine activities in the last great war.
I want to ask a question of the Civil Lord. In the great war the co-operation between the R.A.F. and the Royal Navy plus the co-operation between the American Navy and the American Air Force in the end conquered the submarine, the submarine as we knew it, until a few months before the war ended. Despite the devoted service and the very great sacrifices of Bomber Command in their prolonged attacks on German submarine pens, factories making components for submarines and submarine construction yards, the Germans were able towards the end of the war to produce an even more sinister type of submarine. Does not that illustrate the menace with which we are faced by this building up of the biggest submarine fleet in history? That is what the Russian submarine fleet is. I am very sorry to say that many of the most competent engineers, the people who built those submarines, are now, apparently, busily employed behind the iron curtain. If they are, and the Government have that 1120 information—the British Secret Service is the best in the world, as the Americans well realise—surely the Civil Lord will report to the First Lord the feeling of this House that we must indeed hope that we have enough escort vessels to cope with the better equipped and speedier submarines.
I hope I carry the Minister of Defence with me when I say that we shall certainly need many more and faster escort vessels than we had in the last war if Russia possesses a submarine strength of anything between 220 and 300 submarines.
§ Mr. Alexander
The right hon. Gentleman has made some rather detailed comments about this matter. It is only right to say to him quite directly that the menace, which started some months before the last war ended, was discovered by and was very well known to the Admiralty; that immediate steps were taken to do what was possible within their then resources; and that they have been engaged in continuous research ever since. The right hon. Gentleman must not assume that one nation alone has the advice of the best technicians or has alienated for themselves alone the advice of German technicians.
§ Mr. Bracken
I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I was for a very brief time his immediate successor. But let me point out that since the war, the Russians have given over tremendous sums of money for the development of the submarine. I wonder how much money has been given to the Royal Navy to discharge this task? The Russians care nothing about the expenditure of money if they can achieve their aims. While I welcome the interruption of the right hon. Gentleman I can say this to him as Minister of Defence. If he had half of the Navy Estimates granted to Russia—of course, it is a Navy Estimate based on building submarines alone; they do not want to build battleships—how happy he would be, and in my judgment he would see that we had the fastest escort vessels—and plenty of them—known to man in order to meet this menace.
But as the Minister of Defence has interrupted me, and more or less asked me a question, may I ask him: Are these fast escort vessels being built? I do not expect 1121 him to answer, because his auxiliary, the First Lord—that is how we explain relationships now between Service Ministers and the Minister of Defence—tells us, "I do not propose this year to undertake any substantial programme of new construction."
In another part of his statement he declared that it is still necessary to proceed slowly—listen to these words in a time like this—with new naval construction. "To proceed slowly," when the Government must know that the Russians are building up a force of submarines which they believe will give them the opportunity of starving the people of these islands, of destroying any prospects of munitions to Western Union, and in fact of completing their conquest of the world. And then to hear from the First Lord that we must "proceed slowly" in the building of new fast escort vessels! Was there ever such misuse of language?
§ Mr. Alexander
I think that the right hon. Gentleman is in danger of creating despondency and alarm where it certainly is not needed. I really think that when he reads tomorrow the words of the Parliamentary Secretary perhaps more carefully than he has listened to them, and sees the steps which the Admiralty are taking in this matter, he will not be able to go on creating this kind of alarm. He heard this afternoon that destroyers are being converted specially into fast frigates, and that modern prototypes are in preparation. In that respect it is not at all a bad thing to stand upon that, having first of all specially created a number of fast escorts now in the interim period, to develop prototypes and then to build late, build fast, and build each one better than the last.
§ Mr. Bracken
The right hon. Gentleman's intervention was not a happy one. I shall explain the reason why. [An HON. MEMBER: "Answer."] I intend to answer. It is no use the right hon. Gentleman accusing me of creating despondency or defeatism. I had that very problem to deal with in the war, and I was told as the Minister of Information, by a number of busybodies outside the Government, that by releasing news to the Press I would create alarm and despondency. The only time that I came up against the dangers of alarm and despondency was when a number of 1122 Ministers wanted to bully the B.B.C. into giving them opportunities for making exhortations over the radio. That was the only moment when I can recall alarm and despondency—when Ministers were rushing forward to the public to tell them that there was nothing wrong.
Again, if the Minister of Defence is right, does he now assert that the vague references made to new destroyers—and they are not in this year's construction list—or to new cruisers, are capable of coping with 282 powerful Russian submarines built for the very purpose of conquering the world? Why, a pill to cure an earthquake would be a small affair by comparison with the claim of the Minister of Defence tonight that this meagre new building record, these adaptations of old ships, will be capable of coping with the type of submarine about which we knew in the last days of the war. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, that submarine has been greatly improved since the days when the National Government ended.
§ Mr. Alexander
I assert that we shall be very much better prepared than I found we were prepared in 1940, in dark and difficult days, after years of so-called re-armament under a Government led by the right hon. Gentleman's party.
§ Mr. Bracken
In this rather quiet discussion about defence, and above all about the Navy Estimates, I think that the right hon. Gentleman ought not to have dragged in party politics. But as he has done so, while I will not go too far in following him along that road, let me remind him of the part he played in the London Agreement, which did a great deal to cripple the Royal Navy. He voted steadily against every Defence Estimate in this House.
§ Mr. Alexander
The right hon. Gentleman is quite wrong again about the London Naval Treaty. In the first place, my Conservative successor at the Admiralty in 1931 afterwards assured me very solemnly that he would never criticise again the London Naval Treaty.
§ Mr. Alexander
Lord Monsell. He said he would never criticise the London Naval Treaty, for without it, in the panic reductions of 1931–35, he would not have got the cruiser programme he was able 1123 to get. Another thing I would say is that—I am telling the facts—so far as the construction of heavy ships is concerned, nothing did happen. The Japanese kept the Treaty right up to 1938.
§ Mr. Bracken
I must say that I am at a disadvantage in dealing with the last statement. Lord Monsell's private conversations have been reported to the House for the first time. Lord Monsell has been bitterly attacked by Socialists for his administration of the Admiralty. Surely he would have fallen back on the defence outlined to us by the former First Lord, now Minister of Defence, if in fact he held those views. I think it is very wrong that private conversations between public men should be dragged in to buttress a very bad case. However, I say this on this controversy about historical recollections—after the Parliamentary Secretary has fallen into such a historical bloomer in his remarks on Jane Austen, I think the Minister of Defence can be excused for following his bad example. I do not think the Minister or the Civil Lord will deny what I am now about to say to them, that the fate of Britain may depend on our swiftness—and I use the word "swiftness" with all the emphasis I possess—to meet this mortal menace of submarine warfare. The Russians are adroit warriors. They are not building battleships and cruisers against us. In the war we merely gave them the figures of our submarine sinkings. It was necessary for us to do so, as the Minister of Defence knows, because they were always calling out for the delivery of more aeroplanes and more weapons of all sorts to Russia and we had to hand over to them the record of sinkings on the North Atlantic.
President Roosevelt's decision—and it was a bold decision which might have led to his impeachment—to start a shooting war, was entirely due to the fact that he said he was absolutely tired of seeing American tanks, American aeroplanes and weapons of all kinds sent across the Atlantic ocean and sunk by German submarines. I do beg the House to recollect that the Russians, knowing the power of the submarines, more particularly against a very small island containing more than 50 million people, know well, thanks to the information given them in war and by other friends they have here—and I am afraid their friends are manifold—that we 1124 run the risk of being deprived of food from the Dominions and of arms and food from the United States of America. The life of Britain may depend on our power to meet this submarine menace
Here I want to ask a question of the Civil Lord. Remembering the vital part played by the air in destroying the German submarines, are naval crews being trained together with R.A.F. crews in anti-submarine warfare? I should like an, answer to that question. Furthermore, I hope that the Civil Lord will tell me that we are working in the closest comradeship with the United States in preparing against this submarine menace. Neither these Estimates, nor the Parliamentary Secretary's statement, give us any information about these important matters. What did the hon. and gallant Gentleman say? Apparently he has not the courage to repeat on his feet what he has said seated.
§ Major Bruce
I was speaking of the remarks which the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) is reported to have made in a speech last night, when he referred to the "Gaiety Girls" of the Opposition Front Bench.
§ Mr. Bracken
We have not recovered from that lavish flattery which he has cast upon us. Nothing could be more attractive than that a number of elderly and sedentary politicians should be described as "Gaiety Girls." I am very much afraid that if he reads that speech, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) may really go out on the tiles and thereby greatly commend his colleagues to the public. I do not think that that was a helpful or even a relevant interruption.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hereford complained about the cursory references to naval aviation. I hope the Civil Lord will reassure us tonight that naval aviation is equipped with plenty of the fastest modern aircraft. I cannot go on too long tonight because—[Interruption.] I know that hon. Gentlemen want to go home. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] There is plenty of time for the Civil Lord to answer. He has until midnight if he likes, or longer. If the hon. Gentlemen would like to see dawn over Westminster, and want to do their public duty, they might put up with 1125 a few more observations from their humble servant. I shall not keep them so long, but I want to say something to them about a subject which is not, I should have thought, controversial.
It is not controversial because, in bygone times the Minister of Defence was responsible for setting up the Eastham Committee about the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors. I must say that what has happened to the Corps is one of the blackest records in the history of the Admiralty. Do hon. Members opposite recognise that this Corps is one of the most underpaid bodies of persons with scientific knowledge who serve the State? I complain about some of the vacillations of the First Lord, but I cannot sit down without saying something about the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors. In this time of increasingly shattering explosives, their skill and ingenuity is more than ever important to the Royal Navy, and I hope that the Minister of Defence will use his influence to push through the recommendations of the Eastham Report. I have no hope, if I may say so, of the First Lord, because the committee's report was presented to him two years ago, and all he said of it was, "I want to say that we have come to certain conclusions in relation to the question of pay. I wish they were a matter that the Admiralty itself could decide."
What are the conclusions from the First Lord's two years of meditation, and who is preventing action? Is it the Treasury and, if it is, I do beg of the Minister of Defence to back his colleague the First Lord in pushing through the Eastham Report. It is, I say, scandalous that men of great scientific ability should be paid so low a wage at the present time. The Minister of Defence was the author of that committee whose report, as I have said, came forward two years ago. But nothing has been done. Let me remind the House that the Chorley Committee last year rendered a report for increasing the pay of the higher Civil Service and that went through in less than a year, and recently we saw that it had been endorsed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am all for increasing the pay of the higher Civil Service, but what are they compared with the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors? I have sufficient faith in the Minister of Defence to believe he will fulfil the terms of the Eastham Report. If he 1126 does not do so, let him at least publish it, because, believe me, when the public outside reads the terms of the report they will use their full strength in backing up the First Lord in his painful and unsuccessful interviews with the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The advice which I have for Ministers connected with the Royal Navy and for the Minister of Defence, is cast in the form of another literary reference. The House will recall the early references to Jane Austen and it would have been better if hon. Members opposite had read her. Let us think of Jane Austen, but I want to remind the Minister of Defence, and his Man Friday sitting beside him, and all the Service Ministers, of Captain Marry at. It may be remembered that Captain Marryat wrote something which should be an inspiration to them; they will remember that Midshipman Easy was once charged with a number of trivial offences; and we are charging the Government with much greater offences. But the Midshipman's defence was, "I suffered from an excess of zeal." If we could see an excess of zeal in the First Lord, the Financial Secretary, the Civil Lord, and the Minister of Defence how happy we should be.
§ 10.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Medland (Plymouth, Drake)
Surely the House will not expect me to follow the speech to which we have just listened; a speech which was very long and sometimes, I think, quite unintelligible. I am not going to talk about Jane Austen, Captain Marryat or Deadwood Dick. I am going to try to talk about the Estimates. Immediately before the speech of the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) we had two speeches from dockyard Members. I am not going to say very much about the dockyards, because I worked in them for 40 years, and in those 40 years I heard a great deal about them. During all that period, with two notable exceptions, I served under Liberal and Tory Governments. One exception was when a Labour Government was in office and I got a week's holiday with pay. I hardly knew what to do with it. After 40 years' service I finished up with a pension from my Liberal and Tory friends of 25s. a week. That will not happen to dockyard-men today, because everybody will be better off as a result of having a Labour 1127 Government in office for the last three years.
I prefer to talk about something else than dockyards. What I found most interesting in the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary was the statement describing research into the kind of naval vessels we shall require for the naval warfare of the future. Having hopped about the dockyards for 40 years on ships of various sizes and types, I know something of the subject, and that is why I was so interested in the remarks of the Parliamentary Secretary. I am glad to know that this great work of research is being carried on, and that the effect of the stress and strains on metal at great depths is being studied and tested. However, it makes me wonder when people talk about submarines diving to 500 feet and firing torpedoes what kind of metal it is that can stand the strain of the pressure and weight of water at that depth. I have heard talk about that in today's Debate and I am a little puzzled.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Bournemouth that we might have been told a great deal more. I value the work of the right hon. Gentleman at the Ministry of Information during the war, because it was one of the good jobs that was done during the war. If we think so, we ought to say so. Though he may be a good publicist, I do not think he is much of a sailor. During his speech, the right hon. Gentleman said something about, "O God, our help in ages past." It reminded me of the first time I saw a photograph of the right hon. Gentleman wearing his naval cap. I said on seeing it, "O God, our help in ages past." I believe the right hon. Gentleman was right about this publicity business.
I should like to ask whether we can be told something of the effects of the atomic bomb on American ships during the test held some time ago. Are these things as well known to us as they are to the Americans themselves? Is there a close liaison and interchange of knowledge between the two nations, especially as we are faced with this terrible menace of 282 Russian-German submarines being launched against us? If so, may we be told how far this co-operation between the greatest navy in the world—and it is not ours, for we take second place today—and our own is going on? May we 1128 also be told whether the old strategic plan to meet the menace has been fought out between the two Admiralties? I think it would be a relief to the national concern that will be felt tomorrow after the speeches made by hon. Members opposite have been read. Having said that, and having expressed my gratitude to the Admiralty for what they have done for the men in the dockyards during the past three years, I turn to one or two other points.
I think the men in the Navy who will be most disappointed tomorrow, if they have not heard it already, will be those whom I consider to be the backbone of the Service—the Warrant Officer class. The announcement made by the Parliamentary Secretary this afternoon about the new nomenclature of the Warrant Officer class is most disappointing, and I am much disturbed after what took place exactly 12 months ago this week. Then we had Navy Estimates, and unfortunately I was unable to be present. On 5th March, 1948, the Parliamentary Secretary sent an Admiralty Fleet Order for the information of all naval depots, ships and bases, to the effect that in future the Warrant Officer class would be abolished, and that they would become Ward-room officers. Then came the question of the name they should be called. The Parliamentary Secretary promised, in reply to Questions which I put to him, that he would make an announcement about this. From time to time I have submitted further questions, and to the last one I put I received a reply that he would make the announcement very shortly. "Very shortly" was exactly 12 months ago this week, and 12 months from the time he made his first announcement.
The announcement he has made today will cause some amazement. We are told that no longer are they to be called warrant officers, but that they are to be commissioned officer shipwright, commissioned officer engineer, and commissioned officer gunner, or whatever the rating might be. The senior man is to be senior commissioned officer. What nonsense! This is a relic of the old diehard feudalism which has existed in the Admiralty ever since I have known it, and indeed ever since Nelson. No man who comes from the lower deck can expect to become an officer except by the sweat of his brow, agony and tears. It 1129 was so simple to have called them sublieutenants or lieutenants. I am sure I am expressing the great disappointment of hundreds of men who have gone through the whole of their lives in the Senior Service and are a great example to us in the service they render to the country and the devotion they attach to this service.
Another question I want to ask is why the Admiralty continue to waste officer-power. Looking through the Navy List I have never been able to understand why they want to waste some 50 engineer officers in posts in H.M. Dockyards which are civilian establishments. There are commanders (1), commanders (2), commanders (3), commanders (4) and assistant commanders, but nine out of ten of them have to be shown their jobs by the workmen under them. I have had 40 years' experience of this. Why do we waste officer-power in this way, seeing that the dockyards are civilian establishments? After all, these fellows have been trained as engine-drivers, not as engineers. The job of an engineer is to drive the ship, yet we are training engine-drivers to work in an administrative capacity.
It is time we made the dockyards really civilian establishments and gave the civilian employees the opportunity to rise to the ton of the tree. One of the reasons why we cannot get any apprentices today is that the avenue of promotion is closed: the top ranks of promotion belong to the naval officers. The door is barred to them, yet they might be made available. I went to a Tory First Lord of the Admiralty over 25 years ago about this and he said he would have the matter considered. I suggest that the time has now arrived, with a Labour Government in power, for an effort to be made to give some consideration to this point.
I want to draw the attention of the House and the Civil Lord in particular to a paragraph under the heading "Works Programme" in the White Paper, which says:The replanning of the Royal Dockyards to modern standards continues with a view to their reconstruction and development. The scale on which work can proceed is, however, limited by the availability of money, manpower and materials and it is clear that the programme can be undertaken on a longterm basis only.What I want to know is, how long? Because on looking at page 54 of the Esti- 1130 mates, in which factories and dockyards are dealt with, I find under "Works to be started in 1949–50 and works started in previous years," a note which says:… for the reconstruction of war-damaged establishments and other works in dockyards, and to improve working efficiency and conditions.What is happening is this. The Admiralty have decided in their wisdom to take on tracts of land in Portsmouth and Plymouth for the extension of the naval bases and the dockyards. They have also decided that the land is to be acquired not under the Defence Regulations but under the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947. This Act lays down that if they are to acquire this land they must first make what is known as a declaratory order, the effect of which is to sterilise the land and reserve the use of it for their purpose.
In both Portsmouth and Plymouth this land contains a large amount of blitzed and empty sites. I am not complaining of their taking these empty sites, but there are also numbers of people living in these areas which contain many shops and other property. I want to ask the Admiralty what is to be their policy in this matter. They must tell the people both in Portsmouth and Plymouth what they are going to do with the land which they have sterilised, and which they are preventing other people from developing. It is only fair to the hundreds of people concerned that the Admiralty should buy the land, and have a compulsory purchase order put upon it, so that a man might see some result, without all this period of uncertainty which exists now, from the money which represents in many cases his life savings invested in a house. I beseech the Admiralty to clear up, as rapidly as possible, this question which is disturbing the minds of so many people who reside in the towns in which they play so prominent a part. It is not fair that a man should have this declaratory order placed on his land which may be required in five or 10 years, or next week or next month. It is just not fair to keep him in suspense, and I beg the Admiralty to bring this matter to a conclusion at the earliest possible moment.
There is one other factor in this question. Large numbers of families are to be dispossessed of their houses, and the proper thing for the Admiralty to do is to erect houses for their own people and 1131 not put the burden on the local authority, because they have plenty to get on with without taking on the burdens of the Admiralty. If the local authority has to do the job, however, the Admiralty had better pay the full amount of the subsidy the local authority would have to pay on the houses. I am asking the Admiralty to do that, because it is a matter which the city council in Portsmouth or Plymouth should not have to do.
Now I have had my yearly grumble about the Admiralty. I have not said half the nasty things I harbour in my heart, but I do realise that the men who serve in the ships of the Royal Navy, my friends and life-time colleagues, the men who serve and repair the ships in the Royal Dockyards, are today receiving earnings they have never received before in their long experience. I am very proud of the fact, that in spite of gaps in the pay code, particularly in regard to the pay of petty officers and chief officers, their wives and families are better off than during any time in the whole of my experience, of their own experience, and of the experience of their fathers before them. That is because of the attitude adopted by the Board of Admiralty which I acknowledge with great sincerity. We owe a debt to them. At the same time, I hope they will not forget my grumbles.
§ 11.5 p.m.
§ The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Walter Edwards)
We have had a most interesting discussion, and as usual there has been much interest shown on both sides of the House in the work of the Admiralty.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
On a point of Order. Is this the closing speech of the Debate? Nobody has yet been allowed the opportunity of opposing these Estimates.
§ Mr. Edwards
As I was saying, there has been much interest in the work of the Admiralty during the past year and in the Estimates for 1949–50. The right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) introduced some humour into the Debate, in the same way as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey) did when he 1132 was having his annual tussle with the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor). In spite of these humorous moments the Debate has served a useful purpose, and hon. Members on both sides of the House can be assured that regard will be paid to what has been said.
I do not recall one instance in which any hon. Member has felt that the Admiralty is asking for too much money. From what has been said by many hon. Members, we should in fact require twice the amount next year to meet their wishes. The Debate was opened as usual by the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas). He was very forceful. and would lead one to believe that he had given great consideration to these important matters of naval affairs. But I am bound to say, with great respect, that almost everything he said could have been taken out of the House of Lords HANSARD which reported the discussion they had on naval affairs recently. It was almost word for word: and it is very useful for us to know that, when Debates take place here on naval matters, what has been said in the House of Lords is to be repeated here. The House will not, I am sure, expect me to reply to every point made during this Debate today. There are, however, several matters with which hon. Members have dealt more or less generally, and I should like to take them in their order.
The question which seems to worry the Opposition more than hon. Members behind me is that of lack of information. I was interested in the speech of the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, who seems to have been given permission recently to visit the Soviet Union in order to acquire that tremendous amount of knowledge he seems to have about their work. He told us that he knows they have 292 very fast submarines, and that they are spending a terrific amount of money on building new submarines. In my opinion it is difficult to get that information. I had always thought that the only members who could possibly get any reliable information from the Soviet Union were the Communist Members.
§ Mr. Bracken
As the hon. Gentleman has referred to me, may I interrupt? My information came from reading Service papers in the United States, from statements made by high American govern- 1133 ment officials. They have given the figure. Perhaps they are wrong, but the Government know approximately what figures the Russians have in submarines. Nobody is going to tell me that the Secret Service do not know that fact and have not reported it to the Government. Does the right hon. Gentleman deny that the Russians have more than 200 submarines? I should like to ask that question because the people have been fooled once before by Ministers who were not telling them the truth about defence.
§ Mr. Edwards
That still does not get away from what I have been saying. Whether the right hon. Gentleman gets his information out of an American newspaper or in any other way, he is making a very definite statement that Russia has 292 fast submarines. It seems strange to me that the right hon. Gentleman has been able to get that information. So far as my own knowledge goes, I can honestly assure the right hon. Gentleman that nobody has ever told me there are 292 Russian. submarines. I cannot say whether that is 100 or 200 too many, because I have not been behind the Iron Curtain myself and I do not necessarily take notice of everything I read in the newspapers either in this or in other countries.
§ Mr. Edwards
Certainly I listen to the American Government, but that is not the same as relying on American newspapers and taking what they say to be statements of fact.
From almost every speech delivered from the other side of the House today it would appear that there is the possibility of a very early war with the Soviet Union. The hon. Gentleman the Member for South Paddington said we must be ready and that we must build our Fleet up now—obviously trying to leave the House with the impression that there is liable to be sudden attack by Russia involving us in a defensive war. That is his view and the view of many hon. Members on the other side. Nevertheless although they have that view, they complain that we do not publish enough information. If you thought a war was imminent would you think it wise to impart the fullest information to your enemy? The Opposition really 1134 want it both ways. The House can rest assured that when the Government feel the time is suitable in the interests of the nation, they will give more information than they feel able to give at the present time. We did however get credit from the hon. Member for Hereford for the developments which have taken place this year, in comparison with last year. When the situation warrants it, the House may rest assured that it will be given more information.
With regard to anti-submarine defence, in view of the Opposition's opinion that we have to do something very quickly, obviously one would expect them to say that we should get fast escort vessels as soon as we possibly can. We are now in the year 1949, which is less than four years from the end of the war. Did we in 1922 start rushing headlong into naval expenditure because there was a possibility of something—
The Civil Lord must know quite well that at that time there was an assumption and an agreement that there would be no war for ten years. That is not so today.
§ Mr. Edwards
I do not place too much faith on these agreements that there will be no war for a certain period between any particular nations, because it depends upon their Governments. The point I was trying to make is that we are being pressed to spend vast sums of money less than four years from the end of the last war because there is an Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe, and because some people seem to have the idea that we shall be forced to have a war with the country behind the Iron Curtain in the very near future. Nevertheless, a fair amount of money is being spent on the Navy. Quite a large amount of money is being spent on production, though it. is true, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman said, there is no provision for new construction in the year 1949–50. Other construction is, however, proceeding.
With regard to submarines, it has already been stated by the right hon. Member for Bournemouth that in the later part of the war the submarine problem nearly caught us again. We caught it up at first, and then it nearly caught us again. I think the House will agree that we cannot always keep pace on this particular problem. We cannot 1135 build new destroyers every couple of years because of an increase in speed of say three knots, or perhaps of five knots. But I want to give the House an assurance that the lessons of the last war are not forgotten at the Admiralty. This question is being very carefully watched. We consider that the quickest way to provide suitable vessels will be by way of conversion, which has been mentioned today, rather than by new construction.
§ Commander Maitland
What is worrying me, and probably other hon. Members, is whether those conversions have enough radius of action. That is an important point.
§ Mr. Edwards
That is one of the reasons why we cannot do this thing in a moment. We have to go thoroughly into the question with the object of providing for the radius of action. As has been mentioned, two prototypes have been put down so that we shall know, when the conversions take place, that the vessels will be eminently suitable for the job they will be called upon to do.
The question of barrack accommodation was referred to by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) to whom I must reply, because he has complained that he has raised this matter upon two or three occasions and that I have not afforded him the courtesy of a reply. I, like him, can say quite a lot with regard to the conditions I found in the naval establishments when I was there. I am very happy to be able to tell him that there has been a great improvement since he left the Navy. When I was at Chatham Barracks recently I saw, for the first time during the period in which I have known the Navy, sailors sleeping in rooms other than those in which they had to eat. A large amount of money is being spent on modernisation of the barracks, and it will perhaps interest my hon. Friend to know that in 1948–49 only £80,000 was shown in the Estimates for modernisation, but that in the 1949–50 Estimates, there is £300,000. We are hoping to commence work on the modernisation of a seamen's block at Chatham and at Portsmouth, and we hope to start a chief and petty officers' block at Devonport.
§ Mr. Bracken
I do not want to delay the hon. Gentleman, but is he taking into 1136 account the good suggestions made by his hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield? I doubt if there is any point in spending money on modernising these great, gaunt Victorian barracks. Why not spread your barracks? Why go in for these gaunt skyscrapers? He got good suggestions from Huddersfield; they are winners in football, and sometimes in politics, although not necessarily at the next election.
§ Mr. Edwards
I am only too ready to accept the suggestions which may come from Huddersfield, but I told the right hon. Member for Bournemouth that that matter is under consideration. For the moment we have not decided to disperse or do away with the three naval establishments we have in the south of England. It is our duty to get on with making conditions better than they have been before in these places as soon as we possibly can.
Another matter to which I must refer is one mentioned by three or four of my hon. Friends representing constituencies in which there are Royal Dockyards. I was glad to hear the remarks of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Major Bruce) who was, perhaps, not so critical as the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot). In this matter of repayment work, I must point out that, in the Royal Dockyards—and I remind the House that it was started in 1946—it was done to prevent unemployment, to provide useful work for the nation, and to continue work for those men who had served us so well during the war. The Royal Dockyards are not set up for outside work; they are for the purpose of carrying out repairs to the Fleet, and one could easily find some criticism of the setting up of an organisation of a temporary character such as repayment work. I ask the House to remember that it was work which had to be organised rather suddenly by a body of people who had not had similar outside experience. It may be that this repayment work did not suit some members of the Public Accounts Committee; but so long as we were satisfied that it was work which was satisfactory to the country, that the men were working in the proper way, and that it was proper work for the dockyard towns, we were entitled to take the risk.
My hon. Friend the Member for Devonport says that we ought always to 1137 have this repayment work there. I want to repeat what has been said so often, that if we have naval repair work in the dockyards and the dockyards are to carry it out, that work must have first priority. While we have had sufficient work this year, and hope to have next year, we cannot spoil or interfere with our naval work by the introduction of repayment work. I say, with respect, that it is very easy to make these sweeping allegations about the people in charge of the dockyards. I know it is difficult to see that every man is doing his job properly, but from my knowledge of those who are in charge I feel they are doing the job as well as it is possible for them to do.
I see no reason why the Admiralty should have to set up a working party within its own department because some people are complaining. Possibly they are the people who are always complaining. We have had no justification for acceding to the request that a working party should be established to go into the work being done at the Royal Dockyards. The question of civilianisation is a matter we could not deal with too lightly. It must receive most serious consideration. Whatever one may say about the admiral superintendents and commodore superintendents who have been in charge of the dockyards, these dockyards have helped materially in bringing us through two world wars. I am all for a change if I know it is to be beneficial, but I have to be certain that the change would be beneficial before I agree to it.
§ Mrs. Middleton (Plymouth, Sutton)
When repayment work was brought into the dockyards the Admiralty stated there would be production committees in connection with this work. I have not heard whether with the cessation of this work these production committees were abandoned, or whether they are to be continued. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend could give me an answer to that point.
§ Mr. Edwards
As my hon. Friend knows we already had production committees during the war and when this repayment work commenced. After the war it was felt by many people that the organisation could be better improved by setting up joint production committees. These committees were not confined to repayment work but dealt with the everyday work of the dockyards, and they will 1138 continue in the dockyards whether there is repayment work or not.
There is now the question of the R.N.R. I understand the apprehension felt by many hon. Members at the fact that we have not been able to give a satisfactory answer about setting up the R.N.R. again. As the House will know, there are still some people in the R.N.R.; they were in it prior to the war and they are carrying on so that we have a nucleus. I am afraid I have to say that we have not yet come to finality in the talks which have taken place between the interested parties. We hope, however, that in the near future we shall be able to give the House some more definite information about recruitment to this reserve. It is split up into two sections, one of which is the patrol section. This section is to be re-opened as soon as practical, which is something I hope will be welcomed by the House.
§ Mr. D. Marshall
In mentioning the interested parties, could the hon. Gentleman say if one of those interested parties is the fishing industry.
§ Mr. Edwards
No, off-hand I do not think that it is. I will let the hon. Gentleman know, but I think the Ministry of Transport and the shipowners are the people we have been dealing with.
A number of questions were put by the hon. Member for Hereford. He wanted to know the policy with regard to the resumption of work on the three light fleet carriers and the three cruisers. It is perfectly true, as the House knows, that the constructional work on the three light fleet carriers has been suspended, but the production of equipment is still proceeding and similar equipment is being considered for other ships. The House can take it that we have not given up the idea of proceeding with these ships. New ideas are coming into operation very quickly, and we want to get the most up-to-date equipment for these ships before the actual construction is complete. The same applies to the three cruisers. It is because of research that work on those ships is being held up, but we are hopeful that at some later date, when we are in a satisfactory position with regard to reconstruction, we shall be able to get on with the work.
I do not think the hon. Member for Hereford would expect me to answer all his questions. He will be interested to 1139 know the figures with regard to the work on the Reserve Fleet for this year and next year. For 1948–49 the work by contract amounted to about £1 million, and 72 ships which were destroyers or below were dealt with. In the dockyards we spent about £l¼ million for 117 ships, destroyers and below. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said today that 150 ships were refitted during the year. Next year we intend to spend three-quarters of a million by contract, but we are not quite certain of the amount for Reserve Fleet ships which will be spent in the Royal Dockyards. It will depend to a large extent on the operational requirements of the yards. If the yards are not required for the active Fleet then we shall proceed as quickly as possible with ships in the Reserve Fleet.
The question of married quarters for officers was raised. I should like to clear up any impression which might have been left by the hon. Member for Hereford that I should be against officers having married quarters, or that I should be more in favour of the ratings than of the officers.
§ Mr. Edwards
I said in case such an impression might be left. Nobody would expect us to have the same number of married quarters for officers as we intend to have for ratings. The latest figures that I have show that married quarters occupied by officers at home total 65 and abroad 68. For ratings the figures are 80 at home and 51 abroad, so that there is not much difference. We have been able to provide a lot of married quarters as a result of conversions, and in 1949–50 we hope to have something in the region of 570 new flats or houses for naval ratings. We were held up a little with regard to plans for naval officers' houses because at one time we were limited to a certain floor area. We have, however, gone very actively into the question, and we are hopeful that in the next financial year something quite good can be done for the officers.
§ Mr. Edwards
As it has been asked by a number of hon. Members I can give the answer—it is that no decision has been taken yet.
§ Mr. Bracken
This is an important question. Is this important ship on offer, and does the Admiralty not think that it is a profanation of a great ship to sell it to people who are quite hostile towards us in South America?
§ Mr. Edwards
These statements have been made in the past. I can only repeat what has been said previously—that no decision has been made about the sale or non-sale of H.M.S. "Ajax." I cannot very well go further this evening.
§ Mr. Medland
Can the Civil Lord say whether it is the intention of the Admiralty to sell H.M.S. "Ajax"?
§ Mr. Edwards
I am afraid I cannot say at the moment. I cannot go beyond what has been said previously on the matter. We are in precisely the same position.
§ Mr. Edwards
There are quite a number of other matters which were raised, but many of these, as I said, were raised in another place only a short time ago. They were answered by my noble Friend and my answer is more or less the same today.
If hon. Members will be good enough to look up the Debate in another place it will save me quite a lot of breath and time. As time is getting on now, I should like the House to be good enough to allow me to conclude on the note that I am sure my noble Friend will be satisfied with the course of the Debate and the very justified and helpful criticism which has been levelled. I hope I have satisfied the House to a certain extent, at any rate, as to the work we are doing.
§ Sir R. Ross
Can the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether the policy of the Admiralty in Northern Ireland, where as he now knows, the National Service Acts were not imposed by this House, is still to employ people who did not serve and Eire citizens, in preference to ex-Service men in civilian employment in naval establishments?
§ Mr. Edwards
I am sorry that I did not refer to the hon. Member's speech, 1141 but I was out of the House when he made it. He has asked me more or less to apologise for having said that the Northern Ireland Government did not introduce conscription during the war. I thought I had made that perfectly clear on the occasion when we had a row about it. If I did not make it clear, then I take this opportunity of making it quite clear now that the Northern Ireland Government did not impose conscription and it was not their fault that it was not imposed. On the point which has been raised by the hon. and gallant Member with regard to Northern Ireland ex-Service men, I have gone very thoroughly into the position and I am perfectly happy and satisfied that under Admiralty regulations in Northern Ireland a Northern Ireland ex-Service man gets a very fair deal, and those men comprise a very large percentage of the workpeople we have there.
§ Commander Maitland
There is a point which was not raised in the other place, but which I have asked in this House without an answer; that is, when are Naval Ordnance inspection officers to be told about increased pay and better conditions? This is a matter of great urgency and there are very few of them.
§ Mr. Edwards
Here again I can assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that these matters are very carefully and sympathetically looked upon. The House will know that the Admiralty—although I am not blaming anyone—are not masters as far as these matters are concerned, but I can assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that we have made some headway on this matter, and if the House will exercise a little more patience we feel that we shall have something to offer in the near future.
§ 11.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
The Civil Lord has just told us that there has been no opposition to these Estimates in the Debate hitherto. His rejoicing is rather premature because I believe it is necessary, in view of the course this Debate has taken, to ask certain questions and to make certain criticisms. I believe that if these Estimates of £189,250,000 had been introduced by a Tory Government instead of by a Labour Government the Labour Opposition would have kept the 1142 House up all night before agreeing to an increase of £36,250,000, which is an increase of 20 per cent. in the Estimates.
I do not represent a dockyard constituency, but I do represent fishermen, and sometimes I go out with these fishermen, and discuss matters with them. I have listened to them tell of their experiences in the last war. I went out last January in a Clyde fishing boat in which there were seven fishermen, the majority of whom had served in the Navy in the last war, most of them in ships engaged in convoy to Russia. They used to sit round the fire in the evening when there was no fishing and talk about their adventures in the last war. Some had been thrown into an icy sea, some had been blown up, all of them had had very difficult and hard conditions in that convoy helping to take supplies to Russia, and now barely four years after that war is over, we have to tell those same fishermen who are now in the Reserve that they have to go through some other harrowing experiences fighting the people whom they helped a few years ago.
These fishermen in the Reserve want to know what it all means, and I believe the country wants to know what is meant by this complaisant acceptance by the Labour Government of this huge increase in naval armaments. What is more, it is only a foretaste of what is to come because if we carry this argument to its logical conclusion, it does not mean stopping at £189,250,000. It means accepting the position that year after year we have to face a steady increase in our naval arms. We shall be face to face with more and more demands from the Admiralty on grounds which have been argued by the Opposition here tonight.
I do not know whether Russia has got 292 submarines. If they have, it is 292 too many, and everything I have to say of the Russian Government applies equally to us. Now we are apparently going to be reconciled to the fatalistic attitude that we have to be prepared for a naval race with Russia, in the same way as we prepared for the naval race with Japan and Germany in the years before the war. Only this is going to be a more expensive armaments race because, according to the figures given by the Parliamentary Secretary, our ships are to cost infinitely more. He gave one alarming figure, that to equip a new aircraft carrier 1143 with radio and radar will cost now £292,000. That is a fantastic figure. If we are going to have a huge Fleet engaged in hunting down Russian submarines, we shall have a steady demand from the Admiralty piling up year after year, on the ground that it is necessary for our security.
The question of America was ignored in most of the Debate, except by the hon. and gallant Member for Chertsey (Captain Marsden). Everybody knows that America now has the largest fleet in the world, more vessels than all the other nations put together. Yet only in the speech of the hon. and gallant Member was there the slightest indication that there was this tremendous sea power, which presumably would be on our side if we came to the unfortunate possibility of war with Russia. I want to know if these naval plans are linked up with a policy of isolation on our part, or with some coordinated and combined naval strategy with the U.S.A. If that is the case, I suggest that £189,250,000 is a fantastic figure, which the pre-war Labour Opposition would have opposed. It should be co-ordinated with the Navy of the U.S.A., and also should have some relation to our own economic resources.
I object to giving huge blank cheques to the Admiralty, for, say, £7 million for naval research. I object to the iron curtain in Eastern Europe, but I also object to the iron curtain round the. Admiralty. I should like to know how this £7 million is to be spent. I do not feel satisfied, as the representative of my constituency, to be told that the information will probably be given by the Prime Minister to the Leader of the Opposition. I understand he is to go to the Prime Minister at Downing Street, and they are going to have a nice confidential talk in which information is to be given by the Prime Minister to satisfy the Leader of the Opposition. I do not understand that business at all. I do not understand this kind of secret diplomacy. The Labour Party tell us that the Leader of the Opposition is a political danger. I entirely agree. We have just had a by-election at South Hammersmith, in which the Leader of the Opposition went round the constituency the day before the election attacking the policy of the Labour 1144 Party. The following day we had 30 Labour Members of Parliament—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Bowles)
I think the hon. Member must keep more closely to the Navy Estimates.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
If the Leader of the Opposition is entitled to know all about the secrets of our naval defence and the £7,000,000 spent on research, then I think the ordinary Member of the House is equally entitled to know it. I object to the Leader of the Opposition being rejected by the people at by-elections and coming back into 10 Downing Street through the back door.
In another place today, there was given a very different kind of information about the Russians. I saw it on the tape. The First Lord of the Admiralty referred to the cordial meetings between Russian sailors and British sailors at Edinburgh. Something might have been said about that here. It is really fantastic to me, as a layman who does not understand these things, to hear of the tremendous Russian submarine menace and then to see that the Government have made a nice arrangement with the Russian Government to bring back the "Royal Sovereign" and other ships and send back to Russia the practically modern Italian fleet. Surely if this is the state of affairs, some questions should be asked. In another place the First Lord said that relations between British and Russian naval officers and other ranks were admirable. Those are the sailors who, if this potential war develops, will be called upon to bombard each other, to sink each other's ships and drown each other.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Hon. Members are allowed to quote from a Minister in another place provided the Minister is dealing with policy. If the Minister in his speech is not dealing with policy, it is not in Order to quote it directly here.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
On a point of Order. I apprehend that if the First Lord in another place was dealing with the policy under which the ships were received back from Russia, it is not out of Order to refer to that.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I do not want to be involved in the technicalities of a point of Order. I only wished to say that the First Lord pointed out that most cordial relations had existed and hoped that in a few months' time, when more vessels were being brought back from the U.S.S.R., the same cordial relations would continue. I am sure that is the wish of the sailors of both navies who may be involved in another war if the politicians continue making a mess of it. We have had amazing things said today. We have had this island described as a potential Malta of the next war by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty. We in this little island with its congested population, are to look forward to a possible future when we shall be bombarded by atom bombs on a much larger scale than Malta was bombed in the last war. We have had a theory developed that if this possible war develops, the naval dockyards are too big, and will have to be dispersed, and it has been advanced that the ships are going to be safer than the dockyards.
To me this seems to be a crazy world. It is a stupid world. We are blundering into this not merely because the Russians have 292 submarines, but because of the futile policies pursued between the wars by all Governments, ours included. You think that by piling another £30 million on the Navy Estimates that you are going to frighten the Russians. But do you think the Russians are going to say that they are now going to cut down their 292 submarines to 150? That is not how these things develop. The Russians will read the report of this Debate, their naval attachés will read HANSARD, and the Russians will say that Great Britain is preparing for war on a gigantic scale and that the United States are doing likewise. I have often heard it said in Debates that to get peace you have to prepare for war. That has not been the lesson of history for the last 50 years. I point out to the Government at this time, even if only my voice is raised in protest, that we are entering upon a naval armaments race which is going to be an insupportable burden on the people of this country. I 1146 believe that that protest ought to be made, and it mill be made on every occasion so long as I am able to make it.
§ 11.57 p.m.
§ Mrs. Middleton (Plymouth, Sutton)
I had no intention of intervening in this Debate, but I was very disappointed that the Civil Lord made no reference to a very important point made by the hon. Member for Drake (Mr. Medland) with regard to dockyard reconstruction areas in Portsmouth and Devonport. My hon. Friend dealt with the matter from the point of view of people who have homes or businesses in these areas, and the difficulties with which they are faced in that they do not know how long they will be allowed to continue to occupy their premises. By this evening's post, I had a letter from a constituent which puts a rather different aspect of this case. It is not that of a man who has his house or his shop situated in the recontruction area. It is the case of a constituent who had a house in that area which was blitzed in 1941. I want, with the permission of the House, to read an extract from the letter:I owned a house in Devonport which, with four others in the terrace, was totally destroyed by enemy action in April, 1941. In August, 1945, the architect was prepared to rebuild, and had material and labour to do so, but lacked official permission.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member will not be in Order in referring to the War Damage Commission. It must have reference to the Navy Estimates.
§ Mrs. Middleton
It has reference to the Navy Estimates because, I submit, the rebuilding or compensation for this area must come out of the Admiralty Vote, as the area concerned is scheduled for dockyard development purposes. If I may continue reading the letter, it says:Eventually the Admiralty decided that they required this land for the dockyard extension scheme. That finished rebuilding hopes, but there is still no sign of being compensated. I am a naval pensioner working in H.M. Dockyard and there are many people like me who lived in that area and who are in a similar position; who have struggled to provide a certain amount of security for their old age. You will appreciate that the wives of people like us have to bear the brunt of the burden of this struggle. The reticence to pay the compensation is robbing us of the joys we anticipated, and now we have to worry. Failure to pay income tax is promptly followed by a threat of distraint, but for our compensation it 1147 seems we shall be too old to reap the benefits of it. Does the Government appreciate the plight of us small householders?That letter, I think, speaks for itself. I know that the Civil Lord has a compassionate heart; I know he will realise the plight of people who lost property early in the war and who are still unable to get compensation because the Admiralty has not been able to proceed with reconstruction; to make up its mind to compensate people who have lost their property. I want to ask him to do whatever is possible in order that these areas of dockyard redevelopment may be decided upon, and in order that the people who are today in such a difficult plight because of the fact that they cannot get their compensation, or who do not know what is going to happen to their homes in the near future, may be relieved of the burden which weighs so heavily upon them.
§ Question, "That Mr. Deputy-Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.
§ Supply accordingly considered in Committee.
§ [Mr. BOWLES in the Chair]