§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Sir Ronald Ross (Londonderry)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House considers it essential that there should be a sufficient force of vessels capable of dealing with modern submarines; that it should be suitably supported from the air, and possess an efficient minesweeping organisation and that research should be prosecuted diligently in order to improve and develop these forces.This is the most serious question with which the Navy is faced today and I think that in the Parliamentary Secretary I shall have, for once, a very sympathetic listener, because he himself described it as the biggest modern task of the Navy when he made the speech which we all enjoyed on a previous occasion, on the Motion that you, Sir, should leave the Chair. It is perhaps not unfitting that my Amendment should be moved by one of the comparatively few Members who have to cross the sea in coming from their constituencies to Parliament. I have put in a lot of sea time in cross-channel boats but I cannot say that I have been subjected to many serious risks, even during the war. If there was a risk, although I agree a slight one, it was at the beginning of the war and, most significantly, at the very end of the war.
It has been said officially that had the U-boat war continued for an appreciable period, it would have imposed an increased and severe strain upon allied resources. The U-boat fleet would have increased both in numbers and power and new and improved types of U-boats were also coming into operation. That is said in the official account of the Battle of the Atlantic. Our dependence on seaborne traffic is indisputable because if we cannot get petrol in through the sea routes our aircraft cannot fly; if we cannot get our raw materials paralysis is produced in industry; and if we cannot get food we starve.
Against what should we measure our defensive resources? We know that our relations with Russia are technically friendly, but I think many of us, and perhaps all of us, would say that they are not very friendly, and so I make no apology for using Russia as the yardstick against which to measure our resources. It is perfectly clear that great 2032 efforts are being made by that country to increase her submarine fleet. It is difficult to appraise and to measure the exact extent of those efforts. We do not now receive the assistance which we used to receive from the Admiralty through the publication of the Fleet returns.
I have, however, consulted the books which deal with this matter and Brassey's "Naval Annual" states that there are about 250 Russian submarines. Jane's "Fighting Ships" puts the figure up to 360 and says that there are 120, mostly post-war, in the Baltic. In the French equivalent "Flottes de Combat," it is added that there are 30 to 100 submarines on the stocks in Russia, and the Russians are given credit for possessing at least a dozen of the German type 21 which have very great underwater speed. I suggest that we should remember that at the beginning of the last war Germany possessed only 57 operational U-boats of modern design, and so it would appear that our task, in the very unhappy event of there being a war with Russia, would be more severe.
In submarine warfare the most marked feature is the sudden development and change. The official account of the Battle of the Atlantic divides the war into eight different phases, each clearly distinguishable from the other. Every thrust was parried by the Navy and the Air Force, but some of them were not parried by very much; there was not a very wide margin. There was more change in those five years in naval affairs than there used to be in over 200 years.
There are two developments which are particularly significant and important. They have increased the danger of submarine attack to a very marked extent, far more than all the changes which took place between the wars. The first of these is what I prefer to call the "Snort," to give it a forthright British term, and the second is the development of the submarine with a high underwater speed. The "Snort," as I think most people know, is merely a tube which appears above the surface of the water and eatables fresh air to be taken in and foul air and exhaust gases to be expelled. As a consequence, the internal combustion engines, the diesels, can be used when the boat is submerged. The battery for complete submersion can be charged and, as a
2033 result, the power of aircraft, so prominent against submarines during the last war, has decreased to a very marked extent.
A submarine which is exposing only a tube, the Snorkel—to use a German term which I do not like—is not easy to find by a flying boat using either visual assistance, sometimes at night by searchlight, or radar. It is a very difficult thing. There is only a tube and possibly a cloud of vapour to reveal the presence of the boat beneath. It was significant that at the very end of the war, when the "Snort" had been brought into use by German submarines, we saw them leaving the blue water. We did not find them nearly so thick in the Atlantic and deep waters, for they closed round the focal points quite close to our own shores from where they had earlier been driven. When they had these contrivances, they were able once again to make an appearance close to our shores.
I turn now to the submarines' great underwater speed. They are reported to have speeds up to 20 knots submerged, and I would remind the House of a very ominous occurrence. The day before the submarine war ceased, two merchant ships, each of 10,000 tons, were sunk within a mile of May island at the mouth of the Forth, by one of these fast, modem submarines. The change is tremendous, especially when we remember that the previous speed was about eight knots or nine knots. It presents very alarming possibilities for the future, because it would seem to me that if there are submarines of this underwater speed—and this is apart from the fact that they may render our patrol craft obsolete—it would be possible to organise wolf-pack attacks on convoys by plane, which would be a most unpleasant development.
Now I come to the question, How are we to deal with this situation? How are we to be prepared for the new situation at sea which results from these developments. I suggest that we must press on with new devices to meet new developments. There are, after all, two problems, which are really quite distinct. The first is to find the submarine. The second is to destroy it when found. Let us come to the second of these problems first, because it is much the less severe, much the less troublesome. There has been very considerable development in destroying submarines. During the last war the 2034 technique was improved. In the work of the killer groups under that very remarkable man, Captain Walker—perhaps the name most honoured in all antisubmarine warfare—there were very remarkable achievements.
As everyone knows, probably the beam of the Asdic, the principal means of detecting submerged submarines, is not effective under or nearly under a ship. It will see the submarine ahead but not the submarine beneath the keel or nearly beneath the keel, and the more deep-diving a submarine is—and modern submarines can go much deeper than the older boats—the more difficult the problem of detection becomes. It is rather like shooting at pheasants, if the pheasant flies straight over you, Sir. If you shoot with one eye to make a deflection shot, so to speak, you are not shooting at the bird at all, because the bird is blacked out by the barrels. In the same way the anti-submarine craft could not see the submarine when it was under the ship, and so had to drop depth charges. Now, however, with the throwing ahead devices, the "Hedgehog" and the very important "Squid," we have got over that difficulty. Incidentally, submarines are much more apt to turn even than pheasants. So I think great progress has been made in that direction, though there is the difficulty, I gather, that the gear ships have to carry for anti-submarine work and for radar work has become so cumbersome and heavy that it is difficult to carry it all in a small ship.
There is no doubt that the first of the two problems I mentioned—finding the submarine—is really the more difficult of the two, and it is the hardest problem the Admiralty has to face. Aircraft are certainly less effective, but they still will have their uses, and I am a little worried to see that work on the three light fleet carriers, which I should have thought would have been most useful in this type of work—we have no escort carriers at present—has been suspended. I should have thought they would still have had considerable function in the anti-submarine field, which, it is agreed, is our most serious problem. I hope there will be a special anti-submarine aircraft department, and I rather gather from the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary that there is to be that development. We do not always have air-minded people 2035 wholly sympathetic with sailors in the problems of the sea, and there is no doubt that we do want an entirely specialised type of aircraft for dealing with the submarine menace.
Has anything been done as regards using helicopters at sea? Helicopters could land on a small deck and could hover, and perhaps would turn out to be a useful form of convoy escort. Of course, the sonobuoy, in spite of having come in for some dubious criticism during another Debate, is not without its uses, but I wonder whether the Admiralty are considering the development of the idea of the use of submarines against submarines. I believe that in the United States specialised submarines have been built for that purpose. Of course, it is not a new idea to us. In the war before last—what, I think, it is fashionable to call the First World War—the "R" class submarines were built specially to hunt out submarines, and they had the distinction of being faster below surface than on top of it. It does seem that there are possibilities here in the use of submarines as submarine killers.
In anything I say today I am not making any criticism, express or implied, of our anti-submarine establishments, of which there are two. I think they do remarkably good work. I have myself considerable knowledge of H.M.S. "Sea Eagle," which is sited in my constituency. It has performed, to begin with, the miracle of establishing the most cordial possible relations between the Navy and the Air Force. The relations between the sea officers and the air officers here have always been good and cordial; and there has always been extraordinarily good cooperation. That, in itself, is a remarkable achievement.
However, I think they are at present under a very severe handicap. When I am in my constituency I see the submarines. They are "T" class. They are very good boats of their kind; but even with fast battery drive, are they adequate for work against the type of really new submarine that we are likely to be up against should there be another war? I think not. The future demands fast submarines. The First Lord says as much in the Explanatory Statement which he has issued with the Estimates. Where are the fast submarines? There is no sign or 2036 symptom of them. In the Navy Estimates we are told that our present submarines are being "hotted-up" with fast battery drive. I do not think that is going to be adequate to the needs of training. Naturally, I have not discussed this, or even mentioned it, in any way with friends of mine at the anti-submarine school. I do not know how swiftly fast battery drive submarines can go, but it seems to me they will not be fast enough.
We ought really to learn from the past. I allude, of course, to our cricket matches with Australia, where the British team was at the great disadvantage that they had had no practice with fast bowling. To translate that experience in terms of war, it is not difficult to see that unless we have fast submarines, we cannot practise defeating fast submarines. For instance, we may practise how to detect and destroy a submarine going at nine knots or 10 knots, but our experience may likely give misleading lessons, and will not be effective applied to detecting and destroying a submarine going at 20 knots.
If I were to be asked—which is unlikely—what I thought the most pressing need the Navy has today, I should say it is the pressing need for really fast submarines—submarines with high submerged speeds—not primarily for the purposes of offence but for the purposes of defence, so that our anti-submarine forces could work with an up-to-date type of submarine and come to know what they would be up against in war, and could devise tactics and contrivances with which to meet the risk.
What do we need and what have we got? So far as I am able to judge the position, what we need are fast surface ships equipped with modern contrivances and with anything that can be devised to meet this underwater peril. No one is more conscious than I am of the financial position of this country, and to have to embark on a vast building programme to meet this danger should be, in my opinion, absolutely a last resort; but we do need fast killer ships. What have we? There are the fleet destroyers. We have very few cruisers, and the fleet destroyers would probably not be available except in very small numbers, because, after all, we must never forget that surface raiders are an ancillary to submarine warfare. They make it very 2037 much more difficult, as we found in the last war. I do not think that we shall have much help from the fleet destroyers, although I think that the four-weapon class destroyers—although they are the most hideous ships I have ever seen—are probably the most effective antisubmarine vessels of today.
Let me turn to the frigates. The frigates may be divided into two classes. There are what I would call the true frigates built sometimes as sloops, sometimes as corvettes and sometimes as frigates, but all called frigates now, and they are called after birds, bays, loughs and rivers. My only criticism is that the geographical knowledge of the Admiralty shows a surprising lack in that they did not know that there were bays or loughs in Northern Ireland. Then there are the "Hunt" class frigates. They are called after various hunts in England, Scotland, Wales, and even Spain. The sporting knowledge of the Admiralty appears to be just as deficient as their geographical knowledge. The "Hunt" class frigates are destroyers which changed their name and are now called frigates. I do not put in the old corvettes which did such good work at the beginning of the last war, because I think that even the Parliamentary Secretary would admit that they are not going to be very much use in a future war against anything in the nature of the modern submarine.
How are we to meet the situation supposing we are faced with a substantial number of submarines of fast underwater speed? I do not really accuse the Parliamentary Secretary of complacency, but he did get a little bit near to it in describing the frigates, most of which cannot do more than 16 knots at the present time, as being useful vessels against the sort of submarine was we are likely to have to meet. No doubt if we were able to fight an anti-submarine war in the terms of the last submarine war, they would be most useful, but if we are facing an entirely new problem, I do not think that the class built as frigates would be of very much use. It is a different consideration with the old "Hunt" class destroyers. They are not quite fast enough and some of them are reported as being rather worn-out, but they certainly did an enormous amount of work during the last war.
2038 I do not think that the position as regards our anti-submarine craft is one in which we can feel anything approaching complacency. I see that the Admiralty have taken two old fleet destroyers—the "Relentless" and the "Rocket"—as a sort of extremely new model sloop or frigate, but what surprises me is that they are getting rid of the other old fleet destroyers as fast as they can get anyone to take them. This is even more startling when one thinks of the Admiralty's policy with regard to merchant ships. The merchant ship owner is not allowed to sell his old ship in order to build a new one, and he cannot build a new one unless he does, because it may be needed in war. The Admiralty, who has a lot of old fleet destroyers which may be useful in war, are passing them on to Holland and Pakistan as fast as they can get rid of them. I think that is rather a dangerous policy.
I wonder whether anything has been evolved from experiments and trials with regard to the adaptation of ships which we now have. Fast diesels might produce the solution and give our ships a greater radius of action which the "Hunts" have not got. I wonder if researches into the potentialities of the gas-turbine are being continued. I know that they have been going on, but we did not hear anything, about them in the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary today. It would be rather interesting to hear whether they could be adapted to small craft which would give them the speed to catch a fast submarine.
I want to say a few words about minesweeping, because the mine—that most deadly weapon—has not been mentioned in debate up to now. We have only to look at the very large number of casualties which were caused by mines in both world wars at sea to see how important this is. It is a much simpler matter in one sense than dealing with the submarine. It involves, first, a means of sweeping that will deal with all the new fancy types of mines—the magnetic, the acoustic, and so on. They are much more difficult types than those in use in the old days. such as the moored contact mine.
Secondly, it seems to me to be largely a matter of organisation. The Admiralty should have earmarked a very large number of small craft, which would be required to do the sweeping if war were 2039 to break out, and which could be quickly turned on to the job. Presumably, they would be trawlers for the most part, and the sweeping gear for all manner of mines should be readily at hand so that the whole organisation could be put into gear in a very short time, because nothing delays merchant traffic more effectively than channels fouled with mines. It delays the arrival of ships and it delays the turn-round. All I ask of the Parliamentary Secretary is that he should give us some assurance that mine-sweeping organisation is not being lost sight of, because it is vital.
I am in the position of having been successful in a legal lottery. The mover of an Amendment on these occasions is really the leader of a forlorn hope, because it is clear to him and to the House that if his Amendment is accepted it will lead to the most complete chaos. You, Sir, would not be able to leave the Chair, and perhaps even greater inconvenience would be caused to the Navy by the fact that the House could not vote the men or the money which it requires. I have brought up this subject in order that things which I think are most vital for the Navy today should be thoroughly investigated, and so that the Parliamentary Secretary may have an opportunity of telling us in more detail the measures which the Admiralty are taking to deal with them. Of course, he will refer to them within the proper limits of security, but I think that, subject to that, the House should be told as much as possible, because this is a matter of national insurance and is of the very greatest gravity.
In conclusion, I want to quote from the words of the First Lord, as he then was, summing-up the war at sea. Mr. A. V. Alexander, as he was at that time, now in another place, used these words:It is highly significant that after the trouncing which the U-boats suffered in 1943, the enemy should consider it worth while to continue to devote so large a part of his resources to this form of warfare. It shows that he still considers it to be his best hope of averting defeat against a nation which lives by sea-borne supplies. This is a highly important fact which will, I trust, never be forgotten by future First Lords, future Boards of Admiralty, or future Governments, or by the people of this country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th March, 1945; Vol. 408. c. 2058.]
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Maclay (Renfrew, West)
I beg to second the Amendment so ably moved by the hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross).
I think the whole House is grateful to the hon. Member for putting this Amendment on the Order Paper; and we are also extremely grateful to the laws of chance which, on this occasion, ordained that he had the opportunity to do so. He has covered some extremely important aspects of the whole question of under-water attack, and I do not think I shall be trespassing on the ground he has been over in what I have to say.
I always enter these discussions on Navy Estimates with some diffidence, because I do so as an amateur and from the merchant shipping angle. I must say, though, that diffidence has not prevented me from doing so on each successive occasion during the last five years. I have been encouraged in taking the risk of competing with experts by knowledge of the good relations which today exist betwen the Merchant Navy and the Royal Navy—the product of close and very gallant co-operation during the long years of dangerous war; a co-operation which has resulted in a high degree of mutual respect on both sides. I am also encouraged to enter these Debates because I know that today the shipping industry as a whole, and the Admiralty, and the Ministry of Transport where they are involved, enjoy a very useful and close relationship on all matters dealing with the defence of merchant shipping.
There is no need to remind this House at any time of the immense importance of the part played by the Merchant Navy in the two wars we have had to fight in this century. But I do think that from time to time it is necessary to recall the fantastic scale of loss suffered by merchant shipping in those two wars. At the outbreak of the 1914–18 war, the total merchant shipping of the world amounted to about 43 million gross tons. During that war, no less than 12½ million tons of Allied shipping were lost by enemy action—a very high proportion of the total available merchant fleet at the outbreak of the war. In 1939, the total of world merchant shipping had risen to 61 million gross tons. During the war, the losses of Allied shipping only—that is, British shipping, British Empire 2041 the United States, of other Allied countries, and of those neutrals who were working in our cause—amounted to 21.1 million tons. That is a tremendous figure. It is also necessary to realise what a very large proportion of that loss was carried by the British Merchant Navy.
I apologise for giving all these figures, but I think it is good that they should be brought out from time to time. In the 1914–18 war, of the 12½ million tons lost, 7.7 million tons were British at British Empire owned. In the 1939–45 war, of the 21.1 million tons lost, no less than 11.4 million tons were British. In one month alone, November, 1942, almost half a million tons of British shipping was sunk. That was the worst month of the worst year of the war. That is a horrible memory for any of us who were working with statistics, or in any way connected with the problem of the availability of shipping to meet war needs.
It would be wrong to pass from these figures without recalling again and paying tribute to the memory of those members of the Merchant Navy who gave their lives in maintaining our vital lines of sea communication. The figures are really extraordinary. Out of an average seagoing force of about 180,000 officers and men, no fewer than 34,500 men were lost—very nearly one in five. That proportion is far in excess of the proportion in any other Service. I am subject to correction on this figure, and it is only to put these figures in proportion that I mention it, but I understand that for the Navy, with, possibly, an average force of about 500,000, the losses were 51,500. That shows the tremendous disparity in the losses of merchant seamen to the proportion of the total sea-going force. We owe it to the memory of these men, and to the vital importance of their task, to see that as long as there is risk of war every possible step, consistent with the nation's resources, is taken in time of peace to ensure that the most effective and modern measures are available for the defence of merchant shipping from the very outbreak of hostilities. That is the point which I mention with the greatest emphasis.
It may seem rather superfluous to talk like this this evening. We have had a most interesting and, if I may say so, excellent speech from the Parliamentary Secretary, who today gave us a lot of 2042 information. In the Defence Debate last Thursday a great deal was said about under-water attack. I cannot help remembering, however, that in 1939, in spite of the lessons of the 1914–18 war, for one reason or another—I do not attempt to apportion the blame—we found ourselves hopelessly short of escort vessels. Those escort vessels, which were on the stocks, or in plan, were not suitable for the job they had to do; it cannot have been fully appreciated by the experts responsible in the years before 1939 just how the submarine menace would develop, and it was not until the middle of 1943 that we really began to be effective in our attack against submarines.
I have mentioned this before, but I must repeat it because it is so important to realise that the graph curve of sinkings only began to fall satisfactorily after there were enough escort vessels, not only to protect the convoys but to provide killer groups, to which reference has already been made. We must remember that lesson. I do not think there is a danger of forgetting this year or next year. There have been some excellent speeches on this subject, both last Thursday and today. There have been some very good maiden speeches, and I am delighted to find how many hon. Members are now acutely interested in this problem.
When I asked a question about the availability of escort ships some three years ago I got a very courteous reply from the Civil Lord, but it took 12 months to come; I only got it in the next Navy Estimates' Debate. Today, the hon. Member for Londonderry has mentioned the helicopter. I am very glad he did, because 12 months ago I asked a question about that which was not answered. I hope that the passage of 12 months, plus the hon. Member for Londonderry, will produce something for us about the helicopter tonight.
It is encouraging to realise that at this moment there is universal appreciation of the great importance of anti-submarine warfare and the absolute necessity of being ready to get our ships safely through. Do let us make certain that this is not forgotten. I am not frightened of its being forgotten this year or next year, but I am frightened of its being forgotten about 10, 15 or 20 years hence; that is what we have to watch, when those who had direct experience of this in the war 2043 are perhaps no longer in the House of Commons, or at the Admiralty or the other Departments concerned.
I do not propose to attempt to deal with technical questions because I am incompetent to do so, and they have already been dealt with extremely well. What we need is a continuing assurance that every aspect of this problem is under earnest and active study. I will, however, submit one very amateur question to follow up the great emphasis which the hon. Member for Londonderry placed on the provision of fast submarines for practice purposes. It would comfort us a great deal if, without any breach of security, we could be told today that we have even one fast submarine suitable for practice purposes. It would be a great reassurance, and I cannot think that it would be a serious breach of security to give us that type of information.
The next point I would like to ask about is to what extent responsibility is under the control of the North Atlantic Defence Committee, not only for antisubmarine research and practice but for the whole convoy system in a possible future war? One remembers very clearly that the structure of convoys in the last war, in the North Atlantic particularly, was a composite one. British ships, and the Canadian and United States Navies were all involved. I did not quite understand from the Parliamentary Secretary's opening speech, though he did touch upon combined work, whether the whole question of convoy systems and of defence against underwater attack was a matter for bilateral or trilateral discussion among those nations, or whether they came under some sub-committee of the North Atlantic Defence Committee. It would be helpful to know whether a useful co-ordination is going on on this matter.
In the long run, during the last war extremely effective co-ordination was achieved, but I have memories, even from the sideline that I was on, of considerable difficulties in getting complete co-ordination, particularly in the North Atlantic. The subject becomes infinitely more complicated when we bring the air into it. Could we have information on that structure, also? How does Coastal Command link with the Naval Air Service? On the question of submarine detection I agree completely with the remark made 2044 by the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey), in an interjection, that the real cure for the submarine menace must be to destroy them before they get near the convoys. That will be the responsibility of the air effort, to a very great extent.
I cannot believe that we can get really fast frigates to do the job without very skilled and careful air co-operation. It is always rather disturbing to come to this subject. We cannot expect representatives of the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Transport to attend all these Debates, but it would be most comforting if we could be informed that there is in existence effective liaison not only between Coastal Command and the Navy but between the British Forces and the North Atlantic defence Forces on this whole question of anti-submarine work, and that all branches of air co-operation are effectively linked to the structure.
I turn now to peace-time co-operation with the Merchant Navy but before I do so I would like to touch upon one very important part of the subject, the speed of merchant vessels. From time to time I think that people feel that shipowners are very slow in realising their responsibility in this matter. At the beginning of my speech I should have declared a certain interest, as I am a shipowner. In conformity with the usual rules of the House I should declare my interest—some of the older Members may have noticed it before. Experience of the war was that shortage of escort vessels not only imperilled the ships but, still worse, convoy sailing times had to be spread out widely. The work in which I was engaged brought me into very close touch with this matter. I knew only too well the problem of collecting ships, getting them loaded as fast as possible on the other side of the Atlantic, and then seeing them lie at the convoy assembly point for five, 10 or 12 days because the time between convoy railings was not short enough to keep them moving. It was very distressing. We need escort vessels not only for safety but, in larger numbers, to get the shortest possible sailing times. We want also the maximum number of fast convoys.
It must be realised that we cannot artificially increase the speed of merchant ships to provide a real answer to the submarine menace. It would be a help if we could deliberately speed up our 2045 ships, but I think the Parliamentary Secretary would agree, from his experience in his former office, that there is a limit to what can reasonably be done about the speed of merchant ships. It is determined by the economic speed at which goods can be carried in any particular period of history. Fortunately, the tendency is always to greater speed, but it is surprising how slowly that speed rises. In the case of tramp ships carrying bulk cargoes the economic speed has risen in the last 50 years only from seven to about 10 or 11 knots, that is, coal and oil fired steamers, and possibly to 12½ knots in the case of diesel ships. The cargo liner is increasing its speed faster than that. It is not unusual for good cargo liners to make 15, 16 or 17 knots. The more we have of those vessels the simpler becomes the problem of convoys.
I would remind hon. Members that, if war breaks out, every available ship on which we can lay our hands will be raked in to do a job. We will always have some old, slow ships to reckon with. There must always be a timelag in increasing the average speed of merchant vessels. I do not feel that the deliberate raising of the speed of merchant ships solely for the purpose of Defence provides any satisfactory answer. We could never compete with the really fast submarine which is being evolved. But we can help, and the process is continuing.
In connection with organisation problems there is still in existence a division of the Admiralty which was an invaluable link between merchant shipping and the Navy in time of war. I hope that when the Minister replies he will tell us that it is Admiralty policy to keep the trade division in existence permanently in the Admiralty. At the present, a most excellent relationship exists between that department and the shipping industry. The House would be comforted to know that that division will continue even if it must be on a reduced basis. There is another body called the Shipping Defence Advisory Committee. It was brought into existence before the last war. It did very valuable work in the two years before 1939. Could we be assured that that body will also be permanent. It is most valuable that there should be regular consultations upon technical points of construction, where the Admiralty can tell shipowners what might be done to make their ships more readily 2046 useful in time of war and the technical shipping staffs are telling the Admiralty what is practicable. I hope that we shall get an assurance that the Committee will continue.
Another very useful innovation, which, I think, arose since the war, is what I believe are known as "Trade Week" courses at the Royal Naval Staff College at Greenwich. One or two of these have been held, and shipowners and their staffs have been invited to attend. We hope that this will go on, because the work is very valuable. I should like to know if an approach has been made to the Admiralty, as it may have been, to see whether the facilities could be extended to Merchant Navy officers. It would be a very useful method of maintaining the very close link between the Merchant Navy and the Royal Navy which we must have in peace as well as in war.
Suggestions will come up from time to time for the improvement of facilities for merchant seamen and Merchant Navy officers to see something of the development of naval work when their ships are in port. It is a complicated job to work this out, but there is immense good will in the shipping industry towards something effective being done to continue, in peace time, the war-time collaboration between owners and the Admiralty, and between Merchant Navy officers and men and naval officers and ratings I feel certain that these matters will be considered sympathetically. It would be very helpful if we could know whether there is a real prospect of active encouragement being given by the Admiralty for any such schemes.
That is all I want to try to cover. A large number of questions are involved and I hope that the answers to some of them will be forthcoming tonight, some, perhaps, with the 12 months' lapse to which I have become accustomed. Before sitting down I apologise to the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East for not, within the terms of the Amendment I am seconding, being able to pursue his very interesting remarks, which I am sorry I was discourteous enough to interrupt.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Shackleton (Preston, South)
I am sure the House is gratified at the performance of the hon. Baronet the Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) who
2047 represents H.M.S. "Sea Eagle." It is an establishment with which I was closely connected during the war when it was at "Maydown." I listened to his speech with great interest, and I was also interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay) if only because I should like to congratulate the Liberal National Party on the magnificent turn-out which they always have on these occasions to produce a House for their own Members.
I make no apology for intervening in the Debate as an airman. I am glad to see that there is another representative from Coastal Command in the House. I think it is time that the Air Force took a part in the naval Debates. It is not simply the case that we have suffered long from the threat, so often expressed, that the Navy would take over Coastal Command, nor do we wish to retaliate by suggesting that the Air Force should take over the Navy. The announcement today about the Royal Marines leaving their headquarters at Chatham prompts me to say that there would always be a home for them in the Royal Air Force Regiment, which, with its long tradition, would be glad to be associated with that fine corps, the Royal Marines.
I want to refer to one or two points, and in particular I want to take my text from the statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty. He made a statement which, to me, was very significant when he said that the U-Boat menace in 1943 was broken by the escort groups. I do not want to take a purely Air Force partisan point of view, but I believe that statement to be symptomatic of a weakness in naval outlook, a weakness from which the Air Force may suffer also. The U-boat menace was broken by the Navy and by the Royal Air Force. The figures show that during the war 56 per cent. of all German U-boats were sunk by aircraft, 49 per cent. of them by land-based aircraft. That leads me not to suggest that the Air Force is the answer in the future, but to say that I believe that situation is infinitely more dangerous today because the Air Force has lost the extremely offensive power which it developed in the latter part of the war. In 1943 and 1944, and particularly in 1943, the great majority of U-boat kills were achieved by aircraft, and later on 2048 an admirable co-operation was worked out between escort groups—particularly in the Bay of Biscay—and the killer groups which came down and co-operated with the Air Force. I believe that the problem is not yet solved. It is a very difficult one. I shall not be able to contribute anything very hopeful in what I have to say, but I think that we must look at the problem.
First of all—I am sure he will forgive me for saying this—I do not accept the figures given by the hon. Member for Londonderry about the strength of foreign submarine forces. I do not believe that we in this House know. None the less. one thing is certain, and that is that there have been, and there were at the very end of the war, radical developments in submarines which, if the war had gone on long enough, might have put us back into the position we were in in 1942. The actual number of new German U-boats at sea by the end of the war was negligible. There was not one of type 21. I believe there were one or two of type 23, which were small and relatively slow versions of the new type U-boat.
§ Sir R. Ross
If the hon. Member will read the end of "The Battle of the Atlantic," the official account, he will find it stated that it was one of the vessels with fast submerged speed which sank the two ships off May Island.
§ Mr. Shackleton
I do not want to make a point of it, but they were type 23. They were small ones and were not so fast. They belonged to the new type of fast battery vessel but were not the really dangerous ones, the type 21 vessels, which are very much faster. The type 21 is a long-range fast battery submarine.
I tend to agree with the account given by the Minister of the different types of submarines. There is what is called "the standard type." We have to expect that in future all standard types will be Snorkel-equipped, or "Snort" as the hon. Member for Londonderry prefers. We used all versions during the war. Whatever happens they will present a real problem from the point of view of sinking by the Air Force. During the latter part of the war we sank comparatively few except in special circumstances. The House may remember that the Germans threw their U-boats into the defence of the then Western Europe from the in 2049 vasion which was coming across the Channel, and they were thus operating in narrow waters in the Channel and round the coast, and even in spite of Snorkel equipment it was possible to hunt them to exhaustion with our escort vessels and aircraft. There were a large number of kills of this type of U-boat.
However, during the main part of the U-boat war and during the attack on our Atlantic communications the best and most useful activity of the Air Force was in patrolling the lanes through which the U-boats had to passage, because the U-boats were compelled to come up to the surface at regular intervals in order to charge their batteries until such time as they were equipped with Snorkel. It cannot be too frequently emphasised that the submarine was not a true submarine in the early part of the war. It was a vessel which could submerge when necessary. The introduction of Snorkel and the new type of U-boat produced a genuine submarine.
The new type of submarine which may be a real menace is the high-speed battery type. It will have not only greater speed on passage but will be able to produce that necessary burst of comparatively higher speed during the period of attack. It will be able to produce this speed during a period when it is itself being attacked. I do not believe that we had in the Air Force at the end of the war or that we have now the weapons to deal with it. The most modernistic of all the types of U-boats which the Germans were developing, one with a special type of propulsion—I do not know how far we can go on talking about it—also suffers from real disadvantages because it means that in addition to its special closed cycle engine, it has to carry batteries and diesels as well to help it through on passage and it will thus be very much slower on passage. Therefore, for the present anyway, we have to think mainly about the fast battery type of submarine.
The instruments available to the Navy and the Air Force are basically the same as we had during the war. They are escort vessels and very long-range aircraft. I make no criticism of the Admiralty or the Air Force for not having large numbers of them, but I fear that we have only a small number of very long-range aircraft. I am pleased to see 2050 that the Admiralty have put away their battleships and have treated them with dry air and are now concentrating on small vessels. It is just as necessary for a determined effort to be made by the Air Force to co-operate in solving this problem.
This brings me to a subject which has cropped up previously in Debates, the instrument known as the sonobuoy. We had this in the latter part of the war. It was difficult to use. The principle was that buoys with a radio transmitter were dropped. The hydrophone attached to the buoy picked up the sound of the submarine and it was heard in the aircraft—where one was also liable to hear the noise of fishes which barked or made a noise like a submarine and even fishes that made a noise like a submarine breaking up. And even when a submarine had been located satisfactorily, what was the aircraft to do about it?
The Parliamentary Secretary has spoken about homing torpedoes. We waited for that type of torpedo throughout the war, but we never saw it in satisfactory form. It may theoretically provide the answer but not, I believe, to the fast submarine. I am not enough of a technician to know how far a homing torpedo can operate, but if it is dependent on exceedingly delicate detection devices, the high speed will possibly neutralise its homing effectiveness.
I believe that the rôle of the aircraft and of the sonobuoy will be to provide barriers. Possibly there can be sonobuoy barriers which can be laid by ships that will report the presence of a submarine, but without escort groups and killer groups aircraft will not be able to do the job that they did in the last war. It hurts me to say that, because I believe that in the later stages of the war the Air Force was the decisive instrument in meeting the U-boat. We must put a tremendous amount of energy into solving this problem. There are some encouraging signs. The joint anti-U-boat school was one of the best pieces of air-naval co-operation to be found anywhere and I am sure it is still so today.
I think, though, that we have to see that the Navy and the Air Force are mixed up a great deal more than they have been in the past. I repeat what I said in the Debate on the Air Estimates, 2051 that there should be more exchange between the two Services, just as was suggested for the Merchant Navy. There should be more opportunity on an Air Force station of seeing a naval officer or a seaman or somebody in dark blue and asking them questions in order to find out how their minds work. We lacked that during the last war.
I would like to see fewer large carriers and the entire strength of the Navy put into the smallest possible carriers on the principle that they will be less vulnerable. It is better to have a lot of penny packets that can put up aircraft than a few big ones which might be put out of action more easily. I am sure that the support groups with an improved type of killer craft are what the Navy should concentrate on today, since this is the main rôle of the Navy. I have made speeches in the past, criticising the Navy for hanging on to battleships. While I do not claim the credit for these having been put into reserve, I am glad this has been done because, unless this submarine problem is tackled, we may find ourselves in a most vulnerable position in the event of a war.
Now that there is a new Chief of Air Staff at the Air Ministry—Sir John Slessor, who was a brilliant Commander-in-Chief of Coastal Command—I would like to see a new effort made. I do not say this in criticism of his predecessor. There are consultations going on all the time to get the Air Force to take more part in this matter, but it is difficult to get the Air Ministry and the Air Force to think in terms of the sea. It would be no solution for the Navy to create its own purely Naval Air Force because, for tactical reasons, for reasons of reinforcement, and so on, there are grave objections. At the same time, the Air Force must be prepared to play a bigger part in this matter. It may even be necessary to see a maritime command set up in the Air Ministry.
The principle in the Air Force has always been to have theatre commanders such as Coastal Command or East Africa, while in the Air Ministry there have been merely directorates. That is different from the Admiralty system whereby the Admiralty keeps a much closer control over the tactics used and over the operations in any one area. I 2052 am not suggesting that it is desirable for the Air Ministry to issue the detailed orders, but there should be something in the Air Ministry of a higher standing than we have at the moment in order to provide this greater emphasis and support for co-operation with the Navy in What may, in the event of a war, be one of our most serious threats.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Major Cundiff (Manchester, Withington)
I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House welcome the opportunity to debate defence against under-water attack. It is a special privilege for those of us who have been intimately, but not always pleasantly, associated with this form of warfare. Of all the hazards which have faced this country in two world wars no single hazard has ever brought us nearer to complete disaster and defeat than the U-boat attacks on our merchant shipping and on our sea lines of communication. If, in our Debate today, we are to evaluate the density of this potential danger in a new war, we must appreciate the power and the offensive armament of the modern submarine. I should like to deal with this question in some detail, and if, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I appear to stray a little into technicalities, I hope you will not consider the subject matter of my speech to be irrelevant to our Debate.
May I begin by very briefly tracing the history and development of the submarine? By 1912 both we and the Germans had produced a reasonably sound hull. Submarines were not a popular service with the Germans, however, and further, they very rarely sat aboard their ships. In 1913 six U-boats were sent out into the North Sea and stayed there a week. During that period they weathered a north-westerly gale, and on their return to port the German Admiralty were quite satisfied with the sea-going qualities of their submarine hulls.
On 6th August, 1914, after war had broken out, 12 German U-boats left for a routine patrol. One of these was sunk by our light cruiser "Birmingham" and another was sunk when diving; we on our side suffered the loss of H.M.S. "Pathfinder," which was the very first warship to be sunk by a torpedo fired from a submarine. It was on 22nd 2053 September, however, that something happened which really encouraged the German Admiralty to develop this new weapon. For three days the weather in the North Sea had been very bad. At that time we had three old cruisers on patrol—the "Aboukir," the "Hogue," and the "Cressy." Because of weather conditions, the flotilla screen had been withdrawn to Harwich. Those three old cruisers, manned mostly by Reservists, were sighted by a German U-boat, the U.9, which got into position and torpedoed the "Aboukir." Unfortunately, the other two cruisers which were left closed in on their stricken sister ship; the submarine once again got into position, with the result that the three cruisers were lost and out of 2,200 personnel, the total complement of the three ships, we lost about 1,400 men.
As the war progressed, the U-boats developed in power. We, on our side, developed the convoy system and depth charge attacks, and we had some success with our "Q" ships. Very much the same thing happened in the Second World War, except that we found a vastly improved U-boat. On the other hand, and to our credit, we had developed the Asdic apparatus, which detects and locates submarines.
My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay), has mentioned the question of merchant ship losses. I hope he will forgive me if I add further to the information he has already given to the House. The First World War spread over a period of 51 months. Our actual losses in ships were 4,837 vessels, which equals an average of almost 95 ships per month, of an average tonnage of 2,300. In the Second World War, over a period of 68 months, we lost 2,775 vessels, or an average of 41 per month. The average tonnage per vessel lost was 5,250. On the other side of the balance sheet, in the First World War we sank 178 U-boats, which averaged 3½ per month. In the Second World War we sank 780 U-boats, or an average of about 11½ per month.
I should now like to give the House some information on the latest type of German submarine engine. At this point I must declare my interest in the manufacture of marine diesel engines. When I refer to the "latest type" I mean the latest type that was produced up to 2054 1945. I think that this is very relevant because of all that has been said today about surface speeds. The latest type of engine is a six-cylinder, four-stroke unit, which is run at a conservative speed of 525 revolutions per minute. It is supercharged on the principle of the gas turbine, the supercharged unit running at a rate of 12,000 revolutions per minute. At that speed it delivers to the engine 5,500 cubic feet of air per minute. The weight of the engine is approximately 18 tons and its power output, at its normal revolutions, is 2,000 horse power. Two of these engines are normally fitted into a submarine. A submarine of 1,000 tons displacement, with 4,000 horse power, will, therefore, yield 4 horse power per ton displacement, which is a very generous power factor. I can assure the Parliamentary Secretary that with certain types of hulls very high surface speeds can be obtained.
Mention has already been made of the Snorkel apparatus. This is a device whereby the vessel can remain submerged, but is built to run on its main diesel engines. I do not think we have seen the last of the development of engine power. A good deal has been said today about boosted batteries. It may be that in future submarines will carry a certain amount of liquid air, which can be used to aspirate engines for very short bursts at maximum speed. This means that when a submarine is very much lower in the water than it would be when working with its Snorkel apparatus it would still have this very great burst of speed for a limited time, in order to escape from a dangerous situation.
The question of higher surface and submerged speeds must alter the whole picture of anti-submarine defence, and I ask the Government not to be too confident with the results obtained from the frigates which are at present in service with the Royal Navy. From the point of view of ocean escorts and ocean convoys, we must forget all about 25-knot frigates and think, instead, in terms of 35-knot vessels. No good purpose will be served by discussing further technicalities regarding new types of missiles and offensive armament. I understand that very great research is now being conducted in this sphere, and I plead with the Government to he most generous and to realise that whatever money is spent on anti-sub- 2055 marine defence is very much in the national interest.
I wish to say something about escape apparatus and submarine salvage. During wartime we expect casualties and great grief is brought to many homes but, somehow, when something goes wrong in peace-time, it seems to be a double blow. We think now of the sinking of the "Thetis" in Liverpool Bay and, more recently, the tragedy of His Majesty's submarine "Truculent." When these accidents happen, responsible senior officers search their hearts and inquire if anything can be done, or if anything has been left undone.
With very great humility, I make two suggestions. I understand that the submarines at present in service are carrying sufficient escape apparatus for every member of the crew, but in an emergency, when an order is suddenly given to close watertight doors, men may find themselves isolated in particular compartments, where there is not enough escape apparatus available. I suggest that an excess quantity of apparatus should be carried. But it is no use carrying it if, when watertight doors are closed, there are no escape points by which the men can leave the vessel. Therefore, I also suggest that in future naval construction most serious consideration should be given to the question of more points of escape in the submarine hull.
Surely it is within the capability of designers and engineers to see that when a submarine hull is constructed it should, without the loss of very much speed and water friction, have incorporated either wings or ramps of some kind so that if by any chance that vessel should sink there is a possibility, if suitable vessels can be on the spot in sufficient time, that a quick hawser attachment can be effected and the vessel can be brought to the surface. I know this would involve very considerable expense and would mean that at least two salvage vessels would have to be more or less constantly "on tap" at each submarine school. I make this plea because officers and ratings in the submarine service are picked men. They have a very high sense of responsibility, and always show great devotion to duty. The least we can do is everything possible to safeguard and preserve their welfare.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)
I am certain the whole House joins with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Withington (Major Cundiff) in his concern at the great tragedy of submarine disasters in times of peace. This is something very close to the heart of every hon. Member and much sympathy goes out to all the relatives of those who have met their deaths in that way. I am certain my hon. and gallant Friend can rest assured that the Admiralty take every possible step to see that means of escape are available in those circumstances.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay), I am sure hon. Members in all parts of the House are very grateful to the hon. Baronet the Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) for using the opportunity afforded him by his success in the ballot to enable us to have what I would call this concentrated discussion on what is one of the most difficult and certainly one of the most vital problems of naval defence at present. I suggest that if we are to get the various parts of this problem into proper perspective, we have to consider from whence the attack is likely to come.
In opening this discussion my hon. Friend said that he would use Russia as the yardstick. I think there can be no further answer to the question than that. The naval Powers that remain after the recent war are few in number and all are our close and intimate friends and allies, with the one exception he mentioned. The nature and weight of attack which Russia could perhaps mount against us is bound to determine in what proportion we allocate the resources which are availlable to us to meet any such attack. The Parliamentary Secretary reminded us of something which I hope we in this House never forget for one moment—that the chief responsibility of the Navy is to maintain our lines of communication across the sea so that they are always available to our trade and commerce.
Tonight we are concerned in this Debate with underwater attack and I would remind the House that that type of attack can be made not only from ships on the surface or from ships under the sea, but also from the air If by any chance we should find Russia as our 2057 aggressor, I think it is very doubtful that she would stage any attack by land planes, or yet by carrier-borne aircraft. The difficulties of her situation, unless she had entered into large areas of Europe she does not at the moment possess, would be very great. In so far as attack by land-based machines is concerned, they would have to fly over territory either in our possession, or in the possession of our allies, when it would be easy to intercept them. Attack by carrier-borne planes seems equally unlikely. We do not know in the first instance that Russia has any carriers which she could use for this purpose and there would be very great difficulty in their breaking out into the open sea.
Underwater attack could also be made by surface ships but here again we do not know whether Russia has any ships suitable for that purpose and there is the difficulty of breaking through and maintaining those ships if they got out on to the high seas. German experience in that matter suggests that the game would not be worth the candle. I mention these matters because we must keep them in mind. A serious attack might be staged at some future date both from the air and from surface craft. That leaves us to concentrate attention on the mine and on the submarine. No one has denied, or sought to deny, during the course of this Debate that attack by mine is a very serious menace, but it is one, fortunately, which for the most part can only occur in certain localities where there are narrow channels, in the vicinity of ports, or at focal points on the trade routes; where the depth of water is not too great and where there is a very considerable volume of shipping passing to and fro. It seems to me that the problem of the mine is not an insuperable problem. It is one that will no doubt be dealt with in the future, as it was indeed dealt with in the past, by calling on those same virtues of patience, perseverance, skill, endurance, energy and courage which were such predominating features of our mine-sweeping services during both the wars.
By far the most serious underwater attack is that delivered by the submarine using the torpedo as its weapon, and I was glad indeed to learn from the speech of the hon. Gentleman that a major por- 2058 tion of our research is being directed to finding new means of defeating that particular form of attack. It is, of course, a type of attack with which the Royal Navy is very familiar and of which it has a very great deal of experience. It is also one to which it has, at least, found a partial solution in both the wars. That solution depended on the convoy system, escorted by ships equipped with anti-submarine weapons and detective apparatus and also having a speed sufficient to enable them to gain a position from which they could launch an attack against the submarine, with a reasonable prospect of success.
In addition, in the escort there were included escort carriers with their aircraft, which greatly increased the efficiency of the escort as a whole. Further, there were the anti-submarine patrols constantly flown over large areas of the surface of the sea by shore-based aircraft of Coastal Command. These patrols not only detected submarines when they were on the surface, but also brought them to action when opportunity offered, and on numerous occasions succeeded in destroying them. While each of these methods of detecting and bringing submarines to action is still of value, each one of them has lost, to a greater or lesser extent, a measure of its effectiveness in consequence of the developments that have taken place in submarines.
We have been told in the course of the Debate what these developments have been—the increase in speed and the fact that it is no longer essential for submarines to come to the surface at all. These developments have undoubtedly created for the Navy very great new problems. The power to remain submerged would seem greatly to reduce the chance of discovering, harassing and indeed destroying submarines while on passage from their base to their hunting grounds. That process, through its effect on the morale of the submarine's crew, had its bearing on the submarine's subsequent efficiency, which made a very large contribution to our success in the Battle of the Atlantic. I gladly pay that tribute in view of the observations of the hon. Member for Preston, South.
I do not know whether this may call for some reconsideration of the usefulness of Coastal Command's anti-sub- 2059 marine measures, for seemingly the power of the submarine to remain submerged very greatly reduces the possibility, not only of detecting her by visual means, but also of detecting her by radar, and that may well be one of the causes submarines came close inshore towards the end of the war.
The greater submerged speed of a submarine undoubtedly facilitates her gaining a favourable position from which to deliver an attack, and makes it much more difficult for escort vessels or hunting groups to make and keep contact with her while attacking her in turn. I do not think it is too much to say that submarines with a speed of 17 knots, even if only for a limited period of time, far less a speed of 20 to 25 knots claimed in some quarters, renders our existing escort vessels and those of the hunting groups employed in the last war obsolete to a very large extent. The Parliamentary Secretary said he did not agree with that. He assumes that we still have to deal with the conventional type of submarine, and that assumption may or may not be justified, but, certainly, it is an assumption which cannot last for very much longer.
I do not deny that the old type of escort vessel may by chance be given the opportunity of delivering an attack, but if that attack is unsuccessful it would seem to me that she has not got the speed to permit her to follow it up and renew the attack. When one reflects on the number of attacks which on the average were required during the last war to secure a kill, it seems to me that existing antisubmarine vessels would have little chance of achieving that most desirable result against the modern type of submarine of which we have recently heard. It is probable that we must take into account not only developments in the submarine itself, but also developments in the weapon which she uses—the torpedo.
I have heard rumours about the very greatly increased efficiency of torpedoes and of the increased accuracy which they now possess, and, if these things are true, then taken together with the improvements which have taken place in the submarine, it makes her an even more formidable opponent than she has hitherto been. With reference to the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the homing torpedo, I do not think we should forget that that 2060 type may be even more valuable to the submarine than it is to the hunting group. Remembering how very narrow was the margin of safety in 1917, and again in 1942–43, one realises that it is absolutely vital that the Navy should be equipped with every modern device which will enable it to meet and repel a submarine attack on the grand scale against our shipping.
What counter-measures are available to us? There are those who have advocated that the air can provide the answer to the submarine, and there was one hon. Member who made that statement in the Debate on the Air Estimates yesterday. If I remember rightly, that was a view which was very widely held in the United State before she entered the war on 7th December, 1941. It was a view which, because of the tremendous losses suffered by shipping in American waters in the early months of 1942, did not long prevail. Not only did these losses do much to dispel that view, but they induced the Americans to take up with great vigour the approved methods of convoy with surface anti-submarine escorts. Today, it would appear that the United States Navy is not very much impressed by the protection which can be given by the air against submarines. At least, that is the inference which I draw from the testimony given by the United States Deputy Chief of Naval Operations before the Appropriations Committee of the House of Representatives, which "The Times" of 17th March briefly summarised in these words:The United States Navy is to make sharp reductions in its air strength in order to concentrate on counter-measures against submarines.It does not, then, seem likely that the air can supply a complete answer, and it would appear that we are thrown back on the old methods of convoy, with surface escort, hunting groups and such cooperation from the air as in the new circumstances is justified by results. I am glad indeed that the Admiralty research people are busy on that problem. Surely, if these methods are to be effective against the new type of submarine, the vessels we employ for this purpose must be much faster than they are at present. It seems to me—I do not know myself, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell us—that these faster ships are going to require either a new detective 2061 device or new type of Asdic, because the present type seemingly cannot maintain contact with the submarine when the attacking ship is moving at these high speeds which now appear to be essential. I hope, if an instrument for this purpose has not yet been perfected, that those responsible for research are working on it, and are not giving all their attention to matters connected with atomic energy, which, so far as I can see, and so far as the Navy is concerned, are unlikely to be used to any great extent for some years, at least until there are large stocks of that energy accumulated by foreign Powers.
The hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) said that we needed faster killer ships. I wonder where those faster ships are going to come from. In his statement the First Lord spoke of two destroyers of war-time construction which were to be taken in hand in this financial year for conversion to anti-submarine frigates, and we understand that another three are to be taken in hand during the next financial year. Nothing has been said about the success of this conversion. Presumably, it has been a success, as otherwise we would not be going on with another three. Perhaps, the hon. Gentleman would tell us something about this when he replies.
I should like to know something further on the matter. How many of our 120-odd destroyers can we spare for this purpose; how long, in a case of emergency, is it going to take to convert them into antisubmarine craft, and how many fast frigates does the Admiralty think it necessary to provide for the protection of our trade against submarine attack? These are questions which immediately come to mind when one considers this matter, and which I hope the hon. Gentleman may see his way to answer. When one realises that not more than five of these converted vessels will be available by the end of this year, and that, apart from these, the First Lord expects to lay down only two new escorts, I submit to the House that there is some cause for a certain measure of uneasiness which is certainly not decreased by the Parliamentary Secretary's statement to us today that these new frigates and converted ships are necessary to hunt the fast battery drive submarines. We have always to keep in mind in these days that war comes very suddenly, and 2062 immediately it comes the Navy has to go into action, and if it is not prepared to meet all contingencies then disaster may well overtake us. I would stress that in support of the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay) in regard to the losses of men and tonnage which occurred in the last two wars.
My uneasiness is not diminished either by the knowledge that Russia now possesses the atom bomb, and that if it is her insane intention to provoke another war, a deficiency in that connection need no longer hold her back, or hold her back for very long. My uneasiness is also not diminished by the frequent references in the Press and in technical journals to the Russian submarine fleet. It is supposed in some quarters to be modern in construction. It is supposed to be hundreds strong, as we have been told in the course of the present Debate, and either to be in being at this moment or in the course of development.
Of course, we in this House simply do not know the truth of these matters; we cannot know them. It is possible that the Government may know them, but whether they are true or not, it is the duty of the Government to see that the Navy is equipped and capable of protecting in every circumstance the shipping of this country upon which the life of the nation depends. On the other hand, I feel it is the duty of hon. Members of this House to call attention to any seeming deficiencies in our defence and to require from the Government the most categorical assurances. In drawing the attention of the House to this vital matter, the hon. Baronet and those who have spoken in this Debate have played their part. May we find when the hon. Gentleman has concluded his reply, that the Government have also done their duty, and may we be able to agree with the hon. Gentleman—and that without any reservation whatsoever—that the Navy today is ready and capable of meeting every call that may be made upon it.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Callaghan
The Member who stands at the Despatch Box to reply for the Government to an Amendment of this sort is always very conscious that there are others to follow, and he has to balance his time between the task of replying in a proper manner to the points raised and
2063 in sitting down as quickly as he can so that those who wish to speak after him will not have to suffer the pangs of listening to him knowing that they have still a speech to get off their chests.
I labour under two other difficulties. I have not yet properly got my sea legs, and I am not sure that I could reply to all the questions asked if pressed to do so. We have had a very penetrating discussion, and one which would soon find its way through my defences if hon. Members really pushed their points. I am also up against the security difficulty, although I want to say at once that I do not wish to shelter my lack of knowledge behind that sort of thing, but it is a very real difficulty of which I am conscious. I would therefore like to say that I will have all the speeches which have been made examined and the points to which I do not reply now, I will, if I may, with hon. Members' permission, reply to by letter during the next few days.
I think that the discussion we have had has been extremely valuable. The hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) knew what he was doing. He focused his Amendment, instead of listening to the sort of thing the Whips would have him put down, on the real problem, and there is no doubt that what he said was extremely pertinent to the problems which the Navy is trying to solve at present. I thought that his speech and that of the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay), as well as that of the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) really got down to the meat of the discussion.
May I make it quite clear, in case I was not clear before, what I wanted to say about our existing fleet of escort vessels? It has been said that they are largely obsolete, and that was the phrase to which I was directing my attention this afternoon. It is rather like my neighbour saying to me that my pair of shears for cutting my hedge are obsolete because nowadays the job is done with electric cutters. That may be true, but there are still far more shears than electric cutters. What I was trying to convey was that the existing fleet of escort vessels, of whatever description, can, in fact, probably cope with the sort of submarine fleet with which we might have to deal if trouble overtook us now. I agree with the hon.
2064 and gallant Gentleman that that is the situation today and not the situation in which we may find ourselves in two, three, four or five years' time. To that extent, therefore, our existing fleet of escort vessels is an asset of diminishing value.
I wish only to re-emphasise that point because I do not disagree with anything which the hon. and gallant Gentleman said, but I think it would create a wrong impression if we were to write-off the very fine bunch of 120 escort vessels which we have and which would perform a very important function at present. I was asked particularly by the hon. Member for Londonderry, and also by the hon. Member for. Renfrew, West, about air-sea co-operation. We recognise the extreme importance of this. Indeed, at Londonderry the hon. Member has a living example of it. There is a force there which is under the combined directorship of a captain R.N. and a group-captain R.A.F., and that establishment is working in perfect harmony and co-operation at what we might call the operational training level.
At the top level, the most important piece of machinery for ensuring proper co-operation is the Joint Sea-Air Warfare Committee and its sub-committees. Naval strategy is the responsibility of the Admiralty, and air strategy the responsibility of the Air Council, but naval-air strategy is the responsibility of this joint committee, which operates directly under the Chiefs of Staff Committee. That is the sort of machinery that should exist for this purpose, and I am assured that it is working well and is likely to prove its worth. In addition, there is a naval staff representative who sits in the Air Ministry. His opposite sits in the Admiralty so that each may acquaint himself with what is going on and so that they keep one another and their respective Ministries in the picture.
The hon. Member for Londonderry asks whether naval policy is sympathetic to the idea of devoting naval aviation's time to anti-submarine warfare. I am told that we are, and that our present efforts are devoted in a large measure to this end. The new G.R.17 is one of the practical exemplifications of our interest in this particular matter. The hon. Member for Renfrew, West, asked about helicopters. I cannot go very far 2065 in reply, and I am sorry to disappoint him. The naval staff are hopeful. Experimental work is going on and helicopters have not been forgotten. They have obvious uses for ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore communication, and perhaps for other purposes.
Then we come to the question of what submarines we have got, and whether we have fast submarines for anti-submarine work. We are converting some submarines to fast battery drive. That is being done for training purposes, but I do not deny that they would have an operational value; indeed, I am glad to think that they might have, if the need came. In addition, two new type submarines are about to be constructed. The design is complete and they will be laid down shortly. Primarily, they will be devoted to training in anti-submarine work. I fear that is as far as I can go on that subject today. The hon. Member for Renfrew, West, also asked about the Trade Division and the Shipping Defence Advisory Committee. There is no intention of abolishing this Division, and no prospect of that in mind. I cannot give an assurance for all time. New circumstances might arise to lead us to want to alter our minds, but I agree with him that they serve an extremely valuable and useful purpose.
I am told that minesweepers of various types are in commission, as, indeed, the explanatory Statement on the Navy Estimates shows. An experimental minesweeping flotilla is to be commissioned this year, principally for investigating methods of sweeping mines that do not respond to orthodox methods. Some hon. Members will know what is concealed behind that phrase. I am told that this flotilla is designed specifically for that purpose. New gear is in existence and sea trials are also to be carried out by an experimental flotilla. I think that is a thing to which a great deal of attention will have to be devoted in the coming years.
My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) and the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Manchester, Withington (Major Cundiff) were both well-informed upon a number of points, to which we must pay attention, as we shall. A most penetrating question was put by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for 2066 Glasgow, Pollok, who asked what force we consider essential adequately to safeguard our trade routes. I do not know it he thought that I was a "new boy" and that he could therefore bait that hook. I am sorry, but I cannot bite it tonight. I fear that I would be going far beyond my responsibilities if I were to do so. I should just like to say this, which is so obviously true. Clearly, the Navy is not getting enough money. No Service Department ever does get enough money to do the job as it would like to do it. If there were more money there would be more frigates and destroyers. On the other hand, the Services have to recognise that they can take only a limited proportion of the budget. Within that limit the Admiralty are devoting as high a proportion as they can to the various means of development that lie to their hands.
As Financial Secretary I understand that I have a responsibility, from about September to February, of having frequent meetings at which are examined all the Estimates before they come here. So perhaps next year I shall know a little more about them, assuming I am still here. In that connection it will be my duty, as delegated to me by the First Lord, to see that we get the maximum amount possible devoted to production—and moreover, just as important, that we get a proper balance between the various types of production. That is something that I have already asked questions about, and I trust that I shall be able to probe it a little more fully during the months that lie ahead. I hope I have answered the main questions which were put to me. I will answer the others, if I am permitted to do so, by means of correspondence later.
§ Sir R. Ross
As I am somewhat, though not entirely, reassured, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Commander Maitland (Horncastle)
I should like to bring the Debate back to its main course. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty will forgive me if I do not follow him in the speech which he has just made, but I should like to make certain references to the 2067 speech he made at the beginning of this Debate. First, however, I want to refer to something which the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) mentioned; and I believe other hon. Members referred to it as well. It is the question of the committee which is dealing with the planning of the internal arrangements of ships to make them more comfortable.
I do not think this is the first time that that this has been tried, and I warn the Parliamentary Secretary who is now in his virgin moments, that what he has to look out for is the first big refit that a ship has, because that is when the damage is done. That is when some new, clever and vital scientific machine is dumped into the middle of the one place where he does not want it—into the middle of the only comfortable mess deck on the ship, and nothing will induce the experts to take it away. I warn him not to put too much faith in this committee which is going to arrange everything beautifully in the beginning, but to energise it into keeping a watch on what happens when a ship goes in for its first big refit.
I should like to ask two questions which may have perfectly good answers, but which have been worrying me a little. I refer to the continuity of Admiralty policy as we have seen it between this year and last year. It worries me a little that we are alternating in the number of National Service men that we are taking in. I do not think we should ever adjust these numbers as a means of economy. For one reason—and I have had experience of this—the pressure on an already attenuated training service must be acute:
It must obviously be extremely difficult if we do not know from year to year how many men we have to train. I think we should have a settled policy in regard to the number of National Service men we are going to accept, both for the purposes of the training problem and also for the purposes of the Reserve which is the subject to which I shall mainly address my remarks tonight. I should like to mention the curious incident of H.M.S. "Duke of York." There may be a perfectly satisfactory answer, but last year the Parliamentary Secretary told us with great pleasure that she was being brought out of Reserve, whereas now apparently she 2068 is being popped back into Reserve again. It does not seem to me that that represents real continuity of planning for the benefit of the Service.
I turn now to my principal subject, that of the Reserve. In his speech the Parliamentary Secretary said that the main reduction in expense which he was giving us this year was in manpower. The number of men being employed is to be reduced. That is a source of economy, but also, of course, it is a great source of anxiety and it places an even greater responsibility upon the Parliamentary Secretary to see that the Reserve is adequate. Obviously after any war the immediate questions which the Admiralty, the Government of the day and the technical officers of the Admiralty have to try to solve must inevitably be appallingly difficult and they have my sympathy in their efforts to solve them. We have had great economic difficulties and there have been immense scientific advances of which we cannot afford to take advantage. There are new strategic concepts of war which we cannot fully examine.
Examples of these are the great and grave problems which we heard about in the short Debate tonight on the submarine problem. Such matters must obviously have concentrated upon them a tremendous amount of thought by the Admiralty and the technical officers of His Majesty's Navy. At the same time, I believe it is vital that we do not lose sight of the essential facts. As the Parliamentary Secretary has said, the main objective of the Navy is keeping this country from starvation. That task will always remain and, as it is to remain, then the question of a Reserve of manpower to man the Navy quickly and efficiently is vital.
In the Debate last year the Parliamentary Secretary spoke with some gravity about the position of our Reserves. He said:I now come to the Reserves. I have said in the past that we are satisfied with our recruiting for the Royal Navy, but we are by no means satisfied with the rate of entry into reserve."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1949; Vol. 462, c. 998.]He went on to appeal to hon. Members to make it known to sailors—officers and men—who had served during the war that they should come forward and join the R.N.V.R. I should like to hear from 2069 the Civil Lord, when he replies, how that appeal has gone. My impression is that the Parliamentary Secretary indicated that it was going very well, but we should like to be assured that it has gone as well as we expected since it was brought to the notice of the House and the country so gravely by the Parliamentary Secretary in the Debate last year. We should remember that this source of recruiting is only a temporary one, however. It comes from the "Z" class Reserve, from the unallocated wartime officers and men, and it is rapidly drying up.
I wonder whether the Admiralty are really satisfied that they are building up the R.N.V.R. to the right strength and whether it is fully realised by the country as well as by the Admiralty that the only source of officers and men for the R.N.V.R. will shortly be those men who have served as National Service men in the Royal Navy. That is why I attach such importance to getting correctly these figures of entry by way of National Service into the Royal Navy. It is a balancing factor, and we must get it right; it is not something to be juggled with to make Estimates fit. I hope I may be given an assurance on that matter.
In that connection I ask: Are we satisfied that the number of officers coming forward from the National Service men is sufficient? The Parliamentary Secretary referred to a figure of 25 per cent. I imagine his figure referred to commissions to Regular Service men from the lower deck. I think the figure of officers in the R.N.V.R. from the National Service men would be slightly lower. However, I think it is important we should know and understand what is the percentage of the officers coming forward, as these will be the only officers of the R.N.V.R. in future. It does give me some cause for anxiety.
Now I turn to what is by far the most important source of Reserves we have. I should not like anybody to think I wish to detract at all from the gallantry of the Volunteer Reserves of the Navy, but those of us who were in at the beginning of the last war know that we might easily have gone down if it had not been for the Royal Fleet Reserve. After all, when war comes and we have not had a war for a long time 2070 —and I hope that when the next one comes there will not have been one for a very long time indeed—the only people who have experience, the only people who can take up their posts in the front line at once, are either pensioner Reserves or the men of the Royal Fleet Reserve. They are, as every sailor knows, the vital Reserves of the Royal Navy, and that is why I was disappointed to see that we had decided not to increase recruiting this year. Are we quite sure that this is not a false economy? Should that not be examined even further. These men are vital to the Navy.
One must always remember, when one is considering Reserves, that in a highly technical Service like the Royal Navy mere numbers on paper cannot represent the true strength, for all depends on the various categories of experts who are available. We may have on paper enormous numbers of Reserves, but if we have not sufficient men trained in submarine detection or in the use of radar, of what use will be the masses of men? It is for that reason that I suggest to the Admiralty that even now during this year they do allow men selectively to volunteer. They must know—it is not for me to know—in which categories of specialists they are short of men. Would it not be a good plan if, in those categories in which we are short, opportunities were given to men to volunteer in the Royal Fleet Reserve?
I come now to the R.N.R., which I do not think has been mentioned in the Debate. We have had a bit of difficulty with the Government, as the Civil Lord knows, about the R.N.R. We have asked a good many Questions about it, and we have always been blocked. We have not got very far. We gather—I should like to be assured about this—that the R.N.R. is getting going again. That is my impression from the White Paper which accompanies the Navy Estimates, but I should like to hear a little more about it. It is a matter which is of great interest to the House. We should like to be assured that the R.N.R. is now healthy and strong again and has every chance of going on in the same way it did before the war.
Last year we moved a special Motion about another section of the Reserves, the R.N.S.V.R. What are the numbers of 2071 the R.N.S.V.R now? Are the Admiralty satisfied with those numbers? Last year we were anxious because many of these officers—and this is an officers' Reserve—wanted to form their own flying section, and the hon. Gentleman will remember that the Admiralty prevented them from doing so. I think that meant a loss of 100 men from the R.N.S.V.R. to the R.A.F.(V.)R. We should like to know whether there have been any second thoughts about that. Several of my hon. Friends have pointed out the shortage of pilots in the Navy today. Surely, no source should be neglected, and if there are men young and fit enough, willing and able voluntarily to become potential R.N.V.R. pilots, they should be allowed to do so. It seems to me that from the way in which this matter was handled last year, there has been perhaps neglect of this source of pilots. I would like the Civil Lord to tell us something further about that.
I think that the Parliamentary Secretary indicated that we had enough reserves to man the Reserve Fleet. That is a difficult one; because it depends rather on what kind of Reserve Fleet is to be manned. I do not think it can be satisfactorily answered just by a "yes." I should like to hear something more about that. As I have indicated, the potential efficiency of the Reserve obviously depends on the number of specialists in it. If the Admiralty are satisfied that there is a proper balance, then I have no more to say. It seems to me, however, as if we are a bit short, and that we should have a surplus to cover the various specialist ratings. I think that if we are to have a safe Reserve, the numbers must always appear more than would actually fill the bill.
There is also the vital question of speed of mobilisation. It is no good having a reserve of people on paper if we cannot get them to their posts quickly and efficiently. That, to my mind, is the first and most vital operation which this country has to face in any war. It is a thing about which we should be prepared now. We need to prepare for it a great deal better than we prepared for it in 1914 and again in 1939. I am not placing blame, but we have had experience, and we must make use of it. It is very easy to have a standing committee 2072 of people responsible for mobilisation who do not perhaps pull all the weight they might. I believe that the study of mobilisation in detail and mobilisation at speed, knowing the men one wants and where one wants to get them, is absolutely vital. Twice we have been let off and have been able to mobilise at our own speed. That is something which we should not gamble on again. We have no right in any circumstances whatever to gamble on the fact that we may again have time to mobilise.
Finally, I should like to have an assurance from the Civil Lord that the whole operation of national mobilisation so far as the Navy is concerned is being given continuous attention by the highest officers and the highest politicians in the Admiralty today. If it is not, then all the Reserves and all the efficiency of the Reserve Fleet may come to nought in the first two weeks of war.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
I hesitate to take part in a Debate on the Navy Estimates, but I was fortunate a few years ago in the ballot, and that put me in the position of interfering, as it were, in the affairs of the Navy. I have also the excuse that I represent a Liver pool division, and I should, therefore, know something about the Navy. I wish to follow up what I had the opportunity of saying two or three years ago, referring first to what I consider to be the substance of this Debate, and that is the Estimates themselves. I have listened to most of the Debate today, and I heard only one hon. Member who referred to the Estimates; the rest have ignored them. I ask the House to pay attention to these few observations on the figures, because although the Estimates have been reduced each year, the reduction has always seemed to be in the salaries and wages of the officers and men, although the administration costs seem to be as high. and in some cases even higher.
In 1946, the gross Estimate was £262 million, and the number of men serving was 492,000. This year, the Estimate is for £216 million, and the number of men serving is 143,000. In 1947–48, when the Estimate was £215 million, the number of men serving was only 192,665. In 1946, the salaries and wages to the Fleet were £87 million; in 1947–48, £42 2073 million; in 1949–50, £36 million; and this year it is down to £35 million. That may be justified by the reduction in the number of serving men.
Let us now examine a Vote to which I have referred on previous occasions—a Vote which calls for some examination and adjustment. I refer to Vote 12, the Admiralty Office. In 1946, the cost of that office was £4,951,000, and the number employed in the Department was 14,555. Out of that Admiralty Office Vote the Lords of the Admiralty got £33,536 in 1946; this year they get £37,000. Let me anticipate the taunt "Jobs for the boys" by pointing out that the two poorest paid are those who apparently have to do the most for it: namely, the Civil Lord and the Parliamentary Secretary. The First Sea Lord has a salary of £5,000. There are Deputy Sea Lords. In 1946, the 12 of them got £27,000. In 1950–51 they are to get £18,000. I think there are only 11 of them now. I tried to get figures for non-Service personnel. I believe that last year the total number was 187,000 and that this year it is 172,000. The wages and salaries of officers and men came to £42 million in 1947–48, or 20 per cent. of the Estimate. In the following year the figure was rather below 20 per cent. In the coming year it will be 18 per cent.
When we compare other Departments with the Admiralty, it appears to me that two individuals are doing the one job and that there is a great deal of redundancy in the Admiralty. There are far too many posts that could be very well done without. It seems a good place for jobs for the boys to retire to. A nationalised body gets into an awful row if it is two-pence or three pence overspent, but it is a pity—and I am not a pacifist—that we cannot spend more on the Services which defend this country, although we should not waste the money. I do not find much criticism on this matter from the Opposition, possibly because far too many of their friends have benefited by this situation. I do not notice redundancy in regard to dockyard workers. If we look at the educational department at the Admiralty, we see how many officers are dealing with education. In my judgment there are far too many of them.
I want to speak about conditions in the Service. Much is said today about the failure to retain men who have served 12 2074 years. When I first came to this House my attention was drawn to this matter by many of my constituents, and I had some concern with the Navy during the war. I realised then that those conditions of service, about which I have complained in previous Debates, tended to prevent anyone wishing to remain longer than 12 years. In fact, men were jolly glad when the 12 years were up. We must do something about this. I had hoped that after the promises which we got a few years' ago something would have been done. The remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu), who is more competent to give an opinion and who is in closer contact with the Navy than I am, clearly indicated that sufficient attention has not been given to accommodation and the other things about which we complained, and certainly not as much has been done as ought to have been done if we want to retain the men already in the Service.
I want to question the Civil Lord about this. The intake of National Service men is to be reduced to 2,000. Has the position improved? Have the numbers of volunteers in the Service improved so that there is now no need to call upon conscripts? There is no doubt that conscripted men do not seem to be of much value to the Service. At the end of 18 months, when they might be of some use, it is time for them to leave. It is much the same with the other Services, particularly the Army. We must make the Service such that we can not only get the volunteer into it, but keep him there, because it is a loss when these men go at the end of 12 years. Something more ought to be done than has been done.
The problem in regard to ship-repairing and shipbuilding, which has been raised, affects the Merseyside. When we raised the question of possible redundancy with the Admiralty years ago, it appeared to me that the Admiralty were so tied up with shipbuilding as well as with ship-repairing that the programme for the Navy would be linked up with the time when the shipping loss was replaced as a result of full employment in the shipyards. We are apparently approaching that time. We have been building at the rate of about one million tons a year. In 1946 we were short of about three million tons of merchant shipping. Apparently that amount has now been obtained 2075 What are the Admiralty doing about this matter which the shipbuilding trades raised three years ago?
The ship-repairing position is also serious. We have now got to the stage when refits and overhauls are completed. This is happening in all the ship-repairing centres, including Merseyside. In spite of what was said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey) we believe that we are a long way ahead of Hull so far as ship-repairing is concerned. As a matter of fact, during the war half the ships in commission were repaired on Merseyside because it was the only port open. The position is becoming serious, and if the Admiralty can do anything to stop the tendency to send ships to the Continent to be repaired, it will help the ship-repairing trades in our ports. We must keep our ship-building and ship-repairing trades in such a condition that if we ever have to face a position such as we had to face a few years ago, they will be able to cope with it.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Captain Ryder (Merton and Morden)
It is, I feel, a fortunate thing for this country that there is such a wide measure of agreement on its naval affairs, and it is no purpose of mine to introduce any note of political discord into the affairs of a Service which has always tried, and not without success, to rise above the ordinary political differences of the country. I was sorry to note, therefore, that there was one hon. Member who seemed to make a deliberate attempt to introduce a note of discord. The main purpose of this Debate, I feel, is to satisfy ourselves that the money allocated for the naval service is being wisely spent, and that the taxpayer should have some opportunity of hearing discussions on the various problems which make this heavy expenditure necessary.
I listened with great interest to the remarks of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan) when he attacked the staff of the Admiralty. That is a matter which should be reviewed and there is a certain measure of truth in which the hon. Member said, but I would like to claim that the Admiralty, in spite of an organisation so peculiar to itself and so difficult to understand, is probably the most efficient of all the Government 2076 Departments. I feel that we are fortunate in having there a most efficient team of civil servants imbued with a great loyalty to the naval Service, who have never hesitated to fight their natural enemies on the other side of the Horse Guards Parade for everything which they felt essential for the Royal Navy. In the Treasury they are held in some respect because, after many years' experience, it has been found that their demands have been both moderate and necessary. It is not my purpose, therefore, to attack them now on the grounds of improvidence or wasteful expenditure, nor do I want to take advantage of this opportunity to get in any back-handed attack against my late lords and masters. If I may, and if I can, I want to try to bring to the notice of this House some of the difficult problems which face the Navy today.
As I have listened to most of this Debate, I have noted many points of special interest. First, there is the question of the provision of married quarters; this is a great problem which faces the Navy. There is no doubt that there is an increasing and natural demand for home life both on the part of the married officer and the married rating. The days of the old shellbacks, so dear to Captain Hornblower, with every finger a marlin-spike and queueing up for his tot of rum, and at least one wife, if not more, in every port, are of a past age. There is an increasing and growing urge for the married man to see more of his wife and family, and an even stronger demand on the part of his wife to see more of her husband. This problem is just beginning to grow, and it will become more and more important for the House to realise the extent of the problem that lies ahead.
On the other hand, it is all too easy to devote a disproportionate amount of navy expenditure to meeting this demand. It is very important, in the first instance, that the House should view with sympathy all measures which are being taken to alleviate existing difficulties, and I should like to say how very much I welcome the efforts which are being made to provide married quarters and passages abroad for the families of both officers and ratings.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) referred to the question of accommodation on board
2077 H.M. ships. It is easy enough to criticise the inadequate accommodation which now exists, particularly in the mess decks. This same problem was referred to also by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland), who went on to describe an imaginary instrument invented by scientists and then dumped in the mess decks. I welcome what, I thought, was the realistic approach of the Parliamentary Secretary to the question of the provision of bunks and of more up-to-date lockers for naval ratings, which is a first step towards increasing accommodation on board ship. All these improvements, however, place a great premium upon the design of naval vessels. Quite clearly, any additional space which is allocated to the comfort and well-being of the crews is at the expense of the fighting efficiency of the ship. As a result, a great premium is placed upon the way in which these ships are designed.
That leads me to a matter which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas): that is, the position of the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors. I should like to ask the Civil Lord, when he replies, if he will make a statement on the position of this small but very important and very loyal Corps, which plays such a vital role. I warn the Civil Lord that the members of the Corps nurse a deep sense of grievance at the way they are being treated. If it is not possible to meet their needs, can the hon. Gentleman at least let them have full reasons and the arguments on both sides of the case, so that they shall not feel that their matters are being cloaked by the usual excuse of secrecy?
I welcomed the discussion we had on the question of U-boat warfare. There is no doubt that this is the main task which confronts the Navy today. I do not wish to recapitulate the arguments set forth, but I would again stress that at the commencement of the previous two wars our adversaries started with only 24 U-boats in 1914 and only 57 in 1939, whereas now we are facing a potential menace numbering something approaching 300. The situation in the event of hostilities will not be merely that we shall find two, three or four U-boats picketing our trade routes, but we may well find numbers far in excess of that. We would do well to realise, also, that they can take up war stations in advance 2078 of hostilities without us being any the wiser and, in the event of hostilities, we may have to move with great rapidity.
We must ask ourselves, therefore, what we could muster in such an eventuality. My rough calculation is that we have five carriers, 14 cruisers and 64 destroyers and frigates ready to put to sea. In addition, we appear to have 12 carriers, either refitting, building or laid-up—we are not sure how many of them can carry the latest aircraft—15 cruisers and 191 destroyers and frigates, which I group together because they are what we need for hunting submarines. I am glad to note that the battleship appears to have been put into the background, but we must still view the overall picture and ask ourselves whether this Fleet of ours really fits the special problems which face the Navy at sea today. Let us beware that this Service, which is so proud of its tradition, is not too much bound by the traditional outlook in a time of very great change.
On the question of naval aviation, the problem, as I see it, is that there is a tendency for aircraft to get larger, more expensive, heavier and more difficult to handle, requiring larger and more up-to-date carriers to take them to sea. That may be very necessary if we are to meet the enemy in air combat, but the question I raise is how about anti-submarine aircraft? We have been told of the G.R.17. Are we satisfied that we can produce this aircraft and take it to sea in sufficient numbers to cover the very extensive trade routes which must be patrolled? Are we not in the position of a man who has bought himself two Rolls-Royce limousines, each requiring a large garage and a skilled driver, when what he really needs is a large fleet of delivery vans or jeeps, which can be left in the open and driven by almost anyone after a short period of practice? Is our plan for providing anti-submarine aircraft a practical plan and have we under active consideration plans for using auxiliary aircraft carriers, or small aircraft carriers in increased numbers? I see we have only one auxiliary aircraft carrier, which has been relegated to the Festival of Britain. I sympathise with the commanding officer.
May I now turn t. the question of escort vessels? I thought that the most interesting and significant passage in the 2079 White Paper was that which said that two escort vessels of new design were to be laid down. Here, again, I feel that there is a tendency in the realms of naval architecture to build vessels larger mad larger as each new class comes off the stocks. The cruiser of today is larger and more expensive than the battleship of 50 years ago, and the same applies to the destroyers, and, more recently, to the case of corvettes and motor torpedo boats. This process goes on until, eventually, there is a realisation, and a new class, like the "Hunt" class of destroyer, is produced at half the size.
I noticed that in this respect the Parliamentary Secretary referred to the building of cheaper ships. I hope he will not allow them to be called second-raters or even third-raters. I am sure that the ordinary sailor will resent being appointed to a third-rate ship, but, in principle, it seems to me that there is a great deal to be said for producing a very much simpler ship which can be produced in greater cumbers. I therefore ask whether these new escorts of ours are, in fact, to be of Rolls-Royce design or whether they are being designed to carry all the necessary instruments, both of detection and destruction, as well as being capable of being produced in very large numbers.
I have spoken on the subjects of naval aviation and escort vessels. May I now turn to my third point, which has been mentioned already by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horncastle, and which concerns the question of mobilisation? In the past, we have, by some happy and fortuitous arrangements with our Gracious Monarch, always managed to have a review of the Fleet just a few days before the outbreak of hostilities, but we cannot always be as fortunate in future. Should we not have in hand some far more effective and comprehensive plans for the rapid mobilisation of the large number of destroyers and escort vessels in particular? We have a "moth-ball fleet," as it is some-, what vulgarly termed in some countries, reasonably widely dispersed in the tidal estuaries round the United Kingdom, but we have, in fact, only three manning depots in the south of England.
In the event of a sudden emergency, it would be necessary, to take an extreme 2080 case, to recall officers and ratings from the north of Scotland and order them to repair to their depot, which may be at Devonport, where they might then find a very harassed and overcrowded drafting officer trying to deal with a most fearful congestion. They might also find that they were then ordered back to the Firth of Clyde to man a ship up in the north. We have had this sort of thing happening in times past, but in future this country may be under a bombing attack, with great confusion and chaos on the railways to render things very much worse. Is this a wise and sensible arrangement? I am not proposing to offer any immediate specific plan, but may I ask the Parliamentary Secretary if the question of a depot in the north would not be worth consideration? We might, for instance, suggest something near Rosyth Dockyard. It is noticed already that H.M.S. "Cochrane" is being shut down, as well as the hospital at Port Edgar, and this is evidently raising some disquiet in Scotland. I would suggest that the question of another depot should be considered, and, possibly, the question of a depot to cover the densely populated areas in the vicinity of Liverpool as well. But these are only suggestions. My plea is that we should examine the whole question of the rapid mobilisation of our Reserve Fleet.
In conclusion, I wish to say that my impression on leaving the Royal Navy is that there is a tendency to think too much in terms of Fleets—the Home Fleet and the Mediterranean Fleet—when what we should really be doing is to organise ourselves more into hunting groups and escort groups. I stand to be corrected in that matter, but that is my impression, and I would be glad if the Parliamentary Secretary, who, I see, has returned, could bear that in mind because I think it has an important tendency in the whole development of the Navy. It is, perhaps, for that reason that we appear to be—we are, in fact—concentrating rather too much on having a few large and expensive aircraft carriers and a few complicated and expensive escorts when what we really need is numbers.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
I will try not to keep the House very long. In any case, I have no desire to stand between hon. Members and my hon. 2081 Friend the Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes), who appears to have brought with him more of the Library than usual with which to fortify himself in making a speech which we can now agree to take as read. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has come back to his place because I want to say with what warm appreciation I listened to his two speeches today, especially the first one, when he gave us a lucid, optimistic, and breezy review of the work and cost of the Royal Navy. With the adroitness which comes from his early training as a tax-gatherer, he mentioned how much we had to pay when none of us were listening. He then took us along with him in a glowing account of what we were going to get for our money, and, by the time he sat down, we had forgotten that he had presented the bill.
The Parliamentary Secretary and I have in the past done much work together m the field of staff affairs in the public service. In his present post I want to invite him, the next time he can arrange for a day off from his Parliamentary duties, to take a peep into the Admiralty itself. I am sure that we were all impressed with what he managed to crowd into the one day that he spent with the Reserve Fleet, and I hope that when he manages another day he will look into questions affecting the staff of the Admiralty.
I do not propose to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan) in dropping a few depth charges in the still waters of the Admiralty Board Room. I frankly do not know whether the Admiralty is over-staffed or not. All I will say about that is that if it is, then suitable reductions should be made. In the present crisis of the country's affairs, we cannot afford to become a nation of ledger clerks and pen pushers, and none of us wishes to see, least of all those in the public service itself, an inflated public service and Government clerking becoming one of the main industries of Britain. But such civil servants as are essential to the work of the Admiralty should be properly treated and properly paid.
High tribute has been paid to the skill and genius of our technicians, of the uniformed officers and men in the Royal Navy who are engaged in experimental and research work, and who are, we hope, 2082 contributing very largely indeed to those technical developments of naval warfare upon which we may have to rely if this country is involved in trouble in the future. I have read a sad thing this morning in the annual report of one of our reputable staff associations in the Civil Service—the Institution of Professional Civil Servants. After reviewing a number of negotiations which have been in progress for some long time between the staff association and the Admiralty, they say:the above delays in the technical classes are typical of most negotiations with the Admiralty.This is a serious criticism to make of one of our senior public Departments. It is. in contrast with what follows immediately afterwards in this report when they comment on the Air Ministry. There they say:It is gratifying to report that, apart from. certain higher posts, assimilation into new grades has now been completed.The criticism of the Admiralty stands, out in contrast with the appreciation expressed of the Air Ministry. That is not. a good thing for the Admiralty. Unhappily, as I well remember in the long experience I have had of Civil Service affairs, the Admiralty have always had a bad name for tardiness and shillyshallying in staff matters.
Here are three examples of the kind of thing I complain of. I hope the Civil Lord will deal with them when he comes to reply. I gave him notice that, if I caught Mr. Speaker's eye, I would refer to this matter. I hope he will be able to assure us that these and other long outstanding cases, will receive attention. If we look at these Estimates as regards civilian staffs, we shall see that in a number of cases the salaries are quoted as. consolidated salaries. In other cases. they are shown as basic pay to which an addition has been made as a legacy of the war bonus in some of the grades. That reveals that large sections of the Admiralty staff, especially in the professional, technical, and scientific classes, have still to have a revision of their pay and grading. This revision is now several years overdue.
In the case of the directing staff of the Directorate of Electrical Engineering, for instance, claims made several years ago were rejected by the Admiralty. Later. 2083 they were the subject of independent investigation by an expert professional electrical engineer. Subsequently, offers were made which the Institution of Professional Civil Servants felt unable to accept. That was followed by arbitration as recently as 7th October, 1949, when increases, effective from 1st January, 1946, were awarded to these grades by the Civil Service Arbitration Tribunal. This shows the long delay in getting this grading and salary question settled. Since October, although consequential changes must inevitably arise from the award of the Arbitration Tribunal, no proposals have been made by the Admiralty to adjust matters by grading these senior grades of this particular branch.
Hon. Members will see on page 195 of the Navy Estimates that some subordinate officers are shown as getting higher salaries than their seniors. This is because the subordinate officers have had their grading and pay reviewed by the Arbitration Tribunal while the senior officers have not yet had theirs reviewed by the Board of Admiralty.
In another section of the Admiralty, the Department of the Civil Engineer-in-Chief, there has been a delay of 3½ years in getting the re-grading of the higher posts in that branch. We have the extraordinary situation in which re-grading due to these officers in 1946 has not yet been completed; yet in the meantime the Chorley Committee has recommended further increases for men of their standing in the Civil Service which are in suspense. This is the subject of considerable discontent amongst officers of great technical and professional skill and experience, and upon whose work the Admiralty rely for the research and experiment which is so vital to the development of naval warfare.
My third example concerns the Masters and Engineers of Yardcraft upon which the Civil Lord, in reply to a Question on 7th December, 1949, said:The reason for the delay is the necessity to consult other Departments. Y hope that these consultations may soon be sufficiently advanced to enable a further communication to be made to the associations concerned."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th December, 1949; Vol. 470, c. 1888.]I regret to say, however, that nothing has come from the Admiralty since that hope 2084 was expressed. I urge the Civil Lord and the Financial Secretary to interest themselves in what is going on in the Establishments Division of the Board of Admiralty, and to see whether these long delays can be remedied and a source of widespread discontent among senior and specialist officers removed.
§ 9.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)
I feel sure that the House will have been most interested in the points which were raised by the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton). I hope he will forgive me if I do not follow him, as he has already made himself very technically expert in this matter and I trust that we shall hear more on that subject from the Civil Lord.
At this late hour most things have really been said about the Navy Estimates. I want to confine myself to one or two points which I do not think have yet been made, and on which I would like to have answers from the Civil Lord. First, I wish to allude to a major point of principle which is referred to in the Navy Estimates Statement, 1950–51, with regard to the total sum which is voted. These words appear in the second paragraph:… at the same time account has had to be taken of higher prices …The point that worries me—and I am even more worried after the very frank statement of the Parliamentary Secretary—is whether account has been taken only of the higher prices now ruling, or whether account has also been taken of the higher prices that may, in fact, rule. I should not like to think that if by any chance we get a steep incline, our security would be damaged by not having taken account of what may happen.
Mention has already been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay) of the Trade Division of the Admiralty, and I was delighted to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary that he was himself so much in agreement with the points made. It is of the utmost importance that this Division is maintained as a separate Division, with the great liaison between the Trade Division and the Merchant Navy, in the full realisation that the moment war breaks out one of the chief, active parts that the Royal Navy plays is in the protection of our trade routes. Nothing is more important than close knowledge, under-
2085 standing and respect between the Merchant Navy and the Royal Navy.
The next point I want to make—and I do not think it has been made today—concerns our fishery protection vessels. From time to time our fishing vessels have had troublesome moments. There was a case with regard to the Channel which I raised, and there have been other cases off the Norwegian coast, and it has appeared to me, in the years in which I have had the honour and privilege of being in this House, that we have never had sufficient fishery protection vessels. I should like to hear a little about the position at present, because if we search through the Estimates or the White Paper we find nothing about it.
Next, the small ships in the fishing industry are part of our security. They keep open our small ports and they are in reserve at all times when the country is in danger. It seems to me extraordinary in view of that fact, that when men are called up for National Service and apply to go to sea there are certain occasions upon which the Royal Navy does not accept them. I fully realise that the Royal Navy may wish to retain a position in which they can select exactly what they want. But I want them to realise the Reserve potential which exists here. To take a man from a fishing vessel and place him in a Service in which he does not desire to serve; to prevent him from gaining even more knowledge of the sea and from using the knowledge he has already gained; to prevent him from remaining within the sphere he loves, suggests to me that the Admiralty do not realise the true position. I ask them to reconsider that matter once again.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) dealt with the question of the Reserve generally so fully that I shall add nothing to what he said. I want to mention next the Royal dockyard at Devonport. When are we to know what the position is? I should like to read a few words written to me, which put the matter very clearly:It is apparent that the plan or, at least, the original plan for the dockyard extension is almost dead.What takes its place? We do not know. Does anyone know? When will the people concerned know? I think the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth. Sutton 2086 (Mrs. Middleton) will agree with me that delay in housing is occurring as a result of this position. I hope the Civil Lord will tell us what is to be done.
Next, the modernisation of the barracks at Plymouth. I notice that in the White Paper there occurs the word "shortly" Perhaps the Civil Lord can tell us what the word means in this connection. If he can I should be grateful. I want to draw attention to one other point. I have a letter here from a constituent, which reached me today, and he makes a remark which I think is worthy of a reply from the Civil Lord because the point at issue does not concern only the writer. He says:I see that the Navy Estimates are to be debated in the House on Wednesday. Of course, I do not know the procedure but I wonder whether a statement is likely to be made by the Government or whether any information can be elicited from them as to their policy in regard to the naval officers with extended service commissions. As you know, there are many hundreds very anxiously waiting a decision as the period is rapidly drawing to an end.That affects a great number of people and I hope the Civil Lord will reply to the point raised.
In conclusion, like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Captain Ryder) I am always glad to see that Members' contributions are not so thrustful and controversial in our Debates on the Royal Navy, because of their knowledge that the Royal Navy has again and again saved this country and the freedom of the world
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ Mrs. Middleton (Plymouth, Sutton)
I shall not follow the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Marshall) in what he has said except to reinforce the reference which he made to Admiralty development in Devonport o the whole of the City of Plymouth will welcome any announcement that the Civil Lord feels able to make on that subject tonight. I want to speak about one or two other matters, though I shall not detain the House long.
I think that every woman Member of the House, at any rate, will have welcomed the recent Army announcement according to women who are serving in the Army rank comparable with male officers. I wish is had been the senior Service which had first taken the step, and I urge tonight that the Admiralty give 2087 serious consideration to it, because some of us are rather tired of women being always regarded as the poor relations of the men. There may be many powerful arguments why women should not be admitted to the Armed Forces at all, but it seems to me that there is not one argument, when we accept women into the Services and make use of them, for giving them a status somewhat less—indeed, perhaps considerably less—than that of the men doing comparable work. I will not raise at this late hour the vexed question of pay and allowances; but this question of status is, I think, one to which a good deal of consideration should be given, and one on which an announcement ought shortly to be made.
I want to extend to the Civil Lord the thanks of those of us who represent dockyard towns, and, indeed, the thanks of the dockyard areas, for the way in which matters concerning the Royal Dockyards have been handled in the last four and a half years. We welcome very much in the dockyard towns the re-appointment of the Civil Lord to the post which he holds. We know that all the time he has served there he has had very great care both for the efficiency of the dockyards and for the welfare of the men who work there. I understand—I hope I am correctly informed—that there are no issues, except minor ones, today outstanding between the dockyards and the Admiralty Joint Industrial Council. If that is a fact it is a very great tribute indeed to my hon. Friend's work, and an example to other employers of labour of the way in which difficulties between them and their work-people should be handled.
On looking at the Estimates I notice, however, that there is to be a reduction in the effectives in the Royal Dockyards to the extent of about 2,000. I should like to ask the Civil Lord whether that reduction is a reduction through wastage in the normal way, or whether it is a reduction contemplated through discharges. In that connection I want to emphasise what was said earlier in the Debate today by my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), about the need to utilise fully the equipment and the skills that exists in the Royal Dockyards.
This is an emergency service, and because it is an emergency service it must always, to some extent, be overmanned 2088 in order to keep a proper balance between the various trades, in case of emergency. There is a great desire among the men who serve in the Royal Dockyards that their efforts and skill shall be fully used, primarily, of course, for the work for which the naval dockyards exist, namely, that of naval work, but supplementarily, to assist the nation as far as possible in its present difficulties, in civilian work wherever that can be undertaken.
It is for that reason that those of us who sit for dockyard towns have been urging for some time past that a kind of working party should be set up to inquire into the working of the Royal dockyards to see whether we are really getting full measure from the skill that exists there, from the equipment that exists there, and from the money which is voted by this House year by year on behalf of the maintenance of the dockyards. We want to see that the opportunities that exist there for assisting the nation are not missed, and that the capabilities of the men working there are fully utilised. Without any disrespect whatsoever to any gallant senior officer who may at any time have held the post of a dockyard superintendent, I do seriously ask the Admiralty whether the men who, up to the moment, have been in charge of the Royal dockyards have really had the right kind of experience for that job? In any case, should it be left to men in the last year or two of their naval careers to undertake work of this character, which is quite different, and, as I understand it, quite apart from, the jobs which they have been doing while they have been serving with the Royal Navy?
Is there not a case for examination, at any rate, on whether we ought not to appoint to that particular work younger men, more vigorous men, with much more of their careers before them than has been the case in the past; men who are specialising in this particular field of Admiralty service? I know that there are many people working in connection with the dockyards who hold this view. They have often expressed it to me in my constituency. Men asked me during the recent election campaign whether I, as a candidate for a dockyard town, was prepared to continue to press the Government, whatever the Government might be as the result of the election, for the setting up' of a working party of this kind, so that 2089 we may see that the best is being made of the potential which we have there. If the present organisation which we have is the best such an inquiry would allay the doubts that at present exist. If it is not the best, I think that it is the duty of us all in this House who have the responsibility today for voting these Estimates to see that His Majesty's dockyards are used in the most efficient possible manner both on behalf of the Navy and also on behalf of the country as a whole.
§ 9.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Parker (Dagenham)
I also should like to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on his appointment to his new post. I well remember at an early period in the war, when he himself was wearing sailor's uniform, the enthusiastic campaign he carried on for reforming the cut of sailors' trousers, and particularly for the re-siting of the strategic buttons. I hope that he will not forget the need for further reform in the Royal Navy, and I should like to press for a particular reform tonight.
I wish to raise the question of the terms of recruitment of boys into the Royal Navy. On the Army Estimates, I raised the system of recruiting boys for that Service, and I fully realise that if any solution is to be found to this problem it must be one which covers all branches of the Services. It is a specially important problem with regard to the Navy, and I think that the Navy should give a lead in dealing with it. There are far more boys in the Navy than the other Services, and they form a much larger proportion of the total. In September last there were 7,870 boys under the age of 18 in the Navy. From the figures given today, that means that they will be about one-fifteenth of the strength of the Navy at the end of this year, assuming that the number of boys remains constant.
That is a high proportion of the total personnel in a Service. I am sure that the need for the Navy to have long-Service men is helped very much by having this boy service, and by having a large number of recruits coming in through that service first. There are, however, a certain number of youngsters signing on under the age of 18 who, on becoming adults, change their minds and no longer wish to serve in the Navy, and I think that provision ought to be made so that these youngsters can leave if they 2090 change their minds upon becoming adults. This is important in all the Services, but particularly in the Navy.
The present method of boy recruitment to the Navy dates back to 1884. Let me here quote from an answer given by the Parliamentary Secretary at the end of last year:All the boys signed on for 12 years' service from the age of 18, except for a few boy musicians who, having some knowledge of music and being over 16½ on entry, may elect to serve for seven years followed by five years in the Reserve, in addition to their boys service. Seamen and communication boys and boy buglers have the option, immediately before reaching the age of 18, of transferring, at the age of 18, to a Special Service engagement of seven years with the Fleet followed by five years in the Reserve."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd November, 1949; Vol. 470, c. 34.]That means that a boy signing on at 14, 15, 16 or 17 not only has to serve the whole of his boyhood period but also another 12 years on top of that, which takes him to 30 years of age. True, in special categories it is possible for a break to be made after seven years in the Fleet, with five years in the Reserve, but in effect it means that youngsters, who do not really know their own minds, commit themselves, not only for their boyhood but for the greater part of their early manhood, to a job which they may like and enjoy very much, but which on the other hand may go very much against the grain if they change their minds on growing up. It is very wrong to take on boys before they are old enough to know the sort of future they want, and to commit them for that long time. It is reasonable to commit them for their boyhood, but an arrangement should be made whereby they can leave if they change their minds after becoming adults. I shall say a little more about that later on and make a positive suggestion for dealing with this problem.
In my own constituency not long ago I had to deal with what was not an unusual type of case. The parents of a young girl engaged to a boy of 19 in the Navy came to see me. This boy wanted to get out of the Navy; he had come to the conclusion that he wanted a civilian career; he had deserted, and the parents of this girl to whom he was engaged came to me to know what could be done about it. All I could advise was that he must go back, which he has done. But that does not solve the problem.
2091 The history of the boy was roughly this. He came from a bad home, and he had been sent by the court to a special school for two years, up to the age of 16. Before leaving the special school he spoke to the headmaster about where he should go on being released. The headmaster asked whether he was thinking of going home, to which the boy replied "Yes, I am." The headmaster said: "I would advise you not to go home. You know the very bad conditions in your home; and you may also like to know that your father and mother are not married." The boy did not know of that before, and was naturally very upset about it. The headmaster then said: "If you do not want to go home, why not go into the Navy? There would be a good career for you." The boy signed on for the Navy, and a few years later, when he was more mature and thinking for himself, he changed his mind. That is the type of case that occurs at present, and we ought to make arrangements to ensure that it does not occur.
I suggest that a boy who signs up should stay in the Service for the whole of his boyhood; and it is reasonable, if he signs on as a boy, that he should stay in for at least three further years, taking him from 18 to 21. The year after he becomes 18, the question should be put to him whether he wants to stay in the Service for the full 12 years. That would be a reasonable way of seeing that the youngsters who have changed their minds upon growing up have an opportunity to leave the Service. I am certain that it would be in the better interests of the Service to allow this to happen. Neither the Navy nor any other Service will gain from having a number of people in its ranks who feel that they have been got into it unfairly. In the case of the Navy there may be probably only a small number of them, but the need to have people in for long-service should not overweigh the need to deal properly with them.
The Admiralty ought to look at this matter, having in mind the right of the adult to choose his job for himself. This elementary reform should be made and it is particularly important that it should be made by a Socialist Government. We in the Socialist Party stand for the ele- 2092 mentary rights of the individual and for the rights of citizenship. We on these benches should apply these rights to the conditions under which boys are taken into the Services. The Admiralty should make a start in bringing about this change. They would not suffer in the number of personnel, and they would gain from the feeling of justice that would exist throughout the Navy. They would get rid of the discontent which is bound to spread from the Service to other adults outside, because of these people who feel that they have been tricked into joining the Service and who do not want to be in it. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to remember his reforming zeal and to let it be exercised in this matter.
§ 10.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Robinson (St. Pancras, North)
I am glad of the opportunity of taking part in the Debate upon the Navy Estimates. It is an opportunity difficult to resist, as past experience shows, for those who spent their wartime service in the Navy. I am also glad to take part in a Naval Estimates Debate which has been opened so ably by another ex-R.N.V.R. officer. I wish to raise one or two points concerning personnel, and I do not wish to detain the House for very long. I strongly support the plea which has just been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) for a reform it boys' service. I always thought during my time in the Navy that it was most unreasonable that boys should be tied down by a contract made when they were children, and which only became operative when they became men.
It is gratifying to know that, alone of the three Services, the Navy can substantially fulfil its personnel requirements by voluntary recruitment. I hope that that fact will not make my noble Friend the First Lord or the Board of Admiralty relax in any way the reforms which they have put into effect in the last few years, or fail to extend very much further the process of democratisation of the Navy on which the last Labour Government made so excellent a start. Perhaps I might now touch upon one or two points concerning the amenities of the Navy. In doing so I may tread upon ground already covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W.
2093 Mallalieu) earlier in the Debate. If I do so it is because my experience in the Navy and his are roughly parallel, and because our reactions to those experiences were not entirely dissimilar.
The question of overcrowding in mess-decks of ships is a very serious one. I realise that I saw it at its worst during the war when ships were piled high with gadgets for which they were never designed, gadgets which not only took up space but required even more men to man them. The situation was so appalling then that I cannot believe that it has been completely solved now. I read some two years ago, in the Debate on the Navy Estimates at that time, that in new construction the Admiralty would re-arrange the proportion of space given to officers and men. This is a very desirable and very belated reform and one which can hardly be carried too far. I was glad to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary that a committee on ship design policy has been set up. I hope it will give priority to seeing that we get a very much more equitable distribution of space as between men and officers.
A problem rather allied to that is the necessity for providing some space for quiet and privacy for naval ratings. This may be thought to be catering for a minority, but it is at any rate catering for a minority which will become ever larger. There are people who find that the turmoil and hurly-burly of mess-deck life at times becomes intolerable. It is proper that they should have somewhere to go to write their letters, to read or even just to think. I know that it is extremely difficult in small ships, but it can be done in big ships. We had it under war-time conditions in the battleship in which I served, and the experiment was most successful. I hope that it will be carried further and that it will certainly be developed in barracks.
Another question to which I wish to draw attention may appear trivial to some hon. Members, particularly if they have not had the advantage of serving on the lower deck. It is the method of paying the men. If this has been reformed since I was in the Navy I should be glad to be corrected by the Civil Lord, but so far as I know that old system still obtains. This business of queuing up long before payment begins, of taking off one's cap and putting it on the paymaster's table 2094 is very irksome indeed to naval ratings. To the best of my recollection the other occasions on which one was ordered "Off caps" in the Navy were at divine service, sometimes at inspections, where the purpose, as far as I can see, was to make sure that the sailors had their hair cut short enough, and, of course, when one was hauled on to the quarter deck or in front of the captain as a defaulter.
It is this last association which sticks in the sailor's mind, and the result is that the payment of the men takes place in an atmosphere very far removed from that which should accompany a straightforward payment for services rendered. There is a feeling of humiliation about it, whatever the rights and wrongs of it may be and whatever traditional explanation may be given. I see no need whatever for this procedure, and I hope that a change will be made very soon. While on the subject of pay, I should like to add that in my experience the business of computing pay from week to week was unnecessarily complicated. One never knew how little or how much one would get, and on occasions when one got a "north-easter" there never seemed to be an adequate explanation for it. There is a lot of room for simplification here.
I want to say a word about democratisation. That is not a word I like, but it is a word which at least conveys to all hon. Members what I mean. Very much has already been done by my noble Friend and his predecessor in this direction, and also as a result of pressure from this side of the House, but the process needs to go still further. As hon. Members know, during the war the Royal Navy eventually had to come to the R.N.V.R. for over 80 per cent. of its officers. I remember well the Admiralty Fleet Order under which, as a very green sub-lieutenant, I was appointed to the flagship of the Home Fleet. To the best of my recollection, the A.F.O. indicated that in future capital ships and cruisers were to be manned primarily by R.N.V.R. officers "with a leavening of R.N. officers." We did not agree with the phraseology, but we got the idea. On the technical side, of course, we could not begin to compete with the professional officers. There was some pleasant fiction that an R.N.V.R. officer was somehow the equivalent of an R.N. officer of the same rank and seniority, but no one really believed that
2095 and least of all the R.N.V.Rs. Some were extremely efficient and the rest of us got by as best we could, always, of course, with greatest assistance and encouragement from the straight stripes.
There was, however, one respect in which I always felt we had the advantage. Nearly all of us had been on the lower deck and we knew what the men on the lower deck felt and thought. We knew their worries and we knew what they thought of officers in general. We knew these things while the Regular officers could only guess at them, and they were apt sometimes to guess wrong. It was this first-hand experience which made us better officers than we would otherwise have been. So I express my opinion that every naval officer during his training should have the maximum opportunity of serving on the lower deck as a rating. Put a white band round his cap if you must, but let him share the discomforts, the entertainment and the boredom and the community life of the mess-deck. I am sure that he, too, will be a far better officer for that experience.
I also welcome the decision, which is now being implemented, to take 25 per cent. of all naval officers from the lower deck. I would like to see this percentage stepped up until the whole system of class selection for officers is a dead letter. It is only through the knowledge of every man on the lower deck that, if he has the ability and the desire to work for a commission, it is available it is only through the first-hand experience which officers gain from having served on the lower deck, that the serious and undesirable gulf which still separates officers from men in the Royal Navy will be bridged.
§ 10.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (Ayrshire, South)
I owe it as a duty to my constituents to say a few words about the Estimates. I notice that on the front Opposition Bench two of my constituents are sitting and I know that, however much the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) may disagree with me on matters of internal policy, he feels the utmost confidence that I am speaking for him when I address a few remarks to the House on matters affecting the Navy Estimates. I am glad also to see his son, 2096 the hon. Member for Hillhead (Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith), sitting beside him on the Opposition Front Bench, because I realise that after this Debate is over they will once more give me the vote and confidence that they gave me at the last Election.
I have been wondering why in the front line—although I do not know whether that is the proper naval phrase—we have tonight missed the battleship. I have been wondering all day where the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has been, and why he has not been taking his usual very keen interest in naval Debates. [An HON. MEMBER: "He has been placed in reserve."] I am wondering if the Leader of the Opposition is now regarded as being as obsolete as one of the big battleships which, in the Debate two years ago, he was asking the Government to continue.
The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) expressed some alarm that I had brought so many books from the Library to this Debate, but last night there were so many references to the great amount of information that was to be obtained from the Library—for example, statistics about the naval strength of our potential enemy—that I have been in the Library and have made a little research. I have been looking up the speech which the Leader of the Opposition made two years ago, and I suggest that many of the things he said then are very relevant to the Debate today.
I listened with great interest to the younger school of naval strategists who have spoken today. One of them, the hon. and gallant Member for Merton and Morden (Captain Ryder), who has won the Victoria Cross, expressed delight that we were no longer putting our strength and our money into battleships. I think everybody is agreed on that, since no one in the House today has done what the Leader of the Opposition did two years ago: that is, advise the Government to keep on with the big battleship. Nobody has denounced the Government for not keeping on the fighting strength of the country the great big battleships whose high-sounding names made such an appeal to the poetic imagination of the Leader of the Opposition.
There are, however, odd passages from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman
2097 two years ago which are not obsolete. Here is one of them, a very important truth. In the Debate on the Navy Estimates on 8th March, 1948, the Leader of the Opposition said:There is something to be said for telling the truth to Parliament.That is what I have been trying to do during the various Debates. Referring to the policy of maintaining this iron curtain of security—which was not lifted very much last night, although I hope it is to be lifted a little tonight—the Leader of the Opposition said:The whole of this policy of concealment is silly.He went on to say:This argument of secrecy is fraudulent, but it arises not from malice, but from stupidity.I suggest that these aphorisms of the right hon. Gentleman apply to all the Debates on the Service Estimates, that we have not been given sufficient information that shows whether we are justified in voting, after what after all, is a very cursory discussion, these huge sums of national money which mount up to such a formidable total when the Chancellor comes to submit his Budget.
The hon. and gallant Member for Merton and Morden, to whose speech we listened with great interest, said that he was glad the battleship had been put into the background. That is a precisely different point of view from that put forward by his leader two years ago. The Leader of the Opposition said:We should be very foolish to get rid of ships like the 'Nelson' and 'Valiant,' on which a lot of money has been spent. … I take it they are all to go … including the 'Renown.' That leaves no material reserve at all. The 'Queen Elizabeth,' the two 'Nelsons,' the 'Renown' and the 'Royal Sovereign' are all consigned to the scrap heap.He went on to say:There was not the least hurry to bring out this wholesale destruction of these historic units … The Government could have let that question rest.—and he hoped some of them could be saved. He almost weeped romantic tears that these big battleships were being sent to what he called "the knacker's yard." If the Government had listened to the advice of the Leader of the Opposition two years ago, we would still have had a very heavy burden in these Estimates for battleships.
§ Captain Ryder
The question of battleships is, of course, a very controversial matter. I have merely mentioned my point of view. I am not saying it is necessarily the point of view held by everyone. It is well known that both sides should be ventilated.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I quite agree and I realise that the hon. and gallant Member was only expressing his own point of view. From the point of view of modern thought it is far more progressive than that of the Leader of the Opposition.
§ Commander Galbraith
If I remember, the argument of my right hon. Friend was that the Government had thrown away good cards which they might have retained in reserve at a cost, as we know, of £62,000 a year and it would have been well worth that sum to the country, which is quite a different argument.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
The hon. and gallant Gentleman uses the term "throwing away good cards." Surely we are not playing cards. I would point out to my constituent that he and I come from the same part of the country and we are not entitled to talk of spending millions of money in the same way as we play cards. I suggest that throughout this Debate—perhaps the hon. and gallant Member who is to wind up for the Opposition will correct me if I am wrong—it has been generally assumed that the days of the huge expensive battleship are over and that we are in for a conception of naval strategy based on the assumption that in the next war we are going to meet a gigantic submarine menace from a country which I will not transgress the Rules of Order by venturing to name. In case there is any doubt about his argument, the Leader of the Opposition said:These battleships are symbols of power … There is an indefinite and unknowable value in old ships. No foreigner can tell what part they can play, what part they could play, after a year or 18 months"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1948, vol. 448, c. 821–829–830–832.]He wanted the battleships to be continued of these reasons.
I suggest that the whole idea, the whole conception of naval strategy has altered fundamentally since two years ago but the bill we have been called upon to pay has not altered to a very great degree. Without the battleships, we are still spending the immense sum of £200 2099 million on the Navy at a time when there is no great menace from what we used to describe in such Debates as a sea Power. Surely there ought to be some relationship between changed ideas of strategy and costs, but we are still spending this £200 million every year, and this sum is apparently going to be sacrosant. I do not believe there has been an argument produced in this Debate to justify this huge sum at a time when we are told we ought to build against submarines.
I ask the Parliamentary Secretary if the estimate that has been given of the Russian submarines is one that he can support from any information he has. I want to know, for example, if this is the information that has been given to the Admiralty by the Naval Attaché at Moscow. I wonder what the Naval Attache is doing in Moscow. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us. Do we still maintain a Naval Mission in Moscow, and at what expense? Moscow is a long way from the Black Sea. Moscow is a long way from the White Sea. Moscow is a long way from the Baltic. And we are told that facilities for the observation of military, naval and air missions are to be confined to a radius of 30 miles round Moscow. So I ask if we are still to have on our Admiralty list payment for keeping a Naval Mission at Moscow at a time when they are certainly not finding out any information about naval matters, but presumably spend their time playing patience.
I should like to ask a question hinted at by the hon. Member for Sowerby. Are we not carrying a very heavy burden of officialdom at the Admiralty? I want to quote here not my own critical opinion but again the opinion of the Leader of the Opposition. Two years ago, in a critical statement on the administration of the Admiralty, he told us:… there are nearly three times as many officials, naval and civil, at the Admiralty and its ancillary establishments as there were on the outbreak of the war in 1939. Here are the figures: 4,950 before the outbreak of the war, and 12,650 today. All that these three times as many officials can produce is a pitiful admission—and an untruthful admission—that there is not one single battleship "operational" at the present time.' There are nearly 8,000 additional clerks and officials employed on managing the Navy compared with what there were at the outbreak of war.2100 I think we are entitled to ask if this state of top-heavy bureaucratic officialdom is continuing under this Government at a time when it was criticised as surplus by the Leader of the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition continued:But what has happened has been this enormous growth of civil officials of all kinds who are being superimposed and who make work for themselves and their descendants every day they sit in their office chairs. The whole presentation of Admiralty staff is a scandal, which any House of Commons worthy of its financial responsibilities should probe, scrub and cleanse."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1948; Vol. 448, c. 834–5.]I want to know how much probing, how much scrubbing and how much cleansing the new broom at the Admiralty intends doing in his term of office. I want to ask him if this is not financial waste, and if he could honestly go into the sanctum of the Chancellor of the Exchequer a week before Budget day and swear that every item of expenditure for the Admiralty staff is justifiable in the interests of national economy.
§ Mr. Callaghan indicated assent.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
My hon. Friend nods his head. I am not quite sure that he would nod his head after he had been cross-examined by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In that Debate the Leader of the Opposition put his finger on the real reason why, in spite of changed circumstances, in spite of changed conceptions of naval warfare, this sum keeps going up, and is about the level of £220 million. These gentlemen, like all military, naval, air force and industrial vested interests, have to keep themselves in jobs, and in these days it is quite clear that they are having difficulty in reasoning in the old way, because the circumstances have changed.
It is true we have a potential menance from the Russian submarines, but we have also to consider factors which should be on our side. Surely, the United States of America in a future war will be on our side. I suggest also that the navies of France and other European nations that remain with navies would range on our side. There is an enormous superiority in naval forces that is likely to be ranged on our side against a possible aggressor. If that is so, I do ask if it should not be reflected in the financial bill which we are called on to pay.
2101 Can we get any statement from the Admiralty on their view of the possible development of atomic warfare on naval operations? Surely we cannot disregard that? My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation (Mr. Beswick) and the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Commander Noble), went to Bikini and studied the development and effect of atomic energy on naval warfare. Surely something has happened in the meantime to change our conception of modern warfare. We should have some assurance from my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty that the Admiralty has changed its outlook since the battle of Trafalgar. I have my suspicions that it has not. I have my suspicions that those gentlemen, who are keeping themselves in jobs, are carrying on in the same old way.
In these days we cannot afford huge sums for unnecessary and luxurious armaments. That is not merely my own point of view; it is the point of view of a distinguished gentleman who has just been appointed to the higher administrative staff at Washington. It is the point of view of Lord Tedder, who said recently:In point of fact, if great care and discrimination is not used it is quite conceivable that a country might spend so much on military establishment as to sap its economic health.That is what is happening. These huge bills we are called on to pay are sapping this country's economic health. If the economic health of this country goes, we are faced with bankruptcy and economic chaos. So I say that we are entitled to protest against this huge burden of naval armaments. They represent conceptions of an outworn age. We should challenge them. I suggest that those of us who have done our best to put this point of view before the House in these Debates have performed a service to the country and to European civilisation.
§ 10.41 p.m.
§ Commander Noble (Chelsea)
May I first join in the welcome given to the Parliamentary Secretary on his return to our Navy Debates? He used to take an active part in them before he was transported elsewhere, and we are very glad to see him back here tonight. I think the House will agree that in the past these 2102 Debates on the Navy Estimates have been rather closed shops, and that those who have taken part have been mainly ex-naval officers and Members having dockyard constituencies. I think that the House tonight will agree that we have had a rather broader Debate and will welcome many new speakers. I refer specially to the last speech. There are however many familiar faces of the old team, though on both sides of the House we miss many of those who used to take part. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will remember with affection the salvoes which used to be fired from just below the Gangway on this side of the House.
We have, of course, also some new faces on both sides, and I would particularly refer to the hon. and gallant Member for Gillingham (Squadron-Leader Burden) who made his maiden speech tonight and in doing so had an ordeal which was perhaps even more of an ordeal than one's maiden speech usually is. I do not know whether the House realises that the hon. and gallant Member went straight from this House to hospital to undergo a serious operation as the result of an accident which he had in the House the other day. I feel sure that the good wishes of all of us go with him for his speedy recovery and return to this House.
I would say that there have been four main themes running through this Debate. They were the need for economy; the problem of new construction; the difficulties of the manning position; and the shortage of reserves. During the last day or two I have been looking at some of the Debates we have had on this subject in the last few years. It has been borne home to me forcibly that many of the problems discussed in the last four years are still with us in one degree or another today. I am glad, however, that we have passed that extreme period of transition when we had so few ships at sea.
First I will deal with the need for economy. I was very interested when the Parliamentary Secretary in his first speech said that the Admiralty had now ceased to live on its fat. That, I think, was the expression he used. I hope that his noble Friend will pass on that information to some of his colleagues on the Government Front Bench, because I feel 2103 that if he did that, at the end of the next financial year we might not have quite so large, or so many, Supplementary Estimates from other Departments. He said that by doing this—by making administrative and fairly minor economies—the Admiralty had managed to save something like £2,700,000 in the last year. I am sure that all of us are delighted; but we are a little inclined to ask why they were not able to do it before. We also hope very much that they will go on doing it.
Of the economies which the Parliamentary Secretary announced, I must say that from the sentimental point of view I was very sorry to hear some of them; especially of the removal of the Royal Marines from what one might, perhaps, call one of their ancestral depots, at Chatham, and the closing, or the possible closing, of the dockyard at Bermuda. In addition to sentiment about Bermuda, sentiment because I have spent happy years in that dockyard, there are also questions of strategy and, indeed, of the effect on the Bermuda economy. No doubt, before the final decision is taken, both these will be very fully taken into account. A delegation, we are told, is coming here from Bermuda to discuss relevant matters, and I hope that the Civil Lord will be able to tell us what discussions have taken place with the United States on this subject with regard to their maintaining these bases in the Mutual Defence Programme or in any other programme which may be relevant.
Before deciding on such economies as those of which we have been told today, I do hope that the Parliamentary Secretary and the Admiralty have looked nearer home and fully considered whether they cannot get more from the Admiralty itself. I know that I shall be supported in what I have to say on this subject by the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), and the hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan), and even the hon. Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes). My hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L Thomas), in his opening speech told us that the personnel in the Admiralty was now two-and-a-half times greater than it was in pre-war days, and I should like, for a few moments, to break down that figure so that the House can fully realise how 2104 the administrative side of the Royal Navy has grown.
The figures which I shall quote are in relation to 1938 and 1939 compared with those in the Estimates for 1950 to 1951. The examples which I have chosen number about six, from a long list. First, the Secretary to the Admiralty's department has risen from 819 to 2,477; the Naval Staff has risen from 163 to 364; the Naval Store Department from 190 to 754; the Victualling Department from 61 to 199; the Record Office from 480 to 1,119, and finally, the office keepers have increased from 465 to 1,214. With regard to these last few items, I would ask, do we need keep twice as many records? Apparently we are doing so, because the staff has more than doubled over what it was before th,?, last war. Or again, do we need, for whatever duty they undertake, nearly three times as many office keepers? Have we three times as many offices? Will the Civil Lord tell us something of the need for this very large increase in the Admiralty?
The next point is the problem of new construction. That has been dealt with very fully by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith), and my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross), when speaking on the Amendment. I only point out at this stage that we should be quite certain that we get into production in plenty of time because we on this side of the House repeatedly have warned against a "No war for a number of years" policy; when the time comes for us to need the ships, time is seldom on our side. The ex-Minister of Defence. Lord Alexander, made a very important statement in a Debate on 1st March, 1948—[Interruption.] My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) seemed to be a little surprised when I said that the ex-Minister of Defence made an important statement; but he did.
He said:It is well-known that the intricate apparatus of modern war demands many months—even years—to get production in quantity of an accepted prototype."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 1st March, 1948; Vol. 448, c. 59.]Those words have a great bearing on what we have been discussing today because the House has been wholly agreed that the real problem for the 2105 Navy in future is to deal with the new fast submarines. It has to be looked at from three points of view: the surface—the ships the carriers and carrier-borne aircraft; and of course, Coastal Command.
I do hope that we shall be quite certain that, having chosen the accepted prototype, we shall lose no time in getting it into production. I am sure that those who are engaged in research and other experimental work will agree with me, or will understand what I mean, when I say that they always hope that just round the next corner there will be some new discovery which will lead to a substantial improvement and modernising of the article or weapon on which they are working. I do impress upon the Admiralty that at some moment they have—to use rather horrible technical jargon—"a moment of periodic finality" when they say, here we must stop and go into production, otherwise we will not have what we want at the time we think we shall want it. That is a most important point, because to turn again to Lord Alexander's statement, we may not find, when the time comes, we have those years or many months that we require.
I turn now to manpower. My hon. Friend the Member for Hereford has dealt with the great difficulty the Navy is experiencing in getting men after their first period of 12 years to sign on for pensions, and I make no apology for dealing with it again because it is one of the fundamental problems the Navy has to face today. I have asked numerous questions on this in the past, culminating in one today at Question time, when the Parliamentary Secretary answered. It has become apparent that in 1948, only about 25 per cent. of those men were re-engaging. It got a little better perhaps in the middle of last year and went up to something like 30 per cent., but from the answer I received today it has gone down to 22 per cent. It is a very serious position when one considers that before the war 65 per cent. of these men used to re-engage.
This is borne out in Vote A of the Estimates before us today when we see that there is a decrease of 5,000 chief and petty officers, who, of course, as the House knows, in all Departments are the backbone of the Navy. We all know also 2106 that the figures for men reaching this period of 12 years rise very sharply in the next two years because of the large recruitment in the years immediately before the war. Therefore, I do say that the crisis will come in the next two years and we may well find that ships will be immobilised and not be able to put to sea because of the shortages of trained ratings and senior ratings. That of course applies most particularly to the engine-room department.
Why will not these men re-engage? As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Norwood (Brigadier Smyth) said the other day—and I particularly liked the phraseology he used—men in the Services are becoming more and more disinclined to become what he called "professional gypsies." Especially in the Navy, I think, that applies after the long periods of separation from their families which officers and men had to undergo during that recent war. When the 1945 pay code came before this House my hon. Friends and I criticised it because we thought that the Navy were having to undergo certain conditions because they suited the other two Services. That is really coming to a head now in this re-engagement problem. Is it really sense—personally I think it is crazy—to pay a man a bonus of £100 when he leaves the Navy at the end of 12 years, when what he is really wanted to do is to sign on for another 10 years? When one considers the expense that is caused and the time that is wasted in training another man to the standard that that man has reached after 12 years, it would really pay the Admiralty—and I ask them to consider this—to pay the man £100 to stay in after 12 years and at the end of a further 10 years to pay him another £100 as a bonus for that extra period.
I must say a few words about the pension. One can ask many men in the Navy today, and they will say they do not think it is worth while signing on for another 10 years for the pension that they will get at the end of that time. If a man leaves the Navy after 22 years at the age of 40, probably with a skilled trade behind him, he will get a job outside, and by the time he pays quite high P.A.Y.E. he will find his pension is only worth about £1 a week to him. He does not think it is worth while signing on for 10 years to get that sum.
2107 There is a further suggestion. After a man has signed on let it be a categorical qualification that his next job is a home job, if possible shore-based, for two years. I suggest, as hon. Members on both sides of this House have suggested—I think the hon. Member for Devon-port (Mr. Foot) did so particularly—that perhaps some shortening of the period of foreign service might help. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Captain Ryder), the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) and many other hon. Members in this and the other Service Debates have raised many points which are very pertinent to this matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hereford referred to the Re-engagement Committee of which we were told by the Parliamentary Secretary. It is a great pity that it was not set up before. We have been talking about this for the last two or three years. I think the Admiralty delayed too long in this matter, and that we cannot avoid the crisis that is to come in the next two years, but do let us build up again as quickly as we can after that crisis. The Parliamentary Secretary also told us that we were short of pilots in the Naval Air Arm. I believe that the limiting factor of the number of front line aircraft we can field—if that is the right expression in the Navy—is the number of pilots available. Exactly the same thing applies here. If we want pilots we must provide the right inducements and conditions.
Before I leave the manning side, I must say a few words about the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth and the new 16-year-old entry. I have been asking a lot of Questions on this subject in the last few years. In the reply to the first Question I asked, I was surprised to learn that out of 29 vacancies 4 were not filled. I thought that might be because it was the first time this scheme had been put into operation, and people did not really know about it. But last September when I asked a Question, I was told that 8 vacancies out of 29 had not been filled. I think that is serious. Nearly 25 per cent. of the vacancies were not filled. To give more background to the picture, of 242 boys who sat for the examination 219 failed either to reach the necessary educational standard or to pass the interview.
2108 In the most recent examination—the entry that went in in January—we were told by the Parliamentary Secretary today that out of 185—the number presenting themselves has gone down—only 22 could be found to enter the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth at the age of 16. The Parliamentary Secretary did not tell us how many vacancies there were, and I hope the Civil Lord will tell us that when he winds up tonight. I think that is a most serious state of affairs, and I hope that we shall be told something more about it. Indeed, the officers who conducted these examinations during the last year or so have made some report on the situation as they found it, and I hope we shall be told something of what the Admiralty really feel about this new entry.
If this method of entry is proving unsatisfactory because vacancies cannot be filled, I do think the problem must be looked at very quickly because in this connection events are moving very fast. The 13½-year-old entry stopped last May and the first 16-year-old entries pass out next July, and after that, till 1953, the numbers gradually go down until the 4-year course at Dartmouth becomes a 2-year course, and the cadets are cut by 50 per cent. Obviously during that period the teaching staff and those with great experience in the work will gradually be becoming redundant until, presumably, in 1953 only half the number will be required. If the problem is looked at again perhaps some combination of the 13½ and 16 will be reverted to—or indeed go back to 13½. I do not know, but I do think the matter should be gone into very quickly and I hope we shall be told something about it tonight.
When this decision was first announced we on this side of the House did not criticise this new entry, but my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford took the precaution of getting an assurance from the First Lord that in the event of this not working out as the Admiralty had hoped, it would then be looked upon as experimental. He did get that assurance from the First Lord, and therefore I do ask tonight that we shall be told that this matter is being looked at and that we also get some report on how these boys are doing at Dartmouth.
I want to say a word about Reserves. That has been dealt with very fully by 2109 my hon. Friend the Member for Horn-castle, but I want to make one point that I have made on a number of occasions during the last few years. We are told in the White Paper on Defence, para 12, thatthe expansion of Naval forces that would be necessary in the event of war would be achieved by the bringing forward of ships at present in Reserve.I was very glad to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary that these ships were in good condition and that they will be preserved in Reserve, but I must say that I do join issue with him on the question of whether we could man them with the Reserves available.
Last year, as is known, the Navy took 10,000 National Service men; this year they have gone back to what they did at the beginning and taken a token 2,000—while the Army, for example, is taking 117,000. Taking an extreme example, at the end of 15 years with an 18-month period of service, the Army will then have over 1,000,000 trained Reserves while the Navy will have only 20,000. I do not think that with the low recruitment to the R.N.V.R. and nearly all its potential recruits in the other Services, with the low state of our other Reserves, and with only getting so few National Servicemen, we really have got the Reserves that we want in time of war. I daresay the answer will be that there are still very many officers and men in the country who served in the last war—as I know, with distinction, who would return and do it again, but that is really a short-term answer; they are getting older every day, they are having no training and I do not know what the organisation is for calling them up. While on that subject may I ask the Civil Lord what progress has been made with the Emergency Reserve we were told of, in which men were paid a bonus of £5 and merely signed on, and their only duty was that they would be called up in the event of an emergency? Did he get a good response to that? I cannot find it referred to anywhere in the Estimates.
Finally, one word about the Sea Cadets. I am sorry to see that there are to be fewer. I fully understand that the policy is to have more cadets in closed units like schools and fewer in open units, but it does mean overall that there are to be fewer cadets. I hope there will 2110 never be a case of a boy who wants to join the Sea Cadets finding that he cannot do so. In these days, with the present problem of juvenile delinquency, the training that these boys get is of the greatest value.
I fully realise that a great many questions have been asked in this Debate, and I have asked some myself at the very last moment, but I hope the Civil Lord will be able to answer some of them tonight, perhaps in his rôle of Queen Elizabeth, as was suggested by the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot). I ask the Government to give special consideration to the points we have raised, in all parts of the House, on the need for economy, the importance of new construction, manning, and reserves. We in this House always had a duty of vigilance in these matters, not only to the Navy but to the country, but now, in view of our commitments in Western Union, the Atlantic Pact, and in the Commonwealth, there is indeed a far greater responsibility.
§ 11.8 p.m.
§ The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr.. Walter Edwards)
It is really a great privilege to me to be entrusted with this task again this evening, for the fifth successive year. As on all previous occasions, I have listened with keen interest to as many of the speeches as I could, and I must say that the discussion has been on a high level and that the Admiralty will welcome many of the suggestions that have been made. I am bound to say, however, that particularly at this time of night, it will not be possible for me to answer every point that has been made. I have checked them rather quickly, and the number is nearly 30 different points—excluding the intervening Amendment.
I should like first to deal with some of the points made by the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) relating to the First Lord's statement concerning personnel on the one hand and production on the other. As hon. Members will have seen from the Estimates, the personnel is coming down during this financial year and the cost of production is going up. The meaning behind that statement is that we have now to spend far more on production than we did in the last three or four years. As my hon. Friend said, the Navy from now onwards 2111 has to buy everything it wants, and it has no fat to live on as its surpluses are being cleared up. I must also point out, as will be readily recognised, that it would not be much use having a terrific number of personnel if production did not march in step. It would be a waste, and we are trying to see that production is marching in step with the number of men we have.
The hon. Member for Hereford said a fair amount about what happened in 1947 with regard to the run-down of personnel, but I think he will agree that although there was a rather rapid run down over a period of six to seven months, it turned out to be in the best interests of the Navy, which has been able to recover itself from that time.
§ Mr. Edwards
Unfortunately one has to take risks occasionally, but this risk was taken with the advice of our naval advisers, and we thought that we were justified in taking it for that very short time.
Much has been said about the National Service intake for next year, which is coming down to 2,000, as it was two to three years ago. The question has been asked whether this is a final decision. I am afraid it is extremely difficult to be able to say that we can definitely bind the Admiralty to 2,000 for 1953, 1954, and 1955. This is one of many matters which have to be reviewed occasionally and we cannot say, at least tonight, whether we are going to exceed it at any time, or whether it will have to be reduced at any time.
The important question of re-engagement was raised by a number of hon. Members, and I want to refer to it in detail. The hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Commander Noble) referred to the "crazy action" of the Admiralty in giving a £100 bonus to men finishing 12 years' service. I can assure him that the men completing 12 years' service in the Navy, in comparison with the men who completed a similar period before the war, do not consider it crazy. That bounty is given in recognition of the service these men perform. No such recognition was given before the war.
2112 No doubt it does create a difficulty from the Admiralty point of view over re-engagement, but even that would not justify us not showing in an appropriate manner due appreciation of the men who have given us 12 years' service. As the hon. and gallant gentleman said, it is a matter which has to be very carefully considered as quickly as possible, because of difficulties which may present themselves about 1953 unless we can get the problem solved, and we at the Admiralty are looking at it with the other Services very urgently. We hope, in the not too distant future, to be able to make a statement on the whole position of re-engagement.
Some hon. Gentlemen have been referring to the matter of married quarters as one of the reasons why men do not reengage. I am certain the House knows, because of the discussions that have taken place, that we now have married quarters we did not have before the war. Re-engagements were higher before the war than they are today; and I do not think there is really any connection between the number of married quarters we have and the number of re-engagements. The answer is the same as that which applied last year and the year before—that the men now have a far better opportunity of finding jobs than they had before the war. In my view, that is the main reason why men are not re-engaging. It' is not because they do not like the Service; it is not because conditions in the Service are worse today than they were before the war—I think we can say without the slightest fear of contradiction that conditions are better—but because there is full employment and the men can come out and get a job.
Another point was raised by the hon. Member for Hereford and by the hon. and gallant Member for Merton and Morden (Captain Ryder), to whom I listened with great pleasure in the first speech he has made on Navy Estimates in this House. I want to assure the House that the question of the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors, has been gone into very fully, but I am afraid I have to say that there is little hope of being able to alter the present position. The conditions of service now are more or less based on relativity with other comparable classes of civil servants. The Royal Corps are better off in some respects 2113 than the comparable classes of civil servants and it is now Admiralty policy to adhere to the present position, at least until such time as the scheme has been working long enough to enable us to say whether it needs revision or not. No doubt there is some dissatisfaction; we have heard it expressed in another place and in this House, but we feel this is the right and proper thing to do. I can hold out no hope for alteration at the present time.
§ Mr. J. P. L. Thomas
Would the hon. Gentleman answer my question: are they coming forward under the new scheme as the Admiralty hoped they would last year?
§ Mr. Edwards
We do not anticipate any appreciable difficulty in that way yet, but we shall be able to tell about that at a later date. At the present time we are not in extreme difficulty over it.
The question of the Admiralty stall was raised. I was interested in the figures given by the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea, but I can again assure the House that these matters are not overlooked at the Admiralty. The House can safely believe me when I say that the Admiralty office staff has been under the closest possible scrutiny by the Finance Committee and all departments responsible for financing the Admiralty. We have decided that a committee—not wholly of departmental people—shall be set up to go into the whole work of the office. As no doubt the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea realises, sometimes because of a change in the type of work that has to be done comparisons between the numbers employed in 1938–1939 and 1949–1950 are not infallible. There have been many changes in the Admiralty in that period resulting in many more people being employed. The House can rest assured that this is receiving our most careful consideration, and every step will be taken to reduce the numbers if this is at all possible. I might add that in spite of all the criticism we have had of the numbers working at the Admiralty, there has not been any mention of the fact that we have reduced the numbers by 1,800 in the last financial year.
§ Mr. Edwards
Yet it shows that something has been done.
Another interesting question was raised by the hon. Member for Hereford with regard to the Corfu Channel. The British Government was awarded compensation to the extent of £843,947, and the hon. Gentleman was concerned about what was happening in connection with the dependants. A total of about £50,000 is in respect of the dependants of the seamen of the "Saumarez" and "Volage," the two vessels affected at the time. The remainder was for damage to the two ships. Families are already in receipt of pensions, and any money which does come in will go not to the Admiralty Appropriations in Aid but direct to the Treasury.
A number of hon. Gentlemen spoke about the serious question of reserves. I would point out that my hon. Friend's statement with regard to the manning of the Reserve Fleet, should it be necessary, has been reiterated since doubt was cast on it, and we ought to accept it.
§ Mr. Edwards
Not without notice. In any case it is going to be combined with the question of rapid mobilisation, about which questions were asked this afternoon. It is clearly in mind, but whether we should go so far as the hon. and gallant Gentleman recommended and have another base or manning port in Northern England or Scotland or anywhere else, I cannot answer tonight. It is not the present policy of the Admiralty.
We do understand the anxiety felt on the question of Reserves, particularly in naval circles, and naturally we are paying attention to it. We are satisfied with the present situation. As to the R.F.R. one comment was that it should be allowed to be high. One has to be guided by financial considerations to a large extent, however, and by the necessity of its being required this year or not. We are certainly not unhappy at the Admiralty about the R.F.R. It is something we could build up more rapidly than other Reserves by using people who are leaving after 12 years' service, and as there are many people leaving after 12 years' service it is easy to get people to sign on for that.
2115 The question of the aviation side is causing us concern and we are giving it the most serious attention. I think I have now dealt with most of the points referred to by the hon. Gentleman. But there are others which I should like briefly to touch upon. One of them is the question of the dockyards, a subject upon which a number of speeches have been made. I am afraid I shall have to repeat what I said last year on the policy of the Admiralty in the administration and supervision of the Royal Dockyards. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mrs. Middleton) made what I think is almost an annual request for the whole administration of the dockyards to be looked into—I believe in the hope that it would be civilianised rather than navalised. At least, that was the impression I had.
§ Mrs. Middleton
My reason for raising the matter was to get efficiency. not civilianisation or navalisation; it is simply a matter of their rendering maximum service to the State.
§ Mr. Edwards
I know that the hon. Lady mentioned something about the people in charge of these dockyards not having, perhaps, had experience in industry. That, perhaps, was why I thought that her request had something to do with the management. Again, a request has been made for a working party to go into the dockyards. We are not satisfied that a working party is necessary, or that it would serve any useful purpose. Judging from the working of the dockyards since I last made a statement on the matter from this Box, I certainly see no reason to alter the statement which I then made.
§ Mr. Foot
Will the hon. Gentleman undertake to consult with the trade unions on this matter, and to ask their views on whether there should be a working party to make the kind of inquiry which has been asked for for the last three years by hon. Members representing dockyard constituencies in this House?
§ Mr. Edwards
No, Sir. I think that is putting it the wrong way round. If the trade unions want to consult us on the matter they should make the first move. Since I have been the Civil Lord the trade unions have not approached us on this matter. In any case, I have stated the line which we have to take.
2116 Then there is the question of full employment in the yards—whatever may happen so far as the Navy Votes are concerned. The House will no doubt remember that just after the end of the war, to prevent a number of staff being discharged, a policy of repayment work—or commercial work—was adopted in some of the naval establishments. That went on until such time as the Admiralty was able to provide sufficient money in the Votes to keep the dockyards fully employed on naval work.
We are naturally very sympathetic to those workpeople who serve us in the dockyard districts, and who served us so well during the war. But I am bound to say that as we are getting further away from the war and further into commercial competition, it may not be so easy for a system of commercial work to be undertaken in the Royal Dockyards economically, or even in the best interests of the country. This question will have to be looked at carefully should the necessity arise for large-scale discharges in the dockyard areas, but it does not seems to arise this year.
Another point raised by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton, was the 2,000 smaller number on Vote 8 this year. I understand that some of that will represent wastage and some reductions in naval store establishments. The hon. and gallant Member for West Edinburgh (Lieut.-Commander Hutchison) was rather concerned about the wide gap between the naval side and the civilian side. It is perfectly true that there has been a great difference in the numbers, but so far as the civilians are concerned, here again, it is due to many improvements and changes in the Royal Navy. All the changes in the types of naval stores mean an increased number of people to be employed. In some cases, during and since the war, civilians have been undertaking duties sometimes performed in the past by naval ratings. We now have naval air stations which we did not have before the war, which again causes a further increase because of a large "overhead" of civilians. But this is all very carefully watched, and there is no waste if we can prevent it.
§ Lieut.-Commander Hutchison
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned that it was his intention to look into the staffing 2117 of the Admiralty Office. Why should we not extend that inquiry to look into the whole matter of the civilian staffing question?
§ Mr. Edwards
That is something we can look at, but it is not so easy in the case of establishments spread all over the country as it is for the Admiralty itself.
Another question asked is who is to be in charge at Rosyth when the Flag Officer has to go. I understand that the Admiral-Superintendent at Rosyth will undertake the majority of these duties, and I imagine that that will give the hon. and gallant Gentleman some pleasure.
§ Mr. Edwards
On the question of ship repairing, however, I assure hon. Members that we have given the deepest possible attention to ship building and repairing, as a result of which we have set up the Shipping Advisory Committee comprising those interested in the building and repair and use of ships. As the need for ship repairing comes down, there is not, however, very much that the Admiralty can do for the people affected; but we are in the closest touch with the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Transport on these matters, and we certainly do all we possibly can.
Concerning the points made about the I.P.C.S., raised by the hon. Member for Sowerby, I agree that this matter might give a bad impression; no doubt some delays took place, as they may when one has to deal with Government Departments and staff organisations. But he knows that the Admiralty has to do a lot of negotiating before coming to an agreement with staff organisations. We did not unduly hold up these matters; they have been dealt with as matters of importance, and sufficient time must be given in such cases. I have had quite a lot to do with the question of masters and engineers in the yard craft service, and I must repeat that had it not been for disagreement between the I.P.C.S. and the two unions, agreement would have been quicker.
They just could not agree who was going to represent the men and even a Vol. 472 2118 ballot of the men had to be taken whilst we were waiting to consider the whole question. I thought it would please the hon. Member if I told him we are hoping to have the replies in the near future.
With regard to the point about fishing vessels raised by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Marshall), I can assure him, as I have assured him before, that we have to pay the greatest regard to the fishing industry and have always appreciated the great asset it is to the defence of the country. The hon. Member raised two points. One was with regard to the number of fishing and fishery protection vessels we have and the other with regard to call-up of men for National Service. There are eight ships employed on protection duties with headquarters of the senior officers at Hull. This force is at least as large as pre-war, so that we have not reduced there. I suppose that will give some satisfaction to his constituent fishermen. On the question of being excused call-up, there is nothing I can add to the present position divulged today, particularly in view of the fact that it has already been stated that the number to be called up is coming down from 10,000 to 2,000 a year. That quite obviously would make a number of difficulties for us.
I think I have covered most of the points, but if there are any hon. Members who have spoken and feel there is something I have omitted, and would write a letter to me about it, I shall try to give them the fullest possible information. I again want to thank the House very much indeed for the kind reception the Estimates have received, except by the hon. Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes), and for the kind way they have treated me since I have had the privilege of representing the Admiralty in the House.
§ Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.
§ Supply accordingly considered in Committee.
§ [Major MILNER in the Chair]