§ 3.56 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."
As I have said in my Explanatory Statement, where I have given all the details, I am asking the House this year for £353 million. This is the net figure at which we arrive, taking into account appropriations in aid, including the naval share of mutual defence assistance so generously granted to us by the United States of America in the year 1954–55.
The Navy has had a difficult period in the last few years. In the first place, after the war we had to reduce and then, as the need for increased preparedness arose, we had to build up once more. Distribution of manpower became extremely difficult; men could not serve long in a particular ship, and ships had many movements as we played our part in carrying out our world wide tasks. We should not have been able to fulfil our various obligations, particularly in Korea, if we had not recalled hundreds of reservists and retained in service many men whose engagements had already expired.
I am glad to be able to tell the House that by the end of this month all of the recalled and retained men will be back in civilian life and I am sure that it is the wish of the House that we should let them know how grateful we are to them for their invaluable services.
This means that we can now look at certain problems afresh. I am also sure that the House will appreciate that so long as we had men in the Royal Navy who had been retained beyond their engagements, or who had been recalled from the reserves, it would not have been fair for men on normal engagements to be able to buy themselves out of the Navy. From time to time I have been asked in the House, and in many letters from all sides, to reintroduce discharge 1942 by purchase. I have been only too well aware that the sailor does not, at the moment, enjoy a privilege which is available in some measure to the soldier and to the airman.
I am glad to say that, following the release of the last of these retained men and recalled reservists, I shall be able to reopen discharge by purchase. The scheme will necessarily be on a limited basis as it is in the other two Services and full details will announced to the Fleet this week. With the reintroduction of discharge by purchase we are also able to approve that officers who have not reached the age for compulsory retirement may, at Admiralty discretion, be allowed to retire voluntarily or to resign. That puts us on a similar basis to the other two Services. We have long wished to achieve it, but have been prevented for the reasons I have given.
A sailor's life has always been a hard one. The nature of the Service and the element in which he serves makes that inevitable. But the changing and unpredictable demands upon the Navy since the end of the war, aggravated as they have been by serious shortages in certain branches, have made orderly drafting impossible and have bedevilled all attempts to introduce a reasonable measure of stability into the sailor's life.
This is unsettling obviously both for officers and for men. They have not time to get to know each other; they have not had time to develop a real pride in their ship or in themselves, and their plans for joining their families during spells at home between foreign commissions are far too frequently upset. Briefly, they get heartily sick of being pushed around— although they themselves would perhaps put it more crudely than that.
For 50 years or more ships on overseas stations have served on the basis of a two-and-a-half year commission. Nowadays the call for foreign service is high, and I am only too well aware, as my predecessors have been, that two-and-a-half years' continuous absence abroad, usually involving separation from families for this period, causes hardship to the officers, to the men and, of course, to the families. Successive Governments, as I have said, have all felt that this period is too long, but the strain on naval resources since the war has made a change difficult.
1943 Now that the war in Korea is over, I can tell the House—with considerable relief, I may add—that we are introducing two measures to improve the situation. The first is a scheme of general service commissions for those afloat. The main feature of the scheme is that the maximum period of continued absence from the United Kingdom will not be more than one year. It will also mean that captains, officers and men will remain together as far as possible for 18 months in most ships and for two years in aircraft carriers, because of the special training arrangements in the latter.
Part of the commission will be in the Home Fleet and part on foreign stations, but I repeat that the period away from the United Kingdom will not normally exceed 12 months. The scheme will apply initially to aircraft carriers, cruisers, "Daring" class ships, destroyers and frigates of the Home fleet, the Mediterranean Fleet, the South Atlantic station, the America and West Indies station and the East Indies station, except for the Persian Gulf. For the Persian Gulf there are specialised ships and, alas, they are too few in number for constant changes.
The second measure is to reduce practically all other forms of foreign service not covered by the general service commission scheme. Here officers and men who are either unmarried or who, being married, cannot be accompanied by their families, will have their foreign service reduced to 18 months. Married officers and men who are able to take their families abroad with them will be entitled to family passages and other family benefits, and will serve overseas for up to 30 months if they are needed.
As the House probably knows, ships on the Far East station and in the Persian Gulf, and surveying ships too, move so frequently that there are very few chances of family life, and for that reason, even today, their officers and men do not qualify for family passages. The new scheme does not in any way alter that position, but, as I have said, their time away from the United Kingdom will be reduced from two-and-a-half years to 18 months.
Officers and men on general service commission, whose period of service abroad is not expected to exceed 12 1944 months, will not qualify for family passages or other family benefits abroad. This may sound like a snag in the scheme, but the officers and men in the ships now changing over to general service commissions who have their families abroad with them today represent only 2 per cent, of the officers and 1 per cent, of the men out of the total numbers in the Navy. Therefore, if we weigh those small figures against the improvement for the vast numbers of officers and men which the new scheme will bring, the House will realise why I commend it with confidence to them and to the Royal Navy.
I must warn the House, and, through it, the Navy, that some inconvenience is obviously inevitable during the period of one-and-a-half years or so while the new arrangements are coming into force. We shall begin the plan this June by reducing progressively the period of foreign service and by gradually adjusting the ship commissioning programme to the new form. Many officers and men will be moved from their present billets at home and abroad sooner than they are now expecting to move, but the important point is that once an officer or a man joins a ship newly commissioning under the general service scheme or on the revised foreign service basis, he will be assured of the shorter period of separation from home or family and of the longer periods of living in the same ship and with the same messmates which is a feature of the fixed commission system.
The Admiralty, under successive Governments, as I know well—-the previous Administration did their best, and we have continued to do our best, too—has tried to improve the living conditions on board ship. After all, the fighting efficiency of a warship, as the House knows, depends upon the efficiency of her crew, and that, in turn, depends largely upon the conditions under which they have to live. Living conditions rank equally in importance with armaments, speed, endurance, protection and other fighting characteristics of the warship.
The aim is, and always has been, certainly in later times, to get the best balance between these various and, I am sorry to say, generally conflicting calls upon weight and space. In other words, even in a new design there is a limit to the extent to which living conditions can 1945 be improved without deterioration of the fighting efficiency of the ship.
The principal difficulty facing us today is that, since the majority of our bigger ships were designed, they have had up-to-date armaments and equipments fitted into them, and in all too many cases this has taken up the space available for accommodation, and in practically all cases they have required an increase in complement.
In spite of those difficulties—anyone connected with the Navy will know that they are very great—a good deal has been done both by the last Administration and by the present one to improve those conditions. In the case of ships which have been fully modernised, living standards have in general been maintained in spite of the additional equipment which has been put into the ships. In the case of the conversions of the anti-submarine frigates "Rocket" and "Relentless" and their successors, it has, I am glad to say, actually been possible to improve the previous standards.
I should not, however, like to convey to the House that the future ships of Her Majesty's Fleet will have luxury accommodation. Sailors do not expect it; but, at the same time, they do expect us to do all that is possible in every way to minimise their discomforts.
§ Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)
If the right hon. Gentleman is finishing with that point, I should like to ask him a question. We realise that there is a limit to the amount of living accommodation which there can be in any ship, but within that amount of living accommodation there is a certain proportion allocated to officers and a certain proportion allocated to ratings. During the time that the Labour Government were in power the percentage allocated to ratings was increased. Does that percentage now remain the same?
§ Mr. Thomas
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow that question to be answered at the end of the debate. I think that the percentage has increased. At all events, I am sure that it has not grown less. A more detailed reply will be given to the right hon. Gentleman at the end of the debate.
As well as the measures for the welfare of officers and men afloat, we are, of course, continuing the essential work 1946 of providing and modernising barracks for accommodation of the Navy ashore. We have extended our plans for married quarters so as to include the building of married quarters at the three manning ports—Portsmouth, Devonport, and Chatham.
I must now say something about general manpower problems. I want to be frank with the House about the particularly difficult situation that we are facing at the moment. I do not suppose that the House or the country realise that nearly one-third of our Regular ratings, excluding National Service men, are under 21 and that another one-third are under 25. So the House will see that we have a great shortage of men with eight years' service and upwards and that their places have to be filled today by abnormally large numbers with below seven years' service.
That situation is obviously extremely serious. The seven-year men are now beginning to come to the end of their engagements in large numbers. We want them to stay in the Navy for at least another five years. If sufficient numbers of the seven-year men stay, we shall then be confident of building up an efficient manpower force and of keeping our recruiting requirements within reasonable limits. I cannot pretend that present indications are encouraging, and unless there is an improvement we shall be faced with a serious loss of experienced men and with a recruiting requirement which we shall find hard to meet.
I very much hope that the recent pay improvements will result in many more men deciding to make the Navy their permanent career and giving to the Service their experience and usefulness. The new pay arrangements are, of course, specially designed to reward those who want and accept the responsibility of a higher rating or rank. The new length of service pay is designed among other things to provide special encouragement to the seven-year men to extend their engagements for another five years and later to re-engage for pension.
We are doing all we can to encourage men now completing 12 years service to re-engage and have extended the re-engagement bounty of £100 until further notice. A number of branches are still short of petty officers and leading ratings. How soon the shortages can be overcome 1947 will depend very much on the numbers of seven-year men who decide to stay in the Navy.
Regular recruiting is on the decline and in 1953 we were 15 per cent, short of our target. When we consider the counter attractions of civil life today, with full employment and the opportunity of getting home every night, the House will understand how much we depend on young men who are prepared to take the rough with the smooth and come into the Service. Unless we can arrest and reverse this trend we may find ourselves short of juniors in the short-term, and our bearing of senior ratings in the more distant future will once again be unsatisfactory.
I can, however, give the House a more cheerful picture of the naval reserves. They are in a healthy state and recruiting is satisfactory. The R.N.V.R. reached its golden jubilee last year—and so did I— but, unlike me, they had to postpone it a year owing to the Coronation festivities, and they will celebrate it belatedly on 12th June this year with a review by Her Majesty the Queen on the Horse Guards Parade.
§ Mr. Thomas
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman wants to bring his own horse to the parade, I will certainly make arrangements for him.
Recruitment to the W.R.N.S. is satisfactory and their efficiency remains exceptionally high.
I need hardly tell the House that the Royal Marines have played their full part in the activities of the Fleet all over the world. We have an honourable and gallant addition to the Royal Marines in this House with the entry of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Major Wall), and I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member is as pleased as anyone at this fact.
§ Mr. Thomas
As regards officers, hon. Members will be aware that cadet entry is now in a transitional stage. The last competition for the entry of cadets at the 1948 age of 16 will be held in June of this year. We shall then set about increasing the 18-year-old entry to about double its present number. The preparations of regulations governing this new "all-18" entry is well in hand and they will be made widely known in plenty of time for the first competition to be held in October this year.
These regulations will include provision for candidates to be exempted from the written examination conducted by the Civil Service Commission if they have obtained certain passes at ordinary and advanced level in the examinations for the General Certificate of Education and equivalent certificates in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
I said last November that I would consider the possibility of introducing a scheme like that of the Royal Air Force to enable boys who show promise to stay on at school after 16 and prepare themselves for entry into the Royal Navy at 18. The House will be glad to learn that I have now decided to introduce a Royal Navy scholarship scheme to take effect next year after the entry at 16 into Dartmouth has come to an end. The details of this scheme will be announced in plenty of time.
§ Brigadier Ralph Rayner (Totnes)
Those of us who are concerned with Dartmouth College, and its running down, would like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman can say by what date he will have received the report of the Committee which is considering this matter.
§ Mr. Thomas
I cannot give my hon. and gallant Friend a date. It is a very complicated matter, but I do realise the interest of those in Dartmouth and in the neighbourhood. If I can get that part of the report at an earlier stage than the rest I will do so because I appreciate the feeling about Dartmouth.
We are carrying out in the Admiralty a full review of the early training of officers. As a result, we hope to reach a decision about the way in which cadets of the new entry should be made ready for service in the Fleet as junior officers. This review is part of a wider examination of the whole officer structure of the Navy. The rapid development in the weapons at our disposal now and in the future, involving important changes in the shape of the Royal Navy, makes it 1949 very necessary that we should consider entirely afresh the principles on which the present careers and training of naval officers are based.
As far as the lower deck is concerned, it continues to be a most important source of officer recruitment. There have been more promotions to the general list through the upper yardmen scheme in the last 12 months than in any year since 1945. Promotion at a rather later age to branch officer, which carriers with it a subsequent opportunity for promotion to the general list, has also continued in a very satisfactory manner.
So much for manpower, but I would remind the House that in paragraph 9 of the White Paper on Defence the Government have summarised their policy—to be seen about the world as a strong and well equipped people in a cold war; to deter the aggressor by various means; and to foe ready if hot war should come. Obviously, it is my duty to try and tell the House how this policy affects the Royal Navy.
First of all, there is the Navy's part in providing a deterrent against major aggression and preparations to meet such a contingency, should it unhappily arise. I hope that the House will not accuse me of living in the past when I say that any potential enemy of this country must read the lesson of history as weapon has succeeded weapon down the ages. It is our weakness as well as our strength that this country is an island. Our greatest and most powerful ally is separated from us by the waters of the Atlantic, and whatever the shape of a future war, control of the seas, from America to this country, and to the continent of Europe, must be a basic aim in our strategy.
Safety for our supplies, safety for Europe's supplies, is the task of the Navy. That safety begins with a denial of the sea to the enemy and only if there is evidence that the Navy can and will perform this task can we be satisfied that we have made our contribution to the deterrent. What, then, are we doing? First, we are ensuring that the active Fleet contains the most modern ships and that the reserve Fleet is in good shape. In the open oceans only carrier-borne aircraft can destroy reconnaissance aircraft, provide fighter protection, and in distant waters they alone can hunt out and kill the enemy surface raider and submarine.
1950 I have set out in the Explanatory Statement the new carriers coming into service. All those completing or being modernised after 1953 are expected to have the full angled deck, which will improve their fighting efficiency and enable them to accommodate more aircraft, and the steam catapult and the latest arrester gear, which is necessary for the operation of the modern aircraft then due to come into service.
Despite certain labour shortages, late delivery of equipment and difficulties over design problems, good progress is being made on the construction of frigates and several of them will be undergoing trial before the end of this year. There are now two squadrons of fast anti-submarine frigates converted from destroyers already in the Active Fleet, and some of them are with the training squadrons.
New submarines are to be laid down, and the process of modernising and improving existing submarines is continuing. Our submarine construction is based on the experience of the last war, and all the research and development that has been going on since then. In addition to what I might call the orthodox submarines, two experimental craft using high test peroxide propulsion to provide high underwater speed are nearing completion and are expected to undergo sea trials this year.
§ Mr. Edward Shackleton (Preston, South)
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what is high test peroxide?
§ Mr. Thomas
As far as I, a layman, can tell, it is nothing more than a concentrated form of hydrogen peroxide, which is what ladies use to turn themselves from brunettes into blondes. What it does to ladies is not for me to say, but I am delighted to be able to tell the House that it does at least make our submarines faster.
The first submarine of this kind, H.M. Submarine "Explorer," as the House knows, has been launched within the last few days, and I will not repeat what has been said about her in the Press. New and improved midget submarines will complete this year. We have also made progress in another field of submarine development, and that is the continued study of nuclear propulsion.
During 1954–55 a large number of the small craft laid down under the 1952 and 1951 earlier programmes will become available. These consist of new coastal minesweepers, inshore minesweepers, fast patrol boats, and seaward defence boats. In spite of delays, 11 of the coastal minesweepers and 22 of the smaller inshore minesweepers will complete during the current year, and many others are approaching completion. At the present rate of progress, the numbers to complete during 1954–55 will approach one ship of each type every week.
The broad picture that I want to give the House and the country today is of the relegation to reserve of the older carriers, frigates, and minesweepers and their replacement by more efficient new construction. Although financial and manpower considerations impose limitations on the size of the Active Fleet, it is true to say that a steady improvement in the material quality of the Fleet is taking place as the post-war building and modernisation programmes progress.
Now I should like to deal with the question of our aircraft. The rearming of the Fleet Air Arm with jet and turboprop aircraft is well under way, and will be nearly complete by the end of this coming financial year. We have already rearmed several of our day fighter squadrons with Sea Hawks, and a strike squadron with Wyvern aircraft. In the coming year we expect the delivery of further large numbers of Sea Hawks, Sea Venoms, and Gannets. The result will be that by this time next year the Sea Fury and the Firefly, which have both served their generation well, will have been virtually eliminated from the front line. The Gannet, which will be the first specialised naval anti-submarine aircraft, will come into squadron service this year.
We will also start on the production of a lighter anti-submarine aircraft, the Sea Mew, the prototype of which hon. Members may have seen at Farnborough last year. In this aircraft a resolute attempt is being made to halt the trend towards large and complicated aircraft. It has been specifically designed for rapid production and ease of operation from the trade protection carriers.
Progress is also being made in the production of the swept-back wing jet fighter to which I referred last year, but it is too early yet for me to say by what date it is likely to be in service. It will be 1952 an aircraft of exceptional performance. It will be equipped with an air-to-air guided missile for air combat, and it can carry an atom-bomb if required.
I think that a special word this year is certainly deserved by helicopters, in which the Navy has taken such intense interest from the first. A squadron of naval helicopters which has been operating in Malaya has earned generous praise from no less a person than my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War in his Explanatory Memorandum on the Army Estimates.
All I can say, in belated return—as my Explanatory Statement had gone to the printers before his—is that it has been a great honour for the crews of these helicopters to have lifted, since January of last year, no fewer than 10,000 of our fine fighting troops and 300 casualties in these most difficult operations. Helicopters, as I think will be agreed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, are now regarded as quite indispensable in Malaya.
Very considerable advances have been made since the end of the war in new weapons and equipment for all forms of naval warfare, and the next few years will show the fruits of an intensive programme of research and development coming into operational service. Our main efforts have, of course, been directed to attack on enemy U-boats, surface warships, and shipping wherever they may be found, and to the protection of our own shipping from aircraft and mine attack as well as from U-boats and surface raiders.
The latest anti-submarine vessels will be equipped with greatly improved Asdic equipment which controls automatically the new anti-submarine mortar logically developed from the successful Squid, and will very much increase the killing power of the anti-submarine escorts. I mentioned last year that the prototypes of these equipments were fitted in "Rocket" and "Relentless." I am delighted to say that these ships, and their successors, have come fully up to the expectations of the Admiralty.
Our anti-submarine aircraft will be fitted with improved radar for Snort detection and will carry buoys which can be dropped for detecting submerged U-boats. Greatly improved homing 1953 weapons for destroying these U-boats when located will shortly be coming into service. Here I come back to the question of helicopters, because there are great possibilities in the use of helicopters in anti-submarine warfare. Their ability to hover with a locating device suspended in the sea promises us a great improvement in the accuracy with which a submerged submarine can be fixed.
An order has been placed for a twinengined helicopter—the Bristol 173— for use as an anti-submarine helicopter for the Navy. Until this is available, we are using American helicopters and equipments and have already formed our first anti-subarine helicopter squadron to evolve and develop the necessary tactics.
Our submarines are also being provided with much improved Asdics. Also of great importance is defence against the mine menace. That continues to occupy a very prominent place in our research and development programme. Last year I may have sounded despondent on this subject, but we are now going thoroughly into novel and promising new devices for the clearance of all types of mines. I am sorry that I cannot tell the House more today, but I can at least say that though we have a long way to go I believe that we are tackling the problem on wise and very promising lines.
A special effort is being made to improve the defence of the Fleet and merchant shipping against air attack. Steady progress is being made by the Ministry of Supply, for which I am grateful, in the development of a large guided missile for fleet and convoy protection, and the first guided weapon trials ship will be fitted out shortly. It would, however, be a mistake to imagine that guided weapons will be in general service at sea or will supersede the gun as a means of medium and close range defence of the Fleet and convoys against air attack for some years yet. Air defence by carrier-borne fighters and by guns still remains essential for some years ahead.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, referred to our world-wide tasks in the defence debate, and, however far we look ahead, the Navy's task will continue to be to use the sea to impose our will upon the enemy in time of war, to deny him the use of the sea, and to safeguard our own sea communications.
1954 Hon. Members who went to the last and previous Naval Reviews will have seen how the shape of the Fleet has gradually changed in this century, and I have described some of the things we are doing to bring ourselves completely up-to-date, such as developing improved submarines, whose rôle will be to attack, before they can threaten our shipping, the enemy forces including U-boats which put to sea despite our other offensive measures.
I wonder, when the new cadets, in the new Dartmouth entry which I mentioned, become admirals, what kind of a Navy they will see. Weapons may well have changed out of all present knowledge; but, from what I read of the prophecies of scientists today, not only will there be a Navy but it will be a Service of supreme importance. But before those cadets get even their first seagoing command many Changes will have already taken place. We shall have to augment, and, later, to replace, our cruisers and anti-aircraft escorts by ships armed with guided weapons. It will be some time, however, before the modern cruiser will become outmoded.
Changes in naval strategy and naval weapons take a long time to implement, and we must be quite sure, if I may reverse the words of the song, that we are on with the new love before we are off with the old. The Navy must be prepared for war whenever it comes and able to perform its peace and cold war tasks, and there must be no doubt in the mind of any potential enemy that we are on top of the job now and that we are alive in the Royal Navy to the changing needs of this changing age. That potential enemy must also realise that, if the need should, alas, arise, the Navy will fight the next war with the next war's weapons.
§ 4.33 p.m.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
I should like to congratulate the First Lord on the third occasion on which he has had the honour of introducing the Navy Estimates. It is a privilege for anyone to introduce them, and he has done so, as he always does, agreeably and courteously. We have no complaint to make of him on that score, nor, indeed, on the score of our dealings with him throughout the year. Indeed, not only from him but from the Parliamen 1955 tary and Financial Secretary and from the Civil Lord we have always had the attention that we like to receive and we know that when we submit cases to them they axe dealt with in the manner we like, even though we do not always get the replies we would like.
I was interested in the First Lord's review especially in the light of the Statement on Defence. The Statement on Defence tried, for the first time, to lift at least a corner of the curtain over the new developments taking place in the world and their consequential effects on tactics and strategy. I know only too well that I am no authority to discuss these matters, but I shall submit certain observations to the House in the hope that if they are inaccurate they will be corrected by those better informed than I, and that if they should have a substratum of truth in them, that may illuminate some corners which the First Lord has not.
Although the First Lord said he was giving us a broad picture I could not think that it was a broad picture of the Navy's rôle. The Statement on Defence says that the Navy has world-wide tasks. Indeed, the First Lord had not spoken more than a moment or so before he, too, was referring to the Navy's worldwide tasks. However, I have a feeling that this phrase is stuck in when nothing else can be thought of to be said I wonder whether as much thought is being given to the role of the Navy in these world-wide tasks as ought to be.
If thought is being given to it, as I am quite prepared to believe it is, then I should like to see more evidence of it, and of the changes that are likely to come in the Navy, and I should be glad if the First Lord or another Minister would try, later, to draw together all these unconnected hints that the right hon. Gentleman has thrown out about hydrogen tests in submarines, air-to-air guided missiles, and all the other things he talked about to make our flesh creep. I should like him to do so in order that we may see what effect all these will have on the Navy's role, because he has not publicly faced the fact that the Navy's role is being increasingly challenged by the other Services.
There are hon. Members associated with the other Services who are ready to challenge the Navy's role. I have some hon. Friends sitting behind me who 1956 are ready to stab me in the back at any moment, and the First Lord had better keep a close watch to his rear, too, because there are plenty of hon. Gentlemen sitting on the benches behind him who simply do not accept the phrase that he used, late in his speech, about the safety of these islands' supplies and those of Europe resting on the Royal Navy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Yes, the right hon. Gentleman is challenged, judging by the cheers. I think this argument should be thrashed out. It is just not sufficient for us to say that the safety of these islands depends upon the Royal Navy. That is approved by some who believe in the Royal Navy, but heard in rather glum silence by those who say that it is outdated.
I should like the First Lord or the Parliamentary Secretary to give us a genuine picture of how he sees affairs at the present time, how he sees the role of the Royal Navy in preserving the safety of these islands and the safe passage of the 80 million tons of supplies that come here every year. We have not had that picture painted for us yet today. I am going to try to fill in some of the gaps in the sketch. I may do so in an inadequate way, and I apologise in advance. Let us consider the position at the present time so far as the Navy is concerned.
We have one battleship, the "Vanguard," in the Active Fleet, and four in reserve. I suppose that there is fairly general agreement that the battleship was dethroned from its former status in the last war. Yet we have one in the Active Fleet today. What is its role? Why is the "Vanguard" in commission now? What purpose does she serve? What role is she intended to fill later on? She was commissioned about two years ago. I do not know what her company is. I suppose it is about 1,500 men. Her peace-time complement is, I think, 1,600. Perhaps she has not that number. However, I suppose that her company numbers about 1,500.
If the battleship is no longer the core of the fleet, what role is she intended to fulfil? Surely she is not being used merely as an office for the Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet? It would be a rather expensive way of providing an office afloat. I have heard it said that we cannot put the office of the Commander-in-Chief in an aircraft 1957 carrier because aircraft carriers are not designed for that purpose.
It may be that that is true, but there must surely be better ways of providing an office than commissioning a battleship which, as far as I can see from the unrelated statements that the First Lord has made today, has no r61e to play. If it has a rôle to play, I shall withdraw what I have said and be very happy to hear what it is. In that case the First Lord can rely upon me for all the defence he needs. But he has the responsibility for making out a case for commissioning this ship and keeping her in commission.
I know that a great many young men are trained aboard her, and I am sure that they receive good training; but they would get equally good seamanship training if the First Lord commissioned another five, six or seven frigates to do the job. The men would then get in some small ship time, and they might see more seamanship than they will in the "Vanguard."
If it is agreed that the battleship has a very small role to play in a future war, in our balanced and limited Fleet, with the limited amount of money which we can put into it, we need to be satisfied about what the Admiralty is doing with the battleship. The other four battleships are in a very low state of reserve and I warrant that it would take hundreds of thousands of pounds, if not millions, to put them into a seagoing state.
I turn to the cruisers. Apart from the "Superb" and "Swiftsure," we have about 24 middle-aged or rather elderly cruisers. I believe that the two I have mentioned are the only ones which have been completed since the end of the war. I exclude the "Darings" from this category. Although they have been written up as light cruisers and are called "Daring Class" ships in the Explanatory Statement, they are not cruisers in the sense in which the U.S.S.R. and the United States of America are using that term.
There is controversy about what role these cruisers are to fulfil. Are they designed or able to face the cruisers of the U.S.S.R.? At Spithead, last summer, we saw the magnificent "Sverdlov." She is rated at 13,000 tons, but those who can judge these matters much better than I tell me that that is an underestimate and 1958 that she is nearer 17,000 tons, which is the equivalent of some of the large United States cruisers. They look much of a muchness.
We have about 24 cruisers of between 5,000 and 10,000 tons displacement, armed with 5.25-inch and 6-inch guns. I believe that some of their fire control has been modernised. Is it the view of the Board of Admiralty—and the Minister takes the final responsibility— that these cruisers are to face those of the U.S.S.R. in the event of war? Frankly, I doubt it, but I go no further at the moment.
Now I come to the aircraft carrier. It may be suggested that it is taking the place of the cruiser. That is true, within limits. The aircraft carrier is able to search a much wider area much more rapidly than any one cruiser can do, but I ask the First Lord to note that, at the moment, the aircraft carrier itself is under challenge and under very heavy fire from a great many senior officers in the Royal Air Force—mostly retired, but nevertheless officers of very great weight and experience. [Interruption.]If we have some criticisms to make of them later on, there is no reason why we should not pay them a compliment at the beginning.
If it is the view of the Admiralty that the aircraft carrier, flying off aircraft, can take the place of the cruiser, can the First Lord assure us that the weapons carried by those aircraft are capable of sinking ships of the "Sverdlov" class? Eight cruisers of that class are now being built, with a displacement of between 15,000 and 18,000 tons. If we are to rely on the aircraft carrier, the First Lord should tell us whether it is his view that the weapons provided are capable of sinking that class of ship. Doubts are expressed about this. Many people take the view that the weapon which can be carried in an aircraft is not capable of sinking a cruiser. Can the First Lord give us an assurance about that?
I would also ask him to note that every one of the major units of the Fleet today—the battleship, the cruiser and the aircraft carrier—is either regarded as obsolescent or is challenged. I do not mean in terms of numbers or class, but in terms of its rôle. The argument against the aircraft carrier is that anything that an aircraft can do when operat- 1959 ing from a carrier can be done very much better by a land-based aircraft. That sums up the arguments of the "air boys" fairly well, and their case grows stronger every year. With the development of very long-range aircraft, able to operate from shore bases, the case for the aircraft carrier must be argued very fully if we are to know where we stand in this matter.
This reduces us to a rather critical situation. If the rôle of every one of our major units is under challenge, does the House think that the Navy can exist in a purely defensive rôle, such as is envisaged by units of the anti-submarine and anti-aircraft frigate and minesweeper type? In his war memoirs the Prime Minister wrote at some length about what he regarded as the excessive defensive mentality which he found at the Admiralty from time to time, and which he thought he ought to counteract, and some pretty sharp notes were passed—not wholly one way, because Admirals have a very good flow of language if they are provoked, and some answered back very sharply.
But how much more would a defensive attitude be encouraged if the rôle of the Navy were reduced to that of convoy protection and minesweeping? That is a very real issue, which the House and the country should face and upon which we ought to have guidance from the First Lord, instead of him just telling us that the Navy's rôle is world-wide, that it will carry out its world-wide tasks and the rest. That is not sufficient today.
In the present atmosphere, so far as I can judge—and I hope that I am being fair to everybody—the Navy feels that there is a great deal in the case made out for shore-based, very long-range aircraft. What has the Navy got against this argument? First, it does not trust the Royal Air Force. The Navy does not believe that any Service which is not under its control, and upon which it has to call for aircraft, will be there when it is wanted. It draws upon its past experience and upon its views of the relative importance attached by the Royal Air Force to its various rôles
The pride of the Royal Air Force is now the strategic bomber. Then comes Fighter Command and, a long way down 1960 the list, we have Transport Command and Coastal Command. This is often denied, and it is said that Coastal Command has parity of treatment and is as well regarded in the Royal Air Force as the strategic bomber force, but we cannot get it out of the mind of the Navy that the two Commands are not regarded in the same way by the Royal Air Force. We must face the fact that the suspicion is there and is felt very strongly.
If we couple that feeling of the Admiralty with the fact that if the Navy were deprived of its only offensive weapon it would become a purely defensive Service, we can all see how the Admiralty naturally digs itself in on this question of the right rôle and the right weapon to be employed. I very much doubt whether, in the present atmosphere, we are going to get to the bottom of this controversy about the aircraft carrier and its rightful place. I do not blame the Admiralty, because anybody who has served on the Board of Admiralty always falls over backwards to see its point of view, but I do not think it is any use our hiding our heads in the sand any longer. The attack will go on increasing, and we ought to face it.
I do not forget that there has been a lot of co-operation. When I was at the Admiralty I had the good fortune to go to Londonderry to see the anti-submarine school there, which I thought was very good indeed. But we have two forms of training, two sorts of living accommodation, two forms of recruitment, and all the rest of it, and I do not think that the Fleet Air Arm, as the very junior partner, can ever expect to get the same treatment as the Royal Air Force in the demands which it makes in any direction.
Therefore, I come to the following conclusions. The Royal Air Force and the Navy have a great deal in common. Their rôle is the same. The Navy has no right to exist purely because there has always been a Navy and because it is the Navy. Its right to exist depends upon the fact that it is controlling the sea routes to which the First Lord made reference. That is also true of the Royal Air Force. Both Services are sharing today the rôle of keeping open our communications and of protecting our commerce
Both Services have a great deal in common, and yet at the present time there is more inter-Service argument going on 1961 about this subject—though it is kept down at the top, and is quietened and hushed— than I can remember ever since I have been studying—in a rather faint way— these problems. It may be that in a couple of decades the Royal Air Force itself will be obsolescent. The strategic bomber may well have been displaced within 20 years.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I defer to my hon. Friend on that matter. It may well be true. It may be that the development of the guided air-to-air, sea-to-air or ground-to-air missile will make piloted aircraft obsolescent. Both these Services have great problems to face during the next 20 years if the resources which they are now being given on an unprecedented scale are not to be misused.
I put it to the First Lord—I see that representatives of the other Services are present—that the time has come when a fresh review should be made of the methods used for protecting our commerce and of keeping our sea lanes open, and that such a review should be raised above the level of an inter-Service wrangle. It should cover the consequences of the development of very long-range shore-based aircraft, and the rôle of the carrier and the cruiser. In the light of the development of that aircraft, such a review would clearly have to take into account the extent to which the North Atlantic Treaty forces modify our needs in any direction.
It should try to visualise just how far the development of guided weapons a decade ahead should influence the direction and pace of our efforts today, because, at the rate at which we build ships, a ship laid down next year will not see service in much less than six or seven years. That is a fact which must be taken into account if the First Lord wants to modernise his cruiser fleet. A committee making such a review should be looking a decade ahead and examining what will take place. It should be a committee at the highest level and should be free to examine the most radical and profound modifications of rôles between the Services. The most radical question it could examine would be whether there is the need for a separate Royal Air Force and a separate Royal Navy. I 1962 merely pose the question because I should not be presumptuous enough to begin to answer it. Neither do I think that any of us in a debate of this sort should.
If, after careful consideration, the committee reached such a conclusion in the light of the development of guided missiles, and, perhaps, the obsolescence of the Royal Air Force, then we should not shrink from making the change, whatever the consequence. I think there is a very strong case for the Government putting in hand such a review and communicating its results to the House and to the country. Who knows, it may even result in some economies which would please my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), as well as some other of my hon. Friends.
§ Mr, Callaghan
I do not want to be too sweeping this afternoon, and, therefore, we will save the Army for next year. I am only putting forward some tentative thoughts which we ought to be considering at the present time and which we ought to discuss in the interests of the nation as a whole.
On the question of manpower, I very much welcome the decision of the Board of Admiralty to restore the right to men in the Service to buy themselves out. The hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) wrote to "The Times" recently on this subject, and I agree with everything that he said in his letter. I believe that the inability of men to buy themselves out accounts for much of the underlying cause of the trouble on the mess decks recently, because one man unable to buy himself out and with a long period of service in front of him can upset a whole mess deck.
I asked the First Lord a Question the other day about the ages of those who had committed these offences, and also about their average length of service. I received the answer which I expected. Ten out of 12 of them were under 21 years of age, and of those who had signed on for 12 years all but one had more than half their service to do. The discontent of such men is due, perhaps, to the fact that they have joined the wrong Service or are unable to face the undoubted hardships of life in the Royal Navy. Life in the Royal Navy will never 1963 be easy. Therefore, to get out of it these men may commit these acts.
By his decision this afternoon the First Lord has done quite a lot to lessen the discontent and to get rid of the handful of people who are quite unable to settle down to life in the Service. I also congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his decision to reduce the length of the foreign service commission to 12 months. I know that the Parliamentary Secretary brought that idea back with him when he went to the Far East last summer, and I am very glad that it is now proposed to put it into force over a period of time.
I should like to hear some further details as to how the system is going to work, because, so far as I can see, it is going to mean a drastic overhaul of our methods of providing for the Fleets. Are the rôles of the Home Fleet and of the Mediterranean Fleet to be changed, the Home Fleet being regarded as the training Fleet and the Mediterranean Fleet as the one to go into action? How will it affect their rôles? We should certainly like an explanation of that. I have here in my notes, as two of the things to which I wanted to call the First Lord's attention, the inability of men to buy themselves out and the length of the foreign commission. Now I can wipe both of them out.
However, I want to mention two other things in connection with the length of engagements. I know that the Navy wanted to build up a long-term service, and I think that is a very good idea if it can be achieved. If the policy of allowing men to buy themselves out is applied fairly liberally, it can perhaps still be achieved, but I warn the First Lord that he will create a discontented Service if he gets men to sign on for 12 years under some form of sharp practice. I will tell him what I mean.
Among the Questions which I put down in preparation for the debate, I asked what proportion of Regulars signed on for seven years and for 12 years respectively in 1950, 1951, 1952 and 1953. I know that in 1950 and 1951 no particular pressure was put upon men as to whether they signed for seven years or for 12 years. But I have my doubts about 1952 and 1953. Indeed, I go further; I think pressure has been brought to bear on men, perhaps on men who have no strong 1964 views one way or the other, to sign for 12 years, because of the desire for a long-service Navy.
Further, I believe that pressure has been applied in this way: a young man goes to the recruiting office and the man in charge of recruitment says, "You want to sign for seven years? I am sorry. I have no vacancies for seven years but I have one for 12 years, if you care to sign for that period." If my suspicions are regarded as unworthy, I ask the First Lord how he accounts for the figures which he gave me, which show that whereas in 1950 and 1951 38 per cent, and 39 per cent, of the men signed on for seven years, in 1952 and 1953 the total had dropped to 13 per cent, and 12 per cent.—only one-third. There is some reason for that, and I believe I am pretty near the mark. I tell the First Lord that in the long run it will not do much good if he gets people on this basis, because generally they will be disgruntled after a fairly short time.
I now turn to a subject which a number of my hon. Friends will raise. I apologise for the length of my speech. As the First Lord knows and the House no doubt recollects, a committee reviewed the operation of the Naval Discipline Act and decided that a great many reforms should be made. I do not think I am breaking any confidence when I say that in my last eight or nine months at the Admiralty —I was there for only 18 months—I was very busily engaged in reaching decisions on some of the new features which will appear in the legislation. That is about three years ago, and we still have no signs of legislation on that Act which, as the First Lord told me in a reply he gave recently, requires modernising.
The First Lord told me that when a place can be found in the legislative programme he will bring his proposal forward, but I do not think that is good enough. By now he should have reached his conclusions and be fighting for a place in the legislative programme to enable him to undertake the reform of this Act. If I were in a contentious mood this afternoon, I should tell him some of the things which he could well leave out of the programme in order to bring that reform forward, but I will leave that to the imagination of hon. Members opposite whose consciences are as guilty as, from the looks on their faces, they themselves feel.
1965 I hope the House will forgive me for making a quotation, but I wonder whether at the back of the Admiralty's mind there is not an underlying reluctance to bring forward a review of the Naval Discipline Act. I ask this because of a minute which I once saw in the Admiralty's files. I hope that the First Lord will not challenge me on this. Perhaps I may read the minute and then he will see. It reads:Should our code of laws become a matter of discussion before the House, the Members of which understand little or nothing of sea life in the Navy, I fear it would suffer considerably as the standard of duty and discipline in civil and home life is much relaxed in these days.What a commentary on the post-war Labour Government. But then I discovered that this minute was written in 1905.The standard of duty and discipline in civil and home lifeseems to have been relaxing continually. I wonder whether there is not something like this in the back of people's minds today—some thought that the House cannot be expected to understand how the Naval Discipline Act should operate, so let the House not be worried with it.
May I next offer a word of congratulation to the First Lord? If he had to alter the Dartmouth plan, I think he has done it in the right way.
§ Mr. Callaghan
My hon. and gallant Friend should not try to detract from the one compliment which I am paying the First Lord.
I think he took exactly the right decision, and 1 want to say to any ostriches there may be around the Service that if they believe this decision will be altered again, they should take their heads out of the sand. We on this side of the House will stand by it and carry it out, and I believe it will be in the best interests of the Navy.
I will conclude by some questions about the programme of new construction. In March, 1951, it was announced that we proposed to convert 45 destroyers to frigates. Only 10 have so far been completed. What is the programme for the remainder? Thirty-five remain to be completed. The results so far are not much for a substantial three-year rearmament programme. Will the Parliamentary Secretary tell us what the Government 1966 have in mind for the conversion of the remaining 35 vessels?
In March, 1951, it was announced that 25 frigates would be built. As far as I can make out—I may be wrong—only one has been completed; that is, one out of 25 at the end of a three-year rearmament period. What is the programme for the remainder of these frigates? It should have been hurried on, and I am disappointed to learn that only one has so far been completed. I am glad that the minesweepers seem to be doing rather better, and I agree as to the concentration of effort which has been put into them.
The House will be delighted to hear that I leave a lot unsaid. We have a long debate before us. Criticisms which are made of the Navy from any quarter of the House are made with a desire to improve it. A lot of money is going into the Royal Navy and, indeed, into the other Services—more money than ever before in peace-time. There is a great responsibility upon the administration of the Admiralty to see that the use of that money is wisely directed, especially when the Admiralty is calling upon the nation's resources more widely than ever they have been called on before—a great responsibility to see that the pace and direction of effort are right. I hope that when the results are known we shall find that the resources which the Admiralty has had at its disposal have been wisely used for the future as well as for the needs of the present.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
With very great sincerity I crave the indulgence which the House is renownedly so generous in granting to those who try for the first time to contribute to its deliberations.
When I sought to speak in this debate I had it in mind to try to make two points. The first is perhaps a very modest one, but it is one which I believe affects the strength and health of the naval service at its very roots. I want to make a plea for more instruction in seamanship—and, with great respect to the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey), who has just left his place, I do not include horsemanship. I mean more instruction in seamanship for ratings who are recruited into the seaman branch of the Service. That instruction should be given by junior 1967 officers who have responsibility as divisional officers for the welfare of the men whom it is their duty to train.
How should this be achieved? In the first place, it is fairly obvious in the case of training establishments. But in the case of ships of the Fleet at sea I suggest that is should be given as an instruction to commanding officers in Admiralty Fleet Orders that, more often than they do, and more often than they like to do or than their first lieutenants like them to do, they should send boats away under oars and under sail, with junior officers and with newly-entered ratings, for training and instruction.
May I explain briefly why I feel that this is of such importance and value? I believe there is a danger that we are developing a Navy without sailors. I am afraid that too many young ratings go to their ships and become immured as little more than street cleaners in a vast iron slum, and that they are divorced from the realities of the sea. In such a Navy, I think that the spirit which keeps it alive must perish.
May I put it in this way? I think that, in the short time I have been a Member of this House and during the time I have been sitting on a Committee upstairs, I have been most impressed by one thing. Many hon. Members who sit on the opposite side of that Committee to me have spent many years in mining. We are considering a mining Bill, and I am sure that they will feel with me the great affinity which exists between, curiously enough, the calling of the miner and the calling of the sailor. They will appreciate that it is not possible in the seafaring profession, any more than in the mining profession, for experience to be gained at second-hand. It is absolutely vital that those who go to sea in ships should really know the fundamentals of their craft at first-hand and become versed in the skill of their calling. For many of them it is a new and temporary calling, but it is a calling in which the people of our land have for generations taken pride and delight.
I also believe that training in seamanship is of incalculable value in the establishment of morale in the Service. I know that I have, and other hon. Members, too, must have seen with the very greatest misgivings reports of malicious damage 1968 in Her Majesty's ships, but I think that anyone who knows the Navy recognises instantly that this is damage which must be laid at the door of faulty morale, and that no question of treason enters into it at all. I believe that the maintaining of naval discipline and good morale, in conjunction, is a most difficult and delicate business.
If I may draw on my own experience for a few moments, it was my lot during the Second World War to spend some considerable time at sea in a small ship on a particularly arduous and unrewarding type of patrol, and it so happened that my commanding officer allowed me to take the ship's boats away under sail in conditions in which normally it would not have been possible for me to do. I learnt from that, and from the experience that I had with those whom it was my responsibility to lead, that in the satisfying exertions of handling small boats on the sea one found, among those who shared in them, that confidence and mutual respect which is the basis of discipline.
I should like to make this third point in support of my plea for training in seamanship. It is an insurance policy against unnecessary loss of life in times of disaster and crisis at sea. We used to say, with sadness, that it was indisputable that when there was loss of life at sea in the Royal Navy and in the Royal Norwegian Navy during he last war, that when a ship of His Majesty's Navy, as it was then, was sunk, the loss of life was always much greater than when a ship of the Royal Norwegian Navy was sunk.
The reason was no fault of ours. Our men were comparative novices in the ways of the sea, but the men of the Norwegian ships were trained men and seamen from birth, and when it comes to it in the last resort in a fight for survival between men and the sea, it is fundamentally discipline and training in the actual handling of ships on the sea, and small boats above all, that will cause a man to survive or go under.
I believe that we owe it to the young men who volunteer, as they do, to join the naval service to see that they are given that skill and that at homeness in their surroundings which may save their lives.
I feel that in making this point I am not doing so at an inappropriate time because, in the Explanatory State- 1969 ment which my right hon. Friend has published, it is pointed out that owing to the deterioration in regular recruiting in the seaman branch exceptionally large numbers of National Service men are joining the Navy this year, and I feel that, as things are going, that will be the case in the years that lie ahead.
I see that the Leader of the Opposition is not in his place, but I know that hon. Friends of his on both sides of the House will believe me when I say that he will have some sympathy in this matter, because I noticed with great interest that his own son was a valued member of the staff of one of the most helpful organisations which seek to promote exactly the kind of standard I advocate—the Outward Bound Trust.
The second point which I want to make—and I shall not detain the House much longer—is a rather less narrow one and concerns more the broader principles of naval strategy. I hope that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), who spoke from the Dispatch Box opposite, will believe me when I say that I have no intention of being controversial, because I did not know what he was going to say. But I am not inclined to alter what I am about to say, and I hope that he will believe me when I say that I am not making debating points on this matter at all.
My right hon. Friend the First Lord is criticised—and I am not speaking of criticism from the other side of the House but of criticism such as that made in a leading article in "The Times" this morning. The gist of the criticism which is laid at his door is, I think, this: that on the offensive side not enough progress is being made. That the Admiralty is content to concentrate upon defensive policy and to develop the strength of minesweepers and frigates and similar vessels at the expense of striking power in the Navy, which has its part to play in the offensive and strategic policy of the Western world as a whole.
I believe that this criticism is ill-conceived and unjustified. In the first place I think that no one, without second sight, could possibly concentrate upon constructing offensive major war vessels and armaments at this time without the risk of finding that vast expenditure was committed to ships and weapons that research 1970 was likely quickly to render obsolete. In the second place, no one, I think, will deny that there are certain enduring realities in regard to the rôle of the Royal Navy in the past and the present, and in the future, so far as one can tell. There can be absolutely no question as to the need in any future war, if such a thing should happen, for huge fleets of minesweepers and anti-submarine vessels, because, whatever the strategy of any future war, this country will still depend on the safe arrival in its ports of millions of tons of shipping on which our lives depend.
For that reason, an enemy is bound to try to prevent the ships reaching our ports, and the best methods—and I do not see these methods being fundamentally altered in the future—of preventing these ships arriving are, first, mines and, secondly, the submarine, or U-boat. Therefore, if there is to be any choice in the emphasis between offensive and defensive strength in the Royal Navy as to which should be perfected and developed first, I am sure that we are right to concentrate now on bringing our minesweepers and frigates to the maximum strength and the maximum perfection.
At the same time, I think that we should have our minds open to other things in the future. I listened to the debate on the Air Estimates in this House and it was a chastening experience. I do not mean in the physical sense, although we sat up all night, indeed I must say—I hope without being misunderstood by hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Front Bench below the Gangway opposite—that, although it was a chastening experience, it was rendered not altogether unenjoyable by the virtuosity and skill with which they kept us up and detained us for so long.
As one who has been afloat at sea, I suggest that it would have been very much less chastening if hon. Members had had the good sense to provide themselves with hammocks, as they would have done in the Royal Navy, because the Palace of Westminster is so constructed that it is admirably suitable for the slinging of hammocks across the corridors and lobbies. That is a reform which the House might consider in the future.
In saying that the debate on the Air Estimates was a chastening experience, I 1971 mean that to one who, by habit, regards the Royal Navy as a bulwark which is not to be challenged in the defence of this country, it was chastening to find it brushed aside by hon. Members, on both sides of the House, who spoke as though it was only in the air that we had to consider the strategy with which to conduct any future war. This is not so. I believe that the ultimate striking power that is to be developed in the West or in any nation that brings its military potential to the greatest height is bound to be achieved in a combination between the sea and the air arms.
While, therefore, for the time being the Admiralty is right to concentrate upon what it knows to be vital—the development of the defensive role of the Navy, which cannot toe denied and will always be required—we should at the same time feel that future developments will depend upon the researches of which there are only dark hints in the Explanatory Statement, and, also, that they will depend very largely upon the searching and radical thought which, if I may say so, right hon. and hon. Members, on both sides, have to give to the role which the Navy should play.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Mr. A. G. Bottomley (Rochester and Chatham)
It affords me particular pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) and to congratulate him upon his maiden speech. He represents a constituency in my native county of Essex and I am sure that all of us in the House will agree that he spoke with a fluency, knowledge and humour which will encourage us all to listen to him again.
The First Lord and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) devoted a good deal of their speeches to the men and ships of the Royal Navy. I join with them in their tributes to the Royal Navy, but the House will expect me to turn my attention to the Royal naval dockyards. These dockyards in their condition today would not command pride from any of us. The First Lord himself said last year that they were congested and old-fashioned and had an undue proportion 1972 of old plant. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer is right when he says that we have an improved economic situation, the First Lord should have been sufficiently strong in his demands for a higher proportion of the capital investment that was available.
My hon. Friend said that a lot of money had been set aside for the Admiralty and that it is how this money is spent that matters. I do not think it is being spent in the best possible way. Much more could be done in the dockyards if there were greater efficiency and if there were a tendency to look at things which cost more money than they ought to do. I speak only from experience and I do not say that these are substantial matters, but they are indications of the unnecessary waste that takes place.
As the First Lord knows, the Royal Marine Barracks, Chatham, are unoccupied for the first time in 200 years. Had these buildings been used, there would have been no waste, but they have been neglected and are rapidly deteriorating. That famous parade ground has weeds on it for the first time. I know that it has now been given to the Army, but surely the First Lord should have considered more fully the proposition that I made to him earlier, when the Chamber of Trade wanted to inspect the site in order that it could be considered for industrial purposes. We did not have a very good reply from the First Lord, who was not at all sympathetic. All I can say is that the ratepayers of the town are losing about £3,000 a year. I should like to know what will now be the cost of putting these barracks into a reasonable condition. I imagine that it would be very high. Not only are the citizens of the borough suffering locally, therefore, through higher rates, but they have to pay more taxes nationally because of this kind of neglect.
I hope that the First Lord is not so doctrinaire that he believes that private enterprise must come into the dockyards also. More private enterprise work appears to be being done in the dockyards today than hitherto. This would not be a bad thing if it was being done cheaper, but I have some illustrations which show that the cost is heavier, and not less, as a result of private enterprise doing some of the work in the dockyards.
1973 There is the "Ausonia" depot ship and there is the gunnery shop in Chatham Dockyard, both of which are being painted by outside contractors. Their workmen get higher pay than those in the dockyard, and they have to come down from the north of England and are given a subsistence allowance. Not only does this cost the Admiralty more money, but the permanent men in the dockyards are becoming discontented, which is not a good thing.
I am told, furthermore, that at the Royal Naval Armaments Depot, at Lodge Hill, tugs are being repaired by private enterprise. I am trying to ascertain the cost, and if it proves to be higher it will fortify the instance I have already given. The First Lord is really not giving his whole attention to the dockyards, but is concerned rather with what appear to be petty party doctrinaire views.
I should like to make an appeal about a local matter which could be a cause of extreme danger. The House will recall the tragic accident in Dock Road, Chatham, when many young Royal Marine cadets lost their lives. At the Pembroke Gate the conditions really are bad, and time and time again the trade union representatives have asked that they should be put right. I ask the First Lord to give his attention to this matter before we have another disaster in the area.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
The right hon. Member will know that the lighting in Dock Road, which is in my constituency, in Gillingham, is now thoroughly satisfactory. I am sure he would not want to imply that nothing has been done there.
§ Mr. Bottomley
The hon. Member must be aware that I am informed about local government matters. A local government responsibility is not a matter that I should today raise in the House. What I am discussing is the responsibilty of the Admiralty and has nothing to do with the lighting in Dock Road.
To turn to construction work in the dockyard, I was very pleased to hear this afternoon, and to read earlier in the Papers, about the launching of the "Explorer." It was done by private enterprise and I am sure that the standard of workmanship is of the highest. There is, however, a term that is always used in the Admiralty, with which we are all familiar and which I strongly support: 1974 that we must always preserve the war essential. This means that more building has to be done in the Royal dockyards if they are to retain the skill of the craftsmen, technicians and others.
There is a tendency for those people to drift away from the dockyards. I do not have the figures for the apprentices, but it would be most revealing to know the number of young men who have been trained by the Admiralty and who, two years after serving their apprenticeships, leave the dockyards and go elsewhere. This is a very bad thing from the viewpoint of the preservation of the war essential.
Prior to the new submarine, the "Explorer," the last submarine that was launched was the "Acheron "—built at Chatham Dockyard. It was a magnificent ship and is the only one to have dived with a Prime Minister aboard. The First Lord may recall that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition went down in the submarine on one of its exercises, which in itself is an example of the confidence in this well-manned and well-built ship from Chatham Dockyard. We would like more work to go there so that this kind of workmanship can be maintained.
I should like to refer to one other matter, the question of staggered holidays. I am told that if the holiday period is now to be closed instead of staggered as before, it will mean, in the case of Chatham, that for two weeks ships which would otherwise have gone there would be diverted—