HC Deb 20 March 1969 vol 780 cc787-843

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £202,363,000, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund, to defray the expense of new construction, repair, etc., of H.M. Ships, Aircraft and Weapons, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1970.

5.22 p.m.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

This is always a difficult Vote to discuss, because the Opposition are apt to feel more and more out of touch the longer they are in opposition, although this predicament will soon be ended for Her Majesty's present Opposition. Equally, the Government feel, rightly or wrongly, that they must tread delicately because of security considerations. The Minister of Defence for Equipment gave us a useful summary on the first day of the defence debate about naval equipment, for which we were grateful.

The Opposition feel concern principally under this Vote about the following points. First, will the Government genuinely reconsider the question of the fifth Polaris submarine?

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Hear, hear.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

This is the first time I have found myself in agreement with the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes)—

Mr. Hughes

You are coming on.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

It s not my purpose to tease the Minister about the Labour Government having adopted the independent British nuclear deterrent root and branch. We are only glad that they have done so. Discussing this, the Secretary of State said that with four boats we could normally have two on patrol. To have five, he said, would make certain of it. But "normally" is a vague word, and apart from unexpected breakdowns, which in complicated machinery of this sort must be at leas! a possibility, there are such things as navigational errors. When I hear of someone running his ship aground, I do not think, "How on earth did he manage that?", but, "There but for the grace of God went I." These things can happen; so five Polaris submarines would be a great improvement on four.

Is it not a fact that when we made the original purchase of equipment for Polaris we bought a great deal of the lead items for a fifth boat which was in the plan at the time? Is much of that purchase from the United States already in our possession?

The second point is the fleet submarine programme—what are sometimes, but rather old-fashionedly, called the "hunter-killer" submarines. The White Paper says that only two of these fleet submarines are in commission, one is refitting and one is entering service now. The next three are still under construction, and one of them is not yet even laid down. But the Minister of Defence for Equipment said on 10th March that an order for an eight would be placed very soon indeed. That was over a fortnight ago. Has he any news yet?

The Opposition are not satisfied that the rate of building of these ships, which the Secretary of State called "the principal striking force of the Navy", is sufficient. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence for Administration said the other day that I was looking very worried and he asked me not to. But this is the sort of thing which makes us worried, because the Government do not appear to be paying enough attention to this vital programme.

Our next point is the weapons for these fleet submarines. We believe that the anti-submarine torpedoes are reasonably well advanced. I must be careful here from a security point of view, and I do not want to step over the line. The anti-surface ship torpedoes which were available for these very sophisticated submarines were, at any rate until recently, gravely behind hand. I have heard it said that going into action in one of these fleet submarines with the existing, or at that time existing, anti-surface ship torpedoes was rather like going into action in a Chieftain tank waving a spear out of the front. Could we hear something about this torpedo development and something, without infringing security, about any form of anti-surface ship weapon to be incorporated in these submarines?

As to the building and refitting of these submarines, the Opposition are far from satisfied that the arrangement to build at only one yard, Vickers, is satisfactory or that it is sense to scrap the equipment and expertise at Cammell Laird, which could be used for refitting as much as for building. We do not see the sense of simultaneously dismantling all this equipment and expertise and building up the expensive facilities at Devonport Dockyard. This was rather pooh-poohed by the Secretary of State, who has just come in, when he said that this was a matter of building and not of refitting. But, of course, Cammell Laird could refit just as well as it can build.

On aircraft carriers, the Opposition detect a very welcome death-bed repentance. I do not wish to embarrass the Secretary of State or the Under-Secretary by pressing them on this point. I have been banging on about this ever since the defence review, as have many of my right hon. and hon. Friends. Tied to the Government like a tin can attached to a dog's tail is this sentence from their Defence Review: We believe that the tasks for which carrier-borne aircraft might be required in the '70s can be more cheaply performed in other ways.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Denis Healey)

I do not want to embarrass the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but has he read the carefully scripted series of answers by the Leader of the Opposition in The Guardian recently, in which his right hon. Friend said that the Opposition had no intention whatever of providing carrier-borne aircraft to protect their Forces in the Far East, if ever they put any there and if ever they were returned to power?

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

That was in reference to conventional C.V.A. aircraft carriers. I am not on that subject.

It must be remembered that the Soviet Union has surface-to-surface missiles. This fact was well known 15 years or more ago by Naval Intelligence, and a decision was taken by the Government of the day not to follow the Soviet Union down that expensive path of development, particularly since we had aircraft operating from carriers able to do that job. Carrier aircraft are more effective in this rôle and are also better for the reconnaissance work which the Secretary of State boasted the other day was so necessary to keep an eye on what the Soviet Fleet is up to in the Mediterranean.

If one were to adopt the only other means postulated in the defence review—that is, surface-to-surface missiles—the time must come when somebody must make the difficult command decision or whether or not to discharge a missile and perhaps start a third world war. That person might see a flashing light on the screen and it might appear to indicate that something hostile is happening. If the only form of defence is a missile, he may have no alternative but to press the button and discharge it. The alternative is to have a man in an aeroplane equipped with a "Mark I Eyeball" able to fly over what is thought to be the target, report back and perhaps avoid a dangerous confrontation. In this rôle aircraft operating from carriers of this sort can be useful for preventing rather than starting war.

Mr. Ogden

Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman describe the sort of carriers he has in mind and the type of situation he envisages?

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

I am coming to that.

My hon. Friends deduce from the arguments that can be made about the review that some sort of flying from flat-tops will be needed. In the long run, it will probably be better and more economical to have special ships for the purpose and not botched-up adaptations of other types of vessel. It is obvious that the facilities, including manpower, for servicing the relatively complicated aircraft of the present day will be difficult to provide. It would, therefore, probably be more economical to provide them in one ship which has been especially designed for the purpose, rather than to adapt a cruiser or similar vessel with a platform on its deck enabling it to carry a few aircraft.

We believe that an unsophisticated vessel—"carrier" is an emotive word and conjures up all sorts of considerations; for this reason we prefer to use the expression "flat-top"—not designed for top-notch warfare and not equipped with anti-nuclear devices could perform this task. It could be built on a merchant hull with a flat top and be large enough to carry sufficient facilities for flying off the Harrier type of aircraft. The Harriers are a godsend for this purpose and the Opposition welcome the advent of the Harrier, particularly in view of the success it has had in its trials so far and the possible export orders implied in this morning's Press.

It is ludicrous to suggest that helicopters armed with footling little missiles beneath them can be sent against Russian-built missile patrol boats or destroyers. Would the Minister of Defence like to be the pilot of such a helicpoter sent on such a mission? When I put that question to his hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Equipment the hon. Gentleman merely smirked, but he did not reply.

In connection with aircraft carriers, this quotation is interesting: Let us not forget that, if we are to have a really effective military capacity outside Europe, we must provide air cover for it in the form of naval aircraft … If we are really going in for air cover, whether we build one or two very large carriers … or whether we build many small carriers or a new form of vessel with VTOL aircraft aboard, we are likely to incur very heavy costs. These commitments are commitments which we cannot avoid and which in my view … we should not seek to avoid in the years to come".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February, 1964; Vol. 690, c. 475–6.] That impeccable statement of policy was made by the present Secretary of State for Defence in February, 1964, but at that time he was seeking office.

Apart from the broader issues I have raised, my hon. Friends have few other detailed points to raise on this Vote. Under Vote 7D, we are concerned because the figures show a run-down of war stocks and weapons and equipment. Although it is a relatively small rundown, I hope that our fears will be set at rest on this score.

Under Vote 7C, we are concerned about the reduction in the size of the reserve fleet, a point made in the defence debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing). We particularly want to know why H.M.S. "Maidstone", a large depot ship which was specially converted for the Polaris Fleet, is being scrapped.

We welcome the announcement in the White Paper that there is to be a smaller and more simplified type of frigate. In the confrontation with Indonesia I witnessed the absurd spectacle of a frigate costing £12 million or more stopping a canoe containing two bare-bottomed Indonesians. We also welcome the announcement about the building of fast patrol boats.

I hope that we shall be given more information on the subject of hovercraft for the Navy since these vessels are useful for many purposes; indeed, perhaps they could occasionally be used to invade very small islands. My hon. Friends and I feel that hovercraft have a big future in anti-submarine work. It is not necessary for me to emphasise the overriding importance of all forms of vessel for anti-submarine warfare in the Royal Navy.

Can we have more details about the delivery of the Sea King helicopters, because these, too, have an important part to play in anti-submarine warfare? In this form of warfare Britain has a big contribution to make to the alliance. The Royal Navy, through accident of history and geography, has concentrated on antisubmarine warfare to the extent that some of its techniques, weapons and equipment are second to none in the alliance.

My next point concerns the export of warships. Appropriations In Aid, Subhead Z, under this Vote seem to somewhat reduced. The export of warships is an important part of the Navy's work and an important aspect of this Vote. It is particularly important to keep in touch with Australians and New Zealanders, with whom we have worked closely for many decades. I do not wish them to get out of our orbit from the equipment point of view.

It is important to keep to the spirit of the Simonstown Agreement. It is implicit in that agreement that the ships and equipment we have sold to the South African Navy shall be provided with ammunition so that the South African Government do not have to set up their own production line, as they have had to do. The Government should look at this closely in view of the immense importance to us of the Agreement.

The Opposition formally congratulate the Government on keeping H.M.Y. "Britannia" in such good order. She provides useful service and is widely used in naval exercises nowadays. The staff on board look after an increasing number of visitors every year, and she is a fitting background for royal visits abroad which do much for exports and for our national influence.

I hope that when the Minister winds up the debate he will be able to cope with the broad issues that I have raised and also with the detailed points that I have made.

5.42 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

I thank the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) for the few words of encouragement he gave me when referring to the Polaris submarine. He gave me more encouragement than did the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield) when he was speaking last night about the Royal Air Force. I went to sleep when he was addressing the House. Then I woke up to hear him referring to a million aircraft belonging to the Warsaw Pact. Then I went to sleep again and when I woke up I had a nightmare.

The hon. and gallant Member for Winchester knows something of what he is talking about. When political fortunes are reversed and he comes to this side of the House, I am sure that he will give more attention than we have had from the rather condescending Minister who has arrived on the Front Bench.

The hon. and gallant Member referred in his final sentences to repairs to the Royal Yacht. I think it must need a lot of repair. We have heard about the time it spends at sea, but what about the time it spends in dockyards? For nine months of the year it rests at Portsmouth. Probably it is going through a process of repair. I still find difficulty in understanding the economics and whether the country is justified in spending so much money—£9,000 a week—on a ship which goes to sea for only three months a year.

I suppose I am rather out of touch with hon. Members opposite on that subject, so I turn to the question of Polaris. I thought the hon. and gallant Member made a very good contribution to the debate. He put some pertinent questions. The questions I put are, of course, considered impertinent and I do not get any answer. I do not expect one. I refer to the Polaris because I am one of the unfortunate individuals who live near the Polaris base in Scotland. It does not give me any sense of security. Neither does it give any sense of security to all the people living in that area.

There has recently been a very interesting discussion about Polaris in a seminar organised by the Church of Scotland. [Laughter.] I do not know why the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devon-port (Dame Joan Vickers) laughs so much about the Church of Scotland. The Church of Scotland is interested because it is interested in the people who live there. At that seminar the civil defence scientific organiser of the area, Mr. J. M. Reid, gave evidence about the danger to the locality caused by the presence of the Polaris base. He referred to the fact that one H bomb from a Russian submarine or a Russian plane would make a crater ten miles in diameter over the most populous area of Scotland. He argued that according to the way in which the wind was blowing, over a radius of 100 miles there would be desolation.

I happen to live in that radius of 100 miles, so I feel rather less secure than I did before the Polaris base arrived. I am thinking merely in terms of self-preservation. I remember the time when the dispute arose over Cuba and there was the confrontation between the two giants. I remember wondering that week how if the mechanics of Polaris strategy worked out and if there were confrontation between the U.S.A. and U.S.S.R. it might occur to some Russian to put the Polaris base out of action. I believe I speak for the majority of the people in the West of Scotland who strongly object to the presence of this base because they know there is a possibility of infinite danger to them.

Mr. Hector Monro (Dumfries)

As I also live in the West of Scotland, will the hon. Member soon realise that the majority of people in Scotland are thoroughly fed up with his long-winded attacks on the Polaris base? If he is so unhappy about living in Scotland, why does he not return to Wales?

Mr. Hughes

That is a very pertinent contribution to the discussion, but it does not do away with the fact that I happen to live in the West of Scotland and the hon. Member does not. I do not understand how he can have the slightest claim to speak for anyone in the West of Scotland. I speak for all local authorities in the West of Scotland and the people who live in that area. The little piece of impertinence at the end of the hon. Member's intervention I treat with the contempt that it deserves.

The explanation by the Minister was that the Polaris base would contribute to the deterrent, but that was not the original purpose of Polaris. The original purpose was that it should be a substitute for Skybolt. When Mr. Macmillan went to Nassau he negotiated a deal which has brought this country into deadly danger. Labour defence spokesmen, before the General Election, looked at the Polaris programme and said that Mr. Macmillan had made a bad deal and they would look into this when they got into office. When they got into office they looked at the programme and said, "We will build four and cut one off the programme". It was a purely arithmetical and economic consideration; there was no strategic idea behind it.

The Minister says that it is a useful part of the N.A.T.O. deterrent. That was not its purpose. In fact, N.A.T.O. did not want it. America was alarmed when we went ahead with the programme. Once the theory of the independent nuclear deterrent was abandoned, what were these enormously expensive submarines for? They did not add anything to the destructive power of the deterrent, because America has 41 Polaris submarines. Our couple of submarines—I presume that they will be in operation only two at a time—do not contribute to the destructive power of the deterrent. The Secretary of State has these submarines and does not know what to do with them.

Mr. Rippon

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that a destructive power of 30,000 Hiroshimas is too little for his liking?

Mr. Hughes

We have moved a long way from Hiroshima in destructive power. I will come to Hiroshima later. I have been there.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

Order. I am tempted to believe that the hon. Gentleman would be out of order if he did come to Hiroshima.

Mr. Hughes

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I was beguiled by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I am talking about destructive power in terms of present standards. When I say that the destructive power of 41 submarines is an enormous one, I am speaking relatively. Our contribution to the strategic deterrent is almost negligible.

It is certainly not negligible from the point of view of finance, though. The Polaris submarines cost £350 million. This is at a time when we are finding it difficult to make both ends meet. In a fortnight we shall be talking about the financial crisis. In this Vote we are piling up £202,363,000. It is all adding to the problems that will confront my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Do other N.A.T.O. nations contribute any Polaris submarines to N.A.T.O.'s deterrent power? Norway would not have the American Polaris submarine in her waters. Holland has none. We need not talk about Western Germany. We are the only country in Western Europe which is spending this enormous sum upon nuclear submarines. If ever one of these nuclear missiles is fired towards Lake Baikal or somewhere in the centre of the U.S.S.R. or Siberia, there will come something back from a nation which is infinitely more powerful than we are in the matter of nuclear weapons.

I come to the question of the base in the West of Scotland. When the first Polaris programme was announced, we heard very little about the base. The base has now become a very expensive item. It affects our economy in many different ways. During the last four years about £40 million has been spent on the Polaris base at Faslane. If right hon. and hon. Members opposite would care to visit Faslane, they could see for themselves what an enormous project it is. In building this base there has been concentrated the energy and the raw material that should have gone into building up the economy, the factories, the schools and the hospitals that are so badly needed in the West of Scotland. I do not regard the Polaris scheme as an asset from any point of view.

The only other country in Europe that has a Polaris-type submarine programme is France. A recent article in the Daily Mail stated that France has had to put off her own Polaris-type submarine programme until 1975 because she is in a difficult financial situation. If France finds that owing to her financial situation she cannot afford one submarine, are we in such a good economic position that we can afford four?

Mr. Wall

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that France is building five submarines, unlike Britain where the Government cancelled the last vital one?

Mr. Hughes

I am talking about Polaris submarines.

Mr. Wall

I am talking about Polaris, too.

Mr. Hughes

I think that the hon. Gentleman is wrong. There is a quarrel between him and the Naval Correspondent of the Daily Mail. My information is that France has had one Polaris submarine on her programme and has now decided to cancel it because of the economic situation.

Mr. Wall

One is already launched and there are four proceeding, but the programme has been put back a couple of years. The hon. Gentleman has got his facts wrong.

Mr. Hughes

That may be. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his point of view, but I rather think that he is misinformed.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

Order. I think that we are getting into a general defence debate, which is out of order on these Votes.

Mr. Hughes

I still think that the Minister has not given us the information that we require about what kind of missile heads are to be utilised in the Polaris submarines. He has dodged and ducked and obscured the whole issue. It cannot be dodged. Informed American naval opinion says that the misslie head that is to be allotted to Polaris submarines that we have is obsolete. The Americans say that this head cannot pierce the Russian defences. Yet the Minister tries to get away with a smokescreen of words. He tries to hide the realities of the situation behind his condescending platitudes. I hope that he will give us a little more information, because ultimately it will come.

Is this enormous sum for building ships and repairing ships justified from the broad economic point of view? Are we justified in spending such a considerable sum on ships, on repairing ships, and on armaments of this kind at a time when we need all our shipbuilding skill and resources for building merchant shipping? I believe that we are sinking an enormous amount of capital into something which will be unproductive from the point of view of the national economy.

Japan, one of our foremost competitors, is not sinking her money to such an extent in this kind of shipbuilding. Japan is no longer a great naval power. She is using her shipbuilding resources to build tankers. In the case of the Clyde, we have had case after case in recent months and weeks of orders which cannot be fulfilled on time because such a vast amount of labour is held up in naval shipbuilding which is irrelevant to the big economic problem. Those of us who study the Clyde, the economics of the Clyde, and shipbuilding on the Clyde, believe that we are investing too much labour, resources and material in building ships which are not relevant to the economic situation. If this continues, Japan will be building the merchant ships, and what will be the position of the countries that do not follow her?

Therefore, I cannot support the spending of the £202,363,000. We are far too casual in giving this money to the Admiralty. I know that for many years it has been a very powerful institution. It is a very powerful political institution, and it exercises enormous political and outside pressure. But, as Winston Churchill used to say, it is a Department which ought to be watched very carefully. I do not believe that the House is doing that at present. We are incurring tremendous expenditures which are not in the national interest.

6.1 p.m.

Dame Joan Vickers

I hope that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) will forgive me if I do not follow what he said. I shall concentrate particularly on the future of the dockyards. The Minister will obviously know of my interest, and I hope that when he winds up he will give a detailed account of the future set-up and new general management structure of the dockyards. We do not know in detail what it is to be.

I should like to draw his attention to the leaflet, "Dockyard Review", circulated at Devonport Dockyard on 20th February, which stated: As one small way of showing our confidence in the future we will offer establishment to all our industrial employees who have five or more years service and are willing to accept it. How many workers does the hon. Gentleman think this will involve? They must be mobile; they must go anywhere the Ministry wants. They will be pensionable, and this will increase the cost considerably. How will the hon. Gentleman be able to run down the dockyard if he gets too many established people? Will this mean redundancy pay?

I gather from what the hon. Gentleman has said that those who become unemployed at Devonport will be given priority to go to Rosyth if they have the skills. I hope that this will be made clear to them. The leaflet also spoke about the aim of the dockyard review as follows: It has also been to plan a dockyard organisation which will match the reduction in the future size of the Fleet, and in naval support as a whole. I am rather worried about the words "in the future size …". I thought that the White Paper had decided what the future size would be. This sounds as though there will be a further reduction. It may be unfortunately worded. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could say something about that when he replies.

There is also the question of Devon-port Dockyard becoming the "lead" yard for the Leander class frigates. When does the hon. Gentleman think this will begin, and does he think that we may be able to have another ship built there? It is very soul-destroying only to do repairs.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) has mentioned the proposed nuclear refit, as did my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles). I should like to know more about this. There will have to be great structural alterations in the dockyards if these are to take place.

Reference is made in the White Paper to the needs in the 1970s. The 1970s are very close; does this refer to 1971 or 1979? Can the hon. Gentleman tell us where in the dockyard it is proposed to have the facilities for these nuclear refits, and would he also say something about the cost?

We have heard that there is to be an Executive officer with an overall eye on the administration of the dockyard. I gather that his headquarters are to be at Bath. I have not had a reply to my question on what will be the exact job of this new executive officer, what will be his pay, and how he will co-ordinate the workings of the dockyard. I raise the matter because the leaflet says: … to follow up the improvements in management which we have made in recent years by giving greater authority to General Managers … How will this overall administrator fit in with the general managers? Most of the admiral superintendents in the Devon-port Dockyard have been engineers, and I am particularly keen that they should know something about engineering. Will the general managers have any knowledge of the engineering side? It is of paramount importance that they should, for it gives confidence to the men for the future if somebody over them has real knowledge of the work they are doing.

There is also the question of partnership with the trade unions. There are at least 18 of them in the yard. Are they getting together on retraining? We are short of skilled workers in certain sections, and so there is a need for retraining. But will there be any demarcation difficulties?

The leaflet states that productivity working parties have already been set up in the dockyards with the object of getting improvements and sharing benefits. Apparently they have already been set up in the dockyards. How are they working, and how long have they been in being? Will they be really useful in the future?

We always hear about lack of communications, and this is one of the troubles between the Admiralty and the dockyard. As the Minister will know if he saw our local paper, there was, unfortunately, a protest by hundreds of workers in the dockyard recently. They had a march in the yard because they wanted equal status for all. One of their slogans was, "We want all or none". The question at issue was grading. They sent a deputation to the admiral, who later said, as reported in the paper: I have taken note of today's demonstration against the agreement on Grade I craftsmen and I shall be reporting to the Ministry of Defence that it has taken place. Later, he said: I have been directed by headquarters to implement the agreement which has been negotiated at national level between management and trade unions on the subject of Grade I craftsmen. The decision was not reached locally, but for all Government industrial establishments. As far as I am concerned I am honouring the agreement, not imposing it on the local work force. This kind of demonstration was necessary—and it is the first time it has happened since I have had the honour to be the Member for Devonport—because of lack of communication. Therefore, I hope that in the new set-up the Minister will try to be a jump ahead of things. The period ahead will be very difficult. The changeover in the dockyard and the running-down of the number of employees will not be as easy as it sounds, and those working there have the right to be taken into the Admiralty's confidence if there is to be a satisfactory changeover.

That is all I have to say about the details of the dockyards, but I have two other points. First it is said that in the future girl apprentices will train along with the young men. Will they be employed in the dockyard if they wish?

Second, I have been in touch with the Minister about employees in Singapore. He said that he had not understood my question in the debate on the White Paper, and probably I did not express myself very clearly. On page 5 of the White Paper there is the following statement: The number of local civilians employed by the Services in Malaysia and Singapore will have been reduced by about 5,500 and the number of United Kingdom civilians by nearly 300 by April 1969, chiefly as a result of the dockyard transfer; … What is going to happen to these 300 people—many of whom happen to be from my constituency—when they leave Singapore? Will they be employed in British dockyards? How can they be if the dockyards are run down? Are any more dockyard people going to work in Gibraltar? Quite a number of them are there at the moment and I think that they enjoy it.

Under Vote 7, I want to ask why the figure for repairs by contract has gone up so much—from just under £3 million to just under £7 million. I cannot find anywhere in the Estimates giving details of how this figure is made up.

6.11 p.m.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

I apologise for a somewhat short visit to the House on this occasion. It is accounted for by the fact that there is not a large press of speakers on my side of the House and I have an engagement not very far away connected with the Staff College this evening. I was the spokesman for my party on this subject for some years and had the very great honour during the war of serving in Her Majesty's Navy.

I want to deal with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) on the question of nuclears. I happen to share his opinion that these are a misuse of our limited funds for defence capacity, and I hold the view that a territorial army properly manned and equipped would be more effective to our defence than these submarines.

This is not in the least because I underestimate the incredible damage which these submarines can inflict. Let one use, somewhat inaccurately, the naval term "broadside". One of these submarines possesses a broadside of greater explosive power than all the explosives let off in all the wars the world has ever seen. That is the kind of figure we are up against. In this realm of deterrency, explosive powers are really beyond our capacity to imagine. What we are dealing with is the credibility of the threat presented.

As a threat to deter what is termed "non-nuclear action", I think that the nuclears have no credibility at all. After all, Suez occurred almost coincidentally with our becoming operational in the nuclear sense. It had a nil effect on deterring the relatively trivial power of Egypt. Again, in the Far East, during the confrontation with Indonesia, what entered into no one's calculations at all was Britain's nuclear capacity. What, therefore, are nuclears to deter? I think, realistically, only other nuclears. But, in this game of deterrent and counter-deterrent, if we are deterring other nuclears we are equally deterred by them—and that we are deterred by them is only too obvious.

I remember going through at random an analysis of the bombardment which this country could stand and yet remain a viable community capable of central government. The figure was 13. This would almost totally destroy our communication system and our major areas from which government could develop. We are within range of intermediate Russian missiles, required for no more distant purpose and numbering at a minimum 500 and probably well over 700. That provides a somewhat formidable picture and puts us in a position in which our threat to deter it will convince no one. Not even the most nervous Russian will consider that possibility any more than the most nervous Egyptian considered it. It is just not on.

To my mind, nuclears have passed through three distinct phases. They were, first, credible if one had got them, and the Japanese found that they were credible at Hiroshima. The next phase was far more sophisticated, and to be credible one had to have an effective delivery system. We have passed right out of that phase now. I do not believe that nuclears are credible now unless one is capable of deterring the reply, and that is a capacity which exists only in the hands of the Americans and Russians.

If the Russians were to attack Turkey in circumstances in which the Americans would find it extremely difficult to come to Turkey's assistance, a threat to put a nuclear on to the invasion ports would be perfectly credible because the Americans would say, "You reply, and Russia as an industrial and urbanised society ceases to exist". One must have the capacity to deter the consequences of the limited use one makes of the nuclear. In American hands that may be credible, but in ours it is not.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

Order. I refer the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) to Erskine May, which states that, even on Vote A, general defence matters are out of order on Defence Estimates.

Mr. Paget

The point had been made earlier as to whether nuclears have proper priority in the provision of these sums, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire discussed this at some length and, in a speech which will be very short, my argument is that nuclears depend as deterrents upon a credibility which the extraordinary vulnerability of our situation makes quite unreal. I am arguing that for us this is a posture that no one can in any circumstances believe, and that no sane Government of this country could authorise their use, so long as something else was left to destroy us.

Captain W. Elliot

Surely that is absolutely wrong. The deterrent deters because it is liable to inflict unacceptable damage when the aggressor, whoever it is, might return it for any prize which he might think of winning.

Mr. Paget

That is a false analysis of what deterrent means. I am quite certain it is now hopelessly out of date. This idea of a capacity to give an acceptable damage has ceased to be relevant. What must be credible is the will, in any given and foreseeable set of circumstances, to exercise that power. One cannot have deterrents without the concept of being deterred. Comparing two possessors of deterrents, the one with other vulnerability and other limited capacity must inevitably be deterred in this competition in deterrents by the man with the overwhelming power and the wide expanses.

This is the argument of deterrents as I believe it exists today. This being so, this particular effort in our hands is a waste of very limited resources which would be far better used elsewhere.

6.21 p.m.

Mr. Wall

During the last few years, I have asked the Minister certain questions and have not yet elicited a reply. He will recall in the recent Navy Estimates debate, and last year, I asked why it was that our new destroyers—the type 82, H.M.S. "Bristol", and the type 42—were to have only one Sea Dart. The "Devonshires" have one Sea Slug, in comparison with American and Russian ships which are double-ended, that is they have one launcher either end and can engage two targets at the same time. Though it may mean a limited increase in size and presumably in expense, it would probably be better to have one double-ended ship than two single-ended. I suggest this is a false economy. I would like to know the reasoning behind it. It is not only a question of discharger or launcher, but it is a question of guidance radar. The "Devonshires" can only engage one target at a time, which must affect their vulnerability and effectiveness.

This brings me to the small missiles—the Seat Cat and, in the future, the Sea Wolf. Here again, frigates are fitted with one set of Sea Cats. In other words, they also can only engage one attack at a time.

When I was in charge of the Anti-Aircraft Defence for a certain battleship during the war, the ship was four-sided. That is to say, there were four sets of weapons so that we could engage attacks from either side—forward or aft. We found this essential as we were often under simultaneous attack. The same principle surely applies to missiles? I cannot see why when we have excellent weapons like Sea Cat or Sea Wolf, designed as anti-missile weapons, we should not fit two in the smaller ships and four in the larger ships. I understand that commando carriers have no such weapons at all; this seems extraordinary.

Another point I raised last year was the question of the new cruisers which are to replace the "Tiger" class. I understand this will cost £30 million to £40 million. I should like to know their purpose. They are referred to in the Command Paper as "cruisers", yet in the debate I thought the Minister let slip that they would carry helicopters. Are they therefore to be designed similar to the "Tigers" with guns or missiles one end and a helicopter platform aft? Would it not be better to build the type of flat tops my hon. and gallant Friend (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) has described in his speech? They would be of more use in the protection of our shipping than would these cruisers. Will the Minister let us know what he can about the design of these cruisers and, above all, what is their rôle.

A third type of ship which has not been mentioned in this debate is the fast patrol boat. Britain used to lead the world in this kind of midget craft. Before the last war Vosper's were the first to develop this form of vessel. During the war, they were engaged in many famous battles in the Channel and Western Approaches and they were used a good deal in the Mediterranean.

The Minister said recently that we have three of the Dark and Brave class in operation but they are ending their life in about 1970. For the first time in many years we are ordering three new F.P.B.s from Vosper's. These vessels will do only 40 knots as compared with the 55 knots of the Dark and Brave class. They are designed as radar targets. I concede there is a need for radar targets, but I would have thought it better to have a vessel which could be used as an offensive weapon in the event of hostilities.

There is a rumour that they have room for a third engine to be fitted, which would increase their speed. Though they are to be unarmed, it is said there are facilities for installing either guns or missiles. I should like to know if this is true, as I believe these ships will have considerable value in war or peace—for example, in fishing protection.

My hon. and gallant Friend mentioned the hovercraft in an anti-submarine rôle. Would the Minister give us more information as to the use of these vessels as landing craft for marine commandos and stores? That is the primary rôle for which they are likely to be developed at the moment. Have they any use in an anti-mine capacity? Are the hydrofoils which are being developed in an antisubmarine capacity in the United States Navy being developed in our Navy? Is there any research and development going into this form of anti-submarine warfare? It seems to some people hydrofoils offer better anti-submarine capacity than do hovercraft.

Turning from ships to weapons, which are also included under Vote 7, it has been pointed out in past debates that the Soviet Navy has surface-to-surface missiles with ranges of 20 to 300 miles. The Minister has said—and we accept the reason why this is so—that the British Navy is nor going to develop surface-to-surface missiles as such, although surface-to-air missiles will have a surface-to-surface capability. How does the Minister expect to defend shipping in, say, the Indian Ocean area, where they are out of range of land-based aircraft? The then Minister of Defence for Equipment on 20th March last year answered this—and I think it is the only answer we have on record, though the question has often been asked: Defence against missile-firing destroyers will be provided by shore-based aircraft and Fleet submarines."—[OFFICIAL REFORT, 20th March, 1968; Vol. 761, c. 392.] I suggest this explanation is not good enough. Shore-based aircraft may be available in the Mediterranean. Where are they going to be based and where are the aircraft coming from of sufficient range to reach convoys in the Indian Ocean or Pacific?

Mr. Burden

Surely an important point is that, in order to be effective, these aircraft must have a continuous operation over the ships they are supposed to be protecting? Have we enough?

Mr. Wall

I quite agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden). Not only have we not enough aircraft in the Royal Air Force—as was stated last night—but as I have suggested in the past the Minister should study the value of carrier-based aircraft which would give shipping immediate cover over any particular area of sea at the minimum cost. I pointed out that the apparent cost-effectivenes of carrier-based squadrons, as compared with the land-based squadron affording cover at sea, is about 1 to 9 in squadrons. In other words it is far better and cheaper to have aircraft based at sea.

What about airborne early warning? This is a very important subject. The present carriers operate Gannets. When the carriers go out presumably the Gannets will go with them. I understand that a proper long-range airborne early warning system can only be carried in the Sea Kings. Where will the Sea Kings be carried? The three "Tigers" will carry four Sea Kings each, but other than that, unless carried by some new helicopter carriers, or existing commando carriers, or proper assault aircraft carriers, such as "Eagle" and "Ark Royal". where will they go?

The Ministry is, however, ordering 60 of these Sea King helicopters. This is a large number if they are only to operate from three cruisers. What other ships will these craft operate from? Would the Minister agree that this is the only helicopter which will carry adequate early warning? He must agree that this is esential for the defence of sea communications. If this system is not to be carried in the fleet, how are we to get our airborne early warning?

The AS12 has also been mentioned. I hope that the new development, available for use in bad weather or at night, will come into service very quickly. I have very little use for the AS12, with a range of ony 7,500 yards. It was a development of the French weapon, which was proved unsuccessful in the Middle-Eastern war. I was appalled to hear last night that this weapon is to be introduced into helicopters to deal with tanks, and I hope the Minister will read the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) on this subject.

Many Russian ships and aircraft are fitted with mine-laying equipment. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester pointed out last year how difficult it was to sweep or destroy many of the modern mines. I asked the same question last year; what research and development are we devoting to this technique? I asked a question at the end of the debate last year. I asked: … how will we free our ports from enemy mines, and how do we propose to lay our own mines in order to interrupt the sea communications of any potential enemy? The reply I got from the Minister of Defence for Administration was: … I suggest that the hon. Gentleman speaks to his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles), who said it was impossible, anyway."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th March, 1968; Vol. 760, c. 1101–2.] That might have been thought to be funny, but I though it was remarkably stupid. It is clear that mines will be a danger to this country if ever we get involved in a war, certainly with Russia, probably with any middle power. How are we to be able to sweep these mines? Will we be able to use mines, which are a comparatively cheap form of warfare? I understand that no aircraft are now fitted for minelaying though there were many hundreds so fitted during the last war. I hope that we will get an answer to these questions, as I understand that there are ten mine counter measures ships in service and another being designed. Presumably we are not producing these vessels if it is impossible to sweep the mines.

The Simonstown Agreement and the Beira Patrol were raised in the last debate, when the Minister said of me: I found it amusing that a lot of his speech was devoted to the Simonstown Agreement and the Beira Patrol".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1969; Vol. 779, c. 1110.] Why was it amusing? Why are we not supplying the ships that we are bound to do, in full implementation of the Simonstown Agreement, if not legally then morally to South Africa? Is it amusing that we have lost £300 million worth of exports to that country? The Minister knows that South Africa wants to replace its frigates, that it wants to buy three submarines and that it has placed an order with France. Will the Minister place these submarines on wheels? How can he possibly use these vessels to support a racial policy of which this House may disapprove? It is absolute folly that we are prepared to accept everything from South Africa. We take Royal Navy ships into Simonstown, we use her ports, and yet we will not supply the ships which South Africa wishes to acquire, not for implementing apartheid but to fulfil its obligations to this country, our joint obligation to protect the Cape routes.

No one can pretend that the Cape route, with the Suez Canal shut, is unimportant. It is Opposition policy to supply defensive equipment to South Africa when we come into power. I only hope that we will have the chance of undoing the damage done by the present Administration over their policy regarding the supply of defensive arms to South Africa.

6.37 p.m.

Mr. Ogden

I apologise to you, Mr. Speaker, and hon. Members, for my absence from the Chamber for a large part of this debate. If I explain that I was at a meeting upstairs, seeking to secure some help for the merchant shipping part of our naval operations, the House may accept that as at least a commendable resolution. I have four points to raise. The first concerns the "Ark Royal"; the second the disposal of Service vessels; the third is the simplification or over-sophistication of our weapons and ships; and fourthly a local or parochial matter concerning the disputes that have occurred between the Government, Cammell Laird, and Vickers on the matter of submarine contracts and extensions of those contracts.

As to the "Ark Royal", there are disturbing reports coming out of the West Country about the state of chaos and confusion in the equipment and re-equipment of that vessel. Where there are doubts about the future of vessels it appears that one does not get the best out of craftsmen or management.

Dealing with the weapon systems, we are told that this new £30 million refit, which will enable the vessel to fly Phantoms, is being accompanied by an abandonment of any of the shipborne weapons on the carrier. It might be worth bearing in mind the experience of the American Navy. Its ship the U.S. "Enterprise" began life as a vessel depending entirely on long-range defence. Within a very short time experience had led the U.S. Navy to decide that it was prudent to instal at least some shipborne defence system, guided missiles, anti-aircraft defences and so on. Can the Minister comment about this contrast between what we are doing with this naval vessel and the American experience?

As to my second point, the disposal of surplus Service vessels, are we doing this at too fast a rate? I wonder whether the time-span between the decision that the ship should go into reserve, the time it is allowed to stay coccooned or laid up, and then the disposal is too short. Having decided that a ship has to go, we should bear in mind our traditional sources of help, and aid and supply our Commonwealth and allied navies, as well as those countries to whom we have been traditional suppliers. It is now possible, if one has £31,000 to spare and is a reader of "Motor Boat and Yachting", to pick up a nice coastal vessel capable of 40 or 50 knots. That might be enterprising on the part of the Navy, but is it the best destination for these ships?

As to the simplification or the over-sophistication of our ships I have a recurring nightmare in which I see ploughing through the Western Approaches one of our larger super tankers, in conditions of difficulties and international tension. It is assumed that there is already a limited war at sea—pray God it never happens—this enormous vessel bringing tremendous supplies to our country is sent to the bottom by a little 1,000-ton submarine which slips from Continental waters to our side.

I wonder whether, in certain fields, we are giving too much attention to the degree of sophistication and efficiency and should not perhaps also be bearing in mind that things go in circles, and that sometimes very complicated weapons and defences can be disabled by simple attacking weapons. But my main purpose in coming into the debate was to ask my hon. Friend if, he can comment on the unfortunate dispute which has occurred over the last few weeks between the Government on the one side and Cammell-Laird of Birkenhead on the other, with the intervention of another company—it is a triangle which I hope will not be eternal.

The dispute is about the placing of contracts for the nuclear-powered submarine programme—the renewal and extension of contracts regarding not only six Hunter carriers but four Polaris submarines. I suggest that it is time we were able to move away from the period of public dispute, public acrimony and public argument about who said what at a particular time in a particular place. Doing that has taken us to the stage where we are chasing each other's tails. It is time to end a situation for which no blame can be attached to the Government, who took an honourable course in difficult circumstances. It is time for people to say, "We believe one thing and you can believe another, but let us now move forward and see how things go."

I do not believe that Barrow-in-Furness wants to rely wholly on purely Royal Navy defence contracts. That would not be good for the yard. Nor does Birkenhead want to rely entirely on defence contracts for its shipyards. There is some anxiety in Mersey at present because a very large number of shipping companies based in the Mersey, drawing their prosperity, interest and investment from there, are placing a very large proportion of their shipping orders in yards as far away as Hong Kong, on the Continent and elsewhere. There may be good reasons for doing so at this time, but I would hope to see a rather different emphasis coming along.

My main point is to ask the Minister whether he can tell us what efforts have been made to end these difficulties between the various shipping companies in Barrow and between Cammell Laird and the Government so that we can say, whatever may have been the agreements and misunderstandings, that it is a phase better forgotten and set aside so that we can now go ahead. These are first-class yards with first-class skilled men and good management and it should be possible to use these yards to the best advantage to move ahead from the present unhappy stage.

6.45 p.m.

Mr. Burden

I realise now why the hon. Gentleman did not answer the question which I posed to him at the end of the last debate about dockyard pay and allowances and pension rates resulting from the new national pensions scheme. I would like to ask him if there are already active negotiations going on, or consideration being given, to the position with regard to the dockyards and dockyard pensions. Is it the intention that dockyard workers and members of the forces shall receive the same pensions as the civil population or will they receive, or have the right to, an increased pension on some terms?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, many of the people at present employed in the dockyards regard their past pension entitlement as a very important part of their remuneration. In many cases it has influenced them into entering dockyard service. That position will be changed. I would also ask the Minister whether in view of these circumstances and the bigger contributions that will be called for from dockyard workers and presumably members of the Service, investigations are going on into the raising of their present wages; because this, too, will have to be taken very seriously into consideration.

This point was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) when she raised the question of establishment and the effect that establishment will now have on the dockyard worker in view of the realignment of national pensions generally. During the debate on 10th March I expressed my concern—and I am most grateful to the Minister for the reply he gave on this—with regard to Table 2, Ministry of Defence (Navy), Annex C and the disclosure that was made that, compared with last year, the amount that was to be spent in 1969–70 on the purchase and repair of weapon equipment and for British fixed-wing aircraft deliveries was shown at £16 million in the Table. I drew attention to the real facts—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

I am in some difficulty. We are discussing Vote 7, which includes Vote A, concerned with pay and allowances.

Mr. Burden

Vote 7 covers weapons, which includes a whole list of items.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

But not pensions.

Mr. Burden

I have left pensions and am now referring to something entirely different, the disclosure in Table 2, Ministry of Defence, Navy, on the cut in the amount of money set aside for the construction of ships and purchase and repair of weapon equipment and for British fixed-wing aircraft, which I believe is quite in order, Sir.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I do apologise to the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps he will proceed and I will seek to make sure, as he proceeds, that he is in order.

Mr. Burden

I am delighted to know that I am in order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I felt quite sure I was. I would point out that these cuts seemed to have been obscured by some offsets which were mentioned. The Minister kindly wrote me a letter in which he disclosed the very disturbing fact that the total amount of cutback in expenditure on the reduced permission for construction of ships, purchase and repair of weapon equipment and for British fixed-wing aircraft delivered was not £16 million but £24 million. I really wonder whether this might not be a procedure that has been followed in other areas and whether—and I hope the Minister can give us a categorical denial of this—the real cuts have been obscured by offsets; because it would be a serious matter if we were not getting the real facts.

I turn for a moment to a matter which I consider to be of very great importance. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) and the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) referred to the number of Polaris ships. I do not intend to go into a general defence debate but as those hon. Members have referred to Polaris submarines I will refer to them in another way. The way in which I would refer to them is this. We know that there are now three and that we shall have four. I am wondering whether the Ministry of Defence really thinks, as the Minister himself disclosed, that one and sometimes two on patrol will make for a really efficient deterrent.

Arising from that, I am brought to what I consider to be a much more important point, because it sets the pattern. We shall have a total of seven and possibly eight Fleet submarines by the mid-1970s. I believe that it takes about four years to build one. If the order for the eighth is given later this year, as the Minister hopes, it is possible that it will come into commission in the mid-1970s.

This is the most vital defensive weapon in the whole naval armament of the future. If, out of four Polaris submarines, it appears that sometimes we shall have only one or possibly two on patrol, how many of the vital Fleet submarines so essential for our defence are likely to be on patrol at the same time, even when we have the projected total of eight, which appear so far to be the number that the Government envisage? Is it to be only eight, or are there to be more? If there are eight, and as the Minister felt that he was free to disclose to the House that of the present Polaris submarine fleet there will be sometimes only one on patrol, what is the assessment about the number of Fleet submarines which will be on patrol at any one time, and will they be adequate to defend the country? I believe that this is a very important point, and I would like to know the answer.

I now come to dockyards. We are now to have two, at Chatham and Devonport. After a period, Chatham will be used solely for repairs and refits of nuclear submarines, though in the meantime, it will continue to maintain our conventional submarines—

The Minister of Defence for Administration (Mr. G. W. Reynolds)

The hon. Gentleman has also said this outside the Chamber. Let me correct him. Chatham will be the main yard for the repair of nuclear Fleet submarines. However, it is not correct to say that that is the only work which will be done there. That will be its main load, but other work will be done; indeed, it must be, in order to balance the labour force.

Mr. Burden

I am grateful to know that, because that is not the impression that has been created. The Minister says that other work will be done at Chatham, and presumably some assessment has been made of what that other work will be. I would be grateful if he could indicate what it is.

Mr. Reynolds

A wide range of jobs is done there now. It is said in the White Paper that Devonport will become the leading yard for the Leander frigates. However, it will not be able to cope with all of them, and some will go to Chatham.

Mr. Burden

I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. So we shall have some Leander frigates there, as well as the nuclear submarines.

My point is that, in the mid-1970s, Devonport will also be a nuclear yard. I am glad that Chatham is to be the main repair and refit yard for nuclear submarines. However, that implies that, if two yards are to be engaged in the repair and refit of Fleet submarines and will be kept busy mainly on that job—Chatham especially—there will be a fairly big input of those vessels during the year. If that is true, it seems that the point which I am raising about the number of Fleet submarines which are likely to be on patrol is a very valid one—[Interruption.] I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some indication of this. It may appear to be a laughing matter to him, but if, perchance, we were at war and our Fleet submarines were charged with the defence of convoys bringing food to this country, it would not be a laughing matter if there were not enough of them on patrol to carry out that vital service to the nation. That is why I pose the question.

I hope that the Minister will treat it seriously, because many of my hon. Friends who have close associations with the Royal Navy are extremely concerned about the point. I hope that the Minister will be able to give some assessment and assure us that there will be enough in commission and on patrol.

I understand that it is probable that the system of servicing the Fleet nuclear submarines will vary somewhat from that which has been pursued in the past. Instead of the withdrawal of parts and their repair and replacement in the refit, there will be withdrawal and replacement by alternative or new parts in order to get a rapid turnround. If that is so, what is the estimated time of refit and repair? That brings me back to the point on which I started. How many Fleet submarines of the eight, when we get them, are likely to be on patrol at any one time? I hope that the Minister will be able to give the House some information.

6.57 p.m.

Mr. George Willis (Edinburgh, East)

The hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) referred to the increasing use of completed spares in the repair and refit of ships. At a time when the size of the Royal Navy has been reduced and when the process of refitting is becoming a matter of replacing certain parts of equipment with completed parts, I find it difficult to justify the continued maintenance of four dockyards.

When we had a much larger Fleet than the present one, we had three main dockyards. Rosyth was almost run down to nothing. For a long time it dealt simply with the Reserve Fleet. Now that we have a much smaller Fleet and now that the kind of work involved calls for less expenditure of time and labour, we have four dockyards. I find this rather puzzling.

For many years, I have questioned the wisdom of maintaining Chatham. I know that the hon. Member for Gillingham will not agree, and I have greatly admired the manner in which he has pursued the case for Chatham. But it has always seemed to me to be a dockyard which ought to have been closed. I can only assume that the real reason for keeping it open is that it is handy for London and that people like to be able to travel easily to and from London. I would like the dockyard in the constituency of the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) to have more. Chatham is in an area of full employment, yet we are diverting work to Chatham. I thought we were to say goodbye to Chatham some time ago.

Mr. Burden

If the hon. Gentleman imagines that from Chatham one can get up and down to London easily, I wish he would travel by one of the commuter trains in the morning; it is diabolical.

Mr. Willis

It is not possible to commute from Rosyth to London so easily, and this is why Rosyth was allowed to be almost closed down between the wars. There is this attitude of mind that it is necessary to be near London. Is there not a case for closing down Chatham and expanding the dockyard in the hon. Lady's constituency, which is in an area which requires jobs? If we are serious about the policy of regional development and the deliberate use of Government institutions to carry out this policy, this is something which should be done, rather than continuing with Chatham.

When the Polaris programme was first introduced, we were assured by the experts from the Front Bench, who must have been briefed by experts in the Admiralty, that it was highly dangerous to take nuclear submarines to Chatham, that it could not be done, that the Channel was too narrow and too winding, and that large populations were living in the area. This policy is then suddenly reversed.

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that £6 million has now been spent on Chatham, and, therefore, it is a little late to cry over spilled milk? Would not it be better to direct our attention towards the question: why should we duplicate this at Devonport rather than use facilities in development areas in the North?

Mr. Willis

I agree that £6 million is a lot of money, but we have spent many millions of pounds on the Polaris programme, which was not necessary either. When it comes to matters of defence, this argument does not carry a great deal of weight with me. We are spending large sums of money trying to spread industry into areas where it is needed. Sums larger than that are spent on attracting civilian employment into the West Country, Scotland and the North.

I find all this exceedingly puzzling. Instead of reducing dockyards to smaller and smaller units, which we are doing with three of them—I forget how many thousand men are to be taken from each dockyard—would not it be better to concentrate on two dockyards, say at Portsmouth and Devonport, and make them good ones?

There is great difficulty in obtaining and keeping highly skilled labour capable of dealing with nuclear submarines at Rosyth. May I ask to what extent this difficulty is being overcome, and what steps are being taken to meet these shortages, particularly in view of the extra work now involved in this dockyard? This is highly relevant to the increase in the amount of nuclear work at Chatham. If there is such a shortage of labour in a development district, there must be a much greater shortage in an area of relatively high employment. Once men have become trained, knowledgeable, skilled and experienced in electronics, they tend to leave and go to private firms, and this happens at Rosyth because of the enormous growth of the electronic complex in the west of Scotland. This is likely to happen even more in South-East England with all the industries that are there.

The Admiralty has always been biased about Chatham. Chatham was built, and was a sensible dockyard, in the time of Charles II; it has not been a sensible dockyard for the last 50 years. There was the difficulty of approach long before nuclear submarines. I remember that when ships like the "Repulse" and the "Renown" were attached to Chatham for manning purposes they could get nowhere near Chatham, which was their home port. This did not make sense, but the Admiralty has always had this ability to carry on in spite of commonsense arguments.

I have asked my hon. Friend about Rosyth and I have made the comment on Chatham because no one else seems anxious to do so. We could do with three dockyards instead of four, three dockyards in parts of the country which would be inaccordance with the Government's regional planning policy.

The Polaris submarine has been the subject of much debate. The Polaris programme means the starving of other essential parts of the Fleet. I remember speaking as the Opposition Front Bench spokesman against the programme precisely for this reason. I understand that the programme has cost tens and twenties of millions of pounds more than was estimated—

Mr. Reynolds

My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) was saying that certain facilities on land have cost more. The total cost of the Polaris programe as a whole appears to be coming out rather less than the estimates.

Mr. Willis

I am delighted to hear that, because my impression was that it was costing more. Certainiy the cost of shore installations has escalated.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

The shore installation at Coulport missile depot was estimated originally to cost £10 million and it is now £13 million, a £3 million increase.

Mr. Willis

I accept my right hon. Friend's explanation. If it has cost less than the original estimate, all the better. Unfortunately, we were left with this programme by the Opposition. They placed contracts in America for much of the equipment, and did it very hurriedly so that this Government would be left with it. We had to decide what to do, and the arguments about the Polaris programme which were very heated and furious four or five years ago are relevant in considering what we should do with the Polaris in future. We should not be doing very much about it other than placing it at the disposal of N.A.T.O. Both in terms of manpower and money it has been exceedingly costly, to the detriment of more conventional forces. I still cannot see the arguments for it.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) interrupted my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) to ask whether it was not worth having 30 times the destructive power that was used at Hiroshima, but he missed the whole point. America already has hundreds and hundreds of times more destructive power. All that we are doing is to add a small portion to what is already a considerable over-kill. I can see no justification for this unless the situation is visualised where we have to go it alone.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

Order. The hon. Gentleman is getting into a general defence debate, which is not admissible on these Estimates.

Mr. Willis

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but the estimates contain expenditures in relation to the Polaris programme.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman may discuss Polaris, but not the wider defence considerations.

Mr. Willis

I am questioning the expense in the Estimates. I question the wisdom of this policy and the value of this weapon in our armoury. I simply make the point about overkill and ask: how is this of value to us?

I think that the argument of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) had a certain degree of relevance. From our experience over the past ten years, I believe that we are far better off with a number of conventional vessels which will enable us to deal satisfactorily with our problems than with something which does not seem to be relevant to the jobs that we have to perform in the world today. Therefore, I question the wisdom of this policy. I should like to see it dropped altogether, but I appreciate that we are committed to it as a result of the activities of hon. Gentlemen opposite.

I do not wish to raise any other points on the Estimates. However, I should like some reply from my hon. Friend about skilled manpower and the effects of the extension and development of the Royal Dockyards, which will call for even more skilled men. There is a shortage of skilled men in Scotland. We must not kid ourselves about that. I should like to know what the effect of this programme will be and how the Government visualise being able to meet the demand for more manpower. Are they taking steps, together with the various local authorities, to ensure that proper training facilities and so on, are provided? I should like a reply from my hon. Friend on that.

7.12 p.m.

Mr. R. Bonner Pink (Portsmouth, South)

I am sure that the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) will forgive me if I do not follow him too closely. I have no authorisation at all, on behalf of Portsmouth, to put in a take-over bid for Chatham.

I should like to refer briefly to reductions in dockyard establishments, because they are of considerable concern to me.

The dockyards exist to service the Navy. I doubt whether they can adequately do this with the cuts which are proposed It is reasonable to suppose that the establishment can be adjusted to the size of the Fleet and also to the programme of repairing, refitting and reconstruction. On top of these requirements there must be some margin for emergency repairs and for any emergency. This margin is to prevent delay in other essential work. I understand that this margin does not exist sufficiently. I understand that in the disastrous fire in H.M.S. "Victorious" it was not possible to provide an adequate number of men to make good the repairs without delaying other programmes.

As the Fleet is reduced in size, it becomes even more important that any accidental damage should be put right as quickly as possible so that the ship can be put back into service without undue delay. All this means a larger pool of skilled men. But it is difficult to keep this margin within reason and to keep these men employed. Nothing is worse for morale than that men should hang about day after day with little or nothing to do.

I know full well that suggestions have been made by several hon. Members for yards to undertake commercial and industrial work. However, I am not satisfied that this is a practical proposition.

There are two possible ways in which additional work may be found. First, there is the care and maintenance of the reserve fleet. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear- Admiral Morgan-Giles) expressed concern earlier about the reduction in the Reserve Fleet from 170 to 60 ships between 1964 and 1969. I hope that the Government are reconsidering this reduction and will halt it. This would provide considerable work of a most worthwhile nature, with the great advantage that the men working on that type of programme could be taken off for emergency work without interfering with the ordinary work programme of the yard.

The second way is by new construction. It is alleged that costs are much higher than with contract work in private yards. But this is not strictly true. I believe that there is some confusion about the overheads borne by the Royal Dockyards. It is fairly clear that, with the nature of the work that they undertake, their overheads must be higher than those of a comparable private yard. But if commercial levels of overheads could be applied, I believe that we should find that the costs of construction in a Royal Dockyard would be comparable with those in private yards—and certainly delivery times can be met.

I also appreciate the argument that it is essential that sufficient commercial yards should maintain their "know-how" in building naval vessels. The Government apparently do not attach a great deal of importance to this argument in view of their decision over Cammell Laird. If we could have one ship in each yard, not only would it help with employment and provide work for a pool of skilled men, but the men would have great satisfaction and morale would be improved.

It gives me some satisfaction to know that the run-down will be gradual and will be met by normal retirements and resignations and by retraining. While I hope this will be so, I am afraid that it is unlikely to be achieved. Redundancies will be in the older and more traditional trades; expansion will principally be in the newer, more technical trades. In Portsmouth, for example, the average age of employees is quite high, so the numbers able and willing to be retrained will probably not be sufficient. The result will probably be that, as at present, there will be vacancies in some trades, but at the same time there will be redundancies in others. The net result may be that the run-down will be greater than is foreseen. I am sure that it will help recruiting and avoid wastage if no further reduction is envisaged. But it is still essential that there should be better and more generous pay structures and conditions.

I hope the Minister will seriously consider the effects of this run-down. I am concerned that the dockyards will not be able to fulfil their function of servicing the Fleet in peacetime and in time of emergency.

7.18 p.m.

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)

I do not propose to detain the House too long, but I want to raise two points.

First, we had a considerable discussion during the main Navy Estimates debate about maintaining the refitting capability for nuclear submarines and refitting them at Cammell Laird. I do not think anyone argues that it would be sensible to undo the facilities which have been provided at Chatham. We have spent £5 million in repairing Rosyth for refitting nuclear submarines, mainly Polaris but initially hunter-killers, in order to leave the yard with know-how for refitting Polaris. We have also spent £6 million providing nuclear facilities at Chatham.

I ask the Government to reconsider whether it makes sense to provide what must be a comparable sum of £5 million or £6 million and start making arrangements now to provide a third dockyard—Devonport—with nuclear refitting capabilities. At no cost to the taxpayer or the Government of the day, these nuclear refitting facilities are available at Cammell Laird at this moment because it is building, and will continue to be building until 1970–71, its last hunter-killer. There will be a nucleus of skilled personnel, and they can be kept, or perhaps even loaned to Barrow to keep their hand in with nuclear work so that when we need this third yard for refitting nuclear submarines we shall not have to provide it at great cost to public funds in a new dockyard but will be able to use facilities which already exist.

The right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) argued that it was unwise to provide these facilities at Chatham. I am not contending that, because this has been done. What I am contending—

Mr. Willis

I think it was the hon. Gentleman who used to stand at the Despatch Box and say how unsafe it would be to put this at Chatham. If there is a danger to Glasgow from the Holy Loch, how much more danger there is to London from Chatham.

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

I remember that when Sir Winston Churchill contradicted himself he said, "I adjust my mind to the movement of events". It appears that I have adjusted my mind to the movement of events, and that what was dangerous and far too shallow a channel for the 30 foot draft of the nuclear submarines has become possible and safe at Chatham. The technical advice that I received on that occasion was probably incorrect. I am not discussing what has been done at Chatham. This money has been spent. What I am saying is that it is ridiculous to provide another set of nuclear refitting facilities at Devon-port and to start making our plans now.

Can the Minister tell us what the Government's thinking is about the R.N. aircraft yards at Sydenham and Fleetlands. We were told during the debate on the main Estimates that the future of Fleet-lands was being considered and that an announcement would be made. I should like to know what is being done about Sydenham. It is significant that today, when fixed-wing aircraft flying for the Royal Navy is unfortunately coming to an end under this Government's policy, these two yards are employing 3,422 people on 1st April, 1969, reducing by only 29 people to 3,393 a year later. This does not suggest that there has been a large rundown in these civil establishments, and this at a time when the carriers are being phased out, and perhaps the work is being taken over to helicopters.

Are the Government getting value for money? Is there high productivity in these yards? Are they essential in this day and age? Could not more work be put out to industry, to the people who manufacture and modify helicopters for the Royal Navy? Does it make sense to maintain Fleetlands and Sydenham at their present strength?

7.23 p.m.

Mr. Ramsden

This has been an extremely good debate, thanks a great deal to the excellent speech with which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles) opened it. It enabled the House to traverse a lot of ground, which has been extremely useful.

Many detailed matters have been raised, and I am sure that the Minister will take the opportunity of dealing fully with them, but before he does so perhaps I might recapitulate what seem to me to have been the two main themes of the debate, and I hope that the Minister will take plenty of time and deal fully with them both.

The first matter which has exercised the minds of those who have taken part in the debate is the future of the dockyards. I am no great expert on dockyards, and I lack the experience and technical qualifications necessary to give an informed judgment on the results of the Government's review, but having been concerned at one time in a somewhat similar review, on the military side, of the Royal Ordnance Factories, I can judge the importance which that review must have had in the minds and policies of hon. Gentlemen opposite. We have not yet had an opportunity to get a comprehensive statement of the reasons why the Government reached the determinations that they did in regard to the dockyards, and I hope that we shall have that from the hon. Gentleman tonight.

The debate has shown that there is room for two opinions about the results of the Government's review. To judge from his speech, the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) would have come to a different determination from that which has been reached by the Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) would not agree with the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East. I shall not seek to judge between them, I have more sense, but the debate has shown that there has been room for an alternative exercise of judgment, and what particularly concerns me is how, in their review, the Government treated the relative claims of civilian and naval dockyard capacity.

This matter has been referred to in the debate. A number of hon. Members on both sides have referred to the decision not to use the Cammell Laird yard for future construction and refitting. This is an example of where a case can be made for the retention of some civilian industrial capacity, and also an example of the Government having come down on the side of the job being done in the naval dockyards. I hope that the Minister will give us some account of the balance which has been struck between those two possibilities.

The second matter to which reference has been made by almost everyone who has spoken today is that of the Fleet submarines, and lying behind that there is the wider question, which is very pertinent to this debate, whether, on their present plans for expenditure, the Government will give the Navy the resources it requires in the way of ships and equipment to do its principal job of safeguarding our sea communications.

We know that the Government's original intention was to have a larger programme for Fleet submarines, and to complete it at a faster rate of building. We have never been given details of the cut—and I do not think we shall get it tonight—that was imposed in January, 1968, and there has been anxiety about that on both sides of the House ever since. We have had it from the Government's mouth that their original intention was that these submarines should be the main striking power of the Royal Navy in the future. The question therefore arises whether it is the Government's intention, for the foreseeable future, to be content with the present reduced rate of building, and with the reduced target in numbers.

Would it be the intention of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, should the economic climate improve and should they achieve their objects over the balance of payments and so forth, to redress the Fleet submarine programme to its original proportions, to go for larger numbers and a faster rate of building? Do they still believe that these are ships which the Navy requires and, if it is to do its job properly, in greater numbers than is planned at present? If they do—one must hope and imagine that they do—are they content with the decision to close Cammell Laird and concentrate the facilities for building these ships in only one yard?

These are the two main anxieties which have emerged from the debate and we shall look forward to the hon. Member's comments.

7.31 p.m.

Dr. Owen

I do not dissent from the analysis of the right hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) of some of the major points which have come up in this debate. There have also been a large number of detailed points which I will do my best to answer. As in the Navy Estimates debate, I will write to those whom I cannot answer.

The hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) mentioned the cost of a fifth Polaris boat. He should know that the boat itself and the missiles had not been ordered and the bulk of the long lead items relating to the weapons system have been used as contingency spares to back up the four boats in the Polaris force. I have nothing to add to what has been said from this Box many times, that it is not our intention to buy a fifth Polaris submarine.

The total cost of the programme is estimated to be £350 million, of which £300 million or over 80 per cent. has been spent to date, and most of the balance is already committed. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) made an interesting speech, but I should be out of order if I went too far into the merits of the Polaris force and its effectiveness as a deterrent. I have told my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) that we do not intend to buy Poseidon and have no plans for introducing a new generation of nuclear weapons in relation to the Polaris programme. New advances in ballistic nuclear weapons technology are always being made, and the effectiveness of the Polaris weapons system is under constant review.

Rightly, we have devoted a good deal of attention to the Fleet submarine programme, and the Government have not hidden the fact that we think it is a very important part of our naval forces. We are under some limitations, because it has never been the practice to reveal building rates. In January, 1968, we decided to slow down the rate, and we have given an estimate that the cost of speeding up the building of the nuclear Fleet submarines to the rate planned before 1968 would have been at least £30 million over 10 years.

The hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) wanted us to give a definite total figure for the Fleet submarines. He is under a misconception in arguing from the Polaris force to the force of nuclear Fleet submarines. The circumstances of the two are quite different. In the first place, nuclear Fleet submarines are being brought into service to succeed conventional submarines, mainly of the Oberon and Porpoise classes. These new submarines are first rate. The eighth is the next to be ordered, and this is part of the continuing build.

The hon. Gentleman is wrong to assume—not that I think he did: he was trying to draw me on the total figure—that we are intending to order only eight. But he can draw his own conclusions from the fact that we think it necessary to provide further refit facilities in the late 1970s as to what is obviously envisaged. We have said that if it were necessary to change the build rate, to go back or to increase it, we think there is capacity to do this in the Vickers building yard. As I have said many times, the decision would be based not just on the financial climate of the day but also on the priorities at that time in our Fleet submarine programme.

There is a problem here of the balance of the Fleet. At the moment, it is a very important part of our overall fleet package, and it may well always stay the same. On both sides of the House particularly in the atmosphere which pervades our debates today, we know that a defence decision must change. We are working in a rapidly changing environment of research and development and technology, and it would be foolish of hon. Gentlemen on either side ever to adopt too rigid positions on this. There is a tendency in the political badinage for us to forget that it is right to be able to make a change in direction, in this field above all, and it would be wrong to stick to any—

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

May I say that we on this side absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman? We hope that his words will be noticed by the present Secretary of State, who seeks to quote plans which were made in 1962 and 1963 by his predecessors as if they were firm plans never to be changed.

Dr. Owen

I will not be drawn into this, but I think the Secretary of State has shown a much more rational and pragmatic attitude to the development of a coherent defence force than has been shown by anyone who has ever held that office before. Although we may have our political differences, the degree of intelligence and the depth of thinking which have gone into defence problems over the last five years by him personally have been of a very high order.

The next point is the question of the armament for nuclear Fleet submarines. Further progress will be made this year with the studies into ways of improving the effectiveness of the submarine-launched anti-ship missiles. The antisubmarine capability of the nuclear Fleet submarines will be increased when the new Mark 24 torpedo comes into service. A question on this was asked by the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall). This torpedo, which was listed as a major development, is now in production and is undergoing acceptance trials.

On Fleet submarines, I should say something about refitting facilities. We should go back a little in history. The decision to develop Rosyth as the first nuclear refitting yard was taken in 1963 by the then Conservative Government. A further review of requirements for nuclear refitting was carried out between August, 1963, and the summer of 1964, when it was clear that further nuclear facilities would be required in 1968 and that these would be best provided at Chatham. This was announced in the Navy Estimates debate in 1965.

The capital development of both these dockyards to meet their respective nuclear rôles is nearing completion, at a cost of £5 million for Rosyth and £6 million for Chatham. Since this money is now almost entirely committed, it would be foolish to waste facilities which are almost completed and this was one of the major factors that we had to consider in preparing the dockyard review.

Between them, Chatham and Rosyth should meet our nuclear requirements up to 1973–74, when additional nuclear docking facilities will be needed and then further refit facilities. It has been announced in the White Paper that Devon-port will be our third nuclear dockyard. It may be argued that when Rosyth and Chatham facilities are fully taken up it might be possible to use those at Cam-mell Laird. That has been mentioned, although somewhat tentatively, by hon. Members. But this overlooks the real problem of time scale. There would be a gap of several years between the completion of Cammel Laird's last new construction nuclear work and the first nuclear docking, and it would not make economic sense to preserve the nuclear facilities and specialised labour force over this interim period. Some additional capital facilities would also be required before nuclear refuelling work could be done.

In those circumstances, I am satisfied that it does not make sense to consider using the nuclear facilities at Cammell Laird to support our nuclear submarines. The question whether, in the past, the Government should have decided on Cammell Laird instead of Rosyth and Chatham is so academic that there is little point in discussing its merits. The decision was taken and the money has been spent.

The Government's position on the decision not to place further nuclear submarine construction work with Cammell Lairds was made clear in the House on 10th March during the debate on the Navy Estimates. The company has no complaint about the manner in which this decision was communicated to it, although the chairman, to whom I have now spoken, has satisfied me that the company, for its part, believed that the information that it had been given would remain highly confidential until towards the end 1968. The company's real objection is to the decision not to allow it to compete for further nuclear submarine work.

I cannot agree more with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden), and I congratulate him on his statesmanlike speech. Whatever disagreements there may have been, the time has come to use these yards to the best advantage. We have been at pains to ensure that both of these valuable shipbuilders, Cammell Laird and Vickers, shall be able to submit tenders.

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

But not nuclear ones?

Dr. Owen

Yes. That is what I said.

A wide range of questions has been asked by hon. Members about the ability of the Fleet to defend itself—I have particularly been questioned about missiles—to strike back and against missile attack. It may be helpful if I recapitulate some of the arguments that have been adduced.

When the aircraft carriers are phased out of service—and this is the time scale with which hon. Members are principally concerned—the maritime air strike task will devolve in the main on the Royal Air Force's Buccaneers, which will be armed with the new Anglo-French standoff air-to-surface missile Martel. A sizeable part of the R.A.F.'s front-line strength of Buccaneers and Phantoms will be primarily earmarked for this maritime task. Both types of aircraft can be refuelled in flight to gain extra range and endurance; and they and the long-range maritime reconaissance aircraft, the Nimrods, will be able to operate from numerous shore airfields in the European theatre.

It will be nothing new for the Fleet to draw upon land-based air support in this way. Even before the decision was taken to give up the aircraft carrier force, it had been planned to complement the reduced carrier force, in the N.A.T.O. sea area by land-based aircraft in the 1970s. The intention remains to keep H.M.S. "Ark Royal" and H.M.S. "Eagle"in service until the withdrawals from east of Suez are completed and our maritime effort is concentrated in the N.A.T.O. area.

It must be remembered, too, that in any future conflict involving N.A.T.O., the Navy will be operating as part of an alliance and that the Fleet will be able to call on the air forces of our allies as well as the R.A.F.

At sea, the Navy's main striking force in the post-carrier era will be provided by the nuclear Fleet submarines. Although, as announced in 1968, there has been some slowing down of the naval new construction programme, our force of nuclear Fleet submarines will be growing during the 1970s. When the aircraft carriers phase out after the completion of the military withdrawals from east of Suez, six or seven Fleet submarines will be in service, and others building, to provide our main anti-surface ship and antisubmarine capability. This should not be under-estimated.

The striking power of these submarines in the latter rôle will be increased by the new Mark 24 anti-submarine torpedo which is now in production and undergoing acceptance trials. Hon. Members will be aware that the studies to improve the effectiveness of submarine-launched anti-ship missiles, which were announced in the Statement on Defence Estimates, 1968, are continuing.

After the aircraft carriers go, the main long-range strike task at sea will, therefore, be undertaken by land-based aircraft and by the growing force of nuclear Fleet submarines. But, as hon. Members are aware and as my hon. Friend has stated in an earlier debate, a light strike capability, directed primarily at the missile-firing FPB threat, will be widely fitted in surface ships to complement the shore-based aircraft and the nuclear submarines.

Originally we thought in terms of a small ship-launched surface-to-surface guided weapon to counter this threat. But study showed that a more flexible and economical means of delivery would be to arm the helicopters which ships will carry for anti-submarine work with an air-to-surface missile with sufficient stand-off capability to protect the helicopter from the anti-aircraft defence of the FPB.

Anti-submarine helicopters carried in ships will, therefore, be armed with the AS12 missile, which out-ranges the present anti-aircraft armament of the Soviet FPBs; and we are planning to introduce a second generation weapon with a greater stand-off range and improved performance.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

Will the improved helicopter missile out-range the anti-aircraft armament of the guided missile destroyers, leaving aside patrol boats?

Dr. Owen

No. This will be used primarily for fast patrol boats. We are trying to keep ahead with developments that might be made in this sphere with Russian patrol boats. We accept some of the criticisms that have been made about the AS12 but we should realise the importance of this weapon and the fact that it is coming into service at a time when it is most needed.

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

Would not the hon. Gentleman concede that it is an all-weather and night capability with which we must be concerned and that the AS12 has limitations, although we recognise that it is a useful weapon?

Dr. Owen

It is right that hon. Members should express their concern on this issue, but it should be remembered that fast patrol boats are also limited, particularly by bad weather. A great deal of work is going into trying to develop an all-weather capability with helicopters. Much experimentation is going on into the development of new equipment. This is an important area, and I assure hon. Members that their remarks have ben noted.

The helicopter and its missile together will, therefore, provide the Fleet with an independent capability—without relying on land-based aircraft—over a range exceeding, for example, that of the Russian Styx missile or of any other missile likely to be developed for use by fast patrol boats of the Komar type. But I must emphasise that this will be a supplementary capability.

I am not talking about a counter to the heavy Russian missiles—firing destroyers of the Kynda and Kresta type with medium range missiles. We have always made clear that our answer to this, after the carriers go, will be the nuclear submarines and the R.A.F's. shore-based strike aircraft.

The Fleet, and its helicopters, will operate under the defensive umbrella of the new surface-to-air weapons, including Sea Dart, which will deal with enemy targets out to considerable distance; and in more intensive operations the Fleet will also be able to rely on fighter cover from shore airfields. It is worth emphasising the effectiveness of the new generation of surface-to-air weapons. Both Sea Wolf and Sea Dart will have a very considerable anti-missile capability.

There remains the question of V/STOL aircraft. This has been fully covered in debates, and at this stage I would not wish to do more than repeat briefly what has already been said by my hon. Friend and myself.

There is no doubt that V/STOL aircraft operating at sea would provide the Fleet with a quick reaction capability for probe and identification, strike and a degree of air defence in the absence of continuous shore air cover. Recent developments in the V/STOL concept make this an option which will be worth considering.

Our intention is, therefore, to evaluate each new development within the V/STOL concept as it occurs; and design studies for new ships will, as a matter of course, take account of developments which may take place in aircraft as in other weapons systems during the life of the ships. But before taking a decision whether or not it would be worth while to deploy V/STOL aircraft at sea, we must, of course, take full account of all relevant considerations; the operational effectiveness of aircraft operating at sea in this mode, the cost of providing this additional capability and the defence, strike and reconnaissance support which shore-based aircraft of the R.A.F. will provide.

Questions have been asked about the performance of the Fleet's surface-to-air missile systems and, in particular, about the capability of our frigates and destroyers to defend themselves against missile attack.

For reasons which hon. Members will readily understand, it is not possible for me to disclose details of the performance of our weapons systems. But as regards Sea Dart, about which the hon. Member for Haltemprice has particularly inquired, I can confirm that Sea Dart will be capaable of dealing with more than one attack at the same time, whether by aircraft or by missile.

It must not be forgotten, of course, that in maritime operations ships will often be operating as a force, and in these circumstances the effectiveness of the missile systems will be increased when ships lend each other support if under missile or aircraft attack.

The hon. and gallant Member for Winchester referred to the Sea King helicopter. The Sea King anti-submarine helicopter will be entering service with the Royal Navy during the coming year. It is a more powerful and longer-range version of the Sikorsky SH 3-D, and is being built by Westlands under licence. It is powered by twin Bristol Siddeley Gnome H.1400 engines and will carry advanced British anti-submarine equipment.

The Sea King will, largely, replace the Wessex III helicopter and will remain in service throughout the 1970s. We expect to receive the first aircraft within the next few weeks and to form an intensive flying trials unit in the summer. We plan to deploy squadrons of Sea Kings at sea in the aircraft carriers and the converted Tiger class cruisers and later in the new class of cruiser which will succeed the converted Tigers.

I shall deal with a few points raised during the debate. It has been stated in the Defence White Paper that decisions about the design and construction of a new but smaller frigate are at an advanced stage, and final decisions are expected to be made in the immediate future. This has been welcomed on both sides as a good example of co-operation between private industry and the Government.

The reduction of money provision under Vote 7D does not arise from a planned run-down of war resources. It is linked with our ship-building programme which in turn is based on our reduced plans for the size of the Navy. It is nothing more serious than that.

The reserve Fleet has been referred to by many hon. Members. The House will readily appreciate that it is expensive both in money and in skilled manpower to maintain large numbers of ships in the state of preservation. We are anxious to keep in reserve only a small number of vessels to make good any breakdowns in the active Fleet. We also keep a number of maintenance ships in reserve. Reductions in the strength of the active fleet will react on the strength of the reserve fleet, but broadly, our policy remains as in the Explanatory Statement to the Navy Estimates of 1961–62, Cmnd. 1282.

Exceptionally, however, requirements for coastal and inshore minesweepers in the light of the more sophisticated mines likely to be used in any future emergency showed that we could no longer keep a large number of these in reserve. I shall look into the point made by the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester about H.M.S. "Maidstone", and I will write to him.

I shall try to deal with a number of individual points made by the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) and then with the major point about the dockyards and why it was thought necessary in view of the dockyard load to continue with the present four dockyards. The hon. Lady asked about the paragraph in the White Paper referring to the chief executive. We intend to appoint a high grade executive to take charge of the dockyards. We want to make sure that we have the best man available and the best organisation to press ahead with our plans for the reorganisation of the dockyards and to expedite the introduction of the latest management methods with drive and imagination. We realise that such an individual may prove difficult to find and that he will command a substantial salary. He would report direct to the Chief of Fleet Support who is the responsible member on the Admiralty Board.

On the question of productivity bargaining, we are very conscious that future increases in wages must come from productivity bargaining designed primarily to improve the efficiency of the dockyards. Discussions on this subject have already been opened with the trade unions, and each dockyard has its own joint production consultative committee. There is also a separate committee in each yard for the Port Auxiliary Service. The first task of these committees is the collection of factual information which will enable us to work towards a much better use of working time. I am satisfied that there is a great deal of room for improvement in this matter, and we look forward to being able to conclude an agreement with the unions which will be to the advantage of both the management and the employees.

Mr. Burden

This affects the issue which I raised about the difference in pay and allowances which will come about as a result of the new pensions scheme. This obviously could not be dealt with under productivity.

Dr. Owen

If the hon. Member will wait, I shall try to deal with the points he made. Since he has raised this point now on the question of pensions for dockyard employees I may say that it is obviously of concern and could be affected by the Government's superannuation scheme. It would be right first to have negotiations with the trade unions and also with the Civil Service Department. This we shall certainly do.

I take up a point about establishment which the hon. Member for Gillingham and the hon. Lady mentioned. The offer of establishment to men with five years' service will affect 890 men. I am under no illusion that not everyone wishes to be established. One of the reasons for announcing this offer at this time was that when people hear the term "run-down" they are anxious. Any who are willing to transfer to Rosyth in trades required there will willingly be accepted. We are satisfied that we can absorb these men in the dockyard labour force having regard to existing age grouping.

Also in replying to the hon. Lady, we certainly intend to employ girl apprentices as craftsmen in the dockyard on completion of their apprenticeship. There would be little point in doing it otherwise.

The hon. Lady said that communications with dockyard employees had rather fallen down in the past. I agree with her. Any hon. Member representing a dockyard constituency has experienced occasions when unnecessary annoyance is caused through the breakdown of communications. This is why we have extensive consultation and why each employee has received a copy of the relevant part of the White Paper. In the last few weeks a number of bodies have paid tribute to the Ministry for its handling of the public presentation of the dockyard review. It was hailed as a model of how to deal with a matter of this sort both at national and at local level. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Administration and I attended a symposium at Greenwich with members of the industrial and non-industrial unions and management from all levels at the dockyards. There the future of the dockyards was discussed and some indication was given of the future loading and what we are doing in some of the major changes. I hope that this will be just a start to improving and making changes in methods of communication.

I shall write to the hon. Lady about repairs by contract. This is a complicated question. The apparent increase is largely due to the fact that Singapore dockyard has been turned over mostly to private use and this gives the appearance of its having a greater increase in contract work.

The matter of future ship construction in the Royal Dockyards is one of concern. The main new ship construction project going on in the dockyards at present is the building of the Leander frigate "Scylla" which is due to complete early in 1970. It is impossible to forecast at this stage when another frigate will be built in the dockyards or what type it will be, but there has been no change in our general policy regarding ship construction in the dockyards. We shall continue to consider from time to time, having regard to the future load of repair work and other factors, whether a particular ship or ships should be built in one of the dockyards rather than by contract. We have just decided, for example, to build four dumb craft in the dockyard in the forthcoming year because temporary variation in the workload allows us to fit this task in economically. This again is an attempt to reduce waiting time.

I am very conscious of the great enthusiasm within the dockyards to undertake new construction work. They have a fine record in this respect. Apart from frigate construction at Devonport and Portsmouth, I mention particularly the construction of Oberon submarines for Canada at Chatham. The dockyards like to do this work because, apart from the obvious attraction of building something from scratch, new construction provides them with a unique opportunity to exercise their wide range of skills and with training opportunities which tend otherwise to be lacking in repair and refit work. We are devoting ever-growing attention to the concept of what is called "through costing" in relation to ships. This means that, instead of simply worrying about the cost of building a ship, one takes into account all the other cost factors involved in running it throughout its Service life. In this connection, the more the dockyards can learn about a particular ship from the moment of its conception to the time in which it sails, the better it is.

A large proportion of this depends on the dockyards being competitive in price with private industry. This also means that we must look at the allocation of overheads. We shall see that this is not unfair on the dockyards. This I promise to do.

The hon. Member for Haltemprice asked about the new cruiser and for some definition. It is too early for me at this stage to be firm about it, but we hope it will provide command and control for air naval forces and will be armed with the Sea Dart surface-to-air guided weapon system and carry the large new Sea King helicopter. I have dealt with the question of design. I have also dealt with the question of guided missiles.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby raised the question of H.M.S. "Ark Royal". I do not understand the doubts expressed by my hon. Friend about the refit of "Ark Royal". Our intention remains to complete the refit early in 1970 within the planned period of three years. When the refit is completed, "Ark Royal" will be able to deploy our latest fighter aircraft—the Phantom—and will play a full part in the Fleet until the military withdrawal from east of Suez is completed in 1971. The refit is going ahead entirely to programme. We intend to complete it by the planned date. It will be an achievement if it is completed on time. We attach great importance to its being achieved on time.

I want now to deal with the question of the dockyards in the wider context. Many points have been raised on these. There seems to be a misunderstanding about how complex the task of refitting warships is at present. I make no secret of this. It has been part of my education to realise what an incredibly technological and new industry dockyards are and are increasingly becoming. This is one of the major points that answers the question posed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis). He called into question the need for four dockyards. There is no doubt that by cutting one out completely we could have made rather larger cuts in overheads. The basic fact to be borne in mind is the body of capital decisions made in the past—I have already indi- cated some of these—and also the question of the future load.

The load is determined by a number of factors. I want to deal with this in some detail. We are faced with the task of refitting extremely complex and congested vessels, most of the systems in which are interdependent. Their high cost demands the highest possible availability for service, in spite of higher usage; and hence greater reliability in spite of higher performance and less stand-by machinery and equipment on board.

Much of this complexity is the result of technological development and the outcome of huge sums spent on research and development. These developments not only make it possible to design ships of greatly increased performance, but make it essential to keep up-to-date if the Royal Navy is to remain an efficient fighting force and a credible deterrent in face of the lethality of modern weapons.

We have only time to glance at some of the more recent technological developments that pose a challenge to which the dockyards must respond. In the naval construction field, I point out that we are challenged by new hardened and tempered steels demanding new welding methods and non-destructive testing techniques; glass reinforced plastic construction for increasing sizes of vessel; increasing mechanisation to reduce ships' complements such as hydraulic power for hoisting boats and handling stores. More ventilation has given place to full-scale air conditioning as much for the equipment as for the men. There are new devices to reduce under-water noise and increase resistance to under-water shock that require patient understanding and attention to detail.

In the main propulsion field we are challenged by the introduction of aircraft-type gas turbines, extremely sophisticated and highly loaded reduction gearing, variable pitch propellors, and automatic and remote control. In the escort force, gas turbines will reach parity with steam by 1985. We face the close integration of machanical, electrical, hydraulic, and pneumatic techniques, calling for a systems engineering approach at all levels.

In the electrical field each new generation of ships makes increasing demands for electric power. Four megawatts are required for the Type 42 destroyer, much the same as for a small town. Additional power means more cables and makes the repair problem more difficult. New techniques using quick-action steel strap suspension are being developed to speed this up.

Automatic control of weapons communications and machinery is increasing, and the trend is towards miniaturisation and micro-miniaturisation of electronic devices. Many of the components cannot be repaired and must be thrown away and replaced by new.

In the nuclear field, the refitting of the reactors of nuclear submarines calls for the application to heavy engineering of techniques and standards of hygiene and accuracy hitherto associated with instruments. The requirements of health physics, the new materials, the difficult environment and complexity all contribute to the difficult and exacting nature of the task we have set ourselves.

I want to deal very quickly with some of the techniques of refitting.

Mr. Ramsden

I did not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman during that last passage, but he said before he embarked upon that interesting essay that if one dockyard had been closed down it might have resulted in a greater saving of overheads. I realise that this is not the only factor. Was any estimate made of what the saving would have been had that solution been adopted? Was a figure ever worked out?

Dr. Owen

These figures were gone into in very great detail and calculations of this sort were made. I certainly could not give them to the House at the moment, and I do not think it would be proper to give them to the House. The decision has been taken. Too much looking back, particularly publicly, would not do too much good. It is right that I should explain to the House some of the problems we faced in making this decision. I know that the right hon. Gentleman, judging fom some of his interventions, has rather implied that he agrees with my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East that this would have been a simpler solution. There were attractions to it—no one would deny that—but I think the overwhelming argument is the question of the load and our capacity to meet the demands of the Fleet. The dockyards are there to serve the Fleet. The factor which is so vital is to have minimum turn-round time and to get the ships out, because the high capital cost of mooring up alongside is incredibly wasteful. We need to put more capital equipment in.

Coming to the techniques, I want very briefly to talk about repair by replacement. This is one of the techniques we hope to be using. We can take defective pieces of equipment and machinery out of the ship and replace them by new or refitted items. The replaced machine is then repaired and tested under controlled conditions and then preserved and returned to store for future use. We have used this principle in the weapon/ radio field and we want to extend its use wherever practicable.

Secondly, line and batch overhaul. The latest design policy—nicknamed "Symes"—is to establish well-developed standard ranges of machinery and equipment. It will take some time for us to see the fruits of this policy, but it should be feasible and economic to set up further facilities for line and batch overhaul aimed at greater productivity and greater reliability of the end product.

Thirdly, typing of dockyards and streaming of refits. This promises the following major advantages. I have announced the decision on typing and which yards will be typed. The advantages are concentration of capital injection on really imaginative special-to-class refitting facilities; economy in the overheads of proper specification, planning and production control and quality control documentation; familiarisation with the task; and smooth manpower loading.

If we are to justify, as I have already argued, the large capital expenditure on a sound business basis, we must use the facilities during more work hours in the week. This will mean consideration of shift working and staggered working hours. But the scheme promises a greater productivity from which everyone will benefit, and also quick turn-round of ships.

Fourthly, design for refit. Yarrow-Admiralty Research Department has finished the first stage of an investigation into devising procedures that would force designers to pay much more attention to ease of maintenance and repair. We hope that this will lead to much better specification of what needs to be done during a refit and thence to better planning and work definition.

I could go on to mention many other things, particularly computers and the advantages of using them, and the need to introduce new machine tools into our dockyards. The dockyards have got to change, because the Fleet and the ships are changing and becoming more and more complex. It will pay us to improve the efficiency of the dockyards. There are a number of ways in which this can be done, and I think it is of considerable importance both to the upkeep of the Fleet and to the effectiveness and increased operational availability of the Fleet.

Not least will it be important to dockyard towns and cities in their being able to justify increased wages for the work force and make the dockyard what it used to be—the best employer in the city, providing jobs that any young person wished to go into. This is the challenge, and I believe it is vitally important for both dockyard civilians and the Navy. To this task we have now set ourselves. I hope we shall be successful.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That a sum, not exceeding £202,363,000, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund, to defray the expense of new construction, repair, etc., of H.M. Ships, Aircraft and Weapons, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1970.