§ MR. J. P. L. THOMAS' STATEMENT
§ Order for Committee read.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ The First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
This is the seventh occasion on which I have taken part in the discussion of the Navy Estimates from one or other of the Front Benches, but it is the first time that I have had the honour of introducing the Estimates themselves. I noticed in the defence debate yesterday that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was criticised for choosing a Minister of Defence—and a very good new Minister of Defence—from another place; but if that choice means the return of the job of First Lord of the Admiralty to the House of Commons after six years, then I must confess that the Prime Minister's action has my own unqualified approval.
I realise that, so far as the past is concerned, I am reporting on the stewardship of my predecessors for three-quarters of the last year, and I hope to avoid claiming for the present Government any virtues which belong to the past one. But I have some sympathy for the ex-Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), who, I believe, is to follow me today, for he is perhaps in a greater difficulty. If he wishes to charge the present régime with sins and omissions in the last annual record, he will have to be very careful that those sins and omissions took place after 25th October. If it is any consolation to him, I was faced with an even greater difficulty in 1946 when I had to follow a First Lord who only a few months before had been my chief at the Admiralty.
I must ask the House to bear with me for a few moments while I explain some rather complicated figures in this year's Estimates.
The sum of money for which I had intended to ask today was £357,250,000 or £78,750,000 more than the sum voted 661 for 1951–52. However, we have reached an agreement with the United States Government, since the Estimates were prepared, about the application of sterling counterpart of American aid to defence expenditure, so I have also presented a Revised Estimate providing for the expected naval share, namely, £25 million, to be taken as an additional appropriation-in-aid. The result of this is that the net cash grant which will be required for naval expenditure in 1952–53 will be £332,250,000, or only £53,750,000 in excess of that voted for 1951–52. The total size of the programme remains unaltered.
I am also presenting concurrently a Supplementary Estimate for 1951–52. This shows that expenditure on naval services in the current financial year is likely to exceed the gross provision for the year by £3 million. Hon. Members will recollect that the Statement explanatory of the 1951–52 Estimates set out that it had not been possible to make detailed provision for the further measures to speed up naval preparedness announced by the then Prime Minister and that the House would be approached in due course for a supplementary grant. The Supplementary Estimate makes provision for the many frigates, minesweepers, seaward defence vessels and coastal craft which were added in 1951–52 to the original new construction programme.
As it happens, despite a liability for increased prices, there has been an under-spending of some £17 million in the programme of the original Estimates for 1951–52 while the expenditure on the acceleration programme, itself barely half what we expected, taken together with other liabilities which I have outlined in the Supplementary Estimate, amounts to about £20 million. The estimated net over-spending on gross provision for 1951–52, is, therefore, £3 million, a sum which can be more than met from additional receipts during the year, so that my Supplementary Estimate is for a token sum of £10.
In 1952–53 we shall need more funds to meet the rise in the tempo of the rearmament programme. Not only shall we have to provide for the continuation of work on the original new construction programme and on the additional vessels 662 to which I have just referred, but in addition we shall have a further programme of new construction of similar vessels which I have described in the printed Estimates. We have made, as is usual, allowances for possible under-spending in the coming year's programme. We have also taken into account higher prices and pay increases for civilian staff and in industry. The House may be certain, however, that I intend to make all possible economies and reductions in expenditure at home and overseas wherever this can be done without affecting the efficiency of the Service.
In looking back upon the last year, I feel that all ranks and ratings of the Royal Navy would wish me to put on record in this House their great personal grief at the death of His Majesty King George VI. They remember his active service with many of them during the earlier years of his life; they remember also not only his close interest in their problems but the advice and guidance which he gave so unstintingly from his great source of personal knowledge at all times. Perhaps the affection towards His Majesty can best be illustrated by letting the House know that never have so many requests been made in the Commands concerned to form part of the crews of the gun carriages in London and in Windsor as a last tribute to their sailor King.
This last year has been one of exceptional activity for the Royal Navy; during it, the House will not be surprised to hear, the Navy has been able to meet efficiently the very varying tasks indeed with which it has been faced. The war in Korea has kept our naval forces there employed on constant operations, and we have provided a substantial part of the United Nations Task Group under a British Flag Officer on the west coast. This Task Group has included units of the Royal Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and Netherlands Navies and of the United States Navy in support of the Security Council's resolutions.
The co-operation between the Commonwealth Forces has been excellent. At the end of September, 1951, H.M.A.S. "Sydney" replaced H.M.S. "Glory" as the Commonwealth carrier in Korean waters while the latter was refitted and her air crews rested in Australia. For four months of winter weather, until she 663 was relieved by H.M.S. "Glory," the "Sydney" most fully maintained the very high standards set by her predecessor in this area. We are grateful to the Australian Government and to the Royal Australian Navy for this relief and we congratulate H.M.A.S. "Sydney" on her very fine achievement.
Cruisers, destroyers and frigates have operated close inshore, often in very difficult and treacherous waters, and they have carried out many successful bombardments. One patrol, owing to narrow waters, had actually to stop and turn on its anchor under heavy fire. The House will remember another occasion, when a crashed Russian fighter was recovered from a river sandbank under the nose of the enemy by small craft—a really remarkable operation and a very useful one from the information angle, as this fighter was the first of its type.
Aircraft from our carriers have patrolled the coast, spotted for bombardments and ranged far inland to attack enemy targets, communications and positions in the face of some very determined opposition. The House will realise from the following figures what a remarkable record in flying intensity and in freedom from accidents our carriers have put up in the Korean theatre of war. In H.M.S. "Glory" last summer each pilot averaged between 40 and 50 flying hours a month—a very high figure—and the average serviceability of aircraft was nearly 90 per cent. Earlier in the year, as the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East, told us in the last Estimates debate, the pilots of H.M.S. "Theseus" had carried out more than 1,000 successive deck landings and almost as many catapult launches under operational conditions without even one mishap.
These feats call for a tribute, which I am sure the House will be glad to pay, to the efforts of not only the air crews but also the technical members of the ships' companies who have maintained this equipment at such a high pitch of efficiency and often in the face of great difficulties. But looking back on this last year, our tribute should go not only to naval aviation, but to all units of the Fleet, which have been operating most efficiently in those distant waters for long periods and far away from their base.
664 In January last the work of the 41st Independent Commando, Royal Marines, in Korea came to an end. This unit numbered about 200 officers and other ranks and they served with very great distinction. Above all, we shall remember their fighting withdrawal from the Chosin Reservoir, and we add our tribute to the very high one paid to this unit by the United States Commander when he said:Your superb achievements have been a source of inspiration to freedom-loving people the world over and will go down in history's brightest pages.The unit has now been disbanded those who served in it for nine months or more have returned to the United Kingdom, while the remainder have been drafted to No. 3 Commando Brigade in Malaya. This Brigade will move from Malaya to Malta by 1st July, 1952. It will then have served for two years under operational conditions in Malaya, and will be relieved as part of the rotation of infantry units. For the majority of its Malayan service the brigade, in conjunction with the police, has been responsible for the security of the State of Perak. These troops have had ample opportunities to engage the Communist bandits and to date they have accounted for 171 bandits killed and 48 captured at a loss to themselves of four officers and 15 other ranks killed.
In recognition of their many operational successes 18 decorations and 25 mentions in despatches have been awarded to ranks of the brigade. During its service in Malaya, the 3rd Commando Brigade, Royal Marines, has received many commendations, including that recently sent by the High Commissioner, General Sir Gerald Templer, and there is no doubt that it has maintained its high reputation under unpleasant and most difficult conditions.
Although the experience gained on these operations has been of great value, there has been a disadvantage that the brigade has had little opportunity to train for its primary role, that of amphibious operations. This will be remedied on its arrival in the Mediterranean, where it will be able to carry out that amphibious training in conjunction with Royal Naval and Army units. During my recent visit to Malta I was able to visit the Royal Marine Training Centre there and I was 665 most impressed by what I saw: the scheme of training is as thorough and imaginative as any that I have ever seen.
In Malayan waters also ships and light craft have maintained patrols round the coast to prevent gun-running and infiltration by bandits.
The House will remember the part played by the Royal Navy in the Persian Gulf during last year. It was a difficult time in very trying weather conditions, for which some of H.M. ships present were ill-adapted. Decks were so hot that the ships' cats put up a pantomine performance by appearing in boots! I should like to put on record our gratitude for the cheerfulness of the officers and of the men under these very trying conditions and in this unhappy episode.
Then comes the work of the Royal Navy in the Canal Zone since Egypt claimed to abrogate the Treaty, last October. I do not wish to take any credit away from the Canal Company, which I believe is extremely efficient, but the House will get some idea of the help given by the Royal Navy when we find that no fewer than 3,432 ships of all nations, 57 per cent. of which were foreign ships, were berthed and unberthed up to the end of February by the Royal Navy. I was lucky enough to meet, during my recent visit to Malta, many of those who helped in this vital work of getting shipping through the Canal, and I was glad to tell them personally of our gratitude, which I am sure is shared by many nations who were helped to get their ships through this great international waterway.
We should make a point of remembering something which the ex-Parliamentary Secretary made a point of in his Estimates speech last year and of which I would remind the House now. It is that all these actions I have described by the Royal Navy, off Korea, Malaya, Persia and in the Suez Canal, have been additional to the Royal Navy's normal peacetime duties. Today we have the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. The birth of that organisation has made it necessary to have large and small-scale exercises between the navies concerned.
I have described in my explanatory paper the exercises and manoeuvres which have lately taken place, and I will not weary the House now with a repetition of them, except to add that, as each exercise takes place, it is an improvement in 666 co-operation upon its predecessor, which has not always been the case.
I now turn to the progress of the rearmament programme. The year 1951–52 has been the first complete financial year of that programme. The main purpose of the past Government and the present one has been the build-up of our naval strength, including our naval aircraft, to meet the under-water menace in all its forms. These forms are many. For this reason, Her Majesty's Government and the previous Government have set out to modernise existing carriers, submarines, destroyers and frigates. We are doing all we can to improve the speed of building of ships in these categories which are at present under construction, and we are building more frigates and minesweepers, as the White Paper has told the House.
The Prime Minister explained in yesterday's debate in his statement on defence, and also in his speech, that the programme, being a maximum programme, was liable to inevitable delays, and that by last autumn it was clear that it was slowing down because of production difficulties and by the worsening of our balance of payments. To keep up the rate of progress for which we had hoped, we obviously had to have sufficient labour, raw materials, machine tools and manufacturing capacity available.
There are shortages in all these categories, and although the programme will be achieved, indeed will, in the end, be more than achieved in certain important fields, this process will take more than the original three years which the last Government thought would be the period. I think I should stress that we are particularly short of labour on naval work in the shipyards, which are, of course, fully engaged with their merchant programmes, and that if construction of Her Majesty's ships is not to suffer we shall need considerably more men at work on them.
It is true that the number of Admiralty industrials in Her Majesty's dockyards and naval establishments in the United Kingdom has increased by 3,000 to 100,000 during 1951, but we still need more labour of a certain type, and particularly of craftsmen. Our major shortage, however, is of shipwrights; we need 600 in the Royal Dockyards and 200 could be taken at once at Portsmouth, where the reconstruction of H.M.S. "Victorious" has been seriously delayed.
667 Apart from these shortages, it is obvious from what I have said that the dockyards are working to capacity on naval work, and they are undertaking the major part of the modernisation and the conversion programme in addition to the normal refit and repair of Active and Reserve Fleet ships.
While I am talking about staffs and workers, and before I continue with the re-armament programme, perhaps the House will let me digress for a couple of minutes and talk about the size of the Admiralty non-industrial civilian staffs, and in particular the Headquarters' staffs—
§ Mr. Thomas
—which have been so often criticised in this House, particularly by the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just interrupted and by myself, in past debates.
§ Mr. Thomas
I want to assure hon. Members that I have been tackling this problem. I found that the numbers were rising substantially, due to the great increase in the scale of production, research and development, works services and general planning.
My first aim has been to restrict increases to those grades of civilians where shortages are holding up vital work: naval constructors, electrical engineers, electrical draughtsmen are all examples of the grades I mean. My second aim has been to make economies in other grades of staff by concentrating on essentials. This I am doing by the inspection of complements and methods of work, simplification of organisation and the adoption of more business-like procedures.
I can say this to the House at least, that I have reached the stage when I am satisfied that it will be possible to limit the numbers of staff to below the figures shown in the present Estimates, but until my investigations are finished, I think it will be rash of me to have a guess at the actual figures of the reductions which I hope to achieve.
Let me now turn to the production programme. We estimate that some £38 million will be spent on new construction 668 during 1952–53. More than 80 per cent. of this will be ships already under construction, such as "Ark Royal," the four "Hermes" class light fleet carriers, the six "Daring" class destroyers and frigates of four types as well as a large number of coastal and inshore minesweepers.
The fleet carrier "Eagle" has completed, and is now in commission, while her sister ship, the "Ark Royal," is fitting out and is expected to be completed in 1954. I feel that the House will want a special word from me about H.M.S. "Eagle," in spite of the fact that the Prime Minister mentioned her at some length in the debate yesterday. Only a few days ago, on 1st March, to be exact, she was accepted into Royal Naval service following the completion of her sea trials. The Prime Minister in his speech yesterday mentioned the other H.M.S. "Eagle" of Elizabethan times, and perhaps I may therefore add that it is interesting and very fitting that the first new ship to join the Royal Navy since the accession of Her Majesty the Queen is one which she herself launched at Belfast in 1946.
H.M.S. "Eagle" will be able to handle larger and faster aircraft, and to handle them more quickly and with greater ease, than any previous carrier of the Royal Navy. The "Eagle's" two hangars are served by high-speed lifts; the flight deck covers an area of more than two acres, and the catapults for launching aircraft are more powerful than any that the Royal Navy have used up till now. The aircraft are put into position for loading into the catapults by an automatic device which should greatly speed-up launching operations. Very much improved arrester gear will accept landings by faster and heavier aircraft than any previously launched from our carriers and the new system of flight-deck lighting will make the operation of jet aircraft possible by night as well as by day.
H.M.S. "Eagle" will have a peacetime complement of 88 officers and 1,337 ratings, excluding the complement of air squadrons embarked in her. I hope it will be possible very soon to arrange visits for Members of Parliament to see this great ship for themselves. It is our wish that the "Hermes" class—
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Before the First Lord leaves the question of the "Eagle," can he tell us what it cost?
§ Mr. Thomas
It is in the Estimates. I am concealing nothing. The figure is a little over £15 million.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am sorry to interrupt again, but can the First Lord say whether that figures includes the cost of the guns?
§ Mr. Thomas
The cost of a little over £15 million covers everything. Later in my speech, when referring to modern equipment, I shall be speaking of the mass of modern equipment which the "Eagle" carries. I hope to satisfy the hon. Member, when he has heard the rest of my speech, that the money has been well spent.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
Would the First Lord be good enough to tell us when he expects that the aircraft will be embarked on the "Eagle"?
§ Mr. Thomas
I am afraid that I cannot say at the moment. I will let the hon. Gentleman know as soon as I have the answer.
I turn to the "Hermes" class of light fleet carriers, which are urgently required in service to match the production of modern high performance aircraft. It is our wish that they should be completed with as little delay as possible. The contractor's sea trials of "Centaur," the first ship of the class, are expected to begin early next year and will be followed by those of "Albion" in the spring of 1953.
The only carrier of the "Majestic" class in hand is "Majestic" herself and she is being completed for the Royal Australian Navy whose other carrier, H.M.A.S. "Sydney" has—as I have told the House earlier in my speech—done such valuable work in Korean waters. The "Tiger" class cruisers—it has come up in almost every Navy Estimates debate in the last few years—remain suspended while we are waiting for further development of armament and fire control.
Two of the "Daring" class destroyers—"Daring" itself and "Diamond"—are now complete. The remainder, except the "Diana," should be finished during the coming financial year. H.M.S. 670 "Diana" should complete in the summer of 1953. These destroyers are virtually what would have been looked upon as a light cruiser 20 years ago, and they are indeed the last word in destroyers. I am sure that the House will be glad to see those old names back in service, especially in view of the gallant but tragic losses of their namesakes during the last war.
The House will be especially interested in our new frigates and they will see in my Explanatory Memorandum that they are of four types—two types for antisubmarine work, a third for anti-aircraft and a fourth for aircraft direction. Hon. Members may wonder why it has not been possible to produce an all-purpose vessel. The answer is that modern equipment is now so great that it will not go into one vessel of a reasonable size. No one ship, therefore, can carry all, but at the same time each type can do some of the work of the other type. Two of these new types of anti-submarine frigates are laid down and well under way. That is all I have to say of this particular part of the programme at the moment.
There are orders already for substantial numbers of coastal and inshore minesweepers. They have been placed and a number of these vessels should be completed before the Navy Estimates next year. These vessels carry with them a mass of special equipment in the form of sweeps and other gear which we are producing at very high pressure.
Not least amongst our defences against the menace of mines in coastal waters is, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, the quick and accurate spotting of these mines as they fall so that the water can be speedily cleared. For this purpose, we have started recruiting for the Royal Naval Minewatching Service. Our present plans aim at getting 30,000 civilian volunteers of whom we hope that over half will do full-time paid service if war should unfortunately come. They will be working in co-operation with the Royal Navy and, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, they will be performing, in the event of war, a most invaluable service.
The modernising of the cruisers "Birmingham," "Newcastle" and "Newfoundland," which is nearly finished, has greatly improved their effectiveness. As soon as they have finished, further cruisers will be taken in hand for modernisation.
671 I come to the "Rocket" and "Relentless," of which the House has heard before—prototype destroyer conversions to first-rate anti-submarine frigates. These are now completed successfully and a further conversion programme is under way. Anyone who has seen the complicated gear in these ships will understand what I mean when I speak of the need for four types of frigates. There are 13 of these conversions now in hand and each vessel takes about 18 months to convert.
A more limited form of frigate conversion has been undertaken. The prototype of this simpler type of conversion—the "Tenacious"—was finished in January, and four more are in hand. This limited conversion takes only 11 months. The work of improving the efficiency of existing destroyers and frigates by installing new anti-submarine equipment, gunnery and fire control is continuing, and five vessels are now in hand. Then we have the modernisation of submarines. Two submarines have been satisfactorily completed during the year and many others are in hand as my White Paper shows, for 1952–53. This will mean a considerable increase in under water speed.
Let me say of the Reserve Fleet that there is a very marked improvement in the state of its effectiveness now that practically all the vessels have been refitted. That is particularly encouraging. The task was a colossal one as most of them had seen pretty strenuous war service. The officers and men who carry out the not very inspiring duty of keeping them efficient must feel that they now have vessels which are really worthy of their care.
I hope that the House will think this news of the Reserve Fleet most encouraging, as in many quarters there were doubts on this particular question, which I must say I myself shared. So I withdraw the criticisms which I made on this subject in the debate on the last Navy Estimates, and I congratulate the previous régime, followed now by us, in putting the Reserve Fleet in so good and encouraging a condition.
§ Mr. Callaghan
That is a most gracious withdrawal to which I could take no exception, but why did the right hon. Gentleman persist in his criticism last 672 year when I made the same statement as he is now making and told the House that all the ships in the Reserve Fleet had had at least one refit since they were put in reserve?
§ Mr. Thomas
I am afraid that I did criticise the hon. Gentleman last year, certainly I did so the year before, and I apologise. I have read his speech on the occasion of the Navy Estimates more than once, with great interest, but I was not aware he had given so many details as I have given the House today. If so, I owe him a second apology, to be added to the one I have already given him.
Much of what I have already said in this first part of my speech is the result of our research and development programme. That programme is planned with the maximum co-operation between the Commonwealth, United States of America and the nations of N.A.T.O. The House will see from the Explanatory White Paper that in the field of submarines in general a great emphasis has been placed on propulsion. Much has already been done in our investigations into the use of oxygen-bearing fuels and nuclear energy.
I wish I could tell the House more about that, but for obvious reasons the House will not expect me to give these details of the progress in the development of our submarines, except to say that in this generation of atomic energy the submarine is of particular interest in view of the fact that atomic energy is independent of oxygen supply. The possibilities, therefore, are very great, particularly as regards endurance.
A new detector has been developed for dangerous concentration of hydrogen and other gases in submarines. We are also paying the closest attention to submarine escape. By mid-summer this year we hope to complete the construction of a 100 foot escape tower which will primarily be used for training for escape, using free ascent from the one-man escape chamber with which all new submarines are to be equipped. This tower will also be used for escape training for personnel from submarines now in service. Then there is a new type of breathing set which is being developed for assisting escape with present methods, and a new type of life jacket is being manufactured for issue.
673 Then I come to the rescue bell which has been mentioned in the House during the last few months. It has been obtained from America and is undergoing trials at the present time. Trials are also going on of a new buoy fitted with a light. These have been successful and the new buoys are now being manufactured for service. Trials are also going on with this new buoy fitted with an automatic wireless telegraphy beacon.
In the field of anti-submarine work, there is a numerous and fairly well-equipped enemy to be faced if war should come. As the House knows, the Asdic, the aircraft, the depth charge, the torpedo, radar and ahead-throwing weapons are all part of the antisubmarine team and the reports on progress in all those fields are encouraging. We have had trials of the special lightweight, high-powered Diesel engine of an advanced design. Those have been continuing satisfactorily during the past year. Sea trials are now being held and we are making plans for large-scale production.
The location of H.M.S. "Affray"—which is such a gloomy chapter in the naval history of the past few months—was an example of the progress which is continually going on. It was located by equipment which passed its prototype trials in 1948 and had just been fitted in searching ships a few months before the disaster. To have sent down divers to examine every one of the wrecks in the area where the "Affray" sank might have taken an infinitely long time, and this new device for distinguishing between one type of wreck and another was of the greatest value, as my predecessors at the Admiralty in the last régime will remember. The final identification of the "Affray" was achieved by using recently developed under-water television, a device which had in fact reached the prototype stage.
Last June the former Parliamentary Secretary told the House that the policy for the fitting of indicator buoys in submarines had been reviewed. The present practice is to provide two buoys, one at each end of the vessel, and they are intended for release by hand in emergency and to rise to the surface, giving the name of the submarine and its position. We have considered a number of schemes for releasing these buoys auto 674 matically, but I am told that none increases the chance of saving life, and all suffer from the disadvantage that they would have to be removed or rendered inoperative in time of war. As it is already possible, as long as anyone remains alive to do so, to give indication of the position of a submarine from any compartment, the Board of Admiralty have decided, after the fullest consideration, that no change in the present practice is warranted. Accordingly automatically released indicator buoys will not be fitted to Her Majesty's submarines.
A great deal of valuable information about the latest torpedoes has been obtained from trials with models and certain full-scale components, including one which will seek out and destroy its target, no matter what evasive tactics that target may adopt. Much work has also been done in mine warfare and mine counter-measures, for, as I have said before, they are bound to play an exceedingly important part in war.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the question of anti-submarine measures, has anything been done to develop the submarine itself as an anti-submarine weapon? That point was raised in several previous Estimates debates and I am wondering whether anything has happened.
§ Mr. Thomas
Yes, it has, and I am sorry that I have no details with me. If I can, I will try to provide the hon. and learned Member with details at the end of the debate. There is a great deal to say and I have had to miss out some things.
§ Mr. Thomas
Various measures to meet the mine menace are under development at high priority, including new and more efficient minesweeps.
Now we come to the speed of the aircraft, which is always increasing and is always presenting new problems for defence. By the time a shell from the main anti-aircraft armament of a ship reaches the range of its target, the aircraft will have moved on 1,000 yards, so that in the air the shell fired from astern is hard put to it to catch up with the aircraft it is pursuing. Guided weapons are obviously the answer to this problem. At 675 the same time we are trying to improve our gunnery systems to combat the fast aircraft.
As I am talking about production, I want to say one word about ship welding. The naval architects and ship builders of the world have been very worried of late by the breaking up during gales of two American all-welded cargo vessels built during the late war. Fortunately, no similar mishaps have fallen on British ships during winter gales, but we do not want to be too complacent on that account. I am glad to tell the House that a great deal of research work in this field is going on at Rosyth and we regard this not only as a very important but as an essential duty.
Now let me turn to naval aviation. Every naval officer now recognises that this is the main striking power of the Fleet, and naval aviation today employs nearly one-quarter of the total manpower of the Navy. It is, of course, important for officers and men of the Navy today to be as air-minded as they are sea-minded. I must say a few words about the characteristics of the front-line aircraft which have come, or are coming, into use, and also about the development of the steam catapult.
The present single-seater day-fighter, the "Sea Fury," which has proved most effective in the strike-role in Korea, is at present being replaced by the "Attacker" jet fighter. The "Attacker" is, however, only a stop-gap until the arrival of the "Sea Hawk," which is now being built and to which the Navy is looking forward. I hope it will be in service during the coming year. It will carry four 20 mm. guns and a rocket battery.
§ Mr. Thomas
Four 20 mm. guns and a rocket battery, and it will have both greater endurance and considerably higher speed than the "Attacker." We also have on order a two-seat all-weather night and day jet-fighter, the "Sea Venom." This has armament similar to the "Sea Hawk." For anti-submarine work we have the "Firefly" Marks V and VI, in service. We are developing a swept-back jet-engined interceptor fighter. At the moment I cannot tell the House details of the performance of this aircraft, but I can assure hon. Members 676 that it promises to be quite outstanding. Not only are we aiming for the best aircraft for attack and defence, but we are not overlooking the potentialities of the helicopter for anti-submarine work as well as for rescue work.
Hon. Members will have read of the steam catapult. It is a high-performance catapult.
§ Mr. Callaghan
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the question of naval aviation and types, can he tell us how the G.R. 17 is coming along and when it is likely to be in service?
§ Mr. Callaghan
I told the House last year that it was expected this would be in service at the end of this year. Has the programme dropped back? If so, will not the right hon. Gentleman tell us by how much? That was not a secret last year, so presumably it is not a secret now. I hope he will not be carried away too much by the desire of the Intelligence boys to keep everything under their hats.
§ Mr. Thomas
It is not a question of being carried away by the intelligence boys. There are reasons why I cannot tell the House today even as much as the hon. Member told the House last year. If I could give him a date, I certainly would, but it is quite impossible. If he is particularly interested in it, perhaps we might have a word later. I was talking about the steam catapult. It is a high performance catapult capable of launching the most modern carrier-borne aircraft. It is highly satisfactory. Trials have been taking place in home waters and also equally successful trials have taken place in America. This new apparatus will be installed for operational use in carriers of the Royal Navy, the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Canadian Navy.
The amount of steam required for sustained operation is, of course, considerable but preliminary trials have proved that the demand put upon the main boilers can be met without interfering with the satisfactory operation of the ship. This outstanding development will, obviously, have a very far-reaching effect indeed on naval air tactics by reducing the need for carriers to steam for long periods into the wind in order 677 to fly off their aircraft. Indeed, I am told that under certain conditions it will be possible through this invention to launch aircraft from a stationary ship.
Of course, all this build-up of naval aviation means that we have got to have our airfields and shore accommodation adequate for these new aircraft. There has to be lengthening and modernising of runways to meet the needs of the jet aircraft. The U.S. Navy has been very generous in offering us a chance to under-take pilot training out there to help with our air expansion while these alterations are going on, so that our programme of training will not be held up during the alterations to the runways to modernise them to meet the needs of the jet aircraft. So much for production and naval aviation.
I now come to the problems of manpower. Obviously, we have got to find a sufficient number of properly qualified men for the aircraft, ships and weapons about which I have been speaking. As the House knows, the rapid increase of naval manpower in 1951–52 was mainly the result of the retention of time-expired Regulars and the recall of selected Royal Fleet Reservists for a period of 18 months. By these means, and by continuing the steady build-up of the normal Vote A. the total strength reached 147,000 at the end of 1951. This made it possible to meet not only the increasing demands of the re-armament programme, but also our very special requirements of the war in Korea.
In my Supplementary Estimate for 1951–52, I show an increased Vote A of 149,000 as the strength that will be reached at the end of the present financial year. For 1952–53, Vote A provides for an overriding maximum strength of 153,000, which will be reached about October next. From then onwards until the end of the financial year, there will be a reduction in this total, because increased numbers are due for release. This will cause shortages in certain categories of skilled maintenance ratings, for there will be no more available in the Royal Fleet Reserve to be called up to replace those going out.
The House will have seen in the Defence White Paper that the Navy can- not look forward to releasing its recalled and retained personnel as quickly as the 678 Army and the Royal Air Force. Retentions are still on the 18 months basis announced at the beginning of 1951, and no early reduction is possible if the Navy is to continue in 1952 to keep more ships at sea.
I hope the House will realise that the position of the Royal Navy is different from that of the other two Services. It relies more on men of long experience and high technical ability, and dilution in this respect cannot go beyond a certain degree.
The warship is a unique concentration of technical equipment. This meets the point asked earlier by the hon. Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes). Technical equipment consists of electrical, radar, engineering and armament power which, in the other two Services, is dispersed over a large number of units. The Navy, to a far greater extent than the other two Services, is constantly fighting a hostile natural element—the sea. With the concentration of warlike assets in a few valuable and costly ships, every possible step towards eliminating mistakes and accidents is justified. The House will realise that naval history has demonstrated the fundamental necessity for experienced ratings throughout the ship retaining their efficiency in the teeth of a gale, as well as in the calm of the harbour. Consider for a moment H.M.S. "Eagle." Think of the responsibilities of her ship's company. She, apart from all her strategic significance, cost £15. million—I now have the exact figure, for which I was asked.
I am well aware that great disappointment will be caused when sailors see the earlier releases in the other two Services, but I can at least give the House the assurance that we will do everything in our power to cut down the period of service as soon as possible. Our aim is to begin that cut in 1953, but I cannot yet say when the retentions will cease altogether. I am afraid, however, that this policy will mean continued call-up of the Royal Fleet Reserve which, as the House knows, is the Navy's first-line Reserve. This Reserve will be increased from 1953 onwards by substantial numbers of short service men who have an automatic Reserve liability after their engagements have expired.
679 We are also simplifying re-entry to help to redress the shortage of senior ratings by attracting men who left at the end of the war. At the same time, we are offering inducements to recalled Reservists to enter special engagements of five and seven years beyond the 18 months' compulsory service, with the option later of completing time for pension. We also hope that the steps taken to improve the manpower position generally by increasing the re-engagement of men for pension on completion of their 12 years' service will be effective. This is very important in order to provide the strength of the supervisory rates.
One of the main reasons for the unsatisfactory re-engagement rate since the war was the desire of men and their families to be together again after a good deal of war-time separation and the ease with which men with technical qualifications find work in civilian life today. There has also been some dissatisfaction with the pension code. We now hope that the re-engagement rate, which averaged about 25 per cent. in 1950, will be increased to about 50 per cent. in the coming financial year.
The introduction of the new pay and pension codes and the extension of the re-engagement bounty of £100 until the end of 1952 should be good inducements to help us in reaching our aim. The retention of time-expired men has resulted, we must admit, in most of them postponing a decision on re-engagement, but the re-engagement rate of naval ratings has already increased to about 40 per cent. and we hope that it will increase still further shortly. After all, it will be some months before we know whether our 50 per cent. target will be reached, and the House will also remember that it was only two months ago that it was announced that the re-engagement bounty was to be retained until December of the present year. Finally, we hope that men at present on seven years special service engagements will transfer to continuous service engagements.
To help meet our difficulties we are, of course, trying to build up the "normal" strength of the Fleet by regular recruitment as rapidly as possible, but here again the shortage of senior ratings naturally limits the extent to which the numbers of junior ratings can be increased.
680 The National Service entry will slightly increase in 1952–53 to rather more than 3,000, of whom 400 will be wanted for special training in foreign languages. From the same age group, we expect to receive in the normal way about 4,500 on Regular engagements. The two figures combined total 7,800, as shown in the Defence White Paper.
We try to get the bulk of our requirements of retired and Reserve officers by means of voluntary offers to serve, and the response has been excellent. We shall continue this policy as long as we can. The 18 months' period will soon be coming to an end for some of the retained and recalled officers, but I cannot stress too strongly the need for as many as possible of them to remain. So much disorganisation could be avoided in the future if these officers remained with us for a further 18 months, and in some cases longer, and we are asking whether they will volunteer for a further period. In appropriate cases, the volunteers will be paid a gratuity at the end of their further service at the rate of £100 per annum.
Recruitment for naval air crew, which in many ways is the most difficult of our officer recruiting problems, is I am glad to say, as the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East, knows, showing an encouraging upward trend but there is still a good deal of room for improvement. Although a large number of officers in naval aviation come from the regular Executive officer entry through Dartmouth and the Special Entry, the majority of the officers are at present being obtained through short service schemes and from National Service.
As an experiment, we are now allowing Regular ratings to apply for the eight years short service commission scheme while National Service officers may turn over to Regular short service commissions. To meet past deficiencies in recruiting, we have during the last 12 months re-entered a number of ex-naval pilots and observers, and we can do with more of the trained or part-trained officers. We have undertaken to give permanent commissions up to 20 per cent. of the eight year short service entry who complete their engagements, and also the re-entered pilots and observers. We are also arranging—to increase the interest in naval aviation—that young officers of the Executive Branch who wish 681 to do so may learn to fly in light aircraft in their spare time without cost to them- selves.
Mention of officers leads me to the problem of recruitment of cadets. The House is aware that cadets now enter the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, either at the age of 16 years or as special entry cadets at the age of 18 years, but, unfortunately, the numbers we are able to secure are insufficient. The requirement for officers has risen very steeply during the last few years. Civil life today holds greater chances for the boy with brains and ambition than it did in the early part of the century, and all three Services are experiencing great difficulty in meeting their requirements for young officers. This applies to both forms of cadet entry I have mentioned, the 16 years old and the special entry at 18. We are having to take more of the cadets who are only just good enough in order to get the numbers of today, which are still inadequate.
The prospects of getting increased entries at 18 or more promotions from the lower deck—we are doing our best to see what we can do—are not good enough, and although the numbers applying for the age 16 entry have been on the upgrade in recent competitions, the need for a considerably larger entry really has become imperative if we are to get our officers. We cannot afford to take the risk of waiting to see whether, given time, the age 16 entry will produce the full additional numbers required.
The Admiralty have been considering this problem for some time. Both my predecessor, Lord Pakenham, and I have taken a personal interest in it. What we have to do is to find ways and means either of securing at once an appreciably higher yield from the existing competitions or of tapping some additional source of entry. My only regret is that this afternoon I cannot tell the House what the answer to this difficult problem is going to be. But I have been in touch with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education. We are setting up a working party, an inquiry—call it what you like—to tackle the problem from the stage which my own informal inquiries have reached and to advise me on the methods of supplementing the present inadequate entries.
I do not propose to discuss the reserves at any great length—
§ Commander Pursey
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the question of the shortage of cadets, can he assure the House that there is no question of the Admiralty going back to the early entry at 13, because when he says it is necessary quickly to increase the officer strength of the Navy, he must remember that one does not get the commissioned officer from the early age of 13 for eight years. We on this side shall oppose any question of going back to a closed shop from preparatory schools.
§ Mr. Thomas
I can give the hon. and gallant Gentleman no such assurance. Every suggestion and idea will be open to this working party for consideration, but I can tell the hon. and gallant Gentleman from my own personal inquiries that nobody I have met or have talked to has any wish whatever to abolish the age 16 entry. This is a question of finding something with which to supplement the other two entries, the entry at 16 and the special entry at 18.
§ Mr. Thomas
We need officers quickly, and we shall still need them however long it may take to get them. The working party will have to go into the matter to see how best the matter can be arranged.
I do not propose to discuss the Reserves at any great length today, as I have given a great many details about them in the White Paper. We have something like a dozen bodies of Reserves in the Royal Navy, ranging from the old established ones, like the Royal Naval Reserve, with a tradition as long as the Navy itself, to those which have come into being since the end of the last war, including the W.R.N.S. Reserve, which, building on those old traditions, are giving such useful service to the Royal Navy. Generally speaking, these Reserves are all in good heart, and if mobilisation should come we should get the same help from them as in years past.
I should like just to mention the position of the officers and men who saw service during the last war, or shortly afterwards, and who now correspond to what the Army call Class Z. Even when our present National Service Reserve, based on the 1948 Act, has reached its full strength, we shall probably need their 683 services on mobilisation. We are getting a tally on their civil occupations so that call-up notices are not sent to men on work of national importance from which they could not be spared.
I wish it were possible at the moment to give these officers and men refresher training as the Army do for their Class Z Reservists, but owing to demands on our training programme we have had to decide against this, at any rate for the present. We shall do everything we can for them at the first available moment in the future.
When I come to the question of accommodation, the House will realise that both the last Government and the present Government had many difficulties in fitting new shore accommodation into the general overcrowded building programme. Apart from this, a great deal of priority has now had to be given to works required for the support of naval operations. I wish I could give to the House today a more encouraging report on accommodation.
We have completed—of course the previous Government laid it down—and occupied, the first seamen's blocks at the Royal Naval Barracks at Chatham and Portsmouth this year. Shortage of steel has delayed the start on the new chief and petty officers' block at Devonport, but we hope to make considerable progress during the coming year. So far as naval aviation is concerned, we are doing what we can to provide accommodation at the Royal Naval air stations, but here, too, some of our plans have had to be slowed down. We have, however, made good progress in the building of ratings' married quarters at remote establishments and in the air stations, and some junior officers' married quarters—
§ Mr. W. J. Edwards (Stepney)
The right hon. Gentleman means that progress has been made on the previous Government's plans.
§ Mr. Thomas
I thought I had made that perfectly clear. It is obvious that we could not have done all this in a few short months. As I was saying, we have made good progress in the building of ratings' married quarters at remote establishments and in the air stations and some junior officers' married quarters have been finished at the Royal Naval Air 684 Station, Ford. At the Leydene Signal School, four out of five new sleeping-blocks have been completed for junior ratings and new sleeping accommodation for chief and petty officers will be ready this summer. As I made clear, this is what the Department laid down in the past.
The bulk of married quarters at home are built as a charge to Vote 15, but in my Supplementary Estimate for 1951–52 I said that I intended—if I may use a technical phrase—to exercise virement on unexpended funds from Vote 10 for housing at home in order to avoid unnecessary borrowing from the Consolidated Fund.
During the year there has been further improvement in living conditions in ships, especially in bathrooms, mess fittings, water coolers and refrigerators. In H.M.S. "Eagle" there are electric galleys throughout and in the laundry there are electric machines such as those found in some of our larger shore establishments. Bunks have been tried instead of hammocks and, as a result, the "Hermes" class and the "Majestic" are being fitted with the former. We are also going to introduce a small type of single cabin for junior officers instead of putting so many of them into larger cabins.
I have given a general picture of the Royal Navy during the past year, as I see it from inside the Admiralty once more. I have tried to fit as many details as possible for the coming year within the broad outlines laid down by the Prime Minister in his reference to the Service in his speech yesterday.
Those who have introduced the Estimates of Service Departments will know only too well what a mass of material reaches one from every branch of the Department and how difficult it is to do everyone justice, or to mention all their work without monopolising the debate. So one has to be ruthless in choosing the subjects that one feels will most interest the House and the country at the present time and try to surmount that handicap so well known to Service Ministers that all the most vivid and exciting material invariably bears that sinister label—"Top Secret—on no account to be disclosed."
But I can assure the House that my colleagues on the Board of Admiralty 685 believe—and I believe—that the programme agreed for the Admiralty, both by the last Government for the past year and by this Government for the coming one, narrowed though it has had to be at the present time owing to financial stress, was most wisely chosen, both by the past Government and the present Government, and that our research experts and designers, backed by the skill of the workers of the dockyards, the shipyards and the factories, are giving to all ranks of the Royal Navy ships, aircraft and equipment worthy of those who use them. There can be no higher standard than that.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
We have listened this afternoon to a very faithfully delivered account by the First Lord of the activities of his Department over the last year, and I am bound to say that it is not one with which I should quarrel.
The trouble with the First Lord is that he is so disarming that it is difficult to quarrel with him. He comes here this year and distributes praise and blame in an equally dispassionate way. He presented what I thought was a balanced picture of the achievements and the failures of the Department as though he and the Prime Minister had never uttered a word of criticism of the late Government. I thought it was an astonishing performance.
I only wish that the First Lord were like some of the other Ministers in his Government who are slightly more venomous than he—then I could get really cross with him. But how can one get cross with a First Lord who apologises for having unjustly criticised one in the past? I will do my best, but I do not guarantee that it will be as good as it might have been if he had been one of his colleagues.
The First Lord has had a long apprenticeship with the Admiralty, whether in office or speaking about these matters from this bench, for a matter of seven or eight years. By what he said this afternoon I think he displayed a competence and knowledge of his subject, showing that the apprenticeship is finished and that now he has had the honour of presenting the Estimates for the first time he has become a fully fledged craftsman. If 686 his Government should be so fortunate as to survive the next twelve months—which I doubt—we shall look forward to hearing him again next year and hearing his review of what he has done during the next 12 months.
We have handed over the Navy to the right hon. Gentleman's care after six years of Labour Government. It has been nourished and supported by the Labour Administration since 1945. I ask the House, in the light of what they have heard this afternoon—the full books having been opened up to the right hon. Gentleman and his having had full recourse to all the records of the Department—whether the strictures passed on the late Administration, for which hon. Members opposite voted 12 months ago, were justified.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I value criticism from the First Lord more than I value it from the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, North, because the First Lord has the books. Since last November he has been having a long series of meetings, if tradition has been followed, in which everything has been unfolded to him, and by now he should have passed under review every phase and activity of the Department.
§ Captain Robert Ryder (Merton and Morden)
Will the hon. Member clear up one point? He said that we divided on the Navy Estimates last year—
§ Mr. Callaghan
Yes, I will explain that straight away. What I was referring to was the untrue criticism made by the present Prime Minister a year ago when he said that we had let the Navy down. I ask the hon. and gallant Member, as a former Navy officer, in the light of what he has heard this afternoon, whether he would be prepared to support that statement?
§ Brigadier Clarke
The hon. Member referred to me as the Member for Portsmouth, North. I wish to point out that my constituency is Portsmouth, West. It may be remembered that the former 687 Administration allowed the Navy to run down and that we have had to do a lot of quick re-armament in the last two years. That would be a matter of criticism which the First Lord would not like to raise but which should be stated.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I must apologise to the hon. and gallant Member for confusing him with the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North. [HON. MEMBERS: "There is not one."] The hon. and gallant Member has been so much less noisy in this Parliament that one began to wonder what had happened to him. I am very glad to see him coming to life again. I hope he will criticise his own Administration as fearlessly as he criticised us.
The First Lord thought that I would be faced with difficulty because I would be commenting on, or criticising, matters concerned with our administration in the past. I do not think I shall be faced with difficulty, especially in the view of the encomiums with which he has flattered us, but my criticisms will be the same as they were when I was in the Admiralty. I am on record in the Admiralty as having criticised a number of matters and, although I did not manage to carry the Board with me on many of them and a number were not adjudicated upon, nevertheless I shall continue.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I should not like to set the First Lord a bad example in any way. I say to him what I said in an interjection; he will find—as I am sure he has found already—that it is very difficult to hold a balance between the information one can give and the information one cannot give. On the two specific questions we asked him this afternoon, he was not able to tell us facts which I believe he could legitimately have told us if the Intelligence view had not prevailed. This is a great difficulty. I fought it out last year, and I gave the House then a mass of information which did the Navy no damage but, in my view, did it a lot of good, because it showed the House and the country that the Navy was in a much better state than the recriminations of the present Prime Minister had led people to believe.
I come now to my first point, the question of manpower. I criticise very much 688 the present policy of the Admiralty in the use of its manpower, and I hope the First Lord will stand up against them on this matter. So far he has been carried along with them, as is evident from the fact that the size of Vote A this year is 153,000 men. He is only achieving that by the profligate use of the first line of Reserves, the Royal Fleet Reserve. As he said, Vote A will start to diminish from October next. He cannot maintain the Navy at its present size for longer than another six months, because the Reserves are being denuded much too rapidly.
I know why they are being denuded it is because 1952 was fixed as a year of peril in which the maximum effort should be made. That decision was taken by the last Government. What is the point of him retaining and calling up men for very long periods and having a bigger Navy in 1952, at any rate for the first half of the year, than he can have in 1953 or 1954? I warn him that he will not get as big a Navy as this in the next two years. What is the use of keeping men under arms if at the same time other parts of the Administration are allowing strategic stockpiling to go by the wayside?
If, in fact, 1952 is the year of maximum peril, as was the view of the previous Administration, it is wrong, indefensible, for the Government to let stockpiling dwindle today. I say to the First Lord that the Admiralty has not yet caught up with the rest of the Government policy in this matter. They are still basing their manpower Estimate on the view that 1952 is the year, at the cost of running down the Reserves to the point where they will not be able to use them, and the Navy will be smaller next year than this year.
I am not being alarmist; I think I am being factual. What is the justification for the First Lord telling us on the one hand that he can safely run down strategic stocks and on the other hand that he is prepared to see a smaller Navy in 1953 and 1954 than today? To me, it does not hang together. It is obvious to us that 1952 is the year of maximum peril, and therefore we should build up our stockpiles and have our men in. But we cannot ride both horses at the same time, even if one of them is doped—I 689 see that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence has entered the Chamber.
I would seriously ask the First Lord, for the sake of the future of the Navy, to reconsider this manpower policy. I think it wrong, and it is unfair on the men concerned. The Royal Fleet Reserve was always designed, as I understand it, for call-up in the event of the mobilisation of the nation and the Navy as a whole. That has not taken place. Instead, in July, 1950, the Labour Government agreed to the call-up of the Royal Fleet reservists and to the retention of those time-expired men who were finishing their service for a period, I believe, of six months.
The Admiralty is taking far too long to get its manpower problem put right. I am not now saying anything I have not said before. This was all being argued out when we were there, but a decision had not been arrived at. I wish we were still there and then a decision might have been arrived at. But what is happening today is that the First Lord tells us he will not be able to start reducing the period of retention for another 12 months; although men who contracted to do service for 12 years are being kept for 13½ years and will continue to be so kept.
That is a longer period of retention than is the case in all the other Services, and I have always taken the view that it is not fair to these men. I defended that view last year and said that we ought to bring it to an end at the earliest possible moment. I do not think it is possible to bring it to an end yet, but I think the First Lord should reduce this period of retention forthwith, not only in fairness to the men involved, but also for the benefit of the Navy.
I believe the Navy is spread over too many activities and should be more concentrated. If it did a little more instead of having so much in the shop window, it could be even more efficient than the First Lord tells us we left it when we quitted office. So I put it to him strongly. Let him consider reducing the period of retention and not calling up the Royal Fleet reservists, but at the same time increasing the Regular component of Vote A. If he did that, I believe he would get into balance much 690 more quickly and have a smaller but more efficient Navy, which is more worth while than having something which is not efficient.
The right hon. Gentleman will say that we would have to do without something. Indeed we would, but I believe there are certain things we can do without if we are put to it. I will give him one example, although I could quote a number of small ones. I do not see the point at the moment in flying the flag of the Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet, in the "Vanguard." It is a very fine symbol. She is the latest and best and, perhaps, the last battleship we shall have. But she is using up a great many trained and experienced men in her ship's company who could well be dispersed and used in other directions.
There were perhaps reasons for commissioning the "Vanguard" and holding her in readiness for particular purposes; but if they no longer exist, I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman might well pay her off and use the engine-room artificers and stokers and the rest of the ship's company in other directions. I assure him that this thousand men, or whatever the figure may be, aboard the "Vanguard," could relieve a great many pressures in other directions. I see no reason why the flag of the Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet, should not return to an aircraft carrier, where it was being flown before the present Commander-in-Chief took over.
I could make a number of other proposals to the right hon. Gentleman, but we would not do what the present Prime Minister did and say, "Look, the 'Vanguard' is paid off. See how weak the British Navy is," and all the other misleading things which the right hon. Gentleman used to tell us. We would take a dispassionate view of the situation and try to see that it was in the real interest of the Navy that this should happen.
I put this point very seriously indeed, because I believe that the Admiralty—and I do not blame the right hon. Gentleman for this—is being much too profligate in its use of manpower and its disposal at the present time; and that it could use the manpower to greater effect if it were prepared to take certain comparatively unpleasant decisions.
691 I turn now to the matter of production and would ask the right hon. Gentleman what is his policy about the modernisation of aircraft carriers. I have great doubts about this, and I always have had. The "Victorious" is to be practically gutted, stripped down to top deck level, the whole superstructure rebuilt, and the height of hangars to be increased, at a cost of many millions of pounds.
I am not at all sure that it would not be better to leave these ships, the "Victorious," "Illustrious," "Indomitable," "Formidable," and the rest of them, as they are, with the addition of the steam catapults the right hon. Gentleman should be able to put into them. Let them fly off such planes as they can, and when the G.R.17 comes along that should certainly be a possibility.
Incidentally, I suppose there is no chance of changing the name of the G.R.17 from Gannet to something else. I have always disliked that name. On the lower deck "gannet" has always meant someone greedy and noisome who ate up someone else's food the whole time and had no graces at all. That is not a good name with which to christen one of our latest aircraft.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I was opposed to the name and I insist therefore on continuing to call it the G.R.17. If these carriers can continue flying off Mark VII and other aircraft used for submarine work they will be doing useful work. I suggest to the First Lord that instead of modernising the rest of these fleet carriers, he should do what he asked us to do last year, namely, complete the "Powerful," the "Leviathan" and the "Hercules." We should then have additional carriers capable of doing a lot of work when the new jets come along, and at the same time we would have these other carriers in reserve.
There is a craze in the Admiralty for modernisation. They spend a lot of money rebuilding old ships, putting a great deal into them which has been discovered since they were first built, and in the end they have got quite a good job—but they could not get anything more. I should be in favour of keeping older ships in good condition, where they 692 can be used, and putting into new ships the amount of money that is being spent on modernisation.
These three aircraft carriers have been on the stocks for many years, during the whole period of the administration of the Labour Government. They were never completed. In present circumstances, now that the programme of modernisation is coming along, the position should be reconsidered. What about the cruisers? I do not wish to express a view on them, but I had hoped that the First Lord would have told what his view was. He has expressed doubts in the past, but I shall not hold that against him now. However, perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary, whom I am sure we are all glad to see occupying that office in view of his past contributions to our debates and his knowledge of the subject, will be able to tell us that he and the First Lord have got a policy on the question of the completion of the cruisers that had been building.
On construction generally, the First Lord said: "What we propose to do is to carry on the programme that the previous Government laid down. It will fall behind and we regret that but, never mind, we will do the best we can." If any of my hon. Friends wish to get really angry with the Government, I invite them to read what was said about this new construction by the Prime Minister in the defence debate last year.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I know that in 1948 he was even more scathing. We will let that pass. Let us go back no further than last year. The Prime Minister pooh-poohed the new construction we were undertaking. He said, "You are doubling your conversion of antisubmarine frigates. That is all you are going to do. Forty-one new coastal craft: that is all you are going to build."
Today the First Lord comes here with a glow of satisfaction and says that they propose to continue that programme. That is fine. I am delighted to hear it. But does he think that in last year's defence debate he was justified in going into the Lobby against the Government on this issue? I do not intend to make many quotations, tempted though I am, but when I heard what the First Lord said this afternoon and contrasted it with 693 what was said by the Prime Minister on 15th February, 1951, I felt that I must make one quotation. The Prime Minister said:We are convinced that the mismanagement exhibited in civil and domestic affairs extends also to the military field, and that that is the growing opinion of the nation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1951; Vol. 484, c. 626.]Why? It was because we were only doubling the conversion from destroyers to frigates; because we were only building 41 new craft. Then today the First Lord claims credit for that. I leave the First Lord with his own conscience on that matter.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I come to another issue—the Royal Marines. I did not gather from the First Lord whether the Royal Marine Commando is to be replaced in Malaya or not. I know that they have been withdrawn. I understood the First Lord to say that. I did not gather whether they are to be replaced by other Royal Marines. Apparently not. I hope not. Before the First Lord makes up his mind, let me say that he should not replace them. The Army have had them there for far too long.
The Royal Marine Commando are not intended for that role or for that purpose. I am delighted that they have been withdrawn. The First Lord should not allow himself to be trapped by the Army into putting Royal Marines into Malaya again, when they have other jobs to do and when the jobs in Malaya are not jobs for Royal Marines, although they did them very well indeed. If the final decision has not been taken, may I strengthen his arm in this matter? Another Royal Marine Commando should not go back to Malaya now.
My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) has passed me a note reminding me that a number of the commandos who were serving in Korea are a little puzzled why they have been disbanded. I can guess at some of the reasons for that, but perhaps it is not for me to volunteer them. Perhaps it is for the Government to give the reasons why they have been disbanded. I wish to ask why. The Royal Marines did a very fine job, as my hon. Friend who visited them has reminded me, in the re 694 treat from the Chosan Reservoir a year ago, which was one of the most gallant actions undertaken. It was an action which brought great credit upon that Corps.
I am delighted to see that their numbers are going up. If the First Lord will not think that I am being condescending in this, I would say that he should not be persuaded by the naval staff into making the Royal Marines a fixed percentage of the Royal Navy. There is a feeling among certain people who wear dark blue that the Royal Marines should only be a fixed percentage of the Royal Navy. That is not right. They have a job to do on their own and their number should be variable according to the role they have to fulfil.
I should like to see them cut clean away from their wardroom duties. I believe it is right to say that the number of Royal Marines is increasing this year. My hon. Friend the Member for Stepney (Mr. W. J. Edwards) has passed me a note which appears to show that the number is diminishing by 300, but no doubt there is an explanation for that. I understood that the number was increasing. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will deal with the point.
Is it possible to cut them away from their wardroom duties? After all, the sort of jobs such a crack force did in Malaya and Korea combined with the sort of duties they have to do in wardrooms do not go very well together. I should very much like to see them cut clean away from their wardroom work, if that is possible.
I am pretty suspicious of the First Lord on the subject of Dartmouth. He was careful not to commit himself this afternoon, but when the new Dartmouth scheme was introduced in 1948, both he and the Parliamentary Secretary asked questions which appeared to indicate that at least they were not full-blooded in their enthusiasm for it. There are a great many people in the Admiralty who are not full blooded for recruitment at the age of 16. They want to get away from it. They want to get back to entry at the age of 13½. I am sure that the First Lord will already have come across that feeling. We shall wait to hear what his proposals are. He wants to get more naval officers immediately. I suggest that he should advertise for them.
§ Mr. J. P. L. Thomas
We have had applications from 1,000 of the 1,300 likely schools, so the advertising must have been pretty good.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I do not think that the Admiralty have advertised nearly enough the jobs that are available and open for any men as naval officers. A lot more could be done in that direction, and I put it to the First Lord that he should do more. I think that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey) hit the nail right on the head when he said in a previous debate that if the Admiralty wanted naval officers now it was no use going back to the system of bringing in little boys of 13½ who would not be fully qualified for eight years. The First Lord will find that argument awfully difficult to answer if he wants to go back to entry at 13½.
If he attempts to get away from the 16-year-old entry and go back to entry at 13½, we on this side of the House will be bitterly opposed to him. There is no doubt that every other profession in the country which has its own high standards of discipline, its own code of behaviour and its own long period of training, can do what they wish with young men who enter between the ages of 16 and 18. There is no need to go hack to entry at 13½ for recruits for naval officers' jobs in order to make sure that they become efficient naval officers.
The Parliamentary Secretary himself was a special entry in this manner; he went into the Navy at 18. and became a very gallant destroyer commander during the war and was much decorated. I am quite certain that the views of those who say that, after a few years, it is impossible to tell the difference between the Dartmouth entry and the special entry are right. It is not possible to tell the difference between them, and so, although the First Lord has been very careful in what he has said this afternoon—
§ Mr. Thomas
I made it quite clear that neither I nor anybody who was consulted wished to abolish the 16-year-old entry, and I repeat that statement now.
§ Mr. Callaghan
After he has introduced another method of entry at 13½, it clearly will have the effect of interfering with the 16-year-old entry, unless he can give an assurance that the 16 or 18 year 696 old entries will not be reduced at all, because that is what he is doing. He will be introducing a State subsidised boarding-school education for the sons of Navy officers, and if that is what he wants to do, let him come to the House and say so.
§ Mr. Callaghan
If he introduces such a scheme, in which boys from preparatory schools would come in at 13½, he should not exclude boys from grammar schools and secondary schools, with whom the natural change-over takes place between 11 and 12, when they go from primary schools into secondary grammar schools. There can be no doubt about that. The right hon. Gentleman will have to go back to the system under which he will be able to get entrants into the Navy at 11 or 12, and he will have to say whether he is prepared to recruit boys of 11 and 12 for a Dartmouth boarding school, and that will have to be examined with very great care.
§ Mr. Callaghan
At the moment, as my hon. and gallant Friend says, they are the sons of petty officers, and there is, at the moment, the son of an Admiralty messenger, who is a pensioner, at Dartmouth and doing extremely well under the scheme introduced by the Labour Government, and we do not want to see that challenged.
I now pass on to other matters, as I do not want to take too long, although there are many other points on which I should like to comment. On the question of the command arrangements, I should like to say a word about the Prime Minister's statement when he came back from the United States, in which he said that he had been able to secure—to use his own words—…certain alterations which will provide great flexibility in the whole of the Atlantic sphere."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th January, 1952; Vol. 495, c. 196.]He went on to baffle the House by talking about the 100-fathom line, which he said has many advantages. I am bound to say that this is extremely misleading. When the White Paper was issued by the late Government on the system of command established within the North 697 Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Cmd. 8214), it said:The Supreme Commander Atlantic's command covers broadly the North Atlantic Ocean but excludes British and European coastal waters and the English Channel. The exact limits of the Atlantic Command. I have not yet been finally settled.Those limits had not been finally settled. All this trouble blew up, and there was a lag somewhere before the limits had been worked out.
At that stage, the present Prime Minister asked the Government where the line of demarcation was to be drawn, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to note the difference between the voice of the present Prime Minister when in Opposition and as Prime Minister. On 19th April, 1951, he said:The area"—that is, the area of command—is severely restricted round our own coast, and the line that is drawn, be it the 100-fathom line or not …in no way corresponds to any boundary which applies to U-boat attack."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th April, 1951; Vol. 486, c. 2024.]Now, what does the voice say when in power?The 100-fathom line has many advantages. Among others, it broadly corresponds to the limits within which moored mining is profitable and was a very known feature in all our affairs in the war."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th January, 1952; Vol. 495, c. 196.]Really, to anybody who followed the account of these negotiations, the Prime Minister's story of having secured that concession and flexibility is meaningless. He has not secured anything of the sort. The 100-fathom line starts somewhere north of the Shetlands, cuts in across near St. Kilda, almost touches the south-west coast of Ireland and cuts across the Channel to the Bay of Biscay. Indeed, we could not have anything closer to the British Isles than the 100-fathom line that was to be of any purpose at all, and what the Prime Minister has done has been to try to secure a face-saving device by pretending that, by going in for the 100- fathom line, he secured a concession which the Labour Government could not get in these matters.
The Prime Minister said yesterday that he had no need to depart from the truth. Well, perhaps, he did not depart from the truth, because the limits were not circumscribed, but he did not give us a very clear indication of what the truth 698 was in this matter. Let there be no doubt about it. The Prime Minister has done no more to secure concessions in this matter—and has not, in fact, secured a concession—than the Labour Government did.
Now, what about the Mediterranean Command? I know there have been difficulties about it. Indeed, as long ago as last June, the Prime Minister was taunting and chivvying us on why my right hon. Friend did not get it fixed up. He asked us why we did not get the Mediterranean Command settled. What has been the present Prime Minister's argument about the Atlantic Command? Has it not been that there should not be an overall command, but that it should really be separate and divided into two? Has that really not been the gravamen of his case?
How does he explain this?—and I do not know whether it is accurate or not. The "Daily Telegraph," which is usually pretty well-informed on these matters, on 27th February, a week ago, under the heading "Mediterranean Command," had a number of things to say, and finished up with this:The British believe that it would be altogether too complicated to have convoy, coming through the Mediterranean separately labelled according to the command they are supposed to come under.Is not this the very reverse of the argument which the present Prime Minister has been using in regard to the Atlantic?
If it is wrong in the Mediterranean to have convoys going through separately labelled and to have two separate commanders, it is also wrong in the Atlantic, and I hope that the Prime Minister will be convinced by the experts in the Admiralty that we want one command in the Mediterranean as we do in the Atlantic. History will show that my right hon. Friend the former Prime Minister was correctly pointing the way when he said that the U-boat war would be fought in the Atlantic and when he agreed with these arrangements.
§ Lieut.-Commander S. L. C. Maydon (Wells)
May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that the Mediterranean is a land-locked sea, with two natural entrances and one artificial entrance, whereas the Atlantic is an ocean?
§ Mr. Callaghan
I do not know what the hon. and gallant Gentleman deduces from that, but I hope he is not differing from his own Front Bench. I do not know whether I should gather from that that his view is that there ought to be separate convoys coming through the Mediterranean, separately labelled. If he believes that, he will have the Parliamentary Secretary on his tail.
§ Captain Ryder
The hon. Gentleman has been casting various aspersions on the Prime Minister. Does he not realise that when one has sold a horse one cannot always buy it back again?
§ Mr. Callaghan
I also remember an occasion when the present Prime Minister was asking a question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), when he was Minister of Defence, and the present Prime Minister said categorically—I think it was on 20th June—that he doubted whether the Atlantic arrangements about the Supreme Commander would ever come into force, and he would not agree.
§ Captain Ryder
He has not. The Prime Minister has made it perfectly clear that he does not consider them to be necessary.
§ Mr. Callaghan
In that case he has not agreed to them; he has accepted them and is going to work them. In that case I am glad to think that the arrangements between him and the new commander are made and that they will be developed rapidly, and I hope that the new commander has convinced the Prime Minister of the wisdom of his own appointment.
While we are on these appointments, what about the admiral in Oslo? He has a command up there which stretches out to the North Sea. What are the limits of his command? Have they been delimited yet? This whole business of the commands is very untidy. It has not been cleaned up and it ought to be cleaned up pretty quickly. There is no reason why these problems should not be solved in view of the consideration given to them in the past.
I come now to the question of naval aviation. I am disappointed that the First Lord could not tell us a little more about the date on which the "Eagle" is to embark its planes and the G.R.17 is to come into service, and also when 700 some of the present R.N.V.R. squadrons are to be re-equipped. The R.N.V.R. air squadrons are almost as important, if not quite as important, as the front line squadrons are in the Fleet today. They are the only source from which we can draw qualified pilots and observers and they really should be equipped.
I do not expect the First Lord to achieve that in four months, but they should be equipped at the earliest possible moment with the sort of plane they would have to fly if they were embarked. We will certainly strengthen his arm to ensure that that happens, if it is necessary to do so, because these R.N.V.R. officers and men are giving 50 week-ends in the year to flying. They are doing a first-class job and they ought to have first-class machines.
The First Lord mentioned recruitment. In some ways we are pulling against the natural desires of the careers masters in secondary schools and grammar schools by going in for an eight-year period of engagement. I know that the party opposite do not believe in security, but the trouble is that careers masters in schools do and want to advise their young men to go in for jobs with a long-term future. The eight-year form of engagement has something to commend it, but I am not at all sure that in the long run the First Lord will be successful in obtaining large numbers of candidates under this system. He must be prepared to offer a longer period of service.
§ Mr. J. Langford-Holt (Shrewsbury)
Will my right hon. Friend the First Lord not recall that I gave precisely the same advice four years ago and that there has been remarkable reluctance to accept that advice?
§ Mr. Callaghan
We must leave that to the First Lord. After all, the First Lord has to reform something. He has not told us that he has reformed anything yet and it will be a good opportunity for him to start.
I see that the United States and the Royal Air Force are to do some training of naval pilots. The way this job of training is done at the moment is highly satisfactory but I do not know that the cost is particularly low. Indeed, I am informed that it is rather high and I think there is a case for the Navy doing its own training. I put it to the First 701 Lord for consideration that rather than having to rely upon the United States and everybody else for training of this sort, the Navy should consider whether it ought not to set up an establishment equipped to do its own training.
If any words of mine should reach the aviators in the Navy at the present time, who are uneasy because of the nature of their task since the war, I think I would say this to them. When I was at the Admiralty I discovered that everybody who had anything to do with naval aviation was aware of its importance, understood it, and wished to press ahead with it. But I do not think there is a clear conception yet of what should be the role of the naval aviator and how he fits into the Navy generally.
One reason for that is that naval aviation is truncated. There is only control of the ship-borne planes. One can only provide a career for a young man for a certain period of years and the consequence is that at present he does not know whether he is expected to be a seaman or, as he colloquially puts it, "a fish-head"—which is a term of disrespect applied to executive officers. But I think the position is being reached where the Admiralty have not only to have good will about this matter, but have finally to make up their minds.
I ask the First Lord not to hesitate to come to the conclusion, if he feels it proper, that naval aviation cannot be integrated into the Navy as a whole and may have to be developed on separate lines. The Vote on the Air Estimates would be the occasion to discuss this matter in connection with the antisubmarine command. The First Lord must make up his mind very soon about these issues. They are difficult, and we would not blame him if he takes some time to decide, but the moment has been reached where he has to decide finally which way the air branch is to go. That is an important matter that has been placed on his plate.
I should like to mention briefly one or two other matters. I was very glad indeed to hear that bunks are to be introduced. I am sure that is right. I have never believed in slinging a hammock if one can sleep in a bunk, and I notice that the officers never do so if there is a chance of sleeping in a bunk.
702 There is one other thing I should like to mention—if my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson), is not present—and that is the provision of beer for ratings. When I was in the Admiralty we were pushing ahead with a scheme for providing naval ratings on board with beer, and there is no reason why it should not be shared equally throughout the ship. The First Lord, when he was in Opposition, pushed this matter with characteristic energy. It is a minor reform which the lower deck would very much appreciate.
As to recruitment, we are faced not so much with the reluctance of the men to sign on as the reluctance of their wives to permit them to remain a long time away from home. The wives are the main problem. The First Lord should consider seriously introducing a task force system so that a group of ships serving abroad should be able to return to their home port at much shorter intervals than two years, or the two years and three months to which the period may be extended at present.
There is another question to which I never got a satisfactory answer when I was in the Admiralty. Perhaps the First Lord has had better luck. I should like to know why ships in the Home Fleet should not be refitted in Malta and ships in the Mediterranean Fleet refitted at home. There are all kinds of answers, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will ask the question to see what sort of answer he gets and to see if he gets anywhere. That would enable ships in the Mediterranean Fleet to be brought back home for substantial periods of time. The conversion to task forces would help him very much in relation to the question of men signing on again after their first period of service.
I have not dealt with such matters as the submarine menace and mining, but I am very glad to see the prominence the right hon. Gentleman has given to anti-mining measures. I am certain that this question should be given top priority. This is the bread and butter work of the Navy. It is not spectacular, dashing or daring, but the anti-mining work and the dull daily grind of anti-submarine duties is the real bread and butter work of the Navy today. Beatty's battle cruiser squadrons have gone, but it is important not to let the spirit of an offensive Navy 703 die. It cannot become a purely defensive Service; we must have an offensive spirit in the Navy.
The way in which that offensive spirit can be expressed is, I think, in the full development of naval aviation. That is why I think it is important that we should have in the Navy today an air arm that is qualified and that has an offensive spirit, to maintain the traditions of the Navy, which has served this country so well in the past.
I was very glad to listen to the review given by the First Lord. I hope I shall not listen to another one from him—not because I wish him any personal harm, but because I doubt whether his Government can last; but if he maintains the standard that we have heard today, I am quite certain that he will continue the good work which the Labour Government maintained when it nourished the Navy for six years between 1945 and 1951 and handed over to him and his Government a service of which the whole House can be proud.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Allan (Paddington, South)
The nervousness and diffidence with which I rise to address the House for the first time is made somewhat less by being called by such an old friend as yourself, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.
I have the honour to represent South Paddington, which, although it has no very direct contact with the sea, has nevertheless quite a strong indirect one through having been represented in this House for over 20 years by an admiral who was very lusty in these debates. In addressing the House for the first time on a naval occasion, I hope that I am following his example and I hope to be of as much service to South Paddington as he was.
I wish to discuss the subject of the R.N.V.R. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) stressed the importance of the R.N.V.R. pilot, but we must not forget the equally important functions of the R.N.V.R. with the Fleet. It is well known that before the war there was not a great deal of enthusiasm in the Service for training the R.N.V.R. Before the war I served for 10 days in a destroyer, as a sub-lieutenant, and the commanding officer never once spoke to me.
704 I know that during and immediately following the war that near-hostility has completely vanished, but I do hear, from those whom I know in the R.N.V.R., both officers and men, that something of that feeling is creeping back. I urge my right hon. Friend the First Lord to do everything he can to try to stop it, because it can be done very easily. Now is the time to do it, because the younger officers, who now command the small ships in which most of the men of The R.N.V.R. do their sea-time training, have not had first-hand experience of the value of the Reserves in time of war, and they may be a little sceptical.
It is also important because many of the young reservists now doing training have not had a great deal of sea-going experience themselves, and there is nothing more alarming than one's joining a sea-going ship for the first time, unless it is speaking in this House for the first time. But that alarm turns absolutely to despair if one feels that one is unwanted. I am not suggesting that the red carpet should be put down every time a revervist joins a ship, but I think it is most essential that reservists joining ships for training should be made to feel welcome or at least not to feel that they are unwanted.
I think that can be done, because the complaints have always come from people who are going in for sea training rather than for short or long courses, which I understand are efficient and much appreciated. I understand that 14 days' notice is always given to a ship before a body of reservists arrive in it and I should like to suggest that it should be incumbent upon a commanding officer to see that a short schedule of training is prepared, so that the reservists are immediately able to get into the swim of things.
Another point is the question of R.N.V.R. watch-keeping certificates and qualified officer status. For good reasons—unfortunately reinforced recently by an unhappy accident—it is virtually impossible for any R.N.V.R. officer nowadays to keep a watch at sea long enough to enable him to get a full naval watch-keeping certificate or to get qualified officer status. If the Reserve Fleet were manned, the lack of these officers with these qualifications would be felt very severely, and a great burden would be thrown on the Regular officers. Added 705 to that, R.N.V.R. officers who could feel that they were getting something for their efforts instead of being frustrated, as they so often are today, would be greatly encouraged.
I should like to turn briefly to that branch of the Service in which most of the young reservists are particularly interested—that is, Coastal Forces. When I first joined Coastal Forces, there was only a handful of boats—M.T.B's—all of one design. By the end of the war there were hundreds of these craft of many different designs. I understand that the present policy is to try to concentrate on a dual-purpose craft which will be an effective anti-E-boat and torpedo boat; but in view of the fantastic cost of these craft—I see that they cost as much as a pre-war destroyer—I should have thought a strong case could have been made for building much cheaper and smaller boats which would carry only torpedoes. That would have considerable advantages, but, whether or not it is done, I think it is most important that anybody who is ever in a position to operate these very small coastal craft should be well qualified to do so and should at least know something about them.
Reverting again to my experience in the war, I was sent out time and again on operations in conditions which were absolutely impossible, and the result was only damage to boats, exhaustion of crews, and loss of morale. I was once sent on a particular operation which was an extremely costly failure, because the people in charge of it did not know anything about the boats they had to operate. I urge very strongly that it should be a matter of Admiralty policy that officers who are in a position to operate and control these craft should have had a chance, at any rate, of having first-hand experience of them.
During the war I had the pleasure of being sunk in an M.T.B. with the present First Sea Lord. It was a relative pleasure because there was no serious damage; and Admiral McGrigor certainly had firsthand experience of those boats, which helped enormously in morale thereafter. I am not, of course, suggesting that to be sunk in an M.T.B. leads to promotion to any high Flag rank.
I have touched on these matters of the Reserve officers and the craft which they mostly man, and I make no apology if 706 my speech has been limited to this, because I know what a lively and important part they played in the last war. If we have the men and the craft, properly encouraged and developed, we shall be able to provide a sure anti-E boat protection for our coastal convoys and also to menace swiftly and by night harbours that might be considered to be inviolate. If we could do that in this small sphere of naval warfare, we should have gone a long way to deter that aggression by invasion the prevention of which is our ever-present aim.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Austen Albu (Edmonton)
I am sure that the whole House has listened with very great interest indeed to the description by the hon. Member for Paddington, South (Mr. R. Allan) of the difficulties of the branch of the service in which he served so very gallantly in the late war. I understand that the hon. Member received not only the D.S.O., but the highest awards of both the American and French Governments. The whole House listens with very great interest when someone, especially from the Silent Service, speaks with such sincerity and with such obvious knowledge.
I was particularly interested in the hon. Member's remarks about what in industry would be called "induction." Of course, the business of being accepted into a new community is not peculiar to the Navy. It applies in industry and as he will have discovered, it applies also in this House. I am sure that what he had to say will be taken very seriously by the Admiralty, and I hope that he has some success with his proposals. The hon. Member will, I am sure, excuse me if I do not follow him in his remarks because, as he will understand, on these occasions the debate covers a very wide field.
I want to remind the House that the Board of Admiralty is one of the largest industrial employers in the country. It employs something like 60,000 persons in the home dockyards, as well as very many abroad, and the Director of Dockyards is responsible for the expenditure of between £30 and £40 million of public money.
The Royal Naval Dockyards have a very long history. They started in the reign of Henry VIII, and anybody who has studied the maps that are to be seen 707 in the offices of the admiral superintendents can see there pictured almost the whole course of British naval history and the expansions that have taken place during the centuries, the major expansion having taken place at the end of the last century. Since then, there has been very little change in the structure of the management of the dockyards.
We are all proud of the quality of work, the traditions of craftsmanship, and the conditions of apprentice training in the dockyard schools, which have been built up during the last half century. But not only ex-naval officers in this House, but many others, as well as business men from outside, have been aware for some time that everything is not necessarily right in the dockyards.
There are continual criticisms of the delays and of the obsolescence of business methods and these criticisms have been going on for many years. They arose after the First World War and, as a result, in 1927 the Admiralty set up a Committee, composed largely of persons with shipbuilding and industrial experience outside the Service, under the chairmanship of Mr. R. S. Hilton, to investigate the system of costing in the Admiralty, which was antiquated—costing, of course, developed very greatly in industry during the First World War—and to make other recommendations.
In addition to the recommendations they made about costing, which were accepted very largely by the Admiralty—the present system of cost accounting is pretty good—the majority of the members also made suggestions for far-reaching changes in organisation, to which I will refer later. A minority, not surprisingly, perhaps, including most of those in the Service, reported in favour of the status quo, which, equally not surprisingly, the Admiralty accepted. The report was never published, however, and nothing further was heard about it.
During the recent war, a sub-committee of the Select Committee on Expenditure made an investigation into the management of the dockyards, but it never finished its investigation and it did not report. It is doubtful whether, in view of the conditions at the time, it could have been able fully to do so.
708 During the last Parliament, the dockyards were, for the first time, fully examined by the Estimates Committee, who made their Report last Session. Owing to the promotion of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion), I happened to become the chairman of the subcommittee which made the investigation. The Members of the Committee had the advantage of seeing the Hilton Report, and I have had discussions with those who are still Members of the House and who were Members of the Expenditure Committee during the war. The Estimates Committee reported unanimously, and it is interesting to see that many of their findings were in general agreement with the findings of previous inquiries.
Perhaps the main recommendation to which I wish to draw attention, and from which all others flow, is the necessity in the dockyards of a strong and harmonious management team. The present structure of management in the dockyards is headed by an admiral superintendent, who is generally within two or three years of his retirement from the Active List and who usually serves in that post for some three or four years. He does not occupy his whole time in the duties of administering the dockyard, for at least a quarter of his time is taken up with naval duties, either as deputy to the commander-in-chief or, in one case, indeed, as commander-in-chief of the port itself. He receives no special training for the job.
It is important to remember that he is a Flag officer, on his way out of the Service, and although there is no doubt that the officers who undertake this duty are first-class naval officers, with a great sense of duty and great experience of administration, they cannot really at that time of life be expected to learn completely new tricks.
Under them there are the managers of the separate professional departments, who, with the exception of the captain of dockyards, are professional technical men, either members of the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors, or engineer naval officers, or, as in the present case of the electrical branch, are civilians with the necessary qualifications who have been brought in from outside or who have risen from the dockyard apprentice schools, although it is proposed in future 709 to debar the civilian electrical officers from reaching the highest ranks in the Service and to substitute, as in the case of the engineer officers, officers of the newly established "L" Branch.
There is a very serious danger, in view of the great growth of the electrical branch in the Service, that, in barring the way of promotion to the manager and deputy manager level, men of first-class ability will be prevented from entering the electrical branch. I am glad to see that it is the policy of the Admiralty at present to allow such men to acquire naval commissions and, therefore, of course, subsequently to rise in the Service; but one is bound to have very great doubts about this, because some time ago the opportunity for someone who had risen from the apprentice schools to go to the Royal College of Naval Engineering to obtain a commission as a naval engineer officer was removed, so that it is no longer possible for a lad who enters the Service from an apprentice school to rise in the Navy with a commission to the highest rank in the dockyard service.
One of the greatest difficulties in building up a really good, harmonious management team in these very large industrial undertakings, employing from 10,000 to 15,000 men in the major home dockyards and in at least one abroad, is the very short period of time for which senior officers hold their positions. Hon. Members who are interested may refer to Annexes 10 and 11 of the Report of the Select Committee which gives the careers and length of service for the senior officers in the major home dockyards. I am aware of the difficulties that face the Admiralty in posting naval officers, who have to have certain tours of duty at home as well as abroad. But I would suggest that in matters of this kind, where efficient administration is concerned, and vast sums of public money are involved, it is not good enough to say that no solution can be found.
We find that men are moved about in the senior positions between the Fleet, the Admiralty, and the dockyards and other stations, and a large part of their lives up to the time when they reach the position of manager is not spent in industrial activity at all. It is rare for a manager or a deputy manager to stay five years in his post in a major dockyard. Portsmouth has had five managers since the beginning 710 of the war; Devonport, five; Chatham, three; Rosyth, four. Portsmouth has had five engineer managers since the beginning of the war; Devonport, five; Chatham, five; Rosyth, four.
I say that that is particularly bad if one is trying to build an experienced team, and good morale, and good relations between managements and industrial workers—and we must not forget that these are industrial workers whom the Admiralty are managing. The managers may have had no previous industrial experience and there is no method of selection, so far as I can see, for the members of the Corps of Naval Constructors or for naval officers, to ensure that those chosen for these duties are particularly suited to the job of industrial management.
The Committee therefore recommended that naval officers and members of the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors should, at some period of their lives, round about the age of 35, and at the rank appropriate to that age, be able to choose permanently the dockyard service, and at that time should be given special training in industrial management—go to a refresher course at a university or a course at the Administrative Staff College at Henley, and perhaps visit private shipyards, pay visits to dockyards abroad, and so on; and that they should, in addition to staying in the dockyard service, when they reach rank of deputy manager or manager, remain for longer periods of office in each dockyard—not less than five and preferably not less than seven years.
One recommendation was the appointment of personnel officers in the dockyards. If costing was the main development in industry during World War I. I suppose that personnel management was the great development of World War II, and as a result, and owing to pressure from the Ministry of Labour—or, at any rate, suggestions from the Ministry of Labour—in 1945, a Departmental Committee was set up within the Admiralty to look into the matter of whether there should be some sort of personnel management or personnel officers within the dockyards. In view of the fact that it was a Departmental Committee, composed mostly of members of the Admiralty, it was not, perhaps, surprising that it did not make any very drastic recommendations It certainly did not recommend the 711 appointment of personnel officers in the dockyards, but it suggested the appointment of personnel advisers to the staff of the Director of Dockyards.
Quite frankly, the Admiralty have carried this out in the letter; but really they have disgustingly abused it in the spirit, because what have they done? What they have done is use the opportunity to find a home posting for an engineer captain. The engineer captain is an excellent man, but it really is a waste of his professional qualifications to use him in the way he is used as a sort of office boy between the Admiralty, the Director of Dockyards, and the dockyard deputy managers, who are supposed to act as personnel officers.
It is quite clear—and the Committee was quite clear—that that special experience was required. At the present time this is a liaison post only and a waste of public money. There is considerable confusion at present between the duties of the post and the duties of the civilian branch—the labour branch—of the Admiralty, which is concerned with the administration of the industrial staffs, which deals with the conditions and wages, with Whitley Council and joint consultative machinery, and so on. It is extraordinarily difficult for anybody outside the Admiralty to understand—
§ Mr. Albu
—how this can work when we have this extraordinary set-up. My hon. Friend says it is difficult for anyone inside, too. I am, therefore, supported in my argument by this expert knowledge. The Committee was quite clear about the needs for a personnel department in the dockyards themselves. It envisaged decentralisation and standardisation of records about absenteeism, sickness payments, and so on, which are spread around a number of branches. This was a recommendation of the Departmental Committee and it was not adopted. There is also certainly a very great need for somebody to have responsibility in the dockyards themselves to co-ordinate the information and the experience of the recently instituted merit award scheme, which is causing very considerable dissatisfaction.
It is the sort of scheme which, if not administered under standard conditions throughout the enterprise, with great care 712 to avoid favouritism, with great care to see that everybody is satisfied, will not only cause a very great deal of hardship, but also great antagonism, and there is nobody in the dockyards themselves who specialises in the administration of schemes of this sort, just as there is nobody in the dockyards themselves whose responsibility it is to stimulate the joint consultative machinery which has been set up for some years.
Everybody knows in industry that if the joint consultative machinery is to work—the joint production councils, which they have in the dockyards—the initiative and a good deal of the original pressure must come from the management, who must be interested and must want it to succeed. It is a specialised job. There is nobody to advise on that in the dockyards at the present time. The deputy managers who act as personnel officers are excellent professional men, but they have no experience and no training for this sort of work.
The dockyards are finding some difficulty—the First Lord made some mention of this—in finding sufficient industrial staffs, craftsmen and others. Here again. there would be a great advantage in having somebody whose personal responsibility it was to advise managers in the dockyards on methods of selection and recruitment, which are today becoming more and more specialist matters in industry. The Committee did not suggest, and I certainly would never recommend, that the post of personnel officer—the duties of which should also include the present very meagre welfare provisions in the dockyards—should be an executive one. It is a functional and advisory post. But there is no doubt that such a post is needed in the dockyards at present; and if such an appointment is made, the person appointed should not be just anybody picked up from anywhere and posted to the job, but somebody with real training in and experience of the job.
Most of the recommendations of the Committee dealt with the home dockyards, but I suggest that the recent happenings in Malta indicate that it might have been better had some such personnel officer existed in the dockyard in Malta, and I was interested to see that an ex-governor of Malta made that suggestion in "The Times" recently.
713 What I now have to say will be a good deal more controversial. I wonder whether it is right or necessary to have an admiral as the head of the dockyard at all? The Estimates Committee, on the whole, recommended no change, but it is very difficult to see what the real functions of the admiral are. The Admiralty, of course, hold that it is necessary to have an admiral at the head of the dockyards because of relations with the Fleet. But if there were a civilian general manager—and the Committee recommended the appointment of one under the admiral superintendent—it is a little difficult to see why he could not be responsible for liaison with the Fleet, and so on, to the commander of the port.
With a civilian general manager there would be opportunity for promotion for those in the departments, and the argument used by the Admiralty that there would be jealousies if somebody were appointed from one department do not bear investigation by anybody who understands how people get to the top in industry. Men do not get to the top in industry unless they come up from one of the branches, and it is nonsense to suggest that from among men who have been managing departments of 5,000 and 6,000 workers we could not find one capable of being appointed as general manager, especially if given the sort of training and if selected at the sort of age that I am suggesting. In this field, is an admiral really necessary?
Another matter which is very relevant at the present is the adequacy of the replacement of plant and equipment of the dockyards. From reading the Estimates and dockyards accounts it is difficult to judge the efficiency of the enterprise because there are no comparative figures, such as those to be found in a trading account. Comparisons cannot be made because today the dockyards are concerned almost solely with conversions, or refits and repairs, which vary greatly. It seems that the Admiralty have no real policy about replacements. Either money is so short that the work cannot be afforded, or there is expansion and the Fleet has to have everything, with nothing left for the yard itself. The result is that there is nothing left to bring the dockyards really up to date, and I suggest that this may well be the result of naval control in the dockyards.
714 If the customer is put in control of production, he has a very short-term view; he wants the goods now; and he has neither the experience nor, if I may say so, the patience to be able to judge how much of the money he gets every year should be spent on producing ships and things for the Fleet and how much should be spent on ensuring that the dockyards, on which the Fleet depends, are at the highest pitch of efficiency. I understand that we are spending money, not for an immediate war but in preparation for a war, and during a war repair and refitting is of major importance.
The Committee drew attention to the fact that in the electrical department the Admiralty have undoubtedly seriously under-estimated the enormous cumulative expansion that is taking place in equipment, to which the First Lord referred today. I was shocked to see in the Estimates that there are no new works proposed for this year. If that is the case, I wonder how it will be possible efficiently to carry out these extremely complicated conversions, as in the case of the "Relentless," which involved this enormous and complicated mass of electrical machinery, which those who have read that very amusing novel "Sylvester" can fully appreciate.
§ Mr. Harold Watkinson (Woking)
I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not want to mislead the House. The "Relentless" conversion was quite satisfactorily handled, and the ship is now at sea with the Fleet. It does not appear, therefore, that the situation is quite as bad as the hon. Gentleman makes out.
§ Mr. Albu
Of course, one can complete anything if one has all the money and all the time, but the Board of Admiralty are given a limited amount of money, and I am only making suggestions for improving the efficiency with which they spend it. The hon. Gentleman is surely not suggesting that the cost, in terms of labour, materials, occupation of works, and so on, is of no importance. It is of very great importance.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I am sorry to intervene again, but I understood the hon. 715 Gentleman to say that work of the nature of the conversion of the "Relentless" was quite beyond the powers of the Royal Dockyards. That is demonstrably not so.
§ Mr. Albu
Certainly not. There is no doubt that was extraordinarily brilliantly done: It was a very fine job of work. But the workshops in which the electrical work is carried on are absolutely shocking, and if the expansion of the electrical department goes on at the cumulative rate at which it has been going on in the last five or 10 years, it will be quite impossible to maintain the Fleet. We can build as many hulls and guns as we like, but if we are not able to maintain the electrical equipment the Fleet can no longer go to sea. There is no doubt that in this department there has been a gross under-estimation and gross under-equipment—that applies particularly to the workshops. This is completely false economy.
The methods of providing new plant and machinery in the dockyards are, in my opinion, cumbersome and out of date. The dockyards are asked for their proposals, and in the last financial year they asked for £902,000 worth of machine tools and other equipment: they got £78,000. Enormous schedules were got out and inspectors went round from the Admiralty to examine every single item of equipment. What an extraordinary way to go about it! What confidence in the management of these very large undertakings! Would it not be better to have a manager they could really trust to carry out the job, and have decentralised responsibility for doing it?
As far as I can see, there appears to be no relationship in the minds of the Admiralty between the nominal figures for depreciation, which seem quite fair in the dockyard accounts, and the figures they spend every year to maintain the assets. I believe that the policy for plant maintenance should be worked out each year in conjunction with the superintendents in the dockyards. At least a fairly large proportion of the sum to be allocated for this purpose should be allocated to them to spend as they like, and they should be left to get on with the job. I do not say they should buy it themselves. They could requisition it from the central purchasing department 716 of the Admiralty, but they should have some responsibility for spending it themselves.
The Committee was unable, and had not the time, to make an investigation into the responsibility for dockyards at the Admiralty. Here I think the arguments are stronger than ever against a naval officer as director of the dockyards. He does not have that intimate contact with the Fleet that even the superintendent has, and he is entirely dependent on the senior civilian professional man, the deputy director, who in fact does the work. It is quite wrong, I think, that the man with the greatest experience and greatest knowledge of this vast industrial undertaking should only have contact with the Board through naval officers whose jobs are entirely ephemeral. Here is an industrial enterprise of very great importance. I observe in the Estimates for this year that a second Deputy Director of Dockyards has been appointed for special duties. I asked the First Lord yesterday what the nature of his special duties was to be. His reply was:…This officer had been appointed for the purpose of revising and rewriting the technical portions of the Home Dockyard Regulations and also the Professional Officers' Instructions.…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 5th March, 1952; Vol. 497, c. 51.]I cannot believe that an officer at £2,500 a year is appointed solely for that reason. I hope that one of the purposes of this appointment is to make a greater study of the proposals of the Estimates Committee and of the methods of managing our dockyards at the present time so as to bring them into line with modern industrial conditions.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Commander R. Scott-Miller (King's Lynn)
This is the first occasion on which I have had the privilege of addressing this House, and I am deeply conscious of my shortcoming, and pray the indulgence of the House. I represent King's Lynn, which is not a naval port, but it is one of the oldest seaports in the country, and many of my constituents are most interested in the welfare and the actions of the Navy.
I am going to raise a point which deals with Vote A of the Estimates, dealing with the number of personnel borne on the books of Her Majesty's ships, 717 and, in particular, I want to mention the officer part of that personnel. What is bothering me more than anything else is the impact upon the efficiency of the Royal Navy as a separate entity of the various Allied combined organisation headquarters which we see coming into being with greater and greater intensity.
As I see it, the need for the Navy today is to present itself in as strong and efficient position as it can with the personnel and equipment at its disposal. That is our contribution to the "cold" war which we are now fighting. Obviously the more efficient and ready the British Fleet can appear, the greater the deterrent to a third world war. On the other hand, the Navy is continually having to supply staff officers, experienced and senior officers to various N.A.T.O. commands, and that, of course, is again necessary preparatory to the fighting of a "hot" war, should that calamity ever come upon us.
The First Lord's statement today made it clear that an immediate and substantial number of additional experienced officers has been needed as the result of the measures taken to increase the preparedness of the Fleet. That is an indisputable fact. The Navy has never had to meet such commitments in time of peace as it is doing today.
As has been already mentioned, Korea, Malaya, Egypt, the combined exercises in the Mediterranean, the greater number of ships of the Reserve Fleet that have to be kept up and manned with care and maintenance parties—all these are large commitments on the Service today. The First Lord mentioned our new types of frigates. There is so much equipment required in the ships of the Fleet today that it cannot be got all into one ship. We have anti-aircraft frigates, antisubmarine frigates and anti-aircraft direction-finding frigates—that is three sorts. Surely the effect of that will be that we shall need more captains (F), more and more senior officers commanding our squadrons of frigates and destroyers.
So we see, on the one hand, a greater and greater pull at the experienced officers at our disposal, and at the same time, a pulling at the structure of our Navy by these new commands which are coming into being. The Supreme Allied Commander of Europe must have naval elements with many staff officers. Under 718 him there are three subordinate commands—the Northern Europe, the Western Europe and the Southern Europe. Again that calls for a number of liaison officers. A Supreme Allied Commander (Atlantic) is now coming into being. He will need a staff of our senior and experienced officers. Indeed, they are already being appointed. Soon, I have no doubt, we shall see a Channel Command formed.
There is another point, and that is the Allied air commands which will need their naval elements of liaison officers. I presume that before long we shall see a Supreme Allied Commander (Mediterranean) appointed, with an Allied air commander again in that sphere, all of which will tend to pull away from our Navy those officers whom we can ill-spare. The Navy is a very balanced force. It has been built up over many years on a rough proportion of one officer to 10 men. If we see the balance of that structure being upset by large numbers of the more experienced and senior officers being pulled right out of the organisations which are necessary for the efficient functioning of the Fleet as an entity, I am afraid we shall see, or may see, the fighting capacity of our Navy seriously impaired.
That is my concern in the matter today, and I ask the First Lord to consider these points. Perhaps the matter should have been raised in the defence debate yesterday, but I purposely left it for today because I thought that it would come better from a naval angle than if it had been brought up in the general defence debate.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Mr. A. G. Bottomley (Rochester and Chatham)
This is the first time I have had the pleasure of following a maiden speaker, and I am sure that I express the opinion of all Members of the House when I say that we have listened to a speech which has shown knowledge of the subject and has been of great interest. Indeed, it can truly be said that the words match the action of the man, because during the last war the hon. and gallant Member for King's Lynn (Commander Scott-Miller) rendered gallant service with the Russian convoys in the Mediterranean and in North-West Europe. We shall all look forward to listening to him again on another occasion.
719 I do not want to follow the hon. and gallant Member in his line of thought. I agree with him at once that the Royal Navy is still the pride of our country and the basis of our traditions, but I am sure that he will agree with me that I can apply equal sentiments to those who man and build the ships.
I represent a constituency which gives its name to one of the famous dockyards of our country. It was one which was built in the time of the first Queen Elizabeth and since then it has been built up and it is now a very capacious dockyard which is able to take the heaviest ships, equip them and send them right away to sea. In the dockyards there is very fine equipment, which is lacking in many ways, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) has said, but the saw-mills, the metal-mills and all the workshops which go to make up a great naval station are handled to the best of their ability by the craftsmen and others who work there.
I should like also to refer to the comment by the First Lord about the sailors who took part in the funeral of our beloved late King. Those men were trained and stationed at Chatham. I was delighted to hear the First Lord pay tribute to their work.
At Chatham we have the Royal Marines. They are, indeed, interwoven into the town. The town's motto is "Loyal and true," and the town gave the Royal Marines its freedom. It was very sad when the last Government had to do away with the substantial force of Royal Marines based at Chatham. There were very powerful reasons for doing that, but the then First Lord gave an assurance that the Royal Marines would in some way always be associated with Chatham and I hope that the present Government will endorse that and that later in the debate we shall be assured that the association of the Royal Marines with Chatham will not be impaired.
The last administration recognised that the removal of the Royal Marines would weaken Chatham as a naval depot and establishment and they agreed that other services might go there to enable Chatham still to take its place in the front rank of our dockyards. The former First Lord arranged for the shore-based ship H.M.S. "Ceres" to go to Chatham. The Parliamentary Secretary will expect me to say 720 that on Monday of this week a deputation from the Medway towns, including the mayors, the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) and myself, was called by arrangement to Admiralty House, where we were told that H.M.S. "Ceres" was not going to Chatham.
I gather that the decision was taken by the First Lord's predecessor and confirmed by the present First Lord. I do not know whether he or his immediate predecessor knew that the First Lord in office at the time of the removal of the Royal Marines gave an assurance that they would be replaced by a permanent establishment. I hope that when the matter was considered by the present First Lord and his predecessor they knew of that and took it into account. However, if it is a fact that, because of the more vital needs of defence, it is necessary to make some economy so that other services can be rendered, I am still not sure that full consideration has been given to the cause of economy. I should have thought that it would have been more economical to have an establishment based on a dockyard town like Chatham than to have it placed away on the moors of Yorkshire.
I hope that further consideration will be given before it is finally decided that H.M.S. "Ceres" shall not go to Chatham. If it is finally decided that H.M.S. "Ceres" cannot go there, I beg the First Lord to do something to honour the earlier assurance which was given upon the advice of the First Lord's officials. There is an obligation on him to see that the promise is fulfilled.
There are two general items about which I wish to speak. I had intended to talk on the subject with which my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton has dealt so adequately, and hon. Members are anxious to speak will be pleased to know that my remarks will now be shortened. I want to make one comment on that subject. It is not only the short-term system of admiral superintendents and departmental managers which causes inefficiency in many ways. If there is one thing which really counts in the dockyard, it is complete harmony between the administration and the men on the job.
The Whitley Council machinery which has been built up is a fine one, but it is weakened to the extent that the staff side are not sure how long those sitting on the 721 other side will be there. The frequent changes themselves impair good relationships. I make that comment in particular while supporting what has been said by my hon. Friend.
The First Lord said there was difficulty in getting staff, particularly craftsmen, into the dockyards. The last Administration did many things to improve the lot of dockyard workers and to help to retain them. I was assured that the last Administration would consider giving way to the trade union representation that the men should have two weeks' holiday instead of one week's holiday.
It is an odd thing that inside a dockyard we have industrial workers who get one week's holiday and non-industrial workers who get two weeks' holiday and upwards. I say nothing against the temporary clerk, for he is entitled to get what he can, but it is not just treatment that he should get three weeks' holiday when the industrial worker, who really builds the ship, has only one week's holiday. As soon as possible two weeks' holiday ought to be given to the industrial workers.
I listened with interest to what the First Lord had to say. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), the former Parliamentary Secretary, indicated that there is not a lot of difference between us on the subject of the Royal Navy and the dockyards. We both have high standards, but there is a difference of application, and we think that we can make the whole thing work better than can hon. Members opposite.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)
I am sure that the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) will forgive me if I do not follow him in what he has been saying. I wish to speak about a branch of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve
I speak of the R.N.V.S.R., or the Supplementary Reserve, about which many people in this country know very little. The reserve was started before the war when a large naval expansion was foreseen, and, for various reasons, not much could be done for it in respect of training. At that time I was a member of a certain flotilla, and we bought two picket boats and had to purchase our coal 722 from the Admiralty in order to operate them.
Those days have changed. Since the war this Force has grown to approximately 9,000 reserve officers, many of them with six years' experience at sea during the war. At present they carry out training with the fullest co-operation of the Admiralty, within the Admiralty's financial limitations, in the following ways. First, there are paid courses. Second, there are unpaid courses for those who are keen enough and are able to take them at their own expense. Third, there are lectures, which are regularly attended and the Admiralty give all facilities they can.
Fourth, there is the very generous cooperation of many of our shipping lines who accept officers of the Reserve on trips at very reduced passage rates, giving them extremely valuable navigational instruction and enabling them to stand watches at sea and so on, which is of very great use to the officers.
There is great keenness in this Reserve. In the London Flotilla alone there are some 900 officers. But there is a likelihood of this keenness waning for reasons which I shall try to give. My hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, South (Mr. R. Allan), mentioned the feeling of officers in the R.N.V.R. who go to sea. I admit I have not been to sea in one of H.M. ships since the end of the war, but during the Christmas Recess I went on a course at a naval shore establishment where I found the most wonderful co-operation and tact in the way that our shortcomings were overlooked when one had possibly forgotten something. Using the most Parliamentary form of language, the instructing officer would remark, "No, doubt you will remember, Sir," to which one replied as quickly as possible, "Yes. of course."
Being one of the lucky few who were able to go on one of these unpaid courses, I was very struck with the immense advances made in instructional technique—I.T. as it is called—since the war. First of all, in damage control I noticed remarkable improvements. Those of us who came up against this problem during the war will know how vital it is under active service conditions. The damage control school, with its very realistic fire-fighting and damage control models to demonstrate flooding and so on, is doing wonderful work in this field.
723 Then it was interesting to see the immense advances in what I might call the equipment breakdown. Many hon. Members in this House who have had to grapple with this problem in the old days will remember the confusing, complicated diagrams on the wall which looked like the entrails of some monster, and which were rapidly explained to us by a chief petty officer or some instructor who had forgotten more than we should ever learn and who was trying to teach us in a short time. I was interested to see in the naval establishment I visited that they had, for instance, "broken down" the various parts of some electrical equipment so that a person trying to follow it could trace the wires on various wooden boards.
Lastly, and most important because of its high training value, was the special equipment known as the action speed teacher. I am sure that hon. Members could imagine my anxiety when on the last day of my course I was confronted with the knowledge that I was going to be put in the position of a senior officer of a convoy escort. I was the only R.N.V.R. officer on this particular course. But I found that once I was shut up in the small box full of intricate machinery and equipment and the exercise got going the years between slipped away and my six years of experience at sea during the war, most of which was spent in the Atlantic, came back to me. The many problems that confront the senior officer of a convoy escort were not quite so difficult as they might otherwise have been, especially with the invaluable help of a staff officer.
On these training courses the help given by the Admiralty could, I think, be expanded. There are various reasons why perhaps not enough R.N.V.R. officers know about these courses at the present time, and I believe I am right in saying that in some cases the courses arranged for reserved officers have not been fully availed of. The reasons are twofold. Firstly, there is question of money. Whereas the Admiralty are arranging paid courses for R.N.V.R. officers, I should like to suggest a scheme whereby the numbers could be greatly expanded. Those who are not fortunate enough to be included in the small number of people going on paid courses could easily undergo a certain amount of training. Their Lordships would provide them with free 724 travel warrants when proceeding on a course as well as some provision for their messing and general expenses when they are on their course, or undergoing their training.
Secondly, we are given no uniform allowance. It often happens that by reason of advancing years or the putting on of a little extra weight it is found that the old monkey jacket will no longer fit. I understand that the reefer, trousers and lace for a lieutenant-commander in the R.N.V.R. costs £29 15s. 6d. plus Purchase Tax at £7 8s. 10d. A cap and badge will cost £4 10s. and a greatcoat £27 plus £6 Purchase Tax. These few items, not taking into account the cost of socks, shirts and other essentials of that nature, come to a total of £76 10s. 3d., and that would seem to be a very unfair amount of money to ask an officer to pay, particularly as he is going to make quite a large financial sacrifice in any case.
The next thing is probably the most difficult of all, the situation arising in regard to a man's employer. After all, one must appreciate the situation of an employer who has a Reserve officer working for him. It is difficult for him to give the employee both the normal holidays and the additional time for training, because other people in his employment who are not in any Service will say, "Why should we not get the same?" I want to suggest two ways by which this could be met.
First of all, if every volunteer who is selected by the Admiralty for a course could get some form of call-up, it would make it much easier for the man himself and also for the employer. I also suggest that their Lordships could consider starting courses of perhaps five days instead of a fortnight or even a weekend, because I am sure these officers would be only too keen to work in the dog watches and at the weekend in order to acquire their instruction and knowledge in as short a time as possible.
I should like to see greater liaison between the Admiralty and those excellent flotillas throughout the country which are doing their best to train large numbers of officers and which know the officers who are keeping up-to-date and who are therefore the best to send on these courses. It should also be possible to have some form of liaison, not only with the shipping 725 lines but with business firms, to impress on them the great importance of training these reserve officers.
After the First World War a large number of Regular officers were retired under what was called the Geddes Axe, and they were available to come back at the beginning of the last war. But owing to the policy of their Lordships during the last war, there is not, I understand, such a large reserve of officers to be called upon now. Therefore, these R.N.V.S.R. officers, many of whom have great experience with long course qualifications and so on, might well fill the gap.
To sum up, I should like to suggest to the First Lord that, first of all, a free warrant should be given to all officers in the R.N.V.S.R. proceeding on naval training. It is obviously unfair that where two men go on a course one gets his fare paid because he is on a paid course while the other has to pay his own fare because he is not. Secondly, I suggest that their should be some allowance to these men at naval rates for messing during training. They should be given some concession, perhaps a tax rebate on any uniform they buy.
I hope the First Lord will institute or look into the possibility of some form of call-up to take the onus off the individual and the employer, because often the employer gives the unfortunate individual the choice of going on training or taking promotion. The course I suggest would make it easier for both sides. Will their Lordships consider shorter courses of five days or a week-end and a closer liaison between the Army and the R.N.V.S.R. flotillas? They are doing a very great job. For a large section of our Reserve of officers, in fact, the R.N.V.S.R. would be, to use a phrase of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister during the defence debate, in his own inimitable language,…that great background and foundation of hereditary seamen, generations going back to generations, gathered round our great seaports and towns, furnishing us with a magnificent supply of youth, sustained by the tradition of their fathers."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 5th March, 1952; Vol. 497, c. 440.]I ask the First Lord of the Admiralty to consider the modest claims of these very keen, patriotic men and to help them all he can.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Plymouth, Devonport)
This is a very quiet debate on the Navy Estimates. Perhaps that is because some hon. Members have not recovered from yesterday, or perhaps it is due to the way in which the First Lord introduced the Estimates and which makes it very difficult to engage in controversy with him. All of us would like to congratulate him on his appointment to his office. If we are to have a Tory Government, we would rather see him as First Lord of the Admiralty than anybody else. Therefore, I add my congratulations to those which have been spoken by other hon. Members.
I want, first of all, to refer to a matter which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), and that is the retention of the time-expired men for a further 18 months, and the proposed call-up of 3,500 further men from the Reserve list during the coming year. I hope that the argument presented by my hon. Friend will be fully dealt with by the Parliamentary Secretary when he replies. It is very rough on these men who have been held for a further 18 months. The greatest hardship falls on those who are being retained, and there is the strongest possible feeling on the subject. It is certainly very hard on a man who may have made all his family and domestic arrangements, possibly some definite arrangement about getting a house on the basis that he is coming out of the Service, that they should be upset by his retention.
I have no doubt that the Parliamentary Secretary understands the difficulties and I hope that he will be able to give us some expectation that this system will be brought to an end as soon as possible. We want an assurance that the Admiralty are not going to rely on this system, and that the Minister will do his best not only to reduce the period but to bring it to an end as quickly as possible.
Another matter which I want to raise affects recruitment for the Navy, although not directly, and relates to naval pensions. I am sure that the Admiralty must be aware—the Parliamentary Secretary is aware of it, because he raised the matter in the last Parliament—that the proposals made by the last Government for an increase in naval pensions did not apply to those who left the Service before 1st September, 1950. The period for which 727 a man would get an increased pension was dated back to 1st September, 1950. This system no doubt applies to all three Services, but so far as the Navy is concerned the amount involved is only £1 million in order to give to naval pensioners the increase which was given to those who left the Service before 1st September, 1950.
There is a very strong case for doing this, because many of the pensioners concerned fought in one or two world wars. It is hard that there should be discrimination among naval pensioners. The Navy have a special interest in this proposal, because if there is a grievance among naval pensioners about the way in which they are treated, as there undoubtedly is at the present time, it might have an effect on the general prospect of recruitment.
The main matter I wish to discuss deals with the dockyards. Those hon. Members who have been good enough to listen to me on previous occasions will be glad to know that I have a new speech on this occasion. I have had to make roughly the same speech in five successive Navy Estimates debates, but on this occasion I have a good deal more ammunition. However, I would say to my hon. Friend who was the previous Civil Lord of the Admiralty that, although I have had some criticism to make of him in the past, and some of the things which I will say today will reflect on his administration as well as on the administration of those who are now in office, he has the right to congratulate himself, because in the six years when he was Civil Lord more reforms were introduced into the dockyard than had been introduced during the previous 40 years. There was the whole change in the establishment scheme, and many other reforms. That is no reason why we should not go on trying to secure greater reforms.
I have suggested in previous Estimates debates that the Royal Dockyard organisation is nothing like as efficient as it should be. It is thoroughly antiquated, and a real effort should be made to bring it up to date. I suggested that the best way to start on that process was by having some inquiry into the whole of the arrangements and organisation of the dockyards. When I said that before, I supported my case with evidence which had been given me by workers and trade unionists in Devonport Dockyard.
728 The previous Civil Lord very often questioned the evidence, and suggested that my complaints were unfounded and that the workers in the dockyards did not hold the views I had suggested. I am sure he has read the Report of the Select Committee on Estimates and that he will not be able to hold those views any more. From the evidence given by those in Devonport, there was no doubt whatever of their views, and I will quote in a few minutes some of the views which they expressed, in good Devon language.
Before I turn to some of the matters which were covered by the Select Committee, I want to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) on the fine work he did as Chairman of that Committee. The same is true of some of the other Members of the Committee, in particular, Mrs. Lucy Middleton, the former Member for Plymouth, Sutton, who played a great part not only in this House but in making the Select Committee inquiry the finest inquiry we have ever had into the Royal Dockyards.
Some of the things revealed in the Report of the Select Committee have already been referred to in comparatively mild language by my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton. He revealed in the Report that there was an inquiry which was conducted way back in 1927. It was not a public inquiry, or rather the Admiralty made sure that its report was not made public. Towards the end of the proceedings of the new Select Committee last year, the inquiry which had taken place in 1927 was discovered.
When they managed to get the Admiralty to unearth the conclusions in this document, it was discovered that many of them were exactly those which my hon. Friend said had been reached in the Select Committee's Report. So they have been lying there in the Admiralty with no one in the Admiralty intending to do anything about them. It was a remarkable discovery that many of the recommendations made in the year 1952 had been presented to the Admiralty in the majority report in 1927, but the Admiralty decidedly and determinedly said that they would not do anything about them. It was an astonishing revelation, indicating the difficulties we are up against in trying to get the 729 Admiralty to look at this matter in a proper and radical spirit.
I hope that some of my hon. Friends will pardon me if I quote extracts from the Select Committee's Report. I know that many hon. Gentlemen wish to speak and have no direct interest in the Royal Dockyards, but this is the one occasion during the year when we can discuss this important matter.
I want to deal with four special matters covered in the Select Committee's Report, several of which have already been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton. The first is that of maintenance and repairs and is dealt with, partly at any rate, under Vote 10 of the Estimates. I thought the First Lord today made a sinister reference to this when he said that some money was to be taken away from Vote 10 for matters not directly concerned with that but with something else.
One of the standing grievances of the dockyard workers for many years past has been that quite insufficient sums have been provided under Vote 10 for maintenance and repair work in the dockyards. What should happen is that out of the total amount which the Admiralty are allocated there should be a much bigger effort to divert more to Vote 10 in order to try to deal with the antiquated conditions existing in the dockyards. Anybody who looks at those conditions will see that they amount to a scandal.
When I said the things I did in previous years to my hon. Friend the previous Civil Lord, he said that I used exaggerated language which should not be employed in regard to these matters. Therefore, I was interested to see in the report the evidence given before the Select Committee by the Admiral Superintendent of Devonport Dockyard. He is not a man given to wild language but one universally respected and held in the highest esteem. He was asked this simple question:Have you yourself any suggestions for improving the efficiency of the yard, anything which you think might help?He replied:Undoubtedly. Give us the money to build some decent shops for the men to work in …The position is frightful. It is amazing how the people turn out the work they do…the shops are too congested.730 That appears on page 290. Later, on page 291, he said:The dockyard is in a very bad state.There was also a discussion of the point mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton as to how much money under this Vote was to be spent by the authorities of Devonport Dockyard. The Admiral Superintendent replied to Question 3617 as follows:We do have a small amount on which I can give authority to buy locally.He was asked what sort of amount, and he replied, "£1,000." Of course, it is a ridiculous figure.
The view that something much more radical should be done under Vote 10, and that the Admiralty should give some attention to it, was expressed not only by the Admiral Superintendent, but by the evidence given by the secretary of the trade union side in the dockyard, Mr. Gribbell. In reply to Question 3412 on page 276, he said:No department has got enough space. The yard has not expanded and the problem of modernisation and maintaining a high standard of production is practically impossible.He then went on to discuss directly the way in which money is allocated under Vote 10 and how, in fact, this has for many years past been neglected by the Admiralty who have made no real effort to tackle the problem on that side. Mr. Gribbell ended by saying:You must appreciate that many of the workshops in the yard are obsolete. Many of them are unheated, and in the winter the temperature drops below freezing point.There is a mass of evidence in this report bearing out what I have said in the House previously and what has been said for many years past by trade union representatives and workers in the dockyards. Therefore, it is high time that the Admiralty paid much more attention to the question of what can be done to improve the shops in which the workers have to work, to see whether they can have proper canteen facilities, which they have never had, and generally to try to bring the equipment and plant in the dockwards, particularly that affecting the conditions in which the men work, up to something like a modern standard.
I have been quoting from the evidence given in respect of Devonport Dockyard because I know those who gave the evidence and because I know they were 731 speaking the truth. If, however, hon. Members will read through the Report as I have done, the same evidence on most of these matters comes from all the other dockyards, as we have been saying for the past six years in this House, although apparently no one would believe us, and certainly the Admiralty did not appear to do so.
My second point deals with the joint production committees. There is no doubt what is the judgment of the Select Committee on this subject. In discussing its recommendations, the Select Committee said that the production committees had not worked at all properly. At the beginning of the report, on page XI, they said:Your Committee has to report that the Joint Production Committees have not worked as they were intended to, and have not fulfilled the hopes they raised.The Committee went on to elaborate that view, but I do not think it came to a firm conclusion as to all the reasons why this was so. In my view, the main reasons for the comparative failure of those joint production committees are given in the evidence to be found on page 272, again given by Mr. Gribbell. Speaking for the trade union side in Devonport Dockyard, he criticised the terms of reference under which the production committees were set up, as follows:They do not permit anything of a constructive nature.He goes on to describe how some of these matters are dealt with, or not dealt with, in the production committee. He was supported by Mr. Stevens from the Transport and General Workers' Union who, giving similar evidence on page 274, said:We find joint production committees outside have greater powers than ours.He elaborated that point over several pages, showing how in the committees the workers feel that they cannot get at the real issues. From the cross-examination which followed, it seemed to me that to some extent the Select Committee did not accept that point of view, but if hon. Members combine what I have said already about Vote 10—that the Admiralty in London has complete control and that nothing can be done locally—it is possible to realise how valid was the point made by the workers in Devon-port Dockyard before the Select Committee as to why the committees have not 732 been successful in the past. I hope that the Admiralty will look at that matter, too, in order to see whether they cannot, when considering the overhaul of their organisation, as they should, do it in such a way as to make these production committees really effective.
Now I turn to the third subject which is discussed at some length in the Select Committee's Report, the question of merit awards. My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton said a few words about it, and the Select Committee said a great deal about it; at page xvi, for instance:Your Committee consider that there has not been great enough awareness among the Managers of the revolutionary nature of the Merit Award Scheme, which is in direct conflict with long-established Trade Union ideas.I do not believe that any trade unionist could possibly disagree that the system of merit awards is in general conflict with the ideas and principles for which trade unionists have fought.
But in the dockyards there were particular reasons why the merit award scheme might cause fear and anxiety amongst the workers, because for 40 years before the Civil Lord joined in helping the trade unions to abolish it, we had the establishment scheme, whereby the authorities could come along and pick and choose where and as they wished. Hardly a worker in the dockyards did not believe that those choices were made on the basis of favouritism.
That scheme was done away with, and the principle of the appointment of people to be established—90 per cent. of them on a basis of seniority—was introduced by the Labour Government. That was a great advance, but many workers in the dockyards feel that the Admiralty, having lost the weapon of the establishment scheme, have been all too eager to introduce the merit award scheme because it gives back to them some of the old power they lost when the establishment scheme was done away with.
I am not very impressed when the officials at Devonport Dockyard or anywhere else say that, of course, the merit award scheme is working very well. That is what the previous Civil Lord used to say to me; that, according to his evidence, it was working fine. It will be seen also from the Report of the Select Committee that some of the managers or deputy managers in Devonport said quite 733 clearly that the merit award scheme was working very well. At page 281 of the report, the deputy manager of the construction department was asked how he thought the merit award scheme was working. He replied, "Very well." He could hardly have heard what was said by the representatives of the workers only an hour or two earlier to the same Committee. Representatives of three or four different unions who appeared before the Select Committee were asked what they thought of the scheme. Mr Brown was asked, and he said:If you want our opinions on the merit scheme, I can give you the general impression, and that is that the merit scheme is lousy.At page 277 of the report, Mr. Gribbell, the secretary of the trade union side said:Ships were not built without bad language, but they have invented some new words since this merit scheme was instituted!Later the spokesman, Mr. Stephens, of the Transport and General Workers' Union said:My organisation thinks there is nothing good in the merit scheme.and that they had in effect always been opposed to it. Mr. Gribbell, as is reported at page 278, said at the end:The only analogy I can draw is this: supposing we had a merit scheme for Members of Parliament, and an under-secretary was given the job of assessing M.P.s—just think what would happen!It really is an extraordinary state of affairs when—
§ Mr. W. J. Edwards
I do not want to interrupt my hon. Friend, but may I tell him that the merit scheme was not imposed upon the trade unions? It was accepted very fully by the trade union side in the Admiralty Joint Industrial Council, which is the body responsible for serving the interests of the work-people in the dockyards. They could have refused it, which would have meant that many of the dockyards would not have received that extra money which they obtained through the merit scheme.
§ Mr. Foot
That is perfectly true. If my hon. Friend casts his mind back to the last debate on the occasion of the Navy Estimates, he will remember that I referred to that fact; that certainly has been accepted by the spokesman on the Whitley Council. I am not trying to contest that. What I am discussing is how it is worked. My hon. Friend the 734 previous Civil Lord really must look at the evidence. These are the official representatives of trade unions in Devonport Dockyard—
§ Mr. Edwards
Quite a large percentage of people in the dockyards are members of trade unions, but it is claimed that their representatives do not always express the proper voice of those whom they are supposed to be representing.
§ Mr. Foot
There are a lot of arguments about who represents trade unionists best. Some people in Devon-port Dockyard, for instance, might say that the representatives on the spot—I am not criticising one side or the other—sometimes represent the workers in the yard better than the person who sits on the Admiralty Joint Industrial Council. It is no good the previous Civil Lord telling me that the people whom I have quoted are unrepresentative. They are Mr. Brown, of the Electrical Trades Union; Mr. Stephens, of the Transport and General Workers' Union, and Mr. Gribbell, the secretary of the trade union side of the Joint Production Committee in Devonport Dockyard. All I am doing is reading out the evidence they gave to the Select Committee. Their evidence, even though there may be many other workers who disagree with them, is in flat contradiction of the evidence presented to the Select Committee by some of the managers, who, I have no doubt, also give their evidence to the Admiralty.
I was sent back to this House by the workers in Devonport Dockyard, and they have a right to have their views on the subject stated here. I also point out to any hon. Member who may disagree about this that the Select Committee itself, while not suggesting that the merit award scheme should be abolished, criticised it and made proposals for amending it. I am not necessarily suggesting that it should be abolished, but that it ought to be looked at very carefully, and certainly the modifications in the scheme proposed by the Select Committee should be very carefully considered, because they might go some way to remove a great deal of the grievance on this subject which undoubtedly exists in all the dockyards.
I should like to say a word on another and bigger subject, with which my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton dealt: 735 the subject of the most important recommendation which was made by the Committee. I will not say anything on the proposal about a personnel manager—my hon. Friend dealt with that, and it is dealt with fully in the Select Committee's Report; but I wish to refer to the question of the structure of management. We raised this issue in the previous five or six debates. We were pooh-poohed, we hardly got an answer; it was hardly considered a serious topic for conversation or debate in the House.
But now we discover that the Select Committee unanimously recommends drastic alterations in the structure of management in the dockyards. In doing that, they are repeating recommendations made to the Admiralty as long ago as 1927. Therefore, I say that this is a matter which the Admiralty must consider very seriously and on which they should be called upon to issue a White Paper or a statement of their views saying what are their conclusions on the basis of the inquiry made by the Select Committee.
It is no use the Admiralty thinking that these are not matters in which they are deeply concerned. One of the biggest problems in Devonport Dockyard is the question to which the Admiralty representatives themselves referred: the appalling wastage of apprentices, as they called it. When the Committee went round, it asked questions wherever it went as to why there was this appalling wastage of apprentices, and why apprentices who had been through the schools had then drifted away from the yard in such big numbers as they had been doing.
The answer has been given on many occasions in Devonport Dockyard. We have known that this problem has been growing for years. The answer was given best by an eminent citizen of my city, Alderman Mason, who at page 271 of the report, when asked by Mrs. Middleton:What is the reason for that trend away from the yard?replied:Largely because the chances of promotion are very limited, particularly in some departments.He went on to describe in detail how in his view—and he has been in Devon-port Dockyard for many years—that lack of chances of promotion affected every 736 body's prospects. That was a view from the side of the workers.
But later, at page 283 of the report, the deputy manager of one department was also asked a similar question and came to a very similar conclusion, suggesting that this lack of promotion was one of the main reasons for the growth of this problem of the loss of apprentices. This, therefore, is a very serious matter which the Admiralty have to consider, even from their own most limited point of view.
What do the Committee recommend? They recommend, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton has already described, a drastic overhaul of the general structure of management in the Royal Dockyards. In some ways I do not think their proposals go far enough, but at any rate their suggestions would give better prospects of promotion and would have the other advantages which have been stated by my hon. Friend.
But what are the Admiralty doing? Instead of accepting, or going even timidly in the direction suggested by the Select Committee, they are going in the opposite direction. They are proposing to introduce into other departments in the dockyards, such as the electrical department, the system which the Select Committee condemns. They are proposing to do away with civilian management and to introduce the same kind of structure as that which has been so strongly criticised by this Select Committee.
This is one of the main issues which has been raised by dockyard workers for generations. They have said, "Let us have more civilian control in the dockyards and more possibilities of promotion." That has been one of the main points put by them for many years past. It was put forward by myself and others during past debates on the Navy Estimates, but, as I said before, it was never regarded as a serious matter for debate. But here comes a Select Committee and one of the first things it does is come down conclusively on the side of the workers in the dockyards on a matter which they have been advocating for so many years past.
I hope that the Admiralty are going to look at these matters in a much more serious light, and are going to give us a full statement on what they intend to 737 do about the proposals in the Report of the Select Committee. The fact is that most trade union leaders or organisers from other industries, should they go and see the conditions and many of the provisions that apply in our dockyard, would be surprised to learn how out-of-date and inadequate they are.
A start was made during the past five or six years in trying to overhaul this system, to bring it up-to-date and to give it a more modern atmosphere. I sincerely hope the Admiralty are now going to take the matters seriously, since the answers to many of them have been submitted very forcibly by the Committee.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Mr. W. W. Astor (Wycombe)
I wish to suggest to the First Lord that the time has come to implement an undertaking which his predecessor, now Lord Alexander, gave during the war, that they would consider some system for the better appointing of R.N. retired officers at the outbreak of war. I think many of us know that many of the R.N. retired officers are some of the very finest elements we have. They are people who were passed over for promotion, who had been bored by peace-time sailoring, or who had gone into industry or other forms of activity, and who, when they returned, were fully the equals of those who remained in the Service.
There were others who, by age, by health or by the life they had lived, either for physical or intellectual reasons, were not adapted to take the appointments they were given. Some were sent to hot climates when they were quite incapable of standing the physical strain. I could weary or even amuse the House with stories about some of the fantastic appointments we saw. But what we have to do is to think of some way in which these mistakes can be avoided in the future.
I suggest that the First Lord should appoint as Admiralty representative a retired officer in each county or other suitable district whose job it would be to keep in touch with all retired officers in his area, to see them once a year and to put in a report on their general condition—arrange a medical report if necessary—and what they were doing, and thus see that the dormant appointments which they hold on mobilisation should 738 be suitable for their capability. That was Lord Alexander's undertaking, and I think the time has now come when the Admiralty might consider fulfilling it.
I hope my hon. Friend will also reconsider the decision made before the last war that W.R.N.S. should not be used in the Admiralty. It was a great waste of manpower owing to the vested interests of the Civil Service. I hope that, should there be another war, no such undertaking will be given, and that considerations of efficiency will be the only criterion.
I am very glad that the First Lord is going to reconsider the age and methods of entry into the Service. I suggest that our only consideration must be to get the very finest type of naval officers. I think all sides will agree that in the past we have had them. I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friends who served in the R.N.V.R. will agree that, much as we groused about the R.N. officers on many occasions, we would not have changed them for any other body of officers in the world under which to serve.
It is taking a considerable risk with the security and future of this country to tamper with the machinery by which those officers were produced. Surely, it would be wise to maintain the old form of Dartmouth entry, and then add to it entry at 16 and 18. I think it is paying a very poor compliment to the elementary schools of this country to think that their pupils could not change at the age of 13 if they wanted to. At my old school, Eton, we now have boys from elementary schools who have been able to fit in perfectly well both on the intellectual and the personal plane. As I say, it is a poor compliment to the elementary schools to suggest that their boys could not adapt themselves at the age of 13 to Dartmouth in the same way as they have been able to do to the public schools.
§ Mr. Callaghan
It is not a question of whether they could adapt themselves. Obviously, they could. The question is whether this is a natural change point in the educational progress of a boy at an elementary school. It is a natural change point for the preparatory school boy. It is not for the elementary school boy; his parents would not understand it, and the normal grammar school master would not be in favour of it.
§ Mr. Astor
For people who talk like that, there would still be the entry at 16, 739 so they could take their choice. Surely, that is not a great hardship so long as they have the two options to serve their country in the naval Service one way or the other. After all, it would be a very sorry epitaph if England fell, if her fleet were sunk, and if future historians could say, "At least they had the consolation of knowing that none of their officers was recruited before the age of 16."
I was very glad to hear the First Lord's reference to the Suez Canal Company. Their officials gave us wonderful service during the war, as I know well, and I am very glad that the Navy have been able to help them in their great difficulties.
I hope that the First Lord will pay particular attention to the different suggestions made about the training of the Reserves, and that he will not give us a snap answer at the end of this debate, but will consider very carefully the points raised by my hon. and gallant Friends and perhaps make a statement some time in the future.
I would pay the Admiralty one compliment and say how glad the Reserves are that the post of Admiral Commanding the Reserves is no longer considered a terminal job for distinguished officers on the eve of retirement, but that in future those appointed will be from among the young officers who will have the opportunity to rise to the top of the Navy with all the knowledge of the Reserves which they possess. Unlike the former Parliamentary Secretary, I hope the First Lord will stay for many years in his position, and, in view of the way in which the Opposition's main fleet was being torpedoed by their not so light coastal forces yesterday, I am willing to bet very high odds that he will.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu (Huddersfield, East)
I was one of the light coastal forces of last night to which the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. W. W. Astor) referred. Not for the first time, I have got myself into trouble with my own party. That particular vote last night was not a vote against any arms at all but against the proposed level of armaments, suggesting it was much too high and that too much of our resources was being put into arms and too little into other instruments for the preservation of peace.
740 Having taken that stand, I must now approach these Estimates from the point of view of trying, without interfering with the efficiency of the Navy to do the job it is given, to see how the maximum possible economy can be secured. I was delighted that the First Lord—who, like everyone on this side of the House, I wish to congratulate on his appointment—in his opening remarks set himself the same aim of seeing how we can economise in the spending of money without interfering with efficiency. But I was a little disappointed with the results of his efforts.
So far as I could see, the only reference in his speech to anything that would produce an economy at all was to the Admiralty staff, and it was a fairly guarded reference in comparison with some of the attacks he used to make about that organisation when he was a Member of the Opposition. The best he was able to say was that he hoped to restrict the increase in staff and that he hoped—I think it was in 12 months' time—the figures might be somewhat lower than they are now.
I was disappointed also that in his search for economies he made no reference whatever to the dockyards. Referance has been made for him, and I have enough on my plate without following what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot); but clearly, if one is looking for economies, one of the most fruitful fields of search would be in the dockyards.
There is another field which might well prove equally fruitful, a field to which I have referred on a number of occasions in these debates, that of the Royal Naval barracks. There are a great deal better, I believe, than they were during the war. That is due, in part, to the last Administration and in part also to an excellent series of commodores. But these barracks were wasteful in many ways. Being so large, they could not be supervised properly and leakages of Admiralty stores from those establishments was even greater than the leakages from private Parliamentary party meetings in this House. I wish to save the public purse at the expense of private gain in that respect.
It is also a fact that a great deal of time is wasted, quite apart from 741 materials. These places are so enormous that adequate supervision of them is not possible and the amount of halftime and part-time that goes on in naval barracks is, unhappily, literally nobody's business. There is also great wastage of morale.
I am concerned not only with immediate economies, but also with the long-term economies and long-term considerations in regard to barracks. In that connection, by far the most serious objection to having big Royal Naval barracks is that if, unhappily, we get ourselves landed into another war, those barracks will be vulnerable. In the last war they used to contain perhaps 15,000 officers and men, and nowadays the whole lot could be wiped out by a single bomb.
It is no new thing, but it is a matter of desperate importance, this danger that arises from the fact that we have large concentrations of naval officers and ratings in one particular spot. I very much hope that, from the point of view of the safety of the men and the efficiency of the Navy over a long period of years, from the point of view of economy and the proper use of money, the First Lord will see to it that this question is considered and will perhaps devise some means of distributing the depots, about the country, or splitting them up.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
No, we have other uses for our football ground. One argument for large concentrations has been that it is a convenience to be able to draw on a large complement of men at very short notice. That may possibly have been a fair argument years ago when we were manning up battle wagons, but the possibility of battle wagons being manned up suddenly or even over a long period of months is receding into the mists of the past. It should be possible even with smaller depots to be able to man up modern ships with sufficient speed without having these large concentrations.
Another argument which has been put forward has been that from the point of view of the ratings themselves the barracks must be in towns where there are reasonable amenities. Frankly, I think that argument is overdone. I am 742 not sure whether it was used by the former Civil Lord in the debate last year. I had a spell in naval barracks during the war and I used to go out and search for the amenities which were said to be provided in the City of Portsmouth.
I can assure the First Lord that those amenities were very few indeed. There was the "Aggie Weston," the British Sailors Society and others which were, comparatively, amenities because the naval barracks were so loathsome. There were "pubs" and cinemas—but it is possible to find those in smaller towns—and there was a third type of amenity which perhaps it would be irrelevant for me to mention because I cannot find a Vote which covers the ladies in question. It would be possible to provide amenities for the contentment and certainly for the greater safety of the men, and, on the whole, for the greater efficiency of the Navy, if barracks were more widely dispersed.
From the long-term point of view—because I cannot see the problem of arms lessening for some years to come—I think we should all be considering to a much greater degree the integration of the three Services. We have three separate debates on three separate sets of Estimates, and the tendency, particularly since the end of the war, has been more and more to put each Service into a watertight compartment. I believe that the real future of the Services is going to be increasingly in the form of combined operations. We have already in existence a prototype, of the kind of combined operators we really need, and that prototype is in the Royal Marines.
The Royal Marines, I think, are the most remarkable body of Service men I know. They get abused occasionally by the title of "soldier," but the word "soldier," when applied to a marine, is really a badge of honour, because he can do anything the Army can do, and do it a great deal better. And when it comes to seamanship Marines are very often better seamen than are the so-called Regular sailors themselves. I say they are a remarkable body, and indeed they are. When it comes to "spit and polish" they cannot be beaten; and when it comes to really dirty work, they cannot be beaten either. They are first in and last out. They are the prototype, the epitome of the combined operator.
I should like to see very much greater thought being given by politicians and 743 administrators, and by Service men themselves, to the extent to which we can get a closer integration between the three Services in the future, roughly along the lines of the Royal Marines, than we have had in the past.
Now I turn to a political point. The efficiency of any particular Service must depend in part on the job it has to do. The First Lord told us how during the past year the commitments of the Royal Navy had substantially increased. I believe that, at any rate in one particular respect, the commitments of the Royal Navy could be diminished, and I refer to the Suez Canal. It is my view that it is altogether wrong today for these great waterways, which we describe as international, to be regarded as pieces of national property. They are vitally important to the peace and welfare not merely of one nation, but of the whole world.
That being so, it seems to me to be altogether wrong that one nation should have the burden and responsibility of keeping that waterway open and protecting it, whether it be the Dardanelles, the Suez Canal or the Panama Canal. I believe that the duty and obligation of keeping those open and of protecting them should not be national but international, under the aegis of the United Nations. If we would really put into practice the kind of things we sometimes preach on platforms about the possibilities of the United Nations and the duties it should perform, I believe we might be able to relieve the Royal Navy of a commitment which, in my opinion, it is no longer its duty to perform.
I have emphasised the question of economy. It is no longer true that the safety of our Realm chiefly depends on the Royal Navy. It is not true even in a limited military sense, and it certainly is not true in a political sense; because in addition to any arms we may have to deter aggression, if we want to preserve peace for ourselves we have to do much more than merely have arms. We have to provide at home a satisfactory basis of production and a society in which people are really content and have a sense of justice. There is nothing like a sense of justice for making peace and for increasing output.
Beyond that, we have to see what we can do to better the position by getting at 744 what might be one of the causes of war, by attempting to deal with the trouble spots, the backward areas which, if they remain in a state of poverty, might be likely to be causes of world unrest. Because we have to bear in mind those considerations, we must be very careful in dealing with the Estimates of our own particular Services.
Nobody who has ever served in the Royal Navy, even for as short a time as myself, can fail to have a great admiration and indeed an affection for that Service. It was, and is, a wonderful Service. But the Royal Navy is not an end in itself. It is simply one means to an end, the end, as I see it, of trying to deter aggression and to preserve peace.
So I would say it is important that, while we maintain the Navy at as great a pitch of efficiency as seems necessary for the jobs it has to do, we should bear in mind that there are other instruments of peace which equally require attention—social, economic and political instruments. I have a feeling that at the present time we are neglecting those, and I feel that we shall continue to neglect them only at our peril.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Langford-Holt (Shrewsbury)
I suppose that the feeling which runs through the whole of a debate like this is that one is struck, as one sits on these benches, by the change that comes over hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Front Benches. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), the former Parliamentary Secretary, made some complaint, as was his right, about some words used by the Prime Minister a year ago. I shall have to say a few words at a later stage about the change in the attitude of the hon. Member. After all, he was complaining of the poacher turned gamekeeper and I can point in some instances to where the gamekeeper has turned poacher.
The points I wish to raise are directed to one section of the Navy, the Fleet Air Arm. I make no apology for repeating now what I have said on previous occasions when the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East was sitting on the Government Front Bench. I repeat these things and shall continue to repeat them until some satisfactory answer is provided.
745 The Fleet Air Arm is suffering at the moment from a lack of publicity. We look at the daily newspapers and see advertisements by the Air Force and the Army and, from time to time, we see advertisements on behalf of the Fleet Air Arm. I think I am right in saying that the Royal Air Force spends about £60,000 a year on advertising, trying to get the aircrews which it finds necessary to man its aircraft. I also think I am right in saying that during the same period, largely as a result of the example of the Air Force, the Fleet Air Arm spends only one sixth of that amount.
All of us who have studied publicity and the recruiting campaigns, and also the recruiting figures, find it interesting to note that whenever publicity of a recruiting nature appears in the Press, recruiting figures immediately rise. For the Fleet Air Arm this is the advertisement, "Learn to fly in the Royal Navy," which invites one to fill in a form for further particulars. I am quite convinced that there is a direct relation between publicity and recruiting. It is also true to say that the Navy is almost invariably six to eight weeks behind the Royal Air Force.
The First Lord did not mention it today, but I think it is right to say that the Royal Navy are getting between one half and two-thirds of the aircrew they require. I should like to see a greater emphasis upon publicity and recruiting. If the Fleet Air Arm were to be provided with only an additional £50,000 from other funds which the Admiralty have, they would be able to carry out a campaign and get sufficient aircrew for their requirements. That would be at the cost of approximately one and a half aircraft which they are not able to man at present.
They have tried other methods. They have tried the short service scheme, and this is where I want to refer to the gamekeeper turned poacher. It was some years ago that I mentioned to the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East and his predecessor the subject of short service commissions. Today he appeared to show some sense of realism when he talked about the approach of a person who leaves a secondary school. Such people are looking for a career.
Four years ago I said that the short service commission was not the answer 746 for aircrew. The First Lord in his remarks introducing the Estimates pointed out that further schemes of short service are to be introduced. He added that up to 20 per cent. will be given permanent commissions. I say from experience that that will be very little encouragement to pilots and observers joining the Fleet Air Arm who for years have been offered just that sort of inducement with no result whatever. I would far rather that he said not less than 10 per cent. than that he should say up to 20 per cent.
The Army started a system of short service commissions, but there the problem is completely different. The Army introduced three-year short service commissions to induce men who are required to serve for two years to stay for one year longer. In exchange for two years at a certain rate of pay they are offering three years at a higher rate of pay.
But that is not the situation in the Fleet Air Arm. What happened after the war? It is within my own knowledge that at the end of the war probably hundreds of pilots and observers would have been happy, if not delighted, to have stayed on in the Fleet Air Arm if they had been offered any security of tenure. But, of course, they were not. They were told that they might stay on for a year, two years or four years and at the end of that time they might get a permanent commission if they were found suitable. So, of course, large numbers left the Service. They were not interested in that type of bargain.
If the Admiralty could get those men back today they would be in a very much better position than they are at present. All these trained pilots, observers and aircrew left after the war and that did irreparable damage which it will take many years more from now to overcome
Another matter which I raised with the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East, was the production of aircraft for the Navy. He himself mentioned the G.R.17. I wonder if he remembers how in the last Parliament I put to him Question after Question week after week. I asked what time it took to produce an aircraft from the drawing board and put it into squadron service. It is no coincidence that the full reference number of the G.R.17 is G.R.17/44, which seems to indicate that that aircraft started its career in 1944.
747 It is not in service now and the First Lord could not say when it would be, but I am prepared to bet that it will not be in service by the end of next year. It may be, I do not know. We might as well get it out of our heads that the only potential enemy—Russia—is miles behind us in aircraft, because that is not so. There is nothing to indicate that the Russians will lag behind in any time in the foreseeable future.
The First Lord said that the Government would provide the Fleet Air Arm with the best aircraft. All I can say is that the Fleet Air Arm has never had the best aircraft. It has always been what one might call the poor man's Royal Air Force. They have never had the best aircraft and, of course, they have been most conscious of that. I hope that the First Lord will do everything he can to speed up the procedure from the drawing board to the squadron. If he does he will be doing the greatest service to what he has called the striking part of the Royal Navy.
We have a Ministry called the Ministry of Supply. On the question of supplying aircraft to the Royal Navy the Ministry of Supply performs very little service which cannot be dispensed with. I think that the Ministry of Supply act as a brake rather than as a supplier. The Admiralty themselves are not blameless. One must be fair. The Admiralty are too fond of altering what is known as a staff requirement. They produce a staff requirement for an aircraft which will be required to perform certain functions. After the requirement has gone to the aircraft manufacturer, the Admiralty change the requirement from a two-seater aircraft to a three-seater. That leads to an intolerable and impossible situation for the manufacturer, however hard he may try.
An aircraft, the design of which has been changed half way through its incubation, is never of the same standard as one produced when it has been known from beginning to end exactly what it should be like and what it should be required to do. One of the results of this type of action is that today in the Navy we have the Barracuda still flying. To my knowledge it was rejected in 1943 as being unsuitable for first-line duty. That is a kind of situation which will continue just so long as we have this system of 748 delay, muddle and inefficiency which goes on in the production of aircraft.
There is nothing new in this. It is a very old problem. I hope that the First Lord will direct his attention to it. I think it was the First Lord who said that every officer now realised the vital importance of the Fleet Air Arm. As one of the people who started when the Fleet Air Arm was young, when it first came right into the sphere of the Royal Navy, I can remember the indifference, if not the antagonism, with which one had to cope.
We were young. We were a new branch in a very old service and we were conscious that we were not ideal material in every respect. I do not think that any body of people provide ideal material in every respect, but I know that of the 52 officers with whom I started the war on flying duties, there is only a handful alive today. They performed a service and met a fate which might have happened to anybody. They sought to achieve something and achieved it, and I think that now that we have the realisation of the vital importance of this part of the Royal Navy we will not let it wait.
Finally, may I say this? It may be considered as being comparatively unimportant, but it is a matter which I tried to press on the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East when he was in office, and it is the question of the name of the Fleet Air Arm. During the time in which I was in that Service, Admiralty Fleet Orders changed the name of the Fleet Air Arm so often that it came to resemble a paper chase. It has been changed to Naval Aviation, and I do not really know what its name is supposed to be now.
I want to ask the First Lord if he will seriously consider the effect of these changes on such things as recruiting, and whether he will not make the final change and get back to the name by which it has always been known and is known today among those who have served in it—the Fleet Air Arm. After all, the Prime Minister did not call it Naval Aviation, but Naval Air Arm.
The name which I am suggesting is the natural name which people have used for a branch of the Service which only received the name of Naval Aviation because of the fact that it was under Admiralty administration. It leaves a nasty taste to remind them of the days 749 when the Fleet Air Arm was part of the Royal Air Force, and they are trying to forget it. This Service will always be known in my lifetime by the name of the Fleet Air Arm, and I suggest that, from the point of view of recruiting, of history and of tradition, it would be far better if the First Lord were to revert to that old and well-tried name.
In conclusion, I have been discussing a very important matter, which is, nevertheless, only one part of one Service. As has been pointed out, there is much inter-dependence in all three Services, and I believe that the Royal Navy is not in itself sufficient to provide the defence of our country. I hope that the idea of the inter-dependence of all the Services will go forward.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) felt that, as the result of the last war, this interdependence of the Services has received a setback. I disagree. I think that it became greater as the result of the last war than it was before, but I am sure that, in that build-up of our defences, the Royal Navy has a vital part to play, but that, if it is to play that part, it must turn its eyes not only all round it, but must look back as well as forward, and be prepared to change its views and to admit all those ideas of initiative and ingenuity without which no country can be secure.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Adams (Wandsworth, Central)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), I have the feeling that this debate so far has proceeded very calmly and unruffled, and for my part I have no intention of stirring up the calm waters if I can help it, although I must say that I cannot guarantee what will happen when my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey) starts firing his broadsides later on.
Like all other hon. Members, I should like to offer congratulations to the First Lord both on his appointment to his position and on the broad review of events that he gave us this afternoon. After all, if we have to have a Conservative First Lord, we might do a lot worse than the right hon. Gentleman. I would only say this to him. He should only try to do sufficiently well at the Admiralty to stay there, otherwise he may be 750 pulled out of his present office in order to rescue the housing drive or solve the steel muddle. At any rate, we all wish him well in his present position.
Perhaps I ought to start by explaining that I have no vested interest in naval matters, and that I well understand the feeling of my hon. and gallant Friend behind me, who spent so much time below deck, and, later on, on the quarterdeck. In the last war I served in the tanks which suitably bore the name of the present Prime Minister, and the only time when I came in touch with the Royal Navy was on occasions in tank landing craft, when we always seemed to receive much more courtesy from the members of the Senior Service than we did from the sea itself.
I do not, however, apologise for intervening briefly in this debate, because I only want to put one or two simple and direct questions to the First Lord which I think are of considerable interest to the ordinary man in the street, and which certainly affect the future safety and security of the country.
The First Lord spent a good deal of his time this afternoon in drawing attention to the preparations which are being made for safeguarding the defences of this country, and, in particular, safeguarding the shipping lanes. As I understood him, he devoted a good deal of his speech to explaining that there was going to be a considerable development in anti-submarine frigates and a good many more new minesweepers. He also said that the Air Arm was to be improved in order to deal with the submarine menace. All that was set forth clearly in Cmd. Paper, 8476, where, in dealing with minesweeping under the heading "Policy," it says:Particular attention is being given to the need to build up anti-submarine and minesweeping forces and to the expansion of Naval Aviation.A little further on, it states:The new ships of the re-armament programme are principally frigates and minesweepers.On the next page, under the heading "Modernisations and Conversions," it is stated:The main purpose of the conversion programme is to turn fleet destroyers into fast anti-submarine frigates and thus to provide a speedy supplement to the anti-submarine new construction programme.751 In other words, the whole emphasis of the policy outlined by the First Lord, both in the White Paper to which I have referred and in his speech today, has been concentrated upon the need for defending the approaches to this country.
In the light of that, I should like to put this simple question to him, and I should like an immediate and unequivocal answer, if I may have the right hon. Gentleman's attention. The question is: Were these Navy Estimates prepared before the decision was taken to cut strategic reserves or after that decision was taken? I will give the right hon. Gentleman a little more time to think about it by repeating the question. Were the Navy Estimates which we are discussing today prepared before the decision was taken to cut strategic reserves, or were they prepared after that decision was taken? I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman if he wishes to answer.
§ Mr. Adams
That is surely a most evasive reply. I want to know whether these Navy Estimates were prepared before the decision was taken to cut our strategic reserves, or whether the decision to cut our strategic reserves was taken first and these Navy Estimates were prepared in the light of that decision? I should have thought that was a simple straightforward question to which I could have got a simple straightforward answer.
§ Mr. Watkinson
The hon. Member was talking a moment ago about frigates and minesweeping. Now he is talking about strategic reserves. Does he connect the two? Does he think that a strategic reserve is a bit of steel? I do not quite understand the point.
§ Mr. Adams
I was hoping I might get an answer or two from the First Lord so that I could proceed with the point that emerged from his reply. I should have thought, however, that it would have been clear even to the hon. Member and to the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) that this is the problem of guarding the shipping lanes to this country, and it is completely locked up with the question of strategic reserves. The two things go completely hand in hand. That is why I still press the First Lord, yet once 752 again, to give me an answer, which I am sure we all want to know, and that the country wants to know. If he does not give an answer I must proceed to make a number of assumptions which may not be so pleasant as getting an answer from the First Lord himself. I will repeat the question, for a third time, slowly.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
This really has nothing to do with the situation. These are the Navy Estimates—the amount of naval equipment and the number of vessels we have in order to guard the waterways and to get troops, munitions and food to this country, even if war were declared, just as we got them here in the last war.
§ Mr. Adams
I am very glad to have the assurance from an hon. Member of the Conservative Party that, in his view, the problem of defending this country against possible attack, and the problem of maintaining the strategic reserves in this country, have nothing to do with one another. I think I have put the hon. Member's point quite clearly.
§ Mr. Burden
I said nothing of the sort. I said that the naval vessels and the size of the Navy must enable us to get the goods and the food and to convoy the men we need to this country, even if there were an intensified attack on this country.
§ Mr. Adams
The hon. Member has put his own views twice to himself. I should have thought that even he must see from what he has said that there is a connection between these two problems—that they are very closely inter-related. We cannot discuss Navy Estimates which are largely designed, as the First Lord said today, to safeguard the shipping lanes to this country, with no reference at all to the strategic reserves which we have already in this country, and which do not require to be exposed to the dangers of those shipping lanes. But that is what the hon. Member for Gillingham has tried to deny. That is why I ask the First Lord whether these Estimates were prepared before or after the decision was taken to cut down the strategic reserves.
Since he cannot give a clear answer, let me put this proposition to him. If the 753 Navy Estimates were prepared before that decision was taken to cut the strategic reserves, obviously these Navy Estimates are not sufficient. On the other hand—and I should have thought that he could have seen this clearly—if these Navy Estimates were prepared after the decision was taken to cut the strategic reserves, obviously, if those strategic reserves had not been cut, the amount of preparation outlined in the Navy Estimates would not have been necessary. The right hon. Gentleman must face that clearly.
I will put another question to the First Lord. He cannot answer the first, so I will give him a second question. Will he, as head of the Admiralty today, guarantee the safe arrival of shipping coming to this country in the event of war breaking out in the next six months? If he cannot give that assurance, what right has he, as a member of the Cabinet, to agree to—
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty (Commander Allan Noble)
He is not a member of the Cabinet.
§ Commander Noble
I did not say anything of the sort. The hon. Gentleman really must not make these accusations. He referred to my right hon. Friend as a member of the Cabinet, and all I said was that he was not a member of the Cabinet.
§ Mr. Adams
I should like to get that matter clear. The First Lord is here himself. Was the First Lord present at the Cabinet meeting at which these decisions with regard to strategic reserves were taken, or not? Surely he could give an answer to that? [An HON. MEMBER: "He does not want to."] Surely the First Lord knows his own affairs and what he is doing each day? Cannot he tell the House simply yes or no? Was he present at the Cabinet meeting at which the decisions were taken to cut our strategic reserves?
§ Mr. J. P. L. Thomas
I have no intention of saying what happened at any Cabinet meeting. That would be a Cabinet secret.
§ Mr. Adams
In other words, the right hon. Gentleman leaves to the Parliamentary Secretary to deny what I was suggesting; yet when I am giving him an opportunity to state the matter himself, he refuses to give an answer. Surely, we could argue the matter much better if the right hon. Gentleman were to give a simple clear answer now, instead of leaving it to the end. I will put another question to the First Lord. I have four questions to put to him. He has failed to answer two. I will give him another chance. The third question I want to ask is this. Was the Admiralty consulted over the cuts in strategic reserves? I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman, to give him a chance to answer.
§ Mr. Thomas
Answers to questions such as these are given at the end of a debate. I cannot get up every few minutes to answer each individual point of the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Adams
In other words, the First Lord refuses to answer me while I am on my feet and in possession of the House, and when I give up possession of the House, and the Parliamentary Secretary replies to the debate, he is still not going to answer these questions. I want to know whether the Admiralty were consulted in regard to the cuts in the strategic reserves.
Finally I want to ask the First Lord, as my fourth question whether he accepts his increased responsibilities in charge of the Admiralty following these cuts? Does he accept the increased responsibilities? Perhaps we can have an answer to that. Will the First Lord himself give the answer now? Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us before the debate ends whether the Admiralty accepts the increased responsibilities attaching to this duty to safeguard our shipping lanes because of the cuts in our strategic reserves which, up to now, have been safely harboured in this country itself.
755 I think the people of this country want to know whether the Cabinet as a whole has a proper regard for their safety and security and their food in the coming months, or whether, as the hon. Member for Gillingham has suggested, the Admiralty are busy building up an increased armament programme whilst some other part of the Government is busy cutting down the strategic reserves which are just as essential to our defence as ships themselves. I hope that the hon. Member will go home and work that one out for himself.
§ Mr. Adams
Now I want to draw the attention of the House to what is going to happen as a result of Cabinet policy announced by the Chancellor in January. In 1950–51 the Labour Government made a start with the re-armament programme, and, as a part of the necessary defence measures, they built up in that year strategic reserves amounting to £14.2 million. In 1950–51, when the situation was far more difficult than it is today, the Labour Government made a start with building up essential strategic reserves.
The Board of Trade collected £3.3 million in that year; the Ministry of Supply, £7.9 million; and the Ministry of Food £3 million, making a total, as I say, of £14.2 million. These stocks, up to a few weeks ago, were still being held in this country. Then in the following year, 1951, still under a Labour Government, the Board of Trade built up further reserves of £2.5 million; the Ministry of Supply, £3 million; the new Ministry of Materials accumulated strategic stockpiling reserves of no less than £105.5 million; and the Ministry of Food collected strategic reserves amounting to £78 million. In that first real year of rearmament, as an essential part of our defences, the Labour Government collected together a total of £189 million worth of strategic stocks. What will the new Tory Government do? In the first place, they are cutting down these accumulated strategic stocks by no less than two-thirds.
§ Mr. Burden
On a point of order. Are we discussing the Navy Estimates or the 756 strategic supplies of food and raw materials?
§ Mr. Adams
Although I am unable to explain the matter to the hon. Member, I have no doubt that I have made it perfectly clear to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that the whole problem of the Navy Estimates is intimately wrapped up with the question of strategic reserves. It is criminal folly, which we could only expect from a Conservative Government, to have these two arms working in opposite directions. We have the First Lord today saying that we must build up our armaments in the Navy, and of course in the Army and Air Force. How can it possibly make sense to build up material preparations for a possible war while at the same time running down our fourth arm of defence, which is the strategic reserves already accumulated in this country?
I invite any hon. Member opposite, or better still a Member of the Cabinet, to explain to our people that the Government are not playing with their safety and security in order to balance the Government's financial Budget. These strategic stocks which the Labour Government accumulated, amounting to over £200 million, are vital for our defences in the coming months, yet the Tory Government, in order to avoid imposing harsh burdens on their supporters, are deliberately running down those stocks which we accumulated. If anyone doubts my word, I will refer to what the Chancellor of the Exchequer told me in answer to a Question on Tuesday, 4th March—
The strategic reserves come under the Civil Estimates, and they can be debated in detail on the Civil Estimates. They cannot be debated in detail on the Navy Estimates.
§ Mr. Burden
On a point of order. I do submit that this has nothing whatever to do with the Navy Estimates.
I have already pointed out that the strategic reserves can be debated when the Civil Estimates are dealt with.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
Further to that point of order. Surely it is in order to refer to the task of the Navy and to the extent to which these Navy Estimates will equip the Navy to perform that task?
That would be in order, but that is not what the hon. Gentleman is doing at the moment. I gather that he is discussing the strategic reserves.
§ Mr. Adams
My experience in this House, in the short while I have been here, has been that when hon. Members opposite find themselves in difficulties with the case being presented against them, they immediately resort to points of order in an endeavour to try and put the speaker off the point. The other day, referring to these stocks, the Chancellor said:it is more important to reduce our overseas expenditure."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1952; Vol. 497, c. 29.]
§ Mr. Adams
I submit to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that the size of our Navy Estimates and of our armaments preparations is directly related to the strategic reserves we have or have not accumulated in this country. It is fantastic and unreal to talk about the need to increase the size of our Navy if it is not related to the task the Navy has to undertake, and I submit that in order to discuss whether these Navy Estimates are adequate, or too big or too small, they must be related to the problem the Navy has to undertake. In the words of the First Lord this afternoon, their primary task is to defend the country against attack, and to defend the shipping lanes along which goods would come into this country.
I have already pointed out to the hon. Gentleman that he may refer to that but he cannot on these Estimates discuss in detail the strategic reserves. He can illustrate the point with reference to the Navy Estimates.
§ Mr. Adams
I thought that was all I had done so far. I was illustrating a point in order to satisfy some hon. Gentlemen opposite. It was not my fault that they failed to appreciate my first illustration, and that I have had to go to greater lengths in order to make the position clear to them.
When I was interrupted, I was on the point of saying that the Chancellor has made it clear—
The hon. Gentleman is going back to this the whole time. He really must observe the Ruling I have given. He cannot now return to what the Chancellor said.
§ Mr. Adams
You will observe, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that when you first called me to order I had the Chancellor's statement in my hand and was proposing to deal with it. I am now on a different point. It is pure coincidence that I happened to refer to the Chancellor on both occasions.
The point I want to make clear, and which I think will be acceptable to some hon. Members opposite, is that the Chancellor has made the case that, although strategic reserves are necessary, he regards it as more important in the present situation to devote our resources to increasing exports overseas. Surely it is apparent, even to hon. Members opposite, that that same argument applies equally to the rearmament programme. If it is necessary to cut into strategic reserves because he wants to maintain our overseas exports, it is just as necessary to cut down our armaments preparations in order to maintain our exports. The same argument applies to both. I see that at least the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Beresford Craddock) seems now to be following me.
§ Mr. Adams
Even he must see that armament preparations are the same thing as unrequited exports, and that if the armaments programme is to be increased, as is suggested in these Navy Estimates, we cannot at the same time cut down strategic reserves and use them to maintain our export trade, because strategic reserves are just as necessary to the lift and safety of the country as are naval armaments.
§ Mr. Craddock
That is all very well, but it depends upon the size of the strategic reserves. That is the important point which neither the hon. Gentleman, nor I, nor any other hon. Member knows.
§ Mr. Adams
Strategic reserves for the country as a whole; not strategic reserves for the Navy. I should have thought he would have followed that.
The position in a nutshell is this. The Tory Government propose to cut our existing strategic reserves almost in half, and in the preparations they intend to make in the coming 12 months while they are increasing the size of the Navy, as well as of the other Armed Forces, they propose to cut our future accumulation of strategic reserves by two-thirds. If that makes sense, then I will get out of politics altogether. Hon. Members opposite need not take that too seriously, because before I do so I shall want to be convinced by the party opposite.
It is obvious I shall not get a reply from the First Lord; and I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary is capable of giving it; but I will sit here in the desperate hope that some hon. Member opposite will explain why it is logical to build up naval armaments to protect these shores from a possible attack while at the same time running down the reserves of strategic materials that the Labour Government have already accumulated in this country.
When we debate the Civil Estimates, I shall go into that in greater detail because I am convinced that at the moment the people of this country do not realise the jiggery-pokery the Cabinet are up to at the present time. It is nothing more than jiggery-pokery of the worst kind because they say to the people, on the one hand, that the situation is so desperate that we have to increase our armaments—and the Government are saying that today—and accept cuts in our standard of living in order to maintain and improve the armaments necessary to defend this country against attack; and at the same time they say we are going to cut down the strategic reserves which the previous Government have accumulated in this country.
760 I say that it is playing with the lives, the security and the safety of the people of this country to cut down the strategic reserves, because I am sure that we can have no guarantee from any representative of the Admiralty that they will be in a better position in the event of a war in the next 12 months to ensure the safety of the shipping coming into our ports than they were 12 months ago. Then the Labour Government started building up over £200 million of essential reserves. Today it is proposed to slash them almost by half and to fail to make the necessary preparations in the coming 12 months. Then the Ministry of Food—
The hon. Member really must not pursue this subject. If he pursues it again, I shall have to ask him to resume his seat.
§ Mr. Adams
I think that you will appreciate, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that it is almost impossible to have a proper discussion of these matters by keeping them in water-tight compartments. That is what the Government would like us to do—to discuss the Navy on its own, the Army on its own, Civil Defence on its own, and the Ministry of Food—
The Motion before the House is the Navy Estimates, and the hon. Member must really confine himself to that subject.
§ Mr. Adams
That is what I have been devoting the whole of the time that I have been on my feet to doing, by trying to convince some people, at any rate, that in discussing the preparations that ought to be made to increase the size of our Navy there must be regard to the job that it has to do; and the most fundamental job the Navy has to do today, in the light of a possible future war, is to do all it can to ensure the safe arrival of food and raw materials coming into this country. I say that it is criminal for any Government to claim that they need increased armaments to achieve that task, and at the same time, in order to balance their own financial affairs, ruthlessly to cut down the strategic reserves which have already been accumulated in this country by a Labour Government.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Watkinson (Woking)
I think that the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Mr. Adams), must have spent rather a long time in his Churchill 761 tank during the war and did not often pop out to survey the world outside. Had he been in one of the tank landing craft and done that, he might have had a clearer idea of what the Navy Estimates are all about.
He expressed a burning desire for some one to deal with his point about strategic reserves. I think that I can manage to do that, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, without trespassing outside the Rules of Order, because I will do it strictly in relation to this naval programme. I think that the first thing to be considered is this.
I have been wondering throughout this debate when we were to hear a statement from what, I believe, is known as the "Tribune" group on the other side of the House as to how they might justify a reduction in the Navy Estimates. I think that we have just listened to a rather ingenious theory as to how some reduction in the Navy Estimates could be justified. I think that I heard the hon. Member correctly when he said that if these strategic reserves had been maintained the Navy Estimates could have been reduced.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I am afraid that so many people abstained on the other side last night that it is rather difficult to tell the sheep from the goats.
§ Mr. A. C. Manuel (Ayrshire, Central)
Tell us who were the sheep and who were the goats. The nanny-goats are over there.
§ Mr. Watkinson
Let me make one point. If the justification for any reduction in the Navy Estimates, or any increase for that matter, is a matter of strategic stocks, let us put it in perspective by quoting a figure given by one of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues in this House this week, and that is that our food bill this year is £1,000 million. We had nothing like that amount of strategic stock and, before I put myself out of order, let me relate that to naval construction.
762 We cannot build any kind of naval vessel, even the most simple form of escort vessel, in under three years. That, I think, is a fair estimate from the time we start the drawings. If our annual bill for food is £1,000 million a year, and all that the hon. Gentleman was arguing was £100 million of stocks, how long does he think that is going to last us? Not for a week. We are relating that against a naval construction programme of three to five years. So where is our security? The whole thing is one of those strange political statements which sometimes come from the other side, which they think will look well in their literature for those people who go about the country trying to misrepresent the rearmament policy of this or any other Government.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
May we take one single item of stockpiling that has been raised? To make good the raid on the stockpile of timber, which we would have to do in war, would occupy 60 ships for four months. They could not go in one fleet because of the load. It would take about eight months to do that job, and it would occupy, I calculate, eight or nine destroyers for eight months.
§ Mr. Watkinson
The matter we are discussing is the naval construction programme in the general framework of the Navy Estimates, and the point made by the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central was that this Government by raiding the stockpile, as he claims, which incidentally is quite untrue, was, in fact, making the naval construction programme less effective. If that was not the point—
§ Mr. Watkinson
I gathered that the hon. Gentleman was trying to make some point. I will merely repeat what I said before. I am merely quoting the figures given by a right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench opposite this week.
763 The figures alone for food in one year are £1,000 million. Therefore, to keep this country alive for one year during war, even if we grow half the food needed, it means that we have to bring in £500 million of food alone. If we have a stockpile of £500 million of food alone, which certainly was not allowed for by the hon. Gentleman, it would not give us time to add a single frigate to our armament programme. So his whole intervention, in my view, was entirely unrelated to this debate, and was one of those things said in this House, as I said before, because it is thought that it sounds good on the doorsteps for purely party political purposes.
§ Mr. Watkinson
No, I will not give way. Perhaps we may now return to the Navy Estimates. I thought that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) was a lot too complacent about the past record of his party in regard to the Navy.
§ Commander Pursey
You wait till you hear what is coming in a minute. You will get something better.
§ Mr. Watkinson
As I and my hon. Friends said when we were on the other side of the House, I think that we have been in grave danger in the past six years of achieving the kind of Navy which would fight the next war with the weapons of the last—
§ Mr. Watkinson
—and that would be about the most fatal thing to do in any modern war. Let us look at a few practical points to see whether or not that statement can be substantiated. I am sorry now to have to go into the nuts and bolts of the thing, but I should have thought that that was our job today, to satisfy ourselves as far as we can that the sum of £330 million is being spent to the very best advantage and to give us the very best insurance against attack.
We have started a programme of what are called "fast frigates," They are, in fact, old R-class destroyers cut down to the water-line and rebuilt and fitted with a great deal of new and very efficient gear. That gear has yet largely to be proved.
764 I have great suspicion about this programme after the stewardship of the past six years, and I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary: Are these fast frigates designed to cope with the completely submersible submarine? I do not mean the submarine fitted with a "snort"; I mean the submarine which need never surface at all from the time it leaves port to the time it returns home. That is a practical proposition today. There are two building.
§ Mr. Shackleton
No such animal is in existence or is likely to be until the atomic-powered submarine comes on the scene.
§ Mr. Watkinson
In a previous debate the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey), interjected in my speech the remark "Jules Verne." We have moved a little nearer Jules Verne since we had that debate. The hon. Member knows as well as I do that we do not need to have an atomic-powered submarine in order to achieve this. With a hydrogen peroxide type of engine a submarine can be almost completely submersible.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I would give way, but if I am interrupted it is only further delaying the proceedings. What I want to know is whether in designing this class of frigate, which I imagine will be the mainstay of our anti-submarine defences for years to come, account was taken of a submarine which is either completely submersible or very nearly so. That is a very important point.
The next subject with which I wish to deal is the general anti-submarine problem. The hon. Member for Cardiff. South-East, knows that I have always taken a great interest in this subject because I asked him many Questions about it. I am not sure whether the last Government realised that the whole problem of naval strategy at sea has been entirely altered and worsened for us by the developments in submarine technique and also by the atomic bomb.
There are two reasons for this. The developments in submarine technique mean that a submarine, even if it is the ordinary standard production fitted with a snort, can maintain itself almost completely submerged and is thus a very difficult target. The advent of the atomic 765 bomb means that convoys must be dispersed over a far wider area of ocean than they ever were in the days when I plied the Western ocean in the last war, and that makes the task of the escorting vessels 20 or 30 times more difficult.
If the Parliamentary Secretary cannot give me a reply on this point at the end of the debate I shall understand, but I hope that the point will be noted. Consideration ought to have been given and ought to be given to the greater dispersal of convoys, the greater under-water speed of submarines, the much greater difficulty of detecting them, and, I am afraid, the much lower efficiency of Coastal Command and the Fleet Air Arm because of the difficulty of detecting the snort-fitted submarine which does not lie on the surface so conveniently as its predecessors used to do. That may well call for a complete re-orientation of our convoy policy in the event of another war.
I was never able to get an assurance from the Socialist Government that these points were receiving utmost consideration, but I hope I shall get such an assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary. It is upon this sort of thing that our survival in war depends and not upon some phoney story about the stockpile. These matters are important if we are to satisfy ourselves, as I certainly believe it to be my duty to do, that this money is spent to the best possible advantage.
The next matter is the general defence against aircraft. Obviously, the best defence is the carrier-borne aircraft. I shall not deal with that, because it has been well and adequately dealt with by my hon. Friends. But the second line at the moment is the anti-aircraft gun. I believe I am the only qualified R.N.V.S.R. gunnery officer in the House, and I believe that today the gun is a completely outmoded weapon. With all the force I can command I wish to ask: At what rate are we pressing on in the Navy with anti-aircraft rocket development? Have we adequate facilities at the Ministry of Supply range at Woomera in Australia? Is this generally regarded as a matter of great priority? As the First Lord said today, the position has already arrived when an anti-aircraft shell cannot even catch up a modern aircraft.
§ Mr. Watkinson
That is the general attitude adopted by the hon. and gallant Member towards naval affairs. While we very much enjoy his speeches we sometimes think that they are perhaps a little out-of-date.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I shall listen with the greatest interest.
I wish to press very hard for the utmost priority for the development of anti-aircraft rockets and on general rocket development in the Navy. In all our research and development that should be receiving the greatest priority.
There is a small point which arises from the First Lord's very able and enjoyable explanation which accompanied the Navy Estimates, which I should think was certainly produced in the First Lord's time, and not in the time of his predecessor, because it gives such a clear and accurate picture of what the Navy is trying to do. My right hon. Friend talked about the production of valves. I take it that he means not the ordinary metal open and shut valves but thermionic valves.
These valves are the heart of our antisubmarine measures, the heart of our radar and the heart of all our gunnery control system. It is about the most fragile and delicate thing that one could have. What will happen to such a valve when a ship suffers a near miss must be borne in mind when we are considering the seaworthiness of ships in battle conditions. Are we sure that we have an adequate production line so that enough of these valves can be produced? When I went to look at the "Relentless" before she joined the Fleet, I noticed an interesting notice on a lot of gear, which said "Don't repair. Fit the spare." If those are the tactics which it is proposed to adopt, a lot of valves are going to be required.
I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to look into this matter and to make sure that adequate reserves are available with adequate production behind them, so that we shall have the flow of valves that will keep us going in the event of active hostilities.
There is one other point which I should like to mention briefly. In America they are working on a new type of crystal 767 valve, which is more robust, and if that is so I hope we shall have access to that design and be able to make them ourselves.
One last point. At the beginning of the last war I found myself in D.E.M.S., the Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships. We have all paid tributes to what is called the Silent Service, and I should like to pay one to the men who fought and died in the Merchant Service in the last war with inadequate weapons. They had Lewis guns to fight modern aircraft and a type of degaussing to protect them from acoustic mines. I remember on one occasion meeting the commodore of a convoy after we had both been sunk together. Already he had been sunk three times, and at the age of 70 his only desire was to go to' sea again with a convoy at the earliest possible moment. That is something which we should remember, and is perhaps the best corrective that I know to certain gentlemen who were sitting on the other side of the House last night.
§ Mr. Watkinson
The practical point I want to make is this. Are we building up sufficient reserves of gear to equip our merchant ships with armaments against mining in the event of war? Depots require to be placed all over the country. I want in this connection to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East, who, I think, has been active in this matter and who has seen that something has been done. But I hope it will not be lost sight of, because it is most important to fit out our merchant ships quickly in the event of war or the threat of war.
I am sorry if I have detained the House too long, but may I conclude with the motto of the establishment in which I was trained in the last war as an R.N.V.S.R. officer—and I hope I can say that its doors are always open to R.N.V.S.R. officers who want refresher courses—"If you want peace, prepare for war." It is our duty in this debate to make sure we are preparing for war in the Navy as efficiently as possible in order to be able to keep the peace.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Shackleton (Preston, South)
I do not intend to talk about strategic reserves, except to mention in passing that I think a useful job has been done in educating Members on the other side of the House, who spent a great deal of their time during the war risking their lives in order to carry food to this country, that strategic reserves are part of the defences of this country. Indeed, the Admiralty has a division called the Trade Division which is specifically concerned with this problem.
Let me turn to some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Watkinson) on the subject of submarine warfare. I hope, incidentally, to set a good example and keep my speech short. I want to refer to one remark made by the hon. Member when he said there was today the possibility of a submarine which need not come to the surface at any time even on its way to or from its patrol area. He had in mind the hydrogen peroxide submarine on which the Germans were experimenting, and there is evidence that the Soviet Union has got a specimen.
I can assure the hon. Member that the risk from this submarine in the near future is not as serious as he anticipates, and he should remember that a submarine with this type of propulsion depends a great deal on conventional Diesel and on electric power for the greater part of the time, in particular on its passage to and from the patrol area; and all it will do is provide a special burst of exceptional speed at the time of greatest operational need We have rather hoped that when the Conservative Government came into power we should see the end of too much scare talk which they favoured about the Russian submarine menace. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary is well aware of the facts. We know there is a danger and that it is one that has to be met and prepared against.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I should like to make this point plain. I said that as we were considering a new class of frigate that would be with us for a great number of years, it would be rather wise to look to the future and to envisage the kind of submarine that they might be called upon to hunt.
§ Mr. Shackleton
I quite agree, but I am always a little scared when the question of the submarine comes up from any 769 quarter because it can be such a distraction from the real strategic problems that face us in the world.
I wish to turn to one subject which was raised by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Langford-Holt), who urged that the Admiralty should spend more money on publicity for recruiting. That was also the point mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan). It is a fact that there has been a cut in this item, as we see when we look at the Estimates, as compared with last year.
I would ask the Minister whether he has made any representations to his colleagues, or has concerned himself with the cut that has been made in regard to the Central Office of Information. In the desire of the Government to give some evidence of the economies which they promised the country they would carry out, they have cut the Central Office of Information, which is doing a vital job in this field, by £17,000 in the money which has to be spent in the current year on publicity, most of which will be concerned with recruiting. This is one of the inconsistencies, like the cut in the strategic reserve, that we observe in the performance of the present Government.
I recall during the war that we had a number of reports from aircraft flying over the Bay of Biscay and out to the West of a strange disturbance on the water. They brought back photographs, on which we found a number of foam patches and lines which appeared to have no relation to any known condition. We thought about it and wondered whether there was a new type of submarine. We studied the charts. At last a consistent pattern began to appear, and we realised that it was the 100-fathom line drawing attention to itself, in readiness for the day when the present Prime Minister should establish this completely inconsequential boundary for the Commander-in-Chief of the Atlantic.
If there is one boundary which bears no relation to naval problems, except the mining one, it is the 100-fathom line. We were all relieved on this side of the House that the Prime Minister should have seen some wisdom in this matter and should have climbed down from the completely intolerable position that he had taken up before, but the 100-fathom 770 line is nothing but a mock victory. If it is to mean anything, it will be confusing to operational commanders.
The 100-fathom line in the Bay of Biscay goes in a great circle and will be crossed every day by aircraft, if they are on patrol, and by ships. It will not be very easy to see the significance of that line. I suggest, in the interests of administrative efficiency on the part of the Command, that they drop this meaningless line and try to adopt a more logical one even if it be the three-mile limit.
There is a question I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty. But first, in view of the many tributes that have been paid to the new First Lord, I should like at this point to say how glad I am to see the Parliamentary Secretary occupying that position. Even though he did not enter the Navy through Dartmouth at the age of 13½ years, I have other reasons for knowing his capacity.
May I ask him how, under the new set-up of the Supreme Commander of the Atlantic, the various command headquarters are to work? The situation is becoming very complicated, and we should like to have an explanation. We should like to know that the system which worked extremely well during the war—and I have had an opportunity of seeing it working since the war when I went back and did a few days' service last year—is still to be operated.
I hope that we shall not get caught up in too much of a multiplicity of commands, which will confuse the issue. The important thing, as the Parliamentary Secretary knows, will be that there should be clear-cut lines of communication to Coastal Command and the Admiralty, and it is on the area combined head quarters that operational control will rest so far as protecting this country and its trade from a possible submarine menace goes. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give careful attention to this point.
I wish to turn briefly to some of the points made by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury. He referred to Naval Aviation. I strongly support him in suggesting that the term "Naval Aviation" should disappear and that in future the Fleet Air Arm should again be called the Fleet Air Arm. At the same time. 771 although the Fleet Air Arm—I will continue to call it that—is at last beginning to get some aircraft of which it can be proud, I am horrified to hear that the "Barracuda" is still in first-line service. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] I think it was the hon. Member for Shrewsbury who said that it was. This is a very serious matter. I hope, however, that this monstrous statement can be denied.
The whole position of the supply of naval aircraft is confusing. There is a great multiplicity of types, and while I do not believe that the problem can be solved by cutting out the Ministry of Supply—that would lead to grossly uneconomic production of aircraft—I hope that there will be a greater concentration on established types and that if possible the Navy will not carry so many different types of aircraft, all of which have different maintenance problems and all of which make it more difficult to maintain an efficient air service.
While on this subject I wish to make a point about the handling of Fleet Air Arm personnel, particularly aircrew. In the past and during the war we found that the Navy was so security-minded that when Fleet Air Arm squadrons came into Coastal Command stations they had often been denied essential operational information. In the latter part of the war the Navy decided to appoint intelligence officers to carriers, and set up little intelligence libraries, etc.
1 should like to know if they are continuing with that policy, because it is of great importance to see that the people who fly the aircraft, the aircrew, are given the maximum information they can be given. It all helps to bring the job alive, and they are tackling what, next to the submarine service or equally with it, is the most dangerous task that confronts the Navy. They are entitled to special consideration.
This brings me to a rather serious point. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East, discussed the question of careers in the Fleet Air Arm. It has always been a great problem to ensure that the Fleet Air Arm and the aircrew were given a proper opportunity and were not treated as a kind of lower class in the Navy. I am horrified to learn, however, that there is what I can only call a plot 772 between naval Members on both sides of the House to enlarge the career opportunities for the Fleet Air Arm by raising once again the question of the status of Coastal Command. I know that the hon. Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) and one of my hon. Friends on my own Front Bench are concerned in this activity and are intending to raise the matter on the Air Estimates.
One of the great services which the Parliamentary Secretary could render to another Service in the cause of friendship and peace would be, when he replies tonight, to deny once and for all that the Admiralty has any intention whatever of pressing for an alteration in the status of Coastal Command. I can assure the Minister and the House that if this matter comes up it will cause grave anxiety and will increase the friction which always tends to exist between the Services.
Coastal Command and the Navy have today a fairly happy relationship. They understand their position. The system of command worked admirably during the war, though there were minor points of difference. I urge that in this case the matter shall not even be submitted to discussion and to inquiry and that we shall hear, once and for all, that the question of Coastal Command is not at any point at issue. I regret greatly that there should be this plot across the Floor of the House between the naval Members to render grave disservice to the Royal Air Force and to the security of this country.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
I know that the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) will not mind if I do not follow him at any length, though I should like to say how much Iagree with his request to the Parliamentary Secretary to ensure that at all times the Navy shall have access to any aerial photographs that may be necessary for their operations. It is a very important matter.
Some hon. Members opposite have been in rather difficult circumstances today. I was wondering whether we should be treated to the annual visit to this Chamber on Navy Estimates day of the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) in view of recent events. However, since he represents a dockyard constituency, which mine also happens to be 773 to a large extent, I was not surprised that he came here today, because he found it expedient to talk about the dockyards. I noticed, however, that he was most diffident in talking about the re-armament programme and perhaps that is understandable to many of us at this stage.
The position was made rather more difficult by the fact that the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) stated that some of his friends last night had voted against the rearmament programme only on the basis that it was too big. If it were too big, it seems to me extraordinary that they could come here today and not say that the naval re-armament programme is too big. Probably in the interests of their constituents they avoided that point, because undoubtedly the dockyards are dependent for their living upon the naval re-armament programme.
It is always interesting to listen to the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), though I thought he was in difficulty at one stage today when he twitted the present Government on its likely period of power. Presumably he thought that he might be standing in the shoes of my right hon. Friend in another year. I cannot really think that he was hoping that that would happen, because it has been made perfectly clear that if it were to happen he would have much more difficulty in carrying through the naval part of the re-armament programme than has my right hon. Friend.
I cannot help feeling that he was being just a trifle naive in making that suggestion. Indeed, if the present portents are followed through, he would have the utmost difficulty, before the programme was finished, because he might not find nearly as much support from among his hon. and right hon. Friends as from this side of the House in carrying through the naval re-armament programme.
If I may deal with a rather parochial matter, hon. Members will remember that in the 1950 debate on the Navy Estimates the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East, announced that the Royal Marines were to be removed from Chatham. There was considerable consternation and dismay among many people in the Medway towns at this abrupt rupture of what had come to be looked upon as an unbreakable and permanent association. 774 The marines had become almost a part of the Medway towns since they first went there in the 18th Century.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East, as is usual with him, made a very good case for the transfer of the corps, to Portsmouth and Devonport on the, grounds that they could not be properly trained at Chatham and that living conditions were much more satisfactory at Portsmouth and Devonport. The argument that they should be moved on the grounds of efficiency and economy made it extremely difficult to contest very seriously their transfer, despite the very strong reasons that could be given for their retention on sentimental grounds. Also there was the fact—and this was very important to the Medway towns, and particularly to Chatham—that the transfer of the marines meant a loss in rates of £4,000 per annum, and in view of this no doubt the Government at that time felt that some palliative was necessary.
After making the announcement that the marines were to leave Chatham, the hon. Gentleman said:The accounts section of the Royal Marines will still be maintained at Chatham, so that there will still be a link remaining, but it is with very great regret that we have to take this step. The Marine establishment that is being closed down will be replaced in due course by a naval establishment, H.M.S. "Ceres," which is the Training Establishment of the Supply and Secretariat Branch of the Navy at present stationed in another part of the country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd March, 1950; Vol. 472, c. 1971.]The people of the Medway towns felt sure that that undertaking would be honoured, but on Monday last, as the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) has already said, the mayors of the three Medway towns and the two Members of Parliament were asked to proceed to the Admiralty, where it was announced that "Ceres" was not now to go to Chatham.
I believe that this decision was arrived at because, whereas the first estimates for repairing and restoring to a proper modern state the barracks that had been occupied by the marines came to a figure of £135,000, it was later found that it would necessitate an actual expenditure of £250,000: and in July last year the decision was arrived at, I believe, by the predecessor of my hon. and gallant Friend that that promise to send "Ceres" to Chatham would not now be honoured.
775 I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench opposite knew of this decision last July. If he did, I hope he registered a very strong protest, because it was he who came here and promised that "Ceres" would go to Chatham. We do not want to make points which are too much of a party nature on these questions, because always there must be applied to this transfer the question of whether it is expedient, whether it is economic and whether efficiency will be impaired, but I imagine that the hon. Gentleman and the previous First Lord had looked carefully into the matter before the promise was made in this House.
I ask my right hon. Friend to look at the matter once again and even at this late stage to consider whether it is now possible to send "Ceres" to Chatham. Failure to implement the promise is a very serious matter for the Medway towns. It means that there will be a loss of rates and a loss of civilian employment—which may not be very important at the moment. It means that small shopkeepers and small traders—and most of them in Chatham are small shopkeepers and small traders—will lose business as a result of the failure to carry out the promise.
But the matter goes very much deeper. At the moment there is plenty of work in the dockyards and undoubtedly this will continue whilst the re-armament programme continues at its present level. But there must come a time when the spate of orders for new ships and re-equipment will drop off. Then the question of employment in the dockyards must arise and the towns rely for prosperity more than ever on establishments such as "Ceres." The decision not to send "Ceres" to Chatham because of the cost of modernising the barracks takes the matter very much further. It implies that those barracks will be used only in the case of a great emergency and if at this time when there is large expenditure on re-armament it is found not possible to spend £250,000 on modernising existing barracks, the implication is that those barracks will at no time be modernised and used to bring in new establishments which are essential to the Medway towns when the rearmament programme begins to fall off.
I ask the Minister to look at this question because the decision and all that it implies are very much bound up with the prosperity of the Medway 776 towns. If he cannot now undertake that "Ceres" shall come to Chatham, I ask him to bear the matter in mind and see whether some other unit can be sent there to compensate for the loss of this land-based ship. I also ask my right hon. Friend to take care to ensure that, as a result of the removal of the marines and the decision not to send "Ceres" to Chatham, there shall be no falling off of employment in the workshops making uniforms for the Services. At the moment very many highly skilled needle-women are employed in that capacity in Chatham. I hope there will be no question of their removal to any other quarters.
The second point I would make is on the question of dockyard workers, of whom we have a number in the Medway towns. As the re-armament programme gets under way, we have to consider the question of skilled and unskilled labour and the provision of a balanced labour force in the dockyards. Recently there has appeared in the area an alternative form of employment. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company are erecting a huge refinery on the Isle of Grain not very far away. They are offering very high wages to skilled men and also to labourers. I ask the Minister to look carefully into the matter to see whether the Company are skimming off some of the best workers from the dockyards at Chatham. This is a matter which must be watched very carefully, because it is obvious that unless we have a balanced labour force in the dockyard, the re-armament programme will lapse.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Does the hon. Member mean to say that the re-armament programme can be carried out only if there is a reduction of wages?
§ Mr. Burden
The hon. Member misunderstands me. There was no question of the reduction of wages. These men are at liberty to go to the Isle of Grain if they wish. There is no direction of labour and there is nothing to stop them leaving the dockyards and going to the Isle of Grain, where perhaps they will earn higher wages for a short period, but when that project is finished these men will be looking for other employment. I suggest that it should be emphasised that employment in the dockyards is long-term employment whereas on the Isle of Grain, while they may earn higher wages 777 at the moment, when that project is finished their employment will cease.
§ Mr. Burden
I am assuming nothing of the sort. I said that when the refinery was finished these men would have to leave that short-term employment and that would be the case whether a Socialist or a Conservative Government is in office. I was pointing out that it is short-term employment at the refinery. When it is finished—and under private enterprise it will certainly be finished more quickly than if it were a nationalised undertaking—they will want to go back to the dockyards but I do not want them to leave the yards.
There were one or two other points which I wished to mention, but in view of the comparatively late hour and the fact that there are other hon. Members who wish to speak, I will conclude by asking the Parliamentary Secretary whether he will tell us more particularly about the circumstances resulting in the fact that the "Ceres" is not now going to the Medway towns.