§ 3.54 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (Mr. Peter Kirk)
It might be appropriate to start our annual debate on the Royal Navy by reminding hon. Members that this year they have already approvedthat 87,000 officers, ratings and Royal Marines be maintained for naval service for the year ending on 31st March 1972.It might be thought in some quarters that the debate will serve very little useful purpose, but I believe there are advantages in having a debate slightly outside the restrictions of an Estimates debate.
The figure of 87,000 is 3,000 fewer than the previous year. However—and I should like to lay particular stress on this point—hon. Members should be aware that this does not indicate any easing of our requirements for recruits. Manpower is the major problem we face today, and I intend to devote much of my speech to this aspect.
The Royal Navy has its own particular difficulties to overcome in competing for recruits, with the arduous conditions afloat and the effect of sea-going service on home life. Demographic trends will make the position more difficult and so will the desire for further education and the raising of the school leaving age to 16. Some 65 per cent. of naval recruits come in at present at this age or earlier.
There has been much talk recently about manpower shortages and the inability to meet commitments with the consequent stretch on both ships and personnel. I would not pretend that we have all the resources we need. That is no new factor. There is some degree of undermanning in the Navy as in the other Services and the steaming time for destroyers and frigates has steadily increased in recent years from 19,000 miles 1181 per year per ship in 1955 to 39,000 in 1970.
But we must keep this in perspective. The fact is that the Navy—after the disastrous shortfalls to recruitment in 1967 to 1969 under the previous Administration—now appears to be improving its position in the manpower market and there has been an encouraging upturn of just over 20 per cent. in recruiting in the last 12 months. But we shall need to go on doing as well for several years before the lost ground is made up.
However, we believe it can be done. The Government clearly stated their intention to remove the uncertainty of earlier years to give proper priority to defence needs, and to afford proper recognition of the part that the Services play in the general life of the community. This, I am sure, will prove an important factor to recruitment.
The various decisions on defence policy and equipment made by this Government have had a particular impact on the Royal Navy. I believe their effect has been to enhance the future rôle of the Service, restore a sense of purpose and increase the opportunities available to the personnel on which so much depends. Together with the liberalised engagement structures and improvements in conditions to which I shall refer later, the foundations are being laid for a lasting recovery such as we need to ensure that the Royal Navy will be adequately manned in the future and continue to meet its commitments.
Perhaps the most significant of the changes in defence policy welcomed by the Navy has been the decision to retain a number of ships east of Suez. As a seafaring nation, we have traditionally looked to the Senior Service to play its major part in the protection of our trade. This calls for a worldwide capability which was implicit even in the policy of the previous Administration to concentrate resources towards N.A.T.O. We think it realistic to recognise this commitment in concrete terms.
In addition to providing a valuable component of the five-Power naval forces in the Singapore and Malaya area, they will be able to exercise with the Commonwealth and other navies and visit many areas of the Indian and Western Pacific 1182 Oceans. The operational benefits of such training go without saying. But the political influence that such ship visits could bring should not be underrated. These demonstrate our concern in matters outside our own waters. A good ship visit can also bring home the high standards of equipment and professionalism in the British Navy. It is not out of place to mention the secondary benefits in respect of naval sales for which orders were received each year since 1969 to the tune of over £100 million pounds; and future prospects are as good.
The general political influence that can be brought to bear in an area by even a relatively small naval presence is well illustrated by the increased Soviet naval activity world wide. This relatively new feature of Soviet strength is not by chance. They have learned the lesson from experience in Mediterranean waters and as far off as Cuba that without naval power freedom of action at long distance is necessarily limited. It is perhaps a little sad with our great traditions that we were in some danger of forgetting the lessons that we have brought home to others.
The maintenance of the Polaris force as a fully effective and powerful contribution to the Western nuclear strategic deterrent is of first importance. The presence of this force represents a magnificent industrial and Service achievement, and the contribution by its crews and support personnel, cannot be over emphasised.
The Government have also made it clear that we shall continue to attach paramount importance to our contribution of our forces with the N.A.T.O. alliance. Among the Western European nations, the Royal Navy has a unique contribution to make to the force and thinking of the alliance. This is not diminished by the decision to retain a number of ships east of Suez which will still be earmarked for N.A.T.O. They will, of course, be under the operational command of the Commander-in-Chief, Western Fleet who has now assumed—earlier this month—responsibility for the Far East Fleet command in anticipation of the end of the rundown in the area. The decision to retain "Ark Royal" will add significantly to our N.A.T.O. capabilities, and the future cruisers are expected to have a vital rôle in the 1183 command and control of N.A.T.O. maritime forces.
It is important to realise, however—and this is the essential difference between this Government's thinking and that of the previous administration—that there is no magic dividing line north of which a threat to our security can come and south of which it can be disregarded. I am glad to say that there is evidence that these views too are beginning to be recognised by our allies.
It is essential, in our view, to have the capability with our allies to meet at all levels—and world wide if necessary—any threat to our trade highways. That is not to say that such a positive military threat exists at present but it is perfectly possible that one could arise and it would be foolhardy not to provide for the future should, for example, the Suez Canal be opened or the Soviets manage to establish permanent bases in the Indian Ocean and elsewhere.
I suggest that it is as much for the latter purpose as any other that the increasing presence in the Indian Ocean of Russian ships is taking place, and the battle is really one—at the moment—for general political influence of the countries concerned. But this is not the end of it—the military advantages that can be gained through such influence, of course, will be significant. We must be equally ready to demonstrate our presence and ability to defend with our allies our rights of free passage, and to provide assistance to our friends, if necessary. They, of course, have welcomed our decision.
Nearer home, the rôle of the Royal Navy is always easier to see. In home waters the Navy continues to protect British shipping and fishing interests. The Royal Navy has also made a contribution in its own way to keeping the peace in the tragic situation that we are faced with in Northern Ireland by the maintenance of patrols against gun running. The Royal Marines have, of course, performed valuable infantry tasks in the Province.
In peacetime it is not all a question of maintaining patrols and training for situations which we hope will never arise. The Royal Navy also gets involved in a wide variety of humanitarian and other tasks. Hon. Members will recall the major tragedy of last year in East Pakistan where the Navy was able to assist in a 1184 major way in providing some relief. The "Triumph" and "Intrepid", with the survey ship "Hydra", helicopters of No. 847 Squadron, and the L.S.L. "Sir Galahad", played a significant part in bringing relief to some of the more remote areas affected by this catastrophe. To quote rather an unusual source, an Army captain who gave up some leave to assist with the relief work mounted from "Intrepid", he said:The L.C.M.s, captained by R.M. Colour Sergeants, carried about 70 tons of stores and provisions wherever they were required to go. Their crews worked seemingly non-stop throughout the whole operation and probably contributed more to its success than any other single body. The responsibility accepted by the Skippers and the way they lived up to it, deserved the highest praise.Hon. Members will be aware that this is praise indeed from a member of another Service.
One more outstanding example of the Navy's contribution in peacetime was the surveying of an alternative route in the English Channel last month so as to allow ships to avoid the hazards caused by the wrecks off Folkestone. This is perhaps the right juncture to pay tribute to the work of the Hydrographer and the Survey Fleet for the huge contribution that they make for the safe passage at sea of British ships and those of other countries.
There is, therefore, no question of the vital part that the Navy has, and will continue to have, in the security of this country and its many interests overseas.
I would now like to turn to the means that we have of fulfilling our commitments. I have earlier referred to the criticism there has been of stretch in the Royal Navy and an inability to meet our commitments. There is no doubt of the impression that has been left by cuts and reduced manning levels in recent years—so vividly reflected in the bad recruiting years of 1967 to 1969. All this, of course, is quite wrong; we are still very much a major naval power—indeed the largest naval power in Western Europe. The strength of the Fleet today comprises over 200 vessels, the majority of which are significant fighting units; and five times this number in ancillary craft. Apart from the United States and the Soviet Union, it is unmatched.
It is always true, of course, that we could use more ships if we had them, 1185 and we are keeping in commission a number of frigates which were due to be phased out in the next year or so. This will add to our total declaration of ships to N.A.T.O. in a category where the AD70 studies are showing a particularly significant shortage; and it will also help towards maintaining our enhanced presence east of Suez. Furthermore, our new construction and future fleet plans will bring into service ships with new weapons. with greater firing power than we have ever possessed before, and, as important, the need for less men to man them. The Type 42, for example, will only require approximately 60 per cent. of the complement of the present county class destroyer and the new frigates and cruisers some 80 per cent. of former equivalent types.
However, there are deficiencies in our naval equipment. There is a difficulty about the Fleet's surface to surface capability which we plan to overcome by running on "Ark Royal" so that her aircraft may complement the support provided by shore based aircraft to naval forces at sea. There have also been problems in torpedo development.
The House has been informed on several occasions—most recently by my noble Friend in the course of the Defence debate in March, of the future fleet package and weapon programmes, and I shall not elaborate on these further now although I shall be happy to do so if hon. Members wish in the course of winding up. But briefly, the main components will be the new frigates—the general purpose work horses who will succeed the Leanders in the building programme. They will be complemented with the Type 42 guided missile destroyers with their Sea Dart surface-to-air missile.
The third vital component will be the through deck cruiser which will provide a significant increase in our antisubmarine capability with Sea Kings embarked, command and control facilities for major naval forces and area air defence with Sea Dart. This will also be the means of providing organic V/STOL air support to the Fleet if a decision is taken to deploy aircraft of this type at sea.
At this stage I should like to make special mention of the Sea King helicopter. I have flown several times in this aircraft and can vouch for its remarkable qualities. The Fleet Air Arm 1186 have nothing but praise for its effective and relatively maintenance-free operation.
We shall see the results of this programme beginning to emerge fairly soon. Four Type 21s are already under construction—the first, H.M.S. "Amazon", was launched by Her Royal Highness Princess Anne last week and tenders for two more are being invited. The first Type 42 Guided Missile Destroyer, H.M.S. "Sheffield", is being built by Vickers at Barrow-in-Furness, and Hon. Members will have heard about the fatal explosion aboard this ship last Friday and will wish to join me in extending sympathy to the relatives of the two workmen who were killed. An investigation into the cause of the incident is taking place, and I hope that the completion date of the ship will not be affected. The indications at present are that the launching by Her Majesty The Queen next month will go ahead as planned. Tenders for four more Type 42s are being examined.
Design work on the new frigate is continuing, and as we have already announced, the sketch design for the cruiser has been agreed and design contracts will be placed shortly.
Design work is also in hand on the new class of mine counter-measure vessels which will use glass reinforced plastic in their hull construction.
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
The hon. Gentleman is obviously going over very familiar ground. All these matters were planned during the course of the Administration of which I was a member. Why has there been this increase in the Type 21 frigate? Is it because of a delay in the completion of the design of the new type frigate?
§ Mr. Kirk
No, it is merely to get the balance right. If the right hon. Gentleman had waited a little longer, I should have come to the passage in my speech in which I pay tribute to him for what he has done. Perhaps I had better omit that passage.
A prototype of existing design but using the new material, glass reinforced plastic, is already under construction—H.M.S. "Wilton". This new technique will be of great significance for this type of vessel and has attracted a deal of foreign attention.
1187 In all, there are at present 19 vessels under construction in British yards for the Royal Navy, which, with two just delivered, total £180 million in value of which some £20 million is in Scottish yards. In addition to those I have already mentioned, this work includes five nuclear powered fleet submarines and completion of H.M.S. "Bristol".
The dockyards too have a formidable programme of work, including the highly specialised nuclear submarine refits, the conversion of H.M.S. "Hermes" for the amphibious rôle, and the adaptation of a number of Leanders to use Ikara.
A significant feature of the new construction programme is the closer involvement of shipbuilders at the early planning and design stages. The Type 21 is the first commercially designed fighting ship taken into service in the Royal Navy since the 1930s. But also much of the design work on the Type 42 and the cruiser to come will be carried out by industry. I am sure that the House will acknowledge that this is a healthy trend to spread the expertise necessary for the sophisticated weapon ship systems of the future across industry and Government establishments.
§ Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)
Hon. Members will have been interested to hear the Minister's account of the construction of the Type 42 and the Type 21. They can undoubtedly fight aircraft and submarines. Can they fight other ships of the same size or smaller ships—in other words, have they got ship-to-ship missile equipment?
§ Mr. Kirk
They are perfectly capable of taking on other ships of the same size or smaller. I was saying that we are spreading the expertise necessary for this type of system across industry as well as Government establishments. This places greater demands on the shipbuilders than hitherto, but they have begun to meet the challenge well.
This imaginative shipbuilding programme is being matched by the development of new sophisticated weapons—Sea Wolf to succeed Sea Cat in close air defence for example; Sea Dart, the medium range ship launched surface to air guided missile, with some surface-to-surface capability, to succeed Seaslug for 1188 area air defence; Ikara, an all-weather quick reaction weapon system capable of engaging all types of submarines with a torpedo at long ranges. Work on equipments such as improved sonars, radar, tactical data handling and improved communications facilities is also continuing.
The hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris) has reminded me that much of this equipment was put in hand before June of last year. If hon. Members opposite claim credit for that, they must also accept responsibility for a legacy of a serious gap left in our surface-to-surface capability, now met by the decision to retain "Ark Royal" and undertake negotiations for the French Exocet surface-to-surface guided weapon; and with a torpedo programme which it would be kinder not to refer to, though I fear I must.
§ Mr. Maurice Foley (West Bromwich)
What was done about introducing new torpedoes between 1951 and 1964?
§ Mr. Kirk
I am talking about what was done between 1964 and 1970, when the gap in our torpedo defence became a yawning one and when a series of mistakes was made of which hon. Members opposite are only too well aware.
Increased resources have been allocated to the Mk. 24 torpedo programme, both in terms of money and men; industry is being more deeply involved, and I am glad to say that development is now going well. There is every reason to believe that a successful weapon will emerge in the forefront of contemporary developments elsewhere. Advance modifications are already under study to increase its capability to match submarine development expected within the next decade.
Hon. Members will also be aware from my hon. Friend the Minister of State's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) on 8th April, 1971 that we have had to cancel the Mark 31 light weight torpedo development.. This was to have replaced the Mark 44 on an interim basis pending the development of a longer term weapon. The story was very much the same as in the Mk 24 programme, of inadequate appreciation of the difficulties involved in the development of torpedoes today, which are as much guided weapons as 1189 their more celebrated contemporaries in other environments. Development had taken so long that the Mark 31 would not have been adequate to meet the threat when it was eventually brought into service. It has been decided, therefore, to concentrate our resources on the longer term project which should adequately match the threat of the 1980s. We shall also consider the possibility of acquiring the American Mark 46 torpedo in the interim, but this will depend on whether appropriate arrangements can be made.
I would agree, if hon. Members opposite wish me to, that the difficulties in keeping pace with technology and looking a decade ahead in order to meet the threat with the right results in time, is an enormous one, but we hope to learn from past mistakes. My right hon. Friend has already mentioned that we have set up an internal enquiry into the history of the Mark 31 torpedo project to see what lessons can be drawn for the future. Moreover, it is relevant to note that some £50 million will be spent by the Navy Department in 1971–72 on research and development, a substantial part of which will be allocated to underwater R. & D.
I turn now to less glamorous but none less essential area of support for the Fleet. It is a truism that the fighting arm of any Service is only as good as its support and base facilities will allow. For the Navy this primarily means the Royal dockyards and fleet maintenance bases. The modernisation programme is continuing and improvements are being made in all levels of management to ensure that these facilities are more capital intensive in the future.
A major step forward was taken in this last year with the signing of productivity agreements in all four home dockyards, and here I would like to pay tribute to the constructive way in which both local management and the trade unions got together to negotiate the terms of these agreements.
A word about the Royal Marines. The 3rd Commando Brigade, which has been overseas continuously since the last war, is being withdrawn from the Far East this year, and its primary task in future will, like the amphibious ships, be the support of N.A.T.O. By the end of this year the Commando forces will be 1190 concentrated in the South-West of England, except for 45 Commando Group now stationed in Arbroath where they are able to undertake mountain and arctic warfare training for their primary role in the Northern flank of N.A.T.O.; and 41 Commando Group which will be deployed in Malta.
I have recently had the pleasure of visiting several of the Royal Marine establishments and can testify to their high degree of training and enthusiasm for the varied and specialised tasks that make up their rôle.
I turn now to personnel. It is no good having the best material means if we cannot find the men to match them. I have earlier referred to the welcome upturn in recruitment this year. If we are to maintain this improvement, increased attention is necessary to ensure that we are competitive as regards pay and that our engagement structures and conditions of service also keep pace.
As regards pay, the military salary introduced last year has removed many of the old grievances in this respect and established an important and relevant comparison with working standards. My own observations in going around the Fleet have borne out that the Services have welcomed the new pay code. The process of job evaluation continues, in preparation for the next substantive review.
But pay is not enough. If we are to achieve our object of a truly voluntary and highly professional force, we must also ensure that the engagement structures and conditions of service are right. These are interdependent to a great degree.
I would not wish to disguise the fact that Naval service afloat is arduous and at times uncomfortable. It also involves long periods of separation at times, although these are less now than in previous years. These create problems both for the married and unmarried man, although the married man's problems are undoubtedly greater. This has tended in the past perhaps to give rise to the criticism that those who enter the naval service find it more difficult than perhaps those in the other two Services to get out when their enthusiasm wanes. But we have been faced with the dilemma of 1191 keeping men in Service for a greater part of their engagement than we would like or letting them go at the expense of being unable to man our commitments.
This is no new situation. The other day I came across a letter which in 1745 Thomas Corbett, the then Secretary of the Admiralty, wrote to Admiral Vernon saying:Their Lordships command me to acquaint you that They are as much averse to the present method of pressing as any man can be and wish some better method was established to man His Majesty's ships. But till the legislature has done so, Their Lordships think it Their duty and also of all His Majesty's officers to exert Their utmost diligence to procure men to serve His Majesty at sea, according to the present methods, how disagreeable soever they may be, and not to expose the nation to danger for reasons of private tenderness.The method of recruitment is different these days but the predicament is the same.
Undoubtedly the situation has changed tremendously over the years and it is continuing to change, but I must emphasise—indeed, I do not think I can over-emphasise—that the impetus for this change comes from within the Service itself just as much as from outside influences. It is generally recognised within the Navy that the best interest of the Service itself will be served by a much more liberal attitude towards the "reluctant sailor". I have been much impressed and greatly heartened since I have been in this office by the extent to which I have found that senior Naval officers and staff within the Admiralty are resolved to press ahead with improvements in this field.
One of our major sources of concern has been the boy entrant. I, like Labour right hon. and hon. Members when they were responsible have never been able to take the view that our policy was morally right. Over the years a number of working parties and committees have studied the position, and these culminated in the Committee under the chairmanship of Lord Donaldson, appointed by the previous Administration, which reported last autumn. As the House will know, the recommendations of the Committee were accepted almost entirely by the Government. The only significant exceptions were that we could not reasonably adopt different principles for boys who joined 1192 as apprentices from those applicable to the remainder.
Under the new arrangements from 1st April this year a boy who joins the Navy before the age of 17½ may, when he reaches the age of 18, opt either to confirm his original engagement or to serve for three years from the age of 18 or from the end of his training, whichever is the later. Thus, all new boy entrants will, if they wish, be able to leave the Service in their early twenties. This should largely resolve the problems experienced in the past.
Changes are also being made in respect of adult entry. We have extended the scheme for a four-year engagement from the Seaman and Electrical Mechanical Branches, where it was being tried as an experiment, to all the non-technician branches of the Navy and Royal Marines, and all adult entrants—other than technicians—who join the Service after the age of 17½ are now able to choose an engagement with an option point after four years if they so wish. The number of adults entering the technician branches is not very great, and we shall be examining ways in which we can adjust their minimum length of engagement.
We also intend, as hon. Members are aware, to implement the Donaldson Committee's recommendations regarding discharge by purchase for the Royal Navy. Unfortunately, as the Committee itself recognised, it will be necessary to phase the application of this recommendation over a period, and we have decided to reduce the length of service qualification for approval of discharge by purchase by some six months every year to bring the Royal Navy and Royal Marines into line with the other Services not later than 1977. The Navy has been criticised for not coming into line straight away; but we have to face the facts of the situation. We are moving fast—very fast—in the direction of a truly voluntary force, but it would be foolish to risk our aims by pushing this to extremes. We must ensure that all the various planned improvements are kept in step, but I can undertake that if the manpower position proves to be such that we can advance on 1977 we shall do so—and no one will be happier, than the Navy itself. Indeed, for some time now the minimum length of service necessary to qualify for discharge has been gradually brought 1193 down when the position has been brought under quarterly review. Just over 2,000 discharges have been allowed in the last year.
I have dwelt on the special demands that service in the Royal Navy can make on a man, and some of the measures being taken to remove past criticisms. But there is another side to the coin. Life may be a little hard at times, but the Navy has tremendous opportunities to offer, including first-class training, a responsible and challenging job and all that life at sea around the world can offer.
I announced on 3rd March two new measures by which we hone to attract more young men of good degree potential as officer entrants. The first was to extend the existing university cadet scheme into a major source of entry; the second was to make full use of the new degree course in systems and management recently announced by the City University, to offer young seamen and supply and secretariat officers the opportunity at the end of their midshipman training to take a vocationally-slanted degree course. The course, which is due to start in the autumn of 1972, will also be open to those who apply for university cadetships. By this means we hope that all young men of degree ability who are attracted to the Royal Navy as a career will be encouraged to satisfy both their educational and vocational ambitions.
These new measures are somewhat different from those envisaged by my predecessor, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) in the last year's Navy Estimates debate. The decision to increase the U.C.E. entry altered the scale of the previous concept and we no longer thought it necessary or appropriate to try to evolve a degree course which all naval students attended in the foundation year irrespective of whether they intended to complete the full course or not. We have, however, continued to be closely associated with the City University over the syllabus for its new degree which will cover decision-making and organisation in the fields of Government, technology and elsewhere in the modern society. This will suit our purposes very well.
Notwithstanding these added inducements to recruitment we cannot afford to be complacent. With shorter engage- 1194 ments we must continue to improve relationships and conditions within the Service and induce men to stay. This is the essence of the concept of a voluntary service. The long-serving men provide the backbone of the Service from which we take the petty officers, chief petty officers and warrant officers who play such an important part in the management of the Service.
The sailor is prepared to accept the discomforts that are part and parcel of his chosen way of life—so long as he feels that they are recognised and understood. This is certainly the case now. Constant efforts are made to improve habitability, and the aim is to increase living space by 20 per cent. in the new ships, but inevitably there are limits to what can be done in a fighting ship. Financial rewards or benefits, even though modest, do demonstrate to the sailor that discomfort has been recognised. Such recognition has been given. For example, men who have to pay for their food and accommodation ashore are not required to pay when on board. Hard-lying money is paid in recognition of particularly adverse conditions in the older or smaller ships.
Minor irritations and menial tasks can play an undue part in influencing a man against staying on. These, too, are being looked at. Rules and regulations are necessary to any disciplined service—as are the duties essential to the good housekeeping of a ship—but we want to cut out those which are unnecessary. We are, for example, reducing menial tasks to the minimum by the use of mechanical aids, and at shore establishments by the increased employment of civilians as in the other two Services. We are also seeking to improve communications up and down the chain of command so that management is more readily aware of those items which the ratings consider to be irritating trivia, and particular emphasis has been placed on the Divisional System.
Additionally, a new publication, the Board Bulletin, has been produced and will be used to keep the Fleet informed of the Admiralty Board's thinking on important topics. I should also mention here the Navy News, the Navy's own, very well-produced newspaper, which provides a valuable independent news source to both men and families.
1195 The problems of the married man and his family figure largely in the attention we are giving to re-engagements. These are brought about by separation, the uncertainty caused by frequent postings, and the unsettled service life with no opportunity to put down roots into a community. These cannot, of course, be overcome completely, but much has been done and is being done to make life more acceptable. Adequate housing must be high on the list so that families are not unnecessarily separated while the sailor is not actually serving at sea. We are increasing the number of married quarters by 3,000 by 1975, and our ultimate objective will be to ensure that families may move direct from one quarter to another when a sailor is drafted from one United Kingdom station to another, although it will be some considerable time before this objective is achieved. Long-service ratings are also assisted in the purchase of their own houses if they wish to establish their families, and both officers and ratings can obtain help with house purchase as an aid to resettlement.
We are also currently examining leave allowances in the Royal Navy, to see whether it will be possible, by making adjustments within the total entitlement, to provide the sailor with more time to spend with his family, and entitlement to separation allowances has been extended recently to a greater number of men, including those serving ashore in the United Kingdom.
However, the basic problem of the day-to-day uncertainty felt by both officers and ratings about future movements is more difficult to tackle. Unfortunately, changes in ships' programmes are frequently necessary to meet operational requirements or particular maintenance problems, and even a small change can have repercussions for several ships, which will ultimately affect a large number of men. We are looking at a number of points which may reduce this uncertainty without affecting the overall operational capability of the Fleet. The introduction of the continuous commission will also help in reducing turbulence in drafting.
Lastly on this score, one further item is essential in our efforts to look after the families: the provision of an effective welfare service. The Navy has now had 1196 a welfare service for many years. In recent years the preventive aspects of this welfare work have expanded and it has been our intention to try and catch potential welfare problems before they develop rather than to try to clear them up afterwards. To this end community centres and creches have been and are being provided on naval married quarters estates and community officers and other staffs appointed to assist in their running. In a number of cases experienced welfare workers have been appointed as preventive welfare officers. In this work the staff are always in close touch with the local authorities concerned.
Despite these advances, however, we do not wish to find ourselves left behind by the general advances of welfare in the United Kingdom as a whole. We have, therefore, decided that the time is ripe for a detailed study of our welfare organisation by an outside expert. Arrangements are being made for such a study and I hope that the report will indicate those areas in which we can make some improvement in the service we offer. I am not able to give the name of the person who is doing that today. I hope to be able to announce it fairly shortly.
For those who do stay in the Service the opportunities for advancement have been increased. Perhaps the biggest change is the introduction of the warrant officer into the Navy. The first selection of nearly 400 ratings has already been made and it is gratifying to see some C.P.O's. as young as 34 being successful. These men will be known as fleet chief petty officers, and be analogous to warrant officers Class I in the Army with equivalent pay and status—a step long overdue for those posts which carry responsibilities in excess of the average C.P.O. posts.
A number of other changes are being introduced to improve the selection for advancement at all levels with greater weight being attached to merit. The increasing sophistication of shin equipment places greater call for higher education and expertise not only in management but at the work face, reflecting an increasing demand for senior ratings of the right calibre.
An example of this is in the submarine service. The 25 per cent. of ratings, which used to be the usual ratio as senior ratings in conventional submarines, has 1197 risen to 40 per cent. in the nuclear submaries. There has been an increase in surface ships but to a less marked extent.
For the ambitious young sailor, therefore, there is increasing opportunity to get to the top of his branch and reasonably quickly. The most able ratings of course can be recommended for promotion to officer rank under the Upper Yardman Scheme, or in later years to the Special Duties List. A total of 32 ratings were promoted in this way in 1970–71 and the number of recommendations is rising.
For all this, however, I am under no illusion that we have an easy task ahead. The risks we face in reforming the engagement structure are well appreciated. These risks will be specially marked in the short term and, if we are unsuccessful in our aim to make it attractive for men to continue in service by the improvement of conditions of service I have described, we shall undoubtedly see the effects of this failure accruing progressively throughout the mid and late 1970s.
Having sounded this warning, I am clear that the path we have chosen to follow is the right one. A mere continuation of the previous policies will do nothing to solve the long term problems of the Service and would ultimately result in problems which would be more rather than less intractable than those we foresee arising from our present course.
Against this there can be no doubt that if we achieve our ultimate objective of a truly voluntary force which is widely recognised as one which is hard to enter but few wish to leave, we shall have achieved something that is really worthwhile and which well may be self perpetuating. Forces of this nature would be the envy of most other countries of the world.
To my mind the choice before us is to continue as we have done in the past, recognising that this could ultimately lead to a failure of the voluntary concept or to strike out now, to take the steps necessary to establish the basis of a truly voluntary force and to do everything that can reasonably be done to minimise the attendant risks. I am sure we will have the full support of both sides of the House in following the choice we have made.
1198 I have dealt at length with the Naval manpower situation. It would be appropriate to end with a statement on our reserves. A thorough review of our reserve requirements has shown that apart from some small additions to improve the effectiveness of the Royal Marine Commando forces committed to N.A.T.O., the Navy's reserves are adequate under full mobilisation conditions.
We are having to give attention, however, to making arrangements for the early selective recall of some reservists during a period of tension when warlike operations are in preparation or progress. This will include the activation of a "special class" with this liability within the Royal fleet Reserve formed from men who recently have completed their active service. Some formal amendment to existing legislation for other classes of Reserve may be required as our planning develops.
The Guardian in a leading article headedWhere is the Navy going?suggests that the House ought to make today's debate on the Navy into:…a searching test of the wakefulness of admirals.The dealings that I have had with admirals over the last ten months suggests that they are very wide-awake indeed. In the course of the last ten months I have visited virtually all the shore establishments in the United Kingdom and most of them overseas, over 40 ships and nearly all the Royal Marine establishments. As a result I am convinced that despite our problems we have in the Royal Navy an effective if small force of which this House and the country has every reason to be proud.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Sutton)
The Navy Estimates debates have changed their form this year, but traditionally this debate is one in which the differences between the two parties tend to be put aside and we speak more about what unites us. It is also an occasion when we can be rather more thoughtful about the rôle and possible future role of the Navy. Listening to the Under-Secretary dealing with the slow but steady measures of reform which he is undertaking—and which I like to think were 1199 undertaken when I was in his office—to ensure that the Service man's life in the Navy is made as tolerable as is possible within the obvious limits, which we understand have to be accepted in a life afloat. I am sure that the whole House would agree that his remarks are only to be welcomed.
Over the years there has been a definite need to be more receptive to the needs of the man who is a volunteer in the Services. The voluntary spirit has to be ensured, and that means taking risks, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out. We on this side established the Donaldson Committee and were extremely pleased that the Government accepted most of the major recommendations. It is not just quibbling when we criticise the decision not to give to the Navy the right to purchase discharge equivalent to that which operates in the Air Force and Army. We understand the difficulties.
The argument which moved the Donaldson Committee to make that recommendation was that the reluctant Service man is a bad recruiter. The reluctant Service man inside the Service can be a focus of discontent. We often hear too much of the reluctant Service man and not enough of the happy Service man. I take what the Minister has said, that he intends wherever possible to hurry up the process, but 1977 is a long time before the Royal Navy comes into line with the other two Services.
Quite rightly the Minister concentrated on the problems of manpower. When I held his office I never hid from the House my own concern about matching available manpower in the Navy to the existing fleet and the situation is now worse. This is not an occasion to dwell on the differences, which have been discussed on numerous occasions in this House, in the policies of the present Government over arms to South Africa nor the quite extraordinary stress they seem to place on the Indian Ocean. It is time that the House, the country and the Navy internally looked a little more honestly at the Navy's manpower situation.
The Navy is unique in that, unlike any other Service, it is able, with a poor manpower situation, by changing its shape, still to retain an effective fighting force. Its options in improving the power and strength of the Navy with 1200 limited manpower are far greater than is available to the other two Services. When we were in Government it was clear to us that there had to be a substantial increase in recruitment if we were to maintain the existing establishment of the Fleet. The figures have been given in various White Papers. It is sufficient to say that we reckoned that the Navy would have to dramatically increase recruiting trends and we all welcome the increase that has taken place over the last two and a half years. We recognised that there had to be a marked increase in recruitment.
The Navy traditionally has been extremely reluctant to take any measures to change the shape of the Fleet. The Minister mentioned that there were 200 vessels in the Navy. How many of them are operational? It is the operational figure which is important. I do not wish to continue the sterile debate about the number of hulls that there might be in the Navy. I argued when I was Minister, and I argue now that I am in opposition, that the effectiveness of the Navy cannot be judged by the number of hulls. It is the shape and overall coherence of the structure of the Navy which is important.
When the "Ark Royal" was to be phased out of fixed wing flying in the middle of 1972, we believed that the manpower gap would have been temporarily closed. The present Government have adopted policies which have actively increased the manpower commitment. Although they postponed the second phase of redundancies in the Fleet Air Arm, at best, and for a fairly short time, it made available only about 1,600 extra men. The Government have undertaken a commitment to man "Ark Royal" until the end of this decade. I believe, and have said so on a number of occasions, that it is a mistaken decision militarily. It is, however, an impossible decision to achieve on current manpower projections.
The Minister said that some frigates, previously to be scrapped, were being kept in service. It was about the only new factor which he announced. We should like to know the number of frigates, their names, and the total extra manpower commitment which they will involve. With these frigates having to 1201 be manned, plus the "Ark Royal" manpower commitment, I do not believe this can be done without changes elsewhere.
Historically, Conservative Governments and the Navy have been reluctant to change the shape of the Navy. The House will remember that, after the refit of H.M.S. "Blake" she was commissioned, and then she was promptly put in mothballs within a week. The Minister's difficulty is that he must take a realistic view of future manpower trends and anticipate them. It will be no good his complaining in three years' time that he has not the manpower to man the ships for which the House has voted considerable sums of money for refitting, new equipment and overall effort. It is therefore time for the Minister and his colleagues on the Admiralty Board to consider the Navy's structure, shape and size.
The prime need for the Navy is to shift the emphasis of the shape and structure of the Fleet towards submarines. I have said this before in Navy debates, but now that I have the greater freedom of speaking in opposition I can be much more categoric. Jackie Fisher tried to achieve this shift of emphasis many decades ago. It has always been resisted by a very strong and powerful section in the Navy which sees the structure of the Navy as being far too dependent on surface ships.
The most urgent decision which needs to be reassessed is the present building rate of hunter-killer submarines. Right hon. and hon. Members opposite may truly say that when in office we reduced the hunter-killer building rate as part of the post-devaluation cuts. But many of us saw it only as a temporary reduction. The problem was then and is now to convince the Navy that if there is a shift in emphasis towards submarines economies will have to be made elsewhere. We are debating the Senior Service, or the Navy as I prefer to call it, at a time when it has almost exactly the same amount of financial resources allocated to it as was made available by the previous Administration. The Minister said nothing new either on equipment, ships building or ships planned. The reality of coming to power has convinced the Conservatives that they must live within the same financial restrictions as we did.
1202 The Minister made something of the problems of torpedoes. I doubt whether much is to be gained by carrying on a political argument on this matter. We are faced with a very serious situation. The Mark 24 torpedo ran into severe difficulties when we were in office. We instigated an investigation under Sir Roland Baker, and the information which it divulged is available to the Minister. He will be aware that at the time Ministers expressed considerable concern about the Mark 31. It therefore comes as a great surprise and causes us great concern to learn that the Mark 31 has been in difficulties and that the Government have felt it necessary to cancel it.
There is something seriously wrong with the way in which we have approached the question of under-water weapons systems over the last decade. The lesson to be learned is that neither the Labour Government nor the Conservative Government allocated enough financial resources towards developing these extremely complicated weapons systems. I believe that it will be necessary to consider submarine armament in a completely new perspective. The concept of the guided weapon and the submarine-launched air flight missile will have to be given much higher priority. But that will take resources, and the Navy will be faced with the need to make a choice. It is no good arguing that the new hunter-killer submarines will be the capital ships of the future unless the Government are prepared to make available the resources necessary to equip them with an effective missile system. I believe the highest priority should be given to this matter.
The relevance of this subject to manpower will not have escaped the attention of hon. Members. It is clear that by expending more on submarines we can make do with much smaller manpower resources. This is the great advantage offered in making such a shift. It is necessary in terms not only of maritime strategy, but of the manpower which will be available in future. A decision on this matter will need to be made in the next few years. I do not say that it is the most immediate problem. Probably the most immediate problem is to sort out the question of submarine armament.
1203 Where else can the Navy look at its existing spending priorities? Given limited financial resources, the Navy will have to balance the priorities between the development of V/STOL aircraft at sea—and it is interesting to note that the Government have not made any decision on that matter—the development of surface-to-surface guided weapons, the development of under-water guided weapons systems and the development of an advanced helicopter-launched guided weapon. I am dubious about whether it will be possible for the Navy to have all four systems.
The Government made the decision on Exocet too quickly. They announced it almost as if they were to purchase Exocet in a few months, but we have heard no more about it. Has there been a delay? Has the cost turned out to be greater than initially thought? Is there any doubt about its effectiveness? Are the Government satisfied that they have looked deeply enough at the question of British equivalents? Are they satisfied that spending money on it is the right priority?
I was a strong believer in the application of V/STOL aircraft at sea. I do not believe that it is a justification for what has been called the "through deck cruiser", but it is a powerful addition to the armament of the through deck cruiser. The justification for building such a large ship—and I remind the House that large ships are becoming increasingly vulnerable—was the deployment of Sea King helicopters, to which the Minister paid tribute. This is an extremely effective anti-submarine weapons system and, some would believe, the most advanced of such systems in the world. There is clearly a need to have a number of helicopters on station at any one given moment. In the arguments for a ship of this size we looked carefully at the possibility of deploying Sea King helicopters across a number of hulls so as to avoid having to build one large ship. All the studies came out convincingly in favour of putting them on to one ship.
The Minister will be faced with the necessity of increasing capital costs for the through-deck cruiser and also with the problem of how many he needs to build. The lesson of aircraft carriers is 1204 that three is a minimum to ensure at all times one on deployment. If two are needed it is necessary to build four. This again will pose problems for the Navy.
I am a fervent admirer of the Royal Marines, not just because they are situated in my constituency, although that influences me, but because their standard of equipment, their prowess and their skill are legendary. They also have good recruitment. I believe, however, that the Royal Marines should be prepared to diversify out, as they have diversified, for example, into Arctic warfare and mountain warfare. They should be careful about tying their future solely and completely to the Navy.
I must raise the question of how we can continue to justify permanently embarked maritime marine forces. There is a need for an amphibious force and for an amphibious lift capability. I am less convinced of the need for permanently embarking a whole commando on ships, particularly when it means embarking them on large ships, usually converted aircraft carriers, so that this is their prime and often sole rôle and when the manpower needed to man those ships is almost equivalent to a one-to-one ratio, one sailor for one marine. In terms of an urgent manpower problem this is an area which will have to be looked at.
I have always been attracted to the idea that if we are to build a large ship which is vulnerable unless it has adequate anti-submarine defences, which means an adequate number of Sea King helicopters, that ship should as far as possible have a multi-purpose rôle. There are always critics of the multi-purpose ship because it is believed that this will mean we get the worst of all worlds, but it is possible for those ships to carry a commando on overload conditions for at least six weeks. Looking at any credible scenarios of the need for an amphibious lift in the future, this could be maintained by such a flexible multi-purpose ship, and the Government will have to look into this.
I believe that the Government will find that they cannot man H.M.S. "Ark Royal" throughout the 1970s and I hope that they will come to the House in two or three years' time, preferably before the next refit of H.M.S. "Ark Royal", which will cost a considerable sum, and 1205 say that they have decided it is better to forsake one carrier, which not even Government supporters believe is a credible force, and return the Phantoms to their previously assigned rôle, and save manpower there.
Mention has been made of Type 42 H.M.S. "Sheffield", which is an extremely effective ship. Its effectiveness comes from the Sea Dart missile system which has an air defence capability as well as a limited surface-to-surface guided weapon capability. I have never been convinced that the wider application of the Sea Dart in a mini-version to the frigate has been looked at seriously enough. The Sea Wolf costs move upwards, and the demand for a new frigate has not yet been totally made out. The extremely effective Amazone Type 21 frigate is already in existence. This is an area where economies need to be looked for and I hope that the logistic advantages of having the same missile system will be looked at more seriously than hitherto.
I am tending to look at the future of the Navy, but if these debates are to have meaning and are to be read and respected in the Fleet we must move away from party polemics and look to the future and raise issues in the Chamber which it is often difficult for a Minister to raise. Hon. Gentlemen opposite after their six years of instant Opposition now have to face reality in defence. This may mean that we shall move into an area where there is far more agreement than division on defence between the two sides of the House, and I do not object to that at all. We must make clear to the Services that the overall amount that we are prepared to spend means that they will have to choose. The problem with the Services is that they want a little of everything, and this danger may come up again with VSTOL aircraft. If they want the Harrier in its uprated version they must be careful not to price themselves out of the market, as they priced themselves out of the market in aircraft carriers. They may want ever-increasing sophistication and insist on a maritime version, but they will have to make do with the essentially land-based Harrier version with some minor changes.
Looking to the future of the Fleet and its relationship to Europe, we have heard nothing more of the Anglo-Dutch frigate. This was an exciting concept 1206 where two Navies were to combine together to have a frigate identical in form. Two N.A.T.O. allies would have had a work-horse weapons system that had a major degree of commonality. I know the problems which are posed, but I hope that the Government will pursue, with the same political commitments as their predecessors, the objectives of such collaboration. The Dutch Navy is clearly the navy that offers the most opportunity for such European collaboration. It is extremely keen to collaborate and, almost without exception, its officers speak fluent English. There is a need for us to get together at the very early stages of the design of future warships in order to develop an Anglo-Dutch naval concept.
The Americans must look at their present attitude to nuclear propulsion. I know that this is a sensitive subject, but I have a greater freedom in Opposition. The case for the Dutch Navy having some access to nuclear propulsion knowledge from its main N.A.T.O. ally the United States is overwhelming. For the Dutch to have hunter-killer submarines, even if they could afford only three or four, would be a valuable addition to the total number of N.A.T.O.'s hunter-killer submarines.
I understand that the Government have maintained the capital modernisation programme for all four dockyards. I hope that the Minister will give us an assurance that there is no question of rephasing that capital expenditure. If the dockyards are to maintain their prime rôle as an efficient industry they must have the capital injection of which they have been deprived for decades. The need is urgent, particularly if they are to refit the new nuclear-powered submarines on time. This applies both to hunter-killers and, most importantly, to the Polaris submarines. If we are to advance the hunter-killer submarine building rate we shall need to bring forward the two-stream refitting nuclear submarine date for Devonport Dockyard, and this should be looked at and planned for now. The Minister knows that there is concern that the new shipbuilding slip at Devonport Dockyard is now empty. I hope that he will confirm that it is not the Government's intention to stop future new frigate construction in our dockyards.
It is difficult without more details to comment on the Government's plan to 1207 change the in-service degree which it was announced to the House on two occasions would take place at Greenwich. I am glad that there will be a degree opportunity for all naval officers who wish to take it up. I believe that this is extremely important and not just in recruitment terms. It is important in relation to the wider exposure of Naval officers at a formative part of their careers.
I think that a lot of the small measures which the hon. Gentleman spoke about relating to rating recruitment will greatly help. But I must come back to the fact that I think that the hon. Gentleman should look very carefully at the possibility of relaxing even further the ability for someone who is unhappy in the Service to get out. The Donaldson Report was extremely good, and I am glad that he has now followed it up with an investigation into Naval welfare.
The key issue which faces the Royal Navy for the 1970s is to understand the essential element that manpower restraint need not be for the Royal Navy the restraint that it could be, and would be, for other Services, particularly the Army. The Navy can reshape; it can spend its money in a different fashion and one which has far less manpower commitment than hitherto. The Navy must avoid the problem it got into over the aircraft carriers during the 1950s and 1960s. This House has enjoyed itself in debates about aircraft carriers, which were turned into a party political issue, but the Conservative Party knows as well as we do that, when in office last, right hon. Members opposite had grave doubts about the carriers. Hon. Members opposite know that certain Service Ministers and others in the last Conservative Government opposed the carrier build and the continuation of the carriers. They did so because the Navy had priced itself out of the market and because this was affecting the whole shape and structure of the Navy.
The difficulty in arguing for the shift of emphasis for which I have asked is that there are deep-seated vested interests which find it difficult to change the shape of the Navy, which has remained remarkably similar now over a couple of centuries. I believe that such a change is going to have to come about and that it is better that it should come at a time 1208 of the Government's own choosing, when they can make a realistic assessment of manpower, rather than in an emergency situation, when the Government may realise that they no longer have the men to man the Navy.
The hon. Gentleman paid tribute to the Navy and its activities over the last year. We on this side echo his congratulations to the Navy on its service in many parts of the world in many types of arduous conditions. He referred to the Navy's role in East Pakistan. We saw there the effective contribution that our amphibious forces and vessels were able to make. It is in these sort of circumstances that a worldwide maritime rôle can be most effective.
The hon. Gentleman would be in grave danger if he tried to project the Labour Party as not believing in a worldwide maritime rôle. Time and again, when in Government, we made it clear that we did see a worldwide rôle for the Navy, but our main emphasis has been to move away from fixed maritime bases towards relying on a float support, retaining at all times the greatest flexibility, whereby the Navy would be able to operate worldwide relying on its own resources. This is the unique contribution which the Navy can make, unlike any other Service. The Navy has that ability to sustain itself and the Government will give up that ability at their peril. In my view, the danger to the Navy has always arisen when it has become land-locked, when it has had to support vast ashore establishments, such as the one built up in Singapore throughout the 1950s and the early 1960s. The Navy has a contribution to make primarily, of course, to N.A.T.O. but also worldwide.
The Polaris force has often been controversial but one should point out that the men who serve in it are at instant readiness for long periods of the year. They serve in arduous conditions and we on this side do not forget the contribution they make.
We on this side cannot fail to remind the Government in this debate, as we have reminded them in the main defence debates, of the rôle they played in Opposition, when they indulged in destructive and often hysterical criticism, which was launched in defence debate after defence debate. This can never be the 1209 same again. The one thing which has occurred over the past year and the people who will gain most by this will be the three Services. Never again can the Conservative Party in opposition preach the same sort of doctrines of irresponsibility that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite preached day after day during the period of office of the last Government. Never again can they make attacks on the honour and integrity of right hon. and hon. Members on this side and be believed.
One thing is clear to every defence correspondent. The humbug preached by the Conservative Party for the last six years is over. Right hon. and hon. Members now know the facts of life of defence. We all know that they are going to have to live within a restricted budget, and I believe that it is still possible to make some minor defence savings in the present defence budget. I believe that this House should be vigilant about defence matters and defence control but always be generous to the fighting Services for the arduous duties which they undertake on our behalf, worldwide.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby (Dorset, West)
Apart from the closing passage, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) remained fairly nonparty throughout his speech. He spoke with the advantage of recent office and with the perspective of Opposition. Once one gets away from these problems, there is no doubt that they appear a little different. He was much more interesting today than I used to find him when he spoke as a member of the Government. I am very glad that he has been converted to the idea of the hunter-killer submarines. I suppose that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth than over 99 just persons who need no repentance.
The hon. Gentleman went on to talk of money limitations and the need for the Services to choose. I agree wholeheartedly. I go further. Having chosen, the Services must stick to their opinions. I remember visiting an aircraft carrier while it was being built—I believe that it was H.M.S. "Ark Royal". One gun mounting had been moved three times to slightly different positions and was 1210 about to be moved for the fourth time. That kind of thing exasperates the builders, and naval staff branches should not be allowed their will indefinitely.
The hon. Gentleman said that he was an advocate of floating support. I was surprised, because that is by far the most expensive form of support. A system of fixed bases, which we have, unhappily, lost throughout the world, is much more efficient and very much cheaper. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will reflect on that.
We shall read with interest my hon. Friend's detailed speech. I am sorry that, in the Defence White Paper, we were not given more detailed knowledge of the Royal Navy, and that makes our speeches today a little more difficult to make. For that reason, I want to deal more with the general strategic outlook than with the details of the naval programme. The first and salient point is the rundown of the Royal Navy. Those of us who have spoken in these debates over a score of years have found it noticeable. We have reached a manpower figure in the Royal Navy of 87,000, including 3,500 women, compared with 153,000 on Vote A in 1952–53. These figures give some idea of what has been lost. My hon. Friend said that this strength was still much more than that of other navies. But the French Navy has 72,000 men, so we are not very much ahead of France.
I was glad to hear about the new ships being built, and when we come to consider the fleet of 1971 one or two things stand out. The first is that, for the purpose of showing the flag, the small ship fleet that we possess is very much less impressive than that of the Soviet Union or the United States, or of a great many other countries. From that point of view, we have to accept that it is not a very impressive force.
When we come to hitting power, I am rather more alarmed about the absence of surface-to-surface weapons, especially when I read about the new type of Soviet missile, the Shaddock. It is extremely impressive, and it worries me that we cannot match it. I am also not sure about our surface-to-air missile, Sea Dart. A year ago, I visited the Sixth Fleet. I was shown a surface-to-air missile which had an enormous capacity and a very long range. It strikes me that 1211 here again there is a very serious gap in the hitting power of our fleet.
When we come to the Polaris submarine, I should like to ask about the future position and whether there is a chance of our going on to Poseidon. But a very high priority should be given to providing a fifth Polaris submarine. With five, it must be possible always to have one or two on station. Four is not a very satisfactory number, nor is it the number that originally was intended.
The dominant feature in the naval world today is the vast expansion of the Soviet Navy. Very few of us thought originally that it was likely to go as far as it has. When we remember that against our naval manpower of 87,000 the Russians have no fewer than 475,000 men, we get some idea of what a very effective naval power they have become. They have 80 nuclear submarines, 15 cruisers and two helicopter carriers built on the most modern lines. Then they have their Shaddock. Already, the United States Navy is no longer able effectively to cover our merchant shipping in all parts of the world, as was the case ten years ago.
At one time, there was doubt about the role of the Royal Navy. I believe that it is very much easier to define it today than it was in the 1950s. It has to provide the deterrent. It has to protect our merchant fleet which, happily, in the last year or two has increased greatly. It has to provide a contribution to N.A.T.O.
We cannot help being struck with the vulnerability of the N.A.T.O. forces to one kind of attack or another, from the North Cape up in the north, the outlet into the Atlantic, down to the Mediterranean in the south. When we look at the land position, N.A.T.O. forces are vulnerable in the North German plain and in the good tank country of the Danube Basin. In the time at our disposal today, it is impossible to consider all these places, but I hope that my hon. Friend will look at the position of Norway and the importance of a N.A.T.O. aircraft carrier being present in those waters.
I want to devote the main part of my speech to the Mediterranean, as I have just returned from a visit to Turkey. We 1212 have to face the fact that the American Sixth Fleet was formidable in its time but is now an ageing fleet, and it is faced with a Soviet fleet which has more modern weapons systems.
Although the Suez Canal is of less interest to Great Britain, it still remains of considerable interest to the Powers in the Mediterranean, especially Italy and France. What surprises me is the extent of the power of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet. It is true that the Russians have three other fleets, but the build-up of the Black Sea Fleet, according to the figures that we have been given, is quite remarkable. It cannot possibly be related to the naval problems of the Black Sea itself, nor to those of the Mediterranean. The only deduction possible is that it is there for some other purpose, possibly oil, and here we are very much affected. Alternatively, it may be because of the Russians' interest in the Indian Ocean, or possibly the hostility that they feel at times towards China. Probably it is a combination of all three factors.
It should not be forgotten that in 1945 Stalin tried to get control of the Straits, and the Montreux Convention must still be an embarrassment to the Russians. It is true that they observe it very well, despite a little of the modern tendency to "go slow" in the Straits. But it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that it is the Indian Ocean with the reopening of the Suez Canal to Russian warships that is really their interest, which is leading to the build-up in the Black Sea and which, in turn, must make the Straits an added embarrassment to them.
The hinge of N.A.T.O. and C.E.N.T.O. has become a more important place than it was. Although the Turks keep a very large army, it is not a very sophisticated one, and this is an area where we are extremely vulnerable. The Straits cannot be defended easily, and there are the North-East Provinces, which again the Russians demanded in 1945. The biggest obstacle of all in this area to the Russians' plans for oil is the absence of over-flying rights so that they can reinforce Egypt and their new Arab allies in the area. Once those over-flying rights were present, the whole situation in the Middle East would alter.
In the light of these events, we have to look again at the role of the Royal 1213 Navy. I am the last to advocate that it can assume a very large rôle in the Mediterranean at present. That has to be left to the Americans and the Italians. But when we come to the Indian Ocean, whatever hon. Gentlemen opposite may think, we have to consider the position more seriously, especially that of the Cape route which has been adopted so successfully by our merchant shipping and that of other nations which trade with Europe. There is no agreement to cover that part of the world. There is no means of dealing with the Soviet nuclear submarines in the area. Presumably there are no British hunter-killers there, and certainly the South African Navy has none. The N.A.T.O. forces refuse to accept any responsibility.
We have to accept the altered balance. Our Navy has perforce been reduced very much in numbers. At the same time, for some reason or other, the power of the Soviet Navy has increased enormously. Regardless of whether we go into the Common Market, we have a huge merchant fleet, and we remain dependent for our food and raw materials on the fleet being able to operate. There are certain voids in present circumstances. But I hope that my hon. Friend will give priority to the hunter-killers, above all to the fifth Polaris submarine and, last but not least, try to rectify the gap in our surface-to-surface weapons.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu (Huddersfield, East)
One of the several points on which I agreed with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) was his plea for rather more detailed information about the Royal Navy than we have been given this year. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I how incredibly difficult it is to keep up to date on the details of the Navy when one is no longer in the centre of it. I remember as a Minister going back to the Navy after 19 years. Whenever I went round ships and looked at the weaponry, if I saw anything at all that I recognised, I used to stroke it with great affection and tell the authorities to have it scrapped.
It is five years since I was the Minister responsible for this great service. I am certain that I am now totally out of date. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will think seriously about providing 1214 more detailed and accurate information than we are now getting from, say, the Navy League on occasions, or Jane's Fighting Ships.
I agree with the hon. Member for Dorset, West and with my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen)—I congratulate him on a very good opening speech for the Opposition—about the glaring gap in the weaponry of submarines. I shall not go back into inter-party recrimination. This has been going on not just for a decade, but since the war. We really have not got down to the problem of providing our submarines with effective weapons.
As to the boats themselves, the O class is one of the best conventional submarines ever designed, and the hunter-killers, which had slight structural defects at one stage, are first-class boats or ships. I think that they are probably large enough to be called ships. But time and again submariners have said, "We have beautiful boats and ships, but nothing worth firing from them." They were referring, first, to torpedoes and, secondly, to the surface-to-surface weapons which the Russians have.
The Minister told us what the Government are hoping to do to remedy these defects. However, I thought that he was a little vague. I understand that there is a possibility of something interim being done. The only interim things I remember with which we toyed were quite useless—a Scandinavian weapon, and a French weapon about which I am not very happy. I wish that we could buy the Russian surface-to-surface missile. That is very good indeed. Will the Minister go into more detail about the plans for improving the weaponry of our submarines, both surface-to-surface missiles and torpedoes?
I remember that great efforts were made over the years to try to get right the shape of the Navy so that it could be expanded easily and conveniently whenever the need arose. But it seemed that one area where we were seriously defective was in terms of shins and boats equivalent to the fast patrol boats of wartime use. I think that we have only four fast patrol boats left, two of which are in moth balls.
Partly as a result of this defect, in the confrontation in Indonesia the Navy had 1215 to rely to a considerable extent on coastal mine sweepers. Though not fitted particularly for this rôle, those ships did the job adequately and their crews behaved magnificently in a political military operation for which neither the Navy nor the Government of the day have yet received sufficient credit. It was one of the greatest political military operations in the history of the world. But we were handicapped by not having ships which could be effectively used for coastal forces.
It seemed to me then, as now, that the ideal craft for that kind of job in the modern world was not the conventional fast patrol boat, but the hovercraft. Potentially it was ideal. It has tremendous speed—far quicker than anything else which moves over the surface of the water. I though that hovercraft would not only have a rôle in fast patrol, but possibly in mine sweeping with less danger, in landing troops on mined beaches and, indeed, in just the kind of operation which was recently carried out in East Pakistan by the L.C.Ms. I think that hovercraft would have been invaluable in that instance.
I know that certain studies have been, made, and perhaps still are being made, by the Navy into the possibilities of using hovercraft. I should like to know how far those studies have gone, what is naval thinking about the use of hovercraft, and whether they will have a rôle to play in the Navy in the foreseeable future.
Another gap which existed five years ago—I should like to know whether it still exists today—concerned fishery protection. When I was responsible for these matters I found that we were hopelessly short of vessels for this job. The few vessels which we had were being run so hard that they were continually breaking down. I wonder whether there has been any change in that sphere and whether the fishery protection squadron has been increased to do the very important job with which it is entrusted.
The bulk of the Minister's speech was about manpower. This is a problem which the Navy and, indeed, all the other Services have had for a very long time. There was a tremendous setback after the 1957 White Paper and during our time in the middle 1960s. Since the war 1216 there have been setbacks and difficulties in getting recruits.
Tremendous changes have been made in the attractiveness of naval life since the war. Generally speaking, living conditions both at sea and ashore used to be loathsome. They are now much better ashore and, especially in the new ships, they are becoming less vile than before.
One of the biggest improvements since the war has been the quality of the food which sailors get. It is now first class. Many things have been done to make the Service more attractive—better living conditions, married quarters, and increasing possibilities of accompanied service.
In my view, the problem is not only getting new recruits, but re-engagement. I am glad that that has increased, but it varies tremendously. Sometimes it is pressure from a wife which persuades a man not to re-engage. Sometimes they find that they simply cannot stand the Service. In such cases, I agree that, if possible, they should be let out. But often it is the feeling which we all have—that the grass is a bit greener on the other side of the hedge. Therefore, after nine years in the Service, a man will say to himself, "I am going to have a go at civilian life". It is perfectly understandable, especially when they are so highly trained. Employers queue up outside the depots to sign them on whenever possible because they are among the best trained men in the country.
I think that having gone into civil life after nine years service in the Royal Navy a substantial proportion of these men are finding that life is not quite what they thought it might be. I had a long discussion with my opposite number in Holland on this subject and I found that the Dutch had a plan that was working remarkably well. When a man left the Service after his first engagement he received a polite letter from the Minister, or from the equivalent of the Second Sea Lord, thanking him for his services to the Netherlands Navy and saying that if there was anything the Navy could do to help him to get used to civilian life, he should just let the Navy know.
That letter was followed a few months later by another letter saying, "We hope that you have settled down and got a nice job, a house, and so on, but remember, if there are any problems at all, come 1217 back to us". There was then a third letter about a month later saying, "By now you have seen what civilian life is like. We very much hope that you are enjoying it, but if by any chance you are not, please come back to us at your old rate". It meant losing seniority, but the man could go back at his old rate. The response to that was a 40 per cent. return by those who had gone out of the Service after nine years.
I passed that information on to our Second Sea Lord's Department just before, with immense regret, I left the Admiralty. I hope that idea is being seriously considered and followed up because, having seen a bit of naval life, having seen a lot of civilian life, and having seen life—perhaps I should not say this—in the other Services, too, I am convinced that for a large number of people life in the Royal Navy is a good one, that it is a worth-while Service, and that it is a service which many people find satisfying. I hope that nothing will happen that will stop the Navy from doing its job properly. I wish it God speed.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Dame Joan Vickers (Devonport)
I feel a little apprehensive about following the Minister and ex-Ministers in the debate, but I agree with the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) about what happened in the Far East. I spent one or two days on a minesweeper going round the coast of Sarawak.
One attends these Navy debates, with a feeling of frustration. Indeed, they are becoming rather a farce. One can always be proud of the Royal Navy, but we have to listen to the Minister saying what he is permitted to reveal. We have listened, too, to the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) who spoke with his past knowledge of the Department, but there is little realistic that shadow Ministers or back benchers can say. Either we have heard everything of major interest through the newspapers, or the Minister places before us a few matters which he could have explained before the debate.
I consider that these debates will not be realistic until we have a Defence Committee—about which hon. Members will recall there was an Early Day Motion—the members of which can be sworn to 1218 secrecy, by means of which hon. Members can get all the necessary information to enable us to have discussions with our allies in W.E.U. and elsewhere the real details of our defence policy.
If we are going to spend 5.4 per cent. of our gross national product on defence it seems to me that we must decide which Service we require to build up. I suggest, not because I come from Devonport, that it should be the Royal Navy, and I should like to know whether the Ministry is investing public money wisely.
We need a Navy in peace, as in war, to keep the sea lanes open and to be ready to help in bush fires and disasters, such as the floods in East Pakistan. I read in the Sunday Telegraph that the Navy is planning new classes of warships, including one of 40 ships to be made of glass reinforced plastic. I should like to know how far the planning stage has progressed.
The article said that the building of these ships might provide work for the smaller shipyards. I hope they will include the Royal dockyards. I hope that the Minister will remember that recently in Devonport H.M.S. "Crystal" was built. She is a survey ship which will be of great benefit to the Royal Navy, and she was the first ship to be designed and built in a Royal dockyard.
I have been adding up the strength of the various navies of the world. I am not sure whether the figures are completely accurate, but I understand that the Soviet Navy has about 350 conventionally-powered, submarines, compared with 82 between the United States and ourselves. Why cannot we build more diesel electrically powered submarines, which cost one-tenth of what it costs to build a nuclear-powered submarine? It is essential to have submarines in large numbers. I am not saying that we should not go on with the hunter-killer submarine, but they cost about £50 million each, and for that price we could have many more conventionally-powered submarines. The Soviet Navy has this type of vessel.
The Soviet Navy also has 300 torpedo boats. The combined strength of the United States and this country is two. Are they considered to be useful in peace or war? If the Soviet Navy consider 1219 it necessary to have 300 boats, it must be realised that they do not build them for fun, and I should like to know what we are doing to combat that strength. In approximate numbers, the Soviet Navy can put 1,612 ships to sea. The United States can put 490 vessels to sea, including Polaris submarines, we can put about 115 ships to sea.
In view of the recent demonstrations in the United States, does the Minister consider that when America eventually pulls out of Vietnam she will feel that she can support either N.A.T.O. or S.E.A.T.O.? Public opinion may be against her doing this, and we have to be prepared for that eventuality. The 6,000 arrests have shown the power of the demonstrations in America.
Europe has had to rely on America for about 25 years. This situation cannot continue, and I therefore stress the role of the Navy, first because we are an island, and second because of our commitment to South-East Asia and to N.A.T.O. We are now in third place as regard the number of merchant ships. In any future war we would have to play a major part through N.A.T.O. to protect Europe and also to stop the people of this country from starving. It is therefore no good having a Navy with no teeth; it must have teeth which can bite if necessary.
Mobile bases are needed for stopping submarines. Shore bases, if one can get them, are expensive. Is there any possibility of keeping H.M.S. "Eagle" in action until we have some more helicopter carriers, such as H.M.S. "Tiger", which is now being converted? Four Amazon Class frigates are under construction, and we are told that two more may be ordered, I should like the Minister to tell us whether they will be ordered and, if so, when.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield, East praised the Dutch Navy, and I agree with what he said, but I should like to know how many ships our allies are able to contribute to N.A.T.O. The same question arises in respect of CENTO and S.E.A.T.O. I should be ungrateful if I were not to acknowledge the excellent hospitality that I received last week, but I must say that I agree with the article in yesterday's Glasgow Herald that S.E.A.T.O. is a relic of the Dulles era. 1220 We now have an agreement with Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and New Zealand, and I therefore ask whether S.E.A.T.O. is necessary. It is fairly expensive, and I cannot see that it contributes much to the defence of the Far East. If the Philippines feel left out, perhaps they could join Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore in this pact.
As there are excellent relations between Pakistan and China, and given the unfortunate financial position of Pakistan at the moment, I cannot think that she will be of any help in a pact like S.E.A.T.O. So if we are not to get together in the Far East, we will still have to rely on the United States Seventh Fleet. Since 1969, Britain has had no forces committed outside N.A.T.O., none to S.E.A.T.O. and nothing in the CENTO areas.
My hon. Friend particularly mentioned the difficulties in the Indian Ocean. It is now time we decided into which Service we need to put the 5.4 per cent. of our gross national product which we intend to spend on defence services.
For the first time for a hundred years, the Royal Navy is to have a Commander-in-Chief, I gather from the newspapers. I hope that this will work, but I should have thought that the Commander of the Far East Fleet should be left completely independent. In Plymouth now, we have a flag officer who is responsible not only for the local command but also for the dockyard. This is far too much for one man, but until the general manager is given his rightful position, until he takes the chair at the Whitley Council, he will never get control of the dockyard. In view of the recent changes it should not be necessary for the admiral to undertake this extra work in future.
We have been told that there is ample work for the dockyards, but the numbers working there have been reduced, recruiting has practically stopped, and there are fewer apprentices. One of the difficulties is that the people who work in the dockyard are classed as industrial and non-industrial civil servants. As the Government are committed—although they have not yet been successful, I regret to say—to cutting down the numbers of civil servants, it is wrong to call these people civil servants in future. There must be a distinction between the Whitehall type and the industrial workers.
1221 I suggest that, in future the staffs working in the dockyards should be classified as staff "servicing ships" or "staff employed at dockyards". My reason for being keen on this is that in the drawing department for example, in Devonport Dockyard, there is a shortage of personnel because they are classified as civil servants.
I regret the closing of the Dockyard Technical College. I should like to place on record my profound sorrow—and perhaps anger—at this move, after my fight to keep it open. It has done 125 years of excellent work, and I was fortified by the previous Government, who, on 14th May last year, sent me a letter saying that Chatham, Rossyth and Devonport should not be closed. I am, therefore, all the more grieved that this should have been done by my own Government. I believe that they will regret this. They must also see that the future of the instructors is safeguarded. My hon. Friend has had a petition from them, they are uneasy about their future, and many of them do not have a job which they considered the Ministry would guarantee.
Command Paper 4506 said that the integration of all defence research projects would be headed by Mr. Derek Rayner, and that the dockyards would have an overall manager, Mr. Norfolk, both these chaps seem to have sunk without trace. I should like to know what they have done and whether they should be kept on the strength.
I have always been interested in hydrography and I pay a tribute to the excellent work of H.M.S. "Fawn" and H.M.S. "Fox". I hope that their estimates will not be cut down in future. This work can be done in peacetime and it is very advantageous, particularly to our shipping lines.
Hon. Members can put forward much better ideas than I on recruiting, but I pay a tribute to the Royal Marines and the women's Service, whose recruiting has risen considerably.
I hope that it will not be necessary, when men go overseas to a place like Gan and others where wives cannot accompany them that wives will not be forced to leave their present accommodation. This is always an anxiety.
I hope that my hon. Friend will pass on to the Secretary of State the desire 1222 of many hon. Members for a Defence Committee on the lines of those of so many of our European allies. We then have some knowledge of the matter we are debating. We shall not then have to put forward our personal ideas and wishes with no background knowledge as to whether they are practicable or feasible
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)
I will not follow the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) in the wide range of subjects which she covered so admirably, except to agree that it is time that the House had some effective Defence Committee which would conform with the Official Secrets Act. It would take some of the politics out of defence and put much more efficiency into it.
I want to confine myself to a narrower subject, the fighting equipment supplied to the ships of the Royal Navy—which I consider to be inadequate and unsatisfactory. Throughout this century, there has been a tradition of supplying the Royal Navy with inadequate fighting equipment. Hon. Members will know from their reading of history that, in the First World War, we had shells which did not explode and capital ships which exploded too easily. They will also know—perhaps from personal experience—that we entered the Second World War with completely obsolete aircraft, quite the reverse of the excellent aircraft provided by the Royal Air Force for their Service, and with no proper measures for aircraft cover.
Already in this debate serious deficiencies have been mentioned with regard to the fighting equipment of the Royal Navy. My hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) and Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) mentioned the inadequacy of the Mark 24 and Mark 31 torpedoes supplied in recent years to Royal Naval submarines. The House must regard it as a terrible reflectiton on itself that the Navy should be supplied with weapons so ludicrously ineffective as those torpedoes have proved to be in the last few years. We have the ultimate responsibility to ensure that the people whom we send out to sea are properly equipped.
I want to deal exclusively in my speech with ship-to-ship missiles, anti-ship guided 1223 weapons. Ministers of Defence of both parties have for many years been questioned about when the Navy will develop these weapons. Ships of the Royal Navy can cope quite well with air attack, through their surface-to-air guided weapons, and to some extent can cope with submarines although with what efficiency has to be discovered by practical experience. What ships of the Royal Navy cannot do at present is to fight, on the surface, ships of the same size or even smaller. The Under-Secretary talked about new construction and I asked if these ships could fight ships of the same or a smaller size. The hon. Gentle-main said "Yes", but did not go any further. I suggest that most of these ships of new construction could be quite easily destroyed by small patrol boats belonging to foreign Governments because those small boats are fitted with anti-ship guided weapons while the ships under new construction for the Royal Navy are fitted with ludicrously inadequate weapons for surface action.
Most hon. Gentlemen would agree that the gun is becoming more and more obsolete as a weapon. The reason is obvious—a guided missile has a much greater range, it can fire far beyond the horizon and can be carried by very small ships. Furthermore, a missile is much more accurate because it actively homes on to its target with radar. The position of the target does not have to be worked out roughly by range finders. The anti-ship guided missile is now the decisive weapon for surface action. It has been suggested by Ministers of Defence of both parties that the answer to the anti-ship guided weapon is the carrier or shore-based aircraft.
§ Mr. Cronin
Is it really suggested, and I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman is not suggesting this, that the Navy can operate only under the protection of carriers or shore-based aircraft? Is the Navy not to operate in the Atlantic, the Indian Ocean or Northern Norway? Unless it has ship-to-ship guided weapons it certainly cannot operate without the fear of being sunk by small ships.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting point 1224 with which many agree. This was considered 15 years ago by the Navy Staff. It was known that the Soviets and others were developing these missiles. The decision was taken then not to go down that expensive road because we had aircraft which could positively identify and if necessary sink any hostile forces. It was one or the other and it seems now that we are falling between two stools if we follow the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.
§ Mr. Cronin
I do not think so. The Under-Secretary said that we are shortly to have only one carrier. Therefore surface ships can operate only under the cover of the solitary carrier to obtain air protection or else operate close to an air base. Otherwise they are defenceless against ship-to-ship guided missiles.
The decisive moment in naval history was 21st October, 1967 when the Israeli destroyer "Eilat" was sunk by six anti-ship guided missiles fired by some Egyptians from some patrol boats in Port Said from a range of 131 miles. The "Eilat" could not even fire a gun in reply. That incident was the death-knell of the gun as a serious weapon in modern naval warfare. The Under-Secretary will I think, agree that at present not a single ship of the Royal Navy is equipped with an anti-ship guided weapon.
All these splendid ships, manned with their excellent officers and crews, are liable to receive exactly the same treatment as the "Eilat" if they come within range of a small patrol boat fitted with an efficient anti-ship guided weapon system. This can hardly be a source of satisfaction when we look at what other navies have.
The hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) spoke about what the Soviet Navy has. He mentioned the Shaddock missile which has a range of 200 miles. A ship equipped with the Shaddock missile can sink another ship 200 miles away. The Soviet Navy also has these small Styx missiles which have a range of little over 13 miles. The Soviet Navy has four Kresta class cruisers equipped with these Shaddock missiles and four Kynda class cruisers equipped with these Shaddock missiles, all of which can destroy ships 200 miles away. In addition it has 100 Osa class patrol boats and 50 Komar class patrol boats all equipped with these small Styx missiles 1225 such as destroyed the Israeli ship "Eilat" in October, 1967.
Not only does the Soviet Navy have these formidable missiles but the Cuban Navy, the Indonesian Navy, the Polish Navy and the Egyptian Navy have them. Yet the Royal Navy has not. All of those navies are superior to the Royal Navy in fighting capacity in surface action. If anyone can tell me that is not the case I shall be happy to hear his reasons to the contrary. The only exception to what I have said is that our ships have protection if they are under the umbrella of carriers—or rather our solitary carrier, the "Ark Royal"—or are under the protection of shore-based aircraft. That excludes, in the absence of "Ark Royal", all the oceans of the world except a few limited areas close to air bases, as the site of the Royal Navy's operations.
The Under-Secretary talked about type 42, the Sheffield class ships, the type 82, the Bristol class. Every one of those ships has only one weapon to use against other ships on the surface and that is a solitary, miserable 4.5 gun. They can be sunk with ease by any of these small ships manned by Indonesians or Arabs which has an effective anti-ship guided weapon aboard. These pictures we see in the advertisements for recruiting, showing these beautiful ships, may attract recruits, but the House ought to be aware of how impotent these ships are against anti-ship guided weapons.
I hope that in replying the Under-Secretary will not introduce an element of political recrimination. It may well be that the Labour Government did not put enough effort into surface-to-surface guided missile weapons research; it may well be that the previous Conservative Government did not put enough effort into it. What we are really concerned about is what will happen in the future, and I suggest that the future does not look particularly bright with regard to anti-ship guided weapons.
The Minister of State for Defence gave us a glimmer of hope when he made his statement on 28th October, 1970. For the first time we heard that the Royal Navy was to be fitted with ship-to-ship guided weapons, the Exocet. I have made some investigations as to the nature of Exocet and it seems to be a matter of doubt whether it is really the best anti-ship 1226 guided weapon which can be obtained for the money spent. The Americans are developing an anti-ship guided weapon called Harpoon, the French and Italians are developing an anti-ship guided weapon called Otomat. Both of these are greatly superior to Exocet. I should like hon. Members to consider a few technical points.
The Under-Secretary of State will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that the figures are these. Exocet has a range of about 23 miles, and that range cannot be increased by development because Exocet is dependent upon solid fuel and the weight-range ratio of solid fuel reaches its optimum in a missile like the Exocet. On the other hand, Otomat has a range of 43 miles and, having liquid fuel, can be developed to a range of 125 miles. Exocet has a warhead of 43 kilogrammes. Otomat has a warhead of 210 kilogrammes. Otomat can be fired at any angle whatever, whereas Exocet is subject to considerable restriction in this respect. Furthermore, Exocet when fired, cruises only at a very low level over the sea and is, therefore, vulnerable to rough seas, vulnerable to curtain fire, and could well go completely over a small ship in a rough sea without touching it. Otomat cruises at a higher altitude before homing on its target.
It is important that the House should realise that Otomat costs the same as Exocet. Why do the Government propose to purchase a weapon which is much inferior in capability to the other weapons which are available for the same money?
Harpoon, the United States weapon, is almost a copy of Otomat. There is little to choose between them, except that Harpoon probably costs much more as it is based upon United States production methods. It will also be developed more slowly.
The Under-Secretary of State may say that Otomat is not immediately available. But the Italian Navy has ordered eight for delivery in July, 1973. Can Exocet be obtained earlier'? It may be said also that the keeping of "Ark Royal" until the late 1970s will make a ship-to-ship guided weapon less important, and one can accept that, provided 1227 that no ship ever goes beyond the range of "Ark Royals" air support. What happens if "Ark Royal" is in port or out of action? The hon. Gentleman may say, further, that the Royal Navy is at the moment interested only in missiles with a range to the horizon because there is not yet the radar available to guide them beyond the horizon. But that, too, is a somewhat fallacious argument because, if one can have a weapon which covers not only the range to the horizon but beyond for the same money, one cannot really lose on the deal, especially as it is probable that radar will be able to increase its range with the progress of development.
I want the Under-Secretary of State to give an assurance that he is seriously considering improving the anti-ship guided weapon systems of the Navy. In particular, I should like to know whether he is pursuing the possibility of the Otomat, the alternative which I have suggested. There is to be a complete firing of the Otomat system in October this year in Sardinia. Is the hon. Gentleman prepared to send out observers, or is he convinced that he already has exactly the right weapon irrespective of the facts and figures I have given?
I feel disposed to apologise to the House for the somewhat technical nature of my observations, but war is fought now on the outermost frontiers of technology. Until we have some sort of defence committee in the House, all of us who take an interest in defence matters have to familiarise ourselves with some rather abstruse technical details.
I hope that the Under-Secretary will not rely entirely—with due respect to the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester—upon the advice of admirals or entirely upon the advice of scientists. They have a remarkable capacity for being wrong. It was a committee of admirals between the world wars which said that protecting merchant ships would not be a serious part of the next war. It was a committee of scientists between the two world wars which said that radar would serve no useful purpose in the next war. I suggest, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman should regard this as a matter for which he must take full technical and moral responsibility personally. 1228 He must arrive at the truth by asking his scientists and admirals some really searching questions. He must take steps to ensure that he can report to the House at some early time in the future, with his hand on his heart, that the Royal Navy is being provided as soon as possible with the best anti-ship guided weapon available.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Bonner Pink (Portsmouth, South)
I find it difficult to follow the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) because he went into a great deal of technical detail, and I am inclined to agree with the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) when he says that the technical changes have been so rapid that it is difficult for us to keep abreast. When I went over one of the latest American guided missile ships ten years or more ago, I felt then that the development of that ship from the wartime cruiser in which I served was probably as great as had been the development from the "Victory" to that cruiser.
I feel a little diffidence, also, in taking up the hon. Gentleman's comments about the exploits of the small patrol vessel, for Vosper and Thorneycroft in my constituency build quite a number of these vessels. Perhaps the Minister would like to avail himself of that company's services in building some for the Royal Navy.
As regards the fleet itself, I agree with the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) that we need more hunter-killers, and—although he did not say it—I consider that we need more Polaris submarines. Also, as my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) reminded us, we need more small, comparatively cheap and comparatively simple ships for the brush-fire operations in which we may be involved. Above all, we should have a balanced fleet, not a fleet of all submarines or a fleet of all surface vessels.
The debate so far has emphasised the manpower problem. Both the Under-Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Sutton emphasised that manpower is at present the greatest problem in the Navy. Traditionally, it has not always been so. Perhaps because the public has had a rather higher opinion of the Navy or more love for the Navy than for the 1229 other two Services, or perhaps because the Navy is a rather smaller Service, it has, on the whole, in past years not had the difficulty in obtaining recruits which it is having today.
The Under-Secretary reminded us that the Navy's establishment is down for next year. I wonder whether this has been done to cover the needs or whether it merely reflects a realistic appraisal of the establishment which the Navy can fill—in other words, whether it is, in effect, a question of the likely number of recruits.
The problem of manpower has two aspects, recruiting and re-engagement. On re-engagement, I feel that great regard must be paid to the feelings of wives and girl friends. The biggest worry for wives is whether they will have flats, which they do not like, or houses, and what amenities will be offered to them. In addition, there is the whole question of unaccompanied tours. These are questions of real concern to wives and to girl friends, and they are of vital importance in the re-engagement problem.
Recruiting as such is a problem for all three Services. I do not want to be party-political, but the Opposition must bear their responsibility for the constant changes which they brought about by their policies, which made a career in the Services a very doubtful proposition from a long-term recruiting point of view. The problem also arises partly because of conditions and pay. Both sides of the House would agree that the proposals which have been implemented are playing a great part in obtaining recruits for all the Services. The Government have already made a great contribution to the recruiting problem by making their policies clear and by making it clear that they will stick to them.
The fleet has changed enormously technically, and that means that the requirements of the men who man it have changed, too. At Trafalgar what was needed was brawn today it is brain. But seamanship is still essential. There is all the difference in the world between carrying out duties ashore on a stable platform and carrying them out at sea on a ship that is rolling and pitching. Not only must the men have technical ability and knowledge, but they must also possess seamanship, and the two must progress together. For that reason it is preferable 1230 that recruits to the Navy should enter the Service when they are young.
The problem is also a long-term one. A ship takes only a year or two to build, but the men to man that ship take many years to train so that when the time comes to commission her they are ready. It is not only a question of manpower, but one of skilled and balanced manpower. A balance of all the many skills required is needed to operate the complex machines which ships are today.
For many years the Navy has recruited boys, and many of them have not been too happy. Some have left after a very short time. As has been said, it is probably a good thing that if a man or a boy is unhappy in the career which he has chosen, he should leave early. But although many have left or have wanted to leave soon after joining, a great number have eventually re-engaged for pension. Obviously many of them have found, and still find, a very worthwhile career in the Navy.
We ought to look ahead to the time—probably not very far ahead—when the school-leaving age is raised, because at that time the Navy will find additional difficulty in recruiting boys. Even now, when boys aged 15 can stay on for another year at school, many do not do so. When the leaving age is raised, many will still want to leave at 15 but will be unable to do so. They will be unwilling scholars and I am sure that many would like to join the Navy, as they do today.
A solution could be found if the Navy and the Department of Education got together to solve the problem. They could surely work out a scheme of full-time education within the Navy. It would obviously need a special syllabus, with special subjects and studies. For example, the recruits would possibly study naval history rather than general history. But the recreation could be of the naval-type to a large extent, sailing, boating and seamanship, so that there would be an integrated education between the ordinary general education of school and the specialised education which they receive at present in the Navy. It is merely a matter of coordinating those two into one form of education rather than, as would be the case, the boy finishing his general education and then joining the Navy and having his naval education.
1231 Obviously there would be financial repercussions, and the Navy could not be expected to pay all the costs involved. But the Department of Education would gain in respect of accommodation and staffing problems. This proposal is well worthwhile and merits study. I hope that both the Navy and the Department of Education will support it and bring forward a combined scheme before the school-leaving age is raised.
Without doubt, the naval manning problem is the most vital that we have to face today. It will not get much easier in many ways in the future. I hope that this suggestion will receive sympathetic consideration because, in a small way, it could be of value to the Navy in the future.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Foley (West Bromwich)
I do not wish to follow the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Pink) in his detailed comments on manpower. However, I want to refer to it briefly.
The frustrations expressed and the requests for a defence committee reflect a feeling that the experiment on which we are embarking as a new method of treating the Navy Estimates has not fully worked out. It has not fully worked out, not because of anything that the Minister said today—on the contrary, in terms of the genuine problems of manpower and recruitment, he fulfilled his role very well—but because of all the things that he did not say, which one expected to hear on an occasion such as this. We should have had some statement of the overall strategy of the Navy and its planning. If we want to do a serious job, we have to examine our commitments around the world and our capability for meeting them. Manpower and the shape or the balance within the fleet relate not to themselves but to the job which the Navy has to do. Therefore, we have first to define that job.
It is the absence of this statement which can lead us to argue about brush fires, without trying to indicate the nature or to draw a scenario of what we mean by that, or to argue about the fifth Polaris submarine, or aircraft carriers, or even, with respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin), about taking on the Cuban Navy in their waters. We have to realise that our mare nostrum 1232 is not around Cuba; if it is anywhere, it is in the Mediterranean. That is where our clear and firm commitments must be made.
In a debate on the Navy, one would expect that the Minister would state that our greatest commitment is in the Mediterranean, that the role of our Navy, with our allies, is primarily in that area, and that the balance and the shape of our fleet is to complement those of other nations. We do not exist on our own. We do not have aircraft carriers as a phallic symbol. We do not have guided missiles for the sake of rattling them against the Cubans and the Indonesians. But we have a job to do with our allies, and, over and above that, we have something else to do on our own.
Reference has been made to our worldwide capability. But we need to be honest and to say what that capability is and what we have with which to meet it. We have two frigates permanently on station in the Caribbean and we are able to place there once a year, or every two years, something more for visits to Latin America. They are important—politically important and important from the point of view of our economy and relationships with the countries concerned. But we must not exaggerate what it means.
Equally, when we refer to our strategy and to the Far East commitments, let us not give the fleet an impossible task and let us not deceive ourselves or try to deceive our allies about what we can do either with their help or on our own. I had expected that in a debate on strategy the Minister would say that we are not equipped to engage in, nor could he draw a scenario of events in which Britain would be committed to, a conflict with a major Power without the assistance of our United States allies.
If these things were said we should see our role in its proper context. Let the White Ensign be shown around the world, but let there be no delusions of grandeur or nostalgia for a past that cannot be repeated. We must be honest with ourselves and with the nation. Questions of manpower, of balance, and of shape must be discussed within the context of a conflict within which we would operate.
I ask the Minister to explain in a little more detail our presence in the Indian 1233 Ocean and the nature of the demand or challenge there. He said that there was a Soviet naval presence but he thought that the real threat at present was a political one. This is a major advance on what has been said from the Government Front Bench, because in the defence debate the threat was said to be a military one. When we on this side argued that the threat was a political one, the counter argument was that we must sell arms to South Africa because it was a military threat.
In terms of defining the threat in this part of the world and our response to it, will the Minister explain what has happened to the eight-Power talks which did not start after the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference? Has the threat diminished? Do we still need to explain to our allies why we want to assist in rearming South Africa, or has the threat diminished and shall we quietly rearm the South Africans because we committed ourselves to it long before the elaborate facade of consulting the Commonwealth countries? In fairness to the role of the Navy and to the Service he represents, the Minister should explain a little more fully the nature of the Navy's rôle in this part of the world.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Bradford, West)
The hon. Member said that the Soviet Navy poses essentially a political threat. The contention that it is a military threat was backed up by Admiral Gorshkov as long ago as 1963 when he said:Now we must be prepared through broad offensive operations to deliver crushing strikes against sea and ground targets of the imperialists at any point of the world's seas and adjacent territories.These are hardly quiet political sentiments. Surely they are military sentiments which are deserving of a military response.
§ Mr. Foley
The hon. Gentleman will find that in the last defence debate I quoted that worthy admiral as saying that the military presence in the Indian Ocean was in support of the Soviet political ambition, namely, the conquest of the world in the political sense.
The Minister muffed this point, too: he said that there was no dividing line, that the North was involved but the South was not involved. I cannot recall N.A.T.O. ever having said that it would 1234 have a rôle outside a dividing line which it determined for itself. It may well be that the Minister and his colleagues would like N.A.T.O. to extend its rôle—presumably Portugal would be happy to go along with it—around the Indian Ocean, and certainly around the Cape. If that is the Minister's intention, he should explain to the House exactly what he means, because N.A.T.O. has established for itself a dividing line.
The sea routes are often drawn into the argument. Other nations in Europe and elsewhere depend on the freedom of the sea routes. Japan is as dependent as we are—perhaps even more dependent—on the sea routes, yet she is not establishing a Navy with aircraft carriers and missiles with far greater range than that possessed by the Russians. The Scandinavian countries and West Germany do not send ships showing the flag round the Cape. In essence the sea routes are in the charge of all the nations of the world. If there is any conflict over the sea routes, a world response and not a British response will be necessary.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
I know that the hon. Gentleman has the good of the Navy at heart, but he deploys a very facile and wrong-headed argument when he says that because other countries are not there we should drop all our responsibilities, go away and hope that the markets of the world will not dissolve into chaos.
§ Mr. Foley
I have the good of the Navy at heart. I wish that the hon. and gallant Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends had the good of the Navy at heart and did not seek to give it a rôle that it cannot fulfil; because the money is not there, the ships are not there, the weapons are not there, and Britain cannot afford this nostalgia about its imperial past. It just is not on. We have a Navy. We must equip it as best we can. We must give it its role. It will respond. This is no disrespect to any serving officers or men. They will do their best. We do them a disservice if we arrogate to them a rôle around the world that they cannot fulfil.
Now that we have a presence in the Far East, do we still have access to and use of a dockyard in Singapore? Is this now in military hands? Have we a 1235 priority, if it is needed, over and above the commercial considerations?
Is the Minister satisfied that he has in each of the home dockyards a balanced labour force, that he can offer security of jobs to those working there, and above all, that he can offer them the possibility once every so many years of being involved in new construction? It can be frustrating to a worker who spends all his time de-gutting a ship and rewiring it and never impressing his personality on something new. How many of the 19 vessels under construction are in the dockyards? How many does he expect will be built in the dockyards? Will the dockyards be tendering for the Type 21?
We are all concerned about the question of manpower and recruitment. How do we get, keep and maintain morale and enthusiasm in the Navy? Will those who serve for nine years acquire a qualification which is recognised in civilian life? If the Navy made this a target in all branches, not just in the technical branches, it would be an incentive to recruitment, because men could return to civilian life in their late 30s or early 40s with a qualification which assures them of a job.
My last point relates to my experience in my days at the Admiralty of the way in which other N.A.T.O. countries sent their ships for working up at Portland. Does this continue? It was the greatest compliment paid to the British Navy since our membership of N.A.T.O. that other N.A.T.O. countries sent their ships and men to do their working up at Portland. It was a recognition of the standards of seamanship, navigation, weaponry and all-round soundness of our ships and men.
I would add my tribute to those already paid to those serving in the fleet, the uniformed men and women and all those civilians who back them up.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I make no com-plaint at all of the length of speeches so far, but I already know of about 12 other hon. Members who want to speak in the debate, apart from Front Bench speakers. I hope that hon. Members who catch my eye will remember that.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)
I very much welcome the constructive tone of the debate so far, so I will not rise to the taunts of the hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Foley).
The hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) made an extremely interesting suggestion about inviting ex-Navy personnel to return to the Service. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will adopt this idea forthwith, and I ask him to make sure that it applies also to retired admirals!
I thought that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) was at fault in only one respect, when he accused the Conservatives of irresponsible opposition. In fact, he should have thanked us for keeping the pressure on as we did during our years of Opposition, for without this he and any other Socialist Defence Minister would have been utterly vulnerable to enfilading fire from the left wing of their own party.
There is some pungency in the Opposition's taunt that the Conservative Government, for all their huffing and puffing, have not increased defence spending to any noticeable extent. On the naval side I believe that the Government are not paying enough attention to the surveillance of the trade routes which, through the centuries, has been the Royal Navy's primary task. To prevent war it is essential to have information about what any possible foe is doing, and surveillance is the key word. For example, at the time of Cuba the late President Kennedy was able to avert a war by hot line diplomacy, but he could do it only because he had available minute-by-minute information about what the Russian ships were doing, whether approaching, stopping, turning round, or whatever it was.
If this need for surveillance is recogised and agreed, that means that there must be shipborne aircraft. There is a number of things that the Defence Department should do now. First, it should keep the "Ark Royal" indefinitely, and not in the slightly half-hearted way that it is talking about so far. That is the complete answer to the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin), who made a most interesting case about the value of surface-to-surface missiles. We do not 1237 want to follow along that very expensive path now, because we have, if we will only keep them, the carriers and particularly the Harrier aircraft which can do for us everything that those guided missiles can do. Guided missiles can be fired only to start a war or continue a war, whereas an aircraft with a man in it can fly over and positively identify whatever the target may be, and can be used for preventing a war. This is a key issue with regard to the surface-to-surface missile. Without air surveillance, some day a young Commander, perhaps newly in command of a frigate, will have to take an impossibly difficult decision whether to release his missile at something over the horizon that he cannot positively identify. We come back to what is often described in naval circles as the Mark I Eyeball.
Second, the Government should not scrap H.M.S. "Eagle" but should keep her at least as a first-line reserve. After all, she can fly Jaguars even if she cannot fly Phantoms.
The Government should also hurry on with the through-deck cruiser, which is given only one half-sentence in the White Paper. They should get a real move on with the Harrier aircraft, conceived by Hawker Siddeley in 1957. In the recent debate I spoke about seeing it at Farnborough in its early stages 10 years ago, yet my hon. Friend the Minister of State said in a recent debate that he was hoping to attend trials—trials, 13 years after the concept of this aircraft! The United States Marine Corps, I am glad to say, is sufficiently satisfied with the aircraft and its performance to place a firm order for a large number already. Why is the Royal Navy still messing about doing trials? I have here a picture taken two years ago of a Harrier landing on the flight deck of an Italian cruiser, but still we seem to have to go on doing trials. To coin a phrase, the Government should get their finger out about this.
I very much agree with the hon. Member for Sutton that we should not over-sophisticate the aircraft. We should go for a marinised version, because we do not want it to corrode, but it is an admirable concept as it is, and the Navy should not press only for the ultimate, which I agree Naval Staffs always tend to want to do.
1238 We should also pay off now H.M.S. "Blake", which is a monstrosity, and stop work on H.M.S. "Tiger", which will apparently be a similar monstrosity. I was on board both ships recently and found that the living conditions, with no air-conditioning for the ship's company, are intolerable. The ships, for all the tremendous amount spent on them, are not cost-effective, because they will not carry enough helicopters, or enough Harriers eventually.
It would be worth while investigating the conversion of the County class D.L.G.s to carry Harrier aircraft and helicopters. If the prehistoric Seaslug, its delivery system and its stowage were ripped out, they would be admirable ships for carrying Harriers and Sea Kings. I feel that the Seaslug represents only the summit of a gunnery officer's dreams at the time of the Kamikaze attacks at the end of World War II.
Next, the Government should sort out the problem of how the aircrew and the maintenance crew in ships carrying aircraft are to be found. We have not yet had a straight answer whether they are to be R.A.F. aircrew and naval maintenance crew, or whether the maintenance crew will also be Royal Air Force. This is a fundamental issue. It may be one of the muddles the Government inherited, but they ought to sort it out very quickly.
I believe that all these measures will help the fleet to keep its own organic air support. I leave this question by saying that a naval task force without its own air support is not only emasculated but blind. An emasculated man with his eyes can at least look after himself, but without them he is in a pretty hopeless situation.
The measures I have suggested would also help in anti-submarine warfare, the importance of which has been emphasised by many hon. Members. The point about organic air support with any naval task force is well understood by the Australians, who are keeping their carrier. The Americans know it very well. The French know it, and are keeping theirs, and the Russians are learning it very fast.
I am sure that I shall be told from both sides that we cannot do all this, and the two reasons given will be money and manpower. As to money, any Government facing the difficulties that we face 1239 must have the gumption to tell the country, "We need more money for defence". I am not proud of a Government that merely brag that they have not put up defence spending, if the necessity for putting it up is apparent.
Many hon. Members have spoken about manpower and recruiting difficulties. The first thing to remember is that we must not have sailors living on board Her Majesty's ships under refit. This is a lesson which has been learned in the past, but, for reasons of economy, the practice continues. I was recently on hoard H.M.S. "Blake", where the conditions of the mess decks have to be seen to be believed. This is one area in which money must be spent so that there are convenient barracks in the dockyard where men may live when their ships are refitting.
I believe that lack of foreign service in the future is to some extent a bar to recruiting, but we cannot have forces overseas just in order to be able to recruit them. But nor is it reasonable to plead lack of manpower as an excuse for not having forces overseas.
In the map on page 65 the White Paper gives an interesting illustration of shore-to-sea strengths ratio. There are 50,800 personnel in the United Kingdom ashore and only 20,000 at sea. This is a fantastic ratio. I am well aware of the difficulties, for I have commanded a training establishment and I well understand how many men have to be in the pipeline; but a cold look at that ratio will show that it is fantastic and that there should be more training on the job.
More attention should be paid to the problem of the unhappy sailor. Which of us has not at some time said to himself in the middle watch, "Why did I ever leave the farm?".
I should like here to grind one tiny axe. I have others which I should like to grind, but I will not do so now because of the lack of time. There is a reference in the White Paper to contact with the universities and other higher centres of education about defence matters. The Royal United Services Institution down the road in Whitehall is an admirable place where seminars are attended by many hon. Members. At the moment, the Government are raising its rent from 1240 £850 to £12,000 a year on the one hand and, on the other, trying to encourage it. I know that representations have been made to the Government by the Director-General of this admirable institution, but I believe that they are stuck. I hope that the Minister will look favourably at the predicament of this valuable institution.
I should like finally to refer to recruiting and advertising for recruiting. In the last week we have seen a perfect example of how not to do it, namely, the Granada film shown last week and entitled, "Sailors' Gaol", which was about the Portsmouth Detention Quarters. It was a grossly sensational treatment of the subject. There was no statement whatever in the film of the main aim and objective of detention in the Services. Instead, there was nothing but emotional talk of suicides, interviews with drug addicts and an endless carping about the solitary confinement cell and so on. The producer scraped up every drop-out, and one can attack any organisation if only one scrapes up and interviews on the screen all the drop-outs.
§ Mr. Tom Driberg (Barking)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman will recall that at the end of that programme there was a fairly lengthy interview with the Minister himself, in glowing colours, when the Minister explained exactly what the hon. and gallant Gentleman is asking for.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
I am coming to that and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning it.
I claim that there was gross political bias in that film. There was a long interview with the hon. Member for Sutton, the former Minister, who was shown striding purposefully to and fro and who was interviewed with his hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Foley), and there was an interview with the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg), who has never been the friend of any Service. There was an interview with the hon. Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd) who, of course, will jump on any bandwagon. At the end there was a period of a few scrappy moments for my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Kirk) who, after all, is now the Minister responsible.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
Yes, I am coming to that, but before I do so I should like to ask why the interview with the present Minister was so short. Is it that my hon. Friend was not interviewed for long enough, or was the interview cut? How long did he give these cameramen?
The film also cast a grave slur on the staff of the detention quarters, fine, experienced chief petty officers. Here I come to the point made by the hon. Member for Barking. I speak with great feeling, on this subject. As a commanding officer, in my time I have sent several score men to the detention quarters and I have also been a quarterly visitor many times while I have been in the Portsmouth Command. For one period of two years I was a quarterly visitor, and I went around the detention quarters with great care, knowing the importance of this matter. I interviewed the men and I asked them whether they had any complaints and so on. I assert above all that I have great regard for the wisdom and basic decency of the detention quarters staff, whose qualities were not at all fairly brought out by the film.
There was no interview with any of the successes of the system, no interview with any of the sailors who have gone back to the Navy and served thereafter happily and successfully in their ships. There was nothing about how many ratings served only one sentence and never returned to the detention quarters. Perhaps the Minister will give the House those figures.
In a matter of this sort, which concerns publicity, Parliament is in a siding and opinion is formed largely by television. This utterly misleading film went out last Monday to about 20 million viewers. I believe that the I.T.A. has a responsibility now to see that a balanced film, free from bias, is made and broadcast at a similar peak viewing time.
§ Dr. David Owen
We are interested in the hon. and gallant Gentleman's criticisms. Is he advocating that the existing situation in 1968 was satisfactory, a situation which the House would have found tolerable?
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
I am not advocating any such thing. I am advocat- 1242 ing that the detention quarters, which I have seen for myself in the last few weeks, have been misrepresented to the public by this film and that grave damage has been done to the Service and to the image of the Service and to recruiting. I am advocating that a properly balanced film should now be shown—and perhaps the ex-Minister ought to agree with this—showing the useful and constructive work of the Navy, showing happy, useful, contented and interested sailors, who are the vast majority and who are doing a job infinitely worth doing; and I am saying that such a film should be shown to those 20 million viewers so as to set the record straight.
In this context and to put the matter into its right perspective, I can do no better than quote the well-known, 300year-old adage:It is on the Royal Navy that the prosperity, happiness and welfare of this nation do most chiefly depend".
§ Mr. Driberg
On a point of order. I am not sure whether this is a point of order, Mr. Speaker, but I should like to ask for your protection. I do so because the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) made a remark about me which was both extremely offensive and totally untrue. I want to ask whether he can be persuaded not to leave the Chamber until he has withdrawn it.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Gentleman knows that the content of a remark made by an hon. Member is not for me, provided that it is in order. I did not hear anything out of order.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Judd (Portsmouth, West)
I trust that the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) will forgive me if at the outset I do not deal with the points he made in the last part of his speech. I promise to come to them later.
In the fair-mindedness which he claims to have, I am sure that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will realise on reflection that many viewers of television constantly see first-rate advertising done in the cause of recruiting by the Ministry of Defence. If he calculates that amount of good advertising with the rest of what appears on T.V. on this subject, he will 1243 see the programme "World in Action" in a different perspective.
The Minister said that a Service was only as good as its support services, and as an hon. Member who represents a dockyard constituency I recognise the force of that observation. I wish, therefore, early in my speech to deal with the organisation of the dockyards and to mention some of the current difficulties as I see them. I wish, first, to pay tribute to the significant reforms and imaginative new attempts at productivity bargaining which have been introduced into the naval dockyards and which give a far greater degree of involvement to the men who work in them.
Having said that, it must be accepted that difficulties remain, and we must consider them. I will, in the cause of brevity, put a number of questions, which I hope the Minister will answer when he replies to the debate. Is he satisfied that the incentive bonus scheme as extensively applied to the naval dockyards is suitable for the kind of work undertaken in these yards, bearing in mind its variety and unpredictability? On a wider organisational basis, is he satisfied with the continued inclusion of the naval dockyards in the vast Civil Service structure?
Is there not a need for still more independence of management? Should there not be greater decentralisation, with more scope for responsibility on the part of those in the front line of individual yards? Is it healthy to permit the Treasury what amounts to so much intimate control of yard affairs as it enjoys today? Does not this sort of intimate control inevitably blunt the dynamism of yard management?
At a time when the Government are subsidising private yards involved in naval construction, how much new construction is planned for the naval yards? It is certain that such construction is absolutely essential for morale and for efficiency of the maintenance work itself.
I come to the conditions of employment of those who work in the dockyards. Towards the end of the last Labour Government there were notable increases in pay for these workers. There is a danger now that their rates of pay are again falling behind those in outside industry. Those on the lowest wages—there are too many of them in the dockyards—are 1244 very hard up indeed. May we be told how the Minister intends to see that the living standards of these people are guaranteed and preserved?
Does the Minister agree that the men and women who work in these yards deserve more priority, particularly in view of their record of high reliability and low striking? Does not the predicament of this section of the working population, who are doing what we all agree to be vital work, deserve some sort of priority, and is it not a fact that this illustrates almost perfectly the need for a prices and incomes policy for the proper management of the nation's economy?
The last Labour Government also introduced far-reaching modernisation plans for the yards, but we have heard precious little so far in this debate about how these plans are progressing. The security and well-being of the labour force and the well-being of entire communities which are dependent on the dockyards are very much related to the implementation of the modernisation programme which was planned by the last Government.
We should also remember that the working conditions in the naval dockyards still do not compare well with those in private industry. One need only see at first hand the work being done in ships and recognise the tremendous noise in which these people work to appreciate the possibility of the lasting physical damage which this noise can do. One need only look at the adverse weather conditions in which they must sometimes work to recognise the problems which are confronting the workers.
I trust the House will forgive me for mentioning other niceties. For example, there are still many primitive lavatory, washing and rest room facilities in one dockyard, and these inadequacies act to the disadvantage of the men who keep our Navy in operation.
Recently in the dockyards, and particularly in Portsmouth, which I know best, there were misgivings about the catering facilities. If we are genuinely concerned with the morale of the labour force, we should accept that adequate catering facilities are tremendously important. I trust that the Minister will bear these remarks in mind and will assure us that the Ministry will do something about these conditions.
1245 We should not overlook the conditions of employment in smaller naval establishments, such as those run by the Ship Maintenance Authority. I appreciate that the Ministry is concerned about this, but there is need for speedy implementation of the efficiency agreements because the men in these smaller units feel that they are being left behind larger units such as the dockyards. Their sense of injustice must be overcome.
I must refer briefly to those who made this Service in the past and who helped to make its excellent record possible, namely, the pensioners. We should not forget in this debate the imperative need to give priority to reviewing existing pension rates and increasing their purchasing power to something like their former value. We should particularly remember the hardship of the longer-term pensioners and widowers who were involved in the Service in the days when it was at its toughest and when its conditions were most demanding. It is never too late to remedy their all-too-long endurance in trying to make do with inadequate pensions.
Hon. Members will readily appreciate that many naval personnel live in an area such as Portsmouth. We should not overlook the excellent record of the Labour Government in looking to the pay of Service personnel, and it is to be hoped that this record will be maintained by the present Administration. Naval and civilian employees face a predicament. They are constantly in danger of being left behind the rates of pay in private industry. This again illustrates the need for a prices and incomes policy in the cause of social justice.
We must, in a debate of this kind, be concerned not only with pay but also with standards of accommodation. We appreciate the difficulties of cramped conditions at sea, but frequently barracks and housing conditions ashore do not reflect the quality and sophistication of the modern naval equipment with which our sailors and officers are working.
We welcomed most warmly the comments of the Minister about strengthening the welfare services, and if we are to have effective recruiting we must have adequate welfare services for serving personnel. I have seen at first hand the problems of supporting separated families 1246 when the active breadwinner is away from home at sea.
This brings me to the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester about the naval detention quarters which are in my constituency. I must tell him, with respect, that, not for the first time, his remarks on this score were ludicrous, particularly when he suggested that the television programme to which he referred demonstrated political bias. Everyone interviewed in that programme had had direct and personal interest in the problem of the detention quarters. If one watched it carefully and objectively, one noticed the way in which former Labour Ministers were grilled, and nobody could possibly suggest bias in favour of the Labour Party. I emphasise, however, that there is real public concern about the situation there. This commendable film will have drawn increasing attention to these problems. I have seen this concern represented in my mail and in the verbal comments made to me in my constituency.
I should like to quote one letter I have received which I think demonstrates the degree of concern which we must take seriously. Obviously, I cannot identify the correspondent, but I intend to write to the Minister with full details of the letter. The correspondent wrote as follows:I watched the programme with astonishment and a great deal of interest. As the father of a 15-year old junior seaman, I must say that when my son recently consulted me on the question of remaining in the Service or exercising his final option of discharge I was not unhappy when, following a tripartite meeting with his officers (who I must say seemed helpful and considerate) my son elected to remain in the R.N. But I am bound to say that had I seen the 'World in Action' programme at that time I would have advised him unreservedly to come out of the Service".It is a very balanced letter and goes on to say:Obviously, allowances must be made for exaggeration and for an understandable tendency for some former inmates to colour their version of events; equally obviously discipline must be maintained; but equally obviously enough came amross from the programme to indicate that a too frequent use is made of the D.Q.'s as a punishment; that resort to solitary confinement occurs, with an attendant bread and water diet, on an excessive scale; that suicides, or attempts thereat have taken place, even within the last 12 months, when reforms were said to be taking place; and that a strange administrative delay of three 1247 months occurred when the former responsible Minister expressed a desire to visit the establishment…I do recall from the programme that men could visit the toilet twice daily and had actually to polish their cell tolet receptacles the following morning if they used them during the night. I am not convinced of the rehabilitative value of 'po-polishing' still less of restricting by regulation the number of times a man may visit the toilet. I readily concede there may well have to he some control of such matters, but the present position seems positively medically dangerous. Incorrigibles will remain unaffected by such treatment, except perhaps to become more resentful and would be better out of the Service.I do not believe that that correspondent will have been altogether reassured by the reply to a Question which I received from the Minister yesterday. Following the "World in Action" programme, I asked the Ministerhow many attempted suicides there have been in Portsmouth naval detention quarters since the introduction of reforms in the administration of the quarters.The reply was:None. There have been occasional instances of self injury by men under sentence who are intent on attracting sympathy or attention to themselves, or achieving some other object. In all of these instances the man has ensured that a member of the staff is to hand by ringing his room bell or waiting until an instructor is in sight. Men who are considered likely to attempt self injury are sighted every 10 minutes. There have been 19 such cases of self injury since 1967."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd May, 1971; Vol. 816, c. 281.]I do not believe that that reply was couched in the sort of terms which a parent would find reassuring. It smacks of the 18th century language which the Minister quoted earlier today.
We should not, however, underestimate the recent changes which have taken place in the detention quarters or the degree of commitment among the detention quarters staff to a new approach, with its emphasis on rehabilitation. I record my appreciation of the co-operation of the Minister and the Commander-in-Chief and his staff for facilitating my visit following very detailed complaints which had been put to me. But, as the television programme made plain, there is a great deal to be desired.
If, paradoxically, the detention quarters are more concerned with rehabilitation, as is claimed, than with punishment, the specialist training of detention quarters 1248 staff is more important than the training of staff carrying out the previous rather primitive function. Some steps towards better training of staff have already been undertaken. I should like to encourage them as much as possible and suggest that there should be the maximum possible liaison with the civil prison service so there can be a valuable exchange of ideas. If more were said publicly about what goes on in the detention quarters, then the Navy would have nothing to lose if it has nothing to hide. If we are to do the job properly, we must look at the physical limitations of the ancient and cramped buildings and to the grave handicap which they present to any progressive administration. A bulldozer would be indispensable in reforming the detention quarters system, but perhaps the best solution of all would be for representatives of the Navy Department to sit down with representatives of the other Defence Departments and consider whether, on grounds of economy and effective work in the detention quarters, the time has come to have one combined, purpose-built, purpose-operated detention quarters system for all three Services.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
Did the hon. Gentleman describe the television film as commendable? Is the implication that he thinks that the film was a fair representation of conditions at the Royal Navy Detention Quarters at Portsmouth?
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. David Lane (Cambridge)
I apologise to my hon. Friend the Minister and to the House that I shall have to leave before the end of the debate.
I warmly welcome the decisions taken by the Government and the benefits which they will have for the Navy, and the general tone of my hon. Friend's speech. May I make three pleas—one about the past, one about the present and one about the future?
On the past, I support very much the efforts of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) to get H.M.S. "Belfast" preserved for all time. I 1249 hope that the Government will do all they can to give a fair wind to this endeavour.
On the present, much has been said by the Minister and other speakers about the manpower problem. The greater stability now offered in the Services and the prospect of a rather wider world role should help. I commend the Navy's imaginative effort at recruitment in many places, including my constituency. The figures are better. As the Minister said, they are nearly a quarter up compared with the position a year ago. This is a reward for the great efforts which have been made. I think, for example, of the presentation called "Meet the Navy", which a few of us were able to see in the last Parliament. I remember it particularly because it was the only time that I was privileged to meet Sir Michael Le Fanu, whose tragic early death we all deplore.
My plea to the Minister is this. The Government should remember all the time the potential of inland towns, such as Cambridge, which have considerable naval traditions and interests, even though they may be some distance from the sea. To repeat what I said in a Navy debate a year or two ago, if ever there were further scope for links between particular ships and particular towns, this could have a good effect.
Looking to the future, I agree with the emphasis which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence placed on the importance of the Indian Ocean, and I look at this matter from a different standpoint from that of the hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Foley). My plea to the Government is that they make a searching reappraisal of our strategic dispositions in that area. The Navy's rôle will be increasingly important, not least because of the greater versatility of task forces. Although they have taken a long time, let us be thankful that the Harrier trials from "Ark Royal" are under way at this moment. I hope that they will lead to much greater development of the use of the Harrier.
The Russian threat is real. We are all conscious of the parallel with what has happened in the Mediterranean. I take the threat very seriously and believe that a response is essential, but I wish that 1250 there were more indications in the Defence White Paper of the Government's forward thinking in this matter. Paragraph 8 of the White Paper—and I think this is the answer to the criticism of the hon. Member for West Bromwich—distinguishes two aspects of the Russian threat. One is the intention to increase political influence; the other is the strategic menace to the sea routes.
Our present situation is one of considerable dependence on Simonstown and on defence co-operation with South Africa. I accept absolutely that the use of Simonstown will be indispensable to us for several years at least, but I question whether closer co-operation with South Africa will be in our British national interests in meeting either aspect of the Russian threat.
We must face the facts of the international situation. The Russian threat is one serious fact. Another, surely, is that unless there is a change in the internal policies of South Africa we may find that our position of defence cooperation with South Africa may prove increasingly embarrassing and uncomfortable in future. We must recognise how much opinion about South Africa at home and overseas has altered even in the 15 years since the Simonstown Agreement. It will be no help in countering Russian political influence if we are seen to be moving much closer to South Africa. As for the strategic threat, although the South African Navy can play a useful part, it has only limited relevance to a worldwide maritime crisis, and there is need for much wider contingency planning in the whole area, involving the United States and other interested maritime countries.
I do not want to go into the issue of arms for South Africa today, beyond saying that I hope that no question of further sales over and above the helicopters will arise this year. But I make a strong appeal to the Government to widen the basis of our defence arrangements in the Indian Ocean so that in the years ahead we shall have less reliance on Simonstown and on co-operation with the South African Navy.
As to bases, surely we should intensify our search for additional and varied facilities. Simonstown is far to the south, and in any case it would be useful to 1251 develop more facilities and arrangements in the northern part of the Indian Ocean, and all the more important because our foothold in the Persian Gulf will be smaller. I am thinking particularly of Mombasa in Kenya, which we already use to some extent, and also of Mauritius, which was mentioned in the main defence debate. There may even be possibilities in Ceylon and Pakistan. I am only asking that all these possibilities should be carefully examined.
As to co-operation with other countries, the Commonwealth Study Group will, I hope, soon get going. I hope that this will lead to a better understanding of the problem and even to further possibilities of co-operation with some of the nations in the area. Meanwhile, we have heard reports that the United States of America has been taking a closer interest in the Indian Ocean. I would judge that, once its involvement in Vietnam is lessened, America will be much more likely to bear a greater share of both the political and the strategic response to the Russian threat.
I end by expressing the hope that the next White Paper in a year's time will give clear evidence of progress by the Government in the direction which I would urge on my hon. and right hon. Friends.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Driberg (Barking)
I hope the House will forgive me if I start by addressing a personal word, through you, Mr. Speaker, to the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) who referred to me in a way which was extremely offensive and totally untrue. To give one example, entirely for the hon. and gallant Member's information—I dislike appearing to shoot a line—but in the Korean war I was the only correspondent who was allowed to go to sea with 41 (Independent) Royal Marine Commando, and to do landings on the shore with them from rubber dinghies. I then wrote, lectured and broadcast in praise of that Commando and received a letter of personal thanks from the Commandant-General of the Royal Marines. More recently I had the even greater honour of being invited to the only reunion that that Commando has so far had.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point and I am glad to hear of his experiences at that time. I am not trying to be unfair to him, but I was misled by his subsequent views. In a recent debate, I think last year, he used words, with heavy sarcasm, to the effect that he supposed there were some people who actually liked serving in the Armed Forces. That is the sort of remark by which I was apparently misled.
§ Mr. Driberg
If I am to take that as a withdrawal, of course I accept it, with a few reservations. I do not remember using the words referred to by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but I fear that he thinks that anybody who criticises any aspect of the administration of the Armed Forces, in defence of the rights of soldiers, sailors and airmen, is anti the Armed Forces. Nothing could be further from the truth.
If I may recall an incident from many Parliaments ago—before you were born, Mr. Speaker, if I may say so with great respect—that was the attitude of Sir James Grigg when he was Secretary of State for War and there was a scandal at Fort Darland Detention Barracks, Chatham. when an unfortunate detainee was beaten up so savagely by a warrant officer and an N.C.O. that he died. This caused great concern on both sides of the House. Dozens of Questions were asked; Grigg brushed them aside casually but eventually had to make a much fuller statement, the result of which was that a judicial committee under Mr. Justice Oliver was appointed. That committee toured all the detention barracks in the country—in wartime, when there were millions more men under arms than in peacetime—without any warning, and talked to detainees and ex-detainees in conditions of secrecy. The committee proposed a number of reforms, many of which were accepted by the wartime Government.
That is the value of Question Time, and that is the value of exposing in this House, on television or anywhere else anything that we think is wrong with the Services. The hon. and gallant Gentleman seems to think that it is the duty of the media to act as recruiting advertisers. That is not their duty at all.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
I was not for one moment suggesting that what goes on in detention quarters should not be represented to the public. I was only asking that the facts should be put forward fairly and in a balanced way.
§ Mr. Driberg
My opinion on this programme is different from that of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. As I said when I intervened in his speech, I thought that the Minister had a very fair show at the end. The interview, with the Minister looking very impressive in his office, was a reasonably long one and he was able to make his point about rehabilitation and about the reforms initiated, as he said, by my hon. Friends and continued by him. We gladly concede that to him because we know that he takes a humane and liberal view of these matters.
I do not think that the programme was unfair. It gave the opinions and the recollections of a number of people who were interviewed because they had served time in those detention quarters. I have made some inquiries about this. The hon. and gallant Gentleman may not know that the transripts of all those interviews with ex-detainees and others were sent to the Ministry of Defence some weeks before the programme was edited with a request for any comments. The Minister or his office could perfectly well have said, "That is unfair", "That is not true", or anything else, but no such comment was made. So I do not think that Granada or the "World in Action" team behaved at all unfairly in that regard.
I do not want to go on for an unduly long time about that programme, which I think arose originally out of a debate some months ago in this House, when some of us raised the subject of the detention quarters. The only thing I regretted about the programme was that it did not mention that the only task available—it may be better now, but I am not sure—for the inmates of the detention quarters was the archaic one of picking oakum. The only thing I regretted about the Minister's speech in reply to that debate, when I pressed him about this ridiculous job—which presumably could be done by machinery much better—was his reply, "I am afraid that the Navy still needs the matting." That was not a very good answer, I thought. But I have said what I thought about the 1254 programme and if the hon. and gallant Gentleman disagrees, it too bad.
I hope that the Minister will press on with all the reforms that I know have been initiated and which he wants to carry further. I think that the proposal made by my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd) and others, that there should be just one detention barracks for all three Services, is a very good one. The sooner we can blow up that monstrosity at Portsmouth, the better. It is, of course, clean and hygienic, but it is also an appalling example of civilisation in 1971. It should be done away with as soon as possible.
I agree strongly with what the Minister said about what is sometimes called "showing the flag" in remote parts of the world—not in an aggressive or imperialist way but simply as a token of good will from Britain to the people of some remote island who may not have seen anybody from Britain for a generation. I was fortunate enough three or four years ago to get a lift on a frigate from Mauritius to a very remote island called Rodrigues, in a distant part of the Indian Ocean. That was extremely illuminating and I found that the inhabitants of the island were refreshed, in every sense of the word, by the visit of the frigate—and the refreshment was, of course, mutual.
I was told that the people of the island had not seen anyone from Westminster for about 25 years: that is what the senior Roman Catholic priest on the island told me. It was interesting, too, for us to see the agricultural developments, which were being admirably conducted under a British agricultural officer. This was shortly before the independence of Mauritius, of which Rodrigues is a dependency.
That sort of visit by the fleet, or a single ship such as that frigate, does an enormous amount of good. I certainly would not wish to cut that kind of activity down at all. I hope that the Minister will accept that as an assurance from one, at any rate, who would like to see defence spending in general cut very substantially, but who thinks that such visits are well worth the money spent on them.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Laurance Reed (Bolton, East)
I first became conversant with the work of the Hydrographic Department when serving with the Royal Navy in the Pacific. 1255 and I am pleased that my hon. Friend referred to the importance of this work in his opening speech. I congratulate him on breaking new ground, because it appears, from an examination of the index of 20 years of debating in this House, that the subject of hydrography has been raised only once before.
The Navy's first hydrographer was appointed in 1795. Survey vessels first appeared on the Navy List as early as 1814. A lot has happened since and today the Department provides a worldwide service. In addition to charting and surveying, there is, of course, the meteorological and oceanographic prediction and other information essential to mariners. In recent years, the Department has been under the very heavy pressure of the move to Taunton, the change to metrication, increasing automation and the arrival of new survey ships. But the greatest demands on the work and time of the Department have not come from the Royal Navy itself but from the mercantile marine.
As long ago as 1823, Admiralty charts, after some opposition from the Board, were made available for the use of the mercantile marine and the public, and now only half the work of the Department is for defence and the remainder is for civilian use. Yet the entire costs of this service are borne by the Navy Vote. The Supply Estimates reveal that the annual running costs of the Department are about £1½ million. Receipts from the sale of charts and other publications are about £1½ million, so it seems that the service very nearly pays for itself. But these statistics are a little misleading because they do not include the capital costs or the operational costs of the survey fleet itself. If we include these, the true figure is nearer £7 million a year. That is a great deal of money, and it is certainly a significant advance over the £470 allotted to Alexander Dalrymple, the Navy's first hydrographer, 175 years ago. But as large as £7 million is, I am bound to question whether it is anything, like adequate for modern needs and conditions.
The Report by the Hydrographer of the Navy for 1969 said:The construction of a number of vessels of over 200.000 tons and the expectation of even bigger ships of 500,000 tons and more is 1256 creating a major hydrographic problem. These vesels have very deep draughts and are such expensive capital assets that their economic operation leads to their use in ever more marginal and critical navigational conditions. The pressure is therefore on the Hydrographer to provide more detailed and comprehensive surveys.… Tasks of this magnitude cannot be done quickly, are very expensive, and have to be fitted in with other important work.… With the present state of the science of hydro-graphic survey and with the shallow and changeable sea areas around N.W. Europe cluttered with the wrecks of two world wars, anxiety is felt at the minimum below hull clearance accepted by the tanker companies.It may interest you to know, Mr. Speaker, that the North Sea has never been surveyed and that as much as 40 per cent. of the seas around our coast which have been charted have not been re-surveyed since they were first mapped out between 1840 and 1870 with lead and line, when the deepest draught vessel could safely manoeuvre in about three fathoms. Yet the Hydrographer in the last ten years alone has had to revise the danger line no fewer than three times—first to 48 ft., then to 66 ft., and, more recently, to 90 ft.
The "Torrey Canyon", which was among the 13 largest vessels in 1967, drew 45 ft. The 200,000 ton tankers—now there are more than 100 of them at sea—draw 65 ft. The "Universe" class draw about 80 ft.—which is twice what the old "Queens", the largest ships afloat in the 1950s, drew—and now we have to face the prospect of the one-million ton tanker with a draught of between 100 and 120 ft. All this means that our old charts are becoming dangerously obsolete and are in urgent need of revision.
The position is made more critical by unpredictable phenomena like negative surges which can lower predicted tide heights by as much as six feet, and by shifting sand waves on the bottom which can have amplitudes of up to 30 ft. Another hazard is the old war-time wreck, of which there are approximately 7,000 at the bottom of the North Sea. Of these, about 4,000 are marked on Admiralty charts, but for many only a "position approximate" is recorded.
The time has surely come for the Government to do some radical thinking about the organisation of our hydro-graphic services, especially about how we are to finance them. One possibility is what the Germans have done, which is to leave the Navy with a department large enough to look after its own defence 1257 needs and to hive off the remainder to some civilian agency or institute. This would have certain advantages, especially if the venture were to be an international one, and the existing North Sea Hydro-graphic Commission could be converted to this role. But I am opposed to the proliferation of para-State organisations, since they usually mean the unnecessary duplication of effort. It would be a mistake to deprive ourselves of the skill and accumulated experience of the existing Hydrographic Department. In every sense of the word, it is a world-wide centre of excellence. The alternative is to leave the Department as it is, but to free it of its exclusive dependence on the Navy Vote so that it can expand to fulfil civilian requirements.
I work on the principle that the user should pay. If that is accepted, I suggest that there are four ways in which we could relieve my hon. Friend of the existing burden on the Navy Vote.
First, the price paid for charts could be increased. A chart is a necessary tool of navigation and a highly sophisticated instrument. The information that it contains must be gathered by highly skilled people using complex and expensive equipment for many man-hours. No chart is allowed to be published until it has undergone the personal examination and scrutiny of the Hydrographer, and, up to 24 hours before the moment of sale, each chart has the latest information inserted on it by hand. I understand that we charge only 75p for a chart. It strikes me that this is the sort of generosity that one encounters only when people are spending money that is not their own.
Secondly, some form of survey tax could be levied on shipping brokers. Insurance companies have more to gain than anyone else from safe navigation, and they would also be in a position to exact a penalty from those of their clients who failed to utilise the most up-to-date charts. Naturally, they would pass on the cost to their customers, so that the principle that the user should pay would be maintained.
The third possibility is a system of payments similar to that now used to finance lighthouses and other navigational aids. Light dues are levied on ships according to their size and purpose when entering or leaving ports. The money is paid to the General Lighthouse Fund, 1258 and one envisages a comparable hydro-graphic fund. One difficulty about it is that it would penalise port users, since ships in transit would enjoy the benefits of the survey without contributing a penny.
The fourth and perhaps the best alternative means would be to make pilotage dues high enough to provide a fund for hydrographic surveying. At the moment, pilotage dues are paid by ship owners or their agents for each act of pilotage performed. Such a fund could be administered by Trinity House or by the appropriate Chambers of Shipping. Its success rather depends on whether the Government make pilotage through the Straits of Dover mandatory.
I intervened in the debate to alert the House to a problem and to expose the anomaly that a civilian requirement is being met almost wholly out of defence funds. I urge the Government to undertake a searching review of our hydro-graphic services against prospective requirements. I am sure that my hon. Friend will have the sympathetic ear of the Prime Minister since, as a mariner, my right hon. Friend will know that, without accurate charts and measurements, even "Morning Cloud" may come to grief.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
I am most sympathetic to the speech of the hon. Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Laurance Reed). The hon. Gentleman referred to there being only one other speech on the record about the Department of the Hydrographer. I think that he was referring to my own two years ago.
I echo what the hon. Gentleman said but, of course, he will agree that there are far bigger questions for the Prime Minister on the allocation of the Vote. This is the nub issue. Some of us would like to see a review of the whole basis on which we have our Service Votes. More and more, if we are to have Op.M.A.C.C. operations by the Army and the R.A.F., it is clearly wrong that they should be paid for out of Service Votes. This is a Cabinet-level question.
It happens that I had the good fortune on Saturday to be a guest of the captain of the "Ark Royal", and this is one of the points that some of the officers of 1259 the "Ark Royal" made. They said that traditionally, 10 years ago, the Navy would have gone to East Pakistan or wherever the problem area was, and given help out of the naval funds Vote—and it would have been taken for granted. Today, everything has to be accounted for, and we as a House should be rethinking the basis of the Navy Vote. For that reason, I was very much in sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman said, especially from the Op.M.A.C.C. point of view. Besides, I should like to see any letters that he receives giving the Department's reaction to what he said about pilotage, because we all know how expensive that is, and the licensing of charts.
I want to raise some detailed points, of which I have given the Department notice. The first is the extent to which, in the design of new ships, account is taken of possible new developments in weapons systems throughout their operational life. I was glad to hear the Minister say that this whole matter was "spread across industry" and the Government establishments. There is a real issue here for the Navy, as there is for the R.A.F., and it raises the argument of quality against quantity. The time has come when we must again rethink the extent to which we go for the best, and we should remember that the best is sometimes the enemy of the good, especially in a post-"Kumar" and post-"Eilat" situation where any ship of size is extremely vulnerable. Therefore, there is a basic philosophy to be worked out here.
Then there are certain problems for the Navy which arise out of the White Paper on Procurement and the Rayner Committee's Report. Anyone who has seen it must be very impressed by the capability of the Sea King helicopter. It is a magnificent machine, and I want to ask specifically what is being done to interest the Americans in its capability and to what civilian uses it could be put. It strikes us that so much of the development of Boeing, and other American firms, in the past couple of decades, has come from the expenditure of military funds. Here, we have developed the Sea King, and am sure that its uses can be extended to civilian operations. The same goes for the work on fibreglass for minesweepers. 1260 When the Department says that it is operating across industry, I am prompted to ask what it has done to sell these techniques to British industry. Perhaps the Minister would write to me on this point.
Thirdly, I wish to refer to the option for seamen in the electrical and mechanical branches to transfer after four years' service. I understood the Minister to say that this has been extended to all branches but that an adjustment had to be made for the adult length of an engagement. It is important not just to suppose that those who are recruited to the Navy, even for fairly short times, need necessarily be recruited at what we would regard as a young age. If people, after experience in industry, want to go into the Navy, it should be possible for them to do so. Therefore, I welcome what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu). Equally, in relation to the in-service degree, we should welcome the system whereby a supply midshipman can take a degree, and there should be an extension of university cadetships. Perhaps the Department would do well to advertise in industry what it is doing to link and gear the Service expertise of a supply midshipman and his subsequent officer career to civilian life.
One thing which strikes any M.P. as he goes round is that the Navy in a sense really is very different from the Army and the Air Force. Conditions are different because the conditions of separation are different. It is no use thinking that the Navy's problems are similar to those of the Army and the Air Force. Therefore, because of the alteration in family life which naturally comes with marriage, those of us who have been at sea, albeit in a different capacity on the ship school "Dunera", as bachelors, know and understand that as soon as a man becomes married his attitude to his professional life may necessarily undergo a change. In these circumstances, it is important to look at the question of linking some kind of civilian career with the Service and, indeed, lowering the age of entry into the promotion zones because it helps legitimate career expectations. One can welcome the whole process whereby greater weight has been attached to merit and faster promotion—at the same time, we ought to encourage the experienced 1261 man who wants to remain at sea longer than is usual.
I was also glad to hear about the effects of the new rate for warrant officers and the creation of the Fleet chief petty officer.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline Burghs (Mr. Adam Hunter) and I have a problem in Fife and West Lothian concerning the rationalisation of shore establishments. It ill-behoves those of us who make general sweeping statements about economy, as soon as it affects our own constituencies, to say, "You must not make that cut because it affects us personally." Whatever else I say in defence debates, I shall not get into that position. Therefore, I am not immediately critical about the "Caledonia". All I say is that there is a wide feeling in central Scotland that the standard of training in the "Caledonia" is second to none, as it tends to be throughout the Services. Those of us who go round industry know that Service training is very good indeed. Therefore, if there is to be any move let us think, and think in time, about what can be done to extend the basis of training which is given in the "Caledonia" and make it available to civilian industry. As my hon. Friend will point out, if he catches Mr. Speaker's eye, this is very important to the whole of our area.
I am also glad about the changes in managerial accountability in the dockyards. Another issue is the rising costs of expenditure on Fleet support and their consequences. Here, again, the one real problem concerns menial tasks. As the standard of technical ability and the demand for it rises in the Services, it is unrealistic to ask highly skilled people to do the traditional menial tasks which they would have done without question certainly before 1939 and, indeed, up to ten years ago.
The Department kindly arranged for me to visit the "Ark Royal" at short notice on Saturday. Anyone who goes on such a visit is immediately struck by the sheer technical expertise which is now demanded not only of senior officers, but of a large number of ratings and officers on board such a ship.
Finally, I wish to raise two matters. The first concerns my speech last year. I gave the Department warning, so I can 1262 talk in shorthand. Despite scepticism from Ministers and, indeed, a number of my own colleagues, I still feel that if this nation is to have a coherent marine science programme, the best Department to run it is the Admiralty. The Admiralty has the hardware and much of the expertise—and the Navy, the enthusiasm. I know that the Minister denied the practicability of this in answer to a Question which I put to him that the Admiralty should take over more of what is essentially a civilian marine science programme; but the truth is that the Admiralty has the interest in doing so. It is whole-time on this kind of thing and, at a period, we hope, of long-term peace, there is a real problem concerning legitimate career expectations. If we have 'a Navy—we must have a Navy—what is it to do? This is a real issue.
In these circumstances, rather than loading a marine science programme on to some gigantic department—the Department of the Environment or the Department of Trade and Industry, which have so many other things to do—we should reach the concept reached by many developing countries of a socio-economic function for the Services. Therefore, I suggest in all seriousness that the Admiralty may take on a socio-economic function because it should be responsible for a marine science programme run by this country. My real fear is that unless the Admiralty does it, no other Department will. I think that the Admiralty has the ability to get the money to carry out this programme, but not in the Defence Vote. If there are changes in the Defence Votes, so much the better. This might make it easier. I give notice to the Department that throughout the coming year I shall be plaguing it with Questions on this matter in the hope of persuading some change of attitude on this fundamental problem.
So far my speech has been concerned simply with praise and, on the whole, good works. But I must come to one point of serious criticism. A number of my hon. Friends—particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) and, indeed, two or three hon. Gentlemen opposite—have mentioned the unsatisfactory nature of the torpedo programme—the M 31 and the M 24. Without being immodest, I think that I can supply a partial answer why 1263 this has gone wrong. I suggest that the naval establishments, like other Service research establishments—the Admiralty Under-Water Weapons Establishment, the Services Electronics Research Laboratory and the Admiralty Materials Laboratory—are, by their very nature, unsatisfactory institutions. It is difficult, without taking detailed cases, which I am not competent to do, to illustrate the point which I wish to make.
I think that there is cause for reflection. I do not quarrel with the quality of intake into the great Service research laboratories, nor do I make any specific criticism of any particular directors. All I am saying is that, just as the Robbins Committee argued that in order to be a good and lively university teacher, one one ought to be involved in research, so a researcher past a certain seniority ought really to be involved in teaching.
One of my worries, having been round some of these institutions—I was received with great hospitality, openness and frankness—is that, after a period, those who work in them get into a rut. They go full of enthusiasm, but then it becomes a routine job. Talented people become sleepy. Research does not lend itself to a routine job. I suspect that we must look at the whole concept of these establishments because the end product, in relation to the money which is spent on and, indeed, the brain power which is diverted into them, is wholly unsatisfactory.
I should like to see them, their expertise, and the talented people who work there—who often get into a rut—far more bound up with industry at an early stage. I think that research has to be done in industry or at university, and those who have made a study of Japanese industry have no doubt that one of the reasons for the remarkable development of Japanese industry, particularly in electronics—which is very relevant if we are talking about torpedoes—is that the research is done inside industry. If one talks to any Japanese electronics firm and asks what contracts it has with, and how much it depends upon Government research establishments, the people there look astonished and say, "Why should we want to go to Government research establishments?". The research is done in the big Japanese electronic firms.
1264 If the Government are worried about having an inquiry into what has gone wrong with regard to torpedoes, I ask them to reflect deeply on the whole system that we have of research establishments and ask whether this is a sensible use of money, whether it is a sensible use of scientific manpower, and whether it ought not to be changed. Heaven knows, the mechanics of shrinkage are difficult enough. But, if there were a change here, I suspect that we would not have the problems to which hon. Gentlemen opposite and my hon. Friends have referred.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary on his maiden speech from the Dispatch Box in a Navy Estimates debate. I think that today, from both sides of the House, there has been a varied approach to a number of naval topics, but most of the speakers have concentrated on the lamentable lack of an adequate surface-to-surface weapon, and I hope that this time the reinforced arguments which have been put so ably by hon. Members on both sides of the House will, at long last, persuade the Minister who winds up the debate to do more than pay lip-service to the necessity for such a weapon.
If my hon. Friend studies the Navy debates in this House over the last eight to 10 years, he will see that the absence of a suitable surface-to-surface weapon by our fleet was raised on every occasion. I remember that about six years ago we were promised that something would be done. We were given a hint, very quietly and very darkly, that something was coming which would do the trick and give us a surface-to-surface capability. After about two or three more debates we found that that something was the dear old Seaslug, which was never in the same class as the sophisticated weapons which the Russians have developed and which they possess on fast patrol boats.
The type of surface-to-surface weapon which sank the Israeli destroyer in the Mediterranean has been developed so that now, with its homing head, it has a range up to 450 miles, this is a tremendous capability and, as was said earlier, there is not a shadow of doubt that a navy which relies on guns and shells only to 1265 defend itself is doomed to a rather sticky future.
The Royal Navy has about the best anti-submarine system in the world, and probably possesses a fund of knowledge and expertise, in that regard which is beyond comparison, but I wish that instead of concentrating entirely on antisubmarine defence we would look at the offensive weapons a little more seriously and take some action to get a suitable surface-to-surface missile. Initially we may have to borrow a suitable weapon until we can develop one ourselves. The fact remains that in a short time any navy which does not have a surface-to-surface capability will be discarded as valueless.
Another matter relating to our policy in the South Atlantic is the need for a fifth Polaris submarine. Of the four that we have, the Defence White Paper tells us that H.M.S. "Repulse" is undergoing a long-term refit, which means that we have to manage with three, and I do not believe that three can provide an adequate permanent deterrent for this country, bearing in mind the need to change crews and the replenishments that have to take place all the time.
One must remember, too, that these vessels are ageing a little. There may be a possibility of their having to be re-equipped and, instead of using Polaris missiles, have to be armed with Poseidons. If that happens, they may be out of service for some time. There is, therefore, a real need for a fifth Polaris submarine. After all, the original fleet, was planned to be five. To provide a balanced Polaris fleet, with adequate resources, and adequate opportunities for refit and replenishment, there should be five of these vessels.
Hon. Members have called attention to the declining size of our fleet, and how it compares with the fleets of other nations. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) said, since 1952 the personnel of the Navy has declined by nearly 50 per cent. If one goes back, not quite as far as 1952, but only to 1964, one finds that the numbers in the fleet have declined considerably, and it is the number of ships that matters. We have considerably fewer aircraft carriers, submarines, frigates and destroyers ready for sea and for use than we had in 1964.
1266 What is so significant is that while, all the time, the rôle of the Royal Navy and its capacity seem to be declining, the ships of Russia and the United States are becoming more and more numerous. The ability of the Russian fleet has never been higher than it is today, and the Russians are in a very expansion-minded mood in many parts of the world. One of my hon. Friends said that we ought to concentrate on the Mediterranean, where the Russians are pretty active at the moment, but if one goes into the Indian Ocean, or into the South Atlantic, round the Cape route, one finds evidence that the Russians are by no means inactive in those areas.
Just before Christmas I went on a three-week visit to Mauritius. One of our trips was to the harbour to look at some of the vessels there. We saw a number of Russian vessels, which of course have a right to replenish and change crews, but in addition, during all the time that we were in the area, there was present what was loosely called a Russian meteorological vessel. We went round the outside of it, and I tried to count the number of its portholes. I stopped when I got to more than 280. The ship looked more like a small liner than anything else. It had a large number of personnel, male and female, who were to be seen shuttling backwards and forwards to town. The Russian Embassy in Port Louis is the biggest there. Obviously, a vessel of this size and with this number of personnel permanently moored in the harbour is not there just to explore the oceanology or the skies of the Southern Indian Ocean.
Russia has also negotiated landing rights for her aircraft in Mauritius. A little further north, the Russians have been invited by the Ceylon Government to fly aircraft from Ceylon to help them against the insurgents. So gradually, the Russian influence in the Indian Ocean and associated waters is spreading.
I believe that the Russian policy is to probe and prod gently and gradually until they meet firm resistance. If there is no naval presence and only soft resistance, they will go on probing and prodding until they meet resistance. I greatly welcome the Government's policy of supplying arms to South Africa, particularly naval weapons in accordance 1267 with the Simonstown Agreement. I hope that the Royal Navy will be able to make greater use of Simonstown than it has done in the past and that it will have a greater naval presence in that part of the world. I hope that it will make greater use of the wonderful safe anchorage and associated port facilities inside the bluff at Durban.
Now that the Suez Canal is closed, all our seagoing trade from the Middle East and most of it from the Far East goes around the Southern Cape route. It is not enough for Britain to rely on supplying naval equipment for the South Africans to defend their coast, because their coast is our sea route, our lifeline. The Russians will go on probing and prodding it until they meet firm resistance.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane) said we should not get too closely associated with the South Africans, for political reasons. In many respects he is right, but we have to look at the map. Geographically, the closest and most suitable harbours for the Royal Navy are within the Republic of South Africa. Mauritius has asked us to go to Port Louis, but that is 2,000 or 3,000 miles from the spot. We have the wonderful natural harbours of South Africa, and we can and must, I hope, make use of Mombasa Harbour and Kilindini, further north, as well as Lagos and Sierra Leone, and Saldanha Bay, on the east coast.
I should like to see a permanent British naval presence there, not wasting their time shuttling back and forth to Beira looking for non-existent oil tankers but doing some purposeful work looking after the tremendous amount of British shipping which is now using this part of the world.
I end on a couple of sombre thoughts. Russian fleet activity on the open seas today is five times as great as it was four years ago. They will very soon have more nuclear submarines than the United States, and in three or four years, the power possessing most ballistic missiles at sea will be not the United States but Russia. We cannot compare with the might of either, but we have British interests to preserve. We have the world's largest merchant fleet and we need a reinforced and permanent British presence overseas.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Adam Hunter (Dunfermline Burghs)
My interest in the debate is mainly a constituency interest, but this does not detract from my appreciation of the work of the Royal Navy over its long history, and its limited rôle at present. I represent a constituency with a large dockyard. It is one of my chief interests in Parliament. At the last review and the one before, Rosyth Dockyard came out very favourably. Its prospects have been very good and look very good for a few years ahead.
The people working in Rosyth Dockyard and living in Dunfermline and West Fife felt that they benefited from the last review in particular. Rosyth was the only one of the four dockyards which increased its work force, and we had the assurance from the previous Government that this good work would continue. Rosyth Dockyard and the other naval establishments in the vicinity employ more people than the mining industry in Fife today—which 12 years ago employed about 26,000 people.
The people of Dunfermline and district were also proud to know, a few years ago, that they would get the task of refitting the nuclear submarines. This assured them of a good deal of work, and 40 per cent. of the work force work on the refitting. The fact that Rossyth had been recognised as a top grade yard gave them great satisfaction.
We have had our troubles in Rosyth Dockyard—not so much last year as in previous years. We have had productivity deals in the industrial section of the yard, which had teething troubles, but I understand that most of them have now been solved and that there has been little trouble in the past few months. Like any other industrial enterprise, dockyards are not immune from trouble, so few of us can complain about the few troubles which we have had.
In the last Navy debate, on 9th March, 1970, I also pointed out the problems facing the work force in our dockyards. I do not want to repeat everything which my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd) said about the need for greater improvement in pay and conditions in all the dockyards, but I want to mention three points which I hope the Minister will carefully consider. All three are—and one has been—sources of 1269 concern for the people working in a section of the naval establishments.
The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) mentioned H.M.S. "Caledonia". In the last Defence Review it was announced that H.M.S. "Caledonia" would probably be phased out in 1977–78. This caused the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) and myself a great deal of disquiet which we expressed in the debate of 9th March. Since then I have met a number of representatives of the civilian instructors at H.M.S. "Caledonia" and they are much concerned at the prospect that this excellent engineering training school should have its functions transferred to H.M.S. "Sultan".
The Defence White Paper of last year simply said that in closing the "Caledonia" over the years other possibilities would be investigated for the continued use of the establishment. This is causing a great deal of concern among the civilian instructors. Some are alleging that this is another case of rationalisation and concentration taking industry away from Scotland to the South of England. I hope that the Minister will answer this point and say why it is necessary that the functions of H.M.S. "Caledonia" should be transferred to H.M.S. "Sultan".
After the announcement about the "Caledonia" it seemed that people assumed that this decision could be met only by a placid acceptance. The position has changed, because the 54 civilian instructors are questioning the reasons for the change-over. I will not enumerate the points put to me by them, because the Minister has kindly agreed to meet me and my colleagues to discuss the future of the "Caledonia". I will save those points until that meeting. The view now is that there is no need for a transfer of the functions. Having toured the establishment once or twice, the last time as recently as a few weeks ago, along with the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Gourlay) and the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour), I came away with the impression that the excellence of the establishment, its modern and up-to-date billeting facilities for the artificers and the large and efficient work-place, could not be surpassed. It would be wrong to break up such a smooth-running and efficient training unit. When this meeting 1270 takes place I will convey the doubts and misgivings of the people in the establishment and many more in the town of Dunfermline where there will be a great loss of trade as a result of the change.
Secondly, I wish to raise the point of the craft apprentice intake. The complaints I have had come from the apprentice group instructors. Since he became responsible for the Royal Navy the Minister has had the honour of upgrading the apprentice group instructors, although this was the culmination of a fight that has gone on for 15 years. This upgrading benefited them in pay and conditions. Now the apprentice group instructors have another problem. They are concerned about the entry into Rosyth Dockyard. They have seen the answers given to Questions tabled by me recently and they query those answers.
The Minister has said that the total intake for 1971 will be 127 craft apprentices. The instructors allege that this means that only 88 craft apprentices from Rosyth and Dunfermline will be admitted in real terms. The rest come from other naval establishments. The instructors refute many of the points put forward in the Minister's answers.
Another serious and disturbing point has been drawn to my attention. I am told that new appointments are being made in the dockyard. It is alleged that there is to be the appointment of two education officers, with supporting clerical staff. It is also said that there is to be the appointment of a technical officer, grade 1, in the apprentice training sector. The Minister seems to argue that this has to be done because other dockyards have this type of appointment. Yet Rossyth has existed all these years with its training centre and has never required anyone of this grade to supervise. The staff argue that it would be better to appoint this person not to the training centre but to the welfare department.
If there is to be this large cut-back in the entry of craft apprentices there will be a serious situation in and around my constituency. I have been informed that over the years the average intake was about 200. Now we shall be reduced, in real terms, to 88 for this area. Like most areas, mine is suffering from an increase in unemployment. There is difficulty in finding jobs for young boys, and if this 1271 cutback takes place there will be this further restriction of opportunity for those wishing to take up craft apprenticeships.
Some time before the present Government took office it was brought to my notice that there was a likelihood of the dockyard technical college closing down. I met all the staff of this college and they were amazed to think that the college could be closed. I made representations on their behalf several times, and they came to see me several times. In the end, apparently, their professional organisation and the Admiralty came to an agreement, and the result has been the closure of the dockyard technical college and the handing over of its functions to Fife education authority.
In response to another Question which I put down a few days ago, however, I learned that a number of the staff have not been placed in appointments. This is most unfortunate. Some have secured places with Fife education authority and with other educational institutions, but the few who are left should be the responsibility of the Minister. He should make every endeavour to see that those people who have been displaced from the dockyard tchnical college have other suitable work from the Ministry.
I hope that the Minister will take careful note of what I have said, and I look forward to his giving us the best hearing possible when we call to see him.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)
I hope that the hon. Member for Dunfermline Burghs (Mr. Adam Hunter) will excuse me if I do not take up the points which he raised. His speech dealt largely with constituency matters.
I was a little surprised when the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen), opening for the Opposition, said—I do not know whether this was his personal opinion or the policy of his party—that it was wrong to accuse the Labour Party of wanting Britain to withdraw from a world rôle. I have vivid and, perhaps, bitter recollections of White Papers from the Labour Government referring to the withdrawal of our forces to Europe and the seas around us, with accusations hurled at the Conservatives that we still had dreams of past imperial glory and we, therefore, wanted to maintain forces abroad. If the present Opposition have 1272 changed their views and they do advocate a world rôle for Britain, I hope that—
§ Mr. George Thomson (Dundee, East)
Perhaps I can help the hon. and gallant Gentleman to get on with his speech. We have not changed our views. It is the Tories who have substantially changed their views, now that they are in Government. We always said that we saw a worldwide rôle for British forces based on Europe, and it was for that reason—if the hon. and gallant Gentleman had taken care to read them—we said repeatedly in White Papers that we wished to maintain a reinforcement capability, which we were, in fact, demonstrating at the time when the last election took place.
§ Captain Elliot
I am glad to hear that the Opposition do advocate that this country should maintain a world rôle. Whatever their views now, I think that the House will agree that, over the past years, it has often been said that Britain has not a world rôle to play, because of the dissolution of the Empire and the giving up of our responsibilities abroad.
It does no harm to repeat that, to a very large extent, our food and our raw materials come from all over the world, and we export all over the world. So we cannot avoid or throw away that world rôle.
We have heard a lot, and particularly from the Opposition, although I should not take this too far now in view of the denial which I have just heard, about cutting our commitments to match our capabilities. Again, it does no harm to draw attention to the fact that about 90 per cent. of our exports and imports are carried in ships along the sea routes. We cannot cut that commitment, as long as 50 million or, perhaps, up to 80 million people live in these islands.
What is the threat to these sea lanes? In the last two world wars, we came close to defeat. We came close to defeat because of submarine attack on our sea communications. In 1939, for example, the Germans started with only 25 submarines available to go to sea, but they caused enough trouble in 1939 and early 1940.
After the war, in my naval career, I lectured for about two years on antisubmarine warfare and, in particular, on what was called the Battle of the Atlantic, the submarine war in the Atlantic. I 1273 recall stressing that, at the height of the battle, the Germans had as many as 100 U-boats at sea at once, and by stressing that I tried to emphasise the magnitude of the threat to this country and the importance which the Germans attached to their submarine campaign.
Fortunately, by some time in 1943, our anti-submarine forces were well developed, but in spite of that development we only just got through.
What is the threat today? Instead of 25 submarines, our potential enemy has nearly 400. I do not say that all these submarines would go out on the trade routes—some are missile carrying and so on—but they are a serious menace.
§ Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)
What does the hon. and gallant Gentleman mean by our "potential enemy" having 400 submarines?
§ Captain Elliot
The Russians are our potential enemy. One must be realistic. That is a fact of life. Not only have they the numbers, but technically their submarines are greatly advanced. We all know that sometimes attack goes ahead, and sometimes defence. Nuclear power has given submarines great advantages, great speed and great endurance, and I do not believe that defence has yet caught up with those technical advances.
That is the threat. What are our defence forces against it? I was interested when my hon. Friend the Minister referred to the Royal Navy as being unmatched. He compared our forces with those of Europe and mentioned those of the United States. Qualitatively, no doubt our forces are unmatched. But we should be doing ourselves a great disservice if we tried to deceive ourselves over this matter. Europe is not the enemy; neither is the United States. The potential enemy is Russia. Our anti-submarine forces, to be pitted, possibly, against those Russian forces, are puny. I have here the answer to a question which I put to the previous Government, and the situation has not changed very much. We have about 71 Royal Naval ships with anti-submarine capability, and they are not necessarily all available to act in an anti-submarine rôle. The highest number in the last 1274 war—with 100 German U-boats at sea, we only just got through—was 875, as compared with 71 today. To put it more vividly, at that time we had eight antisubmarine vessels to every enemy submarine. Today we have one antisubmarine vessel to every five potential enemy submarines. The disparity in maritime aircraft available, a very important aspect of anti-submarine warfare—although I cannot dwell on that—is today just as great.
§ Mr. Adam Hunter
Does the hon. Gentleman see any essential difference in the fact that whereas we are predominantly overpowered by the naval might of Russia and the United States, our land forces are in a similar position? Would he recommend that we should try to vie with Russia and the United States with land forces?
§ Captain Elliot
No, I certainly would not. We have gone too far as it is in land forces. But when we consider our forces, we have to recognise that we do not expect to fight a war alone. We have our allies. In 1939 we did not expect to have to fight the war alone, but we found that we had to do so. But perhaps the situation today is different.
What is the position? I briefly quote from the 1967 Defence Estimates:N.A.T.O. must be ready at sea, as well as on land, to demonstrate its will and its ability to respond appropriately to any act of aggression. But it is no longer realistic for the Alliance to attempt to provide maritime forces for conducting a prolonged war at sea after a strategic nuclear exchange. Deterrence must be the first purpose of N.A.T.O.'s naval forces, too.It is unrealistic for the Alliance to attempt to provide these maritime forces. That was a true statement at the time. So we shall not get our forces from our allies.
It may have been unrealistic to expect anti-submarine forces to be available after a nuclear exchange. But I question the assumption—I am not the only one—that a war necessarily is or is bound to be nuclear. It is possible to have a maritime war without nuclear weapons. More and more it is becoming reasonable to assume that Governments will not decide to incinerate the world because, for example, a maritime war is taking place.
But a maritime war has especially important implications to us because it 1275 could mean the end of this country. In addition, as the 1967 White Paper saidDeterrence must be the first purpose of N.A.T.O.'s naval forces, too.Weak anti-submarine forces will certainly not deter Russian missile carrying submarines.
We have heard a great deal about tripwires, controlled response and the like in Central Europe. The front line is not only on land but extends round our coasts and over the ocean. We want the capacity to survey activity on or under the sea in exactly the same way as we detect missiles, aeroplanes or other hostile or potentially hostile forces above the sea.
When all this argument is finished, our ability to provide arms depends upon the money available; and it is limited. We must be realistic. Today naval and maritime forces are very expensive. We must get help from our allies, although it is worth mentioning that in the last few decades it has been the first time for hundreds of years that Britain has not been able to defend her sea lanes successfully for herself.
On the question of help from our allies, the Defence Statement is disappointing. I am glad to read in paragraph 2 thatthe first of the Government's objectives recognises that British interests and responsibilities are not confined to the N.A.T.O. area. Britain's political and trading interests are world-wide and they can flourish only in stable conditions.Paragraph 5 goes further and, referring to the continuing threat from Russian expansion, says this:Success in this policy will be at the expense of Western political interests; it could also put increasingly at risk important Western economic interests.So the new Russian dispositions are, the Statement admits, a threat to all of us, not only to Britain.
Paragraphs 10 to 14 are headed: "The Alliance's Response". However, these paragraphs contain nothing which deals with the new threat which has been mentioned in the earlier paragraphs. The only concrete measure—"concrete" is the operative word—is the reference at the end of paragraph 14 to a total cost of £400 million forN.A.T.O. integrated communications system and measures to improve the protection of aircraft on the ground.1276 That is very necessary no doubt but it bears no relation to the threat postulated in the earlier paragraphs.
Paragraph 11 refers to the review of defence problems for the 1970swhich covered the whole spectrum of N.A.T.O. defence problems.In the light of the statements in paragraphs 2 and 5 drawing attention to the expansion of Soviet power and influence across the world, I have a few questions for my hon. Friend. First, is he sure that "North Atlantic Treaty Organisation" is the right title for our defence treaty? Should not the question of the boundaries be considered with a view to their stretching further afield than the North Atlantic?
Will my hon. Friend ensure that the defence review for the 1970s which is referred to in paragraph 11 of this Defence Statement covers the threat to the security of the West as a whole as outlined in paragraph 5 of this year's Statement—that is, the worldwide threat, not only the threat in the North Atlantic? In the review, will he reiterate that land frontiers are not the only frontiers? Will he emphasise that nuclear war is not necessarily the only sort of war, and that maritime war is a possibility? Will he bring to the attention of the allies the dimensions of the Russian submarine forces and the strength of the allies' antisubmarine forces? In short, will he do what the Russians have done, and rediscover for Europe the vital importance of the sea in any defence arrangement?
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)
I must confess that this is new ground for me. I think that it is the first time I have ever dared, being a confirmed coward, to intervene in a defence debate. I do not think that I would have done so tonight but for the beginning of the contribution of the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot).
I am always rather confused when we talk about our defence capability. I have an increasing appreciation of Britain's defence limitations. Historically, it is true that we were able to dominate the whole world, largely because of our naval pre-eminence. I do not want to disparage in any way the 1277 achievements of the Services, whether in the air, on the land, or on the sea, and the work they do. I pay tribute to the lads in all the Forces, and would be the last to denigrate their courage or capability. Incidentally, I have been on a number of ships.
What disturbs me is that any of us in this day and age can think in terms of an enemy. My interest in the debate was quickened when the hon. and gallant Gentleman talked about an enemy that he did not define, though he talked about its capability of 400 submarines, and when I intervened he referred to Russia. If we are thinking of the defence of this country, the last thing we should think in terms of is an enemy. The hon. and gallant Gentleman smiles, but if he is thinking of Russia being our enemy he is pursuing a policy of despair, because irrespective of all the courage we could command as a nation and all the enthusiasm we could engender, because of our particular way of life, if Russia is this country's enemy, we could not face that challenge alone.
§ Captain W. Elliot
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman quite got my point. What I am concerned with is not Russia as such, but the 400 submarines she possesses.
§ Mr. Loughlin
I began by saying that I was entering into these subjects. I can only take what people say. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman talks about "our enemy" and, when challenged, indicates that that enemy is Russia, I say that we are living in a fool's paradise if we believe that we can establish a psychological position in which we regard any nation with the capability that Russia has as our enemy.
§ Mr. Loughlin
It can be hedged round, or put in inverted commas, or otherwise qualified, but when it comes to our defence, we have to say that we have no enemies. We have a rôle to play and it is to try to get the willing co-operation of all nations irrespective of their political complexion.
It is common currency today to regard the world as divided between the Western world that we know and the Eastern world centering around Soviet Russia. In 1278 five years, there will be another division: there will be the Western bloc as we know it, the Eastern bloc centering around Russia, and the Far Eastern bloc centering around China. This is something we have to bear in mind when we consider defence policy. It is ludicrous to have a defence programme based on the assumption that the only enemy which we can envisage for the years ahead is Soviet Russia.
It is no good talking about Russia having 400 submarines and, to quote the hon. and gallant Gentleman, our having only 71 ships with anti-submarine capability unless one assumes that future development must inevitably be seen in a possible or potential—I use the hon. and gallant Gentleman's word—clash between ourselves and Russia.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
The hon. Gentleman should realise that the Soviet Union overtly and blatantly describes the potential of its navy asto give battle to enemy naval forces at sea and their bases, and to disrupt enemy ocean and sea transport".That was said by Marshal Sokolovsky. Admiral Gorskhov said:The Soviet Navy has been converted in the full sense of the word into an offensive type of long-range armed force… which could exert a decisive influence on the course of an armed struggle in theatres of military operations of vast extent … and which is also able to support State interests at sea in peacetime.Those are overtly military capabilities which we must take measures, in concert with our allies, to counter.
§ Mr. Loughlin
I am not sure what that intervention was all about since I did not argue that Russia was not a potential enemy. I am merely saying that it is a foolish defence policy which is based on the assumption that Russia is the only enemy. I pointed out that, in political and military terms, the world is developing not between East and West but between East, West and the Far East, and how we will fit into this pattern of development we do not yet know.
I accept what the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson) said about Russia's might, but what is its impact on us? Every defence White Paper for the last 20 years or so, not to speak of virtually every after-dinner speech by our admirals and generals, has warned us of Russia's strength, but these 1279 warnings are really meaningless—[Interruption.]—at any rate to me, though if the hon. Member for Bradford, West has something to say I will conclude my remarks shortly in the hope that he will have an opportunity to speak. Perhaps he has something so say, which is probably more than I can claim.
I rise simply to point out, despite the cynicism of the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton, with whom I am prepared to debate defence at any time—he has no reason to snigger at what I am saying because it is vital for our future—and despite the unreal world in which he lives, in which he believes that we can play a major rôle in any future war, that there will not be a maritime war. If we are ever involved in such a conflict, it will be a nuclear war—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—and unless we are prepared to face the future on that basis, we will be betraying every citizen in this country.
§ 8.53 p.m.
Major-General Jack d'AvigdorGoldsmid (Lichfield and Tamworth)
Earlier in the debate a certain amount of heat was generated over the Naval Detention Barracks, in which was joined my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles), the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) and the hon. Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd). As a soldier, perhaps I can take a somewhat dispassionate view of this issue, give my impression of it and make some suggestions.
In recent weeks I have had the opportunity of visiting the Royal Naval Detention Quarters. I spoke to detainees and visited the military detention centre at Colchester. I have also seen the film to which considerable reference was made, but I do not intend to adopt the mantle of a film critic.
I wish it to be clear at the outset that the Royal Naval Detention Barracks are extremely well administered and are closely supervised by the naval authorities at Portsmouth. They are run fairly and with common sense. One of the detainees with whom I spoke had been given a week's compassionate leave during his sentence. Improvements have been carried out and the washing facili- 1280 ties and food seemed more than adequate. Another detainee, who had been a cook, confirmed this view. These improvements were listed by the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy in our debate on 13th January.
There are three functions of any Service detention centre: first and foremost, to provide corrective disciplinary training for offenders; secondly, to be a deterrent for any further misconduct; and, thirdly, to rehabilitate people so that they can return to their ships, units or stations as better Service men. There are two categories within those establishments—those who have committed serious offences and have incurred dismissal from the forces at the end of their sentence, and those, like the men in the Royal Naval Detention Quarters, who have not incurred that sentence.
Conditions of entry to the forces today are such that men with criminal records are not accepted. Therefore, in establishments of this nature, people are incarcerated for things which appear to be comparatively trivial, like absence without leave or insubordination, which in civilian life would at most incur the sack from their employment but certainly not a prison sentence.
For that reason, I should like to compare the two establishments which I have visited. I deal first with the Army establishment at Colchester, which caters for personnel in the Royal Air Force and the Army. The inmates are incarcerated in barrack rooms, with six to eight men in a room, obviously under lock and key at night. The barracks are no form of luxury; they are huts. But they are together. The work is done mostly out of doors. There is any amount of real estate and the camp is situated in a large park. There is wire around the outside and one can see the countryside beyond.
The staff at Colchester consists of members of the Provost Staff Corps plus a certain proportion of younger N.C.O.s, who come from Service units and who do proportionate time—two or two and a half years—and, therefore, are possibly more in touch with the young.
The Royal Naval detention quarters at Portsmouth cater for personnel from the Royal Navy and Royal Marines. They are situated near the dockyard. The 1281 place is a prison—that is, the inmates, or detainees, are incarcerated in cells where they are under lock and key by night and where they spend quite a large proportion of weekends, which was the only complaint made to me when I was there. The staff are old and experienced. They are long-service chief petty officers, petty officers, warrant officers and senior N.C.O.s of the Royal Marines who have finished their service time with their units, ships or shore establishments and are biding their time there. Because of their increased age, they perhaps lack the touch of youth of their opposite numbers at Colchester.
Before the war, I was adjutant of my regiment and I visited the notorious Army penal establishment at Aldershot known as the "glass house". Since that time there have been many changes in the Services and in the intelligence rating and the standard of living of members of the forces. Unfortunately, there is still a demand in the forces for centres of this nature. Good discipline, which is the backbone of Service life, is not inspired by fear of detention. The Army destroyed the "glass house" and has now resorted to a form of rigorous corrective training under unit circumstances.
In conclusion, as a soldier, I humbly suggest to the Royal Navy that it should follow the Army's example. There should be one detention centre for all three Services, manned by representatives of all three Services so that special-to-arm training can be carried on. The incarceration should not be in a prison but rather in a barrack room system where there is much more communal life. The centre should be run not as a prison but as a unit, with a view to rehabilitating the Servicemen so that when they have finished their sentence they can go back to their respective forces as useful members.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)
No one who has visited and studied the Royal Navy can be other than impressed by the high standard of expertise and the complete dedication and devotion of all ranks of the Royal Navy. Nor can anyone who has had the pleasure, as I have, of serving in the Royal Navy ever forget the spirit which lives for ever in anyone who has come 1282 into contact with the Service. I am particularly glad this evening to have this opportunity of participating in a naval debate, although I am somewhat awed at having been preceded by three of my hon. Friends, the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu), the hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Foley) and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen), all of whom have served with distinction in the office now occupied by the hon. Gentleman opposite as Under-Secretary of State for the Royal Navy.
In every Navy debate we talk about the new rôle the Navy is undertaking and the new challenge that confronts it. It is not necessary for me as an ex-sailor to remind the House that every time a ship puts to sea it faces a challenge and, very often, a new rôle. The clear message comes from all the speeches in the debate that the Royal Navy still remains both a fighting force and an attractive proposition for any young man seeking a life of adventure. The Navy is responsible for carrying out the strategic nuclear rôle for this country. That is done by the submarine force to which my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton referred. It is done by the submarine force because, as Professor Martin pointed out when he addressed the Royal United Services Institution, the sea has the quality of shrouding the operations of that weapon.
From what the Navy Minister said in his opening speech, it is clear that the broad policies laid down by the previous Administration have been accepted by the Government. Whether it be in ships, weapons, manpower or pay, all the broad outlines which were so bitterly attacked by the Opposition when the Labour Government were in power have now become the policy of the present Administration. If we look at the White Paper or the Navy Estimates we find that little if anything has changed. The old sterile argument about the carrier is now forgotten.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
The hon. and gallant Gentleman says "No". He may be having a battle with his own Front Bench. I am delighted that in his criticism of his own Front Bench, who are carrying out the policies of the Labour Administration, 1283 he refrained from using the harsh and discourteous words that he and some of his hon. Friends used in attacking those policies when they were in Opposition.
Perhaps the Minister will tell the hon. and gallant Gentleman whether he has any plans to lay down a new aircraft carrier to replace the "Ark Royal" after 1975. Perhaps he will also tell us what future he sees for the Fleet Air Arm. In the White Paper, the Government claim credit for the reduction in the redundancies planned by the last Government. A major part of the reduction resulted from the extension to the life of the "Ark Royal", but that does not secure the future of the Fleet Air Arm. The hon. Gentleman has a duty to spell that out.
In those past debates, we had to listen to most disgraceful strictures levelled at our patriotism and the way in which we accept our responsibilities for the security of the country. I was not at all surprised that, when the Prime Minister formed his Government last June, the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), who bore the responsibility as Opposition defence spokesman, was given the shrouding quality of the European negotiations to protect him from the wrath that would otherwise have fallen upon him.
The policies of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) have been broadly accepted by the Government. The main arguments are now over and, provided the Government stick to those sensible policies, they can expect the support of the Opposition in any reasonable steps they take to maintain the security of this nation by maintaining the viability of the Royal Navy.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
Is the hon. Gentleman not forgetting a little thing called "east of Suez"? We never knew what the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) thought about that.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
The Government have accepted the broad strategy. They may have moved the chess pieces about but they are not adding any new pieces or buying a bigger set. They can put a few ships east of Suez but there is nothing basically different in their policy. Hardly a penny more is to be spent by the Government than was planned by the last 1284 Government on defence, despite all the promises. When the Government consider defence matters, particularly those relating to those east of Suez, I hope they will listen to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane) rather than to the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) in dealing with relations with South Africa and the use of the Simonstown facility.
But all these arguments are over. We can as a parliament turn to other problems—those of ensuring that the Navy can fulfil the new and agreed rôle that Parliament has laid upon it. The Minister referred to manpower as being the main problem now facing the Navy. We concur in that judgment. The problem of attracting men of enthusiasm and dedication to the Navy is a continuing one. I was pleased to hear his words on the necessity to establish a volunteer Navy, to ensure that there will no longer be any reluctant sailors serving in the fleet—reluctant either because they enlisted for too long a period at too young an age or, and this is perhaps something which may arise in the present climate, because they sought an escape from civil unemployment.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the purchase of discharge and the fact that this is progressively to be brought into line by 1977. How many men in the Navy would have been eligible for purchase of discharge if this system could have been operated immediately? How many men will continue to be kept in the Navy for the next six or seven years as reluctant seamen?
Later in my speech, I shall return to recruitment and re-engagement. One of the main themes of the debate has been the subject referred to by the hon. and gallant Member for Lichfield and Tam-worth (Major-General Jack d'AvigdorGoldsmid), the Royal Naval Detention Quarters at Portsmouth. In view of the television programme a few days ago, I was surprised that the Minister did not consider it necessary to say a few words about it. I understand from my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) that the hon. Gentleman was supplied with a transcript of the statements made by all the ex-detainees who were interviewed. If that is the position, the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends cannot pray in aid the charge that the film 1285 was biased and unfair when the Minister had an opportunity, before the editing of that programme and its preparation for final viewing, to look through those comments and to make representations to "World in Action" about any alterations that he thought fit.
The public spotlight has been concentrated on Portsmouth D.Q., whether hon. Gentlemen opposite like it or not. I have visited the D.Q. and seen the situation there, as I have Colchester. When the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester accused "World in Action" of making a sensationalised report full of political bias, I was staggered. I accept that perhaps the programme could have been broader in its conception, but I reject any accusation of political bias, and certainly any of sensationalism. When one bares to the glow of public examination such dark areas of naval life as the detention quarters, that cannot be regarded as sensationalist.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman revealed that he had been a quarterly visitor to the detention centre. I looked up the detention rules to see what were the responsibilities of a quarterly visiting officer. They include, among others, listening to any complaints made by detainees. One must assume from that that every detainee in naval detention quarters has a regular opportunity once a quarter of quietly making representations to the visiting officer—
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I also looked at Detention Regulation No. 41, "Offences against Discipline". Section (t) of a list of offences says that a man is guilty of an offence if… he makes repeated and groundless complaints …".He would be a brave inmate in a detention centre who made complaints to a visiting officer or anyone else. I do not think that it is satisfactory for that position to exist. Some better system of complaints need to be devised than having visitors like the hon. and gallant Gentleman visiting once a quarter.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
The hon. and gallant Gentlemant went on to make an attack on the personal integrity of my hon. Friend the Member for Barking. Quite rightly, lie got the bird from the House. My hon. Friend visited the D.Q. before participating in the debate on 11th January. In his speech on that date, he went out of his way to pay tribute to the Navy. He said:Even these rather backward detention quarters were humanely administered so far as I could tell, and were perfectly clean, but I did not think that they were suited for rehabilitation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th January, 1971; Vol. 809, c. 125.]There is no criticism there of those very decent people who operate and administer the D.Q.s; only an acceptance that they were run in a humane way, but were unsuitable for rehabilitation. I echo those words.
Despite the emphasis being put on detention quarters, we must get this matter in perspective; not overdo it. We must recognise that just as in civilian life we need a penal code and penal institutions to imprison, to rehabilitate and, we hope, to reform the civilian population who commit offences against society, so in the Royal Navy there is a necessity for a penal code and penal institutions. I do not think that anyone doubts that.
I hope that we all accept that only a small percentage of men in the Royal Navy, or in any of the Services, go to the D.Q.s. I accept that a reasonable percentage of those who go to the Royal Navy D.Q.s are trying to work their tickets—reluctant sailors trying to get out. If that is the case, we should accept the Donaldson Committee's Report where it says that if the price of a few hundred or more being released from the forces is the price to stop this form of ticket working, then it is a price that we ought to pay.
None the less, even though this is only a small problem in terms of numbers who go to detention quarters, it is no reason for the conditions at the Portsmouth D.Q. being swept under the carpet. Therefore, I have no hesitation in saying that the "World in Action" investigation was sensible and reasonable and that it was right to show that film.
I should like to pay tribute to the "World in Action" team. The hon. and gallant Member for Winchester might like to join me in this tribute. Perhaps I 1287 made a mistake. When I arranged with Granada to have a private viewing of the film, I invited the hon. and gallant Gentleman to accompany me, but he was not generous enough to pay tribute to the staff and the producers of "World in Action" who kindly and courteously spent considerable time discussing with us in a frank and genuine way the contents of the film.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles rose—
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I shall not give way to the hon. and gallant Gentleman again. I am short of time and still have a number of points to go through.
I pay personal tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton who introduced most of the reforms which have taken place in the D.Qs: the replacement of boards by bunks for men to sleep on and the slight moderation—only slight—in the no-talking rule. I understand that young men sent there are still subject to the no-talking rule in their first week. The detention quarters rules are strict concerning no communication. My hon. Friend was also instrumental in introducing a television set into the quarters—only one set—which can be viewed only at limited times. He also took great steps to improve the quality of the diet.
None the less, although these reforms have taken place, we must not forget that it has taken almost a quarter of a century since the end of the Second World War to get even these moderate reforms and to start dealing with some of the problems with which the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester should have dealt when he was a quarterly visitor to those quarters.
I notice that in reply to a Question the Minister referred to the cells occupied by seamen in detention quarters as "rooms". It is not good enough. They are narrow cells with little peepholes in the doors, and the inmates are required to slop them out each morning. Long periods of solitary confinement take place when the men go back to them in the evening and particularly over the weekend.
My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West referred not only to the dockyards and the importance of Ports- 1288 mouth Dockyard to his constituents but to the detention quarters there and made a most important point. He said that the staff should receive training in the administration of this sort of establishment, and I agree with my hon. Friend. The staff and administrators of Portsmouth detention quarters have a difficult job, which they carry out in a very bad environment. If I have any criticism of the system, not of the staff—and the point was made by the hon. and gallant Member for Lichfield and Tamworth—it is that most, if not all, of the staff at Portsmouth are representative of the old Navy. They are pensioners who have come back to serve at the detention quarters.
They are honourable men. No one is casting any aspersions or doubts on their integrity but, if we talk about a new modern Navy, the people who operate the detention quarters, those who have the responsibility of rehabilitating those who are sent there, those who have the job of doing what the detention rules lay down as the purpose of the detention quarters, which is to rehabilitate and make a man fit in all respects to return to his ship, should be representative of the modern Navy, and not of yesterday's Navy. I therefore urge the Minister to look at that aspect of the problem to see what can be done.
During the debate on 13th January the Minister gave as one of his justifications for retaining the detention quarters the fact that because conditions were a bit rugged in some of Her Majesty's ships we must not make detention quarters too comfortable. I remind the Minister of the sea-shore ratio. From the Government's White Paper I calculate that the ratio is about one-third afloat to two-thirds ashore. I am sure that the Minister will give a slightly higher figure of the sea-shore ratio, but that is my calculation, based on the figures published by the Government.
If that is the case, the overwhelming majority of Navy personnel are not in the cramped quarters of some of the small ships but in reasonable quarters. The overwhelming majority of personnel will be returning to shore establishments, and not to one of the small number of difficult and uncomfortable ships. There is therefore no justification for keeping these primitive quarters purely to try to 1289 ensure, in this old-fashioned manner, that they are not too comfortable.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I hope that I have said enough to encourage the Minister to take seriously the view put forward by his hon. and gallant Friend that the real solution to the problem of detention quarters lies not just in reform, but in tile complete abandonment of them. There is an overwhelming case for having tri-Service corrective centres, and I hope that the Minister will continue to pursue a liberal policy in that respect, leading to the desirable aim of closing the detention quarters and having a proper corrective training centre at some other place.
There is one aspect of the sea-shore ratio which the Minister ought to clear up. In the White Paper there is a nice little map of the world showing how many members of the Royal Navy are ashore and how many are afloat. From those figures I calculate that only one-third of the personnel are at sea at any time and 66 per cent. are ashore. If that is the case—and I accept that this may be a crude measurement—I think that we ought to be able to do something about that kind of sea-shore ratio in order to lessen the number of jobs ashore carried out by male members of the Royal Navy. We must, if necessary, consider seriously the substitution of some woman power for manpower in order to limit what might otherwise be a continuing problem.
The other matter that I should like to deal with on recruiting is to urge the Minister to ensure that in all the recruiting literature that is sent out—and I have a selection of it here—the new terms of entry for young men are clearly set out. I see that in one of the more recent issues of recruiting literature that is done on the penultimate page. I hope the Minister will give the House an undertaking that in every booklet or piece of advertising material that is sent out from the Navy the new terms will be set out very clearly. We must get away from the situation that a young man of 15 can join the Navy under a misapprehension and finds, when 1290 he reaches the age of 18, that he still has a considerable length of service to do.
I was interested to note that the Minister is pursuing the policy of his predecessor over the degree course at London University. We welcome that. We were a little concerned that it might have been lost on the way. We are not clear about his intentions there, but certainly it has not been abandoned.
We should like to hear something about the trials, begun by my hon. Friend when he was in office, of the new uniform. Before any final decisions are made on these trials, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will ensure that the views of serving seamen are taken fully into account.
We have talked about enlistment and recruitment. One way to ease the manpower problems would be to deal with the situation over re-engagement. It is very interesting to note the figures in Table 5 of the White Paper for each of the three Services in respect of the percentage of men re-engaging after nine years' service. For the Navy, the forecast for 1970–71 is 35 per cent., for the Army it is 50 per cent. and for the Royal Air Force, 59 per cent.
Why is it that the Royal Navy has such a small percentage? This could play an important part. If the Navy could reach the Army's figure of 50 per cent., that would have a tremendous impact on Navy manpower. I do not expect the Minister to reply off the cuff, but I hope that he will be able to say that he will have some research done into that matter. I hope that he will also consider the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East about the system in the Dutch Navy to encourage people who have left the Navy to rejoin.
We greatly welcome the statement about the welfare services of the Navy. We have long thought that there is a desperate need to improve welfare facilities and the care of wives and children of naval personnel at sea. We therefore welcome his decision to conduct a study, and we wish that study well.
This has been a wide-ranging debate, dealing with weapons systems, the manpower situation and the differences which used to exist between the two sides but which now, because of the adoption by the Government of our broad policies, 1291 have been transformed into a broad agreement which means that we can go forward to tackle the real problems. I have no doubt that future Navy debates will take a slightly different turn from those which we have had before or from this. Providing that the Government stand firm on this broadly agreed policy, we can concentrate on the future and on ensuring that the Navy can fulfil its rôle.
The Minister can rest assured that we shall support him in all the sensible and liberal reforms which he continues to implement in the Navy, particularly in the D.Qs. I can do no more than wish the Navy well and hope that, in the temporary period during which the Conservative Party will have responsibility, they will not take any actions which, when we resume responsibility, will leave the Navy in a state which will take us years to rehabilitate.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Kirk
By leave of the House may I reply to the debate and in doing so welcome the appearance of the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) on the Front Bench opposite? Long may he remain on the Front Bench opposite and long may he participate in our naval debates. I am certain that it will be noticed, I hope, in the fleet, as well as outside, that whereas the debates on the other two Services folded up after a few hours the interest in this House in the Royal Navy is so great that we ran the full course and I fear that some hon. Members who wished to speak have been disappointed. This is encouraging not only for me as Minister responsible but for the Royal Navy.
The debate has been of a remarkably fine standard and has been conducted on three levels. There has been first the strategic level when the argument did not seem to be across the Floor of the House but on the benches opposite. This is a great problem. On the one hand we are accused of having undertaken wasteful and wanton engagements all over the world which we cannot possibly fulfil and on the other we are told that we are merely carrying out the policies of the previous Administration.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite must make up their minds. I suggested earlier that the possible difference between the two 1292 sides of the House was that we did not recognise that there was a line anywhere on the map which divided defence. We say that defence is indivisible the world over. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) assured me that the Labour Party when in government and in opposition believed in worldwide defence, but I was denounced by the hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Foley) for suggesting that we should have a defence policy outside the N.A.T.O. area, south of the Tropic of Cancer. This is a matter they will have to sort out between themselves, and when they have decided on their policies perhaps they will let us know.
Meanwhile, I have made our policy plain and perhaps it might be more valuable if I answered some of the detailed points that have arisen. A question which has exercised a number of hon. Members and occupied a large part of the closing speech of the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford has been the question of the Royal Naval Detention Quarters at Portsmouth. I did not refer to it in my opening speech, and this was because I thought I would wait and see whether, as it is only two or three months since we last debated the subject in the context of the Armed Forces Bill, there was a general demand for a further statement.
I will divide what I have to say into two parts, the first dealing with the television programme shown on Monday of last week and the second dealing with the detention quarters generally. On the first point, I gave permission for Granada to film inside the detention quarters, willingly and at once. Although it has gone out of its way to suggest that there was some great scoop and great difficulties were put in its way, there were no difficulties placed in its way at all. The only two conditions I laid down, other than the normal Home Office conditions which I thought right to apply in this case, were firstly that I should have a chance to appear on the programme and answer any points raised. I did ask that I should see the programme up to that point so that I would know what had been raised, but it was said that this was technically impossible and instead, as the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) has said, the company said it would send in transcripts. It did so, 130 foolscap pages. It took about four 1293 hours to read them. This was just before the television programme—
§ Mr. Kirk
It was two days before it was due to film me. Owing to some internal difficulties about whether the programme was to be shown it turned out to be a month. The problem was that, although we could find out all about the men themselves and the allegations which they made—in fact, we discovered the interesting fact that one of them had never been inside Royal Naval detention quarters at all—
§ Mr. Kirk
May I be allowed to get on with my speech? We had no means of knowing what part of that mass of material, which amounted to about five hours' filming, would be used in the programme.
Our second problem—this faced me, in particular, when the interview came—was that the character of the programme appeared to have changed during the production. What set out, as we understood it, to be a balanced programme about Royal Naval Detention Quarters turned into a discussion on the "ticket worker", the reluctant sailor—call him what one will. It must be accepted that that was so, because there was no mention of anyone else ever having been inside Royal Naval Detention Quarters at all, although, in fact, the ticket worker represents less than one-sixth of the total population of D.Q.s. All the discussion centred on that.
If it had been a programme about D.Q.s, much more, for instance, would have been shown about life in the D.Q.s. But virtually the only thing which was shown was people going round the assault course and scampering up and down the stairs—[An HON. MEMBER: "Squarebashing."]—square-bashing and so on, and, as is only too easy in a building of this kind, some pretty horrific pictures of the inside of the place, which I have never 1294 concealed from the House I view with the greatest dismay.
No attempt was made to show the improvements in food, in bedding and in sanitation which were carried out either by the hon. Member for Sutton or by myself. There was only the most cursory reference to that. On the other hand, a great deal was made of the fact that the people we put there—indeed, it was suggested that they were almost the only people we put there—were the reluctant sailors.
It became apparent that that was what the company had in mind, because, when its people came to interview me at the Ministry in the week before the programme took place, virtually all the questions were directed to that point. But what I found so interesting was that, when the programme was actually shown, all those questions and all my answers were cut out. Although I spoke about Donaldson, about the reforms which we had instituted in respect of engagement, and about the fact that, thanks to the power which we had given to the commanding officer at the detention quarters to recommend discharge direct from the D.Q.s, the number of discharges for that reason had gone up eight times in the last 12 months, all these points which I made to the producer of the programme were cut out, and the impression left by the programme was that the Navy was complacently sitting back saying. "We have got the place here and we shall not do anything about it". [HON MEMBERS: "Disgraceful."]
That is my complaint about the programme. I have written to the company to ask for an explanation, and I shall be very interested to see what can be said. I still maintain, however, that I was right to allow Granada to go and film there. I believe that that was correct. It is a matter of public concern. I only regret that the confidence which I placed in the company has been abused in the way it has.
I come to some more general observations about detention quarters themselves. As the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford said, under the auspices of my predecessor, a number of reforms were instituted. I listed them in the debate on 13th January. One of the first things I did after taking office was to go and see 1295 the place, because I wanted to see how the reforms were working.
In the light of the debate on 13th January, we have made further changes. The silence rule, for instance, has now been altered and the period reduced to two days instead of a week in the initial stages, in order to acclimatise—this is really what it does now—to get a man over the shock of finding himself in the detention quarters at all.
In view of the concern shown by the House, and especially in view of what was said by the hon. Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd) about liaison with the civil prisons, I think it right to tell the House that, shortly after the debate on 13th January, and before I was approached by Granada Television, I asked the former Inspector-General of Prisons, Brigadier Maunsell, whether he would be good enough to advise me on whether the reforms we were making were right and whether the course on which we were set was right.
Brigadier Maunsell has kindly undertaken to do this work. He has visited both the Royal Naval Detention Quarters and Colchester detention quarters, and I await his report with considerable interest. I did not announce it to the House at the time because I did not wish it to be thought that I had any disrespect for the Select Committee which, I knew, was to go to the detention quarters.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
That is welcome news, but could the hon. Gentleman, now or later, tell the House something about the 15 to 18-year-olds, and whether he will consider not allowing any young men of 15, 16 or 17 to be committed to the D.Q.s pending the reforms and the report?
§ Mr. Kirk
I will certainly give consideration to that. It depends upon 1296 whether it is a confidential letter. I should not like to betray a confidence in that way.
I hope that I have said enough on this subject to convey to the House not the anxiety but the fact that I am continuing to take, as I promised in the previous debate, a close interest in the affairs of that establishment.
§ Mr. Driberg
One reply that the hon. Gentleman gave in the previous debate, which was a little disappointing, was about the tasks, the picking oakum, and he said:But the tasks will remain, all the same; we do need the mats in the Royal Nary."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th January, 1971; Vol. 809, c. 150.]That was not very satisfactory.
§ Mr. Kirk
That was true. We still need the matting. There is always a question, in establishments like that, of keeping the chaps occupied. I am looking into the matter and this is one of the points on which I shall welcome the advice which Brigadier Maunsell will be able to give as to the way in which we can vary the work done there.
§ Mr. Kirk
It is not fatuous to make matting which the Navy needs.
Perhaps I may pass on to one or two other points raised about personnel. My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Pink) raised the interesting point about the raising of the school-leaving age and the effect that this would have on the recruitment of 15-year-olds on whom we largely rely. This is one of the matters which we are having to consider with very great care. Perhaps the best that I can say today is that we are looking into it with the Department of Education and Science to see what is the best way of meeting the situation when the school leaving age is raised in 1972, which is just before the time when H.M.S. "Ganges" is due to close and transfer anyway. For that reason that is a convenient time to review the question of the best way of ensuring effective boy entry.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) has sent me a note saying that he is sorry not to be here. I understand that his wife has had an accident. I am sure that we all send him our good wishes at this time. He 1297 raised the question of the system used in the Dutch Navy to try to entice people back again. I understand that he suggested this to my Department when he was Minister. It seems to have survived two Ministers since then without ever surfacing again, and I will try to track it down and see what has happened to it over that period.
The hon. Member for Erith and Cray-ford raised the question of the new uniform for R.N. ratings. As he knows, and as I am sure his hon. Friend has told him, the attitude survey made in the fleet just over a year ago showed that a great many ratings wanted improvements in the square rig, or even its abolition altogether. The prototype modernised version was announced by my predecessor in the debate on 9th March, 1970. This generated considerable new interest on this subject in the fleet. In the light of this, the study was extended by commissioning designs and prototypes from a commercial design firm as well as in the Service. These should be available at any time, probably within the next two or three months, and we shall try them out on the fleet to see which ones are the most obvious successes. We are looking for something consistent with naval tradition, but more comfortable and practicable than the present uniform, and something which obviously will survive for a good many years to come. One does not wish to be put to the excitement or expense of changing it every few years or so.
I come now to problems of manpower which are associated with defence policy. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton once again suggested that by running on "Ark Royal" we are putting ourselves into a manpower box from which we shall be unable to emerge without scrapping "Ark Royal". I repeat what has been said before on this subject. "Ark Royal's" total complement is about 2,400 men of whom about 1,000 are Fleet Air Arm personnel who can be ignored for this purpose. Those men will be met after 1972 by the slowing down of the redundancy scheme and, if necessary, the introduction of R.A.F. personnel.
The remainder—the large part of the extra requirement—is met by the cancellation of the conversion of "Lion" which was announced last year in the supplementary White Paper. "Lion's" ship's company would have been about 800. 1298 Cancellation of her conversion releases between 600 and 650 servicemen for "Ark Royal".
We believe that with this bonus behind us, with the prospects for recruiting, which I am soberly confident we shall be able to step up, and other significant manpower economies which can be achieved by adjustments in the programme, not only in operational but in support ships, we shall be able to find the additional manpower for "Ark Royal" without unacceptable sacrifice elsewhere in the Navy's capability. We believe that running on "Ark Royal" will give a clear net operational gain, for reasons which have been discussed throughout the debate, in the surface-to-surface capability of the Navy, which is clearly lacking at the moment. On that, too, I shall say something a little later.
As I have got on to the subject of the Fleet Air Arm, perhaps I may deal in more detail about that. A number of hon. Members, notably my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) and my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr), have asked me questions about the Fleet Air Arm generally, and particularly in relation to vertical and short take-off planes.
First, people—this includes some people in the Fleet Air Arm—tend to think of the Fleet Air Arm only in terms of fixed-wing flying. I can understand why. There is something about a Phantom and a Buccaneer which does not appear even in the most sophisticated helicopter like the Sea King. The Phantom Squadron at Yeovilton having been kind enough to give me my observer's wings last Friday, 25 years after I should have qualified for them, naturally I feel rather the same way myself.
On the other hand, the helicopter rôle is particularly important as the cruisers come in. I confirm what the hon. Member for Sutton said, that the main point of the cruiser was as a helicopter ship. Anything we do on vertical and short take-off is a bonus on top. The helicopter rôle is exciting, sophisticated, and very important indeed, particularly as the Sea Kings come in with their greater anti-submarine capacity.
1299 In addition, the rôle of flying the Royal Marine commandos from the commando ships is vital. Whatever happens to fixed wing flying in the Royal Navy, there is a rôle for the Fleet Air Arm which the Fleet Air Arm perfectly well understands.
However, there is not the slightest point in my trying to disguise from the House what every hon. Member knows to be true. This is that the Fleet Air Arm hopes that there will be Harriers in the Fleet and that it will fly them.
Particularly as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester took the view that we did not want any more trials but that we should go ahead and buy the planes, I must mention the trials from "Ark Royal" which started today and which I shall attend next week. The trials which have taken place so far have been able to confirm the fact that the Harrier can take off from certain types of decks. We now want to discover, first, how effectively they can operate from ships at sea. That we have done with the "Eagle" trials and with the trials on the "Tiger" class cruiser "Blake" and other decks. We want to discover, second, whether the additional capability they can provide will be such as to justify the cost. This is far more difficult to resolve. This is the object of the second set of trials which are taking place this week and next week on "Ark Royal".
As I have said before, and as has been revealed to the House, the design of the new cruisers will incorporate the option to operate the V-STOL aircraft, but there is no need to hold up the design of the cruiser until we have resolved that problem.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Is not there another option in the interim, which is to operate V-STOL aircraft from "Hermes" as an integral part of our amphibious forces? These could be either the Harrier or the naval version of Jaguar. The catapults of Hermes can take it, and this would give integrated close air support capability for the marines as they are going ashore, which would be a most valuable adjunct.
§ Mr. Kirk
I feel that the first essential with "Hermes" is to get on with the conversion to an amphibious ship which we are carrying out. I hope that by the 1300 time we have done that we shall have reached a final decision on Harrier.
I was asked about the running on of the old destroyers and frigates. We do not normally reveal numbers in these cases, but they will be refitted to enable them to carry on for several more years. They are not the equivalent of new ships, but they can perform useful tasks and help to carry out commitments which do not necessarily have to be performed by higher-capability vessels. They form a useful bonus in our total number at relatively low cost.
§ Dr. David Owen rose—
§ Dr. Owen
This is the only new announcement made to the House, that that there is to be running on of ships. Surely it is reasonable to give the names of the ships. They are not secret. We are told that they are destroyers or frigates. Surely their names and manpower numbers can be revealed, as this would not break any form of secrecy.
§ Mr. Kirk
This is not usually done, but I can say that one, "Whitby", is starting conversion on refit in Gibraltar now, the first of the old ones to be converted.
I was asked to give the number of operational ships. The number of ships operational is 164 out of the 210 that we have. The figure is probably slightly higher than most hon. Members realise.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Laurance Reed) and the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) both made points about the Hydrographer. I join them in their tributes to his service. Both made the point that the hydrographic service is now used to a great extent for non-defence purposes. That is obviously true. Very few naval ships are affected by the difficulties in the Channel. Nearly all those affected are the new deep-draught tankers. Therefore, we are having talks with both the Department for Trade and Industry and the Chamber of Shipping, which I shall meet next month, and are invoking international assistance wherever possible. We have done this already in the Malacca Straits, and we hope that similar arrangements can be made elsewhere.
1301 I now turn briefly to the question of the surface-to-surface capability raised by a number of hon. Members, and particularly to the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin), who suggested, though I do not think that he expected to be taken absolutely literally, that the Royal Navy was powerless before the Cuban Navy, the Egyptian Navy and presumably, the Navy of Monaco and one or two other countries. This is not so. It is not true that we have no surface-to-surface capability. There is not only "Ark Royal", which he mentioned, but the fact that a very large number of seagoing ships are fitted with helicopters with AS12, which gives an anti-ship capability. There are possibilities of using Sea Slug and Sea Dart for these purposes. The point, however, as he maintained, is that these are essentially cobbled methods of dealing with the problem. That is why we have gone for Exocet, which still seems to us the best weapon available in the time-scale. The hon. Gentleman mentioned Otomat and Harpoon. Both are interesting weapons which we have looked at, but they cannot be available to the Fleet in the same time-scale as Exocet. Therefore I still believe that our decision to go for Exocet is right, and the negotiations are continuing. I hope that they will be concluded fairly soon.
A number of points were raised on torpedoes. I went into this in my opening speech, and I do not think there is any need to say much more. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester suggested that we paid off "Blake" and stopped work on "Tiger" as conditions there are intolerable, with no air conditioning. I have visited "Blake", though not "Tiger", because it is undergoing a refit. I found the crew surprisingly happy considering the difficulties that ship has had, and they did not make the points that my hon. and gallant Friend mentioned. It is also important to remember that at the moment these are the only ships we have which can deploy four Sea Kings, and it is of considerable importance, with their command and control facilities, that they should be kept going, at any rate until the cruisers come into service at the end of the decade.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield, East asked about fishery protection. There has been no particular change in 1302 the level of forces which we normally use. This is a regular minesweeper patrol and there is a regular allocation of frigate effort from the Western Fleet.
I was asked a number of questions, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) about the fast patrol boats. This raises the extremely difficult question of the proper allocation of resources. We have, of course, ordered some fast patrol boats from Vosper's and we have already operated one of theirs to do trials and we are now evaluating the trials to see whether these boats are worth while. It may be that we shall have to come round to them, but at the moment we think probably not.
A number of questions were asked about the dockyards, as is always the case in a debate of this kind, because they are of great concern to a number of hon. Members. I will not get involved in discussing dockyard technical colleges, for this is a matter which we have disputed before. We are pressing on and I have given my undertaking that I am personally trying to ensure that all those displaced will be re-employed as most already have been. Out of the 72 involved, 49 have either now received other posts, or preferred to retire. Two posts with the Kent County Council and three liaison posts with the dockyards have still to be filled. The process of resettlement is, therefore, going ahead fairly well.
Meanwhile, as I said earlier, we have productivity agreements in all the dockyards. There have been complications in the technical trades, as the hon. Member for Dunfermline Burghs (Mr. Adam Hunter) suggested. I think that we have now overcome them—I hope so, but one can never be absolutely certain in these matters.
The modernisation programme will go ahead, although I cannot guarantee that it will be in exactly the same form as the hon. Member for Sutton left it to me, because I must reserve the right to make changes if necessary, but it will be roughly in the form in which he had it.
As hon. Members know, it is always difficult to handle the balance of trades. We are doing the best we can to see that we get an effective balance of trades and to get the labour force fully extended 1303 and able to meet the increased output we need.
I should like quickly to refer to H.M.S. "Caledonia". I should be delighted to meet hon. Members about H.M.S. "Caledonia". I am grateful to them for not discussing policy when they were in "Caledonia", for that would have been embarrassing for the captain, and for only finding out what the facts were. This was a decision taken by the previous Administration. I reviewed it as soon as we came into office and my noble Friend reviewed it again after having visited "Caledonia" and it still seems to make sense to us. Nevertheless, if hon. Gentlemen consider that there are any further points which they wish to bring forward, I shall certainly listen to what they have to say.
The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) made a number of points, and I may just have time to deal with them. He mentioned the design of new ships taking account of new developments. We try to do this as much as possible so that we can effect both repair and refitting by replacements which will save a great deal of ship time which would otherwise be taken in refitting, installing new weapons and so on.
He mentioned the problems of procurement. We are still working out the precise details resulting from setting up a procurement agency, and it will he some weeks before we get it finally right. However, these are rather matters for my hon. Friend who deals with defence procurement than they are for me.
I have tried to answer as many questions as possible. Many have been raised in this interesting debate and it has not been possible to answer everything. If I have missed any important issues, I will write to the hon. Members concerned. I end as I began, by thanking all those who took part and once again drawing attention to the fact that the Navy debate lasts the whole day whereas the other two Services can manage only half a day.
§ The Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household (Mr. Humphrey Atkins)
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.