§ Order for Committee read.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. James Callaghan)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
I am presenting two Estimates to the House, first, the net Navy Estimates for 1950–51 for £193 million, and, second, a Supplementary Estimate for 1949–50 for.a token sum of £10. Hon. Members who have the Navy Estimates before them will see that if they compare the net cost of the Navy this year with the net cost last year, it is increased by £3,750,000. That is the burden on the taxpayer. But the real national effort that is put into the Navy is, of course, measured by the size of the gross Estimates. Hon. Members who refer to pages four and five of the Estimates will see that, under the heading Gross Estimates, the cost of the Navy—that is the amount of effort that is being put into the Navy—has increased from £209 million to £216 million. Those are the figures contained in the Estimates, but those are not quite right by virtue of the Supplementary Estimate that I am presenting.
The reason for this Supplementary Estimate lies largely in the strengthening of the Far East Fleet, for reasons that have been Debated in this House and are well known. There have also been some increases in pay, and higher costs have added to the total increase of £4.7 million, which is the gross addition to last year's Estimates. The £4.7 million is not the total amount. Administrative and other economies have enabled the Admiralty to reduce that gross figure of £4.7 million by £2.7 million, so that the net additional burden is of the order of £2 million. That means that the gross cost of the Navy last year was £211 million, as against a figure of £209 million shown in the Estimates, compared with the gross cost this year of £216 million.
1968 Therefore, the national effort put into the Navy is of the order of £5 million more than last year. On the other hand, the taxpayer will probably be more concerned with the burden of the net increase of £3,750,000.
The difference between the £5 million and the £3,750,000 is represented by Appropriations in Aid. They are likely to be as large as £8 million more than we bargained for when these Estimates were presented a year ago. This is accounted for by a number of items. There has been a substantial amount of work done for Commonwealth and foreign navies that has accounted for an increase in Appropriations in Aid to a greater extent than we have bargained for.
The net result is that the taxpayer will get substantial benefit from the Appropriations in Aid that are brought in every year to reduce the gross Estimate. As is well known to the House, they are in the nature of uncovenanted windfalls. No one can be certain, within a comparatively accurate figure, what they are going to bring in from year to year. We have provision this year for a substantial amount to accrue from the Appropriations in Aid.
I am sure it will not be the wish of the House that I should review in detail events in which I have played no part during the last 12 months, and for which I can claim neither credit nor discredit, except as a member of the Government. I think the explanatory statement which the First Lord has presented to the House does sum up the main events of Naval activities during the last 12 months. It is significant that news has come in from the Far East Squadron, from the Mediterranean Fleet, from H.M.S. "Sparrow," which escaped from the grip of the Southern ice, from the party that is now engaged on endurance tests in the Arctic, and from the West Indies station. News of the Royal Navy has come in from all parts of the world. It is indeed an indication of the way in which in peace-time the Royal Navy is strung out round the globe, protecting our interests and securing the safety of commerce. If I had to put this explanatory statement briefly, I should say simply that the Royal Navy has during the past 12 months continued the peacetime function that it has carried out so succesfully for many years.
1969 The Far East Squadron has, of course, been particularly in the news. It has been strengthened substantially by the addition of one of our most modern post-war aircraft carriers, H.M.S. "Triumph," and also by one cruiser and several small ships. They are performing an arduous duty, maintaining a constant patrol at the mouth of the Yangtse-Kiang, and I am bound to say the situation continues to be extremely unsatisfactory.
The Home Fleet and the Mediterranean Fleet have joined together in exercises. There is an exercise going on in the Mediterranean at the present time. The Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet, Admiral Vian, is flying his flag in the aircraft carrier "Implacable." That is in itself a sign of the times. I understand from signals this morning that in the great test that is going on there both sides claim the victory, and the umpire is going to have a difficult time in deciding who has won. The nature of the exercise has been to get a convoy through to port against a fierce submarine and aircraft attack. That seems to sum up in a sentence the nature of the war-time task which will confront the Royal Navy if such an event came.
There have been exercises in home waters with the ships of other Western Union powers. There have been some very interesting exercises indeed. One thing which interested me very much was to hear that last year there was embarked aboard H.M.S. "Theseus," one of our light Fleet carriers, for the summer exercises a squadron of Fireflies of the Royal Netherlands Navy. That is indeed bringing co-operation to a fine pitch. I am also told that on one occasion during those exercises a British aircraft and a Dutch aircraft were both engaged on anti-submarine patrol, both under the control of a French ship—another example of co-operation in practice—and it is a splendid thing to find on going to the Admiralty that these theories are really being translated into practice in the way that they obviously have been. There is also standardisation being achieved in such matters as ammunition, radar equipment, explosives and precision instruments.
I should like to turn from that very brief summary of last year's events to the present position and the intention of the Admiralty for the coming year. 1970 Like everybody else, the Navy are working under a limited budget. They have been given the figure, as it were; they know what they have to work to, and the consequence is that they have to "comb" themselves. They therefore find their own economies, and that seems to me to be a very desirable thing because they know what they have to do without and what they can best do without.
The main economy, as hon. Members will notice from Vote A, is achieved by a reduction in the manpower of the Royal Navy from something like 153,000 to 143,000. We expect, in fact, that the number of men in the Navy will be reduced to something like 127,000 by the end of the current Estimates year. I ought to say that that has been achieved not in any way at the expense of the seagoing Fleet. It is a reduction of shore personnel, taking it by and large. A number of shore establishments have been closed down and are, in fact, mentioned in the First Lord's Explanatory Note. H.M.S. "Royal Arthur," "Wildfire" and "Kestrel" have all gone. Those ate familiar names to those who were serving in the Royal Navy during the war.
I have to announce further economies in the composition of our shore establishments. One is comparatively small. The post of Commodore-Superintendent at Malta is to be given up, and his duties will be amalgamated with those of another officer serving there, the Flag Officer, Malta. More important is the decision to abolish H.M.S. "Cochrane," the ship of the Flag Officer Scotland and Northern Ireland, which is at the moment based at Rosyth. His duties will, in fact, be taken over by the Admiral Superintendent, Rosyth. I know how interested all Scottish Members are in the position of Rosyth Dockyard, and I hasten to reassure them by saying that the decision in connection with H.M.S. "Cochran" is quite independent of and unrelated to the position of Rosyth Dockyard. It is an entirely separate matter.
The third economy that I must announce today is one that I do with no particular pleasure. It is to tell the House that in order to keep within the Navy's budget it has become necessary to close down the headquarters of the Royal Marines at Chatham. That is a long tie that is going to be broken. The Royal Marines first went to Chatham in the 1971 18th century. The town has been hospitable over since, and it is a matter of great regret to the Admiralty that training conditions are now such that it is better that the functions of the Royal Marines, which have been exercised hitherto at Chatham, should be carried out at Portsmouth and Devonport.
The accounts section of the Royal Marines will still be maintained at Chatham, so that there will still be a link remaining, but it is with very great regret that we have to take this step. The Marine establishment that is being closed down will be replaced in due course by a naval establishment, H.M.S. "Ceres," which is the Training Establishment of the Supply and Secretariat Branch of the Navy at present stationed in another part of the country.
I now come to the question of Bermuda. My predecessor led a delegation to Bermuda some short while ago when he discussed the question of the closing of the dockyard there. That has supported the American and West Indies squadron for a very long time, but conditions change. At the moment we are waiting for a deputation to arrive from Bermuda in order to make certain representations to the First Lord, and therefore I can announce no decision on that today; but I am bound to point out that this dockyard has become uneconomical in many ways. It is not really in a position to supply our ships in as economic a way as we would like, and it would need a great deal of modernisation if it was to be put into that position. We must relieve the anxieties of those who are serving there. I have already had a letter from a friend of mine to that effect. I should make it clear that a decision on this matter will be announced at the earliest possible moment.
We have now almost reached the stage where this post-war process of living on one's own fat has come to an end. Stores on which we have been living are now dwindling. In consequence, as hon. Members will see in Vote 8, II and III, the provision for materiel and contract work is increasing to the extent of something like £7 million. That cost is bound to go up as the run-down of war stocks continues. I ought to say that the First Lord has taken the decision that before building up these new stocks again, we 1972 should review the basis of the provision and maintenance of the Fleet. A very powerful and high-powered committee has been set up with the job of reviewing this matter. They are presenting interim reports, and indeed the first interim report has already appeared.
One difference from last year when my predecessor introduced these Estimates is that all the battleships have now been placed to reserve with the exception of H.M.S. "Vanguard." H.M.S. "Duke of York," "Anson," "Howe" and "King George V" are all now in reserve. I asked what was the cost of keeping a battleship in reserve, because there are very mixed views as to whether it is worth while keeping these giant ships at all. The House will be interested to hear the answer. Excluding the cost of the men who are required to keep the ships in good condition in order that they will be fit for service again if required, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the cost of keeping a battleship in reserve and in proper state of maintenance is £62,000 a year. When the House considers the vast amount of money, materials and skill locked up in these monsters, I think it will be agreed that it would be folly to cast them away for the expenditure of £62,000 a year, whatever one's views may be about the possibility of their employment if trouble were to come.
I have had, I fear, but one day with the Navy since I came into office, and on that day I was with the Reserve Fleet. We are all applying ourselves to our Parliamentary duties with so much assiduity that it is not easy to get away. I found it most interesting to go and see the Reserve Fleet and the work that is being done there, because it is one of the most important pieces of treasure that we have got in the Navy today. I was lucky enough to go down to the Nore to see the work of preservation that is being done to keep in trim these ships that are in reserve.
Broadly the process is that first of all, having been paid off for some time, they are refitted in the dockyard. When they have been refitted they have a process applied to them which I am sorry to say is called "de-humidification." I felt that I ought to give the current jargon, but if I may use a better term, it is a dried air process, and that in fact is exactly what is done. The ships are sealed. All 1973 the exits and entrances are sealed, the hatches are opened, and the water-tight doors are thrown open. Then on the upper dock is stationed a small box-like equipment from which the normal humid air inside the ship is sucked dry and pumped back again at something under half the humidity with which it came out. The consequence is that metal and wood do not rot—at any rate that is the expectation and hope—and that the ships will be in a fit condition at the earliest possible moment if they are required again to be fitted and taken into service.
I was tremendously impressed with the spirit of everybody engaged on this task in the Reserve Fleet and, indeed, they are doing an extremely important job. Successive generations of seamen have had this trouble. Samuel Pepys naturally wrote about it, and I have here a very interesting quotation from what he said about his Reserve Fleet in 1684. Having referred to the "general rot of the new ships," he said:I cannot see it chargeable on anything but their being ill-looked after since they were built. The decay is due to the"—and I have forgotten whether that was under a Tory Government—plain omission of the necessary and ordinary cautions used for the preserving of new-built ships; want of graving and bringing into dock; neglect to clean and air the holds till I have with my own hands gathered toadstools in the most considerable of them as big as my fists.I hope this new process will mean that when our ships are required again they will come back in a better state than that in which poor Samuel Pepys found them when he had to bring them out of Reserve in his days.
Moving on, I have to say that we propose to scrap three of the eight-inch gun county class cruisers—the "Norfolk," the "Sussex" and the "London." I regret their passing; in many ways they were, I suppose, the most habitable ships that have ever been in the tropics, from the angle of living quarters, but times move on and I fear that these ships have now reached the stage where it would not be profitable to retain them any longer.
On the other side of the balance sheet, H.M.S. "Eagle" and H.M.S. "Ark Royal," two of the most modern and powerful fleet carriers, are now moving on. H.M.S. "Ark Royal" will be launched very shortly. H.M.S. "Eagle" 1974 is now in the process of being fitted out and should be ready next year. When they are both ready to rejoin the Fleet two famous names will return to the Navy. H.M.S. "Victorious," which had a hard war, is about to be modernised and is to be taken in hand almost immediately.
I was very depressed to find the cost of the equipment of these ships nowadays. I think the House may be interested, and at any rate I was interested, to find out the cost of radio and radar equipment nowadays by comparison with what it was pre-war. In fact, radar and radio equipment in a cruiser costs nine times what it cost before the war in an aircraft carrier the figure is 25 times and in a destroyer 24 times so far as the cost of fitting out in radio and radar equipment is concerned. Part of this increase is due, of course, to the fact that radar was in its immature stage at the outbreak of the war. That, of course, accounts for a tremendous part of the increase.
It is not perhaps quite germane to the Estimates, but I think it would be wrong not to mention the part which the Commonwealth and Colonies are playing in the naval strength of the world. Between them, Australia and New Zealand dispose of a light fleet carrier, five cruisers and several destroyers and frigates and, as I suppose hon. Members know, the Australian Government are proposing to acquire a second aircraft carrier when H.M.S. "Majestic" is completed later on. In the Canadian Navy the light fleet carrier H.M.S. "Magnificent" and others, I am glad to say, have been invited to visit Londonderry this autumn to take part in anti-submarine exercises. I am sure hon. and gallant Members opposite will be delighted to hear that. This process of exchanging ideas, technique, training and ships is going on. For example, two frigates from the Royal New Zealand Navy are exchanging with two frigates of the Mediterranean fleet later on this year. They will interchange, so there will be this continued change of ideas going on.
I feel I should say a word about the Navy's war-time tasks, and yet it involves Members of the Government of the day who speak from this box in uttering platitudes which are so old, and yet still so true, that I hardly venture to intrude them on the House. But it is, of course, true 1975 and it is worth repeating that the Navy's war-time tasks have not changed. The technique is changing and changing rapidly, but the role remains the same. The keeping open of our lines of communication and the denying to the enemy of the use of the sea is absolutely vital to this country. It always has been and it always will be.
The difference between ourselves and the continental powers who can draw their foodstuffs for their industrial populations from their own territories must always be clear to us. We depend upon the sea—depend upon the prairies of Canada and the granaries of Australia from which to bring food for our industrial population to our shores. If those cargoes are not available we starve. That is all there is to it. The position has not changed; it is still the same and the Navy, I think, has really secured no rest from its role by the disappearance of the large surface fleets to which the Leader of the Opposition referred the other day, because their disappearance has been countered by the menace, the threat, of large forces of submarines being built by other countries.
To us the possession of large forces of submarines by any country must always constitute a potential menace to our lines of communication. We just cannot exist unless these lines of communication are kept open and, in consequence, Admiralty policy is directed on all fronts towards countering the submarine menace. It is perhaps the biggest modern task that we have to undertake and it is being tackled in three directions—namely, through our research and development, through research into the design of naval vessels and by means of naval aviation.
The nature of the menace is threefold. There are three main types of submarine today. The first is what I might call the conventional type which existed during the last war and which was broken by our escort vessels in the battle of the Atlantic and later. Here I would perhaps join issue with the Leader of the Opposition, who said our escort ships were largely obsolete. That is not true against the major number of submarines completed in the world today. Our existing escort ships, which beat the submarine menace last time, will be competent to deal with the current conven- 1976 tional type of submarine, which still exists today. It would constitute a menace and there would be a very great threat, but still they are competent to deal with it because neither side has especially moved ahead in that field.
The major developments in this field are, of course, in what is called fast battery drive and new forms of propulsion. Fast battery drive, as I understand it, is the system under which the ordinary comparatively slow speeds of submarines can be boosted for a limited period in order to enable them to get in under the sails of a convoy, fire their torpedoes and get away again. This is going to be a constant menace and I should not like it to be thought that the Admiralty regard the current fleet of frigates and escort vessel which we have as being competent to deal with that development if it appeared in large numbers. Certainly the First Lord is very much on the watch about that particular development.
As to the third type, which is capable of sustained high speeds under water, as far as the best information the Government have goes, no nation is yet beyond the experimental stage with it. No nation, so far as the Government are aware, has progressed further than we have in research into this particular matter. The danger that we should have immediately to meet at sea would be at the moment that of the conventional type of submarine, which, heaven knows, is bad enough—I do not want to underrate it; and secondly, the type of submarine, on which development is starting, that has a fast battery drive for getting ahead quickly for a limited period at a substantially increased speed.
It is the Admiralty's plan that all antisubmarine ships in due course should be able to hunt submarines of this new fast type. It is proposed to achieve that intention by building new frigates and by converting existing vessels. Of course the rate at which this is done depends upon the money which is available, and that is why, I think, it is important that, in fact, the Admiralty has been able to divert, through the administrative economies that I outlined earlier, a substantial sum of money to production and research that was not available before.
The first new anti-submarine frigate is already under way. The materials have 1977 been ordered for machinery, and a contract has been placed for it. The order for the ship itself will be placed this year. The Admiralty also now has under consideration the possibility of a simpler design for an anti-submarine frigate, cheaper and easier to build in large numbers. That matter is still in the experimental stage, and I cannot go further than to say that important ways of countering the submarine menace are now being tried out. Two fleet destroyers have been taken in hand for conversion during the last 12 months, and three more will be taken in hand this year.
As to the research development work of the Admiralty, there is no need for me to say after the outline I have just given that the highest priority is being given to developing anti-submarine weapons for use by ships and by aircraft. As far as I can make out, we have really travelled a long way since the days when we dropped depth charges over the stern and scuttled away quickly before they blew up. The ahead form of weapon which fires ahead so as not to give the enemy submarine an indication that the ship has passed over the top of it—which was one of the weaknesses of firing astern—has been developed to a considerable extent.
In the experimental stage are a number of new types of homing torpedoes that may be launched from the surface or from aircraft or from under the water. These will nose out an enemy submarine and will set their own course and will "home" on the submarine in due course. These are types of weapons which at the moment are being worked out. We are also converting a number of submarines to the fast battery type, not because we expect them to be useful operationally—that is not the principal reason—but so that they may be used in anti-submarine exercises by our own flotillas.
In naval aviation researches are at the moment being largely brought to bear on a probable submarine threat. A new "single packet" anti-submarine aircraft, whose initials at the moment are GR17, is now being developed for carrier operation. I say "single packet" because it includes in the same machine powers of detection and powers of destruction. This has deck landed successfully already. In addition, as hon. Members will have seen from the Estimates, six 1978 carriers are under construction and will join the Fleet by 1954.
A word about Admiralty organisation. Separate divisions of the Naval Staff are concerned exclusively with improving torpedo, submarine, and air warfare, and there is also a separate department under the Comptroller of the Navy, the Third Sea Lord, exclusively concerned with the development of under water weapons.
So far, I have to report to the House, no Carrier Air groups have been re-armed with jet aircraft, though a flight of Vampire fighters was embarked in H.M.S. "Implacable" during the last Autumn exercise. I gather they had a rough trip, but it was very good exercise for them indeed, and a number of successful landings on the moving flight deck of the carrier were made in rough weather. It is the intention to embark Vampire aircraft again with the Home Fleet this summer. Also the House will be interested to know that it is proposed to bring in the Attacker aircraft, a single-jet with a maximum speed which approaches 600 miles per hour. There are also other developments coming along.
I am told—and I think even as a layman I can see this, and I am sure it will be readily appreciated by other Members of the House—the development of aircraft, with increasing weight and higher stalling speeds and longer take off requiring the maximum space, are difficult to operate from a flight deck. On the other hand, when landing a jet aircraft the pilot has not to cock his head over the side to see, when coming out of a turn, whether he is going down properly or not. That is because of the improved vision. When these aircraft are coming in in larger numbers we ought to find that we can get an improvement in the accident rate, though I am glad to say it has been better than it was during the earlier years. The House will be interested to know that in the development of the system of putting down really fast and heavy planes on to a flight deck experiments were carried out in H.M.S. "Warrior" some months ago, when trials were made with aircraft landings on a special flexible deck without the use of undercarriages. Very successful experiments were undertaken.
A major part of our researches is being devoted to anti-submarine warfare. I should like to mention how valuable these 1979 trials with target ships have been found to be. The target ships have been bombed from the air and shelled from the surface, and they have suffered the shock of underwater explosions, and at comparatively trivial cost; and the result has been that the Admiralty research scientists and other staff have been able to get very valuable data indeed on which to base the construction of new vessels in due course. The effects of radiation have already been tried out during the last few months against a ship.
What industry calls "productivity"—I have not come across that term in the Admiralty yet, but I am quite sure it will be found somewhere—is being investigated. Although it is not called productivity, I was amused to hear of a development that I think is a very fine one, and one I wish we had had when I was in the Navy—for paint spraying machines are now being introduced into cruisers and larger ships. I asked what the comparative productivity figures were. The answer was, that four ratings could paint a battleship's side in four days; whereas in the old days four ratings would have taken 21 days. I am sure that it would gladden the heart of the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he could find productivity similarly speeded up in industry. It reminds me—perhaps I had better not go into details in my personal reminiscences—but it reminds me of the time when I had a paint brush taken out of my hand because I was so inept and so inefficient in its use.
A good deal of research is going on into conditions in extreme temperatures—research the House will have seen reported upon elsewhere. I was glad to see when I asked for the figures of comparative expenditure on research in the 1930s and today what a substantial increase is now necessary. I am told that the average research expenditure in the 1930s varied between £500,000 and £1½ million. Today the Navy is finding it necessary to devote as much as £11 million a year to research and development. Even taking into account the difference in the price level, that still represents a very substantial increase in effort, and is something which, I think, they are right to do. One of their overwhelming problems is that they have so many tasks to try to solve, that if they were to try to engage all their resources 1980 the national reserve of our scientists would be overstrained, and there is, therefore, a very sensible scheme of priorities on research which is determined by what is called the Defence Research Priority Committee which decides what matter should be investigated and at what particular stage.
I come to the question of manpower. Recruitment generally is satisfactory—satisfactory to the point that National Service entries are to be restricted during the current year to 2,000. I hasten to say that any National Service entrant will still be eligible for a commission. The policy of recruitment is to get one continuous Service rating, that is a man who does 12 years' service, for one special service rating, that is the man who does seven years plus five years. That ought to give a proper balance of reserves, and it seems that the Navy can now command sufficient men to enable them to carry out that policy. With regard to air crews and in one or two technical branches the situation is not so good. There is a growing shortage of air crews which has been partially met by granting 220 permanent commissions to extended service officers; but we are going to be up against a very real problem here, and I should like to announce that the Admiralty is considering changes and improvement in the conditions of service of air crews.
The major problem is that of re-engagement of the long-service man who is now reaching the end of his time—the man who signed on for 12 years. They are the men who volunteered at the time of Munich; the men who came in in 1938 and 1939, and who served as tough a period of 12 years as any one could have. They saw the Navy through the early part of the war and, indeed, through the latter part, and they had to serve it when all hostility-only people had departed. I think that they have had an extremely tough time. Their wives have passed through difficult times, too, and they naturally want their husbands at home. Who, indeed, can deny them that? This is presenting the Admiralty with a very formidable problem in that not nearly sufficient experienced ratings, petty officers and chief petty officers are signing on to enable the Fleet to be kept in the condition of efficiency in which we would like to see it.
1981 The Admiralty, therefore, is reviewing as a matter of urgency the trade and career structure of these long-service men. The minds of the First Lord and of the Board of Admiralty will not be closed to any particular solution that may commend itself, although we are clearly going to be bound by limitations of finance in these matters. We recognise that this is a matter of urgency, and I can only say to all those long-service men who have put in perhaps the hardest 12 years that any one has had to put in in recent times, that their services are still needed. We do want and we do ask them, if they can and will, to sign on again for a further period so that the Navy shall not be deficient of those experienced ratings, petty officers and chief petty officers who are still needed.
As to living conditions, I was able to visit Chatham Barracks on my one day with the Fleet, and I am bound to say that I was very impressed with the changes that have taken place since I last walked out of a naval barracks five years ago. Indeed, some of us will be getting out-of-date unless we go back and look at some of the improvements which have taken place. One of the things which I noticed particularly was that the large mess decks are being broken up by the more imaginative dispersal of the lockers into a number of small rooms. Many of these changes have been easy to make with only one-fifth the number of men in barracks that we had in time of war.
They are not slinging any longer; they are sleeping in bunks. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) is sentimentally inclined to the hammock, but I suspect that this is because he did not have to sling it or lash it up afterwards. I think that bunks are preferable. There is also a new type of locker with hanging space so that the men do not have to get their "number ones" creased. Then there is the cafeteria messing system instead of the old system we knew so well.
All these are substantial improvements which have been effected during the last five years. It makes me wonder whether speeches in this House are not sometimes of some value. I was also interested to see how popular television has become. It seems to be as much a drug there as in their homes, and many men are not going ashore at night because they want to 1982 look in at television. That is not provided by a beneficent Admiralty but by barrack canteen funds. Married quarters show, I think a very good record, too. One million pounds is being allocated this year for the provision of married quarters. The figures show that 1,136 married quarters have been built since 1945. During this year 1,200 will be under construction and 450 will be completed during the course of the current year.
Afloat, there is this constant competition between men and machinery. Many of us used to think that the idea was to build a ship and put in all the machinery needed and the men got in where they could in the spaces. This, I am glad to say, is a libel. There is what is called a Ship Design Policy Committee charged with the special task of undertaking positive research to see how the space on board ship can best be divided. One improvement which I think is of very great importance is that oil-fired galleys are going out of commission and where possible electrically heated galleys are coming in. Refrigerator space is also being increased.
May I say a word about lower deck promotion? Up to 25 per cent. of the commissions in the Royal Navy are now awarded to the lower deck. They are called "upper yardmen." I am glad to say that nine out of 16 of the last batch of recruits were awarded their commission. They came from many different types of homes and backgrounds, and I think that it is a first-rate scheme.
The Royal Naval College at Dartmouth is also a matter on which I should like to say something. The House will know that my noble Friend the First Lord introduced a change in the admission scheme for Dartmouth only a short while ago. Instead of recruiting these candidates at the age of 13 plus, they are now recruited at the age of 16, and competition is open to any one who fulfils the educational test, has the leadership qualities necessary, and, of course, passes the physical tests. I think that the House will be interested to hear the results of the entry that went into Dartmouth in January. Forty-six candidates came from independent schools, 29 from direct-grant schools and 108 from secondary, grammar, technical and modern schools. Of the successful candidates, 10 are from independent
1983 schools, three from direct-grant schools and nine from secondary or grammar schools.
This is by the way of being a bit of a revolution, and I am glad that this should be so. I gather that in places where they always start a conversation by saying, "The Navy is not what it was in my day," there is a certain amount of tooth-sucking about the change. There is no justification for that at this juncture. The recruits who are coming forward are up to the standard of those who have been hitherto recruited, and I cannot for a moment accept the view that candidates who are now coming from all types of schools should be any less efficient or any less fitted to do the job of a Royal Naval officer than those who were recruited to Dartmouth hitherto. Indeed, if it could be shown—which it cannot, because none of these boys have yet been passed out of Dartmouth—that we are not getting sufficient of the right type of chaps who could fulfil the qualifications, that would merely show that we were not advertising this scheme well enough, because recruitment shows that being a Naval officer is still a pretty popular occupation. A cadetship at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, is a pretty tremendous prize.
§ Commander Maitland (Horne astle)
Have all the vacancies available at Dartmouth been filled? I think that is very important.
§ Mr. Callaghan
gather that some were not filled because the candidates did not come up to the physical standard required. I have not got the exact figures, and I gather that my hon. Friend the Civil Lord will deal with this in reply. I regret that I have not all the figures at my disposal. I gather that all of them came up to the necessary educational and leadership qualifications. That is my understanding.
Finally, just a word about the Reserve. We need more men in the Royal Naval Reserve and the R.N.V.R. Recruiting has been started and is now going ahead. The 12 main divisions of the R.N.V.R. have all got sea-going tenders, and, I think especially interesting, in the R.N.V.R. there are air squadrons which have completed 7,000 flying hours during 1984 the last 12 months. I should like to make one special reference to one of these R.N.V.R. air squadrons. The Boyd Trophy, which is awarded annually for the finest feat of aviation in the Royal Navy, has been presented for last year to No. 183 R.N.V.R. Air Squadron based at Abbotsinch, near Glasgow. Equipped with "Firefly" aircraft the squadron completed 205 deck landings with only one minor accident. They embarked for the first deck landing in H.M.S. "Illustrious" last August; the 18 pilots and 10 observers were mostly wartime personnel, and when they embarked for flying training at sea most of them had not done deck landings for five years. That seems to me to be an excellent sample of the standard that can be secured. I am glad to say that R.N.V.R. "Firefly" squadrons will fly to Malta this year to operate with the Mediterranean Fleet. This is training in earnest.
That concludes my review. I hope that I have satisfied the House that the money we are asking should be granted to the Royal Navy this year will be well spent; and that the task they are being called upon to undertake is being undertaken efficiently, with imagination, and with foresight. I believe that the Royal Navy, not only has a fine tradition, and is not only a fine Service, but is also a modern Service with modern ideas, ready to face the new rôles that may come to it and the new undertakings that it may have to take part in whenever it is called upon to do so.
§ 4.24 p.m.
§ Mr. J. P. L. Thomas (Hereford)
I am sure the House would wish that it should be my first duty wholeheartedly to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary, first on having the opportunity which did not fall to all of us in our time of introducing the Estimates, and secondly on the extraordinary ability with which he has done so. I must say that we on this side of the House were not surprised by that ability, because we had become accustomed to a most competent performance whenever he spoke in the past as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport. Thirdly, I should like to congratulate him, as my successor in that office, with a short intervening period, on reaching the Board of Admiralty. That must
1985 cause particular pleasure to him after his years of service in the Royal Navy, and to his family, as his late father had a distinguished and varied career in that same Service. It has been a long time since the two junior Ministers at the Admiralty have had so much practical experience of the Service. We join fully in the tribute paid to the Royal Navy by the Parliamentary Secretary in his very able speech. We also welcome wholeheartedly the account he gave to us of the spirit of the Fleet.
I would say that it is the most encouraging speech we have had presenting the Estimates on the five or six occasions upon which I have had to answer the Government spokesman at this Box. Nevertheless, I am still worried about the balance of policy. In the Statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty explanatory of the Navy Estimates it is stated:Policy … will be directed to achieving the proper balance of expenditure in present circumstances between personnel on the one hand and production, including research and development, on the other.We on this side would be much more prepared to give that statement a warmer welcome if we knew a little more of what that policy was. The Parliamentary Secretary filled up a certain number of the gaps but I am afraid I must warn the Civil Lord that there are still a good many gaps which we shall expect him to fill when he replies to the Debate. In the absence of anything more specific, we are anxious about the meaning of the words "in present circumstances." It sounds to us as if naval policy is still on a very short-term basis, as it has been since the end of the war. I will explain to the House what I mean. In the initial period after the war it was decided that the run-down of naval manpower should be less rapid than that of the other two Services. In August, 1947, the Prime Minister said:It is very difficult without creating chaos to accelerate this run-down more than within a limited amount at one time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th August, 1947; Vol. 441, c. 1504.]But that is exactly what happened after the House had arisen for the Summer Recess that year. Naval demobilisation accelerated from 4,000 to 31,000 in the short period of six months. The result was the chaos about which the Prime Minister had warned the House, and the 1986 Home Fleet was immobilised for a considerable period.
So far as the Royal Navy is concerned, there seems to us to be another example of changing policy with regard to National Service. In the First Lord's statement accompanying the 1948 Estimates it was stated that it would not be possible to admit to the Royal Navy more than 2,000 National Service men. Last year that figure was increased to 10,000. This year the figure is back to 2,000. Let me say at once that we do not quarrel with that figure, but I do ask the Civil Lord: Is this a final decision for the naval element of National Service?—because any more of this jumping up and down will make long-term planning of personnel almost impossible.
Then there is the question of the small ships. In July last year, before the present Parliamentary Secretary was at the Admiralty, there was an Admiralty announcement that four battleships had been laid up in reserve in order that a larger number of smaller ships could be put into commission. If we compare the tables—and I do not think he said anything today about this—on page five of this year's statement with those on page six of last year's statement, showing the strength of the Fleet, we see that although the four battleships—the "Anson," the "Howe," the "Duke of York" and the "King George V"—are in reserve, there are apparently not more but fewer smaller vessels in commission than there were last year. The figures are: only 14 cruisers in full commission compared with 15 last year; only 10 minesweepers compared with 14 last year in the Active Fleet. True, there are slight increases in the Active Fleet of destroyers, frigates and submarines, but these increases have all been achieved by larger reductions in the training squadrons. For instance, while two frigates have been added to the Active Fleet, four have been withdrawn from the training squadrons. The same is the case with submarines. Has there been another shift of policy? All these changes lead us to believe that there is no long-term policy for the strength of the peace-time Navy.
The First Lord's statement poses the problem of balancing expenditure on manpower with expenditure 6n production, research and development so that. as the Parliamentary Secretary said, we
1987 may have the most efficient Navy that the money at present available can buy. I will first deal with the manpower problem. I was very relieved indeed to hear the statement by the Parliamentary Secretary this afternoon that a Committee of Inquiry had been set up to go into the most important question of re-engagements, but I ask why it was not done before, because on both sides of the House we have referred frequently in the past to the unsatisfactory position about re-engagements. Although in the statement by the First Lord accompanying the Estimates this is also mentioned, there is not a word about the Committee, which is fresh news to us this afternoon.
The delay over this problem, which is a vital one, has been extraordinarily damaging. If we look at the Estimates this year, we get a much clearer picture of the disastrous effects which the reduced rate of re-engagements is having on the whole structure of the Navy. While the reduction in the number of officers and chief petty officers is, I admit, more or less in proportion to the smaller total numbers, there are no less than 4,000 fewer petty officers than last year. Have we to wait until one-fifth of our petty officer strength has been lost before a committee is set up? In view of all we have said during past years, this question should have been dealt with sooner. Nevertheless, we are delighted to know that the Committee is now in being.
There are difficulties, of course, and I referred to some of them in the Debate last year. At that time my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea (Commander Noble) drew attention to the anomaly of giving a bounty to men who did not re-engage, and nothing to those who did. I hope that this is one of the matters which the Committee will take into account. In the Debate on the Navy Estimates last year I suggested that there should be a shorter period of re-engagement, which I thought might be more effective. I also drew attention to the new pay code, which I felt had the effect of reducing the reward for the extra responsibility which promotion carries with it.
We also stressed the need for married quarters in the home ports, as the Civil Lord knows. I was shocked by the 1988 answer he gave to a Parliamentary Question last week, that none of the new married quarters for which much greater provision is now made under the Armed Forces (Housing Loans) Act are to be built in the home ports. I hope that the Committee which is going into the question of re-engagements will take the problem of married quarters, one of the most important problems, very much into account.
§ The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Walter Edwards)
May I ask the hon. Gentleman to read the whole of the reply? He will find that after "married quarters" it said "at present."
§ Mr. Thomas
"At present"? I am very glad to hear that, but I admit that I hoped we were going to make progress straight away. I apologise if I have not quoted the Civil Lord's answer fairly. I did hope that it would have been possible to make progress right away with this problem of the married quarters, which I think is one of the most powerful factors in causing our present distressing position over re-engagements.
I hope and believe—I understood the Parliamentary Secretary to say so—that the re-engagements Committee will report at full speed. I am certain that unless something drastic is done, and done soon, it may be impossible to man those ships which comprise the Active Fleet, quite apart from those with reduced complements which are used for training. Apart from the manning problem. surely one of the most serious aspects of the re-engagements trouble is that it is so enormously expensive. If the average length of service is no more than half what it was before the war—and I have seen it calculated that the average length of service before the war was 16 years and that it is now only eight years—we must be spending twice as much time and employing twice as many men on training as we were before the war and spending far more than twice as much money. From the point of view of expenditure, this is well worth while looking into.
There is, then, the other question connected with manpower, the administrative tail. This was referred to in the Defence Debate by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence. It was said that the teeth would be
1989 sharpened and the tails combed. We are very glad to hear that news, but could it not have been done before now? The Parliamentary Secretary talked about the different Departments combing themselves. I am not awfully impressed with the expected results of the combing of the tail of the administrative side of the Admiralty, I hope that the administrative side will go in for a small tooth-comb. I have a very shrewd suspicion at the moment that all they are doing is raking through their tail with Neptune's trident. I trust and believe that they will pay proper attention to this serious subject because the number employed in the Admiralty Office under Vote 12 is still more than 10,000. I know that it is 1,100 fewer than last year, but it is still two and a half times the number employed in the Admiralty before the war. Surely more economies could have been made.
In the First Lord's Statement which is attached to the Estimates, we are told that a Committee has been appointed to hold a comprehensive review of Admiralty organisation. Again, I cannot make out why this Committee was not set up three or four years ago. I think it is possible that the Committee may find, now that the strategic rôle of the Navy has changed, that Departments in the Admiralty establishment can be telescoped to produce a cut of 10 or 20 per cent., saving £500,000 or £1 million a year. If that had been put into force three or four years ago, a saving of £2 million to £4 million could have been made available for research in modern weapons and sea warfare. Surely there is more sense in seeing what we can do about careful administration than by withholding reasonable scales of pay from such bodies as the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors or Naval Ordnance Inspectors, or by cutting the training of officers by half.
Let us look at the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors. In his speech in the Debate upon the last Navy Estimates, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken) described this Corps as one of the most underpaid of all persons with scientific knowledge who served the State. It is now three years since the Eastham Committee reported. Since then we have put many questions in this House to the Admiralty, and the vital urgency of the matter has been stressed once more 1990 from a very powerful quarter. Only last month two former First Sea Lords, Lord Chatfield and Lord Cunningham, wrote to "The Times" about the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors. They based their case on two grounds, as we do. First, that those members of the Corps at present serving are receiving salaries which are barely half what they could command in industry; and, secondly, that if we are unable to recruit sufficient numbers of men of the very highest quality, which the Navy rightly demands, the fighting efficiency of our future Fleets must be impaired.
In a written answer to a Question on 19th October, the late Parliamentary Secretary stressed that the Eastham Committee had been set up to advise the Board of Admiralty and that it was not therefore to be expected that the recommendations would automatically be put into effect. He said that a scheme had been devised which, in the view of the Board, should attract sufficient recruits of the necessary high standard from the Universities and the Royal Dockyards. I ask the Civil Lord to tell us whether that is still the view of the Board. Can he assure us that sufficient numbers are coming forward with first-class honours degrees on the new and very meagre scales upon which the Admiralty recently decided?
We do not deny the right of the Admiralty to refuse to disclose the East-ham Report, which came from an admittedly advisory body, but there is evidence that the Corps are not receiving a fair reward for their skill. Has not the time arrived when the Admiralty might seek some further help in their battle with the Treasury and set up a Select Committee to go into the whole matter as quickly as possible, so that the House may see their report and put right the grievances of this Corps, which is so vital to the future efficiency of the Navy?
Before I turn to the question of production, there is one other question which I should like to ask the Civil Lord. On page four of the White Paper, the first Lord refers to the Corfu Channel incident and reminds us that the International Court of Justice gave judgment in our favour and against Albania for the sum of nearly £844,000—the full amount of the British claim. How much of that money is due to the dependants of the
1991 men who lost their lives in H.M.S. "Saumarez"? What is the extent of the appropriation in aid that the Admiralty will in due course receive, and when will it be possible to make a payment to the dependants? Must they wait until the cash is received, if ever, from Albania, or is it possible for them to receive payment now out of Exchequer funds?
Let me now turn to production. I said at the beginning of my speech that if we are to achieve a true balance between manpower and production, it is surely necessary to establish a clear policy for the conduct of these two departments. I have tried to show, with regard to manpower, that there appears to be no clear policy. Everything that has been done in the last five years has been either too little or too late. Pay scales, re-engagements and training commitments have been mishandled at almost all stages. I do not see anything much more hopeful in the First Lord's statement of a policy on production, research and development, although I was much more encouraged by the Parliamentary Secretary, this afternoon.
Every year since the war when we have had Debates on Navy Estimates, it has been from this side of the House, or from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in defence Debates, that the principles of naval strategy have really come, and not from the Government benches.
§ Mr. Thomas
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite looks back on past Debates, he will find that I am not far wrong. This year there is only one short paragraph in the First Lord's statement about the protection of shipping against attack by high-speed submarines. No mention was made in the White Paper of the future strategic role of the Navy in an integrated North Atlantic defence policy. The Parliamentary Secretary added something, but not much, though I was most relieved to hear what he said about the anti-submarine measures and the steps that were being taken. When we put forward our arguments on the Navy Estimates last year and mentioned this submarine menace, the Government received what we said with very great reserve.
1992 In another place, where the same point was put, the First Lord seemed anxious to play down the danger. He said that he knew of no submarine which could make a submerged speed of 20 knots. He cannot make such a disclaimer today. I agree with the Parliamentary Secretary. We on this side of the House regard the high-speed submarine as of almost supreme importance. My hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) will move an Amendment today in which submarines figure very largely. So I shall say nothing more about it at this part of the Debate, except to give the House one example which may emphasise the magnitude of the problem.
Let us suppose that an S.O.S. is received from a ship attacked by one of the pre-Snorkel types of submarines. Within half an hour the attacker must be somewhere within an area of only 64 square miles. If the submarine were to be a contemporary modern vessel with an underwater speed of 20 knots, the area to be searched half an hour after the attack has increased nearly fivefold to over 300 square miles. At 25 knots, the area to be searched is still further increased by 190 square miles, making it nearly 10 times as large as the area to be searched for submarines of the last war which had a maximum underwater speed of nine knots.
§ Mr. Thomas
The hon. Gentleman is entitled to make that suggestion. I refer to the methods and plans which were pot forward by the Parliamentary Secretary this afternoon.
Apart from our inescapable naval obligations—to keep open our channels of trade while denying them to an enemy—we have recently accepted the leading role in Eastern Atlantic waters of Western Union defence at sea. It is against the acceptance of these strategic functions that we have first to judge our programme for the maintenance of the Fleet in being, and of the Reserve Fleet, and our new construction programme and research. It is only in the light of long-term strategy that it will be possible for the House to judge whether the balance between expenditure on manpower and on production has been truly struck. We on these benches are far from satisfied, in the light
1993 of our appreciation of the strategic position, that that balance has been struck at all.
I have attempted to show that, in our view, too much money is being wastefully spent on manpower and too little usefully allocated to production. The First Lord's statement indicates that £10,260,000 more is to be allocated to production. Of this, only £1,750,000 more is to go on the scientific services; stores are to account for a further £5 million above what was spent last year; contract work will get a little less than £3 minim more, and new construction is limited to two new escort vessels. The strategic requirements do not seem to justify the continued suspension of work on the three aircraft carriers of the "Majestic" class—"Powerful," "Leviathan" and "Hercules." I was sorry that the Parliamentary Secretary was not able to mention this point.
We are particularly weak in our naval aviation, as we pointed out last year. Of our 13 existing carriers, only one Fleet carrier and four light Fleet carriers are in active commission. Three are used for training, and the remainder are all in reserve. We have only nine under construction and, as I have said, construction on three of these is still suspended. When one appreciates the many hundreds of thousands of square miles which will have to be patrolled for submarines, the number of aircraft that these ships can carry will be far below our tactical needs. There is a substantial Fleet in reserve, including the carriers I have mentioned, four battleships, ten cruisers, 59 destroyers and 123 frigates. To man all these ships, would not 50,000 men be required? The question is whether they could be found quickly enough to enable the Reserve Fleet to put to sea at short notice.
§ Mr. Thomas
I am delighted but astonished to hear that. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his quick answer. I am very relieved to hear it because, from what we know of the manpower position, it seemed to me that it was not likely to be the case.
The introduction of National Service. which we support, does raise difficulties in our building up a Volunteer Reserve.
1994 The Navy's intake of National Service men is to be only 2,000. We do not disagree with that figure, but it means that, with all the other National Service men going to the Army and the Air Force, the field from which we can expect to man the R.N.V.R. is very limited. The Royal Fleet Reserve, of course, has its contribution to make and, to a more limited extent, so has the Royal Naval Reserve.
We should like to hear more at the end of the Debate about the plans of the Admiralty for meeting our necessarily heavy demands for manpower reserves. Particularly are we anxious about the reserves of aircrew for naval aviation. We have four squadrons in the R.N.V.R. which are fully operational and which recently carried out successful exercises from aircraft carriers. But are not the pilots in those four squadrons of wartime vintage and insufficient in number? What steps are the Admiralty taking to replace them with newly-trained officers? The R.N.V.R. squadrons are comparable to the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, but the Navy has no reserves, as I said from this Box last year, comparable to the R.A.F. Volunteer Reserve, who train at weekends and in their spare time in large numbers. So I repeat last year's request and ask that consideration be given to the building up of a similar flying reserve for the Navy.
In conclusion, I return to the First Lord's explanation of the White Paper which I quoted earlier about the proper balance of expenditure between personnel and production. It is because, on the information given to us, we think that balance has not been struck and because policy appears to be lacking, that most of my speech this afternoon has been devoted to putting probing questions to the Civil Lord. Before the Debate closes, I hope that the Civil Lord will have answered those questions and will have reassured us that the balance is a truer one than at present it appears to be.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Plymouth, Devonport)
The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) began his speech by paying a proper and, if I may be permitted to say so, a most graceful tribute to the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty on his new appointment and on the speech he
1995 delivered this afternoon. I am sure that everyone on this side of the House would like to join with the hon. Gentleman in that tribute and say how much we appreciated the speech from the Government Front Bench today. Perhaps I can reveal to the House why the hon. Gentleman acquits himself so well in his new office. The reason is that he has some good Devonshire blood in his veins, and that is the best qualification for a position at the Admiralty. My hon. Friend made a first-class speech today which fascinated the House and which everyone appreciated who listened to it. I have said that good Devonshire blood is the best qualification for an appointment at the Admiralty. In fact that is about the only defect we can find in the Civil Lord—apart from a few others I shall mention later.
The hon. Member for Hereford raised a few controversial matters in the latter part of his speech. I would hate to introduce any controversial questions into this House, particularly on the Navy Estimates, for I am sure that would be regarded as bad form. However, the hon. Gentleman obviously felt that he must do so, and I think it is perfectly proper for us on this side to recognise what a different temperature there is in this Debate from the one we had on these Estimates two years ago. Then we had a broadside from the Leader of the Opposition. It is quite true that the Leader of the Opposition chose to make his speech on the Navy Estimates this year in the Defence Debate, and that may account for the fact that we are having such a smooth passage today.
The truth is, of course, that the Opposition for four years have had no real case against the way in which affairs at the Admiralty have been conducted. Though they have tried to pick up a few small points. They have not been able to decide amongst themselves what they wanted to attack. Two years ago the Leader of the Opposition attacked the Government for not demobilising faster and a little later the hon. Member for Hereford attacked the Admiralty for demobilising too fast. Now they have patched it up, and all they can say after four years is that they are still worried. That is a very different story from what we heard two years ago.
1996 When it is remembered how difficult it has been to demobilise such a vast number of men, to rearrange the affairs of the Admiralty, and to carry through the vast transformation that has had to be made in this period, it is a tribute to the way in which affairs there have been run under this Government that all the Opposition can say after four years is that they are still worried on a few minor points. Whereas we had votes of censure from the Opposition on Admiralty matters two years ago, which proved to be mares' nests, today we have had a quiet speech from the hon. Gentleman. In fact we have not even had the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken) turn up here today—
§ Mr. J. P. L. Thomas
I am sorry to inform the House that the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Bracken) is suffering from influenza and is therefore unable to appear. I know the House will regret that.
§ Mr. Foot
I join with the hon. Gentleman in regretting that, and we hope that the right hon. Member will be back in form soon. We are glad to know that there is no political significance in his absence from the Debate today.
The fact is that the Opposition have no consistent case to make against the Admiralty, and that should be known to all those throughout the country who are interested in the conduct of affairs at the Admiralty. All we had from the Leader of the Opposition the other day, when he delivered his speech on the Navy Estimates in the defence Debate, was another mare's nest about some instrument for dealing with submarine warfare which he had just discovered from an American newspaper, but which had been fully examined by the Admiralty a considerable time ago, and which he raised as if it were some great new alarm which should be the concern of the House.
Therefore it is a little unfair for the hon. Member for Hereford to pretend at the end of his speech that there were great attacks which he wished to make upon the Government, when he knew as well as we know that the attacks made by his party two years ago fell completely flat and that, on the main structure of the Admiralty service, and on the main way in which the Government have run
1997 affairs at the Admiralty, the Government have a good case to make to this House and to the country.
My hon. Friend was able to give a fine account to the House today of some of the changes that have taken place in the naval barracks and in the conditions of service during the past four and a half years. In fact, I am waiting anxiously to hear the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) because I am not quite sure what he will say. He cannot make the same speech again because the speeches he made when he came back from his service in the Navy at the end of the war have played their part in bringing about some of those improvements I have mentioned. It is only right for us to pay tribute to the Admiralty for the way in which they have put through many of those improvements.
I am also glad to know the detailed figures which the Financial Secretary was able to give about the provision of married quarters. We asked in the Debate last year to have a more detailed account this year of the progress that had been made. We have now received that account from the Admiralty, to whom credit should be given. Those of us who have been interested in this matter were grateful for the account which was given of the way in which the Dartmouth scheme has been working in these first few months of its operation. We who advocated the scheme are very glad that the Admiralty are pleased with the way in which it is progressing.
The hon. Member for Hereford spoke on what was admitted by the Parliamentary Secretary to be one of the main problems concerning the Admiralty: that is, what are to be the numbers engaged in the Admiralty service and the failure of people to re-sign after their 12 years' service. We were told that there was to be a complete review by the Admiralty of the trade and career structure of the Navy in order to meet this most serious manpower problem which they have to face. I should like to make a suggestion on one side of that problem, which was not mentioned by the Parliamentary Secretary but which has been mentioned in every Navy Estimates Debate we have had in this House, and which concerns the period of foreign service.
1998 From my experience in talking with constituents of mine who work in, or are connected with, the Navy, I should say that the biggest grievance, or, at any rate, the biggest source of complaint, amongst naval families is the period of foreign service. When we first raised this matter in the House three or four years ago the Civil Lord, in reply to the Debate, said that the Admiralty would keep this matter under review and that they had at that time a committee which was examining the problem to see what could be done. I recognise that it is a very difficult matter, because it involves the whole disposition of naval manpower. It is a particularly difficult matter with which to deal in the abnormal circumstances with which the Admiralty have had to grapple in the past four years, but I ask the Civil Lord to give us in his reply some indication of the views of the Admiralty about this matter.
We were told three or four years ago that it might be possible in some way or other to reduce the period of foreign service, and I should be grateful to know the general ideas of the Admiralty and what progress they think can be made. because this is still one of the big deterrents to people signing up after the long period of 12 years' foreign service which many men in the Navy still have to serve. I hope that not only will the Civil Lord refer to this matter when he replies, but even more important, that it will be further considered by the Admiralty, and that as soon as they are able to make their long-term plans about manpower, they should consider this issue as a very high priority for consideration in improving the conditions of those in the Service.
I want now to refer to some of the matters affecting particularly the Royal Dockyards. Here, again, the Government have a very good record. Many of us who represent dockyard constituencies have in the past criticised the Government on various dockyard matters; we will do so again, and we may even do so today. It would be most ungenerous, however, if we did not give credit to the Government for the great changes which have taken place during the past four and a half years in the conditions of employment in the Royal Dockyards. During that time there has been a bigger effort to change and improve conditions of employment in the
1999 Royal Dockyards than was made, I should say, in the previous 40 years.
The establishment change was by far the biggest reform which has been introduced into the dockyard service for many years, but many other reforms also have been put through and we must thank the Civil Lord for his courtesy, energy and diligence in dealing with these problems. I assure him that Royal Dockyard workers have a very real feeling of respect towards him for his efforts, and that, therefore, when we criticise in other directions, we are not disregarding the fact that in the past four and a half years a much bigger effort has been made in Royal Dockyards than ever before.
In the Estimates now before the House we have not, I think, very much for immediate complaint. The Civil Lord will recognise, however, that those of us representing dockyard constituencies must always be anxious for the future, partly because we remember what happened after the First World War, and partly because it is in the nature of things that the whole or a great part of the prosperity of our cities is dependent upon what happens as a result of an Estimate which is passed through the Treasury and presented each year to this House. We cannot be content, therefore, merely to live from year to year and to see that there is to be roughly a maintenance of the level of employment in the dockyards.
We must be concerned also about more deep-rooted problems, and it is for this reason that in the past three or four years, even though we have had nothing about which to be immediately alarmed, even though there was no immediate threat of heavy unemployment as there was after the First World War, even though we have not had the prospect of 3,000 or 4,000 people being sacked, as happened after 1918, we have still been concerned about the future. My reason for concern is because I believe that in the long run the House will only be prepared to vote sufficient money to maintain full employment in the Royal Dockyards if hon. Members know and find that that money is being properly used, and used for the very best benefit of the nation.
The reason why on a number of occasions we have told the Civil Lord that we did not think all was well in the 2000 Royal Dockyards, even though we could be content with the situation in the immediate future, was because we could foresee that in, perhaps, two or three years' time there might be heavy cuts in the Defence Estimates, which, from the national point of view, and from the international aspect also, if it would be possible, we would all like to see; but it is because we have foreseen that situation that we have tried to persuade the Admiralty to recognise that they should have a long-term policy for the Royal Dockyards.
We have never yet succeeded in persuading the Admiralty to accept that point of view, and I cannot understand why. It is natural that the admirals should be chiefly concerned with their naval repair work. No one has ever suggested that the main work of the Royal Dockyards should not be naval repair work, but what we have suggested—it is a very simple proposition; anybody can understand it—is this: that in war-time, of course, and in times of emergency the Royal Dockyards need more people than they are likely to need in time of peace; that, therefore, there should be a policy of maintaining the complement of people who will be needed in time of war, and that they could be maintained on other kinds of work.
That is not a plea for the scrapping of naval repair work in order to do various forms of commercial work or repayment work, as it may be called. It is a plea that if in a year or two's time there should be a decline in the amount of naval repair work which has to be done, we should not be faced, a few weeks before the presentation of the Navy Estimates, with the situation where the Admiralty come to this House and say to the Royal Dockyards, "We have less money in the Estimates and, therefore, another few hundred or, perhaps, a thousand people have to be thrown out of their jobs," in either Devonport, Portsmouth or wherever else the dockyard may be. That is why those of us representing dockyard constituencies have always said that there should be a much more planned and coherent policy for building up this kind of commercial work when the opportunity arises.
We are supported in this kind of claim by the only independent inquiry that has ever been made into the working of the dockyards, that held by the Select Com-
2001 mittee on Estimates. In the last Debate on the Estimates, the Civil Lord referred in some slighting terms—I do not blame him—to the inquiries made by the Select Committee and said that they were superficial inquiries. But, if the inquiries made by the Select Committee on Estimates were superficial, he can put that right by holding a proper inquiry, a real inquiry, which can report to the nation on the question of the way in which the Royal Dockyards could do this commercial work when the need came and also on the way in which the Royal Dockyards are working today.
It is a remarkable fact that at a time when, as far as we can see and, we hope, for two or three years ahead, there will be no danger of big unemployment in the Royal Dockyards and when the men concerned need have no great worries about their own jobs, it is significant that at a time like that the workers in the yards should say, through their unions, almost unanimously that they think there should be a proper inquiry into the work of the Royal Dockyards, to see if they are doing all the work they could do for the nation.
Once again I ask the Civil Lord to agree to a proposal we have made several times, that we should have a working party to hold an independent inquiry into the conduct of the Royal Dockyards. It will not do any harm to anyone and may do a lot of good. If the case of the Admiralty is as good as the Civil Lord has said on so many occasions, he should welcome such an inquiry as much as we should. I confess that one of the candidates for such a job I have always had in mind is my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works. I thought he was a good kind of fellow to put on this type of inquiry and it might have caused quite a stir in some of the dockyards. I think that even now he might transfer some of his attention from the Royal Parks to the Royal Dockyards. It would be a good thing if he, or some person with qualifications of that kind, could be put on such an inquiry.
In case the Civil Lord might think he is committing some indiscretion, or breach of policy by doing this, I will read to him something written by G. M. Trevelyan in his "English Social History," which describes some of the background story of how the British people gained their great successes across the Seven Seas. He 2002 will see that it was not only a question of Devon seamen going all over the world doing whatever they liked, but that the origins of the story rested in a kind of working party established to deal with the Royal Dockyards. Trevelyan wrote:Henry VIII had founded the royal navy.' Under Edward VI and Mary it had been permitted to decay.Obviously a couple of Tory monarchs.Under Elizabeth it was revived. Yet during the first twenty years of her reign improvement in the royal dockyards was slow. Elizabeth inherited a bankrupt State, and she dared not lay heavy taxes on her impatient and obstinate subjects. Her proverbial parsimony, though sometimes applied in the wrong place, was as a general rule necessary to the bare survival of her government. Moreover, what money she was able to squeeze out for the navy was much of it grossly ill spent. Cecil and the vigilant Privy Council lacked not the will but the technical knowledge to detect and reform the traditional corruption of the shipyards. Then, in a fortunate hour (1578), Elizabeth put John Hawkins"—a man from Plymouth—in charge of the building and upkeep of her ships. During the decade before the coming of open war, which the Queen had so long and so wisely postponed, Hawkins did as great a work in the dockyards as Drake on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.In other words, all that Elizabeth did was to listen to some back benchers of the day and appoint a working party for the Royal Dockyards. I say to the Civil Lord that what Queen Elizabeth could do he can do—in some particulars at least. When he has finished with that matter there are one or two other matters for his attention—
§ Miss Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
Before the hon. Member leaves the question of the Royal Dockyards, will he explain if, when he refers to "other commercial work," he intends to imply that other forms of shipbuilding should be taken from private shipyards and put into the Naval Dockyards?
§ Mr. Foot
I am in favour of full employment in those shipyards, and if there is a danger of failure of full employment in private shipyards I am in favour of a development council for the shipbuilding 2003 industry, as will be seen in the Labour Party's programme and, if necessary, of further measures to maintain full production in those yards as well. Cities like Portsmouth, where they have a considerable amount of unemployment, or Plymouth, where we have a certain amount of unemployment, have a special claim on the Admiralty, on this House and this country. Our city is one which has almost only one industry and that industry is devoted to the security and safety of this country.
I say that the Admiralty, Parliament and this country owe a special debt to such cities which devote almost the whole of their livelihood to the defence of this country, particularly when these cities have been subjected, as my city was subjected, to bombing and blitz on a worse scale than almost any other in the country. I say we have a special claim on the Admiralty and on this House. More bombs fell on Plymouth than on most of the private shipyard areas. Therefore, representatives of those private shipyard areas have no business, when I make my appeal to the Admiralty on behalf of my city, to say that it is in any way an improper appeal.
Not merely do we have a city in which there is one industry on which we are chiefly dependent, but in Plymouth many properties are owned or requisitioned by the Admiralty and there is a perpetual controversy about the release of some of them. I hope that the Admiralty will recognise that they owe a special obligation to cities such as Plymouth and Portsmouth and dockyard cities where they have taken over great areas, especially in my city, where they propose to take over a much greater area. The whole future of the Navy depends on Plymouth Corporation agreeing to their proposals. We have a claim on the Admiralty which other cities have not.
Therefore, the Admiralty ought to have a special regard for the release as quickly as possible of some of the properties which we want. I have taken up individual cases with the Civil Lord. We want them de-requisitioned and handed back to us for housing purposes. I have mentioned to him camps and other places but also—and I do not think he will dissent from this—we want 2004 a full declaration by the Admiralty as to their intentions about the area they want to take over. We think their intentions are honourable; we have not seen anything to persuade us that they are not honourable. But when something like half my constituency is to be taken over by the Admiralty in order to maintain the safety of this country, I say that the citizens of that place have a right to stand up in the House of Commons, through their representative, and say that the Admiralty owes in return a special obligation to such a city, especially when we remember that if it had not been for the city of Plymouth this country would probably never have heard of the British Navy at all.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Squadron-Leader Burden (Gillingham)
The House may be surprised that I should venture to address it for the first time on the Navy Estimates as my own period of service was with the R.A.F. But in asking the indulgence of the House I would remind hon. Members that I have been sent here by an electorate which contains a large number of dockyard workers. In that I am on common ground with the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), but I cannot help wondering how much more common ground I shall find with him in this House. I am also fortunate in having spent a good deal of my time in the R.A.F. working alongside officers of the Royal Navy. From them I learned that naval strength will always be the linchpin of British strategy.
The first object of the Navy must be so to control the world sea lanes that we can use them for the vital purpose of maintaining our supply links with the outside world and deploying our strength wherever strategy may demand. While each Service is to a greater or lesser degree involved in establishing this control over sea communications, by far the greater part of the responsibility must fall on the Royal Navy. That is so because on our control of the trade routes depends our ability to sustain the life of our people, obtain the raw materials essential in war and peace, retain contact with our friends and contain our enemies in war. The Estimates presented to this House each year are designed to ensure that the Royal Navy is capable of carrying out those obligations.
2005 It is therefore gratifying to observe that the present Navy Estimates provide for the setting aside of a considerable sum to be spent on the scientific services. These, I am glad to see, include scientific research and development. During the latter part of the last war there were considerable advances in submarine construction by the Germans The full effect of these technical advances was minimised by our intensive bombing and yard destruction, which denied quantity production of the new type submarines in the latter stages of the war. We should be wise to assume that the Russians have taken full advantage o; the scientific information which they have undoubtedly obtained from the Germans, and in peacetime they are unhampered in the construction of large numbers of the "Snort" and other new type submarines. These submarines, in quantity, offer a tar greater threat to our security and naval strategy than the submarine menace of the past, great though that was.
We should be wise to assume that we may become engaged in the future against some enemy or enemies whose constructions yards are so inaccessible to our aircraft that a policy of attrition by bombing would not pay adequate dividends. In the last war sinkings by U-boats were possibly greatest in 1942, but then, despite our enormous losses, the Germans probably possessed no more submarines than do the Russians today, and the Russians have the advantage of possessing numbers of the new type submarines and also a measure of immunity from attack on her construction yards which was happily denied to the Germans.
I have no doubt that the Estimates contain provision for the greatest possible concentration of scientific knowledge on the development of anti-submarine weapons. I suggest that despite all that may be accomplished in this field the probable pre-hostility deployment of enemy submarines in the case of any future war is likely to be such that heavy losses would seem to be inevitable in the early stages. Indeed it might well be that submarine attacks would result in heavy casualties to our Naval Forces over an extended period. We should be wise to assume that to be the case.
Both sides of the House will accept the need for the rapid repair of naval vessels. This is absolutely vital to the 2006 success of our naval strategy, and means that our naval dockyards must remain fully manned although they may not be fully employed on Admiralty work even in times of peace. Last week I put a Question to the Civil Lord of the Admiralty about future employment at Sheerness Dockyard. I was somewhat concerned at his reply. He said:The only reductions at present planned at Sheerness Dockyard will amount to approximately 130 industrials and 30 non-industrials in the Naval Store Department."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th March. 1950; Vol. 472; c. 1066.]I am rather worried about the implication contained in this reply. His statement that "The only reduction at present planned… "suggests that further reductions may be under consideration. As he said this afternoon when he interposed during the Debate in regard to housing his use of the words" at present "in regard to the non-supply of houses probably meant that more houses would be built later. I suggest that in his reply to my Question he left wide open the possibility of reducing the number of personnel at Sheerness Dockyard. In view of the circumstances and the need for the complete manning of our dockyards, I would ask him to make himself clear on the point that no further reductions are envisaged at Sheerness Dockyard. Indeed, we should face up to the position that the dockyard facilities now available in this country and the Commonwealth may be insufficient to deal with the probable repair requirements of our naval forces in the circumstances we may be called upon to face.
In any future war the great American dockyards would no doubt be made available to us as far as possible, but we might well find that even with these our repair facilities will still be inadequate. I submit that our position will be much strengthened if the Government will arrange for the construction of a number of repair ships, which, although costly, will, because of their ability, up-to-date machinery and comparative lack of vulnerability, be far more valuable than the continued maintenance of obsolete yards overseas like the one in Bermuda, which we heard this afternoon is to be discontinued. Serious consideration should be given to this question of repair ships.
2007 My next point concerns the danger to our home dockyards from enemy air attack. While it is obvious that we must be in a position to repair damaged vessels with the utmost speed, it is clear that the enemy will endeavour to deny to us this essential "Fleet service" by carrying out sustained and intensive air attacks on our dockyard establishments. I trust, therefore, that the Minister will be able to assure this House and the men and women working and living in the dockyard towns that the provision of adequate anti-aircraft protection is in the forefront of Government intentions.
I now turn to the vexed question of accommodation. It is not my intention to harass the Government. Their discomfiture at the lack of success in this field was plain for all to see during the Debate last week. Their position on this issue was not improved in the country by the irrelevancies of the Minister of Health in the course of that Debate. I ask the Civil Lord to bear constantly in mind the fact that Service personnel have as much right to a decent home life as have the rest of the population of this country.
In my own constituency of Gillingham there is a chronic shortage of homes for Service families, and if my information is correct, as I believe it to be, the shortage is aggravated by married quarters being used as offices. These have been used by the Marines who, I am sorry to hear, are now to break a long and traditional association with the Medway towns. I ask whether it is a fact that married quarters have been used as offices by the Marines, and whether we can be assured that when the take-over by more Naval Forces is accomplished those homes at present being used as offices will revert to their proper use as married quarters. I assure the Minister that any measures he may take to provide homes for the families of Service men in the Medway towns will be greatly appreciated.
This brings me to my final point. The public conscience is occasionally shocked by disasters to naval craft but it is the spectacular loss of life which alone stirs the imagination. When "Thetis" and, more recently, "Truculent" were lost, a public subscription was raised to provide for the dependants of the men who lost 2008 their lives. I want to make it plain that I have no quarrel with the public-spirited men and women who responded so generously. But it is a fact that Service men frequently lose their lives under conditions that do not stir the imagination, but their dependants are no less deserving. I feel sure that the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who served so gallantly in Russian convoys during the war, feels far from happy al their plight. I therefore invite the attention of the Minister to what I believe to be a possible way of alleviating the hardship of dependants and relatives of personnel who lose their lives by accident or Service incident.
The practice has grown and is expanding in industry whereby the lives of employees are insured under group schemes, and I understand that at the moment the miners are negotiating such a scheme. I would submit that consideration be given to the question of insuring all Service personnel—and civilians necessarily serving with them, as was the case in "Truculent"—for a reasonable sum against death on duty in peace-time. Such insurance would be quite apart from the allowances now paid to dependent relatives. As in industry, it would be a protection for the bereaved family. Many cases occur, especially when young lives are lost, where the deceased, merely because he is on the threshold of life, has not been called upon to contribute to the support of a relative, but who, as his position improves, would undoubtedly ease the financial stringency of ageing relatives. But in these cases no pension is paid, despite the fact that families have been bereaved of their source of support for the future.
The serving man has disadvantages, and the fact that he is aware of them is indicated by his reluctance to remain in the Navy. This one might be removed at a very slight increase in the over-all cost per head. I suggest that if the increases were worked out, it would not cost more each year than the cost of the humidification of, say, three battleships. I suggest that serious thought should be given to it, and I believe it might go a long way towards solving some of the difficulties of recruiting. It would certainly ease very considerably the lot of a great many of the dependants for whom at the moment we are so concerned.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu (Huddersfield, East)
The hon. and gallant Member for Gillingham (Squadron-Leader Burden), who has just addressed this House for the first time, is at this moment experiencing the few moments of pure bliss that ever comes to a Member of Parliament. He has got his maiden speech off his chest very successfully. We listened to him today with great interest, an interest heightened by the fact that his experience comes from another Service. I hope he will not think that, because my experience of this great House is not much greater than his own, my congratulations are not worth much. I can assure him that they come, not only from me, but from the whole House.
Nothing I have heard, either from the hon. and gallant Gentleman or from any other speaker in this House today, has led me to change my mind about Admiralty. I have always believed that in the matter of securing equipment Admiralty was supreme, at any rate in Government Departments. I feel that they have always had the intelligence to foresee a menace, even when it is beyond the horizon. They have had the brains to design and acquire the answers to that menace; and almost, above all, they have had the adaptability and flexibility to beat the Treasury every time, so that they can always get the money that they need to pay for the answers. When it comes to the question of equipment, I say Admiralty is wholly trustworthy and I am delighted that their Lordships are now paying attention to some minor matters of equipment. I am glad to hear that they have at last discovered that the sides of a battle wagon can be painted with a paint spray instead of a brush. If the Parliamentary Secretary really wants to increase productivity, he might direct their Lordships' attention to the problem of getting some machine which will scrub the iron deck.
But when it comes to the matter of men, the handling and the welfare of seamen, I think that Admiralty are less trustworthy. They seem sometimes to forget that the value of even their best equipment is diminished if the conditions of the men working that equipment are not such as to provide the maximum efficiency. I feel that too great a proportion of the attention of their Lordships is paid to 2010 equipment, and too little to personnel. I am thinking in part of the design of ships. I was interested to hear the Parliamentary Secretary say that there was in existence a high-powered committee dealing with the design of ships.
From the little experience of ships which I had in the war, I should imagine that that committee is of comparatively recent origin. I do not know whether that is true or not, but it was my experience that a ship was designed and the equipment fitted into it, and it was then considered complete. The men were just poured in and lodged wherever they happened to fall. As this committee is now in being, I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to direct the attention of its members to a number of points. I realise that, particularly in small ships, the room for the crew must necessarily be confined, but would he ask the committee this: is it really necessary, in the confined space of a battleship, that space should be further restricted by having a gun support running through it? Would he ask this committee—who have now discovered that in certain parts of the world it is desirable for ships to have refrigerators—whether it is absolutely essential for the refrigerator to be put in No. 1 boiler room?
Could he please do something about the guns in destroyers and the design of them? It really is a scandalous thing that destroyers going on the run up to the Arctic should have open gun shields without any shelter or protection. The fingers of the men freeze up at once, and what is almost worse, the gun freezes up; so that the whole lot is useless. Will the Parliamentary Secretary see that these little points are brought to the notice of the committee about which he speaks?
That brings me with no great jump to the question of Royal Naval Barracks. I was delighted to hear the Parliamentary Secretary talk about improvements at Chatham. Chatham happens to be a barracks of which I have no experience whatsoever. I used to hear ugly rumours about it during the war, that it was even worse than the Royal Naval Barracks at Portsmouth. But I never believed that. I always suspected that those rumours were spread by the enemy to cause alarm and despondency. I was delighted to hear that some improvements have been
2011 taking place and particularly the improvement about canteen messing. It is an admirable improvement.
One of the things from which he and I suffered in other establishments was this business of having to do our "dhobying," eating, sweating and smoking and sleeping all on the same mess deck. The food, as the Parliamentary Secretary will remember, used to be brought from the galleys to the mess deck. By the time it got to us it was cold. While the heat of the food disappeared, the smell of it endured, with the result that we used to have our sleep at night spoiled by the stench of the same fish known as "the yellow peril"—which had spoiled our breakfast. The smell of that fish was refreshed—if that is the right word—by the smell of pig swill coming up from immediately below. Those conditions were intolerable. Changes may have been made at Chatham but, I am given to understand, they have not been made at Portsmouth. I doubt whether they have been made at Devonport.
Much as I want to hear of improvements in these barracks, I hope that the Admiralty will not consider they are doing enough merely by improving the barracks. I know that that has to be done as a temporary job but, on a long-term view of the matter, I say that no amount of improvement will remedy the situation. The Royal Naval Barracks, barren and dusty places, will never again be habitable, however good the commodore or the commander may be, however good the Ministers, and however much whitewash is splashed about them. I do not want to hear of these places being improved. I want to hear of their being destroyed. I know that that cannot be done at once, but there is an overwhelming case in favour of the destruction of these barracks, from the point of view of the welfare of the "inmates" and of security.
On the question of dispersal, if by any chance their Lordships are still thinking that in any future war it will do to have our main manning depots concentrated in big port towns, with anything up to 15,000 people in any one of the barracks, let me say that I think they will be proved desperately wrong in the first few weeks of the war. These barracks could be destroyed in an attack lasting only an 2012 hour or two and all the men in them could be destroyed, too. For future planning it is essential that the Admiralty should begin to think in terms of dispersal of the men in very small units. I am sorry to hear of outlying establishments being closed down, and I am horrified to hear that trainees are to be trained in these barrack cesspools. Any trainee arriving in them will get a rotten impression of the Navy. He will pick up habits there which will give a bad impression of the Navy wherever he goes. It would be much better to keep the training away from the barracks and, at the earliest possible minute, to start splitting up the barracks into small units not necessarily all over the country but all over an area, to guard against being wiped out entirely by a few bombs
That is really all I have to say. I am concerned, as we all are, that the attitude of the nation towards the treatment of the Service man should seem to go In regular cycles. The first phase is when a war is on. All the people in the Services are then considered, somewhat sentimentally, to be heroes. They must have the best. Large numbers of civilians, people like myself, go into the Services and send back reports to our homes in every street throughout the country, telling how vile the conditions are. A body of public opinion is built up in this way, and everybody says: "We must improve the lot of the Service man." This answer is always given: "Yes, that's all very fine, but don't you know there's a war on?"
The next stage is when the war is over and we come into something like peace. The impetus which was given by the people who came out from the Services and by others carries forward the Government of the day towards making some improvements of the type about which we have heard today. Steadily, that impetus begins to die away. After we have come out of the Service we begin to forget, as the years pass by, the realities of our experience and we look back rather sentimentally and say: "It really couldn't have been quite as bad as all that." We begin to see the good side of it. When the run-down of National Service men takes place in the Navy, far fewer people are sending back reports to civil life about the conditions. Though people still say: "We must do
2013 something to improve the conditions of the serving men," they are told: "We can't do anything just now because, don't you know, it is necessary to economise." That stage lasts a long time until we get to the third stage, which is when another war is imminent.
People get frightened then, and begin to build up the Forces again, and they concentrate upon equipment. They say: "The men must have the best equipment possible. They must not be armed with pikes, but they can't expect to be mollycoddled. We must leave that sort of thing until after the war." That is how it has happened through the centuries. The conditions of the serving man improve, but never as far as they ought to improve.
The best safeguard that this House has today against a repetition of that cycle is the fact that the Ministers responsible for naval affairs have recent lower-deck experience. I would beg them to keep their experience continually alive in their minds in all they do. With the Parliamentary Secretary I go further than beg. I threaten. If at any time there is a danger of his making the men the second charge instead of the first upon the resources of the Admiralty, I shall at once reveal to the House conversations I had with him some six years ago when, for a few months, we were serving our King and country drinking cups of tea in a seamanship hut. Our conversations were picturesque and sometimes vitriolic about the way in which the country treats its seamen. But that is joking. I know that both the Ministers will remember that seamen are human beings with ability, courage and great loyalty. I know they will remember that that loyalty is not something upon which the nation can indefinitely impose.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, West)
I desire to intervene in this Debate for a few minutes in order to put forward three points, two of which were mentioned in passing by the Parliamentary Secretary in his very interesting opening speech. Both the White Paper on Defence which was discussed last week and the White Paper which accompanies the present Naval Estimates place emphasis upon reduction of manpower in the Navy without in any way impairing the striking power of the active Fleet.
2014 That point was reinforced by what the Parliamentary Secretary said this afternoon. I do not dissent in any way from the policy of making better use of the uniformed strength of the Navy. That is right and proper, but the point which disturbs me—and it has not so far been commented upon by anybody—is the ever widening gap which is appearing between the uniformed strength of the Navy and the civilian element, which is borne on the Navy Vote.
I wonder whether hon. Members realise the tremendous difference which has taken place in the balance or ratio between the uniformed or sailor element and the civilian element over the past 10 years. It is rather disturbing, and, though I am loth to inflict a lot of figures upon the House, I want to read out three sets to illustrate the change which has taken place since the year 1939. I ought to explain to the Civil Lord, who I understand is to reply to the Debate, that these figures have been obtained from the appropriate Navy Estimates, and from answers which I have had in reply to Questions put in this House in the last few years.
In 1939 the uniformed or sailor strength was 133,000 and in that year the civilian element—that is, the industrial and non-industrial employees borne on the Navy Vote—was 107,000. In other words, there were 26,000 more sailors than civilians in the Navy. Last year the sailor element was 153,000, and the civilian element 177,000. In other words, there were 24,000 more civilians than sailors. This year the disparity is even greater. According to Vote A, there are at the moment 143,000 sailors in the Navy, and I understand from what the Parliamentary Secretary said that there is to be a run down during the year to about 127,000. According to the answers to Questions I got on Monday, the civilian element is just under 171,000. In other words, there are now 28,000 more civilians than sailors on the Admiralty Vote. This state of affair requires some explanation.
I appreciate that there have been great developments in equipment since the year 1939, and that there must be larger civilian maintenance staffs than existed pre-war in order that machinery and weapons can be kept in proper order. At the same time I feel that this ever-widening gap between the uniformed element
2015 and the civilian element is something which ought to be looked into, and if, as is apparent, the Admiralty are making economies and reductions in the fighting strength of the Navy. I believe it is very necessary that they should look to this civilian element to see if there is not room for making economies there as well. I hope the Civil Lord will devote part of his speech tonight to this problem. It is not the first time that I have raised it in the Debate on the Navy Estimates, and, with all respect, I have never yet had a satisfactory answer why there should be so many more civilians in the Service of the Admiralty as compared with sailors than was the case in pre-war days.
My second point concerns the statement which was made by the Parliamentary Secretary in his opening speech today, when he referred to a number of economies which are to be made in the current year, amongst which was the abolition of the post of the Flag Officer, H.M.S. "Cochrane." The Parliamentary Secretary, who is a skilled politician, sought to disarm any Scottish complainers by saying that it had nothing to do with Rosyth Dockyard. Nevertheless, I feel bound to probe this matter more deeply.
Do I understand from what the Parliamentary Secretary said that it is intended to abolish the office of Commanding Officer, Coast of Scotland, or is it a subordinate appointment to that of Commanding Officer, Coast of Scotland? I should like that point made clear. If it is intended to abolish this office of Commanding Officer, Coast of Scotland, who is going to be in command of Naval Services in the Scottish area? So far as I can recollect, there has always been a Flag Officer stationed in the Forth area in peace-time, and we would be very loth indeed to see any alteration from this practice. After all, the General Officer Commanding in Scotland is in Edinburgh, as is also the Air Officer Commanding, and it would be lamentable if there were nobody to represent the Navy in the vicinity of the capital of Scotland.
I want to say one word on the subject of Rosyth. As the Civil Lord is aware, I have been putting one or two questions to him lately in connection with the closing down of the naval hospital at Port Edgar. I understand that that has no 2016 bearing at all on the future of Rosyth. Nevertheless, there is a feeling up in Edinburgh and in that part of the country that this is by way of being what is colloquially known as "the thin end of the wedge." There is some apprehension that it may be intended to reduce Rosyth in status. I hope, therefore, that the Civil Lord in his reply tonight will make it clear that it is the intention of the Government to regard Rosyth as being a main dockyard and to keep it in being. It is a matter about which I have spoken on many occasions in this House, and I am not going to recapitulate all the excellent reasons why it should be retained, but anybody who has any notion about strategy or defence must see that it is necessary that we should have a dockyard in the North Sea.
Finally, I return to that other subject about which I have also spoken and written "acres" of correspondence during the time I have been a Member of this House, and on which my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) touched in passing—the position of the officers of the Inspection Department. The Civil Lord will recollect that in the course of the last Parliament I had no fewer than two Adjournment Debates on that subject, which must be somewhat unusual, and in the second of those, as recently as 12th July last, the Civil Lord made certain pronouncements, which will be found in col. 402 of HANSARD. He outlined a number of improved salary scales for these officers, and at first sight I must admit that I and my hon. Friends who have taken an interest in this matter believed that they were reasonable. Unfortunately, as too often happens in this life, things which look all right at first do not appear so when probed into more deeply, and so it was in this case.
I am informed that so far from getting a rise, a small number of officers are finding that their pay now is less than before the improvements were announced, and in an appreciable number of cases there has been no substantial improvement whatsoever. I feel that these inspection officers have been treated in a very poor way indeed. There are just three points in connection with this subject which I wish to bring to the notice of the Civil Lord. The first is that I would urge him to get back to the basis of this whole matter, which is Admiralty Fleet 2017 Order 2078, published in the year 1931, and I propose to read him the relevant paragraph from that Order, because it is the key to the whole situation. That Order states quite definitely:The above rates of pay will be comparable to the standard (1919) rates of pay of officers on the active list and will be subject to similar variations as the latter rates.All through this correspondence and throughout the Debates which we have had upon this subject, I have sought to make it clear that the chief complaint of the inspection officers is that there has been a departure from the spirit of that Order, and that, in fact, their pay has never conformed to the pay of active service officers, as was mentioned in the Admiralty Fleet Order.
The second point I wish to make is to recall to the Civil Lord the findings of the Madden Committee. The Report of the Committee is a confidential document, and I do not know exactly what is in it, but it would be interesting if the hon. Gentleman could say if that Committee was in favour of the Instruction Department being made an active service branch of the Navy, or if it should become a civilian branch of the Navy, or if these officers should continue their present hybrid existence, which is the least satisfactory development which one can conceive. Personally, I think it would be a very good idea if the whole Inspection Department were to be made an active service branch, just as are the gunnery and torpedo schools and the department of the director of Naval Ordnance.
The third point to which I would invite the attention of the Civil Lord concerns a matter which rankles very much with the naval inspection officers. Something like 60 per cent. of them are serving in inter-Service establishments under the authority of the Ministry of Supply at the present time. In these establishments, they have as colleagues officers of the Army inspection service and also of the R.A.F. inspection service. The Army and Air Force officers draw full Service pay and allowances, whereas the Naval officers get the very much reduced scales appropriate to the naval ordnance rates. This matter is a source of very great irritation and natural annoyance to the people concerned, and I therefore urge that something should be done to remove 2018 this anomaly. I suggest that the proper way in which to sweep away all these difficulties and irritations and get the department on a proper basis is to make it a full active service uniformed branch of the Royal Navy. I commend that solution very strongly to the Civil Lord, and I hope he will deal with it in his reply.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Commander Pursey (Hull, East)
I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lieut.-Commander Hutchison) will forgive me if I do not follow him—he knows that I am always prepared to take on the previous speaker—except to say that the Port Edgar Hospital was closed after the First World War. I served there for some time, and I say that there is no justification for it now being kept on by the Navy when it can serve a much better use under the National Health Service. Naval officers and ratings will be better off, as I was myself, under the national scheme, and I thought it was up to me to say that.
I congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on attaining his new post. I would have said a word or two about the speech of the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) if he had been here, but I will simply confine my remarks about it to saying that, having prepared his speech before he had heard that of the Parliamentary Secretary's speech if he will now read the two tomorrow he will find that he did not say very much that was not said by the Parliamentary Secretary. If the hon. Gentleman takes out of his speech what was already covered by the Parliamentary Secretary there will not be much left.
Before passing on to my main remarks, I would like to deal with the interjection by the hon. Lady the Member for Tyne-mouth (Miss Ward) when my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) was putting forward the claims of the dockyard towns. The hon. Lady just does not understand what my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport was talking about, just as she does not understand a lot of other things. Repayment work for the dockyards has nothing to do with shipbuilding work in the private yards; her interjection, therefore, was quite wide of the mark.
2019 wish to pose a couple of questions before I come to my main theme. First, I would ask the hon. Gentleman who is to wind up for the Opposition tonight—unless someone with naval experience deals with that point earlier in the Debate—a question on anti-submarine measures. I would like him to deal with his Leader's suggestion, which was put forward in the recent Defence Debate. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) advocated light carriers, a suggestion of which everyone is aware and which would be supported, so that there is nothing new in that. The right hon. Gentleman also advocated large aircraft, in particular, an American type. My question to the Opposition is this: could the light carriers carry these large aircraft, because, if not, the suggested combination—as carrier-borne aircraft—put forward by the Leader of the Opposition is worthless, like a good many other remarks that he makes.
My second question is to the Civil Lord. I would like to know what information is given to time-expired ratings when they leave the Royal Navy about organisations for ex-Service men, particularly ex-naval men's organisations. The problem of resettlement in civilian life is an important one, and I dealt with that point very fully in my speech last year and do not propose to repeat the arguments now. The public and the ex-Service man are now aware that, with its £100,000 Pall Mall headquarters, its salaries of £1,750 a year, and its unnecessary and immoral street corner tin can rattling, the British Legion is the greatest charitable scandal of the century.
I will leave it at that and pass on, because there are other institutions, like the Regular Forces Employment Association, the Royal Naval Benevolent Trust, which has never appealed to the public for a penny, the Royal Naval Old Comrades' Association and similar organisations, which are available for comradeship and mutual help. Between them, they provide practically all the requirements of the Naval ex-Service man, as do the similar organisations for the Army and the Royal Air Force. Every step should be taken by the Admiralty to inform the men about these organisations before they leave the Service. I suggest that the principle for the Services should be one 2020 national fund only for each of the three Services, which should be self-supporting, and that we should have no more of this obsolete and disgraceful tin can rattling from the public on behalf of ex-Service men, the larger number of whom greatly resent being exploited by so-called charity organisations which have simply become big business "rackets," with "jobs for the boys."
The chief subject with which I wish to deal tonight is that of shipbuilding and ship repairing, both Naval and mercantile marine. For that reason, I am particularly interested, as are several other hon. Members on this side of the House who represent shipbuilding constituencies, in the paragraph in the Statement of the Navy Estimates, which reads:The Admiralty is closely concerned in the maintenance of a healthy strategic and economic level of work and employment in the shipbuilding and ship repairing industries, and now that the merchant fleet tonnage has been virtually restored to its pre-war level, and the heavy arrears of repair work have been largely overtaken, a comprehensive investigation is being made into this problem.This is the first occasion during the last five years on which the House has had an opportunity to discuss this important problem. We should like to hear more from the Civil Lord, when he winds up the Debate, about this comprehensive investigation, the constitution of the committee or working party, and its terms of reference. It is essential that, in addition to naval yards, there should be a sufficient building and repairing potential in private yards for warships as well as merchant vessels in peace-time, and one capable of expansion, should war occur, to ensure the safety of the realm. But before developing this important naval theme, I wish to deal with certain points raised on the subject of shipbuilding and repairing by the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth in her speech a fortnight ago, during the Debate on the Address, HANSARD, 8th March, 1950, Volume 472. column 412. [Laughter.] I am glad to know that for once I have the unanimous support of the House. Naturally, I informed the hon. Lady that I intended to do so, and I am glad to see that she is in her place.
In her speech the hon. Lady referred to the unregulated import of foreign fish. This subject would, of course, be out of order in a Debate on Navy Estimates,
2021 and I will not attempt to pursue it. but I must make this brief reference so as to give a clue to some whimsy of the hon. Lady about trawler building. She said:In my part of the world, there has been considerable comment on the fact that the Socialist Government negotiated a loan with Iceland."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1950: Vol. 472, c. 412.]Later, she referred to the countries which are menacing the future of those engaged in our fishing industry. Although the hon. Lady did not say so specifically, I think she will agree that this refers to the story, put out by the Tories during the election, that the Socialist Government had negotiated a loan with Iceland to build trawlers in this country, which would be in competition with our own and would add to the dumping here of foreign fish. That is the point of the story, I believe, but I would ask the hon. Lady to confirm or deny that it is.
§ Commander Pursey
That is for the hon. Lady to decide; I am prepared to give way to her on this point now.
§ Miss Ward
May I say how very polite and delightful it is of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but I asked my question in that way because it might take me some little time to disabuse his mind of the fact that the statement he has just made emanated from Tory sources. In fact, it might be of interest to him, and perhaps save him a lot of trouble in developing his speech if I were to point out that the statement about the loan to Iceland came from the British Trawler Owners' Federation. Contrary to the view that the hon. and gallant Gentleman holds about my mental approach to these problems, may I point out that, at any rate, I take note of the advice of experts on these matters and do not make observations in the House just because I happen to be a supporter of the Conservative Party. Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman would just note that the information did come from the British Trawler Owners' Federation.
§ Commander Pursey
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady because she has 2022 fallen into the trap right up to the neck and has disclosed to a greater extent than before that she does not know the first thing about the subject. Now I will start to give her the facts of life, and "the works." Actually, the statement that the Socialist Government negotiated a loan is a completely typical Tory falsehood.
§ Commander Pursey
With all due respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I did try to develop my point that this loan ties up with the question of the building of trawlers. I read the paragraph from the First Lord's statement about this comprehensive inquiry into the question of shipbuilding and repairs, and the question of merchant ships and trawlers being built in this country both for our own services and for foreign Powers, as a matter of considerable importance to the Admiralty from the point of view of the war potential of merchant ships and trawlers. Therefore, with the greatest humility and quite appreciating the question you have asked me, I hope I have satisfactorily justified my dealing with this point of the loan for the building of trawlers.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I do not think that the hon. and gallant Member has. No doubt it is very important, but I do not see how it is linked up with the Navy Estimates.
§ Commander Pursey
I do not wish to repeat the paragraph which I quoted from the First Lord's statement. As I said, it is the first time that we have been able to deal with these matters. The Admiralty is the Government Department which is responsible to any extent at all for merchant shipbuilding and repairs. There is no other Department that can be dealt with in the matter, and I submit that this question of trawlers relates directly to the Admiralty und to the First Lord's statement because of its being tied up with the question of ships that would be required as mine-sweepers during a war.
I hope, with all due respect and humility, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that I have, even if not directly, completely justified my raising this matter during this Debate on the Navy Estimates. I should 2023 not have attempted to raise it on another occasion because there would have been no leg upon which one could stand, but I do suggest that on these Estimates we are covered by virtue of the First Lord's Statement. I have no intention of devoting any great length of time to this particular point, but I want to clear it up because of the fact that it was raised in my constituency during the election. Therefore, if I may have your permission to proceed, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I shall do so quite quickly.
§ Miss Ward
Further to your intervention, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if the hon. and gallant Gentleman would give way for just one moment I would like to say that I have referred to my speech in relation to his intervention, and find that I did not raise the question of the building of fishing trawlers at all.
§ Mr. Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
On a point of Order. May I point out that Vote No. 14 of the Estimates is devoted to merchant shipbuilding, and as the Admiralty are responsible for both ship repairing and shipbuilding in the country, both those branches of industry are really still under the control of the Admiralty. Any reference to the particular services which we may raise from time to time has to be directed to the Admiralty. Therefore, I submit that it is in order to raise this question of trawlers, which is so closely associated with the naval services and shipbuilding itself.
§ Commander Pursey
If I may be allowed to continue, the point I raised on the hon. Lady's speech—and I have HANSARD here—is the question that the Socialist Government negotiated a loan with Iceland. Although the hon. Lady did not say so, the purpose of that loan is for the building of trawlers in this country. If, with the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Kirk-dale (Mr. Keenan), I may continue, I hope to clear the matter up quite quickly. The plain fact is that the Icelandic Government floated an ordinary loan of £1,250,000 sterling in the City of London to raise money to build trawlers in Britain for the use of Iceland.
§ Commander Pursey
I naturally defer to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but the point is that it was not a loan negotiated by the Socialist Government. It was a loan taken up by the Icelandic Government.
§ Lord John Hope (Edinburgh, Pentlands)
Am I right in suggesting that if the hon. and gallant Member cannot make a speech without infringing the Rules of order there is nothing whatever to prevent his sitting down.
§ Commander Pursey
I will now pass on to the question of shipbuilding and repairing, in which I hope I shall be in order. The hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth also referred to:A great deal of our heavy unemployment dating, in particular, from 1929 to 1931.This, naturally, excited derisive laughter from hon. Members on these benches, who know the facts. She interposed:It is no use Members opposite laughing because I was there.—as if that clinched the argument. Later. with premeditation, she said:The Socialist Government of 1929, in cutting our naval shipbuilding, produced an immense amount of unemployment on the Tyne."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1950; Vol. 472, c. 412.]This is absolute nonsense.
§ Commander Pursey
It the hon. Gentleman will contain himself, I will deal with Jarrow in my own way. I say to hon. Members opposite that the hon. Lady's statement is absolute nonsense, and I will confirm that from the facts. The reduction of naval building was the result of the international disarmament conferences, rightly started by the Tory Government long before the Labour Government of 1929 came into power. In fact, during the Debate on the Navy Estimates in 1929—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
We are now dealing with the Navy Estimates of 1950–51, and I would ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman to confine his remarks to them.
§ Commander Pursey
I submit, with great respect, that the question of shipbuilding and ship repairing today has some relation to what happened previously. The Labour Government, in 1930 2025 and 1931 provided for one more cruiser than did the Tory Government of 1928. The reason for mass unemployment and discharge of workers from shipyards on the Tyne, and in my constituency, was not because the Admiralty cut naval orders but because 1929 produced the best harvest of modern times, with a result that there were no crops to be carried. Seven hundred and fifty British ships were laid up. It was orders for merchant ships that were cut. These cuts were responsible for the mass unemployment on the Tyne and not the cutting of naval orders at that time.
To turn now to the shipbuilding industry as a whole, and to consider the grounds for a comprehensive investigation by the Admiralty—
§ Dr. Morgan (Warrington)
On a point of Order. Your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, is rather important, from the point of view of subsequent speakers. Page 231 of the Navy Estimates tor 1950–51 refers to the building programme of the Admiralty, which, no doubt, includes trawlers. I submit that hon. Members are entitled, in this Debate on the Navy Estimates, to refer to the question of trawlers.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Certainly, I take no exception to that, but Iceland has nothing to do with this; that is my point.
§ Dr. Morgan
The Admiralty has certain responsibilities subsequent to the actual building of the ships.
§ Dr. Morgan
Surely, part of that responsibility relates to the disposal of the ships. If a loan has been given to Iceland surely it is in order to discuss into whose possession these trawlers would come. I submit that up to that point my hon. and gallant Friend's remarks are in order.
§ Commander Pursey
I was dealing with the question of shipbuilding as a whole, the grounds for a comprehensive investigation by the Admiralty and some possible steps that might be taken to ensure the best use of shipbuilding and ship repair yards to secure the full employ- 2026 ment of manual workers upon whom depends the success of those two industries. Those workers are often the victims of casualisation. The golden honeymoon of the war is over. Today, owners are already asking for subsidies to build their new ships. Shipbuilders are in much the same position as the owners.
§ Commander Pursey
When your predecessor was in the Chair, Sir, and I started my speech I read a paragraph from the First Lord's statement explanatory of the Navy Estimates, where it refers to a comprehensive investigation which is being made into:… the maintenance of a healthy strategic and economic level of work and employment in the shipbuilding and ship repairing industries.I submit that the Admiralty is the only Department which is concerned with shipyards and ship repairing yards and that this is the occasion to refer to this matter. Shipbuilders are already complaining of lack of orders and are making statements on subsidies—
§ Mr. Maclay (Renfrew, West)
Has the hon. and gallant Gentleman any substantiation of his statement that owners are already asking for subsidies for shipbuilding?
§ Commander Pursey
Representatives of the Ship Owners' Association have already referred to foreign countries subsiding new building—
§ Dr. Morgan
May I ask for a Ruling on this, Mr. Speaker? The explanatory notes on page 231 of the Navy Estimates for 1950–51 state quite definitely:On completion the vessels constructed on Government account were transferred to the Ministry of Transport and included in the schemes for the disposal of Government-owned tonnage receipts for which are credited to
2027 Ministry of Transport Votes. To enable the industry to meet the increased demand for new construction and repair work, additional plant and facilities were supplied with Government financial assistance. If those words are read in conjunction with the subsequent paragraph, surely they mean that any remarks about trawlers, their subsequent disposal and liquidation, whether to the Government or private owners in this country, come within the terms of this Debate.
§ Mr. Speaker
The position is quite clear from the paragraph which the hon. Member has just read. The account was transferred to the Ministry of Transport. Therefore, it comes under the Ministry of Transport and not under the Admiralty.
§ Dr. Morgan
I submit that the paragraph from which I have just quoted should be read in conjunction with the subsequent paragraph:This Vote provides for (a) the liquidation of the outstanding liabilities arising from the Government building programme and the special war-time facilities. …If the two paragraphs are read together I submit, with respect, that any reference to the building of trawlers and their subsequent disposal comes within the terms of the explanatory note.
§ Mr. Speaker
No, I think not. In my view, this is only a liquidating Vote. Everything is transferred to the Ministry of Transport.
§ Commander Pursey
I should like to make it clear that my argument for including those remarks in my speech is not the same as my hon. Friend's argument. As he has already intervened twice, I would ask him to wait to make any further interventions until he is called. My reason for including these remarks about ship owners, shipbuilding and ship repairing is that ships built by private owners in peace-time are the ships that are taken over by the Admiralty as armed merchant cruisers, and so forth. Therefore, as is shown by that paragraph of the First Lord's statement, the question of ship owners, shipbuilders and ship repairers does arise.
Shipbuilders have been accepting more orders than they could execute in proper time. Consequently, there has been long 2028 delay and high cost. The answer is to cut down the time and so reduce the cost. Then there is the question of manpower redundancy. Manpower is referred to in the Statement. Even if that problem were solved there would still remain the decasualisation of labour problem. The position where employers secure profits and yearly salaries at the expense of the employees who are stood off is quite iniquitous. The solution here is alternative and complementary work from outside the shipping industry to ensure continuous employment for the manual workers as well as the office staff and the employers. One good example of an attempt to decasualise is that of Messrs. Harland and Wolff, who have launched out to take on work previously done in America, which is now an advantage to them from the point of view of devaluation.
When one turns to the question of the repairers, one finds that this industry is also, unfortunately, largely a private monopoly. So again, few firms are free to cut profits and go out for orders.
§ Mr. Maclay
I know that the hon. and gallant Member wants to make his speech as quickly as possible, but he must stop making unsubstantiated statements. Ship repairing is not, by the wildest stretch of the imagination, a monopoly.
§ Commander Pursey
If the hon. Member would make his own speech if he is called, or if he would confine his remarks to ship owning, of which he has some knowledge, and leave me to deal with ship repairing, we should not lose so much time. It is obviously a subject which hon. Members opposite do not want ventilated in the House—for the first time in five years. I happen to represent the third largest port in the country, and my constituency includes the main docks of Hull. That is the reason why I am constrained to raise this matter tonight at the first available opportunity. I ask hon. Members opposite to apply a certain amount of commonsense to their interruptions.
Then there is the question of ship repairing in foreign yards, for which the Admiralty is the Department responsible for answering Questions in this House. That point was also raised by the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth. I would draw attention to the fact that there is a two-way traffic here. On 12th December, 2029 1949, in column 222 of the OFFICIAL REPORT the Minister of Transport gave the figures for the previous nine months. Only nine British ships had been repaired in foreign yards, whereas 29 foreign ships had been repaired in British yards, which was obviously to the advantage of the ship repairers in this country.
§ Commander Pursey
I cannot give way again to the hon. Lady. I have already given way several times. Her arguments may jeopardise negotiations at present going on for more work to be brought to this country from foreign shipyards. The question of major repairs being done abroad largely depends on British repairers, and whether they genuinely want work and will tender properly for it. There are owners who prefer to repair their ships in this country, even if they are sailing to foreign ports. But the repairers must offer an attractive price and time of completion, particularly in competition with foreign yards. There are continental ports from which, overnight, a ship can reach the Tyne or the Humber, and it is up to the repairers there and elsewhere to go full out and get this work.
Repair work is of more importance to Hull than any other large port in the country. In my constituency which, as I say, covers the main docks area, it is a major industry, and it is for that reason that I have raised this subject. Yet we find in Hull repairers turning work away when their employees are stood off. Admittedly, there are difficulties about berths, equipment and war damage to be made good, and I ask the Civil Lord to consult with the Minister of Transport with a view to taking steps to improve the facilities for ship repairers in Hull.
As on the building side, there are redundancy and decasualisation problems in the repairing industry, and practically every criticism that could be made of one could be made of the other. The solution is the same, namely, alternative and complementary work. Some firms have already taken steps to this end. Naval repair work has recently gone to private yards on an exceptional scale for peacetime. I ask the Civil Lord to say whether this is done on the pernicious "cost-plus" basis by which employers are able to say to their workmen "Go slow on this job: 2030 it is 'cost-plus'," thereby increasing the cost to the National Exchequer.
To sum up, a sufficient shipbuilding and repairing potential is required in peace both for merchant ships and for war vessels, with the means of expansion in war. The main support, however, must be the shipowners, and it is necessary that owners and builders should work out a long-term building programme to solve their problems and smooth out the booms and the slumps. Builders should also go full out to obtain not only British merchant ship and warship contracts, but also foreign merchant ship and warship contracts, when available. Naval shipbuilding orders must always be rather in the nature of a supplement to private yards because of the demands of naval yards, but large orders, such as aircraft carriers, and the sepcial types of small craft usually go to private yards.
It is, therefore, necessary that owners, instead of failing to give orders when yards are slack, should then give orders, and the Admiralty should also help by placing their orders during any threat of serious unemployment. This means combined planning in which Government action, without subsidy, may be necessary to ensure that never again shall there be mass unemployment in the two important industries. In addition, there is the necessity for builders and repairers to solve both the redundancy and the decasualisation problems.
I suggest to the Admiralty that these are some of the main problems and some of the possible solutions which should be investigated to ensure sufficient and healthy British shipbuilding and repairing industries and, in particular, proper conditions of employment for the workers. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House who are interested in this important national problem, as all of them should be, will look forward to seeing the results of the investigation. On this side of the House we shall also await with confidence the action which, if necessary, the Government will take for the first time to deal with these erratic industries so as to ensure that more satisfactory results are obtained, particularly from the point of view of the national requirements rather than from those of vested private interests, and also to ensure the full employment of the workers.