That this day the Business of Supply may be taken after half-past Nine 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 half-past Nine o'clock, though opposed.—[Mr. Gourlay]
§ Supply again considered.
§ Question again proposed.
These soul-stirring words of our beloved Prime Minister apply not only to the naval doctors but to the Admiralty employees in the dockyards, as also does the immediately preceding passage of our beloved Prime Minister's great speech, which the House must like to hear, because it should be graven absolutely for ever for posterity:Now I turn to the problem of the Royal Dockyards.We remember the cuts in 1963, and earlier this year, here, and in Portsmouth and Chatham too, involving a loss of 500 jobs in this area.This is the wonderful stuff:I believe, and I state this with all the sincerity at my command"—This is not John Bird speaking:that I believe our reappraisal of defence policies, with our emphasis on the role of the Navy's regular job, will provide better security, better assurances for the future than the vacillations of Tory defence policy.Lovely stuff, is it not? Do you know what happened, Mr. Deputy Speaker? What happened was that between that election and the following one dockyard employment had gone down by, I think, 800—far more even than the 500 mentioned. It went plunging down under the Labour Government that ended a year ago. I should love to know what has happened since.
So, throughout naval policy, we have had an identical process of cold-blooded deceit. In every case, whatever has been promulgated the reverse has happened. It is an astounding record. There are people doing time who have done less well than that. The present Administration have grossly mishandled the Navy, and I would implore them while they are still there, heaven help them, to get out a serious policy which will give the Navy something to look forward to, and something to do.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Mr. William Baxter (West Stirlingshire)
We have listened very attentively 629 to a most interesting speech by the hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett). I will have the charity not to express my point of view about it, or I might be expelled from the party—[HON. MEMBERS: "Which party?"] The party of which I am a member. There is only one party on this side, though we have our disagreements just as hon. Members opposite have theirs. I enjoyed the hon. Gentleman's speech very much.
I have waited with some patience to intervene in this debate, not that I have very much to say but because my name is appended to an Amendment seeking to make a token reduction of 1,000 men. This is the traditional method of expressing one's dissatisfaction with the Government's actions.
Before I go further, I would remind the House that not only the Opposition but hon. Members on this side have a regard for our naval personnel. Whilst we may disagree on what should be the future rôle of the Royal Navy, everyone thinks that, by and large, those in it have always done their duty as they have seen it.
It seems to me that both Front Benches have spoken in unison today, and that makes one wonder why. To me, it is a clear indication that whenever a Member of Parliament becomes a Minister of the Crown, especially in the Defence Department, some hypnotism or other is used to bring him to book and get him to accept the Establishment's point of view rather than that which he was returned to Parliament to pursue. Be that as it may, I can only express great dissatisfaction with the policy which the present Government are pursuing, particularly in these Navy Estimates.
The second reason why I have stayed in the Chamber to listen to all the speeches that have been made—I have been here for about seven hours—is that I intervened when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary opened the discussion. In reply to that intervention, probably rightly, he chastised some of my hon. Friends and myself for certain views which we were now holding. He did so because about a year ago we voted for the Defence Estimates which were introduced on that occasion. It is true that many of my hon. Friends voted for 630 them, but we did so with a great deal of reluctance. After all, there were certain important factors to bear in mind.
We had a sense of loyalty to the party which had only just been returned to power. We wished to give the Cabinet, the Prime Minister and his colleagues an opportunity to put into operation policies which it would have been difficult for them to implement in such a limited period. However, we hoped that they would implement the policies of the party which had sent them to power, and it would have been remiss of us not to have given them that opportunity. But surely that does not bind us for all time to dot the i's and cross the t's of every action the Government may take in future, and be Lobby fodder if we feel that they are departing fundamentally from the policy which they were sent here to pursue?
A number of quotations have been made from previous speeches, and I will make several later. It can be proven conclusively that the Labour Party was elected to power to do something very different from what the Government are doing. A majority of three placed the party in a precarious position, but that should not now deter us from taking a stand if a matter of principle is at stake. Had we gone in to the Division Lobby against the Government or had we abstained when we had a majority of only three the alternative would have been even worse than the then Government Front Bench, because our action would have put the Conservatives back in power.
As I have listened to this debate I have been struck by certain sentiments which have been expressed and which were contained in some words used by the hon. and gallant Member for Wells (Lieut.-Commander Maydon), when he said, in effect, "All wars are unnecessary and most are made by mistake". That is profound in this day and age.
§ Lieut.-Commander Maydon
That phrase does not represent a new thought. It has been true throughout history; at any rate, the history I learnt.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. This is a serious matter, but the hon. Member 631 has only once mentioned the Navy Estimates. I must ask him to come a little closer to the subject under discussion.
§ Mr. Baxter
I merely wished to answer the point which the Chair had permitted the hon. and gallant Member for Wells to put. In any case, I commend the words which the hon. and gallant Gentleman used to the House. While it is historically correct to say that most wars, naval or otherwise, have been made by mistake, those mistakes have cost a considerable amount, and if a mistake should be made again and if we find ourselves involved in a naval conflict in the not far distant future, it will not be sufficient for us to say, "A mistake has been made". We should remind ourselves in advance of the consequences that such a mistake would bring about.
We discussed the Defence Estimates yesterday and today we are discussing the Navy Estimates. In this discussion great play has been made with the fact that our naval forces will defend the people of Britain in the immediate years ahead. Is not this a fallacy? Psychologically, it pays whichever party is in office to say that our forces are capable of defending us, be they Polaris submarines or any other form of defence. The opposite is the case. This is not for the defence of our people, it is for the destruction of other people. The Polaris submarine will not defend a single soul in our island but it will destroy people in another part of the world. This is the deterrent factor so many people talk about, but it is too late if a mistake is made.
§ Lieut.-Commander Maydon
As the hon. Member was kind enough to quote what I said a moment ago, may I put this to him? Surely the purpose of defence is to prevent these catastrophes happening. That is what we are searching to do here tonight.
§ Mr. Baxter
I agree about the sincerity of hon. Members on both sides of the House in their search for defence, but, as I have indicated, the word psychologically puts a person on a pinnacle when he says, "We are providing the Polaris basis for defence purposes", whereas to be honest—and I challenge the hon. and gallant Member—the Polaris 632 submarine will not be used for defence but for offence if war breaks out.
§ Lieut.-Commander Maydon
The hon. Member challenged me to say whether the Polaris submarines were a measure of defence or not. Of course they are a measure of defence. This is the whole purpose of this equipment, to prevent these catastrophes from happening.
§ Mr. Baxter
I admit the sincerity of the hon. and gallant Member's contention. He believes that they are for defence, but they are not for defence in reality; they are for aggression. They are to deter, so that we may say, "If you strike at us, we can counter-strike very soon". The Polaris submarine is not a defence instrument but an instrument of destruction and the whole construction is one of deterrence to deter anyone who tries to strike at our island. The hon. and gallant Member has rightly pointed out that a mistake can take place; he should have regard to that possibility.
I turn to my hon. Friend on the Front Bench. The Under-Secretary said in an interjection that we shall have only four Polaris submarines. What is so wonderful about the number four? On whose advice, whose authority, whose calculations has it been conceived that four submarines of a Polaris type will give us an adequate defence force? The Opposition, with the same advisers as my hon. Friends have had, decided that five of these submarines would give them some semblance of defence. There are two questions; one says four and one says five. Does my hon. Friend say that because another Polaris submarine would cost £50,000, £60,000 or £100,000 we should stop at that, for this so-called defence force would be effective?
I wish there were some realistic approach to this and some facts and figures placed before the House before we ask asked to concur in a decision of the Cabinet, be it Conservative or Labour, because we are entitled to have as much information as anyone who sits on the Front Bench. I remind my hon. 633 Friends who sit on the Front Bench that they were elected by the same type of electors as those who elected me. They are in their positions only because of selection by an individual, the Prime Minister, whoever he may be.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles
A few moments ago the hon. Member said that he thought these Polaris submarines were to be used for aggression. If he genuinely thinks that would be the purpose either of his Government or a Government from this side of the House and that it was the purpose of his Government to aggress with Polaris submarines, should he not have voted against them last night rather than abstaining?
§ Mr. Baxter
The hon. and gallant Gentleman was not voting against submarines last night. I will go into the Lobby with his party if it tables a Motion to abolish all the Polaris submarines, because I am in favour of that. I am trying to point out the inconsistencies of this so-called debate, which is a sham, with one side of the House saying, "We need five", and the other side saying, "We need four".
My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) and myself took the opportunity some months ago of going to the Polaris base in the Holy Loch and inspecting what was happening there. It is one of the greatest crimes against the people of Scotland and against the people of Great Britain that the base should be permitted. We are spending anything from £50 million to £100 million there. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Hugh D. Brown) said, even in the construction of this vehicle of mass destruction we are employing about 1,800 building trade workers. Those workers could be well occupied in building decent houses for people to live in—not houses with outside lavatories, not houses with walls streaming with water, not places which are not fit for human habitation, not places which are less fit for habitation than many byres and pigstys.
Because of the unlimited amount of money which has been poured into the Polaris base, the building trade workers there are getting a higher rate of wages than they can get on building houses for the people of Glasgow. The Secretary of State for Scotland has to answer Ques- 634 tions asking why the cost of houses is higher in Scotland than it is in England. The extra money being paid to those who work on the Polaris base has an indirect bearing on the cost of houses.
I give this counsel to hon. Members who have counselled me and others on this side to go and see the Army and Navy exercising themselves to destroy an enemy. They should go and see the money we are spending needlessly on the Polaris base. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire and I plodded miles and miles up into the mountains to see what they are doing up there. They are moving mountains for the simple purpose of stock-piling nuclear missiles. Who owns them? Are they the property of the British Government? Are they the property of America? Who pays for the Polaris base? Who pays for the space which is being provided for those bombs? Is it America? I see no signs in these Estimates that America is making a contribution towards the cost.
I demand an answer from my right hon. Friends. My hon. Friend and I refer to 1,000 men in our Amendment. Eighteen hundred building workers are employed at the Polaris base. Shame upon the House. Shame upon my party which permits such a thing to go on. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am thankful for your support. I put it on record that you agree entirely with what I am saying. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] The formalities of the House may be important to my hon. Friends on the Front Bench. They are not so important to me. The Polaris base and workers who could be employed in Glasgow are much more important to me than describing an hon. Member as "the right hon. Gentleman", instead of as "you". That might be important to the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), but it is of damned little importance to me.
There are other questions to which I call attention. Are we an independent nuclear Power? We are entitled to an answer, but we have never had it. What did the Prime Minister say about it? The hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham has quoted his Plymouth speech. I have been through many volumes of HANSARD looking up not only the Prime Minister's speeches but the speeches of others of my 635 right hon. and hon. Friends on this important subject. But it would be remiss of me to bring in lesser fry when the most important man of the lot has made his position abundantly clear. I should like to know whether he has changed his mind. I am entitled to know.
On 31st January, 1963, my right hon. Friend the present Prime Minister stated his position. He said:What is the argument for pretending to be an independent nuclear Power? Is it, firstly, because we want the right to use it in some private war of our own…or is it the view that if we are in the nuclear club we shall be consulted…I think that the answer is simpler—pathetic, perhaps, but not immoral. It is nostalgia…Having dealt with the arguments for, as put to us in this debate, let me repeat why, in our view—and I quote our own defence statement—Britain should cease the attempt to remain an independent nuclear Power."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st January, 1963; Vol.670, c. 1241–2.]And that is what my right hon. Friend went on to do.
Are we or are we not a nuclear Power? I demand an answer. I asked my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State who controls the nuclear forces that we possess, the four Polaris submarines. Rightly or wrongly, he gave the answer that N.A.T.O. would control them. If N.A.T.O. controls our Polaris submarines—I have seen no agreement to that effect, but I take my hon. Friend's word as correct—I go on to assume that as West Germany is a part of N.A.T.O. the West Germans would have a say in the use of nuclear weapons if our Polaris submarines were gifted to N.A.T.O.
What did the Prime Minister have to say about giving Germany a finger on the trigger?I make perfectly clear now where we stand. We are completely, utterly and unequivocally opposed, now and in all circumstances, to any suggestion that Germany, West Germany or East Germany, directly or indirectly, should have a finger on the nuclear trigger or any responsibility, direct or indirect, for deciding that nuclear weapons are to be used."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st January, 1963; Vol.670, c. 1246.]If we hand over our nuclear submarines to N.A.T.O., then West Germany, as part of N.A.T.O., will have a considerable say in their use. It is not logical to expect that West Germany will be put outside and that America, Britain and the other 636 smaller nations in Europe will have the say in this part of their equipment. It is fantastic that we should be in this position today.
Why should the people of Great Britain be saddled with the hundreds of millions of £s expenditure to provide these nuclear submarines and a base if it is all to be handed over to N.A.T.O.? If it is to be handed over to N.A.T.O., what percentage of the cost will the N.A.T.O. nations bear for what we hand over? Or are we so stupid and feckless that we are prepared to hand over to N.A.T.O. millions of £s of equipment, whether it is good or bad, without the N.A.T.O. countries paying any contribution towards the cost? I cannot understand the Government's attitude.
I have been listening to the debate and I am in some difficulty in understanding whether we are returning to the Defence White Paper of 1957, when we decided that we would be more dependent on nuclear deterrents, missiles, Blue Streak and what-have-you, than the conventional method of war. I thought the decision was that we would more or less do away with the conventional method of war. Then there was a switch of policy back to the conventional and away from the Blue Streaks, missiles and so on.
Am I right in saying that we are now returning to the policy the Conservative Party introduced and then scrapped, or are we staying with the conventional type of force?
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we cannot go over the whole question of the Defence White Paper. The debate is confined to the rôle of the Royal Navy.
§ Mr. Baxter
I appreciate that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. One may talk about defence in the context of the rôle of the Navy and the Navy Estimates and that is what I was referring to. You have put me off my train of thought to some extent, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I shall merely say that great and important decisions are made in the House in connection with the Navy Estimates and other Estimates, and debates take place without many facts and figures being laid before Members to convince them one way or another.
I protest against that. It is fantastic that we should not get as much information as 637 my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench. I do not think that they can be trusted more than we can. To judge from the leakages which take place from certain meetings, few of them can be trusted. I should like a little more information to convince me of the rightness of the policy being pursued.
I hope that there will soon be a new approach to the question by the Cabinet; that they will recognise their obligations to the party that sent them here; that they will recognise their obligations to the policy we propounded at the election and will try to put into operation.
For the life of me, I cannot think that Russia can now be looked upon as a potential enemy of this country. When I have seen my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister of Russia, Mr. Kosygin, shaking hands, holding hands, and more or less kissing each other, I should not think that those people would fight anybody in the future. I do not see why we should be worried about Russia, but even if, without our consent, we should be brought into a war which arose by a mischance between Russia and America—one remembers the Cuba incident—we would be the first to be destroyed. The time is ripe for our party to give a little more consideration to that.
Today I have seen a lot of lilies, or daffodils as they are called in some parts, on the breasts of many Members on both sides of the House. I was reminded of the Good Book, where it says:Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow;they toil not, neither do they spin:…yet…even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.One will also find that in that part of the Good Book it says:Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.I remind hon. Members of those phrases. I suggest to them that they should remember the evil of today and not build up for themselves more evil in the years to come.
The policies pursued by this Government and the last have no basis of reality. They do not recognise that, by example, we can save ourselves and save the world. All the preparations for war which have gone on from time immemorial have never stopped war taking 638 place, and what has been said is true—that most of these wars were started by mistake. Another war could start by mistake and destroy the human race. I counsel the Government when considering these Estimates or any others appertaining to the fictitious name of defence to have regard to example rather than the method of approach that we have adopted in the past.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)
Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, may I ask whether it is his intention formally to move the Amendment standing in his name and that of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Hugh D. Brown)?
§ Mr. Baxter
I would be happy to move it now, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I beg to move,That the said number be reduced by 1,000 men.
§ 10.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine (Rye)
It was towards the end of the speech of the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter) that I began to think that the two parties had changed sides in the House and that we were back to the days when Labour was in Opposition. All the earlier part of his speech was directed to his own Front Bench and no one on this side could have been more critical of the Prime Minister and his policy than the hon. Member. In these circumstances, it places us on this side in some difficulty in trying to debate the issue with the hon. Member. I hope that he will not feel embarrassed if I say that I do not think that he made one point on which I would support him.
In the last three speeches from the benches opposite—and no doubt this applies to earlier speeches—the same disillusionment has been clearly indicated. The hon. Member for West Stirlingshire earlier referred to the four Polaris submarines. He indicated clearly that it is no good looking in the White Paper to find out why there should be four Polaris submarines. Earlier, another hon. Member asked, "Who is the enemy?" Again, one finds nothing in the White Paper to tell us who the enemy is.
The whole balance of the White Paper is wrong. If we are to have naval forces designed to do anything, we have to know 639 what we are to do with them and why. The whole proposition on which we are having this debate is wrong. Paragraph 7 of the White Paper says:Ever since October 1964, the British Government has argued inside N.A.T.O. that allied strategy must be designed to fit the forces which the national government arc prepared to make available.Yet, now an Amendment has been moved to the effect that we should have 1,000 men fewer.
I could understand a proposition that we did not need a Navy or that our commitments were as set out in the White Paper and that our policy should be whatever it is. But for the Government to say that we have been urging on N.A.T.O. a strategy to fit the forces available is to put the cart before the horse. I urge the Government to have another look at this. They should find out what needs to be done, then what forces we need and come back to the House and state what we have to pay in order to have them. It is clear from the White Paper that we do not know what is available to meet whatever threat there may be. If we are not told what the threat is or what forces are available, the White Paper is not of great value.
Another factor which has emerged from what was said by each of the last three speakers from the Government side is that we have not got the information in the White Paper which we need to make an adequate contribution to a debate of this sort. When I first came to the House, I made it my habit to try to make a sensible contribution to each of the debates on the Navy Estimates, but it became clear to me that the more often we were provided with these documents, the less and less was available the information which we needed to work on, and of all the White Papers on the Navy which I have seen, this provides us with the absolute minimum of information.
Last year, I was very disappointed to find that there was no reference in that White Paper to the protection of shipping. This is a country which has 4,000 merchant ships, and a White Paper which deals with the Navy without making any reference to the protection of shipping is virtually valueless. I looked at this White Paper to see what it had to say about 640 anti-submarine warfare. My hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) may want to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I had the privilege of going to see H.M.S. "Sea Eagle" and I was very impressed with the work done there and felt that a great deal was being done not only for the naval forces of this country, but also for the naval forces of N.A.T.O. and other countries. I should like to know what is going on and what is happening about training in anti-submarine warfare.
§ Mr. R. Chichester-Clark (Londonderry)
I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree with me that events in other parts of the globe may well have caused the Government and others to have had second opinions about closing the base at Londonderry. While I shall certainly be interested to hear anything the Under-Secretary has to say on this subject tonight, I would not like to press the Government into saying something which they would later regret, and I would rather have mature consideration. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that the economic and strategic case for keeping this base is overwhelming. It was always said at the time of the proposed closing by the experts who were against keeping it that even then the case was balanced on a knife-edge, and events may have changed their minds where there may now be an overwhelming strategic argument for keeping the base, as hon. Members on both sides of the House always thought that there was.
§ Mr. Irvine
I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. I was merely paying my tribute to the work which has been done by H.M.S. "Sea Eagle" and saying how important the anti-submarine rôle was for the Navy.
The hon. Member for West Stirling-shire said that we might find ourselves at war with Russia. We know that Russia has 400 or more submarines and if she has 400 submarines and we have 4,000 ships, one would have thought that at least some mention might have been made in the White Paper about how it was proposed to deal with that situation.
When discussing these matters with the Royal Navy, I have gained the impression that the modern way of dealing with submarines is to have a carrier in the middle of a force which is then able to use 641 various methods of discovering where the submarines are. But we all know what the carrier situation now is. I use antisubmarine warfare simply as an example to show how inadequate the White Paper is for giving us the information which we require to make a sensible contribution to the debate.
I want now to refer to our policy east of Suez. During the last war I had the privilege of spending a considerable time in the Indian Ocean and, probably like many other hon. Members, I visited all those salubrious places, like the Chagos Archipelago and elsewhere, which now appear in our discussions. I find it very difficult to persuade myself that if we give up the bases and are driven back to wherever we can provide a base, on places like the Chagos Archipelago, we will ever build up any adequate force or presence in the Indian Ocean, and if we do I would have thought that it would certainly be a great deal more expensive and more difficult to maintain than would be the case with a carrier, which at least would be mobile. I imagine that everybody knows where the Chagos Archipelago is and certainly our enemies would know, and I would prefer a mobile base for my areoplanes to a place like that.
In any event, have we any indication in the White Paper as to what sort of aircraft would be required and in what numbers or how we would be able to have any presence in the Indian Ocean? Yet we find on page 7, paragraph 27 the statement:We are continuing our discussions with the Australian Government about the possibility of having new facilities in Australia.I have had the privilege of seeing the place which is called the naval base in Western Australia. It is a very nice harbour, with no facilities at all. They told me when I was there that half the world population is facing the Indian Ocean, and could be policed from a naval base in Australia. I have recently been there and the impression that I received, talking to people, was that we had lost interest in that part of the world and that it was no good people there thinking that very much would come of this.
What can be the logic of considering whether to have facilities in Australia, if there is nothing nearer than perhaps Cyprus? This seems to be a White 642 Paper which does not give any sensible solution or indication as to what is required. I have one good word to say about it. Page 54 refers to the training of Commonwealth and foreign naval personnel. I should like to draw attention to that. I commend the Royal Navy for the work that is being done. It says:…about 700 Commonwealth and foreign naval personnel, from some 29 different countries, are under training in the United Kingdom".That is not only an important matter for the Commonwealth but an important link between naval Service men in different parts of the world the worth of which cannot be over-estimated.
The last matter that I wish to raise is that of re-engagement which is dealt with in page 70 of the White Paper. It seems that the figures set out there for the Royal Navy are anything but satisfactory. All of us with Service men in our constituencies have been faced with the problem of young men who have enlisted into one of the Services and who come to us asking: "What is the future of a Service career with the present Government in power?"
I have a letter sent to me by one of my constituents the day before yesterday, in which he refers to the recruiting posters and the advertisements of the glowing prospects of a Service career. He sets out what his son has been doing and says that he has been mentioned in dispatches and so on. The letter goes on:He feels he must look for a job when he returns in April because he does not want to be axed, at the age of 30, with a wife and family".A little later he goes on:I feel that the Government should make clear their policy or we will have no potential senior officers at all.That is not an isolated incident. If the Government continue with their present policy and do not make the position clear so that these young men will know whether they have a future, they will find that future figures will be even more depressing than those in the White Paper. I hope that the Under-Secretary will give some attention to the prospect that we may have something in a subsequent White Paper which will enable us to make a more coherent and sensible contribution to a debate such as this.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
On this naval occasion, I am sorry that he is out of the Chamber, because I should have liked to say a word to welcome the gallant Admiral the Member for Winchester (Rear Admiral Morgan Giles), who opened this debate and did a job which I did for a number of years. The process of stepping from one's own opinions on the back benches to one's party's opinions on the Front Bench may be a difficult one. The hon. and gallant Member stumbled a little, once or twice, but in that I am sure that he will have the sympathy of his right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell).
I should like to take up one thing which the hon. and gallant Admiral said. He congratulated us on having a nuclear deterrent of sufficient size to be credible. It is not size which makes a nuclear deterrent credible. What makes it credible is an ability to make someone believe that one might dare to use it. That is what credibility means. Whom can we persuade that we might use the nuclear deterrent—a non-nuclear Power? We were nuclearly operational at Suez. It did not impress the Egyptians or anybody else. It did not impress anybody in the recent confrontation in Indonesia.
Suppose the Chinese were to decide to take over Hong Kong. Would they believe that we would use our nuclear capacity to destroy all their cities? They would not even take it into their calculations. They would not believe it any more than we would. Take a nuclear Power—Russia. Playing nuclears with Russia is like playing poker with transparent cards. We would have to back down at every stage in that confrontation. They know that we would have to back down. Even if they used a nuclear on us, we could not reply because of the terrifying vulnerability of our cities. We cannot, with our concentrations of population, trade, cities. We cannot go into that sort of macabre trade. We are not in it. A nuclear in our hands is totally incredible.
That used to be the opinion of our Prime Minister. He has been quoted quite a lot. I would quote from Lord Slessor as quoted by the Prime Minister on 16th January, 1964: 644'for Britain and France the only advantage of a small missile submarine force seems to me to be that it would afford us the doubtful consolation of a posthumous revenge—devastating no doubt, but not lethal—after our countries and the bulk of our population had been obliterated'".I do not think that it would even give us that satisfaction, because nobody would obliterate us. They would leave enough to be able to deter with a threat to the rest. This is the hopelessness of trying to be nuclear when we are vulnerable to this degree.
After all, the Rand calculation was that it would take about 13 nuclears to reduce this country to an ungovernable unit. We are within range of and absolutely indefensible from at least 500 medium-range rockets.
I wish to make another quotation from the Prime Minister. He really did say this; it is not a parody, although it sounds like it:Then, of course, on Polaris"—he was talking to the then Prime Minister—we have made it clear a hundred times that we intend if returned to power—that is what we are asked by the right hon. Gentleman—to renegotiate the Nassau Agreement on the basis of our declared policy that our proper contribution to our Alliance and that our most effective military strength in this country is secured without the illusion which is created by nuclear missile carrying submarines. I have said a hundred times—and the right hon. Gentleman is capable of reading what I said—that we shall renegotiate or, if one likes, denegotiate the Nassau Agreement…we said that we should renegotiate this Agreement to end the proposal to buy Polaris submarines from the United States."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th January, 1964; Vol.687, c. 440 and 444.]Nothing could be clearer than that. Why was it not done? We were told when we came to power that this nuclear capacity was no longer an independent British deterrent and that it was to serve an international force, the A.N.F. The A.N.F. has sunk into oblivion. We are now told that it is assigned to N.A.T.O. Quite frankly, that simply is not true. There are no ships assigned to SACLANT. That is the curious thing. SACLANT is a naval command without ships. It is a naval command which, frankly, became an absurdity a great many years ago. Its job was to convoy ships across the Atlantic in a nuclear war. I think that 645 at some point it became apparent to somebody that there is not much point in convoying ships to an indefensible port. All that would happen would be that the enemy would take out the port and the ships too. So we are left with the independent nuclear deterrent, at great expense, which we have pledged ourselves time and again to abolish.
We are told so often this is the wrong time. But actually could there be a better time to get rid of this? At last we have the non-proliferation agreement pretty well signed up between the two big boys. The problem is to get the non-nuclear powers to come in. What better method is there than by saying, "We are the other effective nuclear Power. We know that it is useless to us. Take it from our experience. We have learned the obsolescent impotence of our position. Take our example."
Let us lead the other non-nuclear Powers. This is the moment to get agreement. This is the moment to do it and not to say how pleased we are that we are getting on with Polaris and that there must be no delay in producing these ridiculous craft.
It really is at times difficult. We are told to get rid of this nuclear position. That was why we were elected. We were elected to put up the national productivity. We were elected to maintain full employment, yet we are creating unemployment as a financial convenience. It is not very easy for a Socialist looking for a Government to support.
I turn to the whole position of these Navy Estimates. I would like to refer to one of the finest speeches which I have ever heard in my Parliamentary career. That was the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) last night. In that speech he effectively demolished the oceanic rôle for this country. We have no more business than Holland, that was once an Empire, than Sweden that was once an Empire, to try to police the oceans of the world, or to imagine that we have that kind of oceanic responsibility. The job of our Fleet, as of the Dutch fleet and of the Swedish fleet, is coastal protection, shipping, fishery protection and that kind of thing. The rôle of an oceanic 646 naval Power is the rôle of a world Power. It is not our rôle any longer.
§ Mr. Paget
No, I am sorry; time is short.
I wanted to say a word or two about the "phoney", decadent position in which I see us. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West stripped the White Paper on Defence with almost surgical brutality. I have seldom seen any Government document so scientifically torn in pieces. It was left naked but, unfortunately, unblushing.
When, however, the right hon. Gentleman was challenged to state the Conservative policy, he was not prepared to answer, because what he had stripped and exposed was the Conservative policy. And he is against it. I am against it, too. The right hon. Gentleman was just about as opposed to his party as I am to mine.
The trouble is that this is simply the Conservative Party policy being carried on. It is rather worse, because the pretences upon which it is based year-by-year grow thinner. I am not saying that it is the fault of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence. He has made a perfectly competent Conservative Minister of Defence, probably falling in somewhere between Lord Head, who was rather good, and the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys), who was rather bad. He has, however, been a conventionally-minded Conservative Defence Minister, getting worse and worse because the policy is worse. It is a policy based upon accepting the commitments which were appropriate to a great empire and pretending to provide means to perform them. Each year that pretence becomes more transparent and more feeble.
We have a nuclear deterrent which is neither British nor a deterrent. We have an east of Suez policy that is impotent even to cope with the trouble in Rhodesia. We have an oceanic policy and we cannot afford even an aircraft carrier to support it. This is decadence. Decadence is when a nation is prepared to prefer pretence knowing that it is pretence to reality. Decadence is when we lie not to deceive our enemies, but to deceive ourselves, and are satisfied with our lying.
§ 10.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
We can agree that we have had a very wide ranging debate, although there has been a considerable concentration on Polaris. I made my maiden speech on the Navy Estimates some years ago and, to express a personal view, I hope that this will not be the last of our Navy debates. I remember one spokesman from the Government Front Bench indicating during the defence debate that in view of the reorganisation of the Ministry of Defence it might be possible in future for our Service debates to be spread across the whole field of defence. I hope that that does not come about. I believe that we can get at the points of importance to each Service by having at least one day for each Service. Both sides of the House would, I think, agree that we need to make the best use of available funds, but we disagree on how this should be done. We also appear to disagree on the importance of maritime strategy and the need to have adequate mobile sea/air forces.
I again reiterate my congratulations to the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy, the hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Foley), on becoming the political spokesman for the Royal Navy I congratulated him some days ago during the Adjournment debate which we had on the Simonstown Agreement. On that occasion, I commiserated with him for having to answer a rather tricky debate, and I must repeat that commiseration today, but for rather different reasons. Today, he has been attacked far more from his rear than from his front. I worked out a scorecard, and I reckoned that out of eight Government back-benchers who spoke today six dissociated themselves from the Government's defence policy and the other two had certain reservations.
In a brilliant speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett) pointed out the reason why. It is because Front Bench spokesmen of the Government Party, when in opposition, made a series of unfortunate and irresponsible speeches, and they are now suffering from those speeches, having taken over responsibility. Responsibility breeds an understanding of the real problems. We on this side believe that adequate defence forces are the nation's insurance policy. Surely one of the funda- 648 mentals in life is that it is very foolish to under-insure, and that applies to an individual, a family or a State.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Rye (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine) pointed out, in the White Paper which we are considering there is very little information about the future of the Navy or a clear appreciation of the rôle of the Royal Navy. I will admit that in the years immediately after the war there was a natural uncertainty as to the rôle of the Senior Service, and that was manifested by both political parties. Looking at the 1957 White Paper, I note that paragraph 24 says:The rôle of naval forces in total war is somewhat uncertain.At the end of that year came the first of the Conservative five-year naval defence plans. That ran from 1957 to 1962. In 1958, the rôle of the Navy was clearly defined, with three separate commitments: peacetime, limited war and global war. In subsequent years, the re-equipment of the Fleet proceeded apace. This included new ships such as the County class guided missile destroyers, new aircraft such as the Scimitar and Sea Vixen, and new weapons such as Sea Slug. In 1961, it became clear that the Navy would also play its part in the airborne nuclear deterrent by the use of Buccaneer aircraft operating from aircraft carriers.
The second five-year plan started in 1962, and in the White Paper of that year the Navy's rôle was redefined. Paragraph 8 states:We must continue to make it clear to potential aggressors, however, that we should strike back with all the means that we judge appropriate, conventional or nuclear. If we had nothing but nuclear forces, this would not be credible. A balance must be maintained, therefore, between conventional and nuclear strength.The next paragraph goes on:In short, we must maintain carefully balanced forces to deter every form of aggression and military threatsIn those days, the rôle of the Navy was crystal clear. In the following year, the Navy was entrusted with the responsibility of creating and operating the British seaborne nuclear deterrent. In 1964, the rebuilding of our amphibious forces was announced. 649 I had always been a fairly consistent critic of the then Government's defence policy. I notice that in the 1964 debate, I was able to say:The Navy Estimates presented to us today show a return to a maritime strategy which should always have been the basis of our policy. I believe that we have the right men. We are now getting the right ships, and we certainly have the right ideas. Real progress has been made this year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd March, 1964: Vol.690, c. 1054.]In eight years, Conservative Governments had been able to re-equip the Royal Navy and provide it with the capability of dealing with any threat which might be made against these islands or against our allies.
What is particularly important to remember is that the percentage of our gross national product spent on defence decreased over the years of office of that Government from 8.1 to 6.5 per cent.; in other words, almost every year there was a decrease in spending on defence forces. Now the present Government have been in power for about three years and the amount which they propose to spend is exactly the same as when the Conservatives left office 6.5 per cent. of the G.N.P.
I must admit that, after the Secretary of State's abortive bladder-puncturing exercise last night, figures can mean almost anything, but an impartial listener must agree that the result that the Government's Defence Review has achieved so far is that each of three Services is uncertain of its future rôle, in terms of either a Continental or a maritime strategy.
I will give some examples. In Europe, B.A.O.R. is uncertain of its future. The R.A.F. has had all its advanced aircraft cancelled and is uncertain of exactly what aircraft it will get, which will mostly, be foreign-built anyway. Malta was recently in a state of virtual revolt and Gibraltar is still being blockaded. In the Middle East we face a blood-letting which can, perhaps, only be paralleled by our withdrawal from Palestine under a previous Labour Government. In Southern Africa, we are withdrawing our C.-in-C. and naval forces after about 100 years on the station. In the Far East, the future of our forces in Singapore and Hong Kong is uncertain. It was said in the House the other day that we do not 650 even have a clear defence treaty with the Government of Singapore.
These facts and others that I shall refer to later resulted last year in the resignation of the First Sea Lord and this year in the lowest morale of the Senior Service in living memory. This decline of morale has not been arrested, of course, by the speeches and activities of some hon. Members on the Government side during the defence debate. The Daily Telegraph's leading article this morning talks of…unilateral nuclear disarmers, pacifists, little Englanders, anti-Americans, anti-Germans or universal xenophobists…These contributions and some of those today have added nothing to the safety and security of the Realm.
Why is morale so low? The answer is that every sailor knows that it takes seven to ten years from the date that a new class of ship, aircraft or missile is conceived to the date that it becomes operational. As my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) said, the Government are themselves uncertain about the future rôle of the Navy. How can they, therefore, have a clear policy about the future design of our ships, aircraft or missiles?
Because the sailors know this, a sense of complete uncertainty prevails over the whole Service. There is a veil of secrecy about the rôle of the future fleet working party. Nothing is said about this most important working party in the Defence White Paper, but the Press hint at a further White Paper on the Navy some time in the summer. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will say whether we are to expect another Defence White Paper or a White Paper on the Navy later this year.
I have made serious charges against the Government and it is, therefore, incumbent on me to be a little more specific. I want to deal, first, with questions of matériel and then with personnel. First, the deterrent. My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport and Fareham and others of my hon. Friends have quoted the famous speech which the then Leader of the Opposition made in Plymouth just before the 1964 General Election, but I think that part of it bears quoting again. 651## The present Prime Minister said:Nuclear missile carrying vessels add nothing to Western strength and simply mean more and more pressure from other countries to become nuclear Powers.He said, a little later:I believe 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.Other interesting statements were made by the Prime Minister and other leading members of the present Government Front Bench, as were quoted by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) today.
One of the best, I believe, is attributed to the present Paymaster-General. Referring again to Polaris, he said:I think that it is not a national weapon, but a weapon produced for the convenience of the Tory Party, and that the charge should go to the Conservative Central Office."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd March, 1964; Vol.690, c.973.]The Prime Minister said that we should cut the Polaris programme and expand the naval shipbuilding programme. What happened? The Prime Minister retained the Polaris programme and cut back on the conventional shipbuilding programme. I know that hon. Members opposite will say that he cut one Polaris submarine, but by this act he undermined the credibility of the whole of our deterrent force. With five boats, we could guarantee at all times to have two submarines on station; with four, we can no longer guarantee always to have two submarines at the right time in the right place. Therefore, we cannot guarantee a second strike weapon available in all eventualities. That is what the Prime Minister achieved by cutting back one Polaris submarine.
It is true that the Government side have continued the Fleet submarine programme. The first "Dreadnought" was built in the day of the Conservative Government, and the weapons of this ship were torpedoes. I should like the Minister to tell us whether the torpedoes in the existing Fleet submarines are still the immediate development of the prewar torpedoes; in other words, torpedoes not fitted with the various decoy devices, and so on. I believe that our torpedo development in the Royal Navy has been very slow. We have gone ahead with 652 many forms of weapons, but have rather forgotten the torpedo—and that is the main weapon of the Fleet submarine.
Perhaps he can say something about this matter, particularly as the Minister announced a new class of Fleet submarine which is to be ordered, I understand, in the coming financial year. As I have said, the Government seem very keen on these Fleet submarines, and I believe their support of what used to be called the hunter-killer submarine is based on the fact that it is a wholly defensive weapon. This is the kind of mentality that could—and I only say "could"—reduce the Navy to a coast defence force in the next 10 years.
We have heard a lot about carriers in this debate. Last year, the Government decided to cancel the carrier replacement programme. They said in last year's White Paper thatBritain would not undertake major operations of war except in co-operation with allies.That view was repeated by the Foreign Secretary yesterday. He said:…Our aim is that we should not again have to undertake operations on the scale of confrontation outside Europe.I hope he is right. Obviously, that is the aim of any Government, but one cannot be certain. It takes two sides to decide where hostilities may break out. We cannot always control these things. But it is just as well that the Government do not feel capable of any confrontation operations on the Indonesian scale—or, indeed, any confrontation—because it is pretty clear now that the Royal Air Force cannot guarantee air cover to units of the Fleet or to amphibious landings.
Have the Government really studied the lessons of Vietnam, which seem to be crystal clear? Carriers are mobile—they can always operate at maximum efficiency—whereas Vietnam has shown that major airfields take ten times as long as expected to construct, and ten times longer, therefore, to work up to peak efficiency. In bald terms, it takes about a year for a major airfield in Vietnam to operate at peak efficiency. Equally, I understand from American experience that it has been found that interdiction bombing missions of more than 500 to 600 miles, or close-support missions of over 300 miles, are inefficient. Therefore, airfields have to be built and rebuilt within those ranges. A carrier can, 653 however, be moved. A further lesson from Vietnam is that cheap airfields are inefficient.
The question which the Government should now examine very carefully is whether or not cheaper carriers can now be built. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear Admiral Morgan Giles), in his very impressive speech, suggested that carriers based on an oil-tanker design and operating vertical take-off aircraft could be built for, perhaps, half the cost of the CVA0-1. It has been estimated that they would cost between £15 million and £20 million apiece. This is probably an underestimate. Nevertheless, I am certain that if one removed all the sophisticated control and guidance equipment from a carrier and placed it in a smaller and far less vulnerable vessel—say, a frigate—all the computerised information could be fed from the frigate to one of what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester described as "Healey carriers". One hopes that they will bear the right hon. Gentleman's name and that they will come into operation.
Such a carrier could come within our economic power and it would enable us to undertake a maritime strategy whenever there was a threat to our allies or ourselves. After all, if carriers are to go, then fleet operations or amphibious landings in hostile air space are out. The right hon. Gentleman may not be aware that his new policy is known in Royal Navy circles as "the red carpet treatment". In other words, one operates only where there will be no opposition, and the red carpet is put out by the friendly inhabitants. The trouble is that one can never be certain for how long friendly inhabitants will stay friendly. In other words, the red carpet can change colour. One can never be certain what will happen in this world, and I should have thought that British maritime history proved that, above all else.
This "red carpet" policy should appeal to the pacifist section on the benches opposite. Surely they see their opportunity. If they do not, I will describe it for them. From the Navy's point of view, it goes like this. No aircraft carrier—therefore no offensive operations and, thus, no need for guided missile destroyers costing from £20 million to £30 million each. That means no 654 amphibious vessels costing according to the White Paper £13 million or amphibious troops such as the Royal Marines. One merely needs one or two antisubmarine frigates and some minesweepers. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) pointed out, the Royal Navy could well become a coast defence force in the next 10 years—but at what an appalling cost to our national security.
A similar view was expressed by the predecessors of hon. Gentlemen opposite in the pre-war years. As I pointed out in an intervention earlier, they spoke and voted against re-armament right up to the eve of World War II. One wonders if some of them will ever learn the lessons which history teaches us.
I now come to the important question of surface-to-surface missiles. Does the Minister appreciate that there are in use today fast patrol vessels of the "Osa" and "Komar" classes, mounting four or two guided missile launchers respectively and firing missiles with ranges of up to 30 miles? These vessels are in service not only with large fleets, including the Soviet Navy, but also with small fleets such as those of the U.A.R. and Indonesia. How will the Royal Navy deal with these small, fast vessels?
Commander Courtney, the then hon. and gallant Member for Harrow, East, initiated an Adjournment debate on this subject some years ago. At that time a Conservative Government were in office and, having stressed the need for surface-to-surface missiles, Commander Courtney was told by the Civil Lord of the day that the best answer was the fixed-wing aircraft operating from an aircraft carrier. But now the fixed-wing aircraft in the Royal Navy and the carrier is to disappear. What defence will we have against these weapons?
In last year's White Paper the Government promised in paragraph 6 that…a strike capability against enemy ships will be provided by surface-to-surface guided missiles.And paragraph 2 stated:We shall develop a small surface-to-surface guided weapon for use against missile-firing ships.That is not mentioned in this year's White Paper. Why not? Can the Minister guarantee—and guarantee he must—that 655 this weapon will be both effective and operational before the aircraft carrier phased out? If he looks carefully into the matter he will see that it would probably be cheaper and more satisfactory to retain the carrier.
I want to ask the Minister a question about surface-to-air weapons. Seadart is our new surface-to-air missile. It is mounted on a type 82 guided missile destroyer, one weapon on a hull of 5,000 tons. I see in Jane's Fighting Ships that the Germans are to mount Tartar—the American equivalent—on a hull of about 1,500 tons. How much will this vessel cost? What is her rôle? When are the other three to be laid down, if ever? The Minister will know that I have been pressing this matter in Parliamentary Questions for some time. Will he now admit that this vessel, the first of this class of type 82 destroyers, was built solely as a platform for Seadart to enable us to sell Seadart to other maritime nations?
This afternoon in an Answer to a Question I was told that no Seadarts have yet been ordered by foreign Powers. Now that the Germans, the Dutch and the Italians have decided to purchase the American Tartar, will not the Minister admit that, in the absence of aircraft carriers in the future, there is no positive rôle for these vessels and that the three follow-up destroyers of the type 82 class will in point of fact not be built? Will not the Minister admit that the best estimate of cost is about £30 apiece and that therefore the four vessels would cost about £120 million, which is much more than the cost of CVAO-1, which I believe is about £75 million.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
Would the hon. Gentleman care to exlain to the House why, so far, in support of his views about aircraft carriers, he has not prayed in aid their rôle in the blockade of Southern Africa in fulfilment of the United Nations policy with regard to Rhodesia?
§ Mr. Wall
I think that the aircraft carrier has played a vital part in the blockade of Beira, against the country of our oldest ally. I think that the answer to a question asked earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Rye 656 was that, though there is not a carrier on station at the moment, there are I believe Shackletons operating from Madagascar. They could not have operated unless they had that land base in Madagascar. Aircraft carriers would have had to have operated continuously off the port of Beira, as they have for a number of months.
I want to turn to amphibious forces.
§ Mr. Wall
I am sorry. Obviously the hon. Gentleman has not been paying attention. What I said was fairly clear. I said that if the Minister goes on with his four type 82 destroyers they will cost considerably more than it will to cancel CVAO-1. I suggested that we could build a Healey carrier for one-third of the price of CVAO-1, that we should do that, and that, unless we did that, there was no necessity for the very expensive guided missile destroyer such as the type 82 which, in any case, merely mounts one weapon on a 5,000 ton hull, whereas the Germans can mount the equivalent weapon on a 1,500 ton hull and therefore produce a much cheaper ship.
I want to turn to amphibious forces, because they are, quite rightly, given priority in the White Paper. I believe that they could make the most valuable contribution to Britain's requirements in a non-nuclear war. Again, they must have support. The Minister must agree that helicopters are sitting ducks in enemy air space. It is essential that these forces, if used, are adequately covered.
We on this side very much doubt that, even after we get all these American aircraft that we are supposed to be going to order, even if we displace the giant turtle in the island of Aldabra to which the Secretary of State referred yesterday, naval forces can be properly covered by R.A.F. aircraft. It would be much better if we built a cheaper type of carrier operating both R.A.F. and naval U.T.O.L. aircraft.
When talking about amphibious forces my thoughts immediately turn to the 657 Royal Marines. I want to make it clear that the rôle of the Royal Marines is still on land, sea and air. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) mentioned that they were no longer at sea. That is not quite true, because they are still embarked in frigates in the West Indies and in the Persian Gulf and do an excellent good job. When I joined the Royal Marines, two-thirds of the corps was at sea. I am sorry that the percentage has now been reversed. I think this illustrates the flexibility of the Royal Marines. They can switch rapidly from the sea to the land or the air, because in the past the Royal Marines provided aircraft pilots and are now providing helicopter pilots and parachutists.
They have, above all, excellent mobility, and I think that if the Secretary of State will examine this phrase he loves so much—"cost-effectiveness"—he would probably find that the Royal Marines have more cost-effectiveness than any other of the Services.
We have three pages—pages 16 to 19—in the White Paper on confrontation, and almost every force is mentioned, the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force, the Royal Malaysian Air Force, the Royal New Zealand Navy, the Royal Australian Air Force, but there is no mention of the Royal Marines.
I think the Minister knows that the Royal Marines had a Brigade and two Commandos—which performed valiant service in Singapore, Brunei and Borneo, and another in South Arabia, a Commando operating in Aden in the frontier area of Radfan and Beihan, and I hope that next year he will ensure that they are not left out when tributes are paid.
I see from Vote A that the strength of the Royal Marines is cut by 400 men. Does this mean that we are going to lose a Commando? At the moment we have a Brigade Headquarters and five Commandos, two in South-East Asia. two at home as part of the Strategic Reserve, and one in Aden. I hope this does not mean that we are going to have one of the teeth of the Corps cut out, because that would blunt one of the teeth of the Royal Navy.
May I join with others in paying a tribute to Mr. Perkins, who was a member of the Royal Corps, who has given 658 very fine service to this House and is a friend of many of us. I am sure the whole House will join me in wishing him many happy years in retirement.
I must watch the clock, so I will not talk about the anti-submarine forces of the Royal Navy, which were so well covered by the excellent speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Carshalton and Rye, nor about the Fishery Protection Squadron, covered by the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) more than adequately.
I hope that the main points on the Fishery Protection Squadron will be dealt with by the Minister, perhaps later on if not in the winding up tonight. Really the nub of the problem is whether this is just an administrative change, or whether it means the abolition of the Squadron as such?
I turn to personnel, very briefly. There are one or two questions I want to ask the Minister to deal with. I talked about the future of the Fleet Working Party and the effect of the cancellation of the carrier, secrecy about this working party and the fact that uncertainty about the future was affecting officers' morale. I think that officers' morale in the Senior Service is very questionable today, and I am very worried about it. I am worried about the effect of "wet" and "dry" promotions—
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
When the hon. Gentleman speaks about morale in the Service, does he not think he might be doing an injustice to officers in assuming what only they have a right to say?
§ Mr. Wall
No, I am not doing them an injustice. It is not their fault that their morale is low. I think the policy of the Government has produced such uncertainty that nobody's morale could be high in these conditions.
I was going to ask the Minister about one of the unfortunate effects of "wet" and "dry" promotions. I am told that in promotions from commander to captain, about three out of four commanders on the "wet" list are promoted to captain, but only one out of ten commanders on the "dry" list.
This means that a large number of good "dry" list commanders decide to retire early so as to get a good civilian 659 job at as young an age as possible, leaving some of the less enthusiastic or efficient to run most of the Navy's training. This could become a serious problem. In order to solve it, could a slightly longer term of duty be given in the key training jobs, say up to five years? The Minister is now putting into use some very important complicated training equipment both for the air arm and for the Navy itself, and one wants to be sure that the people running the equipment are of the best possible quality.
Now, the question of junior officers. We discussed the Royal Defence College yesterday. Have I got the progression of the naval officer right? I understand that it is a year at Dartmouth, followed by a year at sea as a midshipman, followed by six months at Dartmouth again. He then goes to university or the Royal Defence College for either a year or three years, depending on whether he takes a degree. Presumably, this means that he goes to sea again at the age of 22 or 23.
When does he do what we used to call his sub's course, in other words, his courses in naval gunnery, torpedoes, and so on? Does he do it at that rather late age? When does he go on to do the full specialist course, the long course, as we used to call it? I am sure that it is the right idea to give all Service officers a much broader background, but there are disadvantages. For example, if we send young midshipmen to university for three years, we may find that it broadens their outlook so much that they might decide not to stay in the Service. But, nevertheless, I am sure that the Minister is on the right lines.
Now, Greenwich. There was a time when the hon. Gentleman who is now Minister of Defence (Administration) conducted a campaign against the Royal Naval College at Greenwich. We shall, therefore, look very closely at any decision the Government make about the future of the Royal Naval College. There has always been an important traditional and historical link between the Senior Service and Greenwich.
Next, I have a question about mortgage schemes, of which I have given the Minister notice. Mortgage schemes for house purchase are available for ratings 660 but not for officers. This seems rather extraordinary. Could the hon. Gentleman explain why there is this discrimination?
I come now to the subject of training. My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough suggested the use of Malta for certain training establishments. Malta has better weather and, with far more daylight, can thus offer more training time. What about the joint anti-submarine school now at Londonderry? I hope that the Minister will bear in mind what my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) said when he made not only a moving appeal but the very sensible suggestion that the school should be left where it is. There are in that area now 20 per cent. unemployed, and this is, therefore, a serious question. If, for one reason or another, the Minister decides to—[HON. MEMBERS: "Look at the time."]—I consulted the Minister on when he wanted to speak, and I intend to sit down at the time when, I understand, he wishes to speak, and not before. Perhaps hon. Members will not interrupt further.
If the anti-submarine school has to be moved, I suggest that Gibraltar might be a good place for it. Modern nuclear submarines need at least 100 fathoms depth of water to train in. From Gibraltar one immediately has the Atlantic with 100 fathoms or more, which one does not find off Plymouth, if I may dare to say that in the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport. One also has the Atlantic and Mediterranean conditions within immediate reach.
I have another five minutes, and I shall conclude by stating what I believe to be the real strategy needed for the future of this country and the future of the Royal Navy.
§ Mr. Heffer
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that there has been an arrangement between the two Front Benches that the Minister should be given only 20 minutes to reply? If that is the position, it is an absolute disgrace. Several of us have asked a series of important questions, and we want answers.
§ Mr. Wall
The hon. Gentleman must take that up with his own Front Bench. All I am saying is that I shall sit down at the time I have been requested to do 661 so, and not before. I shall not be put off by interruptions from hon. Members opposite.
Britain has always had to face the two competing needs of continental and maritime strategy, and the basic problem is how to provide forces capable of exercising both and how to get the balance right. A continental war, except in Europe, has been ruled out, I think, by all hon. Members on both sides. May I make a personal suggestion but one which, I believe, deserves some consideration? I suggest to the Secretary of State that he might consider giving the Army and the Air Force the rôle of being wholly responsible for continental warfare, that is, B.A.O.R. and such weapons of continental warfare as armour and tactical nuclear weapons. At the same time, he should give the Navy, together with the Fleet Air Arm and the Royal Marines, the primary responsibility for looking after maritime strategy outside Europe, including nuclear, maritime, amphibious and raiding operations and for providing the necessary sea/air and limited land forces.
I want to stress the importance of maritime strategy. The House must realise that, in every major operation since 1945, the Navy has had to provide the initial and sometimes the entire air support needed—in Korea, Suez, Kuwait, East Africa and the Beira blockade. But the real lesson for the future can be found in Vietnam. I commend to the Secretary of State's attention an article written by a friend of mine, an American, Anthony Harrigan, in Navy Magazine for December, 1966.
It is clear that, up to and including the Second World War, sea power was able to exert an influence, sometimes an important influence, over land battles. Today sea power is becoming capable of direct intervention in the land battle. It has great advantages. There is no need for bases or airfields in countries where the population is unfriendly; no need for expensive harbour installations or base camps; no problems of security tying down a large number of defensive troops.
As we do not want and, indeed, cannot afford to get tied down in a continental war outside Europe, maritime support would be the cheapest and most effective form of assistance that we could 662 give when necessary to Commonwealth or other friendly countries, or, indeed, to the United Nations.
Sea power is mobile and can achieve surprise. It is invulnerable to sabotage and guerilla warfare. We have reached a time, particularly since the introduction of nuclear propulsion, when ships can remain at sea almost indefinitely. We are approaching the time when little that operates from shore basis would not be able to operate from ships at sea.
Airmobile units capable of verticle envelopment can operate from carriers; giant sky cranes operating on a shuttle service could lift containerised cargoes of up to 20 tons to an airfield five miles distant and return in 7½ minutes; 10 tons could be carried for up to 1,000 miles. In short, to quote Professor Sokol in Brassey's Annual:While formerly naval ships had little chance to affect land in a decisive manner except indirectly through economic pressure and the support of land and air forces, they now are in a position to reach far inland with their weapons and hit targets with unprecedented force. This is a really radical change from earlier times, but one which favours sea power over any other part of national strength.This surely demonstrates the future for the Navy. By Polaris we can deter war. By maritime air/sea forces operating from friendly bases in Southern Africa and Australia, we could exert the maximum influence in what at present appears to be the decisive area at the minimum cost.
I hope that the Government will move from this rather negative White Paper to reappraise the nation's needs for an effective maritime strategy. Then, as they move gradually out of fixed bases, the money thus saved can be employed not to increase our standard of living but to build the necessary ships. aircraft and amphibious forces for use anywhere in the world from whence our islands may be threatened. Thus, and only thus, can we ensure our national security and possibly our national survival.
§ 11.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Foley
In opening the debate I said I would refer in closing to questions relating to manpower, conditions and service and the dockyards. I am glad I did because, in the light of what the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) has just said, one would imagine that there is a serious decline of morale in the Navy 663 and that we have a Navy of ill-equipped vessels, or said to consist of vessels we do not have and so on. Plainly, it should be stated that even hon. Members on this side who, in their own political or moral judgments, have grave doubts about Polaris, would resent the implication that we were paying lip-service to the notion of the Royal Navy but in practice taking the opposite line by our actions. We resent this attitude intensely and were it not for the hon. Member's service in the forces one would wonder whether he was talking us into a crisis in the Navy. I can only put it down to a narrow party political point. The hon. Gentleman had little else to say about the White Paper or the broad strategy and he had to resort to these nuances which are untrue.
One can see this from the figures for re-engagements which I gave earlier and which are worth repeating. Whereas the re-engagement figures for men on nine-year engagements fell from 33 per cent. in 1964 to 23 per cent. in 1965 and to 21 per cent. later that year, they have picked up to 25 per cent. The rate for men on a 12-year engagement fell from 54 per cent. to 45 per cent. and it has remained at that level since. So we are starting to pull back from the years of decline.
We have serious shortages and reference has been made to these. There are shortages in artificer mechanician apprentice, naval airmen, medical, stores, writer and steward categories. In all these categories we have to fight to hold our own, let alone win back. But we seem to have stopped the downward trend and we must try to reverse it. I am grateful for the suggestions made for schemes to enhance the idea of re-engagement and I promise that we will look at them. There has been the re-engagement grant for men in the branches where there are shortages and there is the assisted house purchase scheme which gives grants to long-service ratings to buy houses. These are all inducements to good, competent, qualified men and they enhance the whole status of the Royal Navy and its personnel. Since the scheme started in the autumn of 1965 something of the order of 3,350 sailors have been helped to buy their own homes.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral 664 Morgan Giles) suggested extending this scheme to officers. There are difficulties in the way of extending the scheme to officers, but we will consider it.
Representations have been made about ratings leaving the service and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) for going into such detail and showing such concern about a particular case. This concern was reflected in representations from other hon. Members. I have received the report from the National Council for Civil Liberties but I have not yet had the chance to study it. I promise that I will do so and with considerable sympathy.
Many boys sign on at a very early age, but I should point out that they do so with their parents' agreement. These are not 15-year-olds hiving off on their own and joining the Navy.
§ Mr. Foley
He raised that point in the first instance and then broadened it. The case of my hon. Friend's constituent places one on the horns of a dilemma. We cannot have everyone going at the same time. Clearly we have to control premature discharge as far as we can and in as fair a way as possible. But the Services will not be helped by having a series of discontented youngsters. One has to try to find a way of measuring compassion. This is one of the most difficult things I have had to consider since I started this job. To try to exercise this kind of judgment is difficult.
Hon. Members will be aware that we have managed to insert a break point within the first three months of the engagement of junior entrants. That may not be the whole answer, but it is a step in the right direction and we must see how much further we can take this, bearing in mind that two-thirds of the 665 annual intake into the Navy are under 171½. If we had a shorter initial engagement, as has been suggested, we would need to increase our annual intake of recruits and our training load. The more specialist the Navy becomes, the more difficult and expensive this would be. Clearly, if considerable sums are spent on training someone in a specialist skill which will equip him later on in "Civvy Street", the cost involved is a factor which cannot be ignored when these decisions are made.
The Navy is now undertaking a far-reaching study of manpower and personnel structure and training requirements and I have directed that it should look into the whole question of the motivation of those who re-engage and those who do not after the first period of service, taking into consideration the sociological factors and the realities of the present day when people marry earlier and the implications of a wife and children and the resulting pressures to be home which may not have been thought of at the initial stage of enlistment, or even in the first three or four years of enlistment.
New construction is under way in all the dockyards and major tasks are now in progress, including the conversion of H.M.S. "Blake". I am glad to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Lomas) is present. He wanted to know what had happened to H.M.S. "Blake". She is at Portsmouth and the conversion is to enable her to operate the new Sea King helicopters. That is the reason for a possible overstay. Hon. Members seemed to think that H.M.S. "Blake" had been lost and forgotten. On the contrary; she is very much in the forefront. Other tasks include a refit of H.M.S. "Eagle" at Devonport, the installation of all gas turbine propulsion in H.M.S. "Exmouth", Chatham, and the special refit of H.M.S. "Ark Royal" to enable her to operate the Phantom aircraft. "Ark Royal's" refit, which began at Devonport in February, this year, is one of the most challenging tasks that a Royal Dockyard has ever been required to carry out. The equipping of Rosyth and Chatham Dockyards to handle nuclear submarines is going ahead. Facilities at Rosyth will be tested when they are brought into use by the refit of H.M.S. "Dreadnought", which will be the first full refit of a nuclear 666 submarine to be carried out in this country.
§ Mr. Foley
I cannot say offhand, but I promise to write to my hon. Friend and give the precise figures involved and, if he is anxious, the nature of the kind of work which will be done there.
One can fairly say that the kind of work undertaken in the dockyards of today becomes more exacting as the complexity of modern ships increases. This requires new management techniques and a balanced labour force so that one has the skills in the numbers required at the moment required, and anyone who has any knowledge of ship repair or shipbuilding will be aware of the problems posed in a refit. It is only when a ship is opened up that the extent of the repair work to be done can be seen, and this has meant that at times there has not been the right use of manpower in the dockyards. It has meant, too, that incentive schemes have been devised which have related to half or two-thirds of the labour force, but not to the remainder.
Somehow we must, in terms of incentive schemes, try to find a method whereby all can benefit, in addition, as I mentioned at Question Time, to the reexamination which is going on, and the discussions with the trade unions, with a view to creating a wage increase and a new industrial structure as from July of this year.
I want to deal briefly with an aspect of Navy life which is somewhat new, and it is the emphasis placed in recent years on the building of married quarters for the Navy. This is going ahead at a great pace. There are still places where we need more houses, but we have 9,000 quarters and we are building a further 5,000, for completion within the next three years or so. Together with hirings this comes close to meeting the demand as we see it.
Can the hon. Gentleman look into the point that I raised about whether, in the programme of naval married quarters which is now being set up at Gosport, it is wise to have nine-storey blocks of flats for families with small children? There seem to be grave objections to this sort of thing.
§ Mr. Foley
I was about to mention the complex which is being developed in the hon. Member's constituency. I will certainly look into this, but the fact of life in many parts of the country is that people must live in huge blocks of flats, particularly families with young children, as the centres of towns are cleared, simply because of the cost and availability of land. I will look into the matter and write to the hon. Gentleman.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that subject, would he look closely at the suggestion that I made in opening this afternoon, about Malta being regarded as a permanent part of the home station for ratings and troops returning from overseas bases?
§ Mr. Foley
I am not sure whether I should take this very seriously. I assume that the hon. and gallant Member is proposing this in a serious way? I would prefer to await the results of discussions which may be taking place with the Malta Government now. Clearly if the cost of keeping people overseas, as distinct from the cost of keeping them here, is greater, I appreciate the point. I am not convinced, but I will look into this and write to the hon. and gallant Member.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles
This is meant to be serious and it is meant to be part of the discussions with the Malta Government now. Time is of the essence.
§ Mr. Foley
I want to deal with the question of whether we are trying to hide something. The working party was referred to. We have had a report from the working party and we are in the process of trying to determine the shape and size of a future Navy. I have referred to the criteria with which we are working and the difficulties, in terms of looking ahead and anticipating commitments and devising a Fleet for the 1980s and 1990s. I hope that when hon. Members opposite read what I have said, they will see that we have made considerable progress. I hope, in answer to the hon. Member for Haltemprice, that later this year we will be able to announce decisions about this.
The White Paper may seem disappointing to some because it does not reflect decisions taken, but taking decisions pre- 668 maturely might be worse than putting them off until the thing can be viewed as a whole. It is in this context that one cannot talk about aircraft carriers or mini-aircraft carriers or "Healey carriers", with respect to the Secretary of State, until one looks at the situation as a whole, and at the Navy's rôole in the future.
§ Mr. Foley
Once certain studies and analyses have been made, it can be decided that this is not something which we can afford, or which is relevant. This happened with TSR2 and the aircraft carrier. It would be rather foolish for hon. Members opposite to speak of this in terms of a weapons system, when we have referred to type 82, Ikara, Seadart, Broomstick and ADA, which will be at sea in 1971. This is part of the weapon system which may well be the kind of equipment we want for the 1980s and the 1990s. It would be foolish to pretend that progress has not been made or that decisions have not been taken in this whole field.
The hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) was especially concerned about our antisubmarine preparedness. He will be reassured to hear that more than 90 of the 138 operational ships in service in the coming year have this capability. The White Paper also refers to a number of measures in this direction, including an expansion of our fleet submarine building programme, the introduction of the Sea King helicopter and the development of two new anti-submarine torpedoes, one to be fired from submarines and the other to be dropped from helicopters, supported by a wide-ranging under-water research programme.
My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, West and the hon. Member for Haltemprice, relating back to a previous incarnation, were rather anxious about the marines. I assure them both, and I am sure that the whole House will join me in saying, that the rôle of the Royal Marines is well known and that they have proved their worth on numerous occasions. I am confident that there is a continuing and worth-while rôle for them to 669 play in the future. Although, at the same time, we must continually keep the rôle and requirements of all our Forces under continuous review, we have no plans at present for reducing the size of capability of the Corps.
There were a number of other points with which I would like to have dealt. I will write to hon. Members about those which I am not able to deal with tonight. To my hon. Friends who have raised questions on Polaris, I say that we have tried, both in reply to Questions and today, to give a clear indication of our commitments in terms of Polaris. Nothing has been hidden in terms of expenditure. Nothing has been hidden in terms of our belief that Polaris is a worth-while contribution to the Western nuclear deterrent. This has been made clear. It was made clear in the two-day defence debate.
I well understand hon. Members who possibly attempted in the course of the two-day defence debate to make their points in terms of the British nuclear strategy. Some were successful during those two days. Many more have been successful tonight.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Is the Minister aware that the Americans are no longer producing the type of Polaris missile that is being sold to this country? Can he say solemnly at the Box that our Polaris submarines when they arrive will not be obsolete and that their missiles will be able to penetrate the Russian defences?
§ Mr. Foley
What I can tell my hon. Friend and what I am saying now is something that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in the defence debate during the previous two days, namely, that at least half the American Polaris fleet is equipped and continues to be equipped with the A3 Polaris missile.
§ Mr. Foley
I am not sure whether my hon. Friend wants a better one. I 670 respect his views in this matter because he has been constant in his anxieties and his Questions over the years. I would certainly not suggest, and I am sure that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) would never suggest, that my hon. Friend was wanting more Polaris missiles. I am sure that that is not the case.
On fishery protection, I have stated categorically our position.
§ Mr. W. Baxter
A number of questions were directed at my hon. Friend concerning Polaris, N.A.T.O. and all that sort of thing, but he is not giving satisfaction or even attempting to reply to those questions.
§ Mr. Foley
This is a naval debate. If one wanted to take the broad strategy, one could have done it on the two-day defence debate. I promised that I would deal with human matters relating to conditions of service and manpower in my winding-up speech. If the hon. Gentleman was not here at the beginning, that is too bad. I said that I would do that, and that is what I have done—
§ It being half-past Eleven o'clock, the Debate stood adjourned.