§ 3.39 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."
The House will already know from the Defence White Paper and from my own Explanatory Memorandum that for the coming year the Admiralty is slightly reducing its demands on the defence budget in much the same proportion as the defence budget itself is reduced. The gross cost of the programme which I present to the House is forecast as £391,550,000, or about £12 million less than this year's programme.
There is a corresponding reduction in the net amount of £340,500,000 which I have to ask Parliament to grant, after making allowance for receipts of all kinds. The receipts include an estimated £6½million of defence aid generously granted by the United States, and some additional United States aid will be provided in support of the research and development programme. In the current year we made provision for £14 million of defence aid.
The House will have noticed that this year I have put much of the material which I should normally use in my speech into my Explanatory White Paper. I am grateful to the hon. Members for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) and Aston (Mr. Wyatt)—although I totally disagree with everything they said about the Navy during the debates of the last two days, I have an unbounded admiration for their judgment of literature—for their kindly reference to my White Paper for the present year.
I decided to do this for various reasons. Since last I presented the Navy Estimates to the House, the coming of the hydrogen bomb has added, as we have debated over the last two days, a new and horrifying significance to the nuclear age. As the House was told in the defence debate, the Government had to examine afresh the 2248 effect on the traditional Services of the Crown. While this was being done—and it was a very thorough process—the prophets in this country got going, and many of their prophecies predicted doom for the Royal Navy. Many people—and many distinguished people—said, in the vernacular, that the Navy had "had it," while the official spokesmen for the Navy were forced to keep silent as long as this examination was going on. These prophecies and the uncertainty which they produced have, I admit, caused much uneasiness throughout all ranks of the Service.
Now that the Government have heard and accepted the opinions of the scientists and strategists that the Navy has a vital part to play in the nuclear age, I thought it wise to give the reasons to the country at greater length in the White Paper than this House could endure in a speech, so that matters could be viewed in a proper perspective during today's debate, and also during the two days' defence debate which we have just finished.
The reaction from the public and the Press to the Explanatory White Paper to the Navy Estimates has been encouraging, but one criticism has been pretty general, and it is a fair one. It says, "This new type of Navy sounds all right but so much of it is in the future. What happens if war, and perhaps conventional war, should come before the guided weapons and the new naval aircraft are ready?" I will try to answer this question today in the course of my speech, although, heaven knows, the path of the prophet is as full of pitfalls today in matters like these as it has been throughout the ages.
The Russian Navy is a powerful one and is quickly growing in strength. Can the allied navies stand up to it now—if it should become necessary—and fulfil the unchanging task of all navies: to destroy the enemy's ships and prevent him from using the seas; to protect our supplies and communications; and to provide air support for operations ashore and afloat in those areas where it cannot readily be given by shore-based aircraft?
I said the "allied navies" and I stress those words, for after the extraordinarily successful way in which the navies of the allies have been knitted together with our own Navy and with those of the Commonwealth, frankly I have little patience 2249 with people who talk as if we may stand alone in any future major war at sea. It may hurt the pride of a great seafaring nation to realise that we can no longer control the seas alone but it ought not to do so, for there is no single navy in the world today that can do so in these modern times.
What it is up to us to do surely is to see not only that our contribution to that allied naval power is worthy of this country but, also, that it will meet our own world-wide commitments in the British Commonwealth of Nations. Our contribution, of course, will be worthier still as the guided weapon ships come along, but I do not want to belittle what the position is today. Our five latest aircraft carriers are among the most modern in the world and the inventions which make them so up-to-date are all British inventions.
Since the previous Government began the rearmament programme in 1950, which has been carried on by the present Government, over 120 new or modernised ships have either joined the Active Fleet or are in readiness to do so from the Reserve Fleet.
People are apt to complain that these are only small ships and no answer to the new Russian cruiser, the "Sverdlov"; but the main answer today to the "Sverdlov" is the carrier and its aircraft. Our smaller ships—the fast escorts, anti-submarine frigates and minesweepers —are indispensable for combating the submarine and the mine and for enabling us to carry out one of the main duties of the Navy, which is the protection of our supplies and communications.
There have been some suggestions in the defence debate that the Navy is spending too much money on these anti-submarine ships and on our mining forces. But the Russian submarine force which could menace our trade routes is a considerable one, and although the mine danger may not have the same super-priority as it had before the coming of the hydrogen bomb, there is no doubt whatsoever that the Russians are still concentrating on mine-laying.
Let me also say something here about our own submarines. The numbers in the White Paper may not seem large enough, but I would remind the House that it is never customary to give the particulars of or numbers of operational submarines 2250 until they have been launched. All I wilt say is that we are building modern submarines—some with high submerged speed—and more midget submarines are coming into service.
But, as I have said in the White Paper, our cruiser fleet is ageing. This does not mean that they cannot give a good account of themselves if a hot war should suddenly materialise and, of course, they still perform a most valuable service both in peace, in supporting our foreign policy and in patrolling the seas, and in any cold or warm war which may occur.
But the Admiralty has been criticised for not building more conventional cruisers. I should say at once that the present Board of Admiralty, even if it had the money, would not do so but would prefer to concentrate on the guided weapon ship which is in sight. This ship will be something over 10,000 tons: and an obvious successor to the cruiser.
In the case of the "Tiger" class cruisers, however, we have made an exception. For some time I have been asked by all parties in both Houses of Parliament why we have not finished the three "Tiger" cruisers. I have replied that we were awaiting the latest gun armament. This is now ready and, as I said before, the new guns are almost entirely automatic and fire a new design of shell at a very high rate. We therefore decided to finish building these three cruisers.
We shall get for the money we spend in completing them, three cruisers for roughly the price of one new one today. In summing up my answer to those who ask about our present strength, I would say that if we continue to make the same contribution towards the total N.A.T.O. naval strength, the combined allied force provides today a very formidable deterrent.
§ Mr. Thomas
It will cost about £18 million, which is equal to the price of a new cruiser today.
So far as aircraft are concerned, by the end of this year we shall have completely re-equipped our front-line with jet and turbo-prop aircraft in the day fighter and all-weather fighter rôles and in the strike and anti-submarine rôles. The Fleet Air Arm will be equipped with the Sea Hawk, 2251 which can carry a 2,000 lb. bomb load, the Sea Venom, the Gannet and the Wyvern—the strike aircraft about which I shall have more to say in a minute; and the Whirlwind helicopter, which is showing the great possibilities of the helicopter in the anti-submarine rôle.
We cannot, of course, rest content with this. New aircraft are planned to replace all those which have been in front-line service this year. As the House knows, substantial orders have been placed for a new single-seater day-fighter—the N.113 —which will replace the Sea Hawk and is designed to carry a guided missile.
We have now also placed orders for an all-weather fighter, the D.H.110, to replace the Sea Venom. I have already assured the House that we are entirely satisfied that the D.H.110 is a first-class aircraft for our purposes. This aircraft has been subjected to intensive tests since the accident at Farnborough in 1952. As a result of these tests it should enter service with far fewer latent troubles than other aircraft, and I repeat that the experts consider it will be an absolutely first-class naval aircraft. It is also designed to carry a guided missile, and I hope that these aircraft which I have mentioned will have a smooth passage in production and will come into service as planned.
The Whirlwind helicopter and the turbo-prop Gannet are in service today and squadrons have been formed. The Wyvern, as the House probably knows, was the first military turbo-prop aircraft, and, therefore, it was to be expected that it would have an unusual quantity of teething troubles—and it certainly has; but the latest report, which I have received this week, is reasonably hopeful that it will shortly be cleared for operation from carriers. As I said in my Explanatory Statement, however, we are planning a much more advanced replacement for it. All these new aircraft will be expensive but some of our new plans and developments will bring about, as one of their results, substantial economies in aircraft.
Our practical experience with the angled deck and the mirror sight in H.M.S. "Albion" has convinced us that there should be in future a very marked decrease in deck landing accidents. This will not only substantially reduce wastage of aircraft but, more important still, will 2252 increase very greatly the safety of our pilots and observers.
The conversion of most of the R.N.V.R. fighter squadrons to jets is planned to take place this year, and within the next year or two we expect to give the R.N.V.R. Air Divisions Sea Hawks, Gannets and Seamews. At the same time, we shall have to reduce the R.N.V.R. establishment of these costly aircraft by about one-fifth and there will also have to be some reduction in aircrew.
I hope that by the account I have just given, I have shown our determination that the Fleet Air Arm shall have the best aircraft and equipment that we can provide and the best training we can possibly give it. It is also intended that from the training point of view, so far as possible squadrons ashore will in future always work from the same airfields and will know from the time they form which carrier they will join and when.
I doubt whether the House would want me to spend much tune today in raking over any more the embers of the controversy about the aircraft carrier, about which quite a lot was said during the past two days. Perhaps I may deal with the subject in two sentences and say, in defence of the aircraft carrier, that it proved its value for all to witness during the Korean War. There may be more wars like the Korean War.
The expert advice given to the American Navy and to our own fully supports the carrier battle group in a war of nuclear weapons as a self-protecting, largely self-contained mobile airfield.
§ Mr. Thomas
I am talking about the naval experts in America and this country and not about Army field marshals, however distinguished they may be. Such a battle group is described in the White Paper as compact, hard-hitting and, at the same time, flexible and elusive.
§ Mr. Edward Shackleton (Preston, South)
The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the expert advice given to the American and British Navies. Is the expert advice naval advice?
§ Mr. Thomas
It is the total Chiefs of Staff advice. They speak as one voice, as the hon. Member must know.
§ Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas (The Wrekin)
If the advice tendered to different Departments differs, on what advice does the Minister of Defence take action?
§ Mr. Thomas
If there is any difference between the Chiefs of Staff, the Minister of Defence and, after him, the Cabinet come to their conclusions, having taken both points of view into consideration.
A great deal has been said about the vulnerability of the aircraft carrier in the last war. I would remind the House that of the 226 carriers used by all sides, only 39 were sunk. Of these, only four were sunk by shore-based aircraft, three of them by Japanese suicide aircraft. As for a future war, the carrier battle group as a mobile target, with its screen of fighters and its early-warning aircraft, might well be relatively immune from some of the most formidable of modern weapons.
As I have told the House in my White Paper, the guided weapons are now far enough advanced for us to begin to prepare the ships for carrying them. These ships will replace the cruiser fleet as it ages and goes out of active service. From now on, the programmes for ships, their equipment and guided missiles are geared to come together at the proper time.
I would warn the House that the expression "laying down a ship" is becoming a bit of an anachronism in these modern days.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
Are the guided missiles which these ships eventually will carry yet in production or development?
§ Mr. Thomas
If the hon. Member will wait, I am coming to that. I hope to answer his question.
As I have warned the House, the expression "laying down a ship" is becoming something of an anachronism, because in these modern days the equipment requires a longer time than the hull. So far as these guided weapon ships are concerned, a good deal of research and development work on the equipment has been completed, and we aim to order much of that equipment this year for the first ships so that building can proceed.
2254 The ship-to-air missile itself will be tested at sea next year in the experimental guided weapon ship "Girdleness," which, I think, answers the hon. Member's question; but until those tests have been successfully completed, I do not feel that the House would expect me to try to predict today when our first operational guided weapon ship will come into service.
§ Mr. Thomas
My answer is that the first ship-to-air guided weapons will be ready in time when these ships come along.
§ Mr. Speaker
We should get on better if there were many fewer interjections. The habit of interjecting questions has been growing lately and slows down proceedings. Although we have plenty of time before us today, that is also an argument why hon. Members who are interested in the matter should defer their questions until they get an opportunity of making a speech; otherwise, we simply spend time with these interruptions.
§ Mr. Speaker
There is no doubt about their importance. I am only suggesting that the habit of rising to ask questions in the course of a narrative slows down proceedings. I am not saying that it is always wrong or anything like that, but 2255 in my opinion there has been far too much of it lately.
§ Mr. Thomas
During the two days of the defence debate, I was asked questions about merchant shipping. As is well known, the co-operation between the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy is very close indeed, and continues to be so. As I have shown also in the earlier part of my speech, a considerable part of our naval building programme with its emphasis on escort ships is for the safety of the Merchant Navy. During the defence debate, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barkston, Ash (Sir L. Ropner) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay) asked certain detailed questions. All I can say in reply today is that the Admiralty is working very closely with the General Council of British Shipping on all questions of shipping defence, including the very problems raised by my hon. Friends during the defence debate.
I come now to the manning of the Navy. Before I deal with this grave and important matter, I hope the House will remember when we face the present serious difficulties in the Navy that, unlike the other two Services, the Navy is more than 90 per cent. composed of volunteers and the average length of engagement in the Navy is still over ten years. We therefore have an entirely different problem from the other two Services. In my Explanatory Statement of a year ago, I gave some account of the Navy's problems of recruiting and engagement. In my Statement this year, I show that those trends, unfortunately, developed further, particularly in the seamen and stoker mechanic branches and in the Royal Marines.
Everyone will have his own ideas of the importance of the various reasons which have gone to make this new situation and I have discussed certain of them in my White Paper. I certainly do not accept any suggestion that men are leaving the Navy or staying out of the Navy because morale is low. That is certainly not the case. My colleagues and I have carried out several tours of inspection, both at home and abroad. I myself went to the Far East last autumn. We talked to large numbers of all ranks, ashore and afloat. So far from finding low morale, we found that the men, apart 2256 from small grouses or "tooth sucking" as it is more elegantly called in the Navy, were happy in their service, though there is no doubt that the attractions of civil life are very great.
We are satisfied, too, that the men in the Navy today are every bit as good as those of the past. But the decline in our numbers goes on. We cannot take any dramatic steps to bring about an increase overnight in our numbers of Regulars, but we are always watching living conditions and the conditions of service of the ratings—a subject which no doubt will be dealt with more fully when we debate the intervening Amendment today. We are doing all we can to preserve and improve the best features of life in the Service, and to make sure that the Navy offers, as it has done in the past, an attractive career.
I do not want to cut across the Amendment which the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) will move later on, so I will only say that the advantages of the general service commission introduced almost a year ago, which means shorter service abroad and leaving ships' companies for a longer time together, have not yet had full effect. Although I warned the House in the last debate on the Estimates that it would take a year or so for this plan to settle down and that during the first year conditions might be tiresome, although they would bring great benefits in the end, nevertheless the position of manning is sufficiently disturbing for the Admiralty to start a full inquiry into problems of recruiting and manning.
Against this background I am glad to be able to say something about the Naval Reserves. There, the position is generally very sound. I have sometimes seen figures given as the strength of the Naval Reserves and Auxiliary Forces, which are confined to men having a training liability and to National Service Reserves. Actually, we have available on call an immediate and highly trained First Reserve of over 80,000 officers and men and a much larger list of Emergency reservists, all of whom have had considerable experience of service in the Navy.
I have something important to say to the House about the entry, training and careers of naval officers. The House will have read in my Explanatory Statement 2257 what we are doing about cadet entries. This afternoon, I want to deal with the systematic review of the officer structure of the Navy which I mentioned to the House last year. Although we have had the manning structure of the lower deck always under review, it is thirty years since there was a review of the officer structure. This is now well under way and because they know that this review is being held, there must be a certain understandable anxiety amongst officers as to its outcome. We have already taken certain decisions which in time will change the shape of the officer structure.
So far, the review has brought forward three major problems. This matter is a little complicated for those who have not served in the Navy to understand, but I have done my best to make it clear and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will do his best to answer any questions at the end of the debate. The first problem is that in nearly all branches the base of the career pyramid has become too large to provide a satisfactory prospect for those who reach commissioned rank through the Cadet Entry and the Upper Yardman schemes. Secondly, there is a problem of giving executive officers enough time in command at sea to make certain that the operational direction of the Navy will remain first-class. Thirdly, we have to ensure that the higher direction of the Navy includes officers with first-hand knowledge of aviation. There must be officers at all levels who are both qualified as pilots or observers and also qualified to take command at sea.
We are beginning to tackle these three problems. First, in the matter of careers, our plan depends on cutting down the rate of entering cadets. As a result, the smaller number of young men whom we enter will have a better chance of promotion to commander and above. On the other hand, another result will be that there will not be enough cadets and upper yardmen to fill all the appointments for lieutenants and lieutenant-commanders.
To fill some of these posts we there-for expect to tap three sources. First, there will be scope for increased numbers of officers of the Branch List, that is the officers who before 1948 were warrant officers or commissioned officers from 2258 warrant rank. Secondly, we shall offer longer periods of service and improved chances of a permanent commission to officers who take Short Service commissions for specialised flying duties. Thirdly, we may, if necessary, recruit officers direct from civil life for other specialised duties, much as we now do for flying. A career will be open for a good proportion of these various specialised officers up to the rank of lieutenant-commander and up to the age of 50, and eventually the best of them may go on to commander. I must emphasise that the new requirements for officers employed on special duties will not arise until the lists of junior officers are substantially reduced, and this will take time.
Next comes the question of giving to officers who may one day command fleets or squadrons sufficient practice in command of ships as commanders and captains. We can no longer rely on the experience they obtained during the war, and if we try to give all executive commanders and captains the necessary practice, none will get enough. The only solution is to limit the number of officers who are given sea commands, dividing executive officers at a certain point in their career into two lists, the sea-going or post list, and the general list. We have gone back to the use of the word "post" because, as the House will remember, "post" ships were ships of the line of battle and post captains were the officers who commanded those ships.
Officers on the general list will be needed in command of establishments and on staff and administrative duties. Many such appointments call for the highest abilities and will qualify their holders for further promotion right up to Flag rank in appointments where recent experience at sea is not considered indispensable. This important change is coming into force now for commanders and captains of certain seniorities.
I come now to the need to increase the proportion of permanent officers who are qualified pilots or observers. We do not want to do this by having a vast number of cadet entry officers devoting themselves exclusively to flying. This would cause a shortage of general service officers and also, if there were too many flying specialists they would not be able to get the broad experience needed for the higher ranks. Therefore, we intend 2259 that a number of these pilots and observers should leave the Fleet Air Arm after seven years and go on as general service officers, with the advantage of their experience of operational flying. For those who remain in the Fleet Air Arm we shall arrange one commission at sea in a non-flying appointment in the rank of lieutenant and another in the rank of lieut.-commander. This will help to keep these officers qualified for sea-going command.
Another important problem concerns the Engineer, Electrical and Supply and Secretariat branches. It is more than ever essential today that intelligent young men should be attracted into these branches, and that we should be able to give them proper scope for their talents in the higher ranks. We are working out how best this can be done and the long-term entry and training arrangements necessary. I cannot say more to the House today, but I can show the direction in which our minds are working by telling hon. Members that we have decided on changes in the rules governing what are called "marks of respect", so that the differences in treatment between senior officers of the executive and non-executive branches will largely disappear.
We have also decided that the coloured distinction cloth at present worn between the stripes of officers of the non-executive branches of the Royal Navy is to be abolished except in the Medical and Dental departments, for, under the Geneva Convention, the latter must be clearly recognisable as non-combatant.
I have been told that there are rumours that a number of officers are likely to be axed. In personnel matters it is difficult nowadays to look far ahead, but I want to say definitely that nothing that I have seen in the course of this review gives me any reason to believe that it will necessitate any measure of this kind. I hope that what I have said about the officer structure as a whole will show the Board of Admiralty's determination not to stick stubbornly to the past but to come well into line with modern thought and modern times.
I have tried to show in my speech that the Board of Admiralty has realised fully that during the arrival of these thermonuclear weapons there has been a period of public doubt and of great anxiety for 2260 all those concerned in the Navy, but now that the Government have affirmed beyond any doubt that the Navy's tasks in the thermo-nuclear age are of vital importance to the nation, I trust that this confidence in the Navy's future may be reflected in the debate today.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
This is the fourth occasion on which the First Lord has presented the Navy Estimates and, once again, I should like to congratulate him on the agreeable, pleasant and courteous manner in which he has done so. This year, as always, he has not failed in his responsibility to answer the questions that have been asked. He and the Parliamentary Secretary and the Civil Lord have batted unchanged since 1951,and in my own dealings with them I have found nothing but the utmost courtesy and helpfulness. They have been long enough in office to get the credit of the fruits of their long tenure. They have also been there long enough to take responsibility for anything that may go wrong; indeed, the First Lord has never tried to shirk his responsibilities.
I remember how he talked about the clean bill of health he gave the Navy the first time he spoke in the Estimates after he became First Lord, and what I have to say this afternoon will I hope be a fair appraisal of the First Lord's responsibilities. He will, no doubt, be able to winnow the credit from the blame and the responsibility. There is some of both.
I must confess that I was agreeably surprised to see the Explanatory Statement begin with an interesting essay. It is certainly far better than the other two Services have been able to put up, but I am bound to say that that effort at composition seems to have exhausted the First Lord, because we have heard singularly little about the rôle of the Royal Navy in this age of thermo-nuclear weapons. I wonder why. I hope that this is not just a prospectus which is designed to be a reply.
Field Marshal Montgomery and other distinguished field marshals and air marshals, during the last year, have been busy attacking the Admiralty. The Minister of Defence, who, I hope, will assume a more warlike posture than he has at the moment when it comes to dealing with these matters, complained yesterday 2261 that he was surrounded by retired admirals, field marshals and air marshals who were busy attacking each other.
§ The Minister of Defence (Mr. Harold Macmillan)
I did not say that at all. I said exactly the opposite.
§ Mr. Macmillan
If the hon. Member will do me the honour of reading what I said, I made the observation that many people seemed to think that I was surrounded not by retired but by officers, admirals, and so on, who were quarrelling with each other, and that I was afraid I could not confirm this romantic picture. In point of fact, it was the exact opposite.
§ Mr. Callaghan
And the right hon. Gentleman went on to say that it was retired field marshals and admirals who were busy doing the attacking. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It is not important. The right hon. Gentleman should not get angry before we start. This is the first time that he has been here. In the past, we have had very pleasant debates, and I hope that the Minister of Defence will not introduce a nasty note into our deliberations. It would be most uncalled for, if he did.
Over the last twelve months I have seen the First Lord delivering a few shots himself in response to some of these attacks. I was delighted to see it. I think I did complain on one occasion that he had not spoken enough about the rôle of the Navy, and I certainly would not prevent him from entering into combat if he had a good case to make against anybody. I only say that it is a remarkable state of affairs when the First Lord of the Admiralty is to be attacked by a serving field marshal who is responsible for his views to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Such confusion of policy does not reflect very great credit on those who are responsible.
The object of the debates on the Navy Estimates is not only to peer into the future as far as we can, but also to review what has happened so far. I should like, if I may, to make one or two observations about the position of the rearmament pro- 2262 gramme which was launched by the Labour Government in 1950–51, because there is no doubt that it has fallen far short of the expectations of that time under the administration of the present Government.
A programme of 26 new frigates was announced in 1951. They were laid down during the following three years. It was not expected that they would be completed within that time, but it was expected that most of them, at any rate, would be completed within the first half of the present decade, namely, by the end of 1955. This is the position about these 26 new frigates. I think it is right. Fourteen of them are still on the slips, 12 only have been launched and none is in service. So far, not a single frigate laid down in the 1951 programme has joined the Fleet. This is a sorry record.
I do not know to what extent the industry would claim it was over-taxed, but if the matter is looked at in terms of tonnage, 26 frigates at 2,000 tons each mean 52,000 tons of shipping in yards which are capable of building 1½ million to 2 million tons a year without overstraining themselves. It seems to me that there has not been the pressure behind the frigate programme that there should have been to complete it in time. Nought out of 26 is not a very good score four years after the programme was launched.
Now I come to the conversions that were decided upon at the same time. The programme was to convert 45 destroyers to anti-submarine frigates. I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he will be good enough to say what is wrong with the arithmetic I have worked out, because I cannot make the sum quite right. Page 7 of the Explanatory Statement on the 1954–55 Estimates last year stated that the conversion of 10 destroyers into anti-submarine frigates had been completed. This year, in paragraph 40 of the Explanatory Statement, we see that eight more conversions have been completed, bringing the total up to 27. But, to me, 10 plus eight is 18. Where have the other nine got to?
Of the programme of 45 conversions only 27 have been done—I accept that total, though I do not know how the figures add up—and that is a little more than half the programme. This does not seem to me to show the drive, energy and 2263 vigour that one would have expected from a new Administration coming into power determined to get ahead with the rearmament programme which was launched at heavy cost and has taken a very heavy toll.
I want to ask about the Fleet Air Arm. Has the rearmament of the Fleet Air Arm with jet and turbo-prop aircraft been completed? The First Lord may have said so, but some of the things he said in his speech went over our heads a little quickly. I did not gather all the information he had to give us, and I should like an answer about that.
Let us look at the fighters in the aircraft carriers. We have at the moment mainly the Sea Hawk, the Sea Venom and the Attacker. I listened to what the Minister of Defence said yesterday—I hope I get him right this time, or else we shall have more interruptions—and I thought he said that we must not play at party politics about this matter and that we must all join together. But I have to say what I think about the matter, and not only what I think but what a great many other people think.
The truth is that neither the Sea Hawk nor the Attacker, which are the main fighters we are relying upon at present, are regarded as satisfactory. Neither of them is capable of meeting or overtaking and intercepting the aircraft that it would have to meet. If they were pressed into service as strike aircraft—and I shall say more about strike aircraft later— they would not have the range, nor could they carry a reasonable load of bombs or rockets. I state this as a simple matter of fact. I am not scoring points. I want to lay the facts before the House and, if they are open to contradiction, have them contradicted.
We are told that they are to be replaced by the N.113 and the De Havilland 110. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has severe strictures to make on the DH 110. I am not qualified to make those strictures and I know nothing about its performance —I say that straight away—but these doubts exist. The First Lord has done his best to clear them up. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will make certain observations in this debate——
§ Mr. J. P. L. Thomas
The DH 110 met with an accident and it was withdrawn for further tests. Meanwhile the Javelin came along and the Royal Air Force took that. It was too heavy for our carriers. The DH 110 then had its full trials and has now emerged as a first-class machine.
§ Mr. Callaghan
No doubt my hon. Friend will continue his argument later, but in all these matters, as a House of Commons and as a country, we are very much in the hands of the Government. There are few of us who can know the exact facts about these aircraft and, therefore, the responsibility upon the Government is the heavier to give this House an accurate assessemnt of the performance of these planes.
I am not complaining that the First Lord is not doing that; I merely say that the weight of responsibility is focussed upon that Bench opposite. The rest of us are not in a position, until afterwards, when we hear the results of the use of these aircraft, to be able to pass judgment upon them. May I ask the First Lord this question about those two aircraft, remembering that they are to take the place of the Sea Hawk and the Sea Venom, which are admittedly on present-day standards not satisfactory; when are we likely to get them into squadron service? What date is estimated for this?
I now come to strike aircraft. Heavy aircraft carriers have a wider purpose nowadays than merely to fly off fighters for self-defence or for defending a convoy. They have a strike rôle,and the Navy ought to concentrate a great deal of its attention upon an advanced type of strike aircraft to fly from the Ark Royal, the Eagle and the Victorious. I say the Victorious because she has been practically rebuilt since 1950. It has amounted to almost a 100 per cent. rebuilding at a very heavy cost—in my view, much too heavy a cost. I take my share of responsibility for that, because I signed the Minute for the work to go ahead, but I am glad to say that I stopped the conversion of any more, and the conversion of the other five has not gone ahead. I am 2265 sure that the decision not to proceed with them was right.
I understand from the First Lord that we have no more than two squadrons of Wyverns, which are the only strike weapons that the Navy has to distribute among those three heavy aircraft carriers. Neither of those two squadrons of Wyverns is yet embarked, as I understand the Minister, though he hopes they may be embarked at an early date. Is it really satisfactory that in any set of circumstances the Navy's major strike weapon from heavy aircraft carriers should be limited to two squadrons of Wyverns, neither of which is yet embarked?
As I understand, these are the only aircraft today with the approach range of those that will be operating from the United States fleet. If, therefore, we were to be working with that fleet the role of the Ark Royal, the Eagle and the Victorious in present circumstances would be limited to putting up fighters. I cannot think that the Wyverns would play any large part in any strike force that might be got together, and I say that this is a serious situation from the point of view of the First Lord.
The Wyvern has had a sad history. I thought that the White Paper on the Supply of Military Aircraft rather glossed over it in paragraph 34:Up to date it has not proved successful for its designed purpose …but work is still proceeding with a view to remedying its defects.I doubt whether any work that is done is likely to remedy the defects of this plane and make it one that will be fit to operate from aircraft carriers such as the Eagle and the Ark Royal.
Since 1946, when it first flew, it has been dogged year after year by technical trouble and production delays. When I was at the Admiralty, I was told about them too, and in all fairness I think one can pass this judgment now, that the Government have clung on too long, hoping that the Wyvern would be converted eventually into a satisfactory plane. A plane that was started in 1944, and is still getting over its teething troubles, is obviously obsolescent before it ever gets aboard a carrier. Paragraph 46 of the Explanatory Statement indirectly recognizes this, because it says:For strike operations, a. replacement is planned for the Wyvern.2266 I ask the Parliamentary Secretary, what does the word "planned" mean in this connection? There are long stages between the planning of an aircraft and its appearance in an aircraft carrier. How long before the plan takes practical shape? When can we expect a modern strike aircraft to operate from these three major carriers? At the moment we have not got a major weapon of that kind, and I would hazard the guess that, with the best of good luck, with all the vigour possible, it will be 1962 before we shall get such an aircraft.
I want to ask this question also: Can the Wyvern replacement operate from the Hermes Class carriers? I hope the answer is yes, but if not, what is the rôle of the Hermes Class carriers to be? In view of the history of naval aircraft, we have a right to be sceptical about the possibility of producing new aircraft rapidly that will suit the form of the Navy, and so I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to devote some attention to this matter when he replies to us later.
I now turn to another aspect of the past. I am for the moment reviewing the past; I hope to come to the future in a very few minutes. I want now to deal with the question of stocks of stores, fuel and ammunition.
In 1953–54,the Explanatory Statement stated that the Fleet would be using some of the existing stocks of fuel, stores and ammunition that had previously been built up, and they were used. In 1954–55,no provision was made for replacing those stocks. In this year's White Paper the figures show that further reductions are being made, and the Explanatory Memorandum says that:… there is to be a further run down in the level of reserves.Where is the Admiralty getting to on the question of stocks? I well remember that when I was at the Admiralty for a very short period, only 18 months, I read the history of the post-war days, when the stocks of the Navy were deliberately run down in order that civilian stocks could be built up. It was a calculated risk and one worth taking. However, there has been a drop now of nearly £6 million in the stores of torpedoes, mines and ammunition. I should like the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to say how many months' stores of fuel, ammunition and torpedoes are held at the 2267 present time. Has the total gone below what should be the minimum safety level? Will he assure us that it has not been reduced to a level lower than it ought to be according to common prudence?
I should like now to say just a word about manpower. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) will speak on this matter later; the Principality is well represented in these debates. However, paragraphs 51–54 of the White Paper all show that recruitment and re-engagement are both falling and that the Government have not been able to arrest the decline in recruiting which has taken place. I am glad to hear that an inquiry is to be held, but what is the inquiry to do? What purpose will it fulfil? What sort of questions will it ask, and how will it get its information? We have had a number of inquiries into the subject—almost as many inquiries as we have had recruits—but what will the new inquiry do that has not previously been done? The First Lord should not allow himself to be fobbed off by another inquiry into believing that the problem cannot be solved until it has reported and that his obligation is removed until we have had some sort of report from a committee of this sort.
I was disappointed yesterday when the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary replied to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) that it is not possible at present to introduce legislation to amend the Naval Discipline Act. Why is this so? Another inquiry was held into the subject years ago. When I was at the Admiralty in 1950, I was the chairman of a sub-committee which went through the whole of that Committee's report and started to draft legislation for early preparation and placing before the House four years ago. Why is it not possible now to produce a Bill of this sort? It is not as though the time of the House is very heavily occupied with a great mass of other legislation. We are dissatisfied with the answer given by the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary, and we hope he will tell us why it is not yet possible to produce such legislation.
We must have time to consider what is proposed in the case of the officer struc- 2268 ture, but a number of anxieties have been expressed. The General Secretary of the Society of Civil Servants has been in touch with me about the matter. He says that his organisation and members are disturbed about the possibility that the splitting of the list may mean that naval officers will be taking over a number of posts which have hitherto been reserved for civilians. He points out that the promotion of naval officers is accelerated in their early days because they are retired at a comparatively early age in order to keep open a clear channel of advancement, and if this is so and they then switch sideways to take over civilian posts against civil servants who themselves come up fairly slowly because they have a long career, there will be some feelings of disquiet among the membership of this organisation. I should like the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to tell us whether it is the intention that the division of the officer structure will result in some Civil Service posts which would normally be regarded as Civil Service careers being taken over by naval officers.
I now want to say a word about the Corps of Royal Naval Constructors. The Corps is not happy, and it has not been happy for a number of years. These are the men who design and build the ships and the equipment. Until we have seen the details of the officer structure, we cannot tell how they have been fitted into the new set-up, but I put it to the First Lord that there is a very strong case in the opinion of the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors for integrating them with the electricians and engineers in some form or another and seeing whether it is possible to remove the great feelings of frustration from which these 200 men are suffering. I know of it because I served during the war with some of them who have since become personal friends of mine. I assure the First Lord that it is a matter which is well worth while looking into.
I wonder whether the House would pardon a digression for a moment if I comment on the publication which was put out by the Admiralty during the year on the prospects of escape from submarines. I am sorry that it did not receive more publicity at the time, but I think that this is an appropriate moment to bring it to the notice of the House because, thank goodness, we have not had 2269 such a disaster for some time. Anyone who has been at the Admiralty during such a tragic occurrence knows the intensity with which the public, the relatives and those who are working cling to hope of survival up to, and, indeed, beyond, the moment when such survival is possible. The facts which were brought out by the First Lord's inquiry and were published ought to be given some publicity.
There are certain definite and particular restricted limits to the chances of survival of any submariner. He understands them, and the public should understand them. I gather from what was issued that if men are trapped at a depth no more than the length of the submarine itself, and if conditions are ideal for both their escape and their rescue, their chances of survival are still no better than even. The history of the last 30 years shows that in the chapter of accidents that we have had the chances of survival have been no better than one in 10.
I think that these facts should be made known and should be appreciated. They are well known in the Service; they are understood and the risk is taken by those in the Service. The First Lord and those who surround him who have to take responsibility when one of these accidents happen should have an informed public opinion behind them as to what it is possible and what it is not possible to do on these occasions.
I should now like to turn to the future and make some comments briefly upon the rôle of the Royal Navy in the age of thermo-nuclear weapons. I have said before, and I repeat, that the Navy has no right to exist merely because it has always been there.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I am glad that I have said at least one thing which finds favour with my hon. Friend.
The Navy has a right to exist only if it can show that it is serving a useful and continuous purpose. The first purpose that any Navy must serve if it is to survive is to show that it is in a position to protect the merchant ships that come to and go from these islands. My right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) referred yesterday to the £50 million to £80 million worth of 2270 supplies that we import. I quite understand that if the view is taken that in the thermo-nuclear age any war will be over for this country in 36 hours, then clearly the Navy has little case for any claim upon the nation's resources for that purpose.
§ Mr. Callaghan
As my hon. Friend says, nor has the Army. Indeed, the absolutists would say that one should rely on the thermo-nuclear weapon and that the other Services should disappear. I am not an absolutist in this, nor do I see how any Government can be absolutists in these matters. It would be imprudent so to be. So the Government must devote some resources to the weapons that will properly safeguard our merchant ships as they sail to and from these islands in any period of hostilities; they could not plan on any other basis.
The second rôle that the Navy has is as a deterrent. There the case would rest on whether the Navy could show that it could provide a launching platform sufficiently mobile and economical in comparison with what the other Services could provide. That would form a deterrent on which the Government could properly spend money. That is the job the Navy has to do and the case it has to make out, if it is to have any chance of securing long-term support from the public and the taxpayer.
I am bound to say that I thought that the First Lord had been stampeded into the completion of the Tiger Class cruisers. I am completely opposed to what he is now doing. Pressure has been brought to bear upon him by a number of retired officers in debates in another place from both sides, as I well know.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I readily accept all that, but if I may say so, this pressure was brought to bear at a time when neither he nor the Government had produced their conception of what thermonuclear warfare would be like.
He tells us that the cost of completing these cruisers will be £18 million. Will he have a bet on that? If he keeps to £18 million, it will be the first time in the history of the Third Sea Lord's Department. If he gets them for less than 2271 £20 million, it will almost make me put a Motion of congratulation on the Order Paper, but it would not be unreasonable to assume that the cost will be £25 million when they are finished. That was the case with the Victorious, as I know to my cost.
§ Mr. Callaghan
My hon. Friend is in very formidable mood this afternoon—and the taxpayers' cost.
The First Sea Lord is building ships that will be obsolete when they are completed, and it is a waste of money that he should do so. These ships were laid down in I941 to 1942. Work was suspended on them as soon as the war was over. The first one cannot begin its sea trials until 1959,or will it be 1960? But the First Lord has told us that he hopes to have a ship-to-air guided missile in 1957–58. If those two facts are put alongside each other and alongside the Prime Minister's statement that in his view a major war is unlikely to come within a period of three or four years, then I say that the First Lord of the Admiralty has made a gross miscalculation.
The right hon. Gentleman ought to have saved his money. If he had wanted to spend it on anything, he should have advanced some of the guided missile ships about which he has been speaking this afternoon. As far as I know, he has only one in mind, the Girdleness, a maintenance ship which has been converted. The United States Navy has already converted to experimental guided missile ships a battleship, an aircraft carrier, three cruisers and submarines. So why now complete the three Tiger Class cruisers as conventional ships?
It is not too late. Let the First Lord think about this again and see whether he ought not to alter his programme and stop the expenditure on these ships, even though they can be equipped with the latest guns of which Whale Island and everybody else is capable. By the same token, I take grave exception to the refitting of the Vanguard. If she is to be refitted, it should be as an experimental guided missile ship. There is no case for anything else. This year the Government are asking the House to commit itself to the expenditure of some £55 million on new shipbuilding. I wonder how much of that expenditure will be replaced.
2272 I come to the question of Commonwealth defence. I very much regret that the Australian Government changed the pattern of their defence a year ago without prior consultation with Her Majesty's Government. I should have thought that such consultation should have taken place and that the First Lord would have tried to be present, or at any rate represented, when a major change on naval policy was undertaken by a Commonwealth Government, because we still take the lead in this.
I want to put these particular points to him. If it is the case that the Commonwealth countries are drawing away, this is the worst moment in our history for it to happen. I want to make these suggestions to him. At the moment our Fleet and reserve ships are clustered in our crowded harbours and anchorages exposed to the full force of the hydrogen bomb. Would it not be sensible—I would have regarded this as valid if it had been contained in the proposals—to establish major bases in Australia, in New Zealand, in Canada, bases that could be supported by the migration of skilled fitters and tradesmen from this country?
That would give support to our heavy aircraft carriers and other major units over there. In advance of that, I see no reason why, as I have said earlier, part of the reserve fleet, the smaller ships, should not be out there already. I suggest to the First Lord that he ought to take up this matter. If I may comment on one particular hangover, it is the almost incredible proposal contained in paragraph 105 that there is to be an extension of the Royal Dockyards.
Apparently they are going to take over more land and tear down houses in Portsmouth and, for all I know, in Chatham and Devonport to make the Royal Dockyards bigger. That is absolute foolishness, and the First Lord should devote his energies to establishing these resources in other parts of the Commonwealth. Not only would he have a greater degree of safety, but it would arouse in the Commonwealth an interest in the essential lines of communication that bind us together—if there is any survival.
§ Commander C. E. M. Donaldson (Roxburg and Selkirk)
The hon. Member must know that there is a great awareness in Canada about these matters. That interest is already there and the dockyards are there and the facilities are 2273 there, and I hope that he keeps that in mind before he adduces this argument too far and causes some hair-raising by hon. Members in the Canadian Parliament.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
May I ask if my hon. Friend will include among the proposals he is listing as requiring serious consideration that, alongside the emigration of trained personnel for the purposes he has mentioned, there may also be the emigration of the whole of the civilian population in the towns concerned?
§ Mr. Callaghan
My hon. Friend says that they are taken by ship, but is he not a little out of date? At the present time most movements are made by air craft——
§ Mr. Silverman rose——
§ Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)
I hope that my hon. Friend will not be encouraged to put it on the Air Force Vote.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I have yet to deal with the last intervention but three, and I wish to say that if I seemed to be going too far in that matter, the intervention of the hon. and gallant Member for Roxburgh and Selkirk (Commander Donaldson) corrected me. I think that there is a case for the Commonwealth countries taking a far closer and greater interest in these matters than I have seen exhibited in some directions hitherto.
My hon. Friend will be glad to hear that I come now to my last point. I think the time is overdue for reviewing the relationship between the Services, and particularly between the Navy and the Royal Air Force. Nothing which has occurred in the last 12 months has led me to change my mind about that. The rôle of the aircraft carrier is being increasingly challenged. Some people try to smooth it over, and I am quite sure that everyone works harmoniously together inside the Ministry of Defence. 2274 But the Minister of Defence cannot prevent the discussion of these matters. Such discussions are going on, and an answer must be given. That is why I took it upon myself to bring the matter to the attention of the House last year. Since then there are those who feel that in a few years' time the Royal Air Force itself is likely to become obsolete; that the piloted bomber will give way to the inter-continental ballistic missile, and the piloted fighter will give way to the guided missile.
I am not pronouncing on any of these matters, but I say that the time has come to consider whether there should not be some rearrangement of the functions of these Services; more fusion between them in due course, starting at the top level, in order to get the maximum economy for the nation and a proper strategic approach to these problems. If I may say so, I was impressed and delighted by the maiden speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett). I am quite certain that the experience of the hon. and gallant Gentleman at the Admiralty must have led him to some of these conclusions.
I think that a strong case has been made out against the aircraft carrier, but I do not believe that a final case has been made out. To those who do so believe, I would say, as the First Lord said in other words, how can it be that a mobile launching platform may be more vulnerable than a fixed runway? I have never quite understood that. I appreciate that it may disappear rather quickly and that its replacement may be expensive, but it has to be found. Even with modern resources in electronics no one should make a fetish of the aircraft carrier, as twenty years ago we made a fetish of the battleship. If take-off planes become an accomplished fact, merchant ships may well be defending themselves within the next two decades. I hope, therefore, that the aircraft carrier will not become, for those on either side of this controversy, a symbol which has to be defended to the last man. It would be ridiculous were that to happen.
I wish to say a word about something which is not strictly on the subjects which I have been discussing. The more I study these problems and live with them—not in such great detail as does the First Lord—the more certain I become that the 2275 only secure pathway for Britain is to peace. We cannot boast of our strength. We have no secure base from which to operate. The imagination recoils at the horror of another war. But that does not relieve us of our duty to examine these Estimates as conscientiously as we can and from doing our duty by them. That is what I have tried to do this afternoon.
I know that if we embark upon another war. what we are discussing this afternoon cannot save the civilian population of this country, and that fact should be constantly in the forefront of our minds. In the long run, arms cannot save us. The most pressing task, the most noble work and the highest statesmanship for Britain is for peace.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Captain J. A. L. Duncan (South Angus)
The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) is always an attractive speaker, and today, when discussing transport at sea, he was even more attractive than on the occasions when he discusses transport on land. I agree with some of the things he said and disagree with others.
I venture into these somewhat uncharted waters of the Navy Estimates for the first time in my Parliamentary career, for various reasons. The first is that on Saturday I celebrate the 30th anniversary of my entry into public life, and I thought it a suitable opportunity to make a speech on a subject of intense interest, not only to myself but to everyone in the nation. The second reason is the appalling situation which I visualise as the result of reading the Defence White Paper.
For the first time this country is committed to producing the hydrogen bomb and to use an atomic counter-offensive, even though the offensive against us may be on conventional lines. Thirty years ago, these things did not happen. This year for the first time this great event of terrific moment to the nation has occurred, and we have to face that situation, on land, in the air, and on the sea.
I recognise that in the preparations against this terrific menace we must have a system of priority. I agree with what is stated in the Defence White Paper, that the Royal Air Force is to have first priority. But I am a little disturbed at one statement: 2276Some provision, though on a lower priority, must therefore be made for continuing operations after the initial phase, particularly at sea.I take the view that there should be high priority for the conditions envisaged, particularly at sea, and I wish to develop that point. In a hydrogen bomb war we should have about two hours to counter-attack, or we are completely sunk.
If, for some reason or other, we fail to achieve a trenchant counter-offensive within that very limited period of time we shall be completely finished. Even if we are ready to defend ourselves and the defence is effective, the attack may nevertheless be sufficient to put out of action our defences. On Tuesday my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister dealt with the question of building up the deterrent against attack, but if that deterrent itself is washed out the counter-offensive cannot take place. It is that frightfully important period, which may be minutes or hours, which I want to stress this afternoon.
The present basis of Her Majesty's Government's policy is to prepare the deterrent from fixed bases, but if those fixed bases are all knocked out the whole of the deterrent goes. My plea, in asking for higher priority for the Navy, is that some of the deterrent should be at sea.
§ Captain Duncan
The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East talked about the aircraft carrier. I believe that, at the moment, it is the only vehicle upon which the war can be carried on, the counter-offensive delivered, and with which we can continue to fight. I agree that in five or 10 years' time there may be some other vehicle from which to deliver the attack, but at the moment the aircraft carrier, especially the heavy type, is the only vehicle from which a hydrogen bomb attack can be kept up.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
What makes the hon. and gallant Gentleman think that there is an aircraft today which can take off from an aircraft carrier and is also capable of carrying a hydrogen bomb? Neither the Americans nor ourselves claim to possess one or to have seen one.
§ Captain Duncan
The hon. and learned Gentleman anticipates what I am about 2277 to say. If he will exercise a little patience he will get an answer. I want to make out a case for the aircraft carrier because there are many people who do not believe in it.
A group of aircraft carriers at sea has unobstructed radar vision. The location of the base of the counter-attack is mobile, unpredictable and secure. Aircraft carriers may seem big when they are in port, but they are jolly difficult to find in the wide oceans and, being mobile, they are almost secure from guided missiles fired from fixed sites. It is true that one aircraft carrier may be hit, but provided a battle group—to which the First Lord referred in his Explanatory Statement—is at sea I think the group would be fairly safe. It would not be worth the enemy's while to drop a hydrogen bomb in order to wipe out one carrier.
Individual ships could defend themselves quite well without being found by bombers. It is probable that an aircraft carrier, especially if covered by suitable supporting craft, can defend itself from bombing. Against guided missiles. Such a ship would be almost wholly invulnerable.
§ Mr. Edward Shackleton (Preston, South)
The hon. and gallant Member he said that the aircraft carrier could defend itself from bombers. How does an aircraft carrier in bad weather and at night defend itself from a bomber flying at between 30,000 and 40,000 ft.?
§ Captain Duncan
I hope that the hon. Gentleman, who is an air enthusiast, has had experience of trying to find a small ship in a big ocean.
I am glad that the Explanatory Statement of the Admiralty says that in the Eagle and the Ark Royal we are fulfilling our responsibilities to N.A.T.O. I realise that they are the sort of ship which we want for this purpose. I am also glad to know that a third ship, the Victorious, is also capable of doing it. I should, however, like the First Lord to examine the question whether we should not do something about modernising the other four heavy aircraft carriers, so as to be ready in case of need.
2278 I now turn to the aircraft, because aircraft carriers are no good without them. I am glad to know that the Gannet, the Sea Hawk and the Sea Venom are coming into squadron service, and the Navy is anxiously awaiting delivery of the DH.110 and also want to know more about the N.113. There has been a certain amount of trouble with these interim aircraft, and I agree that they are not wholly satisfactory. We must hope that these two new aircraft, which are to replace the Sea Hawk and Sea Venom, will prove as satisfactory as the First Lord has said. As for the Wyvern, may I quote again from the Statement on Defence,up to date it has not proved successful for its designed purpose as a carrier-borne aircraft, but work is still proceeding with a view to remedying its defects.From what I hear, the Wyvern is nothing but a headache, and always has been. Whether it can be made a success is still a matter of doubt. Until we get strike aircraft which are really good the argument that I have been addressing to the House is ineffective. I want to stress most particularly the absolute necessity of getting strike aircraft capable of carrying the atom bomb.
I now turn to the question of bombs. I do not know the weight of an atom bomb, nor the weight of a hydrogen bomb. On Tuesday the Prime Minister knocked the sides of the Dispatch Box and appeared to imply that a hydrogen bomb could be contained within it.
§ Captain Duncan
From such information as I glean, the hydrogen bomb can be very big.
If we develop a counter-offensive from the sea we should make bombs that aircraft can carry. We have a chance of getting ahead of the Americans here. Every explosion I have read of in America or in the Pacific has been from a fixed point on the ground. It looks as if the Americans have not produced a bomb that can be dropped from an aeroplane. Let us concentrate on an atom or hydrogen bomb which we could drop from an aircraft.
When the time comes for the guided missile to be the answer to attack, not only must the warhead be small enough 2279 to be delivered from a platform, whether this is an aircraft or a cruiser, but it must have a range of at least 1,500 miles. It is clear, looking at the future, that the Navy will have a great task. Not only has it the duty in peace of policing the seas but it will have the duty in war, when the air bases have been knocked out, of feeding our people through the beaches and of continuing the counter-offensive in order to keep Britain alive.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)
I wish to make two propositions, with the first of which everybody will agree, while the second will not find quite so much agreement.
First, I will repeat what the First Lord of the Admiralty has said, as I think that it is necessary to say it again. The Navy still has a vital rôle to play. That may seem a stupid and trite observation, but many people, not so much inside this House but outside, are anxious to show that the Navy has no vital rôle to play and no reason for existence. It is, they say, obsolete and should be thrown away.
We have heard what may happen during the time after an atom or hydrogen bomb has been dropped. It is said that the whole country, or a very large section of it, will be instantly destroyed. If that is so, and the bomb is dropped there may be no use for an Army or Navy, and the pacifist view may well be correct. For those who do not hold the pacifist view, and who believe that something can be done in spite of the hydrogen bomb, the Navy has just as vital a rôle to play as the Army. There might even be a greater place for a Navy than for an Army, if one had to choose between them.
What reasons are advanced by those who would scrap the Navy? The first is that the United States Navy is very large, and is capable of doing all the work. The same could be said about the United States Army and Air Force, although that is not said by the people who use the argument which I am examining. It would be mean and contemptible for us to rely entirely upon the United States Navy. We would have no right to say to the Americans that we do not always agree with their foreign policy. If the Americans were to bear the whole brunt and do the entire work of both navies, we should have much less right to speak in defence of what we think is the right foreign policy.
2280 The second argument is that the R.A.F. will do the job. I do not intend to follow the argument of the hon. and gallant Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) about the delivery of atom and hydrogen bombs, but to say something about what I think still to be the main duty of the Navy—the guarding of convoys. Here I speak with great diffidence, because I have not the necessary naval experience, and I should like to get confirmation from others who have.
Convoys are liable to attack from bombers and submarines. Let me deal first with the submarines. It is all very well to say that we can just drop a hydrogen or an atom bomb on top of a submarine. Obviously the vessel has to be located, and the bomb should not also destroy the convoy that is in the neighbourhood of the submarine. We cannot throw a large bomb into the middle of the sea and hope for the best. I understand that bombers have great difficulty in locating a submarine. They can do so when it is on the surface but not when it is below water. They have to depend on ships to locate the submarine. I do not know whether coordination is possible between ships and bombers by which the latter can be led on to the submarine, but I think it is doubtful. The depth charge is a very much more suitable weapon against the submarine than any which a bomber could produce.
What about the enemy bombers who will attack the convoys? Can they be dealt with by fighters? A shore based fighter would find itself in considerable difficulty. Here I speak subject to correction, but I understand that a fighter needs to be directed on to a target by someone on the "ground" within 100 or 200 miles. That rules out any possibility of using fighter bases in this country or in America for the protection of ships in the middle of the Atlantic. Shore based fighters can only protect convoys if these are reasonably near the shore. It is clearly necessary that convoys should be protected, and if this work cannot be done by the R.A.F. it should continue to be done by the carrier-borne fighters.
I now come to the second proposition which will not command so much agreement. It concerns the kind of Royal Navy which the First Lord appears to intend to give us—a kind of Navy not 2281 capable of doing this work. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) has referred to what he called the First Lord's "prospectus." I should be in some difficulties with the Chair if I were to express in what I should deem adequate words what I think of that prospectus. Companies sometimes get into trouble for issuing prospectuses of a certain character which they cannot live up to. I think that that is the position in which the First Lord may be today.
§ Mr. Dugdale
And the Prime Minister yesterday, indeed, as my hon. Friend says.
So I shall not use my own wording but the wording of "The Times" newspaper, which, in an article on Japan's navy, said:The Navy Estimates themselves reflect a more modest prospect for the British Fleet than the accompanying glowing forecast by the First Lord of the new and 'revolutionary' vessels which, in time, are to replace the old. In the immediate future the Navy will still be mainly marking time.That, I think, presents the position quite accurately. The Navy will be marking time and will not be able to engage in those wonderful operations that the First Lord would have us believe it will.
The First Lord has had a dream, a beautiful dream. He has dreamed of a wonderful Navy which he sees in the future. He has great imagination, as well as charm of manner, in describing this beautiful Navy that is to be developed. It seems, however, to have very little relation to reality. Where, for instance, are all these ships armed with guided missiles, ships incorporating all the latest developments, the ships we heard about in his statement?
I understand that the American Navy has such ships—at any rate, one ship— like that, and we have the statement by the United States Admiral Carney thatYou should see what happens to an approaching aircraft when the modern surface-to-air guided missile sallies forth to extend its greetings.It may be that the Americans can see what happens, but I fear we cannot see what happens because we have no such ship with any such guided missile to sally forth to give its greetings. It is for the First Lord to supply such a ship before 2282 he can expect us to have confidence in his Estimates.
The First Lord has been extremely fortunate. Owing to his skill, diplomacy, and charm, he has managed to get from the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Minister of Defence a greater sum of money than many people expected he would. I shall not complain about that, because in the past I have said that whatever the slice may be, the Navy should have a reasonable share of it. All I would say is that the Navy, having got this large slice, is apparently not going to use it properly. What can it do with it? The obvious thing to do is to build those ships which the First Lord has talked about.
What is he going to do? As far as I can understand, he is going to carry on with the old Navy much as it was. The First Lord frowns, but if he is to spend a larger sum of money on building he can do so only by reducing the sum of money he spends on something else, and that something else, above all, is manpower. If the First Lord wants to use this money for building all the ships which he ought to have, and which we think he ought to have, he must have fewer men in the Navy while that rebuilding process is taking place. He cannot have at once a large manpower and enormous expenditure on rebuilding.
The Army—and here again the First Lord has an advantage which he has not used—has a big rôle in the cold war. The Army is occupied today in Malaya, Kenya, and other places. The Navy is not nearly so much occupied in the cold war as the Army is. It is true that it fulfilled an important part in the Korean campaign; and it has a certain amount of operational work to do. Of course it has, but it is not occupied to such an extent as the Army is in the cold war. It, therefore, has more opportunity to reduce its immediate work, and to concentrate on the provision of an adequate Fleet for the future.
What sort of Fleet shall we have, judging from the Estimates? According to Vote 8, £200 million is to be spent on the re-equipment and modernisation of the Fleet. The only sign in the Vote that I can see of anything towards making a great modern Fleet is one guided weapon ship to be delivered at some time. When, I do not know. For the 2283 present, for this great expenditure of £200 million under Vote 8, we appear to have remarkably little to show.
We have to choose between two things, and the First Lord has, I fear, made the wrong choice. We have to choose between a small, compact modern fleet and the larger, and now old-fashioned, sort of Navy we had in the past. We are not a rich Power in the sense that the United States is. We cannot produce the large fleets which we used to have. We have, therefore, to build a small, compact Fleet, efficient, up-to-date, well equipped with all the latest weapons.
It looks as if, instead of that, we are to have a large, ill-equipped, and out-of-date fleet. I hope that the First Lord will think again, and will provide us with a small Fleet in peace time capable of expansion in war, with much of it in reserve. I hope he will do that rather than provide us with a large and un-wieldy Fleet, but I fear that we shall have the second alternative, and that at the end of the First Lord's tenure of office he will leave us, not with a better Fleet than we had, not with the modern, up-to-date Fleet that we hope to have, but with a Fleet which will be old, out-of-date, and incapable of the uses to which it should be put.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
There was a great deal in what the right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) said with which I found myself in complete agreement. There was quite a bit with which I heartily disagreed. I think that many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite find themselves in their present difficulties because they do not understand that the estimates for the programme of naval expansion must be based on what is considered to be the time of danger.
There is no doubt that we are now entering what may be termed the transition period of naval weapons. It is an extremely difficult period. If hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite would think a little on the subject they would not envy the Chiefs of Staff or my right hon. Friend the job of deciding the exact time when to go ahead with the production of weapons on a large scale, for that decision involves producing weapons at that stage of development to which they 2284 have been brought by that time, and there are always criticisms.
The party opposite is in a very difficult position, because during the defence debate the hon. Member for Ashton (Mr. Wyatt) said that he considered that the Navy was as dead as Nelson. I was very interested to see him in his place today. I hope that he will now agree, having listened to his hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), that the Navy has a very important part to play in the future.
It is a policy of despair that is advocated when hon. and right hon. Gentlemen, no matter where they may sit, say that there is no future for the Navy. Nothing that I have heard or seen sustains the statement that the Navy has no rôle to play, and that we should abolish the Senior Service. As far as I can see, the Navy will have as important a part to play in any foreseeable war as any which it has played in our past history. I believe indeed that just as our very life depended on the activities of the Navy in the last war, so far as we can see now our existence will continue to depend on the efficiency of the Royal Navy in the years to come.
I believe that we must have a Navy of such strength that its concentrated strength is capable of destroying in battle-any enemy who seeks to dispute our control of sea communications, and with such dispersed strength as is necessary for the control of those communications: which bring us our food and keep us-in contact with the outside world. The Royal Navy has a variety of duties, and many of these duties continue whether we are engaged in a major war or not. In peaceful conditions during fairly recent months, the Navy has brought succour and comfort in a series of disasters, has brought assistance where suffering has occurred in the Ionian Islands and in Crete, and has extended the influence of this country.
There are, however, occasions when there are local disturbances which might well grow into much more serious affairs, but when conditions may rapidly improve on the appearance of a British cruiser or destroyer. Who would deny that the support of the British Navy in Korea and in Malaya was of great benefit, not only to our own land forces, but to the Commonwealth land forces and those of the N.A.T.O. Powers?
2285 These events, of course, take place under conditions which are not those of major war, and I submit that no consideration of our naval problem is valid unless the probable major enemy is considered. If we are to reach the peak of preparedness at the right time, it is essential not only that we should consider who the major enemy is likely to be, but also that we should know when and where that enemy is likely to strike, so that we may be fully prepared at the moment of danger. I believe that if we act on that assumption, our naval forces will not only be a great deterrent, but will ensure our survival if the worst should happen.
The Prime Minister has information that is denied to practically every other hon. Member of this House, and certainly to those of us who are not in the Cabinet, and he has said, no doubt on the most reliable intelligence, that there is no danger of war with Russia within the next three years; and that, until then, the deterrent power of the hydrogen bomb in the hands of the Allies alone is such that the Russians would not go to war.
I do not think that, even if the Russians possess the hydrogen bomb in three years' time, that necessarily means the end of the usefulness of the Royal Navy. I do not think that it is inevitable that the hydrogen bomb will be used. I like to think that, because of the very horror of the weapon when it is in the hands of both sides, the sanity of statesmen will prevail. A similar situation arose over the diabolical use of poison gas in the last war. When it was realised that the retaliation would be dreadful, gas was not used. If we accept that, I would suggest that we cannot but face firmly the fact that the Navy is absolutely vital to the future of this country.
§ Mr. Shackleton
Does the hon. Gentleman consider the hydrogen bomb and poison gas to be fairly similar in nature?
§ Mr. Burden
I do not think they are similar in nature at all, but I think that the revulsion from the fact that they can be used with such diabolical effect would be a deterrent. I believe that the fact that gas is so diabolical a weapon, which inflicted tremendous casualties in the First World War, to say nothing of the gases that have been subsequently developed and would certainly be more dreadful in 2286 execution if used, are facts which act as a deterrent if nations actually possess these things.
I submit, therefore, that until there is general disarmament, which surely must be the aim and constant endeavour of any Government of this country, the Navy, equipped with what may be termed the traditional weapons, though with the great advances which scientific development has brought, is still essential to our country. I believe that a strong and well-equipped Navy is absolutely indispensable' to our security, but the Navy must be capable of effecting its traditional tasks, and I believe that those tasks will still; remain very largely traditional. They must enable us to remain at sea; to impose our will upon the enemy, deny him the use of the sea, and safeguard our own communications.
It is true that, if engaged in a major war, we should have the assistance and support of the United States Navy, but here I join with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bromwich in saying that I believe it would be unwise for us to depend or rely upon' the United. States Navy carrying out the duties which. I believe we should carry out ourselves, This is no disparagement of the United States or of its Navy.
I believe, however, that it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to ensure that a powerful British Navy, as befits a free sovereign Power and leader of a. great Commonwealth, with all its maritime commitments, is available to us in peace and in war. We must plan our future Navy so that it is capable of engaging an enemy wherever he might be and in whatever force he may be able to bring against us.
The Russians have a powerful fleet, They are building a still more powerful fleet, and that, I submit, is the best possible argument that could be given to those hon. and right hon. Gentleman in this House and to others outside who say that the end of the Royal Navy is in sight, or that the Navy is no longer useful and necessary. The Russians obviously do not think so, for they are building a, still greater one.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East, in the debate last year, referred to the Russian Navy and its potential strength. He said, and we all know it, that the "Sverdlov," which many of us saw at 2287 Spithead, was a magnificent cruiser, and he said that these cruisers of between 13,000 and 17,000 tons are the equivalent of most of the United States heavy cruisers, and that they are building eight more. How many are the Russians likely to have in four years' time, when it is felt that the danger may be acute?
We are told, or at least I have gathered, that the Russians have about 300 submarines, and we know that, at the end of the last war, the Germans were developing entirely new methods of propulsion for completely submersible submarines which give them a speed of 20 knots under water. We must assume that when the Russians went into Germany, they took over or extracted from the German Admiralty and the submarine building yards much of the information that was available to the Germans.
I think we must assume that many of the Russian submarines are capable of a speed under water of 20 knots. We must accept the fact that they will be able, because of their construction, to proceed to their battle areas undetected. I think we must accept the possibility that they might carry out prolonged operations entirely unsupported, in oceans which are very largely under our control. They are likely to be far more difficult to detect and far more effective than any submarines which we had to combat in the last war, and they will certainly be used against our warships, to attack our convoys, and for mine laying.
I believe that the pattern of likely Russian naval strategy is fairly clear. I think that the heavy cruisers of the "Sverdlov" class will be used for raiding purposes and that their submarines will conform to the general strategy which was employed in the last war but, because of their greater performance, they are likely to be more difficult to combat, and far more dangerous.
In addition, I think we must assume, for the sake of argument, that the Russian Fleet, because of its power, might in certain circumstances put to sea in force, but we are told that the Russians have no carriers. We know that they have 4,000 land-based naval aircraft. This lack of carriers, I submit, confines the Russians to an area of operation where they have the umbrella of Russian naval shore-based aircraft, and in my view that makes it 2288 extremely unlikely that a naval battle on that basis would ever develop, because we are unlikely ever to engage such a force unless we have air power equivalent to or greater than any which could cover the Russian Fleet.
We therefore arrive again at the basis of cruisers acting as raiders and of mainly submarine attacks. I believe that in the case of combating the surface raider air will play an absolutely vital part. It played such a part in the last war. It was aircraft, whether land-based or carrier-borne, which sought out the enemy raiders, crippled them with their torpedo and bombing attacks, and enabled the surface vessels to come up and finish the job.
Of one thing I am convinced—that air power will play a vital part in our future naval strategy. Sometimes there will be shore-based cover but at others, if we are to have the control of the sea which is vital to an island people, that air cover can operate only if it can operate from carriers. That, I believe, will be the general position for some time to come, but I do not go as far as some of my hon. Friends or as far as the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East in saying that the R.A.F. should be entirely integrated with the Navy. I think the Army would have a lot to say about that, and certainly the R.A.F. would have a lot to say about it.
When we argue that the R.A.F. should be permanently tied to one Service we are inclined to destroy that which I believe is elementary to the successful operation of the R.A.F.—target priority. I believe that if we tied it to one Service we might well do a lot to destroy the overall effectiveness of the R.A.F.
There may well come a time, however, when the aircraft carrier will be replaced by the guided missile, but I would remind the House that it was only last year that my right hon. Friend the First Lord, speaking from the Dispatch Box, said:It would, however, be a mistake to imagine that guided weapons will be in general service at sea … Air defence by carrier-borne fighters and by guns still remains essential for some years to come."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th March, 1954; Vol. 524, c. 1953.]It is true that we are developing the ship-to-air guided missile. It is fairly certain that that will come into operation before very long, and that, I submit, is 2289 the answer to the point made by the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) that it would be impossible for ships at sea to combat bombers flying at 40,000 feet at night. I suggest that the answer is the ship-to-air guided missile, which is now in the process of development.
§ Mr. Burden
But modern naval aircraft, if they are to be flown from aircraft carriers, demand great development in aircraft carriers. Speed, landing speed, and the difficulties of take-off and landing are such that they can operate only from the bigger carriers, and I believe that we must accept that, as long as it is essential for us to have carrier-borne aircraft, we must have effective and efficient aircraft; and if that involves heavy expenditure on aircraft carriers, I believe that the nation must face it.
I am a little worried about the position regarding the smaller escort vessels because of the speed which we are likely to encounter in many of the new submarines. It is evident that many of the old frigates and the former escort vessels of the last war are not good enough for the war of tomorrow or that of four years ahead. If they are to be effective in repelling attacks from submarines which can travel at 20 knots under water, then the surface vessels— destroyers, escort vessels, and frigates— must have at least a speed comparable to that of the submarines which they are likely to encounter. We are informed that the "Daring" class has been a great success, and I hope we shall have many more ships of that class.
My final words are about the other sphere of attack which we are likely to encounter—that is, by mines. I do not think we should underestimate the danger of enemy mine-laying. Nor should we underestimate—and I am sure that the Admiralty does not—the complications of modern sweeping. I see from the White Paper that we have 165 mine sweepers, and I hope that many of them are not of the category of the converted fishing vessels which we had at the beginning of the last war, because they would be quite incapable of carrying out the obligations of modern sweeping and effectively keeping the seas swept in a future war.
2290 This period of transition is a difficult period. I hope that when they are assessing what my right hon. Friend is doing at the Admiralty and what the Admiralty is doing, hon. Members opposite will realise that it is essential to assess when the danger is likely to be greatest and where it is likely to be greatest; and that at that time and place our greatest effectiveness should be reached. I am convinced that the Admiralty can produce the weapons, and of one other point I am also certain: although the hon. Member for Astonmay say that the Navy is as dead as Nelson, I am quite sure that the Nelson tradition still lives in the personnel of Her Majesty's Navy.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ Mr. A. G. Bottomley (Rochester and Chatham)
It affords me great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), for we both have the privilege of sitting in Parliament as Members for the Medway towns.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) started by congratulating the First Lord and I, too, should like to pay my tribute to his courtesy and charm. I want also to take this opportunity of congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East on his most excellent, well-delivered speech. It was supported, as we know, by great experience both in administration and in operational service.
Later, we shall have a contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Stepney (Mr. W. Edwards), who has not only had great administrative experience but was also the first Civil Lord to come from the lower deck. I think that he and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East, are a formidable combination, and that I speak for many people in the country when I say there are many regrets that they are not in charge for the Admiralty on this occasion. Indeed, I go so far as to say that that view, I think, is shared even by the members of the Board of Admiralty. They like serving able men.
Not that I want to go on record as supporting that august body. I take the view that the Board of Admiralty is not in keeping with our usual democratic Parliamentary procedure, and I say that for this reason: I do not think any elected representative of the people should sit in a junior position to paid servants of 2291 the Crown, for it savours to me more of a Soviet system than a Parliamentary democracy.
My justification for intervening in the debate is that I sit for a dockyard constituency, and I claim—and I am sure I am supported—that the dockyards are just as important as all the other naval matters we have been discussing today. I want to pay tribute to the men in the dockyards. Of late there has been some criticism because of even suspected sabotage, but in each case where that fear has arisen investigation has shown that there was no justification for it.
Yesterday I put a question to the First Lord about H.M.S. "Grenville." Some sand had been put into the port main-gearing machinery. The First Lord told us that fortunately there was no damage, and that he is investigating the matter. I recall that recently there was another case which, as the House will remember, had nothing to do with the man in the dockyard, for the trouble to the ship had been caused by somebody serving on it. I think it can be said of the dockyard workers that they follow the motto of the Borough of Chatham—they are loyal and true.
In the Explanatory Statement on the Navy Estimates, there is a paragraph on dockyard modernisation and extension. I am not going into the question whether extensions are necessary, but there can be no doubt at all that modernisation and re-equipment is vitally necessary, and I want to make the suggestion to the First Lord that something must be done about that.
He will, of course, ask, "Where is the money to come from?" I told him last year that, during a period when we seemed to have a sunshine economy, he should make bolder claims to contributions from the Treasury for servicing the Royal Navy; but this afternoon I can again show where he could have spent money very usefully and where he has wasted public money—I would say wilfully wasted public money.
I refer to the fact that the Royal Marines moved from Chatham five years ago, and that the barracks there have remained empty ever since. They are in a terrible condition. As a result of neglect, the cost has gone up. I understand that the original estimate was about 2292 £135,000. It went up to £500,000. I wonder what it is now. Perhaps the First Lord can tell us. My own estimate is that it is considerably above £500,000.
I know that the First Lord will say that the barracks have now been transferred to the Army. I thought that that had been done, but shortly before the end of last year the Under-Secretary of State for War said in the House that the War Office would take over the barracks if the negotiations could be satisfactorily concluded and provided that the negotiations included a careful scrutiny of what was offered.
I know that an independent investigation is being undertaken by the Ministry of Works. I shudder to think what its report will say, but I want to know from the First Lord of the Admiralty what is to be done about the barracks. I have a hunch that the War Office is so satisfied with the site and with the service that it gets from Chatham that it is anxious to retain the barracks and might even consider rebuilding them.
In the light of the comments which have been made by the Under-Secretary of State for War, I express the view that the First Lord of the Admiralty still has the responsibility for the barracks. It is up to the righthon. Gentleman to tell the House and the constituents whom I represent why this public money has been wasted. To give satisfaction in the Medway towns, an independent investigation is required, and I go so far as to say that the town council and other local public organisations ought to be consulted as to its constitution. At any rate, Parliament should demand an inquiry because, I repeat, there has been a shameful waste of public money.
In his Explanatory Statement the First Lord of the Admiralty says that the invention of thermo-nuclear weapons, although calling for a change in strategy, does not diminish the need for navies. As the right hon. Gentleman says, to those of us who live in an island dependent upon sea-borne supplies, the need for the Navy is all the greater. That being so, the need for the Royal naval dockyards is just as great. I suggest that if we are to keep the Royal naval dockyards, they must not only be fully equipped, but there must be work for them to do.
There has been the danger that work has been drifting away from the Royal 2293 dockyards. Chatham possesses, I think, the only ropery, the only place, where the Navy can make large cables and towing hawsers. The amount of work now going to the ropery is being continually cut down because the standard of production that is required is not as high as it used to be. That need not in itself cause undue fear, because the standards of production are up to those required by the British Standards Institution, a very authoritative and responsible body, but it shows that there has been a lowering of the standard. I claim that nothing but the best should be given to the Navy, and if the best can be made in the Royal dockyards, it ought to be made there.
On the other hand, one is entitled to say that if public money can be saved by cheaper production elsewhere, we should take advantage of it. I agree, within certain limits, remembering always that the private contractor may go out of business or may become bankrupt or find something that is much more profitable. It is essential, therefore, to have at least one ropery in the Royal dockyards, and in my opinion it should be at Chatham. If it was re-equipped, the ropery could more than compete with private contractors.
In fact, the present ropery was built in 1763,and I am told that the manufacturing dates of some of the machinery in the laying department are 1813 and 1815. How can the Royal dockyards compete with outside contractors when the Admiralty does nothing whatever to bring such establishments up to date?
Last year, I talked about apprentices. In connection with the ropery, I am told by the trade unions that no apprentices are coming forward. Consequently, this vital craftsmanship may be lost, and it is hard to replace. On the question of apprentices generally, as the First Lord will know there has been some unfortunate publicity in my constituency about their behaviour. It was quite unfounded, and was due, not to the Press, but to the retiring Admiral Superintendent, who, at a social gathering, said some unwise words about apprentices. I make a very strong suggestion that these matters concerning staff should be discussed in the Whitley Council, and not elsewhere.
After having said that, I should like to compliment the present Admiral Superintendent, who very wisely handled the 2294 matter at once and gave me all the help that he could, with the result that one of the local papers has not only featured apprentices at work but has given the best possible write-up, which has had an admirable result in ensuring that morale is maintained and that the recruiting of apprentices is carried on.
I should like to speak again of work at the Royal dockyard. Last year, I complained about work from the Chatham Dockyard being given to outside contractors. I was able to show that the cost outside the dockyard was higher than the cost of work done in the dockyard. I should like to thank the First Lord for taking note of that and putting the matter right.
My own views were heavily fortified by the Comptroller and Auditor General who, in introducing a report and discussing shipbuilders' profits, disclosed that there were substantial differences between conversion costs in the Royal dockyards and the charges made by commercial shipbuilders. He was able to show that the ships converted by commercial shipbuilders cost as much as 50 per cent. more than those converted in the Royal naval dockyards. I hope that my observations will receive equally sympathetic consideration on this occasion. If they do, I shall have the pleasure next year of again thanking the First Lord for his action.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Captain Robert Ryder (Merton and Morden)
If I may briefly add a few words on the subject of dockyards, I should like to refer to the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan). This is a subject which may seem a small matter in the broader picture. In the past we have continually troubled the Admiralty about the position of the Royal Corps. Then certain improvements were made and we have been waiting to see how they worked out. I can bear out from all the information that reaches me that the position of the Corps is most unhappy. If the Admiralty wants the Corps to continue as such it must see that something is done to put the affairs of the Corps in better shape.
Now it is our habit, in the course of this annual event, to show the Admiralty how to run its business. On this occasion, 2295 however, I shall try to exhibit a most unwonted restraint, and adopt a slightly different tone. The Admiralty and the Navy have suffered a good deal of criticism and disparagement from one quarter or another recently, and it is about time that some of these criticisms were effectively answered. They come from all quarters, some of them well-intentioned, including people who hope that by criticising the Admiralty they will get a little more for the Navy; and some of the criticism also comes from ill-informed quarters.
If this criticism is not answered vigorously and effectively it is bound to have a serious effect on the Fleet, and it is bound to influence public opinion and so, in the long run, distort our counsels and ultimately, perhaps, our defence policy as a whole. I should like, therefore, to come straight to the point and deal with two aspects. I should like to speak first of the Admiralty in the conduct of its broad policy since the war, both under the régime of the Labour Government as well as under the present Board of Admiralty.
What has been the main feature of Admiralty policy? First, it has been to cut back the main building programme in respect of the larger ships. Surely that was wise, for it freed the shipyards to get on with merchant shipping urgently needed. Then the Admiralty has concentrated on escort vessels, and surely in view of the existence of the large submarine fleet, that was wise and sensible too. It has concentrated also on the minesweepers, which again I think is a reasonable and sensible order of priority. Finally, by finishing aircraft carriers which were under construction and modernising others it has consolidated the carrier fleet. I will refer to carriers later.
Suggestions that the Admiralty has been dithering and uncertain of what to do in its broad policy are not borne out by a study of the facts. We all have our criticisms of the Admiralty to make in one way or another, but, broadly speaking, its policy in this respect has been sound and shrewd, and time will bear this out. But inevitably, this policy has meant that the Navy would have to go through some hard, lean years, and it is not easy for a Service to see no new construction coming along and apparently a halt to development taking place.
2296 All this was bound to have its effect upon those who are serving. It has also given an opportunity to opponents of the Navy to come forward to try to belittle the prospects of the Service, to disparage it in the eyes of the public and, generally speaking, to make out that there was no future for it at all.
We have had a very interesting speech from the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East, with a great deal of which I cordially agreed, but it was a very different story from what we were told about the Navy from the Opposition Front Bench during the debate on defence. I do not want to be hostile or to make a party point, but it would be a great pity if the official policy of the party opposite were to be one of doing away with the Navy, or words to that effect. It would be unwise, because the idea that owing to the hydrogen bomb there is no need for a Navy is a thoroughly unsound proposition.
If I may offer a little advice or, perhaps I should not put it quite in that way, but if I may make a suggestion to hon. Members opposite, I would say that they should go to one of the seaport towns. Perhaps the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East could take some of his hon. Friends to his constituency, let them get up on the hustings and say, "Look, chaps. We have got the hydrogen bomb and therefore we can do away with the Royal Navy." I think they would find that it was not a vote-catching or a popular cry.
It would be a great pity for the Service if a situation developed in which one party was in favour of the Navy and the other was in favour of doing away with it, and I do not think that that really is the case. Opinion on that side of the House is probably divided, as perhaps opinion is divided on this side of the House. I should like hon. Members opposite to think that there is a future for the Navy, and I suggest to them that when they hear people say otherwise they should tell them that they are talking absolute rubbish.
Comments have been made by the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt), the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackle-ton) and my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) which perhaps were not intended that way, but which I thought were likely to cause a certain amount of ill-feeling between the Services. I will not repeat those remarks, 2297 but I thought that the general trend of their speeches was likely to cause offence in naval circles because they were putting forward what seemed to me to be a very partisan point of view on behalf of the Royal Air Force.
It is partly for this reason that I and some of my hon. Friends, including my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett), who made such an excellent maiden speech the other day, supported the suggestion which the lion. Member for Cardiff, South-East put forward, that it is no good approaching this matter from a partisan point of view, and that we should try to seek something which really would effect an improvement. It is rather idle to suggest that there is no ill-feeling or worries on this score. There is as is evidenced from the speeches to which I have referred.
The suggestion which we support is that an examination should be made to see if some kind of fusion could be achieved between the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy. Nobody suggests that that is going to be done suddenly or even necessarily a complete fusion. It may be that some kind of compromise measure can be found, but we are saying that an examination should be made.
I would put this forward, not only for the reasons I have given, but because of some of the technical problems which are coming along. There is, for instance, the question of ground-to-air guided missiles which are now being put under the control of the Air Ministry. But what is going to happen in the case of the ship-to-air guided missiles? After all, some of the problems of the identification of distant aircraft and so on are much the same. Are we to have the Royal Air Force mounting these new "guns" of the Fleet, or are we going to have guided missiles at sea under the control of the Navy and so work contrary to the decision made on land.
It is a difficult technical problem, which would, of course, be more readily solved if there were a closer degree of fusion. When we have made this suggestion I hope that others will not go around saying that we are trying by some backhand means to nibble away somebody else's empire. That is not my intention at all.
2298 There is one other point while I am referring to the speech made by the hon. Member for Preston, South. He referred to rumours, the accuracy of which he said he had not been able to verify, concerning the future First Sea Lord, and remarks which he was alleged to have made in Malta. Colour was lent to that by some remarks made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter. I think it would be very unfortunate if hon. Members used their privileged position here to spreadrumours calculated to undermine the confidence in these high-ranking officers who are, after all, not in a position to answer. I do not think myself that that was in the mind of hon. Members at all. They were no doubt faced with certain rumours and they wanted to get clarification.
I have made certain inquiries, and the reason why I did so was that I have served under Lord Mountbatten, and I have great confidence in him. A boastful sort of remark like that is something which is so unlike him that I decided to check it up. I am informed that there is no truth in this rumour at all. What happened, so I am informed, was that Lord Mountbatten, before leaving the Mediterranean Fleet, held a private meeting of his staff officers to discuss what points of interest there were for him to take home. The question of Coastal Command was very naturally discussed, among a great many other things. He never made the supposed remark, nor was it made by anybody else.
I should like to ask the hon. Member for Preston, South, to check up on the origin of this rumour, because it seems to me that somebody—I am not blaming any hon. Members here, but somebody— started this rumour somewhere. I am not sure that it did not appear in the Press, but the malicious starting forecourts is a very serious matter, and I should like the hon. Member, as he mentioned it here, to see if he cannot find out anything more about it and throw some light on its origin. Perhaps later on he will have a chance of saying something to clear this matter up.
Earlier, I mentioned that I would say something about aircraft carriers. I do not want to be dogmatic on the subject of carriers. In the past I have often been a little sceptical of the future of carriers, but a great deal of uninformed criticism 2299 is being bandied about the country by the opponents of carriers who wish to discount their effectiveness. They find it an easy task, because the general public, through no fault of its own, is inclined to listen to the rather over-simplified view put out which is inclined to portray the carrier operating singly—by itself—unsupported in places like the Mediterranean.
Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, quite unwittingly no doubt, did exactly what I am trying to indicate. He said:It seems very doubtful whether they can operate in the narrow seas…. "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd March, 1955; Vol. 537, c. 2178.]He was not intending to mislead the public at all, but that is the sort of remark which people unwittingly make, and I should like to deal with it.
The picture I have described is not the real picture at all. Nobody suggests for a moment that carriers would operate unprotected in narrow waters. The real picture is of powerful carrier groups operating in support of each other, each group with probably at least four carriers closely screened, the screen being in depth, and with pickets and so on lying out some 40 miles or more from the screen, and with modern radar equipment ready to give early warning of oncoming aircraft and capable of controlling the interceptor aircraft.
These carrier groups will be wandering about in uncertain places. They first have to be found before a well planned attack can be mounted, and I say that they will be formidable formations to approach. That is the general outline to bear in mind—a very different picture from that commonly imagined.
I do not think that the general public is aware, either, of the technical advances that are taking place and have taken place. Notable in such matters is the detection and destruction of submarines. That has a very great bearing on the operation of such forces. Then there are striking developments in radar, airborne radar, and so on. All these technical developments are never fully or clearly understood, and I have no doubt that I am also now out of date. For these reasons, I say that it is a mistake for people to make sweeping deductions as to whether carriers are or are not of any 2300 use. That is why I am not myself prepared to be dogmatic.
I have given my views on the offensive work of the carrier, which I admit can be disputed. On the defensive side, however, there is a different story. Talk to one of the crew of any merchant ship, and he will emphasise that in protecting a ship against air attack it is no good having the vital shore-based fighters some 100, 200, or 300 miles away. They must be on the spot. There is nothing to replace the carrier. Whether it will be effective enough or not is another matter, but if it is taken away, the ships will be completely vulnerable.
When the carrier ceases to carry interceptor aircraft no doubt it will carry guided missiles and helicopters. Indeed in the light of these technical developments, which are of an uncertain nature —guided missiles in particular—the position of fleets at sea may be completely altered. Therefore, it is unwise for people to say that the carrier is ineffective.
Let us not forget also what will happen if the hydrogen bomb is never used, in cases like Korea. The task of a fleet is important also in peace-time in maintaining our prestige and in supporting the position of our friends in far-off places—the Persian Gulf and so on. If we do not support our friends, one by one they will be snuffed out and, in the end, we may find ourselves isolated. So I maintain that there is an important role for the fleet in peace-time as well as in any future war. I urge the country to have confidence in the Admiralty, which has guided the Navy through a difficult time in these lean years. And now, with guided missiles on the way, we are, perhaps, on the threshold of great possibilities. It would be a pity if the Royal Navy were struck down.
I urge the country, therefore, not to try to go in for any simple substitutes, any cheap or easy way out, but to remember that this small island has exerted its influence because it has pinned its faith to mobile forces, forces that could move about the world. Concrete defences have never prevailed in the past. In these I include the big runways necessary for our V-bomber force which cannot be moved. The Martello towers—the Maginot line—the West Wall—all these failed when the time came.
2301 I do not believe that the country appreciates the value of mobile forces for a small country like ours. I hope, however, there will be wide support for what I feel is a commendable White Paper which has indeed endeavoured to explain the position of the Navy in the future. It has done this, I feel, a great deal better than those in the past. My only criticism is that I wish that a better explanation had been offered in former years.