§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ That 100,000 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. 1962.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. C. Ian Orr-Ewing)
Many of my predecessors' speeches, and, indeed, some of my own, at this Box have started by explaining why a Supplementary Estimate has been necessary. I remind the Committee that last year it was necessary to take a token Supplementary Estimate of £10 only. I am pleased to say that for the current financial year, no Supplementary Estimate has been asked for. I would be the last to claim that our ability to do without a Supplementary Estimate for two years running is evidence that our control and estimating machinery over the whole field of naval expenditure is perfect. There is always room for errors in estimating when dealing with expenditure of this magnitude. When one remembers that a .25 per cent. variation will produce a difference of £1 million in the overall expenditure, the Committee will realise how accurate we have to be.
The rate of production may fluctuate, and it is specially difficult to predict the exact flow of receipts from other Governments, who, no doubt, have their own financial problems. This year, £24 million of the year's Appropriations in Aid come from these sources. But we are continuing to do our best to get our estimating and our control as accurate as possible.
Speaking of control of expenditure, the Committee may like to know that last 1765 year we added to our normal measures the experiment of the Finance Committee of the Admiralty, of which I am the Chairman, examining expenditure on specific services, rather like an internal Select Committee. The cost of many of these services is divided between a number of Navy Votes and is, therefore, not readily identifiable. We felt that it would be useful to pick out and examine certain subjects throughout the Votes and I think that we shall find this procedure most profitable.
For the next financial year, the gross provision on all Votes is estimated at just under £468 million. Receipts are expected to amount to over £54½ million and so our net estimates come to just over £413 million. This is about £15½ million more than in the current year, but this increase is entirely explained by agreed wages and salary awards and by estimated price increases. The Committee may be interested to note that about half the money we are asking for is devoted to research, development and production; the greater part of the remainder goes on the cost of naval and civilian personnel.
Spending on the material side remains at a high level. Page 4 of 'the Estimates shows that the gross estimate of what we shall be spending under Vote 8, Section on contract work—that is to say, on ships and aircraft—is nearly £110 million in the coming year. The estimated expenditure on other equipment under Vote 8, Section II (naval stores generally) and Vote 9 (naval armament stores, including guided weapons) has increased substantially. Our total production expenditure, therefore, is rather bigger than last year.
These are the hard facts of the Estimates. This is the fifth year I have spoken at this Box in Service Estimates debates and the third in which I have introduced the Navy Estimates. This year, I am not, therefore, going to comment on all the Navy's ships and weapons, as these are set out more fully than usual in my noble friend's Explanatory Statement.
Later, I will, of course, pick out a few of the highlights. I want to begin by showing the philosophy which lies behind our naval policy. I hope that the Committee will then see how the 1766 shape of the Navy fits in with the rôle envisaged for it on page I of the Explanatory Statement. What has been happening in the past year is a continuing process of evolution towards the kind of Navy which we believe to be necessary for the task which it is expected to perform, in co-operation with our allies. I underline "in cooperation with our allies".
The main reasons which led to the reorientation of the Government's defence policy four years ago were, first, the recognition that this country's front line of defence in the long haul of the cold war was the maintenance of the economy and the strength of sterling; secondly, the knowledge that in any major war we should not be alone, but that we should be acting in concert with the Western Alliance; and finally, the steady and rapid growth of independent status in former Colonial Territories, with its effect on the policy of maintaining large fixed garrisons and bases overseas.
These three considerations played a large part in the decision to rely on smaller all-Regular forces. But this decision carried with it the need for our smaller forces to be better equipped and more fully mobile if they were to continue to safeguard our world-wide interests.
Mobility is one of the prime virtues of a navy, and against the changing political background today it is clearly more than ever important. Mobility implies more than just having the physical means of deploying forces from one end of the world to the other; it is the ability to do so in spite of the political restrictions and in spite of inhibitions that can stand in the way. It is to the Navy's advantage that there will always be the broad highway of open sea which the Navy can expect to use without let or hindrance.
This mobility, together with the ability of ships to operate for long periods away from fixed bases, will enable the Navy to play a large variety of roles in the defence of this country's interests. Operations depend nowadays more and more for their success on the closest collaboration between our three Services. It becomes increasingly necessary in the more distant parts of the world for the 1767 Navy to play a leading rôle in support of land forces. The Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force are partners in the deployment world-wide of British air power.
I turn now to the Fleet and the extent to which it is hard worked. The increased emphasis on inter-Service operations and the Navy's part in them is being superimposed on the Navy's traditional tasks, such as the protection of sea communications. There is no lessening of those old and traditional tasks. The Russian submarine fleet continues to grow more powerful and more efficient and to extend its areas of operation, and other nations are not only building up their naval power generally. For these two reason there can be no lessening of our traditional tasks.
Nor do the Navy's peace-time commitments and activities grow any less. The strength and cohesion of forces at the disposal of an alliance depend very largely on the frequency and thoroughness of their exercises together. The extent of these exercises is set out in detail in Appendix I of my noble Friend's Explanatory Statement. They take up more and more of our peace-time effort. There is, too, the constant requirement for routine training in all the different aspects of naval warfare.
There is the constant demand from our diplomatic representatives abroad that the Navy should pay visits to various places as a positive sign of the British presence and of British interest in those areas. There are no better ambassadors than our sailors when they go ashore.
With all these commitments, the ships of the Navy are nowadays very hard worked in peace time. Every class of ship spends a far higher proportion of its time at sea than comparable vessels did immediately before the war, and in some cases the difference is most marked. For example, the carriers and submarines now steam three or four times as many miles in a year than they did before the war.
The day before yesterday, H.M.S. "Ark Royal" came back from a commission, mainly in the Mediterranean, of fifteen months' duration. During that period, she steamed 80,000 miles and launched no fewer than 8,500 sorties—an this in fifteen months. This is a measure 1768 of the way in which we are now working our ships. Bearing in mind the very much heavier maintenance which they require, I think that these statistics reflect great credit on their crews and all concerned with their running and operation. But we would like to get still more sea time out of our ships by improving our maintenance methods, and we are examining all means of doing so.
In accordance with the philosophy which I mentioned earlier, in 1957 the Navy embarked on a plan designed to produce a Fleet somewhat smaller—as the White Paper shows, there are now 144 ships in the operational Fleet, compared with 167 four years ago—but the new Navy was to be fitted with the most up-to-date equipment and weapons. In so far as there was a choice between quantity and quality, we chose the latter. The past year has seen a further instalment of that plan. Now, thanks to the Navy's mobility and the increased effectiveness of individual ships, we are able to concentrate a powerful force wherever it may be needed. This was well brought out in the N.A.T.O. exercise "Fallex". details of which are given in Appendix I of my noble Friend's Explanatory Statement, when we concentrated no less than 100 ships of the Royal Navy for a single exercise.
I now turn from mobility to versatility. In order to match with this modern fleet the wide range of threats which can be levelled against us, we are going over from the concept of single-purpose ships to one of versatility. For example, the frigate programme of ten years ago comprised a number of vessels whose primary task was either the antisubmarine, anti-aircraft or the aircraft direction Nile. The new design "Tribal" and "Leander" classes are examples of extremely useful ships which can undertake all three of these roles. They are more expensive for that reason, but they are also far more versatile and far more valuable. As opportunity occurs, we are building into many of the older frigates a high degree of versatility during the course of their refits.
We are thus producing a balanced fleet which can undertake the tasks demanded of the Royal Navy. And the Navy is ready to meet new challenges as well. Most hon. Members present tonight have taken a special interest in 1769 defence matters for some time. They will have noticed the growing emphasis in recent years on the amphibious capability of the Navy. First, we had one Commando carrier, the "Bulwark". The concept was so successful that the conversion of another, the "Albion", was ordered. Then came the decision not only to have the "Albion", but to commission her. Simultaneously, we have decided to build an assault ship, which I shall have more to say about later.
The seaborne method of bringing force to bear has the great merit that it can be achieved without exacerbating local feelings by any obvious display of force on their territories. At a time when we are likely to be able to depend less on bases abroad, a self-contained force of this kind is very valuable. The Commando carrier is capable of putting its Commando down inland by day or night in a remarkably short time. It has been aptly described as a kind of mobile fire brigade.
The commissioning of the second Commando carrier will make an increased demand on the Royal Marine Commandos. We plan to start forming a fifth Commando before the end of this year. We are also looking into the possibility of enlarging the Commandos and increasing their hitting power. An interesting idea which is at present being discussed with the War Office concerns the association of a regiment of the Royal Artillery with the Commandos. The regiment, with the new 105 mm. gun, would train with the Royal Marines and would be based at home and abroad in close proximity to the Commandos. A battery would normally be embarked in the Commando carriers. This is a good example of the extent to which a well-armed integrated force can be achieved by close co-operation with our sister services.
I now turn to the question of submarines and the submarine threat. So far, I have sought to outline our tasks and explain how we have gradually reshaped the Navy to undertake its old and new roles. I have stressed its mobility, its versatility and its growing amphibious strength, and I want now to turn to anti-submarine tasks, to explain why there is continued emphasis this year on our anti-submarine forces.
1770 The Committee will see from 'the Explanatory Statement that we have 19 frigates approved or under construction. I am sure that the Committee will be pleased that this is the largest number for five years. It was in 1949 that the Soviet Union launched its post-war submarine 'building programme. This came to fruition by the mid-1950s, when the total number of submarines of all sorts reached 430. Since that time, we believe that the Russian fleet has remained substantially the same in numbers though, of course, new and improved submarines have taken the place of older types.
During recent years, it is clear from reports that the Soviet submarine fleets have been widening their operational experience by operating throughout the seven seas. Just as we have been improving the design and techniques of conventional submarines, one must suppose that they have been doing exactly the same.
While the Soviet Union has been carrying on with its own submarine development, it has also done three further things. First, it 'has based a portion of its submarine fleet in other people's territory—in Albania, where it has built up its strength to a flotilla of 12 submarines, supported by two modern depot ships and auxiliaries. Secondly, it has made its submarines available to other nations—nine to the United Arab Republic and two to Indonesia. Thirdly, it has provided assistance 'to the Chinese submarine building programme, and the strength of the Chinese fleet has been increasing and is now 30 submarines.
During the last six months Mr. Khrushchev has stated that the Soviet Union now has nuclear-powered submarines. This is well within its capabilities, and we have no reason to doubt this statement.
Hitler started the last war with approximately 50 submarines, and when we remember the problem which 'these caused, the Committee will understand why the British, the Commonwealth and N.A.T.O. Navies have devoted so much research, development and production effort to anti-submarine capabilities. In this context, it is worth remembering that in the 18 conflicts, conventional and subversive, which have occurred since 1945, the attractions of war by proxy have become self-evident. It is these 1771 facts which explain why, in so many of the exercises with our allies, the antisubmarine aspect looms so large.
For anti-submarine warfare we are making use of different techniques. There is the shore-based maritime aircraft. There is the helicopter, with its asdics and homing torpedoes. There are the surface ships—the new frigates or new guided-missile destroyers—and there is the submarine itself. It is the growing importance of the submarine as a weapon for anti-submarine warfare which I want to underline.
Now I turn to new ships, aircraft and equipment. I want to pick out some of the highlights and some of the subjects in which the Committee has shown special interest, sometimes by debate, sometimes by Questions. It would be right for me to begin with H.M.S. "Dreadnought", since she will provide the fleet with an anti-submarine weapon of an entirely new order of efficiency.
H.M.S. "Dreadnought" will be equipped with long-range asdics and the latest homing torpedoes, and her high underwater speed and long endurance will make her very formidable as a hunter and killer. She will be able to operate either independently or in support of the escort screen for a surface task force or a convoy. Work on the "Dreadnought" is up to programme, and an order has been placed for a second vessel, this time powered largely by British machinery.
Next I come to guided missile destroyers. Building of the first four guided missile destroyers is also going ahead. The second of these ships—the "Hampshire"—will be launched by Her Royal Highness, Princess Margaret on 16th March. The next two ships, to be named "Kent" and "London", will be launched later in the year. Keeping pace with progress on these ships are the production and trials of their powerful, medium-range anti-aircraft armament, the Sea Slug system, which will provide protection for other ships in company with any of the county class.
These missiles have been proving so accurate in trials that we have had to modify them to prevent them from hitting and destroying our very valuable targets. Sea trials of the close-range guided missile system Sea Cat have also been progressing during the past year.
1772 I am glad to say that orders for this system have been received from Sweden and that several other countries are either negotiating or taking an interest in this weapon.
The county class is another example of the versatility of which I have been speaking. When the first ship, the "Devonshire", comes into service early next year, she will not only have a first-class guided weapon defence system, but will also carry a helicopter, and will be well equipped for anti-submarine service, for gunnery, and for general police and cold war duties. That is a truly versatile ship and class.
The fifth and sixth ships of this class are to be ordered in the coming year. Further developments will make it possible to produce a version of Sea Slug which will be still more effective than the Mark I system. The Mark II weapon will have greater range, greater height, and a more powerful high explosive warhead. It will be fitted in these two latest ships of the class, and we plan that the first four will later be modified to take the Mark II version.
The two latest ships of the county class, and as many as possible of our new ships in future, will be ordered by competitive tendering. We recently resumed this system with the orders for three "Leander" class frigates, and we were well satisfied with the tremendous response. As a result, we hope to build our ships not only more cheaply, but also more quickly.
The past year has seen good progress with the re-equipment of the Fleet Air Arm. The front line strength of "Sea Vixen" fighters has now been built up to full establishment. These aircraft, as well as the new "Buccaneer"—of which the first development squadron will be formed next week—have a good stretch of potential, and should give first-class service for many years.
It must be remembered that it is not just the speed of the aircraft which counts in modern air warfare, but the general effectiveness of the combination of the aircraft, its missile, and the detection, control and guidance system in the carrier. For instance, one could have an old aircraft with a very good air-to-air missile which would be quite as effective as a new aircraft with an indifferent missile. It is a concept of a 1773 whole weapon system that goes from detection right through the spectrum until the missile is fired.
I would like to say something about development at the carrier end of the system. We have plans in hand to make the best operational use of the mass of information which will be derived from the latest generation of radars and asdics. No longer can the human brain assimilate and assess all the information available. Nor can the human brain weigh the chances, calculate the threat and decide which particular weapon ought to be used against which particular threat.
Therefore, we have had to develop electronic computers. The first application of these will be in the carrier "Eagle", which is now being modernised. This equipment will be known as Action Data Automation. It will track and classify targets automatically. It will store and display this information, and will calculate and recommend solutions. It will prepare and accept information for automatic exchange between other ships in its own or adjacent task forces.
The system is so flexible that it is comparatively simple to reprogramme it to meet changes in weapons and weapon policy. The system will have applications to a wide variety of future ships and weapons. Further research and development work is being done.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
If I did, I gave an erroneous impression to the Committee. It certainly is not simple. It is a highly complex system. It is something that we have had to come to because of the vastly improved radar with which we are now equipped. If we are to make the optimum use of 984 and C.D.S. we have to have electronic computers to advise us and convey all the data.
Another revolutionary development to which I want to refer is the Ground Effect Machine, or Hovercraft. We are keeping in close touch with developments here, because we foresee some important naval applications of the principle as soon as the hover height can be increased sufficiently to allow the craft to be operated in a greater variety of sea conditions.
1774 For example, the ability of the Hovercraft to operate equally well over land and water makes it attractive for amphibious warfare and ferrying duties. It might also be used for coastal forces, for air-sea rescue work, and, possibly, for mine bunting. There is even a hope that it might be developed into a useful anti-submarine weapon. All three Services are interested in it, but in view of its apparently wider marine application the Admiralty is co-ordinating its initial development for Service use.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
A year ago we had difficulty in defining what a Hovercraft was. A Cabinet Minister could not define it. Are we to conclude, from the fact that it is now incorporated in the Navy Estimates, that it has been decided at last that a Hovercraft is a ship?
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I should hesitate to start a theoretical discussion with the hon. Gentleman about exactly what it is —ship or aircraft. The point is that the Admiralty is to be responsible at the moment for its development. That is what is important. Let us decide who is to have the responsibility and let that Service get on with is. That is much more important than deciding how we should define it.
I now turn to the assault ship. I think that the Committee would like to have a little more information about our decision to build a new assault ship, which we plan to order this year. This ship, with the Commando carriers, will eventually replace the present amphibious warfare squadron. The object of this ship is to carry a balanced military force; some hundreds of infantry with a high proportion of tanks, guns and transport. The assault ship will carry an armoured battle group as complement to the light forces landed by parachute and helicopter. It will work on the principle of a floating dock and will carry her own landing craft, the L.C.M.'s, which will be able to float in and out through the stern.
Its great advantage over the present squadron will be its speed, which, in practice, will be two or three times the speed of the old squadron. Its other great advantage will be its ability to remain at sea for long periods. To match this, we have a programme for building landing craft assault to operate from the assault ship which should be completed during 1775 1961–62. In addition, we hope to order a new type of landing craft mechanised, the design work on which is now under way. The assault ship will have the latest communication facilities and be able to carry a brigade headquarters. It will have facilities on its flight deck. which is over the dock, to land, refuel and launch helicopters.
In addition, hon. Members will have read of the War Office plan to start replacing with faster ships the L.S.T.'s which come under its jurisdiction. These L.S.T.'s are, of course, a part of the follow-up. They are, so to speak, the third line, the first being the Commando carrier, the second being the assault ships and the third being the Army L.S.T.'s.
Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East): When did the hon. Gentleman say that we would begin these?
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I have mentioned a number of different things. The assault ship itself should be completed by the mid-1960s, and, I would hope, earlier than the mid-1960s.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
No, not very materially. We have been in close touch with the Americans. We have a rather later design. We have made one or two improvements, which will particularly suit our needs, which are not in the Thomaston class. It is basically a similar design.
Looking still further ahead, I should like to dwell for a moment on one or two major naval issues about which hon. Members have recently expressed some anxiety. I have been asked whether we were thinking about replacing our aircraft carriers. My hon. Friend's Explanatory Statement does not say a great deal about this, for the simple reason that the ships we have are either new or modernised. None of the present ships will begin to come to the end of its life for about another ten years. However, new carriers take a long time to build, and it is not too early to begin to consider the design of the ships that will have to be built to serve as replacements in the 1970s.
1776 If the deployment of sea and air power, including support of the Army abroad, is to continue to be one of the tasks of the Navy, carriers will be an absolute necessity. A good deal of thought, therefore, is already being put into design studies for a suitable replacement, but the problems are extraordinarily complex, not least because the ships must be so planned that they can still operate the kind of aircraft that may be flying as far ahead as the 1990s. Hon. Members will not expect me to go into details of the planning that is being done to meet requirements that are so far distant, but I want to reassure the Committee that we are tackling this problem with zest.
I now turn to another subject—and I hope to raise less heat today than in the past—the Polaris. I have been asked what the Navy is doing and whether it is likely to operate Polaris submarines. It is the policy of Her Majesty's Government that the British contribution to the Western deterrent shall be carried during the 1960s by the V-bomber force. I think that this was made clear in the two-day defence debate and that it is not necessary to make up our minds yet about the means of delivery which is to succeed this force.
But we are in close touch with the United States Navy about the Polaris missile and missile-carrying submarines. We are continuing, with their co-operation, to receive all the necessary information that will enable the Navy, subject to American agreement, to have submarines of this type if it became Her Majesty's Government's policy.
§ Mr. Willis
The hon. Gentleman will recollect that the Minister of Defence, during the debate on the Defence Estimates, said that there was also the option of the use of the Buccaneer for this purpose. Can he say whether the Admiralty thinks this, too?
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
Yes. I certainly have stated that the Buccaneer has a nuclear capability, and that, with its low flying strength, it will be able to get underneath a radar network. It is certainly a factor that must be taken into account.
I now turn to naval manpower. I have spent some time describing the rôle of the Navy, and telling the Committee 1777 something of the new ships and equipment which we are bringing into service. But the best plans in the world, and the most modern ships and equipment, mean absolutely nothing unless the fleet is manned by the right numbers, and the right sorts, of officers and ratings. All our efforts in the sphere of naval manpower, whether by way of recruiting and training, or by the settlement of rates of pay or other conditions of service, are designed to this end.
The Committee will have read in the Explanatory Statement that we hope to get about 7,500 recruits in the coming year. This is a target figure. If more good boys come forward we may take marginally more. Perhaps a few less. This figure is 1,000 more than we recruited in 1960–61, but it is less than the 8,200 that we recruited in 1958–59. I see no reason why it should not be reached.
The Royal Navy is not lacking, and I doubt whether it has ever lacked, applicants. Nearly 15,000 applied to join in 1960. Of these, we were only able to take a few over 5,000. Thus, nearly 10.000 fell by the wayside. I find that nearly 4,000 of these, 27 per cent. of the applicants, were rejected on educational grounds. The next largest slice, over 2,000, 15 per cent. of the total, are rejected on medical grounds. We have looked at this very carefully and I do not honestly think that we can possibly lower our standards. We give everybody a thorough training, but it would be a great waste of training effort and would hold back the good boys if we enlarged our intake to accept the intellectually weaker brethren.
§ Lieut.-Commander S. L. C. Maydon (Wells)
Can my hon. Friend say which was the greater proportion of those rejected on medical grounds—eyesight or other physical reasons?
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I have not the figures with me. I will give them in my winding-up speech.
We have recently examined the eyesight standards to see whether we can relax in certain spheres and, in fact, we have relaxed in certain trades. We are always considering Whether we can utilise our knowledge of the latest medical techniques and change our standards. I do not think that there is at the moment room for further manœuvre, 1778 either in academic or medical standards. Of course, the standards vary for different branches. We ask a high educational standard of the artificer apprentice, who is to become a skilled rating and who will quickly rise to petty officer and chief petty officer. Having looked at this matter fairly closely, I do not honestly think that we can change at the moment. We are reasonably optimistic that we shall reach our target in the coming year, partly because of the attraction which the Navy offers to young people and partly 'because there are more coming out of the schools.
As the Committee knows, we have decided to recruit more Juniors "U", that is, young men and boys between the ages of 15 and 161. This entry, which was originally for seamen, has been extended to the technical branches with great success, and we are now extending it to include cooks and stores ratings. In the coming year we shall take as many of these young entrants as we can find room for at H.M.S. "Ganges" and H.M.S. "St. Vincent", the two establishments Which train them. I have visited both these schools, and I came away tremendously impressed by the way in which they combine the essentials of naval training and the continuation of the boys' general education.
I am glad to say that from time to time we receive most touching letters from parents who appreciate what we are able to do for their boys. I came across one only this week in which a mother wrote:Our son was very happy with you, as you all have done a tremendous job training all these boys. My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed our two visits.Another mother wrote:I would like to say a very big thank you to all those who have had the training ofmy son.I really do appreciate all that he has had done for him. I am feeling very proud of him, especially as he has not had a father to guide him.These are the sort of letters that we get and they show the standard of our young people. They are very worthy citizens who will be a joy to the Navy, and if they ever leave us, which I hope they will not, they will be a great asset to Britain in general.
I now turn to the recruiting organisation. I am convinced that young men of the right type will be available in the 1779 coming years. First, we have to make certain that we attract them to the Royal Navy, and, secondly, we have to make absolutely sure that, if they report at our recruiting offices, they are dealt with wisely, in a kindly manner and efficiently. During the next year we are having a survey undertaken to examine a number of aspects of our recruiting organisation. It is immensely encouraging that once people have some experience of the Navy they seem to like it. This is well borne out by the fact that 65 per cent. of our twelve-year men sign on for pension.
I now come to officers. I am very hopeful that the new methods of training and entry for the General List officers will be a success. In 1960–61, 192 young men entered as cadets, 59 of them under the scholarship scheme. Of course. the number of applications was very much larger. One hundred and thirty-seven in the same year were given either scholarships or reserved cadetships for future entry. The cadets who go to Dartmouth this September will all have qualified by new entry standards based on the schools examination system instead of the Navy, Army and Air Force examinations.
There are several reasons why our new academic standards are higher than the old. First, in the age of the nuclear submarine, the guided missile and the computer, we have to recognise that intellectual qualities are even more important than they have been in the past for all our officers.
Secondly, by raising our standards we have been able to concentrate the academic instruction which takes place at Dartmouth into one year, apart from the more advanced training on which engineering officers will go. This, in turn, has made it possible for the young man to spend a year in the fleet in the rank of midshipman. This is surely the most effective way of training young naval officers and giving them an early opportunity of knowing the men whom later they must lead.
Finally, we wanted to ensure that officers would fully retain the confidence of the ratings under them. After all, the ratings' own educational standards are now very much higher than they used to be before the war.
While we look to the General List to produce most of the officers who will rise 1780 to the most responsible positions in the Service, there are other types of commission which I should mention as we attach great importance to them. First, I refer to the supplementary lists. Last summer, we introduced the Seaman Supplementary List. This is the equivalent of a short-service commission in the other two Services. It provides an attractive opportunity for young men who are not going to university to broaden their outlook and prepare for their future careers by a short period of service as officers in the Royal Navy. We do not ask for the same high academic standard as for the General List. For some of those who wish it, there will also be a chance of a permanent commission on this supplementary list and a few may get the opportunity to transfer to the General List. I recommend this to parents who do not propose sending their boys to university. It is a wonderful training for future life.
The Air Crew Supplementary List also is growing in importance. The introduction of the Buccaneer, the commissioning of the second Commando carrier and the increasing number of ships which will in future carry helicopters for antisubmarine work all underline the opportunities which exist on this list. I can assure any young man who joins the Fleet Air Arm of an interesting and varied career. He can join for a commission of eight years with opportunities for a permanent commission and an avenue of promotion right to the top.
There is also the Electrical Supplementary List, which gives professional electrical engineers the choice of serving from three to ten years or for a pensionable career if they wish. In this way the graduate engineer can join the Navy to gain practical electrical engineering experience in the fleet. Speaking from my own experience in industry, I believe that such men would be very welcome in many engineering enterprises as a result of the experience which they have gained.
The end of National Service does not present the Navy with as many problems as the other two Services. We made much less use of it. But it throws up one or two problems for us. In particular, its disappearance means that we are no longer able to enter most of the medical and dental officers and instructor officers whom we need, because they 1781 came in for three years rather than doing their two years' National Service. This need must now be met entirely by a volunteer entry, and I very much hope that young professional men with the appropriate qualifications will come forward for short commissions in these branches. They will have the chance to exercise their professional skill and, at the same time, to enjoy all the variety and satisfaction of a naval career.
I have spoken of the General List and of the different supplementary lists. The Committee will be aware that, in addition to these, the Navy draws a very appreciable proportion of its officers—about 30 per cent. at the moment—from among the ratings by means of the Special Duties List. The able young man who joins as a rating has, therefore, a very promising career open to him.
I now turn from the cadet to the admiral—a rather large jump. During the debate on the Admiralty's headquarters, on 14th February, the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) gave some figures about the number of ships and admirals which were a little inaccurate. I intervened to point out that the number of admirals had been reduced and would be reduced still further. Let me give the facts. I hope that when they have been given this particular canard will be dropped.
In 1957, there were 102 admirals. Today, we have 83. By 1963, we will have reduced this further to 72. Thus, in the last four years the number of admirals has been reduced by 19. In the next two or three years probably another 11 posts will be abolished and the operational fleet, now 144, is likely to be only marginally less. It is not generally realised how the Flag List is made up. Many people—perhaps not in this Committee—when they think of an admiral, imagine a bearded figure strutting the quarter deck. In a modern Navy this is seldom the case, although there are exceptions.
Today, the Flag List is made up as follows. Fifty-nine are seamen and 17 non-seamen. That covers the electrical, engineering and supply admirals. In addition, there are five medical, one dental and one instructor.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
Yes. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that in many spheres there must be the possibility of promotion to the top if the numbers wanted are to be recruited. I underline that we have electrical admirals, engineering admirals, medical admirals and supply admirals.
§ Mr. Rankin
In view of the importance of feet in the Navy, why should not we have an orthopaedic admiral?
§ Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)
Does the decline in the number of admirals foreshadow an influx of admirals into the House of Commons in the near future?
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
We have some very robust admirals in the House of Commons. I should not like to say what the future holds.
Now that I have explained a little about the Flag List, it should be underlined that we have to ensure that all Britain's commitments are fully met. Four of this list will be entirely occupied with N.A.T.O. duties. Eleven of the operational posts carry N.A.T.O. responsibilities. I hope that this detailed break-down will help hon. Members to keep the subject in perspective.
The slight change of emphasis in the Defence Estimates means that next year the Royal Navy's share of the defence budget will be slightly increased. Our share of 25 per cent. will be the highest we have had for fourteen years—that is, since 1947–48. Today, we have a Navy which is the second largest in the Western Alliance and which consists very largely of first-class modern warships. As my noble Friend's Explanatory Statement shows, we have completed no less than 58 warships—frigates or larger—in the last ten years, and at this moment nearly £200 million worth of orders are with industry. The building and maintenance of a first-class Navy cannot be done on the cheap. It is a sobering thought that one modern naval aircraft costs more than a destroyer in 1930.
We have, and shall continue to have, a world-wide Navy, ready to defend and to advance the nation's interests, ready to meet the emergencies of peace and war, and ready to play its full part in the preservation of the free world.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
This debate was opened, a always, with great charm by the hon. Member the Civil Lord. I felt, on this occasion, that his task was not made any easier by the observations of quite staggering smugness from the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence at the conclusion of the defence debate this week. The hon. Member has done his best to give the impression that all is well with the Navy. I speak very much from the heart to say that I wish I shared that belief.
The Civil Lord concluded with a reference to something which I had said about admirals. Since the war, the Fleet has been reduced to rather less than one-fifth what it was then, and the number of admirals has come down from 100 to roughly 80. With the present operational Fleet one has to include minesweepers before one can say that there are more ships than admirals. Even when one includes destroyers, frigates and submarines, which are nothing like captains' commands, the admirals still outnumber ships.
I do not believe—and I shall be saying more of this later—that this is a healthy state of affairs. The hon. Member began by saying that he would speak of the philosophy of the Navy towards a task conceived in co-operation with our allies. I wish I could believe in the reality of that. Although I am a very nervous newcomer to this place in the debate, I have, ever since the war, participated in this debate, which concerns my Service, and I have tried to plead for the idea that one must have a purpose, that one must have an idea; not just a box of tricks but something which was conceived for a task and which has been thought out. I wish I had the feeling that that had been done.
I return to the question which was asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) at the conclusion of the Navy Estimates debate last year: for what sort of a war are we preparing? Traditionally, we have been talking about three sorts of war—the hot war, the cold war and peaceful co-existence. It is the various forms of war that I want 'to discuss. As I understand it, the hot war is war with the Russians. China has crept into the defence statement and I am rather glad it has not 1784 appeared in the Navy statement yet. So far as China is concerned, I am reminded of what a Turkish friend of mine said to me after making some very appreciative remarks on the capacity of the Chinese Army, which he had met in Korea. He said:…and do you realise that the only thing between us and them is the Russians, and there are not enough Russians?On a long view that may be true. The time may come when in the House of Commons we shall be discussing how to help support our Russian allies in the naval sphere. That has not come yet. In terms of the hot war we have to consider Russia as the potential enemy. Hong Kong and Macao—which is held by our ally, Portugal—are held because it is convenient to the Chinese that those windows should he there. They cannot be held on any other terms. That should be realised. Indeed, the only power which has any capacity to intervene in the event of a threat here—the United States—should not be encouraged to do so, because the disaster to the people who lived in those ports as well as to the innocent Chinese elsewhere, would be too great. Of course, if the United States did intervene there would be a surplus of naval capacity without us.
So, here we are dealing with the Russian threat, and simply with the Russian threat. That is what we must keep our eye on. What is our rôle here? As I understand it, the operative part of our Fleet immediately comes under the command of SACLANT. SACLANT has no ships under its command until a war breaks out, and then our fleet comes under its command in Norfolk, Virgina, as part of N.A.T.O.?
What is the policy of SACLANT? The latest statement I have is:First, to strike with maximum atomic capacity the enemy airfields and naval bases which support forces which would seize control of the seas.I do not know whether that is still the policy, but we should particularly note the word "First". If we were to do that I cannot conceive that the Russians would not retaliate. If the Russians did retaliate our rôle in the war would be over. This island—and I think that this has been accepted for a very long time—could not survive an atomic bombardment and emerge as a Power 1785 capable of waging war. In that sort of war there would be only one task for the Navy, and that would be to "get the hell out of it" to somewhere where it might survive, because it could not survive here.
At any rate, looking at the measures of atomic power now available to both the great contestants, as I can calculate them, if about two-thirds of 1 per cent. of the first American strike got home, every city in Russia of the size of Guildford would have disappeared and more than half the Russians would be dead. Since everybody seems to agree that, whilst Russian power is inferior to that of America, it is not so much inferior, I do not know what would happen to us. I hope that the Civil Lord will be able to tell us that this is no longer the policy of SACLANT.
The other aspect, and this is apparently what comes second because SACLANT's directive says "secondly", is to protect the broad Atlantic as far forward as possible. I understand that this visualises submarine warfare conducted on conventional lines. I wonder whether this is really a serious possibility. I do not, of course, expect the Minister either to contradict or confirm this. We can give estimates of figures which it would be embarrasing for him to give, but these are all published figures, though with what degree of authority I cannot say. As far as one can make out, there are about 28 Russian cruisers and about 300 ocean-going Russian submarines. There are probably three Russian atomic submarines either in commission or commissioning and a further three building. The Russians have also developed the canal system which links the White Sea and the Black Sea and their submarine bases are very far inland and difficult to get at.
This is the sort of size of the threat which we have to look at. Since the war, I am told, the asdic and depth-charge mortar have improved and probably the best assessment is that if one finds the submarine one's chances of killing it today are rather better than they were. There has been a shift in favour of defence in that sense. On the other hand, most of the submarines we destroyed in the last war were destroyed on the surface, and these submarines do not have to 1786 surface. They have the snorkel. They are far more difficult to find than they were in the last war and, therefore, this is a shift to the offensive for submarines.
Finally, and perhaps most important, their endurance is very much greater. Taking that endurance factor into consideration, the threat which we have to meet is probably not much less than ten times that which we had to face from the Germans at the beginning of the last war. Then we come to the atomic submarine. It is perfectly true that the atomic submarine is extremely noisy when travelling at speed; but laying off with an atomic missile, the submarine does not have to go at speed. At the point where an atomic submarine attacks another submarine—and it is said that only an atomic submarine is an effective weapon against an atomic submarine—the hunter has to use his asdic.
That has much greater range today than when I used it in the last war. It must be all the more difficult to identify one's contact. That was always a job. One got one's contact and it might be a fish, bubbles, debris, or something on the bottom of the sea. The problem was always to identify the contact and that, I believe, will always be a matter of art rather than of science.
The more range one has the greater variety and number of echoes one receives from different objects. While one is identifying one's contact the other chap has no difficulty whatever in identifying one's "ping". He gets that at once. I should be very surprised if there is no torpedo that homes at once on a "ping". It seems to me, therefore, that the hunted side will have a tremendous chance of getting in the first shot and that only one shot will be needed. This. therefore, seems to me to be a major break-through for the offensive.
Can this sort of war on the open sea remain conventional? I find this almost impossible to believe. Once we are committed to that degree then, before we accepted starvation, or the Americans accepted the cutting of their lines of communication, it would be necessary to attack the sources of the submarines. Equally, before the Russians would accept defeat they surely could not neglect the means of success always 1787 available to them by completing the blockade by process of elimination of the ports. Therefore, it does not seem to me that this sort of war can remain conventional, and the more so when we realise that it must be part of a land war, too.
The idea that the Russians would take the risk of opening up a blockade and an attack generally on merchant ships save to support land operations in Europe is surely inconceivable. After all, the whole idea of the N.A.T.O. concept is that we should have forces in Europe—in other debates, we have urged that these forces should be larger and more powerful forces—to provide a pause for negotiation. Submarine warfare, being of its nature a war of attrition, has the pause built into it. There is always the opportunity for negotiation there. There is time to negotiate. There is that for which our ground forces are at present in Europe to provide us. I therefore find it extremely difficult to visualise this N.A.T.O. sea war.
I thus come to the question whether the capacity to fight this most improbable of wars is worth the priority which we are giving to the anti-submarine function. It is difficult to analyse and, as the Civil Lord has said, there is a degree of versatility in a great many of these ships. As I see it. probably nearer three-quarters than one-half of our Fleet is an anti-submarine fleet. It is an antisubmarine fleet in the sense that its function is to attack submarines and to protect itself from aircraft, but in the main the aircraft-protection function—and I take in this the assessment of aircraft carriers as being 50–50—is largely to produce an anti-submarine capacity.
When I ask whether it is worth that proportion, one may remember that when Alice observed the mousetraps on the horse's legs the White Knight said:It is as well to be prepared against everything.We cannot afford to be prepared against everything. We have to select priorities, and this anti-submarine priority seems to me altogether too large, especially—and the hon. Gentleman emphasised the alliance aspect of this—when one considers that, whether we give this priority or not, the Atlantic is not empty.
1788 The Americans have 66 aircraft carriers devoted to anti-submarine warfare alone. This is not counting the strike force, it is the anti-submarine force. They have 600 anti-submarine vessels—destroyers, frigates and escorts They have, or are building, 76 nuclear anti-submarine submarines, so there is already there a tremendous capacity.
I therefore think that in the major war, the war with Russia, there is not a real rôle for the Navy. That has always seemed to me to be the war that we here may be able to prevent, but which we cannot wage, and when one comes to prevention, one comes to Polaris. I am not going into the question whether, within the alliance, this country should go in for having a deterrent here instead of leaving it to the Americans. That can be discussed on other occasions.
However, it seems to me that if the decision is that we shall have a deterrent. it is clear that we can be interested in the deterrent only as the second strike weapon, the second blow. Therefore, security of the deterrent from our point of view is all-important. Nobody is deterred by that which he can destroy by the act which one wishes to deter. Security is all-important, and the security that Polaris can offer is very much greater than the security which any other kind of deterrent can offer. Therefore, if the Navy has a major war rôle, surely it is in the deterrent and nothing else.
I now turn to the other rôle, which is perhaps the cold war rôle, or, I think more accurately to describe it, acts of war, or if the Government prefer on occasions to describe it so, acts of armed police intervention against nations other than Russia. Again, is the anti-submarine capacity which we have here justified by the requirements of that kind of rôle? The Egyptians have been given nine subbarines. The Indonesians have been given two, and with the development of Russian atomic submarine power I think that it may well be that the Russians will find that they have less and less use for conventional submarines, and that they are a bigger and better nuisance when distributed to everybody who might be a nuisance to us.
We have to visualise that happening, but, in any event, if Egypt, or Indonesia, or any of the nations of the Middle East or of the Gulf start poaching our ships 1789 in ex-Soviet submarines, are we going to put our ships into convoy? Are we going to search the haystack for these needles? Surely, in that sort of war, the antisubmarine method is not to search the ocean, but to take out the port, and that is the capacity we need. We need the capacity to be able to go into these lesser wars and take the port from which submarines of this kind are operating.
§ Mr. Paget
I am sorry, but I cannot give way.
It is the combined operations capacity which we require and that, and not the anti-submarine role, should be the first task of the fleet.
We have had a lot of talk about manpower. For the last ten years, ever since Korea, I have been in favour of abolishing National Service, but I have never believed that we could do that and simply leave the Army to carry out its existing commitments. It has always seemed of the essence that we should have a change of commitments, and it seems to me that this is where the Navy could make provision to take over from the Army the rôle of the mobile reserve of the Commonwealth. That would give it a real purpose.
Let me state shortly the kind of fleet that I visualise. We have three fleet aircraft carriers taking about 5,000 men —one refitting, and two in service. We have six cruisers. That is, roughly, another 5,000 men. We require 24 to 30 escort vessels of all sorts for this sort of fleet and then for the troops we have "Bulwark." The "Albion" is coming in shortly, and the "Triumph", the "Magnificent" and the "Leviathan" should be given a similar role. They need not be as elaborately fitted out as the "Bulwark". In these terms we are not thinking of first-class opponents. Combined operations against a nuclear Power are "not on".
I am thinking of the ships which moved a lot of troops and material at the time of Suez, without any refitting at all. Ships of that type are more economic, and we should get away from this idea that only the newest toy is worth having. In this rôle it does not need to be the newest toy.
1790 Then we have the landing craft dock which has been produced with such drama. It is called an assault ship. The Americans call it the landing craft dock. The Thomaston came in 1954 and I think that eight of them have come since. We have been pressing for this for years. Why has it come only now, and why only one? I am told that it will cost between £7 million and £8 million. How can one compare that in value with the £20 million to £25 million which, I understand, we are spending to renovate the "Eagle"? To renovate it for what? After all, in this retie, which is the real rôcle of the Navy, what is the task which the renovated "Eagle" or the renovated "Victorious" can play which they could not play before £20 million was spent on them'? Fly off the Buccaneer perhaps'?
But in this sort of war the difficulty is to persuade aeroplanes to fly slowly enough. To sacrifice three or four assault craft of this sort for renovations to one aircraft carrier seems to show an utter lack of a sense of proportion. After all, they do not necessarily have to be the latest ships. Look at the construction programme that we have at the moment. First, there is the aircraft carrier. A sum of £20 million is being spent on the "Eagle." Then we come to the cruisers. At £15 million apiece did this country ever make a worse bargain than on the three "Lions"? What can those ships do in the class of war which we are contemplating in which the "Sheffield", the "Gambia" and the "Mauritius" could not'? It is said that we want these against the Russians. It is said we want these cruisers because the Russian cruisers are so good. Why not ask Mr. Khrushchev to sell us Russian cruisers? It would be much cheaper. He has said that they are no good and that he would be delighted to sell them to us. I think that he is quite right. Cruisers are obsolete.
We are told with great pride that we have 19 frigates building.
§ Mr. C. Ian Orr-Ewing
I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman previously rather held out the bogey of the Russian cruisers—28, I think he said—and asked whether we could possibly hold a candle to those. I would remind him that the decision to go ahead with the "Tiger" class—three cruisers—was 1791 not taken by this Government or the previous Government, but the Government of which he was a member. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, it was. Of course, I should not have said that the hon. and learned Gentleman was a member of that Government, but a supporter of that Government. The decision was taken by them in 1950–51.
§ Mr. Paget
Let us be quite clear on this, that ten years has been enough in which to cancel a damned bad decision whether it was theirs or ours.
In the cold war, what would those ships do which the ships we scrapped could not? After all, we are not looking, in this sort of ship, for the marginally better. There is not that sort of navy for them to meet. When the hon. Gentleman says that I referred to the great value of the Soviet cruisers, I would say that I tried to tell what the Soviet fleet was, and to say that that sort of war, which I did not believe in, could not remain non-atomic. That is all I said. According to Mr. Khrushchev, if the Government want Russian cruisers, he would be only to pleased to sell them some, and I would think that he is wise.
We are told with pride that 19 frigates are being built. Let us look at the Reserve Fleet. We have 39 frigates in the Reserve Fleet. I think that of those all except eight are either post-war or post-war conversions. Why do we need this marginal superiority for the sort of task which we are visualising for the Navy, that is, for a cold war task? I say this because I believe that one can carry this switchover without going to prohibitive expense.
The finest troops in the world today, I would say, are the Marines. I would say that because they really believe in their purpose. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Well, what the Marines can do sailors can do better. That has always been our tradition. If we have a Marine Division, let us have a Naval Division, too, out of 88,000 men if we are to concentrate on the real need, which is a force lightly equipped—because we need only light equipment for this; we do not need heavy tanks—mobile and ready, which can be delivered at the spot, whose base can be defended, and which can be given air support. That is what we need, 1792 and that is, I believe, the contribution which the Navy can provide.
Instead of that, what have we got? We have got a bit of everything. We have got what I think is ample justification for what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones) said on Monday, thatthe weapons programme as now constituted does not, in fact, conform with an objectively shaped plan. To the best of my opinion, it is a sum of items, a large number of them designed for no better purpose that to promote the interest of an individual Service."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1961; Vol. 635, c. 1250.]We have got a little bit of everything here. We have got new toys. As a result, we have got a Navy which is two-thirds shore-based. We have a Navy with more admirals than ships.
I return to the point and to some remarks I used the other day about decadence. I do not mean the decadence of the very splendid men who man the fleet, but I do say this, that when this sort of thing happens to a Service that is decadence of the Service, and, just as decadence is the loss of belief in one's purpose, so morale is the sense of that purpose. If the Navy becomes the mobile reserve of the Commonwealth, then that spirit which has emanated in the Marines, because they have felt they have had a purpose, will be matched by the Navy. It was long ago, many centuries ago, that Polybius said that of all the engines and weapons of war the most important by far is the spirit of the warrior. That is, above all, what we have to create here, and it is available here for us to create in this magnificent Service.
Since the war—I am not comparing Government with Government; I am talking of the Service, and that is much more important—we have had no coherent strategic doctrine, we have had no comprehensive strategic purpose, we have had no task known and believed in, and so we have descended to a bit of everything and the new toys and a sort of White Knight policy. That is what I want to get away from, because until it is corrected we shall have a job lot of expensive toys but we shall not have the fleet to which this country has been accustomed and which it deserves.
§ 5.16 p.m.
Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett (Croydon, North-East)
Throughout the two-day debate on defence, earlier this week, it seemed to me very noticeable that, those who speak from the Opposition Front Bench were hampered and inhibited by a rather artificial attitude towards nuclear weapons, which they had to present.
I had a feeling that the same difficulty beset the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) today. He really went as near as he possibly could to saying that he thought the Navy should have Polaris—without actually saying it. He said that it was almost impossible to imagine a major war not fought with nuclear weapons. As I have understood their policy. although I may have misunderstood it, the Opposition would not support the arming of our ships with nuclear weapons, which would put them in some difficulty in fighting it.
Indeed, the controversy within the Opposition out of which the official policy has emerged is really not a controversy about defence, but is rather an issue between a form of pacifism and an attempt, which becomes more ludicrous day by day, to obtain some form of reconciliation with that which is irreconcilable. Yet there are great issues in regard to defence which need discussion and debate at present and which, in my judgment, chiefly concern the future of the Navy.
I am very grateful for having been called now. I am grateful for the opportunity of explaining why it was that I felt obliged myself to abstain from supporting the final vote on the White Paper on defence. I am glad also, I may say, of the opportunity to make it clear that my abstaining had nothing whatever to do, was in no way linked, with those reactionary pressure groups who wished to restore conscription, people who, I think, have forgotten the lessons drawn from the agony of the First World War, possibly because they are too young to remember it.
We had a curtain-raiser to this debate on 14th February, arising from an Amendment by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr) dealing with the Report of the Select Committee on Estimates on the Admiralty. 1794 In passing, I am bound to say that the Report has fallen on deaf ears. Whereas, during the past two years, some of us have criticised the fact that the Admiralty Vote—I am speaking now of Vote 12, which is within the framework of these Votes—had risen by £500,000, I am sorry to say it seems to have gone up this year by £618,000.
During that debate—this is the reason I refer to it now—the hon. and learned Member for Northampton made a very interesting speech. I have given him notice that I intended to quote from it. The hon. and learned Gentleman said:…the classic statement of the old days was that the function of the Navy was to keep the sea open for our shipping and to deny it to the enemy. Since the war, however, and in the post-war circumstances, that has not been re-echoed.In so far as that function happens at all, it is today a function primarily of the air. It is not a function of the sea. In reconnaissance, in covering and in attack, the sea is held primarily from the air."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 14th February, 1961; Vol. 634, c. 1298]With respect to the hon. and learned Gentleman, I think that he is quite mistaken. I should have said that the influence of aircraft on maritime operations is something which has passed its zenith. As anti-aircraft guided missiles are increasingly perfected, as naval striking power goes more and more under water, as I believe it will, so the part played by aircraft will tend to diminish rather than to increase.
The hon. and learned Gentleman went on to say some other things which I had intended to quote, but I shall refrain from doing so, because he has repeated them today. He spoke of the effect of lack of purpose and lack of certainty with regard to the function of the Navy, in producing a very expensive Service with a little bit of everything—I think that was the way he put it—and he spoke about the danger of a Navy of no ships and all admirals—in other words, the decline in the standards of a great public Service. That is something which I, in my humble way, have said on previous occasions, and to a certain extent it is true.
I am reminded of a famous aircraft carrier which I once had the honour to command, the "Illustrious". Her motto, as I found on joining, was, "Vox non incerta", which means. "No uncertain voice". The idea of that motto came 1795 from a passage in St. Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians, which reads:For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?For the men who designed, built and fought the "Illustrious", the trumpet did not give an uncertain sound. They knew exactly what they were about. The motto could not have been more apt for them.
Since the war, I am sorry to say, for reasons not entirely within the control of the Board of Admiralty, the trumpet has given an uncertain sound, and a good deal of what the hon. and learned Member said is distressingly near the truth. But he omitted to say one thing. It may be curious, but it is none the less true, that, despite the uncertainty, the morale, zeal, enthusiasm and efficiency of the personnel of the Navy has never been higher than it is today. This is, I think, a remarkable tribute to those who have been in charge of the Service. It applies also to the civilians who serve the Navy so well and who, as hon. Members know, far outnumber the uniformed ranks.
Perhaps this would be the appropriate time to pay a tribute to their professional head, Sir John Lang, who, after very long and distinguished service at the Admiralty, is due to retire this month. I am sure that hon. Members who have served on the Estimates Committee or the Public Accounts Committee have come to respect his skill anyhow as a witness.
So long as we held fast, as we did a few years ago, to the policy of full nuclear retaliation to any major aggression, the uncertainty in the Navy's rôle did not matter very much because it was obvious 'that the Navy would not have a rôle in a major war. However, there has been a change of approach. There is no doubt about that at all. One has only to listen to the defence debates to realise that. I am not concerned here —indeed, I think that it would be out of order—to argue whether that change of approach is right or wrong. The fact remains—and this is relevant—that today we think only in terms of all-out nuclear retaliation in response to an all-out nuclear attack, and, as a corollary, we have to think in terms of our forces engaged in a major war which might last some time. After all, this is what all the chatter from the conscription lobby have been about the whole time.
1796 The moment one accepts this possibility, the exact size of the Army is a matter of trifling importance compared with the huge increase which would be necessary in the size of the Navy, or, at any rate, in the power of the Navy, because we would then require a Navy which would have to keep open our see communications for a finite time. Our sea communications today are every bit as essentials as they have been in the past.
This is why I believe that the Navy today stands at the parting of the ways. I believe that great decisions fall to be made. Yet I can detect no recognition of this in the White Paper on Defence and no recognition of it in the First Lord's Explanatory Statement. Neither can I detect any, or any sufficient, recognition of the revolutionary impact of the invention of the Polaris missile on the whole military schene, Those were the reasons why I felt that, without further explanation, I could not support the White Paper.
The first and the chief choice before the country is whether to have a prestige Navy, or to build a fighting Navy able to play a major part in a major war. By a prestige Navy I mean the sort of Navy dear to the Foreign Office, dear to the Colonial Office, dear—I am sorry to say, after listening to his speech—to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton, a Navy which is useful for showing the flag, with beautifully painted ships, plenty of high funnels, nicely dressed sailors all house trained, officers with good social qualities, and all the rest—a Navy which also, if necessary, can aid the Governor of one of our outlying Colonies in restoring civil order, a Navy which in an emergency could even take part in a small local war rather on the lines which the hon. and learned Member so clearly described.
If we want such a Navy, of course we can have it. I imagine that we could have it for not more than, if as much as, half the price of our present Navy. But it would be very little more than a marine militia and it would leave us utterly dependent on the United States of America for the maintenance of our sea communications in case of real trouble.
If interdependence means dependence on our allies in one arm, then I say, let that arm be the Army rather than the Navy. When I say that, I feel sure 1797 that I speak for the vast majority of the electorate, because, after all, this country is inhabited by a great maritime people. I shall suppose, therefore, that we decide upon a fighting Navy. Now, a further question arises: shall we build on traditional lines or shall we go under the water? I think that the answer to that question depends upon whether we assume that nuclear weapons will be used, or whether we expect the war to be fought, to be won and lost, all according to strict Queensberry rules in which nuclear weapons are not used.
All my intuition is that nuclear weapons will be used at least in the limited tactical rôle and certainly on the high seas, where they are unlikely to do injury to civil populace and promote unlimited war. I regard that as quite inevitable. I have no doubt therefore, that the aircraft carrier must give place to the missile submarine as the capital ship of the modern age.
It is surely quite wrong to think of missile submarines as capable only of firing the Polaris missile with a megaton head over a range of 1,200 miles. If it is possible to fire a missile for 1,200 miles with a megaton head, it must equally be possible to fire a missile with a very much smaller head 12 miles, 50 miles or 100 miles. Thus it is that the nuclear missile carrying submarine could be made, and, I am sure, will be made, a very versatile vessel of war, a vessel decisive against surface warships, a vessel admirable for the support of an army ashore if it is desired to employ the Navy in that role, and a vessel capable of the most deadly self-defence.
I notice that the hon. and learned Member made that point, and it can be illustrated in a simple and dramatic way. Let us imagine that one of the existing American Polaris submarines became aware, by listening, that there were several attacking frigates in her area. She would hear them, although she would not know exactly where they were, and she would know that they must be in the area. All she would have to do would be to fire one missile set to explode, perhaps, 3,000 feet in the sky. She herself would be several hundred feet under water, but all the ships on the surface and all the helicopters flying around would be destroyed. As I say, 1798 these vessels are of very much greater power than has yet been realised. But this is only the beginning of the story.
One does not have to be a unilateralist to look forward to the day when there are no longer any rocket sites or nuclear bomber bases in the British Isles. I think that we should all prefer that. It could come about through their replacement by a seaborne nuclear striking force comprising a reasonable number of Polaris submarines, constructed gradually during the coming ten or twenty years, during which time the bombers and the rockets could be progressively run down. Then, perhaps by 1970 or 1975, we should have a political deterrent against all out surprise attack at least as powerful as and far less provocative and inflammable than anything we possess at present.
§ Mr. A. C. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
This is a very interesting point. Has the hon. and gallant Member taken the economic argument into his reasoning? I understand that the Polaris costs £45 million apiece. How many does he think that we could have? Alternatively, how many does he think we could afford over the next decade?
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
If the hon. Member wild wait, I intend to come to that 'later in response to something said during the defence debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Horncastle (Sir J. Maitland).
I have referred, as hon. Members on both sides have previously referred, to the great power of the Polaris submarine as a deterrent. In addition, however—this is something which I do not think has yet been fully realised—we should. with Polaris, have a force capable of being employed either strategically or even tactically without undue risk of precipitating total war.
That would be so, because with these submarines we could revert to the older custom of giving due warning of intended strikes so that the civil populace could evacuate the target area. Legally, we have long been bound to give such warning, although in both the wars this century it was invariably held that the need for surprise constituted a sufficient excuse—and there is a let-out in the Geneva Convention—to dispense with the need for that warning.
1799 No such need applies in the case of bombardment from submarines. The enemy would have no idea whereabouts the vessel was and there would be nothing whatever he could do about it even if he had two or three days' notice. It would be useless for an enemy to threaten indiscriminate retaliation, because that would amount to total war and, by hypothesis, if he was prepared to risk total war, presumably we would have had it from the beginning, so that such a threat could be disregarded.
What is much more likely is that the enemy would make a corresponding retaliatory threat. We might say that we intended to destroy the marshalling yards at Smolensk, and he would say that in that case he would destroy the docks at Southampton. I recognise that disastrous damage might ensue, but, terrible though that prospect might be, it falls very far short of the nemesis of total war. It is a prospect which would act as a more effective and enduring deterrent to aggression in any form than we have at present.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Supposing the hon. and gallant Member's opposite number in Russia is thinking in the same way, and supposing that we get, an ultimatum saying that the target area is Glasgow and that the civilian population ought to be evacuated, where are the 1½ million people of Glasgow to go?
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
That is something to which the hon. Member should address his mind.
I have given the Committee some of the reasons why I regard a change-over to a seaborne nuclear deterrent as desirable and inevitable. Whatever may be thought of it on either Front Bench, we surely cannot long delay a policy which offers such overwhelming advantages to this country. In saying that, I may be forgiven one sentence which is out of order—I am deeply conscious of the implication that my proposals would have for certain sections of the Air Force, and that is why I have repeatedly urged a gradual merger between the two Services.
I now come to the point which the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) made. It is ridiculous to dis- 1800 miss this concept on the ground that it is necessarily too expensive for Britain, and I cannot imagine what my hon. Friend the Member for Horncastle was thinking of When he said what he did in the debate on defence.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I am reminded of the statement made by Colonel Moore-Brabazon, as he then was, when he was a Member of the House in 1936, and when he challenged the rebuilding of the battle fleet on the ground that 400 bombers of that day and age could be made and constructed for the cost of one battleship. Hon. Members may remember that the Admiralty took him up and, at its request, Mr. Baldwin appointed a Committee under the then Attorney-General, Sir Thomas Inskip—that was the first time that he came into defence—on which there was also Mr. Malcolm MacDonald and another hon. Member whose name I cannot remember.
It was called the V.C.S. Committee and it seriously examined the proposal of how many bombers could be maintained for the cost of one battleship, how many battleships for one aircraft carrier, and so on. Many of its findings were published and I have no doubt that they are still available for those who know where to look for these things in the Library. I commend them to the study of the hon. Member, because the problem is the same today although, unfortunately, the dimensions of the money involved are larger. The real question is what would be the expenditure year by year over the next twenty years, say, if we gradually replaced our heavy fleet carriers, our cruisers and our V-bombers—not forgetting the Thor rockets—by a fleet of nuclear submarines.
Hon. Members who attend these debates—and they are very much the same year after year—will acquit me of any habit of boosting the Navy. In the past, most of my observations have been criticisms—I hope fairly friendly—of excessive expenditure. When coming into Parliament after a long period in a great profession, one has to be careful, because if one stands up for the profession too much, one is accused of being biased, and if one criticises too much, it is said that one has a chip on one's shoulder.
1801 I believe that I speak for the majority of the people in this country in expressing great anxiety over our present naval policy. For three and a half centuries, right up to 1940, this country maintained a Navy which was among the most powerful fighting forces in the world, and which, for long periods, was the most powerful. All our wealth and our greatness as a country were founded on sea power and our life today and our standard of living are entirely dependent upon our sea communications.
Yet the paramount need, as we felt it—and I support the Government in this—to build up the nuclear deterrent has obliged us to split our resources and to cut down the Navy for the sake of the bomber force. That is one of the reasons why the Navy today is so pitiably inadequate for the duties it may be called upon to perform.
A new invention now makes it possible to combine both functions in one force. It makes it possible to build up a fleet which would be capable of protecting our sea communications while providing a most powerful deterrent against total war. Let the Government show some awareness of that event, and let them thank God for deliverance from what has been a very great dilemma.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)
I am very glad that the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) referred to the coming departure of the Secretary for the Admiralty, and I should like to add my tribute to a man who has done magnificent work for the Admiralty for many years. I worked with him for some years and can well remember first seeing him when he came into my office. When I asked him questions, he started talking in a manner perhaps even slower than that of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). He took a very long time to answer the questions, and I thought he was very slow-witted. I discovered that, far from being slow witted, he was among the quickest witted men I had ever met, and I came to look upon him not only as a member of a Board with whom I had worked, but as a friend. I am sorry that he is retiring, but I hope that he has a happy retirement.
I want to follow what the hon. and gallant Member said about having a 1802 "prestige" or a fighting Navy. I hesitate to say anything about this matter after having heard first a commander and then an admiral, but as a mere civilian I entirely agree with the hon. and gallant Member that there should be a fighting rather than a "prestige" Navy. Like him. I am disturbed by the splitting up of the Navy into so many different bits without having any clear idea of where we are going.
But I disagree with him on another matter. His idea of a fighting Navy is a Navy fit to fight—and this is clearly the idea of most people—in war. But if there were a nuclear war the Navy might not be able to do much about fighting at all. Many people realise that, but what is of the utmost importance is that the Navy should be able to fight during the cold war, and it may well be able to undertake many of the duties which the Army finds increasingly difficult to perform today.
In the defence debate, most of the remarks of the Minister of Defence and others were devoted not to defence in general, but exclusively to the Army and its problems of recruiting, manpower and the movement of troops, and we came to realise that they were very serious problems.
The Army has immense difficulties about recruiting. I do not want to maximise them, because I hope that the recruiting programme will succeed and that the Army will have enough recruits and will not have to have recourse to conscription. The Navy's recruitment, however, is only a little below requirement, and the standards required are apparently so high that only 5,000 men could be taken out of the 15,000 who came forward. In other words, the Navy has a very high requirement of skill and general education and it can take only about one-third of the people who want to join. I do not believe that that is the position with the Army.
Why cannot the Navy increase its rôle and do some of the work at present done by the Army? There are 8,800 marines, which is a slight reduction on the previous figure, but it is relatively easier to recruit marines than to recruit soldiers, and I would have thought that it was better to recruit more marines. I am glad to see that no fewer than 40 per cent. of the men in the Royal Navy 1803 are re-engaging. That is a remarkable figure, but I fear that it does not apply to the Army.
§ Mr.C.Ian Orr-Ewing
That is the lowest favourable figure. The figure is 65 per cent. for twelve-year men, which is staggeringly high and as good as we have had in our history.
§ Mr. Dugdale
It is magnificent, and that is one reason why I suggest that some of the work now done by the Army might well be done by the Navy.
The Army's second problem is that of movement, as we discovered in the defence debate. It seems that troops cannot be moved rapidly enough from one place to another and that the air lift has not come up to expectations and that only comparatively small forces can be moved to other areas at great speed. If that is so, and if there are too few troops to man B.A.O.R. and home defence here, and our outlying overseas possessions, might not the Navy be able to undertake some of the work which the Army manifestly finds it impossible to do?
The Army might confine itself to the defence of these islands and the provision of the forces in B.A.O.R., leaving the defence of the outlying areas largely to the Royal Navy—particularly the many small islands. Incidentally, some of my hon. Friends who seem to have doubts on the matter should appreciate that these small islands must be defended by somebody if not by us.
What is the Navy to do? We are told that 39 out of 72 frigates are now in reserve, but to have more than half our frigates in reserve is surely a mistake. These small ships could perform useful functions during the cold war and could go to places where there were emergencies. It is a great pity that they should be locked up in reserve for long periods.
I believe it valuable that ships of the Navy should pay visits, although I hope that future visits will not be made to South Africa, unless we can be given an assurance that officers and ratings of any colour will be treated with the proper courtesy and respect which I think everyone in the Committee would agree should be accorded to all the Royal Navy. So long as this cannot be 1804 guaranteed I think it would be quite wrong for naval vessels to pay any future visits to South Africa.
If we are to have more frigates and more smaller ships, does that mean that we shall have vastly increased expenditure? I should have thought that as we increase the number of frigates so we should be able to reduce the number of minesweepers in active service. We should require the minesweepers in the event of a major war and they could be put in reserve for such an occasion. But nobody can tell me that today it is necessary for minesweepers to go all over the seven seas sweeping up mines. There are no mines to be swept up. I should have thought that many of the minesweepers could be put into reserve and the frigates brought out. I do not know what would be the difference in cost—and, indeed, frigates cost more than minesweepers—but something on those lines might prove useful.
I see that the expenditure on research is going up by no less than £23 million. or 10 per cent. It is very desirable that there should be research, but are we certain that there exists sufficient co-operation with the United States in this regard? I have a feeling in the back of my mind that we do a lot of research and then go to the Americans and say, with pride, "We have discovered this". only to be told by the Americans that they have discovered it too—or vice versa. That could happen. I know that magnificent achievements have resulted from our research, which most Americans may wrongly imagine is due to their work, such as the angled flight deck, mirror landings and various other things relating to aircraft carriers. For all that, I think there is a need for greater co-operation with the Americans and that it should be shown that we have such co-operation. I do not know in what manner it could be shown, but I think it should be. which is not done in these Estimates. If I can be satisfied about that, I shall feel happier about a large proportion of the Estimates.
My principal reason for speaking in this debate is my concern about the rôle of the Navy in a cold war. I consider that the present build-up is wrong. There should be a greater proportion of smaller ships and, in particular, a greater number of frigates, and we 1805 should pay far less attention to big ships which were mainly built for a hot war. Today, with nuclear armaments in enemy hands—they might be in grave difficulties. I hope that during the next year the Minister of Defence will pay far greater attention to the Navy than he has in the past. I hope he will realise the contribution it can make to our defence in a cold war; that he will so alter his general allocation of funds and his general development plans that the Navy will be able once more to play a bigger rôle than it has during the past years, and that we may find the balance between the Army, Navy and Air Force altered in favour of the Royal Navy.
§ .55 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)
The right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) will forgive me, I hope, if I do not follow him, but I wish to confine myself not to telling the Navy what to do but to asking one or two questions which have occurred to me after culling through the Explanatory Statement. We must congratulate the noble Lord and my right hon. Friend on this extremely well-produced document which is of great interest to all concerned. In paragraph 7 it states:…the Navy, in covering its world-wide commitments, is thinly spread.I could not agree more. We have had a problem over Iceland, and we must congratulate the Navy on its handling of that difficult matter, as I mentioned last year. I wish to make a concrete suggestion about how we can help to spread the load by a further expansion of co-operation with Commonwealth Navies, and later I will take up what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) about the use of carriers.
I cannot agree with the somewhat arbitrary dismissal of aircraft carriers by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett). Reference has been made to a sort of dual rôle for submarines, but I do not know how it would be possible to land an assault force from a submarine. It might prove a difficult operation.
§ Mr. Howard
I do not want to take up too much time, so I will not develop that argument.
I agree with the Civil Lord that aircraft carriers are absolutely necessary in the foreseeable future. I was glad to hear that serious thought is being given to a new generation of aircraft carriers. I expressed my fears on this subject during our debates last year on the Navy Estimates. Let us consider the problem of getting an aircraft from, say, Lee-on-Solent to the Far East. Suppose it goes overland. What are the logistics for even the smallest aircraft? If they were made public the figures would be pretty formidable. On the other hand, with our plans for the future, what better transport for aircraft than an aircraft carrier?
There is the principle of cross-operating, about which I hope we shall hear more. The Royal Air Force can and will increasingly be able to cross-operate from carriers and land bases. I think that this will become increasingly essential. The other day the Minister of Defence talked about the carrier below the horizon, and I thought his remarks made very good sense. If we send a frigate to some trouble spot, its appearance may have a salutary effect, but the effect is far greater if people know that there is a carrier in the vicinity.