§ Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)
On a point of order, Dr. King. Since we have already lost 45 minutes of our debate, and as this debate is held only once a year, can the debate be extended by 45 minutes?
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ The Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy (Mr. Christopher Mayhew)
Now that, after considerable delay, the land lubbers have departed, we can turn our attention to the Navy Estimates.
I recall that the start of last year's debate on the Navy Estimates was held up for about 20 minutes while my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and others of my hon. Friends argued, quite reasonably, that there was at that moment no such person as the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy. They claimed that, as a result, the Estimates could not go forward. That is one naval manpower shortage that has since been overcome and there is nothing now to stop us proceeding with our business.
We are asking for £544 million for the Navy in the coming year. This is £56 million more than was provided in the current year after allowing for the transfer of some services from Navy Votes 652 to other Votes. Perhaps I may briefly explain the chief factors. The decision not to order the fifth Polaris submarine will reduce defence expenditure substantially over the next few years, but the saving in 1965–66 will be only £1½ million. So we still need £64 million next year for Polaris as against £38 million in 1964–65—an increase of £26 million.
Another £13 million of the increase is attributable to estimated expenditure on aircraft production. Pay improvements, mainly for civilian employees, account for a further £8 million of the increase. Provision for armament stores, mainly guided missiles and torpedoes, is up by £4 million. The remainder of the increase—£5 million—is spread over a number of Votes and Subheads.
The Navy's great problem, as I explained in the defence debate which we had in November, is the critical shortage of certain categories of skilled ratings, and I make no apology for referring to this problem first of all. In November, I said that we were unhappy about the trend. Since then the position, if anything, has worsened. Recruitment and re-engagement have both been disappointing. A Vote A of 104,000, for which we are asking, is 1,000 higher than the figure this year, but as the increase planned for this year has been only partly achieved, to make up lost ground we need an increase in strength next year of over 2,000.
This is a formidable figure and, as I think is now well recognised, we cannot achieve it by an increase in recruitment alone. The recruitment of new ratings who need to be trained simply cannot meet quickly enough the acute shortages of skilled specialists whom we so badly need. Recruitment is too slow and too expensive to meet our needs. Including capital items, the cost of training a man varies from £4,000 to £10,000, according to his trade. Moreover, population trends are working against us in recruiting. The latest estimates of the Ministry of Labour suggest that during the next five years the number of young men in our principal recruiting brackets will fall by no less than 25 per cent. Other things being equal, this would mean that our recruiting would fall off by the same amount.
It is thus enormously important to persuade men already in the Navy to stay there when they have completed their first 653 engagements. We have been studying a number of possible remedies, and I am glad to announce two new schemes which we believe will help. First of all, we propose to help leading ratings or above who re-engage or have re-engaged for pension to buy their own homes. All our researches, including a large number of personal talks which I have had myself with those who are faced with the question whether to re-engage or not, show that the key to the re-engagement problem is the sailor's family life. Besides trying to cut down the separation of a sailor from his family, we must try to cut down the need for him to move his wife and children constantly from place to place, and we must help him to make sure that when he is separated at least his family has a settled base.
In our scheme, leading ratings and above will be able to get a loan on favourable terms aimed at bridging the gap between the price of a house and a normal building society mortgage. I cannot yet give details of this scheme, but they will be attractive. Negotiations for a similar scheme for civil servants are now proceeding on the Civil Service Whitley Council, and the details of both schemes will be worked out on broadly similar lines. I shall announce full details of the Navy scheme before the end of this Session.
§ Mr. John Hay (Henley)
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman so early in his speech, but this is a very important point to which he has come right away. What is the reason for delaying the Navy scheme until the Civil Service scheme is cut and dried? Is there not great advantage in getting on with the Navy scheme? This is an urgent problem.
§ Mr. Mayhew
The Civil Service has its problems, too, and there may be advantages for both sides to look at, and publish, these schemes together.
§ Dr. Reginald Bennett (Gosport and Fareham)
Is the scheme for the Navy unique, or are the other uniformed services as well as the Civil Service to have these schemes?
§ Mr. Mayhew
This is a Navy scheme.
654 The second scheme applies only to skilled and semi-skilled ratings in categories where the shortages are particularly acute. These are the engine-room, weapon-electrical and radio artificers and mechanicians and the electrical and radio mechanics. We propose that ratings in these categories who sign on before their first engagement of nine or 12 years for 22 years' service shall be paid a taxable re-engagement grant. For all except the engine-room artificers and mechanicians the grant will be—pound;750. For the engine-room artificers and mechanicians, it will be £375.
Since we are aiming particularly to keep experienced ratings in the Service, the payment will be confined to leading ratings and above. At present, it is possible for a rating to sign on for further service before he reaches the end of his nine-year to 12-year engagement. We naturally wish to encourage them to keep going. We are proposing, therefore, that those who qualify for a re-engagement grant will get an advance of 10 per cent. at the time they sign on for the new engagement, the balance being paid off when they begin their 10th or 13th year of service. We intend each year to review the amounts of the grants offered under the scheme and also the shortage categories eligible for them. The scheme will operate with effect from today until the end of March, 1967.
We are not ignoring other possibilities for overcoming this critical re-engagement problem, but I hope that the Committee will agree that both these schemes are attractive and directed at the real heart of the matter. If they have the success we hope for them, the most urgent problem facing the Navy today should be on the way to solution. It is only fair that I should add that studies for these proposals were started by my predecessor.
At this point may I make it quite clear, or I shall get into trouble, that in trying to strengthen certain naval manpower in key categories—essentially a short-term problem—I am not making any assumptions about the size or shape or cost of the Navy resulting from our general defence review. I am simply trying to keep the shop open during alterations and to get the best value for money from our existing resources on their tasks.
655 May I turn to some of the tasks of the Navy, some of which tend to be overlooked in our broad defence debate. Take, for example, the Navy's contribution to N.A.T.O. and the problem of N.A.T.O. maritime strategy. There has been a strange lack of discussion of this in recent years. After all, N.A.T.O. is an Atlantic alliance. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have often criticised N.A.T.O. strategy for the defence of Western Europe on land. I think that there is also fairly general agreement within the alliance that we need to take another look at strategy at sea, too.
The danger of all-out aggression in Europe has receded, and the risks to be guarded against are of minor aggression or war by miscalculation or of the escalation of small incidents into bigger ones. It often seems to be assumed that these risks are less likely at sea than on land. But why should this be assumed? A careful assessment seems to suggest that the risk of Soviet pressure, though fortunately small at present, would be greater at sea than on land and more subtle and more varied in form.
Compared with the Communist countries, the N.A.T.O. countries have a huge hostage at sea—21,000 ships—and these, of course, are not only inside the N.A.T.O. area, but are scattered all over the globe. N.A.T.O. may well be more vulnerable to interference with its sea communications than with its land communications. I am not now thinking of the kind of submarine campaign against N.A.T.O. shipping on the pattern of the last two wars. That would be a major act of aggression, as unlikely in the present state of mutual deterrents as any comparable act on the European mainland would be. But there are several more likely ways in which our shipping might be harassed or interfered with. Our merchant ships might be stopped and searched on the high seas on some pretext or barred from large areas on grounds to take an example, of naval exercises.
I do not want to spell out all the different forms which the harassment might take, but there might be interference with marine radio aids or submarine cables or fishing gear. Nowadays, with the development of oil drilling, gas drilling and fishing on a large scale, there are areas of 656 sea space which are far more valuable than many areas of land. It is easy to imagine ways in which an unscrupulous and aggressive opponent could gravely embarrass N.A.T.O. countries without serious risk of a nuclear response. In this kind of operation, escalation would be slower than on land in Europe and less likely. Many forms of harassment are possible without incurring the nuclear danger.
Suppose, then, that the Soviet Government's present attitude unfortunately changed and that they determined to bring pressure to bear on N.A.T.O., and suppose that they doubted our capacity to reply to this pressure except by nuclear response. Are the N.A.T.O. maritime forces sufficiently designed and deployed so as to discourage such a state of affairs? We are not satisfied that this is so. N.A.T.O. maritime strategy is still based on the assumption of general war with the Soviet Union. The strategy was laid down in the early days of the alliance, when it was considered that if general war broke out it would probably consist of two phases: first, a short initial phase of intensive nuclear attack launched with little or no warning; and then a more protracted and disorganised phase of "broken-backed" war.
N.A.T.O. maritime strategy, therefore, still places emphasis on the part which the allied navies would play in the initial nuclear exchange and, after that, on the kind of naval operations which were mounted in the last two wars to keep the Atlantic lifelines open. This is no longer a realistic hypothesis. Both sides realise increasingly what the consequences of all-out war would be, that nuclear weapons would cause such destruction that a campaign in Europe could not last for more than a few days. We think that this realisation must gradually bring N.A.T.O. thinking to the view that the allied forces—naval as well as land forces—must be so composed and deployed as to deter aggression at each step of escalation.
N.A.T.O., therefore, needs, besides a strategic nuclear force, conventional forces at sea, as on land, which can respond to local and limited aggressive actions which, if unchecked, could gradually undermine our position. These forces must be strong enough to indentify such 657 aggression and resist it so as to face the aggressor with a choice between escalation, if he really means it, and withdrawal. Rather than naval forces for a "broken-backed" war, therefore, N.A.T.O. needs a shield force at sea to help prevent a nuclear showdown.
This, of course, was the rôle of the United States Navy at the time of Cuba. If that rôle had not been fulfilled, the outcome would have been quite different and possibly quite catastrophic. It is true that the navies available to N.A.T.O. are not strong enough or numerious enough to tackle every form of aggression at sea, but at least they can show the intention of N.A.T.O. to resist aggressive pressures at sea as on land. In this strategy, the protection of N.A.T.O.'s maritime interests would not be confined to the N.A.T.O. area; it would be world-wide. It is in this context that our contribution to N.A.T.O. should be judged.
At present, because of our commitment in the Far East, we are not, in fact, able to maintain a large number of ships in the N.A.T.O. area. On the other hand, our potential contribution to N.A.T.O. from ships outside this source is more than our formal commitment to N.A.T.O. I discussed this question recently at N.A.T.O. Headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, with the Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic, himself, Admiral Page Smith—who, may I say, will be greatly missed by the Royal Navy when he retires later this month—and I found the British position well understood by SACLANT and by our N.A.T.O. allies. These views which I have expressed have been presented to our N.A.T.O. allies and we shall lose no opportunity in future of trying to bring, as we believe, a greater degree of realism and effectiveness into the maritime strategy of N.A.T.O.
However, the main task of the Navy is in the Far East. I hope that the Committee will agree that the task is being carried out extremely well. In the narrow waters between Malaysia and Indonesia, patrols of destroyers, frigates and minesweepers are actively and successfully containing the Indonesian infiltration. We have recently commissioned four coastal minesweepers and two seaward defence boats from reserve in Singapore to increase the strength of our patrols. Inshore, and in the rivers of East Borneo, we have needed since the beginning of 1964 small boat patrols.
658 To start with, men were drawn from the crews of our ships. A scratch collection of craft was made up ingeniously, including, for example, some of the naval store tenders from Royal Fleet Auxiliaries at the station. The Royal Navy worked closely in this with the Royal Malaysian Navy and the Royal Malaysian Police. The Committee will agree that the job has been well done in difficult circumstances. As the Royal Malaysian police take over, the improvised organisation is now gradually disappearing.
The vital element of our naval forces in the Far East is our carriers. It is on them that we depend for a quick reaction to trouble. Our mere presence there is a considerable deterrent to mischief. They have with them a commando ship, still a comparatively new unit, but one which we value more and more as it shows its new paces. These ships have been able to hold a force of marines and helicopters poised ready for action at sea. They have been able to support operations on shore. In a different, but a very valuable rôle also, they have been able to transport helicopters to an operational area.
The hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) has from time to time raised questions about our policy on the deployment of our carriers and commando ships east of Suez. Perhaps I should say a word about that matter. I confirm that the total number of carriers and commando ships east of Suez will, to the best of our ability, be maintained at three. This total could be made up of one carrier and two commando ships, or two carriers and one commando ship, depending on circumstances. If need arises, we can, of course, do better than this, at least for a certain time. But, taking the longer view, we have to strike a balance between operational requirements, on the one hand, and the need for proper maintenance and conditions of service, on the other.
In the 1963 White Paper the previous Government put forward their formula as follows: two carriers and one commando ship east of Suez at all times. But in the 1964 White Paper nothing was said on this subject—rather significantly perhaps. In fact, having laid plans for just one new carrier, we have to assume that the Government had taken the decision 659 to reduce to a three carrier fleet from the early 1970s. There is no conceivable way in which a three carrier force can be deployed so that two are always east of Suez.
It is not surprising that the shorter term development plan which we found when we came to office was based on the more flexible number which we set out in our White Paper this year, a sensible number which makes full use of the increased availability of the commando ships. The future of the new carrier, as my right hon. Friend and I had made clear on more than one occasion, awaits confirmation by our general defence review. Subject to that, we agree that a powerful case can be made out for CVA01. More and more nations of the world are establishing armed forces of their own, seeking help from both Eastern and Western blocs. Those allied with the Eastern bloc are often provided with armaments of advanced design. A number of these navies are equipped with fast craft armed with surface-to-surface guided weapons outranging the conventional gun.
We can continue to protect our shipping by deploying carrier-borne aircraft in the areas where such a threat might materialise. Some of our carriers are nearing the end of their life, and the previous Government announced the building of a new fleet carrier for service in the 1970s. A great deal of detailed design work and development has been undertaken in aid of the new ship and long-lead items have been ordered. Present plans are based on inviting tenders for the ship next year. If they are confirmed, the shipbuilder who wins the contract will land a very valuable order providing a large amount of employment over a number of years.
The ship would have all the latest design features and could operate the most advanced strike and fighter aircraft as well as anti-submarine helicopters. We are also designing her to be well suited to transporting troops with the minimum notice for intervention or internal security operations.
We are looking forward keenly to flying Phantoms from our carriers. A programme was begun last year for combining the American Phantom airframe with the British Spey engine.
§ Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)
In the event of equal tenders being submitted, would additional consideration be given to areas of higher than average unemployment or to a shipyard which has previous experience in building carriers?
§ Mr. Mayhew
The hon. Gentleman never loses an opportunity of putting his constituency view, which a good constituency Member should do. But if I say something which pleases him, what do I say to other hon. Members who have equal constituency interests? The Phantom—
§ Mr. Geoffrey Rhodes (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)
May I also draw my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that the Tyneside has an equally strong claim?
§ Mr. Mayhew
I am grateful for this immediate confirmation of the argument which I was putting forward a little earlier.
The Spey-Phantom programme involves extremely close co-operation between the United States Government and United States contractors, on the one hand, and Her Majesty's Government and United Kingdom contractors, on the other. It is going ahead well and we are grateful for the all-out help which we have had from the United States Navy Department. During a recent visit to the United States, I was glad to meet members of a joint Ministry of Aviation and Ministry of Defence team which was working as an integral part of the United States Navy's Phantom management organisation. This was something new and it is working well. We are now extending these arrangements to cover production of Phantom aircraft for the Royal Air Force as well as for the Royal Navy.
Meanwhile, we are continuing to strengthen the escort fleet with County class—
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
Before the Minister leaves the subject of carriers, would he agree that even if the Government decide to lay down a new carrier that would still give us only three in the 1970s—the new one, "Eagle" and "Hermes"? Is it not necessary, therefore, to preserve security in the 1970s to lay down a second new carrier in the very near future?
§ Mr. Mayhew
It is very easy to say these things. In the defence debate, the hon. Member for Henley said favourable things about a second replacement carrier and also about a fifth Polaris submarine.
§ Mr. Mayhew
One sees what a delightful and carefree life it is for the "shadow" Minister for the Navy, building great fleets out of a shadow defence budget with the applause of a shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ Mr. Mayhew
We on this side have to face the facts. We have to lay down that our defence expenditure must meet the economic resources of the country. I am not saying that this subject has been closed altogether. Let us for the moment await the outcome of the defence review Which we are undertaking.
§ Mr. Hay
The hon. Gentleman has been kind enough to quote what I said in the defence debate on 3rd March, but I am sorry to say that in his winding-up speech the following day the Secretary of State rather misinterpreted what I had said. I did not say what the hon. Gentleman now says I did. I asked whether any decision had yet been reached by the, Government on the building of another new carrier. That was all I did.
§ Mr. Mayhew
So that the hon. Member gets it both ways. He gets the reputation of supporting the carrier without having to persuade the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer that the nation can afford it. Is that right?
§ Dr. Bennett
May I crave one further indulgence, rather more in the interest of economy, perhaps, than of multiplicity of shipping? Is the Minister satisfied as to the degree to which a new carrier can overlap its function with that of an assault ship in carrying troops and taking them to the scene of action? I 662 have felt that this was something which appeared to be rather overlooked.
§ Mr. Mayhew
That is an interesting point. We have made a special study of the capacity of CVA01 for carrying the commando. On the whole, it has worked out well and it looks to me as though this new carrier would have a unique and useful capacity in this direction.
I should like to continue, however, by going on to the new part of our construction programme. We are continuing to strengthen the escort fleet with County class guided missile destroyers and Leander class frigates. Both carry antisubmarine helicopters. Four County class destroyers have been completed and another four are on order. These ships add greatly to our air defence capability. The Leander class frigates have proved very successful. They are excellent antisubmarine ships and well suited to our peace-keeping tasks. We have already completed seven and another 12 have been ordered.
I should like to give the Committee details about a new anti-submarine weapon system in which we are interested, the Ikara. This is a long-range weapon system which is being developed in Australia. It is a guided missile which carries a torpedo and it is fired from surface ships. If the Royal Navy is to adopt it, further development needs to be done to adapt the weapon for Royal Navy use. We have completed technical discussions with the Australian Government about the amount of further work which needs to be done and we are, we hope, in the concluding stages of negotiation on the terms of the working agreement. This envisages that part of the further development will be undertaken in Australia on our behalf and part in this country. Our adoption of this Australian weapon system would be a further indication of the beneficial effects of our long-standing collaboration with Australia in guided weapon development.
Our new construction programme also provides for the completion or construction of the Polaris and hunter killer submarines. When we came to power, needless to say we took a long, cool look at the Polaris programme that we had inherited. Four submarines had been ordered and certain long-lead items for a fifth had been ordered, also. Plans had 663 been made to earmark future capacity for it and we had options on its missiles, and so on, from the United States. Our assessment of the position was that we had a choice to stop at the completion of the fourth Polaris submarine or to go on to the fifth. We took the decision to stop at the fourth.
I know that the hon. Member for Henley disagrees with this; he referred briefly to it in the defence debate. We shall look forward to hearing him expound his view at leisure and explaining why the Government have been wrong to cut up to£45 million worth of expenditure from the defence budget. We will be interested to hear this. In addition to this£45 million, there would be another £60 million, perhaps, for the carrier, and it may be that the hon. Gentleman has something to say also about frigates. We would like him to cost any new suggestions which he makes to us about further expenditure.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Surely£60 million is not even one-third of the cost of a new carrier when it is equipped.
§ Mr. Mayhew
Something near or a little above £60 million is the existing estimate for CVA01. We on this side, unlike the hon. Member for Henley and other hon. Members opposite, consider that four Polaris submarines are quite enough—a force of tremendous power and significance. I have seen for myself elements of the American Polaris force. No one who has seen these vessels, larger than many pre-war cruisers, and who has talked to the highly skilled men who operate them, can have any doubt about their awesome power, their high degree of invulnerability and the high standards of achievement that are needed to create such a force and to deploy it.
The creation of our own Polaris force sets us a big challenge: first, to the 800 or more industrial enterprises throughout the country which are now working to meet the demands laid down by our designers with a very tight time-scale. Our first Polaris submarine. H.M.S. "Resolution", is planned to be on patrol in mid-1968, but she will be essentially completed more than a year before that date. Her three sister ships will follow her at six-monthly intervals. We have set up a special project organisation to ensure that the programme is met.
664 Building the ships is only part of the challenge. The support facilities, the base, the workships, the Polaris school, the floating dock, the armament depot, married quarters and recreational and welfare facilities all have to be completed to an equally rigorous time scale and all have to be the best and most modern that we can provide.
Then there is the challenge to our officers and men who will operate the ships. I have spoken to some of them already in training in the United States. They face an entirely new experience in seamanship in taking these large and vastly sophisticated ships to sea for submerged patrols lasting two months at a time under conditions which are unique in time of peace.
From all this it is clear that the Polaris project will spread its impact over a large sector of our national life, and that for all those in the Service and in industry who make up the British Polaris team there is the challenge of achieving the highest standards of reliability that we have ever attempted. Shipbuilders and contractors must set themselves higher standards of quality and timely production than ever before. Crews must maintain these vessels at the highest level of efficiency and readiness so that they, and we, can be absolutely confident in the creditability of what they are doing for us and for the whole Western Alliance. In short, the Polaris project is the toughest peace-time task, in a given time-scale, which the Navy has ever been handed. We mean to do it, to do it on time, and to do it well.
Cancellation of the fifth Polaris boat has made it possible to bring forward by six months the order for our next—our fourth—hunter-killer submarine. Experience with "Dreadnought" has fully confirmed our high hopes about the military value of these boats. Their speed and ability to remain submerged for very long periods gives them tremendous striking power and makes them formidable hunters of conventional submarines.
But building these vessels, unfortunately, calls for expensive facilities and special skills. There are two ship yards—at Barrow and at Birkenhead—which are equipped and staffed to do this job. At present, they are both engaged in building Polaris submarines, and this has meant up till now 665 a temporary break in new orders for hunter-killers, though work is continuing on "Valiant" which will enter service later this year, and on "Warspite". We are glad that it will now be possible to fill this break with the order for the fourth hunter-killer.
With three hunter-killers soon in commission, to be followed by the four Polaris submarines, and other hunter-killers in due course, we shall need new refitting facilities. Those now being developed at Rosyth will not be able to cope with the load. I am glad to announce that to help with the support of our growing nuclear submarine fleet we propose to adapt facilities at our traditional submarine yard, Chatham.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that information, and I am sure that he will bear with me if I ensure that that information is in the next issue of the papers.
§ Mr. Mayhew
As I have no personal electoral interest in Chatham, I can do that with considerable detachment. The construction work will begin next year, with the aim of completing the adaptation by 1968. I am sorry that this news will not reach the Chatham papers through the hon. Member. Chatham will then become a normal refitting and refuelling port for hunter-killers of the "Dreadnought" and "Valiant" class, leaving Rosyth to concentrate on the Polaris boats, and, of course, this announcement in no way affects the current development of Rosyth.
In last years' debate, as the Committee will recall, unexpected material failures were announced in the prototype nuclear submarine propulsion plant at Dounreay, which made it necessary to renew part of the piping system, I am glad to say that the remedial work has been finished, and that the nuclear reactor plant has been brought to criticality. Satisfactory progress is being maintained in the final testing programme before the prototype goes into full commission. The Dounreay plant, which I hope to visit next month, has, of course, been provided for two main tasks—as a research facility for evaluation machinery and equipment for nuclear submarine propulsion, and for training operational crews and other skilled men.
666 I cannot, I think, sit down without referring to the fact that 1964 was the tercentenary of the Royal Marines. It saw them, as might be expected, in the front line in the various trouble spots—in the Radfan, 45 Commando, in East Africa, in the early part of the year, 45 Commando and 41 Commando which was flown out from the United Kingdom, and in Borneo 40 and 42 Commando.
Ships' detachments have played their usual effective part. They have been engaged in internal security and peacekeeping duties in Antarctica, British Guiana and the West Indies. In recognition of the importance of their rôle, it was decided last year to remove all restrictions on recruiting. This will strengthen them operationally, and provide more men at home to balance the large numberts at present serving East of Suez. We are increasing the number of officers correspondingly, for commando service and as helicopter pilots. The Royal Marines have had a great year, and we have no doubt that other vital tasks lie ahead of them.
At the end of this debate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will be speaking particularly about manpower, about conditions of service, and about the dockyards, and he will, of course, answer many of the questions raised during the debate. I am aware that I have not been able to cover the whole field.
I should like to end by saying that it is not for the Navy to decide what tasks it undertakes, to press for larger or smaller commitments in this or that part of the world. These are political decisions which have to come before defence decisions. But whatever tasks are laid on the Navy in the future as a result of our defence review, no one can doubt that it is carrying out, with spirit and success, the tasks which are given to it today.
I suppose it is natural that a nation's Armed Services should get their greatest public recognition and respect, and certainly their largest budgets, in time of war rather than in peace time, but the greatest service they render to the nation is not in fighting wars, but in deterring them. Nobody who looks at the work of the Navy all over the world, in the Far East, in the Caribbean, or wherever one likes to look, can doubt but that the 667 practical effect of what they are doing is to help keep the peace.
I am confident that these men have the warm support of the Committee and of the nation in their fine work.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hay ( Henley)
I am sure that the Committee will wish to join me in offering our sincere congratulations to the hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy on completing the ordeal of presenting the Navy Estimates. I know that it is an ordeal, because I had the opportunity and the honour of doing it last year. I assure the hon. Gentleman that he has discharged the task admirably this afternoon. He has brought to the somewhat complicated, and occasionally difficult, matters that he had to raise that spirit of bonhomie and breeziness which has fitted him so well for his present post.
I should like to express, on behalf of this side of the Committee, our support of the tributes which the hon. Gentleman paid to the men of the Royal Navy and of the Royal Marines for the work that they are doing. I should like to pay tribute, too, to the W.R.N.S., whom the hon. Gentleman did not mention.
§ Mr. Hay
My hon. Friend reminds me that I did not mention the nurses, which shows that once one starts it is difficult to complete the list. At any rate, we on this side of the Committee wish to be associated with the tributes paid by the hon. Gentleman to the Armed Services.
We are debating the Navy Estimates in a somewhat different form than before, in that we have the White Paper on the Defence Estimates as a whole. Although I do not disapprove of the form in which they appear, I found it, as I expect many hon. Members did, a little difficult to pick my way through the White Paper to identify just those matters which concern the Navy.
I regret that I must begin my remarks by chiding the hon. Gentleman and the Secretary of State for Defence for failing this year to include what was always an extremely valuable feature of the Memorandum accompanying the Navy Estimates, namely, a table showing the state 668 of the Fleet. It was left to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea (Captain Litchfield) to table a Question and elicit this information. I understand that it was not done this year because it was felt that some individious comparisons might be made with the other Services. I assure the hon. Gentleman and the Department that hon. Members found the table showing the state of the Fleet of the greatest value, and I hope very much that in future years it will not be omitted. In this respect, the Navy is a little different from the other two Services. We are dealing with ships and not so much with units which may change in their composition.
Looking through the White Paper I was struck by the absence of any fulfilment of promises or any endorsement of the numerous pledges about the Navy that were given to the electors by those hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who are now Ministers—not least the Prime Minister. It is necessary to remind the Committee of the sort of things which were being said, just to indicate the depth of our disappointment. The famous speech—the locus classicus—is the speech which the Prime Minister made at the Forum Cinema, in Plymouth, on 27th September. He started by saying:We believe that in the present condition of the world, we need a stronger and more effective Navy.He went on to say:The Royal Navy is not adequate for our needs in the 1960s",and then came what I can only describe as the punch line, when he said:we shall need an expanded naval shipbuilding programme. How are we going to pay for it? Out of the savings made through stopping the wasteful expenditure on the politically inspired nuclear programme.I am not surprised that the hon. Member settles down in his seat. Listening to him just now we heard him paint in the most glowing terms, which I could not have equalled, the advantages to this country of the Polaris fleet. We could argue whether it should be four or five boats, but that does not destroy the point. Probably the hon. Gentleman has heard what the Prime Minister had said.
The Prime Minister said a lot more in much the same vein in different places.
669 But if we look at the White Paper to see what the expanded naval shipbuilding programme is we search from cover to cover and find only one reference to a commitment for new ships. It is contained in paragraph 174, and says:The Government intends to build new Coastal Survey Craft for hydrographic work overseas.No doubt they are very important—I do not decry their work—but they hardly constitute an expanded naval shipbuilding programme. There is a slightly more serious point about this. In the past it has been customary for the memoranda accompanying the Navy Estimates to state broadly what are the intentions of the Government in respect of new shipbuilding for the coming year. This we do not find in the White Paper.
I must not leave the subject of the Prime Minister without mentioning one ether matter. He was speaking in Plymouth, and I have no doubt that a great part of his audience consisted of workers in Her Majesty's dockyard there. He gave them a promise, saying:there is one thing I want to add—the greater use of Royal dockyards, as well as Royal Ordnance factories, for civil work.If that means anything it means that the Government intended to use the naval dockyards for civil repair work.
Again, if we look carefully through the White Paper and read paragraphs 167–170 we find not the slightest mention of any such intention. I hope that this pledge will not be kept, because from what I saw of the Royal dockyards when I had some responsibility in the matter I am not sure that they are entirely suitable for that kind of civil work. Certainly, if they took it on there would be a risk that the naval requirement, which they really exist to meet, might be damaged.
There it is: there was the Prime Minister going round the country, as we now know, like a demented pawnbroker, giving pledges right, left and centre, and these are some of them which have certainly not been redeemed.
To complete the story I should say that the reappearance in this House after the election of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) and my hon. Friend the Member 670 for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Ian Fraser) indicate that the pledges contained in the speech of the Prime Minister did not find the ready acceptance that he may have hoped they would.
§ Mr. Hay
I notice that the hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mrs. Anne Kerr), who won a very narrow victory at the last election, is not in her place this afternoon. To be truthful, in the light of what the Minister said just now I am not surprised.
I now turn to the question of the review. It is said by the Government, by way of an excuse, that they ought not to say anything now about their plans because they are to have a review. This is a familiar technique. As soon as they are accused of having broken a pledge, or of not fulfilling one, they say, "It is all right; we are having a review." We shall expect details of the review to be made public before too long. I hope that the Government will get on with it, because I can imagine what the effect on the Services must he when they are left in their present state of almost suspended animation as the result of a decision to have a review. I hope that before we rise for the Summer Recess we shall have a statement about the results of the review. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we shall want to debate it then.
During the conduct of the review I hope that Ministers will ensure that their actions and policies are governed by the facts and not by some fancies or theories which they may have formed in their carefree days of Opposition. They now have access to the information and the advice which we had when we were in office. I am sure that the change which is already coming over some Ministers is an indication of their acceptance that the facts are a little different from what they thought they were when they were on this side of the Committee.
Not least is this apparent in respect of the Polaris programme. I do not want to rub it in, but on national grounds we are delighted that all the things that were said about Polaris before and during the election are now apparently to be thrown out of the window. We have not heard anything about its not being an independent deterrent. The Minister has told 671 us how useful the United States authorities were being to us. We have not been told that this is a derisory thing, and not a deterrent. The hon. Member was glowing in what he said just now about its value.
I hope that this conversion of view will come over the Under-Secretary, too. He has certain responsibilities for the Polaris programme. I have not been able to trace what he had to say about it to his electors at the last election, but back in 1959 he was telling them:I do not believe that Britain should have anything to do with nuclear weapons, whatever other nations may decide. I do not think that our possession of the bomb can do us any good; and I know that it could mean the obliteration of our island.That was in 1959. I hope that by now access to information and advice will have modified the hon. Member's strong view.
Perhaps the process of conversion has already started, because he did not say a word about it to his electors in the last election.
§ Mr. Walter Monslow (Barrow-in-Furness)
If the hon. Member will peruse the 1957 and 1958 White Papers of the previous Government he will find that the statement that he is now making can be attributed to his right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys).
§ Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine (Rye)
My hon. Friend says that he has been unable to trace what the Under-Secretary of State said in his election address. On 11th March, 1963, however, the hon. Member said:The Navy knows perfectly well, however, that in the event of my party winning the next election the programme will be scrapped. This was made perfectly clear in the defence debate. It was made perfectly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) the other day. Therefore, if this Government intend to go ahead with this programme…the Navy will be faced with substantial expenditure…which will be completely wasted."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th March, 1963; Vol. 673, c. 1017.]
§ Mr. Hay
As the hon. Gentleman says, I will get on with it.
Let me come to the main point about Polaris. I was interested to hear that the programme is going ahead. I was asked by the Minister why, in a speech on 3rd March, I said that I believed that it was a mistake to cancel the fifth boat. I am sure that it was a mistake, and set out in column 1440 of the OFFICIAL REPORT is exactly why I thought so. The whole point of the argument in having a five-boat fleet was to make sure that we had a credible deterrent in the form of two boats always on station.
The Secretary of State, in a Written Answer to a Question on 23rd February from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Arundel and Shoreham (Captain Kerby), has admitted that a force of four boats will be able, as he said, tokeep one submarine on station and often two."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd February, 1965; Vol. 707, c. 87.]My point is that since each submarine has 16 missiles, if we want a really thoroughly credible deterrent two submarines permanently at sea is really the best we can get.
I am not saying that a 16-strike is not a deterrent. It is a very big deterrent. But the whole decision that we had to take on whether or not we went from four to five boats was based very largely on this criterion of the credibility of the deterrent being sure at all times, and keeping two boats at sea.
§ Mr. Mayhew
As a criticism of the Government that will not stand, because, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and the Prime Minister have explained over and over again, we are not proposing to use our submarines for an independent nuclear deterrent, but as part of an allied force.
§ Mr. Hay
I am obliged to the Minister. He has led me straight to my next point. I repeat the question I put last week, to which I have not had a reply from the Secretary of State. I hope that we shall get a reply before the debate finishes. It is the most crucial question the Navy must ask. If a four-boat Polaris fleet is to be 673 devoted to the A.N.F. and the allies do not want the A.N.F., and the A.N.F. proves to be a "dead duck", what happens to the Polaris fleet? As I said last week, we are left with a force of four boats which, as a national deterrent, errs just this side, I think, of complete credibility.
The Committee should know what exactly the Government propose if their plans for the A.N.F. and the contributed Polaris force to it come to naught. Shall we keep a national deterrent, or shall we scrap it? If the Government decide to keep it as a national deterrent, it is a pity they said they are thinking of scrapping the fifth boat because of the credibility problem which I have mentioned.
I was interested to hear what the Minister had to say about nuclear refitting. I welcome the decision to send nuclear refitting to Chatham. I had some misgivings about this when, originally, it was proposed some time ago. But, on reflection, I think that it is probably the best decision which could be made.
§ Mr. Hay
I am delighted that it pleases my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden). As the Minister says, Chatham is the traditional submarine yard and there was a very strong case for sending nuclear refitting there.
The next point which I wish to put to the Committee and the Minister relates to the S.S.K., as we call it in the jargon, the nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarine. We understand from the White Paper that "Valiant" will be completed during the financial year, and the decision to cancel the fifth Polaris boat means that we can turn rather more quickly than was originally planned to the next in the S.S.K. programme.
I should like to ask, in this connection, about Dounreay. The Minister mentioned the problem we have, and I understand that the reactor is now critical. Perhaps the Under-Secretary can tell us tonight whether it has been possible to catch up on the loss of time which that failure caused. That may be possible, I do not know. It would be useful to have some idea of the time-scale now involved in the whole of this programme.
674 On the question of submarines generally, I understand from the White Paper that it is now the intention to build no more "Oberon"-class submarines. In some ways that is a pity. It is a splendid conventional-type submarine, and from the reputation it has all round the world it is the best known conventional submarine.
§ Mr. Burden
Would not my hon. Friend also agree that one of the three submarines that has gone to the Canadians was, in fact, a submarine laid down by Her Majesty's Government, which means that there are only two extra "Oberon" submarines? The fact that the Canadians ordered the submarines only last year implies that they are convinced that this submarine has a considerable purpose to serve at this time. Would not it be right that the Government, also, should give serious consideration to ordering more "Oberons", in view of the difficulties about building hunter-killers quickly?
§ Mr. Hay
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. He has made the very point that I was going to make. I should be grateful if the Under-Secretary would give us an idea of what the position is to be. Is it really intended that this production line of "Oberons" is to be closed right down? If so, in some ways that might be a pity.
While I am speaking of the submarine service generally may I pay a tribute, which I am sure that the Minister would wish to echo, to those who have been conducting the deep diving techniques both in H.M.S. "Dolphin" and elsewhere and which have been recently reported in the Press. I think that we lead the world in this respect. The possibility of these techniques for men escaping from submarines, for rescue from ships under water and for the salvage of ships is very great. I hope that we shall be able to give continued support to that activity.
I should like to ask whether the Government can confirm or deny the rather alarming statements which have been appearing in the Northern Ireland newspapers about the future of the Joint Anti-Submarine School at Londonderry. My hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) will seek to catch your eye, Sir Leslie, to ask for further information about this. I hope 675 very much that if this plan is still in the offing very careful thought will be given to it before a decision is announced.
It seems to me, I have always thought, that H.M.S. "Sea Eagle" and the Joint Anti-Submarine School activities are not only an excellent example of inter-Service co-operation and training but also provide a substantial naval interest in Northern Ireland which is by no means of little value to the Navy when it comes to posting Ulstermen to a ship or establishment near to their homes. I hope that this problem is being carefully considered.
I wish to turn now to the escort fleet and particularly to the subject of frigates. I am sorry that, again, there is a lacuna in the White Paper. For the first time for many years we are not told about the strength of the escort fleet. Usually, it is about 70. Last year, I think that it was 71 and I often wonder whether it ought not to be larger. The Committee knows perfectly well that these ships, the frigates and the escorts, are in many respects the most useful ships which the Navy has. They do a tremendous job of work in entirely different conditions all round the world. I should like the Minister to tell us whether it is the Government's intention, subject always to this vague review which is going on, to continue building at a rate of three new frigates a year.
I do not think that I need to emphasise the importance of escorts. We know very well that the Soviet Union—the hon. Gentleman had a lot to say about maritime strategy in the Northern hemisphere—has a very large submarine fleet. We do not know how many the Chinese may have, but, certainly, the existence of a force of escorts should be one of the first priorities which the Government and the Navy Department should consider.
I wonder whether we could be given any idea as to the possibility of building a rather new type of escort vessel, particularly, perhaps, for service in Eastern waters. In my time at the Admiralty, something of the kind was being discussed. What progress has been made? What was in mind was a smaller, rather less sophisticated type of ship which would be cheaper in money and certainly 676 in manpower, which is the big problem nowadays, with a system of comparatively simple weapons and fire control system and, perhaps, being the major vehicle for carriage of Ikara, about which we were pleased to hear the details this afternoon. I would like to know if thought is being given to this subject, which could be of great value.
May I turn next to the question of the area with which the Navy is principally concerned, namely, that east of Suez. I emphasised in the debate last week the importance of the Government making up their mind about the need in that area for a maritime strategy. I should like to say why, because I did not have the opportunity of giving my views in sufficient detail, and there may have been some misunderstanding about it. I do not think that anyone would imagine that we can be absolutely certain that, for all time to come, we shall be able to retain the main bases which we have between Africa and the Far East. We have two at the moment, the big bases of Aden and Singapore, but we know perfectly well that these bases are always subject to political influences, political events, and changes of policy. Indeed, the Prime Minister himself specifically said, in an interview which he gave to The Times, in March last year, that one of the reasons why the Navy should be built up was because of the long-term risk to our bases.
I sincerely hope that we shall be able to retain our bases in Aden and Singapore for many years to come, but in case we cannot we have to be prepared to have an alternative type of strategy. The only one which makes any sense is the amphibious force, which is based on a "mix" of different types of ship, able to move comparatively quickly from one part of that tremendous area to another. The mix would be the carrier, which is the heart and centre of the force, assault ships, commando carriers, guided weapons destroyers, escorts, and then the supply train of tankers, and so on. This is why, despite the gibes of the Paymaster-General about the "blue water school" in the Conservative Party, we on this side have always been extremely anxious to see that the Navy has a proper carrier force.
The carrier, first of all, gives the advantage of strike. It has taken the place of the long-range big gun of years 677 gone by. It provides a long-range antiaircraft and anti-submarine protection for the force. It provides an opportunity of obtaining information and intelligence at long range, and it gives a centre for the command and control of the force. The assault ships and the commando carriers give the ability to carry the troops and their equipment and to land them or a possibly hostile beach.
§ Mr. Hay
If I may just finish this point, I shall give way to the right hon. Gentleman.
Thirdly, the guided weapons destroyers—this is the modern concept on which we have been working with the Navy over the last few years—with the Sea Slug and the Sea Cat, provide the immediate and close-range anti-aircraft capability which is needed. The ordinary escorts give medium and close-range anti-submarine protection. There are then the fleet replenishment ships and the fleet replenishment tankers, which supply the stores and armament support which are essential for the balance of the force.
In other words, a force of that kind can be maintained at sea, with complete mobility and the greatest possible flexibility, and provides almost all the facilities which a land base can give with the advantage that the base may be politically vulnerable. That is why my hon. and right hon. Friends and myself have so often talked about the necessity for a proper carrier programme.
§ Mr. Healey
I just wanted to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he can enlighten the Committee on the number of ground troops he would propose to keep seaborne in such a force, and what it would cost to keep that number seaborne. We all agree with the general proposition which he is propounding, but I think that he will know, from his own experience in the Ministry beforehand, how enormously costly such a force can be, if it is proposed, for example, that it should be capable of a self-contained brigade group intervention.
§ Mr. Hay
Of course I realise that, and I have a note here to refer to that. I think that the answer to the right hon. Gentleman is that one envisages a force 678 of the kind I have described being used in two kinds of circumstances. The first is to mount a particular operation and where there already exists some kind of land base in the sense of a land area, where the troops can wait until they are needed before starting. The other is the alternative which could possibly—I am talking of 10 or 20 years ahead—be forced upon us if we still have the responsibilities and the obligations in that area east of Suez which we have today. It may well be necessary to accept that kind of expense of keeping large numbers of troops at sea for a long time.
Frankly, it is such a long time ahead that I do not think that we have to cross that bridge now. The bridge which I think we have to cross is the bridge of the number of carriers. As I have said, the carrier is the heart and the centre of the force.
§ Mr. Healey
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member unduly, because I think that this is a very useful discussion. It is not a party issue at all. I take it, from what he says, that what he considers is useful at present is a seaborne force which could use troops operating from a land base, and the other possibility to which he refers is so far ahead that it does not enter into immediate current planning.
§ Mr. Hay
I would say not. To some extent the right hon. Gentleman is right. We have to deal with the world in 1965 and next year as it is. The fact is that we have these two bases and we have certain other islands which we can use; we have the ground on which the troops can stand. But when one thinks ahead—the right hon. Gentleman will remember that his planning must look 10, 15 or 20 years ahead—whatever the strategic commitment may be for Britain in that area in those years, we have to turn our attention to the possibility of having to do that.
The right hon. Gentleman seems to think that I am stating the obvious, and perhaps I am, but there are those in the Committee and certainly outside it who are inclined to decry the whole idea of a maritime strategy.
§ Commander Pursey
Will the hon. Member deal with the large new aircraft carriers? In view of the fact that the large aircraft carriers cost between £60 million and £100 million—apart from the cost of the Polaris submarines—is it the idea of the Tory Party that the Polaris submarines should be ordered by the dozen from Woolworth and that the carriers should be ordered by the dozen from Marks and Spencer?
§ Mr. Hay
As usual, the hon. and gallant Member will have his little joke.
We have heard that planning is apparently proceeding on the new one, and I was glad to hear that. But the basic fact remains that H.M.S. "Eagle" and H.M.S. "Hermes", having had their refit, can go on into the 1980s. We know that the "Victorious" and the "Ark Royal" will come to the end of their natural lives in the early 1970s. So far, only one new carrier has been ordered. The logic of the situation drives one to the conclusion that if we are to keep two carriers east of Suez, even most of the time, let alone all of the time, and if we are to keep one west of Suez, as the Minister said, in support of N.A.T.O., then we must consider whether we can get away with one new carrier or whether we need two. I very much hope that in their review the Government will look extremely closely at this point. I do not see how, in the years ahead, we can maintain our presence and fulfil our responsibilities in that tremendous area east of Suez on the basis of a force of three carriers. That is my opinion.
Next, I should like to turn to aircraft. I am sure that our decision last year to buy Phantom aircraft for the Royal Navy was right, for the reasons which were set out very fully then. There is no doubt that this is the best aircraft that the Fleet Air Arm could be given at the present 680 time to replace the Sea Vixen. I should like to know how the programme is proceeding. The Minister gave us a little information this afternoon. Will the Under-Secretary tell us a little more?
I gather that all is well with the arrangement to install the Spey engine in the Phantom, but I hope that the purchase of the aircraft for the Navy, the "naval buy", as we call it, will not be interfered with, interrupted or delayed by the supervening requirements for Phantoms for the R.A.F. That is absolutely essential. The problem of the Sea Vixen becomes more acute as time goes on. The quicker we can get the Phantoms in service the better. Perhaps the hon. Member could give us some information about it.
We should also like some further information about helicopters. We had a discussion in the defence debate the other day about helicopters, but nothing is stated in the White Paper about the Wasp. The Committee will recall that the Wasp helicopter is the main antisubmarine armament of the Leander and Tribal class vessels. How are we getting on with the Wasp programme? It went through some vicissitudes at an earlier stage. There was a lot of trouble with the development and last year there were some problems about the delivery. If the Under-Secretary of State can help the Committee on the question of the Wasp we shall be much obliged. Perhaps while dealing with aircraft he might also say a word about the development of the Buccaneer.
May I turn from aircraft to aircrew—and I assure the Minister that this is nothing to the problems which Under-Secretaries may have to face. I was interested to read paragraph 97 of the White Paper. This is one of the most intractable problems which the Minister has on his plate, and I not only sympathise with him but wish him well. Anything he can do to increase and improve the supply of aircrew, particularly helicopter pilots, will be very much appreciated in all quarters of the Committee.
I am glad to see that the plan to have a force of Royal Marine helicopter pilots seems to be proceeding, but I wonder whether enough is being done to bring home the important differences between the Fleet Air Arm and the Royal Air Force to those young men who would be 681 attracted by a Fleet Air Arm career? I notice, the other day that a travelling presentation is being sent around the country manned by Fleet Air Arm officers, with a good deal of publicity and cinema material, to show something of the work of the Fleet Air Arm. I welcome it, and I hope that there may be an opportunity for hon. Members to have a chance to see it. Perhaps that point could be noted.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Commander Courtney) will wind up the debate for us tonight and will speak about manpower generally, a subject which formed the opening part of the Minister's remarks. I had better warn the Minister that we shall want to come back to the subject of manpower in the debate on the Service Money Vote next Monday. There may then be an opportunity for us to ask a few questions and to probe a little more deeply into the Minister's statement this afternoon about the new schemes which have come to fruition, having been started, the seed having been sawn, in our time; the plant has flowered under the present Administration. We shall want to know more about the scheme in the light of what was said, hut I very much welcome the plan for assisted house purchase. I always felt that this was one of the most important things we could do to help with the very difficult re-engagement problem.
I must come back to a point which I made in an intervention during the Minister's speech. I did not find his reply very convincing. I know the difficulty which he has, because the Civil Service housing scheme is in the works and so is the Navy scheme. But I hope that if we can get the Navy scheme tied up it will be announced and put into operation even though the Civil Service scheme may take some time longer. I am sure that the Navy's need for this scheme is infinitely more urgent than the need of the Civil Service—and I say that as someone who has every respect and, indeed, great affection for the Civil Service. I hope that the Government will not insist that these two schemes go out in tandem. Let the Navy scheme, which is urgent, go ahead as quickly as possible.
In dealing with the problems of reengagement, I am sure that the new 682 bounty which the Minister announced will be effective to some degree. I doubt whether it is quite good enough, but Opposition spokesmen always complain that the amount spent is not enough. We shall wait to see how the scheme goes. We wish it every success and hope that it will prove successful, because the Navy faces a difficult problem of re-engagement in some of these specialised categories. The rate has fallen by 13 per cent. since 1959.
One does not need to dilate on the reasons, which are well known. There are the countervailing attractions of civil life, the separation from homes and families, the inadequacy of married quarters abroad—a problem with which Ministers have come to grips—the difficulty of seeing families when one is at the other end of the world and the problem of arranging special flights for the families to go out there. There is the whole question of drafting turbulence.
Finally, there is the inability, or so it appears, of the Treasury to understand what the problems of the Navy are by comparison with those of the other Services.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman ever found the Treasury requiring uniformity between, say, the Navy and the Civil Service.
§ Mr. Hay
No; the Minister has had to bear that cross. That was one which we did not have, although there were some mutterings about it in my time, I think.
The point I make is a serious one. I hope that the two Ministers and the Secretary of State—I am sorry that he has left us now—will press it very hard. Uniformity between the Services can be very dangerous. Obviously, in some respects there must be uniformity, but in some specific areas where one can identify a problem which is special to one Service, there should not be too much regard for uniformity of treatment.
Here is one such identifiable area, the question of an allowance to those who actually go to sea. There always seemed something a little paradoxical in seamen, men who join the Navy and who, presumably, want to go to sea, having to be paid, asking to be paid, or being paid 683 any kind of special allowance for actually going to sea. It seems paradoxical, of course, but the fact is that conditions afloat, particularly in the Far East and the Persian Gulf, in some of our ships which are crammed with all manner of equipment and provide very poor conditions of habitability—no one can help this—are by no means comparable, rank for rank or rating for rating, with those enjoyed by Service men in the other two Services.
I have always felt that there was quite a strong case to be made for a special inducement or special payment to those who have to put up with such conditions. It might not necessarily be a straight payment of an allowance. It might be an arrangement for paying additional pension based on the number of months or years actually spent at sea. All sorts of ideas might be looked at.
There is one other matter in connection with manpower which I wish to raise and which, I think, some of my hon. Friends will take up. We on this side will certainly help the Minister in every way we can on this very complicated and difficult manpower issue. He should not exaggerate it, of course, and he has not done so today. The manpower problem is basically in certain specialised categories, but there are difficult problems here and we shall help on them if we can. But I come now to the question of the Royal Naval Volunteer Supplementary Reserve.
The R.N.V.S.R. is a Reserve—I shall not say of considerable antiquity, because that would give a misleading impression—which goes back to the last war and, I think, before that. The numbers have dwindled over the years, until there are now, I think, about 2,000 throughout the country split up into small units and flotillas, and the Government have suddently decided to disband it. The Minister announced the decision on 22nd February. I regard this as an unwise decision. According to the Written Answer, the cost of maintaining this Reserve is about £4,000 a year.
If I remember aright what I saw in the papers, I think that it pays a chief petty officer and a couple of writers, a postage bill and some travelling expenses for lecturers who go round. It is not very much. Compared with the many 684 millions of pounds which the Government have to spend, £4,000 is infinitesimal. But it is said that the officers of the R.N.V.S.R. are now growing older and it is high time that the Reserve was disbanded. In this way, some money will be saved and some effort, no doubt, on the part of the Admiral Commanding Reserves and his staff.
It is an unwise decision. The great virtue of the R.N.V.S.R. is that it provides a focus for naval activity in particular districts. In each of its units there is a group of men who are enthusiasts, men who spend a lot of time and often a good deal of money in keeping themselves as abreast as they can of what is happening in the Navy. They frequently give advice and help to the Sea Cadets. Moreover, the units are quite often in inland areas a long way from the sea where it is a great advantage to the Navy to have a focus for their activities.
In the light of its manpower difficulties and the need for the Navy to have more and better publicity to help, I very much hope that this decision will be reconsidered. As I understand it, no final action has been taken. Letters have gone out to individual officers telling them that the decision has been taken to disband, but I hope that the Committee as a whole will support the plea which I make to the Government to reconsider their decision. To be frank, I do not think that the R.N.V.S.R. does a tremendous amount of good, but it certainly does no harm and the good which it does infinitely outweighs the small amount of money and effort which it costs the Navy. I hope that it will be looked at again.
All hon. Members will be glad that the holocaust which has swept over the Royal Air Force in the past few weeks has, so far at least, spared the Navy and that the Estimates appear to be more or less, though not in every respect, the same as we should have presented had we remained in office. I regret that there is no evidence in the White Paper of any intention to redeem the Prime Minister's pledges at the election about an increased naval shipbuilding programme, but we welcome the change of heart and the reversal of the decision on the nuclear deterrent.
I urge that the review take place as quickly as possible and that the results be announced before the Summer Recess. As I have said, we shall welcome any 685 steps the Government wish to take to help in the manpower shortage. On behalf of this side of the Committee, I pledge our support for all and any steps which the Government wish to take which will strengthen and preserve our Navy.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lomas (Huddersfield, West)
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak for the first time on the Navy Estimates. I do so with a certain amount of trepidation, because I am conscious of being surrounded by enough gold braid of one kind and another to make a gold plate and the only real qualification or personal connection with the Navy which I have is 20 years ago when I managed to rise to the dizzy heights of sergeant in the Royal Marines. As this is the 300th anniversary of the Marines, perhaps this is as good an occasion as any to intervene in a debate on the Navy Estimates.
Representing, Huddersfield, West, I have other connections with the Navy. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy represents the other half of Huddersfield, and, although I am certain that he does not need my support and can handle the opposition himself, I am glad to join in from the benches behind him. My other main constituency interest is that the firm of David Brown, which is known throughout the world, is very closely associated with ships which have been or are being built for the Navy. It is, in fact, one of the main machinery manufacturers for two frigates at present under construction, "Juno" and "Argonaut", three frigates under construction which have been launched, "Sirius", "Phoebe" and "Minerva", in addition to two assault ships also under construction and launched, the "Fearless" and the "Intrepid". There are other firms also in Huddersfield, Hopkinsons and others, which have played their part in making the Royal Navy as secure and sound as it is today. In spite of all that, when we are faced witth a Royal Navy expenditure of £540 million—about £10 million a week—it becomes important to ask whether or not we are getting value for money.
Whether we like it or not, the Royal Navy today has the smallest number of men of the three Services, but, as the 686 Estimates show, it has this year the largest single increase in expenditure—£56 million, compared with £45 million for the Royal Air Force and £39 million for the Army. In a Service in which scientific and technological developments lead to the need for extremely costly machinery and equipment that is understandable but, even so, wherever we find rising costs in defence—or in anything else—it is important that we should look very carefully to see whether there is any possible way in which economies can be made.
I should like, first, to refer to two small items in the Estimates, and they were referred by my right hon. Friend this afternoon. The Estimates show that it is necessary this year to recruit 2,000 men to get the Royal Navy up to its establishment of 104,000—that represents about 2 per cent. of the present total of personnel. In order to get those men, the cost of the publicity and recruitment services go up from £137,000 to £221,000—a rise of about 61 per cent, although I appreciate a lot of the publicity is paid for by the Central Office of Information, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, and other Departments.
On the other hand, the Army's publicity and recruitment services have gone down by £5,000 to £220 000, and the Royal Air Force figure stands at £45,000. I do not say that the Navy is costing more than the other two Services in this respect, but I believe that in order to get a better picture of the cost of recruiting men and women into the Royal Navy it is important that the Estimates should be so presented as to permit us to make a fair assessment.
Vote A gives us the list of officers and men in the Royal Navy and in the Royal Marines. It is interesting to note that the officer-rating ratio has increased as each year has gone by. As an ex-Marine I can understand, perhaps, why the Navy may need twice as many officers as do the Royal Marines from the point of view of discipline—one is almost tempted, surrounded by all this gold braid, to take one's hands out of one's pockets and stand to attention. In 1964–65 the officer-men ratio was 12:6, in the year before it was 13:7, and five years ago it was 14:9—eventually, in the 1980s, I suppose we shall have one officer for every Royal Marine there is. There is the same story 687 in the women's services—a ratio of 12:6 in 1959–60 down to 11:1 today.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State might enlighten the Committee as to where he thinks the future officers are coming from. Is it possible to encourage the recruitment of officers from the lower decks or ranks rather than have the emphasis placed on direct entrants, and so on? The hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) referred in an interjection to the Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service, and there is one point in this connection that I cannot understand. Vote A shows that the number of other ranks in that Nursing Service will increase in the current year by about 30—going to 330 from 300—yet one sees also that the cost of pay and National Insurance drops from £54,000 to £35,000. I just cannot understand that. At first I thought that a mistake had been made and that the figure should have read £55,000, but I was relieved to find that no one was cooking the books and that the figures were as printed.
Perhaps I might refer here to a frivolous item that I found in the Estimates, and one which, in one sense, gives rise to great satisfaction in showing that equal pay is coming into the Royal Navy. Looking at the rates of pay available for special duties, it is intriguing to find that men receive 4s. a day every time they play the harmonium, and that women also receive 4s. a day when they play the harmonium. On the other hand, when it comes to payment for responsibility, the men get 2s. a day, but the payment is only 1s. 8d. a day for the females. It seems to be grossly unfair that we should have equal pay for harmonium players but not equal pay for responsibility.
I am pleased that the Ministers concerned have paid much attention to cutting out waste and inefficiency, but I am sure that it will be agreed that these Estimates are, to a certain extent, a legacy of the previous Administration, and that the members of the present Government have, in the short time they have been in office, been able to prune away only certain portions of expenditure, and have not been able to complete the review that they certainly would have liked to have made of the whole defence structure.
688 It is good that pay and conditions are regarded as important and are being improved, because not only will that help with recruitment but it will persuade personnel in the Navy to re-engage, and make it a real career. That is all to the good, because the people in the Royal Navy are doing an extremely useful job. The Navy has an important rôle to play in peace-keeping, and it should be recognized—and both sides of the Committee would probably agree with this—that law, order and peace depend on a form of collective security which I should prefer to see being dealt with through an organisation like the United Nations.
The present Opposition scoffed about 12 months ago at a suggestion that a certain proportion of the conventional forces of the Royal Navy should be made available to the United Nations in its peace-keeping function, but I see no reason why they should have done so. I believe that we must think in a collective sense of the Commonwealth. Why not a Commonwealth Navy? Why this attitude that we must at all costs go it alone?
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles (Winchester)
The hon. Gentleman should bear in mind, when talking about Commonwealth Navies, the extremely valuable work done all day and every day by the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal New Zealand Navy in support of our forces in the Far East.
§ Mr. Lomas
I am indeed very conscious of that. What I am suggesting is that there should be a much closer liaison between all Commonwealth nations, rather than each acting as independent forces. This would not be in any way an infringment of our national sovereignty, certainly no more than having troops in Germany, or V-bombers east of Suez, or making a contribution to an Atlantic nuclear force.
I was very pleased to hear by right hon. Friend the Minister underline the fact that the Government have decided not to go ahead with the fifth Polaris submarine. This is a good thing. There was probably a need for this fifth submarine if we clung to the pretence that we wanted an independent nuclear deterrent and if we clung to the idea that we were to go it alone at all costs. However, as we 689 have rightly decided that we want to be part of a collective system of defence of the West, we can save a considerable amount of money by pooling our available resources. Great credit is due to the Government for taking this decision.
From reading the Press and from our knowledge of our constituencies we are aware of the great need to expand and buttress the social services. Money which can be saved on defence and weapons of war could be used in this respect. We should do our utmost to make this possible.
I am convinced that as a shoreman that the age of the large surface ship is coming to an end, if it has not already passed. The emphasis should be much more on submarines than it is today. At all costs we must reduce the amount this country spends on defence. It runs at £60 a second all through the day and night, and £15 of that goes on the Royal Navy. We must find some way of making oar naval resources useful in days of peace. I should like the Government to devise a policy for the future in which ships could be utilised for peaceful purposes when the world was not tottering on the brink of war and when there were no incidents, wherever they might be. I am thinking of such ships being used for the transportation of freight. I am thinking of their being easily convertible for passenger liners. Is it not conceivable that we could use the Royal Navy to make some contribution to our export drive?
It is frightfully important that the nation does not in any way overstretch our ability to pay for the things we want. Defence costs, whether it be the Navy, the Royal Air Force or the Army, must bear a realistic relationship to our ability to meet the costs. There is no point in having the most wonderful Navy in the world if we are a bankrupt nation as a result. It is up to this Government to do everything they can, as I know that they will, not only to improve the conditions under which those who go down to the sea in ships have to work, but also to try to reduce our tremendous burden of expense on defence, thus creating the opportunity of having a more sane, civilised and humane life for the nation and the world.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)
I shall be extremely brief, because I wish only to underline as strongly as I can the closing remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) about the Royal Naval Volunteer Supplemenetary Reserve. I believe that the decision which has been outlined by the Minister in Written Answers to me is perhaps one of the shabbiest and meanest little pettifogginf savings of £4,000 that any Government could go in for. The Royal Naval Volunteer Supplemtneary Reserve first started in 1936. It is not as old and antique as my hon. Friend thought. However, it has a very honourable tradition. There are a number of hon. Members, certainly on this side of the Committee, and I believe on the other side of the Committee, who are or who have been members of the Reserve. In particular, I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Ire-monger) has a great interest in the Reserve.
The publicity value of the R.N.V.S.R. in good will for the Navy is most enormous. There are individual officers scattered all over the country who wear their uniform, perhaps on infrequent occasions, but who are known by their friends, their neighbours and those with whom they work to represent a certain spirit of the Navy. A couple whose daughter is thinking of becoming a Wren and who want to know a little more about the Navy ask their friend up the road who is interested. If their boy is thinking of joining up, they might not get very good advice, but they will get friendly advice and they will be told who to go to.
What a pathetic saving—£4,000. I believe that this decision arose out of the hang-over or some fit of bad temper of some former A.C.R. who disliked this body. This is a deplorable decision. I hope that the Government will think again. If they find that they cannot save their faces, which is one of the tragedies of Government, if they would like to think again but feel that they cannot because they have taken the decision, I suggest an alternative course of action to them. I understand that there are at present 14 lists in the R.N.R., plus a fifteenth list of those officers who are considered to be fully competent but 691 who undertake virtually no training commitment each year. I suggest that the Government constitute a sixteenth list. On to this sixteenth list could go all R.N.V.S.R. officers who wish to transfer. The sixteenth list should still be open for recruitment. There are sons of officers. There are yachtsmen. I know that the figure of recruitment is only a dribble. It was revealed in a Written Answer to me last week. However, with a little publicity it could be increased, at virtually no cost to the nation. These people might perhaps wear their uniform on such occasions as Remembrance Sunday. They have to pay for their uniform. It does not cost the country anything. They are proud of it. As my hon. Friend said, they do much good and virtually no harm. The good they do is immeasurable.
I hope that the Minister will bear in mind that there is a great weight of public opinion in favour of this body, not only in my constituency, but in many other inland constituencies like mine, which is near to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden). We have a sort of naval lap-over into the Maidstone constituency from the Medway towns. We do not normally think of ourselves as a nautical centre, because we have our senior partners in the adjacent constituencies. But there are many constituencies like my own in which this matter is important.
There is the case of the officer who has been a keen member of the R.N.V.R. but who changes his employment or goes to live elsewhere and who cannot continue with his pattern of training. Let him be transferred to the new sixteenth list which I suggest, or let him go to the surviving R.N.V.S.R. If it cannot survive, there might be something of a streamlining, if the uniform and everything else were altered to conform with the sixteenth list. This might be a convenience.
The Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy hinted in his first Written Answer to me on 22nd February that there was likely to be some great parade or other ceremonial disbandment. Let us have a great ceremonial. That would put something else on to the Estimates. Do let us tell the Navy what the R.N.V.S.R. does. Let there be a ceremonial so that 692 those who must retire because—I was about to say "of old age", but that may sound impertinent; let me say those who must retire because of advancing age—can be brought in. Let us have a great ceremonial parade and let the R.N.V.S.R. from the day of that parade be put on a new footing.
Let us endeavour to get some great person to take the parade. By "a great person" I have in mind someone far higher than an A.C.R. or even, with respect, a Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy. Let us have some person who is really in the national eye—at least an Admiral of the Fleet. Let us get somebody of that sort to take a one day interest in this body. Let us put it on a proper footing. Let us forget about this pettifogging little saving of £4,000.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Commander Harry Pursey (Kingston upon Hull, East)
I have it in mind to say, before the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) leaves, that it is my purpose to deal with his speech, but I would prefer to deal with it in my own way. There is no need for the hon. Gentleman to worry about the time. To my wad of thinking, the debate has only just started.
There is nothing worse, after a long speech in which an hon. Gentleman has dealt with several subjects, as the hon. Member for Henley did, and of which I make no complaint, than for a succeeding speaker to try to be a telephone fisherman. A telephone trawler skipper is someone who hears that fish are being caught by other fishermen 100 miles away. He goes to that place, but by the time he arrives there the fish have gone. I would have preferred to take up the points made by the hon. Member for Henley in my own way as I went along.
These Navy Estimates of £544 million which the Committee is being asked to approve today, showing an increase of £56 million on last year, must be considered against the background of the vast and incredible total annual defence expenditure of £1,692 million. Fortunately, this year we have a Labour Government, who have reduced the total by £306 million on last year's Defence Estimates and by £146 million on those 693 for 1963. Admittedly, there is a further undisclosed Navy addition for works, which is now the responsibility of the Ministry of Public Building and Works and which, in 1963, was £21 million. There is no question that we shall not be able to increase our annual national product and our exports to correct our balance of payments crisis while this vast expenditure on the Navy and the other two Services is spent largely on unproductive work.
As the right hon. and gallant Member for Norwood (Sir J. Smyth) said two years ago:…we may lose the cold war on the economic front."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1963; Vol. 673, c. 67.]My argument is that the only way to make a serious reduction in the Defence Estimates in general and the Navy Estimates in particular is for the Prime Minister to issue an edict to the Secretary of State for Defence, "Cut by 25 per cent." This would reduce the total by nearly £340 million and the Navy Estimates by £100 million.
Our naval commitments are either allied or Commonwealth commitments. There is only one possible naval enemy—and this the Minister has practically admitted today—and that is Russia. On our side we have practically all the other worth-while navies in the world. These include those of America, the largest navy today, and, in the European Atlantic theatre, France, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, Portugal, and Western Germany, all allies or friends.
We also have all the Commonwealth navies—those of Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and the other smaller navies, which total a larger number of ships than the British Navy, though, admittedly, not in the largest size of ships, but in the smaller ones which are the most useful today as stressed by the Minister in his opening speech.
Why, then, this huge and largely unnecessary British naval expenditure? The answer is, "Simply to keep up with the Joneses—the Americans". Only a few years ago, in the Navy Estimates debates, we had the argument from the Tory Party, "Polaris submarines or a large aircraft carrier". But the Tory Government, throwing away not millions but hundreds of millions of pounds, 694 decided on both Polaris submarines and a large aircraft carrier.
The last Government, with the hon. Member for Henley, who today leads for the Opposition, as Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy, decided to go helter-skelter down the slippery slope of unlimited expenditure by ordering five Polaris submarines at £60 million each, rising to £500 million.
§ Commander Pursey
He decided also to start the plans for a monster aircraft carrier, again at £60 million, rising to £100 million. For the benefit of the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), to get the figure right, the grand total would be £600 million down the drain.
Let hon. Members think of the social security benefits which could be provided from large savings on those two items alone on which £600 million were to be spent—more homes for the homeless, higher pensions, and no increased taxation. Defence is the cause of increased taxation, not social security. Fortunately for the nation, the new Labour Government have cancelled one Polaris submarine and, therefore, will have saved the nation on this one item alone in the long run over £100 million. Admittedly, there will be breach of contract commitments.
Why should Britain build and pay for these four Polaris submarines? If they are a necessity they are a Commonwealth necessity, and Canada, Australia and New Zealand should provide some of them, or at least some of the money. In fact, last year Canada considered providing one Polaris submarine for her own use. That is the way in which we should have closer liaison with the Commonwealth countries in paying for this large naval expenditure.
A quick word about the new monster aircraft carrier, because I have discussed this subject in previous years. The Labour Government, wrongly in my opinion, have confirmed the building of this mastodon and, in consequence, in the long run, will throw away £100 million. There is no purely naval rôle for this vast and unnecessary expensive ship in a war against Russia. Where would she be used? There is nowhere to use this ship in a major war. The Russians would sink her in 24 hours, 695 because carrier aircraft are no defence against a series of attacks by larger land-based aircraft.
There is another question. When this ship goes to the Far East, if she is ever completed, where will she dock in the event of damage? There is no dock to take her. The demand for this largest of all ships is not an Admiralty and a naval one, but a Foreign Office and political one. The requirement, and at what a price, is simply to provide a floating aerodrome east of Suez for brush warfare. That argument has been confirmed 100 per cent. by the Minister this afternoon.
At the same time, the R.A.F. demands and gets land aerodromes in this area at great cost. What a game! Expense is no object, even when the Navy is pouring millions of pounds down the drain, and the R.A.F. likewise. But the United States already has huge carriers there and the operations should be United Nations operations or allied operations and not the independent efforts which are going on at present. Moreover, smaller commando carriers are more suitable from the point of view of both size and price. What will be the position when the area east of Suez is peaceful? Britain will have the largest naval white elephant in history with a life of about 30 wasted years. It will be another example of the Tory Party's 13 wasted years.
This brings me to the question of the proliferation of naval establishments throughout the country and some suggestions I have for the closure of some of them to achieve savings and a better use of sites and buildings. Consider, first, air stations. The Navy has a number of them and so has the R.A.F., but none of them is fully used. Why not make combined use of some stations and close down others?
Consider, next, the Royal Marines, to which reference has been made in the debate. At one time consideration was given to the abolition of the "bullocks" of the Navy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who?"] Do not tell me that hon. Gentlemen opposite have never heard of the "bullocks". Have they never heard the expression "headrope along—bullock adrift"? Perhaps that is going back a bit.
Today, the Marines are largely employed as soldiers, probably more so 696 than as seamen. Their cost should be transferred to the Army Estimates. When ashore the Marines come under the Army Act and I am sure that a case could be argued for their transference to the Army. If this were done large economies would accrue at Headquarters and other establishments. One argument against the transfer is that naval officers would lose their batmen and mess waiters, although I can assure hon. Members that no problems arise in ships without Marines.
§ Commander Pursey
I am prepared to accept what the hon. and gallant Gentleman says about most things, for I know that he served with credit in the Royal Marines and that he takes an interest in this subject. However, is he sure that there are no cases of Marines being employed in what I would describe as a personal nature; as batmen, mess men, chauffeurs to admirals and captains? While it may be said that they are employed on Service duties, does he not agree that they are employed in such a personal capacity? If he tries to tell me that they are not, there is only one answer—nonsense.
Consider the Royal Marine establishments. Before the First World War we had fleets of battleships and the Marines manned one of the big-gun turrets and a group of secondary armament guns. There are no such shies today. Then, later—about 1914—there were Marine Headquarters in London, a depôt at Deal and barracks at Portsmouth and Plymouth. Today, there are, in addition to those, an Infantry Training Centre, an Amphibious Training Unit at Poole in Dorset—which, incidentally, has broken away from its moorings—the Stonehouse Camp and the Bickleigh Camp. These two camps are simply to house a Commando. Why?
This year the total Estimate for the Royal Marines is £12 million. That figure can be found in the OFFICIAL REPORT for 5th March last. The Infantry Training Centre, for Army training, costs £920,000. About 53 officers, 379 other ranks and 164 civilians are employed for an average number under training of only 697 85 officers and 400 other ranks. In other words, the complement exceeds the number under training by over 100. No wonder the annual training cost per head is £1,840. This training of 485 persons should be transferred to other establishments.
Why is there a separate Amphibious Training Unit at Poole in Dorset? What is wrong with the beaches at Plymouth, Portsmouth, Deal, or the beer? At that unit 19 officers, 183 other ranks and 97 civilians, 299 in all, train only 105 officers and men at a cost of £415,000 a year. This is three complement to one trainee. No wonder the annual training cost per head is £3,900. This unit should be closed down and the training carried out elsewhere.
The Stonehouse Camp has a complement of 85 and an annual cost of £133,000. Bickleigh Camp has a complement of 56 at an annual cost of £85,000. The cost of the Commando, at each camp, is £1 million. Obviously, these two camps should be combined and preferably the training transferred to Army establishments or other Marine or Naval establishments.
Consider, next, the four establishments in Northern Ireland. These are, first, H.M.S. "Sea Eagle", including the Joint Anti-Submarine School; secondly, the Royal Naval Aircraft Repair Yard at Belfast, some distance away; thirdly, the Royal Naval Armament Depot at Antrim, including sub-depots at Crossgar and Kilnappy; and, fourthly, the Royal Naval Fuel Depot at Lisahally.
What connection do these things have when they are scattered about like poppies in a field? The repair yard at Belfast employs nine officers at a cost of £85,000, 1,071 civilians at a cost of £840,000, meaning a total cost of £1 million. The armament depot at Antrim employs 370 civilians at a cost of £280,000 and a total cost of £400,000. The fuel depot at Lisahally employs 14 civilians at a cost of £12,000 and a total cost of £14,000. Obviously, these three depots are an unnecessary carry-over from the war and should have been closed down many years ago. The saving would be nearly £1½ million a year. Admittedly, 1,155 civilians would be rendered unemployed, but I will come to that later.
The naval base, H.M.S. "Sea Eagle", and the Anti-Submarine School require 698 separate consideration. There is only one reason for this base at Londonderry and that is to provide employment or a social service. A defence service establishment is the most expensive and most unproductive form of providing employment and this whole base should be completely closed down.
§ Mr. Chichester-Clark
The hon. and gallant Gentleman should give way. He has been half-an-hour already.
§ Commander Pursey
I have written to you saying that I would deal with Londonderry, so there is no need to be in a hurry. I do not want you to interrupt me in the middle of my figures, because I am not very good at them.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Samuel Storey)
Order. I was not interrupting the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey).
§ Commander Pursey
I am sorry, Sir Samuel. I was led into saying "you".
There is no real naval argument for the anti-submarine school being at Londonderry. Between the wars it was at Portland and produced good results. I can speak from personal experience not of the school, but from my service in the anti-submarine flotilla for two years.
The annual cost of H.M.S. "Sea Eagle" is £880,000. There are 65 naval officers and 380 ratings there—I do not know why there should be such a large number—and if they were to be transferred elsewhere there would be some saving in the cost of their upkeep of £520,000.
The major saving, however, would be in the position of the 228 civilians and their cost of £185,000 per annum. This would give a total of 1,683 unemployed, but the saving of money would be over £1¼ million per annum. During the 13 Tory wasted years, about £16 million has been spent to provide about 1,600 699 civilians with unproductive employment. This is at the colossal rate of £1 million per person.
What waste! What nonsense! But this is a typical example of the Tory policy of wasting millions of pounds on defence. Why have not the Ulster Members, in particular those representing Londonderry and Belfast, argued with successive Tory Governments over the closure of these four unnecessary naval establishments and the use of this total of £16 million to build factories for productive employment and the export trade which would give work not only to the 1,600 rendered redundant but also to a far larger number?
We have not, however, heard a whimper about this from hon. Members from Northern Ireland. Has it never dawned on their limited intelligence? Why did they have to wait for an orphan boy with a board school education to work out this arithmetic and show what should have been obvious to the meanest intelligence since the war?
Now that we have dealt with Londonderry, I am prepared to give way to the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) if he wishes to intervene.
§ Mr. Chichester-Clark
I do not want to interrupt now. I enjoy the hon. and gallant Member's speech every year, but this year it is a little different. I propose, if I catch your eye, Sir Samuel, to deal with the hon. and gallant Gentleman's remarks later. It may be that he has more to say, but we are entranced by this story. I doubt, however, whether he has got one figure right, except his column reference in HANSARD.
§ Commander Pursey
It is a good legal idea that when one has no case one abuses opposing counsel. The hon. Member for Londonderry is a little at sea. He has not got webbed feet, so he is completely out of his depth. All these figures have been taken from an Answer by the Admiralty in HANSARD. That was given for the hon. Gentleman's benefit, because I knew that he knew nothing about it, otherwise he might have dealt with it in the past.
§ Mr. Chichester-Clark
As the hon. and gallant Gentleman is apparently so keen 700 on my interrupting him, I will tell him that I spent two days last week in Londonderry looking into this matter. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has got some of his figures right, but read some of them wrong.
§ Commander Pursey
I did not read any of them wrong. I can guarantee their accuracy. I will put this question to the hon. Gentleman: would he prefer to go on spending millions of pounds on the Londonderry base which should be used for building factories to provide productive employment for a larger number than the 1,600 who would be rendered redundant? He says nothing. So he is quite prepared to go on pouring millions of pounds down the drain.
My next example is H.M.S. "Royal Arthur", the Royal Naval Petty Officers' School at Corsham, Wiltshire. This is a typical example of the Admiralty securing a site 100 miles away from the sea for training which should obviously be done at a naval port. The site is 30 acres, the value of the land and buildings—admittedly mainly huts—is £108,000 and the maintenance costs total £18,000 per annum.
The number of officers employed at the establishment is 12 and their salaries amount to £30,000 per annum. Nine officers and 14 ratings constitute the training staff, costing £24,000 and £21,000 per annum, respectively. The annual cost of training is £145,000 and the cost per student week is £24 10s. The annual training programme is 940 students on courses lasting six weeks, 430 students on courses lasting one week and 240 students on courses varying from two days to two weeks. I have taken these figures from HANSARD of 5th March, 1965, c. 325.
This represents a total of only 1,600 trained students per annum with a weekly average, for 52 weeks, of only 30–about two students per member of the staff. Even Gilbert and Sullivan, in their wildest dreams, for their comic opera, H.M.S. "Pianofore"—[HON. MEMBERS: "H.M.S. Pinafore'."] I only mispronounced it to find out if hon. Members were listening. Not even Gilbert and Sullivan, in their wildest dreams, for their comic opera H.M.S. "Pinafore", would have produced a scheme whereby petty officers travelled nearly 100 miles from Portsmouth and 150 miles from Devonport for a two-day course. In other words, it takes them a day to get there and a day to get back 701 in order to spend two days there, with four sessions in two days. No sooner are they at Corsham than it is time for them to prepare to return.
This long travelling is ludicrous, certainly for a course of one week or two, and even for the six weeks' course. What and the travelling expenses for this establishment? Once again, this is money going down the drain, and it is out of all proportion to the training given.
Why have this naval school in the heart of the country at Corsham when it should be at a naval base? Is it to teach petty officers how to farm, milk cows and buy country "pubs" by instalments, a pint at a time, at the "Methuen Arms This is vocational training for civil life just before retirement and not for petty officers to go to sea as the backbone of the Navy. This school should be closed down and the site returned to its former country use.
My last example is H.M.S. "Dauntless", the Women's Royal Naval Service new-entry training school at Burghfield, near Reading. Here is another case of the Admiralty securing a site in the heart of the country, 60 miles from Portsmouth, the nearest naval base. This time, the site is 39 acres, or larger than Corsham, the value of the land and buildings £75,000, and maintenance costs £12,500. The complement is 21 officers, costing £25,540, 82 ratings, costing £55,850, and four civilians, costing £2,860 per annum. The training staff is seven officers, costing £6,000, 17 ratings, costing £14,000 per annum, and the total cost of training is £100,500.
The annual training programme is 965 students for four weeks' training. People living near the railway line to this place can tell the day of the month by whether the train is going up or coming back, because this is going on like clockwork, irrespective of expense. A number of stewards, cooks and other students have between three and 16 weeks' training. The normal course is between four and eight weeks. The cost per student is £24 10s. and the total annual cost is £1 28,000. Taking the 965 students and the staff of 24, the weekly average, for a 52-week year, is only 40—or, again, about two students per member of the staff.
Why is this school at Burghfield? Why are these young women isolated in the country when they have to face up to 702 the Navy sooner or later? Why should they not be sent to a naval port right away, to dive in at the deep end instead of waddling in from the shallow end? Is it the case that their first training has to be paddling in the fresh water of the Thames before they can paddle in the salt water of Southsea Beach?
What have they to be taught at Burgh-field which they cannot be taught, with the aid of the Navy and perhaps more efficiently, at Portsmouth or Plymouth? In their case, at the beginning of their careers, it cannot be for the same reasons as the petty officers at Corsham, namely, to learn how to farm, how to milk cows and how to frequent country "pubs".
Those are only four examples of unnecessary "stone frigates" dotted about all over the country. There are many more and it is to be hoped that the new Minister for the Navy will go through the list with a small toothcomb with the object of closing down as many as possible.
My final point is a constituency one. Why does the Admiralty not give more consideration to the several small shipbuilding yards on the River Humber? A number of these yards are able to produce many types of ancillary craft of the highest quality. These yards can both build and repair naval craft and the Admiralty should ensure that the Humber gets a fair crack of the whip for both purposes and for both British and Commonwealth navies.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Mr. W. H. K. Baker (Banff)
I must say how astonished I have been at the ease with which hon. Members opposite wish to decimate the Navy, which, in the final analysis, is what it comes to. The Navy is our first line of defence and as such it needs a great deal more support and a great deal more spent on it. The way in which more money can be spent on it is for the Polaris factor to be taken out of the Navy Estimates and borne on the Defence, as against the purely Navy, Estimates.
The most worrying thing about the Defence White Paper when applied to the Navy is its lack of realism and the all-pervading sense of the old pre-war doctrine of, "No major war for the next 10 years". This is particularly important for the Royal Navy, perhaps more important to the Navy than to the other 703 Services. For instance, there is the long gestation period for a carrier. The Navy has to be ready to guard against the possible spread of any war, against any local war escalating, in the modern expression, and we have to be prepared to guard against that possibility in all respects and not least at sea.
The lack of realism in the Government's policy is to be seen in that Soviet Russia has no fewer than 430 effective, operational and largely ocean-going submarines, of which 22 are nuclear-powered H and N classes, capable of 30 knots while submerged and 25 knots on the surface. In addition, Russia has another 60 fast conventional submarines and I understand from various sources that she is building 10 nuclear-powered submarines every year, plus another 20 ordinary conventional types.
These submarines are divided into four fleets, the Arctic, the Baltic, the Black Sea and the Pacific fleets. More than half of them are now in the Arctic or the Baltic and, therefore, posing a direct threat to this nation.
The Minister, in opening the debate, said that he did not consider it possible that we should have another major conventional war in which submarine warfare was restricted. I take issue with him for the simple and sole reason that no nation builds 430 submarines for the fun of it. It is possible to imagine various ways in which we could be embroiled in a major conventional submarine war. First, it might seem to the Soviet Union at one stage or another convenient to "cut us out"—the old naval tactic. It could "cut us out" very well if it deployed its submarines to the best advantage.
Secondly, it is conceivable that the Soviet Union might lease or lend part of its submarine fleet to a third Power which would be under the nominal command of that power. Thirdly, it is conceivable that we might get into a major war completely by mistake. In any case, however, I maintain that there is a distinct and definite threat to this nation from those submarines.
I remind the Committee of the critical situation which this nation faced in the first 20 days of March, 1943. That is described in the "Official History of the War at Sea" as the "crisis of all crises." 704 During the first 10 days of that period, we lost 41 merchantmen. During the second 10 days, we lost 56. Altogether, we lost more than 500,000 tons of shipping. At that stage Germany had 240 operational U-boats in all theatres. That number approximates to the number which Soviet Russia is now deploying either in the Arctic or the Baltic.
The crisis of March, 1943, was turned into a resounding victory in little more than two months, when during the period April-May, 1943, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force sank no fewer than 56 U-boats. It is interesting to analyse the way in which they were sunk. Sixteen of them—
The Deputy Chairman
Order. The hon. Gentleman must relate his remarks to the Estimates. This is not a general debate on defence.
§ Mr. Baker
I beg your pardon, Sir Samuel. My point is that we were very, very short of anti-submarine forces until the time we had them grouped into escort groups.
Captain Roskill, on page 376 of the second volume of the "Official History of the War at Sea", said:It is perfectly plain today that it was the sea and air escorts of the convoys which achieved decisive victoryin May 1943. According to "Jane's Fighting Ships", we have today 70 escorts of all types. The fact that they are of all types is the critical point. It is stated on page 30 of the Defence White Paper that…the escort fleet will be strengthened by the addition of four more Leander Class Frigates…It also states that H.M.S. "Blake" is to undergo a conversion in April to carry helicopters. "Janes Fighting Ships" gives the speed of the Leanders as 30 knots. Even at that speed, they will be extremely hard pressed to catch any nuclear powered submarine which can travel at 30 knots below the surface.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) said, I think that in some respects the Leanders are too sophisticated. I do not think that general-purpose ships are good enough for what we want. The late Admiral Lord Cunningham said in his memoirs, "A Sailor's Odyssey", when referring to this very point:These vessels are much too large. We have a grave tendency to sacrifice fighting power for 705 endurance. They have become carriers of radar and radar ratings and though they could detect the approach of every type of enemy en, under or over the sea, they could do lade about it when in range because of their lack of fire power".We need to get away from the general-purpose frigate. We need what I might call modern corvettes and to form them into escort groups. At least then we would have the nucleus of protection for any convoy. Although it is perfectly true to say that we have carriers, we cannot hope to have the number necessary to protect all our merchantmen or, indeed, all our naval ships when deployed. We must be able with these carriers not only to protect the fighting ships, the sea power, but land forces and, as it seems to me, convoys of merchantmen.
During the last war Hurricanes were catapulted from merchantmen. I suggest to the Minister that it would be possible to work out a policy with the shipping lines whereby helicopter platforms could be erected in an emergency on some of our larger merchant vessels. Like the method adopted in the last war, these helicopters based on merchant ships would be available, not only for antisubmarine work, but, to a more limited extent, for repulsing possible surface attack against either merchant convoys or against our ships of the fleet. At least this would have the virtue of offsetting some of the lack of fast escort vessels.
May I take a leaf out of the book of the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, East (Commander Pursey)? I should like to impress on the Minister the virtue of some of the shipbuilding yards in my constituency.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I believe that I am the first objective person to take part in this debate.
§ Mr. Hughes
I say that out of great respect to my hon. and gallant Friend. 706 What I meant was that I am the first person to speak who has not been in the Navy.
§ Mr. Hughes
I think that I can put forward a certain point of view, but I cannot improve on the attack on some of the institutions of the Navy which was made by my hon. and gallant Friend.
I always come to these debates as an unofficial representative of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and ask whether we are getting our money's worth, whether the country can afford it and exactly how the security, safety and economic welfare of the country is affected.
The first speech which impressed on me the great importance of keeping an eye on the Navy was made by Sir Winston Churchill, in 1948. He made a very devastating criticism of the policy of the Labour Government. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, East will remember it. Nothing that I could say and nothing that he could say could improve on the devastating attack on the Admiralty made by Sir Winston when he was speaking from the Opposition benches.
I always look it up before I come to these debates and I remember the passage in which he said that what had happened at the Admiralty had been an enormous growth of civilian officials of all kinds who had been superimposed and who made work for themselves and their descendants every day they sat in their office chairs. The whole presentation of the Admiralty staff, he said, was a scandal which any House of Commons worthy of its financial responsibility should probe, scrub and cleanse. I am here tonight to carry on the humble work of probing, scrubbing and cleansing these Navy Estimates, realising that this exceedingly large sum of £560 million cannot be disposed of by a gathering of old Navy comrades, but is a huge sum that has to come out the national Exchequer at a time when we face a great financial crisis.
I am not alone in this view. A considerable number of people who do not belong to the same political party as myself, or are not of the same viewpoint as mine, are critical of the expenditure of the Navy from the standpoint of the other 707 Services. For example, Sir Roy Dobson, a great industrialist, the chairman of Hawker-Siddeley, to whom hon. Members opposite listen and pay respect, expressed an opinion about the reductions when the cuts were made.
In an interview reported in the Evening Standard, which I cut out and preserved for suitable occasions, he talked about the cuts and said:They are all in the R.A.F. Not one in the Navy. The Navy is spending money like a drunken sailor.Not a half-drunk sailor, but a drunken sailor. That is a rather picturesque exaggeration, because I would never associate my two hon. Friends on the Front Bench with any kind of insobriety.
When I look upon these sums, however, there is something to be said for the idea that the Navy is getting too much. When I hear all these rhapsodies about the Navy and all these nostalgic excursions back into the past, I wonder not that the Navy demands only £560 million, but that it does not want a great deal more. Fortunately, however, this is the House of Commons and we must examine some of these expenditures rather more meticulously.
I certainly approve of the Government cutting out the extra Polaris submarine. Although I am a pacifist, I have never believed that we could dispense with the whole of the Armed Forces overnight, or in a year. I have always believed in a five-year plan for disarmament. If the Government's proposal is to lop off one Polaris submarine out of five this year, and to go on lopping them off next year, the following year and the year after, I will not criticise it. I am, however, afraid of the tremendous power behind the scenes of the Admiralty establishment and I believe that the Labour Government will have to take a strong, tough line with the Admiralty and make up their mind that we are living in the year 1965 and not 200 years ago.
Very little has been said about the Polaris submarines requiring a base. Unfortunately, that base is to be situated on the west coast of Scotland, not far from the Holy Loch. I do not know whether there will be any sort of cooperation between the two bases, but I remember the great protest in the west of Scotland when it was proposed to establish 708 a Polaris submarine at the Holy Loch. Now, we are to have a British Polaris submarine at the Gare Loch, which is to cost a tremendous sum of money and which is also open to criticism that this part of the west coast of Scotland is being made one of the most dangerous places in the whole world.
I look upon this from the point of view of a Member of Parliament in that area who fought the election on a programme that if a Labour Government were returned, we would have more advance factories, more houses, schools and hospitals and that these were the political and social priorities.
What is going on at the Polaris base at the Gare Loch? Hon. Members may remember that I raised this question in an Adjournment debate, when an hon. and gallant Member opposite spoke for the Government. Then, the figure was given that the cost of the base would be between £20 million and £25 million. Now, so I have been told by the Minister of Defence in answer to a Question, this sum is estimated at £45 million. There are 800 building and construction workers engaged on the site. There are electricians, builders, joiners, plasterers and plumbers, all the kind of people employed on this base whom we need for our housing schemes, our advance factories and our hospitals, building and construction workers who, we maintain, should not be on that project.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I am sure that my hon. Friend would not wish unwittingly to mislead the Committee about the two figures £25 million and £45 million. The £25 million does not include, for example, to take only one item, the training school, because at that time it had not been decided to put the training school at Faslane. That accounts for £9 million of the difference. The other matters are equally decisions taken after the figure of £25 million was given and not pure escalation, although I do not say that there is no element of escalation.
§ Mr. Hughes
I understand that the total cost amounts to £40 million. This is at a time when we cannot get money for our schools, our houses and our advance factories. All the time when we ask for money for these things, which, we believe, are a primary social necessity, we are told that we cannot get it. 709 At the same time, the Government are rushing ahead with this considerable army of 800 men, building and construction workers, to get the base ready for 1968.
I do not know how many submarines the base is supposed to cater for. If the submarines are cut by 20 per cent., I should have thought that a smaller base was needed, but I shall be very much surprised, when we consider the Navy Estimates for 1968, if this sum has not been overspent. Therefore, I regard this as ominous. I want to see the Polaris submarines reduced and can-celled altogether, because at the present rate of technological progress I venture this prophecy, too; if we are here in 1968, we will find that these submarines are obsolete, because they are the ones which used to go to the Holy Loch three years ago.
In his latest message to the United States Congress, President Johnson said that the Americans now had a new kind of missile called the Poseidon, with a range of 1,000 miles more than the Polaris, so already the submarines that we are building are inferior to the American ones. I therefore venture to suggest that the scientific correspondent of The Guardian was right in his prophecy that by the time these sub-marines were completed they would be obsolete.
What has happened as a result of the development of the Polaris submarine? The Russians have invented a much bigger megaton bomb, and we are told that one of the newest Russian bombs will destroy anything within a radius of 200 miles from the point of explosion. I do not know how that statement affects the view of hon. Gentlemen opposite who advocate the construction of aircraft carriers. Presumably, this new bomb will not need to hit the target to destroy it. It will only need to come within 200 miles of it to do so, and we are told by the defence correspondent of the Economist that if the new megaton bomb explodes in the sea it will crack the hull of a submarine within that range.
In these days technical changes take place almost as regularly as geometrical progressions. I therefore think that we are embarking on a programme of ruinous expenditure, and if, by any accident, I 710 am here in 1968, and happen to be delivering a speech, I shall look back to what I said about this year's Estimates and say that I was not far wrong.
I read my hon. Friend's speeches very carefully. In January, we learnt that there was to be a considerable increase in the building of frigates. I understand that two are to be built on the Clyde. It is frequently said that a programme such as this provides work for the Clyde. No doubt it does, and I understand from a statement in the Glasgow Herald that at the moment one-third of the shipbuilding capacity of the Clyde is devoted to naval shipbuilding, but at the same time we must realise what this means in terms of the construction of other ships.
We have to face the menace of competition from Japan. The other day asked whether one of the reasons why Japan was able to compete successfully with us in the shipbuilding world—and my question was received with the usual subdued groan by hon. Gentlemen opposite—was that she had cut her defence expenditure. We have seen this remarkable development of shipbuilding in Japan, and yet she has no Navy. The Japanese were defeated in the last war, but yet they are able to compete so successfully that the P & O group is considering tenders from Japan for the building of ships.
Glasgow shipbuilders have to try to compete in difficult circumstances. I say that because if one-third of the shipbuilding force of Glasgow is concentrated on building naval vessels, other kinds of shipbuilding must necessarily suffer. If workers are engaged on building frigates, other shipbuilding firms cannot get skilled labour to build ships, with the result that delivery dates are put back. By the time these frigates are completed, Japan will have captured a great deal of the shipbuilding market, which will mean unemployment in our shipyards.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
Order. We are not discussing commercial shipbuilding. We are discussing the Navy Estimates.
§ Mr. Hughes
Sir Samuel, I always rely on you to keep me on the straight and narrow path. I was pointing out that naval shipbuilding was not helping the shipbuilding industry in this country, taking a long-term view of the matter.
711 What does the Minister intend to do about the "Britannia"? I received an unexpected invitation from the Minister to go to Portsmouth to see this ship because in years gone by I had made criticisms about its cost. I see that the crew of the "Britannia" are included in the Estimates. I had never been to Portsmouth before, and I was shown round the "Britannia" with great courtesy by high-ranking naval officers who were thankful that it was the Minister who was the Minister, and not I. I came away with the impression that it was a luxury ship.
I was told that it was not doing anything at the time. It had done nothing during January, February, and March, and it was not likely to do anything particular in April, but it was to be refitted. I believe that this refit is almost an annual event. This must be the most expensive vessel which the Navy has ever had on its strength.
In these days, when everyone is supposed to be pulling his weight to help the national economy, when all the skilled labour and manpower that is available is needed to help the country, it seems an anomaly that the officers and crew of this vessel should be working, at the most, for about three months of the year, which means that they are idle for the remaining nine months. What would be said of a factory which worked for only three months of the year? In fact, it is probably safe to say that, taken on average, over the years "Britannia" has been in operation for only one month in every year.
Bringing my objective point of view to bear, I wondered what we could do with this vessel. I did not want to stop it being used for ceremonial purposes, but I suggested that for perhaps five or six months of the year when it was not being so used, it could be used to boost our export trade. I look forward to cooperation from my hon. Friend in what I think is a good idea. We need to display our export goods in all parts of the world, and I suggest that if the "Britannia" were sent to New York, to display the products of various industries, it might pay us handsome dividends.
I am sure that if the Minister got into touch with the Scottish Industrial Coun- 712 cil and said, "We want to increase the export trade of Scotland. You can have this ship at a certain figure—the running costs for six months of the year," I am sure that the Council would take it, and that a handsome profit would be made out of it. I thought that I was justified in raising this point because it is a public scandal that a luxury ship of this kind should not be serving a useful purpose.
I know that the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) will not agree with me about this, because he thinks only of getting jobs for his constituents, and anyone who gives a man a job in which he has to work for only three months in the year will be looked upon with a certain favour. But this nation is struggling for its existence, and it is time that this waste was reduced. That is why I have made this constructive suggestion.
§ Brigadier Terence Clarke (Portsmouth, West)
I suppose the hon. Member knows that this is a hospital ship, and that that is its main purpose. If we have a war it will save the lives of many people—although perhaps that is not a matter in which the hon. Member is really interested.
§ Mr. Hughes
That is something in which I am profoundly interested. As the hon. and gallant Member says, it is true that it was slipped through in the rearmament programme in 1951 as a hospital ship. I am surprised that people did not realise that it was to be a Royal Yacht and not a hospital ship. I am surprised that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is so out of touch with matters which affect his constituency, because when I inquired of the officers in the "Britannia" when it was used as a hospital—
§ Commander Anthony Courtney (Harrow, East)
The hon. Member says that this ship was in the Estimates for 1951. That would have been under a Socialist Government.
§ Mr. Hughes
That is true. In my innocence I thought that it was a hospital ship. I can assure my hon. Friend that if I had thought that it was to be a luxury yacht of this kind I would have protested. As soon as I realised that this was to be its purpose I protested as 713 emphatically as I could. Whenever I made a protest I received enthusiastic support from all parts of the country, including the hon. and gallant Member's constituency. All the letters were to the effect that this was a waste of money, and that it was luxury expenditure which could be reduced.
The President of the United States long ago gave up using his State yacht, because the United States could not afford it. If the "Britannia" was likely to be used as a hospital ship I would have no objection, but there is no hospital ship in the whole of the Navy at present—
§ Mr. John Wells
The hon. Member says that the President of the United States has long since given up having a yacht. He may have forgotten that the President is not the Head of a Commonwealth of nations. Secondly, he might examine the expenditure involved in travelling by air by the President and his staff, and associated Congressmen.
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. Member is welcome to that point. President Johnson is the President of the United States, and not the Commonwealth. I do not know whether that makes a fundamental difference to my argument. If that is the only argument which the hon. Member has to adduce, his case is very weak.
At present, the Navy has no hospital ship. It works on the assumption that its hospitals are on shore. I submit that this ship was put on the Navy strength by something very near false pretences, and by presuming upon the ignorance of hon. Members.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
Is the hon. Member accusing his party of having cooked the books in their term of office?
§ Mr. Hughes
No. I do not accuse my party of cooking the books, but somebody did. I have criticised the Navy Estimates every year since 1946, and there has never been any sign of royal yacht expenditure in any year. Perhaps "cooking the books" is too strong a term. I do not want to hurt the feelings of hon. Members opposite. But it was mentioned under a rather curious name, and the ambiguity was such as to mislead would-be critics. Now that we know about it, the time has come to realise that we are not living in the old "Victoria and Albert" days. Now that the ship 714 is there we ought to use it for the benefit of the country.
I understand that we are to have a review of national expenditure. Who will review the expenditure and strategy of the Navy? Will it be a collection of gentlemen who have served their lives in the Navy? If so, once again we will have the whole of this vast expenditure repeated, and that process will continue until sheer economic necessity compels us to stop. In fact, I believe that that time has come. I do not believe that the nation's wealth and industry depends upon a large Navy. I have mentioned Japan, which has no Navy—
§ Commander Courtney
I did not wish to interrupt the hon. Member, but I can assure him—and I am sure that the Minister will confirm this—that although Japan refers to it as a seaward defence force, or in some such terms, it is, in fact, an armed Navy.
§ Mr. Hughes
My argument is that Japan does not have to submit an annual Estimate of anything like £560 million, as we have to do. I do not want to get away from the Navy Estimates into broad general economic problems, except to say that there is a delusion that the more that is spent on the Navy the better it is for trade. The Prime Minister has been to Western Germany. How big is its Navy? It has practically nothing.
§ Mr. Hughes
It may be growing, but the German Navy Estimates are nothing like £560 million, and long before they reach that figure there will be a movement to reduce the cost.
I approach these Estimates from the point of view that this country will have to change its industrial economy to live in the modern age. The idea that we shall fight future wars with aircraft carriers, frigates and all the present paraphernalia of the Navy is a delusion. Nowadays, manned rockets circle the earth, in the stratosphere. In them are people who can drop bombs which can destroy our industrial and economic life. It is no use our following the nostalgic theories and ideas of yesterday. We must reduce our large naval expenditure, and I am sure that it will not be long before the House of Commons will also come to this opinion.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Brigadier Terence Clarke (Portsmouth, West)
I thank you for calling me, Sir Samuel, because I am anxious to answer some of the points made by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). He made a very unfair attack on the Royal Yacht. He should come to see it, in which case he would realise what a useful ship it is and, in the event of a war, how grateful the country would be to his party for its foresight in having built it, even though it foxed the hon. Member at the time into thinking it was a hospital ship and had nothing to do with being a Royal Yacht. It is a dual-purpose ship, serving two excellent purposes, and it has been a very useful ship.
There is no reason why the Royal Yacht should be permanently at sea. If it were the hon. Member would be grumbling at the fact that the Estimates for the ship were double what they are now. It has to have a refit, like every other ship. It is quite a normal ship, but for some reason which has never been clear it has always upset some hon. Members opposite, who like to criticise their own Government for something for which I give that Government full credit.
It does not seem to matter very much who is in charge for the Navy, because this year we have had from the present holder of the office almost as good a Tory speech as we have had in previous years. Why the newspapers credited the Labour Government with having made a large cut in the Estimates has absolutely beaten me. The Government have spent £56 million more than the Tories have ever spent in any one year on the Navy, and I welcome it. What is more, we were told that we are to have a bigger conventional Navy. Since January I have continually asked questions about this, and I have been told to wait until the White Paper was published. Now that it has been published we find that we have no more ships than those which were ordered by the previous Conservative Government. I am still waiting for the larger conventional Navy promised by the Prime Minister when, just before the election, he was working in the direction of Devon-port and Chatham.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
Can the hon. and gallant Gentle- 716 man tell me of any warship which could be built in six months?
§ Brigadier Clarke
I did not hear the question exactly, but if the hon. Member has an opportunity to make a speech, no doubt we shall enjoy listening to it.
My constituents were encouraged to believe that if they voted for the Labour Party at the General Election we should have a bigger and better Navy and even more employment than they had under a Tory Government. They have been thoroughly deceived, and I do not think they will be taken in with that sort of thing again. That was not the only way in which they have recently been deceived. They have been deceived in every possible way.
I am glad that we have spent £56 million more than in previous years on the Navy, but I think that had there been a Conservative Government we should have got the extra Polaris submarine which is essential. Why should we spoil the Polaris programme just to appease a few people sitting opposite who would probably cut the Prime Minister's throat if he did not throw out one of the Polaris submarines? The hon. Member for South Ayrshire may one day regret that we have not the Polaris submarine to save him and the country. For just party political reasons one submarine was cut out. The Admiralty must have thought out this programme very cleverly and carefully before deciding on the adequate number of submarines necessary, but purely to appease certain factions opposite we have lost one submarine which might have made all the difference. Now we cannot guarantee to have two Polaris submarines at sea at the same time.
We were told during the election campaign that we should not have any Polaris submarines. That must have pleased some of the Left-wing people opposite. That turned out to be a complete misguiding of the party opposite and the country. We have a bigger Navy this year by £50 million and we have a deterrent as well, something for which I have always been fighting, and I am glad that now we have got it.
We were told before that it was a wicked thing, but we are lucky in that the Prime Minister has become a little wiser 717 about the need for protection for this country and is not prepared to listen to those who might have crucified him earlier but who do not want to lose their salaries by going to the country and trying once more to see what the result would be. They have a good lot of pay now and they will stick to it while they can. The boys have jobs and are enjoying themselves. As the hon. Member for South Ayrshire said, they have broken all the promises made about the amount of building at the dockyards up north when they should have been building hospitals and all the things you want so much. You must talk to your Prime Minister about that and not talk to us. This is a party matter. You should put more Motions down on the Order Paper like the Motion recently—
§ Brigadier Clarke
I beg your pardon, Sir Samuel, I would not suggest for a moment that you had. If I did say "You" naturally I withdraw it, as I know that you would not dream of putting down a Motion which would be completely out of order.
It is important that the hon. Members opposite should attack in the right direction and not talk to us or come here and talk about these things in this Committee during a discussion on the Navy Estimates. Your party has given us £50 million more, and I am very glad—that is, the Labour Party, not Sir Samuel's party. The Deputy-Chairman is very helpful when I am talking, he owns one of the best papers in my constituency, and I am most grateful to him—
§ Brigadier Clarke
I am sorry, Sir Samuel. I know that if I make any mistakes you will put them right for me in my own local paper.
C.N.D. elements and the pacifists on that side of the Committee must have had a terrible loss of face in not being able to get these Navy Estimates below the figure at which they are now.
I should like to deal with a number of other matters. The Minister raised a 718 question of building houses for sailors both at home and overseas. This is a most important problem. I wish to refer to a letter which is the concern of the War Office, although I have had an equal number recently referring to the Navy. There is something very wrong in the situation where, when a man comes out of the Service and wishes to commute his pension to buy a house, as he is allowed to do in certain circumstances, he should find that the circumstances are very different from what he thought.
I had a case the other day, which I propose to send to the Under-Secretary, involving a man who had an option on a house. In places like Portsmouth or Devonport houses are difficult to obtain. This man was told that unless he could produce a deposit he would not get the house, and he did not get it. He looked for another house, but had not the money and so he lost that. Not until he has actually got something signed up for a house—which he would be unable to do without the money—will the Admiralty provide the money to buy the house and the furniture that he requires.
This must have an effect on recruiting, and I think that if the Minister would look into the matter he could do a lot to help these people who at the end of their service wish to settle down. All these little pinpricks have the effect of stopping people joining the Services. We spend vast sums of money on advertisements in order to persuade people to join the Navy, and I have no objection to that. Probably it is the best way to get them to join. But it is no use doing that and then frightening off an equal number by there being people who can tell the story about how they have been treated and that they were unable to get the portion of their pension to which they were entitled by reason of red tape restrictions.
I wish to draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that one day if some of the Left-wing people in his party—and perhaps in other parties—have their say, there will be cuts in armaments. This has been advocated from both sides of the Committee. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Do hon. Members realise what would happen in respect of places like Portsmouth, Devonport or Chatham if the Polaris programme were suddenly stopped and we did not build ships? I 719 ask the Minister to do everything possible to try to encourage more industry to come to the dockyard towns so that there will be adequate work in the event of the dockyards having to close down. These dockyards have a privileged position. These docks would earn enormous sums of money for this country and for the locality, but they are the property of the Admiralty, who pay reasonably low wages. If only it were a commercial port, the city of Portsmouth would be a very wealthy city indeed. But if the Navy were to be cut down tomorrow and our ship-repair business were to come to an end, we would have enormous unemployment. I ask the Minister to do everything he can to encourage more industry to Portsmouth. That would raise the wages of the dockyard as well, because there would be a certain amount of competition.
§ Brigadier Clarke
I should like to complete this point. I am very keen to get this over to the Minister.
Less than 40 per cent. of those working in the dockyard belong to a trade union. I believe that the question of a fair rate of pay is a matter for the trade unions. The trade unions do nothing about trying to improve the dockyard wages in the dockyard cities. I mean that quite seriously. Forty per cent. of dockyard workers will no longer be members of trade unions if those trade unions do not improve and the Minister does not do something to help them. During the time that the Labour Government were last in office, dockyard wages in five years went up 6s. for skilled, unskilled and semi-skilled workers. During the time from 1951 to the present, the wages were trebled by a Conservative Government. There is no doubt which party the dockyard prefers. That is a matter of no concern. The concern is to try to give these people a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I can appreciate the hon. Member's point, but if we are to reduce naval expenditure there is the problem of finding alternative work. I have been advocating that for many years. Will the hon. Member say what kind of industry he wants to attract to 720 Portsmouth? If private enterprise does not come, is he in favour of directing industry there?
§ Brigadier Clarke
I have never been in favour of directing industry. I have brought four big factories to Portsmouth myself, and I could have brought many more.
§ Brigadier Clarke
I beg your pardon, Sir Samuel. I was answering a question put to me by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). If the hon. Member likes, I will have a private discussion with him afterwards about industry at Portsmouth.
I think that I will bring my speech to an end. I know that many hon. Members would like to speak, especially from this side of the Committee. I would say, in conclusion, that there are a number of senior ratings and petty officers who have not had a pension increase for an awful long time. There are officers' pensions associations which look after the senior ranks, but rather unsuccessfully. They do their best, because neither Government has ever given way to those who retired before 1950 and provided a proper increase of pension for the officers. But a much worse case can be made out for the ratings and petty officers, who have not had a rise. Those who retired before 1950 are on a very low scale of pension. Perhaps the Minister would look into that and see if he can give a jolt to the Treasury. After all, his party made a good many promises to the pre-1950 officers which have not been carried out.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Rhodes (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)
Before developing the remarks which I should like to make to the Committee, I should like to make one general comment on the very last sentence of the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke). He said that the Labour Party made many promises in the election which it had not yet fulfilled. That is a perfectly correct statement.
I would, however, point out that the normal lifetime of Parliament is five years and that anybody who pretended that, during the course of four months, 721 one could fulfil a whole electoral programme would be utterly unrealistic. The hon. and gallant Member is merely trying to play the party political game in the middle of a very important defence debate. We had better get down to brass tacks and discuss the Navy Estimates.
§ Mr. Humphrey Atkins (Merton and Morden)
The criticism of this side of the Committee is not that many new ships have not been built, but that there is no indication in the Estimates that they will be built.
§ Mr. Rhodes
With respect, the point which the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West, was making at the end of his speech was in reference to public service pensioners. He then proceeded to a broader point, that there were many promises which had not yet been fulfilled. I was making the purely straightforward, simple and acceptable remark that it would be unreasonable, if not completely unrealistic, to expect any Government, whether one is sympathetic towards it or not, to carry out the whole of its election programme in a matter of four months. The fewer remarks of this kind we have, the more constructive the debate can become.
§ Brigadier Clarke
Would the hon. Member say how long he expects the Government to last, as I do not think that it will have time to fulfil any of their promises?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I think that the hon. Member should turn his attention back to the Estimates, and leave political considerations out of the discussion.
§ Mr. Rhodes
I bow to your Ruling, Sir Samuel. A particular question was asked by the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West. I am happy not to answer it. It would be irrelevant.
I have a particular interest in this debate because Vickers-Armstrong (Shipbuilders) Naval Yard at Walker-on-Tyne is in the heart of my constituency and, in addition, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) is Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson, Wallsend. Both do a great deal of work for the Royal Navy and 722 many of their employees are my constituents. I have a special interest in the debate, because, during my work in education before I entered Parliament, I was very much concerned with the career prospects of many of the young boys and girls who were my responsibility in their teenage period before leaving school.
On pages 74 and 75 of the Estimates, there is reference to the Leander class frigates "Minerva" and "Galatea", which are being built in my constituency. The guided missile destroyer "Glamorgan", which is mentioned on page 73, is being built nearby. I want to make one point here, and that is that, on Tyneside, in the last few years, a considerable amount of work has been done in the shipbuilding yards for the Royal Navy. If it had not been done, if that work had not been carried out in the area, Tyneside would be in considerably greater difficulty than it is in withstanding the vicissitudes of shipbuilding orders in the non-naval market.
As this area has still today a very high level of unemployment, I want to press the point that, in considering future naval orders, the particular problems of this area should be considered. This point was raised earlier in relation to the parochial difficulties in Belfast. I would stress that, when a naval order is being made to shipbuilding yards, it should not be a purely technical or naval decision. It has economic and social implications in terms of the area where the order is located. Nowadays, when Government agencies have so much power in relation to business, contracts and work done, every decision which the Government may take has implications beyond the department concerned. I would stress that Tyneside has particular claims for some work which may be required by the Royal Navy in the future.
As the Tyne yards have recently lost the order for the Q4, which some people expected might go to the area, the prospects for shipbuilding on Tyneside are perhaps a little less good than, say, on Clydeside, and Tyneside is looking for some large-scale jobs by way of substitution to provide security in the area. I know that my right hon. and hon. Friends have under consideration the question of aircraft carrier construction. I do not wish to press them on this point 723 this evening, and if I did I am sure that I should not get a satisfactory answer, but I make the point forcibly that the claims of Tyneside are as strong in this respect as those of any other part of the country, and certainly I would argue that in the future naval allocation of shipbuilding work the prospects of employment on Tyneside would be very much in jeopardy if it did not have the same volume of work as it has had in the past.
I turn, not at too great a length, to the question of recruitment to the Royal Naval College. Hon. Members will see from Vote 5 on page 27 of the Estimates that the expenditure on the colleges has increased from £1,594,000 to £1,759,000. Appendix VI on page 64 makes reference to the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. I am not happy that enough cadets are being recruited from the grammar schools, in general, and in particular from schools in the north of England and the north-east of England.
Just over 10 years ago a report was published, Cmnd. 8845, entitled "Cadet Entry into the Royal Navy". It was widely discussed, particularly in Parliament. Taking entrants to the Royal Naval College at the age of 16, in the four-and-ahalf years before that Report was published it was found that the independent public schools obtained 216 places compared with 146 boys drawn from the maintained grammar schools. In relation to the special entry into the Royal Naval College, the figures showed an even greater discrepancy—291 from the independent public schools and 120 from the grammar schools.
I should like to know the figures for the entry in terms of school background during the recent five years. The figures may not be available this evening, and I shall be happy to see them later. But in that Report of 10 years ago, it said that the proportion of pass candidates coming into the Royal Naval College from the North and from Scotland was very low.
I raised a similar theme in the debate on the Army Estimates earlier this week in relation to the commissioning of boys from northern grammar schools into the Army. Some hon. Members, and, in particular, the spokesman from the Opposi- 724 tion Front Bench, said that candidates do not present themselves from the grammar schools and that, therefore, I was barking up the wrong tree. I did not feel that this was a satisfactory answer. It was not my experience that grammar school candidates were not being put forward. But I always try to be fair, and I did not intervene at that point. I went away and did some research. I felt it advisable to do my home work in case I was accused, as were hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench, who had not done their home work, of being a twerp.
I went into the Library and did some investigation. I found, in relation to the Royal Naval College, according to the Report to which I have referred, that the independent schools submitted 1,132 candidates for the written examination, which is the first stage of entry into the Royal Naval College. The maintained grammar schools submitted 2,557 candidates—over twice as many. There was no question of the grammar schools not being interested. Of the independent school candidates at the written examination, 31 per cent. passed. Of the 2,557 candidates from the maintained grammar schools, 23 per cent. passed.
This changed the relativity between the grammar schools and the public schools to the detriment of the public schools, but at the interview board stage there were 351 candidates from the independent public schools and 581 from the maintained grammar schools. At this stage, there was still a majority from the grammar schools.
But before the interview board, 68 per cent. of the independent school candidates were successful and only 28 per cent. of the candidates from the maintained grammar schools were successful—a little over one-third. At this stage, the final stage before acceptance to the Royal Naval College, the majority of the entrants were from the public schools, not because there had not been grammar school candidates but primarily because the grammar school candidates who were intellectually satisfactory failed at the interview stage. The Report admits this, for it says that grammar school boys were not being recruited into the Royal Naval College because of failure to satisfy the Admiralty interview board.
725 I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends how far in the recent past there has been an improvement in this balance. If we are to continue to vote substantial sums of money to the development of the Royal Naval College, which I think has admirable facilities, whatever the social background of the entrants, it is important for us to be satisfied that every boy in the country who wishes to have a naval career has an equal chance of entry. The crucial factor is why there has been such a high degree of failure by grammar school boys at the interview stage. This is surely the crucial point.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
This is a most interesting and important point, but in some respects it is a bad point. The hon. Member quoted from figures in that Report. In his researches, has he taken that a little further and looked at the names of successful candidates for entry to the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, which are published in The Times every time there is an entry? I have done so. The schools are always given. If he had looked in recent years he would have seen that the ratio of successful candidates from Headmasters' Conference schools has been about one in five. Has he brought his researches up to date?
The hon. Member said that he himself was the person responsible for the careers prospects of young people in schools. What did he find the attitude of his pupils was to a career in the Royal Navy, and what steps did he personally take to make contact with the Royal Navy and to bring his pupils and the Royal Navy together to see whether the boys were suited for this career?
§ Mr. Rhodes
I have not brought my researches up to date. I have been doing this research over the last two days. I had a brief word with my hon. Friend on the Front Bench shortly before I intervened in the debate, and I am not sure that the statistics are immediately available. But if the gap has been closing as rapidly as the hon. Member suggests, no one will be more delighted than I am. From information available to me, I had the impression that the proportion was much more detrimental to the grammar schools.
I can best answer his second point by saying that in the north of England, 726 where I have worked for some years, there is a pessimistic attitude on the part of careers masters and headmasters about the near impossibility, even for their brightest boys, of ever being able to get into Dartmouth. We may say that this is far too pessimistic a view and that it is not based on evidence, but when headmasters and careers masters have submitted what they have considered to be, perhaps wrongly, their most able boys—able in the terms of future military or naval prospects—and have time and again found them failing for reasons which they may suspect as having something to do with their regional accents or some other factor, they do not, perhaps in despair, make the contacts with the college that they should make.
This results in a vicious circle; that because the careers masters, in despair, are not forging links with the college, the situation becomes even worse because the evidence remains as bad as it has been. I am not pretending that there is no fault on the part of the grammar schools, although one might say, after years of failure, that it is understandable if headmasters give up the ghost, as it were, and say, "This is not for boys of this kind. This is not for boys born in the working-class parts of Lancashire and the Tyneside", despite the fact that these boys may have all the physical courage, initiative and energy that is required for good officer material. One can understand careers masters feeling that, for reasons to do with social background, these boys never get in.
"Never" is perhaps an exaggeration, but I suggest that there has been a severe bias at work here. Admittedly, I am referring to the situation as it existed 10 years ago, but am posing questions to the Minister to find out how far in recent years the situation has improved. Ten years ago, when the Report to which I am referring was published, reference was made in it to the fact that the board had to face up to the fact that the outlook and accent of some boys made them feel out of their element at the interview. Boys at the interview would, I suggest, only feel out of their element because of their accent if at the interview they were the only people present who had a regional accent. If the people on the board were 727 all products of public schools then, naturally, the products of northern grammar schools, with their regional accent, would feel out of their element. However, a boy from the North with a regional accent meeting people with a similar social background would not feel out of place.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles
I take it that the hon. Gentleman is seeking the truth on this matter and is not flying some sort of flag. Accepting that he is speaking sincerely and that he is after the truth, I think that I may be able to assist the Committee in this case. Having been based on Dartmouth, responsible for training these boys, I attended many of these interview sessions and saw the whole process at work, from beginning to end.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that no distinction is made on the grounds he is indicating at any stage, from the preliminary interview right through to the final training and going out into the Fleet. There is no distinction of any sort. This thing is absolutely straight and above board. I was attached to this job for two years. I saw boys of all sorts and in all types of conditions. The result we got resulted from what was in the boy himself. That mattered, not where he was born or how he spoke. If the hon. Gentleman has genuine doubts on this issue he can set them at rest immediately.
§ Mr. Rhodes
I am grateful to the hon. and gallant Gentleman and, following his intervention, I will make two points. First, I am seeking the truth. I want to know just what the position is, and if it can be shown that there is an increasing tendency to select from the grammar schools nobody will be more delighted than I. Secondly, if the position is exactly as the hon. and gallant Gentleman describes it, then some other explanation must be found for the persistently high rate of failure among boys from the grammar schools.
I was not saying that there was any bias on the part of the board. I was quoting from a Report which was published and discussed in Parliament. It was asserted in that Report that the difference in the accent and outlook of the boys from northern grammar schools 728 resulted in them feeling out of their element when interviewed before the board. I intended to go on to say that if there was a broader social background represented on the board then perhaps a boy of this sort would not feel so much out of his element. The Report went on to say—and this is interesting because it might reveal something of the attitude of the people who were then—
§ Mr. Rhodes
I agree that I am quoting from a document which was published 10 years ago. However, it stated that some boys had a narrow background and restricted interests and that that applied to boys from northern grammar schools. What does that mean? I often heard it said during my days in the Armed Forces that boys from northern grammar schools, from working-class districts, had narrow backgrounds and restricted interests. Consider a boy brought up in a working-class family, perhaps by a scholarship going on to a grammar school, there mixing with lower middle-class boys and then perhaps, as I did, going on through a scholarship to university. It is arguable that boys who have had that sort of life have a broader experience and background and a less restricted outlook than boys brought up in public schools. Bearing this in mind, I would not necessarily accept the implication in the Report.
It has been said that considerable advantages lie with the boy who has been away from home before, who has been to boarding school or who has not been restricted to residence in one town. The Report made particular reference to grammar school boys who admitted that they had rarely spent a night away from home. It was found that when going to Dartmouth for the interview many of them were spending a night away from home for the first time. This is often true.
I would like to know whether it is still considered that boys from northern grammar schools feel. as it were, ill at ease at these interviews. I mention that because the Report referred to boys who found sleeping in a dormitory with strange boys confusing and that some of them felt inferior in a group of public school boys. I have never felt inferior 729 to public school boys or any other people. I always recognise people for what they are, from the point of view of their character, personality, background, and so on. It is interesting to note that in spite of all these defects which apparently these boys have, when they have, in a minority of cases, been selected they have invariably turned out to be first-class officer material.
This was often the case during the war, when frequently a young man torn from his restricted environment in the North or from working-class homes and grammar schools—in far larger numbers than we are here considering—proved to be first-class officers in action. I suggest, as was suggested 10 years ago, when Parliament debated this matter, that the superficial veneer of accents, and so on, which one might associate with some schools is not relevant to future leadership in the Navy and other Armed Forces.
If hon. Members persist in saying that this is not the position today, I would merely tell them that I shall continue to press this point on my hon. and right hon. Friends both in Committees of Supply and on other occasions when Parliament is considering naval policy. I cannot convince myself, from the information I have received—and am still receiving; have received this very year and a few weeks before I came to Parliament—that ail is well, particularly when headmasters complain that boys who they think would make first-class officer material are being turned down time and again.
It may be argued that these headmasters and careers masters do not know what they are talking about. Perhaps they do not. However, this matter should be taken further. Lord Fisher once wrote that brains, character and manners are not the exclusive endowment of those whose parents can afford to spend £1,000 on their son's education. This is as true today as it was when he wrote that. Some evidence is still required by this Committee and the country as a whole that the social barriers to promotion to commissioned rank in the Royal Navy have been positively broken down. I know that the northern and Scottish coastline has a very strong seafaring tradition, but it has produced, and is producing, precious few naval officers.
730 I am seeking the truth in this matter. If I am fully satisfied by the answers I get, I shall not raise the point again in this Committee or elsewhere, but until I am convinced that the social and school background of young men is not excessively taken into account in the selecting of people for commissioned rank and leadership in the Armed Forces, I shall persist in raising it until I am satisfied.
§ Dr. Jeremy Bray (Middlesbrough, West)
Can my hon. Friend say whether any research has been done into the subsequent careers of candidates who have been rejected? One would strongly suspect that if there is a bias—as the evidence might suggest—that many of those candidates rejected from northern grammar school backgrounds would be found to have done and to be doing extremely well in their subsequent careers. Would my hon. Friend agree that failure to carry out such investigation—if there has been a failure—into the subsequent careers of those who have been rejected would suggest that those responsible have not been very keen to get at the truth?
§ Mr. Rhodes
As far as I am aware, no substantial and sustained research has been carried out, but I know that at the time of the debates in 1952, 1953 and 1954—I have read them all, and I am not referring to the particular debate on this Report, but to the debates that preceded it and followed it—numerous instances were given of people, turned down for commissions in the Royal Navy on various grounds—some intellectual and some not—who have had great success in other spheres.
It may well be that there is more than one hon. Member who has been found unsuitable for dealership in that respect, but subsequently found suitable for leadership in the political sphere. That, of course, is not the same thing, but I suggest that the barriers to leadership in education and politics have completely broken down on this side of the Committee—I cannot speak for the party opposite, although I think that the base is somewhat narrower in terms of social background.
The barriers have been broken down in certain professions. Only the other 731 evening it was suggested from the Front Bench opposite that questions were not being asked at interviews about family background, and that if they were being asked it was very unusual. I think that it is extraordinary that in the naval career, almost uniquely in the professions now, the family background is given emphasis. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, West (Dr. Bray) that if the research he has mentioned has not been done, it should be done. I should be very interested to hear the answers to the questions I have put this evening.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Chichester-Clark (Londonderry)
I listened with some envy earlier today to the very powerful speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Hay). I was particularly interested when he sought to discover from the Government what their policy in relation to Polaris would be if the A.N.F. failed to come into being. That is a fair, fundamental question I must say that I hope, too, to hear something about that from the other side this evening. However, I must not pursue that line of thought, further, because I want to say something about a problem which may seem to be somewhat parochial, but as it is of great importance to my constituency I make no apology at all for mentioning it.
Unfortunately, I notice that the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey), who was interested in the problem earlier, seems to have left the Chamber. He has spoken about the Navy Estimates and left and I expect that we shall see him again next year—he is now probably putting away his speech for use on that occasion. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said one or two things about my constituency, and while he provided a certain amount of comic relief I suppose that there is some danger that someone, somewhere, some time, will take him seriously. However, we must hope for the best.
I want to give the Under-Secretary of State an opportunity this evening to sweep away some of the doubts that have been overhanging the future of the Joint Anti-Submarine School at Londonderry. 732 Rumour has killed this school on many occasions, but, so far, it has always been wrong. It seemed to approximate rather more closely to the truth when the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy visited Londonderry some weeks ago and made a statement that was reported in The Times. It was a statement that was in fairly marked contrast to what has been said by the C-in-C Eastern Atlantic, Admiral Madden, who described Londonderry as the linchpin of anti-submarine warfare. That is the opinion of many people in N.A.T.O., too. The uncertainty has caused a great deal of despondency in a city which not only takes pride in its link with the Royal Navy—a link that now goes back a long way—but whose economy to a very marked degree depends on the presence of the Royal Navy.
I notice that on 22nd February the Home Secretary, when speaking of the problem, said that the social and economic effects of such a move upon Londonderry and Northern Ireland as a whole will have to be taken into account and carefully weighed. I would hope so, because of its effect on the employment and social side are deeply serious, Northern Ireland has always had a serious economic and unemployment problem. As we have heard many times, there is 6.9 per cent. in Northern Ireland, but Londonderry has 12.4 per cent. of the insured population unemployed. The Admiralty employs 617 civilans out of a working population of 16,465—about 3.7 per cent. of the working population. There are 2,441 unemployed men, and if the base closed we would have 30 per cent. added to an already staggering unemployment figure.
I therefore hope that this matter will be very carefully taken into account. Where would these men go? Many of them are middle-aged and many of them have known no work other than with the Royal Navy. They have spent all their working life with the Service. There are drivers, storemen, labourers, cleaners and many other unskilled people, a lot of them just the kind for whom it is most difficult to find work in Londonderry or in Northern Ireland as a whole.
Some years back the R.N.A.S. Station at Eglinton was closed, and the serious effects on the town and the resultant reduction in spending power was felt 733 throughout the city. It would be even more severely felt today if "Sea Eagle" went. Not only does the presence of the British Navy bring financial benefit to the town, but so do the intermittent and very welcome landings of personnel from other N.A.T.O. countries who, incidentally, will say that they regard Londonderry as occupying a unique place in antisubmarine training.
There are other less weighty social and economic arguments, such as the fact that sea cadets are trained at "Sea Eagle", and that the presence of a helicopter squadron has often been a blessing to the inhabitants of Rathlin Island, which is frequently cut off from the mainland for days by stormy weather. They have been rescued at those times, and at other times supplies have been taken there by helicopter. The squadron has also helped the people in the mountains of the Sperrins when they have been cut off by snow.
I need not deploy that kind of argument here, because I cannot believe that the Government, for probably illusory operational advantages, will wish to create economic chaos and add 30 per cent. to the unemployment figure in the city. Surely, for the sake of what are at best highly disputable operational advantages the Government do not intend to jeopardise employment in Londonderry to that extent and, indeed, to go back on and set at naught all their professions in their election manifesto about regionalism and what they would do for these various outlying areas.
What about the operational advantages of which we hear so much? I hope that the Under-Secretary will deploy some of them tonight. I suppose it will be said that the ships coming up to exercise off Londonderry have to come, in the main, from the south of England and that this is very wasteful. To this it might well be replied that once they are off Londonderry they are much closer to deep water, which is necessary for this type of training. A study of the chart shows that Londonderry is about 90 miles from deep water, whereas off the South Coast these ships would be 180 miles from deep water.
No doubt someone will go on to argue that future wars will, in the main, be fought in shallow waters. Is this necessarily true? I have often heard it said. But off the coast of Burma and the 734 southern side of Indonesia there is very deep water indeed. The truth is that training facilities are needed in both deep and shallow water. Then I suppose that it will be said that the ships exercising off the South Coast can be redeployed for use east of Suez much more quickly—everyone talks about east of Suez nowadays—and that they would get there two and a half days quicker than if they were up North. This is true and it may be important today, but can we be sure that east of Suez will be important in 1970?
It must be at least 18 months—this is the shortest estimate I can make—before the base could be closed, if it were to be closed. It might also be said, speaking of the advisability of closing the base as a whole, that there is silting in the River Foyle and that it is very hard for anything large to get in. Perhaps there is something in this at the moment, but nobody can pretend that silting is an insuperable problem. They had silting in Southampton Water for many years, but that was overcome. It can be overcome in Londonderry as well.
What about the advantages of Londonderry, for these, too, must be weighed? It is an area of very low shipping density. It is a much better area for exercising. There is room for this to be done without too much interference. I do not pretend to be an expert in these matters, but it must be obvious that, with the advances which are being made all the time in detection, particularly in terms of range, and with the arrival of more sophisticated methods, the difficulties of training will be intensified in areas of congested marine and aerial traffic such as would be found off the South Coast.
Surely, too, it must be borne in mind that the Holy Loch is almost opposite, or at any rate not very far away. It is likely—I put it no higher, but it must be likely—that certain foreign Powers will be interested in what is going in opposite in the Holy Loch. Therefore, is there not something to be said for having some kind of craft in Londonderry or roundabout there in a position to watch the craft of other Powers and, if necessary, to tail the "tailers"? In fact, there is something to be said for having the Anti-Submarine School somewhere near where some of the submarines are based.
735 After all, are we ever going to build any more conventional submarines?
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Londonderry is a rather long way from which to watch operations at the Holy Loch.
§ Mr. Chichester-Clark
Irish eyes are always very clear.
All our views about conventional war have altered in the last few years, but is it impossible to visualise occasions, as there were in the last war, when Londonderry could be invaluable as a base for convoy escorts? I am certain that those members of the Royal Navy who serve there would be delighted if the school remained where it was, if only because up there they feel far away from the troubles of naval politics. However, I will not go on with that argument.
The people of Londonderry themselves want the school to stay, for obvious reasons, reasons which I have already deployed. They want it to stay, too, because up there they like to feel that they are playing a part in this country's defence and are playing a part in maintaining N.A.T.O. and our other allies. If the Joint Anti-Submarine School were closed, what would be the effect on Ballykelly R.A.F. Station? If that went, it would have a serious effect on unemployment in the north-west of Northern Ireland. This point must be considered.
I suppose that sentiment should not play any part in this kind of discussion. I hate to bring it in, but I must ask the Minister to consider, as I have tried to show him, the economic havoc and the hardship which would result from closing the base. It would be an appalling blow to the pride of this city, which through the war was the largest escort base in the United Kingdom, was the regular fuelling base for destroyers and other craft, and which saw the surrender of the German U-boat fleet. It was available to us while we were denied harbours in the neutral Republic next door, with sad results. Londonderry, in contrast, shared the dangers and privations of war with people in this country.
736 Sir Winston Churchill, speaking of the deadly menace with which the Germans sought to strangle our life by cutting off the entry to our ports of the ships which brought us our food and the weapons we needed, said this:Only one great Channel remained open. It remained open because loyal Ulster gave us the full use of the northern Irish ports and waters and thus ensured the free working of the Clyde and Merseyside.The British people owed something, and I think they still owe something, to the people of Northern Ireland. I remind the Minister that tonight, when considering the possibility of this closure, we are speaking of the same place, the same port and the same people. They did not desert us in wartime, and I ask the Minister to see that they are not deserted now.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, East (Commander Pursey), who is no longer in his place, when he referred to Londonderry was making the very general case that nowadays, in relation to these Estimates and comparing the strength of the Royal Navy 15 years ago with its depleted strength today, the modern Navy cannot support all the stone frigates which the Service is supporting now. There is a need closely to examine the Service requirements of all shore stations. When manpower is so depleted, surely it is right for us to examine these things very closely and see if we can send more people to sea. After all, most people join the Royal Navy to go to sea. They do not join the Royal Navy to sit in R.N.B., Portsmouth, or even Londonderry.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy has left the Front Bench. I am sure that he will be back soon. My hon. Friend represents me in the House of Commons. I suppose I am entitled to ask him questions not only as a Minister but also as my Member of Parliament. Further, both of us come from the Borough of Woolwich. It has long and honourable associations with the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines. We had once a Royal Marines barracks in Woolwich. It has since been knocked down. Whether that was prudent at the time is a matter of argument. We also have a 737 dockyard, and from it there were launched many file ships in the old days, though I will not call them the good old days.
It is perhaps appropriate also that my hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy should come from Woolwich, because he served in the Royal Artillery during the last war. I have some interest in this debate, too, as one who served in the Royal Marines. I was an ex-grammar schoolboy who was accepted as a direct entry commissioned officer into the Royal Marines. Perhaps they could not detect my Liverpool accent, and I was the first of the few. Let us hope that I was not the last.
I was interested in the comments of the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) about the Royal Naval Volunteer Supplementary Reserve. I am glad that not only he but his hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells) raised the whole question. I am a member of the London flotilla, and I think that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary who is to reply to the debate is not without experience in the London flotilla.
§ Mr. Hamling
Perhaps the hon. Member for Henley was a little intemperate in his comment. This was not a decision suddenly arrived at, and certainly it was not suddenly arrived at on the advent of the present Government. This was a decision taken in broad principle way back in April of last year.
§ Mr. Hay indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Hamling
I speak subject to correction, but such researches as I have made indicate that long ago this Reserve had the sentence of death pronounced upon it. It did not actually have the rope round its neck.
§ Mr. Hamling
I am at one with the hon. Gentleman in that, but let us have regard to who pronounced the death sentence. The hon. Member for Henley 738 and the hon. and gallant Member for Harrow, East (Commander Courtney), who are sitting together opposite, should get together and make a pilgrimage to Canterbury or somewhere to atone for their sins. I am very much behind the hon. Member for Henley in hoping that there will be a reprieve for the Reserve. I hope that when I come to speak about manpower I can indicate ways in which the reprieve can be carried out with honour all round and with no need for anyone to make a pilgrimage of penance.
Comment has been made about the enormous expenditure involved in these Estimates. It is only fair to say that something like 50 per cent. of them are represented by pay, pensions and things of that sort. When people make violent speeches about the great cuts which can be made in defence, it should be realised that this would mean that many hundreds of thousands of men would lose wages and would have to seek employment elsewhere. In addition, the savings that one can make are very often the candle-ends that some of my hon. Friends have been talking about. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, East, drew the attention of the Committee to some of these candle-ends that could be saved, and I think that hon. and right hon. Members opposite were less than fair in their attitude towards him in that connection.
Fifty per cent. of the Estimates represent pay, pensions and so on, and they represent the decisions not only of the present Government but of previous Administrations in increasing pay and allowances to attract more men and women into the Royal Navy. I do not think that anyone, not even my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), would object to members of Her Majesty's Forces receiving increases in pay.
§ Mr. Hamling
My hon. Friend is with me on this at least.
It seems to me that the economies which can be made, the expenditures about which there are differences of opinion, are, perhaps, in a much narrower range than some of the speeches might indicate. But there are some important questions of principle arising out of these Estimates to which attention should be drawn. This 739 is the difference between my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench and right hon. and hon. Members opposite. Listening to Opposition speakers on the Navy, I have always felt that they still had illusions of grandeur about the Navy. We have been talking, for example, about carriers. We have been told that three carriers are not enough, that we need a fourth and a fifth. After that, how many? Are six carriers sufficient to uphold the traditions of the Royal Navy?
§ Mr. Hamling
What a modest ambition the hon. Gentleman has. Five carriers will restore the prestige of the Royal Navy.
§ Mr. Hamling
We have not five now. We have four, and one in reserve. It is supposed to be refitted, we know.
One is entitled to ask what sort of war the Navy is being trained for. This is a question to which the hon. Member for Henley did not direct attention, except when he talked about amphibious warfare, which is, perhaps, a more narrow aspect of the whole situation. What sort of war is the Navy being trained for? Great play has been made of the speeches of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on conventional weapons. The hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) has retired from the field, so perhaps we cannot join issue with him on this question, but, speaking in this debate, I will take responsibility for what I said at the General Election. No hon. Member opposite has my election address, I think. That is a pity. In my speeches I said that the Labour Party, in its approach to defence, and particularly to naval strategy and defence, was thinking much more in terms of conventional weapons than were the previous Government. The previous Government not only had illusions of grandeur, but these illusions were clouded by the folly of the independent deterrent. They could think only in terms of independent nuclear deterrence. Conventional weapons, therefore, were being starved. It must have been the experience of hon. Members in 740 the last Parliament that so much attention was paid to this programme of folly that conventional weapons were being lost sight of.
We asked, for example, whether we really needed Polaris submarines. In my election speeches, the question I asked was whether the Polaris submarines—
§ Mr. Hay
Before he leaves that point, I should like to direct the hon. Gentleman's attention to what was said in the Statement on Defence, 1964. If he looks at paragraph 24, he will see it said by the previous Government:Ninety per cent. of the Defence Budget is spent directly on conventional forces, and this includes large purchases of modern conventional arms of all sorts".That was the position under our Administration. It is quite false to say that we starved the conventional forces because of some chasing after a nuclear will-o'-the-wisp.
§ Mr. Hamling
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for clarifying his party's attitude, because it makes nonsense of every one of its election pledges. [Interruption.] Let me develop my point in my own way. Hon. Members opposite now say that only 10 per cent. of their defence expenditure was on nuclear weapons. Yet, during the election their claim was that it was this 10 per cent. that was Britain's only defence. In other words, the rest was not really defence.
One must bear in mind that 50 per cent. of that 10 per cent. consisted of pay and salaries, so our defence rested on 5 per cent. of the Defence Estimates. This was really what all the fuss was about in the last election. It was 5 per cent. of the defence expenditure. Really, hon. Members opposite must do better next time. However, I was referring to my election campaign. I asked whether the Polaris submarines that were being talked about could be converted to hunter-killer submarines.
§ Mr. Burden
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because I think that on this matter he should hear what the Prime Minister said at Chatham Dockyard during the election campaign. The right hon. Gentleman said:The Tories in Dockyard towns are threatening you with unemployment if the work on Polaris stops. This scare we emphatically deny. 741 We have to renegotiate the Nassau Agreement … We certainly do not want them for any nuclear Suez. But if they are not wanted as nuclear missile carrying vessels, they will still be built, with whatever modifications are needed, as nuclear-powered tracker submarines.Of course, there has been no move whatever by the Government to renegotiate the Nassau Agreement. The Socialists themselves say that we are to retain Polaris submarines as missile carriers. How anyone with any sense of proportion could have said that they would tear the guts out of Polaris submarines and turn them into hunter-killers, I do not know.
§ Mr. Hamling
The hon. Member should be grateful to the Government because they had laid the keel of the first ship in Chatham Dockyard for years.
§ Mr. Burden
They have done nothing of the sort. The submarines being built there are entirely for the Canadian Navy. One was transferred to the Canadian Navy by the last Government. The Government have announced today—and I am grateful—that Chatham is to be a base for the repair of nuclear submarines.
§ Mr Hamling
That is not true. What we are faced with is the fact that we took over a programme which was in the course of preparation and, no doubt, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will deal with that point. During the election, I said that it might be possible to convert these nuclear missile-carrying submarines into hunter-killers. I thought that was a reasonable attitude to take.
§ Mr. Burden indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Hamling
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. Why do his hon. Friends advocate the building of more hunter-killer submarines?
§ Mr. Hamling
These are perfectly reasonable points to put forward.
We must fact the fact that the building of these Polaris submarines will cost an enormous amount of money. Hon. Members opposite seem to accept these huge sums of money very lightly. One of my hon. Friends spoke earlier in terms of £300 million, £400 million, or £500 million being accounted for by this sort of development programme. Hon. Members opposite cannot have it both ways. They cannot demand enormous sums extra to provide for conventional weapons. The hon. Member for Henley spoke of about 70 escort vessels to be operational at one time.
§ Mr. Hay
If the hon. Gentleman is to make this sort of attack upon us, he must get the facts right. I said that the strength of the escort fleet was not mentioned in this year's White Paper, but that for years it had been somewhere around 70, and I think that I quoted 71 as last year's figure. It can be worked out from the Estimates at at about the time they were printed the number was 73, including ships in reserve, of course. All I asked was whether it was the intention to keep the escort fleet at around 70, and I added that there was a point of view that that was not enough. That was all I said.
§ Mr. Hamling
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that it is his point of view that it was not enough? Who was suggesting it from the benches opposite?
§ Mr. Hamling
In a Written Answer on 2nd March, this year, the figure for the operational fleet did not show anything like 70 escort vessels. It was 35, not counting fleet pickets and ack-ack pickets, and that is nothing like 70. If right hon. Gentlemen opposite want 70 escort vessels operational, they are demanding a tremendous increase in expenditure in addition to the expenditure on Polaris.
They say that the Government are not including enough frigates in the programme. The hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West said that we wanted more frigates. Other hon. Members opposite have spoken about the Russian 743 submarine menace. Is it really a menace?
§ Mr. Hamling
Do hon. Gentlemen opposite think that this country is ever likely to be involved in a war in which the Royal Navy and the Commonwealth Navies alone will be defending this country, which is the assumption which lies behind—
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles
If we were to find ourselves involved in a war, with or without friends, we would wish to bear our fair share of mutual defence.
§ Mr. Hamling
I am not quite sure what that means. I think that what the hon. and gallant Gentleman is saying is that if we were involved in a war co-operatively with our allies we should bear our fair share.
§ Mr. Hamling
I thank the hon. and gallant Gentleman. We believe that, too. But we do not think that we should cripple the nation economically in order to try to do it and that we should not aim at co-operative enterprise in defence while pretending that we are independent, or that we have a fleet which we can call independent.
What sort of operations are envisaged? My hon. Friend spoke about small local operations and quoted the situation in Malaysia. This is a serious problem from the Navy's point of view, but it is certainly not a situation which demands the sort of programme of Polaris submarines which hon. Members opposite have been talking about. This demands an entire recasting of our attitude to naval defence. We should be thinking in terms of a smaller Navy. But our contribution should be much more in the direction of conventional forces. I would include in that hunter-killer submarines. I would certainly not include Polaris submarines. That is the sort of contribution to allied defence which is reasonable in the light of our economy and situation in the modern world.
But what happens if we pursue these policies of grandeur put forward by right hon. and hon. Members opposite? In the last 13 years we have fallen between two stools, because we do not have nuclear 744 defence, we do not have independent nuclear defence, and we have lost many conventional units of the Fleet. Hon. and right hon. Members opposite will remember how many destroyers there were in the Fleet when they took over from us in 1951. They will know how many escort vessels and cruisers there were. They will know that there were more than 20 aircraft carriers in the Fleet. This Fleet has been run down in the last 13 years.
§ Mr. Hamling
Let the hon. Gentleman contain himself for just a second.
However, by pursuing a contradictory policy, our conventional forces have been run down. The C.-in-C. Home Fleet was flying his flag in a minesweeper not long ago. We do not have the sort of vessels, such as motor torpedo boats and fast light vessels, in Malaysia that we need. Right hon. and hon. Members opposite know why—because they have been trying to build Polaris submarines and neglecting conventional forces. We do not have the Polaris submarines, anyway; they are not built yet. Therefore, the very weapons on which they rest their defence case are just not in existence.
I come to the question of manpower. This is a very real difficulty for hon. and right hon. Members opposite. From where will we get the people to man four Polaris submarines? The hon. Member for Henley, who opened for the Opposion, said in March last year that we needed two crews for each Polaris submarine. That means that we shall need eight crews for these vessels. From where are they to come? There was reference earlier to the lack of skilled people in the fleet.
§ Mr. Hamling
I am very grateful to my fellow Marine. His complaint and the complaint of right hon. and hon. Members opposite is that my hon. Friend and his colleagues in the Cabinet are not building enough ships. He wants another two crews, he wants five Polaris 745 submarines, and he will not wait. That means that we will need ten crews. From where are the men to come to man those ships?
We have four County Class guided missile destroyers under construction. From where are the men coming to man these ships? We have ten Leander class frigates on order. From where are the men coming to man these ships? We have four hunter-killer submarines on the way. Where are the skilled submariners to come from to man them? These Estimates, costing over £500 million, are the basis for 97,000 men in the Fleet. If we have all these new craft, where are the men to come from to man them? These problems cannot be lightly put on one side. It does not lie with right hon. and hon. Members opposite to say that my right hon. Friend is not building enough ships. These are the real problems of manning the Fleet that have been left to him after 13 years.
I should like to say a word about the R.N.V.S.R. from the point of view of manpower. I should have thought that the days of the old convoy are gone and that if we are thinking in modern terms, we should think in terms of fast ships sailing alone and armed. The men who could operate the missiles on the fast merchantmen would be the people who were drawn from the R.N.V.S.R. This would be a useful job that R.N.V.S.R. people could do It is easy to say that that Reserve has run down. It has been run down, I believe, because little attempt has been made in recent years to recruit people for the Supplementary Reserve.
I turn for a few moments to my old corps, the Royal Marines. I said earlier that we ought, in modern times, to be speaking about naval strategy in entirely new terms. We should be thinking entirely in terms of the country's contribution being the provision of small, conventionally-armed ships of combined amphibious forces. Surely, this is where Her Majesty's Royal Marines could play a most important part.
We have a Commando brigade out East, we have a couple of Commandos in this country and we have a couple of Commando ships. In modern times, however, when one thinks of the amphibious operation, one questions whether the money being spent on the Army is not far too much. We ought really to be 746 thinking that our defence should be much more in the amphibious sector and not in the Army. The Army is out of date. The Army is not an amphibious force in any way.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
It is made difficult for a layman to understand when my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General says that the Navy should be abolished and my hon. Friend now says that the Army is out of date.
§ Mr. Hamling
I am sorry that my right hon. Friend is not here. [An HON. MEMBER: "He will be."] The Royal Marines could play a most useful rôle in amphibious warfare, a much wider rôle than they have played hitherto.
We have been told that Royal Marines are being trained as helicopter pilots. I should like to see them trained even much more on Fleet aircraft carriers. During the last war, we had Major Patch and others who were pilots in the Fleet Air Arm. There is no reason why Royal Marines should not be flying from Fleet aircraft carriers in the same way as they are now being trained in helicopters.
§ Mr. Hamling
I am asking that more should be trained. In the operational control of these amphibious forces, Marines should be employed more than they are. They should be specially trained for the control of amphibious forces.
We have to forget the old Navy. We have to forget the old idea of separate forces. After all, this is the first year in which these Estimates have been printed as united Estimates, and it is perhaps right and proper that in this sort of debate we should have the Royal Marines represented in the strength that we have tonight, because the Royal Marines represent the united defence forces of the future. But they are a conventional lot.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Sir John Maitland (Horncastle)
Like most Members of the Committee, I enjoyed enormously the speech of the hon. 747 Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling). I agreed with him about the R.N.V.S.R., although he got into a muddle once or twice, and it occurred to me that it was rather like what is called a naval argument. The hon. Gentleman is an ex-Marine, and he knows the definition of that, which is a sweeping statement, followed by a direct contradiction, followed by personal abuse, and followed by physical violence. It did not get as far as the last two stages, but we were getting that way.
§ Mr. Hamling
I am sure that I did not offer abuse to anyone, and a chap of my size—5 ft. 5¾ ins.—would never offer anyone physical violence.
§ Sir J. Maitland
The hon. Gentleman was shaping that way, but we managed to get away.
The hon. Member talked about manpower, and I want to follow him on that subject. It is stupid for people who have been good technicians and have known quite a lot about the Navy in their time, to talk about the technical side of it now. Often in this House I have seen politicians make rather an exhibition of themselves when talking about things with which they are extraordinarily out of touch. But there are some things which never become out of date, such as the importance of the men who man our ships and their quality, and I want to deal with that for a short time.
It is rather horrifying that at the moment, with a small, complicated efficient Navy, we have as many men in it as we had in our great two-power Navy before the 1914–18 war. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to interrupt to correct me, I shall give way, but I believe that is the fact, and a very surprising fact it is, too.
I know that these ships are extremely complicated, but I think that we must have a new look at the importance of automation and what one might call press-buttonmanship in our ships today. We have to go further than we are doing at the moment. I know that the Board of Admiralty is looking at this matter, and always does, but it should consider the introduction of even more automation into our ships.
Industry has managed to do it. In an efficient industry things can be as com- 748 plicated as they are in the Navy, but many industries which are efficient have been able enormously to increase their production and yet maintain the same number of staff. The Navy ought to aim at that, and it ought to be the 100 per cent. objective. I should like to see the Royal Navy take a ship, experiment on it, and work hard on it simply to see how few men it can use to make that ship really efficient and really operative.
Looking at it from that point of view, I sometimes think that there is a little bit of a hangover from the old days when there were so many men in ships that it was rather a job for the commander of a ship to find work for them to do to keep them happy. Those days have passed. Now the job is to try to carry out the work with the smallest number possible.
In 1965 the idea of trying to "sell" the Navy to young people as an adventurous career no longer holds the attraction that it did. It is no good trying to pretend that dial watching, radar and electronics have not taken a great deal of glamour out of the adventure. Anyway, in the event of early marriage, at which sailors are as good as anyone else, the glamour quickly ceases when one has to spend a great deal of time away from one's wife. So we shall have to do two things. I am speaking now as seriously as I can.
First, we must do everything in our power to conserve manpower. I know that we are doing it, but it is up to the politicians to be pretty tough about this. Secondly, we must make the Navy a very special place which can offer special advantages of the kind that are sought after in the modern world. We must have another look, without prejudice, at all the social and material services which we can offer a man in exchange for the surrender of part of his freedom to the Navy. We must not forget that today freedom is more valuable to the individual than ever before, because it goes hand in hand with opportunity.
We have done a great deal already. We have done our best to provide houses for men when they are in the Services, but we must go much further than that. I would like to feel that we said to a man who joined the Navy, "If you come 749 with us we will give you a good and useful life. Moreover, if you make the most of your opportunities we will ensure that you have a technical training which will stand you high among your fellows, and we will help you obtain a home of your own, wherever you like."
I was delighted when I heard the the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy say that it is now going to be part of the duty of the Navy to help a man to obtain a home of his own when he retires. It is ridiculous to think of the Navy as a career for a lifetime. I have had 20 years in Parliament since leaving the Navy. A man normally leaves the Navy when he is about 40 years of age. He is still young. He has his lifetime ahead of him. If he has taken advantage of the opportunity given to him to obtain technical training and has been helped to get a home and security for his wife and himself, it will be clear to him that the Navy has given him the finest career that he could have had.
Let us not be frightened to look at the examples of other countries. The Americans have gone a long way in this idea. Men who enter the United States Navy are very well trained and are highly sought after by industry when they leave. This must be one of our first objectives if we wish to see an efficient Navy. It is not just a question of social work; it is not just paternalism gone mad. It is trying to provide a really efficient Navy. It is not possible to provide an efficient Navy unless it can be manned by men who know what they are at—men of the right type, who are happy and who look forward to a happy future. If we do that and make it our first objective, we can take all the other complicated problems in our stride and the British Navy will remain as great as it always has been.
My hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) made an appeal, with which I have great sympathy, to keep a link between Ulster and the Navy. I know from experience the great service that men from Ulster have given to the Navy. They make some of the finest sailors and marines that we could have. I have considerable sympathy with my hon. Friend and other hon. Members who have referred to that subject.
During the war, on several occasions, I went to Trincomalee, one of the most lovely and effective harbours in the East. 750 I hope that the ridiculous rumours current at the present time that the Ceylon Government may hand over the harbour to China are nonsense. They should be officially denied. It would be the most monstrous thing if that happened. I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to give a full denial and that this is just election hysteria, which most of us can understand. Such over-statements and hysterical remarks are sometimes made by people, even on this side of the Committee, during election time.
Hon. Members opposite have not a complete monopoly of that kind of thing. It is conceivable that these rumours are just that. I raise the matter with some trepidation, because it is important, and the more firmly it can be denied the better it will be for every one.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Lomas) made some felicitous references to Appendix I of the Estimates where daily rates of pay are dealt with. He might well have pointed to some other anomalies which are listed in that Appendix.
I find that for hard lying money an officer receives between 3s. and 4s. and a rating receives between 6d. and 2s. For flying, which comes under special service pay, an officer receives between 10s. and 22s. and rating receives between 8s. and 12s. There are references to T.B. allowances, and to V.D. treatment allowances, for which I find that officers get nothing and ratings get 1s.
I find that men receive a T.B. allowance of 1s. 6d. and women 1s. 3d. What is to be found in Appendix I is a list not only of anomalies, but of anachronisms, which the Under-Secretary of State might consider urgently to see whether he can modernise the list and also introduce a measure of equal pay.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Rhodes) referred to the recruitment of officers. In particular, he made reference to the difficulties experienced by boys from State schools in the north of England. In my view, he documented his case against privilege as fully as he could be required to do. He referred to a Report which is 12 years old—the 751 Montagu Report on Cadet Entry into the Executive, Engineering and Secretarial Branches of the Navy, which was presented by the First Lord of the Admiralty in May, 1953.
From what this Report says about conditions in 1953, I should have thought that we could accept it as definite that there are officers in the Navy today, commanding other men, who hold their positions entirely because of a privileged education. For my part, I feel that privilege of this kind will not be ended until we end independent fee-paying schools. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East for having pointed to something which, in the north of England—among the majority of people who are products of the State schools—is a very important consideration.
I should now like to refer to the question of relaxing the rules by which boys sign on for long engagements in the Royal Navy. The Committee will be aware that, under the Naval Enlistment Acts, boys may be entered at the age of 15 or over into the Royal Navy for any period of service which may be specified in the regulations, but not so as to take them beyond the age of 30. It will also be appreciated that no boy would be entered unless he was willing and his parents had given their written consent to his entry into the Navy for a particular number of years' service from the age of 18.
Nevertheless, there are within the knowledge of most of us some extremely unfortunate cases. I should like to refer to the melancholy case of the son of one of my constituents. This young man joined the Royal Navy at the age of 16½. He signed up for 12 years, counting from the age of 18, so that, in all, he was committed, from the age of 16½, to 13½ years' service in the Royal Navy. After serving for about five years, during which time he went to every part of the world, he decided that he could no longer conform to the requirements of naval life. He went absent without leave for about nine months, and then gave himself up, hoping to be released after his detention.
His family took up the matter with the Admiralty at the time and would willingly have purchased his release. According to a letter which I have from his father, 752 this was like knocking his head against a brick wall. He said that his son served for about another 12 months, during which time he appeared to be victimised for his previous absence, that he again went absent without leave for 14 months, and that he was now in detention, awaiting dismissal from the service. That is the situation at present.
I am sure that hon. Members will agree that there are many other unfortunate cases within their experience concerning boys who sign on in adolescence for long engagements. No boy of 16½ should be allowed to sign away his freedom for the next 13½ years. The regulations should be amended to provide for completion of training and for one or two years' service, after which either side can decide whether the engagement should be terminated. The Navy should not be allowed to waste taxpayers' money by holding on like grim death to someone who is unwilling to continue his service and is desperately unhappy. In my view, neither the Navy nor the other Services are keeping in step with what is hapening in industry and there is a strong case for reviewing the problem to which I have referred.
I must emphasise that this sort of case also causes grievous distress to the family, attracts unfortunate publicity to the Navy and shows that we should try to modernise conditions of service in the forces. In my view, if we simplify and humanise the processes for release from the Navy we shall, at the same time, accelerate recruitment. It is no advertisement for the Royal Navy that a boy who joins at l6½ should find in his twenties that he has to undergo long periods of detention in order to change his job.
§ Mr. John Wells
I do not think that these remarks do the Royal Navy any service at all. It is not the case which the hon. Member raised, but the remarks which he is making now which do the harm. My own constituency experience of compassionate cases is very much the reverse of that which the hon. Member is putting to the House.
§ Mr. Morris
The hon. Member is entitled to his opinion, but if he would consult correspondence which I have he would benefit from reading a number of examples of cases in which people have condemned the Navy because of 753 the kind of problem to which I am directing the attention of the Committee.
I hope that when my hon. Friend replies to the debate he will say something about manpower, conditions of service generally and, perhaps, consider bringing forward proposals for humanising the system of long engagements for adolescent boys. It behoves a Labour Government to take a close interest in conditions of service and I feel confident that the Ministry under the control of my right hon. Friend will succeed where his predecessors during the past 13 years failed. Perhaps we could also be told when Parkinson's Law is likely to be finally repealed in his Department? It is sometimes suggested, not without sarcasm, that the fewer ships we have the more admirals we need. This is a curious doctrine and I hope that we can be told something about the decline in the number of senior officers in relation to the decline in the number of ships in the Fleet.
In contrast to what some hon. Members have said, I hope that next year, and in the years after that, we will be discussing cuts in the Defence Estimates generally, because I believe, as the late Aneurin Bevan did, that the real conflicts in the world today will not be solved by arms. In my constituency there are very many thousands of people who would like to see much of the money at present being spent on the Armed Forces being devoted to the social services.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
I shall obviously not comment on the individual case mentioned by the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris), but, on the general question of terms of engagement, I would remind him that men sign a contract and that their remuneration, pay and allowances are based on its length. Youngsters, joining as junior seamen, receive a great deal of training which, as has been mentioned several times today, is becoming more expensive to provide each year. It repays the State only if they fulfil the full terms of their contracts.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris
Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that, while I 754 referred to the naval regulations and other legislation and mentioned the question of adolescents having to sign contracts for a number of years, I suggested that we should do some new thinking about this issue and decide whether we cannot go a stage further and alter the existing regulations? I hope that the Minister will comment on this when he replies.
§ Mr. Wall
I will not follow the hon. Gentleman into that topic, or his investigation into the intricacies of hard lying and V.D., or even into the subject of the pay and allowance differentials applying to officers and ratings. I hope, however, that he will be consistent and point out, if he believes what he said to be true, that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the Government Front Bench have no right to receive more pay than back benchers. Is he prepared to follow the principle he adduced to that extent? Again, perhaps the number of admirals, which he found so surprising, may be compared with the number of Ministers in the present Government.
For me, this debate has been memorable for two things; first, the clear acceptance by the Government of the need for the nuclear deterrent and, secondly, the number of ex-Royal Marines who have sprung up from the Government benches. I am delighted that they have contributed to this debate. I know that they will join with me and other hon. Members in thanking the Minister for the tribute he paid to the Royal Marines during their 300th anniversary, which equalled the tribute paid by my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) from the Dispatch Box at the beginning of the tercentenary year.
This has been a memorable year for the Royal Marines. Hon. Members saw the Beating the Retreat on Horse Guards Parade, and may have witnessed the march through the City and through Portsmouth and Plymouth. They may have been present at the dinner at Greenwich attended by Her Majesty and the Captain-General. The culmination was undoubtedly the Royal Review in the grounds of Buckingham Palace, at which appeared representatives from detachments afloat serving in frigates and aircraft carriers, representatives of the commandos from Singapore and Aden, 755 representative helicopter pilots, assault engineers, canoeists, underwater swimmers and specialists trained in snow warfare.
That review illustrated the versatility of the Royal Marines. They are proud to be part of the Royal Navy, and proud to be able to turn their hands when the country needs them to do the work of either soldiers or sailors—or airmen. Again, the Royal Review showed quite clearly that the Royal Marines take their full share as a striking arm of the Royal Navy, serving today in assault craft, helicopters or hovercraft in duties as far apart as internal security in the West Indies, in the mountain of Radfan, in Aden or the jungles of Borneo. I think that we can take the advice given by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee that if the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Defence really feels that there is need to integrate our defence forces he could make no better start than by building up the Royal Marines.
I have had the good fortune during the past year to visit a number of Her Majesty's ships, and I would now like to discuss the type of Navy I believe we need. We have magnificent ships, there is no question of that, but I think that there are certain glaring inconsistencies—and I choose my words very carefully because one must not expand too much in public on these matters. It is surprising to see a ship costing £10 million, fitted with the latest electronic equipment costing several millions of pounds, but whose hull can be perforated by fire from a Bofors gun. Certain of our major warships have really no protective armour to speak of and I am sure that a Bofors could go right through their hulls and do untold damage.
Again, we have some of the latest nuclear hunter-killer submarines, but they are armed with torpedoes of World War H vintage—indeed, much the same torpedoes whose development was started in 1934. We have apparently taken little advantage of the number of gadgets—I call them that—that have been developed over the last 10 or 15 years.
Again, there are ships fitted with antisubmarine equipment but which have no anti-submarine weapons except the helicopter which is the striking weapon of these frigates. Unfortunately, so I am 756 told, these helicopters are not yet fitted with homing torpedoes, so that although we have spent many millions of pounds in developing the best anti-submarine vessels in the world they cannot yet deal with the submarines when they have detected them. Although we have made great strides in our anti-submarine work we have had considerable failure in developing torpedoes. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will look into that aspect rather carefully.
I believe that the Navy has three basic tasks, and that ships should be designed to fill one or other of them. Firstly, there is the deterrent—the V-bomber, and then the Polaris submarine as the ultimate weapon, and therefore the shield behind which all other weapons operate. The Polaris submarine is the latest of the ultimate weapons and will, I think, continue until superseded by orbital space stations. Both the Polaris and orbital space stations will be virtually impossible to neutralise.
I congratulate the Government on taking over the previous Government's Polaris programme. I am sorry that they have cancelled one ship, but no doubt there will be plenty of time in the future to make up the deficiency after the next General Election. I ask the Minister to consider the point so cogently made by my hon. Friend the Member for Henley that, if one is coming to the end of a production line and one suddenly finds that one has to build an additional submarine, it will be very much more expensive to put a new production line into action.
Mr. Will -Griffiths (Manchester, Exchange)
I have listened with great interest to the catalogue of shortcomings in the Royal Navy which the hon. Gentleman has been explaining to the House. Does he not think that my right hon. and hon. Friends will have plenty to do to remedy the deficiencies of their predecessors?
§ Mr. Wall
I was expecting that point to be made. I am not trying to make party political points out of this. I have said that we have magnificent ships, and I have pointed out what I believe to be certain grave defects in those ships, which are certainly not the responsibility of right hon. Members now in the Government. As they appear to be tackling 757 their responsibilities in ordering four Polaris submarines, I hope that they will go the whole hog and ensure that we have an efficient Navy with the full number of ships that we need. With the best will in the world, there are always deficiencies, and it is debates such as these which point them out, whoever may be responsible, so that they may be examined and, if possible, remedied.
Then there are conventional warfare ships needed against non-nuclear forces, particularly in the Indian Ocean. Hon. Members on both sides must be worried about the degree of penetration which is being caused in that area by Chinese Communist infiltration. There is war in South-East Asia, India is threatened, and there is Chinese penetration in Africa from Zanzibar to Brazzaville. The whole area is gradually falling to a kind of guerrilla warfare of subversive penetration which is most difficult to combat. It is obvious that we need an amphibious task force in the Indian Ocean area built round either an aircraft carrier or surface-to-surface missiles. As we have not got surface-to-surface missiles, it must be the aircraft carrier.
In an adjournment debate secured by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Commander Courtney), who is to reply to this debate, the point was made from those on the Treasury Bench at the time—undoubtedly the same point will be made tonight by those now on the Treasury Bench—that aircraft carriers are just as good as surface-to-surface missiles and are far more flexible. Accepting that, the corollary surely is that we must have sufficient aircraft carriers to be able to deal with any likely attacks.
I am very worried, as I know is my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Harrow, East, about the number of fast patrol boats which are known to be operated by the Indonesian forces armed with surface-to-surface missiles. If one carrier is knocked out, the last war showed the importance of having a second deck to land on, otherwise aircraft are lost and one is in an awful mess. I suggest that it is of immense importance to get the new carrier built as soon as possible. We must realise that, although it may be very expensive, the very minimum number of carriers this country must have in the 1970s is four.
758 We shall also need three Commando carriers. When "Centaur" is taken out of service as a fixed wing carrier I hope that she will be reconstructed, as her sisters were, and will give us a spare Commando carrier so that we can always have two in the Indian Ocean area and one refitting or moving from home ports to the danger area.
Escort vessels have been referred to. There was some argument about numbers. I may have misinterpreted the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling), but I thought that at one time he was saying that 70 were too many. I quickly added up the figures given in answer to a Question from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea (Captain Litchfield), which showed that there were 72 escort vessels in commission today, plus 35 in reserve. I think, therefore that the position as regards escort vessels is reasonably satisfactory.
As for guided missile destroyers, I know that we are building a further four. I suggest again that serious consideration should be given in any new construction to making these ships double-ended. I do not believe that the single-ended ship carrying Sea Slug aft gives satisfactory value for money. I believe that originally the whole design was scaled down because of expense. I accept that, but I would have thought that now that we have a reasonable number of single-ended guided missile destroyers we should be building at least one or two double-ended ships as have the Americans.
I should like to repeat a plea which I have made to both Front Benches on a number of occasions, and I hope it will be considered carefully. I suggested to the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy last November that we should get down to thinking of building a command ship. We could save money and cut down on heavy expenditure on communication equipment, for example, in Aden if it were put afloat perhaps not on a cruiser hull, as the Americans have done with the U.S.S. "Northampton", but in a merchant vessel. This would make the command and communication equipment mobile so that if we had to 'come out of a base, as we have had to do in the past, we should have value for money 759 and be able to continue using this vital equipment.
§ Mr. James Tinn (Cleveland)
I recall the hon. Gentleman making that point. I am in doubt about the vulnerability of such a vessel. Would it not make the equipment extremely vulnerable?
§ Mr. Wall
That is a point, but I do not know how vulnerable the fixed communication set-up ashore in Aden, for example, may be. It may be underground. I believe it is not, and if it is on the surface it could be bombed whereas the type of ship I have in mind would be covered by anti-submarine and anti-aircraft vessels and, in the long run, should be safer and would certainly be cheaper.
§ Mr. Hamling
I support the hon. Gentleman on that point because it seems to me that the Americans have very much the better of the argument and that we should get rid of bases like Simonstown and use the Fleet.
§ Mr. Wall
I think that the hon. Member is going a little too far. As somebody said on the other side of the Committee, we must use what we have got. These bases are extremely useful, though I believe we shall in due course come out of them willy-nilly. It would, therefore, be better to have a command and control ship, but we would still need the industrial and dockyard capacity of ports in South Africa and Australia and, as far as the Indian Ocean is concerned, there are only Perth and Durban that we can rely on. I hope that hon. Members will recall that when they are rude to the South African Government.
I have suggested that the Navy has to fulfil three different tasks. The third task is patrolling. It seems to me that at the moment in Indonesian waters we are operating ships of 2,300 tons costing £5 million, £6 million or £7 million to do patrol operations—Leander class frigates and similar vessels, when all we need are cheaper and less sophisticated ships armed with guns or cheap missiles. I remember during the "cod war" one of our Blackwood frigates armed with Bofors guns encountered a small Icelandic ship carrying 3 ins. guns. This story is repeating itself in Indonesia and there is a case for building 1,000 ton ships with guns 760 supported by fast patrol boats and hovercraft. It might well be that the fast patrol boats and the anti-submarine escort operating in-shore could be replaced by hovercraft.
§ Mr. Hamling
I do not know whether the hon. Member has seen pictures of the new acquisitions to the Ghanian Navy which I think would suit us admirably.
§ Mr. Wall
I am afraid I have not. I do not quite know to what the hon. Member refers, but no doubt he will acquaint me afterwards.
On the question of patrol boats, the whole policy in connection with mines needs reviewing. I wonder whether we have the right form of modern mines available in sufficient quantities and the small unsophisticated ships required to lay and sweep them?
To sum up the Navy's tasks, the deterrent on which peace or war may ultimately depend is the ultimate weapon and, therefore, we must have it; conventional forces must be reasonably sophisticated but the patrol forces should be many and cheap.
I would like to refer briefly to the Fishery Protection Squadron and pay a tribute to its work. The 12-mile limit is now in effect round our coasts, and this will double or even treble the squadron's work. I am sure that it will be badly over-strained, and I hope that the Minister will be able to get some more ships on the job. I repeat what I have said in previous debates, that, besides having frigates or minesweepers in the squadron, we should have fast patrol boats and helicopters. I mean helicopters operating not from carriers but from Royal Air Force aerodromes ashore. They could do an immense amount of good, for example, in preventing the poaching which has taken place recently off the Yorkshire coast.
Now, I should like to turn to the equipment of the Royal Navy, starting with aircraft. I pay a tribute to the Buccaneer, which has proved an immensely succssful aircraft. This is, or could be, one of our better exports. It is most important that countries which have the duty by treaty of protecting certain vital trade routes should be armed and equipped with the same weapons that we operate ourselves. The Minister will know what I am talking about. I hope that the building of the 761 16 Buccaneers for South Africa will have his full support and encouragement.
As regards fighters, the last Government decided to buy United States Phantoms. I believe that this was a right choice, but they said at the time that quite a proportion, half or two-thirds—I am not quite sure—of the cost of these aircraft might be paid for in Britain by using Rolls-Royce engines, British ejector seats, electronic equipment, and so on.
§ Mr. Wall
One-third?—I thought that it was a little more. I read in today's Daily Telegraph that, in fact, the only British equipment aboard these aircraft will be Rolls-Royce engines and British ejector seats. I hoped that we should be putting in other British electronic equipment, and I regard this as a matter of great importance, particularly in view of the disaster which has come upon our aircraft industry during the past few months.
Further, on the subject of service equipment, I return to what I said about anti-submarine equipment. There are frigates today fitted for but not with variable depth sonar. This is a most serious matter, which I shall not elaborate at the moment. Will the Minister also look into the whole question of torpedo decoys? I think that he will find some deficiencies there. Will he also direct his attention to the provision of acoustic pressure mines? We lead the world in anti-submarine equipment, but there are some aspects, on which I have briefly but, I hope, tactfully touched, which need looking into. I repeat the hardy annual that it may well be cheaper in the long run to have surface-to-surface missiles rather than build at least the next generation of aircraft carriers, and I hope that we are at least doing research and development in this direction.
To save expense, would it be possible to allocate a special development project to each of the N.A.T.O. navies? This is something which has not yet been considered by N.A.T.O. but which might offer a good avenue of approach as we face the appalling weight of defence expenditure which hon. Members opposite have emphasised.
Finally, the question of personnel. I note that recruiting of both officers and other ranks to the Royal Marines is satis- 762 factory. I see that the Civil Service Commission examination is now being dropped, but I take it that the interview boards still remain. In spite of what some hon. Members opposite have said about the interview board, I recall what happened when the previous Socialist Government removed the qualifying marks for interviews. In my own corps, in the first batch of young officers to come through many had to be removed from the service within the next six to ten years because, although they were brilliant men, they lacked that spark of leadership which is essential. That is why one has to have an interview and to go very carefully into the question of leadership, which, I believe, was one of the requirements which was not mentioned by an hon. Member who spoke about the selection of officers for the Royal Navy and, on Monday, for the Army.
I am a little concerned about the lessening differential between officers and ratings, particularly aboard ships. This should be looked into. There is the old joke about the commander of Whale Island going abroad on a bicycle and the chief petty officer using a car. Fair enough. But when I looked at the wardroom of H.M.S. "Galatea", one of our latest frigates, I found that the officers could not all sit around the table. The wardroom was so small that only some 50 per cent. could be seated at any one time. In addition, the cabin occupied by the lieutenant-commander was far worse than the one I occupied 25 years ago as a subaltern in a cruiser.
One realises the amount of electronic equipment which has to be housed in a modern ship, but the lack of differential between the accommodation and the amenities of officers and ratings needs looking into. I have mentioned this in previous debates. The wardroom still gets the same old food that many hon. Members have tasted when serving in Her Majesty's ships during the war whereas the lower deck, quite rightly, now has a choice between six hot dishes in its general mess.
I am told that the difficulty is that the wardroom has different meal times from the lower deck, but surely it is not beyond the ingenuity of our electronics industry to find some means of keeping food hot for the officers, perhaps even cooking it at differing times. It seems 763 to me that in many ships the lower deck eat very well, which is quite right, but that the officers could eat much better. The officers still have to pay some 1s. 6d. a day for eating the same old curry which many of us remember from the war.
I am glad to see that, in the Defence White Paper, the value of the cadets—the Sea Cadets and the C.C.F.—is recognised. I was also glad to see that about 1,600 of these youngsters have received sea training in the past year. I believe that the public relations value of cadets, and indeed of all reservists, is very high, and I support fully what has been said about the R.N.V.S.R.
I ask the Under-Secretary of State to consider very carefully whether more boats could not be made available for training. I am talking here not only of the Sea Cadets but of the Sea Scouts, The Admiralty assists with 50 per cent. of expenditure for the Sea Cadets but has no co-ownership of the Sea Scouts, who therefore have to buy their boats from the Admiralty. I believe that their recruitment figure for the R.N. is as good as the cadets, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will do what he can to see what boats are made available to them. I want to pay further tribute to the R.N.R. London Division who do a tremendous amount of work, assisting in the training of London's Sea Scouts. We make great use of H.M.S. "Discovery" and of R.N.R. whalers, and the value of this training pays the Navy dividends. The more that can be done the better the publicity and goodwill.
We need a good Navy, but we must pay for it. The Government have recognised the fact and this year will spend £48 million more on the Navy than last year, making a total of £544 million. We must remember, however, that £160 million is for wages, which obviously returns straight into the economy. Last year, the percentage of national income devoted to defence was greater in the United States, Taiwan and Israel, than in this country with the U.A.R., Yugoslavia, France and Germany close behind. But the Royal Navy receives a smaller percentage of the defence budget in this country than the United States, Portugal and Norway spend on their navies.
764 I am quoting these figures to the Committee to illustrate that we are not spending as much on the Royal Navy as certain other nations are spending on their navies, although we depend entirely on maritime power, in which I include all three defence forces. I agree that a close study of cost effectiveness is needed and I suggest that one of the best ideas would be an amalgamation of the Royal Navy and the R.A.F., but I will not pursue that now. I congratulate the Government on standing up to their left wing and realising that a strong, and therefore expensive, Royal Navy is essential for the preservation of our security.
§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
The debate has proceeded on a very even keel so far, apart from one dreadful moment when it seemed that defence of the Royal Navy had been handed over to the Ministry of Health. We can all agree that there have been times when the Navy has come to the defence of the Ministry of Health. Equally, it is time that among all the representatives of the "silent" Service, there should be a speech from someone who has had sea experience with the Merchant Navy, not the senior Service but the very senior Service. I propose to leave grand strategy to others, apart from one comment about the insistence of the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) in calling for independent fleet units capable of maintaining themselves at sea for very long periods.
I was not able to hear all that the hon. Gentleman said, because some Liverpudlians came here to see me, and he will appreciate that one does not keep Liverpudlians waiting. What he was proposing was nothing new. It was what I experienced in the Pacific some 20 years ago with a task force, which is merely a method of transporting either men or explosives, and sometimes both, from one place to another. No matter how far back one goes, somewhere along the line there has to be a land base and it does not matter whether it is 1,000 miles from the theatre of operations, or more, or less, that land base is still essential.
When we talk about areas east of Suez I hope that we shall get to the 765 position where we have Commonwealth units—whether we call them a Commonwealth Navy is irrelevant at the moment—so that not all defences in that area are carried by our own ships. We have friends, even relatives, in that part of the world and we could have a Commonwealth force with Commonwealth bases, as in the war, far enough back to give support.
I propose to deal with one or two items in the Estimates which a non-expert has noticed. I referred to training, on page 193, and this referred me to the estimate for training on page 35, but the only item on training which I could find referred, strangely enough, to the training of Merchant Navy personnel.
I take the point of the hon. Member who said that service in the Royal Navy is not a life-time career and that many people leave when they are 40. It so happens that when I was going home last Friday, my compartment was invaded—perhaps I had better say that we were joined—by an electrical artificer in the Royal Navy; I do not know what his rank was. He was complaining that in spite of the training he had received—and he claimed that the Royal Navy training was superior to anything in the R.A.F.—his equivalent grade in the R.A.F. was accepted as a ticket-bearing trade unionist when he came out, whereas the comparable grade in the Royal Navy was not. Perhaps the Ministry of Defence could take up this matter of the relationship between the Services when men leave to obtain civilian employment in their own trade or skill.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) for raising an issue concerning married quarters in a debate a few days ago. It seemed to be suggested that ratings required three or fourbedroomed accommodation while officers needed only two or three, or one or twobedroomed accommodation. I am wondering whether evidence can be supplied for this. Equally, to my surprise, there seemed to be among my hon. Friends an acceptance that there should be one design for officers, regardless of family circumstances, and another for ratings, and that we were getting Service ghettoes—
§ It being Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ Committee report Progress.
That this day the Business of Supply may be taken after Ten o'clock and may be entered upon and proceeded with at this day's Sitting at any hour during a period of Two hours after Ten o'clock, though opposed—[Mrs. Harriet Slater.]
§ Supply again considered in Committee.
§ Mr. Ogden
I was making a request to my right hon. and hon. Friends that accommodation should be designed specifically for the type of family—the number of children, the age of the family, the circumstances, and so on—rather than the rating of the person living in the accommodation. Will my right hon. Friend also try to ensure that married quarters, wherever they may be, are not isolated from the community, but that they are an integral part of municipal private housing areas?
On page 25 of the Defence Estimates there is one increase in expenditure for which, certainly, the Merchant Navy will be grateful. I refer to the Hydro-graphic Services. The expenditure is to go up from £906,500 to £1,197,430. This is a useful part of the work of the Royal Navy which is too often neglected. I am pleased to see this increase in expenditure which I am sure will have the support of all hon. Members.
Finally, I refer to page 31 of the Estimates where, under "Appropriations in Aid", there is an item, Item (5), concerning the disposal of surplus vessels. It is estimated that £390,000 will be received this year. I should like to make a plea that part of that money goes towards H.M.S. "Starling". This is a ship which, in my opinion, has as great a call on the affections of people in this country as H.M.S. "Victory" or any other ship. Here we have a situation in which a vessel which played a leading part at a critical time in our history is being hawked round the country. It is being said, "Will somebody buy the 'Starling'? If not, we will break it up for scrap". If, instead of scrapping it, H.M.S. "Starling", a ship which has played a famous part in our history, were sent back to Merseyside and used for training future recruits to the Navy, 767 the Government would get their money's worth. My plea is, "Send the 'Starling' home to Merseyside".
§ 10.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Humphrey Atkins (Merton and Morden)
The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden), at the beginning of his remarks referred to the proposition put forward by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee about the activities of the Royal Navy in the Far East and the type of fleet which needed to be established there. I wish to follow up something which he said, because there are certain differences in our approach.
I propose to be very brief at this time of night, but there are two or three things about the Navy which should be answered by the Government. Last year we were told that the increase in Vote A to 103,000 was due to the Polaris programme. Now we are being asked to vote another 1,000 making it 104,000. I am wondering whether this is for manning and training in the Polaris programme or some other cause.
It must be for some other causes, because I notice that the Royal Marines complement has gone up by about 500 men, which I am glad to see, because, although I am not a Royal Marine like my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), I have the greatest possible admiration for the Royal Marines. If we are expanding the Royal Marines in this way, I am sure that it will have a great deal of support from the whole Committee.
I wish to address myself to the ability of the Navy as it now is to carry out the tasks which the Government in their Defence White Paper have given it. Those tasks have changed since the days when most of us who served were in the Navy and the defence of these islands against direct attack, as the Government themselves say, will shortly be entrusted to the Polaris submarines. There has been a good deal of talk tonight about the number of those submarines.
I want to put forward a slightly different argument why we should have five and not four Polaris submarines. I will not go over the arguments that we have heard, but, in addition to providing part of the N.A.T.O. shield of this 768 country with the Polaris submarines, paragraph 12 of the White Paper refers to the necessity for our nuclear policy tohelp to provide some reassurance to non-nuclear powers.I do not see how our Polaris fleet will do this, because the Secretary of State for Defence has said that if we allocate four Polaris submarines to the Atlantic nuclear force—always assuming that that comes about, which is open to argument—we should be able to maintain one, and sometimes two, on station.
I do not quite know what this "reassurance to non-nuclear powers" means. I think that I know what it means, and that is to provide assistance in the Far East or protection to countries there, like India or Australia, against possible threats from China. If, however, we have difficulty in maintaining more than one Polaris submarine out of four at sea in the N.A.T.O. area, I fail to understand how we can provide this reassurance to non-nuclear Powers in the Far East. If we are to do what the Government say, a total of four simply is not enough for the purpose. I should very much like to hear the Government's answer to this.
Leaving that aside, however, there are certain things that cause me concern about the Navy's rôle east of Suez, on which a good deal has been said. We have a high proportion of ships there. What we all ask ourselves is, first, whether there are enough to carry out the rôle assigned to them and, secondly, whether they are powerful enough. The nucleus of our strength east of Suez is the carriers and the commando ships.
The Government say that we are to keep three carriers or commando ships east of Suez. According to the list of the Fleet that we were given the other day, we have four aircraft carriers and two commando ships. Do the Government seriously suggest that they will be able to keep half of them permanently east of Suez? If out of a fleet of four Polaris submarines they can keep only one, or sometimes two, on station, I do not see how we can keep three out of six aircraft carriers or commando ships on station.
I am asking whether the idea of keeping three ships on station out of a total of six is realistic, let alone whether it is enough. I suggest that it is not enough and I should like to see four, so that we 769 have two completely separate groups working in the Far East over the great distances involved. Let us have an answer, if we may, however, about the possibility of keeping three there.
The frigates have been referred to at some length. I reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) said in opening the debate, that although we have 70, it appears from the figures provided in the Estimates by the Government that the building programme is slowing down. Whereas we have five launched but not included in the Fleet at 31st March, we have only three under construction and not yet launched. What is to be the programme this year? How many more will we get? If they are slowing down on the programme, will we find in a year that we do not have enough of them?
I come now to the point made by the hon. Gentleman about the Fleet in the Far East and its operation there. I entirely agree with him that, no matter what sort of Fleet we have, and how strong it is, it must operate from a land base somewhere, but the distances there are so great when operating from the bases on which we can rely, Aden and Singapore, that the ships at sea need a great deal more support than they would if they were operating off, say, the Mediterranean. This is obvious, and what concerns me is the uncertainty surrounding these bases of Aden and Singapore.
We all like to think that they are all right for many years to come, but I do not think that we know they are. All sorts of political upheavals and disturbances can occur, and we may be forced to operate from bases even further away. For a fleet of any kind to be effective over long distances, it needs support ships. The further a fleet is from its base, the more support ships—tankers, replacement ships, store ships—it needs.
I was looking again at the Estimates and the number of ships available to see whether any more Fleet replenishment ships were coming forward. I find that the only addition to the list of ships under construction in this category are two store support ships. There are no more ships being brought forward now than there were this time last year, and I wonder whether the Government are satisfied that the Fleet train that is coming 770 forward is of a realistic size, and could be available to maintain a Fleet in the Far East operating over considerable distances.
The question whether the ships that we have in the Far East are powerful enough depends, in the end, on the aircraft carriers that we have available, because an aircraft carrier carries the only real main armament of the Fleet these days, which is the aeroplane. It is not only the main armament for attacking other people, but is the main armament for defence. The frigates that we have are excellent ships, but I doubt whether they are able to cope with the modern Russian submarine fleet, about which we heard earlier today.
I do not believe that this Russian fleet will ever be used against us directly in this country, but I think there is a danger that it may be lent, or hired, or sold to the Russians' friends elsewhere. I feel sure that there is a possibility that they may be made available to the smaller countries whose interests Russia wishes to advance, and we should have to deal with them just the same.
Our frigates are the finest in the world, but I doubt whether they are capable of dealing with submarines which, we were told earlier, have a submerged speed of 30 knots. Therefore, we come back to the aeroplane and the aircraft carrier. It provides the strike weapon of the Navy, and also the Navy's defensive weapon. If we are not to have surface-to-surface missiles, which at the moment we do not have, there is nothing coming forward to take the place of the aeroplane. I hope that we can be told more about this.
Of course, there are disadvantages in surface-to-surface missiles, because one does not always know what one is firing at. It is necessary to identify the target before loosing off missiles, and this involves an aircraft carrier having to go to the area to identify it. All this emphasises how essential it is to have aircraft carriers, and enough of them. I am sure that this will be the case for as far ahead as any of us can see into the future.
I am particularly keen to see the Navy's defence against underwater attack as good as possible. The Wasp helicopter should come forward quickly. We have 771 heard that the hunter-killer submarines are the best defence against underwater attack. I do not doubt this, but I am a little alarmed to know that they are still armed with weapons which ships have been armed with for 20 or 30 years. I do not think that a great deal of advance has been made with torpedoes. If this is so, we must have aircraft and helicopters to defend ourselves.
It will be said that everything that I have been putting forward is very costly. It is. What I have been advocating will increase costs, but if the Navy is to be given these tasks, and if it is to carry out all these commitments, it must have the material with which to do so. None of us would doubt that the Navy is only too willing to carry out any tasks that it is given, but it is our business to make sure that it is given the tools to do the job.
§ 10.16 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)
The length of speeches has been such that at this late hour many hon. Members are still waiting to catch the eye of the Chair. I shall speak as quickly as possible. I shall confine my remarks to the experiences that I had in the Far East last July, when I was lucky enough to do some operational flying in a helicopter in the jungle, when I visited 845 Squadron.
Many men in the Far East are worried because they feel that in serving in the jungle they are the forgotten Navy. They feel that the people at home do not know enough about what they are doing. We must remember that this operational flying involves flying for long hours each day deep in the jungle, under hair-raising conditions. When I took part in these operational flights I thought how fortunate it was that my wife did not know that I was doing this. Unfortunately, at that very time an article appeared in The Times describing graphically what was going on.
I ask hon. Members to consider an area in the jungle about the size of the Central Lobby, with trees 20 ft. high all round it and helicopters landing there day in and day out, supplying the Army, which, in some cases, cannot keep going in the jungle for more than 772 three days without resupply. If it were not for the work that 845 Squadron is doing in the jungle the Army just would not be in business. In its advanced base I was able to appreciate the magnificent way in which it is getting on with the job, not only in the operational field but what is known in the area as the "hearts and minds", which is very important.
The squadron is sometimes called upon to evacuate people, as happened when I was there. I am sorry that the hon. Member from the Royal Marines is not present, because the pilot concerned was a Royal Marines officer. After a full day's operational flying the squadron often carries out CASEVACs in the middle of the night. In this case a local Iban had to be evacuated to hospital. This was done on the spot. The helicopter pilot left a cinema performance to do the job.
One of the first things that the commanding officer of the squadron did when he went there was to send off one of his own officers to learn the local language. In the "Anchor Inn", at the advanced base, the local Iban, or headman, who is always a welcome guest, invited me to visit his Long House. This was a memorable experience, with the young pilot acting as interpreter. It is a wonderful thing to see a picture of our Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, in the middle of the jungle, in the headman's quarters. Squadron 845 is doing a magnificent job, and I wish that I had time to say more about its work.
Some time ago the Minister of Aviation mentioned the question of closer co-operation with the French in helicopter production. I hope that we shall be able to do something in co-operation with the French, with Sud Aviation, and produce more Alouettes. I understand that the French have some of them available. I hope that we can get some into the Service. I am not saying that our Mark V and Mark II helicopters and others are not doing a magnificent job. We need helicopters from everywhere that we can get them.
Reference has been made to Wasps. I was lucky enough to be in H.M.S. "Ajax" when her captain returned in a Wasp from a conference. I was able to see the recovery aboard a frigate. It was an interesting experience. We must be 773 careful not to run down equipment and ships, because I think that we too easily accept the fact that there are old and out-of-date pieces of equipment. Those of us who have seen these things, but who are tied by the Official Secrets Act, know that this is not altogether true and that there are many up-to-date pieces of equipment which have been tried and are coming into use.
The Fleet carriers in the Far East are doing a magnificent job. It may be said that the job in the Straits could be done by small ships, and it may well be that it could, but these vessels are doing magnificent work, such as has been done recently by H.M.S. "Ajax" in stopping people infiltrating in the middle of the night. We all know that life aboard commando carriers is not easy. If hon. Members had been as I was last July in Singapore, and had been in a carrier in which the air conditioning had broken down, they would agree that it can be a very uncomfortable experience. I wish to pay a particular tribute to the Fleet carriers. Their crews are working flat out day after day and are doing a splendid job.
The Under-Secretary of State referred to what he called "scratch vessels" and I agree with him. I did a patrol in one that was leaking all the time that we were afloat. We know that this is a scratch job. I was glad to see the answer of the Minister of 1st February about the turnover to the Malayan police. These craft will do an extremely good job. In the Navy there is a term "leading seamen" and never in the history of the Navy could that term be better applied than to those in charge of what I might term these "clapped out" old vessels. The four men with whom I did a patrol were in the charge of a leading seaman who was doing a wonderful job. I forget who acted as cook, but he was not really a cook. He was either an M.E. or an A.B., but we sat down to a first-class lunch.
Here were men doing their job superbly. We know the ships are not as good as they might be but the fact that the men are doing the job so well indicates the kind of men we have in the Navy today. If the C.M.S. off the coast can get hard-lying money these men should be considered too, for conditions in the C.M.S. are better than in the camps ashore.
774 We have dealt with the question of hovercraft. I am wondering what is the situation about speed and noise. Are they suitable for this stealthy patrol work? I think that it is a very good idea, and I should be interested to know something about that.
It is all very well for us to say that we must do something about habitability in older ships. I have seen the position for myself, and I know that there is a lot to be done, but we cannot convert all the older ships. Could the Minister consider one or two things? Where we have old-fashioned enormous air conditioning systems which are built so that they can be dropped from 20 ft. and will not break and are so very strong but often short of spares and take up a great deal of space, and where we cannot fully air-condition older ships, I think that the crews would willingly accept working in bad conditions if they knew that part of the ship could be better air-conditioned, and which they could enjoy when they came off watch. We ought to look at the possibility of going outside the service and looking at some of the commercial air conditioners which may be readily available.
Could the Minister please look very carefully at the problem of local labour, especially contract labour? This should especially be considered as in the case of the Hong Kong side party. In these conditions, local labour can do far easier the jobs which are extremely unpleasant and difficult for our people to do in the heat and, where possible, their employment should be expanded. We have one ship there which had a special job to do in boiler cleaning. Could we have more than one? Another one would help. Would it be possible to reconsider the idea that cooks and stewards in the Mediterranean might be largely recruited from Maltese and, in the Far East, from locally employed Chinese? I am sure that this would help enormously. There is a lot for them to do in the Navy, of which Service they are so proud.
A lot has been said about the question of engagement and amenities. I hope that something will be done about sending ships, where possible, to Australia for leave. This is extremely popular in the Service. The men like to go there because they can have a drink of beer and do all the things which sailors do together and they enjoy it. Where we are to have family visits, we know that the 775 Service is doing what it can with the problem of family visits, but I would hope that this would be expanded and that there might be some sort of chalet area near the base so that the men could be near their own families, and where the families would be able to walk straight into the place. That would be a help. There is a need for some form of community centre, as well as the Armada Club, which is doing a very good job. The sailors in the modern Navy do not only like what people think they do. They happen to be fond of playing golf, for instance. There is a run on the golf course and sailing and other pastimes. I hope that as much will be done as possible for recreation in that direction.
Another important point is the question of assisted passages. I know that a great deal has been done to help over this, but the assisted passage today still costs £75 a time. This is too much. The officers especially find it extremely hard to produce this money and there are so many officers and men who, by reason of family commitments at home, cannot possibly get their families out to the Far East in 776 the middle of a commission. I hope that the Government might make a concession, and bring the £75 down to £25.
I was delighted to hear what was said today about assisting with housing. At home, there are examples of Fleet Air Arm personnel who are posted and come back to find that their names are struck off the housing list. I have evidence of cases like this, and if the right hon. Gentleman would like, I shall send my report to him. Time does not permit me to develop this very important subject.
Lastly, I should like to refer to Press coverage. I have already stressed how important it is that the enormous contribution which our men are making in the Far East should be reported here. I was pleased to meet a young man who had just been sent out to do additional Press coverage. I know that the C.-in-C. is very interested in this. Anything we can do in the House of Commons to show these men how much we appreciate what they are doing and how well they are maintaining the highest standards of the Royal Navy, and any trouble we take to make their contribution better known in the House, will be well worth while.
§ 10.31 p.m.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
Time does not permit me to make more than a very short speech, especially as there are many hon. Members on this side of the Committee who still wish to speak.
I should like, in particular, to refer to two points which the Minister mentioned. First, may I make a strong plea in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) for H.M.S. "Sea Eagle". It is serving a very useful purpose in Northern Ireland. It is the base to which I go every year to do my week's naval training. Coastal Command crews, who are operating Shackletons, are victualled there and spend the night there between flights.
It is of extreme importance for many reasons that H.M.S. "Sea Eagle" should be kept on. It is filling an important rôle in Londonderry. Indeed, it is the only major naval base we have left in Ireland. For political reasons, and bearing in mind that Londonderry is right on the border between North and South, I feel that H.M.S. "Sea Eagle" must be kept going, whatever the cost.
One of the arguments against it has been that it takes our submarines a certain time to get to Londonderry from England to carry out exercises and manoeuvres and that, therefore, it would be more economical if they did their manoeuvres in the English Channel. Of course it would be more economical, but economics are not the only concern here, and I feel that the Minister will come to the conclusion, after weighing the pros and cons, that there is a great deal more in favour of retaining H.M.S. "Sea Eagle" in the important rôle which it plays in the Navy and in Northern Ireland affairs.
Secondly, I wish to touch briefly on the R.N.V.S.R., to which the hon. Gentleman referred. To some extent I share the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells), who thought that the R.N.V.S.R. had had shabby treatment. I was fortunate, as an R.N.V.S.R. officer, to have the offer of re-engagement in the R.N.R. so that not all R.N.V.S.R. members are put on the ash heap. For some reason or another quite a number have been transferred to the R.N.R. But I see no reason at all 778 why this very worthy body of people cannot remain in being.
The annual cost is minimal and the work which these dedicated officers do, not only in the ports and in the seafaring areas of the country but in the Midlands and in the industrial areas of Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and other counties in the heart of England to help to run the Sea Cadet Corps and other branches of the R.N.R. is essential to naval life in this country.
The debate has been long and far-ranging. Hon. Members opposite generally took a critical line with the actions of their Front Bench in expanding the Navy Estimates this year. I particularly think of the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey), who adopted a very critical attitude. I thought it extraordinary that the hon. and gallant Gentleman, who, understand, was in the Navy at one time, should have spent virtually the whole of his lengthy speech being critical.
I reinforce the plea that has been made for a new aircraft carrier, in addition to the one being planned. It is essential that we have an early replacement put on the drawing board so that it may come into use after the one that has already been approved.
A month or so ago I was in the West Indies and among the British citizens in the West Indian Colonies there is a great feeling that they would like to see more of the Royal Navy and its ships. I went to a group of islands called the Cayman Islands. The people there are intensely pro-British. The islands are still Colonies of the Crown and are close to the Island of Cuba. They are also in the shadow of the American mainland. The islanders look forward to those occasions—unfortunately infrequent—when a Royal Navy ship sails into their sandy and rocky harbour to pay an official visit for a day or two.
I welcome the general trend of the Government as envisaged in these Estimates. I congratulate the Minister on a most constructive and interesting speech earlier. I have been in my place throughout the debate waiting to speak, but I must conclude, since other hon. Members wish to speak. I hope that the Minister will look again at the possibility of getting down to the job very soon, not only of putting out the tenders, which I understand will 779 be done in 1966, for the new carrier which we need, but will get cracking on laying down the plans and getting the preparatory work done for an additional carrier, which will be essential.
§ 10.37 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles (Winchester)
This debate is on Navy Vote A, which is defined as… the maximum number of officers, ratings and Royal Marines who may be maintained for naval service …It is about these officers and ratings that I wish to speak. I would like, first, to welcome the two initiatives on the personnel front—housing loans and re-engagement bounties—which were announced by the Minister earlier.
The Government has so far, in the time they have been in office, shown insufficient heed of personnel problems. As I have comparatively recent experience of naval personnel problems, I will relate what I have to say particularly to the navy, but, as a convinced integrator and as a great believer in the new combined Ministry of Defence, I would like to have seen the Government pay more attention in their recent utterances to the personnel problems of all three Services.
In the section on manpower in the White Paper we read of certain difficulties over recruiting. It is well known that recruiting and re-engagements are only different facets of exactly the same basic problem. I am sure that the Committee agree that the re-engagement figures are more significant than the recruiting figures. They both add up to a matter of morale. In using the word "morale", I do not wish to spread alarm or create despondency. I know—again from recent experience—that morale within the Royal Navy is still quite excellent, but we must look ahead, and I must say that until today the Government have shown little signs of doing that.
Recruiting efforts have for many years been most strenuously and energetically and effectively carried out, and advertising for the Navy, and for all the Services, has been widespread. I see that a small exhibition of models and photographs has been staged by the Ministry on the Committee floor, and I have wondered about its significance. It may 780 be good or it may be bad. It may represent a gesture of pride by the Minister in our Fleet, which contributes so powerfully to the independent British nuclear deterrent. If so, we should all rejoice.
On the other hand, it may be an indication that recruiting is worse than we had feared, and that perhaps in a mood of desperation the Minister seeks to recruit from among hon. Members. Is there a possibility of by-elections in some constituencies? What about Ebbw Vale, or South Ayrshire—[HON. MEMBERS: "Winchester."] Yes—Winchester, or perhaps Bristol, South, or Poplar, or Dunbartonshire, East. What about even Nelson and Colne—
§ The Chairman
Order. We are fighting against time. I hope that the hon. and Gallant Member will not go beyond the bounds of order.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles
What is needed for good recruiting and a good rate of re-engagement? First, I suggest that the men must know that their jobs are really worth while, and the public image of the Services must be good. In the Far East are men who are now working seven days a week in conditions that would be a revelation to most civilians. On this matter of the public image, I would invite the Press and the broadcasting agencies to take note of the problem facing the Services. I ask that in this public forum, and I hope that the members of the Press Gallery are listening.
Remarkable events and dramatic incidents are occurring in the Far East every day of the week and, out in the jungle, success or failure depends on very junior N.C.O.s—it is, in fact, a lance-corporals' war. There are interesting stories, and I know that everybody, from the Commander-in-Chief downwards, is ready to give the Press every facility. Of course, in this country we enjoy a free Press, and no one can tell our newspapers what to print—I certainly do not seek to do so now. All I am doing is to invite the Press to consider whether it could voluntarily give a little more publicity to the exploits of the three Services for a few months.
Another thing that is essential for morale is that it should be apparent to 781 soldiers, sailors and airmen that their various problems are known to those in authority. In the debate on the Armed Forces in December last, the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy said:We are studying most urgently the precise causes of the drop in re-engagement rates and the best ways of reversing the trend. We are taking careful account of the ideas on which our predecessors were working when we took office."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December, 1964; Vol. 704, c. 158.]I know for certain that one of those ideas, one repeatedly and constantly submitted, is the business of a separation allowance for men serving at sea. My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) has referred to it today and I did so at considerable length in a debate on the Armed Forces in December. On that occasion the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy said:I have well in mind the point made by the hon. and gallant Member…about sea service.He went on with his usual charming and disarming smile to say that… I can only say that his point has gone home with me. I shall certainly bear it in mind."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December, 1964; Vol. 704, c. 156–7.]
§ Mr. Mayhew
I am obliged. The fact that we were able to announce two constructive ideas today does not mean that we have no other ideas in mind at present.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that reply. I am extremely glad to hear it.
Another and most important aspect of the recruiting of officers and men is the father and son connection, which runs Mike a silver thread through the traditions of the Navy, the Army and the Air Force. Many young men join the Armed Forces on the recommendation of their fathers, uncles or other relatives. But what if the retired people do not think that they have had a square deal from the Services? It is fair comment that much good material is lost to the forces now by the financial situation in which some retired Service people and their widows unfortunately find themselves today.
This whole question of Service retirement pensions is difficult and I am the first to admit that the Conservative Government, for many good reasons, did not manage to achieve parity for the older pensioners, but at least the Conservative 782 Government, while sympathetic, did not seek to mislead these retired pensioners. Recently, the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who, unfortunately, is not in the Chamber at the moment, referring to his time as spokesman for the Labour Party in a debate on this matter, said:I then had the task…of making this pledge in the most specific terms, which was that we would take the first opportunity to raise the pensions of the retired Service people to what it would have been had the man retired on a later pay-scale…I was authorised to give that pledge and one does not give a pledge of that sort in a casual way…When I came to make a statement at the Dispatch Box the present Secretary of State for Defence was sitting beside me. I consulted him before speaking and he expressly approved of what I said afterwards.Although I should like to see parity, I know the difficulties and perhaps I should have started by declaring an interest, because I am a Service pensioner, though not yet on an out-dated scale of pension.
If the Government are pledged to grant parity in this way, where is the action? If they are not so pledged, or if they are no longer pledged to do this, they should announce it clearly now. What Service men are not accustomed to is deception and humbug. As the hon. and learned Member for Northampton has said:This is a promise which no doubt caused a number of Service families to vote for us. It is an undertaking from which it would be monstrous to climb down at this stage."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December, 1964; Vol. 704, c. 76–77.]The last factor affecting morale is the knowledge that good modern reliable weapons and equipment will be available for the man "at the sharp end". In this connection, uncertainty and doubt must be avoided at all costs. A Government spokesman recently said that the Government were anxious not to fall into the trap of reorganising Whitehall without regard to the people who are doing the fighting. I am asking for a great deal more evidence that the Government really have regard for the men who are doing the fighting.
§ 10.55 p.m.
§ Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)
The only similarity between the constituencies of Winchester and Bristol, South is in the massive and unassailable majorities which they both have. The only other comparison one could draw is that the 783 hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles) represents the quarter deck and I feel myself somewhat honoured to have this opportunity to represent the lower deck, as I have tried to do in the past from time to time.
I think that I am the only Member in the Chamber at present who served in the Royal Navy in the First World War. I cannot see anyone else here who is likely to have done so. I confess that, as I have listened to the arguments addressed to the Minister today about the various tactical requirements of the Royal Navy, I have felt myself completely out of my depth. I have wondered whether it was my longitude or my latitude which was out of order, but certainly I have not been able to grasp much about it.
The point which I wish to raise touches on something said by the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester. I refer to the problem of personnel. One is bound to feel a little concerned at what one hears about the strain which is being put on the Navy today, particularly as regards manpower. We must not have our Fleet undermanned if we can possibly help it, so we must find means to attract young men into the Service. This is a problem which exercises all our minds.
I was very pleased to hear the Minister say that the Admiralty intended to put into effect a method to enable sailors to go in for house purchase. I remind the Front Bench of a quite revolutionary speech—I do not want that to be taken too literally—made two or three years ago by Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett, then the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East. The suggestion he made—it was extremely well received in the House at the time—was that, when ratings were home and shore-based at Portsmouth, Plymouth, or wherever it might be, we ought to treat them in the same way as industrial workers are treated, with the exception of the duty watch, of course.
They ought to be allowed to go home in the evening and come back to work in the morning, just as a man who works in a factory does and is able to enjoy family and social life. Has anything been done in this direction? I thought at the time that it was a suggestion which was worth pursuing, to see whether some such scheme could be adopted.
784 When I was a member of the Estimates Committee, I had the good fortune to go round all the dockyards and see the training facilities there. I sometimes wonder whether we exploit sufficiently the opportunities available to young men to learn what are now really professions, not trades. The equipment in the dockyard at Devonport for the training of apprentices in various branches of electronics and other skills is absolutely superb. I doubt that there is anything like it in any industrial concern in the country. Are we using and exploiting this sort of thing sufficiently to encourage young men to go into the Navy in the knowledge that, when they have finished their Service, they will have the ability to command some of the best jobs in civilian life?
Could I ask the Minister of Defence for the Navy one question which I have been longing to ask almost all the afternoon, and I regret that I had to be away for one and a half hours at a meeting. We have heard such a lot this afternoon about the frigates that are being built, that are coming off the stocks and going into commission. I may be quite ignorant, because, as I said, I was rather at sea and out of my depth, but what is happening to the mothball fleet?
Why is it that we must build all these new ships? I understand that there are quite a number of ships in mothballs which are taken out occasionally. If we need to build new and more modern frigates, does this mean the ones we have in mothballs are obsolete? And if they are obsolete, then why keep them? It just passes my comprehension why we should keep them if they are no use to us and we need something more modern.
Having obtruded myself upon the Committee for a few minutes, and understanding that the Front Bench spokesman for the Opposition is anxious to rise up, I will conclude my remarks in the hope that they may be of some value if for no other reason that the Minister of State goes easier on his sailors, treating them as ordinary human beings and not keeping them confined to barracks when they have families only a mile or so away.
§ 10.57 p.m.
§ Commander Anthony Courtney (Harrow, East)
I think that hon. Members will agree that this has been a thoughtful and 785 well-informed debate, with many interesting contributions from both sides of the Committee. I think that it has been marked by one particular phenomenon, which has been the remarkable degree of agreement between the Government Front Bench and the ideas put forward in the opening speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) and other hon. Members on this side of the House.
While there have been many interesting contributions from below the Gangway on the other side of the Committee, I think that all of us have noticed a marked absence of enthusiasm on the part of hon. Gentlemen immediately opposite. I am sure that if the Minister who is to reply to the debate recollects the remarks of two years ago about the Polaris programme, brought out by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rye (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine), he would still be expressing those views if he were below the Gangway, but we in our turn are glad that he has moved above the salt, so to speak, and taken the attitude he has taken today, on behalf of the Government, and which we feel confident he will repeat in his winding-up speech.
The anxiety which has been expressed by many hon. Gentlemen today on the question of the manning of the Royal Navy is the principal point which arises from most of the speeches the Committee has heard. I would like for the moment to address myself to one or two of the problems as I see them. Many interesting points about this have been brought out by my hon. Friend the Member for Henley, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles) and my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard).
I think that I can speak for this side of the Committee and for the country when I say how delighted we were to hear of the two measures announced by the Minister which will mitigate to some ex tent the very serious deterioration of the re-engagement rate now being experienced for ratings in the Royal Navy. The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the provision of houses for ratings who reengage as an earnest of good intentions for the next and final period of their service. That is a remarkable advance in itself.
Not less, perhaps, are the effects of what I would prefer to call the 786 "bounty". I hope that the hon. Gentleman will use that traditional naval word for what is, in effect, a bounty for re-engagement service. We were delighted when he indicated that he has further possibilities up his sleeve and that he and the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy were investigating this very important subject.
A point raised by a number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells) and the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling), who has a personal interest, concerned the abolition of the R.N.V.(S.)R. At a time when re-engagement rates are falling, when many on the Supplementary List Air Officers in the Royal Navy are terminating their commissions at break points in their careers, it is quite wrong and cheese-paring to save £4,000 a year by doing away with an organisation like this which does at least spread the naval idea and keeps foci of naval interests at widespread points throughout the country. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will look into this very closely.
I have referred to the shortage of air officers on the supplementary list. There is a notable absence in the White Paper of any reference to specifically naval efforts to recruit or to engage air branch officers. There is a fulsome description, very properly, for example, of the operation of university air squadrons from which, as we know, the R.A.F. derives a considerable proportion of its officer strength.
Why cannot we see some naval flights of certain selected air university air squadrons? Why cannot the Navy participate in this magnificent fount of flying expertise, if I may call it that? Why, for example, cannot the new Sussex University, at Brighton—which has naval associations with H.M.S. "King Alfred" and with Shoreham—have a naval air squadron?
I am sure that the suggestion of a naval air squadron in Northern Ireland would interest my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark). Why could it not be at Ballykelly aerodrome, now threatened by the closing down of H.M.S. "Sea Eagle"? Why cannot Coastal Command's airfield be exploited? I hope that the Under-Secretary 787 of State will make mention of what is being done in these respects.
There is no mention in the White Paper of naval air interest being evoked from the Sea Cadet Corps or the naval section of the C.C.F. Surely some mention should have been made in the White Paper to show that right hon. Gentlemen opposite were trying to alleviate the shortage by all means possible. We see that the R.A.F., with its accustomed efficiency and knowledge of how to do these things, gave no less than 7,000 glider flights last year to young people, some of whom were "sold" on the R.A.F. for ever in this way. How many such flights last year were made for naval members of the C.C.F. or the Sea Cadet Corps?
Hon. and gallant Gentlemen with experience of these matters have also referred to the Royal Marines. My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) and the hon. Member for Woolwich, West have been in the forefront with proposals for further recruitment and the further use of this famous corps, which celebrated its tercentenary this year.
The Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy made one point which particularly struck me. He referred to the many forms of harrassing which are open to our forces without employing nuclear weapons. He was, presumably, referring to the type of "brush-fire" war throughout the world for which our Armed Forces have to train, and for which we have to employ a degree of amphibious power. The point was made that the Royal Marines were well suited for this type of warfare, and it was mentioned that they were now flying helicopters. I suggest that we might find worthy of consideration the training of a certain number of Royal Marines—or at least, their attachment—to the P1127 Evaluation Squadron, now at R.A.F., West Raynham. If the P1127s are to be any use outside this country, other than on the Continent generally, or in Western Germany, surely it would be advantageous to deploy them from aircraft carriers. Might it not be useful to bridge the gap between the two Services in this amphibious rôle, and train a number of Royal Marines to fly these aircraft?
A point has been made about oceanography and surveying. The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) raised the issue of the necessity for ade- 788 quate surveying and the provision of charts for the Royal Navy. I think that his attention might be drawn to paragraph 173 of the White Paper, Statement on the Defence Estimates, which refers to the fact that only four ships—what are termed "larger ships"—were engaged on deep sea surveys. For a great maritime nation, which is faced, incidentally—and this is a point to which I shall refer more fully in a moment—with the largest submarine fleet ever assembled in peace time, surely surveying and oceanography become much more important than previously. I feel that attention might be given to that serious point, and I hope that we shall get some more information in the reply to the debate.
I would like to mention the question of training. The hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey) made his very characteristic contribution to our discussion, during which, this year, he referred disparagingly to H.M.S. "Royal Arthur", at Corsham. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will not take too much notice of what the hon. and gallant Member says, for he is obviously not aware of the facilities at Corsham for ratings and officers to take short courses which, when I visited the "Royal Arthur", although not in my Service capacity, I found exceedingly valuable. I should describe it as almost a lower deck university which is certainly appreciated by the officers and petty officers attending courses there.
The hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) criticised the boys' entry and spoke of the desirability, in his view, of ratings being able to opt out of the Royal Navy one or two years after completion of training. His hon. Friend, in his opening speech, said that the training of ratings costs £4,000 to £10,000 apiece. I hope that criticism of our training scheme will not be taken too seriously, resulting, as it could, in the breaking of contracts—a matter referred to, also, by my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall)—creeping into our system.
I profoundly disagree with the suggestion that a let-out one or two years after training would increase recruitment. It might do so, indeed, but for quite wrong reasons.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris
Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman agree that employers spend considerable sums of money on training and that were they to retain their employees against their will, as happens sometimes in the Royal Navy, as I have said, they would soon go bankrupt, notwithstanding the amount they spent on the training of apprentices?
§ Commander Courtney
I accept that point fully, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that a disciplined fighting Service, with a rather long tradition of discipline, is not quite the same as the industrial picture which he paints so convincingly. His argument is not valid for the reasons I have advanced and the Under-Secretary should not pay too much attention to that criticism.
My hon. Friend the Member for Horn-castle (Sir J. Maitland) made an admirable suggestion, which I hope the Under-Secretary will take up, about the training of ratings throughout their service time specifically with the object of fitting them for careers in industry should they take on for re-engagement after their first 12 years, or nine years now that the nine-year entry is coming in. This principle could be extended to officers. I know that this is in the mind of the Secretary of State in the case of an officer getting a degree course in either engineering or the arts at a naval establishment. In view of the great difficulty experienced by both officers and ratings who wish to retire from the service at the age of 30 or 40, this would undoubtedly be a considerable spur to recruitment and perhaps help to mitigate the falling re-engagement rate on which so many hon. Members have remarked.
My hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry, my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) and my hon. Friend the Member for Henley, all raised the question of H.M.S. "Sea Eagle". I have quite recently visited that establishment in Northern Ireland and there is no doubt that, for purely technical considerations—and, after all, the Government have placed their emphasis on costing and cost effectiveness of weaponry; in this case an anti-submarine weapon—we cannot devise a cheaper or more efficient means of giving the maximum possible efficiency of training to our joint anti-submarine effort.
790 As one hon. Member pointed out, the 100-fathom line from Londonderry is exactly half the distance of that from Plymouth, which was the suggested alternative, and that in itself surely indicates to the Committee some of the economies which are realised when one is conducting anti-submarine exercises in deep water, which is an essential feature of modern anti-submarine tactics, from this base.
In addition, and this has not been mentioned, there is the question of the operation of very long-range Coastal Command aircraft out into the Atlantic in a possible future "grey" war in the Atlantic. Here, again, the R.A.F. Coastal Command base at Ballykelly, particularly because of the anti-submarine requirement of "Sea Eagle", would be essential in time of war and the hon. Gentleman should look very closely at any suggestion that the base should be closed.
There has not been much mention of weapons, except the perennial reference by my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and myself to the surface-to-surface guided missile. Perhaps we could have a little more information about the alternative to the Seacat and Seaslug, the Sea Dart, the new guided missile for the Navy. The absence of such a surface-to-surface guided missile in the Navy, it cannot be stressed too often, renders it necessary to keep fixed-wing aircraft operating from carriers, not commando carriers, as the first line surface weapon of the Fleet.
Do we have the sonar we need? Hon. Members are probably convinced from knowledge and hearsay that we possess in the laboratory the finest sonar in the world. The Royal Navy has always been famous for this and I have no doubt that the expertise is continuing, but do we have the right variable depth sonar in the right ships and the "dunking" sonar, as the Americans call it, in our helicopters? Do we have fully efficient new types of sonar in all our ships escorting aircraft carriers? We would like a little more information on that subject.
I want now to refer to the application of nuclear power for surface propulsion in the Royal Navy and I hope that it will be in order to mention the parallel programme, if one can call it such, of nuclear power for merchant ships, which, in the view of many, would have much 791 to contribute to the naval programme, and vice versa.
Perhaps we can have a little guidance from the hon. Gentleman this evening on present thinking about the application of nuclear power to surface ships of the Royal Navy. A moment's thought will give the Committee plenty to go on when hon. Members appreciate the advantages of an aircraft carrier, for example, in a task force 1,000 miles from its base and with a fuel capacity from which it can refuel escorts, the accompanying surface vessels, because it requires no fuel other than a nuclear reactor, which could probably take it round the world fifteen times without re-fuelling. This development by the United States Navy over many years is undoubtedly of interest to the Admiralty Board. Can we hear how that is developing and how it is being inter-linked with the civil programme which is now proceeding?
Would it now be possible for the Admiralty Board to take an initiative in this matter of marine nuclear propulsion? We know from the Report of the Padmore Committee that there is a specific requirement for a decision-making body and some of us who have investigated this matter know how difficult it has been for a long time to get a decision made. It is a decision which still seems to be well round the corner. Is it not for consideration that the decision-making body might be the Admiralty Board as possessing, alone among Government Departments, all the design and production facilities, and experience already of submarine nuclears, which might enable it to be the best centralised body to operate this programme?
Paragraph 18 of the White Paper says that the N.A.T.O. strategic concept requires revision, a view shared on both sides of the Committee. In his opening speech, the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy made another point which I recollect very well in his analogy of the tripwire, formerly thought to be in Eastern Europe, now having passed, perhaps, to the sea, by which, I understand, he signalises the change of the thinking of the Government—thinking which was already apparent in the White Paper issued last year by the previous Government of a transition from a continental 792 type of British strategy to a maritime strategy. If that change can be recognised and admitted, the consequences will come much more easily to all of us.
The inevitable corollary of the acceptance of the maritime strategy is shown by hon. Members opposite, for example, in cancelling the P1154 and imposing a joint service aircraft on the Navy and the Royal Air Force which is inter-operable from shore aerodromes or aircraft carriers. If that principle is accepted, it must surely be clear that tactical air power required in the employment of maritime strategy at widely spaced points throughout the world can, and should, be applied by the Royal Navy. That is a point which should be admitted by hon. Members opposite to justify the things which they are doing. Let us have the principle clearly enunciated when we see the effects of their own reasoning taking shape in the measures announced in the White Paper and in the hon. Gentleman's speech today.
I should like to take a point from the excellent speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Baker), who alone in this debate has referred specifically to the immense Russian submarine fleet which hon. Members, on both sides of the House of Commons, seem to sweep under the carpet, so to speak, in debate after debate as if there did not exist the most powerful and probably best-armed submarine fleet of any nation ever in peace time in the history of the world.
I should like to know from the Under-Secretary what he thinks that submarine fleet is for. I know that his hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West said that it was virtually no danger to us. I hope, therefore, that the Under-Secretary will be able to enlighten his hon. Friend and the Committee by giving his view of what those 430 submarines are for. This country is unique in one thing—that it is the only country in N.A.T.O. which is absolutely vulnerable to the use of sea power, and sea power such as is operated by a submarine force of that nature—
§ Mrs. Anne Kerr (Rochester and Chatham)
Would the hon. and gallant Member agree that this country is peculiarly vulnerable so long as it remains a base for N.A.T.O. and so long 793 as it remains a base for Polaris submarines?
§ Commander Courtney
The hon. Lady should get first things first. As the French say, Cet animal est très méchant; quand on l'attaque, il se défend! In defending ourselves, we are not necessarily wicked in having a means of defence in the form of Polaris and other bases in this country.
§ Commander Courtney
The hon. Lady, who would have experience of one world war—I would not credit her with experience of two world wars—should realise that in both those wars this country was brought very nearly to its knees simply by the sinking—
§ Commander Courtney
—of ships. Seeing that we bring 50 per cent. of our food and 90 per cent. of our raw materials to this country by sea, anything which interferes with that will starve this country into submission. That is the point on which I should like to conclude my speech.
§ Commander Courtney
I seem to remember that view being expressed by many individuals in this country in the years after the first great struggle. The second great struggle provided a threat almost exactly the same as the first one, for which, as for the first, we were unprepared. I believe it to be the business of the House of Commons to make certain that we are not completely unprepared the next time.
§ 11.26 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu)
During the course of this very long but extremely interesting debate, such a mass of points have been raised 794 for me to answer that I would not be able to cope with a quarter of them even if I went at the breakneck speed of my colleague the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army. I shall, however, try to answer as many as possible, and to deal especially with this thread of manpower difficulties which ran through the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Harrow, East (Commander Courtney), and through the speeches of many other hon. Members. Manpower is the present and the future of the Navy.
I should like, first, to deal with a bit of something from the past, and that is the question of the R.N.V.S.R., which so many hon. Members have raised, including the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay), the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr), and my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling). I should like to say straightaway to the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells) that the decision to end this Reserve had nothing to do with cash. It is not a question of saving a pokey £4,000. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that it is not that.
This has been a first-class body, but, by reason of age, it is on the way out. We are all getting older. I am a member of it, and no doubt the hon. Gentleman is, and we are all conscious of age. We thought it right that this body, which has done such good service, should come to an end on a high note, and I hope that if we adhere to our decision to end it we shall let it end on a really high note, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, rather than wither away gradually to decay. That is the sole reason why we are closing it now.
§ Dr. Wyndham Davies
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that in an inland city, such as Birmingham, from which I come, the R.N.V.S.R. can act as a most useful focus for those interested in the Service, and that at very small cost, and very little inconvenience, a great deal can be done for the good will of the Navy in inland cities?
§ Mr. Mallalieu
In Sheffield, for example, we have a fairly flourishing branch of the R.N.A. which does that job, and I do not think that we shall lose by this.
I was interested in the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Maidstone about the Sixteenth List. I am prepared to look 795 at it with my right hon. Friend to see whether there is anything in it which would be useful. I assure the hon. Gentleman that anything that is going to help the Navy will receive support from this Government.
§ Mr. Iremonger
The question arises whether positive efforts might not have been taken to recruit to the R.N.V.S.R. That should be properly explored before any final decision is taken. Members of the Service would feel then that they had had a fair deal. At the moment they feel that this has been brushed away without a proper attempt to keep it in being—an attempt which could have been made and which serving members wanted to make.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
Recruiting into the R.N.R. would probably be a more suitable channel. But we will look at the point.
The hon. Member for Henley asked about a number of possible delays. He asked about the Wasps. As he knows, there was a delay about the Wasps, but I am glad to say that the difficulties have been overcome and that production is going along very satisfactorily. They are being deployed in the Fleet as the ships become available to receive them, and so far we have about 13 ships to be fitted with them.
There was also trouble at Dounreay for a time, but it has been overcome. I think that we have the bugs out of it now. One of the purposes of that outfit was to find out the bugs before they were put into the ships. There was some delay, but on the whole we are now past the trouble.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
Not completely, but a good deal of it.
Another possibility of delay was on the Phantom. I am advised that the purchase of Phantoms for the R.A.F. will not delay their coming into service with the Royal Navy.
I was asked about the Joint Anti-Submarine School at Londonderry. There is a great deal of to-ing and fro-ing about this on the technical side. There 796 are arguments for keeping the school in Londonderry and there are technical arguments against it. We are having a very good look at the matter. But I assure hon. Members, and especially the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark), that any decisions about the future of the school will not be taken on technical grounds alone. We shall certainly look most carefully at the social and economic aspects of it which he put so forcibly to the Committee.
§ Mr. Chichester-Clark
Is it clearly understood that the Home 'Secretary will also be consulted before a decision is taken?
§ Mr. Mallalieu
A great many points have been put about the shape and size of the Navy. Some hon. Members asked for a larger escort fleet. Some asked for a different type of escort fleet. One hon. Member spoke of trying to devise escort ships which were slightly less sophisticated, a point which has been looked at and is being looked at with great care and interest in the Admiralty, if I may use that word. Some hon. Members asked for more submarines—some for nuclear-powered submarines and some even for more Oberons. May I say a word about Oberons? There is no question of that production line being closed. At present there are plenty of boats going through for Commonwealth countries, and it is just possible that we ourselves may need at any rate one more. There is no question of that being closed at present.
As in these debates over the last 20 years, hon. Members have gone round and round the question of aircraft carriers. Some wanted more, some wanted fewer. There were suggestions about Hovercraft—a most interesting possibility; in speed they are teriffic, and they are remarkable in their manoeuvrability, as I saw the other day. These things are being tested.
The hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) mentioned the slight lack of balance in our equipment at present. All these things have come into the discussion today. They all show how vitally important it is to carry out this review of defence expenditure, which we are trying to do now. This defence review is a nuisance. It is a nuisance to the Services, a nuisance to industry; a nuisance even to a junior Minister who is trying to reply to a 797 debate, but it is essential if we are to get our costs right. I hope that it will be carried out as quickly as possible, but it must be thorough.
I am getting precious near to my main theme, manpower, when I now comment on a point made by the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke). He talked about the right of a man to commute his pension. I am bound to say that I thought he made an extremely good point. Officers can commute half their pension without any let or hindrance. Ratings cannot. They must make out what is a satisfactory case to their Lordships. This is a throwback to the past. It is a bit of wet nursing, and I was grateful to the hon. and gallant Gentleman for calling it to my attention. I propose to take the matter up with my right hon. Friend and see what we can do about it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) raised the question of release from the Services, and I was advised by the hon. and gallant Member for Harrow, East not to take too much notice of what my hon. Friend said. However, I am bound to take some notice. In the short time I have been in my little job, I have been distressed to think of boys being committed at the age of 15½, 16 and 16½ to what amounts, in effect, to 10 or 12 years' service. I think that that is possibly too young and I would like—I could not make any promise about this at all—us in the Admiralty to look once again, in spite of the manpower shortages, at the sort of suggestion my hon. Friend made to see whether it is not possible to have a break point at a fairly early period in a boy's career.
I appreciate the point about the tremendous expense of five years' training, but that five years often does not begin until a fairly late stage; on going on to Collingwood and that sort of place. It might be possible, not immediately but at any rate in the not too distant future, to have a look at this business of retaining boys in the Service against their will.
That brings me directly to the problem of manpower, which has loomed like a shadow over the debate. The present strength of the Navy is about 101,000. Our present requirement is 102,500, so we are short overall by about 1½ per cent.
798 As our target for 1968 is up to 107,500, we can see that we are beginning to face some sort of difficulty. The trouble is that the shortages are not evenly spread, as the Committee knows.
Some categories are quite well off— "schoolies", for example. I do not laugh at them—they are a most vital part of the Service. They are well up. It is a curious fact that boys who have been to universities and got science degrees have gone into industry, but after a time have been fed up with boiling water over a Bunsen burner and have come into the Instructor Branch to do what they think is a real job. It is rather alarming for the country as a whole, but it is rather nice for us. The "schoolies", and one or two other branches, are all right, but we are about 12 per cent. short of electrical officers at present, with skilled technical ratings going on for 15 per cent. short, and aircrew 20 per cent. short.
These shortages are there despite, until quite recently, some more favourable trend in recruiting. Recruiting figures during the last four or five years had been steadily going up until this year, when they dipped slightly, but that increased recruiting has not been quite enough to meet the increased target, and nothing like enough to meet the drop in re-engagements, which everyone has said is the key to our present difficulties.
The re-engagement rate varies from category to category but, overall, it is about 40 per cent. Only a few years ago it was 60 per cent.—and I might say that before the war it was about 90 per cent., as often as not—
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles
That is a different figure from that given in the White Paper. If it was 40 per cent., that is certainly news to the Committee.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
The 52 per cent. is for the 12-year engagement; the 40 per cent. is the average right through all types of engagement.
This is an extremely serious matter because, as my right hon. Friend said 799 earlier, if we are losing these people through non-re-engagement, if they are not re-engaging at a high rate, we lose their skill—their five years training or more; it ties up other people in training who might be in even more active jobs, and so on. It is becoming, and will become, unless checked, a really serious problem.
Various reasons have been suggested for the falling-off in the re-engagement rate. One is full employment, and all that, which is quite obvious. Another is separation. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard), who has been out in the Far East, suggested that the men who were separated out there at present felt that they were forgotten men. I can assure them, and the hon. Member, that they are not forgotten in the Navy Department; we feel very strongly for them. Although in the Navy there is always separation, it is much more acute nowadays because of the very early age at which people are marrying, and it is unfortunately very difficult, with so much of the Fleet East of Suez, to provide accompanied service.
A third reason that has been mentioned by various hon. Members is married quarters. We started late on this lark in the Service, and are only now beginning to catch up. The fact is that because we have this shortage of married quarters we have to insist on some rules that are fairly hard. One of my first jobs was to warn the family of a chap who had just been sent to the Far East that they had to leave their house. That is really not good enough. I can hardly think of anything more likely to discourage a man from going foreign more than that. It is not only a question of married ratings; the accommodation ashore in barracks and elsewhere is still very unsatisfactory.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) said that ashore they should be treated like human beings. So they should. In the few months during which I have been in office I have made a point of looking at accommodation and asking to see the worst, and I have seen it. I will not mention the particular barracks where I was shown the only mess deck available for sea cadets coming in to get their first sight of the Navy. It was dingy and dark. If I had come 800 to that mess deck for my first sight of the Navy I should have gone straight out and joined the Army, and I expect that that is what they did. I went to my own old training establishment at Coiling-wood. In 1942 it was a new establishment consisting of huts on a frozen farm. It is now one of the most important electrical schools in the Navy, but it is still made up of huts on a frozen farm except that a certain amount of building is going on now.
In another mess deck in a major barracks 60 people had to go down a flight of stairs to the heads. Hon. Members can imagine what it was like on a Saturday night when the lads came aboard with a load of beer and they had to troop down to the heads. At 10 o'clock, because of a fundamental defect in the plumbing, the heads were flooded. What it was like at midnight I do not know. Those conditions are inexcusable. They are the kind of things which make the Navy less attractive than it should be.
What are we going to do about these things? The hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Sir J. Maitland), in a speech which I especially enjoyed, said that we must get down to the problem of the proper use of manpower and of automation and the rest. I expect that the hon. and gallant Member knows that that is being done already. Work studies are going ahead fast and I have not the slightest doubt that but for this the shortages would be more apparent than they are at present. No doubt there is a great deal more to be done on them and we shall do it as fast as we can.
On recruitment I am sure that there are new fields that we can tackle, if that is the right way with fields—perhaps new fields we can till. Quite recently it has occurred to the Royal Navy that graduates from universities might well want to come and play some part in the Service. I thing that it was last autumn, before my time, that a university day was held in Portsmouth. It was an enormous success. I do not know who was the more surprised—the Navy who found that university dons could appreciate the needs and virtues of a disciplined Service or the dons who found that Royal Navy officers were both human and intelligent. It was a tremendous success and, as a result, we are going to town with university graduates in quite a big way.
801 This summer we are sending out a special recruiting squadron. It will not trot round the ordinary seaside resorts. It will go to the industrial ports where the flag is not always shown and try to do an extensive burst of recruiting. For the Fleet Air Arm we are sending out presentation material to all sorts of inland towns and schools, and the rest. We are trying to stir up the old publicity. The old tradition of the silent Service dies a bit hard—[HON. MEMBERS: "Not here."]—inside the Service. The best publicity we could have should come directly from the ships and the men—local boy stories in the papers and that sort of thing, telling as widely as possible everything good that sailors are doing. We are trying to stir up interest in that way.
§ Mrs. Anne Kerr
I suppose it has occurred to my hon. Friend that what might be lacking in getting people to join or re-engage is that they have not a sense of purpose, and they are choosy about the wars they are prepared to fight. Would my hon. Friend care to comment on that?
§ Mr. Mallalieu
Yes, I would. In fact, my hon. Friend commented on exactly that point in his opening speech. Apparently, my hon. Friend was not able to hear it. I should be grateful if she would read it. I agree that a sense of purpose is essential to recruitment and to satisfaction in the Service.
We shall tackle as fast as we can the problem of married quarters. A great deal has been done, but a tremendous lot remains to be done. A certain amount has been and is being done for married quarters abroad, and we are to spend about £1¼ million during the next five years. Since the late 1940s we have built 8,750, and during the next five years we shall double that, building another 9,000. The total expenditure on married quarters at home in the next five years will be about £26 million. This is a piece of defence expenditure for which I make no apology at all. It is essential.
Now, single accommodation ashore in barracks and so on. I was delighted to go to Devonport and see the insides of those great places being ripped out and replaced. I was delighted to see the parade ground at R.N.D. Portsmouth being dug up—I hated the parade ground anyway—and I was delighted also to 802 see, alongside the new C.P.O.'s block there, some decent quarters for the W.R.N.S. so that they could get out of that ghastly dump "Duchess of Kent" barracks.
I have seen some remarkably good building going on in various places, in "Sultan" and elsewhere, and, within the next week or two, I hope to make a trip up to Lossiemouth because I have been told that there are some ratings' quarters there which are almost too luxurious. I just do not believe it, but, if I can find ratings' quarters which are too luxurious before I die, I shall die very happy. A great deal is being done and will be done in the next five years to improve conditions ashore.
Now, a few words about conditions afloat. I agree with the hon. Member for Haltemprice about food and feeding conditions at sea for the ratings. It is true that ratings at sea are eating at least as well as the officers, and perhaps better. I agree very much with what the hon. Gentleman said about the "Leander" ward room. That was a mistake. But the biggest single change which I have noticed, coming back after 20 years, has been the improvement in the food, the improvement in the galleys and the improvement in eating conditions generally.
Ships are now, thank goodness, as they ought to have been, air-conditioned. I think that every ship now serving in the Far East has air-conditioning of a sort, and most have full air-conditioning. All of them ought to have it, and we are pressing on with this as fast as we can. The general habitability of the ships is enormously improved. Bunks instead of hammocks and improvements of that kind have made for better space. The people who are designing ships are now beginning to think and take some trouble with the details. For instance, the ghastly pipes one used to bang one's head on are now being stowed away or boxed in, and a greater degree of space is provided.
One trivial detail which I found one of the biggest curses in the destroyer was condensation on the deck head. No sooner had a man got into his hammock than the dripping started and he was soaked. After a boiler-clean leave, I took my sister-in-law's umbrella back with me to put over me, but that was 803 stopped because of some superstition about opening umbrellas inside. I would rather have been dead than wet. I am glad to say that this condensation has been stopped by one of the simplest tricks. Some sort of cork preparation is sprayed on the deck head and now what used to be a curse of living conditions has been put right.
All these sort of things are being done and there is plenty more to do. The hon. Member for Horncastle (Sir J. Maitland) said he wanted to see that people serving in the Navy had very special advantages. Well indeed they have. The technical training in the service today is better both for officers and for men than can be got anywhere else in the country, in my opinion.
In my day we used to get through a war on one week's training in Whale Island, one clove hitch and brisket, but we do not do that now. The men have wonderful experience which will stand them in good stead when they eventually leave the service.
There is no question about it that conditions, if not right, are very much better than they have been only a few years ago.
But in asking the Committee to approve these Estimates there is something else that I am bound to say. However good you make their accommodation, however much you provide married quarters, however fit to live in you make the ships, the fact will remain that going to sea, whether in lifeboats or merchant packets or fishing smacks or in the ships of the Royal Navy, is a job for men only. And on the whole I agree it is pretty lucky that through the centuries men are something that this country has continued to breed.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That 104,000 Officers, Ratings and Royal Marines be maintained for Naval Service for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1966.
§ Resolution to be reported.
§ Report to be received To-morrow; Committee to sit again Tomorrow.