§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Mr. A. G. Bottomley (Rochester and Chatham)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House urges the need for the modernisation and re-equipment of the Royal Dockyards to provide for improved conditions for the workers and to meet the changing requirements of the Fleet having particular regard to the developments in weapons and electronics; and calls for the appointment of a Select Committee.The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade in the debate last Tuesday referred to my own entry into the House with five distinguished Members of the Opposition Front Bench. It has been my privilege to represent the constituency of Rochester and Chatham since then, and although in my observations Chatham will be particularly in my mind, what I say will apply equally well to all the Royal Dockyards.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), in his usual excellent speech from this Front Opposition Bench, referred to the need to bring about a merger of the Royal Air Force and the Navy. He was supported in that view by the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett). I would go further than both of them and say that we are fast approaching the time when we ought to think in terms of one Armed Force, and not three. In this connection, of course, it was heartening to see the Government take the step of appointing a chairman of the Chief of Staffs Committee.
No one will deny that whatever the position of our Forces in the future, the Navy is a necessity. Perhaps I may be permitted to make some personal observations based on my own experience. During the war I was a deputy-regional commissioner for the South-Eastern Region and one of the fears we had was that the enemy would drop paramines and would 2379 use mustard gas on all the Forces. We feared for the future activity of the Navy.
Supposing we had been frightened, as some people try to make us today, about the hydrogen bomb. Although I am second to none in my admiration of the airmen who fought in the Battle of Britain, I am convinced that the invasion of this country would have taken place had it not been for the Royal Navy which stopped barges leaving the ports in enemy occupied France, Belgium and Holland.
We must all agree that the Navy still has a vital part to play. I will not develop that theme, but we should recognise that when we talk of the Royal Navy, we are thinking not merely of the United Kingdom, but of the Colonies and the Commonwealth countries which in time of war would be very important areas for which the Navy would be responsible in protecting communications, carrying supplies and troops, and work of that kind, which will have to go on whatever may happen to this island.
As has been said this afternoon, other countries, like the Soviet Union and the United States, are certainly not neglecting this Service. The other day an aircraft came down and it was Royal Navy ships which made an attempt to save the life of the pilot. There are many other indications of the immense amount of good will which the Navy is able to promote by going to the succour and rescue of those who have been tortured by earthquakes or other disasters.
This is another reason for supporting the Royal Navy. Last year the Explanatory Statement on the Navy Estimates said:The Royal Navy requires…carriers operating the latest aircraft; powerful ships armed with guided weapons; escorts capable, in co-operation with carrier and shore-based air forces, of providing protection for our shipping; submarines and amphibious forces; and minesweepers to keep the sea lanes clear for vital supplies.That summed up the position, and emphasised the need for the Royal Dockyard. I do not accept the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) that this is a narrow constituency point of view. It is certainly not.
If we are to make sure that work in the dockyards is done to the standards required, we have to take note of what 2380 the Parliamentary Secretary said this afternoon when he said that we had to have new designs and that these designs would bring problems of control detection and computer equipment and precision machinery, not only for sea, but for land bases, too. This calls for new skills and new techniques, and if it is to be done properly there must be the provision of special workshops and machines.
I take pride in the fact, if I may make one political comment, that the Royal Navy is an excellent example of a nationalised industry. It was the first nationalised industry. The men who work in the dockyards are first-class and have great courage and resolution. Often there are disasters and lives are lost and hon. Members who represent dockyard towns will know that we have more than our fair share of having to attend to unfortunate circumstances following a disaster of one kind or another.
Above all, the men are loyal and conscientious in their employment. Sometimes I think that their loyalty is stretched a little too much, but it is comforting to know that there has been no strike in the Royal Dockyards since 1780. The hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devon-port (Miss Vickers) yesterday put a Question to the Civil Lord about the low basic rates of workers in the dockyards, and I agree with what she said. In his reply, the Civil Lord said that the hon. Lady should draw a distinction between wage packets and wage rates.
I had occasion earlier in my life to work in the railway workshops, and I admit that my earnings were higher than my basic rate, but I can tell the Civil Lord that when there was illness, or at holiday times, one felt the need for an extra source of income. I know that the trade unions do all they can to get the best possible conditions and rates of pay, but they would do better if the Civil Lord would concentrate on getting more money in the dockyard section of the Navy Estimates in order that these very eminent requirements could be met in order to look after those employed in the dockyards.
Since the war we have been very fortunate with dockyard workers. After the First World War, they were thrown out of work and there was no opportunity 2381 for them to keep to their craft, but after the last war something else was provided to keep them in employment. We had the same circumstances—that we did not intend to make men-of-war—but the Government of the day saw to it that ship-repairing work was undertaken by the dockyards for Government Departments and commercial undertakings on a repayment basis. By that means men have been kept in continuing employment, and to date there have been no dismissals.
If the maximum use was to be made of the dockyards, modernisation was necessary. Nobody will dispute that at the end of the war that was difficult to accomplish. Twenty-five per cent. of our national wealth had been destroyed and there were the calls on industry to provide homes, factories, hospitals and schools and the need to provide for our export trade machine tools which had to be sent overseas to pay for our food and our raw materials. These calls made it difficult to do what was necessary in the Royal Dockyards, but as soon as possible the Labour Government set up a Committee to study the provision of a postwar plan for the Royal Dockyards. We may be told something about that Committee.
Last year I referred to the fact that there were inadequate plant and buildings. At Chatham there is one machine dated 1815 which is still in operation, and, I am glad to say, doing a very good job, but in due course it will have to compete with more modern methods of production. It is used for making cord and in these days of nylon production we may have more formidable competition than at the moment. There is also a building there dated 1763. We have to do something about that slate of affairs. Conditions are very different from what they were in 1955 and in the difficult years immediately after the war.
Machine tools are now in reasonable supply and building materials and labour are more plentiful. We have to provide special workshops and machines. We want new shops for the welding of ships' structures and for electrical and electronic work. We want more modern workshop appliances and improved craneage facilities. Those will not only lead to increases in efficiency, but will result in cheaper production costs and, therefore, a saving of some of the money now spent on the Navy Estimates.
2382 A good deal of modernisation and reorganisation has been carried out in private shipyards. A lot was done with Government grants during the war, but when, as we know from the Comptroller and Auditor-General's Report, the ships in the dockyard are produced more cheaply than those in the private yards, that says much for the skill and craftsmanship of the dockyard worker and shows what can be done if the yards are modernised. There must be the best possible shops and the finest equipment and machinery if the best use is to be made of the manpower in the dockyard.
I should like to see the prototypes of all new classes of ships made in the dockyard. Doing that would achieve a team spirit and a sense of achievement and would keep together design staffs, draughtsmen, craftsmen and others who would see the beginning and the end, and who would see the ships going on trials and what they had accomplished. That is something which we ought to consider. Certainly, if this work were done in the dockyards, production would be on time and there would be no question of pushing aside the building of a ship because a much more profitable commercial undertaking had presented itself. This would also be one of the ways of encouraging young men to come into the dockyard and to stay there.
I wish to ask about the training scheme for apprentices which has been going on for many years and has been successful. I am sure that the Civil Lord would agree, however, that established schemes tend to get out-of-date. While every endeavour has been made to bring the training scheme up-to-date, nevertheless, it does tend to get into a groove and to fall behind modern requirements. Perhaps the Civil Lord could give us some idea of what kind of changes have been made. Are the dockyard schools efficient and useful in the way in which they ought to be employed to meet modern requirements? I know that they are now called technical colleges. I hope that it is not merely a change of name, but a rebirth with the emphasis which is needed in these days on automation and atomic energy.
I should like to know what happens to the boys after their training. The Select Committee on Estimates in 1950–51 2383 showed that there were large scale losses of young men who had completed their apprenticeship. I should be the last to suggest that we should not go on with this work. I take the view that this kind of training is never lost. It is good for the country and is employed in one way or another. But it is a loss to the Admiralty and I should think it impossible for the Admiralty to lose craftsmen without suffering. Perhaps the Civil Lord could tell us whether that loss has been arrested and whether apprentices are coming forward. As he knows, there was a loss, and we do not want that to happen.
If we are to keep these apprentices and give them an opportunity to be interested in their work, there must be opportunities for advancement and promotion. Many of these young men desire to become professional engineers, and if they have the latent ability I think that they should be encouraged and given the opportunity to become professional engineers. I know that it is not possible for all to achieve that objective, but I should like to know whether there is opportunity for promotion to subordinate technical officer or whether that is restricted to the older men. Do the young men feel frustrated? Is the chance of apprentices becoming qualified engineers so small because recruits come from the naval side rather than from the dockyard side?
I wish to ask the Civil Lord whether the management gives the maximum encouragement to all who are employed in the Royal Dockyard. I have heard that workmen have put forward ideas to improve production and that their views are not taken seriously. I can well imagine that for good reasons some of these ideas may be impracticable. But I suggest that it is worth while to consider these ideas carefully and to let the men know that an interest is being taken in them. If necessary, an explanation should be given about why some idea is unworkable. I am sure that there are many ideas which might be utilised with advantage.
There are views about a naval officer being the superintendent of a dockyard. I do not want to enter into a controversial subject at this stage, and I am pleased to see in the Estimates that the industrial deputy superintendent is apparently to be kept on. I hope that is so and that the 2384 practice will be extended. But in 1950–51, the Select Committee called attention to some features of management that were not satisfactory and I should like to examine them.
Are the professional, technical, accounting, planning and estimating staffs able to give of their best. I do not doubt the capacity of the staffs, but I question whether there is proper co-ordination. The more complex the work in a dockyard becomes, the greater the need for proper co-ordination. I should have thought that length of service was an important factor in a man's understanding of a job and his ability to get to grips with a problem.
Is the length of time for a senior officer appointment too short? I have heard of delays caused in the dockyards because there has not been proper co-ordination; because one department has held up the work of another. If there could be this proper co-ordination without any delay, it would result in more work being done in the yards and it would be possible to build more ships, which would obviate the necessity for the Admiralty to put out to contract as much work as they are compelled to do at the moment.
The appointment of a personnel officer at Chatham was an experiment, but I hope that it will prove much more than that. As we know, in progressive private industry the personnel officer helps in the training and selection of workers. He is able to make suggestions about appointments and the promotion of staff. In addition, he maintains personnel records and is responsible for working conditions, welfare and canteen facilities and the methods of joint consultation. I hope that the Civil Lord can tell us that as a result of the experiment at Chatham, this kind of officer will be kept on and the idea developed.
I wish to emphasise something which I know that all hon. Members representing dockyard constituencies would say is necessary, that there should be greater civilian control in the dockyards. We are fortified in this view by the Hilton Committee which in 1927 made this suggestion. During the war there was no actual recommendation, but consideration of this was favourable and, as we know, the Select Committee of 1950–51 also supported that view. No one will dispute the fact that the system of management 2385 should be able to produce the highest possible standard of service and efficiency. As I have said, the men in the dockyard have the capacity to do that, but one must have doubts about the system. The work of the Royal Dockyard is of prime importance both in war and peace, and the security of our country is as much dependent on the efforts of the men in the Royal Dockyard as those serving in the Armed Forces.
I feel that the Navy Estimates are over-weighted in favour of the Fleet and that more ought to go to the dockyards. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East gave us good reasons for thinking in that way by his observations about particular ships and their future usefulness. The Royal Dockyards must have a better share and a more reasonable share of the Navy Estimates. In talking about management and the workers, I would say that both management and the trade unions fully accept their responsibilities. The Whitley Council machinery works extremely well in the Royal Dockyards, and it is worth recalling that each yard is the equivalent of some of the largest factories in the country.
The dockyards have a fine tradition of service, both by hand and brain. They employ the most skilled and conscientious workers and if we are to make use of these valuable resources, we must keep in step with modern developments and use to the full the talents at our disposal.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
It is a very great pleasure for me to follow the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley). I do so with added pleasure because my constituency forms the other part of the Medway towns. Since we each represent a part of the area which houses the workers in Chatham Dockyard, it is inevitable that in matters which affect this area we must often find ourselves in agreement, and I find myself in complete agreement with a good deal of what the right hon. Gentleman has said.
We have our differences, of course. I maintain that the greater part of Chatham Dockyard is in my constituency of Gillingham—and there is always a disagreement between us on the question whether H.M.S. "Victory" was built in that part of the dockyard which is in the Chatham area or in that part which is in Gillingham. I am convinced that she was built 2386 in the part of the dockyard which is within my constituency boundaries.
I find myself in disagreement with the right hon. Gentleman about the integration of the Air Force and the Navy. I shall not say very much about that, or I shall be very much out of order. Although I represent a naval constituency, I was in the Royal Air Force during the war, and in my opinion it is essential, if our Air Force is to be deployed to its greatest effect, that it should have an independent target priority and should not be allied to either of the other Services. That is my very humble view.
The right hon. Gentleman and I both agree that the dockyards have a very great tradition behind them. I believe that they also have a very great future. We all pray that there will never be need for our ships to sail on warlike missions again, but it is an undoubted fact that the very nature of our country is such that we must maintain a Fleet which is relatively large in comparison with our size as a nation, not only to protect ourselves but to keep open the sea lines and communications between ourselves and the great countries of the Commonwealth. The importance of the dockyards cannot be overestimated. The right hon. Gentleman and I are certainly in complete and absolute agreement that they are vitally important to the welfare of the people whom we represent, because they employ a far greater number of people than any other single employer in our two constituencies.
I have gone round the Chatham Dockyard. I was quite amazed at the extent and the complicated nature of the work carried on there. I was still further impressed to see the tremendous skill and devotion to duty of the workers in the shops within those great yards. The right hon. Member made a very important point when he said that there has not been a strike in the Royal Dockyards since 1780. That shows that dockyard workers are an extremely responsible body of men.
Much is said about the quality of the work which is turned out by private firms, but if our industries were to maintain the standard of workmanship which is maintained in the Royal Dockyards there would be none of the complaints which we sometimes hear about shoddy merchandise being exported from this 2387 country. I have made inquiries in this matter. Most people would agree that ships' captains are extremely exacting individuals in relation to the refitting of their ships, but very, very few complaints are received from them when they take delivery of their ships after they have had a refit in the yards.
Not enough is made of the fact that the work given out by the Admiralty to private yards is inevitably more costly than the same work when it is carried out in the Royal Dockyards. We know that there are some critics. Most of them are unjust in their criticisms. In every organisation there is some back-sliding and shoddy workmanship, and the bigger the organisation the more chance there is of it occurring, but it happens far less frequently in the Royal Dockyards than in many great private undertakings. I am convinced that this criticism is very greatly exaggerated, and I am also sure that much of it really amounts to nothing more than good-humoured banter on the part of the people who live in the dockyard towns. It is a sort of tradition that those people should sometimes "have a go" at the people who work in the dockyards. I repeat that most of the work is of a very high quality.
I also agree with the right hon. Gentleman that even greater credit is reflected upon the workers and the standard of their work when one takes into account the fact that much of the machinery which they use is obsolescent, and would certainly have been replaced many years ago if it had been in private firms. Such machinery has undoubtedly been so replaced in private yards, where the same standard of workmanship is attained. I was delighted to hear that a £7 million programme of dockyard modernisation was to be undertaken. That was two years ago, and we now know that about £3½ million has been spent.
Some indication of the progress which has been made was given in the Explanatory Statement issued by the First Lord, but I should like my hon. Friend to enlarge upon it. We know that a new electrical shop has been completed at Chatham, and that a new gunnery equipment shop is nearing completion. The right hon. Member implied that the electrical shop was still under construction, but I understand that it is finished. I 2388 should like to know what other improvements have been started or are envisaged in the Chatham yards. How are working conditions being improved? Some of the shops are rather—I emphasise "rather"—draughty, and the conditions in which the men work are certainly not admirable.
I also hope that the Civil Lord will be able to state quite frankly that no cut in modernisation expenditure is contemplated as a result of the credit squeeze.
Two years ago—I follow broadly the line taken by the right hon. Gentleman—a departure of a somewhat revolutionary character was made at Chatham Yard, when a Deputy-Superintendent was appointed who was a man of industrial rather than naval knowledge. We have had little information about how that experiment has worked. Some time must be allowed for the new scheme to settle down, but information should be now available as to the benefits or otherwise which have resulted from the change. I hope that the Civil Lord will give us information.
Is it intended to introduce this idea in other yards? If not, is it desirable that it should be continued at Chatham? How has production per man-hour increased, and how does it compare with production per man-hour two years ago before the change, which was aimed at increasing production, was made?
The workers in the dockyards will be pleased to know that 1956–57 will bring more overtime to the yards than they have had for several years. This will impose increased strain on the workers. If we are to benefit from their increased production there is need for modernisation. We should be wise to look very carefully at that matter. We are rebuilding the Fleet, and the Navy will take on a new look. If the dockyards are to play their part it might be good to give them a new look by modernisation which will increase their efficiency. Modernisation should be effected quickly so that the dockyards can start off on the right foot as the character of the Navy changes.
Many new techniques will be required. Each month brings new machinery which is vital to the efficiency of the modern vessel, and it will require servicing in the dockyards. If we are to have efficient dockyards in the future we shall require men of much higher intelligence in many 2389 more posts than we require them in today. Far greater technical knowledge and skill will be required.
That leads me to the question of technical education. We are all at one in the House in believing that one of the most important matters is to ensure that our rising generation has the highest possible technical education. That requires good training and good facilities for training. Those facilities do not exist in the Medway towns. A certain building there has caused a great deal of heart-searching, certainly in the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham and myself. The Civil Lord will agree that we have, individually and collectively, pushed him about a bit to know what is to happen to the Royal Marine Barracks. We tell him that, individually and collectively, we shall pursue and pillory him until we get satisfaction.
Yesterday, in answer to a Question by the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham, the Civil Lord said, referring to the Royal Marine Barracks:I can now confirm that the main part of the existing buildings could not be converted satisfactorily or economically for any naval use. The possibility of using the site for a combined dockyard technical college and apprentices training centre is therefore being further examined. This scheme would certainly offer many advantages; ".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th March, 1956; Vol. 549, c. 2094.]I hope that the idea will be pursued actively and urgently. Action must be taken soon to lay the foundation. It is not good enough to put off consideration to another year. I beg the Civil Lord to give this matter his immediate attention, and to give an undertaking to the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham and myself that the matter will be looked at urgently. We believe that it will solve the problem of the creation of the right sort of building and will bring satisfaction to the people of the Medway towns. It will also save us an awful lot of time and worry from our constituents.
I turn to the building of repair ships. Every time there is a debate on military matters we are told of the danger that one atomic bomb will wipe out a great area of our country. The dockyards are vital. With some ancillary services they are essential for getting ships repaired and turned round, but there is a danger of our dockyards being knocked out. If so, we should not be able to carry out 2390 repairs, although the Americans would probably offer us facilities.
With the new concept of the aircraft carrier as the centre of the battle force we should do well to look at the possibility of building repair ships to sail with the Fleet. Because of their manoeuvrability and comparative invulnerability, they would be a useful adjunct to the dockyards, which are assured of a considerable amount of work for a very long period.
I hope that the Civil Lord will make it clear that the dockyard "matey" and others who work with him are fully appreciated, and show an awareness that the standard and quality of their work compares well with any that is done in private yards. I hope that the Government will ensure that the workers are given the right tools with which to do a very valuable job.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Wells (Faversham)
If proximity of constituency is to be taken into consideration, it is only proper that I should follow the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden). I congratulate the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) once more upon the terms of the Amendment that he has placed on the Order Paper and moved so efficiently. I do that the more readily because the Amendment gives me an opportunity to deal with a constituency manor which is causing very grave concern to thousands of my constituents.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on the Amendment, because we should remember the important functions which the dockyards perform in servicing the Royal Navy. Paragraph 67 of the Explanatory Statement says:The record of loyalty and reliability of the Royal Dockyards in peace and in war is one of which the country may well be proud…there has been nothing in the nature of a strike in the home dockyards since 1780.I think it will be agreed that 176 years without a strike is "going some," especially when one remembers what used to happen. I can remember when dockyard "mateys" got together—usually in the local pub—drew up a petition, which they sent to their Lordships of the Admiralty, waited six months and then got the inevitable reply, "Not acceded to." That paragraph which I have quoted pays tribute to a great record, and all 2391 of us who have had contact with the dockyards know very well that it N true. A tradition has grown up in the dockyards—and in the dockyard towns, too, because the community that grows up around a dockyard has its life centred in the work done there—and that tradition is one of which all are very proud. The Royal Dockyards have a great record and a great history.
All this is applicable particularly to Her Majesty's Dockyard at Sheerness. Rumours have been circulating for some time—some of them rather disconcerting—as to its fate. We have had such rumours for many years—I remember them way back in 1931. The dockyard is situated in the Isle of Sheppey and is its main source of employment. Apart from a small pottery, a glass works and a chemical works, there are no other sources of employment there. The dismay caused by reports that work is to be taken from the dockyard can be appreciated.
The Civil Lord will perhaps pardon me if I refer to matters about which I would not normally trouble the House. I say that because I have in mind the statement made by the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) about hon. Members speaking in the Navy Estimates debate on constituency points only. Because of the rumours which were circulating, the First Lord called me into conference and said, "Things are not so bad as is thought in Sheerness. All that is going to happen is that the constructors are to be transferred. You will lose the submarine refitting work and the dockyard is to be regraded a repair depot." Far from allaying the fears which existed in the Isle of Sheppey, that seems very much to have increased them, and I have since had very little peace from the Press, from dockyard deputations and from others associated with the Isle.
It is true that the Director of Dockyards has visited Sheerness to reassure the trade union side of the yard Whitley Committee that, whatever happened, there would be no discharges and that if work was taken away other work in compensation for it would be brought in. The Director denied a regrading of the dockyard. I hope that he is right, but if there is to be no reduction of staff—apart from the constructors who are to be transferred—it is very difficult to 2392 understand why any regrading at all is necessary.
§ The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby)
Perhaps I can clear up that point at once. Technically, from the point of view of the Admiralty, there will be a regrading, but there will be no reason for the yard not to be known as the Sheerness Dockyard. It will still be known by that title. It will, therefore, not make any difference, although it will be a slightly different type of work.
§ Mr. Wells
If it is to make no difference, why should the yard be regraded? If it means a loss of status, will that be taken into consideration when deciding what work to place at Sheerness? I should like further assurance on that.
The main point is that here the Government have some responsibility. When they establish a dockyard they establish, in fact, something more than just a dockyard—especially when they establish it, as was done centuries ago, on the Isle of Sheppey. They have some responsibility to the community that grows up around that establishment, and if there is to be any serious reduction in the work at Sheerness, what will be done will be to make Sheppey another Jarrow. Those are not my words; they appeared in the local paper last week. However, I am very glad to see that the Civil Lord is vigorously shaking his head, which rather indicates that he is certain that there will be no reduction in the amount of work made available to Sheppey Dockyard.
§ Mr. Wingfield Digby
Perhaps I may intervene once more, to say that we think there will be just as much work and that it will be possible to avoid any redundancies at all.
§ Mr. Wells
I am very pleased to have that assurance. I realise that one cannot maintain a place like Sheerness if it is not doing a useful job. It is well known that Sheerness has done a useful job in the past. One of the things which has been taken away is the unconverted T and S submarine, but about three years ago a naval officer told me that he liked to have his submarine refitted at Sheerness because he got a better refit there than anywhere else. It is, therefore, surprising to know that that class of work is to be taken away, particularly as it is one which employs practically all trades and so helps 2393 to preserve a proper balance. I should like the First Lord to investigate the possibility of retaining the work on those submarines.
Both the Director of Dockyards and the Civil Lord have told me that what will happen is that, whilst there will be no immediate reduction, wastage will not be made up, except in certain trades in order to preserve a proper balance. That indicates that whilst there are to be no reductions now, the yard is eventually to be allowed to run down. Does the previous assurance which the hon. Gentleman gave me cover that position? If it does, I shall be happy.
§ Mr. Wingfield Digby
I should not like to commit myself on that. That is possible. There will be no discharges at the present time, as far as we can see.
§ Mr. Wells
I cannot say that I consider that entirely satisfactory, and I am certain that it will be difficult for me to convince my constituents, who are so much concerned about this matter, that their future is as secure as it was before the question of the regrading of the dockyard was first mooted.
I turn next to the question of costs, and this is a reason that we are so touchy about these things. Certainly in peacetime, costs are taken into consideration when one considers which work should be sent to certain dockyards. I want to ask the Civil Lord, therefore, why payment by results has not been operated to the maximum extent at Sheerness Dockyard. My information is that it has not been used to anywhere near the maximum extent at Sheerness and that when it has been used, earnings have been limited to 45 per cent. I understand that that does not obtain in any other dockyard. Since it is generally agreed that work on payment by results is cheaper than time work, I cannot understand why this situation has obtained at Sheerness. I understand that the production committee has gone into the matter from time to time.
These are very important points. Some years ago, the storehouse was removed from Sheerness. We protested vigorously at the time and I took a deputation to the Admiralty about it. We then received certain assurances and were told that the removal of the dockyard to Chatham would not inconvenience 2394 Sheerness at all and that we should get a 24-hour service of spares and stores. In fact, that has not happened. Sometimes men are waiting for days for stores and spares. Unsuitable tools have been sent to Sheerness, and what concerns the men and me, too, is that when these unsuitable stores are received, Sheerness is charged 12½ per cent. on-cost, although they are later returned to Chatham. That increases the price of work at Sheerness Dockyard. It is one of the points which I should like the hon. Member to look into very carefully.
I hope the hon. Gentleman does not think that I am being unfair in raising these matters, but they are so important that I feel I must do so. I have already referred to the waiting period. Men are taken off P.B.R. to do some day work until the stores or spares for which they are waiting arrive, and this adds to the cost of the work. We still have a storehouse and a staff at Sheerness, and I wonder whether it would be possible for a certain proportion of pocket stores—I think that is the term used—to be held at Sheerness in order to meat this difficulty about which people are so much concerned.
For many years the training ships have been serviced at Sheerness, and the reason given to the yard committee for taking them away was that they could not be completed in time. My information is that they could be completed in time if the men were allowed to work overtime. I am told that the internal combustion engine shop is not working to capacity and that engines which could be refitted there are being sent to private contractors to be overhauled. Engines which could be repaired as what are called day or timework jobs when there is no other work outside are being sent to private contractors.
Another point which is causing concern at the dockyard is the work which is sent outside, but which should and could be done inside the dockyard. This involves an electrical contract, and if it is true—and I am reliably informed that it is—I suggest that something ought to be done about it. It is the case of an electrical contract which has gone to a local firm which before the nationalisation of road transport was a haulage concern. This Government contract is being completed by men who leave the dockyard electrical shop at 5 p.m. and then go to work for 2395 these private contractors on the Admiralty contract. If this is occurring, then the contract should be carried out, if possible, in the yard.
May I make a point in connection with the new electrical shop? Is that to be completed? I notice from the White Paper that new shops are being built at Chatham, Portsmouth, Devonport and Rosyth, but for some reason or another Sheerness is not included. Is that an oversight or is it intended not to complete the new electrical shop which is so badly needed at Sheerness? I do not know whether the Civil Lord will be able to reply to that question tonight, but I should like a reply at some time.
What is happenning about the new slipway? I am informed that if this were built it would remove the need for the proposed new ship-fitting shop and would result, ultimately, in considerable saving. Amongst other things, it would allow men to work under cover during inclement weather. Is it intended to proceed with the extension of the No. 3 dock at Sheerness? I understand that when this was investigated a year or two ago it was considered very desirable that this dock should be enlarged.
What is to happen to the oil fuel depot on the Isle of Grain? There is a rumour that the oil fuel depot is to be handed over to a private company. Is that correct? If it is, what is to happen to the men who will be redundant? Will they be guaranteed the provision of jobs which are no less favourable than those which they hold at present?
Finally, I am told that the number of apprentices to be entered at Sheerness Dockyard is to be severely cut. I hope that that is not true, particularly as there is some difficulty in balancing trades in the dockyard. If it is true, will it interfere in any way with the excellent technical college which we have at Sheerness Dockyard? I am sorry to have to trouble the Civil Lord with these questions, but they are important from the point of view of the Isle of Sheppey. I hope the hon. Gentleman realises that they are being asked because there is so much concern in the district.
I recognise that the changing nature of naval warfare and the change in the size of the Fleet means that there must be 2396 certain dockyard changes. All I am asking is that when these are being made, existing establishments and staffs should receive full consideration, and that when they can be worked into the new organisation, that should be done.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Miss Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
I hope that the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. P. Wells) will not mind if I do not follow him in all the matters which he mentioned, as they were constituency points. I have many which I hope to mention. I have informed the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) that I did not go all the way with him in his Amendment on the Order Paper. I welcome the fact that he wants to have re-equipment and modernisation of the dockyards, but I am not at all certain whether a Select Committee is the correct way in which to do it. I have read the Report of the Select Committee on Estimates for 1950–51 and it does not seem to have done very much good in many of the dockyards because many of the suggestions in the Report have not been carried out.
I suggest that in these days, when dockyard organisation has become very technical, it might be better if we had an inquiry by some technical expert who could go into the question of the modernisation, particularly on the managerial side, because I am convinced that we could do far more in the dockyards if we could improve the managerial side of them. I realise that when one comes into this House one has a great deal to learn, and I hope that hon. Members will also realise that I have had to learn dockyard language.
§ Miss Vickers
If I have to give some rather technical descriptions I hope that the House will bear with me.
I was disappointed, when I asked a Question with regard to wages yesterday, to find that I was unable to get separate figures concerning the wages of mechanics, skilled labourers and labourers in the dockyards. I was told that they were not available. It struck me as a little odd that employers were unable to give the figures of the wages they were paying to their employees. I 2397 should like again to draw the Civil Lord's attention to this matter in relation to the wages of unskilled labourers who are totally unable to get extra overtime and the extra earnings that it brings.
I part company with the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham because I should like something more definite. I should like a definite policy for the dockyards in future, although I realise that if we have a smaller Navy that makes changes inevitable. If we could have some definite plans from the Government it would be of enormous assistance to the dockyard towns, many of which have been extensively blitzed. I want to draw attention to the fact that in Plymouth, 24,000 out of 218,000 people work in the dockyard and the victualling yards. The next biggest employers in Plymouth are the distributive trades, employing 11,000 people. If we had unemployment in the dockyard it would lead to great distress in Plymouth.
Since I have lived in Devonport, I have been very concerned about the lack of industry there other than the dockyard. I have been trying to get other industries to come to this area. Every time I have done so, I have been told, "Please do not get any heavy industry because we want all that type of work at the dockyards." What happens? We get light industries, and they are mostly luxury trades, and if we get a recession we have unemployment. I should like some definite policy about the number who can be employed in the dockyard—the number we need for the heavy industries there—in order that we can get other industries in Plymouth, because it is very unsatisfactory to have everyone working in one type of job.
On 16th January—the last figures which I have been able to get—we had an average of 2–7 per cent. unemployed whereas the national average is 1–2 per cent. Therefore, I was interested when I looked at Command Paper 9697, page 15, to see that:An extensive programme of modernisation is necessary to keep the ships up-to-date and fit them for a modern war.and also to see it stated in paragraph 71 that:There are however limitations on the extent to which existing dry docks and refitting basins can be modernised, because of the physical layout of the dockyard.2398 We have been in very great difficulty in Devonport because shortly after the war a great deal of land was taken and a large number of houses pulled down so that 300 people can be moved nearer to the dockyards when they are extended. Otherwise, the only thing which has happened to us is that 17½ acres have just been handed back to the city council.
When one walks down the main street of Devonport at the present time one sees large dumps of materials, old anchors, etc. In the two years that I have been there, the only difference has been that the notice boards to the dockyards which formerly said "Keep Out" have now on them "Please Keep Out." I think that it is high time something was done to make this principal street in Devonport tidy by clearing up the mess and handing back the site to the city council, or by putting up a wall and letting people know what is going to happen in that future shopping centre.
There is another question. I want to know what is to be the guarantee of employment in the victualling yards. Are the people there to be allowed to go to this new depot, and will they qualify for travelling allowance? I understand that it will not be easy to recruit people from the district where those new shops are to be. I understand that it is possible to get a travelling allowance if one cannot recruit locally. I hope that every endeavour will be made to keep on the existing people. We have a great many shops in what is known as "mothballs" in Devonport at the present time.
I read in Command Paper 9691, the Statement on Defence, that the Admiralty:plan to keep in the reserve fleet only those ships capable of putting to sea at short notice and fighting effectively in a modern sea war.If we are to have all those ships in addition to those which we have at present attached to the Devonport Yard, I suggest that we shall need a considerable number of personnel there to look after them. It is rather like a fire station: the firemen are there whether there is a fire or not. If, as suggested in the Statement on Defence, these ships must be capable of putting to sea at short notice, it will be necessary to get a certain number of people there soon to deal with them. I should like an assurance from the Minister on that point.
2399 I want to make further reference to what has been said concerning the setting up of another Select Committee. In the Report of the Select Committee which met in 1950–51, there are descriptions of the existing shops in Devonport. The then Admiralty Superintendent was asked:Have you any suggestions for improving the efficiency of the yard, anything which you think might help?He said:Undoubtedly. Give us the money to build some decent shops for the men to work in.He was then asked:You are suffering in that regard?and he replied:The position is frightful. It is amazing how the people turn out the work they do.We have been lucky in having two new shops, but I should like to remind the Civil Lord that we still have a great many very old shops. I could take hon. Members to the Rope Walk, where they could see still there the old gallows which were used for hanging the French prisoners when they worked in the yard. We hope that that is not symbolic of what is to happen to our yards in the future.
I recognise that there is a need for economy. I know that the Civil Lord will have to look for his pound of flesh, but I hope that he will not take it from Devonport. If he does, he will be cutting the main artery and letting out the life blood of the City of Plymouth. If he does intend to do that, I hope that he will let us know so that other stable industries can be brought to the area before we get unemployment again.
I make a further suggestion. If any time comes when my hon. Friend feels it necessary to keep men there and there is not sufficient employment for them, I would point out that we should like to have the Tamar Bridge built. That might come under the road programme, and I understand that the dockyard would be prepared to do that work, which would be a great asset to the city.
The general point which I should like to discuss has been supported by what my hon. and gallant Friend' the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) said on the subject of civilianisation or navalisation. There have been some changes in the dockyard. Recently the electrical department has 2400 been put under the Navy, and so also has the engineering department. Civil engineering comes under the engineering department, and naval arms come under the victualling yard. We suggest, especially in view of the larger payments to be given, that there will be great inequality unless other salaries are put up equally; and it would be better from a managerial point of view if we could have all civilian personnel for this work. We think that continuity in the yard would be beneficial. Those people, with their previous experience, are more used to dealing with these men. Perhaps they have a different approach to this type of work. We should like the Civil Lord to look into the matter, because we think it would be very useful if civilian employees were used in this way.
If we could have a little better management I understand we could increase production by at least 50 per cent. I am told that the fault is not with the workman but with the old-fashioned organisation and because there are too few able men at the managerial level. I suggest also as a long-term remedy that we could recruit managerial staff by way of the dockyard apprentice avenue and, as a short-term remedy, I would refer to the Question I asked last December. I then asked if we might get a corps of volunteers of suitably qualified officers to come into the yard for experience and to be re-employed as civilians.
I end by asking a question about apprentices. I understand that there is to be a new student-apprentice entry in 1956, and that there is to be a change in the curriculum. We are a little worried about that because of the watered-down educational requirements. I understand that mechanics is to be cut out, physics to be reduced and chemistry, mathematics and biology are to be increased. I understand that in Devon-port 190 are passed through the dockyard, about 40 complete the course, and there is a limited entry of about 16. My reason for making this point is that those with the watered-down education who do not go to the dockyard will not stand so good a chance of a job of the type they would have had if they could have gone in for other work.
I do not know whether I should be in order in raising the question of the new uniforms to be issued from the victualling yards, but I should like to hear from 2401 the Civil Lord what type of new uniforms are to be supplied.
I hope the points that I have put forward might be considered, and I wish to assure the Civil Load that I have put them forward in good faith, and in the hope that he will see that something is done to safeguard the future for Devonport.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
After reading the explanatory document on the dockyards and listening to the hon. Lady the Member for Devonport (Miss Vickers) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley), I find it extraordinary that in March, 1956, we should hear statements about the British Royal Dockyards being out-of-date when, although it may not be well known, the Royal Navy was the first engineering enterprise in Britain to use automation to the full degree. In fact, in 1856, the Royal Navy was producing biscuits for the Navy by automatic processes whereby the biscuits were untouched by hand. The Navy was the leader in this field, but now we have all the naval experts and hon. Members representing dockyard towns telling us that the Navy is out-of-date.
§ Mr. Bence
I can understand that that may be so, but it is a reflection on our generation that we should be debating the condition of Royal Dockyards being so far behind private yards and the yards in the United States when actually the Navy was the leader in technological processes in the middle of the last century. Why have we slipped back so far? In Scotland we have a very fine dockyard at Rosyth. I am sorry to enter the claims of Rosyth in competition with those of Rochester, Chatham and Devon-port, but we have to make our claim. It looks as if I may be the only Scotsman making the claim for a naval yard in Scotland.
§ Commander C. E. M. Donaldson (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)
I have tried repeatedly to raise the question during the last four years, but without success.
§ Mr. Bence
I am sorry, but we all have the experience of trying to get in with this, that or the other question from time to time. I seem to be fortunate tonight in raising the question of Rosyth. It seems extraordinary that my right hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham should have put down his Amendment dealing with the need for research and development in engineering when there is this admitted capacity in the country, and that the White Paper should state that buildings are functionally out-of-date.
In laying down a modern plan for the production of anything, one of the most vital and essential things is that the building in which the plant is to function must be functionable. It is absolutely hopeless to try to put down modern technological processes of production in some of the out-of-date factories and buildings of shipyards and dockyards. New buildings are essential.
We discussed this question in the Army Estimates when the same problem at Woolwich was mentioned. It exists in the dockyards, but not at Rosyth. That may be because Rosyth is not so old as Chatham or Devonport. It was built later and therefore it is more suitable for research and development than Devon-port or Chatham. It was built when production processes had evolved to a more advanced stage. It is, therefore, functionally more adaptable to modern processes.
Here we have this tremendous capacity. We have in the Navy Estimates a statement of an expenditure of £20,000 a year purely on the administration of merchant shipbuilding and ship repairing. We are now considering the dockyards. What work can we put into these dockyards? There has been an announcement in the Press that an engineering firm, Rolls Royce, Vickers Armstrong, a shipbuilder, and an American firm are to form a company to develop nuclear power for ships. Why in the name of fortune cannot the Admiralty do this? The Navy did not ask a factory to produce its biscuits in the middle of the nineteenth century; it did it for itself.
Why should the British Navy, with these wonderful dockyards and the engineers with their technical capacity, farm out this work to these private companies? There is the technical skill at the Admiralty. Why should they not 2403 do this? This would not be the first time that the Admiralty had given a lead in ship construction and marine engineering. The Admiralty did it in the nineteenth century. Why not do it now? It was the Royal Navy which was then giving the lead in ship construction. Now, in the middle of the twentieth century, it is financing private enterprise to give the lead and then sell the patents and have a licence for the manufacture of its products for sale back to the Navy. That is the position we have reached.
I cannot discuss other fields; I am an engineer myself, but I know that the same story can be told of other things. Certainly in the Navy this should not arise. No matter whom one meets in the country, none of them lives very far from the sea, and there is an inherent love of the sea and of the British Navy. If we are to get such reports and admissions as we have had today about our Royal Dockyards, our people will begin to despise the Royal Dockyards, and even employment in them. In my own constituency on the Clyde there is a shipyard called John Brown's. Every man is proud to work there; they are the finest shipbuilders in the world. I have worked with men who were apprenticed to Royal Dockyards, whose certificate of apprenticeship used to be better than that of any other engineering shop in Great Britain. That is not true today. The finest certificate of apprenticeship today in the shipbuilding industry is not from the Royal Dockyards, but from private shipbuilding yards.
§ Mr. Bence
I can assure my right hon. Friend it is not rubbish: it is true.
Too much work has been farmed out from the dockyards. The Government have refused the finance to the Royal Navy to keep abreast of naval construction and naval development generally. Too much has been farmed out to private shipbuilders. In Rosyth there is a tremendous capacity to do as good marine engineering work as in any marine engineering shop in Great Britain. I am not saying they have not that capacity in Rochester and Chatham; probably they have. Our buildings in Rosyth may be newer because it is a newer yard. Money would have been well spent to improve the technical capacity of these Royal 2404 Dockyards. The Admiralty have got the technicians.
Millions of pounds could have been saved by achieving this development within the organisation of the Navy itself rather than having to finance it by contracts running into millions, maybe hundreds of millions, to private companies to develop nuclear power for our ships. Why should they be doing that? Is it beyond the capacity of the Royal Dockyards? Would any hon. Member with a dockyard in his constituency say that it was beyond the capacity of the technicians and scientists employed by the Admiralty in those dockyards to do this very important work? Those of us who have been in engineering all our lives know that when any Government Department, be it the Admiralty, the Army or any other Department, puts out a contract for work or research, the Government gets milked, and make no mistake about it. It is the finest bank for any company in the country to get an Admiralty contract. The "Tiger" on the Clyde is not being handled by the Royal Dockyard; it is being handled by a private company.
I hope that my right hon. Friend's Amendment will not be just passed over, but that there will be an inquiry into the use of the resources of the Royal Dockyards. Although I make a claim for Rosyth, my claim is justified for all the others. There is the organisation in shipbuilding and research for the evolution and development of ships, sufficient, I should imagine, for the needs of the British Royal Navy. We have about 170 ships, most of them small. We have this tremendous potential capacity within the Navy which should be used to the full to carry out research and to develop nuclear power as the motive power for our ships. It can do it. If it is handed over to private enterprise it will cost the Government an awful lot of money, whereas if it is done in the Navy, as it was in the last century, it will cost the taxpayers of this country much less, provided the Navy is given the go-ahead to carry out this research in the Royal Dockyards.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Mr. J. J. Astor (Plymouth, Sutton)
I agree with the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) when he says that to do first-class work the 2405 dockyards must obviously have first-class plant, but I am not in entire agreement with him on his other points. Nor am I in agreement with the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) when he asks for a Select Committee.
I intervene to make one point only, and to my personal knowledge this is the fifth year that it has been made in these debates. It has been made from both sides of the House and it has never been answered to my satisfaction, but that is no reason for not asking it again tonight. I refer to the possibility of an investigation into the best use of dockyard personnel when the time comes that Admiralty work does not absorb all its labour.
Devonport is so situated that the 24,000 men employed there dominate the whole labour picture in Devonport and in Plymouth. Cornwall and Devon being rural and agricultural areas, there is no alternative employment for these men. As my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Miss Vickers) said, there is a certain amount of light industry in the Plymouth area, but there are never likely to be sufficient orders to absorb the 24,000 men, or even a proportion of them, if the Admiralty work is not sufficient.
I am well aware that the employment position in Devonport Dockyard is at present very good and is likely to remain so for a few years. It is very good compared with the position of some of the people in the Midlands and in light industries in the Plymouth area, but I impress upon my hon. Friend the Civil Lord that the first point is the complete dependence on Government employment of those who work in Devonport Dockyard.
Having studied the utterances of Service Ministers and Chiefs and of hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House, I am not convinced that any of them have the slightest idea what our armament requirements will be in five to ten years' time. I do not think they know. There may then be a situation in which the Government might say that the writing on wall is that our Dependencies are diminishing, and, therefore, our needs for conventional weapons are diminishing. If the economic situation does not get better—and it is perfectly possible that in five or ten years' time it may not be better—the Government might say that 2406 we cannot afford conventional and unconventional weapons; it may not be possible for the country to do it. In that case, I suggest that the Government would sacrifice the conventional weapons and would favour missiles with atomic warheads, and so on.
The whole pattern of history shows that the Service Chiefs and the heads of the Service Departments, however brilliant they may be, really never know what weapons will be in five or ten years' time—they simply cannot know—and they are particularly ignorant now, when not only is science advancing by leaps and bounds every year, but also the position of our country in the world is changing from week to week and even from day to day.
I should have thought that there was a case for the Admiralty either setting up a small committee or using its existing organisation for studying how the 24,000 men situated in the otherwise rural and agricultural area of Devonport can best be used if and when a Government decide that the conventional weapons cannot be afforded by the country. It is just possible that the Admiralty may have its plans. It it has, or if it can say that these matters can be decided quite soon, it would give confidence to those working in the dockyards if the Admiralty answers this question or says that two or three experts are studying it.
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), in a previous debate like this, once made the point that there were two or three times as many admirals as ships.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I did not make the point, but I am quite prepared to accept responsibility for it.
§ Mr. Astor
No doubt one or two of those admirals who have been in charge of dockyards could be on such a committee. I hope that the Civil Lord tonight can give an indication either that the Admiralty does not consider this a serious point or is making investigation or inquiry. I hope that this point will be answered.
What investigation is taking place as to the best method of employment by the Government of those who work in the dockyards if and when the Government cannot afford conventional weapons? I am 2407 not impressed by anything I have heard that anyone knows what the pattern of weapons will be in five or ten years' time, because I do not think that anyone really knows.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
The hon. Member for Sutton (Mr. J. J. Astor) has touched upon one of the vital points of the debate. I believe that the case for the appointment of a Select Committee, called for in the Amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) has been made out in the hon. Member's very thoughtful speech, which also underlined the argument for the whole Amendment. I do not remember having made the statement about admirals which the hon. Member attributed to me, but I suggest that everything in connection with admirals needs to be reexamined these days.
I am very sorry that I cannot take exactly the point of view of hon. Members on both sides of the House in this matter, though I can understand it. Naturally enough, they are stressing the case for their constituents. They have put very reasonable requests to the Minister in order to secure the continued employment of their constituents. They are naturally thinking of the future of the men and women—if there are women—working in the dockyards. But I am against spending any further money on capital investment in the Royal Dockyards if it is to provide the kind of programme which the Minister outlined today. Already this year we are spending £346 million on the Navy, and the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) has already described seaport towns as likely to be huge mausoleums.
§ Mr. Burden
What my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East said was that the places from which the drafting is done were like mausoleums. He was not referring to the towns.
§ Mr. Hughes
At any rate, a huge mausoleum was referred to somewhere, and I am against investing money in a mausoleum. I think that that is a reasonable attitude, in view of the fact that we are in a state of great financial 2408 emergency. I represent the taxpayer in this debate, and I am not prepared to invest any further money in the Royal Dockyards in the terms of the Amendment. I am in favour of a three-year plan for the liquidation of the Navy, because I believe that the Navy is obsolete, the dockyards are obsolete and that the ships which are likely to be made in the dockyards are obsolete.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
That might arise on the main Question, but I do not think that it arises on the Amendment.
§ Mr. Hughes
I would point out that the Navy will have to be prepared in these dockyards, and that the whole argument has been that the ships will have to be changed and that we shall have to modernise the weapons and have new electronic developments. All that, presumably, would be done in the Royal Dockyards.
I quite agree that the hon. Members who have already spoken on the Amendment have a very difficult problem because these dockyards employ a very large number of people. Whilst I am in favour of liquidating the Navy, I am thinking in terms of the future employment of the people who are in the dockyard towns. I do not want the dockyard towns to become potential pools of unemployment. I do not want to see dockyard workers unemployed as a result of the transition to a new policy.
Although I am regarded as an enemy of these institutions, I am thinking of the people who will have to do a different kind of work there. I find that in the Royal Dockyards there are boilermakers, bricklayers, coppersmiths, fitters, hose-makers, joiners, masons, painters, pattern-makers, plumbers, sailmakers and shipwrights—a very large number of very skilled workers. You will find all these, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, on pages 274 and 275 of the Navy Estimates, and there we see that the total number of people employed amounts to 58,657.
My argument is that it is not in the interests of the people now working in the Royal Dockyards to give the impression that we can possibly continue these dockyards in the way in which they have been institutions for countless numbers of years. If all the arguments that we 2409 have heard are correct, we have to remember that these dockyard towns are concentrations of population that might be bombed, and I would certainly hesitate to accept the point of view of the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), much as I have sympathy with him. To build a technical college in a place which is likely to be bombed by the first rocket that comes across is a mistake, and I do not think we should encourage it from the national point of view.
I understand the problems of Sheerness and Chatham, but I should like hon. Members to pause to think what would happen if an atom bomb dropped in the Thames. I do not want to see an atom bomb dropped in the Thames, but if one were dropped, what would become of the Royal Dockyards?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I do not see how an atom bomb falling on the Thames would affect this Amendment at all.
§ Mr. Hughes
Let me explain. The proposed Select Committee is to inquire into the Royal Dockyards and their future. Some of the Royal Dockyards are adjacent to the Thames, and very frequently in this debate we have heard that if atom bombs were dropped on this country, they would probably be dropped on the Thames and on Southampton Water and on places which are the bases of the Royal Navy. Therefore, in these days when it is so easy for Chatham and the Medway to be bombed—it was possible to bomb them with rockets in the last war, so that it is quite possible that they may be attacked in any future war—I am not in favour of placing too many eggs in this particular basket.
What would this Select Committee inquire into? Would it inquire into the possibility that this very large number of skilled men, who must do something, who have been trained to build ships, might be employed in building ships likely to be used in some other capacity? I would employ all these skilled workers in the shipbuilding industry, not in repairing ships for the Royal Navy, but in building other kinds of ships which might be used in the big rivers of the world, ships which could help our export trade, and the construction of which might transform the Royal Dockyards into really useful hives of industry. There would then be no danger to anybody, and nobody would 2410 regard those places as potential targets to be bombed.
I now want to stress a point made by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence). Personally, I am not interested in Rosyth. I do not make any spectacular claims for Rosyth because it happens to be a port in Scotland, as against Sheerness or Chatham. I think that exactly the same arguments can be used about spending any more money on Rosyth. If Rosyth is to be regarded, as it was in the last war, as a potential centre for repairing ships, then it is in great danger. If, as the hon. Lady the Member for Devonport (Miss Vickers) has pointed out, conventional weapons change, the result will be that in Rosyth a pool of unemployment will be created as weapons become outmoded.
I suggest, therefore, that we must not take a local constituency point of view about these ports, but that we must think in terms of the national interest and of reorganising the employment of these workers in such a way that they will be absorbed into constructive industry over a period. So, when I advocate a three-year programme for changing the whole character of the Royal Dockyards, a three-year plan for liquidating the British Navy, I am more in keeping with modern strategy than hon. Gentlemen who have spoken earlier tonight.
I want to stress the point made by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East. He has more experience of engineering than I have, and he has put his finger on what I believe to be an important point. If we reorganise the Navy on the lines of using atomic energy for ships, then there is no case for handing it over to private enterprise. The work should be done in the Royal Dockyards. I am pointing out that there are immense dangers in the new developments forecast by the Minister today.
I have here a cutting from the issue of the Evening Standard of the day following the Admiralty announcement, which states:A powerful new partnership between Vickers, Rolls-Royce and the American oil engineering firm of Foster Wheeler is announced today. Its aim is to develop atomic power for ships.The cost of that appals me. If we are to have atomic power for ships, whether built in the Royal Dockyard at Rosyth or 2411 anywhere else, it is likely that next year the First Lord will come here with grandiose plans for spending. more money on the Royal Dockyards—
§ Mr. Hughes
As I understand it, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, it is that a Select Committee should be appointed.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The main Question is, That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair. The Amendment that we are now discussing deals with the Royal Dockyards.
§ Mr. Hughes
But surely the Amendment before the House, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, is the one moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham, and it is to call attention to the need for a Select Committee?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Yes, to the need for a Select Committee for a specific purpose, to deal with the Royal Dockyards.
§ Mr. Hughes
I may not be explaining myself as clearly as I might, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I am trying to deal with the problems affecting the Royal Dockyards.
I am trying to pursue the argument first dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbartonshire, East, that, if there is to be adaptation of ships for the use of atomic energy, then it is only right that this work should be done under national ownership in the Royal Dockyards instead of by these various companies.
Who will do the work if the Royal Dockyards do not? We are told that there is to be a new concern called Vickers Nuclear Engineering Ltd. Presumably that concern will take over some of the work now being done in the Royal Dockyards. Therefore, unemployment will inevitably result in Plymouth and in Devon-port and in all the other places, because a lot of the work will not be done in the Royal Dockyards but in the Rolls-Royce works.
I see, as the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East sees, a potential menace to the Royal Dockyards in that development. Behind all this—and I apologise for not having made myself as clear as I should have wished—I see that if the policy of atomic-driven warships is adopted, there will in future years be an 2412 enormous bill in the Navy Estimates. We should have the Select Committee now. Let it begin immediately; let it face the real problems; let it face the whole problem of dealing with the naval population of the dockyards and transferring it to useful work to become a national asset instead of a national liability.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. John Harvey (Walthamstow, East)
I shall not detain the House very long. Unlike a good many hon. Gentlemen who have spoken, I cannot claim to represent a constituency which has any direct interest in dockyards. It is true that when one becomes a Member of Parliament, no matter how well one thought one knew one's constituency beforehand, one afterwards discovers all sorts of things about it which one did not know in the first place. But I am sure that I shall never discover a dockyard in my constituency.
Notwithstanding that, it gives me great pleasure to participate in the discussion tonight, if only to underline what was said by the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) when he refuted the suggestion that this was a debate affecting purely constituency interests. It may well be that in future years the Civil Lord will have dockyard Members representing constituencies of which we had not thought before tonight, and, of course, I have Malta in mind. In the meantime, I should like to say a word about the dockyard in Malta, not because it is my prime hobbyhorse tonight, but because I am particularly interested in merchant shipping.
I intervene in the debate with some diffidence, because, as one who for many years sailed under the Red Duster, I naturally feel a little hesitant about intervening in affairs of our younger, if more sophisticated, sister. Nevertheless, it occurs to me that in this matter of dockyards and in the matter of Malta there is some identity of interests on which we might all reflect for a moment or two.
Last year there was published an Interim Report on the Economic Problems of Malta prepared by Thomas Balogh and Dudley Seers, which said:…we hope that with the establishment of more effective machinery for handling problems common to the Governments of Britain and Malta, it will be possible to bring the 2413 Navy into the reconstruction of the harbour: it may be found that slight modifications in the areas used by the Navy would considerably improve the facilities available for merchant shipping, and open up possibilities of repairing civilian ships, especially tankers.At present, a great many British-owned or British-managed merchant ships, notably tankers, constantly ply through the Mediterranean and are regularly in need of overhaul, refit and repair. Today, as a result of that, in certain European countries important industries have developed for overhauling and repairing British-owned or British-managed ships. Some of our biggest tankers regularly go to Cadiz in Spain, and sterling is paid for work to be undertaken there for which we have not the room in our shipyards in this country.
I wonder whether now or in the future it might not be worth considering how far the dockyard in Malta could be used for work of this sort, because in Malta, perhaps more than anywhere else, the economy of the whole island is so intimately bound up with the dockyard. If there were some way in which the prosperity accruing to Malta from the dockyard could be increased, we should be doing Malta much greater good than any number of round-table conferences in themselves could do, because, after all, it is economic prosperity which Malta has to get from somewhere as the foundation for all else it wants.
Arising out of that point, it is, I believe I am right in saying, the fact that the Admiralty can quote for the repair of non-naval vessels to be undertaken in naval dockyards. But I am also given to understand that in instances where quotations have, in fact, been made, they have been exorbitantly high by comparison with anything that merchant shipping yards can offer.
§ Mr. Harvey
The Civil Lord shakes his head, and I grant that where naval ships are concerned the naval yard could do the job at a very profitable price. But I have been given to understand that instances, which I could perhaps bring to the attention of the Civil Lord, have occurred, certainly in the recent past, where the system of quoting for merchant shipping repairs and refits has shown prices which do not compare favourably with other yards.
2414 Be that as it may, is it nevertheless possible that the Admiralty has considered, or will in future consider, to what extent Malta, which lies on the main route from this country to the Middle East, may be used to a greater extent to service the merchant ships, notably tankers, which are at present being serviced in foreign countries with, in many instances, some loss of sterling to our own economy? Surely, if this idea is at all feasible, Malta could benefit from the suggestion which I have made.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby)
I wish to congratulate the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) on the way in which he moved his Amendment. It is particularly appropriate that we should have had a right hon. Gentleman representing a dockyard constituency to do so, and I am grateful to him for the reasonable manner in which he spoke.
I thought that the first thing I had better do was to brush up my history of Chatham. Although it may not be the oldest dockyard, it was founded as long ago as 1547. There are one or two other things which I learned about Chatham. I learned that a flag was used. the Cross of St. George, for "in muster" and that the yard was guarded by mastiffs, a version of the police dogs in which people place so much faith these days from the security point of view.
As one or two hon. Members have mentioned, in 1759 "Victory" was laid down there, although I gather that there is a dispute between my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) and the right hon. Gentleman as to whose was the constituency in which she was laid down. It was, again, to Chatham, some years before Trafalgar, that "Victory" went back to be refitted, so that by the time she fought at Trafalgar she was known to be forty-six years old, which I have personal reasons for thinking is a very good age indeed.
One of the first sights that greets one on entering Chatham Dockyard is the covered slipways, now under the care of the Ministry of Works, where "Victory" and other ships were built, and I think they provide an example of the difficulty which is experienced in adapting old 2415 yards to modern conditions. We are not free to lay them out again as we might do if we were to start afresh.
Before I leave the subject of Chatham Dockyard, I must make a brief reference to the splendid part which it played in the last war, when no fewer than 1,360 ships were taken in hand there, and the production of torpedo tubes was increased fourfold.
We have had a most interesting debate this evening. It has been rather narrower than the wide considerations of strategy which have engaged our attention in the last week or two, but it has been a pleasant debate. Most of the Members who represent dockyard constituencies have taken part, and many points have been raised. I shall answer those which I can, and the others I shall write about afterwards.
During the last four and a half years I have paid many visits to dockyards at home and overseas, and on those visits I have always had informal talks with the managers of the main departments and also either with the full Whitley or trade union officials of the Whitley Committee. From what I have been able to learn from those visits—although it is true that I undertake them primarily as a "landlord" and also a welfare officer, being responsible for the buildings, the jetties and the docks, and also for labour relations—I have received the impression that our dockyards are going well. I admit at once that there is room for further improvement, as there always must be at a time when the needs of the Fleet, and also techniques, are changing.
The first point I make is that the dockyards exist to serve the Fleet, with all its changing needs; needs which change from day to day and from year to year. The real test of the Royal Dockyards is how far they meet those needs. Today, they deal mostly with repairs, ranging from simple dockings to extremely complicated conversions, but it is essentially a matter of bespoke tailoring, so to speak. No two jobs are alike, and no two ships are alike. Even if ships are of the same age and class, one may be supplied with alternating current and the other with direct current.
Again, much of the work is what might be described as pioneering, such as work upon the angled deck, which produces new problems because it overhangs the 2416 dock; work upon the steam catapult, and work which is now going on at Devon-port upon H.M.S. "Girdleness," which is the first of our ships to be fitted for guided missiles. If one compares the complexity of a ship today with what it was 20 years ago, one appreciates the point. For example, I am told that the modern frigate has no fewer than 3,000 valves and 50 cathode-ray tubes, which is in very great contrast to the dreadnought of olden days.
In addition to the essential rôle of repair that takes up so much of the time of the dockyards, they have other important rôles. There is the rôle of construction. The right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham has asked—and the question has often been put to me when I have been going round the yards—whether it would not be possible for the Royal Dockyards to do more actual building of ships. I know that there is a general desire to see that done. The survey ship, H.M.S. "Vidal,' has been built since the war at Chatham Dockyard—and very well built, too. At the present moment, however, the dockyards are so fully occupied with repair work, which we are anxious for them to do, that it is not very easy to allocate much construction work to them—although two frigates are being built in them at this moment.
Another of the rôles of the dockyards is to look after shore establishments. There has been a system by which work-people went out from the dockyards, and sometimes went on quite long journeys, in order to maintain the mechanical and electrical equipment at shore establishments. We have recently decided to change that system. In future that work will be done under the control of another clepartment—the department of the Civil Engineer-in-Chief—and, if necessary, the work will be done by contract. At any rate, the dockyards will now be able to concentrate even more upon their main business of repair.
There is one other general point which I must make about the Royal Dockyards. Devonport and Portsmouth employ 17,000 workpeople, which makes them as large as any single shipbuilding yard in the United Kingdom, and about four times as large as the largest repair yards, namely, Cammell Laird's, on the Mersey.
While on the subject of the rôle of the dockyards, I would tell the hon. Member 2417 for Faversham (Mr. P. Wells) that Sheerness Dockyard will have a slightly different type of work. Smaller ships will be attended to at Sheerness, and we hope that it will be possible to avoid all redundancies. The electrical shop will go on; the building of it will start this year.
One or two hon. Members have queried the justification for the Royal Dockyards, including the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), who is not in his place at the moment. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton (Mr. J. J. Astor) asked what would happen if there was less work for the dockyards. So long as we have a Fleet we must have dockyards to render it the necessary support. I believe that there will be plenty of work for the dockyards so long as we have a Fleet of anything like its present size. Indeed, our anxiety is to get all the work we want done into the dockyards. Should a time ever come when we are short of work, I feel sure that the workshops and the skill of the people in our dockyards will ensure that we shall be able to carry out work on such projects as the guided weapons of the future.
We have work done in the commercial yards as well, which has the advantage of keeping those yards familiar with warship work. Let me explain why we can do the work better in the Royal Dockyards. Merchant ships and warships are becoming increasingly dissimilar. Technical improvements to warships have meant that more and more special equipment is necessary to carry out repairs to them. Commercial yards are not able, in the majority of cases, to carry out all that work work on equipment such as gun mountings and radar have to be subcontracted, which costs extra time and money. On a pure cost comparison, we find that even the Comptroller and Auditor-General has said that the work carried out on warships at the Royal Dockyards is cheaper than that carried out in commercial yards.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
Can the Civil Lord go a little further, and tell us whether he can confirm the recent findings of the Select Committee on Estimates that it is even cheaper in Rosyth Dockyard than in any other?
§ Mr. Digby
We have sent as much work to Rosyth Dockyard as can satisfactorily be done there.
In justification of the dockyards, let me point out again that a great deal of the work is modernisation, by which we are able to turn out a new ship at about one-third of the cost it would take to build a completely new ship in a commercial yard.
§ Mr. Callaghan
The expense has been incurred during the time that the hon. Gentleman has been Civil Lord of the Admiralty.
§ Mr. Digby
I heard it suggested that it might be a good thing if the dockyards were not so concentrated but were more dispersed, in this age of nuclear warfare. I suppose that if we were starting again we should give serious consideration to the dispersal of the Royal Dockyards, but the fact is that great sums of money have been sunk in buildings, docks, jetties and plant of various kinds, and we have also the advantage of a skilled labour force in each of the dockyard towns. It would, therefore, simply not be practicable, even if the money were available; it would be a most difficult operation to disperse the dockyards at the present time.
If we look further into the matter we see that from the point of view both of a cold or of a limited war the dockyards are the best way of supporting the Fleet and carrying out the necessary repairs. In the event of a nuclear war—which we hope will never occur—the essential thing will be to get as large a fleet as possible to sea as early as possible, and there is no doubt whatever that that can best be done from the dockyards as they are at present, with their skilled labour force and special equipment. Nevertheless, we are spending rather more money on a Fleet 2419 train, including Fleet depot and repair ships. Hon. Members will see from my noble Friend's explanatory statement that we are spending more on that, but I must say at once that it is an expensive method of repair, compared with the Royal Dockyards.
The modernisation plan, which has been mentioned this evening, will pay for itself in time of peace—and pay for itself quite soon—by increased efficiency. With reference to the use of the Royal Dockyards, not only at home but throughout the world, one may take the case of a particular ship. I have before me the history of H.M.S. "Birmingham," actually built at Devonport Dockyard. We see that in the 17 years that have since elapsed she has spent 4½ years in various yards—almost entirely in the Royal Dockyards. She has visited Simonstown, Singapore and Hong Kong and several of the main yards, so we see the service which the yards are giving to the Fleet.
The right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham refers in his Amendment not only to the need for the modernisation and the better equipping of the dockyards, but also to the need for a Select Committee. Although I have already said that I believe the dockyards to be efficient at the present moment, I realise that it is possible to improve them. We have been carrying out improvements during the last few years. We have been putting more money into machinery—as I shall show later—and more money into buildings. We have been introducing courses for management and new managerial appointments.
We have also in the past had a number of committees that have examined the dockyards. In 1951 the Select Committee on Estimates drew up a Report on the dockyards, and we have adopted some of its suggestions. Again, in 1953, we had an internal committee which looked into the management side of the dockyards and, as a result, a second deputy-manager is to be appointed to each of the main departments in the home yards.
Some months ago, however, my noble Friend decided that a high-level committee should be appointed to examine the organisation at the Admiralty and at outstations for dealing with the requirements in matériel, from research to production and repair. Ships and weapons are included in this, and the committee is being 2420 asked to make recommendations. This covers the entire field of the dockyards. The committee will also advise on staffing, both civilian and naval, having regard to the amalgamated general list, and the naval Ordnance Design and Inspection Pool—let me add here—will be included. Preliminary to the work of this main committee, a working party has been sitting now for a few months under the chairmanship of a Vice-Admiral.
I think that the House might wish to know the names of the members of the main committee. The Chairman of it is Sir Barclay Nihill, former Chief Justice of Kenya, and the members are Lieut.-Colonel Eustace Smith, of Smiths Docks Ltd.; Mr. W. W. Watt, Managing Director of the British Oxygen Company; Admiral Sir Michael Denny, a former Controller and former C.-in-C., Home Fleet; Rear-Admiral Dawnay, Deputy Controller, and Mr. J. F. Mountain, an Under-Secretary at the Admiralty.
The terms of reference are wide and cover the dockyards fully. The committee will in no way be limited in the recommendations which it makes.
§ Mr. Bottomley
Did the First Lord not consider that a trade unionist might be included on the Committee? If not, why not?
§ Mr. Digby
It was considered, but in this case it was not thought necessary.
The House will agree that as the committee has been set up and is already starting its deliberations, it would be inappropriate to have a Select Committee as well. Although I am most sympathetic with the other part of the Amendment, I regret that I cannot accept that part which suggests the setting up of a Select Committee.
We have been carrying out various improvements in management, and are still trying to improve the quality of the management and organisation of the 2421 dockyards, but the recruiting of professional and technical grades is difficult, as outside industry also finds. We have had difficulty in recruitment to the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors, and we have decided to start this year a new form of entry to that Corps, to try to increase its strength, of boys leaving school between 18 and 19½ years of age. They will serve a five-year probationary period at Manadon and Greenwich. After that, they will be accepted in the Corps. I would remind the House that the junior appointments in the Corps of Naval Constructors are more highly paid than those of any other comparable professional civil servant.
To turn to a slightly different level—the drawing office staff—we have started special schemes for training craftsmen in the various departments to do drawing office work.
One or two hon. Members have mentioned the apprenticeship scheme. We are starting this year a new dual-stream apprentice scheme. There will be an upper stream of apprentices, recruited between the ages of 16 and 18, and these apprentices will carry out a five-year training period. If successful, they will be guaranteed established posts on the non-industrial level. There will also be a lower stream on much the same basis as at present, except that after one year those who are particularly promising will be transferred to the upper stream. It is hoped that one-third of the upper stream, who will be the subordinate officers of the future, will be recruited in this way. I believe this will go a long way towards strengthening the yards in subordinate officer posts.
I was asked whether there was a heavy loss of ex-apprentices. It is a little difficult to say precisely what we are losing. We have made analyses for the years 1947 and 1948 and we find that we are losing a certain number because of National Service and other factors. When we know the final figures they will probably be somewhere between a half and one-third, but I must add that this is not very different from the experience in industry.
I should like to refer to the question of capital equipment in the dockyards, which the Amendment points out is required. May I remind the House again of the considerable amount of war 2422 damage which occurred in the two major yards at home and the two major yards abroad. Even in such yards as Chatham, which did not receive war damage, there are many shops which we should like to see replaced. We have spent a great deal of money on that recently. As an example, in 1951–52 we spent £600,000 and £900,000 on works and machinery and in 1956–57 we shall be spending £2 million and £2.1 million respectively. It will be seen that our expenditure is rising very rapidly.
I turn now to labour relations, and I am happy to say that they have been good, and that, in particular, the production committees in the yards are functioning very much better than they have been for some time. Labour relations abroad have perhaps not been quite so good as those at home. Unfortunately we had a strike at Singapore the other day and a "go-slow" in Malta last year.
We are making a big effort to improve the conditions in the yards. We abolished the closed fortnight in the yards and went back to staggered holidays because we believed that was in the interests of the majority of the workpeople. On my visits to the yards I have found that the trade union representatives are pleased that we have been able to do that.
The new shops that are going up as a result of this extra works expenditure are making for better conditions, although I confess that I was a little disappointed when in Devonport the other day to find that there, where we have an excellent new shop which has only just been completed, they were having difficulty in manning it because many of the men preferred to work in the old shops. I am quite sure that when they have had more experience of the new shops—which I believe compare very favourably with those outside: I go around a large number of commercial shipbuilding yards in this country—the men will get used to them and will like them very much.
Another manning problem is that of heating some of the shops. Some tend to be cold. That again costs much money, but we are spending more on it, and I believe we are making good progress in dealing with that problem.
The question of wages was mentioned. At present we are in negotiation about 2423 the basic wages of our employees. I would emphasise once again that our rates compare favourably with those outside, although it is true that wage packets tend to be smaller because we work very much less overtime. As was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham, next year there is to be increased provision for overtime. Provision for overtime will go up from £2 million to £3 million in the next year.
We are also doing everything we can to introduce payment-by-results and other incentive schemes, but there is no type of work to which it is more difficult to apply such schemes than that of the repair work which we have to do in the dockyards. It does not lend itself to that type of scheme, but we are trying to do all we can to introduce new ways of payment by result.
I would remind the House, in regard to pensions, that the number of established men in the yards has been raised since 1952 by no fewer than 3,300, so that pension prospects are very much better. We raised the merit pay maximum last year by 5s. and it will be raised a further 3s. very shortly.
If I may summarise, we have appointed the Committee which I have mentioned to look into the various problems of the dockyards, and we hope to get a great deal of help from it. In the meantime, we have introduced a number of changes and alterations in management. We have introduced new training courses for everyone from chargehand to superior officer so as to get them used to problems of management.
We have introduced a new apprentices' scheme, and we have incurred heavy expenditure on new machinery for the yards and new workshops. We realise that there is a need for modernisation, and within our resources we shall do what we can. Modernisation must depend on the amount of money that can be made available from Navy Votes, but in so far as we can make it available, we shall press on with modernisation.
In conclusion, I should like to repeat that we have plenty of work for the yards to do, and I should like to do all I can to dispel any anxiety among those who work in the yards that there is not enough work for them. We have all the work that we can put into the yards at the 2424 present time, and a great deal more overflows outside into the commercial yards, so that with a Fleet of about the present size there is plenty of work for those who live in the dockyard towns.
§ Mr. Burden
Would the Civil Lord also state that that applies to the foreseeable future and not only to now?
§ Mr. Digby
That applies to the future so far as I can see it. We are trying to get more work in the yards than they will take, and we have been obliged to go a great deal to the outside yards.
I should like to say one word in praise of the good work done by all those who work in the dockyards. They do not get very much appreciation for the work which they do. There is a real spirit of loyalty in our dockyards, and we shall endeavour to foster this in old ways and in new. Finally, I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he would be so kind as to withdraw his Amendment.
§ Mr. Bottomley
In thanking the Civil Lord for his courteous reply, I am bound to express regret that no trade unionist has been included as a member of the committee which is to examine the problems in the dockyards. Before I seek your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House to withdraw the Amendment, I emphasise once more that I shall continue to urge that better provision be made for the Royal Dockyards, and particularly Chatham. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I speak with some diffidence in this general debate because I think I am the first speaker who has not served in the Navy. If one needs an excuse for taking part in a discussion on Britain's Senior Service, my excuse is that I have in my constituency a place called Scapa Flow, which is not unknown to many people who serve in Her Majesty's ships, and I see a certain amount of the Navy which is very pleasant.
It is particularly difficult for me to speak in the general debate almost immediately after the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral 2425 Hughes Hallett), who speaks with an experience and authority which I cannot hope to emulate. But I should like to reiterate, if I may with respect, a very important point which I think he made about manpower. From the point of view of the country as a whole, even leaving the Navy aside, it is important that we should save as much manpower as possible and avoid any under-employment of highly-skilled naval officers such as he hinted might be taking place at the present time.
I should like for a minute or two to follow up a line which was first embarked on by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan). He referred to paragraph 9 of the Explanatory Memorandum, and it occurred to me that that was a very important paragraph since it deals with the main rôle of the Fleet today. It does not seem to me that we should attach too much importance to the need for maintaining our prestige in the cold war by keeping up a large conventional Fleet. There seemed to be some suggestion that that was an important rôle for Her Majesty's ships.
I do not by any means say that this is a matter which can be simply swept on one side. There are certain parts of the world, such as the Persian Gulf, where the Fleet may have a considerable prestige rôle to play, and where it might be very unfortunate if we appeared to be outgunned, so to speak, not only in boats but in seniority of command by other nations. Nevertheless, I should have thought that we could not at this moment, with all the claims on our resources, give too much attention to the question of mere prestige in the cold war.
When it comes to the Fleet's rôle in active war, again it seems to me that the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East was, as far as I know as an amateur, absolutely correct in saying that integration in N.A.T.O. Forces was vital for our Fleet. I was very glad to hear him say that he thought integration had gone further in naval matters than in those concerning the other Services, and I suppose within that orbit he would include integration with the Commonwealth as a whole. I only wonder whether integration has extended far enough, not only into strategic and tactical co-operation, but into the planning of the actual building programme. I am sure 2426 these matters are discussed among the N.A.T.O. countries, but how far are these programmes, in fact, integrated?
To the amateur such as myself there seems to be a tendency for each N.A.T.O. country to build up what might be called a pint-size complete fleet of its own, regardless of the fact that, as the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East said, the American fleet is so incomparably bigger now than any other single allied fleet. It would seem that such a policy must involve a great deal of waste. Speaking entirely as an amateur, I think that ideally it might well be the right policy for the other parties to N.A.T.O. to specialise in one form of ship. I quite see that there are objections to that. Obviously, for one thing, we should want to keep our own dockyards and shipbuilding yards capable of building various forms of shipping. Nevertheless, some degree of specialisation would seem to be very necessary.
May I turn now to the building of cruisers, which sems to be a relevant consideration to this question of specialisation by N.A.T.O. countries. Some officers are in favour of cruisers and think that they have a big part to play, while others feel that their day may be passing. What seems difficult to understand is why we are building the particular number of cruisers we are. Apparently we are to construct, at considerable expense, three cruisers, of traditional type, armed with what might be called traditional weapons. It is difficult to believe that three are enough if we are to have cruisers at all, or if we are not to rely on cruisers very much longer whether it is worth building even these three at considerable expense. I cannot help thinking that the reason we are building three is because they happened to be on the stocks anyway.
I now turn for a moment to the question of our defence against the submarine. It was suggested that the time may come when this country feels that it is being strangled, as it was in the last two wars, by submarine warfare. Presumably the Russians do not construct a great number of submarines without having some rôle in view for them. We may perhaps visualise therefore a state of affairs in which nuclear weapons have not been used, but in which we find our merchant shipping being sunk in large quantities. It has been argued that at 2427 that point inevitably we should use nuclear weapons, and that the right riposte would be the bombing of enemy submarine bases with some form of nuclear weapons. I quite see that. All I ask is, should it not be clearly decided—obviously we cannot have an answer to this now—in public? But it should be clear in the minds of the Government, and agreed as a by-partisan policy with the Opposition, that in those circumstances we will retaliate with nuclear weapons. Otherwise, our whole strategy against the submarine does not seem to rest on a very sure foundation.
If we are in any doubt about the possibility of retaliation with nuclear weapons even though the enemy has not yet used them, obviously we have to lay out a lot of money on escort vessels, frigates, and so on. If, however, it is clearly understood that should we be threatened by a large submarine campaign, we are prepared to go to the utmost in bombing the submarine bases, clearly the question of building frigates and so on is greatly altered.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
While I agree with the hon. Member about the submarine menace, will he say how he would propose to deal with the enemy cruiser force—if the Russians were our enemies—if cruisers were not built for this country?
§ Mr. Grimond
I have said that I cannot claim to be a naval strategist. All I say about cruisers is that if it is right to have cruisers at all we should have far more than three now building.
§ Mr. Grimond
To return to submarines, I suggest that it would be a difficult matter psychologically in a democratic country to be the first to drop the hydrogen bomb. Unless a clear decision on this is taken long before war breaks out, we might find ourselves hamstrung at the vital moment by doubt as to whether our people would accept a decision of that kind.
§ Mr. Grimond
I meant any form of nuclear or atomic bomb.
It is generally assumed that in a world war the enemy would almost inevitably 2428 use nuclear weapons on a big scale against this country. That may well be so. I do not think anyone can visualise the circumstances of the next war with any confidence, but I make this suggestion. It is assumed, of course, that the enemy is the aggressor and will not require to drop these bombs, at any rate in the first stage, in self-defence. It must also be assumed that if the enemy does drop these bombs on this country, he would virtually wipe it out.
Any aggressor, surely, must hope to occupy the country which he attacks, and if he could succeed in obtaining the surrender of that country without wiping it out with atom bombs and making it virtually a desert, I should have thought that he would be tempted to try to do so. The mere fact that Russia is building up a very large submarine and cruiser force shows that she contemplates a position in which she might fight a war against us without dropping the, hydrogen bomb, at any rate in the earlier stages.
I understand that the Navy is conceived to have a rôle in a broken-back war. That is a type of warfare that I find it difficult to visualise. It seems to me that in the broken-backed war we will not only have a broken back, but everything else will be broken too. If war were carried on at all after nuclear bombing, it would have to be carried on from very remote bases. If it is seriously visualised that the Navy has an important rôle after the world has been devastated by nuclear weapons, one wonders whether we have prepared those remote bases. These are merely considerations which, in my ignorance, I almost hesitate to put forward. I simply leave them with the House.
May I be permitted to say a word of two about my own private naval base, so to speak, at Scapa Flow? I should like it to be put on record how grateful we are to the Navy. The Parliamentary Secretary, in opening the debate, spoke of the importance of the Navy being sustained by the good feeling of the country. I assure him that the Navy has itself sustained the very best type of feeling in the Island of Hoy and throughout my constituency. Not only have we gained greatly economically, but it has gone far beyond that.
It might be thought a back-handed compliment to thank the Navy for the 2429 fact that we have the Churchill barriers, but all the naval personnel, and especially the commanders who have been resident naval officers there, have gone out of their way to co-operate and help us in every possible way. If there must be any radical change at Lyness, I hope that the change will be made as gently as possible. The base there is an important factor in local life. It provides a ferry across the Flow, for instance, among many other services.
There is one other point. The Admiralty has there a rather powerful electric lighting plant which we have always hoped might eventually be used for the supply of light to civilians. We can quite see that it might involve some arrangement by which if the Admiralty needed the plant everyone else would be switched off. If the Financial Secretary would look again to see if it could be used for general local use, I should be grateful.
I hope that we shall continue to have the most happy relations there with the Navy. Certainly, we are most grateful for their many services which have gone far outside their normal duty.
§ 9.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Stevens (Portsmouth, Langstone)
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) wondered whether he was the first speaker in this general debate on the Navy Estimates who had not served in the Royal Navy. If that was the case, I am the second speaker to suffer from that disability, if indeed it be a disability. It may be entirely out of order in a debate on the Navy Estimates to say this, but I served for six years in what is rapidly becoming the senior Service—the Royal Air Force. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]. I am sorry to hear the shocked murmurs around me but I think that movement in the last twenty years has been in that direction.
It is about aircraft in the Royal Navy that I want first to say a few words. I want to refer to the Short Seamews of which the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) spoke. The Seamews were produced by Short Brothers in answer to a specification requiring a modest performance, primarily for anti-submarine duties, but in particular an aircraft which was to be exceedingly cheap and easy to construct. 2430 It was to be an aeroplane which would be capable of operation not only from a carrier but also from small and restricted airstrips.
As I understand the situation, the Short Seamew has undoubtedly fulfilled the requirements of the original specification, but in the last month or two reports and rumours have reached me that, now that a few more Seamews are available, Navy pilots who have flown them are not entirely happy with their performance. They have found that the Seamew has a cruising speed which is far below modern operational requirements and that its terminal diving speed is not much more than 300 knots, which is also below what is required.
I do not know whether these rumours are true. If they are, a rather curious situation arises. I have never heard a report or a rumour that the aircraft does not fulfil the original requirements. Yet when it comes into service it is found to be unsatisfactory. Surely, that opinion should have been expressed when the original requirements and specifications were first published. Is it possible that money has been wasted on an aeroplane which has never been and could never be of great value? I have seen the Sea-mew perform. It is an ugly plane, and it is sometimes said in the world of aeroplanes that if an aeroplane is beautiful then in nine cases out of ten it is a good aeroplane as well. Nobody could say that the Seamew was a beautiful aeroplane. It is not. It performs reasonably well, but I confess that I am uneasy about the reports which have come to me.
At the other end of the scale, I am delighted to hear that the N.113, to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred, is armed with four Aden guns, and what a punch. I hope, however, that the N.113 is able to fire those guns at operational height, and that we shall not in any circumstances have a repetition of what happened in the case of another aeroplane, which was ordered, not for the Royal Navy but for the Royal Air Force, which was supplied with a tremendous punch but a punch not capable of being used at operational height.
My hon. Friend said that the N.113 would carry the atomic bomb, and I am delighted to hear that. He also said that the first mark of that aeroplane would not be able to carry an air-to-air guided 2431 missile. It seems to me that the history of the Battle of Britain shows that to be one jump ahead of the enemy in firepower as far as aeroplanes are concerned might just about turn the scale. I am convinced in my own mind that the four Aden guns, powerful though they may be, will not be that jump ahead of a potential enemy with air-to-air guided missiles.
The tremendous advantage of the air-to-air guided missile is that not only has it a punch, but that that punch will probably hit the target as well. I am not at all certain, however, that the four Aden guns, when operated by pilots of the Royal Navy, will always be able to hit the target. It is perfectly true that the D.H. 110 is a very good aeroplane which will carry the air-to-air guided missile, but I think that we want the two in double harness. I am quite sure it would give great satisfaction if we could be assured that the Mark II of the N.113 will soon go into production and that, before a year or two has passed, will be in service with the Royal Navy.
I turn now from aeroplanes as such to what seems to me to be a very important improvement in the Royal Navy recently. This is the development of the steam catapult, which is a great advance on the catapult previously used in aircraft carriers. I think I am right in saying that not many weeks ago the steam catapult for the Royal Navy was grounded for the time being, because instead of catapulting aircraft safely off the carrier, it hooked one or two over the bows with disastrous effects. We are selling the steam catapult to the United States, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to assure us tonight that any defect which there was has now been put right.
I should also like to hear more about the mirror deck-landing aid, which seems to me to have tremendous advantages over anything previously known, and over the old baton method, which was a very slapdash way of getting a pilot to land safely on a carrier. The mirror deck-landing aid is a tremendous advance, and I hope we shall hear that it is operating satisfactorily.
Coming from the air to the true home of the Royal Navy, the sea, one reads that work is going forward on ship-to-air missiles. It is a very long time now since 2432 I saw a photograph, I think in the Illustrated London News, of an American cruiser which is fully fitted with apparatus for the discharge of ship-to-air missiles. Are we so very far behind the United States in a vitally important matter of this sort? Are we so far behind that, whereas they have now at least one ship and possibly more already at sea fitted for discharging ship-to-air missiles, all we can say at present is that work is going forward on apparatus of that kind?
So far as nuclear fission is concerned, I was perturbed by what the Parliamentary Secretary had to say about the future possibilites of British submarines engined with nuclear power. Once again, I saw many photographs in all the papers not long ago of an American submarine called the "Nautilus" which is now fitted with nuclear power. Not many months ago, I was talking to Sir John Cockcroft, who knows something about atomic energy in this country, and he said that, as far as the peaceful use of nuclear energy is concerned, we in this country are some years ahead of the United States.
I should have thought that power plant producing steam for the propulsion of a submarine was peaceful use as distinct from warlike use of nuclear fission. Warlike use means the atom bomb or the hydrogen bomb, not steam-producing plant. I was a little alarmed, therefore, to hear that we have not begun to construct a submarine, but are only thinking in terms of the production of the power plant. So we are many years behind the United States in that respect.
Now I turn to another modern development, radar. I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary what is the position about radar research in the Royal Navy and if there is full cooperation between the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force in this respect. On Monday we heard that early warning stations are now being sited in Western Germany to assist the defence of this country. Is there full co-operation between the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy in this respect?
Is there full co-operation between the two Services and the Ministry of Supply? The Ministry is carrying out extensive research and development programmes. Two points occur to me there. First, is there still inter-Service rivalry? 2433 Does the Royal Air Force get on to something hot and then sit on it because it wants to be ahead of the Royal Navy, or vice versa? Or is there a complete and free interchange of ideas? Is there the same interchange of ideas between the two uniformed Services and the Ministry of Supply?
Secondly, is there overlapping? Is there waste of money? Are men and resources being used wastefully by the three Services? For instance, could waste be avoided by more co-operation on radar research and development between the Services and the Ministry of Supply? I do not know the situation and I would like reassurance from my hon. Friend on that point.
Finally, I have a question to ask arising out of something I have seen in the evening papers tonight. I have read that a Gannet and Venom aircraft operating from the aircraft carrier "Ark Royal" in the Mediterranean are missing. Will my hon. Friend in his reply this evening be able to give us any information about the fate of those two aircraft?
§ 9.53 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I want to discuss a question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) and by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes-Hallett) about the integration of the Services. They suggested that the time had come for the integration of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. With that I agree, but I am not certain that I would not take it further.
One important aspect of this matter seems to me to be that integration might give us a common strategy among our Forces. We talk about a common strategy with our Allies but we do not seem to hear of a common strategy even amongst our Services. After all, the most important strategic assumption we have to make is as to whether, in a major war, this island would be available as a base for war purposes. The Army has decided that it would not be. That is why the Territorial Army has, in effect, been disbanded. It has been disbanded because it is the Army assumption that it would be quite impossible to mobilise it, or if we did mobilise it, it would be quite impossible to transport it.
§ Mr. Speaker
This discussion seems to be more appropriate to the Army Estimates than to the Navy Estimates.
§ Mr. Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) is rather inaccurate. Two Territorial Army divisions are at high priority—
§ Mr. Speaker
In any event, that topic is one that belongs to the Army Estimates and not to the Navy Estimates.
§ Mr. Paget
May I say in my defence that I was talking about the integration of the Forces, a topic which has already been raised, and whether the Navy and the Royal Air Force should be joined? The argument which I was advancing was that integration would at least give us a strategic conception common to the various Services. At present we have assumptions in the Army that this island is not available as a base and assumptions in the Navy and the Air Force that it is available. That is the point, and I submit that it is a relevant point, which I desire to make.
It seems to me that in an atomic war the Army assumption must be the right one. At our best in the last war we were able to intercept 10 per cent. of an attacking air force, night after night, and that was enough to destroy it; but in an atomic war we should need to stop, not 10 per cent., but 100 per cent. of a force travelling at more than twice the height and more than twice the speed of the aircraft of the last war. Is that in the least conceivable, even as a hope? If one therefore assumes that this island is not useable as a base in the event of a major war, a great deal that we are now providing becomes quite irrelevant and a great deal of that which we have provided in the Air Estimates becomes irrelevant, because to provide an Air Force, Navy or any other defence which one knows must fail, is only to make this island a target more attractive than it would otherwise be.
I have always believed in what is called the two-circle idea of defence, that in this island and other forward areas, from Alaska through Northern Canada to France, we should have our forward air bases and in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa we should have air bases 2435 which are out of the range of an immediate attack, but from which we may move into the assault, touching down on the fields that remain available after a preliminary attack. I will not enlarge upon that.
If we adopt the assumption that this island will not in fact be available as a base for use in atomic warfare, what of the various things for which we are asked to provide? What of the anti-submarine rôle of the Navy. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) was talking in terms of the possibility of a generalised sea war in which submarines were attacking our lifelines, but in which atomic armaments were not to be used. That would, of course, involve the assumption that a war on those lines developed on the sea without there being a war in Europe, because we know that N.A.T.O. has decided that if there is a war in Europe, then at least technical atomic -weapons will immediately be used. Indeed, the N.A.T.O. plan is based upon that assumption. It seems to me so unreal as not to merit consideration for US to seek to imagine a generalised sea war with peace in Europe and in which we cannot use an atomic weapon defence. In order to defend oneself one has to reject the fantastic, and I believe that is an assumption which we may indeed forget.
What about the atomic threat, the submarine threat in an atom war in which this island has been destroyed, at least in terms of a base usable in war, that is we say, in which our major ports are no longer available? I should have thought that the one anti-submarine weapon of any value then is indeed the atom weapon upon the enemy's submarine bases. There are not many of them, and they are approachable. The vessel which seems to me to be of incomparable value and which, although it has been mentioned by myself and others for a number of years, does not yet seem to be available, is the atom-launching submarine.
I should like to see, if things "hotted up," an atom-launching submarine lying off all the enemy ports, so that when the "balloon went up," within a matter of an hour every one of those bases would be atomised. That seems to me to be the naval weapon of the future. Yet what 2436 is happening about it? More than two years ago I saw an atom-launching cannon in Germany which could be mounted on tractors and moved over roads. Surely, a gun which can be moved over roads could be mounted on a submarine, even today? I do not think that a cannon would be the most desirable method of launching. Surely there are rocket means of launching already available which could be used on a submarine?
The hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East referred to aircraft carriers, and said that although the group would no longer be able to operate, at least the single carrier might be able to launch its strikes and get away. I think that a possibility, but the chances would be infinitely more remote for a carrier than for a vessel which could get away by going under the waves. An atom-launching submarine would have that sort of rôle which seems to me the only remaining rôle, certainly in a hot war, for an aircraft carrier. It could be infinitely better performed by an atom-launching submarine. I hope that we may be given an indication, if that be possible without trespassing beyond the bounds of security, that something is being done about that sort of weapon.
So far as a hot war is concerned, an atom-launching submarine seems to me to be the only naval vessel which would be of value to us. As to a cold war, it is perfectly true that in the Korean war aircraft carriers were of some value, although not of very essential value, but that was a very peculiar circumstance. We had a war on a peninsula in which, owing to the fact that the Russians were not completely involved, we had complete command of the sea without threats to our ships at sea. I should have thought that that circumstance was rather unlikely to repeat itself.
An aircraft carrier is a mobile, floating airfield. In a localised war I should have thought that if we had the airfields, it would be easier to use our aeroplanes from those; and that, if we did not have them, we should not dare to bring a carrier anywhere near the localities of such airfields. As to cruisers, they might have a rôle in the Persian Gulf—I do not know—but as a means for getting force quickly where we want it, I am very doubtful whether they would be anything like as valuable as a group of transport aeroplanes.
2437 I put those questions quite interrogatively, because I do not feel that, without expert knowledge, we are in a position to answer them; nor do I think that we shall find anybody who will give us the answers so long as the Estimates are competitive between the Services. While that situation continues, two answers will always be put forward. Each Service will claim the virtue of its own arm, and there will be no layman in a position to judge between them.
We are in very grave danger. Our survival—certainly as a great Power—is in the balance. We cannot afford a luxes flotte today. We cannot afford to waste money upon the inessential or even the less essential when we need so many things so vitally. The only way in which we can ensure that a really dispassionate judgment of what is most needed is made is by bringing the Services together by some form of amalgamation or integration between the various branches, so that the officers of the one can serve in the other. Only then shall we get a real judgment of what is needed.
§ 10.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
I want to refer only to one point made by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). It is a subject which has been raised several times in the course of the debate, namely, the amalgamation of the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy. I am not taking a Service point of view on this subject, although I was brought up in the Royal Air Force, but I think that it would be quite fatal, at this juncture in our history, for any tendency to develop between the Service Departments which would affect the integrity of the Royal Air Force as it is at the moment.
I should like to refer to the great amount of thought and service which was rendered to this country by the late Lord Trenchard. He was sufficiently far-seeing to appreciate the importance of maintaining an independent Air Force, and in 1918 he gradually welded it into the Royal Air Force. It would be quite fatal if, at this moment, the Royal Air Force were welded, into the Navy, because I am quite certain that the use of air power would be gravely impaired and that the Air Force would be used merely as an auxiliary to the older Service.
2438 The remarks which I shall make follow those made by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). I am concerned with the contribution that the Royal Navy will be expected to make in what we colloquially call the hot war. All hon. Members agree about the functions of the Navy in the cold war and in peace. My fear is that in considering the problems of the hot war we may try to create a rôle for the Navy which cannot exist.
In a major outbreak of war in Europe, the attack will probably come from Eastern Europe, from Russia and/or her satellites. Considering these problems, officers of the Royal Air Force have come to the conclusion that there will be an intensive phase which cannot last more than from one to three weeks. During that time there will be such complete and utter destruction that the intensive phase will stop and we shall start what my right hon. friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) called the "broken-back" war.
When the intensive phase is going on, I cannot see the Royal Navy making any effective contribution. In the short period of time in which the struggle will be waged, the Navy will only have time to start up its convoy system and no time to make any effective contribution to battering down the enemy's defences. I do not think it would dare to venture close to hostile territory either in North Russia or in the Balkans. When the new phase of the war commences the Royal Navy will be faced, equipped as it is today, with a grave and difficult problem.
It would be of assistance at that stage to have a force concentrated on the carrier on the lines that the Navy is developing at the moment. It is not essential, and, indeed, I doubt whether it is desirable, to develop such a force. The Russian threat, as the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said, will be to our supply lines in the North-West approaches. I will not say anything about the threat of the submarines There will be a considerable number of surface raids by heavy Russian cruiser fleets out in the Atlantic doing tremendous damage to our shipping.
To deal with them we should need am increase in the number of cruisers, either equipped with normal gun weapons, or with guided missiles. There will be no 2439 threat from this possible enemy from a force concentrated on battleships or aircraft carriers, for the simple reason that the enemy have not any of them.
§ Mr. Williams
The hon. and learned Gentleman is forestalling the words which I was going to say. When the intensive phase of the war is finished, the Royal Air Force would be released to a very great extent from its duty of pulverising the enemy, and could begin to break down his will to resist. At that moment, the Royal Air Force will be available to co-operate with the Royal Navy in finding and destroying the raiding cruiser. It would be a great advantage if, at the same time, we could have a reasonable number of cruisers to shadow and engage these enemy craft. That is my view as to the policy which the Admiralty would have been better advised to follow.
There is an additional consideration which should be borne in mind were this policy to be followed. By the elimination of the Fleet Air Arm, the carrier-borne aircraft and the carrier itself a tremendous burden would be taken off the British aircraft industry. That industry is already overstrained, and certainly the number of V-bombers which it can deliver to the Royal Air Force would be greatly increased if it had not at the same time to cater for the Fleet Air Arm, which I do not believe would play an effective part in the struggle.
I would ask my hon. Friend to look again at the strategic proposals for the Navy to see whether it would not be better to concentrate on developing a further surface force of cruisers instead of this large Fleet Air Arm, for which I do not believe we are getting value for money in terms of its being able to hit the enemy. I strongly believe that the proposals would affect the hitting power of the Royal Air Force, which is all-important in the initial stage of war, and I believe that the surface vessel is far better equipped to deal with the surface raider when the broken-back war commences.
§ 10.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
When I see the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Ward) sitting on the Government Front Bench tonight, I seem to be under the delusion that we are still discussing the Air Estimates. He always figured so prominently in the debates on those Estimates that it is now rather strange to find him taking part now as Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty. I do not know whether he has been promoted or demoted.
§ Mr. Hughes
I thought that perhaps he had come from the heights to the depths. Judging from some of the comments one hears about the Navy, he would seem, in coming from the Air Ministry to the Admiralty, to have come from the sublime to the ridiculous. Indeed, that was the argument of the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) this week. During the debate on the Air Estimates he made most interesting attacks upon the Navy, and I rather look forward to the hon. and gallant Member taking part in the Navy Estimates debate and dropping a rhetorical bomb on his old colleague.
To congratulate the Minister, I must say that in the Explanatory Statement there is one paragraph with which I cordially agree. Never have I found myself so much in sympathy with the Admiralty. I see in page 4 a paragraph which almost converts me to support the Navy Estimates. In paragraph 12 I read:H.M. Ships have a permanent mission of good will.That is a new definition of the objective of Her Majesty's Navy, and I am all in favour of it. If that were the purpose of the Royal Navy I assure the House it would have no greater supporter than myself.
The paragraph continues:In October last year there was a valuable exchange of visits with the Soviet Navy.That is splendid—a good will mission to the Soviet Navy. This was the Navy which, according to the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams), we have to be ready to pulverise. I could not quite follow his argument of the sequence 2441 of events, because after we had pulverised the Russian Navy we were by some strange magic to meet the cruisers somewhere in the Atlantic.
I speak, of course, as a layman. I listened in a growing mood of interrogation to many of the weird speeches in the debate. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) is, of course, a master of that kind of speech; he talked about submarines launching aeroplanes from somewhere near the Russian ports. I do not know how they are to get near the Russian ports through the North Sea, through the Kattegat and into the Baltic Sea. I do not see how they will get within a measureable distance of Leningrad or Kronstadt.
§ Mr. Hughes
That is all very nice; I do not know. They are also to go to the Black Sea, I gather. This conception of a broken-back war, and of these submarines and cruisers defending an island which has been practically destroyed, is strange. During this time the broken-back war will continue. What is to happen to us? We are the people whom the Royal Navy is supposed to be defending. Indeed, that is the sole excuse for this bill for £400 million. I read from the Estimates:Thousands of Russian sailors and civilians, in Portsmouth and Leningrad, had their first sight of the British.I am glad that the Russians had their first sight of the British—I think it was of the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke), and if that did not frighten the Russians I do not see them being frightened by any of these preparations. One conversation with the hon. and gallant Member should do that. He is a life-long Communist, because he has been for most of his years in the Navy, which is the worst form of State Communism.
§ Mr. Hughes
I do not see why we should not continue these missions so that the Russian sailors may come here and see the grave of Karl Marx and our sailors can go to Russia and be taken to Moscow to see the tomb in the Red Square. If the ordinary men and women 2442 of both countries get to know each other the possibilities of war will recede. I welcome this enterprise by the Royal Navy and hope that it will continue and be developed. I can see no better use for the "Britannia" than to be employed regularly going to and from Russia taking the Archbishop of Canterbury, dignitaries of the Church of England, members of the T.U.C. and so forth—a mission of good will.
§ Mr. Hughes
Well, it might be good for both countries if we swapped some of our prominent personalities.
The argument throughout the debate has been about the Russian menace. We have no German menace at present, although in about five years' time we shall have a German menace offered as a reason for the Estimates. The Russian menace may have receded by 1965, and there will be a German menace instead.
What is the case about the Russian navy? We have heard over and over again the assumption that there is a remarkably strong and powerful Russian navy. I wonder how much truth there is in it. I hope that the British sailors were taken to see the film of the cruiser "Potemkin" when they were in Leningrad. I am not sure that it was a good thing from the point of view of morale to send them to see the "Aurora", because the "Aurora" shelled the Winter Palace in the Russian revolution.
I have tried to find out exactly what is the truth about this wonderful Russian Navy. Is it a reality or is it not quite so bad as it is presented to us. I read in The Times last week some facts which are supposed to summarise the strength of the Russian Navy. The naval correspondent of The Times asked:What is the Russian naval strength that compels such a concentration of N.A.T.O. effort? It is not only the size of the Russian Navy that impresses but its rate of increase since the war.This amazing increase of the Russian navy presumably has taken place under Communism, so Communism must be wonderfully efficient, contrary to the general belief, if it has managed to create this wonderful navy since 1945.
§ Mr. Hughes
I do not see how 20 million people in slave camps can all be employed on making the Russian navy. The act of creating a navy involves a complicated industrial machine, a complicated system in engineering, and cannot possibly be achieved by 20 million people in slave camps.
§ Mr. Hughes
I do not think that we can include that as a serious factor in estimating the strength of the Russian Navy.
As the correspondent of The Times went on to say:In October, Admiral Lord Mountbatten said that the Soviet Navy had 350 modern submarines and 4,500 aircraft.I have seen it estimated at far more than that. I have heard some very curious estimates since 1951 in this House. The estimates change and sometimes grow, but let us try to find out, as realists, the facts. Presumbaly these facts are given us by our Intelligence. The Times correspondent went on to say:Since 1945 the Russians have built 20 large first-class cruisers, more than 100 destroyers, and more than 100 large and 60 small submarines. How much of this Navy is kept in the Black Sea is not publicly known. But the major part is likely to be in the Baltic and on Russia's northern shores.We have to accept that kind of picture year after year, but how far does it correspond to the truth. There is an estimate of the Russian Navy in the publication called "Jane's Fighting Ships", which I sometimes peruse for light reading. That is British intelligence. What about American intelligence. I turn to an article by the military correspondent of the New York Times, a very distinguished writer on military affairs, Mr. Hanson W. Baldwin, who does not give the same picture of the Russian Navy as 'does the naval correspondent of the London Times. Is there no co-ordination of intelligence at all betwen ourselves and the Americans?
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
Although it does not specifically say so, it is the British Navy we are discussing.
§ Mr. Hughes
Thank you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I know that it is the British Navy we are discussing, but the British Navy, presumably, is adapted to fight the Russian Navy.
What I want to find out, however, is what estimate has been made of the strength the British Navy should have, and what, therefore, are the comparable strengths of navies of other States in other parts of the world. I would not dream of making any estimate of the American Navy at this moment, because I know that if we had to pay to build a comparable navy the estimate of the cost would frighten everybody in the House. I want to know what potential strength that we have to face.
Hon. Gentlemen talk about Russian submarines and Russian cruisers. In the New York Times we are told:At sea, the Soviet Navy has been built up and modernised since World War II. Its submarine fleet of about 400 vessels is the largest in the world, although only 120 to 150 of these submarines can be classed as modern, long-range types.So there are not quite so many. According to the correspondent of the New York Times,Russia has no nuclear-powered submarines and no aircraft carriers. Her vaunted cruisers of the Sverdlovsk class are armed—despite their large size—with only 5.9-inch guns, and there is circumstantial evidence these guns do not have radar fire control. Her fleet is essentially defensive and unbalanced and in total fighting power cannot compare with our own.That is the American version, and we ought to get the picture into proportion. If we are to fight the Russian fleet, we shall have fighting with us this overwhelmingly powerful American fleet, which is far bigger than any other fleet. We ought to take that into consideration, and ought not to let fantastic ideas about what the Russians are doing or can do influence the making of our Navy Estimates.
I have asked the Russians in Russia about their navy. I asked them, "Why do you need such a big fleet? You are not a maritime nation. You are by tradition a land nation." They replied, "We need a fleet because the British Fleet has been in the Baltic and the French fleet has been in the Black Sea." Last summer I went to the Crimea. It appears that at one time the British Fleet had been there. I have forgotten what the British Fleet was doing in the Black 2445 Sea at the time of the Crimean War and what exactly it was going to liberate then, but the Russians remember something about it. They have a vague idea at the back of their minds that at one time there were a French fleet and a British Fleet in the Black Sea, that there was a British Fleet at Kronstadt. So they argue, as hon. Gentlemen here argue, that warships are for purely defensive purposes, and that they have no idea of entering the Atlantic Ocean to carry on war of the kind of the Second World War.
Instead of acting on the assumption that there is a Russian menace which can be countered only by building up a huge new fleet of expensive atom-driven ships, I suggest that the commonsense thing to do is to send the sailors back, and for both sides to negotiate. That suggestion is as good as any of the strategic suggestions that I have heard in any of the innumerable debates which we have had here in the time during which I have been a Member of the House.
The hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) told us that officers should not come out with this "misery" story; that they should not exaggerate their poverty; that they should not talk too much about their pay. I hope that I have not done him an injustice, but I gathered that was his argument. Occasionally I read the Sunday Times, in which there has appeared an interesting series of articles on the Navy by a naval correspondent called "Watchkeeper". The third article in the series was headed, "Officers—'wet' and 'dry'." In Scotland we use the words "wet" and "dry" in connection with the licensing Acts, and if we refer to an officer as "wet" we are not thinking of salt water but of something stronger.
This naval correspondent wrote:An abstemious lieutenant-commander I know has a monthly wine bill of approximately £8–8 per cent. of his income (few naval officers today have private incomes). He has an overdraft of £300 at the bank, and that overdraft is slowly but steadily increasing.What has this poor officer to thank the Government for when he has to live on his £300 overdraft and the rate of interest is steadily rising?
Surely, the Government are not doing very much to encourage "wet" officers in the Navy. They are even penalising them by sending up the rate of interest 2446 on their overdrafts. If I were in a position of this kind, if I had to spend £8 a month on wine and I saw my overdraft going steadily up, I should be inclined to come out with a "misery" tale too. My sympathies are all with the officers as against the hon. and gallant Member.
In this article it is stated:In 1934 the ' Statement relating to the Civil Staffs of Government Departments' listed the staff of the Admiralty Office at 7,409. Last year the same statement listed 33,538. In 1936 civilians employed on fleet services (excluding, of course, the Admiralty) cost £200,000. In 1955 they cost £8 million. In 1936 the Navy required £2,200,000 for works and buildings; in 1955, £18 million. Miscellaneous services cost £600,000 in 1936. In 1955 they cost £10,900,000.Allowing for the change in the value of money and the increase in the cost of living, we appear to have an enormously expensive Navy compared with 1936, when we did not have this powerful American fleet behind us. I could continue to quote from the article, but I recommend hon. and gallant Members to read it. Then they will realise that there is something very wrong with the Navy. The final paragraph of this article in the Sunday Times says this:The Admiralty defends its expansion as in the interests of efficiency. One Naval officer put it to me that we were rapidly approaching the point where the Admiralty would be 100 per cent. efficient and we would have no ships at sea at all.Can it be wondered that that destroys my morale? This is reinforced by the very disturbing remarks that have been made by the naval authorities in this debate.
The time has come for adopting the suggestion that I made about six years ago, that the whole business of the Admiralty should be investigated by a committee of hard-headed businessmen. The R.A.F. has actually done that. In the debate on the Air Estimates we heard about an investigation into the affairs of the Royal Air Force by a committee of three, one of whom was a director of Schweppes and another a director of Woolworth's. I would put the director of Schweppes and the director of Woolworth's on to the Navy in order that we should try to find the answers which an innocent spectator like myself inevitably asks when considering these Estimates. I am quite sure that if we had a committee of hard-headed businessmen like the hon. Member for Pollok (Mr. George) 2447 and the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), inquiring into the Admiralty, we should have a much more satisfactory bill for the Estimates next year.
I find that there is what the lawyers would call a prima facie case for an inquiry into the expense of the Navy. The lawyers, of course, are not interested in the Navy.
§ Mr. Hughes
Obviously because there is nothing to be got out of the Navy.
I do not see why the constituents of the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West should write to me, but I get periodical letters from Portsmouth, which is one of our bases, complaining about extravagance in the Navy. In future I shall refuse to answer any of these letters and send them to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, who seems to be neglecting his correspondence. I do not see why it should come to me.
Here is a quotation from the Portsmouth Evening News—although I do not like the Portsmouth Evening News at all. It is headed:The Duke plans to come by helicopter,and goes on to say:Subject to weather conditions, the Duke will arrive in Portsmouth by helicopter on Thursday, and will probably land at H.M.S. Vernon. At the Southern Railway jetty today food supplies were being taken aboard the Royal Yacht, which will sail on Thursday with the Duke aboard to take part in the combined Home and Mediterranean Fleet exercises in the Western Mediterranean. The jetty was being given a wash and brush up in readiness for the Duke's arrival.Surely that is a question for the hon. and gallant Member, and not for me; I am not interested in the jetty at Portsmouth. It goes on:Safety chains surrounding the jetty were being painted silver and bollards 'spruced up' in black and white.What I am suggesting is that there is some expenditure which could be reduced in Portsmouth.
§ Mr. Glover
If there is set up the committee the hon. Gentleman is suggesting, what does he think the director of Schweppes will say about all this "black and white"? Surely he will approve of that.
§ Mr. Hughes
I cannot go into that, but from the point of view of the national interest, I suppose I should have to defend black and white.
It goes on to sayGuards and bands will be paraded by ships,and thatThe Lord Mayor of Portsmouth is to attend a luncheon in the Royal Yacht…Everyone seems to have been there except the hon. and gallant Brigadier.
I suggest that there appears to be considerable waste in the Navy—in the frills. I believe there is a very good case for an all-party committee of Members to inquire into the Navy's expenditure. After all, we are in an age of change, and one cannot reconcile war in a nuclear age with the Battle of Trafalgar or even the last war. Surely the time has come for a realistic appraisal of our Armed Forces in order to find out exactly why we need to spend this huge sum of £1,500 million at a time when we are being urged national economy. If we are to continue to spend this large sum we shall inevitably have unemployment, and with unemployment there inevitably comes Communism. So if hon. and gallant Members opposite are afraid of Communism, I suggest they must realise that the national economy simply cannot stand the imposition of this big, heavy, annual burden.
I note that the Explanatory Statement indicates that people cannot be recruited into the Navy. In that respect the Navy is just like the other Services. In the Air Estimates debate, the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield asked what he was to do with his boy of 14. He said he could not put him very well in Bomber Command, because in fourteen years' time there would be no bombers to command. So we are faced with the fact that young people are not going into the Services for the simple reason that they look on the Services today as a dead end. They look to us to find some sort of answer to the problem. We have to face the fact that we are in the nuclear age and are not going back, so I suggest that those of us who are putting these questions are doing so in the interests of the country, and that these questions deserve an answer.
§ 10.48 p.m.
§ Brigadier Terence Clarke (Portsmouth, West)
I am very glad to be called after the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), who in all previous debates has spoken after me. The hon. Member always refers to me as a Communist, and I believe he thinks that I am. I have never referred to him as one, and I know he is. But that is meant in the best of terms, and he and I know that it is a joke we have between us. I know he is really not one at all.
I am surprised that we both seem to read much the same sort of newspapers. He always brings in a sheaf of them and reads them to us over again. We have heard them before, but we always come to quite different conclusions. It seems a pity that when people go to the trouble of writing to The Times, the hon. Member can put one interpretation on it and I can put another. But I suppose that is what makes different parties, and why some turn red and some blue.
The hon. Member referred to the Portsmouth Evening News—a paper normally quite strange to him—and talked about the Southern Railway jetty. He referred to the fact that I was not there to see the ship off. But that was because I was here; otherwise, of course, I should have loved to have been there. What is described as the Southern Railway jetty might well belong to the nationalised British Railways. Would the hon. Gentleman have any objection to its being painted, and will he raise that subject the next time we consider the affairs of the nationalised railway industry? It may well be that it is British Railways that is wasting paint and not the Admiralty. It may be that the jetty is part of British Railways: it may not be—I do not know, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not, and so we had better leave it at that.
There is something else that I want to say, and I want to say it in a friendly way because I like the hon. Member who said it, but I feel that he said it by mistake. He said we could no longer sing "Britannia rules the waves." That is a terrible thing to say.
§ Brigadier Clarke
No, the hon. Member for South Ayrshire had not thought of it, but in making two speeches that is about all he left out.
2450 We may not have the biggest Navy in the world today, but we have the most efficient one. There is very little else left that we rule, and I still like to think, say and sing "Britannia rules the waves". I can only sing it in my bath, but I still feel that Britannia rules the waves and I shall hate the day when she no longer does so. Before the last war I heard people saying that the Navy was out of date, but if it had not been for the Navy none of us would be here today.
I am loath to hear anybody suggest that we should abolish the Navy or integrate it with the Royal Air Force, for I do not believe that that would make for greatest efficiency at present. There may come a time when all our ships have to fly, and then we shall not want a Navy and shall be able to regard it as part of the Royal Air Force, but we are still a long way from the time when all our ships will be in the air. While the only practicable method of moving the large quantities of materials that our country needs is by sea, we still require a Navy. I hope no one will start messing about with the Navy and trying to integrate it with the R.A.F. Even with the threat of the hydrogen bomb, we need a Navy more today than we ever did. With all the present unrest in the Middle East, our Navy is more important than ever.
I was particularly glad to read that the United States is sending a ship to the Mediterranean with marines on board. I am glad it has happened, for it will do a great deal to raise the prestige of the West there. The Middle East situation at the moment is a very tricky one. We still have interests there. There are certain sheikdoms that we have promised to protect, and in that area is great wealth in the form of oil on which we depend. All we have to defend it and the sheikdoms of Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrein, etc., is the Royal Navy, plus a few miles of desert. I was in that area less than two years ago, and I can assure hon. Members that everyone out there is very thankful for the British Navy. I recommend that we should have more ships of the frigate-destroyer type which could go to the Persian Gulf and look after our interests there even better than they are being looked after now. It should be remembered that there are very few troops in those parts, and Saudi Arabia 2451 is not very far away. Also, if we have the Navy there, we can do something to protect our oil interests.
§ Brigadier Clarke
I expect they would tell the hon. Gentleman all about the marines. I am not going to.
The main defence barrier is our Navy. I want to pay tribute to those of our men who spend all the year round, and perhaps more than a year, in those climates. There is a most shocking climate there at the best time of the year. At the worst time there are very few pleasures and astronomical temperatures. People forget that we have our sailors in those parts of the world suffering in those temperatures in order to keep the hon. Member for South Ayrshire and myself safe in these parts.
Before turning to other subjects nearer home, I should like to draw attention to two matters which have been brought to my notice recently. The first concerns the wearing of plain clothes when men go on shore leave from Her Majesty's ships. This question causes a great deal of trouble. Admirals do not like it being done. When I was a soldier, no soldiers were allowed to walk out in plain clothes. It was considered quite wrong to allow a soldier to get into civilian clothes once he had joined the Army. We have got over those old ideas, and soldiers are allowed to change into civilian clothes in their free time.
It is high time that sailors were allowed the same privilege. It is extended to patty officers and other officers, and I do not see why disciplined men should not be allowed to wear civilian clothes when they go on shore leave in other than their home ports. They can do so in their home ports, but there is an idea that sailors in civilian clothes in other ports might not be recognised when they went aboard. Surely that is a poor reason. I should have thought that ships' companies ought to know each other pretty well.
The second matter is the question of discharge by purchase. I bring up this subject every year and each year we get a little further, but we are still a long way from getting satisfaction on it. I hope that the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary will make a note of the 2452 matter again, because I shall not leave the subject until we have had full satisfaction. We now give our sailors a fair amount of pay and reasonable pensions, and if men are not happy in the Navy it is quite wrong to keep them there. We shall never make a good sailor out of an unwilling one who, for one reason or another, wants to get out of the Service. The authorities have always been frightened that if discharge by purchase were made possible there would be a catastrophic rush to get out. I do not think that there should be any such result. If a man wants to get out of the Navy for some reason and he is kept in, great harm is done to recruiting. I am sure that if men knew beforehand that they could get out of the Navy by purchasing their discharge they would be more willing to join in the first place.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
My attention has been drawn many times to the same aspect of release by purchase, and I take the opportunity of confirming that the administrative machinery of the Admiralty appears to be so badly drawn that this arrangement is never operated. The Admiralty constantly delays valid applications for discharge. Men who do not make good sailors are retained against their will, and the right to buy themselves out is not exercised.
§ Brigadier Clarke
I agree with all that the hon. Member has said. I am certain that the Admiralty would do well to consider the matter, and see whether it cannot assure sailors that they can get out of the Navy by purchasing their discharge.
§ Commander J. W. Maitland (Horncastle)
Has my hon. and gallant Friend's attention been drawn to paragraph 48 of the Explanatory Statement?
§ Brigadier Clarke
I have read the Statement but my attention has not been specifically drawn to that paragraph.
§ Commander Maitland
I would point out that out of 1,885 applications for discharge by purchase, 1,555 were approved last year.
§ Brigadier Clarke
I should like to see them all approved. I have had refusals in three cases today. I am continually told that applications will be looked into when the next selection is made in February, March, or six months or a quarter ahead. If a man wants to go out 2453 it ought to be made as easy as possible for him to do so. Such a man will not be a good sailor.
I turn now to matters nearer home, and in particular to the dockyards. I made a special point of finding out whether I would be in order in doing so by asking Mr. Speaker, and he said that for once it would be in order to speak about the dockyards. At least twice a year I go round Her Majesty's Dockyard, Portsmouth. I have been agreeably surprised at the improvements which have taken place ill the last few years. Some reasonable workshops and other places have been put up. The dockyard has been modernised, and a number of amenities added and improvements made. There is still room for further improvement, and I hope that the Civil Lord will continue the good work which has been done recently.
I am glad to read that the dockyard personnel is to get a pay rise, the members of the engineering unions having all had rises. I hope that the Civil Lord will do something to back-date the increase. I am not glad that the engineering union is getting a rise in wages for its members, because those men all do overtime, and get good wages, anyway. The dockyard men do not get the same benefit from overtime as these other people do in civil industry, and I think that something ought to be done to try to pay more to the skilled and semiskilled men used in the dockyards as labourers, and paid as labourers, although doing fairly skilled work. The union prevents their being made into skilled craftsmen because they have not passed the union's test. Nevertheless they are used in these jobs but are not given the full pay which goes with them. The Admiralty ought to back up these men, and see if it can get a little more for them.
There is the merit award; but it would not matter if the whole dockyard were 100 per cent. efficient: all the men could not get the merit award. That rankles deeply, and seems unjust. A merit award is either given because a man has merit, or is withheld because he has not; yet if all the men had the same amount of merit, a merit award could be given to only a proportion of them. Those outside that proportion feel that strongly.
I shall be glad if the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary will tell us 2454 whether he intends to do anything about the chargehand. I regularly raise this grievance year after year. Chargehands have considerable responsibility. They have no assistance in carrying out their duties, and are not paid for doing them.
I am glad that the Pensions (Increase) Act has removed the means test. We have had considerable trouble about Pensions (Increase) Acts over the years because of the means test. Men in the dockyard have lost money because their wives have earned 5, 6, or 10 shillings a week; the man consequently finds himself over the limit, and is not allowed to draw the pension increase. A man recently discharged lost his pension, and it was only after a battle that I was able to get it back. That will not happen now that the Act has been changed. At the same time, the Admiralty still looks at previous Pension (Increase) Acts in a way different from the way in which they are looked at outside. Many men are entitled to a pension increase by every standard except that set by the Admiralty.
If they do not work in the Admiralty works, nobody knows anything about their pensions; but if they work for the Admiralty, immediately they get a bit of overtime, someone clamps down on them and stops the pension increase. If hon. Members carefully read the Pensions (Increase) Bill, they will see that what counts is total income in a year and not what a man draws at a particular time at some special period when he is doing some overtime. There has been a complete lack of faith with these people working in the dockyards in this matter of pension increases. I hope that the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary will study the Pensions (Increase) Acts and make good the money still owed to these people.
I am sorry to have kept the House so long, but this is an annual occasion in which I get all my naval problems off my chest. I am sorry if I have bored some hon. Members who are not as interested as I am in these problems, but I can assure them that they are important to me.
§ 11.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
I make no apology, even at this late hour, for addressing the House on the Navy Estimates. Everyone in the House is concerned that we should get an efficient de- 2455 fence Service at the minimum of expense to the Exchequer. It is for that reason that I rise to speak on these Estimates. For the first time—and this is rather surprising—I find myself to some degree in agreement with the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes)—something which I never thought would happen—in particular with that part of his speech when he referred to the article in the Sunday Times, which pointed out that in 1936—and I am speaking from memory—we had about 8,000 civil servants in the Admiralty whereas in 1955 we have 33,000 civil servants.
In 1936, we had 12 battleships in line ahead sailing the high seas; today we have one battleship, which I understand is to go into reserve, the remainder being already in reserve. Our ships and personnel are certainly fewer than they were fifteen years ago, and I agree therefore with the hon. Member for South Ayrshire that it would be in the national interest to have an inquiry into the civilian element, which is a great load of expense in administering a Navy not as large as it was fifteen years ago.
Another topic which I want to raise is very much in line with that raised by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who said that in this changing situation we have to start and to continue thinking about whether we are not hidebound as a result of preconceived ideas, and whether we are today facing the new situation that confronts us. I was brought up on a diet of Nelson, Rodney and Howe, and if anybody had told me even five years ago that I should be standing in the House of Commons suggesting a drastic alteration in the Navy, I should not have believed it. However, it is not in the national interest to allow ourselves not to face facts and to close our eyes to the situation that confronts us.
Let us look at the strategic problem. Against whom are we building our Navy? For what purpose is the Navy to be used? In the answers to those questions we can perhaps get an answer to the sort of Navy that we require. The only conceivable major naval opponent that anyone in the House can possibly visualise is Russia. It is also agreed on all sides of the House that if that awful day arrived at which we were at war with 2456 Russia, that war would in fact be a thermo-nuclear war. If it is not, then let us face this question. If it does not start as a thermo-nuclear war, neither side will be beaten without using that ultimate weapon.
If that does happen, then the idea that light fleet carriers, escort vessels, and cruisers—even the "Vanguard" which is in reserve—will be required to fight a war such as the last war, cannot be supported. Because if this country were devastated, as it would be, then what we should require would be far more of the frigate type of vessel, or something even smaller; we should not, in that situation, require aircraft carriers and cruisers.
If that is agreed—if not, then at least let it be considered—we have next to think of another type of war; that which we describe as a limited war." If we have such a war, who, and where, are we going to fight? In Korea we fought in a peninsula and Russia did not enter into the war. Because this area was surrounded by water we were, therefore, able to use, to a useful extent, light fleet carriers in support of the troops on land. But it would be a most extraordinary coincidence if the same set of circumstances arose again. If we had further trouble in Malaya, or if there were hostilities in Indo-China, a navy, as such, would not become operative. In the Middle East, the same situation would apply. What is the view about the sort of vessels which we seem to be building?
If immediate trouble arose, we should be more able to deal with it adequately and swiftly by the landing of troops from the air rather than from the sea. These are problems upon which we cannot reach a final decision tonight; but when we are spending £400 million a year on Navy vessels and establishments, we really should look at this problem very seriously.
We should look at our only and likely opponents, and look at where the type of weapons which we are building might be used; and if we do those things, we should come to the following sort of conclusion. First—and let me say I think there is much to be said for the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton about atomic submarines—we want long-range motor tor 2457 pedo boats, which may have to deal with local rebellions and protect the landing of troops on hostile shores.
Secondly, I can see no reason for keeping "Vanguard" in existence. A proud, great battleship she is, and I personally heard with no pleasure that she might be scrapped; yet remembering the record of the battleships in the last war, I cannot see what use they would be in another. "Vanguard" would involve us very heavily in her own protection; at least one carrier and goodness knows how many aircraft, a flotilla of destroyers and countless men would be needed. We should immobilise half of our Navy in her protection, so the sooner we take out of the Estimates the cost of keeping her in reserve, the better for the efficiency of the Navy.
Any idea of an alteration in the structure of the Navy does not fill me with pleasure, but we must face facts. Air power every day becomes more powerful, with greater range and greater striking power, as against the slow mobility of the Navy and the limited range of naval aircraft compared with landplanes, particularly for the kind of operation in which we think we shall be involved.
The whole nation, and particularly the Admiralty—and, even higher than the Admiralty, the Cabinet—should give close and urgent thought to the question of whether we are at this moment producing the Navy that will be required under these new, changed circumstances. There are many Members, on both sides of the House, who are disturbed as to whether we are looking far enough into the future or are still dealing with a Navy ready to fight in the past.
§ 11.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Robinson (St. Pancras, North)
We are now approaching the end of the annual round of defence debates—what I always regard as the annual defence fortnight. The general line of the Opposition's criticism has been consistent throughout the three debates on the Service Estimates and in the general defence debate.
We on these benches assert that the Government have not faced up to the implications of modern warfare, let alone the warfare of tomorrow, and that they have not recast their thinking or their 2458 defence plans in the light of developments of modern weapons. We believe that vast sums of money have been spent on unsatisfactory weapons, many of which are out of date before they have been completed, and that manpower has been, and is being, wasted. In no sphere, as this debate has shown, are these criticisms more valid than in the case of the Royal Navy.
One fact which has not been mentioned in this debate is that it is surely fantastic that at this stage we are discussing Navy Estimates which have gone up in a year when the Estimates for both the Army and the Royal Air Force have gone down. Whatever the rôle of the Navy, I do not think anyone can possibly imagine that it is a rôle which is increasing in importance relative to the other two Services.
Many hon. Members have divided their speeches into two halves—ships and men. That is a convenient division, and I propose to start by saying a few words about the ships. Despite the very persuasive way in which the Parliamentary Secretary introduced these Estimates, we must still ask ourselves: What is the rôle of the Navy in the various possible types of warfare which may face this country in the next few years?
There is the question of all-out global nuclear warfare. Then there is the possibility of a major global war which is not fought with nuclear weapons. Finally, there are the various types of limited war in which this country might be involved. It seems to me that in deciding the future of the Navy, the Government have been thinking in terms of the least likely of those three possibilities: that is, in terms of a major war which is not fought with nuclear weapons. I certainly do not altogether blame the Government for being reluctant to face up to the naval implications of an all-out global nuclear war. It is difficult to see what rôle the Navy would play in that kind of warfare. In introducing the Estimates, the Parliamentary Secretary said that in his view the advent of thermo-nuclear war does not affect the primary rôle of the Navy. If I have quoted him aright, that seems to me a rather extraordinary statement for him to make.
Some hon. Members in this debate have discussed the rôle of the Navy in the broken-back war which would follow the initial nuclear attack. I think that the 2459 hon. and gallant Member for Haltemprice (Major Wall) spoke along those lines. I rather thought that the whole concept of the broken-back war had now been exploded. It had a very short run indeed, and I thought that it had passed out of the Government's defence thinking. I am afraid that I must agree here with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) in saying that there appears to be very little common ground on strategic thought among the three Services.
I believe—and here I am speaking only for myself—that thermo-nuclear war would be short, sharp and probably fatal for both sides. In the light of these possibilities, I should like just to take a look at the make-up of the operational Fleet today, and, of course, the first type of vessel one must consider is the aircraft carrier. The Admiralty has clearly said, "We have two or three of these vessels and two or three light fleet carriers. What plausible rôle can we think up for them?"
I cannot believe that the description of the battle-group and its purpose has arisen out of any deeper thinking than that. Incidentally, I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us a bit about the "Victorious" in his winding-up remarks. The First Lord's Explanatory Statement says very modestly that the modernisation of the "Victorious" is going on satisfactorily. It rather tends to obscure the fact that that modernisation was begun in the year 1950–51. It has already been going on for nearly six years, and the best the Admiralty can say about it is that it is going on satisfactorily. Will the Parliamentary Secretary tell us whether he can estimate when the "Victorious" will be ready and what it will have cost?
When we turn to the description of the battle-group and its rôle on page 6 of the Explanatory Statement, we are told:The concept of the battle-group, centred round the modern carrier with its multi-purpose squadrons of aircraft, is nearing realisation.The hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett), whose speech I thought was not only informed—which was what one might expect from someone who has so recently served in the Navy—but also very thoughtful and constructive, said 2460 that in his view the American type of aircraft carrier task force was already obsolete. I must say that I am inclined to agree. It seems to me that if that task force is obsolete, then it is very difficult to explain what the rôle of the aircraft carrier battle-group is going to be.
I think that in an all-out war it is just conceivable that a case could be made out for a mobile sea aerodrome, so to speak, which could perhaps operate after the land bases in our own country had been destroyed. But that could only happen subject to two provisos, the first that the carriers would be based permanently outside our islands as from this moment, and the second that they would be capable not only of delivering atomic weapons as is suggested here, but of delivering them long distances and getting back to their base. That is obviously not going to be possible with any of the type of aircraft that we are able to envisage at the moment.
There is, of course, a task for the carrier in the limited war, and, as has been said, carriers operated very successfully in the Korean War; but do we expect any more Korean Wars—major, but limited in the geographical sense and without the use of nuclear weapons? There is no case for carriers at all unless they are equipped with first-class modern aircraft, both offensive and defensive, and, in view of the unhappy experience of the past, at this stage we can only hope that the new aircraft which the Parliamentary Secretary described will be delivered quickly and will come up to expectations.
One must place a large question mark against the aircraft carrier as an effective weapon of war in the nuclear age. On the answer to that question must depend the whole structure, size, function and future of the Navy. I do not think the answer to that question will be found merely by seeking plausible arguments for retaining carriers because we happen to possess some; it will be found only through, to quote a phrase which has been used elsewhere. "an agonising reappraisal"—and in my view that sort of reappraisal will be obtained only when we have integrated the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.
When I was first converted to that idea three or four years ago, I thought it would immediately be resisted by 2461 everybody in the Royal Navy, and I was surprised to learn that there were many serving officers in the Royal Navy who had come to the same conclusion. They were very quiet about it, but one could get the information out of them after discussing the problem. Now the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East comes out strongly in favour of integration. Throughout the debate, hon. Member after hon. Member, on both sides of the House, has said that this is a development which should and must come. Admittedly, the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East suggested that it ought to take 30 years. I do not think we have time for that.
The only way in which we can find out dispassionately what value the carrier has, and hence what the future structure of the Navy ought to be, is by everybody concerned with the air weapon getting down to the job of assessing the relative values of air and sea-borne aeroplanes. I do not want to develop this now, but I should like to see integration carried a good deal further. I do not think there is a case for separate Service Ministries on the scale that we have now. If I may say so without any personal disrespect to the hon. Gentleman or the Civil Lord, I have long thought that there is no possible case for having three Ministers at the Admiralty when we have two at the Air Ministry and two at the War Office. That is one contribution to a saving in manpower which the First Lord might make.
The future of the cruiser is also a matter of great controversy at the moment. We are told in the Explanatory Memorandum thatthe next stage in the development of the battle group will be to add the new cruiser.But for what are we to add it? Is it solely to increase the anti-aircraft protection from the carrier? I think experience in the last war was that carriers were their own best protection, by fighter cover and their own closer-range anti-aircraft weapons. Even if it is thought that cruisers with guided missiles would be necessary as antiaircraft protection for the carrier groups, I still think that no case whatever has been made out for completing the three cruisers with conventional gun armament. It would have been a much bolder and wiser policy to call it a day and 2462 dismantle these half-constructed hulks on the stocks.
Equally, of course, the future of fleet escorts is tied to the subject of the battle-group. I notice that now four fleet escorts with guided weapons are on order. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to say when we can expect delivery of at any rate the first of those.
As for the smaller ships, I suppose we need frigates as long as the Russian Navy possesses some hundreds of submarines—100, 200, 300—nobody seems to know how many. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) for his researches into—not, perhaps, the strength of the Russian Navy—various and conflicting estimates of the strength of the Russian Navy in American and English newspapers. I wonder, however, whether the Russian policy of building submarines in considerable numbers is a policy which the Russians would adopt now. Certainly, it must have been conceived before they had the hydrogen bomb, and probably before they had the atomic bomb. I am not at all sure that we are not centring a large part of our naval defence policy on an imaginary Russian threat which the Russians themselves are probably at this moment seriously reconsidering and very probably abandoning. I say that despite the remarks of Marshal Zhukov at the Communist Congress the other day, which my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) quoted in his speech at the beginning of the debate.
Similarly, we have to consider the question of minesweepers. We have 227 minesweepers operational and in reserve, and 69 building. Do we really think that in this day and age an enemy will go to the trouble to mine our ports, a fairly laborious business, when the dropping of one atomic weapon can make a port radio-active and unusable for a very considerable time? I should have thought not.
§ Commander Maitland
In his amiable speech the hon. Gentleman has abolished the aircraft carrier, the cruiser, the escort vessel and the minesweeper. He is speaking officially for the Opposition. Will he tell us frankly, is it the Labour Party's policy to abolish them all? There would not be very much of a fleet left.
§ Mr. Robinson
No, I have not abolished any of these ships. I have said merely that there is a case for considering very much more thoroughly the rôle of these various types of vessel than the Government have done so far. I believe that it is most necessary at this stage that one should re-examine everything from first principles, because the advent of the hydrogen bomb has changed the whole nature of war—a fact to which the Service Departments have not fully awakened yet.
Of future building programmes, we are told that design studies of guided-weapon cruisers have been approved. Is it possible now to say how long it will be before those will join the fleet? As the hon. Member for Langstone (Mr. Stevens) said, the United States Navy has now got guided-weapon cruisers and one, probably two, nuclear-powered submarines, but the best we have been told about our nuclear-powered submarines is that it will be some time before we even lay one down. That really does show we are a very long way behind the United States in the development of modern naval weapons.
I consider now the reserve fleet—and there I would abolish a few ships. There are far too many obsolete and obsolescent vessels. I shall talk in detail of only battleships, which come in for a lot of pummelling today—I think, very rightly. Anything I say against the battleships I say with some sadness, because the "King George V" was my home for rather more than three years in the last war.
There can be no possible future rôle for these four "King George V" class battleships. The Parliamentary Secretary told me in reply to a Question that they would cost £4 million to bring to a state of readiness, even though they would still be unmodernised. That is a considerable sum of money, and the operation would take a considerable period of time. Would not the best thing be to take the decision here and now to scrap them? I think that the same remarks apply to the "Vanguard." The "Vanguard" is not costing us the small amount that the "King George V" battleships are costing: it is costing £700,000 a year to keep in reserve.
Now I turn from ships to men. I should like to say something about National Service. We are told that the 2464 need of the Navy for National Service men is falling from 6,000 in the coming year to 2,000 in the following year. I have long thought that the National Service intake in the Navy was merely a token intake. The time has now come for the Board of Admiralty to say, "We do not any longer need National Service men in the Navy," and somehow or other they must make up the deficiency that would arise from the loss of the 2,000 National Service men whom they expect to get in the year 1956–57.
I certainly agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East in his desire that the whole organisation of the manning of the Navy should be overhauled and, in particular, that the number of officers should be reduced. He did not extend his strictures to flag officers, because I think he said that there were no more than there were in 1938. With the size of the Navy as it is today, sixty-five flag officers are rather too many, and a certain saving might be made there.
The hon. and gallant Member for Haltemprice mentioned the Royal Marines. I should like to ask whether the Royal Marines still do officer's steward duties. I have always thought that was a most inappropriate job for the Royal Marines to do. I once had a Royal Marine servant myself, and I must say that I found him very efficient, but I never thought that it was a job which fitted in with the rest of the Royal Marine's functions in the Service. I hope that these men are no longer doing steward and servant duties in their ships.
The hon. and gallant Member for Haltemprice asked for an assurance that there would be no reduction in the size of the Royal Marine Corps. Although, on the whole, I am in favour of the contraction of defence manpower all round, I think I should be in favour of an expanded Royal Marine force within a contracted Service. The job the Marines do is probably more appropriate to modern forms of warfare, certainly of limited warfare, than that done by many other Service personnel.
I have, perhaps, been a little overcritical. Certainly the hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) thought so. Perhaps at this stage I might echo the congratulations of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, 2465 South-East on the changes in the officer structure and on the new central manning organisation. I should also like to echo the hope that that will lead to getting rid of those—they were in my day and probably still are—horrible Royal Navy barracks. My brief stay in Pompey barracks was not the happiest period of my stay on the lower deck in the Navy.
On the question of the officer structure, one must make the qualification that it is a pity that it has been found necessary to have this differentiation of the special list. I hope that that will be reconsidered. I do not think it is necessary, and I think my hon. Friend was right when he said that, however the motive setting it up may be rationalised basically, the motive was a snobbish one.
Turning to the Reserve, I notice that the cost of the R.N.V.R. has gone up this year by one-sixth; it now costs well over £1 million, and I should like to ask what its real value is. Is it not a Reserve into which men drift and out of which they drift, rather as they please, without any particular obligations in time of emergency? Could we know something of the annual turnover of the R.N.V.R.? We are told in Paragraph 63 of the Explanatory Statement that the maximum bearing is expected to be 4,000 officers and 9,000 ratings. Perhaps we could know what the turnover is in the course of a year. At the risk of incurring even more of the wrath of hon. and gallant Members opposite, I should also like to ask whether there is any case still for the Women's Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve? Is it really necessary now? I know that there are always the claims of sentiment to maintain these organisations, but is not this possibly a field in which a small saving might be made?
On the living conditions of the men afloat, the Parliamentary Secretary gave us a long catalogue of ways and means which are being adopted to increase and improve men's living space, both in new ships and in ships undergoing refit; and he explained to us, what I think we all know, how new gadgets come along in the course of construction and encroach on the men's living space. We know that the corps of constructors are always full of good intentions, but the fact is that it is the men's living space which in the last analysis is regarded as expendable, and in my view that is what is wrong.
2466 I hope that when for the new ships being built it is decided what is the proper amount of living space for the ship's company, that will be regarded as inviolable, and if it is desired to add new gadgets during the course of construction they should be added at the expense of old gadgets. I believe that far too often new gadgets have been piled on top of the old ones which are obsolescent and could easily be dispensed with, instead of which the crew's living quarters have to pay the price.
There was one suggestion made by the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East which I should like to support, and that was his proposal that applications by men for compassionate release from the Service should be heard before an independent tribunal. I thought his arguments in favour of that were quite unanswerable, and such a tribunal would give the men concerned a sense that they have had a really fair and impartial hearing, which certainly is not the case now when they are unsuccessful in their applications.
The Parliamentary Secretary told us that the Navy needs the good will of the country and of the House. I think it is obvious to everyone who has served in the Navy that the Navy retains the good will, and indeed the affection, of the country, and I am quite sure it also has the good will of this House. Because we criticise it, and because we submit it, as is our duty, certainly in the Opposition, to a searching examination, and even if we think that it should contract in size, is not to withhold our good will. We on this side of the House are equally concerned to see that we get the kind of Navy we need for our defence, and I think we all want a modern, efficient and, above all, a happy Service.
§ 11.44 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. George Ward)
A winding up speech which attempts to answer some of the points raised in a debate is bound to be somewhat disjointed and scrappy. I want to make that sort of speech, and I apologise for it beforehand, but it is my experience of winding up four Estimates debates in the past that that is what the House prefers rather than inflicting another set speech upon hon. Members. If it is any comfort to the hon. Member for Cardiff, 2467 South-East (Mr. Callaghan) far from reading a script, I shall be hard put to it to read from the scrappy notes in my own handwriting which I have been able to make during the debate.
The hon. Member started by asking whether officers of non-seaman specialisations would be able eventually to be members of the Board of Admiralty. The answer is that the new officer structure has been especially designed to bring the best men to the top, regardless of whatever specialisation they may belong to, and officers of the specialisations other than seamen are certainly not debarred from the highest posts.
I was then asked by the hon. Member whether we should not overhaul the Admiralty Directorates, and he mentioned particularly the Controller's side of the house. If he was here during the intervening debate, he will have heard my hon. Friend the Civil Lord speaking of a Committee under the Chairmanship of Sir Barclay Nihill which is going to do precisely that. It is going to examine the Controller's side of the house, and we shall certainly then consider what other changes within the Department may flow from the result of that Committee.
The hon. Member also asked about the living conditions in the Ark Royal. We are the first to admit that living conditions in the Ark Royal could be very much better, but she is coming in for a six months' refit very shortly, and then we shall do all that we can to improve living conditions, within the limitations, which the hon. Gentleman knows very well, of being able to make improvements without starting from scratch or having a very considerable amount of rebuilding to do.
The hon. Member wondered whether we ought not to stop working on the Tiger class cruisers because they were only to be fitted with conventional guns. I think the answer is that these guided weapons are to take still a little time to develop and become operationally efficient. We have to discover how to handle and operate them, and how to operate them at sea. As he knows, the object of the "Girdleness" is to do intensive and extensive sea trials with this purpose in mind, and there are then to be full range trials. Meanwhile we have 2468 got to have something. We cannot leave ourselves entirely naked.
§ Mr. W. Yates (The Wrekin)
Is my hon. Friend saying that the Royal Navy, the Senior Service, today has no ship—no aircraft carrier or cruiser—capable of launching atomic weapons?
§ Mr. Ward
I was talking about guided missiles. Today we have no ship-to-air guided missile ship, but this year we are producing a ship called the "Girdleness," which will do preliminary trials with a view to eventually carrying the first of the surface-to-air guided weapons—and that is the one about which I am talking. But, until these trials have been done, I feel we would be very unwise to leave ourselves without the conventional gun Tiger class cruisers, and I would like to make clear that these guns and their control systems are the very last word and the most modern which can be devised.
I can tell the hon. Member that we are not placing any more British orders for the Sea Hawk. We have had two Wyvern squadrons embarked in the "Eagle" for the last year, and they have given us valuable service. Since then several improvements have been integrated, but once again there are no more of them on order.
We are having some Seamew aircraft in the R.N.V.R. The new strategic concept brought about by the hydrogen age has rather altered our thinking, in terms of the original use for which we ordered the Seamew, but it is certainly a perfectly good aircraft. I believe that the fears of my hon. Friend the Member for Lang-stone (Mr. Stevens) are unfounded, and that it will be very useful in the R.N.V.R.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lang-stone also suggested that the aircraft that we now have in the Fleet Air Arm would not be a match for any opposition which the Russians might put against them. I hope that that is not an assertion which is either widely made or widely believed, because I do not think it is borne out by the facts. Both the Sea-hawk and the Sea Venom have a good margin of speed over anything that the Russians would be likely to use to strike at our Fleet now. I emphasise "now". Far too many people make the mistake—I remember the mistake being made over and over again in debates when I 2469 was at the Air Ministry—of comparing the aircraft that we have now with what our potential enemies may have in a few years' time. They temporarily forget that when the enemy's new aircraft are in service our new aircraft will also be in service. This time factor is very important. I can assure the House that the speed and other performance attributes of the N.113 and the DH.110 will be very much better than those of the Seahawk and Sea Venom which they are to replace.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lang-stone also asked about the guns of the N.113 and wondered whether we should suffer from the same trouble with that aircraft as the Royal Air Force has been having with the Hunter. It is always fatal to prophesy, and I will not try to do that, but I can say that because the guns are in a different position relative to the engines in the N.113 it looks more than likely that we shall avoid any such difficulties. Of course, we still have a good many more tests to carry out.
Complaint was also made about there being no guided weapons on the first version. Once again my experience at the Air Ministry has taught me that one of the greatest problems with which the aircraft constructor has to compete is that of weight growth. The problem is, of course, aggravated considerably if one is thinking in terms of carrier-borne aircraft, for it is then much more difficult. Nevertheless, we are still hopeful that later versions will be able to carry both weapon systems. Meanwhile, this aircraft will have a particularly valuable low level, as well as high level, performance.
The hon. Gentleman suggested that the Special Duties List ought to be merged in the General List because those in the Special Duties List, he felt, were not getting a fair deal. I think he has some misconception about the new structure, and I should like to put him right. There are two avenues from the lower deck to commissioned rank. The first is the upper yardmen's scheme, and they go on to the General List, where they can go right to the top. The second is for the rather older men from the lower deck, and they go on the Special Duties List. The Special Duties List is in no sense a new separation from the General List. It is the old branch list with very much 2470 enhanced status and prospects for those on it.
To begin with, all ranks have been stepped up one. There are more of them and, therefore, the opportunities have increased. It is not possible to merge them with the General List, first because they have not quite such a wide experience.
§ Mr. Ward
Well, a different experience. They have not such a wide experience of command, and therefore they are not so generally appointable. They get better pay in the lower reaches than they would if they were in the General List, and they have their own special avenue of promotion to command which is free of competition from the General List.
§ Mr. Callaghan
Is it not rather misleading the House to say that their avenue of promotion is free of competition? It is true, of course, that they are free from the General List. On the General List men go automatically from sub-lieutenant to lieutenant and from lieutenant to lieutenant-commander, with a chance of three in four of becoming commander. But on the Special Duties List there is a process of selection at all levels—nothing automatic about it—with very little chance of becoming commander.
§ Mr. Ward
They might be even worse off if they were mixed up with the General List. We are as keen as ever to make the greatest possible use of promising material from the lower deck, and last year the lower deck provided nearly half the new officer entry. The proportion of upper yard men selected for commissions worked out roughly at the same level as before.
We are already thinking about some of the other interesting points which the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East made, including the idea of a Commonwealth Naval Conference and also a new approach to man management.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Major Wall) mentioned reserves. We are already looking into the size and shape of our reserves in the light of the new strategic concept. We also share with my hon. and gallant 2471 Friend his enthusiasm for providing as many boats as possible for Sea Cadets and Sea Scouts. We make them available as far as we possibly can.
The hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkin), the "old salt," asked for more opportunities for Members of Parliament to see the Navy. I can assure him that hon. Members are always more than welcome on any trips they can make and that we try as far as possible to arrange such trips. In the last two or three years we have held an exercise called "Shop Window," which has been very well patronised by hon. Members from both sides of the House. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to arrange it this year for operational reasons. There certainly will be other opportunities, and I hope that hon. Members will avail themselves of them. The hon. Member for Bristol, South also spoke of discipline. I can assure him that in the 39 years since he left the Navy very much has altered. I wish he could come back and see for himself.
There is one little example, not directly related to discipline, which would, I think, interest the House. The hon. Member for Devonport (Miss Vickers) has asked us to say a word about it. It is the improved uniform for ratings, the square rig, which we have been testing. The tests are now complete. I know that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East took a lot of interest in this. The square rig has been modified, having a zip fastener down the front of the jumper and the trousers, and side pockets in the trousers. We are having an improved diagonal serge which is more comfortable, smoother, and smarter than the present one. It will be used as a walking-out dress, or what the Navy calls "The No. 1 suit." There is also coming into use a cap with a waterproof plastic top which does not have to be washed but can be sponged with soap and water. This cap will be worn all the year round in all climates.
The hon. Gentleman can see that things have changed. Promotion prospects also have changed. If the hon. Gentleman would like to know more about promotion prospects on the lower deck, I hope he will let me know. I will then arrange for him to talk to someone about them. I am also happy to tell him that 2472 victualling allowance is adjusted according to the movement of prices. At present it is a little more than three shillings.
The hon. Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) was worried about there being no skilled jobs left for National Service men in a long-term Regular Navy. While that may apply to the other two Services to a certain extent, it does not apply to the Navy, because very few National Service men are in highly skilled technical jobs in the Navy. There are a few hundred. He also asked about the 16-year old cadets. They have gone up two shillings a day in the new pay code. I am sure he will agree that there is no reason why they should go up as much as the 18-year olds.
The hon. Member also suggested that there ought to be tribunals on the lines of those for conscientious objectors to hear compassionate cases. Apart from the constitutional objections—and there are some—there are practical objections about which I think he will agree. The delay involved in getting decisions from independent civilian tribunal would rarely be acceptable, and the naval drafting machinery would be slowed and clogged with applications. The tribunal would provide a perfect opportunity for anyone who wanted to delay, for example, being drafted abroad. Officers would have to be briefed to give evidence before the tribunals, witnesses would have to attend, and the tribunals would not be in a position fairly to weigh the effect of their decisions on the efficiency of the Service. I am sure that the people best fitted to maintain the difficult balance between the welfare of the individual and the needs of the Service are those associated with both problems in the normal naval chain of command.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) asked about Scapa. In our survey of the support services of the Navy, we are looking at the naval installations at Scapa. When we have gone a little further in our examination, I will, of course, bear in mind his suggestion about giving careful thought to the interests of the local people, and, in particular, I will go into his suggestion about lighting. I am very grateful to him for raising those matters.
My hon. Friend the Member for Langstone asked about the steam cata- 2473 pult. We did have a little trouble, but it has been cured by modification. The mirror sights are entirely satisfactory and, since both the mirror sights and angled decks have come into use, the accident rate of deck landings has been considerably reduced. He also asked about the accidents in the Ark Royal last night. They will, of course, be the subject of boards of inquiry. The bare facts are that a Gannet crashed into the sea after taking off with its crew of three. A Sea Venom with its crew of two disappeared during a night exercise. I greatly regret to tell the House that all five men must now be presumed drowned. The next-of-kin have been informed, and I know that the House will join with me in expressing the deepest sympathy to them in this tragic affair.
§ Mr. Stevens
I raised a question about co-operation between the Navy, the Royal Air Force and the Ministry of Supply in radar development.
§ Mr. Ward
I am sorry that I shall not be able to deal with every point. If my hon. Friend would like to discuss that at some length—and it is a matter which lends itself to being discussed at some length—I am entirely at his disposal at any time, but I can assure him that there is the closest co-operation among the three Departments.
The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) asked why the Estimates had increased. I pointed out at the very beginning of my remarks that if one deducts the estimated £31 million for increases in Naval and civilian pay and pensions and the increased price of material and supplies, the provision for next year is actually £21 million less than in the current year. He also asked about the rôle of aircraft carriers. There again, I said in my opening speech that today the main striking power of the Navy is provided by a balanced force of aircraft flying from floating bases. It is the main strike of the Navy and is clearly a very flexible weapon. The aircraft is a far more flexible weapon than the surface ship, and although one might expect someone coining from the Air Ministry to have some prejudice, I can assure hon. Members that I am not a convert. I have always believed in aircraft carriers, because I have always believed in the air.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Can the hon. Member devote some time to replying to Lord Montgomery's criticism of aircraft carriers?
§ Mr. Ward
Much as I admire Lord Montgomery, I very much doubt whether he served three years in aircraft carriers as I have done, and I think that I may probably be even better qualified to speak about them than Lord Montgomery.
The hon. Member also asked about the 65 flag officers. I ask him to remember that the number of flag officers in the Navy depends on the command structure rather than on the number of ships. The number of admirals is high, mainly because of the N.A.T.O. and Allied staff jobs which did not exist before the war. The hon. Member spoke about the need for an "agonising reappraisal." I agree, and I can tell him that it is going on all the time. If he does not believe that, he has only to ask my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Defence—or, perhaps, better still, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There has to be an "agonising appraisal" when our resources and manpower are so limited. Of course, one would need the wisdom of Job to get the thing in absolutely right perspective so far as all three Services are concerned; but we are not far wrong in the size and shape of the Estimates of each one in relation to the tasks which they have to do, although there may be minor adjustments which we can make.
Of Russian submarines, he said he did not think that the Russians would have built so many had they known of the possibility of a hydrogen war. But the number of their submarines has increased in the last seven years by 200, and I cannot believe that the whole of the increase occurred before the possibility of such a war was known.
§ Mr. K. Robinson
It is conceivable that the Russians may take as long as we do in changing our defence plans.
§ Mr. Ward
A good deal has been said about integration of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. I do not want hon. Members to think that I am shirking 2475 anything, but I do not want to get into a long argument at this time of the night on this subject. Obviously, a proposal of that kind ought not to be dismissed out of hand. But giving what is purely my own view, and nobody else's, and speaking as one who has served in both Services, I would say that the advantages to be gained from a complete integration of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force are more illusory than real. But I am quite prepared to consider what has been said, and to consider any other suggestions.
§ Brigadier Clarke
Before my hon. Friend sits down, would he give an assurance on two points? First, that he will look into the Admiralty's interpretation of the Pensions (Increase) Act? I have tried for two years to get the Admiralty to show some sense about this; I have tried with his predecessor, and with the Civil Lord, and I would be very grateful for such an assurance. Secondly, could he say something about the speeding up of a decision on the matter of discharge by purchase?
§ Mr. Ward
I will look very carefully into what my hon. and gallant Friend has said. I will take great care to answer any points that I possibly can by letter.
Having said that, I would extend my thanks to the House for its kindly reception of my first Navy Estimates, and say how much I look forward to our next discussion on that item.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Supply accordingly considered in Committee.
§ [Sir CHARLES MACANDREW in the Chair]