§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Mulley (Sheffield, Park)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:this House, recognising that the first task of the Royal Navy, in conjunction with its Allies, is to maintain the freedom of the seas, views with satisfaction the prominent part played by the Royal Navy in bringing about close working relations with the Navies of other Atlantic Treaty powers and welcomes this development as a powerful instrument for the preservation of world peace.This Amendment was conceived, as is proper, in decent obscurity, but many words have crossed the Table since then and, during its period of gestation, there was so much excitement that a miscarriage nearly occurred. I am glad that it is born in rather calmer circumstances tonight, but one consequence of what has been said here and elsewhere on the subject in recent weeks is that tonight we have more information available for our debate.
Because of the understanding that the appointment of the Supreme Atlantic Commander is to be discussed in the near future on a separate occasion, I do not propose to raise that subject tonight, although I hope to have the good fortune of catching your eye, Mr. Speaker, on that occasion. Nevertheless, I think the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) will appreciate that it is quite impossible to discuss this Amendment without treading rather a lot on what he called Tom Tiddler's ground or skating on thin ice. As one hon. Member has said, it is perhaps best compared to a performance of "Hamlet" without the Prince of Denmark.
Before turning to the Amendment, I feel I should explain to the House that it is the strange fortune of the ballot which brings me with some diffidence to intervene in naval affairs. I cannot claim to have held the high rank which seems to be the qualification for participating in these Service debates. In fact, my service was in the Army, which I left as 1142 war-substantive corporal, which qualifies me for the Z Reserve and for very little else. As a soldier, I learnt that we envied the Navy for two things. The first was the fact that sailors were allowed to grow beards and the second was the very great elegance and charm of the W.R.N.S. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary can tell us from his own experience whether there is any connection between these two facts.
I can, however, claim some constituency interest in naval affairs. Sheffield is, I believe, technically a port, although our River Don is even more quiet than its namesake, and we do not see many sailors in Sheffield. We make in Sheffield a great amount of the special steel which is required for Navy work and our engineering workshops are always full of Admiralty contracts, so that in a small way the workers of Sheffield can claim to play some part in the great achievements of the Royal Navy.
Since I have no naval connections, I can perhaps say some kind things about the Royal Navy which would appear to be immodest and a breach of the tradition of the Silent Service if said by hon. and gallant Members with a naval background. I think it is true to say that the Royal Navy is held in special affection in the hearts of all our people, no matter where they live or in which Service they happen to have served. Jokes about the Army or the Air Force are very popular. Comedians and others have been known even to make jokes about His Majesty's Government, but in all seriousness I would say that we find very few jokes about the Royal Navy and people tend to regard them as rather irreverent if they are made.
Traditionally we have been a great sea Power and there is no doubt that the Royal Navy has saved this nation on many occasions. Today, in the battle of Korea and in the recall of reservists which the Navy has made, all who heard the Parliamentary Secretary will agree that, quietly and efficiently, the Navy is playing its full part in our re-armament and defence burden. That is particularly appropriate because our re-armament is purely for defence reasons, for we believe that only by strengthening our defences, in co-operation with our allies in the 1143 North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, can we achieve our ardent desire for peace. While the Navy can be formidable in offence, I think it can be said that its strategic rôle is mainly defensive.
In my view, it has three main tasks, the first being the protection of our convoys and the maintenance of the freedom of the seas so that we can get the essential supplies without which we should not long survive. The Battle of the Atlantic was the keystone of our victory in the last war. The second task is the movement and supply of our troops and the support of coastal operations. The third task is the protection of this island from invasion.
It is this third task which more than anything else determines our whole defensive strategy, and I think it is on that account necessary to review our traditional and historic position as being primarily a sea Power. In a future war I do not believe that the Navy, whatever its size, could by itself secure us from invasion. The development of guided missiles, of airborne troops and of atomic warfare has minimised the protection for centuries the sea gave us, and for this reason I do not think we can ever again afford to allow the enemy to occupy the Channel Ports and to depend on the Channel and the Royal Navy to protect us.
If we take this view, it is clear that we must devote an increasing proportion of our defence resources to the Army and to the Air Force, and, in fact, become primarily a land and air Power and no longer chiefly a naval Power. It is a hard decision to take; it involves a loss of prestige and, indeed, is a complete reversal of our traditional defensive strategy. It is often said as criticism of the Services that we fight the next war with the strategy of the last war and that we enter a new battle with the tactical lessons of the battle before the last. If this is true, how much more serious will it be if we approach another war with the overall defensive strategy not of 1951 but of 1941?
I believe that the Navy has never been as much subject to this criticism of fighting a war with the strategy of the last war as have the other Services. I think the Navy has always been realistic and that the Navy has accepted its new role. In my view, it is essential for all of 1144 us to achieve the necessary revolution of thought to review our strategic position in a realistic modern light. Unless we are able by land and air power, in cooperation with our Allies, to protect this island, the Navy will be denied a home base from which to conduct its vital defensive and offensive work in carrying our supplies and moving our troops. The case for this new strategy was well put in "The Observer" yesterday, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War referred to it in the Army Estimates debate last week. I think there was more than a hint of this view in what my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said tonight. It is a view that I have held for a long time.
In saying this I do not wish to underestimate the danger and the menace of submarine attack. Nor do I wish to minimise our dependence on overseas supplies, the safeguarding of which I gave as the first task of the Royal Navy. In this field, the Atlantic area is of supreme importance. But, whether we like it or not, in my view it is impossible, in terms of economic and manpower resources, for us to do this job alone, as we were forced to do in the early stages of the last war.
It is against this background that we should examine the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the Navy's contribution to it. In terms of size, as we have heard again today, the Americans will make a much bigger contribution than we. The other eight North Atlantic Powers in the North Atlantic Ocean Regional Planning Group will make a useful contribution, too; and I do not think we should forget that this is not a matter for the United States and ourselves alone; we should remember that we are associated in this task with Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Portugal. While the problem of the European Army remains, I believe we have already gone a long way towards the formation of a North Atlantic navy. While we may not be able to play the part in terms of quantity that many of us would perhaps like us to do, I am quite sure that in terms of quality our Navy will give us cause in the future, as it has in the past, to be very proud of its contribution to our defensive arrangements.
The title of the Treaty itself suggests that naval forces must play an important 1145 part in implementing it. It is vital that there should be close co-operation in all fields of naval activities in time of peace between the navies of all parties to the Treaty, so that the maximum effort can be forthcoming in the event of war. I want, therefore, to put some questions to my hon. Friend—questions to which, I hope, he can reply without fear of international repercussions—about the part that the Navy is playing in the building up of North Atlantic defence.
As I understand it, the coastal waters of both the American and European Continents and of the British Isles remain the individual responsibilities of the countries concerned, and that the rest of the Atlantic is divided into two zones, Eastern and Western, which are operationally controlled by ourselves and the Americans respectively, and that there is to be a supreme command to co-ordinate the planning—not the operations—so that the naval forces may be deployed to the best advantage—unlike the arrangement in the last war by which we each kept strictly to our own side of the dividing line. I think I had better say no more about that, because if I do I may risk falling right through the ice; and so I will leave my remarks about the division of responsibilities in the Atlantic until, I hope, another occasion.
If there are to be joint naval operations in war, it is desirable that we should plan and have exercises together in time of peace. Exercises of this kind have been publicised. I wonder whether my hon. Friend can give us an assurance that the results of those exercises have been satisfactory. Clearly, again, combined exercises cannot be effectively performed unless all personnel are fully conversant with all aspects of the material they are called upon to operate. Training is very important, and I wonder if anything has been done, for example, by the Royal Navy to train officers and men of the navies of other North Atlantic Powers. There would also appear to be an urgent need of standardisation, not only of material, which is essential for economic production and supplies, but standardisation also of procedures—for example, in communications. Can my hon. Friend tell us what has been achieved in this field of standardisation, and what is planned for the future?
1146 My final question is, perhaps, the most important. In addition to the fact that we must increase our land and air forces to a greater proportionate strength than ever before, with the consequent restriction of the expansion of the Navy, in proportionate terms of our total defence Services, we have also world-wide naval commitments. I wonder if my hon. Friend can tell us how far such commitments may be affected by our contribution to Atlantic Pact defence. It is clear that we would wish to make the maximum possible contribution to North Atlantic defence, but we cannot ignore our strategic commitments elsewhere. If additional argument is required, it is an additional argument for the supreme importance of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and the need to make it the very basis of our naval defensive strategy.
In conclusion, I congratulate the Royal Navy on the prominent part it has played in bringing about close working relations with the navies of other Atlantic Treaty Powers, and I welcome this development as a powerful instrument for the preservation of world peace.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Paget (Northampton)
I beg to second the Amendment.
I am very glad to do so. I think my hon. Friend did rather less than justice to his claims to take part in a Service debate. He was a pre-war Territorial and was one of that very gallant band who formed the rearguard covering the evacuation of Dunkirk, and enabled those of us who were in the Navy to get his comrades off, with the consequence to him of five years in a German prison camp.
I am very glad also that he has raised the question of the co-ordination of our defences within the defences of the Atlantic area, because I believe that in all the arms that we are considering that is the primary consideration. I am reminded of an observation made by Marshal Foch. I think actually it was at an interview with General Pershing. Marshal Foch said this:My opinion of Napoleon has fallen a good deal. He had only to fight alliances. Any competent general ought to be able to beat an alliance.That is the difficulty which we are trying to overcome with the Atlantic Pact. We 1147 do not want to be a mere alliance, with all the divisions within that alliance which make it so easy for a single, co-ordinated enemy to gain a victory. The object of the Atlantic Pact is to create an integrated force—an integrated force of the whole Atlantic area.
Now, of course, each individual nation starts with the inclination to have an integrated force of its own. During the debate on the Air Estimates we heard that we must have an integrated Air Force with the right proportion of heavy bombers. With my hon. Friend, I believe that that is national thinking, not Atlantic Pact thinking. Again, all the various nations have the inclination to have an integrated balance between their general forces. If we get each of these balanced forces created by each nation, we shall have not a balanced force for the whole Atlantic area, but we shall have our forces wrongly disposed.
I would say that this country is now a Continental power, and our job is a Continental role primarily instead of, as in the past, an oceanic role primarily. The first instrument of our defence is, unquestionably, the Royal Air Force; the second is the Army, whose objective is to keep the enemy air bases far enough away to enable the Royal Air Force to operate; and the third is the Royal Navy, whose job is to keep open the supply routes of the Royal Air Force. That is the order of priorities within our defence structure. Within the whole conception of Atlantic defence we must conceive the other role to be to provide here that which the Americans cannot immediately make available; that is, short-range fighter defence and the shorter range bomber, the close anti-submarine work, and the divisions which will have to operate and defeat the enemy in the area round here. Those are the things which will not be immediately available from America.
On the other hand, of course, the big ships, the capital ships are available in America in quite unlimited supply in terms of our effort. Indeed, I would say that their Lordships of the Admiralty have done a good deal too well in these Estimates. I believe that so far from not having got their fair share of the men, materials and money available for defence, they have probably got a good deal more than their fair share. They are inclined 1148 to do that; they are very, very able men, as we all recognise.
Now, just what is the menace we have to face? What we have to consider is not a surface fleet in the present context but the submarine menace. I had the good fortune to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, on two other Service Debates, in each of which I dealt a little with the Russian position, and rather with the favourable aspect. I shall do so again with regard to the submarine menace. According to "Jane's," and according to the information which apparently the Admiralty have, the Russians have between 350 and 370 submarines. Of that number I think that something like 250 are listed in the 1939"Jane's"; that is to say, they are pre-war submarines either of the Russians themselves, or of the Germans, or of the Italians.
That leaves something over 100 unaccounted for. How many of those are post-war submarines of the latest design? That is to say, how many are the genuine under-water ship, the "fish" whose natural habitat is in the water instead of the surface ship which can merely dive, and which, frankly, is today no menace whatever, because we have got the answer to it? It is the genuine under-water ship that we have to consider, and I think we can say that at the moment the Russians have not got them in very large numbers. None the less, 100 is quite a lot.
There is one other piece of information that I have. The Russians have been very energetic indeed in recruiting submarine crews in Germany. I am not in the least frightened of a submarine with a mercenary crew. To handle a submarine effectively requires enormous courage and dedication. It has to be a man who values his life infinitely below his cause, who is to be of any use in a submarine, and I do not believe that it is an arm which could be in the least effective, if they have to use mercenary crews who are tempted by money considerations. But the fact that they are so energetic in Germany in trying to enlist these crews seems to indicate a great shortage of Russians to make submariners. After all, the Russian never has made a naval man as we know him. Therefore, do not let us exaggerate this menace too much. It is almost as dangerous to overrate the enemy—as Mr. Chamberlain did at Munich—as it is to underrate him. 1149 Do not let us run into either of those dangers.
As I have said, the main battle will clearly be an anti-submarine battle, and that anti-submarine battle will be one to cut the supplies of Britain and Europe from America. It is a battle which in all human likelihood will be fought in the Northern Passage, the Western Approaches, the North Sea and the Arctic. That is where there will be the overwhelming concentration of the antisubmarine vessels of the Atlantic Powers. Now I do not want to trespass on to the forbidden ground of command, save to say this. If the Western Approaches, the North Sea, the Northern Passage and the Arctic are areas of British tactical command and control, then the function of whoever it is who assigns the warships of these 12 nations to their operational area will be, in the overwhelming majority of cases, to assign American and foreign ships to serve under British command. In those areas there will be far, far more antisubmarine vessels of the Atlantic Powers operating than Britain possesses, so when one considers at all the question of a command that allocates vessels to areas, one must remember that its job will primarily be to allocate foreign vessels to serve under British Command. That is a point we ought to bear in mind.
The other question I should like to raise is one which I have raised in every Navy Estimates debate since 1945. I do not know yet, and I shall fully understand if we still cannot have the answer to it. We are now facing what I may term the "fish" submarine; that is, the submarine whose real home is in the depths of the ocean, and is not merely a surface ship that can dive. I have always believed that the effective way to fight that sort of submarine will be to go down to the depths and fight him. In other words, I have always believed that the anti-submarine vessel of the future will be the submarine.
We shall require submarines as escort vessels. That will provide a great many problems for our surface escort vessels which have to identify their own underwater ships from the enemies. Are these problems being worked out? To what extent are we developing or have we developed the anti-submarine submarine? I should very much like to hear whether 1150 any steps have been taken in that matter. I feel that eventually, just as in the same way the answer to the aeroplane is the fighter aeroplane, so one must have the fighter submarine.
My second point is this: Cannot we do more—this may be more a Board of Trade question—about stock-piling here the essential things which have to be carried in the initial phases of a war? America is stock-piling. They are stockpiling things which they would probably require here. Cannot we negotiate with the Americans to store a great deal in Great Britain, because if war starts, it will start at the Russians' choice and on the date they select. That is to say, their submarines will be at their posts. If one were in a position to take all our merchant ships off the sea and bring them into port on the outbreak of war, thus give ourselves a period in which we could hunt the submarine without giving the submarine much in the way of targets, we would have a great advantage to begin with, but to begin in that position would depend on adequate stock-piles. Has that aspect of the matter been considered?
The third point which I want to mention is this: In our co-ordination with the Americans, certainly in my own experience, language has been one of our great difficulties; a much greater difficulty than in our co-ordination with the French. French words are not likely to be confused with English words, but many American words when used in England have quite often a different meaning. One word may mean one thing to an American and another thing to an Englishman and all sorts of confusion arises. I suggest that to overcome this language difficulty it is extremely important to make sure that in naval terms, at any rate, we use the same words to mean the same things. I know the language difficulties that arose in the last war, and I hope that this matter is being carefully considered.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Sir Ronald Ross (Londonderry)
I am sure that we all feel that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), is to be congratulated on his choice of Amendment, which is very wide and of the utmost importance. I think that we all enjoyed listening to his speech and also to the amusing paradoxes of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton 1151 (Mr. Paget), who seconded the Amendment.
The contribution of the Navy to Atlantic defence, which is the subject of the Amendment, seemed to get less and less during the speeches of the mover and seconder of the Amendment. The speech of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton seemed to deal with close-range anti-submarine protection, and the chief emphasis, we were told, was not on the Navy but on the Air Force and the Army. I should be out of order if I discussed the co-operation necessary between the three Services, which was so important in the last war and the preceding war, but there was a certain neglect of the extraordinary importance of the protection of the trade routes of these islands.
The greatest peril in which we found ourselves during recent wars was not, I think, that of invasion, but of our being cut off from our raw materials, our food and the assistance which we got from our friends. I am certainly not prepared to rely upon the forces of another great nation, however friendly and however great, to protect our trade routes which run throughout the world, because we have still the greatest merchant navy in the world. Perhaps it is not inappropriate that I should have the good fortune to speak on the Amendment, because in my constituency I have the port from which, I think, the majority of the anti-submarine escorts sailed during the war. I also have in my constituency both the principal combined air and naval anti-submarine school—a most wonderful establishment—and a naval aerodrome which is one of the most important of its kind in the country.
There was one matter mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton which I think is of considerable importance, and that is the use of the submarine to chase the submarine. I think that I raised this question last year. We know that the United States Navy has already launched a submarine for that precise purpose. I alluded last year to the R class boats, which were built for that purpose in the war before last, and I got a reply from the Parliamentary Secretary that attention was being given to that matter, but we have not heard anything about it today. I entirely agree with the hon. and learned 1152 Member for Northampton that that is a direction in which research and inquiry should be directed.
In the statement on defence, there is an allusion to fast submarines of a new type, but I cannot say that I heard anything about that during the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary, nor have I been fortunate enough to find anything much about these submarines in the Estimates. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Park, very rightly pointed out the great importance of joint exercises, and I entirely agree with him. I think that common doctrine, common practice and common tactics for the navies of all countries which are involved in the Atlantic Pact are of vital importance. We all know the difficulties which the unfortunate A.B.D.A. Navy suffered in the Java Sea at the beginning of the war with Japan, when they had not the same familiarity with one another's methods, ideas and tactics as, I trust, the Atlantic Pact navies are now acquiring.
I am glad to see evidence of this work going on in Londonderry where we have had visits from aircraft-carriers very recently—one from Canada and another from Australia. We have also constantly had visits from the United States Navy, and we were particularly glad to welcome a detachment of the Dutch Naval Air service, which is at present at Eglinton, in my constituency. I always look for a chance of congratulating the Government on something, and I think that I have found it in these circumstances. I must congratulate them on the way in which they treated the rather silly protests that were made about this piece of work for the Atlantic Pact countries.
The question of repairs has already been mentioned, as has the sufficiency of work in the dockyards and private yards. As Londonderry has recently been associated with anti-submarine defence and, as far as I can see, craft will always be based there, would it not be a good thing to re-open the repair facilities which were used there during the war to the complete satisfaction of the Admiralty? Thus there could be tapped a reserve in ship repair which is outside the ordinary run of the ship repairing yards.
We are all agreed that the problem which we have to face is to protect our lines of communication across the Atlantic and to other parts of 1153 the world from attack by submarine. We must not be blind to a combination of surface and submarine attack, because that is what we suffered from particularly during the last war. A lesson which the Germans evidently learned from the 1914–18 war was that a submarine attack on commerce is doubly dangerous if it is supported by surface ships. There are two types of attack on commerce of this kind against which we must guard, either attack by warships in support of their submarines or attack by disguised raiders. The latter can be a great danger when we are protecting our ships, as we know from the sad fate of H.M.S. "Sydney," a very historic ship, which had an Australian crew and was deceived by the peaceful appearance of a raider. Are we able to deal with that type of attack?
I am concerned about our cruiser position. At the moment we have 26 cruisers, and I was interested to hear the Parliamentary Secretary say that the big D class destroyers are really as formidable as the old C class cruisers were; but before they can be used as cruisers we must know whether their radius is large enough. On that the text books seem to be silent. The 26 cruisers we have now compare poorly with the 61 we had in 1939, and before the 1914–18 war we had twice as many as that. The function of a cruiser in the protection of commerce must not be confused with its function in the battle fleet. The function of the cruiser is generally defensive, and we have thousands and thousands of miles of sea ways which we must protect.
On Wednesday last I was questioning the Parliamentary Secretary on this matter, and no doubt to quieten my anxiety about our lack of cruisers he said that we had fewer cruisers because there were fewer cruisers against us, in that there were no German or Japanese cruisers on the other side to prey upon our commerce. That is adopting a wrong balance in judging our need for cruisers, because we must take into account the enormous extent of the sea ways which have to be protected and the vast volume of merchant traffic which must come and go from these shores if we are to carry on a war successfully and even to live.
§ Sir R. Ross
I do not agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman, because there are parts of the sea ways to which a long-range aircraft cannot yet go. I do not think a long-range aircraft could be of any particular use at night. When such an aircraft does find a raider, what is it going to do about it? It will then have to summon a cruiser to sink the raider, because a long-range aircraft would be but one against such a raider and would not have very much hope of sinking the vessel which it had found. We all know from past experience how extraordinarily difficult it is to locate even a single ship. In the 1914–18 war there were the "Karlsruhe," the "Konigsberg" and the "Emden," and in 1939 there was the "Graf Spee," which created a lot of dislocation in our arrangements, and a very large number of ships were destroyed by her before she was located and destroyed most gallantly by cruisers inferior to her in force.
One thing I would ask of the Parliamentary Secretary, and that is, that we do not have that unfortunate and disastrous compromise, the armed merchant cruiser. Such a cruiser deprived the merchant fleet of valuable tonnage and produced a ship which was a death trap to her crew and which really could not fulfil the function which it was sent out to do. It was deprived of fulfilling the function for which it was built, and has only left us a glorious heritage in the "Rawalpindi" and the "Jervis Bay." I implore the Parliamentary Secretary not to have that sort of thing over again.
As a quick reinforcement we have three cruisers which, judging from their photographs, are about 80 per cent. complete. I am encouraged by the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary and by page 250 of the Estimates to see that the equipment is being proceeded with. How long are we to wait before the ships are complete? There is an interesting expression "periodical finality." Have we' not about reached periodical finality as regards the three ships? When we remember how few are the cruisers which we have, compared to our needs and the enormous length of our communications, these ships might be very valuable and they should be completed as soon as possible.
1155 There is one other matter: how are we prepared to deal with the heavy type of commerce raider? We have never heard officially about the supposed Russian battleship.
§ Sir R. Ross
I do not suppose that the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey) will ever go to sea again, so he will not be attacking it. I have never heard anything about this type of ship from the Government, although the leading textbook on the subject gives, with a certain reserve, facts about it which it is suggested can be authenticated. Are we in a position to deal with such a menace? Suppose we had a sortie from the Baltic rather similar to the "Bismarck's" sortie during the last war. Although the "Bismarck" was severely damaged by aircraft in the very gallant attack from the "Ark Royal," it was Service ships that had to dispose of her in the end. Are we in a position to deal with that kind of attack? It could be a very formidable attack indeed. These vessels are adequate as defensive craft, and they are equipped also to deal with submarines, but not to deal with surface ships.
If I were asked to say what is the greatest contribution that the Navy can make to North Atlantic defence, I would say that it is experience. In that we are unequalled. We have the great experience of two wars in which the most fierce attacks were made upon our lifeline across the North Atlantic. We have a generation of seamen who have been brought up in the tradition of fighting those attacks, and to whom those experiences of defensive war in the North Atlantic are probably the most constant lesson that has been taught them. We have a great advantage over the United States Navy in that respect.
We all admire the very astounding achievements of the American Navy during the last war, but its problems were entirely different from ours. Weather and geography were different for them, and in the enormous area of the Pacific the submarine policy of their opponents, the Japanese, was not to prey upon their merchant vessels but much more to attack their warships. Although the Americans 1156 were brilliant in light tactics and the use of those enormous torpedoes—which the Japanese had developed, though the Americans did not know they had—they were not particularly formidable submariners.
Any question of command should be settled not as a matter of prestige as to who has the greatest fleet, and certainly not between ourselves and our Allies, the Americans, but as to who has the best and greatest experience to deal with the particular problem which has to be faced. Whatever objection anyone has made about having an American admiral, it has never been made in a personal sense in the slightest degree. We admire the American Navy. The name of this officer, Admiral Fechteler, is one that we can admire and respect, as that of a fighting seaman with a grand record, but in a different kind of warfare, for instance, the capture of the Admiralty Islands, in which he took such a distinguished part. We cannot imagine anything less like the defence of a convoy in the North Atlantic.
§ Mr. Mulley
When we made our speeches, we could probably have dealt with the points which the hon. Member is now making, except that there was an understanding that the question of the appointment of the American admiral would not be referred to.
§ Sir R. Ross
I quite appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says. I hope that he will take up some of these points when the debate on that subject does take place, and I am sure he will deal with them most effectively. I conclude by repeating that our greatest contribution to Atlantic defence is our experience and the tradition in the sea service of the Royal Navy.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)
I propose to deal with three points which were mentioned by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). I did not intend to speak, but his speech was so interesting that I should like to express some friendly divergence of opinion on some of the things he said.
On the question of the employment by the Russians of German crews, I thought he came to a very dangerous conclusion. I do not know that his information is any better than mine; at any rate much of 1157 mine is surmised. If it is a fact that the Russians are recruiting German crews, or as I think is has probable, German instructors of Russia crews, I think my hon. and gallant Friend seriously underestimates the whole history of defeated Germany. The record of the German General Staff or of the naval staff after the defeat of 1919, is that they took the most urgent possible steps by devious ways to overcome the provision of the Treaty of Versailles and tried as best they could to maintain the service traditions of the Imperial Navy and of the Army.
My hon. and gallant Friend says that he would not trust a mercenary crew to put up a whole-hearted fight. I am paraphrasing his words. He runs the danger of assuming that such crews would not have the stomach to fight. On the contrary, I believe that they would thus provide a most important nucleus for a resurgence of the German Navy. That is the whole lesson we should learn from the past.
Then my hon. and learned Friend referred—this is very much more his line than mine—to the conjecture that in future wars the most potent anti-submarine weapon would be the submarine, or a submarine craft of some sort. I am prepared to concede that this is even a probability, and certainly a possibility, but to my mind, in the present design of naval craft and the present tendencies in warfare, it seems most likely that we must concentrate on provisions for the building and the maintenance of small surface craft. It is a far cry to the old battle that we used to hear between Sir Percy Scott and "Jackie" Fisher. We see it coming up in a different form now.
One justification for this debate is that I feel very scared sometimes when I see the apparent policy of the Admiralty in maintaining the vast Royal Naval Dockyards. It would be far safer to organise thoroughly the repair and maintenance of small surface craft in the hundred and one small yards around our coasts. Take the question of the deployment of maintenance equipment. We shall have to maintain and repair craft on the northern coast of Scotland and certainly on the North-West coast. We shall have to concentrate far more equipment in that part of the country than we did in the previous war.
§ Mr. Snow
I quite agree. If it comes to a question of whether or not to maintain these large naval dockyards, one has to consider the sort of weapon that is available, whether it is dropped from an aeroplane or is the result of guidance. If a bomb is dropped in the catchment area from which the work comes, the job has been done. That is far more so than it has ever been before. Take the history of Portsmouth. Hundreds of bombs were dropped there during the last war but the yard never went out of action. One atomic bomb three or four miles on either side of the harbour will knock out the whole place. We have therefore to consider not only building up a system of a hundred small yards but, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton said, maintaining adequate stocks on the spot.
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary has this job in hand at the moment. He has had experience in the Ministry of Transport. I would recall to his memory the problem during the 1914–18 war and the work done by Sir Eric Geddes. The House will remember the strategic problem then of doing something about the grossly inefficient French railways. It was the job of Sir Eric to try to get men and materials to the numerous battle points during that war. Something on these lines must be considered in connection with the maintenance of the small yards which I have advocated.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I concede my hon. Friend's point. It is a proper point. In connection with the new programme of minesweeper building, which we have just launched, we have, for the most part, placed the orders wholly with small yards, some of which are in the North of Scotland.
§ Mr. Snow
I am reassured to hear that, though I note that my hon. Friend referred only to minesweepers, and he has a vastly greater knowledge of naval warfare than I have, but I am thinking in terms of small surface craft charged with tracking down and fighting the submarine. It seems to me that we have to think of not half a dozen small yards but numerous small yards up and down the country. I shall not press the point 1159 now; I merely bring the matter to the attention of my hon. Friend as a question of the siting of the yards and of getting the materials there in the light of the possible bombing of our major ports.
I should not like it to be thought that I considered the function of the Royal Naval Dockyards as they exist at the moment to be finished. On the contrary, I know that they fulfil an immensely important role in maintaining our naval strength. But I should like to mention the feeling that many of us have had for some time that the supervising of our Royal Naval yards should come under civilian control. The present set-up with an Admiralty superintendent and a skeleton senior naval staff at the yard may have been all right in times when the industrial life of our country was on a simpler basis than it is now. I see my hon. Friends from Plymouth here and I hope to carry them with me on this point.
I well remember during the lifetime of the last Parliament convening, with Major Donald Bruce, then the Member for Portsmouth, North, a meeting between the naval staff in Portsmouth dockyard and the trade union officials. I was very seized of the fact that the trade union members in the dockyard felt themselves at a disadvantage with senior naval officers, a disadvantage which I do not think they would feel if they had to deal with industrial leaders in the civilian sense of the term.
Whether we should get greater efficiency must depend on whether or not we consider the Royal Naval Dockyards at present to be industrially efficient. I do not know whether my hon. Friends from Plymouth would agree with me, but I should say that, by comparison with the Royal Ordnance factories, there are pretty obvious signs that improvements could be made. I have heard it argued by senior naval officers at the dockyards that a naval officer is required to translate, as it were, the language of the seagoing naval officers to the dockyard civilians. The reverse is true. We might get greatly increased efficiency if we had civilian control, as there is in the Royal Ordnance factories.
My last point is on the subject of the dockyard schools. I believe I may be somewhat inhibited in this because I 1160 understand that dockyards in general and the schools in particular are being considered by a Select Committee of which I am a member. We must be very careful that, with the introduction of new methods of securing apprentices into the yards, we do not in any way allow the standards to fall. A problem with which the Admiralty has been confronted in the last few years is the serious falling off in the number of dockyard apprentices. That has now been arrested. Figures which I have show a gratifying increase in the number of students in the lower schools in the dockyards. It is right and proper that we should modernise entry and inspection. The whole science of naval repair and maintenance must depend on the young men who are coming forward, and we must see that the standards demanded are reasonable and that, in contradistinction, we do not allow standards of efficiency to drop.
This naval debate seems to have come at a most opportune moment, because we may be enabled to get into better perspective, bearing in mind some of the remarks of the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary, one of the more controversial matters of the day. I want to make a comment on the speech of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross). I do not know whether he has an arrière-penséeof prejudice or what it is, but it seems to me that, if Russia is the potential enemy, we should not rule out that the Irish Republic will be on our side. I cannot conceive of any single new political problem today which makes it more likely that the Roman Catholic population of Southern Ireland will not find itself ready, and indeed very pleased, to align itself with the Western democracies.
§ Sir R. Ross
I should be only too glad to see—I should have been only too glad to see it in the last war—what is now the Irish Republic coming in on the side of the Allies to fight for freedom, but I do not think it would be very wise to give away the only naval ports which we have in Ireland to a country which is, though non-alien, certainly not one of us and not a member of the Atlantic Pact.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hay (Henley)
I am sure that all of us on this side of the House will congratulate the. hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) upon choosing this topic when he won his place in the Ballot. This discussion comes at an extremely opportune time, as the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) has just observed, because I do not think that since the setting up of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation or since the end of the war, there was ever a time when it was more vital for us to consider exactly how we are to integrate British naval forces with those of the other countries of Atlantic Union.
The problem, as I see it, resolves itself into two main compartments. The first is the consideration of those with whom we are to integrate; and the second is the fields in which integration will be necessary. To deal briefly with the first, it is quite obvious that the people with whom we shall have to integrate our naval Forces as well as all our military and air Forces are, firstly, the United States and, secondly, the bulk of the European countries.
I was very impressed by the remark made a few minutes ago by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) when he discussed the difficulties which one is up against in dealing with the language problem. I very much hope that the Admiralty and the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary have their eyes firmly upon this point because as one who had a little to do during part of the last war with liaison with various Navies I know from personal experience that it is sometimes extremely difficult indeed to reach agreed policies with one's opposite numbers if language difficulties supervene. It is so easy to be misunderstood. In another war, in which, as other hon. Members have said, speed will perhaps be vital, we cannot risk the slightest delay, the slightest hindrance or check as a result of difficulties of that kind.
There are three fields in which integration of British naval forces will be 1162 necessary—first, in the field of operations at sea, second, in the field of the provision of stores, weapons, ammunition and training, and third, in the interrelation between the naval forces and the air forces. I should like to say a few words about each of those aspects.
It is most important that we should continue to have a series of joint exercises between the British Navy and the various Continental, and, I hope, the United States navies. Great lessons are to be learned, and I hope that whoever is to reply to this debate for the Admiralty will tell us not only that the results of the joint exercises already held have been satisfactory but that the Admiralty intend to go much further along that road than they have done up to now. I feel that a great deal can be done at this time, when we have the opportunity of getting through the teething troubles and the initial problems which war at its onset will not give us time to solve. By carrying out exercises of that kind, I believe we can do a great deal. It is obvious that tactics will have to be integrated and that systems of signalling which will overcome the language difficulty will have to be worked out. It may be that these problems are already being considered but I urge that something should be done if they are not.
The second major aspect in which integration is necessary is in the field of equipment generally. On the question of stores, standardisation between the various navies forming part of the Atlantic Pact needs to be thought out far more than has been the case up to now. Another hon. Member has already discussed briefly the question of standardisation. We all know that if war comes to us it will be an all-out war and that it will be an atomic war. The hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth, dealing with the more narrow sphere of the dockyard problem, referred to the damage which could easily be done by atomic bombs. I believe it is absolutely essential that we should set up store depots not on a large but on a small scale, in various countries and not only here in Britain. To take a long view, if we depend solely upon the country as the major naval base of Western Union defence, we may easily be making a great mistake. Therefore, I hope that the Admiralty are looking at that question 1163 and the problems of standardisation of weapons and ammunition.
Here again I think there is a tremendous amount to be gained by taking the right decision quickly at this time and not waiting until it is too late. During the later stages of the last war a great deal was, I believe, done in the way of standardisation of weapons and ammunition. I hope that the Admiralty have very much in mind those lessons which were learned at that time because if the Royal Navy is to be prepared to fight the next war with other than the methods of the last war or of some past war we have to make that sort of decision now.
I would say a word about the integration of training. I believe it is very important that where units are to operate under a joint command, or where there are units of different navies operating under the single command of some particular sea officer who may be a foreigner to many of them, we have to be quite certain that training methods are uniform so far as can be humanly obtained. After all, everything depends upon adequate and proper training. It may well be that the standard of training in some foreign navies is not up to that of our own. It may be that other foreign navies are ahead of us in certain departments of training. I hope something will be done to make certain that training is put upon a minimum level throughout the whole of the various naval forces in the Atlantic Pact.
I shall take a broader view of the question of naval construction and say a word about construction policy. I am absolutely certain that there is a most pressing and urgent need for properly balanced naval forces in Western Europe. Everyone who has spoken in this debate appears automatically to have assumed that the role of the British Navy in any future war, will be to provide—certainly in the Atlantic—the major part of the anti-submarine vessels.
That pre-supposes that our construction programme and policy must turn inevitably from the big ships to the smaller ones. Assuming that view is correct, I ask whether or not in all the circumstances that is really the wisest policy? To talk like that at the present moment may sound a little like heresy, but we 1164 have to be very careful that we do not allow our big ships to be scrapped, or to fall into something like disuse by relying too much on the big ships of other countries, particularly the United States.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) made one rather remarkable statement. He said that in his view there would be small need for big ships again, and that British forces must always be based upon the small units. I think that was, generally, what he said. But as my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) pointed out, we are still up against the problem of the raider. The raider, whether it be the heavily armed warship or the disguised merchant ship, still constitutes, on the vast oceans of the world, one of the most dangerous adversaries it is possible to come up against. I served for a time with the armed merchant cruisers, about which my hon. Friend had some rather uncomplimentary things to say, and I am certain that unless we have an adequate searching force, combining the air and the surface vessel, with the object of finding the raider as quickly as possible, the raider, in conjunction as my hon. Friend said with the submarine, can easily put a stranglehold upon the life-lines of this country.
I hope therefore that the Admiralty are bearing this in mind; that they will not devote their attention exclusively to the small ships, but realise they have to replace their obsolescent cruisers with new ones, and that from time to time it may be necessary to take new decisions as to even larger ships. I beg them to ensure that, if another war should come, we are supplied with an adequate number of escort carriers, because I think the aircraft carrier may easily be the capital ship of the future.
I wish to turn to the question of convoys. Here again, I think that integration between the various Atlantic Pact countries is important. Are we doing something now to prepare the way to integrate and bring about coordination in the question of convoy procedure. There is, for example, the question of signalling; the size of the convoys; how they are to be routed; the proportion in which the merchant ships of different nationalities will be put together. T read the other day that the 1165 Norwegians always feel that it is somewhat of an insult to them to say that Britain in 1940 stood alone. Those of us who sailed in 1940 and 1941 know that the Norwegian Merchant Marine was a tremendous asset to us. I believe that the Norwegians in particular, as well as the French and the Dutch, have a very great part to play in the whole question of integrating Western Union defence from the convoy and merchant shipping point of view. I hope that we are taking steps now to get our convoy procedure in apple-pie order as quickly as we can.
Again, integration is important on the question of fuelling and docking facilities. If an atomic attack is made upon ports, obviously they will be put out of action in a very short space of time and may be completely unusable for a long time thereafter. There is great need for the right steps and decisions to be taken now to find alternative fuelling and docking facilities abroad as well as in this country. During the last war, there were a number of disguised inlets and bays in various parts of Britain which were used as emergency refuelling and docking points. I believe that even so big a ship as the "Nelson" was once docked in an obscure inlet on the West coast of Scotland after she had been mined.
I sincerely hope that steps are being taken now to survey and prepare all these places. I hope, too, that something is being done to prepare the necessary underground storage for fuel oil, ammunition and the other stores upon which we shall have to rely. If our docks are treated as being the one place where our ships can be refuelled, revictualled and re-stored, then we run a great risk, because atomic attack may easily knock them right out.
As the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park, has pointed out, integration is vital to the role of the Royal Navy in Atlantic Pact defence which is really what his Amendment is about. I should like to emphasise and impress upon the Admiralty, if indeed it is necessary—and perhaps it is not—the great urgency of this problem. The need is for speed. We do not know how short time may be. Unless the Admiralty, and the Parliamentary Secretary and his colleagues, are taking the right decisions now and are 1166 looking ahead and taking the necessary risks, if risks are necessary, I believe that we may find ourselves, in time of war, in very great difficulties which could have been avoided. I hope that we may be given some assurance that these points, and others which I have not had time to mention, are being considered and that something is being done.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Callaghan
Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if I intervened at this stage on the Amendment and then, perhaps, the House could return to the general debate. We have had a most interesting debate on the question of the Navy's contribution to North Atlantic defence. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) on the terms in which he moved his Amendment. He started a fertile train of ideas which ought to be ventilated in this House and which were followed up by a number of hon. Members who placed the searchlight upon a field of study about which we have not had a great deal of information so far, if only because the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is itself still a child.
The main objects that we are attempting to pursue in bringing together a number of nations—12 or 13 nations—are, first, to standardise procedure in order to minimise the difficulties that arise from different languages, different doctrines and different tactics, and, second, to standardise equipment as far as that may be possible. Of course, two or three of us in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation have a preponderant weight in ships and men. It is, therefore, easier to carry the rest along. Standardisation is a major problem, therefore, for perhaps only two or three of the large number of Powers concerned.
The House should remember that a standardisation agreement was published on 15th August last between the Royal Navy, the Royal Canadian Navy and the United States Navy, and, although full details have not been given, I can assure the House that considerable progress has been made in standardisation among three of the navies that will be putting most into the North Atlantic Treaty.
Let me take up at once one of the points. The hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) raised the question of re- 1167 fuelling. One of the means of standardisation that is now being considered is in respect of common specifications for the fuels that are used by all the ships of all the navies—obviously, a most important point—in order that they may mutually refuel each other at sea. Provision is also being made for refuelling equipment which will enable refuelling to take place in most North Atlantic Treaty ports. That is a very big step forward, involving a great deal of preparatory work, but it is clearly the sort of benefit that can arise from the integration to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Sheffield, Park, spoke about the training and interchange of officers. Here, again, I would remind the House that the North Atlantic Treaty is still only an infant, but this work has been started. For example, the Royal Navy has trained about 400 officers and ratings from other navies during the currency of the North Atlantic Treaty. Most of them, interestingly enough, have come from the Netherlands, which has contributed the largest single number, but I believe it is true to say that we have had officers and men from nearly all the navies concerned with us in the North Atlantic Treaty, and, in addition, we have interchanged a number of our own officers with officers of other navies concerned in the Treaty. Again, that is a most important development and advance.
Another matter on which general agreement has been reached, the significance of which I think the House will appreciate, concerns the types of electrical power to be used in ships. If and when the agreement is implemented, it will make it possible to switch equipment and weapons from one navy to another, whereas if the electrical power were different that would not have been possible.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) raised the question of a common language to avoid confusion, and I am glad to tell him that in the near future the N.A.T.O. forces will manoeuvre under a common system. I think it is now quite common in the Admiralty to see one of these famous dockets with a minute in French, followed by one in English and another in American. I think we can assume that, when the Fleet goes to sea, there will 1168 be a common signal book, which will be of very great benefit indeed in promoting the mutual action that we all want to see.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
May I ask my hon. Friend a question, although I am afraid it is not a helpful one? When are our friends the Italians coming in? I read recently that a gentleman called Rear-Admiral Ferranti Caponi was to have a position under the North Atlantic Pact. Is he an American officer who has settled in Italy, or who is he, and where does he come from?
§ Mr. Callaghan
I suggest to my hon. Friend that he should wait for the debate which we are to have, when we shall be discussing the whole scope of the North Atlantic Treaty, and when I am sure that the lineage of the gentleman he mentions will be fully explained.
The hon. Member for Henley also mentioned the question of naval construction and the importance of standardisation, and with that we fully agree. As the House will know, the French are already using one aircraft carrier that was formerly serving with the Royal Navy and so are the Dutch, and some smaller vessels, too. I am now looking slightly ahead, but I would not be a bit surprised to find that the new anti-submarine frigates we are now developing—and which we regard as among the best things we have—were put to common use and placed in a common pool in due course. Certainly it is the sort of idea that ought to be fully worked out.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park, asked me about joint exercises. I have asked for statistics, and am told that altogether 20 joint exercises were held with other North Atlantic Treaty fleets during the last 12 months. Those fleets included the French, the Dutch, and the Sixth United States Mediterranean Fleet. The main exercise they undertook was convoy defence against air and submarine attack, and also minesweeping and coastal defence work. I hope that a similar number of exercises will be arranged among the North Atlantic Treaty Powers during the next 12 months.
§ Mr. Mulley
Could my hon. Friend tell us anything about the success or otherwise of those joint operations?
§ Mr. Callaghan
If by that my hon. Friend means do we feel that there are no lessons to be learned, the answer is no. There were lessons to be learned, and I would not claim that the exercises to be carried out this year will not be better than those carried out last year. I am bound to say that there is considerable room for integration, to use the word which was used so much by the hon. Member for Henley. The contribution of the hon. Member for Henley, like the contributions of other hon. Members in relation to Atlantic defence, emphasised very much the necessity for integration. He will know—and this is part of the argument that is going on in public at the present time—that, last time, the arrangement was that every nation should defend the little bit, or the big bit, it might have been, for which it was responsible. At any rate, it was done in bits and pieces.
I am bound to say that I agree with the hon. Member for Henley—and this is the Government's policy—that there should be this integration rather than that we should have a system of defence consisting of bits and pieces. Therefore, the system of command that is being worked out has as its basis no artificial dividing line between parts of that segment of the globe Concerned with the Atlantic Treaty, but rather an integration of the whole in the various fields I have described. I believe that to be the correct approach to this question at the present time.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton was provocative, as usual. He almost makes me a blue water man—and I regard myself as being comparatively advanced on some of these issues affecting the future of the Navy. But may I just make one or two observations? When he says that we cannot look to the Navy to defend us, that is saying much the same as I said in my speech this afternoon, but he says it in a very different tone. Let me put it this way. If by that he means that ships alone cannot defend us, then that is true; but it would not be true if he suggested that ships plus aircraft cannot defend us. The question is, who controls the aircraft?—because that seems to be the real issue in this case.
Although I know it is very easy to criticise one's predecessors, I must say that I think the Navy were slow in the 1930's 1170 regarding their attitude towards the growth of air power. Looking back—although, of course, it is very easy to be wise after the event—I cannot help thinking that the Royal Navy should have done much more on the lines of what the United States Navy did, namely, have gone out for air power and realised its significance much earlier. However, they did not do that.
I think it is only now that the Navy, because of the lapse and the lag, is able to say, "We have aircraft we can put into the air that compare with anything else that exists." The gloss that I put on my hon. and learned Friend's statement is merely that, and I hope he will not use such a gleeful tone when he speaks about the subject in the future, because it hurts somewhat. Neither do I accept his very broad statement that we are primarily a land Power. How can a nation be primarily a land Power when it has the largest active merchant fleet in the world and when it means the closing down of factories, and starvation even, if its supply lines are cut off?
We have over 100,000 men in the Merchant Navy. As long as that Merchant Navy exists—and there is no sign of its being removed from the seas yet, and never will be as far as I can see—and as long as we depend upon overseas supplies not only from the European continent but from other continents, it would be foolish for us to fall into the habit of saying that we are primarily a land Power. Let my hon. and learned Friend not swing the pendulum too far either way. Let us try, as I do, to keep a strict, objective balance in these matters. We cannot defend the sea routes alone, but that is no excuse for flying to the other extreme and saying, conversely, that we are primarily a land Power.
I will not trespass further on the time of the House. I think the discussion has been interesting. I hope at least that in what I fear was only the very general outline that I have given to the House of the start that has been made in matters of standardisation, hon. Members will realise that the North Atlantic Treaty really means something. Although I should be quite happy to accept the Amendment, I fear that I must ask my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park to withdraw it, because I should not like to incarcerate you. Mr. Speaker, in 1171 the Chair all night, which I gather would happen if my hon. Friend does not withdraw it. I therefore ask him to withdraw the Amendment in the knowledge that we are in full sympathy with the terms of it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Captain Ryder (Merton and Morden)
I am very glad to have the opportunity of speaking immediately after the remarks which the Parliamentary Secretary has made. I thought that his opening speech was very interesting indeed, and I could not help feeling that he had had a great battle behind the scenes to get permission to disclose the valuable information in his speech. He was quite right to disclose this information at the present time. It is most important that the world at large should realise that our Royal Navy is keeping up to date and, indeed, is leading the way in many fields of research.
The Parliamentary Secretary added some very valuable remarks in winding up the debate on the Amendment. I understand that there is an agreement that we will not discuss the structure of the Atlantic Command. I must confess I had not heard of that agreement at all. If there is such an agreement, I do not wish to take any advantage in the matter, but I thought the Parliamentary Secretary made a very useful contribution at the end of his speech when he spoke about British sea power. What he was saying was very much in the right direction. I felt he was trying to build up in the eyes of the world the position which our Royal Navy occupies and to that extent, I, in my humble capacity, should like to try and support him.
In the past I have paid tribute to the administrative efficiency of the Admiralty. I have always felt, and still do, that it is by far and away the most efficient of all the Service Departments, and it is, indeed, one of the most efficient of all the Government Departments, being equalled only by its natural and hereditary enemy, the Treasury, on the other side of the Horse Guards Parade. I do not wish to detract 1172 from anything that I have said with reference to the administrative efficiency of the Admiralty, but when it comes to matters of higher strategy and political policy, mistakes have been made in the past, and I could instance quite a number.
But when we consider these matters of higher strategy, I do not know to what extent the Admiralty themselves are able to influence the course of events or to what extent their advice is accepted; I do not know whether decisions are being taken over their heads—let us hope it will not be over their dead bodies—but it seems to me that we are facing very serious issues indeed at the moment, and that if we are to wait until the details of the command structure of the Atlantic Treaty are produced to us in final form, we may well be faced with something resembling an accomplished fact. If we are in any way to influence the course of events, now surely is the time to speak. However, I will try and abide by what I understand has been agreed.
I feel that the main issue which faces us at present is the fact that in the allocation of our military resources we are becoming more and more of a continental Power, and consideration of the various Estimates over the past few years indicates this very strongly. In 1913 the allocation to the Royal Navy was 62 per cent., and to the Army 38 per cent.; there was then no Air Force. In 1938 the Royal Navy's allocation was 38 per cent., the Army's 33 per cent. and the R.A.F.'s 29 per cent. In 1951 the allocations to the Royal Navy was 27 per cent., to the Army 41 per cent. and to the Royal Air Force 32 per cent. So it will be seen that the Royal Navy, from being top of the list even as late as 1938, is now well at the bottom of the list, and the main transfer has gone, not to the Royal Air Force, but to our land forces. That is the point which I feel should be considered very seriously.
Whether or not these decisions are correct, I do not wish to argue at the moment. I want to call attention to what has taken place, and to consider, in view of the transfer of our main effort from the sea forces to the land forces, what we may suffer in consequence. In this connection we should recall the part which has been played by the Royal Navy in years gone by in the founding and building up of the British Empire and Commonwealth. The strong protective 1173 arm of the Royal Navy has been held out in every part of the world to defend everyone who calls himself British, and a great many others besides, and it has had a cohesive effect on the Commonwealth and Empire—an effect which is not visible nor tangible but which is indeed very profound. That is of great significance to this country. If we are to be regarded as a small and overcrowded island, then I feel we shall be at the mercy of every ill wind that blows across the trade routes of the world, both in peace and in war. If, on the other hand, we are to be regarded as the centre of a great, powerful and united Commonwealth all over the world, then our position, our security and our influence will be immeasurably increased.
It is inevitable that at the present time the countries of the Commonwealth should look in a large measure to the United States for much of the war material that they need. Equally, the United States looks to the Commonwealth for much of the raw materials and many naval and air bases. But if, in addition to looking there for material, the countries of the Commonwealth—including this country—have to look to the United States also for command, direction, tactical doctrine and all that goes with it, then we shall lose our position at the centre of this great Commonwealth, and the Commonwealth itself may fall apart.
The causes which are forcing this position upon us and creating this dilemma are not hard to see. Quite clearly, a major requirement in our Defence Forces is the protection of this island against air attack. On top of that, we are called upon to bolster up our friends on the Continent of Europe. We have also enormous commitments in the protection of the Middle East. All these things eat into our military resources so that less and less is available for the Royal Navy.
We must look with some envy at the position of the United States of America, surrounded on either side by the enormous expanses of ocean, who, very naturally and very rightly, is building herself up more and more and has now achieved the position of a major naval Power in the world, not only in combat ships but also in her merchant fleet. Trade follows the flag—and that, too, is of great significance to this country. I 1174 read with some sorrow, under an Oslo date-line, a report that many Norwegian ship-owners—and Norway has one of the largest merchant fleets in the world—were transferring their head offices from London to New York. Norway is very friendly towards us, and our friends there warn of the danger that soon London may cease to be the maritime centre of the world. That is a very serious thing for us, and it is one of the factors we must consider when these matters are discussed, negotiated and decided.
When we view our position on the map and consider the threats which we face in Europe and our problems and interests in the world at large, I think it is apposite to say that we are between the devil and the deep sea. One can think of many sound arguments why we should play a prominent and leading part on the Continent of Europe. One can think of equally good reasons why we should retain our position as the centre of a great Commonwealth. There are even stronger reasons why we should seek to do both. In this connection, the Royal Navy has a significant role to play. But if we are not very careful we may fall between the two stools.
There are many factors connected with this. There is not time now to mention all but it seems to me that the position of the Royal Navy is subject to some threat. For many years the Navy has enjoyed the reputation of being the Silent Service. It has not argued, perhaps, as forcefully as it might in protecting its spheres of influence. Other Services have come forward with books, publications, lectures to the universities, papers to be read before the learned societies, and so on. On the other hand, the Royal Navy is told there is now to be no surface fleet, and so, bit by bit, it is shorn of its responsibilities.
Not least—and very significant, I think—was the decision made some time ago that Coastal Command should be a part of the Royal Air Force and not a part of the Fleet. Many reasons for this were put forward at the time, and I do not want to argue the rights and wrong of the case. A great case was made out on the ground of the need for the coordination of the supply of aircraft. That was before the Minister of Aircraft Production. However, it marked, I feel, a 1175 moment of great significance, when the decline in the influence of the Admiralty started.
Remembering these things, we look to the command structure as it has been disclosed at the present time. In the case, for instance, of the Standing Group of the Military Committee of the Atlantic Treaty Organisation, we see that the United States appointed a general as their representative and that the French appointed an airman, leaving a vacancy for this country as the third member to fill; and we find that our original member was an airman, who was relieved by an airman, and whose relief, we are now told, will also be an airman. Even in the Western Union organisation, which is now largely being superseded, we had the principal military appointment, the principal air appointment, but the sea appointment was filled by a French officer. It seems to me that in all these ways the policy which is being pursued by this country is to relinquish the influence of our sea command, and to transfer our efforts and to concentrate them more and more upon becoming a continental Power.
I am not qualified to argue the rights and wrongs of this case, but it seems to me, considering all these matters, that we are face to face with an issue of the very greatest magnitude, and it is my feeling—I may be wrong—that we have drifted into this decision, and that it is being reached by the competing claims of the various Services. I feel that what we need now is to have a much broader review of where this country is heading in the future years, including in that review every aspect of sea power. A far more searching analysis is required.
I feel that there is some doubt whether the strategic bomber arm, for instance, will exert the same cohesive influence throughout the Commonwealth and Empire that has been exerted by the Fleet. A great deal of effort has been put into the building up of the bomber arm as being the decisive offensive arm, but are we right in assuming that, because it achieved decisive results in the comparatively narrow area of Germany, it would necessarily achieve the same results in a future war? These are matters, I feel, that have not been given full consideration. The Estimates are dealt with year by year in a piecemeal way, by the 1176 competing claims between the Services, and we have not really considered the whole broad aspect of what our strategy is to be.
All I can say, in conclusion, is that when we approach our friends in the Commonwealth and our Allies on these matters, we should speak quite frankly, and set out clearly what and where our interests be. We should remember perhaps the way in which the influence of the Netherlands declined throughout the world once she came to rely on British sea power to protect her trade and interests in other parts of the world. In matters of this great importance, let us not try to hide or camouflage the decisions that are being made. Trust the people and they will trust you.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Plymouth, Devonport)
I think almost every speaker tonight has begun by congratulating the Parliamentary Secretary on the brilliant speech with which he opened the debate, and I should like to join in those congratulations. I think that on a previous occasion I revealed to the House the secret of the success of the Parliamentary Secretary. The fact is that, although he has an Irish name and a Welsh constituency, he has got some good Devon blood in his veins. That, no doubt, is the reason for the great success he makes in his office.
I should like now to turn to the other speech made at the beginning of the debate, the speech of the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas). I know that sometimes it is said that it is wrong to introduce controversial matters into debates on the Navy Estimates. I certainly never subscribed to that view, and as I listened to the speech of my hon. Friend, the Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey), I detected that he did not subscribe to it either. Then there was the hon. Member for Hereford. He began his speech by making a quite considerable attack on the Government. It it quite true that he puts it all so gently and mildly, and in such cooing tones, that nobody knows it is supposed to be an attack, but if one takes down his words they amount to an attack upon the Government, and I want to deal with the main attack that he made.
I think I have got his words roughly, although I do not say they are his exact words. He said: "The main charge 1177 against the Government"—on its naval policy presumably—"is that they have concealed the strength of the Navy, or at least presented it in the least favourable light." I do not think that is a misrepresentation of what he said. Now if that is what he said it is very interesting, because the charge that has been made in previous naval debates-and, indeed, what would be a much more serious charge against the Government—is that the Government have allowed the naval defence of this country to deteriorate and decline in a shocking fashion. That has been the general burden of what they said in the previous debates. It has also been the burden of what has been printed in the "Daily Express" or "Daily Mail," or any of these journals which try to repeat what the Tories are saying in the country about the naval policy of this country.
§ Mr. J. P. L. Thomas
If the hon. Gentleman looks back to what I said on the Naval Estimates, I think last year, and to what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, making a speech from this side said two or three years ago, he will find that on that occasion my right hon. Friend took the same line that I took today—that the Navy was there and was big, and that the Government should declare it.
§ Mr. Foot
I am glad the hon. Gentleman has made that intervention. Although it may not be possible for him to quote what he said a year ago or what his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said two years ago, I am happily in a position to be able to quote exactly what they said on those occasions, so perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be patient and listen to what they did say.
It is certainly very interesting, because if the main charge against the Government is that they have hidden the might of the British Navy under a bushel—another of the phrases he used—I hope we shall never hear any more, either in this House, or in the country, or in the Conservative Party handbook, or in any of these other documents that are circulated about the country, of the Labour Government having in any way reduced the naval strength of this country and put us in any difficulty on that account. I hope we shall have the agreement of the hon. Gentleman on that matter.
1178 The main so-called charge against the Government is, not that they have allowed the naval strength of this country to decline but merely that they have concealed from the country, or other countries, how strong they have maintained the British Navy. It was murmured by hon. Members on this side of the House, when the hon. Gentleman said this, that perhaps people have these wrong ideas because of what has been said by hon. Gentlemen opposite. That brings me to the statements in question. I quote first the hon. Member for Hereford in the debate on the Navy Estimates on 22nd March, 1950. Remember that the hon. Gentleman's accusation against the Government is that they have been concealing from this House, from their own country and from the world the tremendous strength of the British Navy at this time. This is what he said: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd March, 1950; Vol. 472, c. 1993.]It may be that each of these particular references was accurate, but I do not believe that was a statement calculated to strike fear into the heart of Marshal Stalin or exactly the way to tell the world that we were militarily strong and that there had been no decline in the strength of the British Navy.
I must say to the hon. Member for Hereford, who is always sent here to open the Navy Estimates debate from the other side when the Leader of the Opposition has no real criticisms to make, that he based his criticism of the Government on this point in very much more moderate terms than those used by the Leader of his party. The hon. Gentleman specifically invited me to look at the speech made by the Leader of the Opposition on 8th March, 1948, in the debate on the Navy Estimates. This is how the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) tried to tell the world how strong was our Navy, and how very wrong 1179 it is to hide our might under a bushel. He said:The efficiency of British administration in the Fighting Services has sunk to its very lowest level at the present time, and no one in the Government has the mental grip and vitality to reform and restore it.In his peroration in that debate on the Navy Estimates, which was the only debate on Navy Estimates in which the right hon. Member for Woodford had taken part since 1945, he said:And, finally, running through it all, I censure the lack of policy and comprehension which in this as in other spheres, has led our country down to levels of inefficiency which we have never plumbed before."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1948; Vol. 448, c. 834–5.]The right hon. Gentleman says that it has been the Government which has been responsible for hiding our might under a bushel. [Interruption.]If hon. Gentlemen opposite want any more quotations there are plenty here.
We all know that the right hon. Member for Woodford is sometimes inclined to be led astray by the heat of the moment, but no one has ever accused the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) of having been led astray on these matters. If hon. Gentlemen opposite will look at another speech on 1st March, 1948, made by the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington, they will find that he said, when talking about the information given to the public, which is the only point of criticism which the right hon. Gentleman had against the Admiralty:I must make an exception in the case of the Admiralty, which now in a later statement in the Navy Estimates has produced some information incidental to our naval strength, or perhaps I ought to say to our naval weakness."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st March, 1948; Vol. 448, c. 61.]
§ Mr. Foot
An hon. Member opposite says that that is true. He must fight that out with his Front Bench. They started by saying that the main charge against the Government was not that they had allowed the strength of the Navy to decline but that they had concealed that strength either from this House or from the country. I suggest that the whole of the attack which was made by the hon. Gentleman was completely beside the point, and I hope that now we are going to have not only a cessation 1180 of these attacks made in the country about Britain's naval weakness, which certainly can do no good to our diplomacy, but that also we are going to have a cessation of the kind of attacks which I have quoted in the previous debates.
Now I turn to an item in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu). He was concerned with the question of naval pensions. I should like to support him in urging upon the Government to consider this question and also the question of some form of gratuity. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and those in charge of the Admiralty fully appreciate the importance of this matter. If we are to succeed in getting more men to sign on after their first period of engagement and so build up the necessary numbers to man the increased Fleet, it is vital that we should overhaul the naval pensions' scheme which I believe can be the biggest factor in securing greater recruitment.
I come again to the hon. Member for Hereford. He referred to the latter part of the speech of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary when he was talking about the comparative naval strengths of the United States and this country. I think the hon. Gentleman said that my hon. Friend was skating on thin ice. The truth, of course, was that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary was skating on thick ice—he had put forward such a powerful case about the dramatic transformation which was taking place in comparative naval strengths of this country and the United States that the hon. Member found it unanswerable.
In a future debate we are to discuss this question of the American admiral, and I am not going to say much on that subject because there is supposed to be a self-denying ordinance in this debate, so I will content myself with saying that the controversy has done a great deal of good and I am certainly very gratified at the recovery of Tory pride in the British Navy. That is one good thing which has come out of the controversy. There had been a suggestion that it is injurious to our prestige for an American admiral to be appointed Supreme Commander in the Atlantic. If there were any question of a threat to British naval prestige, it certainly came in a very much 1181 more direct form in the 'thirties, when this country refused to take action against armed aggression, because it was thought that we could not stand up to the challenge of the Italian Navy in the Mediterranean. There is a lot of talk about the appointment of a Supreme Commander in the Mediterranean now, but in the days of which I am speaking the Supreme Commander in that sea appointed by the Tories was an Italian—Admiral Mussolini. It is good to see that this controversy has lead to a revival of Tory pride in the British Navy.
I will concede this to hon. Members opposite, that it is of great importance to keep a very close watch on the Board of Admiralty. The mere fact that the First Sea Lord is in favour of the appointment of an American admiral to be Supreme Commander in the Atlantic is not conclusive in the issue. It has to be argued out, and I certainly agree that it is most important that there should be perpetual and constant civilian check on the Board of Admiralty, which brings me directly to the subject of the Royal Dockyards.
I do not think that many Members have trespassed on the preserves of the Civil Lord during this debate, and I am sure he would be greatly disappointed if nobody brought this subject up, because he would have nothing to reply to. As a few of us will discuss this aspect of the matter I hope that the Civil Lord will be able to devote a much more extensive part of his reply to dealing with the subject of the Royal Dockyards than he did when he spoke on the last occasion. The efficiency of the Navy depends upon the efficiency of the dockyards, primarily. I can see the Civil Lord wincing a bit, so before I come to the main subject I shall say one or two words on some smaller matters.
There is, in Vote 10 of the Navy Estimates, reference to the question of married quarters. I wish to bring to the attention of the Civil Lord the question of married quarters not only for naval personnel returning to their home ports and home towns but also for dockyard workers coming back. I do not know what happens in other dockyard towns but in the City of Plymouth it has been decided by the housing authority that those who return, for instance from Bermuda where the dockyard has been closed down, or come back from other 1182 places to which they had been sent by the Admiralty, have to put their names on the housing list the same as anyone else, and they have to wait 12 months before their cases can be considered. The Admiralty should consider whether they can provide married quarters for dockyard workers who are returning and who very often find themselves in just as difficult a situation as naval personnel.
While I am on the question of dockyards, I want to refer to the point mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) about dockyard schools. By the way, I did not like the suggestion in my hon. Friend's speech that, somehow, the Royal Naval Dockyards should be scattered all over the country. It seems that now he has left Portsmouth, he wants to take the dockyard with him. I assure him that there will be a lot of opposition to that proposal.
§ Mr. Foot
I quite appreciate that, so possibly it is not the case that my hon. Friend wants to take the Royal Dockyard with him. I hope, anyhow, that he will reconsider the proposition that he made. He referred to the question of dockyard schools. The Admiralty deserves some word of tribute, because the dockyard schools do a fine job. In the debate we had on the dockyards two years ago, there was discussion on the difficulty of getting apprentices to come into the dockyards, and of recruiting skilled workers.
I believe that a decision was made by the Admiralty a year or two ago that boys should be brought into dockyard schools solely by way of interview, and that it works very well. I hope that the Admiralty will go forward with that proposition, which will assist in solving the problem of the shortage of apprentices, and of the competition for apprentices that exists in other kinds of factories in dockyard towns like Plymouth. I hope also that the Civil Lord can give some assistance in extending the work of the dockyard schools in Plymouth, by the provision of a hostel, as I believe they have in Portsmouth.
Now I will come to the main subject—I shall not disappoint the Civil Lord, because I promised I would bring it up—which is the case that we have been presenting from dockyard constituencies for 1183 the past five years. It is that dockyards are nothing like as efficient as they ought to be and that an independent working party designed to bring about an overhaul of the whole system should be appointed. The answer has always been that the dockyards are immaculately efficient and that no possible improvement could be made by the kind of overhaul we have put forward. If the Civil Lord can discover one dockyard worker in Devonport who agrees with him on that proposition, I solemnly give him this undertaking that I shall never make this speech again.
Let us take one example. There has been much concern inside the dockyards about the system of merit awards. I am not saying that it was wrong to introduce that system—it was agreed with the trade unions—and I am not criticising the system which was introduced or the way in which it has been run; but it has led—the Admiralty should know this—to a considerable amount of criticism. The criticism arises from a just cause, that the system of merit awards to some extent re-introduces the worst feature of the old establishment system, which, I am glad to say, has been swept away by this Government, with great credit to the Civil Lord. The old establishments system would not have been tolerated in any other industry, and it was swept away about 40 years late. It was a system under which most monstrous favouritism could be shown by the authorities among the dockyard workers. I fear that to some extent in some cases the merits awards system tends to re-introduce that kind of favouritism, and I hope that that will be considered.
There is also—the Civil Lord ought to know this—great criticism inside the dockyard towns about the overtime which has been worked during the past six or eight months in the dockyards. No dockyard worker dislikes overtime and he certainly does not dislike the money which he gets for it. It is all the more credit to the desire of dockyard workers to see that industry is made as efficient as possible and to their patriotism that, despite the fact that they were getting advantages out of it, they have come forward and said that the overtime system was not being worked as it should have been to protect the taxpayers' money, and that many of the workers in the dockyard were employed not on real work but on 1184 a system which was not properly planned and organised, and that they were involved in wasteful expenditure. If the Civil Lord comes down to Devonport, he will find that a great number of workers will be able to tell him the same.
These are just illustrations. I have given the Civil Lord several other illustrations in the five previous debates which we have had on this subject in the last five years. Eventually the Admiralty must come to the decision that there should be an independent inquiry into the conduct of the Royal Dockyards. In brief, what I am proposing is that we should nationalise the Admiralty. Some people imagine that the dockyards are already nationalised industries; but they have no idea of the independent power which is exercised in this country, in particular in the case of the Royal Dockyards, by the Admiralty.
The other nationalised industries every year present to Parliament a much fuller account of their operations than does the Director of His Majesty's Dockyards. There is full publicity in the Press about the other nationalised industries. In the case of most of them, consumers' councils are beginning to come into operation. There is an opportunity for inquriy by the newspapers into the way in which the other nationalised industries are run.
In the case of most other nationalised industries, before they were nationalised there was the most detailed and full inquiry into the way in which they were conducted. There was the most valuable Reid Report upon the coal industry, which provided an enormous amount of technical information about the industry, led the way to nationalisation, and provided the basis for the technical improvements which have been brought into operation by the Coal Board in the last three or four years.
Why should we not have an inquiry of that nature into the Royal Dockyard? Why should we not have an inquiry like there was into the coal industry by the Reid Committee, or into the gas industry, or such as the Working Party for the cotton industry? Why should the Royal Dockyards be exempted from this kind of inquiry? There has been only one independent inquiry into the functioning of the Royal Dockyards since the days of King Alfred and that was made in 1578 by John Hawkins of Plymouth.
1185 It brought great results. It was as a result of that inquiry that many of the naval glories of the Elizabethan age were achieved. It was as a result of the overhaul of the dockyards at that time that we were able to lay the basis of British naval strength then. It is high time that the Admiralty listened to what the dockyard towns and cities have to say about this.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ Surgeon Lieut.-Commander Bennett (Gosport and Fareham)
Having heard with some interest, if not with much enlightenment, the somewhat characteristically waspish utterances of the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), I must at the same time say that there is one point on which I find myself in entire agreement with him. I hope it will not be held against me. He mentioned the necessity of some improvement in the pension structure for the Royal Navy. I assure the House that it has many times come to my ears that the reason for the comparatively poor response, even to the improved rates of pay, by senior ratings, in the matter of re-engagement has been largely the fact that the outlook before them as pensioners later was so poor. Apart from that one point, I do not think that anyone will expect me to follow the hon. Member for Devonport in the various points he made, though I, too, have dockyards. to look after and they have their problems, which I meet daily.
I should like to take the House with me to survey again the somewhat wider horizons which have been surveyed in the earlier part of this debate, horizons in respect of which there is no party feeling. I refer to the question of the war of the oceans to which the Navy is committed and has been committed every time throughout its existence. It is a war which takes it far away from England and puts one in mind of that phrase of the great American historian Mahan about thosefar-distant storm-beaten ships, on which the Grand Army had never looked, which stood between it and the Dominion of the world.I need hardly say that in these days we are not at war in the full sense of the word, and we need not talk as though we were; but we must always bear in mind that at any moment it may become a reality. In these days we still have to think in terms of those "far-distant 1186 storm-beaten ships," though in this case we have also to add "far-distant storm-beaten aircraft" as well.
In the course of the history of the Royal Navy there have been many changes in its composition and make-up. At one time the Navy progressed from square rig to steam, as the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey) may remember. Later the aeroplane came into being and was added to the armament of the Royal Navy. Later still, the battleship went out; or perhaps I am anticipating there, though I do not think the battleship is really regarded as one of the most important ready-use assets in our Navy. Of course, aircraft have themselves gone through the stages of conversion from square rig into somewhat more streamlined models.
None of these conversions and changes in the Navy has taken place without a struggle, and well-meaning men have been locked in mutual combat in trying to bring about or prevent each stage of these evolutions. Therefore, it is gratifying to have heard the Parliamentary Secretary say in this House last week that—flying is an integral part of the activities of the Royal Navy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th March, 1951; Vol. 485, c. 415.]because in the experience of my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Langford-Holt) and others, flying has been definitely regarded as a rather unpleasant sideline, and it is very good to hear that it has come into its birthright as far as the Royal Navy is concerned.
In the war of the oceans we do not have to consider very much the question of the surface raider, though undoubtedly we have to consider its possible existence and make arrangements for dealing with it. The Russians are believed now to have 15 cruisers, and to the best of my information, to be building another six. Each one of these is far more likely to try to perform at some time or another as a commerce raider rather than that all of them should sally forth as a united fleet intent on going in for an old-fashioned fleet action. In connection with the surface raiders, which are or may be fairly tough vessels, I wish to put a question to the Admiralty. Can they say, without any undue breach of proper 1187 secrecy, whether they are yet developing a satisfactory larger torpedo than the 21 inch torpedo with which we waged most of the war recently past? It is becoming, comparatively speaking, a very minor weapon.
Mainly, however, the war will have to be fought under water in the high seas, wholly with under-water weapons and under-water vessels. There also will have to be combat against aircraft of a foreign Power as these may come—as some of us know only too well they did in the last war—cruising round the Western Approaches, either to attack or merely to report ships to their submarines. We certainly cannot ignore the Russian submarines and pretend that there is no danger. If there is any danger at all, it is from those submarines.
I would say that the future of the Navy is bound up more than merely partially with the use of air power to combat submarines. I have figures which may indicate the progress that has been made. From the beginning of the war to the end of 1941, out of 48 submarines sunk, seven were sunk with the aid, in some measure or other, of aircraft. From 1943 until the end of the war, of the 629 submarines which were sunk, 326 were sunk with the aid of aircraft to some extent or other; a very different matter from the results of the first years of the war. It has appeared, therefore, that the air has in fact been getting increased recognition as an essential part, if not perhaps the major part, of naval power. In that connection it has been a matter of considerable interest to find that there was recently published an article which I read with considerable interest called, "Tasks of Naval Aviation," written by the Director of Air Warfare of the Admiralty and published as a reprint of a talk which he gave, I believe, at Ashridge.
The hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) said he hoped we would not enter on a future war using ideas appropriate to its predecessor, but I must say, with all diffidence in face of the opinion of such a senior officer, that almost every word of that article would have been very welcome to me could I have read it in 1938, because it seems entirely related to the ideas of that period. There are a number of points on which I cannot really believe that this officer can be right. I 1188 feel that the main fallacy which underlies his arguments is his belief in, or his adherence to, aircraft of a short range appropriate to an earlier age. There were long-range aircraft which were available at the outset of the last war but they were hardly used. There was the enormous American aircraft called the B.19 and now we have the B.36, though it may be we are short of any modern long-range aircraft built in this country.
Whatever the aircraft may be, it is, I think, the semi-official estimate of the Admiralty that only within 400 miles of terra firmacan aircraft be expected to carry out the lion's share, if not the main task, of patrol against submarines. I can hardly believe that is so in these days. After all, in the recent war we had the Catalina—and speed is not a matter of primary importance in these aircraft—which, if I remember rightly, had a cruising range of 27 hours. Therefore, the honourable aircraft, the Shackleton, is likely to have at least that same range. A flight of Shackletons can be expected to oversee an area of sea reaching considerably more than 400 miles from land.
Even if we accept this figure as being true, and that the 400-mile radius for shore-based aircraft is all that is required, I submit that if we take the point of land nearest to what was more or less the old North Atlantic great circle route in the recent war, the whole of it can still be done under complete air cover even today. If we take the southern route via the Azores and Bermuda, it is still very nearly possible to do it with that radius, or one very much like it. There is only a queer-shaped patch in the middle of the Atlantic which would not today be adequately covered by shore-based aircraft if we accept the 400 mile limit.
In this article the economy of using aircraft carriers for this kind of patch, and for covering inshore waters as well is stressed by the author. Surely, that is not a very real economy. The cost of flying aircraft about the sea may be high in terms of petrol, but propulsion is turning now to a more humble form of fuel. The jet engine and the turbo-prop use something more like paraffin, which is not so very expensive. The great item is that if we are to use carriers for patrolling deep sea we shall have them sitting as sort of fixed, permanent Aunt Sallies round the middle of the Atlantic, which 1189 is one of the places where they ought not to be. Furthermore, they will need to be escorted by numerous smaller ships which could much more profitably be used guarding convoys.
The value of these carriers is simply terrific. I would say at a guess that a full-sized fleet carrier is equal in value to perhaps two convoys, and there are 2,000 men's lives at stake in it. I cannot help feeling that economy is not a very good argument to use in connection with aircraft carriers in deep sea. I believe that shore-based aircraft can, even now, do the job more economically and as well.
Another point from this article, which I assume reflects the policy of the Admiralty in these matters, is that an advantage of using carriers all over the ocean is that they are mobile. I humbly submit that 25 knots is not mobility when seen from the air, except in the small matter of actually dodging projectiles. Aircraft are on a different plane of mobility altogether. They are far more appropriate when dealing with other aircraft, and infinitely superior in mobility to the submarine. Therefore, that argument, too, is fallacious.
There is, however, one argument which is incontrovertible, and that is that the aircraft carrier can put up fighters and can afford fighter cover to the ships or landing forces in its neighbourhood. That is true, but the argument is not really quite so true that we should need to have short-range interceptor fighters involved in the Atlantic war. Would it not be possible that some very long range aircraft could primarily be offensively armed as anti-.aircraft long-range fighters? Their job is not interception; their job is merely -to frustrate the attempts of enemy aircraft to attack convoys. If these aircraft.are within "cab-rank" distance to be called in to a convoy when there is a report of enemy aircraft approaching, then, provided that they get there in time, the enemy aircraft will not be able to attack the convoy. Therefore, the object will be achieved and we would not need to have the carrier with its high performance fighters.
One point which I ought to mention in this consideration of the aircraft carrier is that a lot of us have thought about the escort carrier which did excellent service in the last war. All of us know of the 1190 existence of the light fleet carrier, but I would express my doubts—and I should be grateful if the Civil Lord could say anything on this subject—whether it will be possible to operate the heavy antisubmarine ship-borne aircraft such as the G.R.17, which is such an excellent aircraft, from anything but a large carrier; or whether it will be possible to operate even the high-performance jet fighters from anything but a very large carrier in view of their extremely high landing and take-off speeds. It does seem that the day of the escort carrier and of the light fleet carrier may, in fact, be over even now, and that nothing but very large carriers can be used for modern aircraft.
Another fallacious line that was taken in favour of escort carriers was that they were on the spot and that, therefore, the pilots did not need to be so bothered about weather. We all know that bad weather is about the worst thing a pilot can meet. I think that it probably caused as many casualties over the Atlantic as did projectiles. But the matter of bad weather in the search for submarines is not of such great importance, because most of the work is now done by electronics. The aircraft's chance of survival is far better if it is going back to terra firmaguided by radar and radio to make a landing on a large airstrip which does not go up and down 60 feet, as the "Ark Royal" did on one occasion when, I think, 810 squadron landed after the "Bismarck" episode. I still feel that carriers are useful, but I am sure that the Government have not yet fully appreciated the potentialities of long-range, shore-based aircraft.
We have to think of the problem of long-range, shore-based aircraft, and I would say, with all deference to their lordships at the Admiralty, that there should be some consideration given even now to the use of the four-motor aircraft by the Royal Navy. They must be shore-based, and I think we should get these aircraft, and get more and more of them, until they can cover the whole range of the ocean, and we should then have a service capable of patrolling whatever parts of the ocean fell to the responsibilities of the British Navy. In brief I would say "Put the money into aircraft; they are much better value."
We now know, and we have seen in recent days—I think hon. Members are 1191 satisfied; certainly, I am—that Coastal Command at present is probably the most neglected of the whole series of neglected branches of the Royal Air Force. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud and Thornbury (Mr. Perkins) put it in a nutshell on 6th March, when he said:The importance of Coastal Command is not, I believe, realised by the people of this country. I am certain that it is not realised by the Air Ministry, who regard it as a sideline, as a kind of unwanted child."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 6th March, 1951; Vol. 485, c. 360.]I would say that, if Coastal Command is now run down—and, as Earl Beatty said in another place in words which I must paraphrase, at a recent air exercise fewer than 20 aircraft turned up constituting Coastal Command—surely, it is now time to have another of these welcome changes of name of the Fleet Air Arm so as to include the functions previously exercised by Coastal Command, and to do a deal with the Air Ministry to take the unwanted child now languishing on a very cold doorstep. If we could do that, we should have unity of command instead of the division which was mighty successful in the last war, though not entirely so, and we should get a homogenous service for the good of the country.
A problem related to this question is the shortage of aircrew, which has been mentioned by one or two hon. Members. There has been a "poor aircrew response." What is wrong that we have to recall men who served in the last war—elderly men, about 30 years of age—who are altogether too old for operational flying in modern combat aircraft? Surely, we have to think entirely afresh on the subject of obtaining aircrew. We need to get these people at the age of 19 to fly these terrifying jet aircraft, because nobody older is mad enough to do it. We should not first put them through all their square-bashing in the barracks; we should train them in the air first of all, and we should get them from whatever sources are open to us.
I welcome the Parliamentary Secretary's remark that the sources are somewhat crystallised and could be susceptible to improvement. But primarily we should get the best, the fittest and the most intelligent of the new entry boys—and as many of them as we can—and volunteers to train as officers, and we should put 1192 them through what I consider should be a Royal Naval Air College, where they could learn to salute the quarter-deck and drink their tot, or whatever else is required of them, while learning to fly at an age young enough to be useful. Such an arrangement would fit in with the scheme for having long-range multi-engined aircraft, because it is well-known that the commercial air lines like the older pilot. He is a more staid and patient fellow, prepared to put up with a good deal more instrument flying without getting bored.
If we could have this sequence, we should afford a far better future than the miserable eight-year short-service commission for the Fleet Air Arm pilot. We should have them to fly the single-motor jet interceptors when they are young, to fly the more tubby aircraft, such as the G.R.17, when they get older, and they could finish up as respectable aerial mariners flying the multi-engine aircraft on long patrols. That would mean that they would have a long Service life, and this would to some extent do away with the wastage, and help to solve the problem which is, perhaps, the most difficult the Admiralty now has to face.
There are other problems with which I should like to deal, but I must not detain the House beyond the limits of its patience. However, I wish to mention the necessity of providing married quarters in order to make life more tolerable for aircrew officers. The men are being looked after quite well, but the officers are not. I welcome the document which I saw only this weekend—I hope I was intended to see it—which talked about the taking over of civilian "digs" by the Admiralty on behalf of officers. But this, apparently, is only to be done to a limited extent. Why should not each air station in remote parts of the country be able to take over civilian "digs" by arrangement when they are required for their aircrew? Why on earth, if this project is going on, have the Royal Naval Air Stations at Lee-on-Solent and Gosport not been allowed any facilities whatever, especially as they are the places where there is the thickest congregation of Fleet Air Arm personnel on the. ground, and where there is great competition for holiday accommodation?
There is one further point I would single out for mention to the Civil Lord, and that is, why do not we have more Naval Volunteer Reserve Squadrons? 1193 Are they not a very good idea and a great success, and do not they tap some of the immense enthusiasm available for aviation in this country? I noticed with pleasure that there is a new squadron being formed in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Henley which is to be moved down to Bognor, to the Naval Air Station at Ford, and which will, I believe, serve the functions of the big cities of the South Coast, such as Portsmouth and Southampton. I am sure there are more than enough men in those cities to form more than one squadron, and that it would be doing a very useful service to the country if we could get more.
Finally, on the subject of the ships to be convoyed and defended, is it not really the most important thing that we should—and I would underline what has already been said on this subject this afternoon—have the necessary equipment for the defence of merchant ships? Are new merchant ships, for instance, being fitted with prefabricated gun mountings on board so as to save weeks and months in dock at the outbreak of any war or threat of war? Are merchant seamen being trained in defensive armaments on ships, even if they have not got the defensive armaments? Are officers being trained in convoy routine and duties? Are arrangements being made to improve the T.124 agreement which has been the bane of ships of the Western Approaches in two wars now? I should be most relieved to hear that any lessons have been learned from two world wars during which no improvements have been instituted in this agreement.
Do we still take it that armaments for merchant ships are no longer defensive unless they are aft of the ships? Cannot we arm merchant ships all round, as the Americans do, and not rely upon it that our probable enemy will have such scruples as to look to see where the guns are before they torpedo our ships? If my worries were laid at rest on all these points, I feel there might be some good prospect of the efficient waging of any other war which might be forced upon us at any time in the future.
§ 10.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Shackleton (Preston, South)
I have listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Gosport and Fareham (Surgeon Lieut.-Commander Bennett) and I should 1194 like to deal with some of his remarks at a later stage of the few remarks I intend to address to the House. But I want first to take up again the subject which has been referred to more than once today by hon. Members on this side of the House, a subject which I believe is of very great importance, namely the possible strength of the Russian submarine navy.
The reason why I wish to do this is that I believe that when we hear the speeches of some of the hon. Members opposite we are in real danger of creating a bogy which may distort careful and accurate thinking on the subject of naval strategy. I should like to refer first to the speech which the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) made on 14th February when he said the Russian U-boats were 10 times as numerous and twice as fast as the German U-boat navy at the outbreak of the last war. If I may say so, that is the sheerest nonsense. He has not the slightest evidence for that statement. What is even more alarming is the fact that to some extent he has been supported in that statement by the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) who said Russia had 300 or 400 submarines, or words to that effect. At any rate, he supported that broad line.
When the right hon. Member for Bromley referred to the German Navy at the outbreak of war he mentioned that the Germans had 30 "ocean-going" U-boats. If I may say so, that is a meaningless remark. "Ocean-going" U-boat is, I recall, a technical term for 700-ton U-boats. They also had "seagoing" U-boats of 500 tons and, predominantly it was the 500-ton U-boats, as well as the 700 ton U-boats, that operated throughout the Atlantic Ocean. It is important to realise that in studying U-boat strength it is necessary to have regard to detail and to precise equipment which any U-boat in any Navy may have.
When we look at these figures quoted from "Jane's Fighting Ships" we find that there are contradictions even in that authority, and I am sure that that authority would be the first to admit that they had no accurate information on the subject. It was said in "Jane's" for 1949, for instance, that the Russians might have 1,000 U-boats. I believe that figure 1195 was also quoted by the right hon. Member for Bromley, but the right hon. Gentleman did not go on to add the additional remarks that "Jane's" makes that this figure was,highly doubtful because of the limited Russian shipyard capacity and the trained technicians to produce them.Then in the current edition of "Jane's" we find that whereas in the section dealing with the Russian Navy it says that the Russians have no fewer than 350 to 370 submarines in service, I notice that they have advanced to a greater degree of accuracy over their 1949 edition where they said the Russians had 360 U-boats in service. The had decided to widen the field a little bit. In another part of "Jane's" they mention these figures but, instead of saying that the submarines are in service, they say that they are believed to be in existence, and they go on to add that Russia seems to have a policy of never scrapping any vessel which can be used for any purpose, no matter how old or how worn out it may become. It may be that the Russian U-boat navy would be an important source of scrap which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply should bear in mind. But, in fact, we cannot take seriously these figures in "Jane's" of the strength of the Russian underwater navy.
When we examine the types that are listed in "Jane's" and compare one class with another class, we find that, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) pointed out, those same types appeared in pre-war editions of "Jane's," and many of them—at least 70 or 80—are small coastal "Malutka" class boats which by no stretch of the imagination can be regarded as a serious threat to our ocean-going convoys in time of war.
What can be a danger is the new type of U-boat, if they have it. I should like to say a few words about that because I believe that a few of the new type U-boats which the Germans were producing—the type 21 which was the large ocean-going high speed battery type, and the type 23 which was a small so-called high speed battery type, although its performance in operation in the last few weeks of the war was very discouraging to the Germans—are undoubtedly in Russian hands. Whether there are a dozen or two dozen 1196 I do not know. In addition there may undoubtedly be a fair amount of building of these types in Russian yards. But I hope it will be possible to deal even with those types, with the resources which I hope the Admiralty and, above all. Coastal Command possess, or are going to have. I am inclined to agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Gosport and Fareham that Coastal Command have not got enough resources.
There remains the one revolutionary type of submarine which was in course of production in the latter part of the war, and that was the type known as the "Walter boat"—a type which in addition to diesels and batteries also had some sort of closed system of propulsion dependent upon hydrogen peroxide for its source of oxygen. That type of boat was being experimented upon by the Germans. They had great difficulty with it. They never succeeded in getting it into operation, and I believe that it presents great difficulty in actual operation at sea. It is far less satisfactory on passage than the standard type. It must depend on a lower battery capacity for its progress on passage, and it must use, like others, the Schnorkel. In addition, it is as vulnerable as any type of U-boat when proceeding to the area of operation.
If any of those submarines are in existence in the Russian navy I should be surprised to hear that there are more than a very few experimental types. I do not make this point because I wish to depreciate the danger of under-water attack in any war that may take place, but I do think it is very harmful to our discussions when we have some of these doubtful figures hurled out in a meaningless way calculated to cause alarm and despondency instead of in a manner in which we can consider the problem seriously.
I believe there is a possibility of great danger. I have spoken several times of the dangers of submarine attack in a future war, but I do not believe the danger is anything like that which the right hon. Members for Woodford or Bromley thought fit to present to the House. I hope the House will accept what I have to say on this subject, because we shall get on better in the future if we get our minds clear on the point.
1197 I should like to turn briefly to some of the remarks made by the hon. and gallant Member for Gosport and Fare-ham. I was disturbed to see him reviving in a very subtle way the old suggestion that Coastal Command should be taken over by the Navy. Let me say straight away that however we divide our aircraft between Navy and Air Force, it is highly desirable that, once we have fixed the dividing line, we should stick to it. His suggestion that the Navy might build up a force of four-engined aircraft, because the Air Force were not doing the job, is not a reflection on the Air Force but on the Chiefs of Staff and their failure to lay down that operational requirement.
I remember the situation which grew up during the war between the American Navy and the American Army. At one time four American Army squadrons came to Coastal Command to reinforce us in our anti-submarine activities. After a certain amount of indoctrination—they learned the navigational problems here and learned to fly over British waters—they became first-class and, if I may say so, were as good as anything we had in Coastal Command. But, at the very height of the Battle of the Atlantic, the United States Navy traded its strategic Bomber Command for the Army's antisubmarine command. It was a straight case of politics; out went the Army with their highly-trained anti-submarine crews and in came the Navy flying Liberators, which they had seen comparatively recently. It took a long time to get them to the same standard of operational efficiency as that which had been reached by the Army's anti-submarine squadrons.
I believe that the general dividing line in the question of the control of aircraft is that between aircraft which take off from the land, which should be under the Air Force, and aircraft which take off from ships, which should be under the Navy. The reason the latter should be under the Navy is because the Navy have many peculiar habits of their own and it is highly desirable that those who go to sea should understand those habits and be able to conform to them.
§ Surgeon Lieut.-Commander Bennett
Does the hon. Gentleman mean that the Navy should not have shore establishments where squadrons could be disembarked? Does he mean that they should 1198 have only machines which are actually with the Fleet?
§ Mr. Shackleton
No. Obviously they have to learn, to do their training, to practise their take-offs and all the rest of it on shore. But they are essentially training establishments. The dividing line to which I refer is in the operational theatre.
I believe that, far from strengthening our resources at sea in a war, such a suggestion as that of the hon. and gallant Gentleman might tend to weaken those resources. There might come a time, as there did in the last war, when it was necessary to reinforce the anti-submarine forces. It was infinitely easier on that occasion to switch from Bomber Command. I agree that it was difficult in a way because they were completely Bomber Command-minded and it was not easy to get them to take an interest in 'Coastal Command, but nevertheless it was easier to make the change than it would have been under the hon. and gallant Gentleman's system because they were, after all, wearing the same uniform, had had the same training, and so on. Within a short time they fulfilled the role as competently as any of the fully-trained Coastal Command squadrons.
Perhaps I might point out that in wartime the bulk of the aircrew will not be those who were in the Navy or the Air Force and were trained in peace-time. There will always be a great expansion and, in the end, we shall depend on men trained for the job in war. The idea that they must be sailors in order to fly with the Fleet at sea is impracticable in wartime because the real need then is to get men who can fly aeroplanes. I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will see this point. This is but another exchange of fire in the many which have taken place on this subject.
Perhaps I may also refer briefly to the suggestion which has been made that the Navy might depend less on carriers. I believe that V.L.R., very long-range, aircraft are of the greatest importance. They were of the greatest importance in the last war and they played a great part, with the aircraft carriers, in March, 1943, when the decisive battles of the Atlantic were fought. I believe that the new aircraft coming along, if we have enough of them—and I agree there is a shortage—can do the job. At the same time we 1199 cannot pin our faith to any one weapon. What I should like to see is not so much the existing expensive types of carriers—I am in full agreement with the hon. and gallant Gentleman about this—but a type very much smaller and very much cheaper. The danger of the expensive carrier is that it means, so to speak, that we do put an awful lot of eggs in one basket.
What I would suggest the Admiralty ought seriously to consider is developing the cheapest possible ship from which aircraft can take off to join in the antisubmarine patrols, and I believe we should consider even building a special type of anti-submarine escort carrier. The degree of performance required of the aircraft is not high. What is needed is endurance. However slow the aircraft may be, what is much more important is endurance when it comes to hunting U-boats.
With this must come the appropriate' weapons. I would say that with the new type U-boats the aircraft is, to a large extent, already neutralised. It can play an important rôle, and even if it can no longer hunt to exhaustion, it can keep the U-boats down; but I do not believe that the aircraft is the effective reply to submarines, even with the sono-buoys, to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred. They must have super-men in the Navy and in the Air Force to make effective use of the sono-buoys, because the operational technique of making use of the sono-buoys in hunting is something which calls for a very high degree of training.
I shall not detain the House any more, except to say that I believe it is necessary to preserve the sort of balance we had in the last war between the Navy and Air Force in naval operations. I believe that the Navy should have operational control over Coastal Command. I believe it was exercised much better from the time the Navy had formal operational control because they no longer had the inhibitions which were caused by fear that the Air Force would not do what they asked them to do. and we had far less interference after the formal change of operational control than before. But. as part of this control, it is necessary that the Navy—if I may so speak in the presence of so many naval gentlemen-should have the admirals who understand something about aircraft. This is 1200 a problem the solution of which I do not know.
The American Navy had the great advantage—and this is one argument for the Navy's having land-based aircraft—of having admirals brought up with a wide field of experience in aviation. [Interruption.]I do not want to make any comments on the Fleet Air Arm. The hon. and gallant Member for Gosport and Fareham does know how the Fleet Air Arm were treated during the war and the difficulties they had with superior officers. I recollect one case of a naval commander who refused to let an aircraft take off from a catapult because it would have dirtied the quarter deck. There is need to have admirals who understand aircraft and who are prepared to make use of both the Fleet Air- Arm and Coastal Command.
§ 10.24 p.m.
§ Mr. I. J. Pitman (Bath)
I do not propose to follow the hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton), in his private war with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gosport and Fareham (Surgeon Lieut.-Commander Bennett) on the question of Coastal Command. It seems to me that the two Services have accepted the present organisation, and that the Minister of Defence and the public at large feel that this is the machine which ought to be accepted, and that the real solution, if there is a problem, lies in the proper use of that machine. This organisation is settled, and it is now a question of using it to the best advantage.
I should like to join with the rest of the House in congratulating the Parliamentary Secretary on the way he has introduced the Estimates. I have only one criticism, and that is his use of the word "heliocopter." I hope he will take a lesson from Daedalus and Icarus and not set the sights of the Navy too high, because if the Navy tries to fly too high it may singe its wings.
The point I wish to make is a small one, but it concerns an important principle, involving four grades in the electrical engineering department of the Admiralty, and it is a matter in which I think the Civil Lord himself is particularly interested. In July of last year 1201 the Parliamentary Secretary wrote to me to say that the increased salaries of these four grades had been agreed in principle and that they were under urgent consideration. It was agreed in principle to the extent that it was admitted that back payment should be made to 1st January, 1946, yet nothing has been happening, and the cost of living, as we all know, has been constantly rising. All other grades have had their increases, but these unfortunate people have been left with promises; nothing whatever has been done. There is an expression at sea, "Hoisting the dead horse," for working for only notional pay and these men have hoisted the dead horse for five and a half years. I think the House would not wish any civil servant to go on in that situation.
The Civil Lord has previously been very good in putting right matters of Civil Service staffing and I ask him to look at this point in particular, because I am sure the House would not wish any of our honoured civil servants in the Admiralty to go for five and a half years without their back pay. It is something which needs very urgent attention.
§ 10.27 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)
I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman) will forgive me if I do not follow him on the rather complicated subject about which he has spoken. I will, if I may, revert to the defensively equipped merchant ships. Earlier in the debate remarks were made about "Tory pride," and the only thing I will say tonight which might be construed as at all controversial is that it was my pride to serve at sea throughout the six years of war, a good deal of the time on convoy duty, and it is upon those matters that I wish to speak for a few minutes.
I understand that today we have a greater tonnage of merchant shipping than we had in 1939. This is a magnificent achievement, but at the same time it is our duty to see that not only the men but the ships are protected. I should like the Civil Lord, if it is possible, to give some small indication of the plans for the training and equipping of these defensively-equipped merchant ships. I remember that in the last war there were unfortunate cases of lack of co-operation between aircraft and convoys.
1202 The hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu), mentioned that lack of co-operation in connection, with the Air Force, when ships were bombed. I remember a sad case when an aircraft was told to close with the commodore of a convoy for instructions and was shot down in the act of doing so. What is being done in this connection? What is being done about giving simple training in fire discipline? Those of us who served on Russian convoys in the war will know what I mean. It was a very alarming experience for ships in that convoy to be subjected to the strain of the terrible attacks that were made, and under the pressure of several days of attack the fire from our ships was directed rather less accurately than one would have hoped, with considerable damage to other ships in convoy.
What provision will there be for providing guns and crews quickly in case of emergency? Will those crews be avail-able, and will they be given some simple form of training so that they are able to use the weapons at their disposal efficiently? Will there be some form of simple convoy training for merchant navy officers so that they know the general procedure of how convoys are run, and things of that sort: such matters have been mentioned by hon. Members on this side of the House, as to training in convoy signals and language difficulties?
I remember a graphic case of a convoy in the last war, when we had difficulty in persuading a ship to close up. She was not, perhaps, making the best speed. Several efforts were unsuccessful. Then the captain of the ship I was serving in. who recently had been in Greece, hit upon the bright idea of addressing the captain of this particular ship in Greek over the loud-hailer. This had the most remarkable result. Smoke poured out of the ship's funnel and the vessel closed up quickly. Let us hope that something can be done to simplify such communications.
I should like to deal for a moment with plans for the standardisation of equipment. At the oubreak of war, it surely is vitally important to us that any armament which is put into these ships shall be available quickly and easily. I understand that in the last war the Americans had a certain type of high-angle, low-angle, gun which was extremely effective. This gun had an easily 1203 interchangeable barrel. That would be a very useful piece of equipment if it could be made available to our merchant ships. What can be divulged about plans for making these guns available, perhaps with a spare barrel to go with the guns, to be fitted at the Ordnance depots on the other side of the ocean, and can we be told about gun mounting standardisation?
The question of interchangeability and standardisation of ammunition has been touched on. I feel that plans of this sort should be made known as far as possible within security restrictions. After all, is it not the case that those who man our ships, those magnificent officers and men, if there should be any emergency in the future, will have to face it as they have always faced emergencies in the past. Is it not our duty to see that they will do so fitted for the task, and knowing that the arrangements for their armament are under consideration now, and that they are as efficient as they can be? After all, whatever hon. Members on both sides of the House may say, it is upon them and their ships that the survival of these islands has depended, and does and always will depend.
§ 10.34 p.m.
§ Sir Jocelyn Lucas (Portsmouth, South)
Tonight I want to say a few words about welfare. I understand that in Malta, for instance, free education is supposed to be granted to the children of naval ratings. In fact, in "Notes for the Guidance of Wives and Families on First Arrival in Malta," issued by the Naval welfare authorities, paragraph 26, it says:Free primary and secondary education to Higher School Certificate standard is provided at the Naval Children's School at Tal Handak and Verdala.Apparently, if these children go for this examination their parents have to pay, and I have here an example from a naval rating who is being asked for £2 16s. to be paid before 24th March before his daughter can enter for the School Certificate examination. I understand that if she had been in England the examination would be free. In addition, there is a letter from the instructor commander, which says:I myself am making inquiries from the Admiralty about a change in policy to bring us into line with conditions in English schools.I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to look into this and see what can be 1204 done so these children could get the same chance as they would in England.
I would also like to ask him about the Royal Naval Benevolent Fund. Is there sufficient money in it for all the calls made on it? Do the Government make a grant or do they have to rely on N.A.A.F.I. or on legacies? It is very helpful in many cases, but the finances are limited, and if it was not for other societies, such as the Forces Benefit Society, there would be many cases of grievous hardship.
I had hoped tonight to speak about commissions for National Service men, but I was glad to hear the Parliamentary Secretary say that they would be able to get commissions in the future. I remember that two or three years ago a young man who had Service traditions on all sides was desperately keen on getting into the Royal Navy and obtaining a commission there. He was told that he could not get a commission as a National Service man unless he enlisted for 12 years, and then if he did not get a commission he could not get out.
That was the point I was going to raise tonight, but I am glad that it has been put right. In this instance that man did his National Service in the Army, and within a few months had a temporary commission and when his time was up he had a permanent commission. I am sorry to say he was killed in Malaya on his first jungle patrol. That young man would have been by now a naval officer.
Hon. Members who sit for naval constituencies have had numerous letters about the £100 bounty. I think that everyone considers those who were patriotic enough -to re-engage before September last have had a raw deal. I know it is a difficult matter as far as the technicalities are concerned, but I am glad to know the matter is being reconsidered and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary with his usual good will will do his utmost to have the matter put right.
§ 10.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
I wish to refer to the brief remarks made by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman). When he rose to speak I heard a question asked, "How long is it since the Navy sailed into Bath?" The question, "How long is it since the Fleet sailed up the Calder?" could be asked in my case. We have, however, one thing in 1205 common—a close interest in the efficiency of the administrative side of the Admiralty. If the hon. Gentleman will permit me to make a personal reference to him it is to say that he was the founder and pioneer of that section of the Treasury known as Organisation and Method, of which the Admiralty is so much in need.
The hon. Member referred to the long delays which have occurred in dealing with staff affairs of both senior and subordinate staffs on the civilian side of the Admiralty. The Parliamentary and Financial Secretary will remember that in the debate of 22nd March, 1950—col. 2,083 of the OFFICIAL REPORT—I referred to the staff matters to which the hon. Member for Bath referred tonight. The Directorate of Electrical Engineering are still waiting for the settlement of their salary claim, which, when it comes into effect, will date back to 1st January, 1946. It seems intolerable that a Government Department cannot settle these small, yet important, questions of grading and salaries of highly placed and key technicians in the Admiralty on whose services, vigour, initiative and skill the Royal Navy relies for the development of much of the technical side of its work.
The hon. and gallant Member for Merton and Morden (Captain Ryder) paid tribute to the administrative efficiency of the Admiralty. I was very glad to hear that and have no desire to detract from any tribute which he feels moved to pay *to the Admiralty from the point of view of a naval officer, but I regret to say that a similar tribute cannot be paid by those who see the Board of Admiralty from a civilian angle. I could add a long list to the grades already referred to by the hon. Member for Bath. Delays are occurring in the grading of important technical officers of the staff of the Director of Naval Construction, the Department of the Engineering Chief, the Department of the Chief Inspector of Naval Ordnance and the Department of the Director of Armament Supplies.
Twelve months is long enough for the Admiralty to put its house in order. It seems to me that the establishments or personnel administration side of the Admiralty is in need of a thorough shake-up. It requires the importation of experienced and vigorous establishment officers from other Departments, perhaps the one to which the Parliamentary Secretary and 1206 I once belonged. We could supply from such a Department those who could get these reorganisation and regrading affairs settled quickly.
I am not minimising the wide range of officers with which the Admiralty has to deal, but they have been long enough at it. They have had to deal with those technical grades and other specialist classes almost since the days of Nelson. Surely they have now developed a technique for dealing with these matters more quickly than they do. I sincerely hope that whoever replies for the Government will be able to assure us that the Admiralty will get on more quickly with these things and I shall be relieved of the necessity for repeating this speech next year.
Mr. Vernon Bartlett, a former Member of Parliament, once said that the House of Commons was the most difficult audience in the world; it was the only one which did not want to hear whoever was speaking because it was composed mostly of people who had speeches of their own to make. That may be brutally true of the few remarks I am making, though it was not true of the interesting and comprehensive statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary, who seemed to put new meaning and deeper fervour into the saying by infantrymen in two world wars, "Thank God we have a Navy"—or should it be, "Thank God we are going to have a Navy"?
Before sitting down I should like to refer to another part of the administration of the Admiralty which seems to be in need of a thorough overhaul. It was referred to by the hon. Member for Devon-port (Mr. Foot), namely, the review of the operation of the dockyards. In the dockyard establishments overseas, there are classes known as "local entry" and that means, presumably, that they are people forming a staff which has not been sent out from this country, but which is recruited locally. But, here again, there are intolerable delays which seem to occur over their conditions of service. It appears that the Admiralty is anxious not to do anything about its "local entry" staffs until it sees what the local colonial Government is going to do about its staff; and then, probably, we have the War Office wanting to say something about its "local entry" staff and, possibly, the R.A.F, as well.
1207 The result is that three Service Ministers, the local Government, and possibly the Colonial Office, are all interested in these locally recruited staffs, all of which must have much in common. I hope that this aspect of Admiralty administration may be looked into; and that, I think, is the end of my catalogue of criticism. But these are serious things in the Admiralty's part of the Civil Service administration of our affairs.
§ 10.47 p.m.
§ Mr. G. P. Stevens (Portsmouth, Langstone)
May I, at the outset, add my congratulations to those already offered to the Parliamentary Secretary on his introductory speech? It was, I thought, a very "easy" speech, and one felt, perhaps, that it all went a little too smoothly in parts; that there was some complacency in part of his remarks, and that he did not show the necessary sense of urgency. Of course, it may well be that the dark shadow of the Treasury was behind him, forcing certain financial limitations. But could not more be accomplished within the financial limitations laid down? According to the newspapers, some weeks ago the Minister of Works said that we could all work a little harder, and that, I think, is true of the dockyards up and down the country. It might mean more pay for overtime, but overheads would be lowered, and there would follow cheaper production.
We have heard of destroyers being converted to fast frigates, and I should like to ask if these are prototypes; because, if so, then the highest possible priority should be given the work. If these are prototypes, then the run of production depends upon them, and work should proceed on them round the clock. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary, or whoever is to reply for the Government, if that is the case at present. There may be equipment bottlenecks and, if this is one of the troubles, then the contractors supplying the equipment should be asked to work harder, too.
I should like to say a word about the complexity of modern radar equipment. One piece I saw recently had 2,000 valves, and in one of these prototype conversions I visited about a fortnight ago I came across a very complex piece of electronic equipment. It may surprise hon. Members to know that, as part of the decora- 1208 tion of the case—not something just chalked on by somebody in the dockyard—there was the slogan, "Do not repair, fit the spare." So, if there is any damage done to this valuable piece of equipment, it will not be a question of repairing or replacing one of the 2,000 valves, but of replacing the whole "shooting match." Is our supply of spares so great that it is sufficient for this purpose?
There is another point. I understand that the programme of conversion of these destroyers was laid down about two years ago. I have reason to believe that the work of conversion is up to programme, but I wonder whether the tempo of the programme, though it may have been sufficient for our purpose two years ago, is not rather leisurely at present? I wonder also whether the Royal dockyards' capacity is adequate to the whole of the conversion programme which is envisaged. I think obviously that the answer must be, "No." If that be true, I wonder if the private yards have been warned of the proposed demands so that they may plan ahead.
So far as the dockyards are concerned, which is the Civil Lord's particular interest, I wonder whether work is as efficiently supervised as it might be. The hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), for the fifth or sixth time, asked for a working party. I do not think that is necessary. I think the Civil Lord's supervision in that matter is enough. But I wonder whether the supervision of work-in the dockyards is adequate? Are the time clocks near the job? I wonder how many breaks there are in the course of the day's work, and if some are not too long. I would like to know if overtime is being worked in general, and in particular upon these prototypes.
I wonder if incentives are sufficiently strong to encourage the men. I was a bit shocked to see the new rates of pay for the dockyards which were published some three or four weeks ago. I saw that the new rate of wage for unskilled labour was £5 3s. 0d. a week. For a schedule (1) skilled labourer, it was £5 6s. 0d. a week, a differential of 3s., which seems inadequate to encourage men to get on and become skilled and efficient at their job. I heard the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) make a suggestion in regard to the supervision of the dockyards at the top level. He indicated that the industrial 1209 personnel find dealing with admirals and other senior naval officers difficult and that perhaps they lacked the necessary diplomacy to approach naval officers.
§ Mr. Stevens
I think that was the gist of the hon. Gentleman's remarks—that they would prefer to have civilians to deal with.
The point is not what is for the convenience or what is for the comfort of the industrial workers in the dockyards. It is what is going to give the best and most efficient service to the uniformed personnel in the Royal Navy. The uniformed side in the ships very much prefer that the senior supervision shall be by uniformed personnel, who themselves have been through the same kind of difficulties and have encountered exactly the same kind of problems they are themselves encountering. On the topic of incentives, I wonder if, on the uniformed side, incentives to promotion are sufficient.
I think it was the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey), who wondered why it was that married quarters for officers were not provided by the Tories before the war. The answer is that before the war officers found it very much easier to live on their pay than they do at present. It is for that reason that the provision of married quarters for officers has become a matter of very much greater urgency than before the war. I am pleased to see that the financial allocation for married quarters in the current Estimates is just over double what it was the previous year. But a lot more should be done because lodgings for officers' wives cost some five guineas a week and. furthermore, so far as officers are concerned, there is the immense expense of the diverse uniforms they are required to find out of their pay. All these make commissioned life a financially gnawing struggle.
I deplore the Socialists' abandonment on differentials throughout. In industry it means the end of all craftsmanship; in the Royal Navy it means that fewer and fewer men of the right kind will be willing to accept the hazards and responsibilities of commissioned rank even with a pension at the end of it. So far as pensions are concerned, about a fortnight 1210 ago I was speaking to a retired admiral of the Fleet and we worked out what cash was left to him out of the pension of £1,800 a year which he was being paid and we discovered, much to his surprise and mine, that after taxation it was almost the equivalent in pounds, shillings and pence, of the cash left to a retired admiral of the Fleet in the days of Lord Nelson. This certainly does not provide any incentive for a man to achieve these very high ranks.
I said right at the start that I thought there was a certain lack of urgency about the Parliamentary Secretary's speech. Some progress, undoubtedly, these Estimates reveal, but I look to the day when there will be not merely a good Parliamentary performance in introducing the Estimates, but when there will be some drive and vigour and determination in carrying them out.
§ 10.57 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Baldock (Harborough)
I would like to make a few points about a particular branch of the Royal Navy, the R.N.V.R., in which I have a particular interest. I do not know whether it is the custom to declare one's interest in these matters, as it is in industry and commerce, but I am still serving in that branch of the Royal Navy. I would like to raise three points. One is the rather curious position revealed by a widely circulated Sunday paper on 11th February last, to which the Parliamentary Secretary may have had his attention drawn. This article pointed out—and I am sure the avenue they carefully explain is being explored by many—that there is an excellent means by which "spivs" and "drones" of the potential Z Class Reserve are avoiding their obligations to the country.
They join the R.N.V.R., which automatically releases them from any obligation to undergo Z Class training, and they fail to attend drills, and are, deliberately, generally inefficient. After a certain time they are discharged as being unsuitable for a naval rating. Then the curious position arises that, having been discharged they are free from any obligation with any service. It is obviously an anomalous position which cannot bring any credit to the R.N.V.R., and can only bring satisfaction to "spivs" and "drones" who have the chance to follow it up. I imagine that this position is 1211 being looked into carefully, and that the loophole will be stopped.
The second point I want to make is with regard to holidays. What is the position of holidays for a National Service man, who is doing his 3½years in the Reserve, subsequent to his two years in the Forces? His holidays are constitutionally protected and he is enabled to have a holiday in addition to his fortnight's camp or training with the Fleet. This does not apply to volunteers. If one is in the R.N.V.R. or in any volunteer force, one is not protected in any way so far as holidays are concerned. In some cases volunteers are being discouraged by finding they have to sacrifice their holiday, for the sake of their training. I think they should be given as good conditions in that respect as those called up compulsorily.
The third point is with regard to methods of entry into the R.N.V.R. There are two methods from the scholastic or educational establishments. One is that a boy can join the R.N.V.R. before he leaves school. He can then have three weeks special training, and then he can go to the Fleet for his two years as a National Service man. That arrangement appears to be working very well. The universities are a parallel source of new entries to the R.N.V.R. When a man "opts" to do his National Service after graduation there is very little apparent enthusiasm to try his hand in the Navy.
I believe that is largely because the Army and the R.A.F, have contingents in the university corps with fairly strong representation, whereas the Navy have no liaison with the universities. As a result, what would be a very valuable number of men in the engineering and technical grades are being lost to the Navy because few graduates appreciate that they can go into the R.N.V.R. instead of doing their National Service in one of the other two arms.
This question of the technical people who might come forward as engineers or other technicians brings up the subject of maintenance, which is a serious one. I believe that the Parliamentary Secretary thoroughly appreciates it. He realises how far more complex apparatus is becoming and the seriousness of the demand for experienced artificers in the Service. This is a greater problem than 1212 it was in 1939. The position in the anti-submarine field disturbs us most. In those days the anti-submarine corvette was equipped with a simple Asdic apparatus and depth charges mounted on the stern. Compare that today with the conversion of a fleet destroyer costing over £500,000 and one appreciates how much more complex maintenance is now. My own experience at sea since the war makes me feel a bit doubtful about the position. I should feel happier if a greater number of artificers were available, and if there were reserves in case of emergency.
The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) has already mentioned the desirability of stabilising the National Service intake into the Navy. He mentioned that it would greatly help the manning depots if they knew there was to be a regular flow each year. How much more important is that information to the R.N.V.R. The National Service men are their only source of new entrants. It is most important to the Reserve to know how many men are available annually.
On the problem of retaining senior ratings in the Service and getting them to re-engage, I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gosport and Fareham (Surgeon Lieut.-Commander Bennett), and the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), that pensions are probably a more important factor in re-engagement than any further increments of pay. This question raises again the point that pensions should be thoroughly considered. I cannot pass this point without a reference to the decision on the £100 bounty. That really was a shabby trick. I can think of no other way to describe it, and I myself believe that the Parliamentary Secretary is ashamed himself. To hold out a bait to those people still free to leave the Service, and give nothing to those who had volunteered to stay in, smells strongly of the press gang. It would do a great deal of good to the morale and enthusiasm of those likely to re-engage if this was cleared up as quickly as possible.
There is one point about the construction programme which I do not think has been referred to, and that is in regard to landing craft. We have not been told anything about the programme for those vessels. The Korean campaign has shown 1213 the value of having a reasonable number of these craft available in the early part of a campaign. They may be wanted at a very early stage in operations, not merely to deliver the coup de grace.They also have very valuable uses in other directions which the Parliamentary Secretary will appreciate, and I hope that their construction is being considered.
Finally, on the question of the role of the Navy in defence in general, while, obviously, it can no longer carry the whole responsibility of one of its original functions—the defence of this country against invasion, which it must share with the Army and Air Force—the other, the defence of our Merchant Fleet, is as vital as it has ever been. As our economy becomes more complex we are becoming more and more dependent on a greater variety of imported products, and it is vital that the Merchant Fleet should be protected. I hope that our basic position as a maritime power in the centre of an empire will always be kept in mind.
§ 11.12 p.m.
§ Commander T. D. Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)
The course which the debate has followed, and its whole trend and tone, are further evidence that the House continues to feel the deepest interest in the Navy and everything that concerns its welfare, notwithstanding the great changes that have taken place in recent years through the advent of air power and the great technical development there has been. We appreciate that to an island kingdom the safety of commerce on the seas is of vital and paramount importance. It is true that ships of war are no longer able themselves to protect this country from invasion, as they were when Lord Grey was at the Foreign Office. It is evident that paratroops could descend in our island at any time of the day or night and that the Navy could do nothing to stop them. It is also true that guided missiles and bombs might devastate large parts of this island without the Navy being able to help. But I do not think these things will inevitably bring disaster to us, such as the severance of our sea communications would certainly entail.
As the Parliamentary Secretary said in his opening speech, we are still dependent on ships to bring us our food and raw materials, and to supply us with the motive power on which the Navy, the R.A.F., and the highly mechanised land 1214 forces now depend. So long as can be foreseen, ships will be required to replenish this country, and if we are not to starve those ships must be protected. No one has ever suggested that our commerce can be protected by ships alone. The safety of our shipping in time of war depends on the closest collaboration of the ships and aircraft of the Navy and the aircraft of the R.A.F. If we fail to achieve that full co-operation which existed between the Services during the war we may well find ourselves on the verge of disaster. These two Services must act as one, and I suggest that to that end they must be imbued with the same common doctrine; they must see things alike, and they must constantly be training together.
Frequently, during the 22 years in which I had the honour to be a short-term officer, I heard it said that no nation could possibly prepare for war unless it had a potential enemy either actually in mind or in imagination. Today, unfortunately, the potential enemy is much in evidence, and that is Russia. I therefore suggest that we must endeavour to forecast the nature and the extent of the attack which Russia might mount against our sea communications.
I have noticed recently that there are those who would rule out all thought of surface warfare, but to do that would, to my mind, be very foolish indeed. We know for a fact that Russia today possesses at least 10 cruisers which are no older than the year 1934. We also know that' she is credited with having 20 cruisers under construction, and if even a few of these get out on to the open sea we know very well from our experience that they could inflict very great damage upon us—damage arising not only through the loss of ships but also through the loss of time and effort, for undoubtedly we would have to hunt them down; we would have to guard the focal areas on the trade routes, and we might even have to sail ships in convoy on distant seas. So, even with the help of aircraft, the force employed would be out of all proportion to the strength of the raiders. Apart from the possibility of raids by enemy cruisers we have always to keep in mind the possibility of raids by armed merchant vessels.
In 1939 we possessed 50 cruisers, and we know that they were all too few; 1215 that, even with the help of our merchant cruisers and the vessels which were constantly forthcoming from the 20 cruisers which we were building at the outbreak of war, that did not prevent continuous anxiety at the Admiralty. I remind the House that during the war Germany possessed only 11 ships capable of operating against our commerce on the high seas. In comparison with the 50 ships which we had in 1939 we today have 26, and I submit that that number is insufficient to provide for all the duties which cruisers would be called upon to perform in time of war, including, of course, the protection of trade.
It is inconceivable, I believe, that we should ever fight alone again—and by that I mean that undoubtedly we hope that America would be with us. But in proportion to the value of our commerce, in proportion to the danger involved through any temporary interruption of our trade, do 26 cruisers really represent our fair share of the burden of protecting shipping throughout the seven seas of the world? I cannot feel that they do, or that that number is consistent either with our position as a Great Power or with our duty to ourselves. Yet today we have only three cruisers building, and work on them has meantime been suspended. So much for the question of attack on our lines of communication by surface vessels.
Now I turn to the subject which has been uppermost in the thoughts of hon. Members during the debate this evening —the danger of the submarine. We do not know with any accuracy the number of submarines which Russia possesses, but there cannot be any doubt that, whatever the number may be, it is against our lines of sea communications that they will be directed. Of that there is surely no doubt whatsoever. If war comes the United Kingdom is, by reason of its position in relation to the Continent of Europe, an advance post of the Western Powers without which the defence of Western Europe would be greatly hampered, if not made utterly impossible.
Therefore, from the point of view of a potential enemy it would be a matter of the utmost importance that the facilities which this country offers should be rendered ineffective at the earliest moment. To achieve that end our enemy might well 1216 attempt to destroy our ports. He would indulge in the most intensive mining campaign to block the entrances. I am glad, for that reason, to learn from the Parliamentary Secretary that the Admiralty is guarding against that contingency. I believe, for a variety of reasons, that it might be more effective if they were to attack shipping on the high seas.
We require to guard against all these contingencies, but it is with the latter that we are particularly concerned this evening. It is reported that the Russian shipbuilding programme included 1,000 submarines. I believe that that is too optimistic. They are credited with 300 submarines in service, but many of these are of coastal type. Like the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton), I will attempt to evaluate the present strength of Russia in submarines, though I hope the hon. Member will not think that I am raising a bogy.
I propose, in the first instance, to disregard all the coastal types of submarine, and the 70 ocean-going submarines which, according to report, are stationed in the Black Sea and in Far Eastern waters. We are left, again according to report, to face 75 modern sea-going submarines which are supposed to be stationed, 30 in the White Sea and 45 in the Baltic. Making every possible allowance for exaggeration, I will assume, for the purposes of my argument, that Russia has, in fact, only one-third of that number in positions from which they can attack us at the outbreak of war. I hope it will not be thought that this estimate is likely to create despondency or alarm among the people of this country.
On these estimates, the weight of attack which we might be called upon to face is that which can be mounted by a force of 25 modern submarines. The question I would like to ask, and I do not suppose that I shall receive a reply, is whether at this moment we are capable of meeting an attack of that weight. In 1939, and I stick to that figure in spite of statements made to the contrary, I think by the hon. Member for Preston, South, the effective German force in submarines consisted of 27 ocean-going vessels. The total number of vessels of all types suitable for antisubmarine work was 219. The number was considered to be insufficient and, in fact, we had another 71 building. So that gave us a prospective strength of 290. 1217 That number, we well know, was quite insufficient. Everyone will remember the feverish haste with which new utility vessels were ordered, constructed and put into service.
§ Mr. Shackleton
The hon. and gallant Gentleman must realise that there were other types beside ocean-going. I made the point that it was the simple sea-going types which did most of the damage during the war.
§ Commander Galbraith
I am aware of that, and I am giving the actual figures of German submarines on the outbreak of war as 57. Thirty of them were of the coastal type. Therefore, I thought it right to deduct that number, as it is probable that the great majority of them operated in the North Sea and along the Norwegian coast, and that the deep sea vessels did not at any time amount to more than 27.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Is not the hon. and gallant Gentleman leaving out the fact that the whole power of the American naval anti-submarine forces will be on our side?
§ Commander Galbraith
If the hon. Gentleman had been listening he would have heard me say that it was inconceivable that we should fight alone, which means that we hope to have the Americans with us. I think that takes care of the point, but he will find that I will allude to the same circumstances again.
We have to be ready to meet a force of 25 submarines, superior in underwater endurance and speed to those of 1939, and to meet that number, after we have taken into account 12 ships building suitable for anti-submarine work, the total counter force is 285 vessels. That is a force of about the same number of ships we had available in 1939 and which we later found to be inadequate. In spite of the welcome news of 24 new frigates which the Parliamentary Secretary mentioned this afternoon, that must be our position for a considerable time ahead.
To some people it will, I know, be a comfort to know that we have as many anti-submarine vessels as we had in 1939, but when hon. Members remember that I have estimated the strength of the attack on a very conservative basis and have included in our strength 126 frigates of the last war—many, I am informed, of insufficient speed to enable them to keep contact with a submarine, far less press 1218 home an attack on her—we may well have some misgivings and I do not think these are diminished when we remember how close we were to disaster in the recent wars.
I have no doubt that the Admiralty shares our misgivings. When we have been warned so often about the danger of submarine attack on our commerce it seems to me that the Government have been dilatory in providing the safeguards required. The conversions of the "Rocket" and the "Relentless," about which we heard so much a year ago have not been completed, and we have been told that another four conversions have been started and the programme is to be extended. Now we have been told that the total conversions are to number 45 over a period of three years. I think the Parliamentary Secretary made that clear in answer to a question I put to him. I suppose we can estimate that in four or five years from now these 45 conversions will be completed. These conversions do not, of course, actually increase the number of ships capable of antisubmarine work available in the service. The situation we appear to be in is that a year from now it is possible that we will have six modern anti-submarine vessels available. I do not think that that is sufficient.
Then we are told of a new design of anti-submarine frigates to be built but the provision of machinery is the limiting factor, but as many as possible are to be laid down according to the First Lord's statement in the next financial year. What does that mean? Does that mean 1951–52 or 1952–53?
§ Commander Galbraith
Ten in 1951–52 and the rest in 1952–53. The Parliamentary Secretary has told us that, in addition, 24 vessels are the ultimate aim, and I think he told us that 17 had been ordered. But the impression I got from the First Lord's statement was one of calm complacency: the Parliamentary Secretary has certainly lessened that impression, but I am afraid he has not succeeded in removing it altogether.
The situation in 1939 was not more serious than it is today. The threat then was no greater than it is today. Yet in our programme for 1939–40 we had 40 1219 ships capable of undertaking anti-submarine duties. Against that, this year the machinery for two frigates has been ordered. Frigates of new design may subject to the limitations on machinery be laid down in the next financial year, and we now know that 17 have actually been ordered and that 10 of them are to be laid down during the present year. So, gradually, we are accumulating a little more information than was given us by the statement of the First Lord; and we are very grateful indeed to have it.
The defence against the submarine is not only a matter of anti-submarine vessels, but of both shore-based and carrier-borne aircraft. We know very little indeed about the extent of the protection which will be allowed by our carrier-borne and shore-based aircraft.
§ Mr. Callaghan
Before the hon. and gallant Gentleman leaves the question of escorts, may I say that I followed his analysis with great care and do not dissent from much of what he said. But he might give some guidance as to what he thinks is the appropriate force at which we should aim, if indeed he thinks that our force is insufficient. In answer to one of my hon. Friends, he said that we should not fight alone. I put it to him that, by comparison with the figures which he has given of the number of escort vessels we have, we can double that with the number that the United States has; so that, altogether, we should be entering a new combat, if we had to enter one, with three times the number of escort vessels that we had in 1939. How does he evaluate this, and at what figure should we aim if we are not aiming at the right figure?
§ Commander Galbraith
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that he is aiming far too late. If he had arranged for 24 two or three years ago, we should have had some in commission now, when the situation is so very threatening and no one knows from one moment to another what may happen and when we may be involved in war. If the hon. Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes), is not satisfied with that answer he will, no doubt, catch Mr. Speaker's eye later and tell me where I have gone wrong.
In the debate on the Air Estimates last week the Secretary of State for Air devoted to Coastal Command less than 1220 three minutes of a speech which lasted for an hour and 15 minutes. He said in that speech that considerable progress had been made in developing techniques, that the Government planned greatly to expand and re-equip Coastal Command, that the Shackleton had completed its tests, and that a number of medium-range reconnaissance squadrons were to be formed. His concluding remarks in that portion of his speech were those which interested me most. He said that antisubmarine protection was a formidable problem, and that the Sunderlands, which, I am told, are some 15 years old, would continue to be used for some time, and that their replacement was under consideration.
Hon. Members who took part in that debate spoke of the greater need for cooperation between Coastal Command and the Navy. They spoke of the need for more operational experience for Coastal Command, and of the need for closer liaison and of further training in ship recognition, a matter mentioned today by the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu); and one hon. Member spoke of "Coastal Command, when it exists." There was another hon. and gallant Member who has already been quoted, but the quotation should be repeated at this stage of the debate. He said that the Air Ministry regarded Coastal Command as a sideline, a kind of unwanted child, and he charged the Air Ministry with gross neglect. He stated that the position was grim and that Coastal Command should be taken away from the Air Ministry and given to the Army.
I should have thought that that very grave and challenging statement would have called for some reply, but no reply was forthcoming. Quite naturally, I assume, there was no mention whatsoever of Coastal Command in the statement by the First Lord, and so we are left with very little knowledge indeed as to its strength, its equipment, its training or otherwise. These are surely matters of the very greatest importance to the defence of our sea-borne commerce for which this House has some responsibility to the country. Therefore, I think it will be quite correct for me to ask the hon. Gentleman who will reply tonight to give us a definite statement as to whether or not the Admiralty is satisfied with the position in all respects.
1221 Are we satisfied about Coastal Command, and its training, and equipment, and its co-operation with the Royal Navy? These are questions to which we have the right to demand an answer. I do not for a moment suppose that the Admiralty proposes to depend solely on anti-submarine vessels and shore-based aircraft for the defence of our shipping, but some information on this vital question would be welcome. Outside the 400 miles limit, I understand—and, seemingly, so do other hon. Members—shore-based aircraft do not provide effective protection for our convoys and, therefore, some small carriers would seem to be necessary for convoy escort work.
Is that the Admiralty's view of the situation? If so, then what provision is being made to give us small carriers? I do not imagine that our Fleet and light fleet carriers are suitable for the purpose. In any event there are only 12 of those, with nine building, and surely 21 is insufficient to go round. What is the Admiralty's intention in this matter? If, by any chance, which we most sincerely hope will not happen, war was to come soon and suddenly, while our cupboard is bare, and we have no stocks of raw materials in the country, then it is vitally important that we should have a fully effective convoy system available from the start.
I have grave doubt whether our Naval Aviation, or Coastal Command is in a position to give the protection which would be required. Having listened to the speech, very able though it was, from the Parliamentary Secretary today, my views on this subject still remain; but I look with confidence to him for some information of a re-assuring character.
I want now to turn to a completely different matter, one which, by implication at least, can be of very great importance to the Royal Navy. In 1939 there were in the Fleet, 414 sea-going vessels; today, that figure is 441. In 1939, the ships in commission in the Home Fleet, in the Mediterranean Fleet, with the China Squadron, and the other stations, numbered 172. Today, the number of active Fleet vessels is 127. The number of men in 1939 was 133,000, and today we are providing in the Estimates for 143,500.
1222 From these figures it would not appear that more persons should be required in the Admiralty for administering the Service than were thought necessary in 1939. But what is the position? In 1939 in the Admiralty offices there were 4,355 persons of one kind or another; today, the figure is 10,222. May I put this to the House in another way? In 1939, 10 persons were in the Admiralty for every fighting ship in the Service, whereas today there are 23. In 1939, every ship in active commission represented 25 persons in the Admiralty. Today, the number is 80. In 1939, one person at the Admiralty looked after 30 men with the Fleet. Today, the number is one person at the Admiralty but 14 with the Fleet.
I am always prepared, like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Captain Ryder), to stand up for the Admiralty against every other Department, but I do say that that, great disparity in numbers calls for some explanation. Why should the Admiralty require an additional 13 people to administer different ships in the Service today, an additional 55 for each ship with the active Fleet, and why should two people at the Admiralty be required to look after the same number as one person looked after in 1939?
The Parliamentary Secretary, I was very glad to note, has mentioned that a special investigation is to take place into the civilians employed at the Admiralty. Let me say to the hon. Gentleman that it is not before time. I intend to go into an even more detailed examination of this matter because, I think, it may probably interest the House. I want to ask hon. Members if they will be good enough to keep three figures in mind during the course of what I am going to say.
The first figure is this, that since 1939 the number of ships in the Navy has increased by 7 per cent. The number of men in the Navy has gone up by 8 per cent. and the number of ships with the active Fleet has gone down by 26 per cent. The Board of Admiralty still consists of 11 persons. The number of assistants they had in 1939—that is, naval assistants—was 12. That number is now 35. In those circumstances, it would be quite natural for us to expect an increase in the naval staff. It has 1223 increased from 171 to 371. I think this is somewhat interesting. I think I have my facts right, but if I have not, I shall be corrected, I have no doubt.
The Second Sea Lord's Office has as one of its duties looking after the appointment of officers. In 1939, six officers were in the Second Sea Lord's Office for the purpose of these appointments. Today, there are 37 employed on that task, although the active Fleet has decreased by 26 per cent. In every other Department the same thing is going on. The medical department has increased three times in size, the education department by three and a half times, and even the Chaplain of the Fleet's department has been increased to twice its size in 1939. Let me take another aspect of this matter. In 1939, we had 35 major and 83 minor vessels actually building. There was a new construction programme for 1939–40 consisting of seven major and 55 minor vessels. We had in 1939, undergoing large repairs, in the dockyards 18 major vessels and 25 minor vessels. That is a total of 223 ships altogether.
I suggest to the House that these ships naturally require the particular attention of the naval construction department, the engineer-in-chief's department, the dockyard department, the naval stores department, and the contract and purchase department. Compare that position with the position this year. We have nine major and 56 minor vessels building, and five major and seven minor vessels undergoing large repairs. There are 60 minor vessels being brought forward from Reserve which is a total of 137. Compared with the 223 of 1939, or 86 fewer. It would seem to follow that before 1939 the strength of the departments I have mentioned should have been over-burdened, but actually what has happened is this. The department of the Director of Naval Construction has increased by 43 per cent., the Engineer-in-Chief's department by 80 per cent., the dockyard department by 75 per cent., the naval stores department by 242 per cent., and the contract and purchase department by 86 per cent.
The number of men in the present estimates is up by 8 per cent. as I said a few moments ago, compared with 1939, but to meet the victualling needs of that slight increase in personnel seemingly demands 1224 that the victualling department should show an increase of 152 per cent. over the 1939 number.
Now I come to two departments the increase in which, in view of the experience we had in other spheres recently, one would expect, but which, in relation to the naval service, may have the most undesirable consequences. I refer to the Secretary's department and to the Record Office, Registers, and Reproduction department. The Secretary's department has increased from 881 in 1939 to 2,235 in 1951 and the Record Office from 528 to 1,197. The Secretary's department has increased by 153 over 1939 and the Record Office by 127 per cent. I think it would be natural to assume from these figures that the paper work in the Royal Navy has very largely increased and that officers in command of His Majesty's ships and establishments have got to give far more of their time than previously in paper work. In consequence of that, they can only have less time available for the purposes of their proper and most important function, which is the organising and training of their commands for war.
It may be that these increases arise from a tendency which, to my mind at least, would be most detrimental to the efficiency of the Royal Navy. It may, indeed, be due to very close supervision over commands. It may be due to the Admiralty adopting a "grandmother" attitude towards commanding officers—prying into their management and prying into their every action——
§ Commander Galbraith
—to the detriment of their initiative, independence and also to their efficiency.
§ Commander Galbraith
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has spoken today. He might have the decency to keep quiet while I am addressing the Housed.
If that last suggestion I have made happens to be true, then I doubt very much whether, in future, we can expect to have, in command of our naval forces, men confident in their own judgment or capable of making an instant decision and of taking immediate action as the situation in their vicinity may demand, without reference to some higher autho- 1225 rity. Should that be the result, then the Navy will, indeed, have received a deadly blow.
Under the administration of the present Government, the Navy has suffered a good deal. Not only have men had to be retained in the Service, which would not have been necessary had steps been taken in time—and if steps had been taken in time I doubt very much whether it would have been necessary to call up men of the Fleet Reserve—but apart from that, in recent years there never have been sufficient ships at sea with the active Fleet to enable officers and men to gain experience of that element in which they will be called to work in war, and close acquaintance with which is essential to our success in war. Commanding officers of the present day and of the future have had insufficient experience of handling ships at sea in all conditions of weather. Officers and men, generally speaking, have had no chance of becoming accustomed to the sea or to handling their weapons under these conditions.
§ Commander Galbraith
The sea-going strength of the Navy has been allowed to diminish to far too low a level—indeed, to such an extent that foreign nations are apt to underrate its potential power. In 1939 we had 42 per cent. of our ships with the active Fleet. Today, we have 29 per cent. It is true, of course, that the Admiralty proposes now to bring forward from reserve 39 sea-going ships. Although that is a step in the right direction, it only succeeds in raising the strength of the active Fleet to 38 per cent. of the total.
I maintain that that percentage is still too low, either to impress our friends or our potential enemies. It is too low to meet the calls the Navy might be required to meet, or to provide opportunities of training an adequate number of officers and men at sea. I trust that some of the additional sums of money which I understand the Government intends to allocate to the Navy will be used to increase the strength of the active Fleet.
The people of this country want to see the men and to see the Fleet. People all over the world desire to see it also. The White Ensign has been far too little in evidence in recent years. In my remarks I have called attention to cer- 1226 tain deficiencies in aircraft and in ships which I believe it is essential to make good, if we are to have a properly balanced Fleet. Notwithstanding that, the Navy potential is a most powerful weapon. Both in ships and men it is stronger than it was in 1939. Given sound administration and the opportunity of adequate training at sea there is no doubt that in war it would rival the great efforts which saw us safely through the last two wars.
Mention of the need for sound administration brings me to the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot). In his remarks he took my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) to task. Surely it was right for my hon. Friend, 12 months ago, to call attention to a sign of weakness to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred today. The hon. Gentleman also took my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) to task because he had said on one occasion that the efficiency of our naval administration had sunk to a low level, that there was a lack of policy and a lack of comprehension. Those are the very failings which today conceal the real strength of the British Navy.
I am going to quote further from the speech of my right hon. Friend, which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport quoted earlier. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford said:All our friends in South Africa, Boer and Briton alike, who held to the great association of the Commonwealth, were embarrassed in the face of the Admiralty statement. They did not know what to say. Let me tell them now—I found myself upon the Parliamentary Secretary—that it was all rubbish, and that there never was, in time of peace, a British Navy which had so few possible naval foes and so many powerful naval friends. There never was a British Navy, in time of peace, which had more ample resources and power. Let them not be misled by this passing phase of mismanagement and disorganisation. A period of wise, vigorous and careful administration, making the best and most thrifty use of all our resources, could soon restore our naval strength and repute throughout the world."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1948; Vol. 448, c. 828.]The Navy, in spite of every change, still retains that high place in the regard and affection not only of the people of this country, but millions of citizens abroad, who still look to it to provide a sure shield against our enemies at sea. It is our duty in this House to make 1227 sure everything is provided to enable the Navy to make that shield effective. Criticisms which have been levelled today have been made against the administration and not against the personnel of the Fleet. They call the attention of the Government to the fears and apprehensions of hon. Members and of the public, and I sincerely trust that they will receive the urgent and active consideration which they deserve, so that the Navy may be restored to its rightful place in the opinions of the peoples of the world, and may ever remain a safeguard to this Empire and all those who pass on the seas on their lawful occasions.
§ 11.51 p.m.
§ The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Walter Edwards)
A large number of hon. Members have taken part in this debate, but until the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) rose most speeches, from both sides of the House, showed some appreciation of what the Admiralty had placed before the House in its Estimates for 1951–52. Even the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) found little to complain about in the statement made by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. I suppose it was to be expected that the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok would speak in the way that he has done. As long as these benches are occupied by the Labour Party we shall never get one iota of praise from him, whatever we may do; and I should feel rather disappointed if at any time we did.
I listened carefully to what he said, and it seemed nearly all to go back to 1939, when we had few ships, few people at the Admiralty Office, hardly anybody in the Second Sea Lord's office, and nobody on victualling. We are asked to go back to those good old days, when the Fleet was in such a state as a result of the administration of the Admiralty that we almost lost the war before 1941.
§ Commander Galbraith
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us what caused us almost to lose the war in 1940–41? What was lacking?
§ Mr. Edwards
What caused it was bad administration at the Admiralty at that time, and insufficient forces to meet our needs.
§ Mr. Edwards
We may have, but then we had a huge German Fleet to deal with, and we never had the American Navy behind us as we have today. The mind of the hon. and gallant Member is so imbued with 1939 that he just cannot remember that it is now 1951. He spent about half the time for which he spoke in criticism of the Admiralty Office. That comprises about 2 per cent. of the Estimates we are presenting today. What a hard job he must have had to sort out some criticism of Admiralty administration at the present time. However, I will leave him with that for the time being.
I should like to revert to what I consider a much more co-operative and cordial speech on behalf of the Opposition, that made by the hon. Member for Hereford, whom I have had the pleasure of replying to each year for the past six years. I understood that the hon. Member was ill last week and probably as a result he may not have been at the top of his form today, but I can assure him that those of us who deal with these matters at the Admiralty are very glad to see him back, playing his part, as he has done previously. He certainly found something on which to criticise the administration. He said that the charge the Opposition had against the Government was that they appeared to hide the strength of the Navy, that we did not tell the world about the wonderful Navy we have got. His hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok was obviously not listening to him when he said, "They do not tell the world of the wonderful Navy we have got," and that we should give the figures in a far better way, as they used to in pre-war days. I do not want to go over that ground again, because I think that was very capably dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), and I do not think I could do better.
The hon. Member for Hereford then went on to say that we should not have sold or scrapped any ships; that it was folly on the part of the Admiralty to do that. The policy of selling and scrapping has been dealt with in the House on a number of occasions, and he knows quite well that we considered it wrong to keep these out-of-date ships year after year, with 1229 no possibility of their being used, while absorbing the manpower we had at that time in looking after them. I think the right policy is the one we are adopting now, which is to build up the Fleet as quickly as we possibly can.
I wonder what the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok really wants us to do. He has compared the present position with 1939. He knows that there is to be defence expenditure of £4,700,000 spread over the next three years. His argument is that that is far too long: that that money should be spent in much less time than three years. Does he say to the House that if his party were back in power they would spend £4,700,000 on defence in the next financial year?
§ Commander Galbraith
No. We would have taken time by the forelock, as I have already explained to the House.
§ Mr. Edwards
They would have taken time by the forelock and gone on spending more money than we have done since 1945.
§ Mr. Edwards
Judging by speeches made by the Opposition since 1945 I do not think there would have been much more spent on production in any way at all.
The hon. Member for Hereford then asked about four minesweepers which he had seen mentioned in "Brassey's Naval Annual" which were to be sold to Egypt. There must be a mistake somewhere; there is no question of four minesweepers being sold to Egypt. Then there is the question of a destroyer now in this country which the Egyptian Government applied and paid for some time last year. It was arranged that that destroyer would be refitted in this country, and she is now on the verge of completion. In view of the whole circumstances, and of the fact that the ship has already been bought by the Egyptian Government, it is felt right and proper that it should be delivered after it has been repaired.
Then the hon. Member and other hon. Members wanted to know the state of readiness of the Reserve Fleet. The House will know that quite a large number of ships have been brought out of the Reserve Fleet for active service, and we are 1230 getting on with the refitting of the Reserve Fleet. It is the intention to utilise some of the increased manpower that we now have to look after ships in the Reserve Fleet so as to have them all ready in the event of an emergency, but we do not necessarily think that an emergency may arise within one month, or two or three months. Some people would leave the impression that war is bound to come in three months, and that therefore we must have everything ready for it.
On the question of whether the Reserve numbers are sufficient to man the Navy in an emergency, we take the view that they are. The hon. Gentleman raised the question of naval aviation, as several other hon. Members have done. He expressed concern at the shortage of flying officers. We share that concern. I can assure the House that the Admiralty is thoroughly examining every possible means of increasing the number. With regard to married quarters, it may interest the hon. Member, to know that in 1951–52, at Culdrose, Lossiemouth and St. Merryn 82 married quarters will be erected for officers, compared with six for ratings. The reason for the change in the allocation is that when we began the married quarters programme we had not decided on the exact type of house required for officers. That is why there has so far been a greater number of quarters for ratings than for officers.
The hon. Member also said that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition stated that from 1945, Vote A should have been the same as it is for 1951–52. That would have meant much more money to be found for the Navy. But I maintain that we have been able to carry on in a very efficient way within the limits of the finances of the country with the Vote A which we have provided since 1945.
Another point which the hon. Member made concerned re-engagement. This has been dealt with many times by way of Question and answer in the House. It seems to me to be one of the points at which the Opposition is feebly grabbing because it has not many other points to take up. They have been told all about it for two years, and yet they will not understand it. The main reason for the difficulty over the higher ratings at the moment is not so much that these men are not re-engaging at the same rate as 1231 they did before the war, but that there was no regular recruiting during the war. Therefore we have not the 10, nine, or eight years' men now. The last recruiting of long-service men was somewhere about 1939 or 1940. That is the reason for the difficulty with petty officers in particular, and, to some extent, with chief petty officers. That difficulty will not be overcome until we get the benefit of the re-introduction of regular recruiting after the war. But I maintain that the Admiralty has done all that it can to encourage men to re-engage.
As was pointed out by the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey) we have provided married quarters, which no other Government thought of providing. We have given conditions in naval barracks which were not known before. At present we are giving pay which is more comparable with the industrial rate applicable to the job than has ever before been the case in the Navy. There is no such thing as one shilling a day now for men who are giving service to their country. They are being given all these improved conditions. That is not all, for this is the first time, since we have had a Navy, that a man can complete his service knowing that he will be sure of getting a job at the end of it. Many of them stayed there in the past for fear of having to come out only to receive meagre unemployment pay provided by the Conservative Governments. That is the position so far as most of the re-engagements are concerned. It is our intention that extended service shall be as temporary as it can be and the Admiralty will not retain it longer than is essential.
My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu), in his annual speech dealt again with the question of naval barracks. I cannot tell him tonight that we are able to reduce the size of barracks and introduce a number of smaller units throughout the country. That would be a costly procedure, obviously requiring a long-term plan, or else erecting the buildings during a war when money is more available. We are doing our best about the barracks at the present time. Modernisation is taking place at three of the naval barracks and at the Royal Marine Barracks at Deal. Modernisation 1232 of the first block at Chatham and Portsmouth will be completed in the near future. That at Chatham will be ready in April and at Portsmouth later in the year. We are getting on with the chief and petty officers block at Devonport, and it would be a happy sight if my hon. Friend could go back to see them now: they are much better than they were when he left them.
§ Mr. Edwards
I cannot give an answer about A.R.P.. but the point will be taken into consideration, and will be looked into.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kirk-dale (Mr. Keenan) was, I think, unfair to the Navy in the statement he made about ventilating grievances year after year and nothing being done about them.
§ Mr. Edwards
I do not know what we have to do to satisfy my hon. Friend. We have been trying to do all we can, and I am sure he knows, with all the contacts he has in the area in which he lives, that men in the Navy are better off than they were in 1945, and, indeed, better off than ever they were. My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield. East, also raised the question of pensions and asked whether there was the fullest opportunity for promotion. The question of pensions is being examined for all three Services and not for the Royal Navy alone. He raised a new point when he spoke about a proposal for a gratuity, but there is nothing I can tell him on that. On the question of promotions he may have been mistaken about the percentage of commissions granted: the number is not far from 25 per cent., and therefore not far from what was intended.
§ Mr. Edwards
Thirty-eight. It is based on a percentage of the total intake for the year. We did say we would like to grant commissions up to 25 per cent. of the total intake and nothing, so far as I know has been done to prevent this.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lieut.-Commander Hutchison), raised some of 1233 his hardy annuals, and I think that the question of civilians was very capably dealt with by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. Evidently the hon. and gallant Gentleman did not know, when he prepared his brief, that the Parliamentary Secretary would say what he did say today.
Yes, but I asked whether the Civil Lord would follow up the suggestion that a scrutiny should be made of the outlying establishments and not of the Admiralty office.
§ Mr. Edwards
We were talking about the numbers as a whole in the first place. As to the outlying establishments, the hon. and gallant Gentleman can rest assured, as I told him last year, that the matter is constantly and carefully under review. Wherever we can make economies in staff we shall make them, but he must bear in mind that, if we are to have a re-armament programme such as that to which the House has agreed, we cannot always have a cut in civilian staffs at the same time as we are having to spend more money. And that is bound to go on.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman asked about anti-submarine defences in the Firth of Forth. I think he can rest assured that the Admiralty have that in mind. I have a note here saying, "Is Rosyth dockyard all right?" I should have thought so, in view of everything that has been done since 1945, despite the fears.
§ Mr. Edwards
I have no information about Port Edgar. As to the Naval Inspection Ordnance Department there, there is nothing much that I can add to what has already been stated in debate and in reply to Questions. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is rather keen to see that the Department should be navalised, but that is a matter which is still under consideration at the Admiralty and something upon which I cannot give a reply tonight.
I ought to find time to reply to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull, East, who made a rather long speech and a good one. He asked only one question, and that was about the shipbuilding work on the Humber. I am 1234 happy to be able to tell him that out of the 41 minesweepers recently ordered six will be built on the Humber, that repair work now in hand there employs upwards of 700 men, and that there may be a destroyer going there in the near future for extensive machinery repairs. His constituents will be as pleased as he is that he has been able to raise this matter tonight and that he has received that information.
The hon. and gallant Member for Bristol, North-West (Lieut-Commander Braithwaite), who takes part in these debates every year, struck a rather different line tonight by dealing mainly with the Merchant Navy and referring to the question of education in the Navy, in which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has taken so much interest in the past. The hon. and gallant Gentleman can rest assured that that subject is being carried on more or less as it was during the war and just after the war. It may not be on exactly the same scale, because there may not be the same opportunities, but I do not think that he has anything to worry about there.
As to the Merchant Navy, a subject on which he has always been very keen, I think he can safely rest assured, as can all the other hon. Members who referred to it, that that matter is being given as much consideration in the Admiralty at present as are naval matters themselves. I do not think that it is necessary for me to make a long speech on that issue, but I can assure the House that that is the position. There is one point which I might add. We have now reinstituted Merchant Navy defence courses similar to those held before and during the 1939–45 war. These have been started at London, Liverpool, Glasgow and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The object of them is to keep Merchant Navy officers and men informed of the measures that will be taken by the Royal Navy for the protection of seaborne trade in time of war and to make known to them the part they will be expected to play if the maximum degree of safety for their ships is to be ensured. I hope that hon. Members will be satisfied with that assurance.
An hon. Member was interested in the glories of Pembroke Dock. As regards its being the finest dock and harbour in the world, I do not want to differ with him, but I am sure that he can rest content 1235 that the Admiralty will pay attention to what he has said. Another hon. Member dealt with a point which is uncommon in naval debates—I cannot recall it having been raised previously—and that is that we should get Arctic experience. Like some other hon. Members of the House, I have served in the Arctic, and as a result, I have a rough idea of what is in the back of the hon. Member's mind. The Admiralty has been interested in this subject since the end of the war and obviously, the Royal Navy has gained some experience from the Arctic convoys which we ran during the war. Furthermore, we have been in the closest contact with our Allies on this matter—particularly with Canada. What the hon. Gentleman has said will be very carefully thought about, and, if anything can be done, we shall fall in line with the wishes he has expressed tonight.
The hon. and gallant Member for Merton (Captain Ryder) also made the kind of speech in which one does not have a dozen questions to answer at the end of the debate. He was very worried about the position of the Navy's influence throughout the world compared with pre-war days, and asked whether the advocates of the Navy are putting up the fight they should, to get as much money as possible from the defence Votes. I assure him that when these matters are under consideration, representatives of the Admiralty do all that they possibly can to see they get their rightful share of the amount the nation can afford to spend on defence. But when the hon. and gallant Member compares the percentages for the Admiralty with those for the Army for some time before the First World War——
§ Mr. Edwards
I am certain he understands that the number of men in the Army compared with the Royal Navy was far different from what it is today.
What has to be borne in mind is that when one considers the total cost of each Service, it is surely the pay and allowances which come first. The number in the Army is now three times that of the Royal Navy before the war, and with a 50 per cent. increase in pay, it does make the Army figure much higher than the Royal Navy would be. But I 1236 am quite certain that the Royal Navy is respected, and that its influence is just as great as it was in those pre-war days when the percentage of the defence expenditure was so different from what it is today. I have visited various naval establishments throughout the world since 1945, and I can assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that we have lost nothing. We shall carefully watch the whole situation, and see that the Admiralty's point of view is put before those people responsible for providing the money for defence in the most necessary way possible.
I ought to have said a few words about the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport, who spent some of his time in replying to the hon. Member for Hereford and, therefore, has enabled me to spend a little less time on that hon. Member's speech. There is nothing I can do to help in regard to my hon. Friend's advocacy again this year of a working party for the Royal Dockyards. I think this has come up as a hardy annual since 1946, at least, and I cannot find any more reason to agree to a working party this year than I could in previous years.
I do not know where all this criticism about dockyards comes from. As I have explained before, the dockyards are in a position comparable to the private shipyards of this country, and I have also heard complaints about working conditions in the private shipyards and about their administration. If, every time we heard complaints, we had to set up a working party to inquire into them, far too much time would be spent by our people in looking around to see what other people were doing. I could not agree to a working party unless it was clear that some useful result would come from it. For that reason my hon. Friend will have to leave his request over, at least until the Navy Estimates next year.
My hon. Friend also referred to the question of married quarters for civilian work-people returning from abroad. That is a very difficult problem. It is one we are not unmindful of, but it is one we have to be very careful about. So far as civilian workers are concerned, there is the danger, if housing accommodation is to be provided for civilian workers, of getting into a system of tied cottage which is going to make it 1237 extremely difficult. While it has never been our policy to provide accommodation in home ports for employees who have been abroad, I will look at this matter to see if we can do anything to help them on their return.
I think I have now dealt with most of the points, and I have assured hon. Gentlemen that all their questions will be taken into account. If there is any particular point which any hon. Member would like me to deal with, I shall be only too happy to let him have a reply to his questions by letter. I conclude by thanking the House for the cordial way in which they have received the Estimates, despite the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok, who, I trust, will show, next year, some appreciation of the good work performed by the Admiralty.
§ 12.23 a.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander R. H. Thompson (Croydon, West)
I count myself unfortunate in having been so late in catching your eye. Sir, as I was hoping to get a reply. However, in view of the lateness of the hour, I will endeavour to be brief. The first point I wish to make it to ask whether the Admiralty has fully considered the impact of the enlarged emergency programme on the dockyards and shipbuilding capacity of this country. It seems to me that if we are trying to put through this very large programme at such very short notice, at a time when our shipyards are already choked with work, and when our principal firms have full orders booked for 1952, 1953. and, in some cases, 1954, it will be difficult to accommodate a programme of this size without certain sacrifices being made.
I want to know whether this particular' matter is receiving Admiralty consideration because, after all, it is not just a question of substituting naval ships for merchant ships which might otherwise be going on to the stocks. We have to weigh the possible advantages to the cause of the North Atlantic Treaty Powers of, say, a frigate, or possibly a very large tanker, between all our Allies. There are the competing claims of our merchant marine and also of the exceedingly valuable tonnage which we are building for export at this time. I do not say that we can, at one and the same moment, pay for this programme and afford other commitments. I should like to know what the view of the Admiralty is, and whether 1238 any priorities have been established with a view to trying to sort out the most effective and economical way in which this can be achieved.
The second point I want to make is on this vexed and much discussed question of Russian submarine strength. Whether we take the view, as certain hon. Members have, that this Russian business is a bogy, or whether we do not, the fact remains that the whole justification for this emergency programme is the alleged Russian menace. As the Explanatory Memorandum says:The whole programme is projected towards the underwater menace.So, whatever certain hon. Members may feel, the Admiralty, with the sources of information at its disposal, evidently considers that the Russian menace is sufficiently serious to warrant very drastic steps being taken to meet it. I am perfectly aware that, if we bring into commission every available frigate we have at this time, we shall arrive at a total of 162.
Clearly, the Admiralty does not consider that even that quite impressive figure, coupled with the resources of our Allies, is sufficient to meet this potential threat. Therefore, we have to ask ourselves whether the steps now being taken are adequate or not. I am very glad the Parliamentary Secretary today enlarged on that rather vague statement made in the explanatory Memorandum and told us quite clearly that 24 frigates were proposed, of which 17 were actually on order. But it seems to me that two or three years must elapse, perhaps longer, before the bulk of these are in commission; and the emergency we are seeking to avert is much more immediate and urgent than that. Therefore, I very much hope that the Admiralty will give priority at this stage to the 45 destroyer conversions which, I understand, are in hand.
It is not just a matter of these conversions costing £500,000 apiece as against, I believe, £1⅓ million for a new frigate. It is a question of speed and urgency, and surely these ships can be more expeditiously converted and brought into service than new hulls can be laid down. I hope we shall receive some assurance that the emphasis of the Admiralty programme is on the conversion of these former destroyers and less on the building of new frigates.
1239 I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gosport and Fareham (Surgeon Lieutenant-Commander Bennett) in expressing the view that many of the functions contemplated for aircraft carriers could, in fact, be carried out better by shore-based aircraft. Having had some little operational experience of big carrier operations during the last war I must say that it always struck me as a very hazardous, complicated, and expensive way of operating aircraft. It seems to me that today, with the advances in very long-range aircraft, together with the numerous bases which we and our Allies dispose of throughout the world, many -of the functions of the carrier could be more efficiently performed from the shore.
What is happening to the remaining light fleet carriers of the Majestic class? I believe that they have been held up since 1946. Are they now to be pressed on? Are the Majestic class, and light carriers in general, considered adequate for today's performance? I think their speed is in the neighbourhood of 27 knots and I can recall that in 1945 27 knots was hardly sufficient to get the heavy Corsair fighters off the decks of fleet carriers. As the tendency is for naval aircraft to grow heavier and larger, it seems to me we shall need faster carriers to be sure that they will operate in all conditions in the future.
The figures I have show how the establishment of W.R.N.S. has progressively declined. Now that we are coming to a manpower shortage, and as everyone wishes to see more sailors at sea and less in offices, I think that there is a very good case once again for recruiting W.R.N.S. at least partially on the basis on which they were recruited during the war. I suggest that recruitment is re-opened for those who can only work in certain parts of the country near their homes. Surely there must be a number of sedentary office posts in various naval establishments in the country where locally recruited W.R.N.S. could do the work quite efficiently and economically. With the shortage of man- and woman-power with which we are undoubtedly faced, I suggest that we should take note of this possible source of economy in manpower.
1240 Those are my three points which I had hoped to make earlier, and on which I hope on a future occasion the Civil Lord or the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give me assurances.
§ 12.34 a.m.
§ Mr. Peter Smithers (Winchester)
I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, West (Lieut.-Commander Thompson) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his pursuit of the "Wrens" and other matters. I want first of all, to refer to the speech of the Civil Lord to which I listened with great attention. I do not think that he gave any answer to the argument developed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander (Galbraith). My hon. and gallant Friend spoke for some considerable time about the potential strength of the Soviet Submarine fleet, and he reduced his argument to this question: he asked the Admiralty whether they considered they had sufficient forces to meet 25 modern ocean-going submarines. To that we have not had any reply, and it is rather disquieting.
The Civil Lord began his speech with three wrong statements. His first was, in blaming the Tory Party, to say that at the beginning of the Second World War there was a huge German fleet. That he must, on reflection, know to be inaccurate. His next argument was that the Navy was in a bad state in 1939, but as my hon. Friends who spoke on this side of the House, most of whom served in the Navy, and myself, know, that is quite inaccurate, and the Civil Lord knows it. There was an interesting point—developed by the hon. Gentleman and also by the hon. Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes) in an intervention—that whatever happens there is always the American Navy. I cannot help noticing that whenever there is any criticism of the strength of the British Navy, forgetting the shabby moneylenders and all that, hon. Members opposite say that they are willing to fight to the last American ship.
I now turn to my main argument, which is about another matter. The Parliamentary Secretary—I am sorry he is not here, because I think he would appreciate the argument I wish to put—told us that he hoped that the modest building programme he spoke of would be completed 1241 in the first half of the coming decade. Everyone will agree that in the meanwhile our resources will be stretched very loosely all round the world. We are apt to forget, in making comparisons with 1939, that although the naval problem in itself may not be a much larger problem, the whole world security problem is far larger, and the fact that our resources are to be strained in so many other directions makes the provision for the Navy all the more important.
The particular kind of provision I wish to refer to is that for the Naval Intelligence Service. It will be generally agreed that when our resources are very much extended good intelligence is more important than ever. Good intelligence can save both lives and money in war-time, and, at a time when we are preparing to defend ourselves, if necessary, it can also save waste of resources. Talking of intelligence, I am glad to see that the Parliamentary Secretary is back; I think he understands intelligence and I think he is intelligent. When we talk about intelligence I sometimes feel that the public believe that we are speaking of standing in the dark shadows of some far off dockside doing a little snooping. Anybody who has had anything to do with naval intelligence will know that that is not accurate. The collection is not all done by the Navy. But assessment and interpretation are very complex and important problems which must be solved by the Navy.
We are undoubtedly facing a submarine menace. [Interruption.]If hon. Members think that there is any menace from me, the more they encourage me the more I shall go on. In sea warfare the proper use of intelligence is of greater importance than in any other type of warfare. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is well aware of the immense complexity of the machine which has to be mobilised for that purpose. It is, of course, argued that a successful war effort consists in having the minimum number of civilians and staff at the Admiralty for the administration of the Fleet, but I do not think that that is an argument which can be applied to the Naval Intelligence staff at the Admiralty, to which I want now to refer.
The Naval Intelligence staff is of double importance in view of the fact that naval intelligence, and particularly submarine naval intelligence, is work which we 1242 carry out much better than anybody else; much better than the Americans, and much better, I have no doubt, than any prospective opponents of ours. I therefore hope it will be agreed that the Naval Intelligence staff is a matter of very considerable importance. This is a difficult matter to discuss in the House because the information is rather hard to come by. As one goes through the Estimates one can find, for example, in Vote 12 on page 185, a certain amount of information about the Naval Intelligence staff, and in only one other place, on page 140, do I find something else about the staff. That is all the information the document vouchsafes.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok pointed out that there are 10,000 people at the Admiralty now compared with 4,000 before the war. My view is that the Admiralty is probably fat in the wrong places, as is sometimes, the case. I notice from the Estimates that the total figure of expenditure for the Naval Intelligence staff of the Admiralty is £103,000; that is an increase of only £11,000 over the previous year. It seems to me that, in view of the rising costs of administration, that must indicate that there has certainly been no expansion in that connection. In fact, I very much suspect that there has been a reduction.
§ Mr. Balfour (Stirlingshire, West)
On a point of order. Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to read a whole book to us?
§ Mr. Smithers
I have not read a single line out of the Estimates. I have it with me lest hon. Gentlemen opposite should be interested in checking the figures.
I see that on page 185 there is provision for nine commanders. I have consulted the Navy List and, while that document is restricted and I cannot quote it, I think I can say that that provision is less than the present establishment. I suspect, therefore, that there must be a reduction taking place in that category. I also see provision for 21 lieutenant-commanders and lieutenants, and that again is, I believe, less than the present establishment.
Although there does not seem to be any means of verifying from this report of the establishment for naval attaches, judging by the establishment in the Navy List the naval attaches strength of the Naval In- 1243 telligence organisation is very weak. Very few of them have assistants, and assistant naval attaches are very useful people. In particular, I notice that we do not have, as we had in 1939 on the outbreak of war, an assistant naval attaché, Europe. He was a kind of roving naval attaché who did extremely good service at that time.
I want now to turn to one of the most difficult problems of the Naval Intelligence organisation. That is the fear of naval officers—and I think there may be some foundation for it—that by going to the Naval Intelligence Division, or taking the post of attaché, they are prejudicing their careers. Many who are proposed for these positions against their will and are compelled to take up such posts, when, finally, they give them up, do so with the intention of never again returning to naval intelligence work. That is a most unfortunate thing, because we thus lose the experience of very valuable officers. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to look into the position of the officers carried on this staff and see whether something can be done to remedy this grievance.
I will now sum up what I have to say—unless hon. Members compel me to prolong my speech. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will satisfy himself that conditions in this particular branch of the Service are fair to those who are called upon to go into it. I hope that he will also satisfy himself that when men have served in it, their experience is not lost to the Service. I hope, thirdly, that he will satisfy himself that our knowledge of the preparations of our prospective opponents in any future armed disagreement is adequate. I am sure that if he makes inquiries he will find that it is not. I cannot think that he can be sure that we really know very much about Russian naval strength. I hope that he will make careful inquiries to see whether the Naval Intelligence Staff is not being dangerously squeezed by other Departments, because if that were the case, it would be most disastrous. Fourthly, I would hope that if this is the case, he would do his best to make sure that neither lives nor materials are wasted through lack of intelligence. Finally, it only remains for me to thank hon. Members opposite for attending in such large numbers to hear my speech.
§ 12.44 a.m.
§ Brigadier Clarke (Portsmouth, West)
So that the Parliamentary Secretary will have an opportunity to reply to me, I will try to make myself heard. I will put to the Parliamentary Secretary——
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
On a point of order. Is the hon. and gallant Member not going to observe the conventions of the House and offer congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Stirlingshire, West (Mr. Balfour) who, I understand, has just delivered his maiden speech?
§ Mr. Speaker
That is not a point of order. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is entitled to address the House, even though the last bus has gone.
§ Brigadier Clarke
I know nothing about the hon. Member for Stirlingshire. West (Mr. Balfour).
I had hoped that the Parliamentary Secretary would have replied to the subject of sailors now retained in the Service, about which I have written and spoken to him. I have also raised this question with the Minister of Defence. So far, I have not had a satisfactory answer. Many of the men who are retained have got a gratuity coming to them from 1st September or whatever date they were retained from. They have borrowed against that gratuity prior to being held in the Service, in anticipation of being able to pay back the money when they received it. I have sent particulars of certain cases to the Parliamentary Secretary, but I have had no reply to my questions, which have not been answered by the Minister of Defence. If the Parliamentary Secretary will answer this one. I shall be glad, for I have a number of constituents who are anxious to have that answer. Any time will do.
I would also like to draw attention to the fact that the Royal Fleet Reserve are only getting £5 for being held for 18 months whereas Z reservists are getting £4 for 15 days. It seems that £5 is an inadequate sum to offer for 18 months. Earlier this year I raised the question of naval personnel who were due to get £100 bounty but were unable to get it, because they signed on before 1st September. We were told this was being looked into. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will give an answer to that one also. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for 1245 Gosport and Fareham (Surgeon Lieut.-Commander Bennett) also raised this matter on 26th February in an Adjournment debate. We were told then that we would get ah answer, but we have not had it so far.
Another matter I would like to raise relates to naval constructors. There are three ways in which these men can get into the Navy—as a fourth year shipwright apprentice, as a first-class honours graduate from a major university or as a selected engineer officer. There are few entering as fourth year shipwrights: no first-class honours man will take the wages now being offered for constructors, and the engineer officers are not inclined to accept that wage either.
I will quote the different wages these officers get: constructor lieutenant at Greenwich 16s. 6d. a day, whereas a sub-lieutenant receives 17s. 6d. a. day if he is not a constructor. A lieutenant R.N., on promotion to that rank, gets 21s. 6d. a day, which is a great deal more than the 16s. 6d. a day allowed for constructors. Good naval constructors will not be obtained until they are paid adequately. These constructor lieutenants have to live in the wardroom as do other officers: they have exactly the same expenses as those officers who are not constructors. At the present rate that constructors are running down, there will be a great shortage of constructors in the reasonably foreseeable future. This is the sort of thing that we Tories have been telling the opposite side on many subjects, but they have failed to take any notice of us until it has been too late.
Recently, only three apprentices made themselves available for six vacancies for constructors. That shows that even the apprentices are not taking up these jobs. We are unlikely to get graduates, and I cannot understand engineer officers going in for the Service. The conditions for constructors must be improved if we are to induce them to join the Service.
I agree with the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) about merit awards. They have a merit in that more men in the dockyards get more money than they used to. At the same time, the system leaves itself open to favouritism, and we are fairly often faced with men who think that they should have had a merit award. It is very diffi- 1246 cult for the men in charge to decide which of five or six men should receive an award, as they are unable to give it to them all.
I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will be very glad to learn of the recent rise in dockyard wages. Everyone will agree that it was quite wrong to have 450 men at Portsmouth dockyard on a wage of under £4 15s. a week with the cost of living what it is today. The hon. and gallant Member for Gillingham (Squadron Leader Burden) and I played a great part in getting that extra money. The Admiralty were very reluctant to move until pressed by my hon. Friend and myself on more than one occasion.
§ Mr. Speaker
I understood the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) was raising a point of order. Was that not so?
§ Mr. Snow
I did not use the expression "fool." I would not dream of saying that. I said that I could not prevent him making an hon. and gallant buffoon of himself. His boast that he and his hon. Friend had a great deal to do with getting the rise will not serve him in very great stead among the trade unionists of Portsmouth.
§ Brigadier Clarke
I do not think that the hon. Member had any right to suggest that I was making a buffoon of myself. I have a perfect right to speak. I think we got the rise in the dockyard wages and he thinks that the trade unions did it. Well, we are both happy. My constituents at Portsmouth showed their regard for the hon. Member by asking him to go to Lichfield. Otherwise, they might still be without that rise.
1247 I now want to touch upon a matter on which I feel both sides of the House will be in agreement. It is the question of unmarried mothers——
§ Brigadier Clarke
I am 'about to explain to hon. Members. [Laughter.]I am quite serious on this matter. I do not raise it facetiously. I have a number of unmarried mothers in my constituency and they are in a very bad way.
§ Mr. Speaker
Unmarried mothers cannot possibly come into the Navy Estimates. Surely the hon. and gallant Gentleman is father making a reflection both on the Royal Navy and on the ladies of Portsmouth.
§ Brigadier Clarke
These unmarried mothers are dependent on sailors in Korea; that is how they come into the debate. During the last war the unmarried mother was recognised and given a married woman's allowance.
§ Captain Field (Paddington, North) rose——
§ Brigadier Clarke
The sailor or soldier goes into the Services, and is either married, and gets a marriage allowance, or does not; but if a man is called up against his will, and happens to have somebody dependent on him, he is entitled to draw something for the maintenance of the woman concerned. I am not going into the morals of the case at all, but would ask the Parliamentary Secretary merely to answer the letter which I have written to him.
I have only one other small point to make, and that is that I do think the Admiralty ought to house sailors when they leave the Service. The authorities could easily recommend housing committees to give a certain number of points for the men who have done overseas service. I do put this very seriously to the Parliamentary Secretary. I apologise for speaking so late in the debate, but I would point out that I have been here since 3.30 yesterday afternoon.
§ 1.4 a.m.
§ Mr. Richard Fort (Clitheroe)
I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary about the condition of the equipment in the Reserve Fleet because if. unhappily, hostilities broke out, we should have to rely to a large extent on the resources of the Reserve Fleet to face the enemy, and deal with him. We have, heard about the Fleet which the Russian enemy may have, to put against us. The Russians have cruisers and submarines, and to deal with these vessels on the surface, our Reserve Fleet will undoubtedly have to make full use of modern gunnery equipment, including the range finding and radar and computer equipment which has been developed over the last few years. That gunnery equipment is 'very much more complicated than it was during the Second World War.
In recent years, the ingenuity of the naval constructors and of the. scientists associated with them has been able to bring into the ships some. of. the mathematical computation equipment which have been worked out to solve some of the most complicated mathematical sums with which science is nowadays confronted.. To bring that on to the ships they have had to introduce exceedingly complicated electrical circuits, with their valves, repeaters, and all the rest of the equipment, so as to get the guns quickly and accurately trained on to the enemy. I am told on some of the more straight-forward circuits that 3,000 electronic valves are involved.
To keep this very complicated equipment in operation, there must clearly be technicians, who are familiar with it and who have had a long training, to keep it working correctly and to repair it should any of its intricacies go astray. With the Reserve Fleet as it is today, the radar operators and the electronic technicians who received their training during the Second World War will find this new equipment well beyond the experience which they have had in the past, unless they are given not several weeks, but several months of training, when they are confronted with it.
I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that either the Admiralty should bring in people right away to learn about this latest equipment and to study its working on every ship, or they should take very much more care than they are taking at present to have it standardised. 1249 I understand that the United States Navy, with this problem before them—and it is common to all navies who wish to engage the enemy as it should be engaged nowadays—have standardised to a degree which is far beyond anything which we have in the British Navy at present.
I ask what action the naval designers are taking either to standardise the gun-laying equipment—this electronic equipment—so that if a man is trained on one ship he can move into another ship and undertake its supervision and proper operation. Or. alternatively, if that is not possible, that in the case of the different types of ships which are built for the British Navy they make proper training arrangements so that people are, as it were, brought up with the equipment which, in fact, they will have to handle, should hostilities, unhappily, start.
I would like to hear from the Government Benches, how they intend to face the problem of making the best use of the Reserve Fleet at the present time, equipped, as it is, with this highly complicated electronic equipment. Unless they are making special arrangements for this, we are defrauding ourselves. We have a Reserve Fleet which sounds all right when it is described in this House, but from the point of view of a Fleet which can immediately engage an enemy should hostilities start, we should find we are relying on something which, in fact, cannot be brought into immediate operations. I ask those who will be giving us in-, formation on this subject what arrangements they are making to ensure that the latest scientific devices are used to the best possible advantage.
§ Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.
§ Supply accordingly considered in Committee.
§ [Colonel Sir CHARLES MACANDREW in the Chair]