HC Deb 27 March 1950 vol 473 cc43-66

Resolution reported, That 143,000 Officers, Seamen, Boys and Royal Marines, borne on the books of His Majesty's Ships and at the Royal Marine Divisions, and members of the Women's Royal Naval Service and the Naval Nursing Service, be employed for the Sea Service, for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1951.

Resolution read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

3.31 p.m.

Colonel Crosthwaite - Eyre (New Forest)

I regret that I was not able, as I have been for the past five years, to be present when these Estimates were considered on the Motion "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair." I heard only a very small part of them, but it struck me then, and since in reading HANSARD, that a new tone had entered our debates. In the past we have argued about relatively small things upon the Navy Estimates, or if not about small things about matters of administration. The new tone that appeared last week was a grave anxiety about the state of the Navy as it is at present and as it might be if we were called upon to meet a new emergency.

This fact is more important now than it might be at any other time, because we shall see the expiry this year of the Supplies and Transitional Powers Act. This is the last time that we shall be able to know that whatever we may do about the Navy Estimates there is in reserve power to call up, if there be need, certain classes of people to man the Navy. When we discuss these Estimates again in 1951 there will be this new state of affairs. We shall have to rely upon the Navy as it is, upon its present recruitment and past reserves to meet any emergency and not, as we have done in the last five years, upon the over-riding ability to invoke an Act to meet the sudden emergency with a sudden order which has to be obeyed. That is the chief point which was at the back of the mind of most hon. Members.

If one looks at this particular very closely we see that, as on other major questions raised by hon. Members of all parties, we have to be content largely with assurances, either from the Civil Lord of the Admiralty or from the Parliamentary Secretary, that everything is all right. We had very little information to prove that what they said could be substantiated and that, if an emergency arose, they would be able to fulfil the pledges that they had given. I shall mention only a few of the matters that arose, rather in the order in which they occurred in the Debate than in the order of magnitude in ascending or descending order.

Let us take first the question of dockyards. Members who represent naval towns, whether or not connected, as I am, with a great commercial port, will know full well that work in the naval and civilian dockyards is running down, and many people are becoming redundant and are being discharged. I believe they are finding other jobs in civilian employment, but it remains true that unless something is done more effective than, as the Civil Lord and the Parliamentary Secretary said, "that the matter receiving their attention," and unless something more immediate and concrete is done, then the establishment of Committees to examine the situation we shall lose that body of technicians upon which the Navy and our naval vessels depend.

I should like to refer to my own town of Southampton, where a great deal of work has been done, particularly in Messrs. Thornycroft's. That work is now coming to an end and all the skilled labour is being dissipated. If an emergency arose, the Parliamentary Secretary would find it very difficult to get that labour back again to meet the demands from naval and civilian dockyards in Southampton. I hope that he will be able to say something more on this question this afternoon than that a committee is considering it and is being asked to report quickly. The time for that consideration is gone. What is now needed is to preserve this body of skilled labour.

On the question of re-engagement, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea (Commander Noble) drew attention to the fact that a man who left the Navy after 12 years' service receives £100 bonus but gets nothing if he re-engages in the Navy. In his reply, the Civil Lord said—as reported in column 2115, of HANSARD—that this bonus is given for work done, and must be paid to the person who went out. Whether one re-engages or not, 12 years' work has been done. Why should not the bonus be paid for the 12 years' work done and not because the man leaves the Navy? That seems to me both in equity and justice and in business to be the best way to secure re-engagement. The bonus should be paid to all people completing 12 years' service, and it should be clearly stated that a further bonus will be paid to those who re-engage and who go on for a further term. That would be no contravention of justice, but it would be making justice mean something. Those who do something in the service of their country have a right to expect their country to recognise them and do something for them.

I have spoken of the emergency powers under the Transitional Services Act. Are we to understand that the Parliamentary Secretary and the Civil Lord are satisfied with the present position, chiefly on the ground that they are better off in respect of Reserves in the Navy than in the other Services? Reading that Debate, I do not think either of them could say that if there was an emergency those Reserves are capable of meeting the immediate need of the Navy. That is a very simple point and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will address himself to that point and that point only. It is easy enough to make comparisons and easy to say that in the overall situation of the Reserves we are not doing so badly, but the real question is whether those Reserves are sufficient for our need. If they are not, the programme is not fulfilling what it set out to do. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will give us a clear answer to that.

Here is a most important point. For five years we have waited for a clear statement from the Admiralty as to what sort of Navy they envisage as the post-war requirement. I know that for a few years after a great war it is obviously necessary to have a great deal of consideration, thought and analysing of what has happened, to try to see the loom of the future. Five years have now passed, and, having read the statement by the First Lord and having looked at these Estimates, I think it is true to say that we are no nearer, knowing that or that the Parliamentary Secretary is no nearer knowing today what sort of Navy he wants to see in the future than his predecessor was five years ago.

We cannot go on like this, just chopping and changing, making ad hoc decisions and saying that it is still necessary to investigate and that there must be more experiments. If we are to meet the dangers of the present, the time has come when we must know in a concrete fashion exactly upon what the Navy is to be built, the pattern it must develop and the way in which the Government think that they can fulfil to the best effect not only the traditional rôles of the Navy but the others which have come upon it because of the present situation. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will address himself to that and be able to tell us that as a result of the money spent in the last five years and the money for which he is asking today, we shall see starting to grow a pattern of naval sea power which will be able to safeguard the very many interests of this country.

I want to spend one or two minutes on the Service which interests me particularly, the Royal Marines. I must admit that I was very sad to see that Chatham was to be closed down. I am certainly not prepared to argue that the closing down of Chatham is of itself a sin which cannot be forgiven, but it is something which, in the overall picture of what the Royal Marines are expected to do, must be justified. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will say something of this picture. For a great many years the Royal Marines have been set at one-tenth of the total naval strength, a figure which is quite arbitrary and bears no relation to the duties that they are called upon to perform.

I asked last year and I ask again whether in setting that figure there has been any discussion as to whether it is sufficient for the duties which are laid upon the corps of Royal Marines. Those duties are three. As far as I understand it—I speak now not having been in the Corps for some five years—they are, first, to provide detachments in His Majesty's ships, secondly, to provide Commandos, and thirdly, to man the smaller landing craft in Combined Operations. When I look at the Estimates and see that the present strength is 12,700—that is, taking the one tenth—and then look at the Press and see that that strength is to be whittled down to 10,000, I wonder very much how the Parliamentary Secretary can say that this strength is sufficient to meet those very heavy burdens or to carry them sufficiently well so that in the case of an emergency the Royal Marines will be able to carry out what the Admiralty have laid upon their shoulders.

I also want to look at this from the point of view of sea service. The Civil Lord will agree with me that the duties of the Royal Marines afloat are still their prime job. How many Royal Marines can go to sea each year? How many people who enter the Royal Marines can look forward to a tour of sea service? I should like to know the answers to those two questions. I do not know whether it is asking too much, but if the Parliamentary Secretary can give me those answers I shall be grateful.

Their second great duty is to provide Commandos. There is one brigade at the moment. I am certain that the Parliamentary Secretary will join with me in saying that in the last few years they have done a magnificent job of work. They have been called upon to go from one difficult place to another, and whether it be in Palestine, Aqaba or Hong Kong, they have done a job of which I am certain he is as proud as I am. However, one brigade is not sufficient to be able to form a nucleus of what would be needed in the case of an emergency. If we had only one brigade, would it be used as one unit? If it was used as one unit, it would be useless. If it was split up, as the Commandos were in the past, equally one brigade would not be able to meet anywhere near the calls that would be made upon it in an emergency.

If the Commandos are to be entrusted to the Royal Marines the very minimum strength of which such a scheme can be worked is that equivalent to a division. I do not mean a division in the sense of a field force, but sufficient men to form out of three brigades Commando detachments to serve in theatres of war wherever they may be needed for all those immediate objectives in the first stages of a crisis which it would be the duty of the Navy plus the Marines to attain. We all hope such an emergency will not arise but if it does there will never have been a time when D-day and D plus I will prove to have been so important. Those two days can mean more to the success, loss or length of the war than anything else. In those two days it will be our Naval forces plus a land striking force as represented by the Commandos which will tip the balance.

I should also like to ask something about Combined Operations. They do not appear in this Vote except in so far as the Royal Marines are concerned. We hear very little about Combined Operations these days, despite everything that we learnt to our cost about their intricateness and the necessity for constant training. Can the Parliamentary Secretary say how many craft are available today for training? How many people are being trained? What liaison is there with the Army? Are any Army divisions being trained?

In the case of an emergency, will there be a sufficient force, be it based on the Royal Marine Commandos or on Army units, together with the landing craft which we have, to be able to strike as raiding parties or landing parties and secure the very many bases which will be essential to our safety? I doubt it, and I doubt it more when I look at page 201 of the Estimates and see that the Craft and Amphibious Material Department of the Admiralty has now been suspended. What has taken its place? Who, now, is looking after this vital subject of being able to land troops with knowledge, skill and experience in order to provide that immediate striking force so badly needed?

The Royal Marines are being run down to 10,000 from approximately 4,700. That is bound to affect a great number of officers and senior N.C.Os., particularly as the Royal Marines are a long service corps. What is being done to help those who are bound to be retired as a result? I hope there is some scheme, and if the Parliamentary Secretary can say anything about it I would be grateful.

With the closing down of Chatham, this is the second change suffered by the Royal Marines in five years. They were reorganised once on a group basis, they are now being re-reorganised on a kind of land and sea training basis. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary can say that this is permanent and the end of the chopping and changing of Admiralty policy, so that the Royal Marines can get on with their training in the knowledge that they will not be asked once again to readjust themselves.

Whether it be the Royal Marines, the Fleet Air Arm, or any other branch of the Navy, the Debate last week showed that the time has come for the Admiralty to be able to say to this House that the period of hesitation after the war is over, that they now have a clear policy, that they know the basis on which they want to build, and that they know what they want to build. Reading the Debate I did not feel that the Parliamentary Secretary or the Civil Lord said that and, above all, I did not feel that they could go to that Box and say that the Navy could meet an immediate crisis as it always has to do. This is no reflection on the other Services, since history has shown that whatever may be the time lag, the opportunity to pick up the slack afforded to the Air Force or the Army, the Navy has to fight from the initial moment.

It seemed to me that the Parliamentary Secretary was not able to say to this House that under the present Government the Navy would be able to do that. I ask him to act on the assumption that by the time he presents the next Estimates he will have no emergency powers to help him, that it will be on his organisation that the Navy will depend and that, if he is to safeguard his manifold responsibilities he must be able to stand at that Box and say, "The Admiralty propose a Navy which is capable, for this and that reason, of fulfilling its duties, and of once again acting as the first safeguard of this country and of the people who, throughout many generations and centuries, have always and unflinchingly faced and met and conquered the shock of enemy."

3.55 p.m.

Commander Pursey (Hull, East)

The hon. and gallant Member for New Forest (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre) has made a pessimistic speech, as he did last year, and I say to him that these speeches crying "stinking fish," not only do harm to this country, as such, but also to our relations with America, Western Union countries, and the other Powers with whom we are trying to collaborate in order to build up that pact of security which is necessary for peace in the world today. At the end of his speech the hon. and gallant Member said that this was the last time that the Admiralty would be able to come here without a clear policy and that they would have to state what was their policy—or words to that effect—I am not quoting—

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

No you are not.

Commander Pursey

The hon. and gallant Member said earlier that there was grave anxiety. I say that there is no grave anxiety for the good reason that, actually and relatively to the remainder of the world today, with the exception of America, we are stronger from the naval point of view than we have ever been in our history. I have said that before and so has the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. So there is no reason for this pessimism and nonsensical arguments.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman satisfied, for instance, from what he heard in the Debate last week in which he said that we are now competent to deal with submarines?

Commander Pursey

I want to develop my speech in my own way. The Parliamentary Secretary said quite clearly that we are definitely in a position to deal competently with such submarines as exist at present—not the mythical hundreds of fast submarines existing only in the imagination of the hon. and gallant Member. He went on to discuss the shortage of manpower and various other things. Today our manpower is greater than it was between the wars so that there is no need for any concern in that case. Moreover we are reducing our manpower in order that money may be available to build up the other factors of our naval strength.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman went on to paint a gloomy picture of our dockyards and shipyards. Yet today there is more work in the naval dockyards and more work in the private yards than before so he is completely wrong there.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

indicated dissent.

Commander Pursey

It is no good the hon. and gallant Member shaking his head and laughing this argument off because I shall quote from a reliable authority. In the "Newcastle Evening Chronicle" of 23rd March, which was only last week, Sir Mark Hodgson said in connection with shipyards: There never was a better prospect for the shipbuilding industry, with the exception of during the war, than there is today. We could never see as far ahead as we can at present. The hon. and gallant Member then discussed employment in the shipyards, which applies to the dockyards as well as the ordinary shipyards. What is required in both types of yards is alternative employment in order that there shall never again be mass unemployment there as there was under all the Tory Governments. The hon. and gallant Member referred to Thornycroft's at Southampton running out of work. If they have any business acumen, the answer is for them to go out for more work because there is plenty available. Examples can be quoted. In Northern Ireland Harland and Wolff have gone out for alternative employment by way of pipe lines in Iraq and work in East Africa. In Sunderland the shipbuilding firm of Greenwells have gone out for three new projects including a new dry dock and a new fitting out yard in order to build 28,000-ton tankers. So for the hon. and gallant Member to quote one of the minor firms—

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

indicated dissent.

Commander Pursey

It is no good the hon. and gallant Member shaking his head and laughing again. Thornycroft's is one of the minor firms, building small craft. The big firms on the Tyne and elsewhere, firms like Harland and Wolff, who build aircraft carriers, large liners, and the 28,000-ton tankers to which I have referred are employed. So it is quite wrong for the hon. and gallant Member to make statements denigrating this country, both from the point of view of collective security and, what is more important, to the detriment of the shipbuilders of this country.

The shipbuilders and their organisations are today saying that there is a shortage of orders, whereas the "Sunday Express," if we can believe that newspaper, for what it is worth, said a week ago that the yards on the Clyde had filled up their books with orders for two years. A tanker, for example, could not be ordered for completion in under two years. In addition to tankers there are, of course, cargo ships, liners and so on, which—

Mr. Speaker

Merchant shipping is quite outside Vote A, which relates to the numbers of men and so on employed in the Navy and not in merchant shipping.

Commander Pursey

I bow to your ruling, Mr. Speaker. The work is available, and there is no reason for the numbers of men employed in dockyards and shipyards to be cut down.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

indicated dissent.

Commander Pursey

It is no good for the hon. and gallant Member to shake his head, for that is the position nationally.

The hon. and gallant Member went on to deal with the question of re-engagements and the bonus scheme. What is the reason why men are not re-engaging? It is because of full employment and the chance of getting, as they could never get before, employment outside the Navy. Instead of hon. Members opposite now advocating something which they never proposed between the wars, what they should advocate is the means to enable both officers and men to cut their expenses. The present rates of pay compare well with those of civilian life; that was never the case before the war. But consideration needs to be given to the various necessary items of expenses. Officers have to pay for their kit; the men receive a kit allowance. Then there are such things as railway and other expenses in getting home, and the increased costs to the married men in getting accommodation for their wives and families.

There is no justification for the argument that a bonus should be paid to induce men to re-engage. Even if a large bonus were paid, the numbers who would re-engage as a result would be comparatively small. The real problem is to encourage men to stay on for their second period of service and so to complete their time for pension, and then to be able to enter civil life and worthwhile employment. That is a problem which is being considered for the first time by the present Government. It was never tackled before.

The hon. and gallant Member dealt next with the question of Reserves, and suggested that, by and large, we had practically no Reserves. That was the general point of his argument. In actual fact, however, we have more Reserves today than ever before. We have the Reserves from the last war, those who have left the Service in the last five years, and now there are to be those who have served their training under the National Service scheme. There is no question that, while a specific Reserve may not be up to prewar standard—such as the Royal Naval Reserve, for example, which has only recently been started—the total number of Reserves compares very favourably with our numbers at the outbreak of the Second World War.

The hon. and gallant Member argued that a clear statement was required on the role of the Navy in peace and in war. What information does he wish to volunteer to a potential enemy? To anyone who has any knowledge of naval affairs, it is clear from the constitution of the Fleet what is the intention of the Admiralty for the future. This country, like America, has paid off its battleships or put them into Reserve. We have kept aircraft carriers in reasonable numbers, so that these vessels are now the main unit of the Fleet. The statements of the First Lord and the Parliamentary Secretary spoke of the attention which had been devoted to anti-submarine measures and to submarines, present and future. The whole picture is quite clear to anyone who has any knowledge of the seagoing Navy as distinct from the shore-based Navy, of which side, apparently, the hon. and gallant Member has the more knowledge.

In dealing with the question of Marines, the hon. and gallant Member asked how many were able to go to sea. If it is a question of having to send more Marines to sea, the answer is that they must be given jobs which will take them to sea. The hon. and gallant Member knows perfectly well that the work of Marines at sea is limited and that, consequently, there are only limited opportunities for them to go to sea. This is a problem which has existed for all time. Next in his argument was the question of the rundown from, I believe, 12,000 to 10,000 men, involving a reduction of only 2,000. He then made a special appeal for the officers and non-commissioned officers who would be affected. The majority of the 2,000, however, are from the rank and file, and are not officers or N.C.Os. Moreover, today, when there is no question of cutting down the numbers of officers or N.C.Os.—in fact, an appeal has been made to them to remain in the Service—my assumption is that there is no problem for these officers or N.C.Os. of the Royal Marines because there is no question of any of them leaving the Service.

I had no intention of taking part in this Debate until I heard the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for New Forest. I say to him that the Navy is a Service of which the Tory Party would have no intention of cutting down the cost to provide money for other Services, social and otherwise; it is perfectly obvious that they would want to spend more. I say to hon. Members opposite that the Navy is today in a better position to deal with present problems than ever before. We have the ships, large and small, and we have the men. There is no question of the Navy going immediately into action, or of any emergency just around the corner. The policy of the Government is to build up our Army, Air Force and Navy strength in collaboration with the United States of America, Western Union and the other countries interested in democracy and peace. Under those conditions we are playing a full part individually and collectively, and there is today no justification whatever for any denigration of the Navy.

4.8 p.m.

Lieut.-Commander R. H. Thompson (Croydon, West)

I ask for the indulgence which this House traditionally accords to a new Member making his first speech. I shall not detain hon. Members long but I should like to say before starting that my reason for choosing this particular occasion for speaking is that in my small way I have, perhaps, a little knowledge and experience of these high matters. As a Reservist and as a wartime rating and, subsequently, as a commissioned officer in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, the future welfare and well-being of the Navy are very close to my heart.

I have listened with the greatest attention to the Debate on these matters and it is perfectly clear that there is no deep cleavage of opinion between one side of the House and the other on the question of the steps immediately to be taken. We all realise that a certain amount of money is available for spending and that it is up to us to try to spend it in the most ingenious and thrifty manner possible. The only real differences between us lie in questions of emphasis and whether we are laying the right emphasis on the right things. The two points which, at least to me, have emerged from the Debate were the anxiety expressed on both sides, firstly, on the question of manpower and reserves and, secondly, on the question of the adequacy or otherwise of our preparations to meet the submarine menace, which, everybody seems to be agreed, is the greatest purely naval problem which is likely to confront our strategists in any future war.

I wish to make a small point on the question of naval recruitment and reserves. I have heard only one other hon. Member, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea (Commander Noble), refer to the Sea Cadets. In this organisation we have a very good recruiting ground for the Navy, but at present, unfortunately, boys who join the organisation do not necessarily find their way into the Navy as a result of their early keenness. At a time when, with all due respect to the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey), there is a little anxiety about recruitment, it is a pity to do anything which discourages a volunteer from choosing the Service he would like to join.

I am not suggesting that it should be made possible for every sea cadet automatically to do his National Service in the Navy. We do not ask that because, if that were done, inevitably there would be a considerable element joining the Sea Cadet Corps for no other reason than that they would rather serve in the Navy than in the Army, or Air Force. But, if it could be arranged—I do not think it would be a matter requiring a great deal of money, or even great administrative inconvenience—for those boys who have proved themselves to be reasonably assured when the time of their call-up came that they could serve their time in the Service of their choice, it would be one of those small things, small in them- selves, but which, taken with other expedients, would help immeasurably in recruitment.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will take note of that. I know it is true that boys on achieving the age of 18, if they choose to join the R.N.V.R., may serve in the Navy, but the sea cadet organisation is a much more local affair and it is not always possible for a sea cadet to join the R.N.V.R. He may be a keen lad and it is a pity to have to say goodbye to him because he feels that if he stays where he is he may not get into the Navy. The morale of those who give their time to train these boys will be enormously fortified if they feel that they are training them for the Service of their choice. At present retired officers, petty officers and ratings who are doing this job often feel that they are giving up their time in order that their charges may eventually go into the Army, or the Air Force.

On the question of the adequacy of our preparations in the submarine menace we have heard much. The point has frequently been made, and there seems to be agreement, that the small type of standardised, rapidly produced, aircraft carrier, built in large numbers and properly equipped, is the answer to the problem rather than a much smaller number of large, costly and vulnerable, fleet carriers. I think that was the substance of the view put forward by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Captain Ryder) and other hon. and gallant Members. Speaking with a little operational experience of both Fleet and escort carriers in the last war, I think we should be very careful that we do not incur the reproach so often levelled at us of making ready for the next war by consulting the drill books of the last war. It occurred to me during the last war, when in effect we and the Americans attempted to create a large fleet of these small carriers, that their use then was purely transitional and we were having to use them then because we were so limited as to the bases from which aircraft could operate, particularly in the Pacific and also because at that time we had not sufficient properly equipped very long-range aircraft.

If our present system of alliances with our American and Western Union friends means anything, surely the question of bases is very much better than it was before and throughout the world we should be able to operate very long-range aircraft from places which we were never able to use before. There is also the increasing complexity of modern naval aircraft. It is such that with all the "gadgetry" they have to carry it will not be possible to cram all this technical paraphernalia into the sort of small machine which could be operated efficiently from escort carriers. This technical question of everything getting bigger and more complicated is a factor which will make it very difficult to provide floating bases for this type of aircraft. I do not discount air power, but I think that the future in this matter of combating the submarine menace is going to be the operation from shore bases of very long-range aircraft and the carriers on which we were depending at the end of the last war will take a back seat because they were essentially a transitional force.

In combating the submarines themselves, there will be the question of the Navy providing highly specialised craft and the Air Force providing very long-range aircraft operating from a chain of bases, of course, in the closest co-operation with the Royal Navy. That is only a thought, but I hope that when we come to hammer out these things it will not necessarily be assumed that because the aircraft carrier rose to the zenith of its power at the end of the last war, those conditions will repeat themselves. I do not think they will.

I have made the two points I wished to make and, unlike many politicians, I now propose to resume my seat. Before doing so, I wish to thank the House for the indulgence they have granted me and to say, speaking as a "new boy," that I am most grateful for the many kindnesses and courtesies I have had from all hon. Members. Those kindnesses and courtesies have been by no means confined to hon. Members on this side of the House.

4.18 p.m.

Commander Maitland (Horncastle)

I only rise for the purpose of asking what is, in effect, a long question, but I am certain it would be the wish of the House if I were to convey our congratulations to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, West (Lieut.-Commander Thompson). It is particularly nice for me to be able to do so, because he has spoken with such knowledge and keenness about the Service with which we are both associated. The House always listens to ex-sailors when we talk about our own Service, although perhaps not always when we talk of other things. I wish to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend on his excellent speech and I am certain that the Parliamentary Secretary will take careful note of the facts he mentioned and the suggestions and proposals he made. I hope we shall have many opportunities of hearing speeches of a similar nature from my hon. and gallant Friend.

The question about which I wish to speak is the pensioner Reserve. In dealing with the great problem of Reserves, I have never been able to discover how one can arrive at the size of what is really the most valuable Reserve of the whole lot. We speak on these matters, not, as the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey) would have us believe, simply to cry "stinking fish" but merely to express our anxieties about certain points, which we have every right to express, and it is appropriate to say that I cannot find out for certain what is the strength of this pensioner Reserve.

It is obviously rather difficult to state its strength, because the people who belong to it have served their 21 years in the Navy and are gradually deteriorating physically as time goes on. I should also like to know whether care is taken to find out about the physical condition of ratings? I know that is done in the case of officers because from time to time I get an official letter asking me if I am quite well. That is all very nice and I fill in the form. Is the same action taken in regard to ratings who are also on the Reserve?

It is clearly impossible to give an exact answer. A friend of mine, who is a retired naval officer who took part in the first World War, went into business. He became rather interested to know, just before the beginning of the last war, what was likely to happen to him. He asked the Admiralty whether he would be called up and said he did not know what the rules were. He received the reply that their Lordships wished to inform him that all officers on the Reserve list would always be available for service, but for his private information those under 70 would be called up first. I am not asking a frivolous question. Those of us who are anxious about the Reserves of the Navy are anxious for this information, and I should be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary would give us a fair estimate of how many such Reserves he considers are available to us at this time.

4.23 p.m.

Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)

I felt that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for New Forest (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre), who opened this Debate, was doing a useful service to the House. It is most beneficial to have an opportunity to go over a Debate which has taken place previously and to deal with the points which have arisen in it which, with all deference to the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey) have not, one might feel, been completely answered. That is what I feel that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for New Forest did today. I should have imagined that such a speech would be welcomed by every Member of this House, particularly those who have had the opportunity and honour of serving in the Royal Navy. I was accordingly surprised at the tone of the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East. My hon. and gallant Friend was making inquiries which he was perfectly entitled to make. He was in no way running down the Navy, the Government's policy or the Admiralty. He was asking for information which he was entitled to receive. Therefore, I could not understand the attitude which the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East took up.

There was one point with which my hon. and gallant Friend dealt about which I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give us a little more information this afternoon, that is what is happening to the Commandos and combined operations as a whole? It is a matter which I do not think was touched upon in the Debate on the Estimates. It is one of great importance and we should like to have further information upon it. In particular, who has taken over the duties which were previously performed by the Craft and Amphibious Materials Department? That is something about which the House would be grateful for a little information.

The hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East referred, although he was not perhaps altogether in order in doing so, to merchant shipbuilding. I do not wish to talk about that matter but to correct a misapprehension. The hon. and gallant Member appeared to consider that there was no anxiety in the shipbuilding industry today. I tell him that among the men on Clydeside there is the gravest anxiety as to the future of their industry, and I should like him to be fully aware of that fact.

Commander Pursey

Will the hon. and gallant Member allow me?

Commander Galbraith

The hon. and gallant Member had plenty of time. I am merely telling him a fact and there is no need for him to rise to make another speech. I do not intend to give way to him.

The hon. and gallant Member stated that it was obvious to any one what the seagoing Navy of the future was to be. I was sorry that he should have taken it upon himself to gibe at my hon. and gallant Friend by speaking of one who had been a distinguished officer in the Marines as belonging not to the seagoing Navy but the shoregoing Navy. I thought that was not in good taste. I have the greatest admiration for the Marines, which it appears that the hon. and gallant Member has not. They go to sea when they have the opportunity, they are our very good comrades at sea and we are all delighted to serve with them. The reduction in the number of Marines may not be very large—a mere 2,000, but 2,000 out of 12,000 is one-sixth. I suppose the hon. and gallant Member really does not worry very much about that; it is only just about the same reduction as that in the value of the £ since 1945, and that would not appear to matter to the hon. and gallant Member.

Commander Pursey

I will give the. hon. and gallant Member 16s. 8d. for every £ he has in his pocket.

Commander Galbraith

I hope that the points which have been raised in the Debate will be dealt with by the Parliamentary Secretary in his reply. He did very well in that connection in the Debate on the Estimates, and I am certain that he will do as well today.

4.28 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. James Callaghan)

I am obliged to the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith). I should like to join in the congratulations which have been offered to the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, West (Lieut.-Commander Thompson), whose maiden speech was a model. It was easy, fluent, competent and thoughtful. I am glad that he has been received in a kindly way in the House and I say only this word of warning to him if I may, after five short years here. Do not let kindness kill one's cutting edge. We can have plenty of differences about policy in Debate but still retain personal courtesies.

Perhaps the House will allow me first to deal with the points which the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, West raised. I agree with him about the sea cadets. It is extremely unfortunate that young men who are keen and anxious to enter our Service are finding that when they reach the age when they are required to register for National Service there are no vacancies for them in the Navy. The hon. and gallant Member will, I am sure, appreciate the point that working with limited manpower, as the Royal Navy is doing, we can only increase the number of National Service entrants, which is really what the hon. and gallant Member is asking us to do, if we reduce the number of long-service men.

As to their respective value to the Royal Navy, there can be no doubt. It would be wrong to concentrate upon getting a larger number of National Service men to the exclusion of our continuous Service ratings. Therefore, Admiralty policy must be right in relying as far as possible on the continuous Service ratings. These men have a number of years training and are then available to the Navy and the country for many years. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member that as far as possible we should, while National Service continues, try to give these young men a chance of going into the Service for which they have trained.

The situation is not quite so hopeless as the hon. and gallant Member thought. There is what is called List 2 of the R.N.V.R. I have been hastily searching through my papers and I cannot find the one dealing with this point but I believe, speaking from recollection, that under List 2 one can join the R.N.V.R. and concentrate one's drills in a very short period of time, say over 14 days or whatever period is prescribed. By using his annual holiday for his training period, it is possible for the young man who is really keen to get into the R.N.V.R. and do his drills in that way, even although he lives in an isolated country village. I quite agree with the hon. and gallant Member. I certainly hope that so far as the sea cadets are concerned, we shall be able to use as many of them as possible.

The hon. and gallant Member for New Forest (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre) who opened the Debate, touched on a large number of points that we also touched on last week. I fear that I cannot add a lot between last Wednesday and today to what I then said in relation, for example, to such things as the re-engagement bounty and reserves—whether they are sufficient, and that sort of question which he raised. I would like to deal in a little more detail with the question of the Royal Marines. The hon. and gallant Member asked whether the force is sufficient to cope with all the duties. I do not wish to make a debating reply, but it will be obvious to him that that depends on the duties to be placed on the Royal Marines. I would say that so far as the front-line strength of the Royal Marines is concerned, the duties that it is proposed should be placed upon them, if they are required, are such as can be carried by the proposed strength when it is run down to 10,000. That assurance I can give him without going into substantial detail.

The hard tip of the corps is, of course, the Commando Brigade which is at present in Hong Kong. They are a first-rate unit. Indeed, I think it is clear from the fact that they have been asked to go to Hong Kong, where there is a possibility of trouble, that they are really well trained for the job they are likely to be called upon to do.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

Did they volunteer to go to Hong Kong?

Mr. Callaghan

I think that there is no difficulty in getting anybody in the Royal Navy to volunteer to do a job when he is required to do it. So far as the division of the Combined Operations—

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

If the hon. Member will forgive me, I did not realise that he had left the subject of the Commandos. Is he satisfied that the strength of one brigade is sufficient to meet the calls that may be made on the Commandos in an emergency?

Mr. Callaghan

So far as present day calls are concerned, yes; they can be and are being met. As to what would happen in an emergency, the hon. and gallant Member will know better than me that the R.M.F.V.R. is clearly the sort of Reserve which ought to be built up in order to provide additional units if they are needed. That would be the intention, that the Royal Marine Force Volunteer Reserve should be able to step in.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

I do not wish to pursue this, because it is a minor point, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that Commando troops for service could be built immediately out of our Volunteer Reserve.

Mr. Callaghan

It depends on the training they have before they are required to undertake any front-line duties, but I should certainly expect that among people who are volunteers in a Reserve, and who therefore are extremely keen, there would be much valuable material which could be drawn on for the purposes which the hon. and gallant Member has in mind.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

Only after long training.

Mr. Callaghan

I do not dissent from that. I return to my point that, for the existing tasks the Commando strength of the Royal Marines is sufficient to supply not only the Commando brigade but also the seagoing detachments and the other tasks which are falling upon the Royal Marines at the present time.

So far as the landing craft is concerned, that section which was wound up is now under the control of the Director of Plans, and he has the responsibility for this particular work. I ask hon. Gentlemen to recognise that if we are to "comb our tail "we have to get rid of a lot of things which are extremely desirable. Looking through the Estimates I wonder whether there are not more combinations of this sort which could be made in order to achieve the position where there are as few as possible ashore and as many as possible afloat. I am sure we shall not meet any opposition when we have to close down units of this sort, provided the Opposition is satisfied, as well as my hon. Friends, that the work is being properly done.

Commander Galbraith

Is the Director of Plans responsible for material?

Mr. Callaghan

That is something I cannot answer this afternoon, but to which I will give an answer later. Certainly the Director has taken over responsibility for this task.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, but if he looks he will see that that section had a personnel of 39. If he looks at the Plans Division, on page 186, he will see that there is no increase at all in the personnel of that Division. Who, therefore, is in fact looking after this section which has been absorbed?

Mr. Callaghan

I repeat what I said, that the Director of Plans has absorbed the functions into his own Department.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

Without any increase of staff?

Mr. Callaghan

That seems to reflect great credit indeed on the efficiency of Admiralty administration. We have been attacked about the size of Admiralty office and now the hon. and gallant Gentleman is complaining because it is not bigger.

On this question of Combined Operations I would say to the hon. and gallant Member that, as I understand it, that is the responsibility of the Minister of Defence. For example the hon. and gallant Member asked how many Army Divisions are being trained for Combined Operations. I would suggest that that is going far beyond my responsibility. If he wishes an answer on those matters it would be better to raise them during the general Debate on the Statement by the Minister of Defence, or to put Questions to the Minister.

I come to the point made about the calling up of Reserves and I consider that the hon. and gallant Member for New Forest is under a misapprehension. I am told that the powers of recall of men released under age and service groups do not arise from the Emergency Laws (Transitional Provisions) Act, 1946 but in fact the powers of calling up Reserves are based on the National Service Act, 1939 and other war-time Acts which cover the Regulars who were due to terminate their engagement, those for hostilities only, ratings who volunteered and National Service men who were called up. These Acts prescribe that their service shall terminate only when an Order in Council has been made. So in theory these men are still serving in the Armed Forces so long as a state of emergency continues, and until an Order in Council is made. I think therefore that the hon. and gallant Gentleman need have no fear that when the Act to which he referred expires in December these Reserves will cease to be available.

The hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) asked questions about the strength of the pensioner Reserve. The strength of that Reserve is roughly 20,000 and they are asked at intervals—as the hon. and gallant Member is asked—as to the state of their health. I do not know what sort of replies Admiralty get, but I can well imagine some. As I said last time the Reserves generally are regarded by Admiralty as sufficient to meet an immediate need.

In my opinion the hon. and gallant Member for New Forest went extremely far when he said he doubted whether the Navy could meet an immediate crisis. I do not know on what information he based that statement but I very much doubt whether such information is reliable; because it certainly is not the information given to me, and I trust that my information comes from more reliable sources than that of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. In fact I am told that the Navy could meet an immediate crisis, and not only that, but could also put to sea with the Reserve Fleet within a comparatively short time. I hope therefore that those hob-goblins which seem to be haunting the hon. and gallant Member will allow him to sleep a little better tonight.

In conclusion, I come back to the Royal Marines. I agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman that they have been shaken up badly twice in the last five years and a period of stability is quite obviously what they now need. I hope they will get it. They are doing their work extremely well. I hope that they will be able to shake down and carry on as the efficient Corps which we know them to be.

Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.

Resolutions reported: