Motion made and Question proposed,
That 106,000 Officers, Seamen and Juniors and Royal Marines, who are borne on the books of Her Majesty's Ships and at the Royal Marine establishments, and members of the Women's Royal Naval Service and Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service, be employed for the Sea Service, for the year ending on the 31st day of March 1960.
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. C. Ian Orr-Ewing)
It would be right that I should ask the indulgence of the Committee as a relatively "new boy" in this position at the Box. The House of Commons is traditionally generous to newcomers, whether on the Front Bench or on the back benches. It is particularly difficult for me to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, South (Mr. R. Allan), because he had a deep knowledge of the Navy which, so far, has been denied to me; but I hope that what I lack in knowledge at the start I shall make up in zest and enthusiasm. In my first two months of this office, I have visited 18 ships and establishments of the Royal Navy and I have tried to learn something about my task before having to stand at this Box today.
Before dealing with the Navy Estimates for 1959–60, I must say something about the Supplementary Estimate required for the present financial year. This is the second year running in which we have needed a substantial Supplementary Estimate. I should at once say that it is not simply due to our failing to learn the lesson of last year's overspending.
In paragraph 2 of the Explanatory Statement which accompanies the printed Supplementary Estimate, I have given the main reasons for overspending. I think that the Committee will agree that the 889 majority of them are outside the Admiralty's control. I shall, therefore, concentrate on the largest item, the item on page 4, Vote 8, Section III, which, against the heading of "Contract Work—Ships and Aircraft", shows an increase of nearly £33 million. A number of the causes listed in the Supplementary Estimate have contributed to this item. Of these, the major one is the higher rate of production. Of the £16 million mentioned in the Explanatory Statement as being due to this cause, about £13½ million is because of new ship construction. The balance of the total of £33 million is made up of aircraft, which account for nearly £9 million, and modernisation, re-equipment and repayment work.
Production programmes have always slipped behind the planned programme and it has long been our practice to allow for unforeseeable delays in estimating the cash requirements. But in the financial year 1957–58 our allowance for delays proved too large. This was chiefly due to our contractors switching their efforts from merchant shipbuilding to warship work. In the current year, we therefore allowed much less for slipping back, but last year's trend has continued at an increased rate. I think that the Committee will agree that, from the angle of bringing new ships and equipment more quickly into service, there is a satisfactory side to this.
When this year's trend was clearly established, the programme was reviewed in order to check expenditure, and work was deferred on a number of ships. But, in view of the continuing shortage of merchant ship orders, it was not considered advisable to cut back expenditure too far.
It is always possible that a swing in the opposite direction may develop, but in preparing the Estimates for 1959–60 we have made the best assessment we can of the trend which has led to overspending this year and last year.
Internal reorganisation in the Controller's departments will strengthen our own arrangements for monitoring the production programme. We are also intensifying our efforts to keep a closer watch on the rate of expenditure by the firms engaged on naval work. We are asking them to strengthen their own 890 organisations for estimating and controlling expenditure. This is the explanation; and these are some of the ways in which we hope to keep within the total of our 1959–60 Estimates.
For the next financial year, we are asking Parliament to make a net grant of just on £371 million. In terms of cash, this is the largest Estimate presented to this Committee in peacetime.
Last year, my hon. Friend discussed at some length the rôle of the Navy, which had been set out in last year's Defence White Paper and my noble Friend's Explanatory Statement of 1958. This year, my main intention is to give a progress report on what we are doing—with new ships and equipment, in research and development and Fleet activities, and on the personnel side—to create a modern and efficient Navy.
I turn, first, to the new construction programme. On page 4 of the printed Estimates it will be seen that the gross estimate of what we shall be spending, under Vote 8. Section III, on naval production by contract, is more than £113 million. This figure includes, among other things, aircraft and machinery for shore establishments, but ships and their equipment account for about half of it. It is a good, rough yard-stick of our production effort, and the point I want to make is that, even allowing for costs going up from year to year, this volume of work is greater than it was a few years ago. The total of £113 million is, for example, nearly £27 million more than was spent under this section of Vote 8 three years ago. That takes us back to 1956.
My noble Friend has shown at the beginning of his Explanatory Statement the numbers and types of ships which have, or will have, come into service from the start of that year until the end of 1960. This programme of new, modernised and converted ships is proof of our determination to give the Navy the best possible ships and equipment.
In 1959–60, we shall be spending about five times more on building new ships than on modernising and converting old ones. For at least the next five years or so this general trend will continue.
These facts are the answer to recent allegations in the Press that we are misleading the country about the new ships 891 joining the Fleet. They also show, incidentally, that we are doing a good deal to maintain employment in an industry which is not finding things easy at present.
To take the new frigates first, 24 are now in service, all of post-war design. Nine more are expected to be completed by the end of next year. The antisubmarine frigates of the "Whitby" class, six of which are already in the Fleet, deserve a special word. The advanced design of their steam turbines gives them high speed; they have proved their outstanding sea-keeping qualities, and they have up-to-date devices for detecting, tracking and destroying submarines, and the finest operations room ever put into a small ship. They are incomparably superior to what we knew as frigates fifteen years ago.
Other new frigates, also, have been equipped with the emphasis on particular functions, for example, the anti-aircraft frigate, H.M.S. "Leopard", which is illustrated in the Explanatory Statement.
In addition, we are introducing general-purpose frigates. The first of these, "Ashanti" of the "Tribal" class, is being launched today on the Clyde. These frigates will be fully air-conditioned and, therefore, suitable for service in the hottest parts of the world. Their machinery will incorporate gas turbines to supplement steam turbines and they will be able to carry a helicopter to supplement their other weapons for sinking submarines.
To turn to larger ships, the new cruiser "Tiger" will commission in a few days on the Clyde. Her design is completely up to date. By the end of next year, we shall have two others of her class, "Lion" and "Blake". The main 6-inch and secondary 3-inch armament of these ships, particularly, is unique for its very high rate of fire, and represents a major advance in naval gunnery over any system now in service. Their fire power, endurance, and self-sufficiency will make them very effective ships for a long period to come, and especially is this true east of Suez, where distances are so gigantic.
The new aircraft carrier, "Hermes", wil be doing trials this summer, and is expected to join the Fleet early next year. Her design and equipment, including radar, are fully up to date. She will 892 be equipped to carry all the new family of aircraft, the Scimitar, Sea Vixen and eventually the N.A.39, as well as antisubmarine helicopters. She is matched by H.M.S. "Victorious" which, along with H.M.S. "Centaur", has rejoined the Fleet.
Turning to new ships, particularly guided missile ships, we have not only new ships, but new kinds of ship, on the way. The first two guided missile ships, "Devonshire" and "Hampshire", are being laid down this month at Birkenhead and on the Clyde respectively. A third, the "Kent", will be laid down at Belfast towards the end of the year.
These ships will be the first to rely for the main armament on the guided missile Seaslug, which has had successful trials during the last year. They will have the same form of propulsion machinery as in the general purposes frigates, combining steam and gas turbines. This will, among other things, enable them to put to sea very much more quickly.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
Certainly; they have other rôles as well. The whole point of our new and modern Navy is its flexibility of purpose; but their main task is in the anti-aircraft rôle.
I want now to make an announcement about "Dreadnought". I am glad to be able to say that negotiations have now been concluded between the chosen firms, Rolls-Royce Limited and the Westinghouse Electric Corporation, in a manner satisfactory to both the United States' and Her Majesty's Governments. Under the contract, a complete set of machinery similar to that being installed in the latest United States Navy submarines of the "Skipjack" class will be obtained from Westinghouse. The design of the "Dreadnought" hull has been modified to take account of the changed dimensions of this machinery.
Full design and manufacturing details of the machinery, together with safety information, will also be made available. The necessary training in manufacturing 893 techniques and inspection will be provided for employees of Rolls-Royce, Rolls-Royce and associates, to the Admiralty and also to Vickers Armstrongs, the firm which is building the "Dreadnought" and installing the machinery, who will be able to obtain information, and other help from the Electric Boat Company, which was responsible for building "Skipjack". We shall have the right to use all this knowledge in manufacturing machinery in this country for the shore-based prototype for nuclear submarine plant which is building at Dounreay.
As a result of the contract, "Dreadnought" will be much earlier with the Fleet. It is planned to lay her keel this summer. The final cost of construction will probably be reduced and the saving we shall make in research and development will be considerable. We shall be able to proceed with our nuclear propulsion programme with greater confidence.
The successful conclusion of these complex negotiations is due to the close collaboration which exists between the parties concerned—the firms, the United States Navy, the United States Atomic Energy Commission, the Admiralty and the Atomic Energy Authority. I would like to express my appreciation of the assistance which the United States Government are giving to this project. It is a demonstration of the closer collaboration between our two countries which stems from the determination of the Prime Minister and the President of the United States that there should be a greater pooling of knowledge.
Having dealt with present ships and a little with the new ships, I want now to turn to research and development.
The voyage of "Nautilus", under the Pole last year, rubbed in the strategic as well as the technical potentialities of nuclear submarines. It is now recognised that these submarines represent a major scientific break-through. What is less widely recognised is its long-term effect. So far as I can see, although the process cannot be quick, we may well be on the brink of an evolution towards navies entirely driven by nuclear power. It is also my own belief, though this can only be speculation, that the fleet of the far distant future may be very largely submersible.
894 All the future naval developments depend on research, now and in the years ahead, and I should like to put in a word about the Royal Naval Scientific Service. We are maintaining our rate of expenditure on research and development. In fact, we are spending slightly more than we were five years ago. This is as it should be. The long-term fleet will have somewhat fewer ships, but they must be modern ships, powerfully armed and well equipped, the product of scientific brains and technical skill. That is the pattern of the future.
It is not easy for me to say much about the work of our scientists and technicians, but I should like to mention one instance in which naval engineer officers also played a leading part. This is the progress made since the war, in collaboration with industry, in developing propulsion machinery—which has given ships increased endurance along with reductions in machinery weight and size. These are great advantages when our designers are always after more space in ships for weapons and equipment.
To take the new frigates, the proportion of the ship's weight devoted to weapons and associated equipment has been increased from 15 per cent. to 25 per cent. At the same time, the greater efficiency of the new machinery has increased the frigate's endurance by 25 per cent.—the equivalent, incidentally, to saving more than £1¼ million on fuel costs in the life of the ship. These are the kind of dividends which accrue from continued research and development.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
This is very important. I agree entirely with what the hon. Gentleman has said about the need for research and development and the achievements of the Admiralty, but will he explain to the Committee why the Admiralty appears to have the exclusive right among Service Departments to undertake its own research and development instead of, as in the case of the other two Services, putting its money on the Ministry of Supply? Is it because the Admiralty does not trust the Ministry of Supply? If so, why is not the Ministry of Supply abolished?
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
The right hon. Gentleman is wrong in saying "exclusive", because we in the Admiralty do quite a deal of research and development for the 895 other two Services. In fact, in the valve department we are unique. Equally, the Ministry of Supply does a considerable amount of development for us.
The whole of the aircraft and associated programmes—I should not like to name a figure—probably in excess of £20 million a year, is done by the Ministry of Supply for us. Therefore, this is not a unique division in which the Admiralty does all the research and development, and I should have thought that the facts I have given bear out that the present arrangement has been reasonably satisfactory in the past.
I turn now to the anti-submarine effort. This is probably the most important research work in the whole naval field at the present time. The increasing numbers of Russian submarines which have been sighted throughout the world at even greater distances from their normal bases indicate that the Russian submarine fleet is busily engaged in operational training and is increasing in efficiency. Four Russian submarines are now based in Albania, thus increasing the potential threat in the Mediterranean.
But we must not think only of the Russian submarine fleet. In addition, nine Russian submarines now belong to the United Arab Republic and are based at Alexandria. In the Far East, besides the Russian Pacific fleet submarines, the Chinese Communists have 20 submarines and are fully capable of expanding this fleet by their own construction efforts. This formidable submarine threat is always before us, and I can assure the Committee that we are applying all our imagination and ingenuity to counter it.
Ten days ago I visited Portland. As someone trained as a physicist I was especially interested to see something of the work being concentrated there. The new Underwater Weapons Establishment, which will undertake or direct all research and development on anti-submarine weapons, is formally opening there this month. It will work closely with the Underwater Detection Establishment, which has been at Portland for many years. Both establishments will benefit from close proximity to the anti-submarine training carried out by the Navy, which will shortly be enhanced by the 896 establishment of a small operational flying school for helicopters. This thorough concentration will produce not only administrative economies, but also what I might call a valuable cross-fertilisation of scientific and naval ideas as a result of concentration on the undersea warfare sphere.
Frigates now building, and future major warships, will be fitted with an asdic which, in performance, is five times better than those at present in the Fleet. I saw this a few days ago. It is in advance of any comparable detection devices to be found in the world today. The new frigates are able to train with the new "Porpoise" class submarines; and with the two experimental submarines, "Explorer" and "Excalibur", which are capable of bursts of very high speed under water. Commonwealth navies, incidentally, depend entirely on our submarines for their anti-submarine training.
We are in particularly close touch with our Allies in the anti-submarine field. The past year has seen a marked increase in research and development collaboration with other N.A.T.O. navies. A series of meetings has taken place between the United States, Canada and ourselves. We have had useful and wide-ranging discussions with the French Navy, and with the navies of the Netherlands and Western Germany. From these meetings a number of joint research and development projects are emerging. In case the Committee feels that these are words and not deeds, I can show that we mean business by the recent decision to save our own research and development effort by adopting a type of torpedo produced by Canada.
I turn now to the activities of the Fleet. I have stressed this collaboration with our Allies because those who criticise naval policy sometimes seem to forget that our whole defence concept is based on alliances. We learnt in the last war what isolation means. The heart of the matter is that we cannot afford to pursue a policy of isolation in peace; and we cannot hope to survive in isolation in a major war. Across the oceans of the world we are planning and training in association with our Allies in N.A.T.O., the Bagdad Pact, and S.E.A.T.O.
These are virtually routine activities—carried to a pitch inconceivable in peacetime before. Despite our worldwide 897 commitments, our naval contribution to N.A.T.O. is greater than that of any other country, save only the United States of America. Navies of the Commonwealth also contribute their share to the collective naval defence of the free world. If taken together, their strength approaches twice that of the Royal Navy alone. May they continue to grow in this manner.
We have done, and shall continue to do, all we can to help by providing professional and technical advice and a variety of training courses. Nor is co-operation limited to advice and training, for nearly one-third of the labour employed in this country on major warship building is on work for the Commonwealth navies. During the last twelve months, we have given ships to the youngest navies of Malaya, Nigeria and East Africa to get them started.
Last autumn, my noble Friend visited the navies of Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan and Malaya. He has considered it an important duty, during the last two years, to see for himself all the major navies of the Commonwealth. Outside our alliances there will continue to be purely national commitments—usually small in scale, but often very serious unless dealt with promptly. The Navy will meet these emergencies, as in the past, by concentrating effective naval forces wherever required.
The mobility and the versatility of our ships was vividly illustrated by the story of H.M.S. "Bulwark" last year. In January, she left Portsmouth and, before returning there in November, she steamed 41,000 miles. In March, she exercised in the Atlantic with the Canadian Navy, in April with the Far East Fleet, in May with S.E.A.T.O., in June with India, Pakistan and Ceylon. In July she visited East Africa, and in August she carried the Cameronians from Aden to Jordan. In September she helped to rescue the tankers "Melika" and "Fernand Gilabert", which had collided and caught fire in the Arabian Sea, and in October she sailed back home through the Mediterranean—a voyage of 41,000 miles with striking contrasts.
Just as remarkable in its own way is the record of our ships in the high seas off Iceland. They have not had the stimulus of a changing scene, or the relief of a warmer climate. In the teeth of winter gales of from 35 to 70 knots, the 898 reinforced Fishery Protection Squadron has successfully intervened on nearly 30 occasions to protect British trawlers from attempted capture by Icelandic gunboats. The continuous dirty weather and steep Atlantic seas and their effect on small ships were well illustrated by a signal from the commodore of the Squadron which said, "Lovely calm seas, all ships cleaning footprints off bulkheads".
In circumstances of strain, there has been little or no bitterness between the seamen of both sides. The commodore of our squadron and the captain of the Icelandic gunboat "Thor" recently met for half-an-hour, for a friendly discussion of common problems, in the frigate H.M.S. "Duncan." I was told that they drank coffee, but I do not imagine that the Committee will really swallow that.
Training exercises have continued. Visits to ports all over the globe, the alarms and excursions of a world never fully at peace—they all keep the Fleet very heavily engaged. I should like to pay tribute to the skill, fortitude and devotion to duty of our sailors and marines.
Having dealt with the future of the Fleet and its activities, I now turn to the vital question of naval personnel. Though periods of rapid technical change and large-scale reorganisation bring special difficulties, the prospects are encouraging on the personnel side of the Navy. The latest figures for recruitment and re-engagement are shown on page 12 of my noble Friend's Explanatory Statement. I think that they really deserve the grossly overworked adjective "dramatic". In all the rating branches, except those of artificers, we are now getting enough good recruits on 9-year initial engagements. The targets for one or two branches may not always be reached, but, in general, our task will, in future, be to select the best recruits rather than just to get the numbers required.
There is an equally exciting change in the re-engagement figures. Men who joined after the war for twelve years have begun to make up their minds to stay in the Navy by signing on for another ten years for pension. Nearly 60 per cent, of these men are now doing just that. In recruiting, the Royal Marines have done particularly well. Their recruitment rate has been about half as good again as in 1958–59, and the re-engagement rate 899 has nearly doubled. I feel that this reflects the high morale created by good leadership, and also the adventurous jobs which they have done in many parts of the world.
Of course, problems remain. We still have to find some way of putting across to clever lads who are keen on electronic and other engineering work—and, incidentally, also to their parents and schoolmasters—the excellent training and opportunities afforded by the artificer apprentice entry. When I was at H.M.S. "Fisgard" last month, I was impressed by the quality of the young apprentices who are coming in. We ask them to enter between the ages of 15 and 17 and to engage for twelve years from the age of 18. At the age of 30 they can return to civilian life as highly skilled and experienced men, with qualifications—as I know from personal experience in the engineering industry—which are recognised by employers and also by the trade unions.
There are many, however, who choose to stay in the Service. It is an interesting fact that the re-engagement rate of artificers is above average. My right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) once said during the last war that there was no better investment than putting milk into babies. I think that in the post-war world there can be no better sustenance for the young than a thorough technical training.
Now I turn to the question of Dartmouth. Our problem on the officer side is rather different. The crux of it is at Dartmouth, where the 18-year-old naval cadets go to start learning to be General List officers. The Committee will remember that the General List is composed of engineering, electrical, supply and secretariat officers, as well as seamen officers and airmen. The selection of these cadets, their training and the use they can make of it, determine the quality of the wardrooms of the future. I will adapt the old saying—"The quality of the wardroom is the quality of the Fleet."
We have made several changes since the war and we should now like to have left things alone, but we are not satisfied that the present system is the best that can be devised. Besides, of late we have not been getting quite enough of the best schoolboys. We are, therefore, working 900 out the details of a revised system, which I should like to describe as far as we have got. To start with, we must have more able boys. For this reason we shall require all candidates to qualify for entry by having two A level passes in the G.C.E., with some passes at O level as well. This is exactly the standard recommended quite independently by the Grigg Committee, in paragraph 194 of its Report, for cadets of all three Services.
We want our engineering and electrical specialists to reach degree standard. For this purpose we have made arrangements with London University, besides those which we have already with Cambridge and other universities. The Royal Naval Engineering College at Manadon, which I have seen for myself to be absolutely first-class, will give the great majority of officers of these two specialisations a course leading to an honours degree in engineering, while a few officers will still go to Cambridge or elsewhere. We shall require candidates for the engineering and electrical specialisations to have a minimum of two A level passes in mathematics and physics.
For the less technical specialisations—Seamen, including airmen, and Supply and Secretariat—we shall not require a degree, but we must have good brains and trained minds. We shall, therefore, give them an academic education on the level of the first year of an engineering degree course, and we shall insist on an appropriate entry standard. If we are to turn them into first-class officers as well, we cannot afford to spend precious time in coaching cadets who cannot make the grade. So these specialisations must also have achieved two A levels which—and I wish to underline this fact, as there has been some misunderstanding—may be in Arts subjects. In addition, they must show some evidence of an aptitude for mathematics.
The details of all this are being worked out now in consultation with the schools, to make sure that we are keeping in line with the normal educational pattern at the G.C.E. stage. Last Friday we had a most successful conference of headmasters at Greenwich, at which we explained and discussed our new policy.
These are big changes, but I now come to the most important. This concerns the training of cadets to use their talents and 901 education to the best effect as officers in the Fleet. Instead of the present system, we shall devote the first year at Dartmouth, and in the training squadron, to an intensive course to get the cadets used to Service life and to develop their officer-like qualities. After that, at about the age of 19 they will go to sea in the Fleet as midshipmen for a year, where they will learn the most important part of their business. After these first two years, when they have a firm grounding in the elements of their profession and their responsibilities as officers, they will return—more mature and broader in outlook—to their academic naval education. So the "middy" is back.
We aim to have the revised scheme working by September, 1961, the earliest date by which we can expect boys now at school to be ready for the new entry conditions. Beginning with that year, there will be only a September entry into Dartmouth; that is, following the summer examinations. We realise that, in parallel, vie must intensify our efforts with the schools to publicise the advantages of Service life. When industry is doing so very much, we cannot possibly afford to be left behind. We are confident that what we are doing—the raising of entry standards, the revised scheme of training and the return of the midshipman to the Fleet—will prove to be on the right lines. I would like, with my noble Friend, to express our gratitude to Sir Keith Murray and his academic colleagues on the Dartmouth Review Committee, for all they have done to help us tackle this supremely important matter.
Before I leave the subject of officers, I want to announce one other new scheme. To meet the growing need for helicopter pilots, we are introducing a new 5-year short service commission for pilots who will be trained specifically for this purpose. Details will be published within the next few weeks.
I will end with a short account of what we are trying to do to secure economies in naval manpower. Throughout the whole naval service, uniformed and civilian, our general aim is to get the largest amount of work done with the smallest numbers; or, to modify a famous phrase, "to get their fustest with the leastest" men. Sailors are expensive people. That is one of the reasons for economy. For example, the annual cost of an able bodied seaman was reckoned 902 a year ago to be about £620. Improvements in pay and conditions have now increased the figure to about £710. There are bound to be further increases in the future, as general standards rise. That is one reason for economy, but it is not the main reason. Our object is to have the largest possible Fleet at sea, and to achieve it we must reduce the number of jobs ashore. We must also cut complements afloat. In these ways we can man more ships.
There is a further point. It has become more and more difficult to find space in ships for all the men and all the equipment required. But there are two competing pressures: one for more living space and better amenities; the other for a full quota of modern weapons. We try to reconcile the conflict between the two by measures which will enable ships to operate with smaller crews, or, at least, prevent the size of crews continuing to grow.
The Committee knows well what we are doing ashore to implement this policy. We are trying a few new ideas afloat—some rough and ready, and some more scientific. The captain of H.M.S. "Eagle," for example, was recently asked to reduce his complement by an arbitrary 100 men, and to report how he had managed to make the smaller numbers go round. We are extending this rather rough-and-ready form of experiment.
Another method is to share the chores, and other domestic tasks which must be done in every ship, among all ratings in the ship's company, whatever their specialisation. At the same time, we are aiming at developing new types of dual-purpose ratings—men who will be "maintainers" as well as "operators".
As a more scientific example, we place much hope in our Fleet work study teams. Work study in the Navy can produce two results: it can improve the operational efficiency and availability of the ship, and it can enable it to carry out its task with fewer men. Our teams have been told to give their main priority for the next few years to the task of matching ships' jobs to reduced complements. The foundations of their work have been well laid in the Fleet Work Study School at Portsmouth; and they are cutting their teeth now on a wide variety of new investigations.
903 A new scheme will not work unless there is good management and organising ability to back it up. Here, we depend on our petty officers. It is a particular aim of the Petty Officers' Training School, H.M.S. "Royal Arthur," to produce leaders who know how to organise their teams or parties of men to the best advantage for any task. The complexity, for instance, of the routines in an aircraft carrier, with about 2,000 hands on board, emphasises the importance of this training.
The Navy is going through a major period of reorganisation. It will be a long haul before it has absorbed all the large-scale technical changes on the way, but the foundations have been well laid. This is in very large measure due to the First Sea Lord, who will shortly be leaving the Admiralty after four notable years; and I know that my noble Friend would wish me to pay tribute to his vision, his leadership and his immense drive.
In submitting these Estimates, I ask the Committee to endorse our conviction that only with officers and men, ships and equipment, research and administration of the highest quality shall we get the Navy worthy of Britain.
I hope that the Committee will grant us this Vote to allow us to carry on with this job.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Steele (Dunbartonshire, West)
First, I should like to associate myself and my colleagues on this side of the Committee with the Parliamentary Secretary's closing reference to the First Sea Lord, who is now taking up his other appointment. It seems that when I open for this side in the debates on these Estimates, it is invariably my duty to welcome a new Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty. I do so today, once more.
Unfortunately, it is becoming not only a welcome on his first appearance at the Box to present the Estimates, but also proves to be his last appearance at the Box for this purpose. No doubt, with a General Election in the offing, the same will apply to the hon. Gentleman. He is now No. 5 on the list since the Government came into office, though that compares rather well with the seven Ministers of Defence that we have had.
There was also a new departure in the hon. Gentleman's speech, in that he has 904 devoted very little time to the rôle of the Navy, although he did say something about the anti-submarine rôle, which was announced by the Minister of Defence last year, and to which I shall later refer. I gathered from the hon. Gentleman that he was talking about the Navy in accordance with the progress report contained in the Explanatory Statement. That, however, is headed, "The Navy Today," whereas the Parliamentary Secretary rather discussed the Navy of tomorrow.
Let me follow him, first, in his remarks on the Supplementary Estimate. The Estimates and the Supplementary Estimates of the last few years tell rather an interesting story. Quite frankly, the complete picture makes nonsense of the Government's attempts at any economies in the Navy Vote. The Estimate for 1956–57 was £346 million, but this figure was revised by the Government's White Paper No. 311 of 27th June, 1956, and reduced by £8 million. At the end of the day, however, the Navy asked for a Supplementary Estimate of £11 million, making a figure of £3 million above what had originally been requested.
Between the 1956–57 and the 1957–58 Votes we had the appointment of the present Minister of Defence, and the Committee will recall that the Estimates in the latter year were delayed so that the Minister of Defence might look at the whole problem of defence expenditure with a view to cuts being made. In the result, the 1957–58 Estimate was £316 million, £30 million less than that for the previous year. But at the end of the year we had a Supplementary Estimate for £35 million, which was £5 million above the original year Estimate.
In 1958–59, the Admiralty asked for £339,400,000, which was higher than the 1957–58 Estimate but was not as high as had originally been planned. Today, we have a Supplementary Estimate of £42 million, which brings the total for last year to £381 million. We are now asked for £371 million for the next year. Let us not forget that this is the highest figure that has ever been asked for the Navy Vote in peacetime—and there is no reason to suppose that by the end of this financial year we shall not again be presented with a Supplementary Estimate.
If there is any moral in this story, I leave it to the Committee to find it for 905 itself, but it is clear that, despite the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the good intentions of the Minister of Defence, substantial economies will not be found in this Vote while the Government's present foreign policies continue. It is true that the main part of the Supplementary Estimate is explained by the fact that contract work on the construction of ships has proceeded more quickly than was expected. Of course, I am not surprised. This is no doubt due to the fact that other work in the yards is growing less and less, as explained by the Parliamentary Secretary, and that the owners are putting more workers on Admiralty work.
§ Commander J. W. Maitland (Horncastle)
Is the moral of what the hon. Member has said that if the Opposition were in power the money spent on the Navy would be considerably less?
§ Mr. Steele
It might well be less, but that is not the moral. I think that the moral was pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), during the defence debate, when he showed clearly that the Minister of Defence set out, in 1957, to achieve economies in defence expenditure which he has not been able to achieve. I was indicating that, despite the attempt which had been made to do this in the Navy Vote, it had not worked out.
If we turn to page 223 of the Estimates, dealing with new construction, we find that the estimated cost for vessels now under construction in the dockyards is £5,700,000, while under contract it is £47,899,000. For vessels to be commenced during the year the figures are, in the dockyards, £18,000, and under contract, £76,000. Do I take it from those figures that the two missile destroyers are included in the first figure as being under construction? It seems peculiar, when we are told in the White Paper that two out of the four are about to be laid down and that a third will be laid down later this year. Are we to understand that when we have a few bits and pieces gathered together it is considered to be under construction? After all, we were told about these ships as far back as 1955, and this does not indicate very speedy progress. It would be helpful if we could know when they are likely to be completed.
906 I, for one, was interested in the entirely novel propulsion machinery which will be fitted to these ships. The idea behind it is quite apparent. Extra space will be required for this machinery and, as the Seaslug missile, the principal armament, will require a great deal of storage space, I wonder what kind of accommodation there will be for those who have to serve in these ships. They have been a long time in the planning stage. The Parliamentary Secretary spoke about them with some pride and satisfaction, but I feel that we should have been much happier if we had been able to congratulate him on the fact that these would be the first ships for the Royal Navy to have nuclear propulsion. I know that they are not the size for this job, but we seem to be falling behind in that respect.
The Parliamentary Secretary dealt at some length with the ships which we have. I feel that it was right and proper that he should do so, but from the comments made during his speech he will not be surprised if his comments about the cruisers and other ships did not convince some of my hon. Friends. No doubt they will have something to say about it later. The hon. Member said something about the complexity of the new ships. They are very different from the kind of ships described so graphically by his hon. Friend the Civil Lord last year, when he talked about steel boxes with engines and guns stuck in them, a phrase which made some of his hon. Friends wince.
No one will deny that we are getting new ships. Many will say that we are not getting enough. I should like to ask whether we are getting modern ships. I put this question because I have heard some general criticism to the effect that our effort has been rather dissipated by having too many different specialised types of escort vessel and that, overall, they compare unfavourably with those of other countries. For instance, in simplicity of design it is said that we have nothing as good as the "Dealey" class, first built in the United States in 1952, and nothing to compare with the "Forrest Sherman" class of destroyers, laid down in 1953. As I understand, there is supposed to be complete co-operation between the United States and this country in matters of naval design and machinery and in all matters outside the nuclear 907 field. If this criticism is correct, the position is not very satisfactory.
I think that we were all disturbed to read the reports in the Press last December about the weakness discovered in the hulls of the "Blackwood" class frigates. Apparently, the heavy seas off Iceland brought these weaknesses to light when the frigates were on fishery patrol duties. The Press stated that the "Blackwood" class ships are among the Royal Navy's latest anti-submarine frigates, completed in 1956, 1957 and this year. Is that so? I thought that they were a little earlier. In any case, this is something for which the Admiralty can hardly blame the Minister of Defence. Perhaps the Civil Lord can give us an explanation.
The Navy can be justly proud of its development of the aircraft carrier. The angled deck, the steam catapult and the mirror landing aid demonstrate that the Navy is still very good with ships. Can we be as sure about the aircraft? Now that the present Parliamentary Secretary is at the Admiralty, with his recent experience at the Air Ministry, no doubt he will give special consideration to this point.
This year's Defence White Paper was almost smug on the subject of what it called "new" machines. What were these aircraft? The first was the Scimitar, now with the Fleet. The next was the Sea Vixen, expected to come into service within a year. Both of these aircraft were mentioned in the 1955 Estimates, four years ago. The D.H.110, which has become the Sea Vixen, was flying in prototype in 1951, which is eight years ago. We have a right to ask whether they are new aircraft.
The angled deck and the mirror landing aid have been rightly boosted asenabling our aircraft carriers to operate the most up-to-date, high performance aircraft,but neither Scimitar nor the Sea Vixen is supersonic. The Scimitar has blown flaps so that its performance in the low-speed range is presumably good; but this device should also produce an improvement m the high-speed performance by allowing the designer to produce a high-speed wind instead of a compromise between high and low. Yet the Scimitar is not supersonic.
Some of us may remember that many of the Navy's best aircraft in the past were 908 borrowed from the R.A.F. The Sea Gladiator and the Seafire are cases in point. On this, it is sometimes difficult to escape the conclusion that the Navy is treated as a "poor relation." Or is it that the Navy insists on its own designs, made, if possible, by separate firms; and does it always insist on modifying the aircraft to fit the carrier so much that the designs are always late?
The latest Royal Air Force fighter, the English Electric Lightning, is easily supersonic in level flight. It does not seem to need a very long runway. Has the Navy considered its use in a carrier? The new T.S.R.2 is being specially designed for operation from short airfields and it would be ready-made for operation from a carrier. I should like to know whether the Navy is ready right at the time of the first design stage to consider whether it can make use of that aircraft. It is true that in low-level strike aircraft the Navy appears to have got in first with the N.A.39, but let us remember that this aircraft was mentioned in the 1955 Estimates and that production orders have only just been placed, so we cannot be complacent about that.
In the 1954 Explanatory Statement we were told that close collaboration between the naval and air staffs enables both Services to obtain the maximum benefit from the research and development carried out by the Ministry of Supply. We hope that that is true. The Fleet Air Arm may not be able to take much part in a global war, but it should be equipped as effectively as possible for its rôle in a limited war.
We find that the Navy is ordering the Wessex helicopters for anti-submarine work. I wish to know whether it can carry troops, or must we have additional helicopters for this work? We learn that orders have been placed for the Saunders Roe P.531 helicopter. After all, the Navy has done very well with helicopters and it may be that it cannot progress very much further because of the size limitations. But we are told that the Royal Air Force is ordering two types of Bristol aircraft and I wish to know whether in this the opposite obtains, that with helicopters the Navy is leading the way and the R.A.F. insisting on its own types.
Hon. Members will recall mat last year much of our discussion was about the reorganisation of shore establishments 909 and the closing down of Royal dockyards and Royal naval air establishments. We all recognised that many of the decisions made were inevitable because of the changing pattern of the Navy. Concern was expressed about the welfare of those involved in the changes and we were given an assurance that everything possible would be done to ease any hardships which might arise. I think it fair to say that, up to now, the arrangements seem to be working smoothly. I have not heard of any major complaints, either from the men or the trade unions concerned.
The position may become more difficult in the future as the Service contracts and opportunities become fewer, so that it will be necessary for us to keep a close watch on matters as time goes on. It would be useful to be told how many men have been transferred and how many are still to be transferred; how many have been offered transfers and refused, and, among those who are not established, how many have been declared redundant and how many have still to be paid off. What I have said applies to the position at home. Abroad, things are rather different and do not appear to be working so smoothly, particularly at Malta. Here, the problem is difficult and perhaps the Civil Lord could give us some information about what is happening. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) will deal with the question of personnel later in the debate.
I wish to refer briefly to another matter. In paragraph 102 of the Explanatory Statement we are told that the regrouping of previous Controller's departments under four Director-Generals have now take place. I have not studied all the departments, but I have looked at the Ship Department and, from the information contained on pages 177 and 178 of the Estimates, I have compared the situation with the separate sections shown last year. To be frank, the whole thing gives me the impression of being rather top-heavy on the administrative side. I feel that they have been lumped together rather than reorganised.
May we be told whether there has been any real change in this connection? At first glance, it looks as if we have now more administrators for fewer workers and fewer ships. Did the Admiralty get any outside advice on the reorganisation, 910 and if not, why not? Organisation is a matter which has always interested me and perhaps I shall have an opportunity at looking at what other countries do and making some comparisons in the future on the question of organisation.
Another matter of greater importance arises from the decision made by the Admiralty, some time ago, to scrap the medium-class aircraft carriers. A number of Questions have been asked by hon. Members from both sides of the Committee about whether these carriers could be used as commando carriers. The latest information we have is that the matter is still under consideration. Does this mean that the decision to scrap them is in abeyance? This raises a question which goes beyond the bounds of the Admiralty. Last year, the Minister of Defence announced that the Eastern Fleet based on Singapore would include a Commando carrier equipped to accommodate a marine Commando force capable of operating helicopters either in a troop-carrying role or for anti-submarine work. This idea was welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee.
We have been conscious of the fact that whenever or wherever trouble arises the Navy is always called on to do all sorts or tasks for which it was really never equipped. The Navy performs those tasks cheerfully and willingly and the fact that it will do so is always taken for granted. For instance, in paragraph 26 of this year's Explanatory Statement we read that H.M.S. "Albion" was diverted from her work-up to carry 1,000 troops and 350 vehicles as reinforcements to the Middle East. But we are being told that a decision has been made to scrap carriers which, if converted, would be ideal for this purpose; that is to say, until we have something better with which to do the job.
We are still a long way from having the air mobility which we desire, especially for freight. There may be some reluctance on the part of the Admiralty to undertake this work. It may be that it is felt that better use could be made of the money which it gets. But in this Committee we must take a wider view of the defence structure than the convenience of the Admiralty.
Having taken a decision to have a Commando carrier for a vital rôle in the 911 Eastern fleet, I find it difficult to understand why we should leave ourselves without at least an operational reserve. Even on her way home to be re-equipped "Bulwark" was called on to undertake another task. When she finally arrives at her station in the East there will be times when she requires to be relieved. Some makeshift arrangement may be made, but it seems to me that the position is unsatisfactory. I feel that we should press for the retention of the carriers in the reserve and I ask all hon. Members to support the plea which I am making. We should retain the carriers until we are satisfied that a better means of transport is available which is capable of handling vehicles and large quantities of equipment.
We have been told that it is the intention of the Government to have a number of bases abroad, with equipment and stores, but so far we have no information where they will be and when they will be ready. What we know at present is that modern equipment for this purpose is not available.
Since our discussion last year, the Government have entered into an agreement with the United States for American machinery for H.M.S. "Dreadnought". I said last year that it would be a great pity if our own technical and scientific staff had to be engaged merely to catch up with what the Americans had done. This is at least a step in the right direction and we all welcome the important announcement made by the Parliamentary Secretary today, that the contract which is mentioned in the Explanatory Statement has now been completed. Would I be right in assuming that the exchange of information will include all problems which will arise in this matter, like the safety of the crew and other difficulties which will be associatied with this new form of propulsion?
Nuclear-propelled submarines nowadays are linked with Polaris. I take it that no decision has yet been made. I assume that the new "Dreadnought" and the modifications that are taking place do not include provision for Polaris.
§ Mr. C. Ian Orr-Ewing
My right hon. Friend stated during the defence debate, on the second day, that "Dreadnought" is not designed to carry Polaris.
§ Mr. Steele
At present the Minister of Defence is, therefore, putting his money on Blue Streak, but I imagine that the decision is not a firm one.
The next matter I wish to raise is one for which the Civil Lord has a direct responsibility. It is about the Committee on Nuclear Propulsion for Merchant Ships, over which he presides. The Committee's principal task has been to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of the different types of nuclear reactors with a view to deciding which one should be developed. In answer to a supplementary question by me last Wednesday, the hon. Gentleman stated that the decision had not yet been made. This is disappointing. I have no doubt that the Ciivl Lord shares that view. Perhaps he would care to expand a little the answer which he gave by telling us a little more of what is happening.
Are we anywhere near to taking the decision? I am sure that the Committee appreciates the importance of the matter, as a great deal of our industrial prosperity depends upon our getting on with this task. I believe that the Committee would like to be assured that the industrial concerns connected with this matter are giving the Civil Lord full support. If the hon. Gentleman has any information to give us about progress it will be welcomed.
Finally, I would say a word about the role of the Navy. The Explanatory Statement says that this was set out last year. According to the Admiralty, this role was never in doubt, and if that is the case one can surely ask why the Admiralty has spent so much time each year setting it out. However, discussion goes on, and no doubt we shall have a few more speeches about it today. The hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) put his finger on the biggest difficulty when he spoke during the defence debate about the lack of information to enable us to arrive at a proper judgment. That applies more particularly to the Navy than to any of the other Services. Paragraph 46 of the 1958 Defence White Paper stated that the Royal Navy would be operating in conjunction with other Allied navies and that the aim would be to make the most effective contribution to the combined forces of the Alliance and not necessarily to provide a fully balanced, all-purpose 913 British Fleet. The Parliamentary Secretary referred to that today.
No one will quarrel with this conception. It is unnecessary for me to set out in detail what those commitments are, but the most important for the defence of our shores are Allied Command Atlantic and Channel Command, both under N.A.T.O. It is, therefore, necessary for us, when we are considering the matter, to have more information both about the general policy and strategy of those commands as well as the contribution being made by the other Allies. This is not easy. Unlike SACEUR, neither Allied Command Atlantic nor Channel Command has any forces directly under its command at present. SACLANT is established, and has the responsibility of developing defence plans, conducting training exercises and trying to achieve high standard of military readiness. It is impossible for us in this Committee to pass judgment on its forces, and whether our contribution is adequate, without a great deal more information. What information we have is not encouraging.
On the question of bases, I understand that a policy was agreed a long time ago under the infra-structure arrangements. So far, very little has been done. I feel teat it would be helpful to have information about this. On the question of policy, there is no doubt that the Minister of Defence started a furious argument and lost many friends when he stated that the rifle of the Navy was uncertain. In the light of my research and with the information I now have, this statement becomes most strange and difficult to understand.
Allied Command Atlantic, usually described as SACLANT, with its headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, is, like SACEUR, an Allied force. In the event of war, certain of our forces will be assigned to its direction. This means the Atlantic Fleet at least; what else, I do not know. It is interesting to note, in passing, that, just as the Minister of Defence achieved economy in reducing the troops serving in Germany, so, with regard to the Navy, it was the Atlantic Fleet, the N.A.T.O. force, on which, the Minister said last year, the economies in the Navy would fall.
I have here "Saclant Nato Story", which I presume to be the equivalent of the Explanatory Statement issued by the 914 First Lord of the Admiralty. There is no uncertainty here about the rôle of the Navy. In a very striking paragraph it is stated quite clearly that SACLANT's wartime job isto prevent the Soviet military machine from driving a steel wedge down the Atlantic … to separate North America from Europe.Then, in three short phrases, the paper goes on to set out how this will be done. Here is the concept, according to SACLANT, for the defence of the Atlantic:First, to strike, with the maximum atomic capability, the enemy airfields and naval bases which support the forces which would seize control of the seas.Second, to defend the broad Atlantic as far forward as possible.Third, to provide close-in protection of our trans-Atlantic sea lanes.I must comment that there is no uncertainty here.
The second thing I must do is to draw attention to the order in which the pamphlet sees the task to be done. This is expanded in another paragraph, which reads:The concept of defence of the Atlantic by the forces under the direction of SACLANT in time of war can be summed up in a few simple words: To strike and simultaneously, to defend. To avoid an over simplification of the comprehensive tasks of SACLANT, a further explanation of the operational plans is needed.The Allied Command Atlantic has concentrated in the Striking Fleet the atomic wallop which the U.S. Navy has built into the attack carriers. It is in essence a mobile, elusive airfield complex at sea with its own offence, defence and support built-in. It is geared for atomic war. The fleet would be well dispersed against atomic attack and would cover an area about the size of the state of Maine. Because it is always on the move it would not be subject to pin-pointing for guided missile attack like the stationary targets ashore. The Striking Fleet would project its atomic offensive power right into the heart of enemy naval bases and airfields that are main source of threat to SACLANT's control of the Atlantic.The main emphasis here is on the strike rôle. There is no playing about here with limiting the field of activity to enable a pause for consultation to take place.
Here I must ask a pertinent question. Are we, in fact, committed to this policy? If we are—and I cannot see it otherwise—the dicussions we have had on the rôle of our Navy have been all rather unreal. The uncertainty has not been about the naval rôle in war, but our contribution to that rôle. So far as I can see, the naval strategy has 915 never been stated in these terms in this House before, even though we are committed to it. It is, therefore, in this context that we have to examine the task allotted to the Royal Navy by the Minister of Defence, namely, the antisubmarine rôle.
We go back again to paragraph 12 of the 1958 White Paper. If the SACLANT policy is based, as it seems to be, on the same conception as paragraph 12, then the contributions to the anti-submarine rôle will not call for tremendous forces. As this conception is being departed from with nuclear stalemate in sight, if it is not already here, one might ask whether this calls for a revision of naval strategy as a whole. If it does, this would mean an increase rather than a reduction of our Atlantic strength. That is why we want the anti-submarine rôle explained to us in much greater detail. It is also why we must be told whether Her Majesty's Government are fully committed to the conception set out by SACLANT. In this, the atomic strike is left entirely to the U.S. Navy and we ought to be told whether our Government have only to be informed or consulted, or whether we must give our consent before the first action, the strike action and full atomic capability, is launched.
The Minister of Defence has made it clear that we shall never "go it alone" in any major conflict in the future. We have now a system of alliances and interdependence in various defensive structures throughout the free world. This makes it less and less possible for us in this Committee to consider these matters without a great deal more adequate information than is available to us at present. I trust that the Government will consider this matter and see what can be done.
The House of Commons has always taken for granted the devotion to duty of the officers and men of the Royal Navy and their keenness and aptitude to carry out the tasks allotted to them. Our confidence in them, I am sure, will be emphasised by every speaker in the debate, but that is not enough. Just as we ought to know, it is more important that they ought to know just what their tasks are likely to be, and those tasks must have credibility. They ought to know that so far as humanly possible we shall equip them for the job.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby (Dorset, West)
The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) made the interesting and thoughtful kind of speech we have come to expect from him. At the end he touched on a very interesting subject when he asked how interdependence was to work out as far as we are concerned and whether perhaps there was some divergence between the conception of infrastructure that is held by SACLANT and what we think on these general defence problems.
I am quite sure that if we are to have this interdependence it is terribly important that we should think in the same way about the rôle of the Navy and the rôle of SACLANT. I was particularly glad to hear the hon. Member pay tribute to the Navy for the fact that it has been in the forefront of modern development with the angle deck, the mirror landing sight and the steam catapult. That alone shows the great efficiency of the Navy in these post-war years.
When he went on to the Supplementary Estimate, I thought the hon. Member was perhaps a little less kind to the Navy. It is bound to be a long time before we see the effect of the kind of economies that the Navy has undertaken in the last two years. In particular, in closing down bases one cannot expect real economies to be shown for several years. The hon. Member even complained that more money was being spent on new ships because they were being completed faster, largely on account of the more rapid work that was being done in shipbuilding yards.
§ Mr. Wingfield Digby
I am glad to hear that because I have rather a bee in my bonnet about the fact that the quicker ships are built the better. Not only does it make them cheaper, but I think it better to get on with the building of a ship once it is laid down and then to think about designing the next one. It is perhaps a possible criticism of our shipbuilding that we take too long on building, both for the Royal Navy and for the Merchant Navy, compared with other countries.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on the excellent way 917 in which he acquitted himself on his first presentation of Service Estimates. We are delighted to have him at the Admiralty. I hope he enjoys his work as much as I did when I was there. He covered a very wide field and told us a lot, although, as usual, there were one or two things we should like to have heard more about, such as reorganisation in the dockyards.
I was very glad to hear my hon. Friend say that in future there is to be concentration on building new ships rather than on the modernisation of old ones. Some of us feel that might have been done with better advantage in the past. I shall say another word or two about that later. We were also pleased to hear his announcement about "Dreadnought." I very much hope that when she is eventually laid down this summer my hon. Friend will give details to the House. I was glad to hear what be had to say about the research programme and about the fact that money for that programme is not to be reduced, but to continue to be increased. There are many tempting projects in the naval sphere and a great many of them should be pursued. I am glad that the money will be available to enable that to be done.
Taking into account particularly the Supplementary Estimate, I think that we can say that the Navy has had a good share of the defence cake this year, and I am glad of it. On the other hand, we seem to have got a very long way from the original rearmament programme of 1950 of £4,700 million to be spent in three years. I sometimes wonder whether the cake itself is large enough and, perhaps, with the civil Votes going up as rapidly as they are doing, whether the defence total ought not to be moving up a little quicker.
The Minister of Defence, in the defence debate, said that he had not had a single suggestion in that debate for more money to be spent on defence. I should like to make that suggestion here and now and say that it is necessary, I feel, that more should go into defence, especially when we remember the rises in pay and the increases in costs and wages outside. The actual defence money that we are voting today obviously will not go so far as it did three or four years ago.
We have just had a two-day debate on defence in general, followed by the Army 918 Estimates and the Air Estimates, and we have now to turn our attention entirely to the Navy today. We are tempted to stray back, I think, and we must on occasions stray back into the wider conceptions of strategy.
Unquestionably it is a very difficult time for defence with the competing claims of the deterrent and what are now called conventional arms. A French historian once said that any nation was safe in the crisis of its destiny if it could only remember its own history.
When we remember our own past there is certainly a great deal of naval history in it and there are naval episodes to fire our imagination, although many of the greatest men like Drake and Raleigh found public opinion turn against them very rapidly after the greatest of their successes, and the unfortunate Admiral Byng in his failure.
Another point to remember is the extent to which naval history has consisted of combined operations. Nelson himself lost an eye in the siege of Calvi in Corsica when taking part in a purely land operation and he lost an arm in a naval landing party in the Canaries. We must always go on looking at the Navy as a Service which must ever be prepared to take part in combined operations.
Today, certainly, the circumstances are difficult owing to the very rapid changes in the new weapons and the difficulty of appreciating the new strategy. The Minister of Defence told us in the defence debate that he had had very great difficulty in ever conceiving of our fighting a major war alone again. I think that one must qualify that by asking who, in 1939, could have seen that by 1940 we would have been doing just that thing?
When I was up at Cambridge my special subject in history was European alliances and commitments leading up to the 1914 war. That left on my mind a permanent impression that no alliance is ever permanent and that we can have changes, such as the defection of Italy and Turkey from their respective sides in the 1914 war. Important though N.A.T.O. is to us, it is no argument for not being prepared to defend ourselves in our own right.
When looking at defence policy over the last two years, we find that we have 919 had a defence policy with rather less money and rather more dependence on the deterrent, with very much more personal responsibility on the Minister of Defence and consequently less on the Service Ministers. It seems to me that even in those two years there have been changing circumstances from the point of view of strategy which we ought to try to apply to the Navy. The first is the increasing vulnerability of the United States of America to direct forms of attack, the second is the mention of such developments as anti-missile missiles, and the third seems to be the increasing parity of the deterrent, although I notice that last year the White Paper on defence was confident that we could remain permanently ahead of the Russians in nuclear striking power.
I wish I shared that confidence. It seems to me that we are in an age of increasing parity of deterrent power, and that makes nuclear war less likely and limited war very much more likely. That is where we have to have a special look at the Navy today. In the new defence policy of two years ago, the accent was put on preventing war rather than preparing for it. Today we must give rather more attention to the preparation side of the exercise.
In the 1954 defence White Paper there was stress on sea communications. It is true that they have been mentioned again in the White Paper this year, but they have not been given quite the same amount of importance nor do we hear the phrase "a broken-back war" used any more. In the White Paper there is, rightly, reference to the Navy, but on two of the points to which it refers I am frankly a little puzzled.
In the first place, there is a claim that personnel accommodation is to receive special attention in the next year. That does not really seem to me to apply to the Navy from the figures that I have been able to work out. The other thing is that, although the defence White Paper is called "Progress of the Five-year Defence Plan"—it seems to take credit for the ships being brought into the Service and modernised this year—we shall not be seeing the fruits of the five-year plan for several years yet. We must raise our sights and look forward if we are to 920 see the true consequences of the new defence policy.
I realise that the money which can be spent on living accommodation must be limited, but I see that the expenditure on married quarters, under Vote 15, is to be only £900,000 against £1,677,000 in 1955, to take a year at random. There is thus a sharp reduction in that case. The figures for married quarters outside Vote 15 are very much the same. Expenditure on personnel accommodation at home in the earlier year was nearly £1 million against £654,000 this year. Those comments in the defence White Paper thus hardly apply to the Navy.
The most important subject on which we have to focus our attention during the debate is the Fleet. I recall the then First Lord's explanatory statement in 1955 which said:The average age of the Fleet is too high for its own health and the present-day demands on it.Is not that still very much the case today? It would obviously not be true of minesweepers, because many of them have been built, perhaps too many. It would hardly apply to frigates. We have been told the very good news that the new frigates now building will soon be completed.
However, in category D in the statement on ships in reserve, it is shown that only 55 frigates are in reserve while in 1955–56 there were 115. There is thus a sharp reduction. In the active fleet, we are down to four "Darings", although I suppose that that is only temporary. The numbers of cruisers and aircraft carriers are very much lower than they were. This only shows that we are rapidly moving towards a small ship navy and that although many of the smaller ships are new the same cannot be said of the larger ships.
It is also fair to point out that of the remaining larger ships many have old hulls. For example, the three new cruisers were all laid down a considerable time ago, as were the aircraft carriers "Ark Royal" and "Victorious." Even the aircraft carrier "Hermes," although new, belongs to a class started some years ago.
If we raised our sights to the year 1964 or beyond, we should get a different picture of the Fleet, and I wish that we could have been told a little more about 921 that We have to look four or five years ahead, because within that time, I presume, no new ships can be designed, laid down and built.
The fact that the Fleet will then be less powerful unless something is done—and there is always a hope that something will be done to replace the larger ships of war-time construction—means that the picture in 1964 will be such that it may be difficult for us to meet our commitments. I have received an amusing extract from the Tangier Gazette. I hope that it does not prophesy things to come. It says:Admiral Sir William Davis, Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet, arrived at Gibraltar this week-end from the United Kingdom by car and upon arrival hoisted his flag on board the last mine-layer, H.M.S. 'Apollo.'I hope that we have not got to the stage of having the last of any useful type of ship.
It has been rightly stressed by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West that with the information at our disposal it is very difficult to understand the task of the Fleet. An article in The Times today stressed the difficulty of appreciating the intended rôle of the Navy against submarines. There is no doubt that the cold war rôle will remain, and for that purpose it is nice to have one or two larger ships which make a good impression at parts which they visit.
In conventional war, there is the problem of dealing with the Russian cruisers and Russian submarines. How well are we placed to deal with them and how much is it left to the conception of SACLANT? I hope that the time will come when the Navy will also have its share of the deterrent, since the Polaris has very great advantages, and I hope that the Minister of Defence has not altogether excluded the idea that at a later stage the Navy will have that weapon and be restored to that offensive rôle in which it has so often distinguished itself in the past.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend did not have time to refer to the Royal Dockyards, but perhaps the Civil Lord will deal with that matter when he winds up the debate, since several hon. Members are interested in the reorganisation of the dockyards. From what I have heard, it seems to be excellent, although I was a little disappointed to hear that Chatham will not be reorganised until 1961. The 922 first experiment began in Chatham some years ago and I think that the reorganisation is taking a long time to achieve.
I hope that it will be possible to do a little more shipbuilding in the Royal Dockyards as the demands of the Fleet for repairs become less serious. I am convinced that nothing pleases the people in the Royal Dockyards more than having the building of a ship, and I hope that ways are found for the dockyards to return to that tradition.
The nation is getting value for money in the Navy and from these Estimates. The Estimates show that H.M.S. "Duncan", a new frigate, will cost slightly less than £2 million. That represents about two modern bombers, and in the cold war there is no doubt which is of the greater value, a frigate or a bomber. A frigate can show the flag and be seen abroad, while a bomber could possibly meet with some accident at a very early stage of its life. Thus, in these days of very expensive armaments, the Navy can provide very good value for money.
So long as we have world-wide commitments and world-wide trade, it is essential that we should have an efficient Navy and sufficient ships. I am very glad that we have had this instalment of extra frigates and I hope that the ships are rapidly completed in the builders' yards. The sooner we get them, the better, and even if a Supplementary Estimate is needed, I shall be content.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Mr. A. G. Bottomley (Rochester and Chatham)
It is always a privilege to present the Navy Estimates. The Parliamentary Secretary, who presented them today, and my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele), who examined them so carefully, both acquitted themselves with distinction. If the Parliamentary Secretary runs true to form, he was probably making his last as well as his first appearance, so that we can bid him welcome and farewell at the same time.
He expressed the personal view that the fleet of the future would be one of atomic-powered underwater craft. I made that suggestion a few years ago when I had the honour to speak on the Navy Estimates from the Opposition Front Bench. At that time, I had very little support 923 from hon. Members opposite, and it is pleasant to find that Service Ministers are now bringing themselves up to date.
The hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) expressed the hope, in which I join, that we shall hear more about the future development of the modern Fleet at not too distant a date. This is a very important matter, for more and more people are coming to appreciate the true value of the Royal Navy. If anything, it was emphasised by the Suez catastrophe. If the Royal Navy had been able to play a greater part by having the necessary ships, landing craft and so on, there might have been a different story to tell about that adventure.
The mobility of the Navy can serve the country well. We spend large sums of money providing land-based missile sites which could be blotted out at one go. The ships of the Royal Navy, with guided missiles or other nuclear weapons, can move about. They are able to carry on when other means of defence are no longer possible.
I should like to join with others who have paid tribute to the new Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff, the First Sea Lord. I am quite sure that under his leadership we shall see greater attention paid to these methods of defence than in the past.
We must face the fact that modern requirements mean great changes in the Royal Navy and if sometimes for economic and efficiency reasons there has to be a reduction, this must be faced. In my constituency, as is well known, last year we had to face the closing down of the Nore Command. I am not sure that that was a right decision, and others have expressed similar doubts. Indeed, only last July, some months after the initial statement was made that the Nore Command was to go, there were rumours circulating in the constituency to the effect that the Royal Navy was not to leave, after all. I am afraid that we must now realistically face the fact that the Nore Command will go from Chatham.
If that is so, I should like to make some points about matters which are causing great trouble and anxiety in my constituency. With the removal of the Nore Command, the housing in the naval establishments will become empty. What is to happen to them? I have already 924 made the plea to the First Lord, and I repeat it, that the association of the Royal Navy with Chatham should be retained. Having had the Navy so closely associated and linked with the town since the reign of Elizabeth I, it is highly desirable that we should retain some association if we can.
One way of doing this, if possible, is to keep the Royal Marines Records Office in Chatham. I am assured that it can be kept there. I am assured that the work can be done efficiently and well. It will be appreciated by my constituents and the town generally if it can be kept there.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
Will the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) agree, as we are both interested in this matter, that we might suggest to the Civil Lord that a vessel be named "H.M.S. Nore", thereby keeping the relationship of Rochester and Chatham and the Medway towns generally alive and associated with the Royal Navy?
§ Mr. Bottomley
I am quite sure that that suggestion will be noted. At the moment I am more concerned with the well-being of my constituents.
In the first place, this will not be a great help economically, but for reasons of sentiment I plead that the Royal Marine Pay and Record Office should be kept in Chatham as a constant reminder that Chatham was once the home of the Royal Navy.
What will happen to the other buildings that will be vacated? For instance, what will happen to the Royal Naval Barracks? We do not know. What will eventually happen to the Royal Naval Supply and Secretariat School, the Mechanical Training Establishment and the Royal Navy Armaments Depots? These buildings will remain in service for some time, but if they are to be usefully occupied some thought ought to be given now to what will take their place. I should like to be reassured also that the Admiralty Clothing Factory will remain in the Medway towns.
I am told that the Royal Naval Hospital has been offered to the National Health Service. The National Health Service does not want the hospital, because it could not be run economically.
925 In these days of difficulty in obtaining staff, the National Health Service wants hospitals that can be manned more easily. Although the Royal Naval Hospital at Chatham is a very fine hospital, as the Civil Lord may know it is a very rambling old building and does not provide facilities for the useful employment of staff. On the other hand, I am assured that for the Royal Navy it serves an extremely useful purpose. I am told that there are men from the Royal Navy and from Service establishments continually there, enough to keep it going, but not fully used.
It should be possible to come to an arrangement with the National Health Service so that the Royal Naval Hospital can be permitted to do the work for the Navy and, to the extent that it is underemployed, it should work for the National Health Service too. At least that would make sure that that building is properly used.
Last week, in answer to a Parliamentary Question, the Civil Lord seemed to derive great satisfaction from the fact that the Royal Marine Barracks will be used for industrial purposes. We welcome this news and we are very glad that Messrs. Palfrey are coming there to help to develop industry. I hope that they will come fairly soon. I hope that they will not be concerned just with packaging, because, with the closing down of some engineering works other than the Royal Navy and with the possible run-down of staff in the dockyard due to the transfer of staff from Sheerness, there will be some very skilled and excellent labour available. I urge Messrs. Palfrey to come as soon as possible to ensure that, if they wish to develop their engineering side, they can take this labour. They can be assured, as all industry is in the Medway towns, of a cordial welcome and of the utmost assistance in establishing themselves.
I shall be forgiven for again making reference to the Royal Marine Barracks. I have done so already on many occasions in the House. It is indeed a sorry story. I tabled a Question last week to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, asking him if he would cause an inquiry to be made into the fact that the Royal Marine Barracks had been lying idle. They have deteriorated over many years. The Chancellor of the Exchequer transferred the 926 Question to the First Lord of the Admiralty. The Civil Lord replied and said that he saw no good cause why there should be an inquiry.
It is a public scandal and a waste of money. I hope that the words I utter in this Committee today will be noted by the Public Accounts Committee, the Select Committee on Estimates or the Auditor General. If there is an examination, I am quite sure that it will be shown that thousands upon thousands of pounds of public money have been wasted due to inefficiency and the failure to use the Royal Marine Barracks in the past. It was not that advice was not given. It was given by the Chamber of Commerce, by the Trades Council and by the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) and myself time and time again. Industry wanted the barracks and would have taken them over years ago. It would have saved the country and the Admiralty money. It would have saved a great loss of rate income for the Chatham Council. I hope that an inquiry will be held at some stage, even if the Admiralty thinks that it is unnecessary.
The Parliamentary Secretary did not make any reference to the dockyard, but the Civil Lord, I gather, will reply to the debate. At a Press conference the First Lord of the Admiralty said:There appears to be some uncertainty about the dockyards.He spoke about the closing down of several dockyards, including Sheerness. There is no uncertainty about them. They have gone. He said that there was no need to have anxiety about the remainder, particularly Chatham. I am one of those people who think that all dockyards can be fully employed and that none need close. Having said that, I am entitled to draw the conclusion that, when the First Lord emphasised "particularly Chatham", he meant Chatham before Portsmouth or Devonport. I should like to be assured that that is what he meant.
Without that assurance I shall continue to have anxiety about Chatham and its future. My opinion is shared by many very senior officers who have retired. They have told me time and time again that, once Royal Naval establishments are taken away from an area, then the dockyard is not as effective and not so strongly required as it would be if the Naval establishments remained.
927 As I said on an earlier occasion, one of them expressed it to me in this way, "When you take away the limbs and the head of a body, the torso begins to perish." The Civil Lord has a chance of removing my anxieties and those of many of my constituents by saying that Chatham's future is particularly assured. Hopes have been built up that its future is assured, because it is a pilot yard for reorganisation. That, in itself, may be the very reason why it is doomed.
The reorganisation that is going on is really rationalisation. It has been said by a naval spokesman that the reorganisation is not for the purpose of employing fewer workmen. All I can say is that there are strong rumours in the dockyard and the towns that shipwrights are going and that other craftsmen will be dismissed as time goes on. If this is untrue, perhaps the Civil Lord will tell me.
What was said by the naval spokesman was that reorganisation would require more white-collar workers. I hope this notes not mean that more jobs are to be found for naval officers. However well they may have served at sea, they are not the ones to do the necessary work in the dockyards. The Select Committee on Estimates in 1950–51 suggested urgent reorganisation related to personnel management and strengthening of the structure of management. The Admiralty has at last acknowledged that the dockyards are great industrial establishments. Therefore, the present move is right, and I give it my support.
However, I would raise a query with the Civil Lord. If the dockyard is a great industrial organisation and we are to reorganise it so that it fits into the industrial scheme of things, is it right that the admiral superintendent should remain? However long and distinguished may be the sea service of such a gentleman, I do not think he is the one best fitted for such a task. It normally takes an admiral superintendent six months to two years to learn about the dockyard and the kind of work that goes on there. Normally the admiral superintendent who is appointed is within a few years of retirement. If we are to reorganise the naval dockyards, we want more dynamic and bolder leadership. Besides that, we want persons who are skilled and have operated and served in the yards all their lives.
928 I pay tribute to the high standard of workmanship in the dockyards. A greater authority than I, the Auditor General, has in the past called attention to the fact that the standard of work in the Royal Dockyards is superior to that in private yards. It is because we have men in the dockyards of the highest calibre—management, craftsmen and other workers—that we have been able to produce the best ships in the world at the cheapest possible prices. I should like to see the men who have done this kind of work in the dockyards responsible for reorganisation. I should like to see experienced men who have been through our dockyard schools, who have risen in the ranks and have become the leaders and the operators in the higher spheres of dockyard management, direct the reorganisation.
If such men were in charge, not only would they do the work extremely well but they would apply pressure to ensure that more and more work was taken into the yards and far less done by private contract because they would know how to build the ships and would realise the need for more work in the dockyards. It would be the whole of their life's endeavour to see the Royal Navy doing more of its own work than it has done in the past. To the extent that ships may not be so numerous in the future, they would, I think, be seeking other avenues to continue employment in the dockyards. They would be trying to get work from other Government Departments—work from the Atomic Energy Authority and the nationalised industries. This would provide a means of keeping the dockyards fully employed.
In addition, if at some stage—we hope not—there were another catastrophe which drove us into war, here would be the dockyards complete with skilled craftsmen and the facilities to meet whatever danger confronted us. In the interests of the workers, of full employment and of strategy, it would be most desirable that the dockyards should be kept fully employed, and fully employed under the direction of the people best able to achieve it—those who have had great industrial experience.
I am sure that if we do not do this there will be growing redundancy in the dockyards. Added to the displacements 929 because of the removal of the Royal Navy from Chatham, unemployment will begin to grow in the area. When the hon. Member for Gillingham, town clerks from the area and leaders of industry and I went as a deputation to the First Lord, representatives of the Board of Trade were present and after we had visited the Admiralty they sent a letter dated 12th May, 1958, in which they said:Industrial projects which have been proposed for the Medway area should provide a substantial number of jobs within the next year or two.The first year has gone and the jobs have not been provided. Indeed, contrariwise, we have not had help from the Board of Trade, and the hon. Member for Gillingham will be able to give a very clear example of that. At the moment we are losing in Rochester an excellent factory concerned with oil boring equipment and as yet there seems to be no likelihood of a suitable replacement by the Board of Trade, which has not the powers to do so.
I am told that I express gloom because I have fears about the future of the dockyard. The First Lord has given assurances, and the Civil Lord may do so again today, but assurances from the present Government are not worth a lot. We were assured that the cost of living would not rise under this Government, but it is higher than it has ever been. We were assured that full employment would remain, but we have now well over 500,000 unemployed and I think the figure may be more like 1 million. Last week we had the result of the Suez campaign, which was undertaken to protect British interests. No doubt the businessmen and the commercial community will have something to say about that; certainly the Government have not kept their promise to protect their interests. Nevertheless, I hope that the Civil Lord will be able to say that Chatham Dockyard will remain and that the word "particularly" as mentioned by the First Lord can be underlined.
I hope that some day we shall not have Army Estimates, Air Estimates and Navy Estimates but shall be able to talk about defence as a whole. This is something which ought to be done. I look forward to the time when we shall be able to save money for the country and meet the convenience of the House of Commons not by having major debates ranging over defence in three or four 930 fields but by concentrating upon Estimates for the Royal Defence Forces.
§ 5.38 p.m.
Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett (Croydon, North-East)
I would begin by adding my quota of congratulations to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty upon his first appearance at the Dispatch Box in his capacity as a member of the Board of Admiralty. We are all glad to see that he has moved up in the world in this way. Unlike the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele), I trust it will not be my hon. Friend's last appearance as such. I see no reason why he should not remain in office for another four or five years. This is very much to be hoped because there is no post in which continuity is of greater value.
The right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) raised a number of very interesting subjects in his speech. I should like to say something about the dockyards later, but I would say, in passing, that I am sure that my hon. Friends and I all sympathise with his very natural and proper sorrow at the impending closing down of Chatham as one of the great manning depôts. However, much as I sympathise with his feelings and those of his constituents, I am bound to say that I think the policy is right.
My hon. Friend has joined the Board of Admiralty at a most propitious moment. I think it was the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), who, during the debate on defence, said that he thought the Explanatory Statements which came with the Departmental Estimates were rather more interesting this year than they have been in previous years. I certainly agree with that. Indeed, I think that the Explanatory Statement by the First Lord which accompanies the Navy Estimates indicates a growing confidence and sense of purpose. My only regret, which I share with the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West, is that the Estimates should be £31 million more than they were last year.
I must be frank and say that I am not convinced that the whole of this increase is entirely unavoidable. Let us, however, be thankful for small mercies. The Explanatory Statement contains, I am glad to say, no double-talk about the 931 Estimates being lower than the money actually spent in the last financial year. That "Rake's argument" has been used to justify other Estimates which I have read, and I am very glad to see that the Admiralty has refrained from using it. Perhaps we owe this to the integrity of the Admiralty's Accounting Officer.
I think that the worst feature, if I can begin by my criticisms, of the Estimates is the continued rise of Vote 12; the Admiralty Office itself. I see that it is over £1½ million up on last year, and I do not believe that the total Vote will ever be got under proper control, or that economy will become the order of the day throughout the whole of the Service, until the cost of the headquarters department can be contained. That is true of every spending department in the country. It is not peculiar to the Admiralty. I said this last year when speaking on the Navy Estimates, and how right it has proved to be.
I therefore suggest to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that he might try to make it his personal job to see that this Vote is underspent during the financial year so that in next year's Estimates it is somewhat lower. I suggest that he might establish a 10-year plan for reducing the expense of the Admiralty Office. It would be a perfectly simple plan. He would simply lay down that no one who is the head of a branch, the director of a department or of a staff division could look for further promotion if, at the end of his time in office, the branch, department or staff division, had not gone down in cost.
The reason one devotes a certain amount of time to preaching economy in these debates is not entirely with the object of merely saving money for its own sake, although that is not altogether unimportant. It is also because many of us have a conviction that we shall never get an adequate fighting fleet unless we can bring down the cost of the shore establishments, the dockyards and the other supporting elements. The Committee will recall that during the past five years many constructive suggestions have been made in these debates with this end in view. I think that perhaps the time has come to take stock because in one direction, at least, some very notable progress has been made.
932 I refer to the substantially higher proportion of officers and men now serving in sea-going ships. Strangely enough, this point was not made in the Explanatory Statement, but it has come to light in replies to Parliamentary Questions during the last few months. As the Committee knows, this has been achieved by means of a number of so-called unpopular measures such as the establishment of central drafting, the closing down of redundant shore establishments, the acceptance of more training afloat rather than ashore, and so on. Hon. Members may truthfully say that all these things have been repeatedly pressed for in our debates, but hitherto have been obstructed and resisted by various vested interests.
Let us, therefore, now give credit where credit is due. I believe that the chief credit lies with the present First Sea Lord, whom all of us wish well in the important appointment that he is about to take up. In saying that, I do not wish to belittle for one moment the responsibility of Ministers, whether those in office now or whether those who held office in previous Administrations. Nevertheless, it is a fact that in this work—the disposition of Service manpower—it is very difficult for a Minister to make any progress at all if he is faced with obstruction from his professional advisers. I should say it is as hard to do so as it would be to cut the drug bill in a hospital in face of opposition from the doctors.
When we turn to the civil element in these Estimates, I think it is rather excessive. It is difficult to judge, but I still get that impression. I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he is really satsified in his heart that the dockyards, the great store and victualling establishments have been pruned as much as they could be and as much as they ought to be. Here we come to a matter which is essentially for Ministers because the issues which are raised whenever cuts are even contemplated, let alone carried out, are primarily political. It is a field in which admirals and administrative civil servants find it very hard to take the initiative. If only a determined lead in this matter had been given by the various previous Parliamentary Secretaries and Civil Lords who held office in the first years after the war I cannot help feeling that dramatic savings could have been effected.
933 I wonder, for instance, how many ships have been refitted at great cost within two or three years of the date on which they were due to be scrapped for a reason, perhaps never stated verbally, still less on paper, but none the less for the subconscious reason that it would provide work to keep the dockyards going. Only two years ago, skilled workmen who might have been laid off from the dockyards could easily have been absorbed in industry where they were urgently needed. Now, for the time being, at any rate, things have changed and I am clear in my own mind that we ought only to contemplate further reductions in the skilled civilian manpower employed by the Admiralty in the form of curtailment of new entries, and we should hesitate to discharge these men, particularly in the dockyard ports, where alternative employment may be difficult to find.
That brings me to my next point. I have come to change my mind, on reflection about what our policy should be towards the dockyards. I cannot help feeling that the Admiralty would he justified in giving a good deal more new construction work to the Royal yards. It is not at all easy to arrive at a fair comparison between their costs and those of private yards. If one assumes that for political and industrial reasons we want to keep on more workmen in the Royal yards than are, strictly speaking, needed for the repair work to keep the Fleet in a proper state of maintenance, it could well pay to let them build ships even though on a direct comparison of costs they are less productive than a private yard.
Putting the matter in another way, we have at present four great Royal yards in the United Kingdom. My guess is that if we really tried, and if economy were the only consideration. probably two of them could keep the existing Fleet in a proper state of repair. At the same time, I do not believe that it would be either politically just or wise to pay off these dockyards at present. I have no doubt that work can be invented to keep them occupied. Indeed, in paragraph 6 of the Explanatory Statement there is a slight suspicion of this. I notice a series of expensive alterations and additions which will doubtless keep men occupied. But I wonder whether that sort of work is the most useful which can be given to the yards. The alterna- 934 tive is to spend more money on contract work for new construction by transferring some of it from the private yards to the Royal yards.
I will say no more than this. I think that the financial implications of a change of policy on these lines ought to be investigated by an independent panel of experts. I confess that this is not an easy matter. It is an unfortunate fact that most of those who understand the problem have a very strong interest one way or another, whereas those who are genuinely disinterested usually have very o little understanding of the technicalities involved. None the less, an attempt should be made, I feel, to look into the matter from the standpoint that, for one reason or another, we must maintain the present establishment of our dockyards, and would it not, therefore, pay to try to keep them properly occupied building ships as opposed to carrying out alterations and additions which many of us think are, perhaps, unnecessary?
In expressing his fears about the effect on the dockyard of the departure of the barracks, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rochester and Chatham was, of course, dead right. I imagine that one effect of the barracks going is that ships will no longer go to Chatham for their seasonal leave. When this practice ceases, so will the unofficial repair work and alterations which nearly always are done during the leave periods, which provide a good deal of additional work for the dockyard men. That work will go.
The Explanatory Statement contains a number of what I might call minor welcome surprises. I had thought to comment on them, but, looking through the points which interested me, I thought that all of them would be in order if raised during tomorrow's debate, with a single exception to which I wish now to refer. Paragraph 74 speaks about the continued existence of the Royal Naval Volunteer Supplementary Reserve. I am delighted to read that this is the policy. It may be illogical to maintain this Reserve; it may be that its purpose is a little obscure. However, I think that any officer who had the 'honour to command one of the big naval assault forces during the last war, which were manned almost exclusively by R.N.V.S.R. personnel, will recognise the vital contribution which those men played during a great emergency.
935 I hope that ways and means will be discovered of refreshing the R.N.V.S.R. by new entrants. I am bound to say that I do not quite know how that will be done, but I am sure that a way will have to be found if this particular organisation is to be kept virile and alive. Meanwhile, it is with no false modesty—it is nothing to do with me—that I say I am very proud that the Croydon branch of the R.N.V.S.R. is, I understand, very much the largest in the country.
I want for a moment now to turn to one or two aspects of the possible part which the Royal Navy can play in preventing a global war. During the defence debate, I pleaded that some part of the veil of secrecy which surrounds our nuclear potential should be lifted. The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West was kind enough to refer to what I said when he was speaking a short time ago. I did not receive an answer, and I should have been very disappointed if I had. After all, this problem requires a great deal of thought, and I should not dream of asking for an answer "off the cuff." I hope that it is receiving thought now.
Today, I want to draw the attention of my two 'hon. Friends the Parliamentary Secretary and the Civil Lord to a rather narrower aspect of the same matter, one in regard to which, as Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, they have a responsibility which they cannot alienate. My question is this—I am not asking that we shall be told, but I ask that attention be directed to obtaining the information —which officers in the Royal Navy are given the information on which to form ideas and on which to base constructive criticism of our higher strategy?
I want there to be no misunderstanding about the nature of the information I have in mind. It is not sufficient for people just to be told what nuclear weapons have been allocated by some higher authority for use by the Navy in an imaginary war. What is wanted is a knowledge of the total stocks, a knowledge of the rate of output, and a knowledge of the extent, if any, to which existing weapons can be modified and adapted for some different use.
I am quite clear myself that members of the Admiralty Commission themselves ought to have access to this information, if they desire it. It may not interest some, but there may be others who might 936 like to reflect on these things and bring an independent mind to bear upon them, and I am sure that those who share the joint responsibility for the conduct of the Navy on the Commission should have access to this information.
Equally, as I said earlier, I think that they should acquaint themselves—this applies particularly to Ministerial members—with the present policy with regard to its dissemination throughout the Navy. My great fear is that only a handful of officers on the Joint Planning Staff is given the information. This is not sufficient. We should make sure that some people know these hings who, perhaps, approach the matter from a slightly different point of view.
For example, I suggest that operational, sea-going flat, officers should have access to it. After all, the most sluggish imagination is stimulated in a most astonishing way by the knowledge that one not only has to plan or may have to plan and direct the battle, but may be in the thick of it oneself. This is one of the great advantages which the Royal Navy has always had over the other Services in the thought processes of its senior officers. My second example is this. I think that the so-called trials and experimental officers who are to be found at the great naval weapons schools should be given the information. These young officers, in places like H.M.S. "Vernon", H.M.S. "Excellent", the Signals School and the Navigation School, are among the most forward-looking groups in the Royal Navy. What they think today on the technical future becomes policy in fifteen or twenty years. I am sure that it is most important that they should have access to that information on which to develop sound and independent ideas.
Lastly, I want to say a word about Polaris, or, to be more precise, about the designing of a deterrent rocket which can be fired by our nuclear submarines. It might not be Polaris—let us call it the British equivalent of Polaris. I am bound to say that I thought it was quite clear from what was said by the Minister of Defence on this subject that, for the time being, and so far as he was concerned, the Navy has "had it", if I may descend to the modern idiom. I say at once—I am sure that I am not alone here, and many of my hon. Friends will agree —that we were entirely unconvinced by the arguments he used for this decision.
937 My right hon. Friend said that only Blue Streak would be large enough to carry the anti-anti-missile devices which might be needed. Really, that is the sort of argument which I should expect to find in an annex to the Liberal Party's statement of policy on defence. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"] Another argument, which was not, I think, used by the Minister, but which was referred to in The Times in ironical terms and which, therefore, I imagine, must have been used behind the scenes, is the alleged ease with which nuclear submarines can be shadowed in time of peace and destroyed on the outbreak of war. If that were true or, indeed, if it were likely to become true, it would, of course, destroy the case not only for Polaris but also for these very expensive submarines.
I have no doubt that great strides have been made in anti-submarine technique since the war. Indeed, we were told about some of them today. It is possible that the balance has shifted against the submarine where it tries to attack a convoy. Personally, I think that it has, bat that is a very arguable matter. Anyhow, it has nothing to do with the position of submarines operating alone as possible launching platforms for the deterrent.
Certainly, there has been no suggestion that what I think my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) called a scientific break-through has taken place. With great respect to him, may I remind him a at some of the ablest scientists in the world have been trying to solve for over fifty years the problem of detecting submerged submarines. I do not suppose that there is a single physical phenomenon which might be harnessed for this particular purpose that has not been considered and tried. We have always come back to dependence on the propagation of sound under water, either by listening for the noise which the submarine is making by hydrophones, or getting an echo from its hull by means of the Asdic.
§ Commander Maitland
Surely the fact that it has been considered in the past does not mean that it should not continue to be considered in the future, with a great deal of additional scientific knowledge.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I do not dispute that, but if some entirely new scientific phenomenon were discovered which, among other things, would enable us to detect submerged submarines at great distances, it would have more far-reaching results and the whole of our defence policy would possibly be thrown into the melting pot. Possibly, we should be as well. However that may be, I have no doubt that the big nuclear submarine, when proceeding at high speed under water, makes a noise which can be heard a long way off, but the trouble is that there is no reason why the missile-carrying submarine should proceed at high speed. She will go below her silent speed and will not be heard at all.
Therefore, we come back to the Asdic. There is no longer any secret about the performance of Asdic during the war. We gave it to all our Allies, including the Russians, and anyone who remembers it will know that it is possible to pick up a submarine at 3,000 yards. The Parliamentary Secretary has said that the modern Asdic is five times as good. That means that submarines can be detected at 7½ miles.
Suppose that one could be sure of detection under water at that distance, let us consider what it means. It means that the problem of searching for a submerged submarine today is exactly the same as it would have been in the old days, before there were aircraft and radar, if one were searching for a surface ship on the ocean with a visibility which always remained constant at 7½ miles. Anybody who has been to sea or who has read anything about naval history would know what a stupendous task that would be. The missile-carrying submarine, therefore, could operate with a high degree of impunity, and it possesses other advantages over the fixed rocket site ashore which are so obvious that I need not elaborate on them now.
I only hope that the Board of Admiralty will not be deflected from its duty in this matter. If, as seems probable, the Ministry of Supply has 'had instructions not to serve the Admiralty with this commodity, then I think that the Navy should go ahead on its own. I want to put a rather naughty thought into the heads of my two hon. Friends. I see that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence is not present, and there 939 is no reason why he should ever know anything about this. Why should not the Admiralty design and make its own version of Polaris? After all, the Board of Admiralty has the legal powers. The Naval Staff has the closest and most friendly contact with the American Navy, and I am sure that it could obtain all the information which it needs from America about Polaris. It may not be realised, but the Admiralty also has the means.
I will not say this without fear of contradiction, but I think it is a fair statement to make with confidence that the Admiralty Torpedo Experimental Establishment has quite as much "know-how" for a project of this nature as is possessed by the Ministry of Supply. After all, the basic technical problem in the propulsion and control of rockets are closely analogous 4o those of torpedoes. All these wonderful liquid fuels about which we read in magazines today were under consideration for torpedo use years ago, when we thought only of a rocket as something which a sailor in distress fired and which schoolboys let off on 5th November. There is a tremendous amount of knowledge in the Establishment.
Let the Admiralty go ahead, as it has often done before, in similar circumstances, with this project. My hon. Friend will remember that, when we were together on the Radar Committee during the war, it was the Admiralty which partly produced the centimetric radar without any knowledge on the part of the other two Services. Let it go ahead and produce what may be called a nuclear-headed torpedo, with an unusually long flight in air after it breaks surface. If my hon. Friends get into any trouble about this suggestion, they will find supporters on both sides of the Committee. If the worst came to the worst, and from what the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has said on this subject, I imagine that they would also get free legal aid.
In conclusion, I cannot help feeling envious of young men starting a career in the Navy today. The professional outlook is so much brighter for them than it has been at any time during the past forty years. Throughout the whole of my career in the Navy, we were fighting, 940 as it were, a rearguard action against the growing claims being made on behalf of aircraft. With the invention of the atom bomb, it seemed as though the days of warships were numbered, but now, only fourteen years later, the technical wheel has gone full circle and it looks as if the Navy will come out on top. I recognise the concern that must be felt by officers in the Royal Air Force about this threat to their Service and their careers, which I am sure they see as a threat, anyhow. I recognise, also, the danger to the Navy if this should lead to a renewal of the mutual distrust and spate of special pleading which did the two Services so much harm between the two wars. As I have said before, let the two Services agree to come together in a gradual merger, and let them do so before it is too late.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Wells (Faversham)
The hon. and gallant Member for Croydon. North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) has covered a very wide field in the expert manner we expect from him when he speaks on naval matters. He is not so reliable when he comes ashore, but we all recognise how expert he is on naval matters. I would say to him that the closure of a shore establishment, a dockyard, does not necessarily mean the saving of money. It may be that work is channelled into another direction in which it can be much more expensive. If I do not follow the hon. and gallant Gentleman over the very wide field he has covered, it will be first because I realise that I am not capable of doing so with the knowledge and background that he possesses, and secondly, because I wish to address my few remarks to a constituency point.
When we debated the Navy Estimates last year, it was with the knowledge that Her Majesty's Dockyard at Sheerness, the economic heart of the Isle of Sheppey, was to be run down to complete closure by 1960. That was a very severe blow, but it was softened by two factors One was the readiness with which the Admiralty accepted that it owed a special responsibility to the workers who would become redundant. The second was the confidence of the Admiralty and the Board of Trade that they would be able to sell or rent the dockyard and to attract other industry to the Isle of Sheppey.
941 In that connection, the Civil Lord said on 4th March last year:It may interest hon. Members, and particularly the hon. Member for Faversham, to know that already at Sheerness we have had inquiries from four large concerns. It is too early yet to say what the outcome of these inquiries will be, but at least they do show that we in the Admiralty really are trying to find some organisation to take over in the places which we are leaving."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1958; Vol. 583, c. 1122.]In an earlier debate, the Minister of Labour and National Service, when referring to Sheerness and the position that would arise there, stated:I do not believe that there will be any real difficulty in the light of the background to defence that I have given, with the case h stories, in suggesting other employment to the 2,700 Admiralty employees in the Chatham and Sheerness areas who will leave Admiralty employment over the next three years."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th February, 1958: Vol. 583, c. 63.]That was 12 months ago.
On 11 th February, I asked the Parliamentary Secretary how many offers to purchase or lease Sheerness Dockyard had been received. He replied that no firm offers had been received. That was 12 months later.
The combined efforts of the Board of Trade and the Isle of Sheppey Development Committee—I say without egotism that it is my own—have so far resulted in just one firm, which may employ 100 workers, agreeing to come to Queen-borough. Unemployment on the island is at present around 6 per cent., although no discharges from the dockyard have yet started. It will be more than double this figure by the end of the year unless there is some success in disposing of the yard or attracting alternative employment.
At the time the closure announcement was made, I had it put to me strongly by the trade unions that if more Admiralty work were taken from contract and brought into the dockyards the closure of Sheerness could have been avoided, or at least the rundown considerably extended. Replying to that suggestion, the Civil Lord said:At present we have so much repair work that some of it has to be done in private yards. As the size of the fleet declines, our intention is to bring all this work into the Royal Dockyards but even after doing this there would hale been a large gap between our dockyard capacity and the load of repair work necessary for a smaller fleet. It was the existence 942 of this gap which forced us to close those three dockyards."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1958; Vol. 583, c. 1120.]In view of that statement, one would expect the amount of contract work to have declined. On page 104 of the Estimates, however, we find not only that contract work has not declined but that the cost of it is up by nearly £33 million. I admit that much of this work could not possibly be done in Sheerness dockyard. It is, however, work that could be placed in other yards and some of the repair work that is being done in the larger yards could be channelled into Sheerness Dockyard.
Another point to which I wish to refer is the question of repayment work. Here we have the reverse position, repayment work being down by £156,000 on the year. There exists a conviction at Sheerness, especially amongst the trade unions and the local authorities, that had the will existed, the means to avert what is a catastrophe for the island might have been found, as in the case of Malta. I do not complain at what is being attempted at Malta, where the Government are attempting to discharge their responsibility with little encouragement from the workers. There does, however, rest a responsibility upon the Government for the Isle of Sheppey and one which cannot be discharged simply by scheduling the area under the Distribution of Industry Act.
I must ask the Civil Lord a straight question. What is to happen to Sheerness Dockyard if the Admiralty fails to sell it? Is it to be allowed completely to deteriorate? Is it not a fact that until a few hours ago it was the intention to remove the caissons from the basins and cradle them, which would have meant that the basins would become tidal and would silt up in a matter of a few weeks, making the dockyard quite useless for major ship repairs? I understand, however, that within the last few hours instructions to carry out that work have been countermanded. I hope that the report which has reached me only recently is correct. If so, I congratulate the Civil Lord upon being successful in making representations in the right direction as a result of information which I passed on to him only a few days ago.
In the main, the manner in which the Admiralty has dealt with men who are 943 transferred has given considerable satisfaction, but there is one point—and I know that I am treading on dangerous ground—that I would like to put to the Civil Lord. Surely, it is possible to continue a man in the same grade and rate when he is transferred from one yard to another as a result of closure. I understand that this is not being done, and I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to consider the matter.
Another point in connection with transferees concerns what is happening at Chatham Dockyard, which is receiving a number of the employees from Sheerness. I understand that a manpower ceiling has been fixed quite irrespective of the amount of work available. This has resulted in a number of men, particularly on the hired list, who might otherwise be transferred to Chatham not being transferred there. If, however, work could be brought into Chatham to absorb the labour of these men instead of keeping them away, this should be done.
I am informed that when apprentices are transferred from one yard to another the custom is that if their cost of travel exceeds 5s. a week an allowance is made to them. That is being done in the case of the apprentices who are being transferred from Sheerness to Chatham Dockyard, the cost being 19s. a week. In the case of Sheerness boys, who are told to go to Chatham for entry, however, and are entered directly at Chatham, no such allowance is made. This is having an adverse effect upon recruitment and causes much discontent.
I realise that I have taken up the time of the Committee on what is mainly a constituency point, but I do not apologise. By this time next year some 1,500 men will have been either transferred or discharged from Sheerness Dockyard. I am told that the minimum number likely to be discharged is between 500 and 600. Should that happen, and unless other industry is brought to the area, the Isle of Sheppey will become a distressed area. I appeal to the Government not to let that happen.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Miss Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
I think that in the debate on the Navy Estimates last year I had the honour of following the hon. Member for 944 Faversham (Mr. P. Wells). I realise the difficulty in his constituency, and I sympathise with him in it, especially as we have been luckier in our dockyard town, and I hope sincerely that he will make progress in finding employment for all the men in his constituency about whom he is so very anxious.
I always feel a little diffident about joining in such debates as this because I have no practical naval experience. However, as a Member for a naval port I have over the years tried to learn a little more about the set-up of the Navy, and coming from a dockyard town I should like first of all very much to welcome the extra money being spent by the Navy this year, particularly the £33 million to be spent on contracts, and I hope that we may have some of these contracts placed in the dockyard and that they will not all go to private yards.
I welcome Cmnd. Paper 674, the Explanatory Statement on the Navy Estimates, because it is well set out and is a much more human document than usual, probably because there are pictures in it, which add to its interest.
I am not going into details of the matter because hon. Friends of mine who are more experienced than I have already expressed our feelings upon it, but I, too, am still worried about whether we have enough anti-submarine protection. I remember only too well how in the last war we were very nearly starved by the operations of submarines in those days. I listened with interest to the speech by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) in our recent debate on defence, and I hope that what he said then and what has been said in this debate by hon. Friends of mine with more knowledge than I have of this matter will be taken into consideration, especially as what the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary told us about the other submarines and their dispersal, particularly the 9 Russian submarines at Alexandria and the 20 Chinese submarines, does not make us feel happier.
I wonder whether, in case of another war, any approach is being made to Eire, because we remember only too well how submarines sheltered there. I wonder whether we could have any talks with Eire to find out what Eire is going to do, particularly about her western ports.
945 I listened with interest also to what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) said about the question of more men going to sea. There may be more going to sea, but I think that still not enough are going to sea. I receive continually complaints from the younger men that they spend too much of their time ashore. It may, perhaps, be found that recruiting among young men will not go so well if they are not allowed to spend more time at sea; it is particularly important that they should be allowed to spend more time at sea while they are young and before they are married and assume family responsibilities and while they are still very keen. I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliarnentary Secretary will look into this.
I am glad to see from the White Paper that in the new ships there is to be planned accommodation. I hope that in planning it consideration will be given to air-conditioning. In view of the extra appliances which there are in ships and, in consequence, of the cramped space in which men in ships have to serve, air-conditioning is now essential, particularly in the case of ships to be sailed in tropical waters.
I was interested in the statement in paragraph 11 of the White Paper which states:No ship has been scrapped unless its age and condition made it unfit for service in the present day Navy.I should like to know whether this is really an accurate statement, because the Select Committee on Estimates descended not very long ago on Devonport and, I gather, suggested that a great number of ships there now in mothballs should be scrapped. I should like to know what has happened to the cruiser "Swiftsure". Has she been scrapped, or is consideration being given to scrapping her in the near future?
Does the extra spending on new warships mean that new ships have been ordered, or does it mean acceleration of work upon ships which have been on the stocks for a considerable time?
The White Paper refers to the disposition of the Fleet, and the question of Singapore is mentioned. I should like to ask whether there is any alternative to Singapore, because I can see that owing to the coming elections the situation in the 946 harbour there may, perhaps, not be as happy as it is at present. Suppose we have there a completely changed Government, as may be anticipated, and they get into financial difficulties and have to ask for loans, perhaps not from this country but from Russia and China. What then will be the position of our dockyard and port there? Have we any alternative arrangements for our ships?
I put down a Question to the Parliamentary Secretary about the "Girdle Ness", and my hon. Friend in reply stated that trials had been satisfactory. Paragraph 79 of the White Paper says that Seacat trials are to begin shortly. I should like to know what shortly "means, because we have been having trials for the Girdle Ness for a considerable period now. I had an opportunity of seeing this ship some time ago, and I think we ought really to be given a more definite time by which we shall know the results.
I had the honour of serving on the Parliamentary delegation to East Africa when I saw the rôle of the East African Navy. It had one ship at that time, the H.M.E.A.S. "Rosalind". I made a plea on my return for other ships, and I am glad to see that there has been allocated a ship called the "Bassingham". They are very anxious to have a third ship, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will try to meet that wish in the not too distant future.
I turn to paragraph 63 about the W.R.N.S. The Grigg Report stated that the W.R.N.S. should have less hutted accommodation, and I should like to know whether any definite plan has been made whereby the W.R.N.S., as they are really a part of the Service, can have proper, permanent accommodation to get them out of the huts in which they are now living.
In an Adjournment debate I discussed the question of recruiting for the W.R.N.S., and I asked the Parliamentary Secretary about the pre-Service training unit for girls. I still have not had any definite answer. I notice that there is still some difficulty in getting recruits for the W.R.N.S., and I should like to know whether any consideration is being given to giving the Girls' Naval Training Corps the same status as the Sea Cadets, because I think that would mean that we should get more recruits in the future.
947 I noticed in the debate on the Royal Air Force that it was said that it had been decided that the W.R.A.F. can be "immobile"; in other words, they can work from their homes. That is a matter I have put forward on several occasions, and I should be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary would say whether the W.R.N.S. are now to be allowed to work on the same basis. I think it is essential they should be allowed to do so.
§ Mr. C. Ian Orr-Ewing
When I was at the Air Ministry I was very much concerned about the introduction of the immobile W.R.A.F., and I can say that I based the scheme upon that for the immobile W.R.N.S. We will certainly look at the matter again. It was looked at very carefully by the Navy a few years ago. It was discovered that there was not at the present time the need for the immobile W.R.N.S. on the same scale as there was for the immobile W.R.A.F. during the war. We will certainly bear in mind everything my hon. Friend has said, but we modelled the W.R.A.F. scheme on the W.R.N.S. scheme.
§ Miss Vickers
I am very grateful for that interruption and I am glad that the matter will be considered as and when it is necessary.
I come now to the nursing service, which is mentioned in paragraph 64 of the White Paper, and I would ask whether this puts an end to the Red Cross V.A.D. I gather from the Estimates that the numbers have been cut and that the other two Services have already dispersed the V.A.D.s. I should like to pay a tribute to the work they have done. I am sorry if they are going to be given up altogether. I should like the Civil Lord to tell us whether it is definitely the view of the Navy that it should do away with the V.A.D.s now that the new Nursing Auxiliary Section is being formed.
I have had the privilege of visiting Dartmouth, and I agree with the suggestion that the scholastic standard of entry should be improved. From what one was told by the captain, and as the Navy is becoming increasingly technically inclined, this training is needed. It seems that, although it would be rather too much for some of the cadets unless they have a higher standard on entry, this is 948 beneficial to the individual if he is to keep up with the others in training. What has happened to the upper yard-arm scheme? When I was at Dartmouth I understood that the old hospital accommodation was to be taken over for this scheme. Has the scheme started? If so, how has it been carried out and is it considered successful?
In order to try and learn more about the Services, I attended an exercise of the Royal Marines. I went on the operation "Shop Window" and was one of a party at Dartmouth. I should like to pay tribute to the Royal Marines for the excellent way in which they carried out their very elaborate exercises in cold blood. Some of the things which they had to do were really quite frightening.
My chief interest in the Explanatory Statement on the Navy Estimates concerns the dockyards, and I should like to refer to paragraph 103, which deals with reorganisation. I welcome the reorganisation at Chatham, but I should like to know when similar reorganisation will start at other yards. Must the scheme at Chatham be fully worked out first? I understand that it will not be fully in operation until 1961. Since we have a prototype now, I believe that it would be beneficial to have similar reorganisations started elsewhere.
I should be grateful if the Civil Lord will explain what is meant in that paragraph by the words… changing the management structure from a professional to a functional character …because the paragraph goes on to say that this:will affect the work of all dockyard employees.I should also like to have some information about paragraph 106, which deals with the new Works Department. I gather that this will be started shortly. I should like to know what is meant by the statement that it will be responsible for carrying out electrical and mechanical workin shore establishments other than the Dockyards.Will some part of the work be done in the dockyards and other parts outside, or does this mean that further contracts are to be given to firms outside the dockyard?
I recently put a Question to the Civil Lord about the number of apprentices in the dockyard at Devonport where I 949 gather they are to be reduced by several hundreds, I plead with my hon. Friend to reconsider this. It is essential that the Admiralty should give training in the same way as private firms do to apprentices, even if they are not going to be taken on in the yards concerned. The Dockyard Technical Collage has a student apprentice scheme. A supply of good technical officers is of outstanding importance at present. If extra numbers are not taken on in the dockyards now we shall have a shortage in the future. English Electric and similar companies lake in apprentices and give them all-round training, even if they are not employed later. I should like to see the Admiralty doing the same.
Young men will not be doing National Service in the future. Whatever may be said about National Service, it helped to broaden the outlook of many young people. It gave them a chance to travel and to meet other people. I should like to see a special allotment of money or a fund established to help apprentices to obtain extra training. They might perhaps be sent on a tour of other factories or might take a further course in leadership in order to train them, as the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) said, as leaders of the dockyards in future. Sir Ronald Gould, talking about the bulge of school-leavers, thought it a good idea for industry "to stock up with well-trained youngsters." I hope that the Admiralty will take their Share of trainees.
I should like to have the position of yard boys, that is, juveniles in the labouring trades, looked into. They are counted as juveniles up to the age of 20 and are paid juvenile rates, but they do adult work. If they were employed by the Admiralty in the Navy they would be treated as adults, but because they are civilians they are treated as juveniles. It does not seem sense to me to pay them the present rates. We have in Devonport 246 young men for whom we are unable to find a job. That is why I make a special plea to the Admiralty to help in this respect.
I do not know whether I am in order in referring to the very low rates of pay still paid by the Admiralty to unskilled workers. If a man is married and has six children it pays him to take unemployment benefit and National Assistance 950 money rather than to work in the dockyard. He receives only 10s. more for working. I should like the Admiralty to reconsider the wages it pays to its labourers; their basic rate is only 160s. 4d., with "extras" they receive £8 10s., whereas in other industries they would receive about 265s. 5d. This is an enormous difference.
§ Mr. C. Ian Orr-Ewing
I think my hon. Friend is wrong. If she compares the pay with the agricultural wage she will find that it is very much the same, but the 265s. 5d. which she is quoting is for the skilled engineering employees rather than the unskilled.
§ Miss Vickers
I obtained these figures from the Ministry of Labour Gazette for February, 1959, which states that in the manufacturing industries men of 21 and over receive 265s. 5d. and women 134s. 5d., whilst the rate for all industries, including manufacturing industries, is 256s. 8d. for men and 133s. for women.
§ Miss Vickers
I gave earnings. The basic pay for a labourer in the dockyard is £160s. 4d. which, with extras in his earnings, goes up to £8 10s. This is an extremely low rate, especially if the men are not established and will not receive a pension.
I notice from the Estimates that repayment work has decreased. There is need to find employment in the Devonport area where over 2,000 men are unemployed. It is important that buildings within the dockyard should be kept up to standard, and some of these men might well be employed on the preservation of ships, on repairs to buildings, on painting, etc.
The Estimates show an increase in the amount of machinery provided for abroad. Does this item mean an increase in machinery for the firm of Messrs. Baileys? Otherwise, I do not see why there should be an increase in machinery in dockyards overseas. If this item is in fact intended for that purpose, I suggest that the money should not come out of the Navy Estimates. If this private enterprise firm is to be helped, it should be helped out of other Government sources, not out of the Navy Vote.
My next point concerns the question of accommodation. I welcome the extra 951 naval houses, especially the ones in Devonport, which are well-planned and nicely furnished. At the same time I make a plea for two things. One is for some of the houses to be allotted on a temporary basis to dockyard workers returning from overseas. As my hon. Friend the Civil Lord probably knows, the Lee Mill Estate, where these people have been housed before, is closing and it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to get other accommodation. Secondly, I should like to see some unfurnished accommodation provided, because many of these naval families who are accommodated for three years have their own furniture. They are forced to take furnished accommodation because they cannot get anything else and so must pay for storing their furniture. Unfurnished hirings would, therefore, be an asset.
I see that the Vote for canteens is down—
§ Mr. C. Ian Orr-Ewing
The points which my hon. Friend is raising are interesting, but we shall have the Committee stage tomorrow when we can go through each Vote. If my hon. Friend would like to take that opportunity, she can raise detailed points then.
§ Miss Vickers
I understood that tomorrow we were to take only certain Votes on which this point does not arise, so I shall be grateful if I may mention it now. It concerns reduced personnel in the canteens and the question of getting better ones, particularly in my own constituency, for people at Bull Point Armament Depot. I have put down a Question previously on this point, because the canteens are in a special category. The men must use them, since they are not allowed to eat within the perimeter of their work because of the danger of explosives. So unless they can go home they must eat in the canteens. These, I feel, should be brought up to a better standard, and there is not sufficient money provided for this purpose in the Estimates.
My final point concerns junior ratings, all below the rank of chief petty officer and petty officer. While their shore accommodation in Devonport is not good, they are still in hutted accommodation. There has been some delay because it 952 was thought that H.M.S. "Raleigh" might come across from Cornwall. I realise that it was a question of finance and that there was a shortage of labour and materials after the war, as well as uncertainty about the future. It is essential, however, that these men should have better accommodation while they are in port. In other words, they need good living accommodation and amenities because they cannot stay on their ships which become uninhabitable. Also, they can receive some adult training if they can get accommodation on shore. I know the Admiralty is sympathetic to this project. I hope for some action soon.
Those are my main points. I appreciate that in the short time since my hon. Friend has been in his new job he has twice visited Devonport. He has seen the experiment in refitting the "Ark Royal", to which I hope the Civil Lord will refer later. I hope the Government will continue to maintain full employment in the Devonport Dockyard. After the war over 100 acres of land were taken. Gradually part was handed back, but seventy-five acres are still requisitioned. This has resulted in difficulties in replanning the area. In fact, it has ruined the local shopping centre and has prevented the building of private houses. In view of this, and also because 19,000 people are employed in the dockyard, if the level of employment is not kept up the lifeblood of the City of Plymouth will be drained, so I hope that the Government will consider sympathetically the points I have raised.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)
The hon. Lady the Member for Devonport (Miss Vickers) disclaimed any practical experience of the Navy, but, and I think rightly, she did not disclaim knowledge of naval affairs. I am in the same boat as regards the first part of my remarks, in that I also have no practical experience of naval matters. Indeed, my only claim for consideration is that I know one end of a boat from another, and that goes even for some of the modern craft.
The Parliamentary Secretary usually comes to us with a concise and businesslike approach, and he did so today. That, perhaps, threw into relief one of the things about which I shall speak for a few moments, namely, an omission from his speech. That omission was the 953 absence of any clear statement of the direction in which the Government are going. What is it for which we are building a Fleet and keeping one? A very exalted spokesman of the Admiralty, in the first month of this year, mentioned three of the rôles which he thought the Navy should be prepared to play in the world as it is today or as it is likely to be. One of them was in nuclear or global war; another was in limited war; and the other was in the cold war. He thought that the Navy was capable of behaving in an efficient manner in all these three rôles.
It seems to me that one has to consider the meaning of the word "efficient". In the far-off days when I studied mechanics, I believed that the definition of "efficiency" was the ratio between the work put into a given action and the result obtained. I believe it is the case, though I am not an expert, that the Navy is efficient. But what is the use of being efficient if the work put in is on such an insignificant scale that the result that comes out of the other end of the machine is inefficient? I believe that the Navy is efficient, but is it effective? To that, I add the further question: if it is effective, what are the purposes for which it is effective?
As regards the first of the categories of war alluded to by the distinguished spokesman of the Admiralty, the global war, non-nuclear and total nuclear global war, presumably might come into that category. Incidentally, I believe that this spokesman will have further opportunity in the extremely important post to which he has since been appointed to consider these categories even more thoroughly than he has done in the past. I cannot help remembering the 1957 White Paper on Defence, which stated frankly, and in a most welcome manner—if it reflected accurately the facts—that the rôle of our naval forces in total war is "somewhat uncertain".
I submit that the Navy, as at present sized and organised, is virtually irrelevant from the point of view of total war. The reason I say that is that it can contribute, at present, at any rate—not until the very far distant future will this be altered—nothing to the deterrent against a nuclear war. It has not the means to do it. It has not even the hunter-killer submarines of which we have read so much in newspapers and magazines. As it has neither 954 of these possibilities, what did the very distinguished spokesman mean by saying that the Navy could be efficient in the rôle it would have to play in a nuclear, global or total war? I do not understand. If I could be enlightened I should be very grateful. Have the Government a clear idea of what they expect of naval forces in such a war?
It is two years since we had a very frank White Paper. I do not blame the Government for making that frank statement. If it was an accurate reflection of their state of mind, it was courageous of them. However, that was two years ago. Have they not in the meantime produced something clearer than that and clearer than the very distinguished spokesman in January? As regards nuclear war, at present the Government simply have not delivered the goods. This may well be because they think, as I do, that we are extremely unlikely ever to have a nuclear war in the time of any of us here. That may or may not be the case, but if it is the case I should like to hear that from the Government.
§ Mr. C. Ian Orr-Ewing
I see the hon. and learned Gentleman's difficulties, but perhaps I might draw his attention to the 1958 White Paper, which set out under three headings the Navy's rôle—in peacetime, in limited war and in global war. Perhaps he would like to study that in the light of what he has been saying.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
I have tried to study it, but—doubtless it is my fault—I am still not clear about the Government's real intention and their real idea of what would be the rôle of the Navy in a nuclear war.
When considering such a war, do the Government think that the Navy must contribute to the deterrent so that the war will never come about, or that it must have hunter-killer submarines? If the Government think on these lines, what are they doing about the nuclear hunter-killers that we must have? All we have had is the statement today about the "Dreadnought", with which, I must confess, I was not very pleased, because I did not consider that it took us substantially further. It is all still very much in the future with no dates fixed; we are told nothing except that something is being done in the background, but we do not know what.
955 I am glad that the Government have taken advantage of American generosity and that we have been allowed to have a complete propulsion unit from the United States. That is first-class, but we still do not know when the submarine will have her keel laid down, when her trials will be run, or when she will be operational, which I think is a mistake, in these days, in spite of what may be said to be customary in the Admiralty on these matters.
What about the cold war? The hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) said he thought that the larger ships were much better for showing the flag round the ports they visited. Apparently, that was true once. We have it on the authority of no less a person than T. E. Lawrence that the Arabs were greatly impressed by four funnels, but not impressed by one or two. However, I do not think that the hon. Member is right.
I believe that nowadays people have a shrewd idea that one has to have the very latest in vessels whether they have one funnel, four funnels or no funnels, or whether they go under or on the surface. It seems to me that the vessels must be the most modern ones and that people will find out whether they are modern or not. Therefore, I do not think that surface ships are necessarily the best carriers of the flag round various ports.
I do not believe that the Navy of today can deter in the sense of the nuclear deterrent. I do not believe that it can deter even in the other way in which it might conceivably be said that the Navy should be able to deter, in being able to keep open our sea routes if we were involved in a sizeable war. If others thought that the Navy could do this they might hesitate to attack us, and the Navy might be a deterrent. After all, our escort ships are numbered in tens whereas for this purpose I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary or the Civil Lord would be inclined to deny that they should be numbered in hundreds. I am not forgetting that we must take into account the other fleets of the N.A.T.O. countries, which should, presumably, be added to ours when considering whether or not we have a sufficient number of escort vessels to protect our shipping against any known hazard.
956 What is the hazard? What is the threat? It is, presumably, Russia. I would say from what we have been told—I may be wrong about this, because I do not really know about the N.A.T.O. fleets—that in numbers our escort vessels are incapable of dealing with the menace. I should very much like to be told if that is not so but that is how it appears to me.
Russia has a very large fleet of submarines. We need not put a figure upon it. Were all those submarines built within the last ten years, or does the fleet contain submarines older than ten years? Have the Russians nuclear submarines? If not, have we any reason to suppose that they will not have them very soon? Have we knowledge on that subject? It may be that the Admiralty spokesmen in this House do not wish to divulge these facts if they have knowledge of them, but it seems to me that we must have some knowledge of them if we wish to come to a proper assessment of what the Navy is capable of doing, and what it should be capable of doing if we find it is falling short at present.
Incidentally, I should like to ask another question of the Civil Lord. Can he tell us a little more about the "Porpoise" class of submarines? Has this class of submarine any function whatever as a hunter-killer, or is it merely the most up-to-date submarine that we have produced for the purpose of allowing our surface vessels to have antisubmarine training? Can something be said about that? That rôle of our submarines was stressed by the Parliamentary Secretary, and one wonders what ideas the Government have in mind in this respect? Have we anything, whether submarine, surface or air, that we consider a sufficient match for the latest type of Russian submarines?
I am well aware that most of my remarks have been questions, and I shall have a word to say about that in a moment. I wish, first, to refer to a subject which was mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett), namely, the pride that he would now have in the Navy if he were now setting out on his career in that Service.
The Parliamentary Secretary told us a little about the new conditions at Dartmouth which he hoped to bring into operation by next September. I had the 957 honour to be a member of a group which visited Dartmouth nearly a year ago, after a complete course had passed through the college under the then "new" system. My impression was that those on the spot considered that the system was satisfactory and was producing good results. What is their opinion now? Is it because of what they lave advised that the system is to be changed?
Looking at it from the outside, I liked that system, because it seemed to me that under the old system the net had been cast too narrowly, and that the new system widened the range from which entrants were drawn. The newer system reverses the process. If it is necessary, we should have the new system; but what is the opinion of the people on the spot, the people at the Britannia Royal Naval College, who have been taking these young men through the courses at the college? We were not told why the change had been made.
Most of us, even the experts on naval matters, speak in these debates with hesitation. Even the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East said that there were many naval officers who had not yet been let into the secret of the overall picture which the Admiralty had in mind. How much more so is that the case of those who are not in the Navy. Decisions have to be made on the type of Navy we have to have and on the object in having that Navy, apart from the overall necessity of keeping open our sea routes, which is always present.
Although not experts, hon. Members have to grasp these problems. We are here to attempt to exercise discrimination after having heard the experts. Which of us has had the chance of hearing experts? Cannot the Admiralty take us more into its confidence and give us every opportunity, when considering these problems, of having the very best opinions about the objective of the Navy and to what extent it can succeed in reaching its goal?
There would be no great danger to security in that. We should be able to make up our minds after hearing experts, and the Admiralty could facilitate us in that respect. If it does not do so, it means that the Admiralty is taking decisions on all these great matters on its own, without the gaze of those who 958 represent the country. That may be all right, but the Admiralty should try to get the country's confidence in the enormous expenditure which it has to make every year. One of the ways it might succeed in doing that is to take into its confidence Members of Parliament and those who have a special interest, or wish to work up a special interest in this subject. The Admiralty should provide the expert opinions upon which decisions can be made. That would redound to the credit of the Admiralty, would facilitate its work, and be very much to the good of the country as a whole.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Brigadier Terence Clarke (Portsmouth, West)
I hope that I shall be forgiven if I do not follow the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) too closely. I wish to concentrate on the dockyards. The hon. and learned Member seemed to want as big a Navy as I would like to see. I only hope that he is prepared to pay for it. The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) seemed to suggest that he would not like so much money to be spent on the Navy. I find that very regrettable.
§ Mr. Steele
I left the moral of what I said to the Committee, but surely the hon. and gallant Member knows that the moral is that the Navy seems to get away with it in all these things.
§ Brigadier Clarke
In debates on the last two or three Navy Estimates I have had occasion to criticise the Admiralty for a number of things, but on this occasion I am inclined to congratulate it. I asked the Admiralty to close down some of the naval dumps around Portsmouth Dockyard, and on my last visit to that area I found that several of those dumps had disappeared and that others were looking far better and that the land had been given over to a more useful purpose. Some of the shore establishments about which I have grumbled, the concrete battleships, have been moved, or sold, or otherwise disposed of. That is all to the good, because I prefer to see most of the Navy capable of going to sea rather than in concrete battleships on land.
The Admiralty has had a difficult task in its reorganisation of the dockyards and in closing down some of them. I am extremely glad that it has been kind to 959 Portsmouth Dockyard and, as far as I can see, there is plenty of work for many years to come. A frigate which I have seen in course of construction in the last two years is to be launched by a very eminent lady within the next two or three months. I understand that it is immediately to be replaced by another frigate whose keel will be laid down at once.
I am glad that the Admiralty has decided to build a floating dock for "Dreadnought" and that the keel has already been laid down. I am only sorry that it was not decided to build "Dreadnought" in Portsmouth as well. We pressed hard for that at the time, but, apparently, the Admiralty was not sufficiently far-sighted to train its officers in nuclear engineering. However, I see from the Estimates and the Explanatory Statement that a Chair of Nuclear Science and Technology has been set up at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich. Perhaps as a result of that we will be able to build future "Dreadnoughts" in the naval dockyards and show other yards exactly what the Admiralty can do when it sets its mind to it.
We brought considerable pressure to bear to try to get the nuclear submarine built in Portsmouth. With all the security arrangements of a naval dockyard, it might still prove to have been the best place to have started the first nuclear submarine. With the information from America, I should have thought that naval personnel would have been far better able than civilian yards to build this submarine.
I am glad to see that large sums of money are to be spent on the modernisation of the dockyards and that new machinery is to be made available. Modernisation has been long overdue and the new machinery will also be welcome, although some of the machinery in the yards is among the finest in the country. Modernisation of the accounting system is probably well overdue, since same of the old-world methods which I have seen in use in the dockyards should have been replaced some time ago. I understand that now the store sides are becoming really mechanised.
On page 17 of the Explanatory Statement it says:Special care has been taken to mitigate any hardship to those required to leave 960 Admiralty Service, or to transfer from one place to another …During the year I have had a number of complaints, which I have referred to the Civil Lord about personnel who have had to work in. other places and have not received travelling allowances. Some of them have been downgraded from store-men to assistant storemen and they have to spend as much as 13s. a week to get to work in new establishments. Other personnel, who worked at Priddy's Hard, have been shifted to Portsmouth Dockyard, which involves a much less arduous journey, and they receive a travel allowance. There would seem to be anomalies about the payment of travel allowances and I should be grateful if the Civil Lord would try to ensure that anyone who is out of pocket in this way is recompensed.
Dockyard wages are low when compared with the national average. Dockyard workers tell me that they do not receive anything like the national average. There is little overtime. Many people employed as semi-skilled and unskilled workers would in other organisations be taken on as skilled or semi-skilled workers at the demand of the trade unions. It is only because the unions in the dockyards are weak that the dockyard workers continue to be paid as semi-skilled and unskilled workers. I believe the workers should join the union and the unions should work with me.
The Admiralty, and the War Office also for that matter, has done well to extract more pay for serving officers, ratings and other ranks, and higher pensions for those who are about to leave the Service. What is always forgotten by the Admiralty and by the War Office—and also by the Treasury which is behind it all—is the plight of old soldiers and sailors and, even worse, that of the widows of Service men. Today young Service men receive large gratuities and pensions, and their pay is good compared with that which was received by the older ex-Service personnel. These older people recall the days when they had to pay the passage money for their families to travel overseas. They had to leave their children with relatives at home and pay for their schooling, and they were involved in considerable expense. In those days Service pay was low and there was little opportunity to save anything for old age. Those people expected to have to live upon retirement 961 on a pension which at the time seemed to them, not generous perhaps, but adequate.
Today pensions have risen by a small amount. I know that there have been two increases in widows' pensions since 1950, but most of them do not receive the old-age pension and many of the widows of senior officers get a good deal less than the old-age pension. They were too old to qualify. I know that a Committee is to inquire into this matter and I hope that its findings will be generous to those who have had a bad time for a long time. Whenever there is an increase in pensions and pay it rouses the ire of these people who have no one to speak for them, and so tonight I am expressing the hope that the case of the old, both ratings and officers, will he considered.
There is also the case of the woman who married after her husband left the Service and who has been left a widow. Her husband left the Service as a single man and subsequently married. We might think that his widow deserves nothing at all in the way of a pension. But during my Service life I was told that one of the reasons why I received so little pay was because I should get a pension, and my wife would also get a pension. Had I not married I should have lost a lot of money. Some naval officers marry late in life, when they have finished with the sea. They see little object in being married during the time they are being transported round the world at Her Majesty's expense. Some get married when they come home and retire, but if they die, their widows are left with nothing. As they have paid (luring their Service life in order to provide for a widow's pension I think that their widows should be considered for the payment of pension.
I have corresponded with the Civil Lord on many occasions about the position of dilutees and storemen who have been downgraded because they have been replaced by technically qualified people. Immediately a technically qualified person is unemployed in Portsmouth, Plymouth or elsewhere a dilutee loses his job so that this person may be provided with employment. It is a trade union agreement with the Admiralty. Some of the dilutees would have become qualified and permanently established had they teen allowed to remain in the job for 962 another eighteen months or, in some cases, only six months.
I hope that when vacancies occur again in the dockyard these dilutees will be upgraded and be able to resume the positions which they occupied for eight or more years while training themselves in order to cease to be dilutees, and that once again they will be able to earn the wages which they received before they were displaced by non-dockyard trained personnel. Many storemen have been downgraded to assistant storemen when, had they been allowed to continue for a few months as storemen, they would have become permanently established. I hope that the Civil Lord can tell us whether these men will be reinstated when the opportunity arises.
That is all I wish to say on the subject of the dockyards, but I should be grateful if the Civil Lord would answer some of the questions which I have put to him. On previous occasions when he has spoken two or three hours later in the debate he has hoped that all the questions I asked would be forgotten. He has written to me afterwards, but I prefer to receive replies to my questions during the debate so that, if I am not satisfied with his answers, I can put other questions to him.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
The hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) will forgive me if I do not follow his remarks, because I wish to do the same as he did and deal with one aspect of Admiralty responsibility though not the same one as that to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred.
I intervene in this debate, because, were I not to do so, the Civil Lord, although he might be relieved, would be surprised that I had not taken the opportunity to refer to the responsibility of the Admiralty for our great shipbuilding and ship-repairing industry. I make no apology for returning to this subject. In a discussion in the House as recently as last November, I said that the industries were employing 15,000 fewer people than a year before. That figure has already increased to 16,000.
Admittedly, the majority of those made redundant were in the ship-repairing industry. When we have the present 963 intense world competition for shipbuilding it is significant that our own shipyards have not taken on these men to increase the rate of output. I concede at once that the order book remains at 51 million tons, but I again call the attention of the Civil Lord to the fact that the distribution of orders is uneven. I have raised the question of the difficulties which we in Sunderland anticipate regarding the Wear Dockyard and the hon. Gentleman will be aware of other yards in Sunderland where difficulties are anticipated unless orders are received shortly.
Without endeavouring to cause undue alarm I must point out that the order book is not as solid as we sometimes believe. I would remind the Civil Lord that the President of the Chamber of Shipping recently said thatthere is one million tons gross for which orders have been placed or berths reserved and which will, almost certainly come to nothing.We have to accept the position that this really substantial order book may be drastically affected over the next year, if conditions do not change.
I have now an opportunity of commenting upon the Civil Lord's reply in November. I think that he was unduly, almost frivolously, optimistic about cancellations. When he replied to me he declared himself optimistically about cancellations. However, last week he gave the latest figures—those for the fourth quarter of last year. In that quarter alone orders for 138.000 tons of shipping were cancelled. That is twice the rate at which cancellations were running twelve months ago. Take the position for 1958 as a whole. The order book received new orders at one-third the rate of the previous year, and cancellations practically equalled the whole of the new orders placed on the books in 1958. I think that the Civil Lord will agree that we cannot any longer be complacent about even the relatively short-term prospects for shipbuilding.
I would remind the Civil Lord of some of the matters to which I called attention before. Freight rates are the barometer of shipping. Admittedly, since we last discussed shipbuilding, freight rates rose slightly. They are already dipping again. I had rather they had not risen, because 964 the fall after the rise towards the end of last year is depressing both industries more than if there had not been this false optimism.
If we turn to the British Mercantile Marine, I again emphasise the deterioration of British shipping in the world. We now have the figures for last year, when Liberia was running second to the United Kingdom; and already Liberia leads the United Kingdom as far as tankers are concerned. Equally, the position of world shipbuilding capacity could not be more disturbing. When we discussed this in November I said that I thought the output of world shipbuilding would top 9 million tons. In fact, launchings reached 9¼ million tons. World output has more than doubled in a few years.
In other words, as I said in November, we have a shipbuilding capacity which would replace the present mercantile fleet, which is enormously greater than pre-war, in ten years. The replacement rate for shipping is usually from twenty years to twenty-five years. I would emphasise that the position is worse than I said in November because, when we look at the tanker fleet alone, world shipyards are building at a replacement rate of eight years. Even though we expect an increase in world oil trade we know that that rate of replacement cannot be continued.
Since November, the position of British shipbuilding has further declined. Only a few years ago I pointed out two things and was ridiculed by the industry and by the Government. I pointed to the re-entry of Japan and of Western Germany and the likelihood of their overtaking British shipbuilding. Nothing at all was done. The well-informed experts in the industry said that I was unduly pessimistic. Now, for three years, Japan has headed the world shipyards and even though Japan's production has fallen Japanese yards last year launched more than 2 million tons. Apart from Japan, we now have Germany overtaking us and we have been forced to third place, although for generations we were the greatest shipbuilding country in the world.
German competition is possibly more serious even than the Japanese. The rate of construction, or the turnover rate, for Germany is 160 per cent., compared with the rate in Japan of 125 per cent. 965 and in the United Kingdom of 60 per cent. We have also to realise, as I said in November, that we are being out-priced now not only by Japan, but also by Germany and Holland. We can no longer console ourselves with a stable rate of output. Last year our output dropped by only 12,000 tons, but when I spoke in November of British shipbuilding being only 17 per cent. of world output compared with more than 50 per cent. in 1948, I now have to speak not of 17 per cent. but of 15 per cent.
That decline is small, but in the same year Germany, Sweden, the United States, the Netherlands, Italy, France, Norway and Denmark once again all had record outputs. Apart from those very substantial competitors, new competitors are coming along. Last year, the Yugoslays doubled the output from their new shipbuilding industry.
These facts have now shaken the confidence of the British shipbuilding industry. Let us look at exports, which are an essential part of the industry. The position is equally disturbing. We have been accustomed to an export of one-third of the total output of British shipyards, but of the tonnage now under construction less than 10 per cent. is being built for export. Because of the great increase in world capacity, exports are far more important in shipbuilding than ever before, for two reasons. Shipbuilding is now a more intensely competitive industry than before, but, at the same time, the British proportion of export building has dropped from 50 per cent. to 10 per cent., while Germany and Japan devote more than 60 per cent. of their shipbuilding to exports.
If British shipyards are to maintain stable employment, even although less than they are enjoying now, they will have to get a substantial proportion of export orders. I noticed the other day that an expert in the industry said that the industry would need at least 500,000:ons of export shipping each year, but hat is not the position obtaining now and he competitive position will probably get much worse during the next few years. 'When we debated shipbuilding in November, I pointed to the significant fact that the third quarter's Lloyds returns showed that we had become a net importer of new shipping. Whereas we were building for foreign owners a quarter of a million 966 tons, British owners, at the same time, had under construction abroad 377,000 tons.
We have now the figures for the fourth quarter, and they are worse. This new position of Britain being an importer of shipping is a drastic and disastrous change for British shipbuilding. It has deteriorated in the fourth quarter. The amount of shipping being built for foreign orders in this country has fallen by 28,000 tons, and the amount of shipping under construction for British owners abroad has increased by 22,000 tons. We have the lowest tonnage of shipping being built for export in this country that we have had since March, 1946. The significant thing, which demands Government action, is that in this difficult situation we have the highest amount of shipping being built abroad for British owners that we have ever had.
These are matters of serious concern. I ask the Government what they are doing about it. So far as I can see the Government look upon this with static complacency. When I suggested that the Civil Lord was complacent in our earlier debate, he said that that was a ridiculous suggestion, so I now put the question in another way. What have the Government done? When we discussed this matter before I suggested the desirability of having a N.A.T.O. conference, because both shipping and shipbuilding have defence aspects. Countries in the N.A.T.O. Alliance are now carrying strategic mercantile fleets in excess of ordinary commercial requirements.
We also recognise that shipbuilding is one of the defence measures which maritime countries must have to back up other defence measures they take. Why has this not been discussed in N.A.T.O.? How much longer are we to put up with the practices which our American allies enforce, the subsidies which Americans offer and the flag discrimination they exercise?
Surely we could agree that this is a matter Which affects Western defence. As I have said, every month and every week this becomes more difficult. The longer we procrastinate about anything like this the more difficult it is eventually. We know that the Government are absolutely hidebound by procrastination. We paid the price for that in Cyprus, and now we have the same difficulty over shipping 967 and shipbuilding. This is surely something which everyone should recognise. It is a matter affecting the Allies as a whole. Traditionally, we have been the shipbuilders of the world. Are we to watch our position deteriorate month by month and not take any action at all? Why can we not take an initiative and try to get the position of British shipping and shipbuilding recognised, at any rate among our friends?
As far as domestic action at home goes, I have made every possible suggestion. This has not been done for months, but for years. I have modestly asked for a fact-finding committee. I have asked more recently for a reorganisation committee. Why cannot we have something like that? All I get from the Civil Lord is:I distrust committees and reports. I think that we have too many of them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th November, 1958; Vol. 596, c. 707.]I ask him to tell me, first, which committees he has decided are redundant. He says we have too many. Let him tell the Committee which of the Admiralty committees he believes are useless and redundant. In asking for such a committee, I am asking for the least action that the Government could take. Are the Government afraid of what any such committee would recommend?
It is no good the Civil Lord saying that we know the facts and do not need any information. My complaint about the Civil Lord is that, having the facts and the information, he will not do anything. I want a committee like this because, if it reported, even this Government would be bound to take some action. I will not ask the Civil Lord to anticipate the Chancellor's Budget statement, but has the Admiralty made any representations to the Treasury? Has it made any suggestions to the Treasury?
I have raised the question of credit. In the last debate the Civil Lord said that he was aware of no difficulties about credit. Almost within days of that debate I called his attention to some difficulties about credit we were having in Sunderland. I do not for a moment contradict what he said—I am much obliged for the action he took—but the disturbing thing was the lack of initiative. Here were orders worth millions of pounds being lost to this country and 968 going to France because the initiative was not being taken by the industry in regard to credit.
In those circumstances, I should like the Civil Lord to satisfy the Committee that he is taking every initiative to call the attention of the shipping and shipbuilding industries to the credit facilities which are available. I should like him to recognise, at the same time, that it is not good enough to provide credit facilities only for shipping which is being exported. I agree that it is very important —I have emphasised the importance—to export new shipping, but if the Civil Lord will face the facts I have presented to him about the amount of British shipping being built abroad, which now has reached record figures, I think he will see he has a responsibility to look at the question of credit for British shipowners. I am asking what is he doing about this? Does he merely intend to wait and see how bad things can become? In a great industry like this we have to take steps well in anticipation of the difficulties that beset the industry.
I turn to something which I think is very important and which I think the Civil Lord concedes to be very important, the invention of a new power of propulsion for mercantile shipping. If we get a new form of propulsion which is commercially attractive, it could alter the whole aspect for British shipbuilding and world shipbuilding. My difficulty with the Civil Lord is that he says he distrusts committees and reports. Was he thinking of the Galbraith Committee? Unfortunately, on nuclear propulsion we are resting on the advice we are eventually to receive from that Committee. I should like to know what progress is being made at Harwell. The Civil Lord has told us that that Committee is "actively studying the problem." That is not very consoling. It is not very consoling, because we know of the progress being made with the "Savannah" in the United States, the Leningrad icebreaker in the U.S.S.R. and now the progress in Japan.
Are we to get our nuclear propulsion development in the order to which we have been reduced in world shipbuilding? Are we being patently out-competed by the United States, by the Soviet Union and now by the Japanese? That is the position as it appears to us. If the Civil Lord can enlighten us, we shall be greatly 969 obliged to him. Only a few days ago he was asked about this, and this was the amazing reply he gave:I should not like, to go further than what I said in the Navy Estimates debate last year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1959; Vol. 601, c. 427.]Although he would not go further than what he said twelve months ago, in those twelve months there have been great advances by the Americans and the Russians and apparently by the Japanese.
How comforting were the words that the hon. Gentleman used twelve months ago. He said then:there might possibly be a ship in the water about 1964, but I should not like to be held down to that date in any way."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1958; Vol. 583, c. 1118.]What a remarkably comforting statement to have made twelve months ago. We might have a ship in the water in 1964, but the hon. Gentleman would not like to be held down in any way to the statement he had just made. This simply will not do.
If we cannot get some action we must have another committee. This is a desperately important matter from every aspect. I am not reflecting personally upon the Civil Lord, but unless this committee is recognised as one which must produce something soon—and we are not given a frivolous reply referring to a reply which was given twelve months ago—we shall lose this race. This is a very serious matter for us, as I pointed out in November when discussing shipbuilding. It is a serious matter when we remember that Britain originally led the race in diesel engine propulsion and then lost the lead. Let us at least see that we do not lose in nuclear propulsion. I beg the Civil Lord to consider the matter more seriously than he has treated it so far in the House.
Finally, I recall the Civil Lord's attention to what he said in reply to me in November:Although we know a lot about the difficulties, the correct remedy is far from clear. Indeed, it is not clear whether a remedy for the industry is needed,"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th November, 1958; Vol. 596, c. 705.]That, again, will not do. We want some indication that there is some active concern about shipping and shipbuilding. To be fair to the Civil Lord, he said that he had begun discussions with the 970 industry and he stigmatised it as he had stigmatised himself. He said that the industry did not know what to do. This is a matter of very important national responsibility.
I ask the Civil Lord to tell us what results have come from his discussions with the industry and whether he is now proceeding to discuss these matters with the trade unions in the industry, because he promised us that when he had completed his discussions with the industry he would proceed to discussions with the trade unions.
After all, this is a matter which affects trade unions as much as it does the management. I would emphasise, once again, the joint responsibility of management and men to pay attention to the rate of output figures which I have given and to see that they join together in endeavouring to speed up the rate of output of British shipyards. I hope that now I am raising this again the Civil Lord will be able to tell us that he has completed his discussions and he is prepared to use his influence with the Admiralty to see that the Government take effective action to safeguard two of our vitally important industries.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
The Committee will agree with the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) in his anxiety that our country is no longer the world's top shipbuilding nation. He painted a very gloomy picture to the Committee, but to my mind he did not complete the picture as he did not give his reasons for this decline in shipbuilding. He spoke about flag discrimination, but I wonder whether long delivery dates and restrictive practices in our shipyards are not two reasons why British shipowners are led to have their shipping built abroad? The hon. Gentleman also referred to the importance of developing new forms of atomic propulsion.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
On a point of order. I would point out that there are not 40 Members present.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. John Arbuthnot)
The hon. and learned Gentleman would be out of order in giving notice that 40 Members are not present during the dinner hour, namely, from 7.30 to 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Wall
I was saying that the hon. Gentleman also spoke of the importance of the development of new types of atomic propulsion. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Civil Lord has this well in mind, as it is vitally important for the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy and for the future of the whole of our country. I hope that he will take us a little more into his confidence concerning the development of nuclear propulsion for merchant vessels when he winds up the debate. I am sure it is a matter in which both sides of the Committee will have great interest.
My neighbour on the other side of the Humber, the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu), said that he believed the rôle of the Navy was extremely vague. I must add that I did not feel that his speech seemed to clarify any of this vagueness. I would, however, support him in one of his contentions that the rôle of the Navy in nuclear war was or has been pretty vague. If we refer to the 1958 defence White Paper we see that it says:In global war the rôle of the Navy is to make an effective contribution to the combined naval forces in the Western Alliance.I do not think any hon. Member will deny that this is vague.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele), in some very interesting quotations to the Committee from the document written or produced on behalf of SACLANT, said that ships of N.A.T.O. forces in the Atlantic now have a very clear nuclear function and were able to wield the nuclear deterrent in any possible nuclear war. Surely the ships of the Royal Navy, such as the Fleet Carriers "Eagle" and "Ark Royal", carrying the N.A.39, which is equipped with the nuclear bomb, can play their full share in the deterrent today. It seems to me that on the question of the naval use of the nuclear deterrent we are moving very fast.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) has already made the point that the whole of naval strategy may be revolutionised by the advent of the missile firing submarine. I do not want to develop this to any great extent. I would remind the Committee, however, that I asked the Parliamentary Secretary not very long ago whether we 972 were keeping in close touch with the American experiments in the development of Polaris. He gave me that assurance. It seems to me that with the limited means at our disposal it would be ridiculous for us now to develop a parallel weapon to that of our Allies in the U.S.A., provided we have access to all the necessary technical knowledge.
I think the Committee will accept the arguments of the Minister of Defence when he explained why it was necessary for this country to go ahead with Blue Streak, which has many advantages over the solid fuel propellant used in Polaris. I think we should accept this, provided we have access to the results of experiments on Polaris and the assurance that if it is necessary we can later take over or reproduce the American weapon which may be so vital to our future.
The Committee will welcome the information that "Dreadnought" is to be laid down and that arrangements are now made for the supply of her propulsive machinery. It has been confirmed today that "Dreadnought" is an anti-submarine submarine. She is not designed or supposed to be a missile submarine. There again, I think my hon. Friend could take the Committee further into his confidence and do something to allay anxiety if he can assure us that we intend to develop in due course, when we have completed our experiments with "Dreadnought", which is, after all, a new type of vessel, a submarine which can fire the underwater missile. This vessel will be of vital importance to the future navies of the world and may lead to a considerable cut in the amount of money which various countries have to spend on their naval estimates. It seems to me the quintessence of a deterrent if we could put a nuclear weapon in a small vessel which can submerge and fire from under the Polar ice cap and move practically anywhere in the world without detection.
§ Mr. Wall
I gather that the hon. and learned Gentleman has read of the experiments being carried out by the Americans to determine how thick is the Polar ice cap.
To turn to the question of conventional war, there are three aspects which I should like to bring to my hon. Friend's 973 notice. The first is the question of aircraft carriers. According to the explanatory Statement of the Navy Estimates three carriers are in commission, five in reserve, plus "Hermes" building. I believe that there is some doubt as to the future of "Triumph" and "Magnificent." Our total number of carriers in the future may therefore be only seven. I think that he will agree with me that one of the lessons of the last war was that we had to have two decks in any carrier task group. We could not run the risk of operating one carrier alone, because if that were sunk or the landing deck put out of action we might lose all our aircraft.
If we operate a carrier task group we therefore need two carriers, and one presumes, looking through the statements of the past three years, that one would require two carrier task groups, one in the Atlantic and one in the Indian Ocean or Pacific. That means a total of four carriers. We have also been promised a Commando carrier. That leaves only one carrier in reserve and one for ferrying replacement aircraft. I would again emphasise the point made from the Opposition benches that we should consider the retention of some of our older light fleet carriers as a possible reserve in an emergency for the next few years. There are other reasons for this suggestion which I will develop later. I would emphasise the importance of the air-gap in the Middle East. In the event of trouble in that area the Suez Canal would probably be closed, and that means that we should have to have at least one carrier task group operating on each side of Suez.
While I am on the question of scrapping ships, may I refer to the method by which the Admiralty announces that ships are lo be scrapped. Generally, these announcements appear at the back of the OFFICIAL REPORT, in Written Answers to Questions asked by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Arundel and Shoreham (Captain Kerby). I suggest this gives a bad impression. We have an Explanatory Statement for any given year, but we often find fairly soon afterward this has been published that some of the vessels listed are taken off the Navy List and scrapped. More care really should be given to the way in which announcements are made of ships to be scrapped, sold or otherwise disposed of.
974 There is a certain amount of anxiety about the number of ships which are being scrapped. I am aware of the argument about new wine in old bottles, but I asked the other day how many ships completed since January, 1944, have been scrapped and I was given the surprising answer of 1,885. These included landing ships and craft, minesweepers, auxiliaries and M.T.B.s. Even so, this represents a surprising number of ships completed after 1944 and then scrapped. It includes at least 80 ships larger than M.T.B.s or major landing craft, and that is a high total, particularly when we are told that the number includes cruisers like "Superb" and "Battle-class" destroyers. I do not wish to place undue emphasis on this point, but there is anxiety in the country over the great extent of scrapping which has been pursued in the last few years.
My next point on conventional warfare relates to Coastal Command. We have heard of the value of aircraft in detecting submarines. People, perhaps those with little knowledge of the defence forces, have sometimes the impression that the V-bomber may be of some use in this rôle. Of course, the range of a bomber has very little significance. What is required is an aircraft like the Shackleton with long endurance and the ability to stay in the air for a long time in a certain area in order to search for submarines. I believe we are also developing new helicopters for thisrôle as well as for rescue purposes.
There is some doubt whether we can continue using aircraft for the same operational purpose and operating over the seas but under the control of two different Services. I feel that if there were a closer liaison between the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy, or even the integration of the two Services as suggested by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett), we would not have had the state of affairs suggested by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West when he suggested that the R.A.F. developed the better fighter and the Royal Navy the better helicopter, and I also doubt whether the T.S.R.2 would have been produced for the Royal Air Force and that we would have decided to adapt the N.A.39 for both Services. My hon. Friend may think that I am exaggerating. 975 but I hope he will bear this point in mind. Hon. Members are very keen to see this inter-Service rivalry die. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has served in both Ministries, and I hope he will make a special effort to coordinate the two Services, both of which defend this country from a distance.
My next point on conventional warfare has already been raised in this debate, and I will not elaborate it in any way. It is the question of our anti-submarine forces. I would plead for more information on the exact rôle of our anti-submarine force in a major war or against Russian satellites or minor Communist powers. Here again, there is the possibility of the employment of the older light fleet aircraft carrier. After all, a helicopter cannot operate in the middle of the Pacific or Indian Oceans on its own. Some of the new frigates can carry a helicopter, but only one. We must make provision for anti-submarine aircraft, be they Shackletons, Gannets or helicopters, to get to the right place at the right time. That means that we must have more craft suitable for this purpose than we have in the Navy today.
May I now turn to a different subject—Iceland. The crews of the long-distance trawlers have always had the greatest possible friendship and liaison with the Fishery Protection Squadron. Over the years those vessels have given our trawlermen help when they have needed it, whether it be off Bear Island, Greenland, or off the coast of Iceland. This friendship and admiration has been greatly enhanced by the protection afforded by the Royal Navy to distant water trawlers during the past months when they fought a cold war in a very cold climate. At the same time, they have managed to retain the warm friendship of our Allies in Iceland. They have done a magnificent job in preserving the freedom of the seas and once again the Royal Navy has proved one of Britain's best ambassadors. Tribute should be paid to these ships as indeed it is paid in all the distant water fishing ports of this country.
My final point, as no doubt my hon. Friend expects, concerns amphibious warfare. Anybody reading the history books will find that this country always 976 forgets the lesson of a war soon after we have won it. We forgot the lesson of earlier wars and were led into the disasters of Gallipoli. I suggest that we forgot the lesson again before the start of the Second World War and that this led us into the unpleasantness of Dieppe. I hope we are not in danger of forgetting once again the importance of maintaining the technique of amphibious warfare in the future.
In conventional and local wars what matters is the ability to put men on the ground quickly. Undoubtedly, the Commando carrier and the new Britannias and Comets of Transport Command will be most useful in this rôle and will be able to put troops on the ground pretty rapidly, but we still have not been told what will happen if our forces are found to be up against strong opposition. We all know what happened at Suez. We know that paratroops could not be put on the ground as quickly as we would have liked because the Egyptians had armour and that this made all the difference to our operations. That could happen again in areas around the Red Sea or the Persian Gulf. No one can really judge what might happen in that area. I suggest that it might be extremely difficult for the person who has to give the decision to permit or not to permit Commandos to go in in helicopters if he knew that the enemy had armour and that he could not give them any support because he could not land armour or heavy vehicles unless he had a port. The port might well be blocked or, even if he had a port, it might be practically impossible to land them and then take them across the desert to the scene of action. We must be able to land armour and vehicles on the beaches.
It is vitally important, therefore, to develop a new generation of landing craft capable of taking our modern tanks and equipment, self-propelled guns and so forth as rapidly as possible from this country to theatres where they may be needed, and then to land them on the beaches. This type of ship may take three or four years to build and we have not much time. These craft would travel at about 20 knots and so be able to go from Plymouth to Singapore via the Cape in something like 25 days. Therefore, the old story about the sea lift 977 always being slow is true only in a comparative sense. In the event of trouble in the areas I have referred to, it is quite certain that the Suez Canal would be closed and, therefore, it is extremely important that we should develop at least one or two of this type of ship at the earliest possible moment.
In the meantime, I hope that my hon. Friend can assure us that some of our old landing ships and craft which travel at about 12 knots can be kept in reserve somewhere in these vital areas. It is not good enough for the reserve to be laid up on the Clyde when it could be required on the other side of the African Continent in a very great hurry. I hope that, as an interim measure, we can keep at least part of our reserve of these ships in the Indian Ocean. The same applies to the old light fleet carriers which have been mentioned already. The Explanatory Statement shows that at least three aircraft carriers have been used to convey troops and vehicles for exactly this type of purpose during recent months. These vessels would therefore have a great potential value in reserve.
I commend to my hon. Friend the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) in the defence debate when he suggested that our strategic reserve could well be kept together as a unit where it could be sea-lifted or air-lifted as required, and could operate and train as a unit so that the three Services in it get to know each ether very well indeed. We could probably develop that idea to bring in the Commonwealth. Such a reserve, which might train in times of peace in the West Indies, Africa or India, would do an enormous amount to bring together the defence forces of the Commonwealth in the same way as the Royal Navy has done so much to maintain links with the Commonwealth Navies. Thus a Commonwealth force could be developed on an inter-Service level.
In conclusion, I will emphasise three points, I am sure that the Committee is satisfied that our Royal Navy of the future, though a small one, will be extremely efficient, with the highest quality of men and ships. I hope that we can have a reassurance about the Navy's rôle in the use of the deterrent and that we can be confident that a British submarine deterrent will be developed in the near 978 future. I hope that my hon. Friend will appreciate that there is anxiety about the scrapping policy, particularly in regard to the disposal of post-war ships, and will ensure that adequate explanations are given when this happens. I hope that he will use his unique experience in the two great Ministries in which he has served to bring about a closer liaison between the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force than we have today as this will be of incalculable value in the future.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I am very glad to have the opportunity of following the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall). I agree very much with what he said with regard to combined operations, except that I go very much further than he does. In my belief, combined operations should be overwhelmingly the major function of the Fleet today. At present, of course, its combined operation capacity is almost trivial, an organisation which is capable of dealing, perhaps, with two battalions in the Mediterranean, in craft which are so unseaworthy that they could not go out in the Mediterranean, plus "Bulwark" in prospect.
The present Navy is overwhelmingly anti-submarine. If one takes the air portion as being fifty-fifty—half antisubmarine and half strike—dividing the tail among the teeth, more than three-quarters of these Estimates is antisubmarine. What do we want this antisubmarine force for? This is the basic question which I wish to discuss.
Do we want it for all-out war against Russia? If we are to accept the N.A.T.O. scheme, which is that in war against Russia the first action of the N.A.T.O. Governments is an atomic strike all-out against the Russian ports, the purpose of anti-submarine war for us does not seem to exist. After all, a submarine war has only one object—blockade. One can blockade in one of two ways, by eliminating the ports or by preventing the ships from reaching the ports. If we attack the Russian ports, the Russians will certainly attack ours. It is everywhere agreed that there is not a single port which is remotely defensible. In that sort of war we cease to exist. This was recognised in the defence White Paper of two years ago. An atomic war 979 is something which we may deter but which we cannot conduct. Defence expenditure which can be operative only after atomic destruction is for us unprofitable defence expenditure.
The second possibility is this. Let us suppose that the N.A.T.O. scheme were scrapped in view of the mounting atomic stalemate. Could we have a submarine war against Russia which was non-atomic? Such a war would be only part of the war which would be conducted in Germany. One can quite safely say that the chance of the Russians starting a general war against the commerce of the Atlantic save for the purpose, of supporting a land war in Germany is quite inconceivable. What on earth could be the point for the Russians of taking the risks of poaching merchant ships in the Atlantic unless the blockade were directed to preventing reinforcement in a land struggle in Europe? So we begin with the proposition that there is a land struggle in Europe.
I believe—my right hon. Friends said this during the debates on defence and the Army Estimates—that we should go in for graduated defence. We should defend by conventional weapons as long as we can hold the position, we should resort then to tactical nuclear weapons, and to strategic nuclear weapons only in the very last resort. The object of that sort of defence is to provide an interval for negotiation, to provide an effort which will stabilise the conflict long enough for the United Nations to come into operation. That is the great difference which has happened since the war. U.N.O. is an instrument of negotiation.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
On a point of order. This is all very interesting, but I suggest that it is not a Navy Estimates speech: it is a defence speech.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I was going to suggest to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) that he should keep to the Navy Estimates.
§ Mr. Paget
I quite often submit to the staggering irrelevance of the hon. Member's interruptions. I have always understood that the Navy is for defence, and that is why I am discussing defence.
I will now return to the point in my speech where I left off. The difference 980 which has happened since the war is that U.N.O. provides the form of negotiation—
§ The Temporary Chairman
Order. I must ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to get back to the Navy Estimates.
§ Mr. Paget
With very great respect, I am precisely on the Navy Estimates. I am discussing the purpose of an antisubmarine war and pointing out that the only advantage is to provide an interval during which negotiations can take place. It is a delaying aspect, and I shall consider whether that delaying aspect at sea is worthwhile.
The point of U.N.O. is this. For the first time there is a means of negotiation while nations are fighting. We no longer have to go on fighting because nobody dares to talk first. So there becomes an added reason for providing a pause which may save humanity from the vast holocaust. It is for that reason that I support the increase of conventional methods, the alternative to atomic war, in land warfare.
Does this argument apply to the sea? I venture to suggest that it does not, for the reason that submarine war is of its essence a war of attrition. It is not anything which can possibly work quickly. The blockade is a gradual process, and so the pause comes, anyway, from the nature of the attack. The submarine war is not something which forces us immediately to a tragic decision. The situation on land in Germany will force us there very much quicker. But equally inevitably a submarine war, because it is total in its objective, if pushed to an end, must involve the atomic holocaust. If we are effectively blockaded before we starve we shall strike back. That is the sort of people we are, and the Russians know it.
Equally the Russians could not accept a defeat on that level without gaining success which is available to them by the elimination of the ports. So it seems to me that, the only purpose being a pause, it is a pause which would come anyway. It is not as though the Atlantic were undefended. The Americans have 66 aircraft carriers exclusively for antisubmarine purposes and over 600 destroyers, frigates and destroyer escorts in commission. They are building 75 nuclear anti-submarine submarines as well 981 as a great many more anti-submarine ships. So that in any event all that we should be doing would be to add very slightly to an anti-submarine force, the only purpose of which from our point of view could be to provide a pause for negotiation. I very much doubt whether that is a worth-while undertaking from our point of view. I do not think that an attempt to oppose the Russian submarine fleet is worth-while, because I believe that it could matter only after atomic war, and, after atomic war, as a war-making Power we cease to exist.
Let us consider the matter in the other context. We are told that there are four submarines in Albania, twenty in China, and a dozen in Egypt. Suppose that we came into conflict with one of those nations. What would be our antisubmarine policy? I venture to suggest that is would be quite crazy to submit to the loss of our ships while we gradually hunted down submarines with forces which to cover the ocean are wildly inadequate. If we submitted to the losses involved during the period of hunting clown those submarines, we would be crazy. In that sort of case we would deal with the nest from where they came. We would deal with the submarine base. If it were in Egypt or Albania, we would want the forces to land and take the base. If it were in China and we were, for instance, defending a position in Malaya, and Chinese submarines began to attack our trade routes, I venture to say that we would simply say this: "Your submarine bases are here, here and here. If another merchant ship goes we shall take out that base with an atomic bomb". If fair warning had been given I do not think world opinion would be opposed to that action.
Save for Russia, therefore, the submarine menace is one which would be rightly, properly and economically dealt with by dealing with the base. I therefore submit that roughly three-quarters of the Estimates which are being devoted to the anti-submarine war is expenditure which is not perhaps valueless but is not the most worth-while expenditure in this field. Instead of a submarine effort, I think it would be infinitely more valuable to have a force of, say, 10,000 men which the Navy could land, because, after all, in a war in which Russia is not a party what other naval rôle is there? There is not a navy to drive off the sea.
982 The days when the appearance of a warship brought terror and surrender are past. Mere naval bombardment of a city or port is a thing of the past. We could never do it again.
We can be effective only where we can put forces on the ground. The great contribution which the Navy can make to our effective force is to put troops on the ground quickly and effectively to support them from the air and supply them.
I will say just a little about the sort of organisation that would give us what we want. As for the air, I would say that three of the big aircraft carriers are sufficient—that is, two with the Fleet and one refitting. With those aircraft carriers we could have our four guided missile ships, perhaps three with the Fleet and one refitting. One would need an antisubmarine screen of, say, twenty-four destroyers or frigates, because if one were making a landing of that sort, one might have to cover the possibility of Egyptian or Chinese submarines directed against one's assault force, which is a quite different thing from being directed generally against our trade routes, in which case our reply would be the attack on the base.
To carry the troops, we have ten other aircraft carriers, four of which are in danger of being scrapped. I hope tremendously that they will not be scrapped. Those ten are capable of carrying Commandos. There is also the "Vanguard", which could be a magnificent headquarters ship. Changed, she could carry at least a couple of thousand troops.
To get the troops ashore for this operation, it does not have to be in its full sense an assault force. We have "Bulwark", which is capable of landing by helicopter, and another, which would have to be especially equipped to land armoured assault craft. That would be one's force for carrying the beach. After that, the question of getting the troops and equipment from these ships to the beach is something which, I believe, could be done in thin-skinned craft. A certain amount of ingenuity and not too much extravagance could be adopted. I believe that in the topsides or stern of these vessels, some discharge ports which came down could be constructed on which to run out vehicles which had been made floatable and, perhaps, pushed by the outboard type of motor. As was done in Normandy, we could get a great deal on 983 shore in that sort of way. Provided the weather was reasonable and one had seized one's beachhead, I should have thought that it would not be beyond our capacity to provide a force which would discharge 10,000 men with relatively light equipment. I do not agree that heavy armour is necessary—anti-tank guns, of course, are necessary—within a period of about 24 hours.
§ Mr. Paget
That is the ideal. I am speaking of what we have, and we have these fast ships. I believe that these fast ships, at not very great expense, could be used for this rôle.
We have the aircraft carriers, we have our 10,000 men to land, we have the air cover and the flotilla. That is an effective fleet and a really effective unit of power in the world today, whereas our submarine effort—three-quarters of our Navy—which is trivial in comparison with the Americans, does not add one iota to our effective power in the world. Is not the sort of fleet I have suggested far more desirable?
Let us consider in terms of men what that sort of fleet would require. In terms of men, it would take about 20,000 men to man it—that is all. We have 88,000 men available for the Navy. I suggest that the troops which that force would land should be provided by the Navy and by the Marines. A force of 10,000 men, with, perhaps, another 10,000 men in reserve, should be raised by the Navy and the Marines—that is, in considerable number bluejackets, trained for land as well as for naval warfare. They have done it before and they do the job excellently.
That would take between 40,000 and 50,000 men, leaving 38,000 men for fishery protection, for the odd cruiser which may be necessary to deal with the Falkland Islands, or something of that sort, and for our other trivial naval commitments. I venture to say that that sort of Navy would be of much more value to us than the present predominantly anti-submarine Navy, which 984 is directed to an operation which must almost necessarily be post mortem.
I conclude by saying this, and it is a very unpopular thing to say in these days. I do not think that the morale of the Navy is at all good today. I have talked to a great many naval officers. I have not found one who thought that what he was doing made sense. While people do not feel that what they are doing makes sense, while they do not feel that they are essential to their country, morale is very poor indeed. Give them this task which I have outlined, make the Navy the mobile reserve of the British Commonwealth with a job to do, to provide a force, to supply it, to be this fighting effective arm, to be a member of this great Fleet—and it is a great fleet—instead of the twiddling little squadrons which we see today, and we will raise the morale of the Navy out of all conception.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Stevens (Portsmouth, Langstone)
I have known for many years that I was one of the luckiest men alive; and it is, of course, a purely fortuitous source of pride to me that I represent in this Committee and in the House the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who has just resumed his seat.
I am bound to say that my source of pride was a little wounded a short time ago, when the hon. and learned Gentleman did his best to ensure that a large number of my constituents and his neighbours should have some difficulty in getting their pay in the ensuing year. It was, of course, only the fact that the hon. and learned Gentleman's knowledge of the rules of the proceedings of this Committee was inadequate to the task which he set himself which prevented him from putting that difficulty in the way of my constituents and his neighbours.
From time to time this debate has jumped in the most devastating fashion from high strategy and tactics such as the hon. and learned Gentleman dealt with at some length, to the more mundane matters of dockyards. Very natural it is, in a debate of this kind, that this should be so. I am going back for the moment to the dockyards.
It is not without interest that hon. Members on both sides of this Committee 985 have expressed some anxiety about the problems of the Royal Dockyards, whether they represent dockyards which are in the process of being closed or dockyards which, so far as one can see, have a considerable future ahead of them. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Faversham Mr. P. Wells), who was here a moment ago, very naturally expressed considerable anxiety about the future of Sheerness. He may think that I should consider myself once again the luckiest man alive in that, surely, the future of the Portsmouth Dockyard is assured, if ever the future of any dockyard is assured. Indeed, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) said that there was no doubt but that there was plenty of work for Portsmouth for years to come.
It is, of course, a source of very great pride and privilege to represent a Royal Dockyard, but that privilege does bring with it a considerable source of anxiety in that so very many of the employment eggs are in only one basket. So even though there may be work for some years ahead, as far as I can see the longest period which the Admiralty has been willing to forecast—I do not blame the Admiralty for this in any way—is about two years ahead.
Though one may feel that there is work for two years ahead, none the less I say again that there is considerable anxiety at Portsmouth, in particular, because of the closing of other dockyards, in that there is no doubt but that the established personnel from those other dockyards will be found employment at Portsmouth. I feel quite confident of that. That will not displace established personnel at Portsmouth. I am sure of that, but what it will do undoubtedly is to displace unestablished personnel who account for a very considerable proportion of those who are employed at Portsmouth.
Then there is this further point, that the total number of personnel in the Royal Navy is being steadily and progressively reduced. That must mean that a good many craftsmen will be thrown out at an early age to look for employment. Portsmouth is a traditional home base, and the consequence is that in the years ahead we are bound to find technicians and craftsmen of all kinds, radio mechanics, and so on, coming from the Royal Navy looking for employment in the next 986 natural source, which is the dockyard in Portsmouth.
I therefore ask the Civil Lord, who, I believe, is to wind up the debate tonight, to look with sympathy at Portsmouth; not, perhaps, with so much sympathy as at Sheerness, where the problem is very much greater, but, still, to look with sympathy at the suggestions put up by Portsmouth from time to time for dealing with the problem, the twin problem of too many eggs in one basket, and, with the rundown of the Navy, the possibility of naval personnel, and also dockyard personnel from other places coming into Portsmouth.
§ Mr. C. Ian Orr-Ewing
My hon. Friend seems to be very anxious. He has said that we can foresee work at Portsmouth for only two years ahead. There must be some misunderstanding. My noble Friend's words, in a recent statement, were "as far ahead as we can see". That is considerably longer than two years.
§ Mr. Stevens
I confess that I have not got it with me, but I have a letter from my hon. Friend's noble Friend in which he says that he does not anticipate any rundown of work at Portsmouth for two years at least. I think that it would be entirely wrong of him to try to forecast full employment in Portsmouth Dockyard any further ahead than that. I am sorry if I misled the Committee in any way in suggesting that the hint was that in three years' time there would not be as much employment in Portsmouth, but I am bound to say that the furthest period ahead which the Admiralty with some confidence will forecast is, as I think my hon. Friend will agree, two years, and we in Portsmouth look ahead for longer than two years.
One possibility that we have investigated very thoroughly during the last year or so is the establishment of a fishing port at Portsmouth. There is no fishing port in the South of England. There are fishing grounds within reach of Portsmouth; nearer Portsmouth, for example, than the Icelandic fishing grounds are to Aberdeen and Fleetwood, and I would say that there were considerable opportunities for fishing ports in the south of England, in general, and Portsmouth, in particular. A fishing port, of course, needs various facilities. It needs such things as quays and wharves, drainage, and sheds for cleaning fish.
§ Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)
Does my hon. Friend say that there are no fishing ports in the south of England? What about Hastings, Dover, Rye, and the inshore fishing industry in the South-West?
§ Mr. Stevens
I apologise for misleading the Committee. I should have said, "not a major fishing port." To refer to Hastings in the same breath as Aberdeen and Grimsby—
§ Mr. Stevens
I should have thought that it had a good deal to do with a city which depends so largely on the Royal Navy for full employment. I am sure that you, Sir Charles, will stop me if I am out of order.
There are relatively minor fishing ports, but there is not a major port. There is room for one. The Admiralty will have to be more forthcoming in future than it has been in the past to enable such facilities to be provided in Portsmouth.
My hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Miss Vickers) spoke about the "battle of the bulge", a problem which occupies the attention of many people, and she referred to the report recently made by Sir Ronald Gould. An easy solution does not seem to be at hand. This is the very difficult problem of finding employment which is not dead-end employment for the increasing number of school children who will be coming out into the world in 1961 and beyond. Like my hon. Friend, I am not entirely happy about the number of apprenticeships which will be available in the dockyard at Portsmouth in the years ahead. I hope that the Admiralty will look at this problem again.
My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary referred to technical education in the Royal dockyards, and I was interested in what he said about Dartmouth. It looks as if, on the uniformed side, this matter has been tackled in the most lively, imaginative and vigorous fashion, but I am not satisfied that as much attention has been given to it on the civilian side. It is a difficult problem, with no ready solution, but the Admiralty must play its part.
988 How the Royal Dockyards manage to turn out the quality of work which they do, I do not know, except for the quality of the men who find employment there. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nationalisation."] These are very old-established industries and the workshops are crowded and badly laid out. I hope that when more money is available a large-scale scheme of reorganisation of the Royal Dockyands will be undertaken. In the meantime, I am sure that all of us, on both sides of the Committee, can feel very justly proud of the fine work that is turned out in exceedingly difficult conditions.
§ 8.39 p.m.
§ Mr. E H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
I should like to refer to one or two points made by the hon. Member for Portsmouth, Langston (Mr. Stevens). First, he mentioned that the youngsters who are coming out of die schools are unable to find jobs. I suggest that that may be due to the present Government's inadequate policies for dealing with employment and unemployment generally. It certainly applies in Cornwall, where there is over 7 per cent. unemployment. I would draw the hon. Member's attention also to the fact that the fishing industry in Cornwall, which is important, is finding great difficulty in keeping going at all. I therefore wish him luck in Portsmouth. If the Government cannot do better for Portsmouth than they have done for Cornwall, where there is an old-established fishing industry, I am afraid that the hon. Member's constituents will be disappointed.
My purpose in speaking is to draw attention to one point which is comparatively small but, since Parliament exists for the redress of grievances, I feel justified in referring to it. It is the issue of the Navy retaining youngsters who have signed on for comparatively long-term engagements. Recently I had occasion to write to the Minister about a lad of 17 who had been in the Navy for two years. I presume he had signed on for a 5-year engagement. His father was disabled and the lad wished to leave the Navy, but the Admiralty exacted its pound of flesh and insisted on his staying on. I feel strongly about this attitude of Shylock wanting his pound of flesh. What good can it be to the Navy to retain youngsters against their will? I for one will find difficulty in future in 989 advocating the Navy as a career for youngsters who might sign on at the age of 15. At that age they are often not sure what kind of career they want. I defy hon. Gentlemen opposite who have youngsters of this age to challenge what I say on that point.
It appeared from a reply given on 10th December that two-thirds of applications for release were granted and that one-third were free discharges, but I beg the Minister to look at this matter rather more realistically. I believe that recruiting is now good. The Navy is a first-class career and, until the case I have mentioned. I have never felt hesitation in recommending youngsters to take it up. Having dealt with that case, however, I now have grave doubts.
I hope the Civil Lord will tell us when he replies to the debate what is the attitude of the Admiralty to a youngster who feels he wants to change his job and wishes perhaps to attend, say, a technical college for full-time study. Today I saw a young lad who wants to transfer from the Air Force to electronics, aid I have had other cases of the same kind in other Services, so would like to k low the attitude of the Admiralty to such applications.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) will forgive me if I do not follow him in what he said. I wish to deal in a general way with the future of the Navy as it was put to us in the able speech of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. I also wish to congratulate him on the first speech that he has made in his new office.
I appreciated what was said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) on the rôle of the submarine, because I said something on this subject in the defence debate, with which I will not weary the Committee now, but Which appears in the OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th February, at col. 1218. It is nice to think that a man of his great knowledge and experience endorses what I said on that occasion.
I shall not speak for long, as I know that other hon. Members wish to speak, but I want to deal with some of the points in the speech of my hon. Friend the 990 Parliamentary Secretary. He said that Russian submarines had been reported throughout the world. Let us divide those that he mentioned into two categories, those east of Suez and those in the Mediterranean. East of Suez, he told us, there were 20 with the Chinese Communist forces. There are, obviously, Russian submarines at their Pacific bases, but we do not know how many. Also, we were told that Russian submarine bases were being built some time ago in the Yemen area. What forces have we to counteract them?
We were told that there are nine Russian submarines at Alexandria, at the disposal of the United Arab Republic, that there are four in Albania, and that there are Russian submarines in the Mediterranean of unknown quantity. What forces have we against them?
In paragraph 20, page 5, of the Explanatory Statement, dealing with the disposition of the Fleet, we are told:Six cruisers will operate between the Home, Mediterranean and Far East Stations, and a fast minelayer on the Home Station.That is the ship to which my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) referred when he was talking about an admiral going to Gibraltar.
Paragraph 21 says:A total of fifty-five Fleet destroyers and frigates will be deployed on Naval stations throughout the world.My hon. Friend told me that 23 of the ships had been involved in the Icelandic situation. So we have 55 for the whole world and 23 of them have recently been involved in the Icelandic waters.
My hon. Friend told us something about our help to the Commonwealth navies, which I am sure we are all very glad to hear. I understood him to say that we were carrying out their submarine training. Is it proper for us to ask whether they have submarines now, and how many?
§ Mr. C. Ian Orr-Ewing
The intention of that phrase in my speech was to show that we provide the submarines to enable them to carry out their anti-submarine training.
§ Mr. Howard
I was wondering whether it was fair to ask whether they have submarines with their forces.
991 On the subject of interdependence and the Bagdad Pact, I am sure all of us will have seen in the newspapers today that there is further insurrection in Iraq. Have we adequate forces in the vicinity? Still on that subject, when will H.M.S. "Tiger" join the Fleet? We have seen pictures of her carrying out trials. Will she be sent east of Suez? I should have thought that a ship of this sort would be extremely useful in the vicinity of such disorders as are taking place.
My hon. Friend mentioned that about 30 incidents had taken place off Iceland. I have had considerable experience of the horrible weather conditions in that part of the world, having at one stage of the war gone backwards and forwards many times between Northern Ireland and Iceland. The bridge windows of the ship I was commanding were smashed nearly every trip, so I can feel for the men in the Service who have been doing this job. The fact that they have carried out an extremely difficult task so well and with such good humour is worthy of the highest praise that we could give the Service.
My hon. Friend and the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) referred to foregin visits. My hon. Friend said that those visits were a strain on our resources. Of course they are, but I was glad that my hon. Friend acknowledged their vital importance. I only wish that we could get from their Lordships an assurance that no further ships will be scrapped until they can be replaced, one for one. Apart from the effect which these ships can have when they visit foreign stations, in the fire brigade rôle or purely peacetime rôle, there is no finer form of inducement for recruiting. Any young man who visits a foreign station will send home glowing accounts of his trip when he writes to his family and friends—apart from what he brings home in the way of what the Service calls "rabbits", or presents.
It was interesting to be told that, thanks to research and development, endurance may be increased by 25 per cent. That means that the comfort of ships must be a first essential. We all know that the oldest worry in the Service is the problem of equipment versus the accommodation of the men. We have discussed that subject many times.
992 I was interested in what my hon. Friend said about the men sharing the chores. There may be a good deal of difficulty about that, although it is a good idea in principle. Last year, I mentioned the importance of cooks. If ships are to be at sea for longer periods, feeding will be of the utmost importance and anything which can be done to improve the status of cooks will be advantageous, as will be anything which can be done to lighten their burden of chores.
I understand that washing machines are fairly common nowadays, and I should like them to be installed in all larger ships to help to take some of the drudgery out of the job of a cook. I have many times been told by chiefs, petty officers and ratings how important good cooking at sea is. I know that it has been improved with cafeteria messing, and so on, but it will always be of the utmost importance.
Peace of mind, which is essential to maintain good recruiting, has been much enhanced by improvements in pay and conditions. However, that is a subject with which we can deal tomorrow when we discuss Vote 13. There are various anomalies, especially those applying to chiefs and petty officers who are retained until they are 55. There may be three such men in the same employment, but entitled to three different rates of pension.
I was delighted with what my hon. Friend had to say about Dartmouth, but I hope that it will be remembered, when we talk of high standards, that we do not want merely those young men who have fine brains and high standards of education, but who lack the necessary leadership qualities. For that reason, I was delighted to hear that midshipmen are coming back. It is often forgotten that a midshipman is a kind of betwixt and between and that he may learn a great deal about the Service before becoming a sub-lieutenant.
I was glad to hear what my hon. Friend had to say about "Dreadnought" and I wish to ask two questions. When is she expected to join the Fleet and would it not be possible to have two ships started at the same time? With submarine hazards and other dangers, I consider that it would be wise to start two ships at the same time, if that be possible.
The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) mentioned the question 993 of scrapping carriers. Could their Lordships stop scrapping any more carriers, at least until "Hermes" is with the Fleet which, I understand, will be next year? During the Defence debate I said something about operational reserve carriers. I do not wish to repeat myself, but what my hon. Friend said about the miles steamed by "Bulwark" between January and November of last year—41,000 miles—shows the tremendous amount of work which carriers have to do because there are so few of them.
Last week, we spent two days discussing the affairs of an hon. Member of this House who is now in Africa. It is right that at all times we should protect the rights of hon. Members when they are abroad, but I think that it is regrettable that no mention has been made of the fact that a British admiral was stoned in tie recent disturbances in the dockyard at Malta, which, I should have thought, was a very serious matter. I am sure that hon. Members who know that gallant officer will deplore this fact.
Lastly, I wish to mention the work of the Admiral Commanding Reserves and their Lordships in connection with the considerable reshaping of the reserves. The fact that this extremely difficult job has been performed so well is deserving of great credit to the Admiral Commanding Reserves and their Lordships. Here, I must disclose an interest, as I am one of those affected. The way that this work has been done under the present scheme of things deserves great praise and, I am sure, will redound to the good of the Navy. I hope that my hon. Friend the Civil Lord will be able to answer some of the questions which I have put, which are not, I think, constituency points, but affect the Navy as a whole.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Mr. I. J. Pitman (Bath)
As a West Country man I approve of what was said by the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) and by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G R. Howard) about the importance of the fishing industry in the West Country. I will not, however, follow them further, because I wish to make one narrow constituency point and also a general point about the Navy. My constituency point refers to the question of the permanency of Departments of the Admiralty at Bath.
994 In 1948 the right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale), in answer to a Question which I put, announced that it was the intention of the Admiralty permanently to station certain important Departments at Bath. During last year's debate on the Navy Estimates it was disclosed that the barracks at Chatham had become vacant, and the Government—quite rightly—said that they ought to consider the possibility of putting to good use the accommodation thus made vacant. Among the proposals which would be considered would be the possibility of transferring the Departments at present at Bath to Chatham, when the barracks had been converted into offices.
We all understand and approve the need for economy, but there is also the important issue of human values to be considered, as has been pointed out by hon. Members who have propounded the same concern over Sheerness, Portsmouth and other places. There are at Bath about 5,000 Admiralty officers and civil servants employed. Their wives and children would number about another 7,000 making a total of 12,000 people directly dependent upon these Departments remaining permanently at Bath. These families in turn employ others, directly and indirectly, making an indirect dependence of another, say, 8,000 people. Indeed, it has been estimated that if these Departments were to leave Bath there would be an immediate unemployment and movement of between 20,000 and 25,000 people, out of the city of Bath alone.
This question of what might happen introduced great uncertainty for a very large number of people. However, the hon. Member for Paddington, South (Mr. R. Allan), the predecessor in office of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. Ian Orr-Ewing), in answer to a Question of mine on 18th June, went a very long way to allaying the fears and uncertainties of the people of Bath. He pointed out the formidable difficulties which there would be were the Admiralty to move from Bath to Chatham. Meanwhile also, the City Council, the Mayor, the staff association representing the Departments of the Admiralty at Bath, and myself, have been considerately patient and patiently considerate in allowing plenty of time for these matters to be quietly and dispassionately discussed and 995 considered by the Admiralty, and in avoiding renewal of uncertainties and the return of anxiety.
The time has surely come now for all of us to press and to press hard and openly—but very politely—for an end to uncertainties and anxieties. After all, if the move were to take place it would, in terms of economy, leave empty offices at Bath equal to the empty offices at Chatham. No economy would, in fact, have been achieved: in fact the reverse because it would also leave many empty houses. At Chatham, the barracks were filled with people who did not go home to families and who needed and had no houses because they normally used the barracks in Chatham as only a base because they were necessarily a transient population. Surely the Admiralty ought to be able to find some other and better proposition for Chatham than the Departments now at Bath. I see the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) in his place. I am sure he will—
§ Mr. Pitman
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I am sure that I shall have his sympathy with the plea I am making. He must be equally desirous that there should be a filling of this vacuum, but it will be much better to find a proposition which does not require an immense migration of people, such as from Bath to Chatham, with all the housing problems which would then have to be faced in Chatham.
Not only is the economic life of Bath at stake, but other values too. Since the Admiralty Department was put into Bath in wartime there has been a complete integration of officers, men and civil servants with the city's life. They play an important part in the cultural, social and church life of Bath. Indeed, the one happy result of the potential threat has been to make everybody in Bath, not only the officers and civil servants but other citizens, realise how satisfactory it is that they and the Admiralty Department should remain in Bath.
Not a few of the people who would be affected gave up London houses during the war when they moved from London to Bath. Many of the womenfolk had 996 thus already suffered one move, and they had been told in 1948 that the move to Bath was to be permanent. They sold their London houses and settled permanently, as they thought, in Bath. The recent threat has had a most disturbing effect and has brought some of these people to a state of real distress. I plead very strongly that the Minister should consider this matter and, I hope, give a satisfactory answer which will put an end to the uncertainty and anxiety of these people.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
I should like to add my congratulations to those which have already been conveyed to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on his first appearance in a Navy Estimates debate.
I was particularly interested to listen to the comments by the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) about boys in the Navy. I should like to see a review of the whole system of boys going into either of the Services. I have had several cases brought to my notice of lads of 15 being persuaded—seemingly against their will—by parents or others who have a great deal of influence on them, to go into the Service at that age with no opportunity whatsoever of leaving the Service if they find they are not at all fitted for or suited to it. I believe it quite wrong to hold, without any opportunity of release, young boys taken in at that age. It savours rather too much of the press gang of the old days. I hope that that matter can be looked into.
A year ago, when the Navy Estimates were presented, I had, unfortunately, just undergone an operation and I was unable to take part in the debate that followed. I was sorry that I was unable to do so, because the Navy Estimates last year made it perfectly clear that the changes in the structure of the Navy would weigh heavily on my constituency, Gillingham, and the Medway towns in general. There was the decision to abolish the Nore Command, which meant that the associations of the Navy with that part of Kent were to be broken after four centuries of close contact, including the construction of Nelson's flagship, "Victory".
In addition, we were told that the Royal Naval Barracks were to close in 1961, the Royal Naval Hospital was to cease to be a naval hospital in April, 1961, the Royal Naval Torpedo Depot, 997 at Chatham, and the gun wharf workshops would be closed at the end of 1958. It is not to be wondered that that caused a great deal of disquiet, not only because of the break in tradition with the Navy, but also because it was felt there was a direct threat to the Royal Naval Dockyard at Chatham.
It is true that owing to the very energetic efforts of my noble Friend the First Lord, my hon. Friend the Civil Lord, and, no doubt, also the Parliamentary Secretary, the Royal Marine Barracks—which, incidentally, have been standing idle for about eight years—and the gun wharf have been sold to a private firm. We are told that it proposes to employ about 500 men. There is a great deal of concern because of the very considerable delay in disposing of the Royal Marine Barracks after it had been closed to use by the Royal Marines by the party opposite just before it left office.
We are all entitled to ask that when it is necessary to close down Government establishments, whether they be Army, Navy or Air Force establishments, and when that has an effect on the economy of the area, the greatest possible effort should be made to see that they are disposed of to private firms or a firm which is of a productive nature and will employ labour at the earliest possible moment.
But the main point is that because of that delay there is very serious concern as to whether the plans to put the Royal Naval Barracks and the Royal Naval Hospital to proper use will mature before they are vacated. There is a fear that they, too, will probably drop off into disrepair and that the difficulty of bringing productive industry to the towns will extend rather than diminish.
There is a great deal of talk in the Medway towns—and, indeed, I press very strongly for this—that there should be considered the possibility of bringing the Royal Engineers into the Royal Naval Barracks. There is no doubt that for some time negotiations were proceeding. We have heard nothing about that for quite a considerable time, and I should like to know from my hon. Friend whether, in fact, negotiations are actively proceeding for someone to take over the Royal Naval Barracks.
I know that approaches have been made to the Ministry of Health to see whether the local hospital board would 998 take over the Royal Naval Hospital and run it as a civilian hospital. There is a very urgent need for a further hospital in the Medway towns and I believe that plans have been projected for building one in Gillingham.
Whatever the difficulties and problems of the Royal Naval Hospital may be, it would seem to me highly improbable that the cost of modernising it into a reasonable state—and it is a very fine hospital as it stands now—could be such as to make it an impracticable proposition as against the building of an entirely new hospital. I am told that it is being put to a much greater use for civilian patients and that recently about 70 civilian patients have been taken into the Royal Naval Hospital at Chatham. I hope that, here again, a decision will be taken as soon as possible and that the hospital will be put to a really practical use to help the sick or aged in the Medway towns.
If it is not possible, if, for some reason, the hospital board does not desire to take it over as a civilian hospital, I hope that a decision will be announced as soon as possible and that proposals for its use probably as a home for aged people, which is also urgently needed in the Medway towns, will supersede the first idea of taking it over as a hospital.
On Wednesday last the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley), in a supplementary question, asked the Civil Lord:Is it not a fact that the First Lord said that the Royal Marine Barracks would be used and that H.M.S. 'Ceres' would be placed there? In view of the fact that that assurance was never carried out, what further safeguards have we that the First Lord's assurance about the dockyard is accurate?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1959; Vol. 601, c. 419.]My memory of this is that a promise was not made by the First Lord that H.M.S. "Ceres" would go to the Royal Marine Barracks, but that it was to go to the Royal Naval Barracks at Chatham for not less than two years, from whence eventually it would go to Portsmouth, which is its ultimate destination.
I should like to know whether that is true. That is my recollection of it. If the First Lord made a promise that it would go to the Royal Marine Barracks it seems to me an extraordinary promise to make in view of the fact that it was estimated that it would cost £500,000 to put 999 the Royal Marine Barracks in a state fit for habitation.
§ Mr. Bottomley
I believe that there was a misunderstanding. It was intended that the barracks should be taken over by H.M.S. "Ceres" after the Royal Marines went from Chatham.
§ Mr. Burden
If that is the case I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will say. If it was promised that they would go to the Royal Marine Barracks at Chatham, it is a very serious matter if nothing has been done about it. I am surprised that such a promise should be made, as we all know that the cast of putting the Royal Marine Barracks into a habitable state would be in the vicinity of £½ million.
There is even today considerable disquiet about the future of Chatham Dockyard. On 19th March last year the First Lord undertook that the future of Chatham Dockyard was secure. Since then, we have been told that Chatham is to be the pilot of all dockyards in the country. Since then the admiral superintendent has made a speech at a local chamber of commerce dinner in which he said that there was adequate work in the yard. Today, the right hon. Member for Chatham asked for another assurance that the future of Chatham Dockyard was secure, and then he added, "We shall not believe it, anyhow."
It seems extraordinary to adopt that attitude. In view of all the assurances that have been given and the plans which are intended for Chatham Dockyard, I do not think that it does any good to the right hon. Gentleman's constituents or to mine constantly to wave before them this idea that they are to be thrown on the scrapheap deliberately by Her Majesty's Government and by the Admiralty, and to go even further and say that the Government have told deliberate falsehoods in saying that there is to he a continuation of work there. We know that a General Election is approaching and it seems a good idea to imply that the Tories are deliberately creating unemployment, but that is going a little too far.
§ Mr. Bottomley
The Civil Lord said:Wait and see."—OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March. 1959; Vol. 601, c. 419.]
§ Mr. Burden
The Civil Lord did not say "Wait and see" with reference to the future of Chatham Dockyard. Indeed, I think that when the Civil Lord replies tonight he will prove that my recollection about the position of "Ceres" is much more to be relied upon than the recollection of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rochester and Chatham.
We have been told that Chatham Dockyard is to be the pilot yard of the whole country. It is to create the pattern and set the pace for all the Royal Dockyards in this country. The aim is to create efficiency through modernisation and up-to-date techniques. There is no doubt that, when these plans are effected, the Royal naval dockyards—Chatham first and the others to follow—they will be as efficient as any private yard in this country.
Within the modernisation scheme, are there plans to put down welding bays and install heavy lift cranes in Chatham Dockyard? With the tremendous advance in prefabrication, it seems to be absolutely essential, if Chatham Dockyard or any yard is to be properly modernised, that welding bays for prefabricated parts must be established and there must be heavy lift cranes to take those parts from the bays and convey them to the place of construction as quickly and efficiently as possible. There is no doubt that the old techniques are fast becoming outmoded. The application of new machinery and modern methods is essential if the standards of integration we all regard as necessary are to be reached. The whole complicated business of naval construction today makes it perfectly clear that the old divisions which existed in shipyards in the past can no longer remain if the construction we want is to be carried out in the way we want it done.
Chatham is not to be completed until 1961. This is the point. Chatham is the pilot yard, the first to be modernised. The modernisation plans will not be complete until 1961, so that we can rest assured that there, at least, there will be full employment in the yard for that period of time. Is it likely, or even probable, that after this, the first yard, has been modernised, it will be allowed to run into decay, with consequent unemployment in Chatham? It is to be the yard to set the pace. It will be the show-piece of Royal naval dockyards. As I 1001 see it, as the First Lord sees it, as the admiral superintendent sees it, and as others see it, there is an assurance of work at Chatham Dockyard for as far ahead as it is possible to perceive.
In these vast schemes of modernisation, however, it is necessary to carry the staff along with one. Obviously, there is much disquiet and uncertainty among men in an industry in which there is upheaval, in which their old routines are being replaced by new, in which new methods and new patterns of production are appearing. I hope that, in the process of change, the men will be carried along and given as much information as possible to acquaint them with what is happening.
In this way, I am convinced, we shall remove the fears they may have and enlist their co-operation. In this way, also, will fears of redundancy be abolished. Only this week one or two local newspapers repeated the idea that there would be redundancy. I hope that every possible step will he taken to remove these apprehensions and stimulate pride and efficiency in a dockyard that u ill remain.
Apart from the political aspect, we must remember that we owe much to many men in the Medway towns, some of whose families have served for many generations in dockyard service. I think that the Admiralty and the Government have a responsibility towards these men. I should also like to add a plea for Sheerness. In considering the amount of work that is to go into Chatham in the months ahead, my noble Friend the First Lord should also realise that he must, if possible, provide productive work for the established personnel from Sheerness.
I hope that in his assessment of the work that is to go into Chatham in relation to the labour requirement of the present staff he will also bear in mind the possibility of stepping up the amount of work to allow for a large intake from sheerness during this very trying time, when everyone is searching for alternative industry to keep that dockyard going.
The people of Sheerness are in a unique geographical position and the fact that the dockyard, even more than the dockyards in the Medway towns, is the mainstay of the island's economic life is something that must be kept in the forefront of the First Lord's mind. I hope that every possible step will be taken to 1002 focus the eyes of industrialists upon the possibility of setting up private firms at Sheerness.
I also join issue to a very small extent with the remarks of the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham about the reorganisation of Chatham Dockyard and dockyards in general and the idea that the admiral superintendent should be superseded by someone who has came up through the dockyard service. I am certainly not opposed to the idea that promotion at the highest possible level should be made available to men who have served their apprenticeship and their life in dockyards, but I feel that frequently an entirely false idea gets about of the capabilities of high-ranking Service officers.
There seems to be an idea that as soon as an officer becomes an admiral, general or air marshal, he becomes a "blimp" and that it is by some peculiar set of circumstances that he has attained that exalted rank. But private industry thinks so very highly of the administrative and organising ability of high-ranking officers that they make them, when retired, as did the party opposite, responsible for great nationalised industries and give them very big positions in private industry.
Make no mistake about it. Many of our high-ranking officers are not only men of integrity, but men of tremendous ability. In many instances, it would be extremely difficult to find within the dockyard a man of the general ability for organisation and administration which the flag officer, after years of service in the Fleet, has attained.
One point about the reorganisation of the dockyards that gave me considerable concern relates to the financial reorganisation. What exactly does the financial reorganisation of the dockyards mean? Does it mean that the Treasury will get a stranglehold on the dockyard reorganisation, does it mean that a couple of men from the Treasury will go to the dockyards, meet the reorganisation staff and tell them exactly how much reorganisation they can carry out and what they will be allowed to do, or does it mean that a high-ranking financial officer from the Admiralty will sit in with the reorganisation staff at the dockyards and see that they get all that they require? I hope that the latter will be the case. 1003 I also hope that the Admiralty and my noble Friend will resist many of the inroads that the Treasury obviously will try to make upon the Navy.
Of all three Services, the background of technological knowledge and scientific research is far greater probably in the Navy than in either of the other two Services. The scientific and technical advances now occurring in all three Services could form the starting point for great advances in many of our industries. Many of the technical and scientific advances in the Forces are not confined to the use of weapons and there will be great opportunities for applying to productive industry much of the knowledge that is acquired in the Services.
To return to a point I made last week during the debate on the Air Estimates, I hope that the Government will consider carefully the possibility of abolishing the Ministry of Supply and replacing it by a Ministry for Research and Technology. The closer ties that we have between research and technology and a Government Department capable of channelling it from the various sources into productive methods, the better. I hope that this possibility will be seriously considered.
I have posed several questions of a parochial nature to my hon. Friend, but I assure him that it is essential for him to give answers that will remove much of the disquiet in the minds of my constituents and of people employed in naval establishments in the Medway towns.
§ Mr. C. Ian Orr-Ewing
Perhaps I could give my hon. Friend an answer now, especially since another hon. Member also wanted me to answer the point, about the Royal Marine Barracks and H.M.S. "Ceres".
As I understand, the facts are that when the Royal Marines left in about 1950 the Admiralty felt that "Ceres" should go into the Royal Marine Barracks. There was no promise that it was irrespective of any other consideration. When the Admiralty went into the costs involved it was found that the figure was so large that the Admiralty gave up the idea. This decision was taken by the Labour Government just before the General Election of October, 1951. I thought that it was, perhaps, right to 1004 end this uncertainty and to state the date now rather than wait till later.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
During the debate I have heard claims staked, and properly staked, for dockyards at various places throughout the United Kingdom, particularly England. I have no quarrel with any of the claims which have been put before the Government and the Committee tonight, but in case the Clyde should be overlooked I felt that, as the Member for the greatest shipbuilding area in the world, I should lay my claim to a part of the £370 million that we are voting tonight.
I do so, basing what I have to say on Vote 14. The Vote is small: £16,000 is all that is mentioned; but in the Explanatory Notes to Vote 14, Merchant Shipbuilding and Repair, we are told that the Vote, although smallhas been retained in order to bring out the Admiralty's continued responsibility as the production authority for the merchant shipbuilding, ship repairing and marine engineering industries …
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Gordon Touche)
I would remind the hon. Member that Vote 14 is being taken tomorrow, so I hope that he will not now go into detail upon it.
§ Mr. Rankin
No. I meant only to mention the matter which I may be able to go into in greater detail tomorrow. If I was anticipating events I would observe that anticipation is always part of the feast. I wanted to do so only because I heard one of my hon. Friends going into this Vote in a little more detail than evidently I can do, perhaps due to the lateness of the hour, or, maybe, to the extra vigilance of the present occupant of the Chair.
§ Mr. Willis
On a point of order, Sir Gordon. One of your predecessors in the Chair allowed a very long speech on this subject, and I would point out to you that we are discussing manpower and, therefore, many men concerned with that Vote.
§ Mr. Rankin
I did not mean to go into a detailed discussion of it, Sir Gordon, and as I had a somewhat stormy passage 1005 with the Chair when we were discussing the Air Estimates I do not want to embark on another tonight. Perhaps I shall have the opportunity of exploring this matter a litle further later.
Surely it is pertinent, Sir Gordon, to remind the Committee at this stage of what I described as the greatest shipbuilding area in the world. It is right to point out to the Committee, especially now that the Civil Lord is present, that I hope that the Admiralty will remember its obligations to the Clyde, because no estuary in the United Kingdom played a greater part in the last war than did the Firth of Clyde, and no shipyard makes a greater contribution not only to war but to peace than the Fairfield Shipbuilding Yard, in my constituency.
Fairfields is not unduly worried about the position, but the managing director told me a few weeks ago that beyond 1960 or 1961 the outlook was rather grey. That is true of many yards along Clydeside. In fact, Fairfields is so concerned about the position that it is now going ahead with the construction of a new Snork diesel engine so that it may conserve its own engineering staff. It hopes with that project to provide in the coming year work for 250 or 300 men.
That shows the grave view that it takes and the fear that it might lose some of them. The interesting point is that the firm has not got a customer for this project, but it believes that it will be able to find one in due course. It is a risk which it is prepared to take to keep at work men who, as is clear from the Explanatory Statement, would be needed in the event which we all hope we may never be called upon to face.
If a great firm like this can take such a risk, I submit to the Civil Lord that he also should be ready to take risks. The Government must be prepared to become a customer if, for reasons which we all know but upon which I will not embark now, customers in other parts of the world are scarce. The Government should be prepared, by becoming a customer, to make sure that our men are kept working in our shipyards and that all our resources are available for whatever necessity may arise. It is far better to have men doing that type of work and bung paid for it than to have them being pad for doing no work at all. That is the choice before the Minister and I hope 1006 that he will have something to say about it.
I did not wish to speak for very long, but I felt that something like this had to be said on behalf of the Clyde and the workers there, particularly those who do me the great honour of sending me on their behalf to the House of Commons.
§ 9.44 p.m.
§ Commander J. W. Maitland (Horn-castle)
I do not think I have had the honour ever before of following the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Rankin) in debate, but I admired his quick-wittedness in being able to come in and make a speech when he was obviously wanted. It is rather appropriate that quite recently when lying on a bed of sickness and reading Burns I came upon a poem called "Epistle to John Rankin", the first verse of which reads:O rough, rude, ready-witted Rankin,The wale o' cocks for fun and drinkin'!There's mony godly folks are thinkin'Your dreams an' tricksWill send you, Korah-like a-sinkin',Straught to auld Nick's.I expect that the hon. Member has heard that one before.
This has been a rather dull debate, but I do not think its dullness and the fact that few hon. Members have attended it are at all representative of the country's feelings about the position of the Royal Navy today.
In this case Parliament is lagging behind public opinion, and public opinion is probably right. I say that because over the last year anxiety has been expressed in many quarters. We have heard the Supreme Allied Commander, Admiral Wright, saying that he was anxious about the position in the Atlantic. Recently, General Gale, the Second-in-Command in Europe, gave a lecture in England and pointed out the increasing importance of sea power, which has been increasing only during the last few years. Again the uneasiness of the public was expressed fluently and clearly by Sir Arthur Bryant recently in an article in the Sunday Times, which most hon. Members will have read, and senior serving officers in the Navy have also expressed their anxiety.
Those people are not all necessarily wrong. There is certainly no reason for complacency about the position of the 1007 Royal Navy today. Very often the feeling of the British people on a matter as important as this is right, and we in this Committee should take careful note of the natural feelings of the people, particularly in the case of the Navy, where it takes many years to put right a mistake once it has been made.
The 64,000 dollar question is really this: when the five-year plan was introduced it was essentially a plan to balance our physical defence with our economic resources, because we realised that fighting the cold war was much more a matter of economic than physical strength. Now, however, I wonder very much, since we have had a considerable improvement in our economic situation, whether we are paying sufficient attention to our physical defence.
A great deal has been said about these being the highest Estimates this country has known in peacetime. That is natural, but the same thing has happened, unfortunately, with nearly all the other Estimates. I suppose that if we took this as a proportion of our total national budget, we would find that we were not paying as much attention as we should to our physical defence. No Member of Parliament who wants to see the standard of life rising in this country wants to spend a penny more on defence than is needed. That goes without saying, but it is equally our duty to consider whether we are spending enough.
Obviously the Navy today is enormously efficient, but I think that sometimes we tend to regard too closely the token successes about which we read in the White Paper that accompanies the Estimates. Our anti-submarine frigates individually are very successful but war at sea is definitely a war of attrition. Ships get sunk. Whilst, in a particular set piece for a particular time, it may be that we could deal most effectively with the latest submarines which the Russians have, I wonder how long we would be able to continue that under the existing circumstances; and not only us, but the whole of the N.A.T.O. forces put together?
My object in speaking today is to ask seriously for an answer to a question which I raised in the defence debate about the effort that we are making from the scientific point of view to examine all means whereby we can try to defeat the 1008 menace of the submarine. I do not consider it a proper assurance that we are devoting the maximum of our naval scientific research to that objective. I think—my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) emphasised this point—that naval research has become perhaps too limited in its outlook. We want something far more basic. We want to search anew. We want to get people from outside to examine the whole question to see whether we can find some way to keep our sea lanes open. I do not think it need necessarily be by seeking out and destroying submarines. We have become rather hypnotised by that idea.
I should like a "Yes" or "No" answer from the Government to the question: have we any organisation outside our own naval research examining in concert with our Allies the great problem of how to get our merchant ships across the Atlantic Ocean without being destroyed by submarines or aircraft? In the long run that is where the Navy will stand or fall. It is no good always saying that we cannot do it alone and that we must rely on N.A.T.O. and interdependence. That is a very good and perfectly correct doctrine, but it is also a very good excuse. The country would feel far happier if it knew there was some real answer to the problem to which we held the key. I want to know whether research efforts are being made in that direction.
Perhaps we are rather over-emphasising some of the things that we are doing—the missile ships, for example. As far as I can see, eventually we hope to have four of them, and we are going to start them this year. We have been talking about them for a long time. At the beginning they were to be missile cruisers. Now they are to be destroyers. How good is each one? It is very difficult to know the answers to these questions without having a little more information about the hoped-for capabilities of such a ship. Would one ship be able to protect from aircraft a moderate-sized convoy in the Atlantic, or would it need two or three? What is the estimate?
It is that lack of knowledge—I agree that it is a confidential matter—which is causing anxiety among people of the calibre that I mentioned at the beginning of my speech. I add my voice to those who have said that at all costs we ought 1009 to ascertain whether a little more information can be made available. We may be certain that almost all the less important technical advances that we have made are known to the Russians.
Indeed, I am certain that the Russian general staff knows far more about the Navy's capabilities than I do, although try to find out, and I do not think that that is right. I cannot play my part in the House of Commons unless I have a little more knowledge than I have at present. Nor can the Government have the support of the country unless the people feel reassured by having more knowledge than they have at present.
Like others, I congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on his introduction of the Estimates. I was especially pleased with what he said about the reintroduction of midshipmen. If he asks the naval members of the Board what was their most important training, I am certain that they will tell him that it was when they were midshipmen, but they will not tell him that it was when they were "middies".
§ 9.55 p.m.
§ Mr. F. M. Bennett (Torquay)
I say straight away that I cannot claim any personal knowledge of the Navy, having served in another Service. So like others in that position, I am somewhat diffident about entering into discussion of a subject which requires at least a limited amount of knowledge for an effective contribution to be made. Nor can I claim a direct constituency concern, since before the last election Dartmouth, which used to be in my constituency, was severed by the Boundary Commission and now lies in another constituency. There were one or two points, made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horncastle, (Commander Maitland), which impressed me considerably and which have made my remarks even shorter than they would otherwise have been.
I intend to concentrate on our requirements in the cold war era and only briefly on our hot war requirements, since those have been covered by hon. Members possessing more knowledge than I. I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend, however, that it is not merely a matter of having a few of the most modern ships. As the last war showed, as he said, war at sea is a war of attrition during which 1010 ships get sunk. I can recall how grateful we were in the last war to get even the oldest destroyers, in exchange for which we were prepared to hand over to our Allies bases in the Caribbean, since we were so desperately short not of the most modern ships, but of any warships which could help us in the war at sea.
However, I am chiefly concerned with the number of ships, seamen and marines needed to meet our cold war requirements. One can hardly open a newspaper without reading that in some part of the world there has been some new outburst of violence or trouble possibly requiring the help of the Navy in restoring order, for morale reasons, or to help to remove British citizens who may be stranded. We were given a very good possible example at Question Time today.
So far, we have been lucky in that the various crises have broken out one at a time. It is not enough to say that we have spent this or that large sum on the Navy in that it surely has almost the first call on our resources, but, irrespective of the amount which has been spent, do we have enough ships and enough men to meet a number of crises if they break out at one and the same time, as is by no means impossible?
We may be lucky that that has not happened yet, but supposing that in the South Atlantic there were to be trouble in our Dependencies requiring the services of the Fleet, and simultaneously trouble in the Pacific, the Middle East, and some African coastal Colonies, all at the same time; would the Navy be overstrained to breaking-point? The defence made in a number of Government speeches to charges of insufficiency has been that we are of necessity living in an era of interdependence and that we can rely on our Allies. However that argument applies to the hot war, as experience has shown, it does not necessarily apply to cold war crises which could break out in different parts of the world. We cannot necessarily rely on our Allies to fulfil their rôles in such circumstances and we should have to look after those things for ourselves.
I make no claim to being able to pose an answer the questions which I have put, but there is real concern in the country on this score. It would be out of order for me to refer in detail to debates in another place, but those of us who have had the chance to study what was said in 1011 a recent debate in another place must conclude that those who know more about this matter than I do have similar apprehensions and similar doubts. So we cannot dismiss that as the opinion of those who know nothing about the situation.
During the defence debate my right hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton (Mr. Head) referred to psychological warfare and this matter was also mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) during the debate on the Army Estimates. I think it fair to say that the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton were brushed off by the Minister of Defence with the remark that he would like to go into that subject if he had more time. We are now engaged on the third of the three Service debates, and I think that it is time, if not tonight at any rate in the near future, for us to receive a more detailed reply about what is happening in all the Services including the Navy regarding psychological warfare.
In the era of a cold war in which unhappily we have to live, it is sometimes the fact that a great deal more may be done to prevent or curtail a conflict by means of a psychological approach or reaction than can be achieved directly by the use of weapons once the conflict has broken out. There are obvious activities in which the Navy could engage in the sphere of psychological warfare which should be taken into our computations. Time and again a local radio station in the hands of violent and malevolent forces has caused a great deal of trouble, and I am wondering how much attention is being paid to the possibility of ships acting as mobile radio stations to counter propaganda disseminated in that way. I should like to feel that when the Fleet is sent to one part of the world or another to deal with some localised trouble which has not reached the magnitude of a hot war, not only would it be possible to land marines, or adopt other military methods, should that become necessary, but that radio propaganda could be carried out, or even pamphlets distributed. We should surely consider methods to enable the Navy to play a practical part in psychological warfare by making it possible for such work to be carried out.
§ 10.3 p.m.
§ Sir Jocelyn Lucas (Portsmouth, South)
I do not pretend to be an authority on naval matters, arid therefore I propose to be brief. I wish to refer to rates of pay for skilled craftsmen in the dockyards, which are too low and far below the national average. The Admiralty appears to trade on the fact, certainly in Portsmouth, that men are glad and proud to work in the dockyard rather than elsewhere where they would receive higher pay. I am glad, however, that the prospects of full employment in Portsmouth Dockyard appear to be good for some time to come.
My next point applies to all three Services. The Government have raised the rates of pay and the amount of pensions for all ranks in order to encourage recruiting. But it does not encourage young men to become officers when they see that their parents who fought in the First World War are receiving very poor pensions and that 1914 officers' widows are getting only a pittance. I hope and believe that something will soon be done to remedy this state of affairs.
Lastly, I wish to refer to shipbuilding. The present position is not the fault of the Government, who are asked what they are doing about orders going abroad or not coming here. One trouble is that 15 per cent, of shipbuilding costs is caused by inter-union squabbles, strikes and delays. A little help from the T.U.C. might prove of great assistance in cutting costs and securing more orders. It is not only a case of cost, there is also the question of wasted time. The other day we learned of an order which was placed abroad because no British firm, with the exception of one, could give a firm date or quote a firm price. That is due, partly at any rate, to the fact that we have to suffer from these strikes, and I hope that the situation will improve, otherwise in a competitive world our workers will price themselves out of a job.
§ 10.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Rankin
I should like to say a word in addition to what I have already said in order to pay a tribute. Last autumn I had the great privilege of sailing on H.M.S. "Birmingham" from Rosyth to Portland on manoeuvres, with a squadron of five ships, "Birmingham" being in command. It was the first time I had sailed in a ship of Her Majesty's 1013 Navy, and I pay tribute to the Admiral, Captain, officers and men of the "Birmingham" and those of the other ships whom I met during that cruise.
To sail on an occasion like that was, for a landlubber like myself, an unbelievable experience. I had never seen ships on manœuvre. They were as correct as the Guards on parade and as graceful as a ballet dancer on the stage. We were dive bombed and towed and went through many of the experiences which I would call the experiences of warfare. I saw every department of the ship and I met every type of rating.
1014 When I was not going up 60 feet or 70 feet I seemed to be descending that 60 feet or 70 feet. I marvelled at the small amount of room which those who sailed on the "Birmingham" had in which to move about the ship because of the amazing amount of equipment which is now on vessels of that type.
That is all I wanted to say. I should have said it in the first place and I am grateful to you, Sir Gordon, that you have given me the opportunity to pay tribute to all the officers and men for giving me that very wonderful trip.
§ 10.7 p.m.
§ Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)
The debate has, as usual, ranged very widely. We have heard speeches dealing with the highest considerations of naval strategy and references to Robert Burns' "Epistle to John Rankin". My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) managed to get in a long speech about the position of the shipbuilding industry. It was quite pertinent that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) should point to the fact that shipbuilding was an important matter for Scotland.
We understand that the shipbuilding industry this year faces worse prospects than it did last year and that next year will be a worse year than this. In the circumstances, I hope that the Civil Lord will remember, or will at least take a note of, the many suggestions and recommendations made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North. We had other interesting speeches, particularly that from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget).
What struck me as very interesting was the very great praise accorded by many Government supporters to the oldest nationalised concerns in the country. It was exceedingly interesting to hear one after another of them praise the dockyards and appeal for more work to be sent there. More work can only be sent there at the expense of private enterprise. I do not know whether hon. Members realised this, but it occurred to me, of course, in view of the many speeches, that opposition to nationalised concerns was not based upon principle but upon expediency, and that if it became politically expedient to praise something that was nationalised, that was done.
For my part, I wish to leave those higher conditions of strategy and discussions concerning the ships of the Fleet to deal rather more closely with the Estimates. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele), I want to start with a consideration of the main Estimate. This year, as my hon. Friend pointed out, we are being asked to vote the largest amount we have ever been asked to vote. When we look at the Estimates for past years and the Supplementary Estimates, we find that, in spite of the efforts by the Minister of 1016 Defence to reduce them, year by year they have shown a steady increase. I have taken the opportunity in the last week or two of examining the Estimates and comparing them with those for the past twenty or thirty years with a view to finding what was happening to Navy Estimates.
I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) is not in his place, because he might be interested to know that one of the things which is happening is that the Navy is taking an increasing proportion of our national product. I have figures to show that that is so. The figures I drew out show that the Navy Estimates for 1938–39 amounted to £95 million and the net national income was £4,671 million. The Navy Estimates, expressed as a proportion, were as I to 48.6, (but in 1955—almost twenty years later—I found that the proportion had risen to 1 to 40.
Taking the figures given by the First Lord in another place, I found that thirty years ago the Navy obtained and spent 6.9 per cent. of our national budget. Last year, we were spending 6.7 per cent. of that budget, but I should point out that thirty years ago the national budget was a very much smaller part of our national income than it is today. Even on the figures given by the First Lord—and he took pride in them—we are spending a larger proportion of our national product on the Navy than we have spent before.
§ Mr. C. Ian Orr-Ewing
I greatly value the point the hon. Member is making. I have tried to do the same sum. The hon. Member referred to the gross national product—he said "the national product," but I think he meant the gross national product. It is difficult to get at that for some of the years before the war, when statistics were far less thorough than they are now. It is a little uncertain, and I think he will agree that the percentages he has trotted out do not show a great difference. I do not think that it would be right to say that the Navy is taking more than it was taking thirty years ago. It is getting a good slice, but not more.
§ Mr. Willis
I found the same difficulty about getting the proportion and comparing it in the pre-war years, but, even accepting the figures given by the First 1017 Lord, which can be ascertained, the lesson is that we are spending more. We are spending more because of the fact that our total national budget today accounts for a very much larger proportion of our national income than it did in prewar days.
I also find—and I think that this is to the credit of the Navy—that an increasing proportion of the expenditure by the Navy is on weapons and equipment. I find that the proportion spent on weapons and equipment—and, once again, the figures are rather difficult to get exactly, because they vary according to the policies pursued by different Governments at different times and also on the intervention of the war—works out at something like this. During the inter-war period we were spending out of the Navy Estimates 40 per cent, to 45 per cent. on weapons, ships and equipment whereas now the figure is almost 60 per cent. So we are spending a larger proportion of our total income on the Navy and out of that we are spending a larger proportion than ever before on materials and equipment, weapons and ships for the Navy.
In spite of this we find, as we were told last year by the Minister of Defence, that we can no longer afford to build aircraft carriers. The missile cruiser, about which we have read quite a considerable amount in previous White Papers and Explanatory Statements, is out. The missile submarine is also out. The Polaris is out. We have a smaller operational fleet than we have ever had before and a smaller reserve fleet than ever before. The Navy will make no contribution at all to the strategic deterrent.
These are interesting facts to bear in mind when we examine these Estimates. We are left today with a fleet that is capable of certain limited operations and a certain limited anti-submarine role, in spite of the fact that we are spending this increasing proportion of our income upon the Navy. These facts have proved that both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence were hopelessly wrong when they so gaily said, two or three years ago, that we ought to save teas of millions of pounds on defence. It just did not work. They obviously had not learnt very much about defence when they set out to do that.
1018 The real problem is not that of increasing wages, as was mentioned by the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby), but the enormous increase in the cost of equipment. Wages costs have gone up four or five times in the Navy, but that is nothing compared to the enormous increases in the cost of equipment.
§ Mr. Willis
There is a wage element in them all, but in the Navy it is the equipment which has increased so much in cost. A cruiser of the "Tiger" class costs over £13 million compared with £11 million before the war. Cruisers today cost ten times as much as they did immediately before the war. I suppose that if we built missile cruisers they would cost much more than that—probably fifteen times as much as a cruiser before the war.
Aircraft carriers cost over ten times as much as before the war and submarines about five times as much. As the First Lord said in another debate, the "Daring" class destroyer costs ten times as much as a "Tribal" class destroyer did twenty years ago. We have been told that aeroplanes today cost forty or fifty times as much as they did fifteen or twenty years ago.
The First Sea Lord, in a very interesting speech to the British Institute of Radio Engineers, said that the cost of radio and electronic equipment for a frigate or a destroyer had increased since 1938 from £4,000 to between £120,000 and £150,000; for a cruiser from £20,000 to £1½ million; and for an aircraft carrier from £120,000 to over £1 million. Those are enormous increases and they stress the great need that exists for effective interdependence.
In his opening speech the Parliamentary Secretary spoke about joint research, meetings and discussions that were taking place, but the real question is how effective that sort of thing is likely to be in the event of hostilities. That is the final test of any interdependence. We have been told nothing at all about that.
The hon. Member for Dorset, West made rather an interesting comment. He said that N.A.T.O. was no argument for 1019 not being prepared to defend our rights. Obviously, he has not learned the lesson. The lesson is that one can no longer by oneself defend one's rights at sea. Therefore, the questions that were put by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, West are very relevant. He asked that we should be given information about how interdependence was working and for some facts. What is the degree of co-operation? Who makes the decisions? To what extent are we committed to the policy that he read out as being the policy of SACLANT? We have never been told any of these things. Certainly, in the light of the figures that I have given, and the facts which seem to emerge from these figures, we ought to be given the answers.
The hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) made a very interesting speech, as usual. Most hon. Members enjoy his speeches. He advised the Admiralty to pursue its own course and to embark upon a great missile development programme of its own. I presume, of course, that he had in mind something which occurred to me when I loked at the Estimates, particularly at the Supplementary Estimates, that is to say, the powers possessed by the Admiralty under its Letters Patent, the terms of which, of course, have remained the same since James II.
My attention was drawn to these powers by the nature of the Supplementary Estimates. We have had two very large Supplementary Estimates for the Navy during the last two years, and this year, as the hon. Gentleman said, it is nearly all in respect of Vote 8 and Vote 9. I think that his words were that a very large proportion of it was in respect of modernisation and re-equipment.
§ Mr. C. Ian Orr-Ewing indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I have the figures here and the facts. What I said will be seen in HANSARD, and I do not want to go over it again. I said that Vote 8, Section III, is new construction undertaken by contractors, and that it accounted for the largest slice of the extra expenditure. It was not conversions; it was new construction.
§ Mr. Willis
The hon. Gentleman, of course, is repeating only the first part of his speech dealing with this matter. If he takes it a little farther on, he will find that the point I have just made about a large proportion also being for that purpose is correct.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
Later, I went on to say that the ratio of new construction costs to repairs and modernisation costs was five to one, and one expected that tendency to continue for many years to come.
§ Mr. Willis
It is still a very considerable sum, of course; and the Letters Patent refer specifically to this.
Another reason for my raising the matter is that, last Session, we had two Reports from the Select Committee on Estimates dealing with this matter. I will refer the hon. Gentleman to what the Reports said. First, there is the Third Report of the Select Committee, dealing with the Reserve Fleet. Speaking about the Letters Patent, in paragraph 21, the Committee said that they restrictedthe requirement of Treasury consent to all cases where such consent has heretofore been required'.A Treasury witness informed the Committee thatthis leaves a very wide field of expenditure completely free from Treasury control.The Committee went on to say:Your Committee hope that the Letters Patent will not be used to obstruct the work of the Treasury in their supervision of expenditure on the Reserve Fleet.I should like to know the extent to which these very large Supplementary Estimates arise as a result of the Letters Patent. I can understand Supplementary Estimates arising out of an increase in pay, out of decisions of policy made during the year by the House of Commons, out of automatic increases which arise either as the result of increased costs or increased wages in ordinary programmes which run year by year; but this is not that type of Supplementary Estimate. This is a different type of Supplementary Estimate which arises simply as the result of the Admiralty decision to build more because the capacity is available.
§ Mr. Willis
That is how I understand it—either because the capacity is available to build more or, as I think the hon. Gentleman put it—it really means the same thing—because we were constructing ships more rapidly. If one constructs more rapidly, one has a bigger capacity. I will not labour the point; I think that the hon. Gentleman is seized of the fact that it means the same. This Supplementary Estimate arises from that, and we ought to be told something about it.
We had the Sixth Report of the Select Committee on Estimates, which dealt with Treasury control of expenditure. I am bound to say, of course, that the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East was a signatory of this Report, and I do not recollect that he dissented from it. In paragraph 80, the Sixth Report from the Select Committee on Estimates said:The Treasury agreed that, at least partly far these historical reasons, 'there is this field where the Admiralty has an unusual amount of freedom' and"—in reply to another question—'for many years the practice has been to regard this [refit, repairs, and modernisation expenditure] as an Admiralty preserve to a very considerable extent'".In paragraph 81, the Select Committee went on to say:Your Committee believe that more control is needed on other grounds than a check on the Admiralty's execution of policy decisions, and they certainly"—I hope that the hon. and gallant Member will notice what I am saying, because he was one of the persons who said this—do not accept an historical accident by itself as justifying a departure from normal procedures of control.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
All this is very interesting, but it has nothing whatever to do with the expenditure on research and development of missiles. The letters patent powers have been argued as grounds for relaxing Treasury control over repair work in dockyards. I took the view, as the hon. Gentleman will see from my questions, that there is a big case for that, but it has nothing whatever to do with the Admiralty's undoubted powers to carry out what research it likes. How if gets the money is a different matter.
§ Mr. Willis
The hon. and gallant Member gave his case away on the last point or two.
Let me admit at once that I am aware that the Navy subjects a considerable amount of its expenditure, if not practically all of it, to the normal procedures of the Treasury. The Civil Lord might say that this does not really apply and that all the usual routine is followed. If that is so, why are these powers needed if they are not used? If they are used, is it not time that the House of Commons or the Government themselves inquired into this position to place the Admiralty on the same footing as other Service Departments?
I have a great respect for the traditions of the Navy. Nobody has a greater respect for them than myself. After all, I was bred in them to a great extent. At the same time, I see no excuse, at this time of day, for the Admiralty to receive preferential treatment as compared with the Air Force or the Army.
Like the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East, I want to say a word about the Admiralty Office. I usually say a word or two about this. It is one sphere which never seems to suffer any great reduction. Over the last two years, there has been a reduction of 15,000 in personnel in the Navy. There has been a reduction at the Admiralty Office of 28. I cannot help thinking that it would not be a had thing for the Government to say to the Admiralty what the Admiralty said to the "Eagle", "Make do with 100 fewer men and tell us how you get on." If that was good enough for the "Eagle", it ought to be good enough for the people who did it to the "Eagle". I am quite sure that the Admiralty would find a way of overcoming this.
Last year, I raised the question of the Directorate of Officer Appointments and after the debate I received a letter, dated 12th March, in which I was told:Ten of the fifty-seven staff are, however, additional, and are doing a special job to bring emergency planning arrangements into line with modern requirements. This new task is a once-for-all job and when it has been completed, which I hope will be fairly soon, the staff required to keen the arrangements up to date can be quite substantially reduced.Naturally, in view of the words "fairly soon", I looked at the Estimates this year, only to find the numbers to be exactly the same. What has happened to 1023 these 10 men who were on this special once-for-all job that was to be finished? Is it not time that they were going? They ought to be gone, never mind going. I cannot understand why we have the same number of men shifting 2,000 fewer officers than we had two years ago. This is not good enough. The, Admiralty, of course, has made a very fine art of proliferation, and this year we have an entirely new Department, a work study office, with a work study school at Portsmouth, and, according to the Explanatory Statement, 14 work study groups for the Fleet. Is not that rather a lot for the Fleet? There is hardly any Fleet for them to study. It is certainly a much smaller Fleet than it was two years ago.
I appreciate that there is room for work study, but there is a tendency to overemphasise things that are new. I hope that the first thing that the work study people study at the Admiralty is the Admiralty itself and they will produce some results. It would be interesting if sometime, when explaining the Estimates, the Parliamentary Secretary actually gave the Committee an account of some of the achievements of some of these departments. The psychology department, which I mentioned last year, goes on the same merry old way. There is no reduction there. I see that it has now the very important job of deciding upon the pastel shades to be used in the living quarters of the new cruisers. Is not this really getting rather precious? It is almost like a women's magazine instead of the Navy. And this department does not go down. It carries on just as before.
The Parliamentary Secretary said in his opening speech that all future naval development depends upon research. I mentioned this matter last year but, particularly in view of that remark, it is worth mentioning again. Vote 6 N for scientific research and experiment is reduced. The number of men employed has gone down in the last two or three years. It is not a case of reduction simply in the number of typists. The number of senior scientific officers and assistant scientific officers is reduced. I cannot understand the Admiralty at all. It can create new departments while the very department upon which the Parliamentary Secretary says the whole future of the navy depends goes down, as it certainly has in the last two 1024 years. We have still not had an explanation of this.
I turn to one or two questions affecting personnel. I welcome the reduction this year in the number of flag officers. A few weeks ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) asked, in a supplementary question, whether we had yet a flag officer per ship. We have not yet reached that stage, but we have more than one for every two ships. I have no doubt he will be glad to hear that.
I congratulate the Navy at least on its recruitment. It must have been using a little advice that I gave it last year concerning the rate of promotion and the chances of getting to the Admiralty. The Admiralty has done well with the exception of the artificers. I will say a word about them in spite of the fact that the Committee knows I am interested in the branch, because it has proved to be the most difficult branch to recruit and maintain since the end of the war. Year by year it confronts the Admiralty with a very difficult problem, and the branch becomes increasingly important. One has only to see the tremendous increase in the size of the branch to realise the importance which it is now assuming.
We have, of course, to continue to use every possible channel to let young boys leaving school know of the very fine career and training that the branch offers. I have heard it said by civilians, apart from Service men, that it is probably one of the finest trainings that could be given to a young boy desiring to become a technician. But the best recruiting agent is a boy or man on leave who is proud of his job, his branch and his Service. That means being satisfied not only with his pay, but with his living conditions and, of greatest importance, his status.
Relatively speaking—I make no apology for saying this again; one has to say it over and over again to the Admiralty—the junior artificer today has fewer privileges and a lower status than he did thirty years ago. Yet if he goes into the engine room branch he has to acquire the craftsmanship and technical "know-how" to deal with the new gas-turbine destroyers. If he goes into the electrical branch he has to acquire the craftsmanship and technical "know-how" to deal with the new type 984 radar, 1025 with its 10,000 valves and 100,000 components. If he becomes an air artificer he must meet the same requirements for dealing with the N.A.39. The ordnance artificer has to be able to do the same for missiles and their firing equipment. In future, some of these functions may overlap.
Why is it that throughout the years the artificer branches have always been subjected to every kind of pettifogging annoyance? The latest—I hoped to be able to raise this subject tomorrow, but I understand that I might not be able to do so—concerns the new pension proposals, under which chief artificers appear to get less than any other rate. They do so because the new proposals are based upon final rank and not the length of time one has held the rank.
I understood from the Report of the Grigg Committee that the Admiralty had its own pension proposals which were different from those of the other Services and that the Grigg Committee recommended that the Admiralty should be allowed to put these into effect to the extent of the same expenditure as incurred by the other Services. What has happened about that? This is the latest example of the kind of annoyance to which the artificers have been subjected.
Why has the Admiralty not yet been able to accept the new master rate for chief artificers? The answer lies in the domination of the Service by the seaman mystique, and I say that with all respect to seamen and their achievements. The lower deck structure and the promotional ladder have been designed to meet the conception of that mystique and technical branches, willy nilly, have been forced into that pattern.
It is more than possible that that structure is out of date, that seamen's branches might have to become more technical and, in the light of future developments, that artificer branches might have to become more closely integrated to permit interchangeability, since the new weapons are producing a number of problems in that respect.
I trust that in its present consideration of the lower deck structure the Admiralty will produce an answer to those criticisms. A committee has been studying this subject for some time and the Admiralty has been considering that committee's report. When is the Admiralty likely to 1026 be able to tell us something of what it has in store for the lower deck structure?
The General List was instituted to solve a number of these problems for the upper deck, but the possibilities of the General List still have to be made realities. In our debate on the Grigg Report, I pointed out the difficulties facing technical officers trying to reach higher ranks in the Navy. How many technicians reach flag rank? Technical branches have to have the same rights as other branches to achieve the higher ranks, not merely in theory, but in practice.
We want a technician on the Board of Admiralty. It is almost unbelievable that in the middle of this century we do not yet have a technician on the Board of Admiralty, a state of affairs which should be remedied quickly. The Navy uses the finest types of equipment requiring high skills and technical ability. The technical branches are becoming larger and increasingly important. It is time that the Board included someone with knowledge and experience of that part of the Navy.
Like other hon. Members, I have tried to make a number of suggestions which I think might be helpful. I may have made them forcefully, but I trust that they have been helpful. So long as the Navy is necessary, we want it to be as fine and as efficient as we can make it. But dominant in our minds is the fact which I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, that no matter how efficient it becomes it will be less and less able to fulfil the functions which have been its justification. That inescapable conclusion gives an increasing urgency to the achievement of full interdependence and, ultimately, effective international co-operation, even though that means a sacrifice of national sovereignty.
Above all, it clearly shows the supreme effort which must be made to create those world conditions in which the need for the Navy is simply as part of a larger naval force which is welcomed everywhere as a symbol of a world-wide system of law and order.
§ 10.50 p.m.
§ The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith)
This has been a most interesting debate. It has covered a wide variety of subjects, but in spite of what 1027 has been said it has not disclosed any fundamental weakness in the structure of the Navy or in its future development as we plan it. In spite of some doubts that have been expressed, it does not seem to me, as the Minister winding up this debate, that those who have taken part have shown any lack of informed knowledge. Nevertheless, I recognise it is important that as many people as possible should be in the picture, and I shall see that, as far as the Navy is concerned, the various points which have been made on this matter are looked into.
In presenting the Estimates this afternoon, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary dealt mainly with the personnel and the equipment of the Fleet at sea. In reply, I will try to answer as many points as I can, but I want particularly to deal with questions on the civilian shore support of the Fleet. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) spoke about reductions in the shore support. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis), in winding up, had some good knock-about stuff on the same point. I have no doubt that an element of Parkinson's Law comes into the Navy's shore support, as it does into any large organisation, but we must face it that the complexity of producing, fitting and repairing the modern equipment of the Fleet—to say nothing of training the men to use and maintain it—makes a big element of shore backing unavoidable in a modern Navy. Nevertheless, the Committee will be glad to know that there has been a steady reduction in the civilian shore support. My hon. Friend, in opening, described the measures that have been taken to economise in naval manpower over the two years, 1958–1960. This will produce on the naval side a saving of about 8 per cent. In the civilian field we have managed to do a little better and achieve a saving of 14 per cent.
This reduction in civilian numbers is only one side of the coin. There is another side which has been in the minds of many hon. Members tonight, and that is the effect which these reductions have on places which the Navy is forced to leave. In general, I am glad to say that the run-down is going extremely well, but disposal of some of our property is not 1028 always easy. For example, there is the dockyard at Sheerness, about which the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. P. Wells), who is rightly persistent on this point, asked me a number of questions. He wanted to know why we are not helping Sheerness in the same way as we are helping Malta.
There are certainly some surface resemblances between the two places, but the differences are even greater. The numbers employed in Malta are five times as great as those at Sheerness, and Malta is not attached to southern England by a bridge in the way that Sheerness is. If the Malta dockyard ceased to operate destitution would face the island, because there are not alternative forms of employment available. In the case of Sheerness, however, there is the naval dockyard at Chatham, to say nothing of the great industrial activity of the Medway towns, which provides adequate employment prospects only a few miles away.
Furthermore, so far as direct financial help from the Government is concerned, the Isle of Sheppey comes within the D.A.T.A.C. scheme, and grants under this scheme are available for industrialists who want to settle in Sheppey and develop the dockyard. Although it is true, as the hon. Gentleman said, that we have not had much success up to now, I can assure him that ever since we decided to close the yard we have done our utmost to find someone to take our place and to provide work on the spot for our former workers who have their homes and roots in Sheerness. The present position is that although we had no tenders we have had several inquiries since that date. In order not to waste time while these inquiries are being looked at, we have decided to ask a firm of industrial agents whether it is possible to sell the yard, if not as a whole at least in parts. I regret that I cannot say anything more definite, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman and the people of Sheerness that we are doing our utmost to help them.
The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) asked me to say something about the situation at Malta regarding the dockyard. As the Committee will know, the firm of Messrs. Bailey are taking it on at the end of the month. From the personnel angle the changeover will mean that, broadly speaking, half of the 12,000-odd employees of the 1029 Admiralty will be invited to enter the service of Messrs. Bailey. The other half will be retained to help to run the naval base, although their number is expected to decrease slightly over the coming years as the number of ships using the naval base is reduced.
Naturally, a transfer of this kind gives rise to many problems, and we and Messrs. Bailey have been anxious to have full consultations with the representatives of the workers. So far the non-industrial staff have been willing to consult with us, and I should like to thank them for their constructive attitude. Unfortunately, the General Workers' Union has not felt able to co-operate to the same extent, but despite this some informal meetings have taken place with Admiralty representatives.
I should like to mention some of the measures taken to ease the transition. As many established employees as possible will be absorbed into the naval base. Apprentices now in the dockyard will be able to complete their training there. Unestablished men will benefit from the increased gratuity scales which are now in line with those paid in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, Messrs. Bailey have undertaken that no one's pay will be reduced on transfer, and they have given an assurance that they will accept into their employment any men discharged from the Admiralty service as part of the transfer operation. The firm have also decided to introduce a pension scheme to take the place of prospects of establishment for which these transferred men will be no longer eligible.
The whole operation is being conducted with the greatest possible care for the welfare of the men concerned. We are doing everything we can to ease the lot of those being transferred, but the whole thing may be wrecked by folly on the part of the workpeople. For example, in order to show that we were doing our best we promised four weeks' notice of discharge; yet when we gave this formal notice it was used as an excuse for rioting. I should like to urge the men, and particularly their leaders, to co-operate with us and Messrs. Bailey. The future prosperity of the dockyard at Malta and the employment that goes with it depends ultimately on them. The Government, at great cost, are providing 1030 an excellent foundation on which to build, and it is up to the Maltese, in their own interests, to make the most of it. If they will only seize this opportunity I am quite sure they have a great commercial future.
The hon. Member for Dunbartanshire, West also asked in general terms how the run-down was going and the way it was affecting the work people. He asked for some figures. One of the good features of reorganisation is that careful planning well in advance, in conjunction with most helpful co-operation from the Ministry of Labour and National Service and the unions, has resulted in comparatively few compulsory discharges taking place. For example, at Sheerness, Portland, Donibristle, Greenock and Eglinton, we have reduced numbers by 2,000 in the last two years. Of these, 900 have been transferred to other Government work, 850 have left through retirement, death or the resignation of people who have found jabs for themselves, which means that rather fewer than 250 have had to be compulsorily discharged as redundant. We have thus got about halfway through the whole run-down with a very small proportion of compulsory dischargings. As the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West recognised, however, the harder half has still to come, but I hope that with continuing co-operation all round we shall be able to keep compulsory discharges to a low level.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) and the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) asked several questions about Chatham. As the Committee knows, last year the Admiralty announced the closure of the Nore Command. The most important establishments affected are the Royal Naval Barracks and the old Royal Marine Barracks. The old Royal Marine Barracks, which have been empty for some years, we have recently sold to Messrs. Palfrey. The right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham seemed dissatisfied and wanted to have an inquiry. The important thing is that this site has now been sold to a firm which will employ upwards of 500 people, and that will be a mast substantial contribution towards the welfare of the Medway towns and a satisfactory conclusion of this particular job of disposal.
1031 This leaves the Royal Naval Barracks. The decision to close them has led to a certain amount of rumour. One rumour was voiced by my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman). He was worried lest the Admiralty might wish to move the departments which are at present at Bath into the Naval Barracks at Chatham. I am glad to be able to set his mind at rest on that score. There is no intention to bring the Admiralty departments to Chatham from Bath, where they have always been most happy. What we have decided is that the Royal Naval Barracks, together with a proportion of the married quarters, should be transferred to the War Office.
§ Mr. Bottomley
Can the hon. Gentleman say when the War Office decided to take over the barracks, and for what purpose?
§ Mr. Galbraith
I cannot answer either question as the news I have to give the Committee is very recent. All I know is that the War Office is very anxious to take over the Royal Naval Barracks and we in the Navy are very glad to be able to hand them over. I know that last year when it was announced that the barracks were to be closed, people in the Medway towns were very sorry to lose the Navy. Now, though the long link with the Navy is partially to be broken, they will be glad to know that the connection between the Medway towns and Her Majesty's Services is still to go on. I am sure that the Army will become as much part of the local scene in future as the Navy has been in the past.
This does not mean that we are leaving Chatham altogether. We are keeping Collingwood Barracks, as many of the married quarters as we require, and we are staying in the dockyard. Why there should be this continuing doubt about the dockyard, as expressed by the right hon. Member, is more than I can understand. When the main closures were announced last year I specifically stated that we had no other closures in mind. I do not know what more we can do to convince the people of Chatham that the future shape of the Navy envisages keeping the Royal Dockyard at Chatham. This decision is underlined by the fact that we 1032 have chosen Chatham as the pilot yard for the reorganisation resulting from the Report of the Nihill Committee. Incidentally, I think it was my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North East who suggested that we should have an outside body to look into the organisation of our yards. That is precisely what the Nihill Committee did.
With regard to this reorganisation about which my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. WingfieldDigby) asked me a question, the present position is that a general manager and a planning manager are now in post and a personnel manager will join in April. A production manager will be appointed later and the new scheme will be fully operational, we hope, by 1961. Similar reorganisations are also being undertaken at the other dockyards on the same lines as this scheme, and will go ahead concurrently, though starting at different times. The expenditure involved in this sort of managerial revolution is considerable, and I can assure the Committee that we would not have gone ahead with Chatham as the first place to try it out if we had had any doubts at all as to its future.
We have tried to keep the difficulties of this reorganisation to a minimum but inevitably there has been some unsettlement and unfortunately this feeling is not confined to those directly affected. There are others who may wonder if they are going to be affected later and may ask themselves where the next blow is going to fall. I think that is the point that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, Langstone (Mr. Stevens). These fears are unfounded and I should like to assure people that there are no major new schemes of redeployment likely to be announced in the foreseeable future. Indeed, for some years to come we shall have our hands full in carrying out the schemes for economy which we have already planned and announced. We have not got any unpleasant secret up our sleeves, and I hope that hon. Members will do their best to reassure their constituents and not come time and again asking the same question. We have got no more major closures to announce [nothing more to close that has not been announced].
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East, my 1033 hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West and the hon. Member for Faversham suggested that more shipbuilding work should be done in the dockyards. In fact, it is our policy to do as much building in the dockyards as we can, and I stated this as Admiralty policy in the Estimates debate last year. In the 1959–60 dockyard programme new construction will be running at £5.7 million, which is roughly twice what it is this year. This may not seem very much, but it is impossible to undertake a great deal more without very considerable capital expenditure. In any case, the real purpose of the Royal Dockyards is repair work, and the whole point of the recent reduction and reorganisation of the dockyards has been to match the capacity of the yards to the load of repair work now required by the smaller Fleet.
Another point which must not be lost sight of is the strategic need to maintain the "know-how" of naval construction in civil shipyards. Furthermore, as the Committee knows, the Admiralty is the Department which sponsors the shipbuilding industry, and at a time when there is some anxiety about the state of employment in the industry it would be quite wrong to direct work away from areas where first-class facilities already exist. That links up with the point raised by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East. He wanted to know why the Supplementary Estimates were so large. It would have been possible for us to hold them down, but it would have meant stopping work in the middle of the year and that would have been quite wrong, and I hope the Committee will take the same view.
§ Mr. Willis
I was not questioning the reasons. I was questioning how it was done with respect to the Treasury.
§ Mr. Galbraith
I am sorry if I got the point wrong. It was done in the normal way, through the Treasury. Nevertheless, I can assure the Committee that, in spite of the Admiralty's sponsor responsibilities, new construction in the dockyards is being increased, and, when full capacity is reached, nearly one-fifth of the dockyard effort will be engaged in new construction work for the Navy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) asked me a number of questions, one of 1034 which related to apprentices. I can well understand her anxiety that young people should have good prospects, but I must remind her that the dockyard technical colleges are designed to meet the needs of the dockyards; they are not part of the public education system, and the number of entrants has to be fixed in relation to the need of the yards. Numbers generally are being slightly reduced compared with a few years ago, but I can assure her that we have no sinister intentions.
In recent years, we have suffered less from wastage of trained apprentices than formerly, and, with the ending of National Service, we hope that we shall be able to retain an even larger proportion of our ex-apprentices. At Devonport, as I am sure she is aware, the numbers authorised for entry next year are 43 higher than the number who actually entered this year, so I do not see, at the moment anyway, that my hon. Friend has very much to worry about.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) said that I never answer his questions, and I therefore propose to answer one tonight. He asked me about dilutees. As I think he knows, the agreement has been formally ended with most of the unions. We were bound to do this when we were requested to do so, in accordance with the agreement which made dilution possible. I very much regret to have to tell him that it is impossible for us to go back on this or to do anything more about the matter.
The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) raised a personal point, which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary has told me he would be glad to discuss with him later on.
We had a few speeches about shipbuilding and ship-repairing, started by the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), continued by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin), and wound up by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East. The hon. Member for Sunderland, North made a very interesting speech. I am sorry if I have given him the impression that I am complacent. I do that, I think, only because I sit opposite him; he speaks in a jocular fashion 1035 and it is difficult to look anything except pleased when one is listening to him. As the hon. Gentleman says, 1958 was an uncomfortable year for some shipbuilders and ship-repairers, due, principally, to the decline in world trade. This has been responsible for laying up a large volume of shipping and taking the urgency out of further new construction. Even so, many of our yards, particularly the big ones, with the help of long order books, are likely to be busy for some years ahead. The smaller ones are not so fortunate, and they are beginning to come to the end of their current work, with nothing to replace it.
The Admiralty is watching this situation with the closest attention. It realises that there is no remedy apart from a recovery in world trade. This the Government are doing their best to stimulate by every means possible. It is gratifying, at a time like the present when things, perhaps, are not going as well as one would like them to go, to see that shipbuilders and ship-repairers have not lost faith in themselves and are going ahead with plans for modernising and re-equipping their establishments. This is all designed to put the industry into a competitive position when ordering starts again. Although the situation is discouraging at present, the industry is a very long way from being despondent.
§ Mr. Galbraith
That would be a very short-sighted policy, and I am very surprised to hear such a suggestion come from the hon. and learned Gentleman.
So far as nuclear propulsion is concerned, I was about to say that I sometimes think there may be an element of confusion between the nuclear propulsion unit for "Dreadnought" and that which would be the unit for commercial ships and is being sought by my Committee. The "Dreadnought" system is pressurised water and the running costs look as though they will be too high for commercial vessels. Part of the task of my Committee is to weed out the non- 1036 starters. It is not surprising that outside observers consider that progress is slow when they have their appetites whetted by Press reports and stories of what is planned abroad—most of these stories should be taken with a large grain of salt. Apart from the American "Savannah" and the Russian "Lenin", there is no nuclear propulsion system being installed in merchant ships, and these two systems are not economic. Our aim in this country has been to try to get a ship to sea which will be economic, or nearly economic, in operation.
§ Mr. Willey
Yes, but we have heard some disturbing information from Japan, which we have to add to that from America and Russia. We cannot wait, surely, for something to be economic before we go at least into experimentation. We are behind these two competitors which the hon. Gentleman has mentioned and probably behind Japan, and some of us think that we should go into experimentation fairly soon.
§ Mr. Galbraith
The hon. Member says three. My information is two, and I think probably that what he has heard from Japan is one of those rumours which can be taken with a large grain of salt. Our aim, as I have said, is an economic ship, or one that is nearly so. The problems inherent in this are immense, but I have been given the fullest co-operation and help, not only from the shipping and shipbuilding industry but also from the Atomic Energy Authority, and by the end of next month I hope to have a report from the Authority on the prospects of their advanced gas cooled reactor. After studying this, my Committee will be in a position to decide on what should be the next step.
We have considered the procedure for designing as well as for building the first ship, and also the methods for financing it. Hon. Members may ask about the date when such a ship might be at sea; and on this I have nothing to add either way which would alter the estimate which I gave to the Committee at this time last year.
Several hon. Members have spoken with concern about the Reserve Fleet, and I must tell the Committee that we have to face the fact that, at a time when funds are tightly stretched, it would be wrong 1037 for the Government to devote too much money to patching up old ships in reserve instead of providing new ships. It is all a question of balance. Our policy, which we believe to be the right one, is to reduce the size of the reserve while keeping it in a high state of readiness. This does not mean that we scrap a lot of ships as soon as they leave the operational reserve. They remain for a period on the sales list, and it will be seen from the Explanatory Statement that no ship is scrapped before it reaches the end of its useful hull life.
This applies not only to larger vessels, but also to ships for amphibious warfare, and the valuable suggestions by the hon. Members for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) and St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) about their future use is at this moment under active consideration by the Chiefs of Staff.
Several hon. Members have also shown interest in Polaris. I must stress that this weapon is not something which is just round the corner. There are still great problems to be tackled. It is something which is quite beyond our own capacity to develop, in spite of what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East said, without a radical recasting of the whole of naval expenditure. This helps to explain why no decision about putting a nuclear deterrent to sea has yet been taken. The Committee will, however, be glad to know that we are following with the closest interest the development of Polaris, and the United States naval authorities are keeping us informed of the progress they are making.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) spoke about the size of the Fleet, particularly with reference to the Russian submarine threat. Naturally, the number of Russian submarines creates a formirable threat, but not all of these submarines are fully up to date. Our antisubmarine potential has increased in all directions, including detection, weapon control and the missiles themselves. For example, there is a world of difference between tipping a depth charge over the side and using a Limbo anti-submarine mortar, to say nothing of the new antisubmarine torpedoes. In any event, when we talk about numbers it must be remembered that in this task we would not be acting alone but as part of the N.A.T.O. Alliance.
1038 The hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) had something to say about the rôle of the Navy. He seemed to have doubts as to what was its role. No one serving in the Navy has ever had the least doubt about what that rôle is. The daily life of anyone in the Navy makes it abundantly clear to him. Despite what the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) said about morale, everyone in the Navy has a firm sense of mission. At one moment, they may be on fishery protection off Iceland; the next moment, they may be taking part in operations in the Middle East, a cold war that is uncomfortably hot. The rôle of the Navy is the same today as it has always been: to keep the seas open and to defend our interests wherever they are threatened. This vital task of the Navy, in cold and in limited war, is a fact beyond dispute.
As to global war, the instrument of defence, as the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West pointed out, is the N.A.T.O. Alliance. It is this which emphasises the unity and determination of the West; and it is the strength of this Alliance in all its parts—nuclear, anti-submarine, tactical air and ground forces—it is this combination of the whole, which creates the real strategic deterrent. To this deterrent force the British Navy makes a contribution which is second only to that of the United States.
To sum up, we have a fine Fleet now but intend to have an even better one. We are determined to live up to the spirit of Nelson, to be ready for any eventuality today and at the same time to look ahead and prepare for future developments. This is not an easy balance to hold, to have a Fleet constantly developing yet always ready for action anywhere. That, however, is our aim, and it is in furtherance of this endeavour that I ask the Committee to let us have the Vote tonight.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That 106,000 Officers, Seamen and Juniors and Royal Marines, who are borne on the books of Her Majesty's Ships and at the Royal Marine establishments, and members of the Women's Royal Naval Service and Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service, be employed for the Sea Service, for the year ending on the 31st day of March 1960.
§ Resolution to be reported.
§ Report to be received Tomorrow; Committee to sit again Tomorrow.